When people chose to follow one of my blogs I take a look at theirs and I’m not particularly discriminatory regarding who I follow. They may appear a little more into flower photography or describing their train journeys or taking us on a quest to discover the meaning of existence than I, and that’s all okay with me.
If, however, the theme of the blog is an evangelical exuberance about someone’s personal relationship with the heavenly Jesus, or a detailed, point by point account of exactly how the world is wrong, including a handy cut out and keep list of what action must be taken to remedy the horrors that are about to unfold, thank you for your interest, but you won’t be getting followed by me. Don’t get me wrong, you believe what you want, we don’t have to agree on anything for me to follow you. My problem here is answers. You think you’ve found them. I don’t think you have.
I know, I know!
It’s nothing against your beliefs, in fact there are also a bunch of climate change denying libertarians who also receive the same reaction regardless of their chosen mystical associations. It’s the sense that you know what it’s all about that’s the problem here.
I don’t know about much. One thing of which I’m sure is that things are pretty complicated. I see that in particle physics, I see that in astronomy, I see that in biology, paleontology, etymology, chemistry, epidemiology, and in fact everywhere where people actually keep asking questions and don’t settle for one answer. Complexity is all around us and it makes sense to me to try and grasp as much of it as we can while we’re here.
The unifying theory of nonsense
There’s always a temptation to try and look for an overarching pattern, some key to it all, some kind of big answer. Well, from what I understand of the universe, beyond certain theories within physics that have exactly zero effect on our daily lives, the idea of there being an answer to the question “what’s it all about?” seems trite.
But I really, really know it!
So if you are convinced that you have the answer to the big one, if you’re certain that you’re grasping the teleological key in your metaphysical hand, why not tuck it safely away in your pocket of wisdom. I don’t want it. If you’re so sure of everything, good. Well done! And I hope understand that my skepticism towards your simplified view of the world is not based on fear, or hate, or anger. No matter what your religion or ideology is, I’m just not that into it. There’s too much to learn about for one lifetime, too much to try and understand, too much to experience with eyes wide open, with a grounding in reality, with a basis in evidence. Far too much to spend time on fantasies, myths and traditions that tell us what we want to here, and not what we have truly discovered.
Magical mystery tour
Of course, I’m happy that people are certain about things. Sometimes I’m even a little jealous. But then I look a little closer, and I see a child on a bus journey, clutching her ticket with its destination neatly printed, eyes tightly closed, muttering with excitement about the wonderful place we’re heading to, or another child in a rage because the driver has taken a perceived wrong turn. This teleological certainty seems unproductive to me. So I look out the window, count the houses, note changes in the landscape, and most of all, enjoy the ride.
This website, RealClimate, appears to be infuriating for global warming “skeptics”, those of you who proclaim an understanding of science, but present misinformation based on nothing of any scientific value.
I’ve seen no attempts to address any on the arguments and counter arguments methodically laid out by working climate scientists from RealClimate during my review of the “skeptic” position.
I’ve dealt with every kind of fallacious argument you can imagine.
For asking a series of questions to the “skeptics”, I’ve been called hysterical, alarmist, a “warmer”, an eco-fascist, a liar, an ideolog, privileged, condescending, and an arsehole.
I may have missed a few out, but you get the picture.
I’ve also been told how insensitive it is that anyone calls anyone a “denier”.
I was banned from Tallbloke’s Talkshop even though I never swore, insulted anyone, or was rude in any way, and the site claims to have no rules about how people should interact, other than minding manners, which I did. I’m not moaning about this, I don’t care, I point it out merely to indicate the quality of the argument I’m dealing with here.
I was in search of a fair-minded, scientifically credible discussion, with openness and a certain intellectual rigor. I got none of these things, as shown in the comments on my previous post.
The only possible conclusion I’m left with is that they have no argument, no data, no evidence, and the attempt to characterize their position as in any way scientific is patiently deceptive.
Is this man putting forward a coherent argument?
Who comes out of this looking the most scientific and knowledgeable?
Some time ago I was annoyed.
Not at anything specific, just generally irritated. Maybe by my life circumstances, maybe by my inability to reach any satisfying conclusions when thinking about philosophy, ethics, responsibility and identity, maybe by a general feeling of existential angst, a sense of ennui.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t right.
So I decided to do a little thought experiment.
It went like this:
What if there is no “me”?
I mean, what if there was no mind, no consciousness (outside the strict medical definition) and no free will?
How would this change who I was?
I’d read about the idea of us having no free will in various neuroscience blogs, and I found it interesting, but I hadn’t previously considered it as an alteration of my world view.
So I considered the way I would interact with others, the way I would arrive at decisions, the way I would view myself.
I thought about each of these in turn.
And I could not find, despite serious consideration, any difference.
Within this thought experiment, life went on just as it did before. Everything remained exactly in place in my brain. I detected no change.
So I thought,
“Hold on a minute! I may be on to something here!” and decided to run with it. The question then arises:
How do I actually go about detached from the idea of free will? Without a “me” to think about? Well, that could be the subject of its own post, but basically, I just did it.
I can’t even call it a decision as such, more a form of realization, because once you accept this world view, decisions are no longer quite what they seem.
But I digress.
It was the new me. Or rather, the new not-me, and everything was just as before.
It appeared that all that vague baggage that I’d assigned to my mind, all those recursive philosophical concepts that I’d attached to my identity, all of that stuff had absolutely no impact on what was happening in my brain! It felt like I’d shut down a whole department of my organization, sent everyone home, locked the doors, and nobody had even noticed.
I was half expecting something, a panic attack, a sudden onset of stuttering, bursting into tears at the sight of a broken flower stem, I don’t know, just something!
Everything went on exactly as before.
So that’s it. All was well. End of story.
As time went on, I started to feel an alteration in the way I felt after all. Something had changed.
At first it was barely noticeable, indefinite, really quite vague. Try as I may, I just couldn’t pin it down. I was trying to find the new thing that had come into my thought processes, whatever it was, but I couldn’t get hold of it.
And then it hit me.
There was no new thing.
It was old things.
And they were missing.
I realized I no longer felt such a weight of expectation, that sense that I’m letting myself down somehow.
I no longer felt such a suspicion that some others had a depth to them that I could never understand.
I no longer felt as much irritation at people’s faults, including my own, because I’d discarded my mental model of perfection.
Without a sense of some abstract, deeper meaning, my brain appears to have taken a slow, deep sigh of relief. I’d managed to deflate a bubble of cognitive dissonance. Like clearing a blockage.
The irony: the thought experiment that I embarked upon with some trepidation, due to a fear of somehow losing my sense of self, led me to a state of increased confidence, greater enthusiasm for life, and, quite often, simple, childish, carefree joy.
Another difference worth noting: those close to me now find me even more maddening than before, but hey, there’s always a downside.
Having butted into a discussion on another blog about morals and god and stuff, I became embroiled in a tricky argument with a nice fella who was some kind of Christian, and who took the position that science was a religion. I’m not sure I equipped myself very well, not being particularly clear and certainly far too longwinded, but in the end I managed to summarize my argument like this:
Where I step in is when people suggest that there is no way that evolution can account for certain behaviors. I’ve yet to find any evidence to support that position, and considering there is no evidence that the behavior of every animal on the planet has been shaped by *anything* other than evolution through natural selection, evolution is not even competing with serious alternative hypotheses. The construction of the origin myths and various deities are endlessly fascinating, producing a wonderfully rich texture to the history of our species, but the claim that without some of them we would somehow behave less morally is, to me, ridiculous. If the claim is that the Christian myth gives us superior morals compared with, say, Norse mythology, I see no evidence for that. The people of Scandinavia developed a complex society with social codes, restrictions, expectations, legends and guiding stories passed down generations. To claim that they lacked a morality (with the inference that they still do, as most of the Nordic nations are only nominally Christian) is just silly, but if this claim is not made, that leaves the whole validity of Christian morality hanging, imho.
So, to conclude, if people take inspiration from supposedly wise words written down a long long time ago, great! Do we need any of those words to live a good life? Probably not.
Give a child an understanding of the world around them through science, give them language skills, the gift of communication for them to share ideas and grow intellectually, independent of those around them, and give them the confidence to question, everyone and everything, to take nothing at face value, and to keep exploring until they form their own picture, do these things, and you’ll find you’ve done a pretty good job equipping that child with what they need.
So finally I felt that I got to sum up my main point, probably far too late in the day, but there you are. If you’re interested in such philosophical musings, the blog Love and Heretics is a lovely place to dip into.