Monday, December 27, 2010

Optimistic equivocations

I want to elaborate on the last paragraph of the previous post. I said that I don't believe in free will, but I also said that I'm not a determinist. What gives? Briefly, I don't think that consciousness could exist in a deterministic reality, as in such a reality everything would be "given at once", and consciousness occurs in an unfolding present that defies a timeless reality. Consciousness exists, therefore reality is not deterministic (and another bad argument is added to philosophy's pantheon of failure).

Where do we fall into this indeterministic scheme, given the incoherence of free will? It may be the case that the indeterminacy of reality is incidental to the human decision-making process, but I wouldn't give up on the idea just yet. For one thing, I think that human brain function is sensitive to indeterminacy in some way, or it wouldn't be sufficient for conscious experience. More importantly, even if the indeterminacy of reality isn't directly exploited by neural processes, humanbeasts get along by imagining possible futures and making efforts toward those we value most highly on balance. The better we understand ourselves and our world, the closer our imagined possible futures will be to actual possible futures, and the greater will be our power to select our own destinies, in the long term, barring the inevitable occasional hideous accident. This isn't full-blown free will, but it's still an extremely valuable tool. If we think of it as a weak form of free will, we also find ourselves faced with this point: free will is something that is achieved by degrees, through learning, through rationality, and through mental and emotional discipline, rather than something that is shared equally by all and can simply be taken for granted.

Sheer heresy

I don't know how well I'll be able to express this thought right now but it's my blog, so eat it. I think the apparent reality of objective values and the apparent reality of free will have something important in common, other than being nearly universal errors. Both of these suppositions arise in people as a result of their ignorance regarding the inner workings of their minds. This is not the kind of ignorance that people can be blamed for; we simply do not have immediate voluntary or conscious access to much of what our minds are doing because it occurs subconsciously. With practice, we can become aware of more of what our minds are doing, more of the time, but we can never perceive even a largish fraction of the whole. That said, I propose that the illusion of free will is due to our ignorance regarding the causes of our actions, and the illusion of objective value is due to our ignorance of our own role in evaluating. Maybe it's a little ironic that we live our lives believing in the illusion of an abstract "self" who perceives values and wills actions, when in fact each of us is characterized by a very concrete natural self-construct that perceives its actions and wills its values.

By the way, I don't believe in strict determinism any more than I believe in free will. I don't think our actions, thoughts, values, or feelings are in vain, and I don't think our paths are set. Free will is just an incoherent notion that offers no direct insight into the nature of human behavior.

rambling note on normativity

norms and normativity

an organism devotes energy to "correcting" deviations from a range of physiological states within which "comfort" is defined. This response occurs spontaneously or "mechanically". In an outrageously complex organism like a humanbeast, physiological thresholds are coordinated by a system of communications that is multiply elaborated into a self with interests extending far beyond the organism's physical boundaries. The elaboration is achieved largely through internal modeling of the body and its physical and social environments, through symbolic thought, and through metaphorical understanding. Normativity, the tendency to correct deviations from the comfort range in all dimensions, is present at every level. A mind contemplating normativity is like a fish contemplating water.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I'm going to talk about "is" vs. "ought" but I'm going to use the words "description" and "prescription" because "ought" is an ugly word.

David Hume's immortal observation that prescriptive statements cannot be derived from purely descriptive statements is under attack by smarmy asshat Sam Harris, author of a philosophical abortion called The Moral Landscape.

I personally agree with David Hume, and while I don't have much time to write right this second, I want to briefly clarify what this important disjunction between description and prescription means to me.

In a deductive argument, there is no case in which a prescriptive conclusion can be derived from a collection of strictly descriptive premises. If a prescriptive conclusion is reached through a valid deductive argument, there will always be a prescriptive statement somewhere among the premises. Value judgments are always assumed, though in many arguments they are brought in quite cryptically. They tend to be (but are not necessarily) implicit in words like "good", "best", "should", "ought", and their opposites.

To give an example, one might argue that it's raining today, therefore Sally should take an umbrella if she goes out. This has the form of an argument in which a prescription has been derived from a prescription, but clearly there is an implicit premise that Sally should avoid getting wet, as well as a standard piece of normative logic that looks something like "(A should P) and (If A does Q then A will P) implies (A should Q)", a kind of moral modus ponens.

Oog, I gotta go.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

On respecting and not respecting other cultures

There are endless good ways to live. Part of the beauty of our species is that new ways to live well are perpetually being realized by us, and that we have created civilizations in which, occasionally, circumstances allow at least a few people to follow their hearts, to appreciate, to love, and to create, without being hindered by arbitrary rules or fears of being outcast, marginalized, or extinguished. Such eruptions of freedom and goodness may be rare and short-lived, but they show us the best of what we are, and what kind of world we might live in if we have the vision, the cunning, and the strength.

I am not likely to change my mind about this: I don't think there is any objective morality or any ultimate justification. Some people seem to think that this leads to "cultural relativism", the idea that we cannot and should not judge cultures outside of our own, or people attached to those cultures. This is a fallacy: if there is no objective morality, there is no objective imperative to respect other cultures. Still, people who don't believe in any objective morality are happy to hold their own commitments and respect those of others, and are entirely capable of choosing to stand up for their commitments when conflict is imminent. Moral skepticism/nihilism/relativism need not lead to paralyzing indecision any more than it must lead to cartoonish indiscriminate violence.

When do I respect cultures that differ from my own, then, in belief or in practice? To what extent do I tolerate, respect, or even celebrate difference, and when do I despise and condemn it?

I hope the first paragraph offers a clue: to the extent that your culture allows its members to live well in their own way, I consider it respectable. To the extent that it does not, I consider it shit. This is not a matter of whether your society is predominately Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist, marxist, capitalist, or whatever; it is a matter of whether people living within it find the freedom and the resources to live the lives they think are best. If your culture can't support that, your culture sucks.

That said, it's not always easy to draw the line. It shouldn't be too hard for any of us to remember a time when we've misjudged another individual after failing to see why they're living the way they are, and the difficulty in accurately assessing another person's point of view is multiplied in assessing the value of a whole culture for the people within it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Normativity is animal impulse.

This is the bright little seed at the core of my moral philosophy.

More later.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Thinking today about a few things, but right now I'm going to say a few things about appreciation. Appreciation has become an extremely important concept to me because it answers the question of how we can value things without craving, squandering, or corrupting them. I use the word "things" broadly, to cover opportunities, friendships, responsibilities, and other such relatively abstract items, in addition to material objects and resources.

The elements of appreciation as I understand it are awareness (as opposed to taking for granted), open cognitive engagement (as opposed to denial, avoidance, clinging, demanding, etc.), and what I'll roll up into the term "mindful practice" (maintaining and putting to good use). You can see that I pack a lot into this concept, but I think it falls together naturally and points to a pretty clear picture of a life lived responsibly and well.

What is it that I call upon myself to appreciate? I hope that I will manage to decently appreciate what I have; that is, what is available to me (I can stretch this to cover what is done for me by the kindness of friends, family, or strangers) and relevant (whether immediately or in prospect) to my personal projects of security, growth, character, expression, etc.

It may not be possible to appreciate anything entirely; the awareness included in appreciation involves an understanding that any item I have is historical and contingent, but I can never make a total inventory of its conditions and consequences, and I probably can't make every possible good use of it. Appreciation is therefore something that comes by degrees, and something that we can be better or worse at.

There's much more to say about this but I'm tired and I'm going to close this with a brief mention of what I call the lessons of appreciation, which include humility, industry, and thankfulness. The more I appreciate what I have, the better I understand that I don't come by it on my own, that I exist in a web of interdependent relationships in which I have my own role to play, and in which I benefit from the action of countless other people. I become aware of the good fortune I enjoy in existing at all and having as much as I do, and I am impelled to live up to that good fortune, to make it my own in lieu of being able to actually take credit for it. Living up to it means being grateful to those who are kind to me and thankful for the circumstances that sustain me, and working to contribute more than I consume.

This picture is a bit panglossian, and I don't know if I have it in me to inject much realism right now. We live in a world where misfortune and tragedy are commonplace for far too many people, and in many or most cases the last thing they need is to hear that they should appreciate what they have. In any case, I think that appreciation is an essential part of a well-lived life, and I wish I were better at it. Here's hoping!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dear Peter Singer

It is true that compassionate people who care about justice and fairness will be troubled by the existence of starving children in far-away places and other examples of human misfortune and tragedy, especially when we ourselves are relatively affluent. The more fortunate cannot claim all of the credit for their stations in life, any more than the less fortunate are completely to blame for theirs, and awareness of this creates a very justifiable tension in the minds of well-off people, especially those of us who do not believe in God or cosmic justice or any force that evens the moral scales other than chance and human effort.

I have asked myself how I can resolve this tension for myself, in those hypothetical situations in which I actually am pretty well-off, and well-organized enough that I would really have something to give if I decided to. I have tried to face pretty squarely the question of how I can be happy or strive to be happy while others suffer and do not have even the means to improve their lot. What I have come up with as a solution to this problem, as well as many others, is a vision of a good life which fulfills every obligation that I think is worth honoring. I will try to outline it here very briefly.

I have constructed in my mind a kind of mythological creature that I label a healthy human being. Such a creature values its personal autonomy- it respects itself- but it is also aware of its place in an interdependent network of creatures much like itself, as well as its place in a larger ecosystem that all of them depend on, but none of them can completely control. It accepts that it is mortal, fallible, and finite, and does not consider these faults; it understands that it is a creature risen from primordial darkness, rather than fallen from perfection. It understands how lucky it is to exist at all, and is not bitter about not being immortal or omniscient or omnipotent. It has grown up in such a way as to be confident, appreciative, open, compassionate, thankful, and generous. It cares not only about security, comfort, and pleasure, but also about the significance of the life it is living, and it hopes that the conditions and consequences of its existence will reflect its values and good character. It knows how to love well; it is not jealous or possessive of the objects of its love, but is above all concerned that they flourish, ready to contribute to that flourishing, and happy to participate in it. It accepts the reality of tragedy, but finds it worthwhile to go on caring in all of these ways. It laughs a lot, but its laughter is not cruel. It wants to achieve much, but is able to enjoy what it has, and is neither self-denying or greedy. It allows itself to be enjoyed, but not to be taken advantage of.

This is a dream. I have inhabited it more and less in the past than I do now. I believe that such a creature is worth aspiring to become, and occasionally actually exists, and when it does, it gives, as much as it can, virtually by instinct. I do not respect any proposed obligation that leads me astray of the aspiration to be a healthy human being, but I believe I can resolve the tension inherent in my being very, very lucky in a world of unlucky people by making efforts toward being one. It is in this sense that I think I am fully justified in looking after myself first.

Unfortunately I'm terrible at even making progress toward being that kind of person. I think I know something about how to do it though. I shall detail this in another post, after I have gone to bed, and gotten back up, I don't know how many times. Good night.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Here is the second post in which I'm just re-posting some things from elsewhere for the sake of convenience. As little as I care for lists of beliefs, I did end up writing one. On days when I don't feel like writing about anything else, I may explicitly refer back to this post and elaborate on some item from this list. And here it is:

One of the effects of the long dark tunnel I found myself trapped in last year is a recurring difficulty taking seriously everything I believed in so passionately before. For the times when I am able to understand it, I've composed for myself a list of reminders:

I believe in mystery and spontaneity.

I believe in time, space, experience, and indeterminacy.

I believe in reason, passion, and criticality.

I believe in this organism.

I believe in mortality and tragedy.

I believe that all of this is neither owed nor promised.

I believe in insanity and abundance.

I believe in letting go, accepting, and letting be.

I believe in openness, trust, sharing, and giving.

I believe in enjoyment, appreciation, desire, love, creativity, and humor.

I believe in commitment, compassion, and conscience.

I believe in personal autonomy and social responsibility.

I believe in freedom.

I believe in us.

I believe that we're doing this.

I believe in being the change.

I believe that if we work together, we can make this a better world.

All of this is what lets me love life, what makes me love us and makes me so willing to speak up for us, what makes the world worth living in and making better. When I am the passionate creature that I should be, all of this makes sense to me; I hope that as my mind and brain continue to heal and I make a better life for myself, I will be in that condition more often.

Neither Owed Nor Promised

In my next few posts I will be posting some things that I have up elsewhere, just because I think it will be helpful for me to have them in one place and be able to refer back to them easily. They are statements of my basic beliefs on subjects that are important to me, and I plan to build on them in the course of this blog. This first one was originally one of my facebook notes. It had the same title as this entry. Here it is:

A lot of you have been hearing from me about my big philosophical, spiritual, literary project, but almost none of you have seen me actually write anything, or heard about any of my ideas. This is because, for better or worse, I don't like to put anything out there unless it's up to my unrealistic critical standards, and I haven't managed to perfect all of my ideas or my ability to express them to my satisfaction. For the sake of discussion, though, I do want to write something short and sweet about my understanding of reality and the place that I and all of my fellow humanbeasts occupy in it. This is just an opinion piece and I urge you to take it as seriously as its bibliography is long. Many of you might be disappointed with my thoughts on this subject, finding them depressing or narrow or just rather staunchly opposed to your own worldview, but I am not here to proselytize, and we can respect each other as well as friends should without having to agree.

I think that all of my fellow humanbeasts and I are members of a species of animal that evolved here on Earth without any purpose or plan. I think that qualities such as consciousness, thought, intention, will, emotion, rationality, purpose, and meaning are contingent upon a larger, impersonal, indifferent reality of which we and everything we experience are a part, rather than being fundamental or independent. I think that those qualities I listed are embodied qualities of living organisms and they effect the world only by effecting those organisms' behavior. I am as far as I can be from believing that thoughts "manifest" or that they "attract" or "become" things on their own. I do not think there is any plan or purpose behind reality as a whole, or any consciousness creating or pervading it. I do not think the positions of stars and planets have any necessary or meaningful relationship to the personalities or futures of individual humanbeasts or their societies. When people try to talk to me about quantum physics, I immediately stop listening unless they are physicists. Crystals do not heal you. When you die, you just die. Energy is a number that scientists and engineers use to analyze and predict the behavior of physical systems. If I were to personify the world I believe that I live in, I would say that its most salient features were its heartbreaking beauty, its astonishing brilliance, its obsessive regularity, its comprehensive psychopathy, and its incurable insanity.

Please do not take from this that I think science has all of the answers, or that I think everything is, or eventually will be, explained through science and "reason". For one thing, while science can tell us how the world behaves, it cannot tell us how we should behave. Once we identify our moral commitments, science can help us stay true to them, but it cannot establish them for us or ultimately tell us which ones are the best. That will always be up for discussion, and I hope that kind of discussion will always flourish among us. Furthermore, science rests upon concepts that may not be ultimately sound, and in fact I suspect that they are not. Basic concepts such as space, time, substance, and causation have been amazingly useful for us, but scientists have discovered (and philosophers before them strongly suspected) that there are things we are simply not cognitively equipped to imagine or conceptualize. The dance of the electron, the center of a black hole, the earliest moment of the physical universe, and the nature of consciousness may be examples of ways in which reality behaves that we simply are not capable of understanding. Reality seems to have features that we not only do not understand, but are constitutionally incapable of understanding- that is to say, it may be fundamentally mysterious.

But if reality is fundamentally mysterious, why do I not think there is room in all that mystery for all of those things I said I don't believe in? Why might there not be all-pervading consciousness and crystal healing and astrological influences and even governing deities, if it is conceded that there are things which are forever beyond our understanding? It may not be possible to rule out such notions conclusively, but I don't think there are any good reasons to accept them (keep in mind that we could argue all day about what qualifies as a "good reason") and there are good reasons not to. These include the metaphorical and anthropocentric nature of human understanding, our useful but ultimately errant intuitions about the world (for example, the ancient assumption that non-living solid objects remain still unless they are falling or being pushed), the weight of false and irrational traditions, and the powerful influence of plain wishful thinking. When these are combined with the willingness of many humanbeasts to make a living selling bullshit to other humanbeasts, those of us who care about truth find powerful incentives to adopt a critical attitude toward pretty much every concept and claim that we encounter.

To sum up, I see myself and all of us as finite, contingent, vulnerable, tragic creatures existing entirely within a vast, impersonal, and indifferent reality. This sounds dour and gloomy, but the whole of reality is not the focus of most of my thinking. What matters most to me is not the deity I don't believe in or the control I don't have or the inevitable cessation of my awareness, but rather the enjoyment, appreciation, and ongoing significance of the life I am living, and the good and beautiful people I am fortunate enough to know and care about. I do not live in THE UNIVERSE, I live in this city, I am a part of this community, and in this setting that is meaningful and real to me I can make a difference that matters in the only way anything really does: I can have a hand in the grand, ongoing effort to make this finite, uncertain life worth living for all of us.

I'll have a lot more to say in the future, but I think this is a good place to stop for now. If anyone has actually read this far, thank you.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Responsibility and agency without free will

I wrote "last night" that I was going to post something from the livejournal philosophy forum about responsibility and punishment in the absence of free will. It turns out that it wasn't just one comment I was looking for, but several that I wrote in the course of a dialogue. I'll post the meat of them all here, since they pretty much hang together by themselves:

Whether we are deterministic systems or not, we are social creatures with normative attitudes and personal and social commitments, and we cannot live without deciding what to do about each other ("deciding" does not have to mean "choosing" in a metaphysically free sense). We decide what kind of behavior is out of bounds, and those who fulfill their obligations without transgressing the boundaries are said to act ethically. We hold one another responsible for what we do, not because we do it freely, but because our actions originate with us and, once again, we have to decide what to do about each other. As much as there is to discuss here, free will is not a deciding factor in any of these issues.

If not by metaphysically free choice, people's behavior is still determined by complex internal processes that are opaque and unpredictable to others, so people will at least appear to act somewhat freely.

There's no argument from ignorance here; agents act. Their actions proceed from them, and in that sense they are responsible for them. Whether a crime was a praiseworthy or blameworthy act, the person who did it is guilty of that crime and we will decide how to deal with that. We hope that people will feel shame for acting in ways that harm society, and pride for upholding its integrity, and so responsibility matters to us. Observation tells us that people can be expected to behave in the future in much the same way that they have in the past, and also that they are capable of changing with effort and support, and so we can try to alter the person's circumstances and personal history in a way that prevents them from committing that crime again, or helps them to avoid it. By all means, explain at what point free will must enter this process.

The notion of desert is revisable in this way: people should be rewarded, not on the basis of what they have freely earned, but rather on the basis of the kind of behavior that we hope to promote. This means that people will suffer at times for what they could not ultimately avoid doing, and that is tragic. We are tragic creatures living in a tragic world, and this fact should be always before us when we take it upon ourselves to chastise one another.

They're agents if they don't have free will as long as we don't define agency by free will, and I don't. I suppose that, for me, agency is a matter of degree and convention, as both I and a rock are (ultimately non-free) systems capable of causing events to occur, but a rock is not an agent, and I am. An agent is a system that is trusted to act independently and is respected in its autonomy, but also held responsible, as part of its being regarded as a person. We could treat rocks that way, but I think there are good reasons not to.

You might argue that persons must have free will, but you can probably guess what my response would be.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

And I will want you more

So I just watched Black Snake moan while drinking an odd mixture called Tilt, and it got me thinking about music. I was looking through my high school transcripts earlier, and I did better in music theory than pretty much anything else. Music theory ties together intuition, passion, and logic, in a way that nothing other than philosophy really can, and perhaps more than is possible even for philosophy. On paper it's all applied mathematics, though it's meaningless unless you can hear it and feel it. Of course, the passion and feeling were there long before the math historically, though biologists, neurologists, and physiologists will strive to tell you more with each new experiment how the passion and feeling come about. If "spirit" means anything to me, it is what is nourished by music, and yet music connects the objective to the subjective in a way that is hard to understand but impossible to forget. This might make it one of the best reasons to believe that there is no fundamental division between soul and body, nothing that really separates us from the world that we are undeniably a part of.

I hope I get to be one of those rare philosopher/scientist/mathematicians who prefer blues, folk, and rock to Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. For me, it's all part of being a good animal- and being a good animal is part of being a good person.

But more on that later!

Monday, November 29, 2010

An objection to Sam Harris's asshattery

Posting a little late, but OK. I've wanted to write about a lot today, but if nothing else, I want to offer an objection to something Sam Harris (don't you just want to smack him?) has been saying about morality. One of his basic starting points is that all moral judgments boil down to a concern about the experience of conscious beings. I want to offer what I think is a pretty good objection to this proposition.

I'm going to pose a kind of benign Matrix-like scenario: Suppose all of humanity, by their own volition or by the choice of a ruling person or class, were put to sleep and installed in a grand space-ark capable of piloting itself through empty regions of space until the heat-death of the universe, fueling itself on what it can find (hydrogen and oxygen from planets, moons, asteroids, and comets maybe) in the course of its journey. The humans on board will spend the rest of their lives sustained in peak physical health and in sleep by machines, while a perfect simulation of human life is pumped into their heads; maybe even a life better than human life can really be. Their simulated world is shared, allowing them to carry on genuine relationships with one another. Nothing is denied them, and they can even progress in the arts and science as far as they are inclined without disrupting the simulation. None of the people aboard the ark are aware that they inhabit a simulation, or that the world they experience is an artificial one.

There are a thousand reasons why this can't happen and wouldn't work. But for the sake of the scenario, suppose it does. All of what we value in conscious experience is accounted for, for our ark denizens. Sam Harris appears to have nothing to complain about here. By every measure I recall him having suggested, all of the humans in existence are flourishing, perhaps at their peak. The question now is, is this scenario a good one? Would this be a good course for humanity to take, in a moral sense?

Some people might say yes. I am definitely not one of them. From within the scenario, of course, I would not be able to object to it, but regarding the conception from outside, I see it as a pretty awful fate. For myself I can say, and I think many people would agree with me, that while the quality of the experience of conscious beings is certainly part of what is important in a moral sense, it isn't the only thing: I want to be right. I want what I experience to be real. I want to know, as far as I can, what's really going on, and I want the significance of my life never to be bounded or enclosed, except by the finiteness of its own inertia. Are these moral concerns? For me, they are; they are commitments that I hold, and they are reasons why I would reject such a scenario in principle, and encourage other people to reject it along with me. They are moral concerns, and they are not altogether dependent on judgments about the quality of the experiences of conscious beings.

Such is one possible objection to one of Sam Harris's premises. There are many others. The fact that he's kind of a smarmy dickhead is not one of them, but I don't want to close this entry without pointing that out.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Death is the question.

Getting ready for karaoke with Ashley, listening to some pretty great music. It's reminding me of something I expect to find myself writing about a lot here: Death, and how the eventuality, possibility, and option of death can bring things into perspective. Briefly, believing that we just get this one life, and remembering that this is so, can really make small things seem small, and remind us of what really matters. How can we maintain that kind of perspective without having to think about death all the time, or being morose or anxious about it?

This is one of the concerns of mortality, which is a big focus for me, and the answers to it are to be found (I think) in appreciation, enjoyment, love, creativity, and humor. The meanings these words hold for me will be unfolding in good time, but they are my cardinal virtues (I don't mean to say that I have all of these virtues to any decent degree), the things that make life good and are capable of justifying life to us as we turn to question it, the attitudes and experiences that renew life and make it worthwhile in the face of hardship, tragedy, and boredom.

There you have a peek at my hardcore existentialist spiritual philosophy. More to come.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving God a shot

Hmmmmmm, looks like I'm doing a last-minute update.

I've been listening to Deepak Chopra being humiliated in public on this delightful youtube playlist, and it's been making me think about God.

Atheists (one of which I am) are in the habit of talking about God in the silliest terms they can think of- as though to believe in God is to believe in a magic man in the sky whose zombie son died to save you from spending eternity (of which less than 10,000 years have gone by so far) in his burning cavern beneath the earth. There's a place for this kind of coarse mockery, but it doesn't constitute an argument against the existence of God in general or the worthiness of the conception, and if this kind of caricature is the beginning and the end of one's thoughts about God, then one has failed to appreciate the depth and subtlety the idea can achieve, and failed to earn credit for having truly confronted it.

I have tried to build up, in my mind, the best case I can for the kind of God that I could most respect. Imagine with me, if you will, that all of the competing religions we know to exist among all of Earth's peoples are driven, not only by anxiety over mortality, lust for power, and sheer ignorance, but also by a genuine encounter with what might be called "the numenous", or "the transcendent", or "the ground of all being"- or any of the various titles that have been given to God or the level of existence that God is taken to signify. It might be said that this encounter is what inspires us to rise above the level of selfish striving and seek meaning in our connections with other people, with nature, and with this even deeper essence that we might call God, to look upon all creatures with respect, with compassion, and, when we can manage it, with love. In this way, we can understand God as an ultimate reality that is not outside of us, but rather which permeates and transcends each and all of us, and all of space and time, acting not as a dictator or tinkerer, but as an inspiration to evolve to ever greater degrees of good will and creativity, whenever we are open to it. Worship becomes less a way of getting a personal entity to do things or pay attention to us or feel better about itself, and more a way of experiencing the God which is the unity of all things, sharing that experience with others, and reinforcing in ourselves the virtues it is always ready to inspire.

Is that something I believe in? Not especially, but I can certainly respect beliefs of that kind when held by others (and there are people who believe in just that sort of thing), and I think that conception of God can get by relatively well under any atheist's critique. Its only fault, as far as I can see, is that there's no good reason to believe in it. Of course, even the notion of "good reason" is not one that can be precisely pinned down.

What I like about respectable forms of theism, such as the one I've outlined above, is that they are ways of acknowledging, with genuine humility, that our experience as conscious living creatures is ultimately one of mystery, that the ineffable will always have a place in it, and that art, myth, and ritual are more ready means to express it than head-on rational explanations and descriptions.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Hello world! I am an entirely unemployed, badly undereducated, relatively new resident of Wichita, KS. For the past ten years, I have put a lot of effort into developing a spiritual and philosophical outlook that could satisfy me, and that effort continues today. This blog is meant to be part of that effort, but it's also a way to keep myself writing, thinking, communicating, and answering the intellectual and existential challenges that really interest me. You might read here about my great spiritual and philosophical project, or just what I happened to do today. In any case, I plan to write at least one entry in this blog every day.
Welcome to the test post!