Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Test post 2

Now testing the Opera Mini browser.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cell phone test post

I am posting from my LG 900G phone using the Bolt browser, just to see if I can actually do that. I don't seem to be able to make line breaks.

Oh hey, I can do that in the phone's onboard editor! Spiffy!

Friday, November 4, 2011

A petal falls

I knew her first as Rose.

Some time in late 2010, Rose has broken up with the love of her life, soon to be her fiancee, and meanwhile she is distracting herself with me. On one of the most beautiful nights in my memory, neither of us are getting any sleep. We are inspiring each other to wakefulness with lust and admiration, and somehow I find myself reading aloud to her. I'm amazed at how well I'm doing this, but I would offer her nothing less. She has spent the night being generous and honest and beautiful, and she's been telling me her story. She's been showing me her love, and it's been making me love her. I feel closer to her than I've felt to anyone in a very long time, and I want to give her everything.

I want to share this because, as of early October, I am the only person who remembers it. Rose is with us only in memory now. I was only a very small part of her life, but I looked forward to continuing to share my ideas with her. She won't be reading these entries any more, but she continues to inspire them. Good night, Rose. I will carry this little light with me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

To someone

I don't know what to say. I love you. I am groping for more words.

Your boldness, creativity, and energy inspire me. Your beauty enthralls me. To see your face is to want to be worthy of your gaze, to find the best in myself and offer it to you. You make me remember it and believe that I can bring it out again. I love you, I love you, I love you.

Monday, August 1, 2011

More words for yall

Tonight, a cherished friend has asked me to write, and I would dearly like to deliver, but there's so little I feel ready to say.

I have returned to my home town in Oceanside, CA, and I've gotten myself into a difficult situation. I have no job and I only have what little money my family can afford to send me, and I'm keeping house and helping my friend take care of her daughter for room and board. I have very little privacy or time to myself, and my relationships with the people I live with are often tense.

What keeps my hopes up is the decision I've made to make math tutoring my career. The boring work I do here (which I'm really not great at) has new meaning in light of the future I'm now consciously trying to build for myself.

I haven't been writing here because I've been busy with my notebook, and I've been so uncertain about so much. I am still thinking and writing and planning, looking forward to a time when I can share more of my ideas with the world.

I'm tired now, and I don't think I have much more time to write. I hope to have more to say in the near future, and I am thankful to the friend who actually wants to see more of this stuff.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Punishment for its own sake is harmful and stupid. A new concept of desert is called for. Beat this: What you deserve is what would make you better, in character, in consequence, and in wellness.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Her laughter

I'm not worried. If there is a single change I would make in you, it simply does not occur to me in this moment because it is so joyously, raucously overwhelmed by everything about you that I could not imagine wanting to change. This would be a dimmer world without you. These words trail off into obscurity before you. I only hope my eyes, my touch, my life will convey this message.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The meaning of love

tl;dr: Love is saying yes.

In my post on significance, I mentioned love. This is an extremely important concept for me, and the will to think and express myself clearly about love has probably been the most important driving force behind this whole endeavor. More than anything, I want to show that love can and should serve as a source of meaning in life, and as an answer to the conditions of tragedy and finitude that cast doubt on life's value. Clearly, then, I have a lot to say about love, but in this first post on it, I'm just going to try to say what I mean by that word, and maybe include some trailing remarks. It's very important that I do this, because what I mean by "love" is something quite specific, though I expect it to continue defying exact definition, and it is very different from some of the things the word is often used to denote.

I think it will be easiest to begin by letting you know what I don't mean by "love". I'll start by giving a rapidfire list of negative influences that shouldn't go anywhere near love, gathered under three major headings. First of all, by "love", I do not mean possessiveness: love has no part in jealousy, suspicion, or the presumption of ownership or entitlement. Second, by "love", I do not mean pathological attachment: love also has no part in need, craving, desperation, obsession, or false idealization. Thirdly, by "love" I do not mean any attitude that could promote harm or manipulation of its object: love has no part in demands, obligations, expectations, resentment, or excuses, at least in the petty or self-serving senses of those words.

When love is forced to coexist with possessiveness, pathological attachment, and manipulation, it is muted and strained, and the good work it can do in our lives is suppressed and undervalued. It is unfortunate that such things are often considered unavoidable consequences of love, or even conditions of love or part of the essence of love itself. In the way in which I use the word "love", and recommend that it be used, love is quite simply opposed to this raucous din of pathological influences. When we find ourselves under their sway, we had best take therapeutic measures to free ourselves of them, as they will diminish the voice of love or drown it out entirely.

As a final word on what I don't mean by love, I want to point out some generally positive influences that are compatible and in many cases synergistic with love, but which I do not identify with it, singly or in any combination. These include infatuation and lust, which should be enjoyed but not taken too seriously, and can make good partners for love. Openness, good will, affection, sympathy, and compassion can promote love and be promoted by it in turn, but are not love itself. Respect, admiration, and pride of association get along well with love, but do not constitute it. Thankfulness and gratitude are unquestionably virtuous states and friends of love, but should not be mistaken for it. Finally, in all of these cases, intensity of feeling is often taken as an indicator of love, but it is not love, and it can be love's most fickle partner. A particular case of love might hold flourishing associations with all of these influences, and it's hardly conceivable that love would appear in isolation from all of them, but they do not constitute love in themselves.

There are, then, an awful lot of things that love isn't. So what is it? What is it that I think is worth calling by that name, and is supposedly distinct from everything I've listed above?

To put it poetically, love is saying yes. In my usage of the word, love is an attitude whose most essential attribute is affirmation of its object, for its own sake. The object of love is experienced as something that should be, and insofar as its being is understood to entail a standard of flourishing, it is experienced as something that should flourish as well. To love something is to host a desire- a positive motivation grounded in recognition of an opportunity rather than in privation or insecurity- for its flourishing, a desire which feeds the commitment underlying the feeling of rightness toward the object of love. With this affirmation there comes an openness toward the object of love: an intimate responsiveness to its states of flourishing or diminishing. When I love something, I take its interests as my own through this openness, and in this way I become vulnerable to the contingencies of its development as I am to those of my own. In a way, love is choosing to be vulnerable. Like trust, it is a risk we take for the sake of rewards that are intangible, and perhaps ineffable (though you know I'm still trying to find the words).

Love is patient; it is not born of insecurity or pathology, and so it knows how to wait. Love is enduring because commitment is part of its essence. Love is spontaneous; it is part of who I am to love what I love, and it cannot be forced if it is not forthcoming.

This post has been waiting for weeks for me to come and finish it. There's so much more I want to say, but my thoughts are in their usual state of disorganization now, and I'm tired of leaving my most important subject on the back burner. I'm posting this now unfinished, I may update it later, and I'll be writing more about love in the future.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Down to Earth

I've spent the last couple days going kind of insane. I'm over it. I'm thinking about my future, and how to make it a good one. I'm thinking about the best moments in my life, and how to live up to them.

By a very rough reckoning, I think I can make it back to California and start attending Mira Costa again in Spring 2012. I'd like to do that and I think it's a good goal. I'll need to work, save, and keep a certain amount of discipline. I'll need to make plans...

More later.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Transhuman space cadet

I want us to remember Earth, and that we are of Earth. I want us never to forget our history, what we've been, what we are. As long as we remember these things, we can go anywhere and become anything and our humanity won't be squandered.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

In which your writer has a life. Not really though.

I'm going to try something different: I'm going to write about my life here. Maybe it won't add to what I'm trying to accomplish. Maybe I'll decide to take it down after a little while. Either way, it seems like a good way to shake things up, and maybe to shake loose some of the ideas I seem to be having such a hard time expressing.

Let it be known that I'm a bit of a scrub. Or a whole lot of a scrub. Or just all scrub. I'm sitting in front of my computer monitor on the floor of the room that my friends are letting me stay in, typing with the keyboard on my lap. I don't have a job, and lately I've very nearly stopped trying to find one because the project seems hopeless. I don't have a driver's license, and I'm not currently making any effort to get one because it seems pointless since it's going to be a very long time before I can afford any kind of vehicle. The owner of this house, who rarely visits, doesn't even know I'm living here, and if he found out then he'd probably either kick me out or raise the rent.

My two housemates are gracious friends who allowed me to move into their home here in Wichita, KS when I could no longer stay with my family in California. I didn't want to move with my family, so I moved in with them in stead. I failed training at the job we were all so sure I'd get when I came here, and I haven't been able to find another one. The situation is awkward, and I've been informed that I'll have to leave if I don't find work by the end of next month. If that eventually does come about, I'll have to choose between going to live with Dad in New Mexico, or going to live with another friend in my home town of Oceanside, CA. I prefer the latter option, but I'll only be able to manage it if Mom or someone provides me with the money to get there. My favorite option, of course, is getting a job, saving money, getting a license, getting a car, and finally starting to build a life for myself. I would like to move that life back to California, when I can.

This is a bad situation for me. It's the kind of situation in which I stop trying to make my life better, and occupy myself with the perpetual distractions provided by my computer, by books, by what goes on in my own head, and even by sleep. I badly need to stop letting myself waste time this way and make a stronger effort than I ever have before to dust off my resume, shine up my attitude, and apply for 10,000 jobs a day. Maybe I'll get an interview.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Death and significance

It has been far too long.

But here I am being brief.

If I start to make you sad, I promise there's a happy ending.

Death is a three-pronged thing: a possibility, an eventuality, an option, all three faces turned toward us at all times. It makes the conscious life of a humanbeast a disturbingly sealed-off thing, not only in the crowded space of the skull, but in the worryingly brief duration between birth (approximately) and death (which can also be an approximate sort of thing). It seems quite absurd that one's own consciousness should at some point be simply extinguished, but if the conclusions I've offered so far are accepted, everyone's will be, eventually. The first-hand memory of every joy and sorrow and every brilliant insight any of us ever experience will be purged from existence with no sensible trace. This hard little truth doesn't do this for everyone, but it does it for me: it makes me want to ask, what's it all for, if it all just goes away?

I've learned to channel such thoughts outward, to turn away from introspective reverie toward the larger world we all share and experience in our own special ways. The world is bigger than me; my life is bigger than me. The events captured in the perishable and imperfect record of my memory didn't just effect me, and my responses to them were not just ornaments in my personal perspective; everything I have ever experienced has effected my behavior, and continues to do so in some small way, and everything I do makes some kind of difference in the world. I move things around, and people move around me, talking, laughing, yelling, smoldering, wondering, wishing, loving, giving, accepting. This effect I necessarily have on the world around me, along with everything that can be inferred or interpreted from my sheer existence, is the significance of my life, my significance, the outpouring of my tragically delicate and preciously unique field of experience into the world beyond it, the mark of this organism's constitution and history upon the invincible memory of reality as a whole.

To recognize my own significance in this way is to take a step outside of that worried, self-absorbed world of introspection, and to understand that my doomed (maybe not dramatically so at the moment) consciousness is not all there is to me. Though all of my cherished learning and the sound of her laughter and the touch of her skin and the Milky Way seen from a dark mountain and Boingo and Cohen and the Femmes and the Scissor Sisters will eventually be forgotten by me, they have touched a thousand lives, in ways I'll never know, through the ways that they have moved me.

But I don't care about every little effect I have on the world. No number of changes I make in circumstances that I do not value can make it seem any less ridiculous that I am here now, when I consider that I'll be gone tomorrow. When confronted with the tragedy and cruelty and waste and misfortune that the human condition seems to make inevitable, the slice of of my significance that stands up to every evil, that keeps the light of life burning, is that which I have with respect to the people, places, things, practices, the members of every ontological kind, that I love.

Enough for now. I'll go on about love in future entries. It'll rock your face.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


In my previous entry I wrote about a concept, commitment, that's very important to both the moral and spiritual sides of my philosophy. Today I want to say a little bit more about the similarly important concept of engagement.

I originally began scrutinizing this concept because I wanted to give the clearest possible expression to my idea of appreciation. The more I am openly engaged with my situation, the better able I am to appreciate what I have. To the extent that I am accepting of the realities that I am faced with, that I am ready to let go of old ideas and assumptions, and that I can really let things be what they are without casting about for rationalizations and excuses, I am openly engaged with my whole situation, and able to appreciate what I have within it. To the extent that I cling to an image of myself or my future, that I refuse to accept the realities I am facing, or that I flee from circumstances that I know I'll have to deal with eventually, I fail to engage openly with my situation, I neglect and abuse what I have, and I thereby generally fail to appreciate it.

If this sketch of the relationship between engagement and appreciation seems more poetic than philosophical, it is because engagement is most easily expressed metaphorically, depicting relatively abstract attitudes toward perceived circumstances and possibilities as though they were physical interactions with concrete objects. I don't think this is a coincidence; I think that engagement in general is understood and experienced through metaphor, because we begin to internalize these gross physical behaviors at a very early age, and build our understanding of and inclination toward abstract concepts through a kind of imaginative interaction based upon them. I'm currently working on a speculative developmental account of engagement that can give a more solid sense to the concept, and to the essential roles it plays in motivation, appreciation, and love.

In the broadest sense, my engagement with a state of affairs is just the totality of my behavior toward it. This is an extremely general sort of relation that straddles the divide between the subjective and objective, as it encompasses perception, attention, construal, appraisal, and deliberation, as well as physical and social interaction. My innermost subconscious behavior toward the most abstract conceptions and my strenuous efforts toward concrete goals are both kinds of engagement. Engagement can be said to take place at many levels; a useful classification might label them sensory, perceptual, evaluative, imaginative, deliberative, verbal, physical, social, institutional, economical, and ecological. While I am awake, I am constantly engaged with concepts, memories, possibilities, expectations, my own self-image, my immediate physical environment, and all of the circumstances that constitute my total situation. For the purposes of this blog, I'll usually be writing about more subjective levels of engagement with persons, possibilities, or situations. At that level, it is almost always better to be more openly engaged than less so.

An attitude, in this context, is a pattern of engagement.

In all honesty, I don't know if all of this terminology is helping or hurting me, and I'll be a little surprised if anyone has read this far. Much of what I've said here may ultimately be a kind of scaffolding that I can safely cast off once I've found my way to a message that need not be expressed so tortuously. Until then, I'll be trudging along with these ideas in tow.

I really need to go to bed.

Parts of this account are based, however crudely, on the theory of conceptual metaphor, which falls within the very successful paradigm of embodied cognition that characterizes much of contemporary cognitive science.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Commitment as the basis of moral judgments

I want to write about morality soon, and certain concepts have become vital to my ideas about morality- engagement, commitment, significance- that I haven't quite figured out how to talk about yet. That's what I'm at work on now, and what's coming out of it is a theory of the nature of value which is both philosophical and psychological, and which also has the potential to be badly mistaken. I hope it's not, and after I've sketched it in my blog with all appropriate disclaimers, I'll have a lot of independent research to do in order to determine whether it's consistent with empirical results in modern psychology. One of my biggest worries is that I'm just spinning my wheels with all of this, and nothing of interest will finally come of it. Time will tell...

I want to say a few things right now about these ideas that I'm working on. Let me first put forth what will be, for some, the most troubling proposition I'll be advocating: There is no ultimate justification for anything.. Not for praising or condemning, not for war or peace, not for oppression or charity, not for anything. From the very beginning of Western philosophy, thinkers have attempted to discover the ultimate bases for their values in what truth they could discover about reality. I'm as certain of this as I am of anything: Our values have no ultimate basis in objective truth of any kind. When we clear away the obviously subjective influences of emotion, craving, desire, and preference from our moral schemes, what we are finally left with is not truth, but rather commitment. Commitments are deeply rooted and firmly directed motivations that drive us to achieve projects relevant to our own identity, to the lives we want to live, and to the world that we hope to be part of. They are closer to being mechanical impulses than to being statements that could be true or false. While commitments can be consistent or inconsistent with one another insofar as we aim through them toward conflicting results, and are therefore amenable to reason, they are never correct or incorrect in a way that transcends their contexts. It is commitment, rather than truth, which stands behind our judgment about what is right and wrong, what is good and evil, what we are required or forbidden to do, and how things should be.

After all that, I want to say this: While truth and falsehood do not lay at the basis of our moral judgments, they certainly play a vital role in our morality. Every day, ordinary decent people go about their ordinary decent business because they understand a little bit about how the world works and they're committed to living their lives in it. Meanwhile, deranged assholes oppress and terrorize populations of ordinary decent people because they're committed to the creation of a world in which their horrifically false ideology comes to fruition. Remember that there is no ultimate justification for choosing between these commitments, but ask yourself whether ultimate justification is something you really need in this case.

When we understand this principle correctly, we do not find ourselves required to abandon our commitments; rather, we come to understand that our commitments, and therefore our values, originate within us rather than within a perception of some transcendent scheme of ultimate value, and we cannot turn to such a scheme to nullify what pangs of conscience and empathy would call on us to question those values when we consider acting upon them. Understanding this about our commitments, we will still act upon them; what we will not do is adopt the kind of absolutist ideology that would triumph by any means necessary. My commitments include working for a world in which such ideologies are ancient relics.

That's enough for right now. I just wanted to put something here to convince myself and everyone else that I'm actually doing something. I'll post more about this stuff as I get it ironed out.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I'm not going anywhere.

Hey folks. I haven't abandoned this blog and I don't intend to. I still have a lot to say with it, and I'm making plans for future posts. I hope to be posting much more frequently in the near future so I'll get more traffic, which will let me reach more people and host ads for stuff I actually think is cool.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Contra Misanthropy

I don't know how to say this. I'm writing this blog, I'll write book after book, I will do lifetimes of research to find out how to say it. But I want to say it tonight.

Because we love, because we cherish, because we give, because we create, because we truly enjoy, because we fight to find the truth, because sometimes we do, because every single one of us is unique in history and a total surprise, because we rage, because we grieve, because we laugh, because with each of us the world is new again, I love us. I know about all of the other stuff, I know. I know that we have something better to be. My faith is in us, and I'm doing this for us.

Cynicism is so fucking boring. If you don't have anything helpful to say, stand in back and stop bothering the rest of us.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Imagine believing

I have seen the light rushing into your life, drawn by a desperate beauty that the world would crumble away in shame for letting go unseen. This is what we are. The rest was some kind of dreadful mistake.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My naturalistic worldview

The ideas I present in this blog will presuppose a background worldview that is similar, in many ways, to ordinary naturalism, or physicalism. I'm writing this post to clarify and justify that worldview a bit before taking it for granted in the posts that follow. I won't try to give any conclusive proofs of the conclusions I offer here, but I will try to show them to be plausible, and the worldview they're part of to be worth exploring.

First, I want to say what my kind of naturalism, if I may call it that, means in the most immediate and humanly significant terms: I think that consciousness and all other personal qualities are processes that emerge within, and are totally contingent upon, a larger impersonal reality (most proximately, the body that hosts them). There may be some confusion about what "personal qualities" means here, and I have not managed to come up with a precise definition (and I've tried). What I mean by it, however inexactly, is the collection of qualities by which we recognize one another as persons. This is a densely connected and difficult to delineate cluster of qualities which includes planning, intending, thinking in general, valuing, reasoning, having purposes, and the ability to comprehend and manipulate symbols. No one of these qualities indicates that the system having it is a person, but it would be hard to deny that title to a system possessing all of them.

Atheism and mortality are corollaries of this view: it rules out a personal God in any traditional sense, since such a God would have to be prior or parallel to any impersonal reality rather than contingent upon it, if any "impersonal reality" is compatible with belief in such a God at all. This brand of naturalism also rules out any kind of "soul" or conscious aspect of personhood that could exist independently of the body, since everything personal is contingent upon the body's operations.

Another point of my naturalistic worldview that I want to emphasize is that consciousness and mental activity in general are fully embedded in the vast impersonal reality upon which they are contingent, and are in no way exempt from the network of orderly interactions obtaining within it. This principle speaks against the powerful intuition that a psychologically normal humanbeast is associated with an abstract or immaterial "I" or self that somehow stands above or apart from the organism, directing events in a mysterious fashion that goes by the name of "free will", which can be used (intuitively but incoherently) to justify things like moral judgment and retributive punishment. This philosophical shadow of the soul is not a notion that will find much respect here.

The two italicized principles together hint at my skepticism of the idea that abstract objects such as numbers, laws, and concepts can have any existence independent from the minds that are thinking about them.

Naturalism is traditionally justified along these approximate lines: when divine revelation, mystical insight, naive intuition, and the dictates of authority are evaluated critically, they come up quite short as reliable explainers and predictors of reality as it is objectively observed and described. What seems to work best for that purpose is science, which I can describe well enough here as a combination of systematic observation, inspired guesses, and rigorous testing by logic, further observation, and heuristics such as simplicity and explanatory power. The world revealed to us by this most reliable method of knowledge formation is a world that seems thoroughly natural- that is, it proceeds spontaneously according to an inherent order, rather than being directed or sustained by any supernatural agency. This includes the behavior of humanbeasts, which leads to conclusions, including those described above, that many people throughout history have found chilling and even (mistakenly) nihilistic, and which has been a major barrier to the acceptance of naturalism wherever it has been proposed.

I will add to the above argument a point that I'll lift largely from my previous post. We humanbeasts learn about the world by understanding new experiences in terms of what is more familiar to us, and what is most familiar to us from the very beginning is ourselves, and one another. Our most fundamental experiences, beyond the basic sensory modalities, are personal, social, and symbolic. The concepts in terms of which we understand these experiences are those with which we will first try to interpret the world at large, wondering who put the stars in the sky, why water chooses to run downhill, what it feels like to be a tree, and how to translate animal sounds into our languages. We anthropomorphize promiscuously, construing for ourselves a role in an enchanted world, and we as a species have only slowly and painstakingly come to know that the real world really doesn't revolve around us. Science has been a long and painful process of disenchanting the natural world, withdrawing that anthropomorphizing impulse as far as we can to gain a clearer understanding of the reality we are part of. I am convinced that what is typically understood as "supernatural" has largely been an artifact of that impulse, and is something to grow out of rather than cling to.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

An unexpectedly long argument against theism

In the course of writing a blog post on my naturalistic worldview, I have composed an inconveniently long argument against theism (belief in a personal God). Rather than include it in the naturalism post, I've decided to post it first and link to it later. For whoever cares, there is now another argument against theism on the internet.

Disclaimer: I know that there are many answers to each of the objections I raise here, and there are important conceptions of God that are not addressed here. I don't think I have a knock-down argument against the existence of God, and I don't think I'm going to argue anyone out of theism. Please read this as an explanation of why I am an atheist, and why I think that atheism is a plausible position. Readers are welcome to challenge the argument presented here, but I don't want anyone to start out with the wrong idea.

This is my own version of a traditional argument. Science and history provide us with a couple of major streams of data, and I'll argue that a non-theistic worldview fits the relevant facts better than a theistic worldview.

Science provides us with an account of the history of life in which descent with random variation and the process of natural selection, along with other causal factors, have caused the patterns of variation, adaptation, and relatedness that we see among all modern organisms, including ourselves, from the first origins of life on Earth between 3 and 4 billion years ago (which scientists still don't understand), to Earth's verdant present. The history of our species' civilization yields a narrative in which each of the various human societies on every major land mass on Earth has developed its own mythology and forms of worship to suit its particular way of life- traditions which are, in some cases, partially embodied in and inspired by texts those societies hold sacred.

How does a theistic worldview accommodate these offerings of science and history? The account of human origins given by the theory of evolution seems to make a creator God superfluous. The task of creation can be pushed further back to the origin of life or even the origin of the cosmos, and while science does not yet (and may never) provide explanations of these events, just saying "God did it" is no better than posting a big question mark at those points in the timeline. This does not rule God out completely, but if God did create the cosmos, or life, by divine fiat, then why create a world where life would run on and on in such a wasteful, chaotic, and savage process as natural selection? Did a God of love determine that humanity would evolve through a process of adaptation in which the unfit are pared away by horrific deaths to end miserable lives, and their fit competitors would often meet equally awful ends a short time later? The history of life revealed to us by science is, to say the least, apparently incongruous with the notion of a benevolent, personal creator God. While God is not ruled out altogether, there doesn't seem to be any special place where God fits.

If God yet exists, there is a question of whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or some other religious tradition altogether can lead us to communion with the Creator. If it is Christianity, which Christianity is it? The same question applies to the others. If one of these traditions truly is inspired by God, and the others are counterfeits, how can we tell which is the real one? All of them seem to have equal claim to divine inspirations and miraculous interventions, and all of them seem to be overwhelmingly correlated with accidental factors such as geography and upbringing, rather than some special factor that sets one of them apart as a more credible option. Did God create the world in such a way that humanity would evolve and then develop a wild array of spiritual traditions, and then just inspire one of those traditions without telling everyone that it was the right one? Like the history of life on Earth, the history of humanity in particular seems incongruous with the notion of a benevolent Creator.

Does a non-theistic worldview have these kinds of problems? Natural history and human history have unfolded in a way that is perfectly consistent there being no God- at least the bits that we know about. What about the bits that we don't know? What about the origin of the cosmos, the origin of life, the nature of consciousness, and whatever other various gaps there are in our understanding of the cosmos? As mentioned before, these are things that we don't know, and may never know- things we may not even have the capacity to understand. But is it better to accept some ancient myth whose veracity I hope now seems very shaky, or is it better to own up to our (blameless) ignorance about these matters, admitting to and perhaps even celebrating to our place in a truly mysterious cosmos?

I offer one more consideration in support of a non-theistic perspective. We humanbeasts learn about the world by understanding new experiences in terms of what is more familiar to us, and what is most familiar to us from the very beginning is ourselves, and one another. Our most fundamental experiences, beyond the basic sensory modalities, are personal, social, and symbolic. The concepts in terms of which we understand these experiences are those with which we will first try to interpret the world at large, wondering who put the stars in the sky, why water chooses to run downhill, what it feels like to be a tree, and how to translate animal sounds into our languages. We anthropomorphize promiscuously, construing for ourselves a role in an enchanted world, and we as a species have only slowly and painstakingly come to know that the real world really doesn't revolve around us. I suggest that God, rather than being the ultimate spiritual insight, has been the grandest expression of our anthropomorphic mode of understanding. Like the other forms of anthropomorphism we have learned to withdraw from our understanding of the world, we will let God take its rightful place as a fondly remembered story as we proceed in our commitment to the truth.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Preview of my worldview post

I'm working on my next big entry, presenting some basics of my naturalistic worldview. I don't know when it will be ready, but I just wrote an interesting paragraph that I thought might make a nice preview. Think of it as a very rough speculation about the nature of physical law. It will not appear in the final draft as it is here because it is nearly unreadable. I hope you have fun reading it anyway.

Rather than the naive picture of laws governing the behavior of pieces of hard, continuous substance, understand reality as a heterogeneous, ordered structure in which several strands respond to each other (a woven structure?), behaving spontaneously in a way that can only be inferred by us from their changing spacial relationships, space being the field of relationships between them. Causation is just the unfolding of the spontaneous behavior of these several strands as they respond to one another. This is "metaphysical behaviorism". The "laws" do not have their own mysterious existence, but are rather descriptions of the orderly behavior of those strands. The order itself, and how those strands can respond to one another without being One Ultimate Thing and thus being altogether undifferentiated, is a mystery, and we should not presume that humble reason can solve it (and we should never stop trying to).

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Project of a Humanistic Spirituality

In this entry I want to address the questions of what it would mean to develop a humanistic spiritual philosophy, why I'm trying to do it, and just who I think I am anyway, that I think myself fit to go about it.

These are good questions. There are already countless forms of spirituality in the world, and I hope that I am as quick as anyone to assert that many of them carry invaluable insights into human nature and human life, and tools for the creation of meaning and the organization of feeling and identity, which are at least as good as any that I could possibly offer out of my decade of philosophizing. All of the major religious traditions have their great virtues and their special beauty, and all are worth discovering, experiencing, learning about, and learning from. Of course, they all have their downsides too; they are all human creations, and they have all been put to every kind of human end in their long histories, through the best times and the worst, in the most exalted and the most horrifying aspects that humanity has displayed.

The time we live in now is radically different from that in which those ancient spiritual traditions were first conceived. Science has revealed to us a vast and wondrous world that no revelation or mystical insight has ever managed to shed light on; Philosophy, and history, and the arts have introduced us to ourselves in a way that makes much of what religion can tell us about ourselves redundant, or simply false. Technology has made it possible for us to achieve feats (for better and for worse) that were once thought possible only for supernatural beings. Nothing we have achieved or experienced as a species, however, has eliminated the truths of mortality, uncertainty, or loneliness from our lives; nothing, therefore, has lifted from us the need for spirituality.

Being spiritual creatures does not mean that we are hostages to ancient ideas and practices that are both false and damaging to our lives. Contemporary religion is rarely read strictly and literally out of ancient texts, and when it is, it is rightly spurned and ridiculed by rational people of both religious and non-religious stripes. The most reasonable alternative for those who remain within the traditional religions is to see ancient texts as flawed human attempts to understand and interface with a divine reality, and to see the religions built on them as evolving means to access, honor, or utilize that reality through faith, narrative, ritual, and community. Some who decide to live outside of those traditions (more or less) have developed new forms of spirituality promoting reverence or scorn for the older forms, some of them farcically stupid, others intentionally comedic, and a few both serious and genuinely worthwhile. I hope that my current project will fall into this last category, and that it will provide something both unique and valuable within it.

It is highly questionable whether the word "spirituality" has any meaning in a context that is denuded of "supernatural" content, and founded on a respect for science, rationality, civilization, and the moral and creative potential of humanity. The case can be made, however, that supernatural connotations for that word are seen to be entirely optional when the function of spirituality in human life is understood. For the purposes of this work, that function, very briefly, is to provide a grounding and organizing framework for "the deepest values and meanings by which people live", to borrow some words from Philip Sheldrake. While we may not have immaterial souls or "spirits" in the any traditional sense, we are aware of ourselves as finite, vulnerable creatures whose lives yet have genuine significance, and we value those lives and invest them with purpose. A humanistic spirituality is one that characterizes such value and purpose in terms of our natural lives- the only lives that we certainly get to live.

I did not set out at the beginning of this long process to develop a new spiritual perspective, but when I discovered that I was doing so, I embraced the fact. The time is ripe for forms of spirituality that have grown out of a contemporary naturalistic worldview, which owe little to the ancient religions that civilized humanity has grown up with and now suffers from, and which are not conscious imitations or mockeries of earlier forms. Inescapably, the perspective I will present in the course of this blog is a personal one; it won't be acceptable to everyone, and it might not be acceptable to anyone but me, but the most important thing about it is not whether anyone ends up agreeing with it. Its most essential function is to inspire and challenge, to stimulate thought and feeling, to encourage those who encounter it to engage creatively with their own "deepest values and meaning". In these terms I hope my project does not seem too hubristic; I am inviting you along to share my journey through the new self-understanding that modern science and society have made possible.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Science, Religion, and a Surprise Third Contender

Today I revisited one of my old facebook notes, and found it a pretty decent piece of writing, in addition to its being germane to the topic of the previous post. Where that post concerned the nature of philosophy, this note concerns its value.

As long as I'm introducing a re-posted facebook note, I'd also like to draw the attention of new readers to an earlier entry in this blog which also includes the text of an old note. Neither Owed Nor Promised is a rather long post setting forth my philosophical worldview in very broad strokes, and can be considered something of a preview of what's to come in this blog.

Now, without further ado, here's this entry's featured content:

Sam Harris has written a book called The Moral Landscape which has sparked a huge debate about whether science can tell us what we should believe is morally right, or whether we must ultimately turn to religion. This debate makes itself a little ridiculous by leaving out the mode of discourse this is most important to the domain of morality: philosophy.

Nobody cares about philosophy. That's not just a problem for philosophy; it's a problem for everybody. Philosophy is that form of discourse in which we engage in critical, rational, and creative ways with the concepts that are most fundamental to our lives: what is real, what is right and wrong, what is good or bad, better or worse, what can be known and how it can be known, and what really matters anyway. When we neglect philosophy, we neglect clear thinking and serious discussion, and we simply take for granted the categories and basic assumptions that are handed to us by society. Philosophy is something that we can grow and understand only so much without.

When we divide all discourse between science, religion, journalism, and cheap editorials, we fail to get at the root of anything, and to really question our ideas as far as we should. This is most important in the areas of morality and politics because they're not about objects that we can observe (Can you take a yardstick to justice or value?), but rather subjects that can only be addressed by a widespread conversation. This is the case in a democratic society, at least. In a more closed society, these issues would be decided for us and we would just have to take the answers we were fed. Then again, if we don't discuss them and decide upon them for ourselves, that's exactly what's happening...

So question everything, friends, and make a little time to think things through, or you can be sure that someone else is doing it for you. And remember that, when it comes to issues close to your heart, science and religion are not the only voices to consider. For those of you who are interested in philosophy but haven't seen a way into it yet, I'll list a few decent introductions:

From Socrates to Sartre




Sophie's World


Friday, February 4, 2011

What is philosophy?

Since this is a blog about a humanistic "spiritual philosophy", I think I should put a few words here early on about what I mean by "spiritual" and "philosophy".

Philosophy is a difficult thing to define, and no single definition is likely to satisfy even a large number of its practitioners and enthusiasts. Having fairly acknowledged this, I blunder on ahead to offer my own definiton: philosophy is discourse which proceeds through rational, critical, and creative engagement with the fundamental concepts underlying an account of some field of human (or any other category of appropriately sapient creature) practice or experience.

To elaborate-

Philosophy is discourse. It is a grand discussion taking place in both speech and writing, sometimes to the aim of uncovering the truth about something (in which case it is the subset of discourse called inquiry), and sometimes for the sake of clarifying, discovering, or creating new points of view, ideas, and even worldviews.

Philosophical discussion is a rational endeavor; ideally, participants are mindful of the coherence and validity of their claims and arguments, and they appeal to one another's intelligence and intuition rather than struggling for rhetorical domination. Philosophy is a critical process; everything is open to question, all the time, including the basic concepts and vocabulary of the discussion. Philosophy can be a creative activity; as indicated in the previous paragraph, it can involve the construction of new concepts, ideas, and even worldviews. In this way, philosophy may at times be a form of art.

Philosophy is concerned with concepts. The philosopher deals carefully with ideas, defining them when he or she can, exploring their structure, seeking out their uses and boundaries, asking after their soundness and propriety, pointing out inconsistencies, and suggesting replacements and improvements.

When philosophy is subdivided, as into philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, moral philosophy, epistemology, etc., it is to indicate that these fields involve investigations into the conceptual foundations of their subjects: science, mind, morality, knowledge, etc. Philosophy is not limited to such abstract subjects- there could just as easily be philosophy of sports, of fashion, of software engineering, philosophy of anything that humanbeasts concern themselves with and are inclined to discuss.

Keep in mind, I've offered a contentious definition here, and everything that follows has been equally questionable. This is what I take philosophy to be, and I have defined it in terms of the good things that it, uniquely, does for humanity, as far as I can see.

The definition I've offered is rather woolly and vague (this is not an accident), and I won't be making any special efforts to stick to it as I go about philosophizing (or failing to). Philosophy does not have the same kind of demarcation problems that science has; there is no danger that I will venture into pseudophilosophy and lead you astray with a false appearance of authority. There are no authorities here. If you disagree with me about what philosophy is or whether I'm doing it, then disagree! These are entirely discussible items.

I'd like to keep preliminary entries like this short and punchy, so I won't draw this out any further; I will save the little bit that I'd like to say about spirituality for another entry.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Am I a nihilist?

The word "nihilism" seems to live a double life, in a way that I think sheds light on the basic error in thinking which underlies moral realism.

On one hand, nihilism can simply mean the position that there are no ultimate values, that nothing is objectively good or bad, right or wrong. In this sense, I am a nihilist.

On the other hand, nihilism can mean a lack of values altogether, so that the nihilist has no real commitments and cares for nothing but manipulating circumstances for the sake of his or her own gratification. This is a kind of animal that I definitely am not, and hope never to become.

I think some people assume that the first meaning of nihilism listed above is synonymous with, or somehow leads to, the second. This is not the case, and I think I can say why very clearly and concisely; I do have values, but I do not hold them just because of something I believe to be true.

I am deeply committed to truth, freedom, love, empathy, compassion, fairness, enjoyment, appreciation, desire, creativity, and other qualities that I think of as making up a good human life, but I do not believe any of these things are good or right in the same way that I believe (for example) massive bodies attract each other according to an inverse square law to an extremely good approximation.

I hold the values that I do for reasons that are too numerous and complex for me to try to summarize in a brief post, but I understand that the reasons for my holding these values are not exhausted by empirical observations, logical arguments, and authoritative instruction, and if someone else holds values contrary to mine, it is not necessarily because one of us is wrong about about something. The sources of our values are not in the outside world; they are within us, and we are responsible for the values we hold and for what we do on their behalf. This is one of my most important beliefs, and it's something I'm going to elaborate on a great deal in the future.

So, in a rather trivial and artificial sense, but a sense that might hold weight with some people, I can rightly be called a nihilist. In a deeper, more interesting sense, I am anything but. I think it's important to understand that a lack of belief in objective value is far from implying a lack of values altogether.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Welcome post!

Hello new and old readers! This is my first post after taking advantage of google's free advertising offer, so I thought I'd do an introductory post to tell everyone something about who I am and what my blog is all about.

There's not much worth telling about me- I'm someone whose life has been consumed by reading, writing, and thinking, but this is my first attempt to turn those inclinations toward monetary gain. I am an atheist (or an atheist agnostic or a nontheist), a moral skeptic (or error theist or even nihilist), and a devoted humanist. I have ideas about philosophy and spirituality that I think are rather original and worth sharing with the world, and I hope that I manage to draw the attention and hold the interest of large numbers of people who will be inclined to click on the stupid little ads on the right side of my page, but I'll be happy to host a fruitful exchange of ideas on any scale.

The overarching project to which this blogs is devoted is to explore the notion of a meaningful life in a totally nontheistic, humanistic, arguably naturalistic context, and to work the spiritual philosophy I've been scribbling into notebooks for the last decade into a respectable and presentable form. My writing in this blog will not be limited to that explicit project, however; I will be doing the blogger thing, writing about whatever I care to and responding to other bloggers who I think have something interesting to say.

If you look through my previous entries, you will find a wide variability of subject matter and writing quality. Up until now this has been a personal blog that I've just shared with a few friends, and I haven't made a conscious effort to write well, to post regularly, or to respond to comments. Now that I'm making a conscious effort to reach out to large numbers of new readers, I'll be working hard to do all of those things.

So welcome to Laugh at the Darkness. If you like what you see, keep coming around, and let me know who you are! I'll be happy to hear from you if you love me, hate me, or just wonder what I'll say next, and I'll do my best to reply to your comments. Think, communicate, and have fun!