Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

I wish you all, whoever might stumble across this tiny corner of the web, a happy New Years.

I am, presently, drunk. Three Coronas, four Jager Bombs, a Surfer on Acid, and half a bottle wine are currently coursing through my system.

It occurs to me, that, at this moment I am happy. I am content. I enjoy my existence in this state. If, however, you were to offer me a button that would perpetuate it, I would refuse. I am in a state of joy, but I am not in a state of fulfillment.

Put simply, I feel good, but that is not enough. There is more to human existence than merely feeling good. Feeling content, or feeling good, is prerequisite to the most important matters of human existence.

There is something else we seek. I do not know what it precisely is. But a finite life spent exciting the parts of our brain responsible for pleasure will not satisfy our natures.

More than pleasure is requires.

Take it from a drunk individual, the sort of individual most likely to throw everything away for pleasure.

This activity is enjoyable, but it does not fulfill. We must go beyond. Go further. Find something else.

In the meantime, though, this is indeed fun.

I wish you all a happy New Years. For when one enjoys himself, he wishes that others will enjoys themselves too.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

So Where Do I End?

Reflections and Considerations on the Topic of the Self

Part Five of Five

This is just a summing-up kind of conclusion, for anything of substance, read: Part One: Do I Exist?, Part Two: What Am I?, Part Three: I Am a Perspective, and Part Four: Am I One Who Sees?

I can approach my brain as an object in the world, but I cannot approach my perception as an object in the world. I am looking at the world. I am finding the world. I am the activity of finding the world. That is all I can say at the moment. So, in answer to the question that we started with, yes I do exist. I exist as an activity, but not as any known object or substance in the world.

There is a hopeful part of me that would like to think that this activity proceeds from a substance that I cannot approach. If, however, there is a substance that I cannot approach, then I will have just as much reason for believing in it as I do a substance that does not exist. For now, I must be content with where I am at.

I cannot deny that there are slippery areas in this essay, areas that need to be tightened, examined, and scrutinized, but for now, these are the ideas and arguments that I stand by.

I look forward to revisiting this topic, I am certain that I will do so. Now, with a basic notion of my ideas formed, I can have them ripped to shreds by actually reading the literature on this topic. Once I have something else to say, I'll write up another blog (or series of blogs).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Am I One Who Sees?

Reflections and Considerations on the Topic of the Self

Part Four of Five

This won't make much sense if you don't read the thought processes that preceded it: Part One: Do I Exist?, Part Two: What Am I?, and Part Three: I Am a Perspective

There is now a question. Am I the perception from a certain point of view or am I something that perceives from a certain point of view?

If I have adequately distilled down the essence of what I am, that perception, then the question becomes whether or not it is epistemically justified to imagine that there is a substance behind the action that is I.

Perceiving is an activity. If I am perception from a certain point of view, perhaps it is possible that there is a substance that is perceiving. If there is, we cannot experience this substance, we can only experience the perceiving itself. If, however, there does indeed exist such a substance, then surely that substance would be I, whereas that perception is simply what I am experiencing.

Now as I approach this substance in text I approach it as an “Other” in the world, but that is because we are not approaching the substance itself, but rather a speculative abstract notion of the substance. If there is such a substance, we have never encountered it, nor should be ever do so (since to do so would mean that it was Other). It must either be I or it must not exist, in both cases, we should have no way of approaching it.

Occam's Razor

On the other hand, perhaps I have simply over-complicated the issue. Maybe I have multiplied when I should have reduced? Is it not much simpler to say that the substance that makes up the self is just parts of the human brain? That I am, in fact, just part of whatever brain that generates my perspective? That I had things right earlier, and then needlessly muddied the water?

In fact, maybe I've subconsciously smuggled some dualism in here from the outset. After all, I said that I can not be something that I approach because everything that I can approach is Other to me. I can approach all objects in the world, though. So, maybe I've just played some logical games to justify some kind of spiritual or mental substance, when really the only substance I need concern myself with is in my skull.

For the moment, though, I still find my argument to be sound.

1. Everything that I can approach is Other.
2. By definition, I am not Other.
3. I can approach my brain in the world.
4. Therefore I am not my brain.

Perhaps another argument could be made. Perhaps my brain is, in fact, the substance that generates perspective, but that I am, in fact, only the perspective. That was, after all, where my argument ended, with me being perspective. Maybe I am generated by something that I do not identify with.

At this time, this seems to be the simplest plausible explanation. And, in fact, I suppose that I have to be content here. All I can say is that I am perception from a certain point of view. There is nothing in my argument that implies I cannot approach what generates me as being separate from me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why Put the Pickle on the Tree?

For the past several years, my family has practiced the tradition of rushing out on December 23rd to grab the least dead tree we could find and throwing on our decorations to enjoy it until the nearest weekend. This year, due to some rather significant changes, we got an earlier start on our Christmas decorating and actually have our tree up early so that we can enjoy it all month long. It's a beautiful tree; a little over seven feet tall, wrapped in enough lights that it can illuminate the entire living room by itself, decorated with shatterproof plastic bulbs and a handful of glass ones, topped off with a glowing star and with a “German” Christmas pickle hidden somewhere in the branches.

I really love our Christmas tree. There's just one thing that's nagging at me.

Why did I have a tree chopped down and put in my living room anyway? What the hell am I celebrating?

I do not mean this in the “I am an atheist, so what does it mean when I celebrate a Christian/pagan holiday” sense, I mean quite literally, why do we do this? You can point to the historical origins of Christmas trees, but that will not necessarily explain why we continue to do it. For that matter, why Christmas lights? Why Santa Claus? What do any of these traditions have to do with my family?

You probably did not click on the link in the first paragraph about the German Christmas pickle, did you? You see, this year we received a “Christmas pickle,” a plastic ornament shaped like a pickle that is hidden in the tree and then searched for on Christmas day to give the person who finds it good fortune for the next year. According to the packaging, it's based on a German custom. I have no doubt that it will become one of my family's personal holiday traditions.

But it has no actual basis in German tradition (as that link discusses). And even if it did, it has no basis in my family's tradition. We aren't German. We don't have any reason to uphold German traditions, let alone German traditions that the Germans are not even aware of. So why put the pickle on the tree?

One of my favorite Christmas movies is Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, a stop-motion film from Rankin-Bass. One of the reasons I like it is that it just pulls origins for Christmas traditions straight out of its ass. It invents reasons for reindeer, stockings, Santa coming down the chimney, and an explanation for how he managed to became the worlds most prolific voyeur. That movie is well aware that no one knows why we participate in the traditions and just makes up reasons as it goes along. So, again, why put the pickle on the tree?

It is tempting to look at the historical origins as the reason. And in some cases, this is valid. The fact that Jesus' birth has historically been celebrated on Christmas explains why a Christian family would put up a Nativity display, for example. But the Tannenbaum's origins don't explain why modern American families of non-German origin would continue with the tradition. And how do I justify putting up images of Santa Claus in his bright red coat when I'm really more of a Pepsi fan? These traditions may have made sense to the cultures in which they originated, and it makes sense for people who want to participate in the legacy of that tradition, but I still don't know why I should put the pickle on the tree.

I realize that I probably sound ridiculous at this point, for the simple fact that it's fairly obvious that we take part in these traditions because they're fun and enjoyable. I'm asking “why” in a situation that doesn't need a justification. But, really, far be it from me to demand a justification for anything! I don't want anything justified, I just want it explained. Or, more truthfully, I want to make a point in the course of asking for an explanation.

Look at Chanukah. Why are the various traditions upheld during that celebration? Well, because it's celebrated by Jews who are taking part in the traditions that earlier Jews took part in for the sake of celebrating some aspect of Jewish culture, in this case, the Maccabean revolt and the rededication of the temple. When asked why they light the candles in the Menorah, they can say that it is because they want to celebrate their heritage.

Christmas, however, is full of traditions we no longer can explain, apart from just doing them because our families have always done them. This, at this point, is inevitable. And, hell, the traditions are still fun and there's certainly no reason to discontinue them (I don't want Christmas without Christmas trees). But, I think we have an excellent opportunity here. Since we cannot explain our traditions, why not create some more traditions that we can explain? Traditions particular to our families, traditions that we can create the significance for, traditions that our friends and loved ones actually know the origin of.

Gather round kids, it's time for the annual raising of the BAC! Let me tell you the story of the first time Grandpa got shitfaced in his Santa suit, and then we'll take turns betting on which article of clothing he will befoul first. Yay Christmas!

For example, start putting a plastic pickle in your Christmas tree to remind you and your family of that first Christmas in a different house.

Why I Blog

Sometimes I wonder why I even bother with blogs, why I even bother posting these things online. There is, after all, a potential harm in posting all of your thoughts online: people can read the undeveloped thoughts that you may want to disown one day. Of course, in most cases this does not particularly matter, most blogs are born in obscurity and they usually live and die there. Mine in no exception. This still leaves the question of why I blog in the first place: what is gained by posting my thoughts online that is not gained by writing them and, say, leaving them on my computer?

Recently, when starting this blog, I had a reason to go back over earlier blogs and read what I had written over the last few years. In the course of doing that, I found at least one thing that my blog provided me: a written record of my thoughts over the years. I could read all the posts I made when I was deconverting, the ones I wrote when embracing nihilism, and all the little blogs that spoke hypothetically when I was actually trying to make sense of some idea. Why couldn't I get that same benefit by just writing in a journal or just writing on my computer?

The benefit lies in this: by having a blog I know that there is a possibility, no matter how remote, that I might have to defend something I've written. Consequently, I only post my writings that meet a certain standard of quality. Over the years, I've deliberately tried to lower that standard for various reasons, but the fact remains that when something is posted on one of my blogs, its something that I judged was good enough to have associated with me at one time. Years later when I review my blogs, I know what ideas I chose to associate myself with, and which ideas I chose to let rot in a file on my computer somewhere.

Why do I write at all, though? Why is it that whenever I don't have a blog, I start wanting a blog? What is the purpose of writing in the first place? It's clear that I don't write for the reader's sake (what readers?), I write for my own. I gain two things by forcing myself to keep a blog: first, I gain an opportunity to be productive, and consequently make myself a more productive person; second, I gain an opportunity to take my thoughts and refine them into coherent, written expression, which consequently makes me a clearer thinker and a better writer. These two reasons are why I always feel that I am in some way leading a better life when I'm actively blogging as opposed to living without a written record; they are both opportunities to progress.

I browse the internet, and I come across other blogs that people have built for themselves. Sometimes I walk away feeling superior, other times I walk away convinced that my time would be better spent digging ditches than filling the internet with my chatter. If there's one hope I have from seeing other people's blogs, however, it would be that at some point I will have become productive enough and clear thinking enough that I can consistently produce blogs that some handful of people would find helpful and interesting. Having the audience is not the goal, having the audience is evidence that the goal has been attained or that the goal is being attained.

Of course, if I ever actually had an audience, that would mean explaining why I once called my blog The Daily Bullshit....

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I Am a Perspective

Reflections and Considerations on the Topic of the Self

Part Three of Five

This one can be read on its own, but is really only valuable as part of the series, which so far consists of Part One: Do I Exist? and Part Two: What Am I?

Take my brain, take the self-aware, willing, sentient consciousness and let me look at it. If I can, then that is not I.

Why does it seem strange to say “I am a brain?” I think if one is quite honest with themselves, nearly everyone finds this an odd concept until they take the time to get used to the idea and to find merit in the logic, presuppositions, and evidence that leads to that position. It seems to me, though, that the reason we have difficulty saying that I am a brain is that we picture a brain in our mind. It is an object. We can look at it. We can touch and probe it. We think of it as “out there.”

And the fundamental problem is that nothing can encounter itself “out there.” Out there is everything other.

Everything I can encounter as an object is other from me. I can approach my brain, my whole brain, as an object in the world. Therefore, I am not my brain.

Self-aware, willing, sentient consciousness. Can I approach this from the outside? Certainly. I can observe you being self-aware, you being willing, you being sentient, and you being conscious. But can I approach all self-awareness? All willing? All sentience? All consciousness? Distill this down, is there at least one self-awareness I cannot approach from the outside? At least one will? One sentience? One consciousness?

It seems to me that this is not the case. I can see my own self-awareness as a phenomenon (in fact, is that not the essence of self-awareness?) My own will. My own sentience. And, indeed, my own consciousness. In fact, at the beginning of this essay I said that this was a matter where introspection might be useful, and my introspection was the act of reflection on my self-awareness, will, sentience, and consciousness as things I had found.

At this point, I take a detour. Now I have to ask what is it that is trying to approach these things. I see then that it is, at the very least, a perspective. A perception, from a certain point of view. In trying to see if there was a self-awareness/will/sentience/consciousness I could not approach from the outside, I realized that I was looking at all of these things through a point of view. That point of view, I now say, is the essence of self. The “seeing through this eye” is what constitutes the I.

Anything that can be seen is Other, whatever makes up the seeing is the I.

Illness and Hedonism

It is inevitable, I am bound to get sick at least two to four times starting in November and continuing into January. Currently, I'm in the middle of my second illness, a mild cold. Fortunately, being sick gave me a time to reflect on my emotional reaction to an aspect of reality. It provided me with an opportunity to gain insight into my response to a particular experience. It allowed me to discover what understanding could be gained from the perspective of someone who is (slightly) sick.

Being sick sucks.

Apart from that mind-blowing revelation, though, I had a train of thought on the first night when I could feel myself getting sick. I will come to that train of thought in a moment, first, a little background information.

I'm no fan of hedonism. I'm no fan of the notion that pleasure is good and pain is bad, partly because I think it is quite possible for pain to be good and pleasure to be bad, but even more pertinently, because I think there are other matters that can be valued more highly than pleasure and that in those cases pleasure and pain are subordinate to those higher values. Of course, due to my current nihilism, I cannot say that there is anything actually better than pleasure, only that I myself am very much relieved that humanity has historically managed to find much that they valued more highly.

Two considerations always concerned me, though. While I always found a hedonistic utopia hollow, I also found any situation that did not contain pleasure to be unsatisfying. Pleasure was not sufficient, but it was necessary; if you're interested in testing this for yourself, try to imagine yourself in heaven, however you would like to conceive it, but imagine it without anything resembling what you would call a good feeling. This always concerned me because it seemed to lend credence to the idea that conceiving of something as good was the same as conceiving of it as pleasant. The other consideration was that it seemed to me that alleviating suffering oftentimes seemed important and worthwhile to me; seeing people I care about suffer, even if their sufferings were actually quite insignificant, made me want to make things better for them. However, if there were more valuable things to be concerned about, then why did I care so much about their suffering, why did it so easily become a priority?

The train of thought I had, which I think will explain those two considerations without falling into hedonism, was this: when I am sick all I want is to get better. I want to stop feeling bad, and in fact, when I am sufficiently sick, that tends to be the prime focus of my life. Once I get better, though, I move on to other considerations. The increase of pleasure and the minimizing of pain is not my prime value when I am well, but it is when I am sick. Why is this?

It occurred to me that the life of pleasure vs. pain could be seen as a kind of necessity. As an analogy, consider oxygen: no one would live their whole life in pursuit of oxygen, but take it away and that becomes the single most important thing in the world. Once access is restored, the formerly deprived person will go back to whatever he finds truly valuable in the world. There are things that are important or even vital, but which can be satisfied to such an extent that they cease to seem worth seeking until they again become lacking. Oxygen is one such thing for physiological reasons; pleasure and the absence of pain could be one such thing in a spiritual, emotional, or mental sense.

Yes, one can lead a hedonistic life in pursuit of pleasure and in flight from pain, but for most people, happiness does not consist of just matters of pleasure. Still, matters of pleasure and pain are a part of happiness, they must be tended to before we move on to our higher values. I conceive of it, now, like a pyramid, sort of like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs; on the bottom of the pyramid are all the things that must be satisfied and moved beyond.

If you need to shit, you go and shit. But who would lead a life in pursuit of shitting? Shit, and then move on.

One thought occurs to me now, though. All those “higher” values, whatever they might be (say, love, power, harmony, or creative expression), do we pursue these things because we value them so much or do we pursue them because they're permanently elusive? They either can't be completely satisfied or they are very unlikely to be satisfied, so they can only be more fulfilled or less fulfilled. If they were to ever be fulfilled, though, would they too be moved beyond? A question for another day.