Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Head in the Clouds

Towards the end of June I increased my writing output, posting at least one post every day for 40 days (as of this post). This, I have enjoyed. I put into words for the first time a number of ideas that were floating in my head. Some are ideas I imagine I'm going to have to kill one day, some are ideas I hope I can keep for the rest of my life, none of them are as fully developed as I want them to be, but I am okay with that for the time being. I love everything that I have posted, and I love having this blog as a hobby and a motivator to keep reading and thinking.

But, if there's one thing I tend to feel acutely after too much time writing about abstract concepts, it's that you start to feel a little divorce between your head and your world. The world isn't abstract, it's concrete. And the world isn't historical, it's the present (although I haven't posted in that area). And people aren't sociological or anthropological, they're individual humans. And while I think it is good and useful to examine the limitations of thought and knowledge, I also think it is necessary that we remember that it is still our thought and our knowledge and that we must use them to navigate and experience our world.

That's why after awhile, once I get my thoughts down and I spend a little time with my head “in the clouds” so to speak, I need to come back down for a little while. Look at the world through another one of my vantage points for awhile, let my ideas simmer on the backburner for a little while, explore some different geography, direct my energies elsewhere for a little while.

Now the only question is, where should I direct them? Actually, that isn't much of a question, because I have already decided.

Monday, July 30, 2012

How Does Bane Eat

Someone found this blog by Googling "how does bane eat." I am, quite frankly, relieved that I am finally being looked to as the fountain of Batmanian information that I am. Heaven forbid that I let the internet down (for, as you will notice, nothing on my blog actually contains information about Bane's digestive process, it's mostly thrown together posts about perspectivism), therefore I sat down in my armchair and resolved that I would solve this conundrum - this conundrum that seems to demand empirical investigation - sheerly through a priori reasoning and steadfast commitment!

Fear not, for I managed to conjure the answer to this riddle!

With his mouth. He eats with his mouth. You're welcome.

That mouth. The one that exists under the removable mask he wears.

Proportions, Nothing But Proportions

Let us be charitable for a moment: what is the likelihood that someone is so lost in irrationality that their point of view completely lacks merit? I think it is slim. We have grown accustomed to erring on the side of cynicism whenever it comes to questions of rationality, knowledge, and bravery. We should keep a little cynicism, of course, but I think we should also have a little good faith, if only when we are dealing with people so moved by philosophical questions that they begin devoting serious time to wrestling with them. The good faith stemming from the idea that if we can wrestle honestly with a philosophical question, then others should likewise be able.

But, then, if we have two honest thinkers who are honestly wrestling with shared evidence and come to two varying conclusions, what can we say? It is tempting to accuse one of the thinkers of cowardice, bias, ignorance, or some other corruption to account for the discrepancy. This seems reasonable to me: it is hard to imagine a man who is not afraid, ignorant, biased, and in various other ways corrupt. What does not seem reasonable to me is the idea that one of the thinkers does not suffer likewise!

This is certainly not an absolute rule, but a general one. If an idea is strong enough that a school of thought can be built around it, it probably has a point. What it lacks, and what accounts for opposing views, is vision. It might have a little insight, but its vision narrows because it focuses too tightly on its insight. Other groups have their little insights too. Conflict occurs because of the appearance of contradiction, however the truth may be that we have two valid insights and we need simply to see how they relate to each other. That is, maybe it is all a question of proportions.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Geography of the Mind

Sometimes when you reflect on the process of thinking itself, you can start to feel like an explorer. I don't want to start using overly flowery language and talking about “traversing the fields of concepts, the forests of illusions, and the seas of new ideas” or something stupid like that. I just mean that you tend to find certain ideas where you feel comfortable, almost like thinking about them is like resting in a friendly house; then there are other ideas that make you uneasy, like you're walking around an unfriendly alley; and of course there are ideas that you see obscurely because they're new and you haven't thought them through much yet.

I don't go exploring in real life, but it reminds me of what it feels like to explore in an RPG, so my pasty, sunless self will stick to the comparison. Thinking can be a kind of exploration. It isn't arbitrary: logic and data determine the nature of the ideas that can be explored and a fundamental shifting up of vantage points is just like shifting up landmasses, whereas a more contingent shifting up is just further exploration of the environment.

And just like with geography, different ideas will produce different moods. And those moods can even change over time. And something lovable can be spoiled when you find that it contains something ugly. And something ugly can be redeemed when you find that it contains something lovable. And sometimes, you just want to go on vacation.

And much like exploring: it's easy to wander around admiring the territory, but it's difficult and more useful to make a map of it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

If You Are Going to Have Demons and Medicine

In the Gospels, there is much text devoted to Jesus casting out demons. In my experience, the Christian approach to these passages seems to be that there used to be common demonic possession, but that it either no longer happens or is too rare to be concerned about. If someone has a seizure, they go to a doctor, not a priest. If a child is epileptic, then the child is epileptic, nothing more. He will be given medical treatment, and any talk of demons will be politely disregarded.

Perhaps on the other hand, they should ask "what is it like to be epilepsy?"

Friday, July 27, 2012

Discipleship and Mediocrity

Time spent reading is not time spent thinking. And time spent receiving is not time spent giving. And Time spent being a student is not time spent being a teacher.

This makes me think that it is possible to spend too much time learning from other thinkers, to the extent that you will not develop your own creativity. This should not be a problem for those in the sciences, but for philosophers and artists, I think it is quite possible to become too much of a mirror by spending too much time reflecting. You can slip into being an historian of philosophy instead of being a philosopher; just like you could catch yourself being an art critic or an art teacher instead of being an artist.

To create innovative new vantage points, you need distance between yourself and other thinkers. You need to come to the problem from a new angle so that you can look at things in a different way.

On the other hand, what is the likelihood that you will actually produce something useful? There is a good chance that if you spend too much time thinking and writing, you will not realize that everything you are producing is beneath what already exists. Then you're just an asshole stinking up the internet with your pseudointellectual blog.

Like every situation where there are two desirables in tension with each other, there are balances to be found.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Well Rounded or Well Defined?

Which is better, being a well rounded man with a little taste for everything, or being a well defined man who has learned to excel in the narrow areas that he has chosen for himself?

I can not quite say. In my experience, oftentimes the only way around whatever your present difficulties are is to go looking in areas that are not a part of your life. Adding territory to your comfort zone, that is, becoming more well-rounded. On the other hand, time is quite limited, you cannot reach the summits in any aspect of life if you spend all your time exploring the foot of the mountain. Which suggests that there is reason to prefer being well defined.

Naturally, both of these have their charms, and there are balances that can be struck between the two. But I am not just being abstract here, there is a practical question to be answered here. When I choose my next book, should I stay within my common ground, or choose something out of the ordinary for myself?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wherein I Ramble About The Dark Knight Rises

So, I just returned from seeing The Dark Knight Rises, and I want to talk about it. I want to further my enjoyment of it. But I don't have any pseudo-philosophical stuff to say about it, this film does not lend itself to that as well as the previous film did, so I'm just going to make a series of critical remarks about what I loved and what I hated. Maybe after the film simmers in my mind I can try writing something of substance, for now I am just writing because I am compelled to speak about the movie.

All of these should be read in the context of the judgment that this was a good movie. Also, Spoilers.

  • Bane was an awesome villain. He was something we have not really seen yet in Nolan's films: a rival for Batman. Because Bane had physical strength and brutality, which Joker, Two-Face, and Scarecrow lacked (Ra's al Ghul had some of that, but Batman was always more physically imposing). Bane was a symbol of a new order, which he established through fear and power, just like Batman established a new order opposed to the mobs through fear and power; the Joker was about anarchy, Two-Face was about perverse fairness and revenge, and Ra's al Ghul was about righteous destruction. Even in the seemingly superficial details Bane is similar to Batman: he is masked, his voice is obscured, he has an underground dwelling where he prepares for his above ground activities, he's at home in the shadows and in obscurity. Bane was not Batman's antithesis, Bane was cut from the same cloth, and was perhaps in some ways the superior between the two.
  • But everything that was so great about Bane was ruined at the end when Talia al Ghul came into the picture. I spent that entire movie waiting to watch Batman prevail over Bane; I wanted to watch Batman display superiority over his mirror image, and we never got to see that. Batman damaged his mask, had about a minute of superiority over him, and then was overcome by Talia. At this point, Bane takes on the role of a high-ranking goon, and is dispatched with about that much concern when Catwoman blasts him away with the Batpod.
  • The ending felt like a cop-out, but it wasn't. It has the initial appearance of a cop-out, because you become emotionally prepared for Bruce Wayne to die. You realize that this is a gritty, 'realistic' Batman film, and that means that if Bruce has to sacrifice himself to save Gotham, he will, and nothing will change that fact.

    But this is not the case. It would be wrong for Bruce Wayne to die in the explosion. Only Batman should die. This is the only proper ending for a Batman universe: Bruce Wayne and Gotham moving beyond Batman. This, coupled with Catwoman's redemption arc make it the best aesthetic choice. However, it will continue feeling like a cop-out, because we are distrustful of heroes who do not really accomplish what they appear to accomplish. 
  • This movie addressed what so many fans failed to address at the end of The Dark Knight, which is that lying to Gotham about Harvey Dent was not heroic. The fact that Gordon was taken to task for that, and that he has struggled with it for years, pleased me.
  • This film was necessary to tie Batman Begins and The Dark Knight together. It's closer to Batman Begins, but ending on that note sort of ties the whole thing together. BB showed how Batman came to be and why Gotham needed him. TDK showed that Batman could become hazardous by inspiring madness and insanity. TDKR completed this arc by letting Batman do what he was needed to do, and then leave upon fulfilling it, avoiding the deficit of no Batman and the excess of Batman bringing out insanity.
  • Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle's romance was handled perfectly. It was unrealistic and utterly undeveloped. This is how Batman and Catwoman's relationships should be: they shouldn't be explored, there should be something raw and unintelligible to them. 
  • Revealing that John Blake's real name is "Robin" provided a brief fanboy thrill. A brief one. It dissipates quickly and you're left realizing that it was probably not an improvement on the film. He certainly isn't going to go out using his real name, therefore he isn't Robin the sidekick. Maybe it just highlights the role John Blake plays, but I somehow get the impression that this was a misstep.
  • Bane and Talia's motivations aren't interesting in this film. The Joker was interesting because his motivation (if he even really had one) was unusual and fascinating. Catwoman was interesting because she was trying to find redemption through greater sin, and her quest became Bruce's quest. Bane wanted... destruction? But also for the citizens to retake their city. Although that was just because Talia wanted Gotham to suffer, she wanted to destroy it slowly over the course of five months. So, the entire part of the film where Bane acts as a revolutionary feels... pointless. Sure, he did it so that Gotham and Bruce would feel more pain before the bomb went off, but he didn't believe in any of it. And that was the interesting part of his character. Destroying Gotham to help Talia get revenge on Batman and fulfill her father's legacy is too trite.
  • The falling out between Bruce and Alfred cost too much in character revision for too little payout. Bruce and Alfred have been through too much, it was out of character for Alfred to walk away like that, even if he had "intervention"-like motivations.
  • I know Nolan was criticized for having predominantly male characters in the Batman movies, and for failing to make compelling or strong female characters. I wonder if this is why Talia was shoehorned in as the main villain?
  • If I had my way, all fight scenes would play out like the fight between Batman and Bane. The music would turn off, and the characters would punch and kick each other in a somewhat labored, painful, and decisive way. I prefer fight choreography that makes fake fights look like real fights, as opposed to fight choreography that makes fake fights look like interpretive dance.
  • When Bane spoke, I thought of Sean Connery. Am I alone in this?
  • My biggest disappointment is the way Bane fizzled out at the end. He was not as interesting as the Joker, but he was shaping up to be iconic in his own way. A different motive, and the nixing of the last minute demotion to sidekick, and the movie would be at least 15% greater!
My personal rule of thumb when critiquing a movie is to ask what could have been done differently. For example, with Inception, some people complained about the technology in the film never being explained. So I ask myself if this is something that could have been fixed, and I conclude that it could not. Any change made in this area would have made an inferior film. Is that the case with The Dark Knight Rises? No, there are improving changes that could have been made.

What I Would Have Done

Bane should have been resentful toward the League of Shadows, instead of remaining loyal to their cause of destroying excessively wicked and decadent cities and civilizations. Whereas the League of Shadows was a moralistic organization, Bane should have been an amoral monster who got his kicks from dominating things weaker than him; his role as a member of the League of Shadows was just a place in the world that allowed him to act out these impulses. He was expelled from the League of Shadows for being overly brutal in the course of dishing out punishment, the exact opposite reason for Bruce Wayne's falling out.

To avoid making Bane into too much of a two-dimensional movie monster, references should be made to his being born in prison. He was born into a dog-eat-dog, state-of-nature, nasty, brutish, and short world. He escaped from the prison, but could not change the sort of man his environment made him. Whereas Bruce escaped Gotham and returned to make Gotham better; Bane escaped the Pit and left to make the world worse. These little mirror images will make Batman and Bane's confrontation more compelling.

Brief (very brief, no lectures) remarks could be made by Bane about the importance of nature, evolution, and the strong devouring the weak. Bane has evolved since his expulsion from the League of Shadows: he no longer acts cruelly solely for his own enjoyment, he acts cruelly because he believes only through cruelty can order be brought about. Only through strict hierarchy and fear can humanity stave off destruction. Bane returns to Gotham to prove his personal and ideological superiority over both Batman and Ra's al Ghul by making Gotham the first location to fall to his rule.

But, unlike the Joker, Bane should be a more human character, much like Batman is. Keep the story about Ra's al Ghul's child being born in the prison, and keep it as Talia, but make Bane a friend of Talia and her mother. Bane could grow up trying to protect the two, becoming like a surrogate son to Talia's mother. At the age of, say, ten, Bane is held back while his adoptive mother is beaten to death in front of both he and Talia. They only have each other to rely on. It is here that Bane begins training and building his body, and at his young age begins trying to climb out of the pit. Year after year, he fails to make the climb, gaining more and more scars as the rocks of the pit damage his body each time he loses his grip.

At the age of sixteen, there is a riot, and Bane fights a group of three men. He holds his own, but is soon overpowered and beaten. They move to attack Talia, stating that they will kill her like they killed her mother, but she is saved when a separate group of rioters attacks the first. Within two weeks, Bane attempts to climb the pit without the rope, and almost succeeds, successfully clearing the jump that most others fail at. As he nears the top, Ra's al Ghul invades with a small army of assassins. Bane is knocked to the ground during the initial invasion, breaking his back.

When Talia vouches for him, the League takes him to their temple. He is unable to even feed himself he is so thoroughly injured. He grows bitter because of his powerlessness. He begins a regimen of pain killers, intense training, and steroids, growing strong enough to become part of the League. But he remains driven by that feeling of powerlessness, and must commit acts of cruelty to reassure himself of his own strength and power.

All this should be communicated in an obscured way. Brief stories told by other prisoners, "legends" and rumors circulated among Gotham's citizens picked up from Bane's army. No heavy-handed exposition, brief scenes, especially during moments where Bane is triumphant, to highlight where he is now opposed to where he was.

Talia will remain loyal to her father's vision, but should be in love with who Bane was. Talia was in Gotham as her father's failsafe. When he failed to destroy the city, she began searching for a new way of destroying the city. But because of Batman's activity's and the Dent Act, the city ceased to be filthy and corrupt, and therefore she could not destroy the city because it no longer warranted destruction. Instead, she began investing in the energy reactor as a back-up plan, to be utilized in the event that Gotham fell into old habits. When Bane comes to Gotham, announces himself a leader and a revolutionary, and coerces Gotham into following him, Talia now has cause to destroy the city.

What she did not anticipate was that Bane himself would know about the reactor and would use it to stave off the United States government long enough to solidify his power. With the reactor in Bane's power (also, with the "time-bomb" aspect of the reactor removed), Talia alternately portrays herself as Miranda to those loyal to the old ways, and Talia to Bane, so as to get closer to the detonator and the location of the bomb.

In the climax of the film, Batman has his confrontation with Bane, wherein he prevails by damaging Bane's mask. Bane, utterly defeated and brought down by Batman, will refuse to tell until Talia enters the room and reveals who she is. Both Batman and Bane will discover that she was not loyal to either of them, but that she was working toward Gotham's destruction. Both of them can plead with her not to detonate it, but she can (in Ozymandias fashion for no other reason than because any villain looks that much more determined when they execute a plan prior to talking about it) reveal that she triggered the detonation process ten minutes prior.

Batman can have his suicide flight at that point. Bane will remain alive, but the citizens of Gotham will rise up against him. He will be thrown into Blackgate prison, where he is finally in an environment that suits him. Perhaps the end could show him smiling as three prisoners try to gain credibility by threatening him.

Why proceed in this way? Because giving Bane a vision of the world is more compelling than having him try to fulfill Ra's al Ghul's vision. And because making him self-motivated is more compelling than having him be Talia's obedient lackey. And giving Bane an insecurity that fuels his worldview draws more of an emotional investment than just saying he's a very philosophical guy who just happens to believe very strongly in his point of view. And because giving Gotham back to the citizens has more room for discussion and contemplation if it is done as part of Bane's fascist vision than because Gotham should be killed slowly. And, it allows for a climactic final fight between Batman and Bane where Batman gets the decisive victory that we long for and Bane gets the glorious defeat that his character deserves.

But, then, I'm sure a lot of people have their theories on what should have been changed. Nolan did a pretty damn good job, I think his villains needed work, but the time spent on Batman was beautiful. Nolan succeeded.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Problem With Common Ground

Between any two people or any group of people, there are those things that are common and those things that are particular. In a crowd of fifty people, they all might share the same nationality, maybe the same skin color, maybe the same profession, certainly the same species and need for food and oxygen; there could also be fifty different value systems, fifty different passions, fifty different languages, fifty different destinations. Some people want to focus on what is common, others want to focus on what is different.

It seems that people hope to overcome conflict, selfishness, unproductivity, and nearly all dissatisfaction if they can just get people to focus on common ground. What must be remembered, though, is that shared common ground can only account for a portion of any single human being, and the more individuals you add to the crowd the smaller that portion of a human being that is common to them all will be. No satisfaction is possible for the individual because no individual is taken as his full self, a sliver of satisfaction is possible at best. And certainly it is impossible for the crowd to be happy because crowds do not experience, only individuals do.

Happiness and satisfaction can only be sought at the individual level. At the macro, societal level, the best you can hope for is to stay out of people's way.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ghosts Change Nothing

Why is it considered irrational to believe in ghosts? Well, there is no good evidence for their existence that can be publicly verified, the exact definition of the word 'ghost' is not even particularly clear. But there also seems to be a common presupposition that ghosts are unscientific phenomena. There is a perceived enmity between the scientist and paranormal hauntings.

This is really unnecessary, though. There is nothing inherently unscientific about a ghost. The reason scientists ought not believe in them is simply that no experiments have ever provided a good reason to believe in them. If we somehow managed to find a haunted house with a ghost that could be reliably observed, there is no reason for science to be threatened by this. It simply means that there is a new branch of science that needs to be founded.

If we somehow discovered a ghost, but also found that the ghost was in some way immeasurable, then science may have reason to feel threatened. But if we called in the professors, measured whatever was measurable, developed hypotheses to explain the measurements, and tested those hypotheses through repeatable experimentation, then ghosts are properly added to the list of things that science can study.

Ghosts, in and of themselves, change nothing with regard to science's capabilities.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind....

I read a book and then posted a review on LibraryThing, as I am wont to do.

The title of the post comes from Smells Like Teen Spirit, though, because I think I chose this book because the English title made me think of that line in the song.

I have a collection of books I have been picking and choosing from, usually on the basis of, "what sounds good today?" and this was the most recent book I chose.

The first thing that has to be said is that I did not really care. I did not care what happened to the protagonist; there was never a point where I connected with him on an intellectual level ("hey, maybe this guy has a point! I can see where he's coming from...") or an emotional level ("I hope things work out for this guy, I really want to see him find a way to resolve his struggle"). Like any criticism leveled at a book, it may say something about the quality of the book or something about the quality of the reader.

I can't say that the ideas expressed in the book are totally off. Houellebecq's protagonist isn't the first to cast sex as a kind of economics, not only that but a kind of economics where (at least in a non-monogamous world) there are haves and have-nots. By the end, he has divided the world into Mars (fear, money, power, domination, masculinity) and Venus (sex, seduction) and seems vexed that there is nothing else in the world. I can sympathize, the idea that there is nothing in life except material and sexual hierarchy is very vexing, and when you find it difficult to escape the notion it can become maddening. When sex and resources cease to be cast as matters that enrich you life and instead become the only content of your life, the world seems very small indeed. This is interesting. This is an interesting concept that can be explored and wrestled with.

But I still felt no intellectual connection with the protagonist. Maybe I am uncharitable, but I just don't see how two years without sex is cause for someone to lose their minds. If sex drought makes you sob intermittently throughout the day, your psyche probably was not built to last in the first place, and you don't make a very suitable model for a struggle that the modern human faces. I do say that some of his ideas have merit, but I would have to say that his reaction to his struggle smacks of someone trying to give their lives an existential flavor by portraying their petty struggles as existential crises that suck all the joy out of their lives.

It worked in The Stranger, because the fact of death reasonably seems like the sort of thing that can suck the color out of life. That is a real struggle that anyone can face in their lives. Lack of sex is a reason to get a faster internet connection, not a reason to try to get your liquored-up friend to go kill people on a beach.

Maybe if he had spent some time exploring what it means to live in a world that seems to be dominated by competition for resources and competition for sex - and how to move beyond such a life, I would have been interested. Maybe if he tried to live in defiance of a life. Hell, even if he decided that that was just how life is and decided to go with it, I would have been emotionally invested. But he apparently just decides to start losing control of his mind, and that is rather boring to me.

So, he had some interesting ideas that are worth exploring; it just all gets lost in a very boring descent into madness.

Oh well, it wasn't too long, no great loss. Whatever....

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Phoenix View of Identity

In what sense am I the same entity as the I that existed fifteen years ago? My cells are different, my shape is different, I have different thoughts, I have different values, I am regarded differently. What similarities exist?

I say that I am the same in this way: I am the latest in a lineage of selves that all emerge from a previous self. What ties us together is this lineage. I am not the same, but if you scarred the younger me, I would continue having being scarred today. I am tied to that past, although I only exist in the present. Eventually something else will emerge from me, a me with maybe a slightly altered value system or a slightly different point of view or a blank space where a limb used to be.

If you take a man and you extract a single drop of blood from him, he is one drop of blood different from the man he was a moment ago. Much of him remains the same, but there is a difference. Likewise, when a man comes to a realization, he is one realization different from the man he was before. But the new man was still derived from the old one. He emerges from the previous man as the present gives way to the present.

You exist in constant flux, but you do not change all at once. You are flowing in and out of your environment, you are flowing in and out of your headspace, you are making internal changes. To say that you are completely different one moment from the next is false, but to say that you are completely the same is also false. And because all change occurs gradually, there is a sense in which you can say that an infant and an old man on the death bed are the same person. It is this lineage of gradual change.

I imagine it this way: every moment is a birth, an immolation, and a gathering of ashes. Imagine the phoenix. The new you emerges from the ashes of the previous self every moment. You can only exist in the present, as soon as you are past, you do not exist. But the present you is composed of the stuff the past you left behind, changed by the foreign debris left in the ashes and the altering positioning of the burnt ashes.

For now, I call it a Phoenix View of Identity. You are only equal to you, now. But the sense in which you are identical with past and present incarnations of yourself is this lineage of material, thoughts, and (this part is removable according to your philosophical inclinations) spirit.

The Ship of Theseus was a different ship by the end, but it was still the Ship of Theseus by virtue of its lineage. If they had just sailed a different ship in its place, there would be no lineage.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Believing What I Believe to be False

I talk a great deal about choosing different points of view and different rules of thought. But it may be objected that everything I say falls apart for the simple reason that we can not actually choose what we believe. That either the evidence is present that convinces us or there is not, we do not choose to believe a proposition.

It might be supposed that we imagine a boy named little Bruce. Little Bruce learns in school that triangles are shapes with three edges and three corners. He also learns that any triangle you imagine will have interior angles which add up to 180 degrees. Upon being told this, Little Bruce thinks through the matter for himself. Any widening of one angle in a triangle necessarily means narrowing the other angles, and no angle could ever exceed 180 degrees on its own, because then what was previously its exterior angle would become its interior angle. Thinking through different possible ways a triangle might have more than 180 degrees among its interior angles, he concludes that it is impossible, and then presumably puts his geometry homework down and settles in for a very sexless high school experience.

Now, could Little Bruce ever choose to believe that triangles with more than 180 degrees worth of interior angles were possible?

It would certainly be impossible for him to choose to believe it in the same way that he currently believes that the interior angles of triangles always add up to 180. Suppose that he believed this because teachers had always told him it were true and he viewed the world through the vantage point of presupposing “whatever teachers tell you is always true.” From that vantage point, he could not believe in a triangle with 181 degrees worth of interior angles because no teacher ever told him it was possible. Suppose he believed this because his own powers of reasoning led to him to believe it was true, and Little Bruce naturally saw the world through the lens of, “trust in your own powers of reason,” so he could not believe in extra-180 degree triangles because he could not picture how such a thing would be possible.

He could never change his assent or lack thereof to any proposition within the vantage point he used when he came to the point of view unless there was some kind of error or deficiency in his reasoning when he came to assent. Maybe evidence was lacking, or maybe he did not apply the rules of his vantage point correctly. But if all the evidence was available and the rules were applied correctly, it is impossible for him to change his mind, within the vantage point.

But now, let us suppose that while he still views the world through the lens of, “trust in your own powers of reason,” he then said, “but just for kicks, what would the world look like if I said, 'always suppose that you are insane.'” In this case, he could indeed believe in triangles that had more than 180 degree angles. He can not picture them, but that is just because his brain is broken. Maybe. Maybe that is more bad reasoning. In fact, drop the reasoning because it is all defective!

From this vantage point, he could believe. You may object that no one could coherently think from that vantage point. In that case, suppose he looked through the lens of, “things contrary to my reasoning powers are possible.” He could then believe in as many 181 degree triangles as he liked, but only from that point of view. If he ever went back to believing that he should always trust in his own powers of reason, then he would have to go back to believing that 181 degree triangles are impossible.

Within a set of presuppositions and axioms, the conclusions are what they are. You cannot choose what to believe, either the evidence points to something being the case or it does not. Vantage points can always be changed though, we can always change the presuppositions. This is how it is that we can avoid accepting seemingly obvious truths: we selectively change up our rules of reasoning.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Exceptional Spider-Man!

Today I saw The Amazing Spider-Man. I am not certain to what extent the film was really just that good, and to what extent I was just in a generous mood, but I loved this movie. I really did. I'm putting it right up there with The Dark Knight, at least for the moment while I'm still high on the film. Now, I'm not going to get into everything I liked about this movie, I'm just going to get into pretentious philosophical film criticism, because I do that sort of thing. To preface this: I am not saying that these ideas are what the writers or the director had in mind when making the film, I am saying that this is an idea that occurred to me while I was watching the movie and it made me love it even more. If it does not do the same for you, disregard it.

To some degree, this is the theme that every single superhero movie tackles, but it seemed to me that TASM tackled it more beautifully than any other superhero flick I've seen. This is the theme of how do superhuman individuals relate to the mass of humanity. When I say “superhuman,” I'm not just referring to people with superpowers, I am referring to anyone who is above the masses, whether in fact or in delusion. The Übermensch, Raskolnikov, Ozymandias, or really nearly any great villain but a good number of heroes as well, but I point to the Übermensch, Raskolnikov, and Ozymandias in particular because I think the works that these characters appear in highlight the relationship between great individuals and the universal best. They all are figures who see themselves as no longer being bound by the same rules and responsibilities that the rest of society is expected to follow.

This movie explores how Spider-Man, as someone who has greatness thrusts upon him, manages to find a way to relate to the universal. The universal is the great mass of people, it is ethical norms, it is openness and honesty, it is respect for society, it is law and order. In the earliest scenes we see Peter as part of the universal, when he becomes Spider-Man we see him selfishly place himself above the universal, then when he has to face the Lizard we see him submit to the universal but remain separate from it. In this way, the movie answers the question of how superhumans relate to humanity: superhumans are to be the friends of humanity, but not to be humans themselves.

Peter Becomes a Villain

In the beginning of the movie, Peter Parker stands up for another student who is being bullied by Flash Thompson. Flash demands that Peter take a picture, but Peter refuses and even speaks out against Flash. For this, he earns a beating from Flash. This is a pure expression of universal ethics: no greater good came out of Peter's actions, if anything pain was increased, but Peter refused to take part in the degradation of another person even though doing so probably would not have caused significantly more pain and refusal did not bring about any change to the situation about from his own pain. The stupidity of the action was obvious, but he did it regardless. At this point, Peter is a part of the crowd of humanity, and he excels in that capacity. He lives according to a kind of duty.

When Peter learns from his Uncle Ben about his Father's relationship to Dr. Connors, he violates the ethical by lying about his identity, allowing another person to be thrown out of the building who rightfully should have been there, and jeopardizing Gwen Stacy's internship by separating from the group. It is as a direct result of this violation that he is bitten by the genetically enhanced spider, leading to him becoming Spider-Man. He has now separated himself from humanity, both in a spiritual sense, and in the literal sense that he is now a fucking Spider-Man! His violation in this case could have easily been atoned for and he could have been restored to the rest of humanity (a simple, “I'm sorry,” probably would have sufficed), he did not repent, though, he pressed forward, placing his desires as an individual greater than the laws and policies that people are expected to follow.

After becoming Spider-Man, he humiliates Flash, destroys school property to further highlight his dominance over Thompson, cuts himself off from his Uncle Ben, and neglects to pick up his Aunt May. This is basic teenager stuff, it is all steps in a selfish direction, but not in anyway unbridgeable. The turning point comes after Uncle Ben's death, at which point Peter launches his own violent war against any criminal who resembles the man who killed his Uncle. At this point, Peter is basically a villain who just happens to target petty criminals. He attacks them, brutally, humiliates them, and then only after having inflicted violence bothers to check to see if he even has the person he is targeting. He asserts his own right to behave this way by virtue of nothing at all, just because he is capable of it. On some level, he still believes that what he is doing is acceptable because the people he attacks are criminals, but he does not show any concern for the rightness of his actions until George Stacy openly condemns him. He tries to put together a defense, but it is a pisspoor one cobbled together on the spot, and easily waved away when Stacy explains that Spidey actually ruined a six month operation through his reckless vigilantism.

For the moment, though, Peter is genuinely great enough to live the way he is living. He gets the girl that he loves, he can continue pursuing vengeance, and he can more-or-less continue evading the police. He is like a minor villain with certain moral pretensions, too naïve and apathetic to really worry if he is good or evil. It is only when another great individual arises that Peter must reevaluate how he stands with relation to humanity.

A More Exceptional Being

Curt Connors is not a villain. The only thing you can accuse him of is a God complex: he thinks he can create a better humanity. He is still firmly within the universal, though, there is no indication that he would ever force anything on anyone (although the existence of the machine to disperse a chemical agent suggests that he did believe that any improvements on humanity should be made to humanity en masse), and everything he tries to attain he attains with the understanding that he would share it with everyone. He does not want to regrow his arm, he wants to create a world without weakness!

Even his transformation occurs because of his commitment to the universal. He would rather give up his arm than test his serum on human subjects too early. Upon learning that he is being shut down, he tests the serum on himself rather than allow it to be tested on unknowing veterans. Then, midway through his transformation, his first priority is stopping Dr. Ratha. He is simultaneously always acting with a mind toward the universal, while also coming to believe that he knows what is best for everyone. He is not selfish, his error is hubris. When he steps outside the universal, he seeks to rejoin, he simply plans to do that by making everyone like him instead of rejoining everyone else.

He is evil only because he seeks to impose his will on humanity without regard for humanity's will in the matter. He treats them as means, not ends in themselves. His case is peculiar, though, because he is only going to temporarily treat them that way. He wants to bring them up to his level, so that they can be equals again. If he were successful and all of humanity were made reptilian like him, his suspension of ethics might have been hailed as a glorious turning point in human evolution. In the moment, though, he places his will over humanity, and is therefore evil.

Spider-Man and the Universal

Spider-Man, on the other hand, remains an individual outside of the universal. Upon encountering the Lizard, though, he seeks to rejoin the universal. He wants to repent, and he aims to repent by stopping the Lizard. He does not allow his love for Gwen to dissuade him, thereby putting his selfish desires aside for his desire to atone. He tries to rejoin humanity, but can not. When he goes to Captain Stacy to tell him about Dr. Connors, Stacy refuses to believe him. The universal action would be to give the information he has to Captain Stacy and then leave the matter up to law and order; Stacy's incredulity does not change the fact that Peter acted according to the universal by giving the information he had to those authorized to use force. Peter is not satisfied with this, and continues being separate from the universal by perusing the Lizard on his own.

If Peter had lived according to the universal, everyone would be a lizard man right now.

Instead, Peter asserts himself as an individual and asserts his individual will and desire: in this case the desire to stop Dr. Connors. Because of this, he drives a wedge between himself and Gwen, a wedge between and Aunt May, and a further wedge between himself and law enforcement. He is willing to shoulder this burden, though, so that he does what he believes should be done.

And he fails. He fails badly. By setting himself so far against the universal, he becomes the enemy of the universal. He is subdued by the police and held at gunpoint by Captain Stacy. It is only by approaching the universal (at this point, Peter is literally bowing before Stacy in the film) submissively and agreeing that he will continue to be extraordinary, but that he will be extraordinary in line with both his and Captain Stacy's will (saving Gwen and stopping the Lizard) that he is able to stop the Lizard.

Captain Stacy aligns with Spider-Man instead of against him, and society itself aligns with Spider-Man by arranging the cranes in such a way that he can easily swing to his target. Spider-Man is so weak from the blood loss from a bullet wound that even this is too great a task for him at first, society has to help him get to the Lizard. Spider-Man does not cease to be the extraordinary individual standing apart from the universal, but now he works with the universal. Distinct, but allied.

During the final fight, Captain Stacy has to sacrifice his life to keep the Lizard occupied long enough for Spider-Man to replace the serums that Connors has set to be released into the sky. Neither of them could have stopped the Lizard without the other. And at the very end, Captain Stacy tells Spider-Man what he wants. He wants Spider-Man to be alone. He endorses Spider-Man standing apart from the law, apart from society, apart from openness, but he says that Spider-Man should be alone. He makes Spider-Man promise that he will leave Gwen, which he does.

Curt Connors is incarcerated. He is brought down lower than the universal as a prisoner who is being forced to atone for trying to impose his will on others.

Spider-Man tries to live as an extraordinary friend of humanity. He keeps his promises, he gets Aunt May her eggs, and he seems to give up his vengeance quest against the man with the star tattoo. Humanity loves him in return, Flash wears a Spider-Man t-shirt, a giant spider is shown graffitied on a wall. But Spider-Man is not happy. He wants Gwen. He can not have her, though, without breaking his promise.

The Open Question

The film hints at this dilemma when the English teacher says that there is only one plot in fiction: “Who am I?” Peter walks in late and promises he won't be late again, to which the teacher says don't make promises you can't keep. Then, in a low voice so that Gwen can hear, Peter says, “but those are the best kinds.” Implying that he may break his promise, and once again live spiritually separated from the universal so that he can be with Gwen.

The film leaves the question of the extent to which Spider-Man will live apart from the ethical for the sake of getting what he wants. And we cheer for it, because we want him to be with Gwen and we want him to be happy. We love him and we want him to have what he wants. We also want him to be a good man, which is why there is a little tension when we know that he will have to break the promise he made to a dying man in order to get what he wants.

We will find out in 2014.

And with that, I think I am going to take a break from the Kierkegaard for awhile. Strange blends of strange ethics are creeping into my nihilistic head. But, yes, TASM gave me a philoso-boner, and that was just one of the enriching elements of the movie. The movie won over my mind, and if this rebooted series finds a way to do Venom justice, it will win over my heart!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Judging Vantage Points

How do you judge vantage points? What is the criteria for a good vantage point? The obvious answer is, “does it help you reach your goals?” But suppose the goal is to believe things as they are. Then how do we judge vantage points for truth?

There are two questions we can ask of the vantage point. Does the resulting system contradict itself? Does the resulting system work with experience?

If we accept that contradictions are not possible, then a vantage point with fewer contradictions is better than one with a lot of contradictions.

If we accept that we are interacting with something real, then a vantage point that explains and predicts reality as we interact with it is better than a vantage point that seems at odds with our observations.

In this way, we can judge between more true and less true philosophies. As of yet, we can not judge philosophies according to the binary true-nontrue categories, only the gradient more true-lesstrue. And this only if we do indeed accept that contradictory truths are impossible and that experience is to some extent reliable. If we were to allow for contradictory truths and if we were to deny that experience has any merit, then all philosophies are equally true so far as any human being could tell.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Changing Vantage Points

When there is a revolution in thought, it is not because we have discovered new facts, but because we have found a new vantage point. We are looking at the world in a different way, looking for different things. It is a new method for analyzing the same old evidence, not new evidence.

What do these vantage points consist of? They consist of values and emotions. It all begins with “I want....” That is, maybe one generation says, “I want truth,” another, “I want holiness,” another, “I want certainty,” and one, “I want freedom.” And then they develop a method that will help them attain what they want. The truth-seeker will take what he already takes as true and see what else he can get out of it – and he'll get truth along with a whole lot of nonsense. The holy man will believe in what he does not understand and devote himself to understanding something that he has already pledged his support for. The man who wants certainty will doubt the world to ribbons, and he will lose much, but what he has left he can be certain is true. The man who wants freedom will doubt as well, but he will doubt to such an extent that he can make doubt seem absurd and then, having lowered the bar for what is needed prior to assent, he can believe whatever he likes.

But it all starts with “I want.”

Monday, July 16, 2012

Reason for the Species; Faith for the Man

Reason is essentially public. Anyone, assuming adequate intelligence, is able to follow a line of logic. There may be stumbling blocks: maybe he doesn't understand the vocabulary, maybe he is too emotionally invested in a contrary view, maybe he is too preoccupied to give the line the adequate attention it requires, but it is all available to him if he wants to acquire it.

This is why argument, discussion, and instruction is possible. We're all speaking the language, we all understand how it works, and if we do not understand it we can pick it up. Language is not private, neither is reason. Even particular epistemologies are understandable by all.

Faith is essentially private, though. It is not communicated. We think it can be, hence theology. Theology is the error produced when one uses reason to talk about things that can not be talked about. We may object and say that we need a church, that faith can not be private, it is communal! But the church is there for support and fellowship, when the leaders speak they are either speaking from reason (that is, trying to teach morality, which is hardly their special domain) or they are talking their particular brand of theology which is probably being contradicted at that very moment by the church down the street.

Reason belongs to the species; faith belongs to the individual. Madness also belongs to the individual.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What is Art?

GTW: Hey baby, I need you to do me a favor.

GF: What?

GTW: I need a topic to write a quick blog about. I'm trying to keep an unbroken string of postings for at least a little while. So, just give me a topic, or ask me an interesting question, or really do anything that will give me something to work with.

GF: Hmmm... how about, “What is Art?” and “Is Art Art?”

GTW: Yeah, that will work.

GF: Also I burn with desire for you as you are capable of arousing my primitive sexual desires because you are a strong, sexy son of a bitch with a devil-may-care attitude and a biting wit.

GTW: I know.

Question 1: What is Art?

Nature is whatever exists as part of our world – and it is finite. There are limited possibilities, limited concepts, limited configurations of concepts in the world. Nature, as it relates to Art, is something like a palette as well as a model. Art utilizes what we find in Nature to create pictures inspired by Nature, pictures that look at Nature, and pictures that stylistically distort Nature. All Art is a picture of remixed Nature.

To explain this, let me clarify my use of the word “picture” or “model.” I do not here mean that I am only referring to the visual arts, when I use the word “picture” I am referring to a construct whose parts relate to one another in a way that is analogous to what it is a picture of. For example, suppose that we have a tree and then suppose that we have a digital image of a tree: the digital image is an image of a tree because the pixels are arranged so that they relate to one another spatially in the same way that light in nature reflected off of the tree. For another example, imagine a man and a painting of the man: the painting will consist of darker shades of flesh tones that relate to the lighter shades of flesh tones within the painting in the same way that the mans illuminated flesh relates to his shadowed flesh.

Art is made up of that which is found in nature. There is nothing that is transcendent in art. Certainly there are fantastic elements in art, but fantastic elements are just mundane elements combined in a way that we do not actually find in nature; such as combining trees, sentience, and automotion to create Ents or combining the humanoid shape along with bat wings, leathery skin, and horns to create a folksy devil. One can find non-natural configurations in art, but you will never find a non-natural basic concept.

All Art is a picture of remixed Nature.

Nature can be “remixed” by altering its proportions. Visually this is like imagining people with heads that are 50% their total body mass; emotionally this is like imagining a world where people have romantically intense experiences for 90% of their waking life. The base concepts remain the same, it is only their relations which are altered. Likewise, novel configurations of concepts would be a remixing of nature such as the “fantastic elements” I mentioned above. These remixes exist in the minds of the artists, they are the results of the artists perceiving the world and then mentally tweaking proportions and recombining elements.

An artist can then use some artistic medium to create pictures of these remixed perceptions. This could be words, paints, photosensitive material, digital environments, binary code, or anything else that offers sufficient variables that these remixed perceptions can be sketched. The degree to which reality can be remixed is limited by the medium: anything that can be sensibly conceived is verbally expressible, photography on the other hand requires that the artist not stray too far from real life physics (you know, barring just using Photoshop)

Question 2: Is Art Art?


A = A so Art = Art.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rage Against the Coherence!

This blog really started to become exciting for me around the time I started using the “Remark” label. Because at that point, I gave myself permission to post without expressing a full point. All I had to do was put into words whatever shadow of a point was on my mind, and then it was out there to be revisited, revised, or abandoned later on down the road.

But every so often I want to write with some pretensions, I want to put out a blog that expresses a coherent range of points on a subject. So I write it and leave it to be copy edited later. And, goddamnit, I hate that fucking part! I want to say that I hate it because it imposes an artificial order that keeps the paper from having the same characteristic chaos that all real human thinking has. Or I want to say that I hate it because it removes the conversational tone from the writing, it polishes it and then keeps it from having that casual flavor.

But that's just posturing. I hate it because it's difficult, it's not fun to face the fact that you lapse into incoherence, and it's a pain in the ass trying to get your scattered thoughts to all come together into some kind of unity.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Why I am an Atheist

Whenever I write about religion, I write sympathetically. Every so often I even post thoughts that I fancy might lend credence to the existence of a God. My philosophy writings tend to revolve around different ways of seeing the limitations of reason like a man desperate to widen gaps so he can stick a god in one of them. I even have an admitted Religion Addiction. So why is it that I identify as an atheist rather than a theist?

When I initially began identifying as an agnostic (for the purposes of this post, I am not really going to delve into the distinctions between atheism and agnosticism. I am going to just conflate the two positions) it was for the simple fact that I realized that there was no good reason to believe in God. What do I mean by no good reason? I mean that whatever you said about God was just as likely to be wrong as it was to be true. Whether you said God is love, God is hate, God is an elephant, or God is not there, it all amounts to talking about something that is unreachably distant from us. One claim was as good as another until we could get in there and start doing some investigating.
So, at the time, I came to the conclusion that mental health required that I only believe in propositions that rise to a certain level of evidence, and those things that were asserted without evidence I intended to dismiss without evidence. For the first time I could see many of my philosophical problems melting away, as did western civilization when it began taking doubt as a starting point. By instituting a certain threshold of evidence, I was able to get rid of many ideas that clashed with each other, and my thinking was able to proceed along smoother ground.

My views have changed over time, but not in a repentant way. I have tried to proceed forward with doubt: you could say I have doubted so much that now I am turning doubt on itself. Presently I have been writing about things like epistemic lenses and the rules of reason, which are basically investigations into why our thinking does not really work like a tool trying to reach the absolute of truth, but rather the particulars of different situations. Using the idea of epistemic lenses or particular epistemologies, I should be able to create a particular epistemology for myself that would leave room for religious faith, so why have I not?

The reason is the one I gave back in February. When I contemplated making a leap of faith like that, I could palpably feel the dissonance it produced in my life. The mind believes in certain ways, and even though we can have the mind believe according to the particular rules of a particular epistemology, we cannot have the mind believe in a way other than the mind believes. This is as plain as saying you cannot punch someone except by punching them.

And the mind believes in a roughly experiential way. I can not conceive of any other way for the mind to believe. Without data from the world, we do not believe, our beliefs lack content. Once you accept that God, if there is one, would be transcendent to the world, it becomes mind-blowing to believe in Him because it means believing in something that you know you can not even comprehend. Like saying, “I do not know what this sentence means, but I believe in it!” It tries to believe in the absurd through the strength of will. For me, at least, this produced a dissonance that I could not live with.

This is not blasphemous, if one supposes that God is pleased with the minds he created. But why would I be concerned about blasphemy while being an atheist? Would it seem too wishy washy to say that once you step outside of the question of God's existence, I am a full theist? Suppose I say, “I love God. I place my life in His hands. I trust in Him to do with me what he will, and I aim to love him no matter how thoroughly bad my life gets. I just do not believe that He exists.” Is there any way of twisting this so that it is not just blatant self-contradiction?

If I were to try to explain it, I would say that the proposition “God exists” does not ring true according to any of my rules of reasoning, for the simple fact that I say existence is a property of the world and God is said to be outside the world. So I do not believe in Him. He is utter absurdity, a priori absurdity perhaps! Now, if there is a God, I would expect him to be utter absurdity. If there is a creator, I expect that I should not be able to believe in Him. And if there is not a creator, I expect that I should not be able to believe in Him either. If he is not there then he is too far beneath my thinking to believe in, and if he is there then he is too far above it! I suppose that it is the attempts to fit God into the order of existence that causes religion to start sounding so absurd: you're trying to pour a solid block of ice into a glass that can only hold water. When you break the block into cubes to fit it in the glass, there's a lot of ice missing, and what made it in is just going to melt.

As for why I love God, this is because it seems like the only reasonable thing to do given my position. This is a half-truth, it is reasonable, but it is also a result of my will. You can say amor fati or you can say love God. I do not say that “God” is a metaphor for “fate.” I am saying that I can see that my life is not in my own hands, and I am making the willful decision to love rather than hate. The world is indifferent to my attitude on the matter, it is only my own experience that is affected by it. But why introduce God into it when fate would suffice? This is one part hope and one part personal benefit. You do not love laws of physics, mathematics, psychology, and biology that lead you to become a broken alcoholic laying on the side of the road or a prestigious millionaire with fame, accolades, and respect. But you can love God for setting the forces in motion, or you can curse him. And I do not say that God gave us the good and Satan introduced the bad: it's all God, but the categories “good” and “bad” belong to us. This is not a statement about God, though, it does not require God to exist to make sense. This is a statement about my attitude, and it holds whether God is above or not.

I am an atheist, because it is what my reason demands. This is the field of epistemology. But I love God, because it is what both my reason and my will demands. This is psychology and cosmology. I have hopes pertaining to theism, but all of my hopes hinge on a fundamental change in my nature. That is, God could not reveal himself to me, but rather God would have to elevate my mind so that it became transcendent and therefore capable of grasping transcendent truths.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Religion Addiction

I made a simple promise to myself three years ago when I realized that I no longer had any religious faith left. I told myself I was an atheist now, with whatever that entailed, but I would not become one of those atheists who spend their lives hung up on religion. Religion, if false, was of no consequence as far as I was concerned. So, upon making peace with my atheism, I decided to close the door on religion.

As my past blogs have shown, this has been a spectacular failure. I simply can not do it. Religion is too interesting to me. Even if it is all nonsense, I have to say that it is the highest form of human nonsense and the kind of nonsense most worth poking, prodding, examining, and testing for anything redeemable. For a time I was able to put religion away and for a few months I had indeed reached the point where it just seemed like an immature state of mind that I had to grow out of. That only lasted a few months, though, before I was back to questions of what is beyond the universe.

To me the question is perfectly pointless. If there is something outside the universe, it would be beyond human comprehension. It would be like trying to get Pac Man to understand three-dimensional motion, artistic desire, and literature. You cannot fit these concepts into “waka waka waka.” Just so, if there is a God, we have to just accept the fact that he is in control, or not in control, or drunk at the wheel. The point being, God will do what God will do and we can not really change that. So the question is pointless to me.

And yet I keep asking the questions. Why? Well, I have one hopeless answer and one hopeful one. The hopeless answer is that I just have a religion addiction. I am addicted to questions pertaining to the concept of the supernatural, the concept that this world is not all that there is. That is not to say ghosts and demons (although those are interesting to me in their own ways), what it is to say is that I am obsessed with the possibility that even if you were to write a book containing all the facts and science in the world, that there would be still more content that was hidden from you and that maybe one day you are going to have a collision with all of that hidden reality.

My more hopeful answer is that I can not really contemplate the unknowable anyway, but I can contemplate the limits of our knowledge. I tend to take a dim view of the limits of our possible knowledge: I exclude religion, ethics, and aesthetics, and in some ways I say that none of our knowledge actually hangs on the world, but actually just hangs onto unknowable axioms thereby making all knowledge hypothetical. So by maintaining my religion addiction, I also provide myself with emotional fuel for an investigation that may actually prove valuable.

If I am to be perfectly honest, I do have another hope. Part of me thinks it is appropriate that my middle name is “Thomas.”

I have noticed over the time I have spent on the religious areas of the internet that I am not alone. I have seen atheists and theists (usually atheists and doubting theists) in various areas say that sometimes they find the whole religion question pointless, but they can not stop asking it. I remember one person asking if some people, regardless of which side of the debate they find themselves on, are just naturally always going to be drawn to religious questions.

I say yes, and I say you will not win in a fight against your own nature. So, hold out some hope that it will do some good, and keep asking the questions you want answers to.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Belief Unlike Other Beliefs

Those who do believe in God do so in one of two ways: either they believe in a way that is different from the rest of their beliefs, or they believe in a way that is the same as the rest of their beliefs. The latter are in error. They simply are, I cannot conceive of any way that they are not mistaken short of God having personally revealed himself to them. Because we believe in the things that we believe in because we have encountered them or because they have been recorded by people who have encountered them (history and science) and these records can be scrutinized and relative degrees of reliability can be discovered. God, on the other hand, is not known in either of these ways. If someone believes in God in this way, he does himself a disservice: he has not experienced what it is really like to be religious. He just happens to believe in an additional science.

For those who believe in a way that is different from the rest of their beliefs, well, now all we have is linguistic similarity. Because if this belief is different from all other things called beliefs, we can always choose to call it something else, so as to make it plain how distinct this kind of belief is.