Sunday, October 28, 2012

Atheism and Nihilism

Atheism does not imply nihilism. Nihilism does not imply atheism. The two are distinct, but there is a popular perception that the two are tethered together. Why does this perception arise?

The first reason would be the historical one, which is that in Christendom morality was rooted in theism, so a rejection of God implies a rejection of morality. This is less interesting, since I wonder why the perception arises still today. You can say that it is a holdover from the past, or you can say that the perception only arises among those who still root their morality in their theism, but I think there is an epistemological reason.

We do not need a God for true, objective morality to exist. Perhaps it is just there. Perhaps moral imperatives are just natural facts. Yet, if we reject God on the basis that it does not satisfy the intellect to believe on such scant evidence, would we not also have to reject any kind of external morality for the same reason? It is the standpoint of doubt that causes trepidation: if your doubt causes you to reject this picture of reality, what else is missing from your picture?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Art, Possibility, and the World

Every so often you will think of some work of art that you like, and then you will imagine another, then you imagine the whole gamut of different works between those two, and then you will image all the art outside of them. You swell up contemplating the sheer possibility that art allows for: poetry, books, movies, video games, comics, painting, what have you.

When you contemplating all the possibility, for a brief moment you will feel as though you have found a meaning of life. You will feel as though art is something that you could live for: both consumption and creation.

In these moments, remind yourself that art is only capable of reflecting the world, not transcending the world. Perhaps you say it is unfair to expect it to do otherwise, or perhaps you think it is meaningless to talk of transcending the world, all the same place the limitation on art and you (if your experience is the same as mine) will find the feeling of having found something worth living for evaporate.

I say two things. The first is that art only reflects what is in the world, so why live our earthly lives for shadows when we can also live for the genuine articles? Take them both, why exclude one? The second is that it is the concept of infinite possibility that gets our heart pounding.


There are times when you find yourself passionately motivated to do something, but you find yourself intellectually doubting its worth. That is, you know that your emotions and your will are what cause you to find something worth your time or not, but you also develop an intellectual picture of yourself and your goals and what kind of things you value. You may find yourself feeling that something is worthwhile, but uncertain if it fits in with the rest of your desires and values. It is the intellect that moderates once the emotions have had their say.

In such a situation you have three options. First, reject the thing that captivated you, you were captivated only in a moment of weakness. Perhaps this is true in some cases, but more often than not it would seem to me that this is direction chosen by someone who does not want to see that their nature is more complex than their initially thought. Second, accept that perhaps your nature is more complex than you thought, but choose not to feed into those impulses. Choose to live up to the image of yourself you already have by refusing to indulge any additional desires or impulses until they atrophy as much as possible. This seems to be a noble choice, it takes responsibility for shaping one's own nature insofar as such a thing is possible, but it also seems potentially stifling and could turn someone into a caricature of a human being if they starve too many dimensions of their nature. Third, accept that your nature is more complex than you thought, and change your life to reflect that. This can be a dangerous option, as there are often parts of our nature we do not want to see influencing us, but can also be fulfilling if we find some deep desire that we had previously been neglecting to indulge.

The first option seems dishonest, and is essentially self-deception. I personally do not respect it. The other two we should alternate between on a case-by-case basis, depending upon the extent to which social norms, personal standards, and expediency in attaining other goals drives us to expand or not expand our list of goals, desires, and loves.

Sometimes, though, you cannot shake the feeling that the thing you really want to do might turn out to be a colossal waste of time. In my case at the moment, I have spent the last month dreaming up a Batman story that, according to my (very) early estimation would be around 252000 words at completion. That is a long ass time, that is a lot of effort, that is something that is very likely to not be finished. And even if I do finish it, it's a Batman story, it ain't getting published. At best it entertains people online. Having considered the certainty that the best I can hope for is creating something that maybe people like online, I still feel compelled to try it.

If nothing else, it will be the most ambitious project added to my list of abandoned projects. Or, who knows, maybe I'll follow through.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sacrifice of Time and the Importance of Variation Revisited

In July of 2009 I wrote two blogs entitled Sacrifice of Time and The Importance of Variation. Sacrifice of Time used sacrifices as a metaphor for the fact that every activity we want to do in life requires that we give up moments of our lives that can never be retrieved or respent. The Importance of Variation comments that excessive free time makes it impossible to spend our moments productively because we always feel as though there is always more moments we can spend and therefore there is no urgency that compels us to expend energy right now.

That was over three years ago. At that time I had almost unlimited free time. At this point I tend to feel as though I get only wisps of free time here and there (I feel that way, but of course a busier man would say that I have plenty of free time. To try to look at it objectively, I am probably not that occupied at all, compared to the rest of productive society), which caused me to think back to these blogs. They seem all the more true when seen from the other side.

Whereas boredom defined my existence back then, it has all but been erased from my existence now. There is always more to be done than time to do it in. It is always a scramble to cobble free minutes together to put toward some goal or project I have. For the first time I can experience the resentment that people tend to feel when someone has wasted or is wasting their time. For the first time the Sacrifice of Time carries urgency for me; when I have to choose what to spend my free time on, I am aware of the fact that I am spending moments that I will never get back and moments that can only be spent on one thing.

I find that the danger in such a situation is diversity in desire. Desire itself is not the problem, in fact, desire is very much the thing keeping you alive. Rather it is diversity in desire, wanting too many things that have to compete for the same moments to be a part of your life. Pursuing one goal allows you to chase with all your energy and focus; pursuing two allows you to chase your primary goal with most of your energy while refreshing yourself chasing after the other; any more than that and you begin spreading yourself so thin that all you are doing is being interested in various hobbies. You never reach any kind of height.

The other danger is the danger of obligation and responsibility. When one has the structure of obligation to dictate most of the time you spend in a given week, it becomes tempting to just give up doing anything difficult with one's free time. You drift and allow obligation to make its demands upon you, the rest of your time is spent escaping challenge. This is very tempting, but unsatisfying, at least initially; I imagine it does not take very long to quiet that impulse that compels you to try to accomplish something outside of your obligations.

In a way, though, I suppose this was just a long way of explaining why I only had two blogs posted in October.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Speculative Moment

Note: this is what I call Philosophical Fiction. It's speculation, it is fun, but it is not to be taken as a sincere search for the way things are, just a fun contemplation on the way things might be.

If there is a meaning to life, I do not think that it would be a meaning for us. We create hammers for a purpose so they have a purpose for us, but not for themselves. Computers are created to serve certain purposes for us, but they themselves have nothing to aspire to. Likewise, given the lack of a clear meaning for our lives, I should think that if there is a meaning to life it is not for us, not something that we aspire to, but something that we fulfill simply in the course of doing what we naturally do.

And if there should be a meaning to life, I would think that it lies in our diversity of experience and natures. Life produces a multitude of unique characters. Life can be thought of as a kind of arthouse, producing unique natures.

I think that the most persuasive theodicy I have ever encountered is the Irenaean theodicy. Making pain a part of the design is more effective than making pain a flaw in the design since the former does not force us to imagine an incompetent designer.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Religion, Even if True, May Not Be so Important

One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.
-C. S. Lewis
-Comment Sections Everywhere

Suppose we were to be contacted by angels tomorrow. Spiritual beings would manifest themselves in physical form, call a press conference, and reveal the mysteries of the universe. They would tell us that religious claims (or at least some religious claims) were correct. There is a God. And they would consent to all manner of rigorous scientific examination to show that their bodies were composed of matter that could not be accounted for by the known universe, and then they would toss out some mind-blowing version of the Ontological Argument that made God's existence indisputable.

What would the world look like?

Over a year ago, I argued that it may be necessary for God - if there is a God - to obscure himself in order to keep the mundane realities of everyday life looking necessary for human beings. I still, for the most part, agree with what I wrote there: if God appeared in all his glory he would shatter our ability to be concerned about our own lives. However, if God himself did not appear, but his presence became a fact on par with any scientific hypothesis that we regularly rely upon, what would the world look like?

And my answer would be, not very different.

After the initial shock of having God's existence proven, we would have to realign our thinking a bit. The atheism movement would fragment between those who would become theists and those who would redefine atheism on moral grounds. The perceived enmity between science and religion would fade. But then, what?

Our lives are busy, our situations diverse, and our mental power limited. Most people will spend most of their time not particularly worried about God; they may give God a portion of their time and energy but they will also give a portion to family, work, sex, entertainment, sports, finances, maintenance, and personal hygiene. Even those we might consider intellectuals or reflective people will have to devote their mental energies to economics, chemistry, political science, cultural criticism, and the proper implementation of web standards. Indeed, even if God were a fact, he would be a fact that a great many people find useless given their own, limited projects. God will hardly capture everyone's heart simply because he has claimed territory in everyone's mind.

Human nature is diverse. Even if we remove the question of God's existence, not all human beings will react to God's existence the same way. Frankly, a lot of people don't spend a lot of time worried about God or spiritual matters at all. God occupies a place in nearly every person's mind, we all have moments where theistic questions seem significant to us, but for many of us these moments are fleeting. We have an entire life to live, only some of us are so inclined to grow obsessed over this one aspect of life.