Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Faith of a nihilist

     The faith of a nihilist. At first, this sounds like self-contradiction. How can there be faith, if there is nothing out there that moves you, that you believe in?
My values are objective because they are mine, because they obtain for me as agent and subject, in the unique colouring they give to objects I encounter in my subjective world.

Pathways Program E. 'Reason, Values and Conduct' Unit 8, para. 145
     That was the answer I gave back in 1995-7. I still think that it is spot on correct. If I am essentially, at the deepest level, a doing, if reality is nothing but a doing — if that is all there is at the ultimate, 'ontological' (a self-contradiction, on my view) level — then values cease to be irrational 'forces' added on top to 'what is' (Humean 'desire', for example). They are my very essence. Without the things I value, I cease to be.
     What the would-be 'objectivist' (Platonist, e.g.) wants is to put something else, something that is not 'mine', over me. To dominate me, keep me in line, deny my right to be myself. My very right to be. 'Wheels in the head' (Stirner).
     Hence: 'Kill the father' (Philosophizer Black Edition, Appendix 19th October 2016).
     What more do you want than reality itself? An agent must have something to act upon. Hence the impossibility of solipsism. While classic idealism faces the challenge of explaining how there can be 'ideas' which are not 'mine', I have no such problem.
     Or, rather, if we are looking at this historically, rather than at familiar caricatures of 'idealism', then the 'evil demon' of Descartes or Berkeley's 'God' require only a small adjustment, a small nudge — and then they become the very opposite of what they were originally conceived to be.
     The world and I have a personal relationship. One on one. As intimate as you can get. There is no such thing as a 'thing'. Least of all a 'universe' of 'things'. (Ditto 'ideas'.)
     'What you're describing sounds like a computer game — only without the keyboard, screen or computer.'
     What is 'like'? If you've never played a computer game (like Doom or Marathon, we're not talking about abstract games such as Chess or Go) then you don't know, haven't experienced, how easily one slips into an alien universe. There were always books to feed the imagination, but this is something else, interaction, active engagement where you get to see and experience the results of your actions and decisions.
     'But isn't that my point? In a computer game, nothing matters except surviving to finish the level, or killing as many aliens as possible. A game is a game. When you get bored, you can switch off and do something else.'
     Well then, this is the one game that is totally, utterly serious. No switching off (apart from suicide). There's only one 'level' and you never get to complete the game. So you'd better focus and do the best you can. Take aim and shoot when you have the opportunity. Dodge the laser bolts, parry the blows. Run like hell, whether you are chasing or being chased. That's all there is.
     Tell me something that isn't in the 'game' and I'll show you how it is just another feature of the game. (Being 'not in the game' only means, 'being part of a larger game.' On the first level of Doom3, between getting your orders and your pistol and ammo you have the chance to play 'Turkey Shoot' on an old amusement arcade machine.)
     Play reluctantly, or play with gusto. It makes no difference.
     No-one 'wins', everyone 'loses'.
     — So where does faith come in? I am making moves for a purpose. No-one gave me the 'purpose' and there's no-one to tell me if my moves are right or wrong. It's up to me to find out in time. I believe that I will.
     If that is not faith, then what is?

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Conundrum solved

Back to the I-now. It's a starting point because it's undeniable (for Cartesian sorts of reasons). Metaphysics is defined (I say) by the fact that 'I am asking the question'. On the other hand, the One is a starting point because I believe that 'something is'. But what I mean by 'is' is something that could not exist contingently. There must be something necessary because the universe is not a 'game of dice'.

There is this. And there is that. The this and the that seem to bear no relation to one another, there's no line of argument connecting them, other than the sheer fact that each (I say) is undeniable.

An idiotic conundrum...

Questions about the One, 13th May 2017

-o-

The night before last, I slept for an inordinate length of time. I didn't get up until nearly eleven, which is unheard of for me. I had awoken with a feeling of peace and beatitude that I haven't known for weeks, or months. I know what my philosophy is. That was the thought that came to me, just like that. I lay there, for perhaps an hour or more, just contemplating what that meant, the enormity of it.

Of course, I knew. It wasn't a surprise. But you can 'know' and and you can 'know'. The important thing is how you know what you know, the feelings and emotions with which you invest that knowledge.

My philosophy isn't the question I'm after.

That's the key point. The question I'm after, the ultimate meaning of existence, has been dangling in front of me for decades. The chances of answering the question, or even making progress, are close to zero. But my philosophy is settled. I have been living it, all this while.

I accept myself and my nature as a given fact.

Glass House Notebook III, 29th November 2015

(quoted in Philosophizer 'A wolf's sense of smell')

-o-

'I'm not trying to better myself' (Day 27). — That's the key. This inquiry isn't anything to do with moral goodness or the quest for human perfection, least of all with any notion of eschatology. I accept myself as I am. I'm not looking to change my attitudes or lifestyle...

But I also said I wasn't theorizing and this isn't 'metaphysics'. The time for grand theories has passed. It doesn't work any more, it's just so obviously playing with Meccano and not grappling with the real issue. I can go about my business perfectly well, but I don't believe any of it. It's a myth, a fairy tale.

Hedgehog Philosopher Day 28, 30th January 2011
— I realize now that I was wrong to detach 'my philosophy' from 'the question that has been hanging over me'. Because the conundrum is solved. Reality (the 'that') is a doing, and the I-now (the 'this') is a doing. When it rains, or when someone speaks to me, or the atom bomb drops... that is 'reality doing'. For my part, what I choose to do, or not do, is meaningless apart from what reality 'does'. The two are inseparable. And not just 'joined at the hip' either.

Any theory of 'reality' or 'ultimate reality' as an existing fact cannot include I. That was the whole point (a point I missed more than once). It follows with blinding logic that there is no such 'fact'. There is no ultimate 'is'. There is only the doing.

(There are no 'ultimate values' either — what could such things be but another kind of entity that 'is' — 'queer' objects like Plato's Forms, according to Mackie.)

I can say (I do say) 'I'm not trying to better myself'. Kierkegaard's dialectic of the Aesthetic, Ethical and Religious standpoints leaves me unmoved. Maybe because my stance is so deeply 'religious' that I simply can't see any other possibility?

Religion without God. And not making a 'god' of myself either...

I am only a means to an end. Where did I say that? (Can't find it now.) Something is driving me, call it 'my greater self' or 'the Absolute seeking self-knowledge' — just more 'fairy tales'. I accept as a fact this drive to know, to understand. For no reason, no ulterior purpose or motive. How strange is that?

But doesn't there have to be some point to all this? What use, what function has this 'knowledge', this 'understanding'? What is it for?

The conundrum is solved. But there is still everything to do. Now I can take the first step...

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Saturday, 13 January 2018

The actual is the issue of my existence

     Ultimate reality. That's all this has ever been about.
... philosophy is concerned with the ultimate questions. What is reality? Why are we here? What is the point of living? Is anything really ‘good’ or ‘bad’ except in relation to our likes and dislikes?
https://askaphilosopher.wordpress.com/2018/01/06/kafkas-metamorphosis-and-philosophy/
     If you ask, What is ultimate reality? it is possible — or even highly likely — that you are asking the wrong question. If ultimate reality is something that 'is', then maybe Parmenides was right and all you can say about it is that 'It is.'
     Consider an alternative possibility. Ultimate reality isn't something that 'is'. Ultimate reality is something that does.
     In everyday discourse we assume that when something is 'done', then something (something that 'is') does the doing. That's a perfectly reasonable assumption to make. But, maybe, the rule doesn't apply at the ultimate level.
     Ultimate reality is a doing.
     I (the ultimate 'I') am a doing.
     Put the two together, and you have, simply, this. The whole shebang. Everything. My typing these words. My getting up just before nine this morning. Having Somerset brie and marmalade on toast with coffee and orange juice for breakfast. And all the rest.
     I am talking about a formula which I first proposed in Naive Metaphysics but never really properly developed:
Then let us say: my subjective world is not an object which my absolute I contemplates but rather an issue which my absolute I faces. The sense I have of the incommunicable uniqueness of my existence is the fact that my subjective world is an issue for me, and for me alone (Naive Metaphysics Ch. 12).
     The formula, 'the actual is the issue of my existence' first appeared ten years earlier in a series of short essays I wrote in 1983. (The first fifty pages were posted here, with commentary, but I deleted them. My writing back then was so clunky.)
     Looking back over my Glass House Philosopher pages, the following stands out:
Ever since Aristotle, metaphysics in one of its guises has simply been about accounting. Think of a philosopher as doing a stock check or balancing the books of the universe. Of course, there is the desire to explain — hence all the heat about the arguments for the existence of God. One sense of a 'theory of existence' is an 'explanation of everything'.

However, before that question even arises, we want to know what the universe is, we want to have an idea of what we are talking about. What is included in the idea of a 'universe' and what isn't? When do you know that your theory — whatever its ostensive purpose — has taken account of everything that needs to be taken account of?

You have probably heard of the three main traditional views about the mind-body problem: mind-body dualism, materialism (material monism) and idealism (mental monism). There's quite a lot to argue about there, but it's still not the first thing, the most fundamental thing.

Or assume for a moment that I'm wrong, and that asking what stuff the universe is made of is the most fundamental question you can ask. What assumption are we making? That when as metaphysicians we talk about 'the universe' what we mean is a bunch of stuff (just what stuff it is, is something we can decide later).

How could that assumption turn out to be false? Well, that's the question I'm asking. When I wrote, 'The actual is the issue of my existence' I thought I'd seen a way to show just that.

The actual is not matter, the actual is not mind, nor is it mind and matter in some kind of weird combination. It is none of these things because it isn't stuff. The great A.N. Whitehead would agree with me there (in Process and Reality he says the actual is events and processes, not stuff). But Kierkegaard and the existentialists have stolen a march on Whitehead. Events and processes are just another kind of building block of the universe. There is something that comes before that too.

Where it all starts, the very first thing isn't components or building blocks that you put together. That's just messing about with theories or concepts. ('Category mongering' I used to call it.) To play that game you have to forget a rather troublesome fact: that there is you, moving the pieces around in pretty combinations. The subject. The one asking the question. The Single One.

Where it all starts is here, now, me. Ever since Plato, the here-and-now was seen as the antithesis of philosophy, the preoccupation of 'lovers of sights and sounds', pathetic individuals lacking in the ability to perceive the Forms. Wrong!

The here-and-now is precisely what we are trying to see, to grasp. I was aware of this when I wrote about the 'illusion of detachment' in Naive Metaphysics. But I still hadn't got it...

Glass House Philosopher II, 14th April 2004
     And now, here I am, a decade and a half later, thinking: 'Yes, maybe this is the way forward after all.' It fits...

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Thursday, 4 January 2018

Principle of individuation (reconsidered)

I might not have existed, everything else remaining the same.
     My mantra. Or first principle, axiom, 'clear and distinct idea'. Call it what you will.
     I don't know why it is true. All I know is that, looking into myself as deeply as I am able to do, I find the principle impossible to deny. I might not have been here.
     Every night, I surrender to sleep, without fear or anxiety. Non-existence is a familiar state for me. The only difference is something that may or may not happen in the future ('waking up').
     (Then there's the argument that death is impossible, because you can never rule out the possibility of 'waking up' at some point in endless future time, c.f. my YouTube video What is death? The flip side of which is that I 'die' at every moment, the self does not persist through time — see below.)
     The problem — this is actually a crushing objection — is that when I imagine/ conceive of the possibility of my non-existence 'everything else remaining the same', there are uncountably many 'I's that might have existed in my place. Here, Leibniz's 'identity of indiscernibles' is unstoppable. If you can't count them, then there is no 'them'. You are not dealing with distinct existences.
     However, the thought occurred to me this morning that there is a simple way to do this.
     Start with the familiar idea of the multiverse. Not 'all possible worlds' whatever that would mean (again, the objection over identity, cf. Quine: Questions about the One) but rather worlds produced or created in the form of a tree of alternate possibilities, consistent with a given set of laws of physics. In QM, for example.
     A similar tree can be constructed of the self. The moments in my life are countless (you can divide them as finely as you like) but the conscious decisions I make are not. Writing these words, my fingers automatically find the right keys (I learned to touch type years ago). So I don't have to make the 'decision', e.g., to put my right index finger just here in order to type the letter 'u'. On the other hand, I did have a decision to make about whether to write a post in my journal today.
     Am I in the right mood or frame of mind to make a serious effort, and not just spout the first words that come into my mind? Do I have anything to say? And so on.
     As F.H. Bradley remarks in Ethical Studies, many of the decisions we make are predictable for good reasons, because, e.g., that's what would be the decent thing to do, and I am a decent man. But many other decisions are finely balanced. There are 'good' reasons on both sides. And in that situation (and only in that situation) we can posit the creation of two selves — two entire universes, in fact — the self who decides to do A, and the self who decides to do not-A.
     How many 'alternate selves' are there at any given time? The number isn't actual but potential. It all depends on how many finely balanced decisions 'I' have still to make. (Or not so finely — it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a scoundrel would for once do the decent thing.) But that's OK. I remember arguing for a similar view of personal identity in the case of thought experiments of 'splitting': Retrospectively, we deem that there were two Smiths, the Smith who later became the 'Smith on the left' and the Smith who later became the 'Smith on the right'.
     Unlike the case of QM, I am not saying the every decision must necessarily create two I-worlds. I can't say this, because then there is no way that I might not have been here now. Something contingent had to happen, an act or rather series of acts of free will, in order for me to be here. This makes sense. After all, how finely do we define 'finely'? Are we to say that because a decision is 'logically possible', one of my alternate selves must make it? To me, that sounds excessive and absurd. (Pity all the poor alternative GKs who die in the most ridiculous ways, or commit mass murder, or etc.)
     Contingency, that's the key.
     I will never get to know what happened to the 'GK' who decided not to write a post today. The term 'I' necessarily refers to one particular path through the 'tree'. Which path? That's something I can only discover in retrospect. There is no 'soul substance' that goes forward into the future, only a succession of conscious decisions that cumulatively create the 'I' who is 'this' GK.
     'I might not have existed, everything else remaining the same,' means, simply, that the series of conscious decisions stretching back six decades that led to my writing these words now might not have led to the decision I took this morning, to write rather than not write. (Ditto, with particular decisions about what to say, how to say it, etc.)
     THIS self (there is no past or future 'I' only the I-now) might never have been. I cannot speak for 'myself' yesterday, or a year ago. (Could there still be a noumenal subject? Say this if you like — the underlying 'reality' that accounts for the appearance of a 'self', or whatever.)
     — Do I believe any of this? That wasn't the question. I am drawing a picture, maybe just for my own amusement, nothing more. There was an objection about identity to a picture I drew earlier, but that objection can be met with a bit more colouring in. I am not looking to persuade myself of anything, or persuade anyone else.
     What is not up for discussion is that something is the case. There is Reality. Existence exists. Whether or not these speculations will ever get close to capturing it is moot. But I shall just continue exploring anyway.

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Monday, 1 January 2018

New start

       Yesterday, in Glass House Philosopher, I talked about,
...the sense I have that, despite all the fears and dangers, I am safe in 'my' hands. There is someone in charge who is not identical to my conscious self. I wouldn't use Freudian terminology (Superego, Id, Ego) because it doesn't fit. I'm talking about my 'true' self, my 'greater' self. The one who knows where he is going, even when at times fearful I do not.
      On the previous page, I announced the publication of an expanded version of Philosophizer, titled Philosophizer (Black Edition). From the New Preface:
I don't yet know what is possible — in philosophy. But that is why I wrote my book. I am still searching.
      Still searching. But what to do? Waiting isn't enough. Inspiration needs to be provoked, it won't come of its own accord. But this is where I hit the nail on the head:
If you have a point to make, it should be there for anyone with eyes to see. You shouldn t need to argue for it, the way philosophers incessantly feel the need to do.
      That's where I've fallen down. (In my last post in this journal, for example.) But I am clearer now, about how to go forward. Let the 'philosophers' (so-called) do what they do best. I have my 'philosopher's hat' but only for official business (Pathways to Philosophy, Ask a Philosopher).
      Maybe, this could be seen as 'theology' (60s Protestant, 'God is dead' variety). That's the name Aristotle gave to his 'first philosophy' (the neologism 'metaphysics' is the name the librarians at Alexandria used). Levinas calls it 'ethics'. Sometimes, listening to myself, I imagine that I sound a bit like Martin Luther (swearing, crudity, railing against the Devil). — This is, in a way, a project of Reformation, is it not?
      Academic philosophy is on a road to nowhere. The ultimate questions are the only thing a philosopher should be concerned with. Everything else is dispensable. Underlabouring (Locke), logical analysis, methodology, political theory, literary criticism have a place in the architectonic of human knowledge. Determining that place — the precise place — is itself a worthwhile activity if you are into that kind of thing. But it isn't philosophy.
      But never mind, I'm not going to argue over the use of a word. That's what 'philosophers' do, isn't it? And there's too many of them to argue with. So I will just go my own way, not even glancing once to see if anyone is following behind.
      What do I know?
      What do I believe?
      The stuff about my 'greater self' is belief, useful or otherwise. I don't go in for fairy tales or magical thinking. This is about adjusting my mental attitude (YouTube Return of the evil demon). My way of orienting myself to reality, or more accurately, to the task before me.
      What I know is that the the theory of materialism — first promulgated as a metaphysical theory of the the ultimate units of Parmenidean 'Being' by the Atomists Leucippus and Democritus 2,500 years ago — cannot possibly be true. I know this because:
I might not have existed, everything else remaining the same.
      (Remembering, now, that the theory of evolution is not a new idea — it was first put forward by the Presocratic philosopher Empedocles pursuing a similar agenda: making the world safe for physics.)
      There being I in the world, rather than no-I, is a momentous event. Fantastic, inexplicable. How to account for it? Who is even aware of that question?
      Unlike the 'soul substance' of Descartes, my 'I' is  existentially weightless. It's existence is pure contingency. It can go out of existence, or flick back into existence at any time. (In a way, Descartes is committed to this too, because material and mental 'substances' only persist through time by God's pleasure — which led Spinoza to conclude that God is the only true substance, the only thing not dependent on something else for its continued existence.)
      Do I actually know that my 'I' is 'existentially weightless'? Well, no. Of course not. I am speculating, or else drawing conclusions. Maybe the 'I' does refer to something noumenal, but that is speculation too. Or, at least, requires an argument, and I'm not in the business of giving arguments.
      I need to work on myself. Mentally, I am not in the best shape for this. I don't know how it's done, this 'philosophizing', whatever it is. Attending, focusing, remembering, martialling my spirit and my emotions. It's all new to me. Trial and error.
      — That's what these pages are for...

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