Showing posts with label nihilism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nihilism. Show all posts

Saturday, April 22, 2017

For The Sake Of Absurdity

In recent years I have more and more come to celebrate and embrace the absurd. I have an intense infatuation with what is preposterous, ridiculous, and incompatible with sound reason. I think this is why I love religion so much. It's the absurdity of it that fascinates me and the humor drawn from the absurdity that I find so appealing. Now the philosophy of absurdism within existentialism is about conflict between the search for meaning in world and its meaninglessness. And my view on this, as an atheist, is to embrace the meaninglessness of the world, rather than commit suicide or believe in a religious transcendental realm. One way we can do this is to celebrate the absurd.

But what's the absurdity? Is it the meaninglessness of the world, or the religious view of the world created by a designer who confers meaning? Well if you ask me which one is supposed to be the absurdity, it's both. They're both absurd. The world having no meaning, and the world having meaning given by some god are both absurd. The very idea of those two things are absurd too. Every worldview is absurd if you ask me. Existence itself is absurd. But we can make the most of it by finding subjective meaning in things, like art, or music, or philosophy, and so long as we don't ever confuse these things with any notion of objective meaning, this can make life more pleasurable.

But I say, we should also embrace the ridiculous of the absurd by creating more of it. I routinely tell absurd jokes with deliberate non-sequitors simply because they're absurd. I routinely emphasize natural absurdity contrived by nature. And I try to create absurd situations when ever possible, just for the sake of absurdity for laughs. The more absurd, the better. Humor is the celebration of the absurd.

There is a dark side however to celebrating the absurdity. Donald Trump as president is absurd. Totally and completely absurd. In some ways, I like it because him and his presidency are absurd, and I know people who've voted for him solely because they thought it would be absurd if he was president. Now I think his presidency is a "total disaster" and "Sad!" — to borrow his own phraseology, and I truly fear for the future. So I think sometimes it's proper to set aside one's embrace of the absurd for the sake of human well being. The absurd we celebrate should be harmless, and other than rustling a few feathers, no one should be seriously hurt from the absurd if it can be helped. The presidency of Donald Trump, while a daily monument to absurdity, is going to seriously harm the world. His lack of concern for man-made climate change alone is enough to do this.

So I urge you to consider the absurd. For laughs, try inventing a religion with the goal of making it as absurd as possible. Do it with friends, and try to out do each other. Make an absurd joke that has no obvious punchline other than the absurdity of the joke itself. Tell an absurd story just for laughs. Emphasize the absurdity of the news, situations, or of life in general. For example: How can relationships thrive in a society that increasingly celebrates individuality? It's absurd when you think about it.

Don't confuse any of this with being the same thing as Albert Camus's philosophy of absurdism. That's a deeper intellectual project. I'm simply recognizing his thesis and arguing that we should cope with life's objective meaninglessness by celebrating absurdity.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Your God Is Dead And No One Cares

In light of the recent good news that the United States continues to become less religious, I decided to pay homage to a band that was very important to me in my high school and young adult years. I remember rocking out to the song Heresy with my friends, some of whom where theists, usually while drinking and doing drugs. It's a great industrial metal song critical of Christianity by one of the greatest industrial metal bands of all time, Nine Inch Nails. I think songs like this played a small but significant role in turning people away from traditional organized religion by pointing out its absurdity. In my social circle growing up it was cool to hate on religion, and bands like Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and others made that possible. Many of us were teenage nihilists. God was dead, and no one cared. And if there was a hell, we'd see you there. Read the lyrics of Heresy and see if you spot some popular criticisms launched against Christianity from atheists and secularists.

He sewed his eyes shut because he is afraid to see
He tries to tell me what I put inside of me
He's got the answers to ease my curiosity
He dreamed a god up and called it Christianity

Your god is dead and no one cares
If there is a hell I'll see you there

He flexed his muscles to keep his flock of sheep in line
He made a virus that would kill off all the swine
His perfect kingdom of killing, suffering and pain
Demands devotion, atrocities done in his name

Your god is dead and no one cares
If there is a hell I'll see you there
Your god is dead and no one cares
If there is a hell I'll see you there

Drowning in his own hypocrisy
And if there is a hell I'll see you there
Burning with your god in humility
Will you die for this?

"Heresy" by Nine Inch Nails

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Religion-Table Analogy

Last month when I was visiting my family we got into a conversation about what gives our lives purpose. I mentioned to my mother and sister that helping rid the world of religion gives my life purpose, and my sister, who is not religious in a traditional sense but very spiritual, shot back and said that there is a lot of good in religion. I agreed with her that all religions have some good in them but that the metaphysical beliefs that justify the good things in religion, also justify the bad things in religion, and I came up with what I call the religion-table analogy to try and explain it a bit better.

It works like this. A table is held up by its legs. On the table you can have good things and bad things, like, say, healthy food, and poisonous food. That represents the good of religion and the bad. The legs represent the metaphysical beliefs of religion that support all of its claims. The same metaphysical arguments that liberal Christians like former president Jimmy Carter can use to justify the truth of his god, are also used by the members of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Westboro Baptist Church, the KKK, and many others, to justify their god and their bad theology. Moderate and liberal theism provides cover for conservative and fundamentalist theism. Instead of just criticizing the fundamentalists, I'm focusing on refuting the metaphysical claims of religion altogether because chopping off the legs of the table takes down everything having to do with the religion. Keeping the legs of the table intact will always allow for the extremist to metaphysically justify their claims. Furthermore, anything good from religion can be justified without it. No one needs to believe Jesus was divine in order to see that helping the poor is good. No one needs to believe Mohammad spoke to the angel Gabriel to see that there is something wrong with charging excessive interest. But many of the bad things that religions have can only be justified with religion. ISIS' despicable theology of rape for example, cannot be justified without a belief in god.

And that's why religion has to go—all of it. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a debate with a hardcore religious fundie and they've tried to trot out the cosmological argument, or the moral argument, in an attempt to justify and lend intellectual credit to their extremist and absurd ideas. Destroy the legs of the religion table, and you destroy all of religion. This is not to say that I believe religion should be refuted because it can do bad things. I primarily believe religion should be refuted because they're all false. But to be responsible, you cannot just stop there. Since religions provide for many comforts in the lives of people, like giving them a sense of meaning, purpose, morality, community, and so forth, religion needs to be replaced with secular alternatives. When this is done, there is little to no difference in the ethical behavior and well-being of an atheist over a theist. And the lives of hundreds of millions of atheists around the world can attest to that.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Saving Silverman

Obligatory David Silverman meme
I'm not a huge fan of American Atheists president David Silverman, but in general I like the guy. I like, for example, his style of firebrand atheism that I think is needed to balance out the accommodationists. I also like that he's really great at pointing out how ridiculous and harmful a lot of religious beliefs are, especial those of the Abrahamic strain. But the man has some major flaws that I think he would be wise to correct.

First, Silverman knows next to nothing about cosmology or biology, and in the debates I've seen him in (like his horrible debate with Frank Turek recently) he claims total ignorance on how the universe or life got started. Now I don't expect him to be a genius in either field, heck I'm not, but shrugging your shoulders and basically saying, "I don't know" isn't going to cut it if you're going to fashion yourself as a public face for atheism and make your rounds in the debate circuit. I mean, at least learn a few of the theories out there (e.g. quantum fluctuations as described by physicists like Lawrence Krauss, or learn about the B-theory of time, or RNA world models - something.) You cannot jump in the atheism/theism debate arena and be totally ignorant on cosmology and biology - it's unacceptable. Silverman is making a fool out of himself every time he does so and he's making a fool out of atheism in the process.

Second, Silverman knows next to nothing about ethics and seems to support a kind of total moral nihilism. Then, he accuses the god of the Bible of being evil! As you can imagine he gets called out on this over and over again, and rightly so. He needs to define what he means by "evil" (which is actually quite easy to do - lacking empathy or compassion) and he needs to define what meta-ethical theory he is subscribing to as an alternative to divine command theory. In the debates I've seen of him, Silverman simply just announces that morality is relative and just keeps repeating that over and over again. But relative to what? What ethical theory does he espouse? He offers us nothing! Silverman needs to sit down with a philosopher, someone like Massimo Pigliucci, or maybe A.C. Grayling, and learn a few of the basics about ethics so that he doesn't continue to look like a damn fool and make atheists look bad. Atheism does not entail moral nihilism, but Silverman is doing a great job making it look that way.

That being said, I think his recent speech at the Oxford Union debate, Religion Harms Society, was pretty decent. See below:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Jack Kerouac : King of the Beats (2012) Full Documentary

Watching this documentary makes me want to be a writer. A real writer, not just some blogger. I'm trying to write a novel right now and let me tell you it is FUCKING hard. I have about 79 pages so far, but I have no idea how many of them are useful. I can sometimes write for hours and hours and feel I'm making great progress, and then for days I write nothing. Nada. Creativity can't exactly be scheduled, it rears its head whenever it wants. I can't set my alarm to go off at 9 AM and declare, "It's time to be creative." It just doesn't work that way.

I've always wanted to actually write a book. Any book. The idea of writing a novel crossed my mind numerous times and I've had a few false starts that never went anywhere. This time it's different. I'm going to complete this novel or die trying. I'm aiming for at least 150 pages, but more closer to 200. Any real novel has at least about that much. The problem is I get creative mostly at night, right before I'm supposed to go to bed, right when I'm drowsy. I can't write anything during the day for some reason. I seem to have a creative aversion to bright light. I thrive in the darkness. I'm naturally nocturnal, did I mention?

There's going to be lots of philosophy in my book, along with sex and drugs. I'm going to touch on many topics dear to me: atheism, nihilism, existentialism, free will, determinism, Buddhism, religion, dating, polyamory, feminism, partying, economics and more, all through the mind of a millennial living in contemporary New York. I'm confident it will be awesome. It will be exactly the kind of book I would want to read. Isn't that the goal of every writer?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Reflections On The Self

Who are you?

Who are you really?

What is it that exists that makes you who you are? Could you really just be a complex, agglomeration of atoms and molecules with the evolved ability to know you exist? Is the universe or multiverse all that exists, entirely encapsulated within what we could call the natural world?

Why do we sometimes feel that our emotional responses to our environment are indicative of some higher spiritual dimension that exists? If materialism is true and we are just a complex assortment of atoms – atoms that were made in the hearts of stars and we are “star stuff”, made from the very universe in which we live in, then mankind is what you could say, one with the universe.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Few Thoughts On 'Nothing'

If you define 'nothing' as the total and complete non-existence of anything, then how could something that doesn't exist, exist? In other words, how can non-existence exist? If nothing somehow could exist, wouldn't it actually be something?

What properties does nothing have? Well, presumably it has no properties at all. What limitations does nothing have? Well, since it has no properties it might have no limitations. But having no limitations seems like a property to me, as does having limitations.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey Part 8

Purpose And Meaning In A Godless World

I guess it’s fair to say that I had become obsessed with the debate about whether god exists or not after I started taking my atheism seriously. There were no deeper questions to ponder than ones about existence and meaning to the philosophy lover like myself. It seems that ever since mankind evolved the ability to think deeply and reflect upon his world, he has been on a permanent quest to know the truth. Now there are “Why?” questions and then there are “How?” questions. It may turn out that the “Why?” questions are really answered by the “How?” questions. Then there are questions of purpose that can be answered the same way as “How?” questions. For example, imagine being asked, “What is the purpose of mountains?” Well, there is no purpose of mountains of course! Mountains exist because of natural geologic activity from within the earth. Mountains just are; there is no deeper ultimate reason or plan as to their being.   

In my journey in search for life’s ultimate meaning and purpose, I have arrived at a similar conclusion. Life just is, human beings just are, there is no ultimate meaning or purpose for our existence. We are in a sense just complex chemistry made possible by the laws of physics. Now let me stop for a moment here because some of you who aren't familiar with the atheistic worldview or who might have misconceptions about it may be thinking that this sounds just like nihilism. That would actually depend on how you define nihilism. If you define nihilism as I do, as simply just meaning that there is no ultimate meaning or purpose to life, then I’m a nihilist. But if you define nihilism as believing that there is no purpose to life at all, not even a subjective one, then I would disagree with you. The meaning of our lives is subjective. Every one of us is born out of a random and chaotic chance meeting between a particular sperm cell and an egg, and once we’re born it is up to us to find and decide meaning for our lives.

I find this much more liberating than the theistic worldview. To illustrate the point, imagine that when you were born, you were told that your purpose in life was to carry on your grandfather’s shoe shining business. Now imagine, like most people probably would, that the idea of spending the rest of your life shining other people’s shoes makes you extremely depressed. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life shining shoes, you have other passions and interests that you would like to pursue. Then you’re told that if you don’t want to shine shoes for the rest of your life you will not be forced in any way to carry on your grandfather’s business – it’s all up to you – and you breathe a huge sigh of relief. But, there’s a catch. Of course there is. If you freely reject the purpose given to your life – the very reason why you were born, you will spend a hell in eternity being tortured after you die.

This is basically how the idea of having an ultimate or objective purpose to life that we have no say over sounds to me. What if I don’t like this supposed “purpose” that I’m told is the reason for why I was born? The only answer I get from theists is a resounding “tough luck.” I should, according to them, just accept this belief and adjust my life accordingly, or else face the possible consequences. The theistic worldviews of the Abrahamic faiths basically say that the purpose of life is to freely come to know and love god, as he commands of you, and to obey all of his moral and lifestyle commandments. And in return for obeying, loving and worshiping god in this world, your reward will be eternal life in a hereafter, whereby you will receive the pleasure of being in the presence of god where you will be gifted the ability to worship him for the rest of eternity while he showers you with love in return. All three monotheisms have a different view of the afterlife but essentially they all pretty much involve the eternal worship of god. So basically, the reward for freely worshiping god in this world is to get to worship god for eternity in the next world. I struggle to find any reason why any atheist would embrace this idea with enthusiasm.

I’m also told by many theists that without god my purpose in life is only subjective and just an illusion that I make up, and that somehow I’m supposed to be depressed over this. But why should I be happy, why should I jump with joy over the idea that my objective purpose in life is to be told what to do by somebody else? And let’s not forget that god never appears to me personally to tell me what this supposed purpose is. Instead he tells other people what my purpose in life is, and they tell other people, who then tell other people, who tell other people, and this goes on many, many times over until it finally reaches me, and I’m supposed to take this message at face value and simply just trust that it hasn’t been corrupted somewhere along the way. I’m sorry, but I’m not that desperately lost and in need for a direction in life. I’d much rather live in a world where I get to make my own custom life purpose instead of taking orders from some conceptual being, who other people tell me to believe is real.

Most atheists like me clearly have a problem with this “objective” purpose. First of all, we atheists are not compelled to worship. That urge to worship that so many others have is not innately present within us. We feel that there is no justification for one to spend their life worshiping an invisible god whose exact nature no one can agree upon. That of course makes the “reward” of heaven a lot more like hell to the atheist. Second of all, I am told that in heaven there is no free will according to most monotheistic concepts. There is no freedom to do what one wants because that would allow one to sin, and sin cannot be allowed in heaven. The Islamic view of heaven for example describes it as containing rivers of the best tasting wine which you can drink to your heart’s content – but there’s a catch: the wine is non-alcoholic and cannot get you drunk. Even the 72 virgins a Muslim could enjoy who had died for the faith would definitely become monotonous eventually. I don’t think many theists have really thought about the concept of existing for eternity. What could one possibly do for an eternity even if they are happy? If there is no freedom of the will in heaven it must mean that those who go to heaven exist in some sort of quasi-mental state where they are essentially turned into drone-like robots. I don’t know about you, but the idea of worshiping god for eternity, while existing in a drone-like state with no freedom of the will doesn’t appeal to me whatsoever. My flaws are just as much a part of who I am as my strengths, and any attempt to strip me of them, is an attempt to strip me of my identity. 

Coming to terms with my atheism, I actually like the finitude of life and existence. I don’t mind existing for a finite amount of time and then dying and ceasing to exist. To me, the finitude of life makes it immeasurably more precious. Think about how important a special moment is with a loved one. It’s special because it’s just a moment; if it lasted an eternity its preciousness would be diluted into utter monotony. A common argument made by theists is that a life without an eternal afterlife would just be utterly absurd. They say we’d just be specks of dust and chemicals with no ultimate meaning or purpose and then we’d just die. But having no ultimate purpose does not mean one can’t have a finite purpose. The freedom in being able to devote your life to what you feel naturally fits you is I say one of the most liberating freedoms of the atheistic worldview. That is one of the main reasons why atheists today are generally huge lovers of freedom from tyranny, regardless of whether it’s theistic or secular.

Now suppose a theist argues by asking, “If everyone can decide their own life’s purpose, then what’s to stop someone from just being selfish and gratifying their own desires with no care for the effects it has on others?” That’s a fair question. We know society as a whole functions better when we are all empathetic towards the suffering of others and when we curb some of our natural selfishness for the greater good. Considering this fact, unless we enforce limitations on greediness, all we can do is appeal to reason when dealing with a selfish person. They can be explained why selfishness hurts others and is harmful and why they wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of it. The alternative option - appealing to authority, which is the choice theism gives us, is no better than teaching a selfish child that they should share simply “because god said so” or "because daddy says so”, rather than teaching the child why sharing is good for us all. Isn't it better to appeal to reason rather than authority? I think so.  

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey Part 4

Nihilism And The Search For Deeper Meaning

For a while in my early twenties I suppose you could say that I had lapsed into a kind of hedonistic existential nihilism. I started partying more to the point where it basically became my life. Drinking and smoking marijuana became an almost daily routine. The metal head crowd that I had hung out with in high school had fragmented into smaller groups who shared common mutual interests and I had followed along with the ones who were the more heavy drinkers and users. My best friend at the time was a Russian immigrant who came to the US as an early teen. He actually believed in the ancient Norse gods Odin and Thor. Although most of the time we were busy drinking and smoking and going to nightclubs, we occasionally had an intellectual conversation where our world views came into the light. I’d ask him how sincere he was about his beliefs and if he actually thought Odin was real. I’d occasionally attack the logic he used to justify his beliefs and I quickly found out just how irrational some belief systems are and what absurdities they can be founded on. My best friend had came to the conclusion that Odin was real when he was camping one day in the woods and had run out of water. Feeling like he was going to die of thirst, he prayed to Odin and shortly thereafter found a bottle of water sitting in the woods. To him, this was a sign from Odin that he was real, and from that moment onward, Odin was his god. Now mind you, I was probably high when he told me this story, but you can imagine for yourself how utterly preposterous his applied logic was in determining that his god was real.

Most of my other friends were atheist, agnostic, or lapsed Catholics. I did however have one Muslim friend who was one of the heaviest partiers of us all.  One day after driving me home from a party he gave me a book entitled, A BRIEF ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING ISLAM. He told me that he was meaning to give it to me for some time because he recognized in me that I was smart and a thinker about some of the bigger and deeper issues. It was one of those books that tries to use modern scientific discoveries to show that they were predicted in the Qur’an hundreds of years ago before anyone else could have known. This is offered as a case that the Qur’an is “proof” that it was divinely inspired and therefore that Islam is the one true faith. Now the skeptic in me has looked at this supposed “proof” and concluded that it is a ridiculous stretch of the imagination. The Qur’an is so vague in its descriptions of these purported “facts” that it take great leaps of faith to reconcile them with modern science, and on top of that, it gets many of its “facts” flat out wrong. But at that time, I wasn’t fully aware of this, and after briefly looking through the book, I literally threw it down on a shelf and it collected dust for about 5 years.

During this nihilistic party phase in my early twenties I just wasn’t that interested in religion and philosophy. That early spark of intrigue had faded and became replaced by hedonistic indulgence. Living in New York City where there are thousands of bars and clubs, my life revolved around bar hoping and club hoping, chasing after the next one night stand, and getting fucked up on beer, liquor, marijuana and the occasional club drug. I was a nihilist living in the moment, working the odd job here and there, with no deeper purpose, meaning or direction. The occasional discussion about metaphysical worldviews always involved me articulating my skepticism and disbelief but it was almost never seriously challenged because most of the people in my social circle either weren’t believers, or if they believed, they weren’t religious about their beliefs. Although I had an affinity for indulgence myself, as the years went on I started gravitating towards deeper more intellectual topics. I wanted to have intellectual conversations with my friends instead of just talking about whatever gossip and drama happened to be going on at the time. I started growing tired of the mindless self-indulgence that I saw going on everyday amongst my friends. I stopped caring about the silly one-upmanship that we were all trying to pull on each other to gratify our precious egos. I was searching for something deeper and more intellectually satisfying in my life but unlike those people who are susceptible to religion, my natural born skepticism wouldn’t steer me towards god.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey Part 2

Natural Born Skeptic

So there I was, a kid growing up in New York City in the 1990s, hailing from a secular home, and completely non-religious. I wasn’t all that different from my peers around me to be honest with you. New York is what I like to call the secular metropolis. Most of my peers and friends growing up weren’t religious at all. None of any of my close friends went to church. Belief in god and religion almost never came up in conversation. Looking back it seemed we were all a bunch of teenage nihilists, with a healthy rebellious spirit. We’d rather drink beer, talk about music and girls and ideas on how to get into trouble to keep us from being bored. Throughout all of my teen years I went through life basically living under the assumption of atheism. I seemed to have an intrinsic inclination towards the naturalistic worldview. I don’t recall ever believing that there were supernatural agencies at work behind anything that happened to me. I even thought that the spiritual idea of karma and the “what goes around, comes around” philosophy was nothing but wishful unsubstantiated nonsense. To me, things just happened, and it was foolish to look for a deeper intentional agency to explain what naturally occurred. When I got an outbreak of acne as a teenager, I didn’t go blaming it on god or karma; I blamed it on my genes that I inherited from my parents as the root cause. There was always a rational scientific explanation in my worldview.

There was one time when I was about 8 or 9 and was playing in the park that was part of the apartment complex I grew up in with the neighborhood kids and I remember this strange girl suddenly showed up. Her name was “Linda” and no one had ever seen her before.  She must’ve been visiting someone living nearby, perhaps a relative. I remember her trying to play with us and that all she wanted to talk about was god and that Jesus Christ died for our sins and how we all needed to recognize this amazing event. We weren’t particularly amused. At some point, I remember sitting down with her on one of the benches with my friends and I was spearheading a campaign of rationalism and doubt against her infatuation with the divinity of Jesus and her insistence that we all believe like her. My memories are a little fuzzy, but I recall that we went back and forth debating for hours until dusk that afternoon. Then there were other times when someone would make a speech about how karma rules the world, and I instinctually interjected with a dose of skepticism against such claims letting it be known that there was no such evidence to justify those beliefs. It seems that I was a natural born skeptic, or perhaps a natural born atheist. When Blasé Pascal spoke of the person who says to himself, “[I] am so made that I cannot believe”, he was speaking about people like me.

In high school I started hanging out with these kids who were wannabe Satanists. They were metal heads who fancied death metal and thrash metal and rejected most mainstream alternative and hard rock as being too “gay”. Although I never quite got into death metal, I started getting into Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails and thoroughly enjoyed the caricatures they made about the religious right’s hypocrisy. In this new crowd that I hung out with, it was cool to hate on and make fun of religions like Christianity. I couldn’t have imagined what it would’ve been like to have been an actual practicing believer in god during those days. I would’ve most likely have had to keep those beliefs “in the closet” so to speak or else face the taunts and teases and possibility of being ostracized. But still, even in this anti religious environment in the late 1990s in high school, when death metal music and Marilyn Manson were at their peaks, I wasn’t at all a militant atheist. I never spoke adamantly about my lack of faith in god; I was never confrontational or tried to convert others to think like me. I pretty much kept my atheism to myself, only making it publicly known when the topic of god occasionally came up. But whenever god or religion did come up, I always remember expressing the voice of doubt towards anyone who even remotely believed.

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mindful Ramblings: Tokyo, Philosophy and Nihilism

Watching Lost In Translation again reminded my of my trip to Tokyo 3 years ago. I noticed that I didn't write about that experience as much as I could have, I actually devoted just a single blog to it. When I was walking through the streets and alleyways of Tokyo's brightly lit Shibuya district seeing all the Japanese hipsters and wannabe models strutting on the sidewalk, I was enamored. I regret not being as stylish as I could have on that vacation. Looking back at my pictures, I was dressed rather blandly. I unfortunately also didn't have enough money during my stay there to be able to do the things most tourists want to do, but absorbing the culture and atmosphere is relatively free.

Japan is a very safe country and I felt no fear whatsoever walking Tokyo's streets late at night. Why is it that this small country of 120 million can live so peacefully? Some might say it's their strict firearm rules, but I say it's their culture that is more responsible. The Japanese, while not a very religious people, live under a very strict code of discipline and honor. Stepping out of bounds is frowned upon and the shame associated with it keeps people from engaging in negative behavior. The Japanese people in my experience were very friendly; they went out of their way to help me when I was hopelessly lost on the subway, despite the fact that most of them do not speak any English.

In Lost In Translation, the Scarlet Johansson's character is "lost" as to where her place is in the world. She studied philosophy and is actively searching for meaning and purpose. While watching the movie, I couldn't help but think of nihilism's outlook on life. There are many ways to define nihilism, some of which I don't agree with. To me, nihilism is just not believing that there is an ultimate or objective purpose and meaning to life. It doesn't at all mean that we can't find subjective meaning in our lives and everyday experiences. So what if there aren't universal consequences to our actions; so what if life is finite? The finitude of life is what makes it more important: a precious moment with somebody special is special because it is a moment; if it lasted forever it would lose its value. Diamonds are valuable because their rare. If they were as common as dirt we wouldn't care about them as much. Once something becomes common it instantly looses its value.

So while we may search for meaning and purpose in our lives, in the nihilistic sense we at least are given that freedom. There is no cosmic purpose for us that we'll have to obey or face the consequences for, and that comes with a sign of relief. When we experience love in our lives with somebody special to us there is no need to invoke a spiritual aspect to validate its existence. Love is natural, and while at a purely physical level it may just be electro-chemical reactions in our brains, the consciousness which experiences the sensation and bond created by love is very real. To call love just an illusion under naturalism would be like saying that consciousness itself is an illusion.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Depression, Nihilism & Humanism

I am sad. I am weary. I sometimes wish I was never born. Why does life have to be so tragic? Why does happiness evade me so easily? I often have those moments where I am alone and can do some self-reflecting. I think about my past and what things in my life have meant to me. Like the Buddha, I recognize that all things change. People die; relationships whither; money dries up; beauty fades; material things are lost or broken. One can never attach themselves to any of these things because they are all temporary and finite. As much as I wish that things I value would last forever, such is never the case; for change is the only thing that is constant.

I still can't help but speak of tragedy when I reflect upon the hardships I have endured. My life has been a roller-coaster of emotion, with a lot more valleys than peaks. I have come to think of my life as near constant depression, punctuated only by momentary episodes of bliss. Is it my nature to be such a way, or is it due to the circumstances beyond my control? I cannot help but be an emotional being. If nineteenth century romanticism has taught us anything, it is that we are as emotionally sensitive to our surroundings as a feather is to the wind. Love almost always ends in tragedy; happiness almost always ends in sorrow. Perhaps there is the need for a balance to be struck, in that one must exist for the other to have grace. I don't know if nature requires such equalizing properties with regards to emotion.

Is the prospect of nihilism to blame? Is the belief in no ultimate purpose or value the cause of such conditions? Like most atheists, I would rather know the truth even if it has negative consequences than live under an illusion. I reject accepting notions of false consolation, even if their falsity is not absolutely demonstrated. What hope can there be under nihilism when one is faced with depression?

I have a sought refuge during periods of depression in the hope that the future will be better. One thing that really depresses me is the idea of permanence, in that hardship will never improve or get worse. It is not easy accepting that things will never get better. Hope drives us all to wake up and start our day and think that a little bit of improvement can be made.

Is nihilism rationally justified given naturalism? Is humanism and nihilism one in the same or are they opposed to one another? Well it may depend on how you define each of them. Humanism can be defined as a variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and often rejects the importance of belief in God. Nihilism can be defined as the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life and argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. 

So with these definitions do we have a conflict? I consider myself both a humanist and a nihilist. I do not believe human beings have objective or intrinsic value that exists beyond other living beings and certainly not beyond the material world, and I affirm human value on the basis of reason through the recognition that humanity benefits best from being treated with dignity, and with certain inalienable rights. The fact that we will all individually and collectively perish is by no means a source of conflict for the humanist.

Humanism is not attained by default given atheism, but nihilism apparently is. I have discussed this notion with other atheists who like to reject nihilism perhaps due to its negative connotations. I tell them, that in the absence of god nothing gives objective meaning and value to human life, and that even in the presence of god, human value is still not really objective but rather is subjective to god's will. He could have easily just said that rats and not humans have objective value. I think all atheists accept the idea that human life has no objective meaning, purpose or intrinsic value but some are simply not willing to accept the idea of nihilism because it is perceived as believing that there is no hope and can be no value at all to human life. But I like to remind them that nihilism doesn't say that life has no value, just no objective value. We can still give ourselves meaning and purpose and lead fulfilling finite lives.

So when it comes to tragedy and depression which none of us are immune to, atheists can seek hope in humanist values which affirms scientific inquiry and moral progression free of dogmatic constraints. Free and open inquiry will allow us to best discover the realities of our natural world, which unlock the potential to better the lives of everyone, leading to less unnecessary misery at the hands of nature. Recognizing human rights and dignity through reason will affirm the value of human beings, leading to less unnecessary misery at the hands of mankind. While this by no means will result in the end of all personal hardships and depression, we can know that we are using our intelligence to better the lives of mankind and nature not only through science and this will lead to more fulfilling lives for all conscious beings.

Happy New Year to all.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Burden Of A Thinking Mind: Some Thoughts On Existential Nihilism

Because I think. Because I think. I can't stop thinking. I am plagued by my consciousness, by my inquiring mind, to pursue the answers that I seek to find. Perhaps I have the philosopher's mind. Why do I overburden myself with so much thought? I would be so much better off in many regards if I could accept the blissfulness of ignorance. But I am so made that I cannot be. 

Recently I was thinking about existential nihilism, the philosophical doctrine that life ultimately has no objective purpose or meaning, and I was wondering whether atheism dooms all its adherents to it. The apparent pessimism of nihilism is often used by theists as an emotional argument against atheism. So the question is, under atheism, is there no objective meaning and purpose to life and are we all doomed to nothingness?

Taking this question head on, I would say yes, the atheist does believe that all life will ultimately end as it seems likely that the universe itself will end at some point in the future, albeit trillions of years from now. Scientists says the Earth will perish when our Sun runs out of fuel to support its nuclear fusion and explodes in about 5 billion years. All life on Earth will have ended by this time, unless there exists a species of life evolved enough that can escape Earth permanently. And under atheism, when we die as individuals, our physical matter decays and our consciousness is forever extinguished. We will have ceased to exist. So in short, yes atheists are nihilists.

Contemplating this idea gives many theists problems pertaining to the need for objectivity in purpose and meaning. Let me address these points for a moment.

Objective Meaning and Purpose

First, as an atheist I do not believe in an objective purpose for life (if by objective you mean a purpose given by any intelligence, supernatural or not, that exists outside of the natural processes of the origin of life and its evolution). Life is an extreme expression of matter, it is a by-product that the laws of physics allow to exist. The purpose of the universe is not to permit life, and certainly not human life, because there is no purpose to the universe. Mankind is nature becoming conscious of itself and it is our consciousness that forces us to search for meaning. Once mankind evolved the consciousness, he became plagued with the unquenchable search for meaning to justify his seemingly unexplainable existence. Religion to the atheist, is just mankind's attempt to create meaning for himself because that answered his curious mind.

In the absence of modern science, which much better explains the causal processes resulting in our existence, ancient humans fabricated thousands of origins stories used to explain that which could not be explained. We are lucky to be living at a time when we do have a pretty clear picture of how most of our world came to be. I came to the conclusion that life has no objective purpose or meaning in light of our acquired knowledge of reality. To find meaning or purpose in life, one has to search within; that is to say, search subjectively. A lot of people have a problem with this answer because it is subjective and it requires them to think for themselves. It seems that most people would rather simply be given a meaning to their life because then they could stop thinking about it.

I can say to you that your purpose in life is to make a million dollars before you die, and you could accept this and walk out of here thinking that you now know what your purpose in life is and you wouldn't be overburdened with the search for meaning anymore. But it wouldn't be true. That would simply be my opinion of what I think the meaning of your life is.

The only thing close to an objective purpose of life under the atheistic world view is nature's way of preparing life to reproduce and propagate DNA. The need for objective meaning by many theists, I see in a way similar to the heroine addict unable to imagine life with their fix: The theistic world view is so dependent on it that they can't imagine life without it.

Nihilism does not mean that life has no meaning, just no objective meaning. The atheist can find beauty and purpose in the finite existence of life, even if it is subjective, and the atheist can find beauty and awe in the symmetry and intelligibility of the universe and the laws of physics. For me, that is enough to inspire meaning in my minuscule and finite existence, for I live for knowledge and philosophy. If one's life only has subjective meaning and purpose, they can choose to devote it towards something that either helps or harms other people and the environment. The negative consequences of a life devoted to harming itself or others, is bad in and of itself, and acts as its own reinforcement against it. Why must we pretend that there must exist an object purpose to life in order for one to find meaning?

Objective Value

When it comes to human value, under nihilism there is no objective value as there is no objective purpose. The universe is indifferent as to whether we are happy or are suffering and to whether or not we even exist. We give ourselves value and everything in the universe as it becomes useful to us. Houses for example, are only given value as they relate to a human's desire to buy it or live in it. Would a house retain any value in a universe devoid of all human beings? No. Not unless some other intelligent life could find use for it. Things are given value when they are useful to living things. This makes the value of things always subjective, and never objective.

It always struck me as odd when I hear theists say that god gives us objective value. Does the theist really mean to say, that our objective worth lies in the professed statement by god that we have it? What if god changed his mind and turned his back on mankind and instead said rats have objective worth and not humans? Would our objective worth suddenly disappear? It seems scary to me that our objective worth could be so committed to an opinion, even if it is believed to be unchanging.

The idea however, that there needs to exist this supernatural and unchanging opinion that all human life has value, is understandable to me at least. It allows its believers to say that no human's opinion of human value has any ultimate affect, and that even an unchanging principle recognizing human value must still be constantly upheld by people who adhere to it. To that I have to say that god's opinion that all human life has value is not going to prevent someone who disagrees with it from harming or taking a life. All of our rights, no matter where they stem from, must constantly be fought for, and upheld by human beings who believe in their principles. It simply doesn't matter whether you believe in god given rights, or natural rights, or any other source of rights, because ultimately what it comes down to is human action. Furthermore, the same believed god might have a completely different set of rights and opinions on human value according to members of different religions. This then forces you into religiously interpreted relativism, which gets you no where in defining the objective value of human life.

We can recognize a baseline of intrinsic value and worth of every human life, and then from that recognize that any increases in value will be subjective with respect to how important that person's life is to them. So for example, a person with no loved ones, no money or job, and with no usefulness to anybody else, still has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is a principle that utilizes the golden rule: I might lose all my friends and family and become homeless and unemployed one day and I wouldn't want any of my rights taken away simply because I had no one to love me and no money. Years ago rights did depend on race, gender, money and position, and through the philosophy of the enlightenment we came to recognize how incredibly harmful this is. I believe we all have the right to life because we were given it without asking for it. Humans are not mere property, we are not merely inanimate objects, we are sentient beings in our fundamental nature. It is the recognition of sentience that must guide this principle.

This brings me to the idea of "speciesism" - or "the assignment of different values, rights, or special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership." In nature, pretty much all species behave with a bias towards their own. It is a natural necessity to ensure the survival of the species, and this is especially true with social species like primates. If we recognize a very basic intrinsic worth of all human beings, are we just doing so because we too are human?

Well it seems to me that all morality must stem from the way it affects living beings. For example, if I smash a rock in half with a sledgehammer, (assuming the rock didn't belong to anyone) no one would really consider that act moral or immoral. But if I smashed a baby's head open, now we recognize that there is a moral component to my action because it affects a living being. So morality at its very basic core stems from whether or not actions negatively or positively affect living beings. If they positively affect living beings, they are said to be good morals, if they negatively affect living beings, they are said to be bad morals.

With humans, our bias in favor of ourselves might also be justified in recognizing our advanced levels of emotion, cognitive abilities and sentiments that to our knowledge, supersede of other life. From this we can logically conclude that the greater these abilities in a species, the greater the consideration must be given when harm is done to them. That is why we consider the lives of dolphins to be greater than that of bacteria.  It is also worth noting that our preferences for certain kinds of animals regardless of their sentimental faculties  because they are cute or otherwise desired, is another explanation why value is considered.

Imagine if we were visited by intelligent extraterrestrial life forms that superseded us in intelligence sentimental faculties, to the degree where the stupidest among them had the intellectual equivalence of our most gifted geniuses. If they were peaceful, we would be forced to recognize their moral worth, perhaps to a higher degree than ours. But if they had to compete with us for limited resources, only then in order to ensure our own survival would we might have to discriminate against them. So speciesism has its natural justifications but so too does the recognition of cognitive ability. The two only come into conflict when the species' survival is threatened.


So in conclusion, before I ramble on too much longer, let me summarize what I've gone over. Under nihilism, there exists no objective meaning or purpose in life. Life exists as a natural by product that the laws of physics allow, and therefore all meaning and purpose for life will be subjective. This doesn't leave the atheist to wallow in unguided purposelessness, but it does require the atheist to think for themselves and to find their own purpose. This can either be one that harms others or one that helps others. For me personally, fighting for rationality, secularism, freedom, and a better world have become my purpose in life.

There also exists no objective value of human life outside our own existence. We give our lives value and we can also recognize basic human rights and value using the golden rule, while understanding that there is also a subjective element in how important we perceive human life. To place human value in whether a god gives us it, is highly subjective and not going to stop anyone who disagrees with the premise or has a different concept of god. Speciesism certainly does give us a reason to justify our valuing of human life over other species, just as we have a bias in favor of ourselves when we must compete with others.

The bottom line is this: Nihilism does not mean life has no purpose, just no objective purpose, and I've never felt that an objective purpose was necessary in order for me to wake up in the morning and start a fulfilling day. Anyone who does think it is necessary, behaves like the drug addict who can't image finding a reason to get out of bed without their drug.


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