I don’t want to believe anything that is wrong

•November 6, 2009 • 2 Comments

These are my first steps:

Step 1: There are two things I know with absolute certainty: that I exist and that I am aware.  The first I accept because to doubt it requires something to do the doubting.  The second I know by direct apprehension. (Thank you to Rene Descartes).

Step 2: I accept on faith, though I cannot prove, that some events in my awareness represent senses that give me information on a world outside myself (with apologies to Ludwig Boltzmann).  I find this belief to be more useful, and gives me much more universe to explore. I have a strong drive to explore.  Besides, if I believe myself to be a fully enclosed universe generating false images, it doesn’t really matter what I believe (distant cousin to Pascal’s Wager).   

Step 3: I accept on faith, though I cannot prove it, that other beings that I perceive around me  to be somewhat like myself are also aware like I am, not just mechanisms that respond as if they were (that is, I believe there are other people, including you).  This belief also gives me a much larger universe to explore, and means that what I do matters more.  Besides, although I can touch my own personal awareness but cannot touch the awareness in others, it seems to me to make more sense in my mind that whatever caused me to be aware has done the same for others, rather than awareness being unique to me (this follows closely on step 2). I detect in myself a strong drive to connect to other people (although they can be annoying at times) and this position allows me to take that seriously, not just see it as a chaotic force.

Step 4: I accept on faith, although I cannot prove it, that I have free will.  I know enough psychology to realize that we are not completely free, that there are many forces that can shift our decisions without my being aware of them. I also know that I can resolve to act one way (e.g. calmly) and wind up acting another (e.g. losing my temper) and then I regret it afterwards.  This points at least to serious limits in free will. However, I believe that there is some force for directing my actions that is just ME. If I believe all my actions are determined by forces that are not me, then once again it doesn’t matter what I believe. I would then have no more a role in my own life than I have the power to make Dr. House be polite to Dr. Cuddy on television (he really should, you know).  I seem to have within me a moral compass, a sense that some things are good to do and some things are bad to do.  This sense cries out for the ability to choose to do good and reject what is bad. Otherwise, my moral sense is a fraud, a mere chaotic force. 

Step 5: I accept on faith, although I cannot prove it, that there is such a thing as friendship, and such a thing as love. I use the word love, not in the sense of romance movies, where it refers to gooey feelings, but a commitment to do good to another independent of personal gain.  One might believe that all people only act in their self-interest, and those who act like friends are only trying to get something from me. I take the risk of believing there is something higher. This belief opens up great possibilities of pain and disappointment, but  without this step, I’m almost undoing step #3. There are other people, but so what? One would be better off with robots. It is a much less interesting universe that way, and believing there is only selfishness carries the risk of missing the greatest goods in life if I am wrong.

That is a lot to take on faith.  At the risk of exhausting people’s patience, I shall take it one step farther today.

Step 6: I take on faith, though I cannot prove, that there is a God, who created the universe and seeks a relationship with us, His people.  Without this step, it seems we are simply random collections of molecules in temporarily self-organizing systems, ripples in the universe’s inevitable current toward greater and greater randomness.  This fits very neatly with my steps #1-5.

When I have heard people who reject God explain why we are conscious, the best I’ve heard is that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the firing of circuits in the brain.  Why would firing of circuits in the brain result in consciousness?  It seems a greater mystery than anything theists ask me to swallow.  Self-awareness is totally different from anything else I encounter in science, so how does it fit?  I’m not saying it can’t be this way, only that it doesn’t seem to require less faith (thank you, William of Occam). Besides, it leads to questions: is the internet a conscious being? Should it have rights? 

When I heard non-theists talk about free will, the best I have heard is the non-causal variations in particles on the quantum level.  Yes, this does get us beyond Newtonian determinism, but only to lead to randomness, not a self with a free will to make choices.

This is where I start. These are my most basic principles.

Freeing the mind

•October 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Many forces in the world work to confine us, to limit us, and I have always raged against these limits.  All freedom starts with freedom of the mind (thank you to Jean-Dominique Bauby”s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).

 I never had much patience with people who expected me to believe something because everyone around me did. 

I suggest that may who are the most sure that their minds are free are the ones whose minds are most enslaved. I’m not a psychologist, but I know that there are many ways the mind can be conditioned, and we can take things for granted without looking at them. 

I am naturally suspicious of authority, but I have learned to be suspicious of suspicion of authority.  

This is my playground to explore the concept of mental freedom. We shall see where it goes.

Yes, I have an agenda.