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My Nerves Aren't That Close To The Surface

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Posted by Harvey on April 30, 2002 23:43:28 UTC

Mario,

You haven't hit on any nerves.

***H: Wanting 'truth' from the universe is something that is probably beyond our grasp. We have to also have to focus on what works. M: It doesn't matter. You'll never hear me say that any scientific knowledge is absolute. We've been through that, and I freely acknowledge that no human science or philosophy has any valid claim to 'truth.' Fine. But you take it as free lisence to say "Well, if we can't know anything for sure, I might as well fill the gaps with something pleasant." That is: "Ha ha ha, I can believe whatever I want and you can't ever EVER prove me wrong!" Harv, coming from someone who claims to be a scientific realist, I find this disturbing. Not all concepts are created equal. Regardless of how accurate our perceptions are in our deductions, they're the only thing we have. Any opinion should be at least based off of them.***

Pragmatism is not necessarily free license. But, it isn't a restrictive permit either. You can't justify your position and exclude all others using pragmatic arguments, but pragmatic arguments is the only justification for scientific truth.

***Personally I try to have no "beliefs," per se. I don't believe in God. I don't believe that you exist. I don't believe that the world is round.***

That's a belief. You can't help but have beliefs since you have nothing but beliefs to build facts upon (i.e., scientific facts or otherwise).

***I hope there is a greater power. I have evidence to strongly suggest that you exist. I have observational and experiential data to claim that the world is round.***

These are all based on core beliefs that you hold to be true. If you had reason to believe that you were in the 'Matrix' (as in the movie), then you certainly would hold little confidence in the world being round. The problem is that you assume your core beliefs can be accepted as true thus giving you confidence about these other matters. If your core beliefs are even slightly wrong, then your whole worldview could be drastically altered.

***And that's more than enough for me. If you need more for a warm and fuzzy feeling, then I almost feel sorry for you. It sounds like you're running from our inherent lack of knowledge.***

Not so. I just know where knowledge originates and this gives me the flexibility to believe as I know that this gives meaning in my life. Why be miserable when you don't have to be? Similarly, why doubt scientific truths simply because it calls for a little faith in some core beliefs? I would be miserable (or at least highly unsatisfied) if I felt that science was really ready to crumble. What gives me confidence is my conviction with those core beliefs of mine (which are based in pragmatic experience), and therefore I can be honest in my situation and not live in a false delusion that rejection of theist beliefs somehow makes me more realistic. That's foolhardy. What makes for a realistic stance is one that understands that humans require meaning and this forces us to make certain assumptions on faith. This is true for beliefs that satisfy the soul as well as those that satisfy the intellect.

***H: I think you are very naive in your understanding of knowledge. Human knowledge is based solely upon our prejudice of what we thinks works to explain the world. That is, a good explanation gives meaning to our sensory experiences. But, isn't that what a theistic outlook does? It gives meaning to our sensory experiences. M: Let's get something straight: science does not ascribe meaning to anything. Up until now, science has tried to answer the "how," the "what," and the "when," but has never answered the "why." That falls firmly into the laps of subjective humans to work with. Science does not ascribe meaning.***

We clarify but what we mean by 'mean'. Meaning is that which attaches significance to our sensory experiences such that it is organized in a manner that we can make useful statements and actions about something. For example, it is meaningful to say that it is 'raining outside right now'. This phrase attaches significance to my sensory experience (it is raining) in such a way that others can understand that if they go outside without an umbrella they will get wet. There is meaning to my statement - it is useable for further deductions (e.g., better drive carefully because it will be slippery outside, etc).

Science absolutely must ascribe meaning otherwise it would lack complete understanding. No one would know what 'energy', 'mass', etc meant unless there was meaning attached.

What you are thinking is probably a meaning to our lives. This context of the word is just an extension of the more fundamental concept. Instead of 'it is raining', the phrase 'our lives are here for a purpose that transcends the material outcome of natural law and chance' accomplishes something else. It says that if our lives have meaning in this manner, then we can understand why we are here (i.e., making sense of our sensory experience of being alive), and it can ease the burden of whatever unfortunate happens in life (as well as increase the joy of experiencing fortunate events in life). It does this by putting all of the fortunate and unfortunate events in context with a 'bigger picture' (much in the way that 'it is raining' puts our connection with being outside in a bigger picture). It says in effect that it doesn't matter what happens, this 'bigger picture' has taken all this into account and everything is best in the long run. Everything will work out - we win in the end. This puts our lives in a meaningful context.

Now, we attribute meaning to sensory experiences on a scientific basis so that we can understand the world so that we can accomplish tasks and make good use of our lives. However, we wish to accomplish the same action by attributing meaning to our lives. Just in a different way, with far more satisfactory results (at least from the people that I talk to). People have lived without science for over 98% of our human existence, but chances are likely we lived without imputing meaning to our conscious existence for about 0.0000001% (and those were off moments).

***H: Now, a guy named Mario comes along and says "you poor sap, don't you know this is all fiction and that you better get on with your life. Stop believing in fairy tales and live life for the moment, because that's all you got baby." What do you think is going to be the reaction of 5 billion people who have nothing of any physical goods by which to evaluate their lives? M: I came very close to viewing this as an insult. If you mean to say "Well, good for you, you've got computers and money and flashing lights to keep you distracted, but the Balinese have nothing, so don't spoil their fun" then bite me. :) You think I derive any different pleasure from physical goods now then when I was Catholic? Nonsense. All I did was rearrange my priorities. I enjoy life just as much as I did before (not more, not less) on a day to day basis. I just modified WHAT I enjoy.***


You have to look deeper than that Mario. Meaning is much more intense of a need than physical goods. Without meaning people can resort to addiction, drugs, violence, etc. These actions are very intense and they provide a certain amount of forgetfulness about the plite of being human. With a life full of meaning people can live very normal and productive lives. And, many of those people are secular humanists. So, how do they obtain meaning without a belief in some objective meaning that they believe imputes it in their lives? Well, this is not an easy question since there is not just one answer. Some people have the fortune of having grown up in a family where the family held transendental views that somehow 'stick' with the individual. Some people find socially acceptable methods to keep their lives meaningful to a sufficient degree to be happy. Although bigger meaning of life can be obtained from many sources, the one source that humans have traditionally turned is religion and spirituality. Is it the only way? I don't think so. But, it is so rampant and influencial that you would have to be blind not to notice. Even atheists have turned to theism because the 'pull' is so intense that it is often irresistible. I really doubt that humanity can live without this universal avenue. In many cases of societies that turn away from it, the State tried to provide it, but the society (at least by Western standards) denegrated into an ugliness that many people shudder at (e.g., Soviet Union).

***You will never hear me say that religion serves no purpose. Of course it does. But are you telling me that I'm being irresponsible by pointing out what I view to be logical fallacies?***

There aren't any logical fallacies. Your rejection is based on invalid core beliefs. It is inconsistent to justify science on pragmatic values and then hypocritically blame someone who holds certain other pragmatic truths because they provide overall meaning to one's life. As it turns out (or so I believe), the truths that religion and spirituality stand are real truths and they happen to be 'true' from a purely logical point of view. But, no matter, they are justified by a pragmatic account, and this is all that is needed to justify it as being truthful for us humans.

***Come on. The Balinese family won't listen to me. I could never convince them otherwise. I'm not aiming for the desperate, the poor, and the starving who cling to faith like a life preserver. I'm aiming for the people that can do without it, and can maybe be better without it. The ones who can swim.***

Mario, your life is one life of many, many people. You have reached a fair amount of success in establishing meaning even within a secular humanist framework. However, it's not catching on in the world. And, where it does catch on, there is worrisome signs (e.g., PRC, Soviet Union, etc). I'm not talking about a man who grew up with a relatively solid faith and see the aftereffects if he becomes a secular minded individual. I want to see the aftereffects of a society that turns away from holding a larger meaning. Whether it be in Bali or in the USA, the problems will quickly manifest themselves (assuming that society would turn, but let's just say the secularists 'win' in convincing the financially well off people), then eventually secular families will lose meaning in their lives after a few generations. This has an effect. You can't take away an objective meaning of human life without terrible aftereffects. You get all sorts of problems. Some of them I believe we are seeing in society today.

***H: Why do you think that is Mario? Do you think it might be because the loss of a loved one (e.g., a child, a parent, a sibling, a spouse, etc) might be a little overwhelming for some folks if they have spent a considerable amount of their life with that person. But, gee, don't worry, Mario and company has an answer, you can find meaning in sports, in humanism, in the art that they created on Saturday. M: I see. Life sucks and life hurts, so don't bother with it? Believe in an afterlife because it's too painful not to? Are you criticizing me for not having a solution to all of mankind's woes, or are you criticizing me for trying to find Mr. Oz? Either way, I don't understand.***

I'm criticizing you for holding inconsistent views on what I believe reduces to a pragmatic stance on knowledge. If 'life is ultimately meaningless (from the universe's perspective)' is okay, then I can say that about any view of science. I can reject every theory of science as being in anyway meaningful to the way the universe really is. Quarks? Get lost. Photons? Who are you kidding. Big Bang? A few days ago. The realist perspective of science can only be had on the acceptance by faith in principles that make certain assumptions to be true. This gives real meaning to science. Is it right? Who knows. It seems right and it works - we regard it as right. That's all that matters. Is theistic meaning right? Who knows. It seems right and it works - we regard it as right.

Warm regards, Harv

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