on evolution and evolutionary reality (me and you)

Archive for the ‘Explicit and implicit worldview’ Category

Lunch with Derrida ( Human Nature Grilled)

It seems that philosophy has been obsessed with human nature since the beginning of time. And, as times and philosophy change, so does the concept of human nature.
From Aristotle’s (384-322 BC) “Nichomachean Ethics” to Hume’s “A Treatise of Human Nature” (1738) human nature means just the way we understand and know the World, which includes all- ontology, axiology, praxeology, and epistemology. For Darwin (The Descent of Man- 1871) human nature is mostly about how we differ from the monkey, and how we came to have common ancestors. By the way, it looks that, the humanity is getting over this offensive detail of our nature. For E.O.Wilson ( On Human Nature-1971) it is about humans with their qualities to form the pinnacle of the evolutionary and the sociobiological process. For Chomsky, human nature represents an innate neurobiological structure responsible for the development of language. For me, human nature is all the above, but most importantly I see a human being as the evolutionary marvel, able to reflect on him- or herself, and to consciously build a personal world around and with the free will – own life.
This concept was discussed in the domains of biology, history, evolution, theology, and sociology and now the postmodernists want to take it away from us? Derrida in “Differance” denies the importance of humans interest in their history or biology. Absurdly, he preaches the absolute supremacy of text which, he thinks, means everything- but as there is no meaning- so ultimately- it means nothing. He says: “Differance is neither a word nor a concept. In it , however, we shall see the juncture-rather than summation-of what has been most decisively inscribed in the thought of what is conveniently call our “epoch”: the difference of forces in Nietzsche, Saussure’s principle of semiological difference, etc, etc”. (p130, I could not find a better quote). Of course, postmodernists question human nature but also the subject, truth, and moral standards. It is difficult to argue if the person you want to argue with, questions the argument itself, the process of arguing and the existence of the opponent.
Michel Foucault as the social historian and phenomenologist is less radical:
“It was not by studying human nature that linguists discovered the laws of consonant mutation, or Freud the principles of the analysis of dreams, or cultural anthropologists the structure of myths. In the history of knowledge, the notion of human nature seems to me mainly to have played the role of an epistemological indicator to designate certain types of discourse in relation to or in opposition to theology or biology or history. I would find it difficult to see in this a scientific concept.” (1971 debate, excerpts). And, actually, I agree with him about human nature being “an intellectual tool” rather than a biological or moral entity. During their famous debate, Noam Chomsky tried to defend the notion of human nature and pointed to the quality of creativity as the basic, innate human faculty responsible for the creation of the language, which made the culture and civilization possible.
For Foucault the forces behind human civilization are not personal, he sees discoveries and the changes as the inevitable result of societal progress. According to him human nature is just a “shopping list of science.”; humans can not not create anything, until the mechanism of the economy, politics, and psychological development of masses made it possible.
In my opinion, we should keep exploring the concept of human nature. With the progress in global education, improved critical thinking, people have become more and more individualistic, making their own decisions. The awareness of our cultural and sociobiological heritage, of our qualities and capacities for good and evil is very important in this age of the planetary crisis.
Human nature might be not a real thing, but as with the crisis in religious dogmas we are searching for origins of good, it would be useful to recognize the common origins of our character and values, pan-human brotherhood. And postmodernism is of not much of help, may be only by giving us the list of values one can question and telling us what humanity is not.

For myself, I would like to know that I can figure out my place in the world and my plan for action, conscious, deliberate and passionate action. This will be my human nature. And I wish that the people around me would do the same.
Or, would they rather go to lunch with Derrida???

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Is Philosophy Dead? What Would Husserl Say?

(reading Husserl for my phenomenology class)

 

                    “Dead? Yes, he is dead… But not completely dead.”-

                            The Sorcerer about Wesley from “Princess Bride”.

 

                       “The entire universe of science is constructed upon the lived  world. And if we wish to think science rigorously, to appreciate precisely its sense and scope, we must first awaken that experience of the world of which science is the second-order expression.”

                             Maurice Merleau-Ponty “ Phenomenology of perception” p.9

 

     The future of philosophy is tricky. Science will continue its march into realms traditionally occupied by philosophy- the structure of the Cosmos and the nature of the Mind. But reading Husserl’s discussion on science’s shortcomings one can get a glimpse of the future philosophy as (as always) the queen of the human knowledge, with phenomenology providing absolutely necessary grounding for all human endeavors.

    Stephen Hawking, arguably the smartest scientist on the planet, in his book The Grand Design, declares that philosophy is dead. Obviously, the killer is supposed to be triumphant science. But if one reads this book further, very soon one realizes that the very same author washes his hands like Pontius Pilate and abandons the murderous plot. Hawking is interested exclusively in the building the model of the universe which agrees  with the maximal spectrum of the empirical data in the broadest possible spectrum of domains. He excludes from “his science” the big questions: what is, why, and what is the human place in this model.

   So I am not worried about Stephen, smart people are not a threat for philosophy. I am worried about the Trumps of the world, the stupid, scared and insecure people are the threat. They create and thrive in a shallow, greedy consumer culture fed by countless forms of fear and violence.  People do not read books, they don’t have the  skills and habits of conversation and dispute. The critical thinking and self-inquiry are rare.

One would say then , that Husserl, in his writings about the live world and the pre-given world of science is barking at the wrong tree. Well, maybe he is not so useless…

  Kant and after him, Husserl, both made a distinction between the noumenal world- that what really is, and the phenomenal world – that what we experience. But for millions of years animals and later humans used neither. They used a system of behaviors which helped them survive, i.e. the pragmatic “what works” world. By and by, they developed the senses,  perceptions, instincts, memory, and the motivation mechanisms of pain/fear vs pleasure. The behaviors became rules, laws, and commandments, the system became the science, and humble in-between noumenal and phenomenal space mushroomed enormously and became, well, the Universe.

Husserl, himself a mathematician and treating himself as a scientist, points out that in this magnificent world of science, the human experience comes first.  He writes:” In this world, we are objects among objects in the sense of the life-world, namely, as being here and there, in the plain certainty of experience, before anything that is established scientifically, whether in physiology, psychology, or sociology. On the  other hand, we are subject for this world, namely, as the ego-subject experiencing it, contemplating it, valuing it, related to it purposefully.” E. Husserl, The way into phenomenological transcendental philosophy. P.152. He investigates the world which can be experienced and can be shared through intersubjectivity: “ Thus in whatever way we may be conscious of the world as universal horizon, as coherent universe of existing objects, we, each “I-the-man” and all of us together, belong to the world as living with one another in the world; and the world is our world, valid for our consciousness as existing precisely through “living together”.  Ibid , p154. This world existed always, way before the era of science and should the basis for our thinking and especially feeling.

   So, science operates in the pre-given world, disregarding that its nature and origins might be not so obvious. It presumes its ultimate reality and bulldozes forward leaving humans with their unique conscious, transcendental experiences, behind. In Husserl’s words: “ Science is a human spiritual accomplishment which presupposes as its point of departure, both historically and for each new student, the intuitive surrounding world of life, pre-given as existing for all in common.” ibid, p. 163. And: “ If we made it clear for ourselves, the obviously an explicit elucidation of the objective validity and of the whole task of science requires that we first inquire back into the pre-given world.” ibid p. 163.

   Husserl proposed his new type of philosophy as the solution. Fantastic, phenomenal! (pardon the pun). “ There has never been a scientific inquiry into the way in which life-world constantly functions as subsoil, into how its manifold pre-logical validities act as a ground for the logical ones, for theoretical truths. And perhaps the scientific discipline which this life-world as such, in its universality, requires is a peculiar one, one which is precisely not objective and logical but which, as the ultimately grounding one, is not inferior, but superior in value.” ibid p.165. He argues that the study of the intuitive, pre-given world of our experiences can ground  science. And without it, without philosophy (in the Husserl’s case, without the transcendental phenomenology) scientific results will lack the experiential connection with human existence.

   In general, I agree, but I see two problems with his solution.  First, scientists don’t seem to worry about their science lacking life-world, intuitive, experienceable grounding. They actually abhor subjectivity and  are trying to be as “dry” as possible. Neither does general public: “If planes fly and the ATM pays cash, everything is fine.” Secondly, speaking from personal experience, phenomenology has little chance to become a worldwide popular movement or a Facebook’s darling. It carries all the foes that philosophers have grappled with for millennia- nobody listens to them, nobody cares about them, they are lonely and mostly forgotten. It is because phenomenology is intricate, difficult and without everyday applications.

 And here is the trick, I was talking about at the beginning – Houdini escape from the cold academic halls and dusty libraries straight to the 21st-century mass media.

There is a small chance that there is a trend in the evolution, which together with the complexity and explicitness of communication also increases the  organism’s individuality. This trend might be augmented in humans by mirror neurons, by culture, by democracy, education, and by the internet. So far it has shown up in the individualized shopping, weird hairdos, and tattoos. But maybe, just maybe, as the world population grows older, more lonely and more confused, more people will ask big philosophical questions. The personal worldview is something that everybody has, in his guts, in his heart, and in his dreams. This is the implicit worldview.

        But, what if a personal, experience-based philosophy can help a person with work on what until now has been a subconscious set of opinions and worries? Then these opinions and worries, as old and primordial as the humanity, and as important as birth and death, can be transformed. This personal worldview can be made into the explicit form, into the language, conversation, and written form. This can help a lot of people and save philosophy.

 

 

Big Question #10: What is the role of evolution?

Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another. Such immaturity is self-caused if it is not caused by lack of intelligence, but by lack of determination and courage to use one’s intelligence without being guided by another. Sapere Aude! Have the courage to use your own intelligence! This is, therefore, the motto of the enlightenment…

 Immanuel KantAn Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?

“We are what we are, we see what we see, and we know what we know, because of the evolution and according to the evolution.  Any scientific or philosophical discussion ignoring evolution is naive and lame. ” -Me

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  • Why things change?
  • Is there a trend?
  • Is there a purpose?
  • Can human mind evolve?
  • Is the history, the civilization, the Universe in its nature linear or circular?
  • How is this question relevant to our everyday life?

(It is not, you can live happily without being bothered by the idea of the evolution.)

How to work on the answer to Question #10

That is the only Big Question, which is not the part of the classical, unanswerable, basic questions of the mankind.  Adding this question to our list was partly personal, as I have studied evolution for the last 30 years, but beyond the personal, I think, the evolutionary look at the world is the part of any rational worldview.

 Examples of answers:

Ann Marshall: “To keep things interesting for God”

Linda Gambill: “To nudge us to look at the little sticker on the windshield that reminds us to change the oil.”

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

Many our problems stem from the fact that we are so dreadfully close to them. They just sit in front of our fat noses and we can not see anything beyond them. Evolutionary thinking gives you a broader perspective. Modern human is also called homo historicus, as the species which has the history. But we can now look deeper and broader than history, we can look into the history of life on Earth, into cosmic space, into subatomic world, into time itself. Won’t it feel good?

 

An Interview

Well, the planned interview is not coming. I wanted to talk to Clement Vidal, a Belgian philosopher who wrote about the future worlds, evolution, worldview, and complexity. Here is my letter:

“Dear Clement, I read with the great interest your article about the worldview. I think you created the monster! You single handed created a new branch of philosophy; the philosophy of the worldview, with its own methodology, history and a purpose. this is great, this is needed. The people have a lot of difficulties when it comes  to creating the personal explicit worldview. But, I think, this work is rewarding, and the world would be a better place if more people work on it. It is why I and my daughter Sophia created Philozophy.com. Now I am writing a companion paper called “Worldview Owner’s Manual”. I am trying to shift from the attempts to improve on Aristotle, do unanswerable answers, towards something like savoir vivre  in the broad and literary sense ( I mean after one figured out how to hold the fork), something useful and beneficial for the participant. In the first part,  I am discussing the general issues, like what is the worldview and why one should write it down, etc. In the second part, there are 13 short chapters each for one of our Big Questions. At the end of each chapter, there is a “guest’s interview, an essay or a worldview story”. Again, rather than pure philosophy, I prefer personal insight or story.  The length varies- 1 to even 5 or more pages.

Some of the chapters are finished (need editing badly), some need badly to be written.
All this you can find on my blog evolutionandmeandyou.com under Worldview Owner’s Manual and in posts. Big Question # 10 is “What is the role of evolution?” I would be honored if you’d write something to finish that chapter because you are the best. But you are probably too busy to do it. So maybe I could call you and interview you on this subject (15-20 min), transcribe it the best I can and with your permission and approval, stick it there? Tom”.
He did not answer, so to avoid an empty page in this book I had to write something.
One of the best books I read about evolution is Adam Frank’s “About time”. It shows how human culture and the way of life parallel scientific discoveries. It is 158 years since Darwin’s famous book was published. Since then the view of the world slowly transforming, life forms disappearing, new ones appearing creating the magnificent tree of life connected and explained like never before is seeping into our brains, our culture and our language. It is not that it is difficult to understand what Darwin was saying. It is that every generation in our global culture slowly sinks deeper and deeper in the evolutionary understanding of the world. Scientific discoveries like the fireworks lit the road of the slow process of changing peoples minds, every generation a little bit further.
The genetics is now household concept, the dating of fossils, the background radiation, nuclear energy, and weapons- all these have no sense whatsoever without evolution. And yet more than 50% of Americans do not accept evolution. So fundamental is the role of evolution, it requires, often subconsciously, to rebuilt your vision of the universe and of ourselves from the ground up. The similar process occurred in our implicit sense of cosmos. The Earth was always stable, solid and unchangeable( even if balancing on the Great Turtle) with the Sun and Heavens looking benevolently from above. Then, slowly, over the last five centuries, the Earth moved, then the Planets, then the Suns and Galaxies and Universes swirling around us madly with deeper and deeper disregard for little bi-pedals. Similarly, we saw ourselves as unchangeable, as part of the family, we wanted our children to live better, but we saw our lives tougher than good old days of our parents and ancestors. With the invention of the history, we, for the first time, saw that the old times could have been quite different, maybe not so good. But surely the people were the same! Then, we, slowly again, started to worry about the other cultures about the “primitives” and “aborigines” and then Darwin shocked us with his crazy theory. Now we have to digest that our intelligence changed, from cave man to present, so will it change again in the future. We have to digest that our sensory mechanism changed, we see different things than the animals. According to neuroscience, our emotional and social brain changed.  And now how about a spiritual brain, how about the sense of reality,  the sense of freedom and individuality, All because of these prefrontals and reflective thinking and this obnoxious and annoying SELF…. After a century and a half, we just started to seriously grapple with this evolutionary worldview transformation, I guess we need to ask Millenials?

Big Question #13: What is going to happen to the mankind?

“You are a child of the Universe, no less than the tree and stars: you have a right to be here.  And whether or not it is clear for you, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should ” Desiderata.

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  • What is going to happen to your grand-grandchildren?
  • Where are we going? What is your prediction or model of the future?
  • Imagine the year 2050.
  • Can we save ourselves?
  • Can somebody else save us?  How?

It is only recently that we talk about the future constantly. Also, your future can be easily limited to your family life, but if you think about the future of your grandchildren you automatically relate it to the whole mankind… The modern notion of things changing and even newer of “trending”, combined with the idea that we can influence the future made this question really an everyday topic. Global markets, geopolitical trends, global warming- from the esoteric become the cafeteria’s daily…For example the idea of the “lawn 2050 competition”-  how will our grandchildren live and what will they like, what criteria would they list? will they be rather techie/nerdy or social/new-agey or paleo/survival types?

How to work on the answer to the Question #13

I am somewhat fixated on the year 2050. Not so close, not too far, just right… to be concerned and scared. Our grandchildren will be grown ups. If nothing happens, the life on Earth will be rather difficult. If something happens I think it can be divided into three categories: 1 Incredible new technology, 2. Some kind of Armageddon- the game changer. 3. The massive change in our worldview, the change from within.

An example by Kaukab Naseer: ” Immediate future will be androids, evolving into one connected mind, which will be the God of distant future creating and guiding life forms.”

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

Working on this question broadens your perspective, gives you different look on the daily nuisances. For those excitedly self-centered it helps to look around and see others.

Homo historicus, or the musings on the humanists’ agenda

Exploring the human nature from the evolutionary perspective.

This is the core, this is who we are. These are the biological restraints one can not escape.The human nature is the topic of many books by the famous scientists and philosophers: Darwin, E.O.Wilson, Teilhard de Chardin, Jacob Bronowski to name a few. Some of these books like “ The Tangled Wing” or “Incomplete Nature” declare by their titles the mixed feelings we humans have about our nature, but our past and the future is the source of our values, our intelligence, and our concerns. Deep understanding of the evolutionary mechanisms is the base of our worldviews.

Recognizing the values of the ancestors and teachers

This the origin, this is where we come from. Exploring the human nature leads obviously to great respect and love to our parents,( we share the genetic and epigenetic traits) our ancestors and teachers. Equally important is the relationship with our children and our students. As we live our lives, we learn, we figure things out, we teach and we show by the example.

Acknowledging being the most complex, curious, empathic and individualistic species on Earth  ( I believe: in the Universe).

During the last one 100 000 years, our species went on hyperdrive: The brain complexity and social complexity went into the positive feedback loop. This resulted in the characteristics of the species which we see and categorize now as curiosity, empathy, and competition/cooperation traits. Our major tool is the communication skills which grew exponentially and parallel to the social and the brain development. The ability to share our personal worlds allowed for the creation of technology, the consciousness, and the critical thinking.

Belief in free will and personal growth

The evolution teaches us that we build our world since birth until our death. The same is with animals, they try to survive, try to be better than their ancestors, because only these survive, mediocrity dies out. Along comes human evolution and transforms animal survival into the human attempt to understand and to make sense. It creates art, stories, mythology and science.Thes biological and historical facts make us responsible for our lives and believing in the free will. This humanistic responsibility to work on your personal world makes the belief in the free will an obvious part of the humanist mind.( Strange as it seems, it makes the opposite camp made of unusual bedfellows: the free will is very questionable both for the hardcore materialists with their determinism and for the pious religious people depending on the Almighty). This responsibility also makes the personal practice and personal growth a natural demand and sometimes fun. This part is not unlike Sartre’s principle of becoming.

Exploring the human nature in your personal relationships and in society

All the above makes a humanist a very individualistic creature. We think and feel for ourselves, we hate only a few things- the mob is one of them.  The healthy competition makes us trying to be the best we can be. The cooperation in the society works through skills to love, to create friendships and to be grateful. Also to be playful, funny and happiable (able and trying to be happy). All the goody-goody characteristic of the humanists and the humanitarians come naturally, as a part of exploring the human nature. We see the other human in everybody we meet, we believe in the democracy, equality for races, women, gay etc. Of course, we worry about overpopulation, violence, the depletion of natural resources, of habitats, all that. We seek an elusive balance in the society between competition and cooperation. We believe that the work on the personal growth leads to the more sophisticated values, above money, power, and sex. The peace, beauty, and harmony come to mind, these would align well with the survival of the homo sapiens as the meaning of life.

We recognize the dark side of human nature. We all sometimes behave like animals or worse. The diversity and competition feed fear and greed, the work is never done, the work on “shadow” in each of us.

Embracing all myths as a source of wisdom and cultural diversity.

We think that all children are the humanists until taught fear/nationalism and fear/religion. We think that most of the naturally normal people remain humanists for the rest of their life. They follow naturally guts and instincts of the human nature but some, on the top, follow the belief in the Divine, according to their particular Myth. We believe that all the Myths, from most ancient to most modern, are created by human intelligence and they are true, as they teach us the valuable wisdom and lessons. Thus, everybody can practice any religion, but should not force this on others. Make sure that everybody has the same freedom (as per UN charter of human rights) and that include the members of the family and community, especially in the lower position of power. One’s religious practices should not override or interfere with the local customs and lifestyle.

The Humanists’ Quest: To create our own, new myth.

This is  the only one new myth we need, and we need it desperately: The survival of the Homo sapiens. Can a small, unlikely, unwilling and confused group of people create a shift in the Universe, like a magic power of the old time heroes ?

The plan

Define the Humanists positively: we are the members of the human species, with the free will and evolutionary created human intelligence, which defines and creates our worldview. We are a curious and a hyper-social species and we are learning how to combine competition and cooperation to survive as a species. We have a famously grand pedigree of learners: the mammals, the apes, and the best learner – homo sapiens. All our DNA is full of ultimate skills in figuring things out, our instincts, the senses and, recently, our civilizations.

This means that all children, until indoctrinated, are humanists, and later are still humanists plus some extra beliefs. It also means that the mythology is a form of learning, a tool to grow up. There is little objection to that, regarding ancient myths, like Sisyphus or Prometheus or Noah and the Deluge. But we should treat more modern myths, in the same way, the way to learn from them and to grow up through them, including the myths of Jesus and of Mahomet, of Kremlin, of Mao, of the Wall Street and of the Supercollider .

In this way, since pre-history, we are basically all humanists. The religious people are the humanists too, they are extra-humanists, they believe in some supernatural intelligence, but we see this as a myth, true, useful, but just a myth, as the hundreds of other myths. Getting huff and puff about it is really primitive and killing people for it is just ridiculous .

French people say “if you resist, it persists”, the Taoists say “the Master leads doing nothing and the people are led not feeling it”. Let’s bring all strange folks to the human folds, let’s start exploring the way of the empathy and cooperation and try to avoid the annihilation. What can a minute group of Humanists do, few in number, vaguely defined  (mostly by the negation of something which does not exist (sic!), with no political or moral force?

For Goodness sake – literally- and for the sake of our grandchildren, we have to reinvent ourselves.

Big Question #8 : How do you find truth?

“Have patience awhile-slanders are not long-lived. Truth is the child of time- ere long she shall appear to vindicate thee.” Immanuel Kant.

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  • how to find somebody to trust?
  • how do you know to believe in that or that scripture?
  • how do you know to believe in this or that media source?
  • do you believe in the system of beliefs you have been growing up with?

How to work on your answer to Question #8

“Find somebody you trust, then ask.” This is the answer that served me well for the last 40 years. I use it myself, but more importantly, I advise the parents of my patients, scared, confused and overwhelmed by the media.

Example of an answer:

“Do lots of experiments. Make notes. Try again”.

Beth Lilly.

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

Surprisingly, I think, the people who would benefit the most from the working on that question come from the both ends of the spectrum. First, these pragmatics, these who think and act like the truth is relative, “what works” or even worse “the best deal” people. This is a misery, no happiness, no relationship, no peace of mind is possible- go and work on your answer!

Second group is happy but more dangerous. They “know the truth”, and they are willing and ready to stick it to us through our throats, all for “our good”.  It is frightening to see how nice and friendly they are. They would help to rebuild your burned house and they would burn you at the stake with the same angelic, righteous smile. Maybe even Philozophy.com can not fix them, hopefully, their children will rebel….

An Essay

Tommy is my grandson, a brilliant young man, medical student, fencier, and boxer, and Go player. He lives in Poland.

“The Complete Personality”, By  Tommy Boron

A development of a personal Mundus Operandi, from battling historical inaccuracy to choosing what the devil to do during the next hour. The Truth is the way, Jesus used to say, a golden compass that guides our actions, if we choose to develop it, patterns emerge from chaos, details become relevant, good and evil distinguishable. This question also hides the meaning of this very edifice. I’d also like to share with you my concept of a complete personality, which as you probably agree this project allows to develop. It can be broken down into these four components:

Purpose – a mean to thrive, goal, vocation, an end of the line for some. In the Matrix, Agent Smith stated that “Programs must have a purpose, otherwise they are deleted”. Maybe it’s not the best quote, but it hits the spot. Sometimes it might only refer to the task at hand, but it dictates the urgency of our actions. “The haste that urges man to march, the dignity of every act” – Dante Alighieri (Divine Comedy) That haste is, of course, to be avoided, by keeping it cool, but doing our job.
Principles – a creed, gentlemen’s code of conduct, Savoir Vivre, etc. Gotta stick to your principles, keep a given word, open doors for the ladies.
Convictions – the roots that hold us firmly in the ground, so that we don’t wobble, or flow carelessly with the stream, pretty much a worldview that Philozophy.com helps us to establish.
Void – A core of that is the child which survived, that may at any time let go of all the above and observe with pure curiosity the works of nature, a place where duality is broken, the tao flows without obstruction, dreams become a tangible reality. I’d say it is like a mental sanctuary, mind palace also grasps the essence. An oasis of peace deep within.
Lastly, the components of our life: the story, the game, and the style. Story binds our days, creates beauty, sorts out our experiences so that we may look back and proudly say it was a good day. We are, no doubt, homo Ludens, we enjoy games, sports, physical, and mental activity. The real sages know how to play with their own story, they laugh, cheer the folks around them, and tell us through metaphor that life is just a ride, so we need not worry, and frown too much. Now the style, as Charles Bukowski said: “Style is the answer to everything(…) to do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without it, to do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art”. Adding the cherry on top, personal touch, a subtle stroke of the brush is what makes us truly like ancient warriors.

Big Question #11 : What happens after death?

“Hasta la vista, baby”- Terminator

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  • What will happen after you die?            
  • What is heaven, if any?
  • What part of us will not die, if any?
  • Shall we prepare, talk about the afterlife?

How is this question relevant to our everyday life? There are many things you chose not to think about, but they are there affecting your everyday life.  The death is the poster child of those things.

I think that there are two ways to deal with death. First is to not think about it, this way is a perfect, 100% successful way. The second is to think about it and this way is also, absolutely, 100% successful way.

How to work on the answer to Question #11

Of course, like with all other “primary questions”, the true answer to this question is unknown, but having a frank conversation about the death is interesting. Then, what to say, about the hopes, about the fear or just be “politically correct” (whatever are your politics )?

An example by Dosia Boron : “Those who deserve to keep their soul play on. Others feed others. And if we don’t like the spiritual game it is just a quite useless language construction- “after death”, I mean.”

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

A philosopher said that all our lives end badly.  Does it need to be like this? Lao-tzu says: “Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.”  Can it be done? like, do your work, then step back?”

An Interview

tom kunesh, a humanist, an atheist, an activist for the rights of American Indians,( he is part-Lakota-it is why he does not use capitals) an author, a philosopher and a liberal politician is also a co-founder of the Chattanooga Humanist Assembly. We organized this interview as a part of the Assembly’s monthly meeting so we could benefit from the opinions of the members.

The meeting was long, so below you’ll find excerpts which seem to me interesting and useful for both religious and nonreligious people and anybody in between working on the Big Question #11: What happens after death?

Me: Adam Frank in his great book “About Time” writes: “Death has always been a portal to time’s great mystery. By ending time for the self, death acts as an invitation to consider time’s reality and its meaning”. He sounds like a humanist – “death as an invitation”, huh?

tpk: (tom kunesh) Every time I plan to travel, whether it is to Nashville, 2 hours away, or especially if it is a longer trip, to Minnesota, I get an anxiety. It is not that I am afraid, I am going to fall asleep at the wheel. It is different, it is inexplicable, it is this dread of change. I am missing something.

I do not have any fear of death related to pain – I have been to car accidents, this does not bother me. Even missing my kids do not bother me if I die I will not feel anything. This is the anxiety that bothers me. I am missing my dad since he died many years ago, even we were not living together. Even the change of this place, what use to be a store, now a restaurant, bothers me. The death is just a big change, a big anxiety provoking travel, a one-way ticket.

Me: it is not very logical…

tpk: No. Like the metaphor we use often: “he is gone”. He is still here, I do not believe in the soul, so everything is still here, just like a dog, a cat, a bird which hit the window pane… When I am thinking about it calmly, rationally, I have no worries, no concerns.

Me: really?

tpk : Our behavior around death is irrational. The fear of dying, the pain and grief after losing a loved one, these are very powerful emotions, sometimes stronger than your philosophical attitudes. People venerate others after death, treat their dead bodies like real people. Catholics canonize dead people, make them saints, the society celebrates dead leaders like Lenin in Russia, our presidents here in our country. We visit out a relative to have “the last look”. As humanists, as materialists, we are trying to be rational. We do not pray, we do not think the people after death go to heaven, and they are going to join other dead people there, keep waiting for us. We focus on our memory of that person.

Me: Do you need to be a materialist to be a humanist, now in the era of quantum physics? I think I am a humanist but not a materialist.

tpk: some humanists believe in  the Cosmic Union, but I think this is a hubris, it is thinking that we are something special, better than dying elephants or other animals. I think 99% of humanists are materialists.

Me: I think our modern America handles the death in the most unskillful way. Most people die lonely, painfully and costly in the impersonal hospitals, clinging to the life senselessly, tormenting themselves and the family. Can humanism be a guide to the better way to die?

tpk: humanists are free thinkers, they are generally better at talking about difficult subjects like religion and race and sexual orientation. Talking about dying is one of these subjects, usually a “taboo” in our society. I prepare for death every day, especially now, as I am 60. I prepare my professional things to be ready, things from my office handled, my political unfinished issues completed.

I am talking to my daughters about death frequently ( maybe more frequently than they would like me to), especially when I am leaving and going for a longer trip.My father was killed suddenly when I was the young man. Suddenness hurts. We were not prepared for this as a family, it affected us horribly. I remember I was devastated for a long time.I need my girls to realize, to get into their consciousness the notion that the death is normal, a constant part of our life, every week somebody I know dies, presidents, governors, relatives. I try not to shield my kids from any of these events, even such an event like a dog dying, finding a dead snake on the road, that this is not much different than finding a dead person. I believe that seeing death and talking about death makes us better prepared for the death of somebody in the family. “Ok, the dad is dead, long live the dad’.

Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset said „Hay que tomar la vida con filosofía.“- One has to take life with philosophy. Philosophy helps you to sort out your emotions. It is one of many reasons I admire Buddhists. They talk about death and they practice detachment: “when you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.” this is the metaphor for our escape into heavens, reincarnation etc. instead of facing the real, physical death of your loved one or yourself. To face this reality we need to teach children and our society about the physicality and the naturalness of death.

Me: This is great, I am all for talking about Big Questions.  But can you think about happy dying, like the celebrations of well-done job?

tpk: I think, as usual, you ask for too much, for too much of social engineering. I have seen and I have been told of people dying with dignity, even serenity… Well, how about that scenario:

When I am old and done here I will buy one-way ticket to India. I will meditate there and when I am ready I will ask people to roll me down to the river Ganges, where merciful monsoon waves will wash me away. This is the best I can do for you.

Me: This sounds good but if we go together we might have too much fun and the project might fail?

tpk : Do not worry, somebody famous said: “ all lives end badly”.

 

 

Big Question #7: How do you find happiness?

“All you need is love, love, love.

  Love is all you need.”   The Beatles

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  • It is all important because it is what we all want.
  • But is it important to mull it constantly and ask yourself “are you happy?”
  • Is it useful to chase it, or maybe it will make it harder to get?
  • How about discussing the subject with others?
  • How should we act? Praxeology (theory of actions).
  • What to cultivate? Is giving better than receiving?
  •  Do we have to suffer?
  •  How do you personally search for happiness?

How to work on your answer to Question #7

Fake it till you make it. Your answer should make you smile. Browse our Philozophy.com answers. You’ll learn a lot. Honest answers of the real people.

Ricky Newins: ” Being true to our nature. The difficult thing is finding out what our nature is.”

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

Work on it when you’re happy. More importantly come back when you are sad and get help. Read the “Book of Joy” by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

An Interview

I am sitting in the office of Dr. Zibin Guo, an anthropology professor at the University of Chattanooga, my Tai Ji teacher, and my dear friend.

   Me: Ok, Zibin, the Big Question # 7 in my personal worldview project is “ How do you find happiness?”

Zibin: This is a very “loaded” question.

Me: ??

Zibin: To me, the concept of happiness is really very simple, but deceptively simple. No one wants to say “there is no happiness”, no one want to say: “I don’t have happiness”, and yet nobody is able to explain what happiness really is. In society we use ideas, but many of them can not be explained or there is no standard definition generally accepted.

  To illustrate this problem, let me tell you a story. One day, a few years ago, I ‘ve got a call, really bad news, from the ex-wife of my old friend from Harvard. He was a brilliant man, he did fantastic work in Botswana, a societal model based on chaos theory came to Harvard where we work together and become good friends, then I moved to Tennessee and we somehow lost touch. Last I heard from him, it was about his divorce, personal problems and plans for the new ethnographic research for the military. This time Mary, his ex-wife told me that he divorced again, lost job, can not drive, and lives alone in a shelter for homeless people in Virginia Beach. He was apparently depressed but too proud to ask his rich family for help. “It would be great if I visit him.” I was shocked, for me he was my model of the American Dream, an epitome of the success, the brains, the money, the status… This was the guy I always looked up to and now this?

  That very weekend I was driving from Chattanooga to Virginia Beach to see my friend. I planned to arrive in the evening, have dinner with Mary and her new husband and then to go see my friend. Around the DC area the traffic got terrible, also there was a storm, gusts of wind and tornado warnings. On the road around me, there was the chaos and accidents everywhere, people running, everybody upset and stressed. This did not help my already anxious and sad mood- thinking about my friend and being stuck in the traffic. I reached Virginia Beach 6 hours later, at night. At the Tunnel, the traffic was detoured again and I got lost. I called Mary around 1 am and she was not asleep. There was an another crisis, this time in her family, her daughter, a single mother with some mental problems become suicidal and they spent in the Emergency Room all evening, now coming back home. At last, all exhausted, we sat at their home around the table at 2 am. Mary looked at me and asked: “are you happy?” I was flabbergasted. What did she mean? Happy? Was it about seeing her, being safe after this terrible drive, was it about my friend or her daughter, about the world or my life in general? The absurdity of the question, the absurdity of American obsession with happiness shocked my exhausted and stressed brain so deeply that I still remember that moment vividly after several years.

  I see happiness as a pretty useless social construct. It supposes to reflect, to describe the state of somebody’s mind which is fleeting and do not serve that person or anybody else and has nothing to do with reality.

 Our American civilized society consumes more psychotropic medicines than the rest of the world combined. And you walk around even here on the University campus and see young people stressed and upset. When they talk to you they will be smiling, but there is nothing behind this smile like a poker face

Me: Well, if not happiness, how about the joy?

Zibin: Joy is obviously transient, it is different. But the concept of happiness is abused. It is supposed to be a goal, a promised land, something permanent, achievable. And it is an illusion, a vague state of mind, which does more harm than benefit. Instead of clarity, it produces confusion. The human emotions are very complicated and everybody can exhibit all the spectrum of them- joy, anger, jealousy, sadness, and the myriad of others, one should not try to simplify it with the term “happiness”. This is not valid concept and object of the inquiry. When the society promotes one desired state of mind, the result is almost opposite. The more you’re trying to be happy, the more impossible this become, it leads to faking it, to depression even suicide, like Robin Williams.

Me: Does this obsession or confusion exist in China?

Zibin: No. In many languages, the word happiness doesn’t even exist! People would not even understand you.”What are you talking about?” they would say. “What you mean – Happy?” It is not like in American culture which constantly revolves around happiness. If you keep asking “ Are you happy?” one is forced to say yes or no and either is a lie. So you try to say, I am fine, I am ok, and still is this problem with naming your emotions as something like a permanent quality or ability. Life is much more complex, it is not about happiness or unhappiness, life is a journey, the emotions change. The goal in life, being good or happy is the social construct. Enjoy your life, enjoy its simple pleasures, help people the best you can but do not make goals do not try to save the world. Without using the concept of a happiness people would be much happier.