on evolution and evolutionary reality (me and you)

Posts tagged ‘humanism’

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???

Advertisements

Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception or Shaking off the Dualism of Descartes.

 

 

        Writing about the cogito Merleau- Ponty says: “Insofar as, when I reflect on the essence of subjectivity, I find it bound up with that of the body and that of the world, this is because my existence as subjectivity (= consciousness) is merely one with my existence as a body and with the existence of the world, and because the subject that I am, when taken concretely, is inseparable from this body and this world.” Phenomenology, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

         It sounds so benign: “cogito ergo sum”. But it sounds benign for a reason- it actually sums up the intellectual grounds of humanity, the way humans feel the reality in its core- “this is me, my small subjective world, and that is the huge, marvelous, but separate, if not mine, then whose, objective world.” All philosophies are built with that automatic assumption at the core.

While fighting with each other, the theists and the atheists, Plato’s idealists and Stephen Hawking’s scientists, nobody messes with the subjectivity versus objectivity divide concept.

It feels beyond philosophy; it feels like linguistics.    

       I think this is the reason, from my paltry readings, both Husserl and Merleau-Ponty sound so, so… painstaking. As their new approach, their method would require this extremely honest and disciplined explanation of the philosopher’s personal experience. They had to explain the nuances in the meaning and explain the process of the concept development because the history and “the establishment” of traditional thought was so old and enormous.  They, Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, sound as if they were trying first and foremost to convince themselves of some odd truth, actually creating it as they proceeded. This truth or this method would attempt to put our intuitive feeling about reality upside down. If proven scientifically, it would be more ground-breaking than Nietzsche’ s killing of  God. These concepts combine perception, movement and intentionality in one conscious experience of a being engaged into the world.

“ How the body inhabits space ( and time, for that matter) can be seen more clearly by considering the body in motion because the movement is not content with passively undergoing space and time, it actively assumes them, it takes them up in their original signification that is effaced in the banality of established situations.” Merleau-Ponty, The spatiality of one’s own body and motricity, p.105.

     Amazingly, modern developmental neuroscience follow the steps of Merleau-Ponty, the philosopher. It was found that the motor neurons are the origins of the sensory and the thinking neural systems. Also motor activity precedes, sometimes by 0.1 second, our decision to make that move. The newborn baby’s body schema, as far as we know, is not subjective or objective, there is no duality, similar to the animals. The process of attachment, which will in the future decide whether one will hate one’s own body and be ashamed of one’s deepest emotions is a perfect example of the intentional arc. “The life of consciousness- epistemic life,  the life of desire, or perceptual life- is underpinned by an “intentional arc” that projects around us our past, our future, our human milieu, our physical situation, our ideological situation, and our moral situation, or rather, that ensures that we are situated within all of these relationships. This intentional arc creates the unity of the senses with intelligence, and the unity of sensitivity and motricity. “ ibid p. 137. Perception embodies the child and the mother, food, touch, love and the level of stress, all mixed together. It doesn’t occur in the baby’s brain, or in the mother’s brain or in between. The meaning of experience is being built and interpreted with the brain and the environment working in one spatiality and movement of feeding, sleeping, getting satisfied and happy… or not. This very real and crucial for future life event occurs in time and space that can only be called the baby’s world, not subjective, not objective, but nondual and phenomenological, baby’s world.

  Evolutionary ethology confirm similar mechanisms occurring in primitive animals. Their behavior, like seeking food or escaping a predator are directed by the “old” brain (the only brain available, in, for example, a lizard) This part of the brain, the medulla, the hindbrain nuclei, like amygdala, in the human corresponds with the “feeling” brain, with subjectivity, but for the animal these behavior occur obviously “out there”, in the animal’s non dual, only real world – out there is the food , out there is danger, out there is escape.

   Because of going beyond such a basic assumption, phenomenology has had to become first and foremost the method, the way of analyzing the conscious experience without the subjectivity versus objectivity divide, the way where embodied consciousness inhabits the world, not my world, not the nobody’s world, just the world, all the reality that any human has to play with.

    And if we accept that as humans this is the only world we have, this ceases to be only the method ( or the historical footnote), this becomes a huge responsibility and the unified force for the mankind.

 

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 #9: What is the meaning of life?

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” – Pablo Picasso.

When the storm rages and  the shipwreck of the state threatens, we can do nothing more noble than to lower the anchor of our peaceful studies into the ground of eternity.”  Johannes Kepler

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  •  What is the meaning of your life?
  • How should we act? Praxeology (theory of actions).
  • Can we make a difference?
  • What’s your legacy?

It helps to reflect from time to time on it and to write it down. It is mostly helpful in the hour of crisis or worry. Maybe the answer or a glimpse of it will come unexpectedly. Catch it then and use it every day.

How to work on your answer to Question #9

When I was working on that answer, I wanted to write down something big, profound,  and philosophical. Something a guru sitting on the top of the mountain would explain to the confused seeker. But then, do I feel like a guru or rather like the confused seeker? Also, even if you are a guru, what is the benefit for you telling the things you already know. If you know your “Eureka”, tell us by all means, but it has to be yours, unique and personal. What you wander, what you question, what you worry about would be great.

An example by Lucas Prater: ” The meaning of life is to collect as much stuff as possible so that when you die your survivors have to take time out of their lives to sift-through and sell all your stuff. The more of their time you waste, the higher your score.”

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

Plato said that the life unexamined is not worth living. We all feel emptiness and senselessness from time to time. Working on the meaning and purpose and editing it often might keep you keeping on…

An Interview

 

Trying to figure things out has been my favorite entretaining and interest since I can remember. Naturally writing about meaning of life become more than writing an essay to make your, my reader’s, writing easier and more urgent. The purpose of doing it for you, if I am going to be honest, merges with doing this for myself. In this endavour we are going to join forces with Dosia Boron.
 When she was born, I was a young, searching man and  she become an obvious and unequivocal meaning of my life. Now she is not only a brilliant philosopher, a great
teacher but also a fantastic mom of three boys. As I grew old (still searching) , to turn the tables I am asking her about meaning of life. I am calling her from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Lublin, Poland and here are the excerpts of the conversation.
 We started by contrasting the meaning of one’s personal life versus the meaning of life shared by everybody, a philosophical concept of the humankind’s meaning of life.
DB: First things first. To even think about the meaning of your personal life you have first to find time and hone your skills and develop the habit to reflect on our life. It means stop doing what you are doing, and breathe… in silence. It also means working hard to lead authentic life, to be yourself, making sure you do not betray your essence, that you do not lie to yourself. And this is a huge task in itself- all existential philosophers, Camus, Sartre, Kierkegaard, all of them line up to help you and to mock you with their own doubts and derision. Beyond that, I don’t know, when I am thinking about personal life, I tend to ask negative questions: ” Is my life meaningless? And why not? Is it worth living, how would I know that I should continue?”
Me:  Most people find children, loved ones  a natural reason that the life is worth living.
DB: Not really, no, I know many people with children, and I speak for myself, who wander if their life is meaningless. “Giving , always giving, where is the sense of it?”
I like more the idea of looking for and finding somebody with whom you can share the concept of life, with whom you can talk freely, deeply. I do not know if I met someone like that?
Me: But, this is the problem, people do not talk about these things, at least it is true in my life. Don’t you think that such conversations can be helpful and relevant for you during tough periods in life?
DB: I disagree that people do not talk about it. From time to time, when you find somebody you can talk to and you have time and mood, you talk an intimate and honest talk, and whatever is the subject- it is somehow about the meaning of life. And you ask, I think it is what you mean, if the formal discussion about that part of the worldview, “meaning of life”, would talking about that help? I don’t know.
Rather than talking about the meaning, it is important to discuss and clarify for yourself and for the people you live with, your system of values. To clarify this and to live more or less openly accordingly with these values. It is the part of the authentic life that we were talking about earlier.
Me: Like, Is it about the winning or how you play the game?
DB: Exactly, the system of values, how you play, can actually replace or substitute for the problem of life being meaningful- the winning and what you play for . Dying people , what do they regret? Not being for others, not spending enough time with family. This is weird, dying people stop being selfish.

Me: Talking about death can help.

DB: I think dying people are just very lonely and this is ugly. It is important to think about the connection between the meaning of life and the beauty. For an artist, actually for almost everybody, the great art and beauty, even natural beauty, makes the life meaningful. And the philosopher sees meaning as beautiful. And to bring again the concept of values, I think that it is important trying to find the beauty in the relationship with others.
 Me:  To try to find beauty in the relationship with others! This is one of the best advices and definitions of meaning of life I have ever heard!
 DB:Yes, if we only could communicate…
Me: when discussing the meaning of life, is there a difference between talking and writing?
DB: Most important difference is between worrying about the life without meaning and talking about it, putting your worries in words, then the next step is writing. But when I am confronted with the task to write about the personal philosophy, meaning of life, I do not feel I can add anything new, why would people be interested in what I think? The poetry is much better, it  is like a code, a different, secret language, intimate and multidimensional.
 It is better form of communication. If people read my poem, I feel they become closer to me, but if they read my philosophical definitions or remarks, I would feel embarrassed to write what big white heads have already written in much better way.
Me: Maybe there is the way between, or combining philosophy and poetry/
DB: I am teaching and giving workshops in critical thinking. I am using
socratic method and we analyze beautiful classical texts, like Thomas Mann, Dostoyevsky. The idea is old, but working on this , so to speak, head-on is very satisfactory and my young student like it. But if you think that they could then start discussing the meaning of life,  not so fast, I think they are not ready.
Me:  We need thousands, millions philosophy teachers doing this.
 BD: I feel that I owe this to my ancestors and my teachers.  They worked in harder and more dangerous times, and they fought for their values. In our furiously rased and materialistic world, I feel I need to be brave and to preserve love for literature, beauty, art and philosophy.
Me: Amen
DB: I feel that I did not say anything interesting about meaning of life…
Me: You did, this is the beauty of my hypothesis. You do not need to improve philosophy of the Greeks to benefit from Philozophy.com. All you need is to be brave, honest and personal, this form of answer will help you and others. And you did all that,  and send me a poem or two?
They come three day later:
What I’m afraid the most
 
What I’m afraid the most
is that I will resign
from beauty seeking mission
one day
just like that
will sink into ugliness
stop fighting
stop struggling for breath
It will swallow me eagerly
the EXPECTED and KNOWN
grow on me like mould
thick
I will stop moving
and my poor soul
will simply fly from me
away
to look for beauty
by itself
 Writing poetry
What is worth a line but sharing
maybe
You find it
a treasure of thought
all excited, bathing in a stream of ideas and hints
all smart
 pleasant vibes of discovery
all right!
man
You beat wings
in a dried well
Your bright insights
down deep there
what is worth life if not sharing
I know i know
me, too, I live with the Dead mostly
I beat my wings in darkness
all smart
coughing dust
still
I carry my lines with me
vigiliant
sniffing the air
ready.
 And quotations:
Hanz Castorp in the chapter Snow: (Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann)
” I dreamed about the nature of man, and about the courteous, reasonable and respectful community of men – while the ghastly bloody feast went on in the temple behind them. Were they courteous and charming to one another, those sunny folk, out of silent regard for that horror? what a fine and gallant conclusion fot them to draw! I shall hold to their side, here in my soul.”
(…)
“God and the Devil, good and evil, just made for someone to tumble headlong into its void and perish mystically there.(…) Death or life –  illness or health – spirit or nature. Are those really contradictions? I ask You: are those problems? NO, they are not problems, and the question of their nobility is not the question either.(…)
Man is the master of contradictions, they occur through him, and so he is more noble than they. More noble than death, too noble for it – that is the freedom of his mind. More noble than life, too noble for it – that is the devotion of his heart. There, I have rhymed it all together, dreamed the poem of humankind.”
” And form, too, comes only from love and goodness; form and the cultivated manners of man’s fair state, of a reasonable, genial community – out of the silent regard for the bloody banquet”
 \
“For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don’t we all secretly know this? It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. Behind it? Below it and around it? Chaos, storms. Men with hammers, men with knives, men with guns. Women who twist what they cannot dominate and belittle what they cannot understand. A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.”
― Stephen King11/22/63
“We did not ask for this room or this music. We were invited in. Therefore, because the dark surrounds us, let us turn our faces to the light. Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty. We have been given pain to be astounded by joy. We have been given life to deny death. We did not ask for this room or this music. But because we are here, let us dance.”
― Stephen King11/22/63

       

Big Question #5: Is there free will?

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

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  • Do you have free will?
  • How should we act? Praxeology (theory of actions)
  • Are we really free, or just feel like free? What is freedom? To do what?
  • Are you an optimist or pessimist? Do you believe your choices matter? How about your actions?
  • Do you support social activism, are you an activist, if not, why not? 
  • Do you think the public opinions are manipulated, is it a conspiracy or “normal” behavior?
  • What do you think about social engineering?
  • Is publishing your Worldview on the Internet an act of freedom?

How to work on the answer to the Question #5

This question can call for some deep and pompous philosophy or can be simple and intimate. If you make any plans and projects whatsoever, you have to answer this question first. If you are going to get up from the bed tomorrow morning, you have to answer this question first.

Notice that the fact that you are answering this question is actually kind of answer.

View answers on Philozophy.com

An example by Peter Brown: “Yes. Small but useful in the right place. Think fulcrum.”

Psychotherapy

Working on this question improves mood. It helps people be more grounded and positive about their plans. Even finding of constraints in one’s freedom make one’s realize how much freedom he or she has. It helps with finding a meaning of life.

The interview with Dr. Tamara Welsh.

Me: I would like to talk to you about the free will and freedom. These concepts are obviously related: free will seems to be more philosophical, while freedom -personal and political….

Dr. Talia:  I belong to traditions of existentialism and phenomenology. During the last two decades when I’ve been doing philosophy I come to the conclusion that the free will is pretty limited. Most of our choices have origins in our habits. For example, an alcoholic can refrain himself from the drink now, but over the time we will see the pattern typical for the problems with drinking. Still, I think, that there is something like freedom or free will and this can be related to the worldview.

     In the moment when we do not make these choices, like voting or not voting for somebody, there is a place for a reflective assessment of ourselves. In this retrospective mood we can think, what kind of person I want to be, and I think, one has some control over creating certain esthetics and striving toward this kind of person, and in so doing, working on what one potentially can consider bad habits or good habits, and so by and by you become this kind of person that habitually will live that kind of life you ideally would like to live. But I do not think it is a momentary decision, that’s sort of larger, you can call worldview or personal view.

Me: So, these habits serve, in your understanding, by limiting our free will as a psychological version of materialistic determinism. We act more or less like a machine, with habits determining the pattern of behavior?

Dr. Talia: Yes, but  I do not see limits so materialistic, linear and rigid, with habits determined by the multitude of physiological, environmental and social reasons.

Me: Both materialists and religious people take our freedom and free will away from us, humans – these are really strange bedfellows?

Dr. Talia: I generally agree with both of these views, determinist and religious, even Sartre has a hard version of freedom, they object  seen as a general possession, which occurs in the conscious state, sort of “ I am free and I will go, do free things..” But I am thinking about freedom “provided “ by the environment, and some environments are less free than others, also as a tendency someone has, and one has to cultivate freedom like one has to cultivate good health habits, cultivate good study habits or be a just cultured person. You can not say “I’ll now become cultured”, one has to engage in a long period of study and this is an ongoing process, rather than a state, either yes or no. The deterministic and religious concepts are just too static, you have to see freedom as a quality which occurs over the time.

Me: As a phenomenologist, you should appreciate free will almost by definition. Talking about the “first person philosophy” seems to be equivalent with the accepting free will?

Dr. Talia: I think it fits very well with Descartes and Sartre. Both of these philosophers had strong ideas of freedom. On the other hand, most of the phenomenologists stressed the concepts of being embodied in the culture and in the language which picks away this strong idea of free will. Also when you look at different cultures you see that the centrality of freedom is the western tradition.

This doesn’t exist in other cultures. So, one has to ask “ are we, westerners, free in different ways than the people in other cultures?” and, it seems to me, that the answer is “yes”. Probably, reading Confucius there exists there a kind of freedom. He encourages us to cultivate ourselves in certain ways and have certain attitudes toward the family and certain behaviors. But he definitely sees human more like a relational being rather than an individual.

In our tradition, the free will is an individual’s possession, and when you compare both systems, one can ask oneself a question: “am I free because of me, or because I am honoring behaviors typical within my society in which I am committed to do “free” things”? And now in my thinking, I am leaning more towards this relational concept of freedom. It requires others to have certain habits and me to have certain habits in order to see myself free.

Me: This is very close to the perennial quandary about subjectivity versus objectivity. Subjectively you feel free, but if somebody observes you, for the observer, you just act within your societal restraints and personal habits.

Dr. Talia: That’s right. And we also often view ourselves as objects. If you look in your past, you do not see so much freedom as in present. You see your past as a fixed record of historical events and you think, “ well, of course, I made all these bad decisions, because I was in my twenties and I  couldn’t  have done otherwise. I would be nice to go back and with the experience I have now and make all these good decisions”. But you can’t. The past appears objective but the future is the world of possibilities.

Me: The worldview owner’s manual encourages one to explore big questions. Do you think that the conversation or writing down one’s opinion about, for example, free will can help the person be more grounded, more positive regarding creating one’s life?

Dr. Talia: HaHa, I suppose, because of my job, I should say, “sure”. But I do feel super strongly, yes. Nietzsche has this idea of many wills inside of us. It seems, here is a multiplicity of subjects inside of us, like, there is this lazy person inside of us who wants to do one thing and there is another who wants to do something else and it is hard to tell who is the real self. And I think, that self-reflexion and thinking about your worldview and about other cultures, this philosophical reflection might help you come to better terms with yourself. You can see your strengths and weaknesses and you can potentially see the world in more reflective manner. It has an educational purpose but also has a therapeutic purpose. I think if one do not reflect much, one has to hope for the fate to turn very well for one. If you do self-reflect, it doesn’t mean that you will have the successful life, but at least it gives you some tools to deal with suffering, both external and internal.

      I was working with domestic violence abusers. It was really interesting, because, as these abusers came from the wide spectrum of social, income, educational strata, I found them, mostly, very relatable. And most of them appeared to very strongly wanted to break out the circle of violence, but for many reasons were unable to. It reminded me that it is so difficult to say- “these are bad people and these are good people”. But I think as much as one can engage in the self-reflection it can only help-” why I keep doing these things’’, “ why I am here again”,  “ why this pattern keep occurring in this relationship?” and it applied to both abusers and the victims. Talking to them and teaching them self-reflection aimed at the question “what can I do in the future if a similar situation occurs”? But most of these people saw the world as just happening to them, without being an active agent, they just reacted to things happening. And this is the worldview without free will and without freedom.

Me: We are back to upbringing, habits, and education…

Dr. Talia: Right, both Foucault and Confucius using very different terms, talk about the value and necessity of self-cultivation.  Rather than always trying to make good choices one should work steadily, continuously on self-cultivation until these good choices would come naturally.

This work is much more difficult, almost like the habit to save money or working on your worldview…

Me: Thank You Dr, Talia, I couldn’t agree more.

 

Big Question #3: What is the origin of good?

These virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions … The good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life.”
Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

Subquestions and everyday application

  • What is good and what is evil? Axiology (theory of values);
  • Are humans basically good? Why do good?
  • Human nature- what is it? Can goodness be explained by human nature or we need something beyond?
  • Is good an absence of evil,  or is it something more beautiful?
  • Is cooperation the same as friendship?  Who are my friends and how?
  • Is giving better than receiving?
  • What does goodness mean for you?

How to work on the answer to Question #3

Working on this question should make you smile, should make you good about mankind. Think about a good person, he or she could bring a good story.  How  has goodness started in your life?

Example by Vinny Zembruski: “The birth of a child. Pure, innocent and uncorrupted”.

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

Some people are sad, hopeless and cynical. They will benefit from this question.  They should edit their answer  until they smile and weekly afterward.

An Interview

It was an autumn hike in Tennessee. We walked noisily, deep in dry, golden-red leaves. I asked Sophia, my daughter, and the co-author of Philozophy.com, whether good is just the opposite of evil and both concepts are inevitably “glued” to each other, or whether it is possible to talk about good as a separate entity.

Sophia: An even more basic question is whether the concepts of good and evil make sense, or the World just is, not good, not evil, just is…. But humans make stories and in a story there is always a battle between good and evil, one or the other are winning, like the balance of the scale.

Me: (Somehow, I wanted the answer to be that good and evil are separate and different) But, look, Sophia, the caveman had to choose between competition and cooperation. Cooperation was good and independent of evil, while competition was separate from it- one person was winning which was good for him or her; the other was losing.

Sophia: More questions than answers… Another one is the obvious difference between bad and evil. And there are no clear opposites of these two. In our discussion, we think about that good which is the opposite of “evil”, it is almost like “good intention” or “goodness.” It is different that the simple good /bad distinction.( “I broke my leg”, versus “I did not break it!”)

Me: Ok, next question: what would 10-years old Sophia think about the origins of good?

Sophia: Let’s try 20-years old Sophia. She would think that the World and its Creator are essentially good. Therefore, all things are created for a reason even if they seem to us bad or evil, they are ultimately good because of the ultimate goodness of the Creator. Well now, I think that 10-years old Sophia might have said that nature was good before the humans came along and messed things up, everything was good, the humans are the source of the split into good and evil.

Me:  Can you think about a life event that contributed significantly to your present position?

Sophia: “ I think I am still figuring these things out. But surely, my professional education was this life event. I always had curiosity and creativity, and this helped with this drive. But only when I realized that I can help other people, can create good, can help them to create good for themselves… that felt really good.”

Me: “How would your answer help people representing different worldviews to talk about values, to talk about good and evil? (I think, it is education again?)”

Sophia: It is not my “answer,” it is what I do. And sharing how I am figuring out my place in this world might help. This brings a more important conversation: “what is the origin (and practice) of my creating good?” If I can, for example, help to create a system which allows teachers to teach better. And for others, it can be something completely different: like making some pretty babies or picking up the trash from a park…And inevitably this brings up the other side–what is the origin of my evil?

Me: Wow, interesting!

Sophia: Yes, I have to think about that often in my work. Am I impatient with somebody who isn’t following my workshop? Am I belittling somebody who doesn’t agree with me?

Again, other people might have different problems, but we all have to carry out “internal audits.” We have to be aware of our own “negativity bias”.

Me: ?

Sophia: Humans pick up and experience bad things easier than good ones, a brain remembers worries and hurts and fears 10 to 20 times easier than praise and acknowledgment and gratitude.

Make a “laundry list”–and mine is different than yours–to see how to be an agent of good and avoid being an agent of evil.”   

Me: Thank you, Sophia, we did not solve any philosophical questions, and this is good because all philosophical solutions are wrong. But we talked and thought about them, and this type of conversation brings incredible benefits of working on your personal worldview.

Sophia: (laughing) I feel better already.

 

Big Question #2: What is the universe made of?

Plato’s Phaedo 65d: There is such a thing as absolute Form (pattern). It is the essence or real being of everything. It is apprehended by the intellect (not the senses).

Plato’s Timeaus, 37d: [the Demiurge] began to think of making a moving image of eternity: at the same time as he brought order to the universe, he would make an eternal image, moving according to number, of eternity remaining in unity. This, of course, is what we call “time.”

Subquestions and everyday applications        

  • What is? Ontology (the model of being).
  • What is Your Universe made of?
  • Where are you, really?
  • Is the matter all it is? Can science describe it fully?
  • We like stuff. We chase stuff, we want more and more. What is it actually, is it worth it?
  • Does matter matters? Are things you can grab better or different than things you can feel?
  • Are you a materialist or an idealist or neither or both?
  • In the USA, we have more and consume more than anywhere in the World. We also have the highest percentage of believers. Do gods smile on us?

The philosophers, as a part of the “what is” dilemma, argue always about dualism and nondualism.

As of 2016,  according to folk psychology,  The Universe has eight(!) distinct natures for you to pick from.

  1. There is God, he is lately rather not a bearded white man, more and idea not a guy.
  2. The World is permeated with the divine presence, it is everywhere, something more than the things. The New Age gone mainstream, Buddhism, Taoism, Gaia hypothesis, etc.
  3. There is a real world. It is solid, reliable, measurable, and scientific. What you see, it is what you get.
  4. There is also the soul, me, self,  it is more than science, it may be even immortal if we’re lucky. It may be quite separate from a religion.
  5. The Subjectivity: the opinions, aches, personal “experiences”, it is pretty scientific, but it is slightly beyond the exact description.
  6. The Sub-consciousness, the murky, dark world of psychics, dreams, psychoanalysis and hypnosis.
  7. Then, it is a loose group of beings , and it is ok to believe in them or not. There are ghosts, aliens, zombies, demons, dead people, devils, and angels.
  8. At last, there is the quantum science, pseudo -science and  just plain weird facts. The expanding Universe, uncertainty principle, anthropic principle, string theory, the multiverses, dark matter, non-linear time a’ la “Groundhog Day”, and some half-dead cats… 

How to work on the answer to Question #2

“What is” and ” what’s real” seem to me completely unanswerable or so obvious that you just open your hands with “huh?” gesture. But if you just slightly attach to them the value shade of “what’s important” they make more sense.  Your home brings values, the church brings beliefs and myths, the school and media bring ” ten thousands of things”.   How do they sit together in  you ?

 View  answers on Philozophy.com

An example, by Ricky Newins: “Pragmatically speaking that which we come to know via science. Is there more to it outside of science that we will perhaps never know? Quite possibly.

 Psychotherapy

Clarifying these issues  is very important for the people who worry about the money, which is about everybody. Some worry more than others, some realize it more than others… How to know if I need to go to school some more, invest, retire?  This question helps also people  with the anxiety of their importance… or lack of importance- these often go together.

 We are in the Center of the Universe.

I think we, humans and other beings on Earth, are in the center of the Universe. We are in the center of our Universe and this is the only Universe that exists. It is important to ponder this as if it is really so, it brings a lot of the responsibility to us, humans, as the squirrels and dolphins , as pretty and smart they are, they won’t help much.

As a philosopher, I think that the solution for the present pickle will come from the maturing of the human mind rather than from more successes in the technology.

An idea that we are in the center of the Universe seems like the fine place to start from!

I have been studying the mechanisms of the evolution for the last 35 years and the idea of the personal Universes comes straight from the evolutionary neuroscience. Every animal’s brain evolved to fine tune animal’s behavior in given environment. Perceive, see, understand, adapt, this for the animal is the same thing. It is what an animal does, without splitting it into categories. The animal’s world  (Nagel’s “What it is like to be a bat” will not tell you much…) is very different that mine and yours. It is not subjective and it is not objective- there is no self to make this distinction. It is obviously dependent on the observer, made by the animal’s peculiar, primitive perception and memory, but it is out there. Birds’ migration shows that they can coordinate complex actions, but the sharing is automatic, not via intentional communications. So, the animal’s world is outside, around the each animal, built mostly over the eons of the evolutionary time, with just a little of it built during the life of the animal- to allow for diversity beneficial for the species survival.

Even if the evolution created homo sapiens with the vastly improved brain, the communications ability, and thinking skills, each of us still builds his or hers personal world, with the Universe getting bigger and bigger around us.

The mess is here, on Earth, we are in the center and the safe heaven moved somewhere to the galaxy next door.

I have my life, my world which is interconnected with 7 billions of “you’s”.

You are in the exactly same situation, these are all assets we have, and if we are not extremely careful, we are going to blow them out in the nuclear holocaust. Or starve slowly, take your pick.

After the last human dies, a computer in some deep bunker will still continue to churn out data revealing new “discovery” based on Cosmic Microwave Background measurements.

  But it will be no CMB, this term will become completely meaningless. And it will not matter whether the report is in English, Arabic or Chinese. If there is nobody to read it, there is no CMB, period.

Really, see- “micro” means nothing, “wave” means nothing, “back” means nothing – there is no front so can not be back, there is no “ground” and no “cosmic”.

 OK, you say “ let’s continue this story, and in a million years, the aliens discover this planet and this computer printout”… Not so fast: you can not discover anything is there is no concept of “discovery”. There are no years if there is no spring and winter, and if nobody is born and dies , the time is meaningless and useless. Without the human, there is even no story.

Yes. We are the center of the Universe.

To reflect exactly my opinion, this answer should be followed by several caveats.

But if you are asking this question in the sense “isn’t it true, what science tells us, that we live as a tiny, insignificant specs , on the small planet, on the periphery of the remote galaxy, with the huge , cold, unknown cosmos around us?” , then the answer is resounding – NO.

Some scientists are trying to cheers us up, like Primack and Abrams in “The view from the center of the Universe” and Tom Yulsman in “Origins”. They made it worse, their wishy -washy argument and wishful thinking goes from reassurance that our size is just right (sic!) to the hope that future science will alleviate our wretchedness to stating that the Universe does not have the center, therefore we can not be off it.

  My caveats which include the glossary and concepts pertaining to my philosophy may seem in the beginning slightly controversial, but if I worry too much about it, I wouldn’t even start.

First, talk about “the center”.

We automatically think about “the center’ like a cartographer, or as a boy scout- “we need a flag in the center of the camp”. The Universe is “everything” and has many, many dimensions.

On the top of the obvious ones, like space, mass, magnetism, time, think  of “the center of ethical and emotional concern”, “center of complexity “, “center of the information density’ and “ center of consciousness”.

We could now get bog down in the nightmare of definitions controversies.

But this we will not do, it will not be necessary.

Hold this thought and let’s go to “the Universe”.

The only Universe I have is my Universe, and the same is true for you, and for you.

The “we” means 7 billions of us , right?

Again it looks that I am trying to trick you and left you with the play on words. Not in the least.

If we find out that the center is more or less similar for everybody, then we will not need to argue about “my Universe” vs “our Universe”. Like you and me, who have been building mine and your Universes since mine and your conception.
Now imagine 7 billion personal worlds all mingled, shared, interconnected. Then add 14 billions of the mom’s and dad’s worlds which were the base of the each of our personal worlds, add all the ancestors’ worlds, further and further back in time.  All sentient beings contributed to the process of building subsequent generations of personal worlds.

All the dimensions we mentioned and many which we did not count were the product of this incredible complexity masterpiece, including  space, the time and others. The main function of the evolving animal’s nervous system is to create understanding, in other words -the cognition. And this works through categorizing, naming, creating semantic shortcuts, the metaphors.

According to the Gaia hypothesis , kind of similar to my philosophy, the interconnected sentient beings create super intelligence, like interconnected neurons and dendrites, create the conscious brain. To me, these connections  between humans are mostly related to ancestors via genes and culture via instincts and the core of human nature. These connections make possible for each of us to become conscious and create a meaningful world.

During the last 80 years, science and philosophy are grappling with the explanation of the observed vs observer dilemma. From Bohr and Einstein to Maturana and Varela and Thompson , the concept of observer-built reality is gaining ground.

And, of course, about 50 000 years ago, the culture and the technology for the engineering reasons developed “the agreement universe” so we could hunt the mastodon or build the bridge or a spaceship. The other names for this are “nobody’s universe” or “reality”.

But while the scientists still ( and will forever ) argue, this should not make us feel like the insignificant specs, excused to be helpless and small, waiting for the creator to help us, please!

We are at the center of human experience, as we are building personal worlds, the Universe consists of. We are responsible for it and every of us 7 billion, matters.