Saturday, December 17, 2005

Absurdity of Absurdities!

Let me explain the biggest philosophical rut that I and the rest of the 21st century's forward thinking folks are stuck in. Most people, even highly intelligent and well-read ones, will ignore this issue, often, I suspect because it makes them uncomfortable as no great answers to it are forthcoming.

The problem is that we humans really have no sufficient basis for forming any lasting metaphysical philosophy because as we are living in a scientific age where any such philosophy must be based at least somewhat on the standard epistemological foundations. And yet as soon as we create one based on the scientific knowledge as we know it to be, a new fact is discovered which destroys this philosophy from the very beginning. There is too much change going on in modern times about our understanding of humanity and the universe for any philosophy made today to be long-lasting. Trying to make one is an effort in futility.

For example, it's silly to try and deduce functions of human psychology, which is popularly done in modern society, because few of those conclusions have evidential support. In order to truly be convincing people just want to see the scientific study and the data found. The conclusions from those fancy philosophical thoughts can easily be disproved based on experiments done by a graduate student at some community college. Perhaps that is a little exaggeration, but still there does not seem to be much value in thinking about the fundamental drives and reasons for human action without first considering input from guys like neurologists and psychologists.

And yet to live meaningfully in our short existences we must find a philosophy by which we can judge actions and goals and virtues in a way that does not seem forced or artificial. To do so we _must_ find our thinking going outside what is known and what perhaps what can be known. Perhaps we conceptualize things like gods, or geists, or the Good, but in any case we are escaping from scientific thinking and considering the irrational. And yet our rational, critical minds won't allow us to seriously consider such things.

We find that we must consider the irrational but at the same time we cannot consider the irrational. Absurdity of absurdities!

39 comments:

Jewish Atheist said...

Philosophy died at the same time, and for the same reasons, that theism did. Face it, Orthoprax, all we've got is imprecise empiricism and loose pragmatism to go by. You keep searching for a system, but people smarter than both of us, people smarter possibly than anybody currently living, have looked into this for millenia and nobody's found it. It ain't there.

Welcome to postmodernism. :)

Orthoprax said...

"Welcome to postmodernism."

I don't really like it here...

Maybe you've given up, but I'll still be working on it.

Jewish Atheist said...

It's not so much that I've given up as that I've come to believe it doesn't exist. Sort of like the God question.

Let me know if you find it, though. :)

Have you read Nietzche et al? I haven't read the originals, but I think that was sort of a last-ditch effort to come up with something. It really doesn't seem like they succeeded, though. At least to this amateur.

Orthoprax said...

JA,

Nietzsche, Sartre, Dosteyvsky, Camus... I've read bits and pieces from all of them among others.

I'm not convinced that there isn't something out there, but it may be that the human mind can never know what it is. I'll be working on it.

Orthoprax said...

To note, I'm not fully convinced there isn't a God either, as my last bunch of posts on related topics may have hinted.

Jewish Atheist said...

Are you sure you're asking the right questions? Can't we just enjoy ourselves and try to help each other for the short time we're here? That's enough of a purpose for my life. (Usually. Not with the melancholy.)

I think it's worth keeping in mind that many of those philosophers were miserable weirdos. :)

Orthoprax said...

JA,

Generally, I guess, that's a fine way to live life. And to be honest, I don't totally need absolute meaning for all things or for my own life. What I'd just like to have is a meaningful basis to justify what to believe in and why - this is especially relevant for moral opinions.

Postmodernism has no standing to talk about morality which means to make life meaningless even within the human realm. If all is allowed then we can do anything - but then why should we do anything? To do anything is to do the irrational.

"I think it's worth keeping in mind that many of those philosophers were miserable weirdos. :)"

Too smart for their own good...

B. Spinoza said...

miserable weirdos? I love them all. I also love the rationalist Spinoza, so go figure :)

I think it's nice to go back between different types of philosophy because it helps to have different perspectives

Jewish Atheist said...

Have you read much Eastern philosophy, Orthoprax. It can be a really nice change of pace. Like the Western, stay away from the supernaturalists.

B. Spinoza said...

I've been thinking lately that all of our drives come from our innate mental/biological structure/nature. The reason we can't understand it, is because it is the essence of who we are and all our thoughts come from it.

B. Spinoza said...

>Can't we just enjoy ourselves and try to help each other for the short time we're here?

sure you can, if your nature allows you to. The thing is that many people of philosophical inclination are incapable of not analyzing things

Hrafnkel said...

Yeah, Orthoprax, you aren't alone in yur futile efforts to find that black cat in the dark room that may or may not be there :) I think that it is typical for the youngin's to be idealistic enough to search for an underlying system. Our psyches haven't hardened to the point that we have become disgruntled postmodernists yet. In response to JA's statement about melancholia; yes, it happens, but when it does I just take an hour of Anouar Brahem (oud player)=Melancholic Advil.

Benjamin

Orthoprax said...

JA,

"Have you read much Eastern philosophy, Orthoprax."

Some. Mostly religious works than not, although I am impressed with some variants of Buddhism where they do not have any metaphysical claims but are simply an effort to arrive at inner peace (or nirvana whatever).

Spinoza,

"The reason we can't understand it, is because it is the essence of who we are and all our thoughts come from it."

Or because we have yet to successfull do the scientific investigations. What will the world be like when the human mind is no longer a mystery? In some ways it is a frightening thought.

hrafnkel,

I really do believe that there is some higher order in the universe. That there are answers to our questions. I don't know if most people would call that "God" but it might be enough for me.

The problem I see is that the human mind may be forever incapable of accessing knowledge of this higher, more fundamental existence, and therefore we must rely upon faith. But as we know, faith is inherently unreliable.

CyberKitten said...

I'm not at all sure that there are many answers in philosophy but there are many fine questions...

I guess it all depends on what you're looking for. If your searching for the meaning of Life, The Universe and Everything... I don't think we've found it yet.

Personally I just find it kinda fun looking - without much expectation of finding anything.

You said: The problem I see is that the human mind may be forever incapable of accessing knowledge of this higher, more fundamental existence, and therefore we must rely upon faith.

I'm afraid I can't agree with you there. How do you come to this conclusion? Firstly you seem to be proposing that a more "fundamental existence" actually exists - why do you think this? Would it make any difference if it didn't? Then you propose that it's in someway beyond our limited understanding. Maybe we've been asking the wrong questions? Maybe we've been pre-occupied with other stuff until now. Maybe we're looking in the wrong places? Maybe the reason we haven't found anything more "fundamental" is that it simply doesn't exist?

avian30 said...

Orthoprax,

Can you please clarify your human psychology example, perhaps by making it more specific?

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"I'm afraid I can't agree with you there. How do you come to this conclusion?"

I think it's very apparent that what we see and experience in our day to day lives is a superficial outside view of how the universe operates. Even on a purely "physical" understanding, what you "see" is not what is. You may think you see a person, but what composes his physical body? How does it work? Solid surfaces are not solid. Colors are merely changes in frequencies. Everything you experience is merely how your human brain codes the information for you to understand. But through this encoding, you have lost connection to the real.

If we could keep stripping away the superficial levels of human experience and human theories then we could get to the shiny pearl of true reality.

"Then you propose that it's in someway beyond our limited understanding. Maybe we've been asking the wrong questions?"

I'm not sure the questions we ask will matter. If the fundamental real operations of this world are separated from our human minds and perhaps even from all rational thought then we have no hope of ever truly understanding.

"Maybe the reason we haven't found anything more "fundamental" is that it simply doesn't exist?"

I don't believe that. You ask any research scientist and they'll tell you that there is order in things. Otherwise their entire effort is pointless. The question is what is the source of this order. And I do believe there is a source.

Orthoprax said...

Avian,

"Can you please clarify your human psychology example, perhaps by making it more specific?"

Oh, I don't know, it could be anything. All those psychoanalysts and pop-psychologists who explain the human mind in terms of tragic experiences and basic needs of sex or food. Who posit a subconscious and a superconscious and hundreds of purely mental diseases. They're all guessing. Until we finally dissect the brain itself and understand how we get from electrical firings to consciousness then it's all superficial hypotheses waiting to be proven wrong.

I just used psychology as an example because it is a modern contemporary science which is slowly making its way from what was pure philosophy to real neurological science.

Ben Avuyah said...

There is just so much we don't knowe here.

For starters, where are we in our brains. I mean we know which part moves our legs and arms, and blinks, and runs, but where is concsiousness. Where is the thing in your head, that you consider you. It's even hard to define it well enough to begin devising a study that analyzes it.

We know from stroke studies that you can damage large portions of your brain that can leave you with the inablity to talk, move, speak, etc, and yet through various means people can still establish to the outside world that they are "in there".

The study of the human mind has hit a wall and has yet to find a way around it. I remain hopeful though...

Orthoprax said...

Ben,

You are right, of course. Consciousness is an extremely difficult thing to study or to explain. It may not be something we can point to, but it could be the whole of our brains or, more specifically, the "program" which runs on our brain.

The program analogy could be one of a long line of false analogies which has been used by humanity to explain the way things work in the world by newly generated technology (e.g. Newton's clockwork universe), but the consciousness as a program idea is somewhat appealing.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: You ask any research scientist and they'll tell you that there is order in things. Otherwise their entire effort is pointless. The question is what is the source of this order. And I do believe there is a source.

Indeed. There does seem to be an order to things. It's actually very mathematical. But maybe that's just how universe's are.. There may be no 'source' beyond that.

Actually if you go down far enough - into the Quantum level - that order you mention no longer exists. It's all chaos. The order we see at our level may only be the appearence of order - a statisical fluke.

What do you think the source of this apparent order is? Are you talking about God or Physics?

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"Actually if you go down far enough - into the Quantum level - that order you mention no longer exists. It's all chaos. The order we see at our level may only be the appearence of order - a statisical fluke."

Order from chaos. Order from nothing. Either way we have an organizing force that somehow has made it possible for our universe to exist. You may think it is just chance, I think it's something more significant.

"What do you think the source of this apparent order is? Are you talking about God or Physics?"

Need there necessarily be a difference?

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: You may think it is just chance, I think it's something more significant.

Actually I don't think its 'chance' its more likely to be physics. I'm wondering when The Anthropic Principle will come into this - Oh, it just did.. (chuckle)

Orthoprax also said: Need there necessarily be a difference [between God & Physics]?

In my view 'yes'. If God is the Universe or a personification of the Laws of Nature then there seems no reason to call it/them 'God'. Also, if you're putting forward the idea that not only did God create the Universe but also tinkers with it from time to time then I have to take great exception to that. Science and that kind of God are mutually exclusive.

Why is it difficult for you to view the Universe as a purely natural object?

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"Actually I don't think its 'chance' its more likely to be physics."

You can't rely on "physics" to explain why the rules of physics are as they are.

"If God is the Universe or a personification of the Laws of Nature then there seems no reason to call it/them 'God'."

Except for poetic and romantic reasons. But I think that naturalism and "God" are both the same thing on a higher understanding of existence.

"Why is it difficult for you to view the Universe as a purely natural object?"

It's not. It just doesn't explain anything.

Mar Gavriel said...

I always argue that we can't really "know" reality, because it's too complex, and therefore, we fall back on structures such as religious symbol systems, which don't really explain anything about the outside world, but help us structure our own lives, and give us meaning.

Mis-Nagid always gets frustrated with my claim that we have no real understanding of reality.

Orthoprax said...

Mar,

If we know nothing and we know that we know nothing then how can you possibly feel satisfied with artificial "symbol systems" which you know to be unreal?

Mar Gavriel said...

Because I find the Jewish symbol system (including meticulous observance of halokho and diqduq) to be beautiful and meaningful.

And besides, by davqo adopting a system that doesn't even claim to fit with science, I am admitting that I can't really explain the outside world. I guess I feel a vague sort of Socratean happiness in this not-knowing.

(But I'm not sure. Such Socratean happiness would be very atypical of me, because in general, I hate not knowing things. I'm just not particularly interested in science, but I love religion.)

Orthoprax said...

Mar,

So what do you do, if anything, when scientific and other scholarly knowledge contradicts aspects of the Jewish symbol system? Do you attempt a resolution?

alex said...

"... at the same time we cannot consider the irrational."
Are you equating "irrational" with "supernatural"? If so, then could you pick a word without the negative connotation?

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

I wasn't referring specifically to the supernatural. Anything which is outside our rational purview is irrational.

I'm also not very fond of this situation of the human experience so I think the term "irrational" is apt.

Mar Gavriel said...

So what do you do, if anything, when scientific and other scholarly knowledge contradicts aspects of the Jewish symbol system? Do you attempt a resolution?

Not usually. Certainly, I do not try to torture the meaning of either the religious answer or the scholarly answer in order to make them fit.

For science, I just accept the scientific truth as "true" (and helpful for our conception of reality), and the religious truth as "false" (but meaningful for the purposes of derashoth).

In terms of Biblical/historical scholarship, I accept the scholarly truth as "true" (and meaningful for my internal feeling-of-meaningfulness) and the religious truth as historically "false" (but equally meaningful for my internal feeling-of-meaningfulness).

This is hard to explain in words. Perhaps you could get a better idea of me by reading my blog.

Mar Gavriel said...

My blog can be found here. It might be a bit hard to find it from my profile.

Orthoprax said...

Mar,

Do you believe in an objective truth? Do you consider it relevant?

It seems you live with a split mind where you can believe in contradictions but don't often allow them to encounter one another.

Mar Gavriel said...

Orthoprax,

In my field (academic Judaism), I recognize some truths as more objective than others. For example, the truth that the reading of Poroshas ZokhĂ´r was instituted by people in Second Temple times is more objective than the "truth" that this reading was ordained by the Torah. Of course, neither is 100% provable, but I generally operate under the assumption that the reading was instituted in Second Temple times. (Of course, if I were writing a piyyut about this practice, I would probably operate under the assumption that the reading was instituted by the Torah.)

And in science, as I said-- well, I'm not particularly interested in science, and don't find it meaningful to me, so I say: Sure, leave it to the experts. I'll accept on faith what the scientists say (even though it's not obejctive "reality").

Am I making any sense? No, I didn't think so.

Orthoprax said...

Mar,

Yeah, you're talking in circles a bit. Though what I think I'm getting is that generally "absolute truth" is irrelevant to you. All you are interested in is how far certain meaningful contructs can get you and where one fails you have no problem in taking up another.

Anonymous said...

Mar Gavriel, I knew Socrates. Socrates was a friend of mine. Mar Gavriel, you are no Socrates.

Mar Gavriel said...

Though what I think I'm getting is that generally "absolute truth" is irrelevant to you. All you are interested in is how far certain meaningful contructs can get you and where one fails you have no problem in taking up another.

Sounds about right.

Although when I do historical scholarship, I try to maintain standards of objectivity as they are defined by that discipline.

Anonymous said...

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I respond to you here
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W3C.

Anonymous said...

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If anyone can be so kind and post the above link as a link i would greatly appreciate
Thanks

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

I read your response. I can say that you have a fine philosophy, at least, that is, about the parts I could understand. The problem, though, is that I don't see how your philosophy determines any value in an action except insofar as it satisfies your own desires.

How is this different from meaningless and subjective hedonism?

Can you tell me why Hitler was bad?