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Agnostic thoughts

A while ago I was asked about my views on agnosism. And I've been thinking about how to best reply. This is one of the big themes I've been reading and thinking about, processing my thoughts for years - I could easily just drift into lengthy and boring jargon about details of epistemology =) But then, it was the recent comments of Andrew, which kind of a clarified a storyline in my mind. So, here goes:

When I was a little kid, I often saw my family members quickly losing their nerve and raging because of this and that. It was unpleasant, and at times outright dangerous. Sometimes I also felt it myself - especially when being pushed to the limits of frustration, I burst with anger. But sometimes just meaningless practical things made me rather upset. All the time I felt that there is a bit too much rage in our life, and that things would be easier if people wouldn't lose their nerve so easily. So, the question is: is there anything we can do to learn to better stay calm and to get along with others? Apparently, my parents had no clue. So I had to seek elsewhere. Already at the age of four or five I started to make analytical notes in my mind, observing the behaviour of people, trying to spot patterns, seeking to better understand how the trouble arises.

One thing which struck me was the injustice, or the lack of balance. If we kids did a thing X, our parents got angry and told us not to do X and threatened with a punishment. Then, if I saw my mother or father doing a thing X, they always had some excuses. Or, if I asked a question about it, they either denied that X was not X, or they were blaming someone else for what they did, or they got angry at me for asking nosy questions. I remember at Sunday School the teachers told that Jesus said: "You see the mote that is in your brother's eye, but you ignore the beam that is in your own eye." - which made me wonder. If Jesus taught that to people already 2000 years ago, then why is it that even today people walk around failing to grasp that simple teaching? I mean, if we judge others, shouldn't we also stop to take a look at ourselves, evaluating ourselves with the exact same standards?

Later on I started to suspect that there is a more general pattern behind this. It seems that surprisingly often adults see the world from their own point of view - and then mistake that for the reality. For example, if I did something stupid and then tried to hide that, but when my mother found out she got angry at me and told "If you do something bad, don't try to hide it, don't lie to your parents!". And another day, some mistake happened and a thing got ruined, and my mother decided "Oh my, well, let's not tell dad about this, otherwise he will get so very angry!". And I was like "What the heck, is that the same person who told me to follow the rule 'if you do something bad, don't try to hide it?'", but I had already learned not to say that aloud. But I think that happens because the same thing - trying to hide ones own mistake so that others won't get angry - seems different if you did it yourself, or if you observe others doing so. When my mother found out that I didn't tell something to her, she felt bad about it and reasoned that my actions caused her bad feelings so therefore my actions were bad. But when my mother anticipated her husband getting mad at her for something she did, that felt bad, and my mother reasoned that it is a bad thing which should not happen, so she figured out a way to avoid that bad thing happening - ie. not telling her husband; which now seemed to her like a good thing to do, because it helps to avoid a bad thing happening.

Or, more generally: when we see an apple in a basket, we assume that there is an apple in a basket, and we don't stop to think if it just seems so to us - we tend to assume our perceptions somehow mirror the reality. No problem with that. If the apple seems red, we think that it is because the apple is red. But then this seems to go on - if a thing X happens, and it makes me feel angry, it is easy to assume that it is because the thing X in itself is a bad and angering thing. If a thing Y makes me feel scared, it is easy to assume that Y in itself is a real threat. And if Z makes me feel insulted, a quick reasoning tells that it is because Z is wrong. We seldom stop to reflect if our own perceptions, interpretations and reactions are justified or reasonable. We just react. And later on we might build a whole theory or a world view to justify our reactions, telling that our reactions are the right ones, that they should not and can not be changed.

On the bottom of this is the very notion of truth or reality, especially when it is understood as an absolute truth. We can argue about so many things, but ultimately an argument could be settled by solid empirical evidence. If I say that there are three apples in the basket, and my friend says that there is only one apple in the basket, obviously we can't be both right. So we go take a look at the basket, and indeed - there is only one apple in the basket. Now, I could try to put up something like "ah, but seen from my perspective it LOOKS LIKE there are three apples in there", but then my friend would come to stand next to me, and looking from the same angle he would say "No, to me it still seems like one apple." At this point, if I still say that my friend is delusional and he should abandon his opinion and to adopt my view, I'd guess my friend might quickly get somewhat angry, telling things like "It is right there in front of your eyes, how can you deny it?". Yes, denying the plain obvious truth is a very annoying thing to do, and I agree with that.

But, it gets trickier when we are talking about anything more complicated than the number of physical objects. Ideas like "Every Human Person has A Free Will" or "Everything is determined by laws of physics" can't be verified bu just taking one look at a basket with apples. What about "Linux is a good OS, Windows is for idiots!", or "UnReal World is a lousy game with ancient graphics!", or "The Flying Spaghetti Monster wants us to wear Pirate Costumes, and if we don't He will get mad and send Earthquakes to plague us!" - beliefs like these can't be easily verified with simple empirical evidence. Yet there are people who believe in them, and there are people who believe in them so strongly that they lose their nerve and get annoyed when others don't agree with their plain simple real truths! (Oh, OK, I do admit that I don't know if anyone believes in The Flying Spaghetti Monster in such a way that he would get angry at non-believers, but maybe you get the idea.)

So, what does this mean? Am I saying that with empirical questions (like the amount of apples) we can know the truth, but with spiritual / theological / moral / abstract / existential questions we are left with an endless relativism, each having their different opinions because of their different points of view, and no way of telling right from wrong? Hmm, I think this is a rather common view of what agnosism means. But this is not what I mean. So let's go back to the apples.

Strictly speaking, I don't think that a statement "There is one apple in this basket" corresponds 1:1 to the absolute reality. Why is that? Well, let's think it from the scientific point of view. On the level of daily visual perception, it is easy to recognize an apple. We seldom mistake one apple to three apples, the difference is clear. No problem with that. But assume we zoom in to the level of atoms. The apple is composed of gubilliard atoms. (Seriously, I don't know how many atoms there are in an average apple, so I just invented a pseudo number called gubilliard.) Now, some of those atoms are already stuck on the bottom of the basket (hmm, or somehow their connections with the rest of the apple-atoms are broken, and now they are more connected to the basket-atoms). And constantly some apple-atoms leave the surface of the ball-of-apple-atoms, they drift in the air, entering my nose, triggering some unknown mechanism there (yes, at the moment there is not a sound scientific explanation on how exactly we sense smell in the air), and that sends electric impulses travelling my neural network, ultimately contributing towards a conscious experience of "oh, a sweet aroma of an apple!". So, if a given moment an apple atom starts to drift in the air, it is no more a part of the apple? It has become a new, independent object which is so small that we can't see it with our eyes? Or, do we still count is a part of that "an apple in the basket"? When that scent atom merges with the sensory atoms in my nose, does that mean that a tiny part of the apple goes inside me and gets mixed with my atoms? Or, if the scent atom is no more a part of the apple, then doesn't that mean that now there are little less than gubilliard atoms in that apple? And what happens if we zoom further in, we get all those fancy sub-atomic particles, and all the not-so-clear quantum effects? So what happened to that "1 apple" which was supposed to be a clearly defined single object? Yup. The contours which define the object, they are more or less arbitrary.

"An apple in a basket" is just a metaphor, which gestures towards the reality which is beyond our ability to comprehend. And, if that metaphor yields better results than a metaphor "there are three apples in this basket" in the same situation, then it is more reasonable to navigate according to the metaphor "this time there is only one apple in this basket here." We can evaluate our metaphors, based on how well they help us to interact with the world. If I stubbornly try to grab and to eat that third apple in the basket, I might end up in vain, being frustrated just biting the air. In that kind of situation it would be wise to stop to reflect on my own metaphors, and to see if I should re-evaluate my beliefs, to try another metaphor which works better. So, on the level of daily reality, when picking up an apple from a basket, it is perfectly fine to navigate with a metaphor "there is one apple in this basket", if there is a visual perception of an apple in that basket.

When taken to sub-atomic level of physics, I'd guess that a metaphor of clearly separate particles won't work for long. Like, once we thought that The Sun and the starts revolve around The Earth, as that is how it looks like, seen from the Earth. And there were rather precise models describing the rotation of celestial bodies. But the more detailed observations the ancient astronomers made, the more they started to see that things aren't quite as neat as they supposed it to be. There were some seemingly irregular movement patterns which were hard to explain. Until the so-called Copernican revolution - suddenly it all made sense, when it was modelled by Earth orbiting around The Sun. In a way, I have a feeling that some of the problems of our contemporary science are because of stubbornly trying to spam the metaphor of "separate particles" to describe a reality where everything is connected and The Universe in itself is more like undivided total existence. So, even though I think that The Universe will always be too vast for us limited humans to fully understand, we still could find some metaphors which are even better than our current models of particle physics. But I'm not a physician enough to tell what those future models might be. Probably something which pays more attention to inter-relations and processes, instead of supposedly static separate individual particles.

OK, but here I was using theoretical physics as a metaphor. To take one more step towards the abstract, I'd say that the classical Law of Identity, A = A "each thing is the same with itself and different from another", would be better reformulated as A ≈ A, "each thing is approximately the same with itself, and somewhat separate from another". I mean, "An apple" is approximately the same as a collection of gubilliard atoms, most of which are stuck together in a ball-like shape, and some of which are freely floating around. (Or, if we don't count the freely floating scent-atoms as belonging to the object called "an apple", then we just draw the contours differently, accepting that at any given moment the apple is losing atoms, and the remaining object is approximately same as the object it was a split second ago.) And out of those approximately gubilliard atoms, any of them zoomed further in, turns out to be an another collection of yet smaller parts, with somewhat fuzzy contours, and beyond that we don't know. So, any given atom is an approximate atom, just like any given apple is approximately gubilliard atoms.

So what has this formal logic to do with motes and beams in eyes? To me it seems that with the metaphor of A ≈ A there isn't such a need to get annoyed if other people have different opinions than I do. And, if I think that none of my beliefs grasp the absolute truth, then it is always easier for me to reflect on my own beliefs, remembering to evaluate myself with the same standards I'm using to evaluate the rest of the world. I mean, if I think that "the reality" is out of reach, and we are left with "this is what is looks like seen from this point of view", it should be easier for me to remember to take each view just as that - a view from a certain point. That includes my own views, seen my from own point of view. It helps me to remember to evaluate my own views pretty much the same way I evaluate the views of others.

I could call my view "The Total Existence of Universe is beyond my ability to comprehend, and therefore I can't know any absolute truth." by the name agnosism. In a more familiar terms, it means that I can't know for sure if there is a Supreme Being who designed and created The Earth. I cannot know for sure what is the absolute truth about life after death. I can't know for sure if I have a free will or not. And I don't care, I'm happy with not knowing.

I don't see myself as cynical or nihilistic. Because, even though I don't believe in the possibility of knowing the absolute truth, I still do have metaphors. And I'm aware of my metaphors being just metaphors. Nevertheless, they are metaphors which help me to navigate the world, to make decisions, to make sense of the flow of sensations. And sometimes it might be that my metaphors need a little tweaking - some of the metaphors can be easily changed with rational thinking, but some metaphors are more deeply rooted in the pre-cognitive mind, and they take more of a process to be re-shaped. So, this is my agnosism =) If I hear people having different opinions than I do, I don't see reason to get angry nor offended, I don't feel a need to start a debate to see who knows it better. Instead, I'd like to have a conversation; "now tell me, how do you see the world, and how do your beliefs help you to navigate your life?" - but, yeah, I know that kind of honest conversation is not possible, if I try to talk with someone who very strongly believes that he knows the absolute and final truth - typically, a person who thinks like that is not interested in hearing what I think, because they already think that I have it wrong because my opinion is different from theirs. Such a discussion won't lead anywhere, and it easily turns into me just asking questions and listening, not telling what I think myself. But, anyhow, personally for me it helps me not to get into fruitless fights =)

Agnosism is often blamed for leading to endless relativism, where anyone can have any opinion at all. But I think that is a straw man, a misinterpretation of agnosism (or, the kind of angosism I'm speaking of here - I know there might be other versions out there, too). Hehe, to me it seems more like agnosism promotes peaceful, polite discussion. An agnostic discussion doesn't aim at finding the absolute truth, but it aims at people learning from each other, so that the wisdom seen from different point of view accumulates to greater understanding, which helps people to better navigate their lives. And this, I'm afraid, gets easily forgotten if people believe in knowing the absolute truth. Or, to rephrase myself; let's imagine we have a person who quickly goes to bash and to mock and to insult others who have a different opinion. Most likely, such a person has to believe that his opinion is better than that of others. Or, even more, to believe that his opinion is not subject to doubt. (To doubt oneself is seen as weakness. Don't be a weakling! Don't doubt your own beliefs! Be firm, know that your beliefs are true, absolutely true!)

But, yeah, I know a lot of this rests on the idea of absolute. I think many people who speak of gnosis or wisdom or knowing or seeking to understand the secrets of The Universe, they aren't necessarily talking about the fundamentally absolute truth. They might be talking about truth, in the common sense of the word, like when evaluating the true number of apples in the basket. I'm not to deny that there is this common sense of "truth", and that it is very valuable, a very functional metaphor. All I'm saying that if we take it to the deeper level of metaphysics, religion, or world-view, I start to steer away from all kind of final truths. Because that helps me not to get upset with people having different opinions, or with practical little details turning out differently than what I was planning or hoping for. That helps me to stay calm, which makes my own life more enjoyable for myself (and probably also for people I interact with). And, finally, instead of dull nihilism, it helps me to see the world as wonderful and mysterious - the truth of existence is beyond human theories, we can't capture the truth, but we can dance and sing with it =)

PS. I was thinking about drawing a picture of gubilliard atoms, forming approximately a shape of an apple, with some atoms floating around and entering my nose. But now it is almost 3am, and I need to sleep. And I believe you can imagine those gubilliard atoms, probably your mental representation is far more better than my drawings. Ah, and if you like to, try imagining some of those atoms with smiley faces. I don't know if atoms have smiley faces or not. But it makes me smile to think about atoms smiling. Oh =)

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But are there really three apples in the basket? Or do we only perceive that there are three apples in the basket because we are stuck in the 3rd dimension of a 10 dimensional universe (if you buy into superstring theory, which I am not sure I do lol)?

I do think that we as humans are, for whatever reason, hardwired in our brains to form the basis of our thoughts from a root of Idealism (or religion, or whatever, but I think that at the base level of our thought processes, it's all the same thing). Like, a religious person has a set of beliefs that they take on faith, and that's what they use as a lens to understand the world through. Likewise, the athiest or secular scientific rational has a much different set of beliefs, but still, we simply /cannot/ know everything, and so those beliefs too are based on a set of principles that simply must be taken of faith. Even a person like myself, or yourself (or so I get the impression), who believes that there is room in the world for all different kinds of beliefs, as long as we don't try to force those beliefs on others, still that idea of ideological tolerance is /still/ a faith-based idealism that we use as a lens through which we understand the world, right?

Kinda like we're trapped in this hormone-ridden meat-sack that is our brain, and simply lack the omniscience to see outside of it, to see the "real" truth of everything, and so we just have to operate on a little corner of it, blindfolded, by feel, ya know? Or something, maybe, I dunno lol.

I do think it's a crying shame that so many folks seem to think that science and spirituality have to be at odds, too. I think that they operate on completely different areas of the human experience, and thus can coexist. And indeed perhaps support each other in a meaningful way. One of my favorite rants is, when a very orthodox Christian is trying to tell me that the world is only a few thousand years old, and that the theory of evolution is some kind of crazy blah blah Devil Speak blah blah, I tell them, "How do we know that evolution wasn't the method by which God (or whatever) realized the creation of what is? If we assume that the Christian creation story is metaphor rather than literal, doesn't it sound like a primitive culture trying to describe the big bang and evolution through the lens of mythology, as a result of their lack of scientific understanding?" At which point I usually get branded a Heretic and yelled at, and the conversations ends, which is a shame. But that's fine, maybe I play too fast and loose with faith, and maybe they are right. I guess we all have the right to believe whatever we want, so it's all good. And it would be nothing more than Hubris for me to think that my ideas are the right ideas, too. :P

Indeed!

I don't know that much about superstring theory, but I pretty much like the way you use it as a metaphor to clarify we the way we humans always see just a limited interpretation of a world which is vast and more rich than our ability to perceive.

A lot of times I've been thinking what would "my ideas are the right ideas" mean. And, on the practical level of world history, it indeed seems to mean that "it is OK for us to burn heretics / to conquer the lands of barbarians with evil superstitions / to bomb those non-democratic terrorists so that the survivors will learn to respect Real Democracy and Freedom!" - oh, sorry, I'm getting dangerously close to joking about world politics =) But since I was kid, USA and USSR threatening each other with a mutual destruction seemed to me being basically the same as my parents having a family fight - silly and non-necessary quarrel which could've been avoided with a bit more of patience, benevolence and communication skills.

Hehe, yes, of course this is more or less just faith-based idealism. I mean, there are people out there who believe that The Reality is that mankind is divided to rival groups, that each group has to stick together to stay strong, and to prosper any group has to be strong enough to out-compete the other groups. This line of thinking then leads to world wars, as we have seen. Yet, many people believe that we humans are hardwired to behave like that, and it is illusionary naive idealism to think otherwise.

Personally, I think otherwise. I find it perfectly possible to learn ways which help to avoid outright conflict. Ways which promote friendly co-operation, or at least peaceful co-existence (we don't have to be close friends with everyone, but at least we can leave others alone instead of bullying them for being different). Also, I think that learning these more peaceful ways is fun, and sometimes also easy, but sometimes a long slow process. I know I can't prove this being universally true - my views are based mostly on my own experience of growing from a bullying kid to a benevolent adult. And, my horse stories are a way to examine these ways in action. As I have said, I think that human social behavior shares a lot with horse herd behavior, so the emotional, social and practical things which work with horses are likely to find and adaptation in human world, too.

So, if I can't prove my ideas being right, I can still feel that for me, my ideas help me. But that is, because for me "smooth co-operation or at least peaceful co-existence" is a value in itself. And I evaluate metaphors according to how they help in that.

I think that religious metaphors, like literally believing in creation, they have two main functions: They provide existential answers for individuals, and they help a group of individuals to stick together as a group with shared values, shared metaphors, shared goals. Obviously, some religions or set of ideas are doing a very good job in that - they convince the group members that they are the Pure Real Humans, and one should not question the group values because outside the group everyone is Bad Heretic Sub-Human. Do you want to be a heretic sub-human? No? Then stay with our group! Also, let's go save those heretics, let's convince or force them to adopt our views!

So, the way I see it; group cohesion metaphors are good in what they do, but if they have a side-effect of hindering the co-existence of different groups, then it starts to get dangerous. Especially if those groups have nukes at their disposal.

Personally, I think if we wasted a little less money on military, as a humanity we would see more prosperous future, more rapid development in culture and social justice. By social justice I just mean any models where the well-being of one group is not based on oppressing other groups - an another faith-based idealism =) So, in this sense, I kind of a think that the world would be a better place if more people adopted more peaceful views and metaphors to navigate with.

But then, I'm perfectly aware that, in a way, that is what Daesh / ISIL thinks, too - if everybody was a member of Daesh, then there would be peace on earth, there would be law and order and prosperous culture, right? Yeah, for everyone who agrees, for everyone who doesn't question the group leadership, for everyone who is happy to go with the group standards and values... In a way, I think that this "since we can't know the absolute truth, we just have these metaphors which help us to navigate the world, and there are different metaphors for different people" is somehow essentially different from faith-based in-group ideology. Namely, because that kind of agnostic model acknowledges and respects the mutual co-existence of different groups. It doesn't aim at conquering the whole world into one big supreme Empire of The Good King aka. The Great Leader.

Hehe, in a way I think that those ancient Chinese hermits shared a lot of this kind of thinking. And when they found out that The Emperor isn't that interested in learning that kind of ideas, instead of preaching they chose to retire to the mountains. Now, that is somewhat along the lines I'm thinking of my life, although I'm not a total hermit. I don't want to preach my ideas to the rest of the world. But I'm open to discussion, when it feels like that. I do minimally participate in the political life of Finland and EU, and sometimes I participate in the grass-roots social discussion about hot topics. But I'm not very active with it, as it often seems more like just draining my energy.

Ah, one final note. Sometimes I see atheists who claim that any religion is harmful, and that religious thinking should be abandoned as obsolete superstition. But to me that seems a bit like mis-interpretation, too. And it is dangerously close to the religious idea of "let's convert all the heretics to adopt our ideology, then there would be peace on earth!". I'm not a member of any organized religion, but I do respect the faith of others. And I see that nowadays in Finland many of the central figures in our mainstream Christianity think that religion is about bringing people together, not about judging others. Reverends who say that Christianity is just one tradition among the others, one set of metaphors to help us connect with The Holy - so that different traditions can peacefully co-exist and respect each other. Also, that is what some moderate Muslim teachers say, too. And, in my eyes, that is something to be respected, instead of attacked because of militant atheism. But then, of course there are also more fundamental believers and preachers, who think that those liberal clerics are Evil. Also, I once talked with a guy who was so upset when he heard that I reared sheep for meat to eat - because for him it was a normal tradition to raise pigs to eat pork, and he found it so very strange to think about someone doing it differently. He tried to convert me to adopt his ways, but I refused =)

I think I am with you on this for the most part, but I think maybe I have a little more cynical view of humanity, at least as far as the peace and understanding ideas.

I mean, I think that humanity is basically good, or at least that individual humans mostly are when taken as individuals, but that there are always going to be individuals or groups that adopt misanthropic ideas. And that as long as those individuals or groups aren't trying to actually physically harm me or my group, then I have absolutely no right to try to forcibly change their beliefs or behavior. And I believe that for that reason, there will always be some individual or group that goes off the deep end and tries to harm someone or otherwise do them ill. Because for all the basic goodness of humanity, we are still flawed critters.

And when that gauntlet drops, I believe that the ideas of tolerance end there. It is like we were taught when we were young, that a person should never, ever /start/ a fight. But if someone else starts or brings a fight to you, then you finish that fight, fast and hard, and make sure that the other guy will think twice before starting anything with you again.

Maybe I am once again only viewing the world through the lens of my own ideals, but it seems like we can reduce most all conflicts to a basic philosophical schism between individualism and collectivism. The ISIL-world that you refer to, that's a collectivist world. And they certainly have the right to believe what they want. But when someone representing that group comes to me and says "repent now, or we will kill you", then (in my opinion), the time for tolerance is over, and we have a responsibility fight back, to preserve the egalitarian ideals of individualism that western (classical) liberalism is founded on.

I don't mean to single out orthodox Islam (or to imply that /all/ people who believe in Islam are intolerant), just that it's the most relevant in the current age. There have been plenty of other intolerant collectivist groups in the present and throughout history that I think the same ideas apply to. In all these cases, it seems like the problems stem from an intolerant collectivist group seeking to oppress individualistic thought, expression, and culture outside of their own. And there is often something about these groups that causes them to resist reason and peaceful solutions, perhaps that collectivist "mob mentality", but I don't know... And for that reason, I believe that there is unfortunately sometimes nothing to be done except to draw our sidearms and put those folks in the ground when they attack us, because we don't have the right to be the Thought Police and forcibly change their beliefs and/or behavior before they get violent and cross the point of no return. I mean, sure, there are plenty of peaceful solutions, but when those solutions involve forcing someone else to adopt them, then that's just as bad (or often worse) than going without, IMO.

But maybe the "individualist group" is really just a collective that has taken on the mantle of "individualism", and all of my beliefs are based on an untruth. Aaaaaa, brain explosion, lol.

Sorry, I go on at great length again. ;( I hope that I have not been too offensive to anyone!

Hehe, I think our views aren't very far from each other. While I do believe in the possibility of global peaceful co-operation, I'm afraid that our generation is not going to see a lot of that happening. The Golden Rule of ethics has been around for more than 2000 years, both Jesus and Muhammad taught along the lines "treat the others basically the same way you'd wish the others treat you" or in a bit more general form; "one should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated". But it might take another 2000 years for this simple idea to be more widely adopted...

Also, I do believe that there will always be a need to deal with possible criminal behaviour. I have a rather down-to-earth attitude towards self-defence (lethal methods involved, in cases where there isn't an another way out). No problem with that. But then the trick is, that agitators and war mongers know that, too.

I'm not sure but I'm under the impression that at the times of Cold War, a lot of ordinary Russians felt that NATO is threatening them, and therefore they need to be prepared to defend themselves. And in USA a lot of ordinary folks felt that there they are just minding their own business, and then evil Russia poses an existential threat to USA, and they need to defend themselves. Yes, the agitators are so very good at making the people believe that "we are good, but those others, they are threatening us simply because They are Evil, and therefore we need to Defend Ourselves!"

I'm not an expert in the details of the history of Middle East, but I'd guess that for local agitators operating there it should be pretty easy to find a lot of frustrated and angered people, who feel that The West hates them and wants to destroy them, and therefore they have the right to defence - and a revenge is a method of defence. "Let's go blow up some people in Paris, so that the West will learn a lesson and never ever mess with us again!".

Well, of course, it is not as simple as this. And generally speaking, maybe I'd better avoid topics like Mid-East politics and warfare, because they simply are so complicated and there are so much agitation all around, that it is not easy to talk about it in a cold rational analytical manner. And, also, there is little I can do about it, so why bother...

Ah, so, this is meant more as a metaphor. Just to demonstrate the dangerous tricks our mind can play on us, especially when agitated, or when threatened by external enemy (or a perceived external enemy). On the level of daily lives of individuals, all this might be much more simple - if someone points you with a gun and says "become my slave or I'll kill you", you know it is no kidding, and you probably have to take the appropriate action. But then, these metaphors easily become dangerous when applied to global politics - there is a danger of over-simplifying, danger of over-reacting, and a danger of just fuelling a negative loop where a retaliation strike is met with another retaliation strike and so on, escalating further.

So, I'm not saying that "even when threatened, we should never strike back". No, I'm more kind of a thinking that when there is a moment of calm, maybe we could use that to de-escalate further, to build mutual trust and to seek solutions which would reduce the likelihood of future conflicts. But, yeah, so far the mankind has not been so very good at this. United Nations, as an organization, was supposed to do that, but it has not been so very effective. Or at least, it could do better.

Oh well. If the civilization won't be completely destroyed, then maybe after 2000 years a future archaelogist will be digging the digital layers of history, finds this discussion and says: "OK, so already 2000 years ago they were speculating on the possibility of peace on earth. Hmm, maybe there has been a little advance since that, and maybe it will take yet another 2000 years until we see The Golden Rule more widely adopted in daily use..." And that, obviously, is something we can't know. So, back to agnosism =)

Ps. this individualism and collectivism theme is something I've been pondering about to write in more detail, some day. But, once again, I decide to postpone that. Huh. After this series of philosophical posts I'd like to return to more diary-like entries. =)

Haha, right on, man. :D

Yeah, deep thoughts (or at least what passes for deep thoughts in my tiny little brain lol) can be exhausting! :3

This was a really interesting read!
I've found myself having similar thoughts overtime ever since I dropped atheism as I felt that it was slowly resembling zealotry that I saw in fundementalist way of following a religion, which I wasn't particulary fond of. As I felt that there would be something missing if we would just erase all religion from earth.
I feel that people tend to discredit what religion has brought to mankind as whole. Things such as basic education or philosophical thinking. Or how religion has affected our creative thinking. So it can't be inherently bad.

I think one of the more relieving things about being able step out from yourself and re-evaluate your beliefs and views is that it feels like a constant improvement of ones being over time. Something that I feel that should be the goal for everyone to do and to me being a "absolute truther" doesn't allow that sort of improvement in a person.
I wonder if this is going to be a growing trend among the people, because to me I feel that mankind can't keep going on like this for long and we are already racing the clock so to speak with overpopulation and climate change. Which just comes to show how unprepared we are for global scale threats with the current dominant(?) mind set. Sounds a bit silly, but fun to think about nonetheless. =P

A good comment, thanks for this! I've been thinking about how to reply - but all too quickly my mind has wandered into drafting long, boring, analytical thoughts about religion, science, and the evolution of human technology and culture... But, for now, I try to be bit more brief, keeping it to the point;

Yeah, I also think that a lot of the problems of the contemporary world are because we are stubbornly trying to navigate the world with the ideas which helped us survive in the stone-age. But with all the modern industry we are affecting the global world in a way that a primitive man didn't need to worry about. The science brought us digital watches, cars, jet planes and atomic bombs, and a post-modern world where classical religions seem like childish superstition. Not everyone is convinced that this is a good thing, and a lot of people aren't satisfied with the seemingly empty or meaningless feeling of material consumerism or purely rational world-view. So then what?

Obviously, we can't go back to sticks and stones. So, I'd guess the challenge is to find new ways of spiritual and collective experience, which yield a mysterious sense of meaning and togetherness, yet without conflicting with the finding of empirical science, nor without regressing back to stone-age "us versus them" tribalism. (Reading the world news, sometimes I'm rather pessimistic about probability of that kind of development... It seems more like so many people are disappointed with the post-modern world and they want to go back to the pre-modern heroic nationalistic conservative collectivism or what ever. And the way I see it - that solution might work for small groups who don't have any advanced technology. But if we are going to live with our current population and with our technology, we simply need to develop ways to manage our lives without too much risking a global war or a global ecological disaster)

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