I’ve been thinking lately about the various ways different peoples at different times have thought about living life.
There are, of course, those who lean toward religion, who believe following the dictates of their particular faith and avoiding sinful ways will lead to the preferred after-life results. Then, there are those level headed logicians who advocate maintaining an even keel, all things in moderation and embracing fate as fairly inevitable. Amor Fati they call it: Love of Fate, which I guess means wishing for things to happen exactly the way they do. I suppose for the more pessimistic among these folks, what one fears most will probably happen so you might as well get used to the idea. These moderate Stoic thinkers advocate practicing a thought experiment: imagine this is the last day of your life, that this instant is your last one and then ask yourself this question: Am I living a good life?
Well, all this is well and good I suppose but I would think certain situations would make practicing these philosophic poses difficult at the very least. For instance, if you were a peasant living in France in the 16th century your very survival might depend on your religious affiliation. Declaring yourself Catholic or protestant at any given time might be pretty dangerous and forget altogether about claiming agnosticism. Or, if you were an infantryman during World War II you probably would have a hard time thinking about anything other than whether or not you were going to get shot or blown up. Your demons, in both cases, would be very real and not easily dismissed by belief in a promised after-life or pacified by thought experiments.
Well, not being in any sort of threatening or seriously uncertain situation myself (other than possibly being left out in the rain) I guess I can contemplate ‘Best Living’ if I so choose which, I guess, is, in itself, a pretty satisfying way to live.
Horrors of War
I got left in the sauna the other day. They forgot about me for quite some time. I needn’t tell you it was pretty hot- and steamy- to the point that my plastic body began softening a bit. Eventually I was found and returned to the playroom but the experience got me thinking about what awaits us in the afterlife.
Assuming, of course, there is an afterlife, which given the uncertainties inherent in Quantum Field Theory seems to be at least worth considering. Anyway, given the choice, I’d opt for warmth, fully aware, as I am, of the implications of such a choice to the Christian community.
Nevertheless, it’s heat I’d prefer. The sub-atomic particles of my disintegrated physical body reuniting with the Great Oneness of the molten plastic vat suggest to me a great comfort. That is, assuming I can experience it. In order to do so, I imagine my consciousness would need to transcend my physical body which raises the question of where exactly my consciousness would reside, assuming further it (my consciousness that is) has some sort of corporeal being.
And then, I suppose, one must consider that the afterlife may be this life over again or perhaps inhabitance of a different body in this world, which might mean my desired warmth might not be available and my afterlife might be less than desirable.
Well, I’m going to put off planning the Meaningful Event that Celebrates Life and I’ll wait on the construction of the Celebratory Container to house my remains for a while. I feel pretty good and I really need to think about how much control I may have over what comes next.
I’ve thought, now, for a long time, being the skeptic I am, my thinking is relatively free of doctrinal or dogmatic influences. So, I found it interesting reading about the origins of a group of individuals calling themselves freethinkers. This organization was and still is, I guess, based on certain tenets generally in opposition to the kind of dogmatic, authoritarian beliefs generally associated with religions. They believe (or should I say operate upon the notion) truth can only be obtained through rational inquiry and speculation; any sort of supernatural phenomena is discounted out of hand.
These freethinkers, as a group, apparently share a fairly common mindset which makes, in my mind, calling themselves Freethinkers rather oxymoronic. I have to wonder, after all, whether any set of organizational tenets might not imply doctrinal restrictions. In the Freethinkers’ case the elimination of the possibility of expanding one’s views beyond the rational, logical and empirical.
I guess it’s only human nature for people to seek out others who think like they do; it’s nice to have social support, after all. Maybe this group just needs to come up with a different name, perhaps they could name themselves after one of the great freethinkers of the past, someone like Giordano Bruno or Michel de Montaigne, both great 16th century minds at odds with the doctrinal and dogmatic beliefs of the day.
But, I suppose the moderns might look askance at the fact that both of these men maintained a vibrant sense of a noumenal reality which, in the day, was usually attributed to supernatural entities. And I suppose such a name as, say, Montaigneist might be pretty obscure in terms of attracting new members. Maybe, though, de-emphasizing the ‘groupness’ of the organization might not be such a bad thing.
With Giordano Bruno
As I continue to view the pictures in the old family albums, I contemplate the confidence the figures seem to exude. I wonder about the philosophical basis upon which these people operated. I have a feeling at least some of the optimism their appearance seems to imply is the result of the economic boom brought on by all that war production. Capitalism’s finest hour provided the likelihood of material gains for all. The idea of ‘getting ahead’ must have seemed pretty realistic.
These folks were members of the ‘greatest generation’: the post-World War II nation that probably saw itself as saving the world from unspeakable evil. There must have been a sense that God was on their side, a belief carried right through to the present day to justify a tendency to micro-manage world order (something, it’s becoming pretty clear we’re not very good at).
Which is not to say these aren’t inherently good people ready and willing to do for others in need and wishing ill on no one (although one must surmise a certain racist undercurrent existed evidenced by the segregation in the armed forces not to mention the blind eye turned toward the impending holocaust).
I guess it’s pretty easy to look critically at these people in retrospect and if I turn the same critical eye to me and my fellows I suppose much could be found to be wanting. And, I guess all we can hope for in the future is to learn from the past which, when I think about it is probably pretty unlikely.
I’ve been looking at old pictures in my adopted family’s photo albums recently. I can’t say I’m familiar with everyone pictured but family resemblance is pretty easy to discern. One thing that strikes me about these photos is the facial expressions in which, invariably, everyone is smiling, and, in most cases seem not to be simply mugging for the camera but, rather, exhibiting a true sense of joy, innocence and well-being.
I must assume that life on the whole was and is just as much of a struggle for these people as for anyone else, so I have to wonder what lies behind these smiles: some sort of assurance of innate goodness in the universe, a confidence that everything is essentially right with the world? I know this family has been deeply religious so perhaps that may explain the conundrum at least in part. But I prefer to think of these people as having realized a true Élan Vital, that they have come face to face with the ineffable essence of life, that they have innate understanding that they are participants in the natural, universal Oneness.
I do have the feeling, though, if I were able to ask these folks about this they would be inclined to offer the religious explanation. Maybe, over all, it doesn’t really matter how the essence of life is framed as long as we all stay focused on the world we know and love.
Mother and Child
I’ve been getting caught up in winning and losing lately. The politics in the playroom is getting pretty cut-throat and the pressure to take sides, whether regarding sports activities, political discussions, philosophical positions, religious notions, you name it, is increasingly intense. It almost seems as if winning or losing is more the issue than thoughtful reasoning about issues. Winning, it seems, becomes synonymous for many with success.
I read an article recently that suggested one was less likely to succeed if she was overly optimistic. I guess the idea is too much optimism inhibits the drive to compete; to strive for the head of the line, for the promotion or the big raise. The optimist, the writer suggests, assumes good things are in store regardless of how hard she works for them.
It seems to me the whole idea of winning presupposes a common desire which will be satisfied by material reward resulting in an enhanced sense of well-being. This ‘success’ will never be more than temporary which means additional winning will be required to not simply sustain it but to avoid the debilitating depression of ‘failure’, the result being a vicious cycle of competing egos egged on by media hype and recognition. Then, one day I awake to the realization someone else is determining my values for me; my well-being is no longer in my own hands and has become embedded in the competitive, material realm.
Well, I’m not having any of it. I really don’t care how popular success is measured. I’m staying positive and optimistic. I’ll look past the material realm and embrace the purity of beauty and truth. I understand this may require some disassociation.
I attended a reunion recently of dolls that emerged from the Great Oneness of molten plastic at the same time I did.
As you might imagine, upon the completion of our manufacture we were sent off in many directions and ended up in very diverse circumstances. As we stood around the grand doll house in which the reunion took place we became aware that despite the variety of our experiences we had an extraordinary sense of each other’s being to the point of actually knowing what any one of us was going to say before she said it. It was uncanny, really. One of us would start a story and the rest of us almost immediately knew where it was going. It got to the point, after a while, that no one had to say anything, we just read each other’s minds. It fairly well drove our so-called designer who happened to be in attendance, nearly to tears to be out of the loop to such an extent with beings he assumed he knew everything about.
As I thought about this later I found myself hard pressed to explain why we shared such a common psychic bond. It certainly had nothing to do with reading facial expressions since our DeiDei doll persona never varies: the enigmatic smile and unreadable eyes are pretty well locked in place. Besides that our primary emotion can best be characterized as stoic.
I found, after doing a bit of research, that the psychological explanations for such a phenomenon vary. Generally, what we were experiences falls within the definition of folk psychology which is the ability to predict and explain another being’s behavior. Some researchers attribute this to innate cognitive capacities (hard wired into our genetic code I guess), others suggest life experiences, viewing how those around us respond to various stimuli and situations create insights allowing us to anticipate the thoughts of others. Then there are those researchers who deny the possibility of folk psychology all together, suggesting that such insights can only be based on beliefs and desires which I guess they view as nebulous.
Well, in the end I’m inclined to find our empathetic connections the result of our common origins. Knowing where we came from and where we’ll ultimately end up seems to me to be sufficient explanation. I have to wonder if humankind attributes the same sort of explanation to their folk psychological competence. Perhaps they can trace their abilities to Mitochondrial Eve the mother of them all.
I was contemplating the other day how it could possibly have occurred that upon my creation: the injection of molten plastic into my defining mold and the subsequent adherence of the two halves; how I could have had any idea, made any sense of what appeared before me as I gained consciousness for the first time. Without any reference, any sense of aboutness how could I possibly of had any way of interpreting the world before me?
One answer that certainly I have to consider is that my designer must have installed within me at some point the necessary hardware and, I guess, software to provide me the means to immediately make sense of things. If this were so the apparatus must be really compact, being, as I am, completely hollow.
This ‘Grand Designer ‘explanation implies I am only an artificial intelligence and I find that demeaning and unacceptable. How, if this were the case, can my capacity for passionate response: my ability to love, hate, desire and hope be explained? It is simply repugnant to think I’ve been programmed to understand the world before me, to know what ought to make me happy or sad, what to revere and what to abhor. This is not to mention the fact that my supposed designer gave me a physical appearance that puts to question his general skill level all together.
So, I’m inclined toward a second explanation for my initial consciousness and comprehension. Somehow, within my hollow plastic shell, plastic molecules mutated in such a way as to give me consciousness and not only consciousness but awareness and understanding of what appears before me. There must be within these molecules a ‘genetic code’ which evolved over millennia, updated through natural selection, that provide me with the means and intelligence to not only function but to thrive.
This still doesn’t answer the question of how I could immediately, upon achieving consciousness, understand context and meaning. Perhaps I’m inhabited by self-replicating nanobots. If so, hopefully they’re benevolent. Well, whatever the case the contemplation has kept me occupied for quite some time now and I guess that’s worth something.
It’s been brought to my attention recently that, being a doll, as I am, I must necessarily lack consciousness. The argument goes that since my intelligence is artificial I am unable to reflect on my sensory experiences, the algorithmic processes operating my functions are too basic to provide me the necessary introspection to know what something is like.
Which I surmise must mean that, when I walk through the woods on a sunny autumnal afternoon with the breeze rustling the multi-colored leaves and the scent of decaying vegetation in the air, emotional responses or aesthetic awareness of any sort are simply beyond me. (As much as I dislike self-promotion a comparison with the Data character on Star Trek is sadly wanting.)
If I suggest to these doubters that I do indeed experience these emotional and aesthetic responses, they will invariably suggest I’m just simulating what I understand to be human responses. Granted, when one looks me in the eyes the spark of sudden awareness may be hard to decipher, still, I find it frustrating that I’m not taken seriously. I’m inclined to turn the tables on such negative assessments of my capabilities and suggest biological life is every bit as reliant on algorithmic processes as I am.
The question of consciousness and introspection, whether they be wholly with in the physical self or originate from somewhere without seems to me to apply to all sentient beings. So, I’ll continue to enjoy the life I’ve come to know and just ignore the prejudices of my, mostly human, critics.
I’ve been reading a lot, lately, about Evolution and it appears he’s pretty stupid. Well, maybe non-thinking would be a fairer assessment.
Although he’s very good at upgrading life forms to better suit their various environments and predicaments, it takes him an awfully long time to do it. Some philosophers suggest he doesn’t even know what he’s doing, he’s absolutely ignorant, and his competence is without comprehension.
I guess, for Evolution, it’s just a matter of trying out possibilities until one stands out and considering there is an enormous number of possibilities and he isn’t thinking about discriminating the process is bound to proceed at a snail’s pace.
I’ve been thinking about what sort of changes Evolution might have in store for humankind in the future. I’m thinking hair is pretty superfluous (a lot of people seem to be realizing this and removing it themselves) and eventually Evolution will probably send it the way of the tail. The appendix should probably go as well. On the positive side, anticipating survival, some sort of built-in air filtering apparatus to aid breath-ability might be in order. And maybe a move toward the bovine stomach to increase potential edibles in a foresee-ably depleted eco-system.
I’m sure Evolution’s working on these things but given his mindless process I don’t expect much anytime soon.