on humanism and environmental crisis

Posts tagged ‘evolution’

Recommended cycle of study

   Making  of the modern sage.

   

   Recommended cycle of study:

                                       SELF

                           ->                          ->

          WORLDVIEW                                  COMPLEXITY

           ->                                                                  ->

INDIVIDUALITY                                                           EVOLUTION

     <-                                                                                 ->

HUMANISM                                                           EVOLUTION OF NERVOUS SYSTEM

           <-                                                                   <-

          HUMAN NATURE     <-       SOCIAL ANIMALS

 

The transition from studying self (like, growing up) to the concept of complexity is the most difficult and revolutionary.

It is like a deep, narrow, rocky canyon filled with the cacti of self doubt. And at the bottom run wild rivers of cosmology, neuroscience, epistemology and ontology.

Some trying to hang the bridge of second order cybernetics, some-recently- bring predictive coding -bloody sheets of phenomenology and neo-Kantian tied end to end.

I am offering my own bridge : the theory of evolutionary reality.

But, when you get to complexity- further steps roll smoothly and naturally.

You can actually stick with studying complexity and treat all the step as the examples of  increasing complexity.

Everybody writes about the human nature but it remains a nebulous subject ( like: who? me??)

You do not need individuality to have a worldview, everybody has one or more, but I mean, working on the explicit worldview.

“Accidentally” – no, not accidentally at all, the level of explicitness of communication follows the same circle of progression.

Some steps will be your favorites, some – slippery and yucky like pickled okra, but if you miss one step you inevitably will get stuck, the chi of wisdom needs to flow, not spurt like a broken fossett.

Of course when you get back to “self” – good luck- we need to start again .

Teleconference with Elizabeth Warren

For the teleconference with Elizabeth Warren, my question was:  “The opposition to the Trump’s agenda created an incredibly broad coalition. How would you characterize this coalition? What are we for and what against?”

 

The politicians are not philosophers, so I do not expect an answer. With the Mr. President help, the “against” part become clearer and clearer: my dream coalition is against the primitive survival behavior- against the power generated by fear and greed. In politics, it translates into rigid beliefs disregarding the facts, it is also xenophobia, racism, sexism, and entitlement.

The school bully is the poster child of this worldview; sulky, fearful and cruel.

This reminds me the story from the post-modernism: putting a urinal in the art exhibition helped with the question: what is beauty, what is art?

 

Now, what are we for I can describe in one word: humanism.

But in the US the image of a humanist is terrible: a weird, angry, ex- catholic or ex- Jew.

No, my concept of the humanist is close to a “renaissance man”, kind of mixture of Dalai Lama and Madonna, Homo historicus and homo ludi.

Deep in our human nature is curiosity, imagination, trying to understand, to figure out. This is fun!

Throughout our human evolution the religion, science, and philosophy were always one thing, they split only recently ( Chinese never completely split it.) Together with the art, they were the major forces of human advancement, they created metaphor, language, myths, and society.

The humanist is about the education, education, and education, forever.

This will give him or her a broad perspective and ability to participate joyfully in the culture we, together, created.  

Mr. Trump, you like deals, let’s make a deal.

Each time you, by your actions, exemplify what is primitive, fearful and cruel in the human nature, we show once more our human dignity, compassion, and unity. And we’ll get this joyful feeling that the humanity once again will handle the crisis in the way that’ll make our grandchildren and the grand grandchildren proud of us.

Deal?

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???

To marry, phenomenology and the natural sciences both have to lose their virginity.

Or, because it is philosophical paper, to make it less biological, both parties have to forgo some of their purity and basic premises. But, the rewards are so big that the proposed cooperation or union has no “if” sign but “how” and “when” (are we ready?- I will return to this sub-question later).

      My idol, E.O. Wilson wrote a book about it: Consilience. The Unity of knowledge. 1998. In the endearing preface, he describes himself as a young scientist discovering the evolutionary way of thinking and dreaming about uniting biology, philosophy, and religion. He brings the metaphor of “Ionian Enchantment “ and human ambitious thinking like in the myth of Icarus: “Let us see how high we can fly before the sun melts the wax in our wings”. He says:(p.12)”There has never been a better time for collaboration between scientists and philosophers, especially where they meet in the borderlands between biology, the social sciences, and the humanities.” But he adds and I wholeheartedly disagree;”Philosophy, the contemplation of the unknown, is a shrinking dominion. We have the common goal(?) of turning as much philosophy as possible into science.” Italics and question mark are mine.

 “Frequently, the assumption has been that a better understanding of the physical world will allow us to understand consciousness better and rarely, that better understanding of consciousness might allow for better understanding of what it means to be real.” D.Zahavi. Phenomenology and the project of naturalization. (p.336). So, obviously, the natural thinking goes that the major beneficially of the ”phenomenology project of naturalization”- is this branch of philosophy. The more we put the emphasis for the phenomenological discourse of embodiment, the more societal recognition such investigation can obtain and more viable such a curriculum can be in universities. According to Merleau-Ponty, our experience is always “into the world” and through his famous intentional arc, it connects permanently the experience with the experiencing body and with the experienced world. Now, when the experience is dealt with by the psychology, the medicine, the biochemistry or anthropology  they talk about different type of sick and healthy bodies while the politics and economics try to tackle “our world” part of the experience. All of them are working disjointly employing distinct paradigms, models, and methods. Phenomenologists point to the naivety and narrow-mindedness of such an approach. Welsh cites Diaprose(1994):” The phenomenological model not only reinstates the dignity of the patient by stressing that the fabric upon which biomedicine works is the self, but also highlights the specificity of that person’s condition, however common that condition may appear to be” and she adds: ”A more phenomenological approach to illness would attempt to view illness in terms of the embodied person’s plans and projects, her relationships, her habits, and her environment.” T. Welsh, Unfit Women: Freedom and Constraint in the Pursuit of Health.(p75).

    In my opinion, though the science would benefit from the phenomenological thinking the most. And I think it is not a choice anymore, the cost of ignoring the role of an observer, the cost of unscientific(sic!) paradigm regarding subjectivity and objectivity, these costs are slowing the progress and the shift in thinking is required. It seems that at this time the science world acts like the left brain “interpreter”- if things do not make sense it explains them anyhow using even most weird theories.  When you read about “string theory”, the anthropic principle explanations, the description of “the time before Big Bang” or even Nagel’s “how is it like to be a bat”, the concept of the white bearded old man sitting in the clouds looks pretty sensible! It is why professor Nagel calls for a new paradigm, the theoretical physicists clearly need one, also non-human cognition and human preverbal cognition are stuck at the “explanatory gap” (Zahavi).

Phenomenology- au secours! Can it deliver? And what would it say? I think that the study of the evolution of the nervous system will be the great arbiter between phenomenology and the rest of the world. It takes phenomenology to do an excellent job with the boot-strapping ( a la’ baron Munchausen) of looking at our mind with our mind.

It is a little bit easier to look with our mind at “the mind” and  the behavior of a primitive organism and assume that the primordial principles of being and sense of reality could not be changed during minute steps of the evolutionary progression. Dan Zahavi talks about the book “Naturalizing Phenomenology” with four co-editors, among them the name of Francisco Varela is very familiar. He would agree, he worked with phenomenologist Evan Thompson and with His Holiness  Dalai Lama and he said: “living is making sense”. The book discusses in details different ways the phenomenology could be “naturalized” but, according to Zahavi, none of them are very satisfying or promising. The second part of the project , “Phenomenologizing Natural Science” was never written because Varela died in 2001 and also because that part would have to be more iconoclastic.

  Shaun Gallagher keeps trying the same thing in his 2016 chapter in Phenomenology and Science. J. Reynolds, R. Sebold (eds.) Intercorporeity: Enaction, Simulation, and the Science of Social Cognition. The term and the concept of “intercorporeity” comes from Merleau-Ponty  and together with “intersubjectivity’ and Husserl’s  “reversibility” they are trying to nudge the science to abandon Newtonian “objective world” and accept that of “lived world” where the experiences would create for each person his or her personal, real, world. So it seems that the phenomenology is very close to the bold revision of the subjectivity/objectivity concepts. “They also speak in favor of recasting the very idea of nature, and of the need for modifying our modern conception of objectivity, subjectivity, and knowledge. “ (again, Zahavi, p343).

   But science doesn’t seem to be ready to accept this “friendly help”. And not only sciences. It looks (and an insightful book of Adam Frank “About Time” illustrates this splendidly) that the changes in the way we live, our culture, the mores, and fears, they all have to open the door for the next scientific breakthrough. And, as long as we ride the frothy top of the technology wave, there is no chance for the paradigm shift. It would be sad if it took the global environmental catastrophe to find our way into our minds.

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.

 

Is Philosophy Dead? What Would Husserl Say?

(reading Husserl for my phenomenology class)

 

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

                            The Sorcerer about Wesley from “Princess Bride”.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Big Question #8 : How do you find truth?

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

Subquestions and everyday relevance

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

How to work on your answer to Question #8

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

Example of an answer:

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

Beth Lilly.

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

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

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

An Essay

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

“The Complete Personality”, By  Tommy Boron

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

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

Big Question #11 : What happens after death?

“Hasta la vista, baby”- Terminator

Subquestions and everyday relevance

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

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

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

How to work on the answer to Question #11

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

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

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

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

An Interview

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

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

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

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

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

Me: it is not very logical…

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

Me: really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Big Question #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.

Big Question #1: How did the universe begin?

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  • Where does it all come from? Does the World seem very old?How does Your World begin?
  • Do things in your life begin all the time? Popping out from nowhere?
  • Do things in your life, in the World , as you see it, just circle round and round?
  • The scientists think the new things are “emergent”. Are they really?

Since the beginning of life, we are constructed, the genes and the beliefs, to organize the things around the birth and death, beginning and the end, the days, the seasons, the projects and the cosmos. Every time you breathe deeply, every time you reflect,  automatically you position yourself, according to your gut feeling, somewhere along these beginnings and ends.

In our version of the set of Big Questions, four of them deal with the beginning, the change, and the trend. The three of them explore the beginning of the Universe (#1), the fate of the mankind (#13) and the business of dying (#11) and they are old and primeval as the mankind itself. We always bury and mourn the dead, gaze the stars and worry about the future.  Heraclitus of Ephesus  said famously: “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”. After he thought for a while he added: “there is nothing permanent except change”. The fourth one is (surprise!) about the role of evolution.

Jacob Bronowski about the beginnings (a paraphrase) :” The science is a systematic attempt to establish the closed system, one after another. The scientific discovery opens the system again.

Every act of imagination (new connections, new symbolism, new language, new formulae) is the discovery of likeness between two things which were thought unlike- like Newton’s apple and the Moon.”

How to work on the answer to the Question #1

When confronted with the task of answering these Big Questions, I was not sure if I should try to find some deep truth of Universe ( like Heraclitus?) or say something that would be personal, uniquely mine, important to me. One can also answer ”Big Bang” and be done with…(still much better than “how the Hell I would know?”, which is again better than not being here with us at all)

 This is my advice, but as it is your worldview, take it or leave it. If some universal truth feels interesting and helpful, go for it, but if the personal insight sounds more like you to you, that will be more beneficial. As it happens, I believe, that both worlds-  the Big One out there and my personal world are the same, but most people do not. So here you are.

View answers on Philozophy.com

An example: (my answer) “My Universe began with my conception. As I am learning from others and my experiences, my world shifts, gets bigger and more complex.  Where my understanding ends, on that edge, reversing the arrow of time, there and then the Universe begins.”

Psychotherapy

Working with the Question #1 is especially useful for anxiety, depression and procrastination, that include just about all of us. It sounds like the excerpts from the Dr. Bach’s Herbal Remedies :“Mustard- good for the unexplained dark cloud”, but you will be surprised by the effectiveness of the process. Remember, the benefits increase exponentially with the every edit, starting after the third one.

An Essay

For me, the question of the beginning is absolutely associated with my mother. Biologically I obviously grew in her belly according to her and my father’s genetic blueprint. Then, as an infant, I began to build my world, with the identity still merged with my mom. The baby’s initial world is created with the very little activity of the prefrontal lobes, mostly it is sensory combined directly with the emotional and instinctual behaviors. It is wired in the old, mammalian parts of the brain, the humanness present mainly as a capacity, possibility, and preferences. These were the emotional and the personality beginnings that stayed with me until today. Then I learned , mostly from my mother and the family (aunt Mary, the Granny, there was not much of the father) the human ways of the world. I was curious and more curious, and trying to understand, I was cautious, but ambitious explorer, I was selfish, but I was shown how to love and cooperate.

 Now, 72 years old, during the meditation I talk to my Mom often. I asked her about her beginning.

I: “ You bore three sons. Each one was a beginning, wasn’t it?”

Mom: “ Not really. Every beginning is nothing more, than the phase of the process, when the situation requires a switch of the dimension, or as you say in America nowadays “the conversation”, when the old way of seeing just would not do… With my first son Christopher, it was as always – the struggle to extend the relationship with Edwin, your father. He was a strange genius, complex and far away, in his own world, the poet, and the philosopher… and a healer. He was tormented by the generations- long inability to commit and love- I was trying to help him, help us, go deeper into love…

And we succeeded and failed to sustain the success, as always, and with Peter, my second son, it was the beginning… of the end. Then it was the war.  It ruined our lives, the families, and careers. But I would not give up, against all odds, you, Tommy, were conceived and born. When the communication failed, when the raw sense cried “no!”, the biology and, I guess, subconscious commitment did the job. It was the most strange beginning in my life….

I: “the end of beginnings?”

Mom: “Yes, now I see it, as an investment.”

I: “Mom, but we in Poland did know anything about the investments”.

Mom:”No, Tomeczku, this beginning was not an investment in the material things, like in America. I had to invest fiercely in my life principles. It was a terrible choice between reinventing myself to follow the love to the very imperfect man, against  my family and the faith or to throw away the love. I did the later and now it is the ” Dr. Zofia’s Myth of Beginning”.

I: “And you followed Jesus. I remember you in the mornings, up before anybody else, busy in the kitchen, already back from the shop with the fresh bread,  before going to the Clinic and visiting the Church on the way.”

Mom: “yes, I loved these mornings.. and the evenings,  kneeling at the bed  and thanking Jesus for the another day with God.”

I: ” Thank you,  Mom, thank you for the myth, thank you for the lesson, I will talk to you soon.

Same Time, same Space.”