on humanism and environmental crisis

Posts tagged ‘humanism’

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.”

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Using Philozophy.com

This post is going to be published as a part of Worldview Owner’s Manual.  It is posted on my blog to invite you to cooperate in this project.                                           

At that moment, this is going to be a very short chapter, the membership is being slowly created, the etiquette is practically in diapers.

We hope to create a community of like-minded, curious explorers of the last frontier- of the self, in the best Socratic tradition of having your life examined. We hope that this group will grow, will enjoy the benefits of working on the worldview and contribute to the progress in the building a prosperous, democratic and free society. I am worrying that this idea’s time has not yet come, but the future of the mankind is in the individuality, education and freedom of expression, all of them are promoted by the Philozophy.com. Conversely, I believe, if we won’t do it ( I mean if we don’t change our wicked ways and do not befriend each other), we all, or most of us, die in about 30-40 years.

Work on your worldview, share, comment on the others’ work, have fun.

If you’re ready to work on your worldview now click here

How to Build your Personal Worldview

This post is going to be published as a part of Worldview Owner’s Manual.  It is posted on my blog to invite you to cooperate in this project.                                           

This is the first chapter in which I’ll discuss the process of working on your personal, unique worldview. I promise that this process will be interesting and rewarding and will make you a better person and the world a better place. It might appear that the two distinct parts of the process can be distinguished: the making of your worldview, conceiving it, and writing down the answers into philozophy.com web site. But it is much more complicated, and you will see it as soon as you begin.

First, you are not creating it, you are teasing it out from your subconsciousness, from your past, from your image (or rather images) of yourself. Like going to hell and back.

The writing it down requires some skills and some courage and some freedoms, and one doesn’t know , really can’t know whether one has them. And when you find them you are a different person from the one you have started with… The writing is the creative process and the form can not really be separated from the content.

Secondly, as I mentioned before, one usually goes through the phases of the working on it:

      1 Browsing

  1. Writing “placement” answers (like “I will tell you as soon as I know” or “human cognition is not yet equipped to handle this question” etc.)
  2. The jokes and/or expressing the dislike towards the site, the questions, us, etc.
  3. The answers where you start to see a glimpse of you.

The benefits are visible from the level 1, the first answer you browse through, but naturally they accumulate and accelerate as you are walking the walk.

Thirdly, there are two sites to work on, the present one  and the future one, the one I am hoping for.

We ( Sophia , our friendly developer and I) are planning to remake and uplift the site.

  1. so , how to do it. No hurry , step by step. Remember , you are the human, the Curious One.

The questions will stay there, and that or this way, you will be trying to understand them to the last day of your life.

I suggest these steps:

  1. Read the Manual (or a part of it). This will slow you down, allow for the reflection and the introspection. Enjoy and repeat. Make notes, how exciting you are doing something completely new, this is rare in our secure lives, and the other rare thing , you completely  do not know the end result. It is like going to a sport event and the rules change every 10 minutes. And it is a bit like a mortal combat (unlike “Mortal Combat”), the results will be with you at the deathbed.
  2. Browse, this is again a shifting target: the more people participating , the richer and more interesting will be browsing. See how silly-heroic-insecure and brilliant people are. There is no ”party line”, each answer comes from the real person like you.
  3. Browse the “famous philosophers” collection which is slowly growing. Even these “giants” had a hard time with the succinct answer to the big questions.
  4. Respond, click and note the answer which can be useful for you, wise or just beautiful.
  5. You may find an answer (or answers) which you really like- “reuse” it, make it yours for now. This would be your first, ginger start of the budding personal worldview.
  6. Pick the first question, out of 14, which you are going to work on. I suggest an area which you are familiar with, thought a lot of it, like it a lot. To choose easier, read the beginning of the Part Two chapters. The philosophical questions become more practical, everyday things, may be related to your very personal story.
  7. Write this story, or a joke or an insight. This is your answer. For now, no hurry.

If the story is too long, put it as the “comment” (the future version will have separate “laboratory” space) and it will help you to formulate the  answer condensed to 250 characters. We wanted the answer to be long enough to show unique opinion, but short enough to be read, understood and commented on.

  1. This point is the most important. Return and edit the answers. Like “real” writers, they edit and edit and edit, they have hundreds of pages to edit, you – 3 or 4 lines…

Then, return after several months, knock yourself on the head, does it sound like metal? you are not a robot, you are not dead, you changed. You’ll be surprised unless you are still on the “early answers”, they reflect not who you are, but your “issues”. And those tend to persist…

 

Move slowly, answer more and more questions: notice that later questions, those you did not like, are more difficult. They correspond with your hang ups and figuring them out will bring the most personal benefits.

If you’re ready to work on your worldview now, click here.

 

The Worldview: An Old Concept and a New Idea

This post is going to be published as a part of Worldview Owner’s Manual.  It is posted on my blog to invite you to cooperate in this project.                                           

In my effort to define and to illuminate the concept of the worldview which is fascinating to me, I am in the bind, facing a paradox.

The concept of the worldview, in this or that form, for millennia, was the domain of philosophers.

From the Vedas, Lao-Tze and Plato to Vidal and Merinoff, all of them were talking about Big Questions.  Funny thing (hint, hint) that they talked much more about the questions than the answers….The other funny thing about these questions is that the more these philosophers divide, categorise and put them in separate domains – like ontology, axiology, praxeology etc, the more they stay the same.   So, Immanuel Kant was apparently the first to use the term Weltanschauung, but in the more perceptual sense, Adler wrote in late 20th century huge treatise summarising our concepts of the worldview, but the best information about worldview I found in Clement Vidal’s brilliant and funny paper “Metaphilosophical Criteria for Worldview Comparison” 2008.

Kenneth Funk from the Oregon State University wrote a nice essay about the worldview and he quoted a good set of definitions including his own. He discussed following  aspects of the worldview:

  • epistemology: beliefs about the nature and sources of knowledge;
  • metaphysics: beliefs about the ultimate nature of Reality;
  • cosmology: beliefs about the origins and nature of the universe, life, and especially Man;
  • teleology: beliefs about the meaning and purpose of the universe, its inanimate elements, and its inhabitants;
  • theology: beliefs about the existence and nature of God;
  • anthropology: beliefs about the nature and purpose of Man in general and, oneself in particular;
  • axiology: beliefs about the nature of value, what is good and bad, what is right and wrong.

 

This booklet is not for the philosophers (even, as I know some of them, they could benefit greatly!), it is for the modern, 21st century curious, educated persons. So, the worldview we want to talk about is somehow different than the thing in the philosophical books. It is much more practical, personal and useful. I want to demystify the worldview, I want to take it out from the hands of philosophers, out of academia, out of the doctrine, no matter which authority it may follow.

It is why the plan for this chapter has changed. After all books, all research, I think, that philosophical history of the concept is unnecessary for the creating of the personal worldview. You do not need PhD in psychology, political science and (often) criminal justice to vote. You did not read Sun Tzu’s Art of war before you were sent off to Vietnam and the problems of entropy shouldn’t bother you at the gas station. Similarly, a modern human needs to be aware of his or her worldview without being  a professional philosopher. On the other hand, the more we explore the everyday life the deeper it leads us.

 

The worldview we are going to work on is the set of rules and values you live your life by. Your human nature and your life experiences, including possibly spiritual ones, made you who you are. Now, the processes and forces that are responsible for creating you, the human being, are controversial and are the part of your worldview. But everybody has one and uses it all the time to make every decision, every move. Most of this system are automatic, subconscious – always or almost always. I get up in the morning and go to work, I am a pediatrician, and there is always the tapestry of mechanical routines, joy and pain, worry and searching for solutions. Big Questions are not there but are floating further or closer, or out of sight, for a moment.

So, this is it. This is the hard act to do- we need to shift and shift and shift- from the abstract, primordial dilemmas of humanity to the simplest, warmest human pain and joy.

 

   In the books, the criteria for the worldview evaluation was very simple: the truth. If it is true it is my worldview, if it is mine worldview it must be true! The problem is that if you look at the big questions, again and again, the only answer you can truthfully give is “ I do not know” or “I am not sure” Well, let’s close the shop and go home. But we can’t. We need to live the rest of our life and live it well. Also, we can see that we have lived the first part of our lives as if we would have known the answers. So now there is an obvious task: to tease out them from the life we lived, fine tune them, make them more clear and coherent and live the rest of the life more “examined” as Socrates would put it.

   

   We do not know these answers, but still we would like to believe in the true values and principles, rather than in false. We’d like to be working on the answers which feel true to us, trying to build a coherent worldview. So, at the end of the chapter about the concept of the worldview I am going to leave you with that: there are no true answers, nobody knows true answers, the smartest people’s definitions did not help us the slightest. If your answer is a piece of a story, a metaphor or even a joke and if it resonates with you as your own, you are a million miles ahead, stronger, with more integrity and resilience.

Nietzsche’s call for the explicit worldview

 

What are the consequences of Nietzsche’s idea that God is dead?

Some would say that as long as people believe and worship God, He is alive and well. In this sense, an esoteric nineteenth-century philosopher could never have changed reality and his exclamation “God is dead” was as empty and bombastic as the rest of his writings. Actually, the concept that people’s subjective worlds create reality (maybe all reality?) is very attractive for me personally and consistent with evolutionary thinking about the functions of the central nervous system.

But I think the people who have read Nietzsche over last 150 years have a much more literal concept of God in their minds and souls.

It is why the philosopher’s war cry that “God is dead” sounded very bold and significant.

It was original: nobody before had put it so bluntly through the words of the Madman “”I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers…… Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” It was iconoclastic and adventurous and maybe it is mainly why it reverberates for more than century in the intellectual circles of the world.

According to Adrian Samuel (Nietzsche and God (Part I) Richmond Journal of Philosophy 14 (Spring 2007) page 1, pdf) Nietzsche worries about the world without God as a world without values. “Rather, the madman’s search for God is taken as a bit of a joke – worthy of being mocked and little more. Nietzsche coins this sociological movement towards not taking ‘God’ seriously as the ‘death of God’. That is, the former importance ‘God’ had in structuring our lives has ended.”

My reading of Nietzsche is limited to Twilight of Idols and some scattered excerpts from other books and on the basis of that, I see him as a sociologist, a psychologist and mostly a hellraiser, rather than a philosopher. Except for a precious few people, he vehemently and recklessly criticizes everybody and everything he turns his eyes on. He carelessly contradicts himself, he wants to “relax” and be “affirmative”, and start “the war” at the same time.  This doesn’t spoil his appetite to destroy and “kill “ every establishment and authority known to man.

Talking about the death of God can be understood in many ways, but as for Nietzsche, Christianity is a favorite target of attack, it seems that he means  that the Christian God is no longer a credible source of absolute moral principles” (Google, Wikipedia, “God is dead”) and “one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet” (Twilight of Idols, Expeditions of an Untimely Man, sect.5).

This is the literal way to understand the Madman and Twilight of Idols. But as we read the text, the way he attacks other authorities seems almost too flippant. Socrates is too ugly? German schools are too crowded? The people are too obsessed with their stupid diets? Is it not a Kirkegaard-like case of indirect communication? It seems that pathos is purposely inappropriate, vehemence exaggerated, the mixture of the style of the joke with the content of the vitriolic attack tells us something about the author’s underlying quest.

In “The problems with Socrates”, Nietzsche says ”I recognized Socrates and Plato as symptoms of decay, as agents of the dissolution of Greece… as anti- Greek” (sect. 2). He gets emotional, calls Socrates “a rabble”, “decadent”, complains about his dialectic method and reasoning, He is unconvincing, just mean, and he obviously doesn’t care.

The same frenzy in condemning established values is repeated in “morality as anti-nature”. He calls the church” hostile to life,” (sect1) he criticizes the monks for the renunciation of desire, even worse are those who are too weak to do it! “What alone can our teaching be? – That no one gives a human being his qualities: not God, not society, not his parents or ancestors, not he himself. No one is accountable for existing at all…one belongs to the whole…” (sect. 8) Similar is his rant against the Germans, their organization, their education and all Reich is “decadent and mediocre”. The more he attacks this and that, the more irrelevant the content becomes, making the attack ineffective. Surely he knows this and does it on purpose.  The purpose is to question the values, question the sources of morality, ponder over the world where God is not treated seriously, where people are not treating their lives seriously- the world where geniuses and warriors are treated as Madmen and ignored.

Nietzsche calls for the rule of instinct and nature, calls for the Dionysian Man, where art and sensuality and power are all mixed together. Even this naive and benevolent form of the Ubermensch does feel ominous for a person born in Poland in 1944…

From the perspective of a century and a half, I see Nietzsche’s ideas as not only a “revaluation of values,”  but as a desperate call to make the process of the exploration of one’s values a standard for the modern, new human. To create your own values, to be an individual, to think freely, be yourself, should become your “meaning of life”. Astonishingly, this call of an almost insane, ranting lonely man, with no money and no academic position, was answered.

In the nineteenth century, similar to now, people worried that when “God is dead” there would be a horrible hole in the human soul, no values, no meaning, no hope. It did not happen, people worked, loved and died as before.

Now, in 2015, we call this “hole” the worldview. Everybody has a worldview, but like in Nietzsche’s times, most people do not realize this. This is an implicit worldview, inherited, built during childhood and schooling, containing sometimes mostly subconscious opinions, gut feelings, and the “things which make one tick”.

Nietzsche calls us (as God is dead) to find our values, to explore and find our individual, unique, personal worldview. And to express it, make it explicit, be our own personal warrior.

And the response is tremendous: everybody tries to write a book, to be an artist, to have a rock-and-roll band. The Internet and YouTube and social media are all magical individual creativity boosters. The creativity and individuality of the 21st century Ubermensch are slightly tainted though.

1.His values are very materialistic and boring: all the “renaissance man” activities are really aimed to conform to the modern man success image.

  1. Comparing to Nietzsche’s Dionysian Man this new Ubermensch lost the reckless spontaneity, sensuality, the sense of the instinct, and the will to power means only “more money”.
  2. His worldview is really not explicit enough.

This explicitness of the worldview is what I am most interested in, and I think it has huge importance, not appreciated by Nietzsche, for the different reason than that of our modern people.

Socrates said “An unexamined life is not worth living”, but I think that “lonely life is not worth living”. We are a hyper-social species and our lives have meaning only as a set of relationships, communications, conversations, and observations. All of them are really the same thing. When you see a fierce tiger roaring he relates, he communicates, he expresses his worldview. When you listen to “ pam, bam, bam, baaam” of the Beethoven’s fifth, he relates, he communicates, he expresses his worldview. The same with the Sistine Chapel, Nietzsche’s Ubermensch- all perfections…. and yet.

These guys are oh, so lonely.  We say that art, beauty,  spiritual passion, well, any passion, all bring people together…. and still we are lonely.

Clement Vidal writes about the worldviews, he calls one’s worldview a “position”.

Writing down your personal position is an arduous, difficult task, few philosophers even did it. But it allows you to  1. edit it (actually keep editing until you die!) 2. Show it to the friend and compare your views and  3. most important, show it to an enemy and compare and discuss.

The more I know myself (explicitly- in the language) the better I relate to the other.  Creating friendships should be my laboratory of the relationships with the other (again, explicitly- in the language). The very survival of the humankind may depend on it.

Humanists and Extrahumanists

 

         Let’s stop dividing people into theists and atheists. By referencing something, we automatically validate it, it is why the term “atheism” is self-destructing, as one describes oneself by the term denoting the absence of god while one does not believe god exists! For me the term “atheist” is meaningless.

        The term humanist is the best- better than naturalist, atheist, freethinker, etc.- it is species-specific, solid and logical. It should be an “umbrella” term, similarly like theists (or extrahumanists)  have their religions, cults, and sects.  Let’s talk about  humanists and extrahumanists.

          Humanists are the people who see the source of the goodness and morality inside the nature of human being. This nature was build for eons by evolution, later modified by culture and endless tapestry of the earth’s civilizations. It includes all the instincts and wisdom of our ancestors, the heroes, the kings and the prophets, down to everybody’s  dad and mom. Everybody contributed and now it is our time to carry on.

 

           Extrahumanists are the people who see the source of the morality and ethics in a message from an intelligence higher than humans, actually infinitely higher.  This source, they believe,  is beyond evolution created human mind, it is all powerful God or gods, or aliens, or Heavens, or just unknown Order or Force permeating all the Universe. By definition and by design, this intelligence, which is the source of scriptures and their moral messages, is beyond the capacity of the human brain to comprehend, so its nature and its reasoning are unknown; they are the subject of faith and speculations. Scriptures tell the faithful what to do, but they give very few details about the origins of the message, say why we should not work on Sunday, or Friday or Saturday (depending on the God). And, again according to the extrahumanists, humans should not even attempt to completely figure all this out, they would not be able to understand it. So the extrahumanists are assured (or assure themselves) that that higher intelligence will take care of them, and maybe even of us poor humanists. They will listen to the message of the Lord, act accordingly, and go to heaven. Naturally, historically and ethnically, different sources or deities suggest different things to do. No surprise. On the mythical and ethnic level, these suggestions may be locally and temporally quite beneficial for the faithful, but may be very unpopular for the rest of humanity. These mythologies and rituals, while often beautiful and sentimental, also tend to become, by and by, pretty ridiculous and embarrassing as the times change.

         It might appear that there is the attitude which do not fit either of the two groups. Some scientists and other materialists just refuse to engage into philosophy. They are out to discover the laws or the things in the world leaving the philosophical quibble to the lowly humanities. If pressed, they usually agree that they assume some order in nature. Obviously, we do not know, will never know everything, but what we know is built by the animal, and then human intelligence, therefore they are humanists by default.

 

          Defining somebody’s worldview by pointing to what he or she does not believe, does not make any sense.  As a humanist, I have plenty of ideas to explore, beliefs and doubts, but it is useless to discuss things which do not exist. So do not call me a-theist, as I am not calling you a-humanist. Like in the restaurant, it would be odd to concentrate discussion on the dishes we will not order, or are not even on the menu. Anyway, the content of the message is the most important, the ethics and the values, while the quibble about the source may be irrelevant. It seems that across all religions and spiritual systems, the more contemplative the training, the deeper the level, the more barriers fall away and all the messages become the same. Perhaps it is  because their origin is the core of the human nature.

           Exploring these messages, including mythology and wisdom of all religions and philosophies, examining the human nature with the human mind not only discovers the unifying goodness and beauty but creates it (ie, goodness & beauty) in the process. Like, searching for the meaning of life makes it meaningful, or, according to modern phenomenologists – “living is making sense”.