Archives for category: monism

Hillary Clinton said yesterday:

The way to continue our fight now – to accomplish the goals for which we stand – is to take our energy, our passion, our strength and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next President of the United States.

Today, as I suspend my campaign, I congratulate him on the victory he has won and the extraordinary race he has run. I endorse him, and throw my full support behind him. And I ask all of you to join me in working as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me.

The wording strikes me as peculiar. “I endorse him, and throw my full support behind him.” You endorse him… when?

Oh, you mean you did, just then. That was it–when you said, “I endorse him”–that was the endorsement. I guess that makes sense. It just seems awfully formal, as if you’re reporting on the activities of some committee rather then yourself. Couldn’t you have said it in plain English, instead of legalese? Something like this:

“My campaign ends here. But my work, our work, is not done. We must not let up. From now on I am working to elect Barack Obama, and I urge everyone who has been working on my campaign to do the same. Senator Obama! Congratulations! I respect you, I admire you, and I very much want you to be the next President of the United States!”

[This was written when the “pope” was visiting the “president.” I wasn’t sure how to finish it. Now I’m just going to post it, because, as a famous philosopher once said, “Oh, what the hell.”]

Can any news possibly be less interesting than one evil old man visiting another and lying to us about what the whole thing means? The event would become news only if news-people reported it factually rather than as a clueless and relentless spiel of rote clichés. That would be news. But they do not know how, or they do not want to, or they do not dare. Such is the unspoken, unnoticed, insidious power behind this throroughly fake event. You will speak of this meeting, they are told–no, they know without being told, in the manner that such meetings are allowed to be described, and no other. You will treat us and our doings with unconditional respect, deference, and obedience. For an air of extra authenticity, speak as if you are personally awed by both our Presences, and bravely choose to moderate your adoration to the tones proper to a true journalist. Oh you can be a devout believer and tell the public the truth also. This is the truth–these feelings you have. It’s truer than the regular, newspaper kind of truth, deeper and healthier and longer-lasting and more beautiful. We could–you could do without newspapers, but not without faith. Without faith–without us, you are nothing. We hold the entire key to the sense of your life, to the drama without which it has no meaning, the salt without which it has no savor.

For the “pope” to visit with the “president” means nothing. No, it means less than nothing; it erodes meaning rather than deepening it.

Who is this “pope” who is visiting? A figurehead travels around the world from his palace to visit other figureheads. It makes sense that a man with so much misery to answer for would cross the Atlantic to make a show of solidarity with another man just as evil–that makes sense in a social way, in a “the enemy of my friend is my friend” kind of way. Again, this does not qualify as news. When gangs meet to decide which other gangs to murder next, that is not news. That’s the same as every day, nothing has changed, evil people are still evil. Fuck them. I don’t want to hear about them and their despicable games. That shit sticks to you and affects your mind. When they are picked up and put in jail so that we ordinary people don’t have to be afraid of them anymore, that will be news. Don’t tell me about murderers continuing to murder unless you’re also going to do something about it. I don’t want them to be an the news. They don’t deserve to be famous. They deserve to be utterly unknown and impotent. Don’t let them get a “name,” that’s all they have. Without their notoriety they are nothing, they are slime we can step over so we don’t ruin our Vans. They are nothing. If people could see how small and shriveled and sick they are inside, their best friends would puke.

Oh, yes, I’m talking about you, Mr. “President,” Mr. “Vice-President,” and Ms. “Secretary of State.” May you burn in hell.

And you too, Joseph Alois Ratzinger. Of course, you’re familiar with the “scripture.” You would know just how certain and terrible is your fiery fate, if you believed any of it for a second.

I have to stop ranting and get back to the present point. Who or what is this “pope” who visited the “president”? When the Times reports on the activities of the “pope,” what does this noun refer to?

It’s not the guy–Joe Ratzinger. We don’t know anything about him–what makes him laugh, his family ties and troubles, whether he’d rather look at Cosmo or Playguy. He has been long since erased from the public eye. But that is who is riding in the “pope-mobile.” That’s him: Joe Ratzinger. You can change the name and the clothes and the job description, but you can’t change a person very much.

That’s not who the Times covers. They do not cover Ratso. They are complicit in the Ratso cover-up. To them Ratso is not interesting, Ratso is not news; and I agree with them on this. But at least Ratso exists. This “Benedict” thing is a construct, a figurehead, a cover, a lie from beginning to end. “Benedict” is no more real, or newsworthy, than Aunt Jemima.

There is someone, or something, the press is not covering. There is a man, who lives in a place, who has a job. It’s an important job, in the sense that it seriously affects many other human beings. The guy has a lot of power, and he uses it to benefit his organization, his buddies and colleagues, as opposed to the billions of members who faithfully pay their salaries. This is not even controversial. This is a matter of pure fact to anyone who won’t play the game of Don’t Dare Think That. This man is as evil as they come. And he is real. But he does not appear in the New York Times, just as the real President of the United States does not. The two proud papier-mâché figures appear, who do nothing, mean nothing, and are nothing. They are much safer to write about. You can’t get in much trouble with the real pope or president if you stick to writing about the fake pope and president.

In a recent debate on the motion, “We’d be better off without religion,” Richard Dawkins said (my transcription):

I’ve always found the inspiration [of religion]—’the heavens declare the glory of God’, ‘all things bright and beautiful’, and so on—to be paltry, parochial, small-minded, compared to the inspiration that you can get by looking at the world of science. Deep space; deep time, as the late Carl Sagan showed us; deep complexity in the study of life—the scientific study of these profound, beautiful, elegant mysteries is one of the greatest achievements of the human spirit.

I take issue with this statement. You certainly don’t need religion to see the glory of life on planet Earth and the whole universe around it. But you don’t need “science” either, unless the word refers to just opening your eyes. You only need to open your eyes. Take a look around. Trees. Birds. People. Fruits dripping with juice. The very ground you are standing on. Your own eyes and skin and the love in your heart. Anchor Steam. This place is so improbable, so astonishing, if you look and hear and feel with a decent amount of attention you will be terrified. You don’t need anything. Feel your breath move inside you, adding invisible molecules of oxygen to invisible cells in your blood so you can stay alive. It doesn’t get any more intense, any more real than this. There is no other world, but this one will do. Enjoy it—or at least take a look at it!—during your brief existence here. You will have no other. Pay attention. You don’t need religion, or science, or anything. That you exist is already beyond imagining, and I mean this literally. Just try to imagine that you exist. It makes no sense. It can’t be done. Nor is it necessary, of course. The existing happens by itself, out of nowhere, and back to nowhere. It’s the most peculiar damn thing you ever saw. Science is good; life is beyond good. It is all there is.

OK, so there’s this guy Surinder Sharma, a “tantrik.” And there’s Sanal Edamaruku, the current president of Rationalist International, a secular-humanist organization based in New Delhi. They’re on television. Sharma claims that he can kill people without even touching them–with black magic. Edamaruku challenges Sharma to kill him right then and there. Cut to the chase:

During the next three hours, India TV ran announcements for The Great Tantra Challenge that called several hundred million people to their TV sets.

The encounter took place under the open night sky. The tantrik and his two assistants were kindling a fire and staring into the flames. Sanal was in good humour. Once the ultimate magic was invoked, there wouldn’t be any way back, the tantrik warned. Within two minutes, Sanal would get crazy, and one minute later he would scream in pain and die. Didn’t he want to save his life before it was too late? Sanal laughed, and the countdown begun. The tantriks chanted their “Om lingalingalingalinga, kilikilikili….” followed by ever changing cascades of strange words and sounds. The speed increased hysterically. They threw all kinds of magic ingredients into the flames that produced changing colours, crackling and fizzling sounds and white smoke. While chanting, the tantrik came close to Sanal, moved his hands in front of him and touched him, but was called back by the anchor. After the earlier covert attempts of the tantrik to use force against Sanal, he was warned to keep distance and avoid touching Sanal. But the tantrik “forgot” this rule again and again.

Now the tantrik wrote Sanal’s name on a sheet of paper, tore it into small pieces, dipped them into a pot with boiling butter oil and threw them dramatically into the flames. Nothing happened. Singing and singing, he sprinkled water on Sanal, mopped a bunch of peacock feathers over his head, threw mustard seed into the fire and other outlandish things more. Sanal smiled, nothing happened, and time was running out. Only seven more minutes before midnight, the tantrik decided to use his ultimate weapon: the clod of wheat flour dough.

I won’t spoil the “surprise” by telling you how that “ultimate weapon” worked out. Read the whole thing. It’s a riot.

How many Wittgensteinians does it take to change a lightbulb?

The question is wrongly put.

When an object is significant and important what makes it hard to understand is not the lack of some special instruction in abstruse matters necessary for its understanding, but the conflict between the right understanding of the object and what most people want to see. This can make the most obvious things the very hardest to understand. What has to be overcome is not a difficulty of understanding but of the will.

MS 213, as quoted in Kenny, The Wittgenstein reader, 2nd edition, Blackwell, 2006, p. 46

Alva Noë is the possibly the most interesting philosopher working today. I will have to say more about him later but for now let me just mention that he did an exhilarating radio interview of which a stream is available.

You can have faith — maybe — but you cannot have religious faith.

I do not say you should not: I say you cannot. It is not inadvisable, it is impossible.

Firstly, there are no gods — not even one. Therefore, you cannot direct your hope or your dreams or your attention to any deity because no matter how much you want them to be there they are not. They cannot receive anything from you, or give anything back, because they do not exist.

I don’t care what you say, people say. I believe there is a god. Well I’m sorry, no belief can change the facts, and you know it.

Look: if you believe you can walk through walls, will that help you walk through walls? Obviously no amount of belief (whatever that is) will increase your chances there.

Second point. I said hypothetically: if you believe you can walk through walls. But you cannot believe this. Because to really believe it would mean that you could walk toward a wall expecting, not just hoping or dreaming or imagining in a sort of daydream, but actually expecting to pass through, and being genuinely surprised by the painful result. You cannot do this. No one can who is not insane.

Can you honestly believe there is a god who answers your prayers and cares about you and is also the Creator of the whole Universe? OK, then why are you not honestly surprised when it does not answer your prayers? Does that not contradict your belief? What is it that you believe, exactly? — that it answers your prayers when your prayers make sense? Sense, to who? How can you tell the prayers that make sense from the ones that don’t? And if you can’t, if it’s totally up to a god and you never know what that god will choose, what does it mean that this god answers your prayers? It could be doing the opposite of some of them, and you would not know which, or why. Again, I am saying not that you should not have such a belief, but that you cannot have such a belief.

We are touching on the third point. It is more subtle than the others. It is that the idea of this kind of belief, the idea of believing such a thing, makes no sense if the thing you “believe” makes no sense.

Imagine that I tell you, “Sofa Europe artichoke.” Well, I have not told you anything. This statement does not communicate. It is in fact not a statement, because nothing has been stated; not a proposition, because nothing has been proposed. A string of random words has no meaning. The three words might each mean something — though Wittgenstein would say: not without a meaningful context! — but in any case, the “sentence” of all three put together certainly means nothing. My speaking it was a babble of sound with no purpose. It might as well have been a scribble in the sand, or a spill of of salt crystals on the kitchen table.

Now take it further. What if I told you, “I believe that sofa Europe artichoke”? What can this possibly mean? That I believe a statement that’s not even a statement? — that does not say anything? — that’s not about anything? What would such “believing” consist of? How is it done? Can someone believe a scribble in the sand, a spill of salt? No, the idea makes no sense. The claim that I “believe” that sofa Europe artichoke is no more interesting than the original proposition that sofa Europe artichoke. That is, it is not a claim at all. In saying it, I have said nothing.

This connects with “religious belief” in the following way.

Religious propositions are incoherent; therefore, the statement that someone believes such a proposition is incoherent.

Maybe there are some kinds of faith you can have. Faith in a partner, for example. But religious faith is not one of them. There is no such thing.

More on this topic later.

One’s beliefs regarding the parameters of ethical behavior depend on one’s beliefs regarding the structure of the world. For example, if one believed that suffering in this world leads to pleasure in the next world, one would be that much happier to endure pain, and that much happier to inflict it.

Fortunately, no one believes this.

Read the rest of this entry »

… Plato’s idea that physical reality consists of imperfect imitations of abstractions seems an unnecessarily asymmetrical stance nowadays. Like Plato, we still study abstractions for their own sake. But in post-Galilean science … we also regard abstractions as means of understanding real or artificial physical entities, and in that context we take it for granted that the abstractions are nearly always approximations to the true physical situation. So, whereas Plato thought of Earthly circles in the sand as approximations to true, mathematical circles, a modern physicist would regard a mathematical circle as a bad approximation to the real shapes of planetary orbits, atoms and other physical things.

– David Deutsch: The fabric of reality (1997), p. 243