Friday, 24 October 2014

I want and I feel . .

I just feel really down when I go into a hospital, or Job Centre, or anywhere where people are studiously working, and it's all quietish.

I want to be in the middle of the countryside lying deep down in the long deep grass with the glorious sunshine shining down on my face, with endless green glades and my soulmate gazing down deep into my eyes, full of endless love and compassion. I want to feel that everything is wonderful and everything will come right at the end.

I want to feel that life is one wonderful adventure. I want everything to come right at the end. I want . . I want . . an ultimate point to my beingness, to the Universe, to all things. 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Meaning or Purpose?

There seems to be a lot of talking at cross purposes when people who believe in a "God" and a "life after death" argue with materialists/atheists.  Many of the former claim that if the atheists/materialists are right, then there is no meaning to life so we might as well just kill ourselves now.   Many atheists, on the other hand, seem to be genuinely bewildered by this and claim that of course there is meaning to life!  We form friendships and relationships with others, achieve various goals, experience many pleasures.  And even after death our lives might not have been in vain since we will have affected many other peoples' lives, hopefully for the better!

I want to draw a distinction between the words "purpose" and "meaning".  If there is no "God", no "life after death", and we are merely complex biological machines, then I would submit our lives have no purpose.  By this I mean that there is no ultimate goal to our lives.  There is no becoming one with "God" or whatever form that purpose might take.  That is to say that we live out our lives, and they might well be very satisfactory in terms of pleasures experienced, various satisfactions attained, but ultimately there is no reason for ones existence over and above that which we ourselves give to our lives.  On the other hand our lives certainly have meaning due to the aforementioned positive aspects to our existence.

But is having meaning, but no purpose to our lives, enough?

Although I emphatically disagree with Bertrand Russell in the following quote that we are compelled to accept the conclusion he outlines, he nevertheless nicely captures the dissatisfactory consequence of accepting that our lives have no purpose.

That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation be safely built.
Bertrand Russell (from A Free Man's Worship, 1903)
If we are mere biological machines, then yes, life has meaning.  And I find it absurd for people to suggest that if there is no "God" etc we might as well just kill ourselves now.   But nevertheless it remains the case that the Universe and our lives are ultimately to no avail.   Whatever goals are achieved, whatever satisfactions are attained, whatever pleasures we experience, ultimately it is all pointless in the grand scheme of things.  Eventually the last human being will die, the last sentient being on Earth will die and eventually the earth will be swallowed up by the Sun when it ends its life as a red giant. 

With the death of the Earth we might legitimately conclude that the whole history of the human race -- every thought, every action, every emotion experienced -- might as well never have occurred.

If we gravitate towards materialism perhaps it is best to put aside such thoughts and lose ourselves in our day to day lives; care about the concrete things in life such as making a living, forming relationships, and just marvel at our fortune to be priveleged to have this brief spark of sentience before the veil of forever nothingness descends upon us. 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Life before birth

Often when I tell people that I gravitate towards a belief in a "life after death" they say something along the lines that they didn't exist before they were born, so it is reasonable to suppose that likewise they will cease to exist when they die.

I'm in entire agreement with them.  The question which interests me is why they are implicitly supposing that I believe we all spring into being sometime between conception and birth, but then exist forevermore after that.  After all I always take great pains to stress that I have come to my beliefs from thinking through the issues and looking at the evidence, and emphatically not because I subscribe to any specific organised religion.  

There are a number of reasons why I find this hypothesis that we come into being sometime between conception and birth, and then exist forevermore, somewhat implausible.

To believe in a "life after death" -- at least in the sense of existing in some afterlife realm for some time -- entails that it cannot be our physical bodies which produces the self or consciousness.  But if my body -- specifically the brain -- doesn't produce consciousness, then there doesn't seem to be any reason why the self should come into being at the same time as the brain first forms.

Perhaps people might say that it is reasonable to suppose the self springs into being at this time since we do not have any memories prior to this.  Now there have been reports of people recalling memories before this time i.e apparent previous lives, but let's put these aside for the time being.    Although we don't typically remember any events before conception, we don't remember anything before about 5 years of age either.  In fact we only remember a very medium percentage of everything that has happened to us since then too.  Hence it seems the lack of memories cannot constitute a good reason to suppose we didn't exist.

In addition if the self can be created, then this seems to make it much more reasonable that it can cease to exist too.  In other words if we come into being at some point, then it is reasonable to suppose that at some point we pass away.  The other natural alternative is to suppose we have always existed, and always will exist.  But to imagine we pop into being at some specific point, but then never cease to be, constitutes an asymmetry which I just personally find awkward and implausible.  For one thing what caused us to come into being?  Why couldn't a similar cause or power make us cease to exist? 

Another reason to doubt the hypothesis is that if now I am born I will never cease to exist, it seems somewhat implausible that I should find myself in existence a mere few years after springing into being (. . well . . OK . . maybe more than a few, but you get my drift).   Why don't I find myself, for example, a quadrillion years after coming into being?

Furthermore there's very compelling evidence for reincarnation from Ian Stevenson and other researchers. Not just children who seem to remember previous lives, but birthmarks corresponding to the injury which killed the previous personality.  There are even children who report apparent memories from their time in the afterlife in between their incarnations on Earth.  If we spring into being sometime between conception and birth, then all this evidence needs to be explained away.

Finally I feel that I existed before I was conceived.  This final reason triggered some amusement amongst 2 skeptics on 2 differing independent occasions.  I'm not sure why.  Presumably they hold the position that what I feel in this matter cannot possible have any implications about what is actually the case.   But it could be the case there are deep memories percolating in my subconscious which are finding a vague expression in my conscious mind.  And besides, this was my last and least important reason to reject the hypothesis.

Often it's extremely hard to decide what is the rational thing to believe.

It's extraordinarily difficult for most of us to decide what the truth is on many contentious issues. Will we witness catastrophic clima...

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