All instruments, and all
measurement, depend on one of the five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch,
smell). [...] Thus, no matter how
accurately/extensively/etc. you sense the shadow, you never get closer to
the REAL itself
One problem with the Plato example is that it implies that our perception is so
much terribly worse than it actually is. You could argue all we really see is
shadows because in fact all we really DO perceive are photons that are reflected
or emitted from objects in our field of view -- not the objects themselves. Or
else we perceive electrochemical impulses from our finger tips, not the actual
atoms from the object itself. However, this is a lot different and less
limiting than the indirect shadows Plato describes in his ANALOGY. Our
perception of the real world is actually pretty high fidelity on a lot of
Even though still limited with my same old physical senses, I can definitely
measure an object better with a ruler than by just looking at it, and better
still with a micrometer than with a ruler, and (where applicable) even better
with an optical interferometer. Telescopes, microscopes and televisions allow
me to observe phenomena that otherwise would be invisible to me.
While it is true, there may exist planes of reality which lie beyond our
perception (e.g., sub atomic physics, the origin of life, global weather),
that's not to say that tools don't bring us closer to reality nor that that the
underlying objective reality does not exist. The fact that some 'objects' are
so impossibly complex that we are unable to understand them and perhaps never
will does not deny the actual reality.
I suppose you could argue that all we perceive is an illusion and that we can
trust nothing of our senses. This is like when I was a little kid, I suppose
like most, I often feared that some monster would attack me in my bed. I
finally put those fears to rest once and for all by deciding that if by some
perverse twist of fate it turned out that I did in fact live in a universe where
monsters ate little boys in their bed then I'd have no choice but to accept it.
Meanwhile, since there's no evidence that supernatural monsters exist I'll
proceed fearlessly as if they do not.
I'll listen to arguments but to date I've never heard a compelling one that
reality is an illusion.
[...] domain of the 'spiritual'.
As an affirmed Atheist I will strive to tread carefully here so as not to give
Hope, Love, the human soul, etc, are by
their nature not amenable to measurement by the senses,
To pick one: many aspects of Love can be described in terms mating behavior, to
which humans are genetically, instinctually disposed. This involves many
glandular and hormonal reactions that make the situation unique and singularly
exciting and pleasurable. Within the scope of a mating relationship there are
many powerful behavioral reinforcements that encourage 'fidelity' and a long
term relationship. And those individuals who don't experience many or any other
sexual partners will associate all the sexual pleasure with their one 'lover'.
Like most mammals, humans also like to cuddle and prefer to not sleep alone if
we have a choice. [We have the cutest little pet rats and they always sleep
closely snuggled together, even though they're sisters. They exhibit a
surprising number of other human like behavior.] Humans are genetically
disposed to love their children and in normal circumstances they're so sweet
and cute when they're little it's virtually impossible not to 'love' them.
Little copies of yourself and your one true 'love'. What's NOT to 'love'?
Social mores further support and encourage mating for life. E.g., the
institution of marriage presents a hysteresis so that it is not entered into or
abandoned as lightly as it might otherwise. The practical negative consequences
of incest, promiscuity and certain perverse acts created a culture of 'taboo'
about said practices (for most of our history, if not anymore). It's easy to
believe that prehistoric tribes who adopted those taboos had a survival
advantage over tribes who indulged in the practices.
Although I can talk about it, and I argue that it's entirely deterministic and
mechanical at bottom, the totality of the human experience of 'love' is
mysterious and incomprehensible to humans themselves. I think most human
behavior is fundamentally incomprehensible (at least to intellects as limited as
ours are). There's this tiny bacterium somewhere where I hear humans have
mapped and understand the relationship and function of each and every nucleotide
of it's DNA. That's the one example (for argument's sake) of a life form that
humans completely understand. State of the art of human's understanding of
another life forms behavior. I figure it would take an intelligence similarly
larger than our own to completely understand humans. There might be some aliens
with the right equipment somewhere in the universe, I dunno. But the fact that
it's incomprehensible in its totality to us does not deny the underlying
Meanwhile, I freely and blithely Love my wife and children and others close to
me. When I try to understand Love I get the 'scientific' and 'objective' answer
above. But it doesn't detract at all from the experience for me to 'know' that
much of my behavior is pre-programmed or determined by external influences.
Experiencing Love is completely unrelated to any intellectual attempt at
Say La Vee.
Similarly I could argue your other examples.
and thus will never
be understandable, provable, etc. to the materialist mind.
Yes. I suppose by definition, if you can't prove it to me then my materialist
mind will reject. [If you do have any 'proof', I'd very much like to hear it.]
The way I look at it, the universe is basically incomprehensible. So is the
world, even simply the town we live in is more than any person can fully
comprehend in every detail. The intricacies of our bodies and vast portions of
our own behavior are beyond the realm of our objective understanding. Fact of
the mater, most of what there is to know is beyond our comprehension. But
everywhere we look, the reality is there, reinforcing the notion that there's
always more and more we don't know about the universe. And then--there's the
biggest question of all, the question of our ROLE in the universe. Why are we
As I said, all of this is basically unknowable, and I simply shrug it off as
such. I'm just a tiny, momentary speck in the universe, why should I PRESUME to
have all the answers or even know somebody who does? For eons the earth was too
hot to sustain life and soon it'll be too cold. For that brief moment in
between when life briefly fizzes on the surface -- here I am in the middle of
it. Why? Is no why. Like in Mad Max: "Plan??!! Ain't got no plan!!" I can
live with that.
Other people react by not being able to stand the unknown and they wrap all this
all up nice and neat into a religion -- for all that is unknowable they insert a
magical, spiritual answer that makes everything, in a way, once again
'knowable'. We don't have all the answers but God surely knows, or it's all
part of God's plan, so we don't have to worry about it. God is the big
independent variable that lets everything else balance out.
If I sound disrespectful I don't mean to. Some people need their faith, I know
they're sincere and I respect that. For all I know they're right and I'm going
to burn in hell for all eternity along with Bill Gates. But as an intelligent
person, one who was raised to be religious, one who's heard and weighted all the
evidence and all the arguments, I simply don't find the slightest excuse to
believe in any kind of a spiritual world.
search for truth, which is at the bottom of the scientific method, is not
restricted to materialist notions of reality. Unfortunately, today the
domain of the "Scientific community" and "Dogmatic philosophical
materialist" overlap, to a very high degree (98, 99%?). This leads to
unfortunate consequences for the search of truth, namely it obstructs/delays
Clearly, I'm one of the dogmatic scientific philosophical materialists. ;o)
We rather believe superstition and belief in the supernatural is what
obstructs/delays the discovery of Truth.
Let me cite an example from my own experience: As an undergraduate
psych major, I noticed that standard psychological theory (which is
materialist to the core) could not explain why Alcoholics Anonymous happens
to be the most effective treatment for alcoholism. Every attempt to
understand/study/explain it by psychologists either ring hollow, or they
themselves admitted were weak. The answer is obvious to a non-dogmatic
materialist - AA admits and works with a non material side of man - namely
the spiritual. One day in class I brought this point up and the embarrassed
professor said something to the effect of "well, that is not what we do
Bad psych. professor. First off, in all fairness, it's hard for him to know how
to begin to explain off hand how AA works without his having studied it
carefully. Probably he knows nothing about AA and was dumbfounded by your
Actually, I think modern psychology and science generally can explain AA's
success quite nicely without resorting to the spiritual. I think key is that AA
simply provides a safe haven for people to come an seek help without being
judged. They actively recruit and welcome members at a time when alcoholics are
feeling rejection from their friends and loved ones. AA is the original
'support' group. "I've been where you're hanging and I think I can see how
you're pinned." Hearing stories about others suffering similar consequences (or
worse) is plain old good therapy to avoid continued decay or future relapses.
Seeing examples of successful outcomes and model good behavior is bound to shape
behavior for the better. Sharing info and educating people about their disease
in a non confrontational manner can only help. Individuals are encouraged to
tell their story and through participation are given a sense that they're
actually helping other newcomers. This reinforces good behavior and also serves
as it's own reward (feels good). I was never a psych major but I see quite a
few things about the overall nature of AA that would reinforce behavior
I know that a central tenant of AA is accepting some higher power's authority
over one's self. However, the importance and efficacy of this is suspect. Over
the decades AA's own message has been diluted somewhat from where that higher
power originally was the traditional "American" western (judeo-) christian
Jalwah to where now it's some arbitrary and rather non-specific higher power
('say, your community'). Fact of the matter, nowadays there are some
alternative substance abuse programs that are equally effective to AA without
bringing spirituality into the matter. They tend emphasize a similar but
substantially different message: that one accepts responsibility for one's own
behavior. Curiously, this is basically an atheist, existentialist philosophy,
though it has practical implications similar to the spiritual message.
So, the fact that AA is effective and the fact that AA happens to include a
spiritual message does NOT establish that the spiritual message is a necessary
part of the cure. Further, there is evidence to suggest that it is irrelevant.
One of the most important lessons I took away from my college psych classes was
the notion of 'superstitious behavior'. It turns out that creatures sometimes
adopt certain behavior out of a false sense that it's relevant to some reward.
The classical experiment is pigeons are fed at intervals that are determined by
a timer, regardless of any behavior on their part. Turns out that this
situation can accidentally reinforce some particular pigeon behavior, as the
pigeons evidently wrongly associate the behavior with the reward. E.g., the
pigeon would 'learn' to hop side to side for food even though the behavior had
nothing to do with getting fed.
(http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Skinner/Pigeon/) This made a big impression on
me and ever since I have come to view a significant fraction of human behavior
in these terms.
Certainly, superstitious behavior offers a possible explanation of religious
beliefs in humans, one I'd consider certainly plausible. Personally, I
subscribe to the "Life of Brian" explanation of the origin of religion. In
Biblical times (and earlier), tribes in the middle east ('cradle of
civilization') and all over the world were a bubbling ferment of all different
sorts of mystical ideas and faiths. Look at all the peagan gods and practices
of the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, etc. Some tribes adopted religious beliefs
that reinforced 'good' practical, behavior such as love thy neighbor, don't
steal from him and don't try to boink his wife. At the same time the religion
included mystical and spiritual tenets that had nothing to do with anything.
Nevertheless, the religion altogether included practices that gave the
'faithful' tribes a survival advantage over competing tribes that adopted
'pagan' beliefs. As time went by, these successful tribes spread their
practices to others and certain religions became dominant in different parts of
the world. People to this day continue to engage in purely superstitious
religious behavior as a side effect of the survival value of those early moral
I take as evidence of this theory the fact that many of the same, aforementioned
practical moral tenants are shared by most religions world wide, while the
superstitious aspects vary radically. E.g., Judeo-Christian's single, fairly
harsh god, heaven and hell vs. Buddhist's jolly primary deity and reincarnation
(to greater or lesser future lives), vs. Hindu's many gods and paths to
'enlightenment,' vs. Shinto's ancestor worship and afterlife-through-progeny.
He was right, the spiritual can never (by definition) be part of a
Then the question is does the spiritual ever really add anything to our
understanding of REALITY?
I don't deny that religion makes many people happy and it fills an important
role in billions of peoples' lives. But does it really add to our understanding
in an objective and widely agreed upon way?
The domain of
Truth is larger than the domain of 'the material', even in such a small part
of the universe as a single human person...
Darn. I KNOW I disagree with you here but it's hard to disagree with your
words. So instead I'll explain how I AGREE with the words and thus demonstrate
how I disagree with what you mean. ;o)
I agree the domain of truth is larger than the material, as Truth necessarily
includes impossible abstractions such as Euclidean Geometry and popular works of
science fiction (not that the fiction is truth but that as literary works they
manifest themselves primarily as are intellectual rather than physical items in
I furthermore agree that Truth is more than we can understand, simply because it
is so friggin' big.
Finally, I agree there are strict limits to Truth. Kurt Godel proved this in
the 30's: any axiomatic system will include true theorems which cannot be proven
from the axioms. And if you add axioms to include the theorems, there will
still be other theorems which are impossible to prove true.
(: repeat after me, "I am not
merely a brain, I am not merely a brain" ;)
Repeat after me: "Blessed are the Cheese Makers." ;o)
James J. Besemer 503-280-0838 voice
http://cascade-sys.com 503-280-0375 fax
mailto:jb at cascade-sys.com