Nov 282008

Someone posted this comment on Steve Pavlina‘s blog a while ago:

Why improve at all? We are born. We die. Everything else shares the same fate. Then why this struggle to improve? What is the use? Expectations can only lead to misery if we dont achieve. Why not just lead a life of no expecation and see what happens?

That chap Jim achieved first place. Cool! So what next? He will now set his goals to win the Milky Way Speaking Championship? Ok, let us give him the first place there. Then what?

Has anybody here tried to live a life of no goal setting, competition, improvement? Doing things intuitively without expectation. Isnt that peace? Isnt that what we are truly after?

Steve addressed it in the blog post titled, Why pursue personal growth at all? I feel he could have done a better job in addressing it by making more of the issues and hidden assumptions conscious and then addressing them. His actual answer seems to be that, no, nothing really matters in the long run, and that your subjective experience is what’s important.

I’ve held the beliefs that are mentioned by the commenter above so I feel I can offer a different intepretation. The first is that a materialist/physicalist/naturalist perspective pervades our society, which essentially rejects metaphysical or super-natural concepts. Materialism, as a philosophy, considers matter the only philosophical substance. Sorta like how an old Greek idea was that the world was made up of the four elements: fire, water, earth and air, except the universe is made up of matter and nothing exists beyond that. Now, in our folk philosophies we tend to assume that meaning of things in inherent in them. For example, if I say an elephant is big, we assume that “bigness” is somehow a property of an elephant (it’s noumenon), while I believe that “bigness” is a property imposed on the elephant within our own consciousness. In fact, I believe that meaning or value exists only in our consciousness and results as a consequence of the interaction between the “actual” thing, my sense and my consciousness. This is a tough concept to get across at first, so I suggest re-reading this paragraph a few times. Another thing to consider: what’s “red”? I’m colour-blind, so your experience of the wave frequencies that we perceive as “red” is different from mine. Red is not a quality of the object itself, but rather my experience of it.

Now for the second part of this argument: what the commenter is referring to is a realization that things don’t have meaning or value in and of themselves, and because materialism may be the dominant philosophy (often unconsciously), the meanings of our actions are value-less because they are not physical, but rather metaphysical in some way. This led me to a sort of nihilism. Not nihilism as a sense of dispair, but simply a recognition that existance has no inherent value or meaning. This can be dispair-inducing and may cause people to ask, “what is the point of it all, if it doesn’t matter in the long run?”

Of course, the hidden assumption in that question is two-fold: Things have meaning, value or point if they last or are eternal (an inheritance with Plato who claimed that “reality” is permanent); and that meaning only comes when things have physical form and last a long time. I would add that there may be a third assumption: to wonder whether things have meanings if there is no human consciousness to “judge” it. If a third-person, “objective” observer was to look at this, what would they say? This may be the primary way that folk philosophy looks at this problem.

I am arguing that things have no meanings in and of themselves, and that there is no meaning without human consciousness. That is my mind/consciousness creates the meanings around me. So, while something may not have any meaning in the long run or the rest of the universe or even to the rest of the world, my own conscious experience in this present moment is what’s important, and that is bar I judge things by, rather than how things would look to an “objective” observer looking at things in the context of the universe and a long time horizon. This view actually creates some interesting side-effects. For example, losing your job does not include disappointment, anger, dispair or however you may feel, and in fact, can be a non-issue because those are all reactions and you can choose to have a reaction of happiness in all situations.

There’s two broad movements that fail us here: religion and folk theories of science. The major religions emphasizes the immaterial, the supernatural, the permanent and can lead to the following: “But a person who rejects God and the divine may still retain the belief that all “base”, “earthly”, or “human” ideas are still valueless because they were considered so in the previous belief system (such as a Christian who becomes a communist and believes fully in the party structure and leader). In this interpretation, any form of idealism, after being rejected by the idealist, leads to nihilism.”

Folk theories of “rationalism” and “scientific” perspective can lead us astray by making us think of things in brutally logical and greedy reductionistic terms which may strip away the meaning of things by asking “so what?”. There’s nothing wrong with that perspective but I believe it is inherently disempowering to my consciousness while being less accurate than the phenomomenlogical perspective I’m advocating.

Additionally, goals are important for the psychological health and well-being of individuals. Hope this was interesting! I wish I could go back six or seven years go and tell my younger self about this stuff.

Nov 242008

How do you value a human life? How many people cried at their funeral? How much money they made? How many people they helped? What about looking ahead at a life yet unlived.

We’ve inherited an interesting notion from the Big Three religions, which is that a human life has infinite value. The religious justification is more along the lines that each body has an immortal soul and that it is god’s will to protect that body and soul. A soul has infinite value. That is a natural law argument. What if you don’t believe in a soul? Most people, I would suggest, simply substitute in potential and say something like, “What if this child becomes an Einstein in the future?”

In any case, we assign an infinite value to a human life, so questions like, “How many people would you let die to save your sister, brother or child?” mess with us. They especially mess with us because we are supposed to think of the highest good for all, and just because it is your relative, doesn’t mean others have to die to save them. We’re supposed to be more noble and self-sacrificing than that.

All of this suggests something to think about: how do you value value? There are no units to measure importance inside a human consciousness. Besides, how can you verify it? For example, say that we decide to measure whether someone can live based on how many people would cry if they no longer existed, how can you necessarily tell that someone is crying because they’re devested? One person’s response to mere sadness might be crying while another person never cries.