Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Mythology of the Fixed Self (We all fall apart)

Something that is fundamental to this existence, to this Universe, is that everything falls apart, is fragile, finite, vulnerable, and passing away. The fragility of this "glass existence" is something known to humans but it is at the same time a vague fog in our consciousness. Awareness of this comes and goes. The model of the "Bundle Theory" points to the fact that our ego our "self" is made up of a variety of connected parts in our neurology and physiology. There is no fixed you. It is an assembly of parts and connections that are in this moment coming together to be what you think you are but it is balanced on a precarious bundle of strings that can unravel by too much force, drugs, or disease. The self is a sand castle that will not last the incoming tide of time and entropy. The sand will be carried away to the sea and continue but the sand castle no longer exists as it was bundled together.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sheldon Solomon on Becker, Death, Culture

“When we are young we are often puzzled by the fact that each person we admire seems to have a different version of what life ought to be, what a good man is, how to live, and so on. If we are especially sensitive it seems more than puzzling, it is disheartening. What most people usually do is to follow one person's ideas and then another's depending on who looms largest on one's horizon at the time. The one with the deepest voice, the strongest appearance, the most authority and success, is usually the one who gets our momentary allegiance; and we try to pattern our ideals after him. But as life goes on we get a perspective on this and all these different versions of truth become a little pathetic. Each person thinks that he has the formula for triumphing over life's limitations and knows with authority what it means to be a man, and he usually tries to win a following for his particular patent. Today we know that people try so hard to win converts for their point of view because it is more than merely an outlook on life: it is an immortality formula.”
“Man cannot endure his own littleness unless he can translate it into meaningfulness on the largest possible level.”
Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Sum of Life

"Frequently consider the connection of all things in the universe. We should not say I am an Athenian or I am a Roman but I am a citizen of the Universe. " (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Late Night Conversation between Hitch and Sullivan

Late Night conversation between the late Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan. Complete thread can be seen here. Sully and Hitch After Dark
Andrew Sullivan writes "A while back – by which I mean several years ago now – I thought it would be a cool idea to do some post-prandial chats with some of my favorite people. It occurred to me that the best conversations I ever heard in Washington never happened on television or radio. They were always way off the record. But they might occur, I suspected, if we just attached microphones to ourselves, had a bottle of wine or two and just riffed. And who else to start with but Hitch"
Some of the excerpts:
A: I think that what [Oakeshott] would say, and what I would say, is that what’s sinister is the deployment of dogma as certainty. If one takes Lessing and Oakeshott’s view of Christianity, which is ultimately that God is unknowable -
H: Then don’t pretend to know.
A: Then we cannot know. Or, what we can know, we will hold with a certain humility and provisionality. I mean, one can know, for example, that the Gospels exist and that they represented a human being whose life can be either honored or dishonored.
H: But the further implication of this is that if you admit or concede or even claim that it’s unknowable, then the first group to be eliminated from the argument are those who claim to know.
A: Yes.
H: Because they must be wrong.
A: Yes.
H: Well, that lets off quite a lot of people at the first floor of the argument, long before the elevator has started moving upwards, or downwards. Those who say they know, and can say they know it well enough, what God wants you to eat or whom he wants you to sleep with – they must be wrong.
A: That is proof itself that they are wrong.
H: Yes. As well as being impossibly arrogant, coming in the disguise of modesty, humility, simplicity. Ah, I’m just a humble person doing God’s work. No, excuse me, you must be either humble or doing God’s work. You can’t know what God’s work would be, don’t try your modesty on me. And once one’s made that elimination, then everything else becomes more or less simple. My problem only begins there.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The growth of knowledge and the Human Future

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."
HP Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu"
This makes me think of Ernest Becker's thought that modern humans have been disinherited by their own intellectual strength. For some nothing less than a transhumanistic utopia or a final solution will do. For others retreating to the illusions of our ancestors is the answer. Could there be a middle way... a path that avoids hubristic utopias and destruction.