You’re not stupid. You just have a stupid identity.
Great strip! mental ingenuity = same tired old arguments and excuses.
Spot on, as ever.
Reading this in a muslim country (Qatar) feels strange and risky….
Another brilliant strip, Author. I don’t know how you keep doing it, but I suppose the humour in this subject is inexhaustible.
Apparently the dictatorship which is my temporary home doesn’t want me to go to any site called http://www.change.org, so I can’t vote for the release of Hamza Kashgari. I’m hope one of you would be kind enough to cast a vote for me.
@ Fenchurch. Barmaid may well be the second fictional female to gain my undying affection.
“Preserving your current identity is more important to you than gaining a more accurate perception of the world”… Describes 95% of the Right here in ‘Murica.
Thanks, Author; great work.
Spot on, as usual, author.
When is the next book out?
sometimes, there’s no way to be honest without sounding condescending. barmaid manages to do it gently. kinda like raising a teenager.
How perfectly perfect!
The point that often gets missed
Stupid also describes the atheist
For like those who believe
They cannot conceive
Any thing that is not on their limited list.
I think Barmaid is influenced by Kenan Malik. As she should be.
@Fred F.: That’s because it is quite dangerous and risky.
@Nassar Ben Houdja:
Having a closed world empistemology (only believing things shown to be so rather than anything that hasn’t be shown to be not so) is different from having a closed mind (only believing what you want to believe).
Houdja misses the point once again,
As he misses ten times out of ten.
Because we don’t believe it,
Don’t mean we can’t conceive it.
We can, but we don’t, silly Ben.
Darwin Harmless, consider it done Sir.
Author, I’ve often thought that extreme stupidity was a kind of inverse-genius, todays cartoon explains how far better than I ever could. Thank you.
I remember an ex bf accusing me of thinking he & his family were stupid for believing in god when I didn’t– people who think and believe stupid things are apparently very fussed about being perceived as stupid.
Just like when I fart, scratch, belch, and piss in public– I become gravely concerned that the desired perception of couthness that I wish to cultivate despite my boorish mannerisms might be challenged by my actual comportment.
Fenchurch, as long as you excuse yourself for two of them, don’t eat the flakes after doing a third,and keep your knees together for the fourth, then you’ve got class in abundance (abundance….where cakes go on a date).
By the way, you didn’t quite say whether the ex’s accusations were justified.
@Joe Fogey Good one.
@Acolyte of Sagan Many thanks.
Hmm. I think that is the best criticism of religion I have read in a long time. Not that the belief may be false (which may be true about all of us), and not even that they are inflexible (which is probably true about all of us in some way), but the extend to which they have made it so deeply essential to remain inflexible. (Of course, that still is true for a lot of ideological thinking. But it is exactly why that way of thinking sucks so badly. :p )
I’ve sIgned the petition for Hamza Kashgari (link in comment number 5).
Mahatma Coat said
“Barmaid may well be the second fictional female to gain my undying affection.”
Who was the first?
Hmmmm… it takes a lot of ingenuity to appear stupid. I’d have to agree.
Absolutely brilliant! Great strip. You made my day Author
¿How do you call a 200 IQ person that believes in Santa Claus? You call him stupid.
I was hoping Author would apply his cutting wit to Warsi’s crazy comments. Maybe a strip for a later date?
@Nassar Ben Houdja is there an award for missing the point by a couple of light years?
Hmmm… Methinks the cartoonists and fans don’t follow this to it’s natural conclusion. “Accurate perception of reality” is always begging the question at a very deep level.
I guess I’ll have to continue to agree on what “reality” is with folks that seem incredibly dense to me (and no, I’m not describing the religious). You don’t have to be bright to be right — in fact, it may not help at all.
@ GH – Author is away from base right now, and this cartoon is one he prepared earlier. There’s plenty of material around for when he gets back – I just hope it’s soon.
Being an atheist doesn’t make you immune from stupidity. I’m thinking about some Objectivists I’ve known who are just as dogmatic and inflexible. It’s easy to blame belief in God for the stupidity, but it’s a more general quirk in human nature.
Joe says: “You don’t have to be bright to be right — in fact, it may not help at all.”
Really Joe? You don’t think your doctor should be bright for example? Or do you rely on prayer instead?
This is so true on so many levels!
I tried to ‘Send’ it with the Facebook button down below, but it wouldn’t let me pick the right thumbnail, and only showed a random gravatar instead of the image of the comic-strip. I worked around it, but you might want to get that tweaked if you can to make sharing on FB easier.
Here’s my paraphrased and condensed summary: http://www.facebook.com/gnuatheism/posts/143517399102900
joe: “Hmmm… Methinks the cartoonists and fans don’t follow this to it’s natural conclusion. “Accurate perception of reality” is always begging the question at a very deep level. ”
Methinks joe takes reality for granted. Science can accurately predict stuff, repeatedly and reliably, and independent of the particular person performing the test. Faith cannot. Simple.
The real question you want to resolve, joe, is why do you take for granted that your comments here will be posted and read by people all over the world, but at the same time you don’t seem to have a problem with the fact that no one has ever received so much as an email from a supposedly omnipotent creator god. The question that is begged is “Why do you even believe in any god(s) in the first place?”
@Freefox — very perceptive.
@AoS – no it was not justified– the accusation was an invention purely from his end.
For Joe: “Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science?” – Carl Sagan
In minds’ eye I’m seeing a cartoon car (labelled “me”) being hitched up to a ginormous, dinosauric caravan with square wheels (labelled “my most precious beliefs”)….then I picture a welder with his torch working on the tow bar….
@ Jobrag: The original Fenchurch, of course.
@ Joe: Thanks for using the expression ‘begging the question’ accurately.
@ Wonderist: I respectfully suggest that you meant ‘the question that is raised’
If I could change just one thing, it’d be unhitching people’s identities from ideology. Not just in religion but politics too.
What a waste os website space… Atheists always on about religious talk… go figure!
@Lance Marchetti As far as I can figure out, website space is unlimited for text, so we don’t feel any reluctance to waste it. If you don’t like what we talk about, please feel free to take your attention elsewhere. You’re not a lot of fun to have around.
Lance Marchetti, we’re ‘always on about religious talk’ because it’s an endless vein of humour, and if it helps people to begin examining their beliefs, then education through humour is never a waste of space, more a gateway drug to rationality; the benefit of your snide remark to anybody but yourself however is less clear.
In short, we’re having fun, and as Darwin Harmless said above, you’re no fun to have around.
Interesting – although it seems to me, that a theist could say the same thing back at atheists. Try it – reread the strip with one modification: substitute “religious” with “atheistic”.
@englishforyou – the difference being that atheism fits the observed evidence. For an atheist the conflict between maintaining their identity and gaining a more accurate perception of the world doesn’t arise.
Englishforyou, the argument that atheists and the religious are equally inflexible in their beliefs is nonsense. The religious will, as this cartoon says, undergo incredible mental gymnastics to defend their faith despite the evidence pointing elsewhere; atheists will generally go where the evidence takes them, even if that evidence is contrary to was previously thought to be right.
I can’t remember who said ‘…if all the evidence in the Universe points away from God, I will still believe in God’, which sums up the mental attitude of the religious perfectly, but if evidence arose which proved the existance of a god, then I would have no choice but to believe the evidence, and that’s the difference between us.
@ShaunOTD and Acolyte of Sagan
Yes, atheism fits the observed evidence, but this is because atheism limits itself to what is materially observable. And it must: a materialist/atheist, by definition, cannot accept non-material data. This is, however, an a priori philosophical position. And thus, insular and non-falsifiable. (So, Acolyte, when you suggest that if there were evidence of the existence of a god, then you would be prepared to accept it – this is false, because your position as an atheist would not allow you to accept the non-material data. Or, let’s say some being came down and started doing some wild things like walking on water etc., in an attempt to sway you with physical proofs. You would simply say this being has some kind of advanced knowledge, and that s/he is no god at all. Either way, you would not, and could not be convinced.)
Theism is the same, in that it allows for other types of data, again a priori, that are assumed to have their source beyond the material. Insular and non-falsifiable.
@englishforyou What on earth is “non-material data”. Sounds like an oxymoron to me. Oh, you mean something that somebody just made up.
@englishforyou That said, I agree with you. There’s not evidence for the existence of God that I would be inclined to accept. This is simply because I don’t trust my own brain. (You shouldn’t trust your brain either. It’s remarkably fallible, even if you don’t know it, and of course you don’t because it’s your brain that’s doing the evaluating.) When I look at the probability that God exists versus the probability that my brain is malfunctioning, it’s a no brainer.
If the delusions are strong enough, I might play along with my malfunctioning brain. Actually, I’d probably have no choice in the matter. But Christopher Hitchens said it when asked if he might convert on his deathbed: (paraphrasing here) It’s possible that a terrified person with cancer in his brain might turn to religion, but that person in no way resembles me.
Well, UK newspaper the Daily Telegraph has produced a virtual trinity of utterly stupid articles this week.
As one comment nicely puts it, “It continues to baffle me how so many otherwise intelligent people seem to think they’ve made some devastating critique against atheism by coming out with these ad hominem attacks against Richard Dawkins personally.”
@Dalai Llama. Ooowww. The stupid. It burns. The one that gets me the most is the claim that Obama was requiring the Catholic church to provide free contraceptives. That is a direct misrepresentation, leaving the only conclusion that the writer is either stupid or a liar. Obama was only requiring that ALL employers, no matter what their anti-sexual wingnut beliefs, be required to make health insurance that would include contraction available to all employees. Since health insurance already covers Viagra, this seems only fair.
@ Darwin Helpless
@ Acolyte of Sagan
non-material data, would be information that may be collected with a view to arriving at a particular conclusion, that cannot be measured empirically. You may prefer, “data which is not numerically quantifiable”. This is naturally an oxymoron to the materialist, because, as I wrote earliier, information that is not based on matter alone is not accepted, a priori. But there are a lot of things that are not directly measurable that some might accept as valid data. Sciences that regularly explore non-quantifiable data would include sociology, psychology, ethics, some behavioural studies, education, etc. Again, the strict atheist would likely have no interest in such things.
It must be admitted that a materialist is also a determinist (see Peter Clarke). Determinism means that all of our ideas are not based on an impartial evaluation of the evidence at all, but on genetic predisposition and experience (which as you point out is controlled and filtered by an untrustworthy brain). But this clearly applies to both theists and atheists. A cursory view of atheist literature make it abundantly clear that personal experience (of theists’ arrogance, hypocrisy etc.) often had some impact. Now, if materialism/determinism is true, then it follows that my atheism is rooted in things that can only be altered by experience. And yet, the materialist must also reject the data obtained through experience, by definition.
@englishforyou I have a fundamentalist friend. A good friend. In one discussion about his fundieness, I asked him how he could possibly accept the nonsense he purported to believe. “It’s because I’m thinking with my spiritual mind,” he told me. Boggle boggle boggle. I wasn’t aware that anybody HAS a spiritual mind, and if they do it sure is willing to accept nonsense and get all bent out of shape about it.
Your talk about “data which is not numerically quantifiable” reminds me of that conversation. But the fact that some data is difficult to quantify does not remove it from the realm of materialism, no more than the difficulty of describing the interaction of molecules in a whirlpool makes it a spiritual entity. We do understand things like emergent qualities.
In addition, when data in some of the soft sciences is eventually quantified, often only possible now that we have computers, we sometimes learn that assumptions of the past simply are wrong, or were merely a metaphorical descriptions of phenomena that were not understood. Hence the falling out of favor of Freudian analysis, as just one example.
If you are claiming that some phenomenon has a non-material origin, I think you’ve stepped back a century or two from modern understandings of reality. If you are only claiming that some things are difficult to understand, and an absolute certainty about anything is impossible, then you are stating the obvious.
@Dalai Llama contraception, not contraction. Auto-correct is a curse, especially on an IPad, where it throws in the supposed correction if you just continue typing instead of asking you whether you want it or not. Another problem with being a fast typist.
How does this non-material data interact with the material world? Wherever it interacts it should have an effect and this effect should be something that can, at least in theory, be measured. If it does not interact with the material world then how can it effect us in any way? If the non-material does not effect the material then the point is rather moot.
@ Darwin Harmless
As far as your friend is concerned, I can say nothing, except that I image that he is simply recognizing an aspect of his being that, as he perceives it, appears to have its source in something that is beyond the merely physical. Of course, you counter with, there is nothing beyond the physical. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying your friend is right, I’m just saying he allows for certain ideas that you do not.
Your own position is abundantly clear. This is evident in your turning my “data which is not numerically quantifiable” into “data (that) is difficult to quanty”. These are not the same. Your position is that all phenomena, given sufficient knowledge, can be quantified. What I am pointing out is that some hold that some phenomena, as they perceive them, by their very nature cannot be quantified.
By “modern understanding of reality” you mean currently held, just as Newton was modern until Bohr and the gang came along, right?
And as far as making claims goes, I have made no claims whatsoever. Whether I am a materialist like you, just interested in analysing the topic, a raving fundy, or something or everything in between, is irrelevant. I’m just here to discuss.
Lastly, I notice you did not respond to my last paragraph on determinism. Is it because you are not genetically and experiencially predisposed to answer such questions (joke)?
oops: experientially not -cially (not very English of me).
@ Second Thought
I think you mean to ask how the non-material (without data) interacts with the material world. Of course the answer is that it doesn’t. The only clue that non-material things might exist would necessarily be indirect.
Love might be an adequate example of this. Love may be reduced to electro-chemical processes within the brain, that may affect a number of physical areas in the body (sexual, glandular, body temperature, etc.) and result in a number of particular types of behaviour (smiling, acting strangely, nervousness, kind words, selfless acts etc.). But the love itself is, in the perception of the person in love, beyond the sum of the material parts. Note that a pure materialist might be able to measure all the physical components, but would have to stop short of discussing love, because there is no evidence for it directly. Now the materialist him/herself may have some experience of love, and thereby identify the physical components as being the signs of love. But as far as the empirical quantitative study of the phenomenon goes, the love is not measured, only it’s intersect in the physical world.
Human rights, for instance, require the positing of non-material realities. The consistent materialist must necessarily deny any concept of human rights (in the sense of universals), since the physical universe knows nothing of rights.
I would hate to be a solipsist because I don’t have the imagination of the Author so would not get to enjoy this strip. I prefer Existential and Moral Nihilism, which kinda makes the theism/atheism argument moot. Nihilism is the One True Worldview, and all you atheists and god-botherers are just wasting your own and each others time.
Plus, it’s kinda insulting for you all to claim that your beliefs matter.
@Englishforyou. This would make something (love say) exist independently of humans–or any other beings that might experience it. This would make the universe a very weird place–one that somehow anticipated our arrival. Are you positing something Platonic here?
Love and human rights are different kinds of things. And both are very different from ideas like god that theists posit.
First, to compare love and human rights. Both are intangibles, things we cannot touch with our hands, or our other senses directly. What is different is that our experience of love flows out of the biological processes that you made mention of. There are physical components to our experience of love and we have layered onto these physical sensations many additional associations both cultural (think romance books, romantic comedies, valentines, etc.) and individual (seeing our parents together, experience with lovers and friends, etc). In other words, love is in our bodies as well as our heads (I know that the head and brain are part of the body, but allow me this dualism for the time being).
Human rights do not have a bodily component. We don’t feel human rights. Human rights is a construct in our heads, a meme. It is not something that exists in the physical universe (outside of human brains). Human rights is an idea that we, groups of people, are hashing out to try and arrive at something we can get wide spread agreement on. It is a cultural construct we are building to try and help us live together better as social critters who are living in ever larger and more interconnected groups.
Turning back to the theist idea of god — for simplicity I will just address the Christian version right now – we have a being that is claimed to have created everything and to be having on-going involvement with the world. This is where we should expect to actually see (in the material world, in measurable ways) some effects. If god is indeed effecting the world in ways that Christians claim he is there should be evidence that holds up to scrutiny. This is what we have not seen yet.
@englishforyou You said: “Of course, you counter with, there is nothing beyond the physical. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying your friend is right, I’m just saying he allows for certain ideas that you do not. ”
So you’re saying we’re the closed-minded ones because we do not accept unfounded claims for other dimensions? It is not that we dismiss it simply because we want to, because we are intent on perpetuating a pre-existing indoctrinated belief system…that is the average theist…most atheists I know would consider and be open to other ideas, but not without a good reason, not without evidence.
So why should we take this other ‘spiritual’ realm into account? It is about belief, not knowledge. We don’t and can’t know whether there is this other dimension, just as we don’t know whether the Dalai Llama is a pedophile, but should we believe he is a pedophile? No. This is about belief.
We have no reason to believe in this other dimension. But apparantly you do. However, since you are a material being, how would you possibly know of non-material things? You can’t. So this discussion is pointless and all you have is unfounded assertions. Unless, as I’ve heard this point made before, you think you are a non-material being, you have a soul, and with this or as this ‘entity’ you can communicate or detect the otherworldly…and how do you know this ‘entity’ exists?
It all leads back to material evidence in this world. ‘Feelings’ have never proven to be a reliable means to gain truth or knowledge. ‘Faith’ is not a virtue. That is the epitome of closed-mindedness. The dismissal of evidence in order to perpetuate belief.
So don’t call us closed-minded. Or even at the same level of their closed-mindedness. We are willing to be convinced. They aren’t. We go where the evidence leads. They stick to their pre-opted conclusion no matter what.
So don’t insult us.
@englishforyou said “But as far as the empirical quantitative study of the phenomenon goes, the love is not measured, only it’s intersect in the physical world.”
I think you’ll find love is measured by the number of mountains climbed, seas crossed, rivers forded and such.
@fuzzy: “I think you’ll find love is measured by the number of mountains climbed, seas crossed, rivers forded and such.” OMG, loved that…!!! Ta!
@Second Thought: “Human rights do not have a bodily component. We don’t feel human rights. Human rights is a construct in our heads, a meme. It is not something that exists in the physical universe (outside of human brains)” You know, I never understood that position. If an idea, like human rights, changes the way someone behaves, it changes the physical universe. No difference between that and if you get ill by a virus. Or, for that matter, between the behaviour change of people and, say, an earthquake or a super nova. The phyiscal world changes. So obviously, even though the meme exists only in the teeny tiny form of protein bonds in your synapses, they are physically real and physically relevant and as much part of the real world as anything else.
Of course, while that may be not true for a God existing independent of humans – that would depend on the definition of God – the God Meme most definitely exists, is part of the physical world, and obviously able to work great changes.
But in the case of a “teaching” figure, like Jesus, or Mohammed, this memetic existance might actually be all that is need for him to be “real” in the sense of his purpose. If the idea of Jesus physically exists in people and changes them, according to the (weird) set of morals and ethics associated with him, doesn’t that make the metaphors of the Christians actually, physically, even measurably true?
@Darwin: As much as it grieves me to admit this… your answer to englishforyou about materialism… I find myself agreeing completely… *shudders*
@englishforyou: I also do not understand your explanation. Why must experience be discounted by the materialist? Or how do you seperate the hard-to-quantify (like, say the number of sand grains on a beach… nearly impossible to count but we can agree that it most likely is one finite number) from the inherently impossible-to-quantify?
And I think that early hebrew belief – most of the OT – is actually quite materialistic. None of that soul, eternal life, heaven or hell on other planes mumbo-jumbo. God acts physically, appears physically, all the people running around in the stories are flesh and blood characters with clear motivations, etc. Not much metaphysical or mystical about any of it, really. I think none of them would have said you cannot quantify their belief. At best that to count God’s power, as in the number of stars in the sky and drops of water in sea, would only be too much for a mortal. All the non-quantifiable hand waving only comes in with the Zoroastrians and (Roman) Eastern Mystery Cults…
Careful, I am not saying that love exists outside humans or human experience. I only brought up love as an example of a construct (which must not be confused with a fiction) that has physically measurable effects, but the cause itself is beyond those measurable effects. As for Plato (very observant): indeed, some would suggest this is an example of an “ideal”, possibly implying some sort of “world of ideals”. Again, I am not saying this is true, I am merely reporting it.
@Farmboy: You write “So you’re saying we’re the closed-minded ones because we do not accept unfounded claims for other dimensions?” – I am saying no such thing. I am merely stating what is well-defined – materialism means only the material exists and nothing more. Atheism/materialism is therefore a closed (I never said nor implied that you are “closed-minded” – that would be your emotional response imposing unintended meaning on my discourse) system. If someone who is a materialist denies this, they either don’t understand what materialism is, or they are a closet something else.
Theism is an open system (not open-minded), but many would counter, open to nonsense.
“We have no reason to believe in this other dimension. But apparantly (sic) you do.” You again jump to conclusions. I have elsewhere stated that I am not taking any position here, neither have I made any proclamations regarding a hypothetical spiritual world. I am merely reporting (as a sociological exercise you might say) positions, and drawing attention to the logical conclusions of those positions.
I would generally agree with what you say about love and rights (as for “god”, I have said nothing on the topic – do you wish to start another thread?), although I am sure that many would argue that both are constructs, and given the frequency with which all people make reference to them, they are constructs the reality of which no one would dispute. And yet (this is what I wish to point out), they, and many other concepts are only perceived by admitting data that is beyond the limitations that pure materialism places on itself (thus far I have not had an adequate response to this). Which brings me full circle: from a philosophical perspective, materialists must necessarily be driven to nihilism (@ Henry Turner – you are right). If they aren’t, that is if they continue to accept concepts of rights, right behaviour and so on, they are unwittingly accepting things that go against their first principles, viz. that only the material exists, and thus are philosophically inconsistent.
@ Farmboy: Is this really insulting? “Your fucker” is insulting. “Lance Marchetti” insulted you (posted earlier in this strip). I am just trying to discuss the topic. You said it yourself: “‘Feelings’ have never proven to be a reliable means to gain truth or knowledge.” – case in point: your emotions have clearly distorted my intended meaning. So, in the interest of furthering meaningful discussion, I apologize for any misunderstanding, surely owing to my lack of linguistic skills. My intention is not to insult, but to point out some issues that are significant.
@English. Thanks for your reply. I think you are right–it is easy to confuse measurements with the things being measured–is that a fair summary? I think that happens all the time. However, I have to ask what difference there is between something that in principle could never be measured and something that does not exist. Scientists try to come up with ingenious ways to show that something makes a difference in the world–that is all that measurement is. To be sure some people are prone to say some very silly things–such as if we can’t show it in the lab then it must not exist. I think that not only is this obviously false it is arrogant and puts peoples backs up. Would I be right in thinking that this is what has put your back up?
@englishforyou: “I only brought up love as an example of a construct (which must not be confused with a fiction) that has physically measurable effects, but the cause itself is beyond those measurable effects.” – Why should the cause of love be beyond the measurable? Do you think the complex process of body chemistry interacting with old engrams and new experiences that leads to love, be it brotherly, erotic, paternal, platonic or any other kind of love, is not itself (at least theoretically) measurable? The same way that the process leading up to an earthquake or a supernova is measurable?
I really would love to know what exact experience, knowledge, or logical conclusion makes you think that – if, indeed, it is what you meant.
@ Freefox You say: “I also do not understand your explanation. Why must experience be discounted by the materialist?”
Yes, my statement was not clear what experience I was referring to. Let me rephrase below with clarifications in double ((parentheses)):
A cursory view of atheist literature make it abundantly clear that personal experience (of theists’ arrogance, hypocrisy etc.) often had some impact ((on their becoming atheists)). Now, if materialism/determinism is true, then it follows that my atheism is rooted in things ((that are genetic)) that can only be altered by experience. And yet, the materialist must also reject the data obtained through ((the negative)) experience ((of contact with arrogant pretentious theists)), by definition. ((Since it is so difficult in our faulty brains to filter out our emotions, how can we be absolutely sure that our atheism is based entirely on facts?))
About the early Hebrew beliefs: yes, that is interesting. I suppose it is clear that in just about every flavour within the theistic camp, there has been an evolution of ideas, shifting to adapt to current “realities” as they were perceived at various times. Or alternately, certain developments or mumbo jumbo happen trying to extrapolate from some kind of rudimentary set of first principles. But every type of “knowledge” evolves, doesn’t it?
@ Daoloth – you wrote: “However, I have to ask what difference there is between something that in principle could never be measured and something that does not exist.”
Good point. The answer is, there is no difference. Which means that if I can not measure it, or if I do not accept the tools used to measure it, it is indistinguishable from a non-existent thing, and can be considered to be non-existent. And this is what I am driving at. The consistent materialist cannot accept the construct of say human rights, because it is based on an emotionally rooted, socially defined set of ideas that are simply beyond the material. The tools needed to measure it (our minds processing our emotionally charged experiences with people and opinions) are faulty and there will never be any other means to measure it. Therefore I do not accept the data obtained and the only logical conclusion is that materialism necessarily leads to moral nihilism.
Must respond to other questions later – sorry gang – off to work.
@English. Thanks for the reply. I agree with you, I suspect. Human rights are ontologically fishy. Scott Atran–provocatively–points out that they have no more reality than Allah. However, they might still have usefuk meaning. For example–they could be an easily grasped and expressed short-hand for a bunch of rationally-arrived at principles based on something sounder. There are various possibilities for the base in question. A materialist can only admit of naturalistic explanations. Naturalisitic moral foundations could include, but are not limited to–greatest happiness of the greatest number, human flourishing and well-being, actions that can be willed to be a universal law. etc. In other words–we can perhaps simplify enlightened self-interest to a set of easily codified rules. I think you are absolutely right–humans tend to reifiy these things. This happens all the time. In my field we get asked to convey something in a non-technical form. So, we use an analogy and simplify. People then attack the analogy and thereby think that they have attacked the science. The alternative is to remain in ivory towers–which is far from satisfactory. Though it’s bloody tempting sometimes.
@Farmboy – “We don’t and can’t know whether there is this other dimension, just as we don’t know whether the Dalai Llama is a pedophile, but should we believe he is a pedophile? No. This is about belief.”
A sentiment I find myself in agreement with, yes!
@englishforyou “they, and many other concepts are only perceived by admitting data that is beyond the limitations that pure materialism places on itself ”
I would agree with you if you replace “admitting data” with “imagining data” or “fabricating data” or possibly “misinterpreting data”.
@FreeFox Glad you showed up. I was waiting for you. This is your kind of discussion. Hardly mine.
@englishforyou And when I understand what you seem to be trying to say, I find myself agreeing with you. Philosophically, any materialist must accept that he is a nihilist to be consistent.
I think there should be some other definition for my position than nihilism. I do believe in some things. I believe, for example, that we are social creatures who evolved in groups and societies. It makes sense to behave in ways that make living in groups and societies pleasant, comfortable, happy. It make sense to behave in ways that help humans beings to flourish. Strict nihilism is not useful here. I realize that this gets perilously close to an argument to consequences, but it is possible to be a nihilist philosophically yet still a humanist/materialist in practice. Who wants to live in a world where nothing matters and there is no meaning. We happen to live in such a world, but we can create our own meaning for ourselves. And when we do that, we just might be happier. We might flourish. And we are hard wired by evolution to want such consequences. So why fight it?
@englishforyou Retract. Retract. If nihilism is belief in nothing, and belief is a certain configuration of neurons and synapses in the brain, then I can see no reason to say that a materialist must be a nihilist. I can agree that there is no basis OUTSIDE the human brain for belief. It seems obvious that all belief originates in the human brain, and could not be anyplace else. But I just can’t follow your argument that materialism is inconsistent unless it leads to nihilism. It seems to me that my beliefs are all based in material – atoms, electrons and whatever. Where does the nihilism come into this.
As for self determination, maybe that’s an illusion. But it certainly seems to be a persistent illusion. If consciousness is a feedback loop caused when our brain, which has been equipped by evolution to receive and react to sensory data from outside our bodies, turns its attention to itself, then it stands to reason that the brain could experiment with altering its condition and seeing what the results of that alteration might be. This comes damn close to imagining situations, evaluating the desirability of that imagined situation, and choosing to pursue the fantasy that we want, i.e. a decision, i.e. self determination.
When I was young it was assumed that the best decision was a cold, rational, unemotional decision. It’s fairly recently that neuroscience has discovered that there can be no decision without emotion. How could there be? It is emotion that gives value to an outcome. Without emotion there is no reason to prefer any result over any other. So when we generate fantasies about the future, given that we can vary the fantasies, and make a decision based on the preferred fantasy, how is that not self determination?
Or are you using all these terms in ways peculiar to philosophers?
@Darwin Harmless: I always have this feeling that most ideologies, from Islam or CHristianity or Hinduism to Communism (with its supposedly deterministic model of history) to Capitalism (with its faith in the perfect forces of the market) to any kind of pseudo-scientific reduction of human values to unavoidable evolutionary consequences (like evolutionary psychology) is just a way to shirk the responsibility. It isn’t I who wants this but God, or History, or the Market, or Evolution. So I’m totally with you when you say we create out own meaning.
On the other hand… and that is, I guess where my sense of the religious comes in and we walk different paths, to me the experience of this meaning isn’t something that if I am honest is any more rationally controlled by me than the events of a dream are. It may be possible to follow them back to ordinary, natural causes, experiences, memories, associations, culturally imprated values, education, etc. But in the end the myrriad strings of experience and biology end up creating a sense of meaning in me, or for me, that has every appearance of coming from a unified outside source, some sort of editor, like fate or – for lack of a better word – God. Or at least the universe wearing a sort of God-Mask when it interacts with me. All through perfectly natural, scientifically explainable, measurable means, without even the hint of the actually supernatural, but still, in the sum of its many parts, something divine. Inspiring. A meaning that includes me but goes beyond just myself.
But while the map may depict an abstract version of the real world, it is created and has its intended meaning only in its interaction with the human mind. So, yeah, the only “meaning” in the universe is that formed by us in our own minds. Some may prefer to leave the map blank or filled only with the snow of informational chaos – Nihilists – while others seek out the patterns of peaceful human interaction from that chaos – Humanists.
@DH: About self-determination – I suppose the crux is that you cannot chose which emotions you have regarding these outcomes. You cannot determine what you wish for or what you fear. So if your only guideline is “Do What Thou Wilt”, then you are being determined by that autonomous pre-rational “Wilt”, and your rational mind just serves this master by finding the most efficient way to get there.
@FreeFox “you cannot choose which emotions you have regarding these outcomes.”
Only children thinks that emotions are beyond their control. We can choose emotions just as we can choose anything else. That’s what adult responsibility is all about. Otherwise you live in victim-hood crying “see what you made me do”.
Well, apparently I am a child then. Though I never said that I cannot chose what I do, just that I cannot chose what I feel, or desire, or fear. I am quite aware of the contexts and consequences of my actions and do take them into account. But if you can chose who you fall in love with, what makes you happy, what you crave, what makes you angry, what annoyes you, you must be a happy man. Actually… you seem pretty grumpy for someone with such a wonderous ability… in your place I would chose that everything made me happy as it is. Seems to be the most cost efficient, rational way to happiness, given you can simply chose to feel it. ^_^
(And you find yourself in strange accord with Xtian fundies about the ability to chose who you crave sexually… or isn’t that a feeling?)
@Freefox Yes, I am a very happy man. Sometimes I choose to be grumpy. Being grumpy can be fun. Other times I simply decline to choose and go with whatever mood is falling upon me due to whatever chemicals I have recently imbibed or manufactured coupled with biorhythms and sleep deprivation.
The fact that one recognizes the ability to chose doesn’t mean that one always has to choose. But denying, that is, not owning, your own emotions is a recipe for being a victim. No thanks to that option.
And of course, maturity may still be a goal for me and not a complete achievement.
As for choosing who I crave sexually, even that seems to be under my control now. Maybe that’s just a result of aging. I have a rather rich fantasy life, but enjoy a happy state of monogamy in practice.
I’d just like to chip in and say that I’ve just caught up with the discussions after several weeks (materialist illness keeping me away), and I’m delighted with that the level is still so high. I love englishforyou’s contributions – are you new here? If so, welcome – it is good to see someone making AoS, DH, and the liberated vulpine explain their positions so well
Oops – “material”, not “materialist” (I blame the medication!)
[quote]I think you mean to ask how the non-material (without data) interacts with the material world. Of course the answer is that it doesn’t.[/quote]
The discution ended there.
If, as you say, the non-material does not interact with the material, there is no distiction, from a material point of view (a.k.a: our world), with a case where the non-material does not exist, by virtue of it’s non-interaction.
@Ayashi Right on. I call that a thread win for @Second Thought.
englishforyou (not in that format it isn’t), many thanks for telling me what I would choose to accept as evidence ( (So, Acolyte, when you suggest that if there were evidence of the existence of a god, then you would be prepared to accept it – this is false, because your position as an atheist would not allow you to accept the non-material data. Or, let’s say some being came down and started doing some wild things like walking on water etc., in an attempt to sway you with physical proofs. You would simply say this being has some kind of advanced knowledge, and that s/he is no god at all. Either way, you would not, and could not be convinced.), however I don’t recall saying that I would accept non-material evidence.
A greater man than I once said that ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’, and I for one cannot begin to imagine what form that evidence would take, only that it would have to be testable, repeatable and falsifiable. As things stand, the God hypothesis is totally unsupported by current (testable, etc.) scientific thinking, unlike Newton’s theory of gravity, for example, which wasn’t falsified by Bohr et al – as you seem to have suggested earlier – but merely updated or fine-tuned to take into account discoveries through technologies unknown in Newton’s day, much in the same way as the internal cumbustion engine is basically no different now to when it was first invented, just improved on by technology.
In short, I’m far more inclined to accept current evidence-based scientific theory than ancient mythology, and following this to it’s natural conclusion will continue do so even IF the former confirms the latter.
@FreeFox “If an idea, like human rights, changes the way someone behaves, it changes the physical universe.” You are right on that. I was thinking out loud and the thoughts hadn’t come in clearly yet. Mostly I was trying get at why it seems to me that there is a real a distinction between love and human rights.
I think it comes down to our ability to feel love being the result of evolutionary processes. These love feelings then get processed through our brains We have layered onto this evolved feeling all of our cultural and individual experiences to make up our meme of love.
The idea of human rights, on the other hand, is a product of thought. It comes out of our consciousness; it started life as a meme. So both human rights and love work on the meme level and, as you rightly pointed out, effect the physical world in our brain chemistry etc., but love (the ability to love) has some genetic component to it. So the idea of human rights is straight meme and love is a combination of gene and meme.
I’m not sure it is an important distinction, but like a dog with a bone, I had to gnaw on it for a while.
You said “as for “god”, I have said nothing on the topic”
You entered this thread saying “it seems to me, that a theist could say the same thing back at atheists.” The difference between theist and atheist is a belief in god. So god seemed pertinent to the discussion (as isn’t god the non-material ‘entity’ that theists have their religious beliefs about?)
@Second Thought: “I’m not sure it is an important distinction, but like a dog with a bone, I had to gnaw on it for a while.”
Hmm. Well, certainly, there is a distinction between a social contruct like Human Rights and a personal experience like love, though I think we can agree that for the most part what we experience as love is as much a social construct as, say, Justice, and Human Rights are just a particular variety of that sense of Justice, such as brotherly love or filial love or romantic love are each particular varieties of love. How much the need for justice or love are based in a catch-all genetic predisposition (hardware) and how much they are purely social programming (software), I wouldn’t dare to guess, though I suppose in time neurologists might be able to tell us. But a sociel scientist once told me that while everything is particular (your idea of Human Rights might differ from mine, what the French in 1792 understood under the term will differ widely from what we both would understand it to mean in 2012, etc.), science is about discovering the patterns they have in common.
I think the whole idea that there is the world of ideas (what is “in our minds”) and a world of the body (what is “real”) is really a religious concept as well, the same sort of dualism as good/bad, heaven/hell, saved/condemned. Do you really think that our human ability to form concepts and act upon them (or chose not to) is really that fundamentally different from a termite’s concept of a termite hill or a thrush’s concept of a nest or a bee’s concept of where it discovered a good meadow full of rich flowers and it’s decision to communicate that location to it’s hive? Our concepts may be much more complex and our ability to make decisions based on our imagination of the various consequences might be much more layered and subtle… but I doubt that it differes much in principle. Everything that is “in our minds” is just a combination of genetics and experiences translated into engrams. It is just as much part of the real world as any other natural process, just as deterministic (or non-deterministic, depending on what interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct) as anything else.
Of course, I think that non of that invalidates concepts like the soul, magic, conscience, even sin or salvation, any more than it invalidates love or beauty. At best it helps explain their particular mechanics. ^_^
Freefox, I made pretty much the same point – namely the difference between the intelligence, emotions, etc. of human and non-human animals being no more than a matter of degrees – on RD.net a while ago, and was jumped on by several posters for ‘anthropomorphising’ animals.
It would appear that, despite their insistence of a purely material universe, many of the contributors to that site still retain the idea that we are somewhat seperate from the rest of the animal kingdom.
@AoS: Not sure that was the point of my point. But yes, it often seems that basically religious thinking is still strong in self-styled atheists and sceptics: free will, anthropocentrism, mind/body dualism, us-or-them-tribalism, faith in authority, adherence to virtuous orthodoxy and a priory rejection of sinnful heresy, etc. (Usually not nearly as strong as in most religious people, no doubt… but still unpleasantly and paradoxically strong nevertheless…) ^_^
@Freefox I think you’ve used the term “engram” a couple of times now. As far as I know that’s an L. Ron Hubbard invention. Is that where you picked it up?
“Of course, I think that none of that invalidates concepts like the soul, magic, conscience, even sin or salvation, any more than it invalidates love or beauty.” I’m curious. What would it take to invalidate a concept. Magic as one example. If it can’t be proven to exist, or shown to get reliable results, doesn’t that invalidate it? Or the soul? If nobody can find it or define it or show any proof that it doesn’t have a material existence, doesn’t that invalidate the concept?
Personally I think of the soul as an emergent quality, like a whirlpool in a river. One can’t have a whirlpool without some whirling water.
Freefox, you do have a habit of confusing me, so I’d really appreciate you clearing this one up;
When I said “Freefox, I made pretty much the same point – namely the difference between the intelligence, emotions, etc. of human and non-human animals being no more than a matter of degrees ”
you replied with
“@AoS: Not sure that was the point of my point”
yet the point I was referring to was
“Do you really think that our human ability to form concepts and act upon them (or chose not to) is really that fundamentally different from a termite’s concept of a termite hill …….. Our concepts may be much more complex..… but I doubt that it differes much in principle”.
What am I missing?
Darwin Harmless, re. the soul; it speaks volumes to me that we can detect the chemical make-up of stars and nebulae millions of light years away, yet we still cannot either detect nor record this mysterious ‘life-force’ that allegedly we all possess and somehow is supposed to live on after our physical death.
Could it really be that ‘soul’ was the name originally given to those voices we hear in our heads that we now recognise as thoughts stemming from our own consciousness?
Acolyte of Sagan “Could it really be that ‘soul’ was the name originally given to those voices we hear in our heads that we now recognize as thoughts stemming from our own consciousness?” I think there is theory that the God who spoke to so many people in the old days was merely a part of their brain that hadn’t integrated and been recognized as their own voice. So yeah, I think it’s more than possible.
In any event, I think people who think that they are somehow separate from their body and their brain really haven’t looked at the situation very closely.
Consciousness is the big puzzle. And I think we should solve it, because if we can solve it we might be able to make a different “bottle” than our body and brain to hold our consciousness. If we could do that, we’d have the control we’ve always wanted.
I recently read “The Selfish Gene” (I know. Took me long enough to get around to it.) Dawkins gives us the viewpoint of us being simply machines manufactured by genes to help them survive, with consciousness as a byproduct. Well, we don’t care about our genes. Not really. What we care about is our consciousness, our egoic self. Let’s figure out a way to contain our consciousness in some other material than gushy mushy old brains. Could take us a while though.
Darwin Harmless, because on a very basic level consciousness is a result of electrically driven signals which are detectable through technology such as EEG, we can already record and play back these impulses. The problems are in a) developing the hardware able to interpret the information in the same way that our grey matter does; and b) storing the information seperate from the brain without the subject losing consciousness.
I can see the possibility of a literal ‘memory’ stick, onto which one could store and recall memories far more accurately than the brain does, but whether it will ever be possible to seperate consciousness from the mind is anyone’s guess, at least while the brain itself is still alive. Maybe someone will eventually come up with a brain implant able to ‘record’ consciousness, which at death could be removed and re-activated through computer hardware, but would this count as consciousness surviving death of the individual, ie the individual concerned will continue to be aware despite the obvious handicap of having no living brain? Or would it be classed as no more than just another form of recording, so it ‘lives’ on in the same way that Elvis lives on in the form of his recordings?
Another possibility could be an updated version of Jung’s idea of a collective unconscious, whereby our consciousness is uploaded to a central database, something like the internet (but NOT like heaven) where the individual consciousness can freely interact with all others in the database.
The big questions that need to be answered before anything like the above becomes a possibility are of course; what is consciousness and can it exist and function seperately from the brain?
@DH: I learned in biology class in school that an engram is the biochemical “bit” in the brain that stores memories. Apparently it’s not completely agreed upon my modern neurology, but I think it serves as a short term for whatever exact mechanism our brains use to store memories.
@DH: Regarding the soul and the whirlpool – exactly.
@AoS: I just meant to say that the fundamental lack of difference between human consciousness and any other kind of natural process from the consciousness of animals to whole “unconscious” processes like growth of mould, oxidation of iron, collapse of neutron stars, or anything else in the universe (that far our points are congruous, I think) was just the springboard from which I tried to get to my main point: that understanding the mechanism of something doesn’t invalidate it. Seeing the individual trees doesn’t disprove the existance of the forest. An emergent phenomenon is not less a valid phenomenon just because it emerges from a multitude or natural causes. Since to me neuroscience mostly explaines ghosts, spirits, the soul, eternal life, even god or the intercession of saints (albeit certainly not in the simplistic, literalist way of hoary old orthodox religious nuts), I kinda thought that at some point your point and my point probably diverged.
Btw, in case anyone is interested (and in order to prevent me hijacking anything here), here is a version of my understanding of the soul and immortality, although the way I wrote it when I was 15 and a few weeks away from a suicide attempt, so please excuse the thick romanticism. Follies of youth. :p
@DH: “Let’s figure out a way to contain our consciousness in some other material than gushy mushy old brains. Could take us a while though.”
I though we did that a long time ago, probably the first time some cro magnon person took a piece of charcoal and drew his latest adventure with some mamoth (or perhaps some dream of a mamoth) onto the wall. What do you think art is? ^_^
Freefox, thanks for that, I see what you were getting at now. Just out of interest, have you read ‘Deep Simplicity’ by John Gribbin? If not, then considering your obvious interest in connections at a very fundamental level, I’d thoroughly recommend it; I’d never have thought that there could be a single theory linking such diverse topics as traffic jams, evolution by natural selection, stock markets, the formation of galaxies, and earthquakes, but there is, and it’s all centred on what happens on the edge of chaos.
Now, to art. With the exception of ‘living’ art, it cannot be classed as having consciousness in it’s own right, so while the Mona Lisa, or the Lascaux cave paintings of hunters may indeed represent conscious beings, as interpreted by the conscious -and subconscious- minds of the artists, the pictures themselves are nothing more or less than expertly applied pigments; they’re just inanimate objects (even if the eyes do follow you around the room).
What Darwin Harmless and I were looking at – unless I misunderstood his point – was a way of containing the conscious mind as a ‘living’ entity, one that could continue to function – to retain awareness of itself – outside of the brain, rather than your definition which, poetic as it is, simply describes a means of representing our consciousness.
@Acolyte of Sagan Exactly. Art is a creation of consciousness, not consciousness itself. I’m looking for a new kind of brain bottle, and you understood me perfectly.
I love the idea of a brain bottle, the polar opposite of a whisky bottle.
Just to continue this whimsy; if it were possible to download your consciousness to a ‘personality’ chip to enable it to survive your physical demise*, would you rather have it transferred to a computerised android, another human -or even non human – being, or added to my theoretical collective consciousness?
Acolyte of Sagan Well, first of all I’d want a backup or two. The collective consciousness sounds attractive. After all, isn’t that what we are always searching for. True love. Total union with another human being. And this wouldn’t have all that messy sex and body function stuff getting in the way. But then, sex is the reason we want this union in the first place. I’m getting confused here.
If you had a consciousness without a body, what happens to all the pleasures of the flesh? We’d still need the pleasure and pain center, the emotional center, or else we wouldn’t be able to make any decisions. Imagining a consciousness separate from a body brings in all kinds of complications. What’s my motivation? It wouldn’t be survival any more. Status? Status in the hive mind. Much to think about.
Maybe we need both – some form of a body, and some connection to the collective consciousness. So, would that be a democracy? Or a constant striving for dominance?
I think I need the polar opposite of a brain bottle.
@AoS & DH: I apologise. Yes, I misunderstood what you two meant. (Though I would posit that art is more than just the expression of consciousness. It is also the vector through which it is spread. Not the complete, seperate, individual consciousness of one person but just bits and pieces and aspects of it… but still the actual transfer of ways to think or see the world, of ethics, of personality traits, behaviour, weltanschauung, and values… in short, of parts of the soul.)
But I still don’t quite get your aim. I mean, yes, I suppose at least theoretically it should of course be possible to analyse the neurological processes that make up consciousness and simulate them on some other medium, if that medium is complex enough. Kind of like the emulator of some old computer system on a newer system. But don’t you think that is usually a rather disappointing experience?
And anyway… conscious, as we all previously agrees (at least I thought we did) is an expression of the physical world. If you took it out of the brain with its hormones and physical needs and imperfections, you would either lose something that is essential to the process (and this transformining into something, well, whatever it would be it would be something new and not be a human consciousness any more), or you would have simulate this “prison of flesh” as well… making the experiment kind of moot. If you strip mortality, emotionality, unrealiable memory, biases, dreams, fears, the entire subconscious from consciousness… it wouldn’t be the consciousness you were trying to get anymore. Very Heisenbergian.
It seems to me you are still caught in that (basically religious) concept that the mind (the soul) is a seperate entity – that there is some essence to the whirlpool at is sperate from the whirling water and could be captured and conserved seperately – that fabled “immortal soul”, and not an expression of exactly all those physical processes that make it up inside our fleshy brains now.
@AoS: “the pictures themselves are nothing more or less than expertly applied pigments” I really don’t want to claim that art is in itself conscious, but as noted, only a way to store and transmit consciousness (like spores of a fungus), but I just caught my mental toe on what seems to me to be the underlying assumption implied here: Your consciousness is nothing more than a function of complexly grown and electrically charged strings of protein. Basically just the same carbon making up a lot of ink and paint, mixed with traces of a few slightly different elements, and composed in a slightly different form. There is no fundamental difference between consciousness and grains of sand trickling down from a dune, slowly moving the dune away from the wind. Just natural processes of cause and effect of varying levels of complexity.
@DH: I think I just understood what bothers me about the idea of the brain bottle. A bottle is essentially an empty vessel there to hold something completely different. But as you said yourself, that isn’t what consciousness is. THe brain is not a bottle, it’s more like an engine. Like you are saying you want to transfer the locomotion of a car but into something other than an engine. Of course you can build another kind of engine that also produces locomation… but there is no way to extract the power of movement from one engine and place it somewhere else. THe kinetic energy, perhaps. But not the actual production of it.
FreeFox, saying “It seems to me you are still caught in that (basically religious) concept that the mind (the soul) is a seperate entity” suggests that you haven’t quite understood this thought experiment. Think of it more like seperating rather than seperate entities. We can already keep a heart functioning after isolating it from the host body,either by artificial means or in a new living host; the question is, could we do the same with consciousness if we could do more than merely detect it’s signs?
Re. art; of course it is more than the sum of it’s parts, it can stimulate the senses and have great emotive power – but only when the viewer understands or appreciates it. I look at a Lowry and I can almost ‘feel’ the picture; I know how the streets smell, can hear the clatter and chatter and taste the gritty air; I look at Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ and see…..some not very well painted sunflowers. However, were I part of the hypothetical ‘collective consciousness’ then maybe I could appreciate Van Gogh too.
Darwin Harmless; without consciousness we can have no emotions, pleasure etc, but without sensory input all that would be left were memories with no new physical experiences, but if the memories included the physical sensation then a ‘collective’ would hold countless new experiences; the experiences of every consciousness in there would be yours to explore.
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