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I’d like to think that someday Americans are all going to wake up, look at their shithole of a country, look at each other, and then march into the chambers of Congress with pistols in hand and take back the government that was meant to have been theirs in the first place.  But it’s never going to happen.  Laziness and ignorance are easier, and the government knows this.  So, instead of actually trying to accomplish anything that might be even remotely beneficial to the majority of the American public, most members of the legislative branch of our government are content to auction their votes like dildos on eBay and distract most of the country from what is going on with clever wordplay and smiling faces.

Read this.

Three options.  1. The American public rises out of willful ignorance and passive information consumption and decides to actually do something about the money-stuffed mode of governance that has come to dominate the current, and surely future, political scene.  2. The government tells lobbyists/corporations/Congress members who accept bribes (don’t be fooled, campaign contributions are nothing less) to fuck off.  3. Nothing changes and things continue to suck.  Bet you can guess which option will prevail.

Fuck America.  Fuck the government.  And fuck every money-grabbing whore of a “representative” who keeps trying to pass off “their” vote as their own.

Oh, and fuck you Mr. Obama for trying to make H.R. 3962  sound like some kind of victory for the American people.  You know, I’m ashamed to say that I actually thought you might make a difference in the way things are done in Washington.

Void damn the distance.

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I. Linguistics

Perhaps one reason we have a problem talking about consciousness from a materialist perspective is that we were never taught to do so.  Even our present conversations, though we may argue for the materialist’s case, are formed around methods of thinking/speaking (language games) that only take into account some form of Cartesian dualism.  For example: less than thirty minutes ago I found myself brushing my teeth before going to bed.  As I did this, I thought to myself, “I wonder whether I’m brushing my teeth because ‘I’ originated the thought to do so and acted accordingly (the ‘I’ here should be understood as implying top-down causation); or because all the training and instruction ‘I’ was given as a child, during my brain’s formative years, caused me to do so, and ‘I’ simply thought to myself, “I should brush my teeth now,” because that is the way my brain has been wired, by a community language game, to express the sequence of neurons that fire as a result of that early training (the “I” here should be understood to imply bottom-up causation).”  In other words, maybe our evolutionary upbringing doomed us to formulating our language games around metaphysical “objects” because when our ancestors’ brains were much smaller they could not have comprehended the materialist perspective, nor did they have the science to do so.  If the materialist perspective, instead of a metaphysical one, were the basis of our language games, we might, instead of thinking, “Wow, I’m glad I got that drink just now!” (as we would in metaphysical system), think, “My body was really in need of some liquid, and as a result of that need my brain signaled my body to reach for the cup of water within my reach and take a drink, this action triggered a reward response within my brain, and I’m only thinking this thought because those events occurred. ”

II. Consciousness and Materialism

The above statements leave one with an immense desire for an answer to the question of the nature of consciousness.  Consciousness is memory recall.  The strict materialist perspective states that all that exist are atoms.  (As with my last post, writing “atoms” is easier than trying to describe the sundry and complex sub-atomic machinery that make up our reality, but it is implied that only physical objects (matter) exist.)  The very fact that I can type and you can read this blog post are evidence that these atoms exist through some feature of Nature, our physics, that we call time.  As a result of this continuous, uni-directional motion “through” time, other “things” come into existence that can probably be best described as events.  Sound is an event.  It is the result of atomic interactions, and has no mass itself, but exists through time.  Star formation is an event.  It takes time, but we have discovered the method by which new stars are “born” in the universe.  Growth is an event.  It is a wonder of our physics that biological structures age over time, reproduce, and die.  Consciousness is also an event.

There are two miracles that have ever occurred.  The first is that the physics began and exist through time.  The second is that one result of a particular and specific application of those physics, over time, resulted in at least one biological creature that can reflect back on the physics and discover, possibly, how it came to be.

The wonder of biology is that there is a biology at all!  We were certainly not destined to be here!  But the fact is that there is biological life, and that such life evolved over time, driven by the changes in our planet’s geography, and that the evolution of such life resulted in me and you.  Remember, all that exist are atoms.  In order for mammalian creatures to have advanced to the level of complexity that the human body exhibits, those creatures must have had to interact with other members of their species in some type of community living arrangement.  This is required by reproduction, geography, and human brain size.  In order for those creatures to interact and arrange themselves in some type of community living arrangement, memory (event-storing) modules must have been in place in those creatures brains.  This is required, minimally, by facial/spousal recognition, and maximally, by language.  I take for granted here that perception alone, that is, the ability of the body to take in data from its exterior physics, is not enough for consciousness, for even flowers do that.  No, consciousness requires and begins with memory recall.  This makes the brain an even more miraculous contraption, for all that exist are atoms, and all that happen are events.

III. Objections

One immediate objection that I can think of to the above argument is that this presentation of the materialist perspective requires one to ascribe consciousness to much less complex biological creatures than humans.  Yes, but it is rather elitist to object in this way, is it not?  Perhaps it is the case that we want to restrict our definition of “conscious beings” to creatures that exhibit language, or any other trait that we so desire, but where we draw the boundary lines  for our definitions of “consciousness” and “language” are arbitrary anyway, and are hardly grounds for an objection of this sort.  Perhaps we need to accept that we are not so different from our animal relatives and acknowledge that many less complex forms of life may also experience some form of this mysterious consciousness.

Another objection, that only slightly weasles its way around the above rebuttal, is that consciousness should be defined as beginning with the ability to form a self-concept.  The above rebuttal still applies, but I should add that this objection also falls prey to what was addressed in, I. Linguistics, above.  Self-concept is a result of, at least, the human brain’s complex memory storage system and the language games it is programmed to use to express certain patterns of neuronal firings.  We only think in terms of “self-concepts” because we have been programmed to do so.

A third objection, which has been thought tenable within popular discourse, is that my entire perspective is flawed because a strictly materialist perspective cannot account for the physics of the universe.  This objection, as with all faith claims, cannot be deductively de-boned, but it is worth asking why we need metaphysical explanations for events when the same events can be described more accurately and in greater detail by physical explanations.

One last objection that really isn’t an objection, but more of a tough pill to swallow.  The above arguments imply and embrace a very strict determinism.  It is possible that every event that takes place in the universe is prone to a standard fluctuation in causal probabilities, but this comes nothing close to the “free will” that we think of when discussing Cartesian dualism.  A tough pill to swallow indeed.  But remember, there are two miracles that have taken place, so far, and “you” are lucky enough to be the benefactor of both of them.

Void damn the distance.

Note: Much of the content of this post was developed through conversations with Chris Schafer.  I am in his debt.

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Love

I know that the physical universe breaks down into smaller pieces than atoms; however, it is simpler to say, “atoms are all there are,” than to undertake to list all the sub-atomic machinery sponsoring the reality we are experiencing at the moment.  (We probably couldn’t even do it if we tried.)

Personally, I think it is philosophically, logically, and generally irresponsible for educated people in this 21st century to not be materialists, in the strictest sense of the word.  Simply put, where is the evidence for anything else?  Atoms are all there are.  But this is hard to swallow, and it doesn’t sit well once you finally get it down.  But what are we to do?  Invent grandiose lies and myths for ourselves in the interest of “happiness” and “social cohesion?”  I think not, for these things are more easily and favorably realized from a materialist perspective.  “Meaning,” however, stands in a class of its own as an intangible desire, for the human brain appears to be hard-wired to seek it out.

As there exist no gods to impart meaning upon our lives, we are left to seek out and invent “meaning” wherever we can.  As long as our search does not take us beyond the realm of the atom we commit no intellectual atrocities, and are generally free to fill our glasses at will.

People find “meaning” in all manner of places.  For some it is their work that gives them the sense of purpose, utility, and direction that they long for.  Others find it in hobbies and other personal endeavors.  And, most commonly, I think people find “meaning” in relationship with other people.  This really is not, and should not be, surprising.  Humans, like their forebears, are social animals, and thus we find emotional fulfillment when we can identify either with a group of people or with another individual.  It is this second relationship that I would like to address.

“Love” is tricky.  For a number of years I attempted, in vain, to pin down a definition of “love” that would somehow encapsulate all of the emotions, thoughts, and sensations that come with what I thought saying, “I love you,” was supposed to represent.  In other words, I wanted to know exactly what I was saying when I said those words.  Unfortunately, the ambiguities of the English language do not allow for a comprehensive definition of “love,” and thus we are left to partition out our definitions of “love” according to context (which determines use).  There is no doubt that loving is caring.  And loving is interest.  And loving is desire.  But I now think there is an understanding of the concept of “love” that comes before all of these.

As a materialist I cannot believe in miracles, in the metaphysical sense.  Though it is somewhat unclear to simply say that the “laws” of Nature govern everything that happens in the universe, I think the thrust of this statement is clear enough.  Yet, somehow, out of all the governed reactions and interactions that take place, a certain species of animal on a certain rock in space (unfortunately) evolved the miraculous ability to self-reflect.  And if there is a “meaning” to life, it is simply this: to enjoy, explore, and relish in the miracle of consciousness.

“Love,” then, is the feeling of wanting to explore one’s conscious experience with another individual, and to enable them to do the same through you.

The next time I tell someone that I love them, I’ll know exactly what I mean.

Void damn the distance.

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One of these days…

http://www.ucsc.edu/currents/03-04/05-03/drug_study.html

Void damn the distance.

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Leon Lott

Richmond (SC) County Sheriff Leon Lott is a fuck of the highest caliber.  Read this:

http://www.thestate.com/local/story/682695.html

Void damn the distance.

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It’s easy to see how myths about the “man in the moon” got started, isn’t it?  We look up, pareidolia kicks in, and voilà! insta-myth.  But this tendency isn’t really anything surprising, is it?  Everyone has heard the stories about seeing the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast or Osama bin Laden in the smoke billowing from the twin towers on September 11, 2001.

In a twist on these fantastic stories, I submit to you the following thesis: arguments for the existence of god are no different than arguments for the existence of the man in the moon.

When we look up at the moon on a clear night we see a pattern of craters and mountains that, from 238,855 miles away, can often appear to take the form of a human face.  Of course, we know that the moon does not really have a “face,” but our mind can sometimes trick us into thinking that it does.  Essentially we are taking something aleatoric and incomprehensible, a blurry topography of mountains and craters on the moon, and substituting, in its place, something we can comprehend, a human face: we’re trying to make sense of the data set with which our senses have provided us.  Efforts of this nature are analogous to the argument that (most) people make for the existence of god.

As arguments for god’s existence go, Aquinas’ “teleological argument” is really the only one that still insists on rearing its shriveled head, and will thus be the focus of my criticism.  The so called “ontological argument” fell apart as soon as Anselm realized that believing in unicorns or trolls didn’t make them real, either.  And the “cosmological argument” is so full of bullshit that even a six-year-old can dismantle it.  So, what is it about the teleological argument that has kept it around for so long?

Well, for one thing, it seems to be our natural, human response to take data sets that we do not, or cannot, understand and make sense of them by re-framing them in comprehensible terms.  (On a side note, one unfortunate side effect of this type of “understanding” is that it often allows suppositions about purpose/intention to creep into one’s thinking.)  This is exactly what Thomas was doing when he formulated the teleological argument for the existence of god, and, as the argument is a reflection of mid-13th century thought, we really can’t blame him for lacking the scientific prowess and insight to know better than to use supernatural explanations  to try to account for natural phenomena.  After all, it is only within the last 150-200 years that advances in science and technology have afforded us the opportunity to begin to understand the natural world in natural terms.  That said, another reason behind the staying power of the teleological argument comes to light: the church has been drilling the argument into its subjects for nearly 750 years, and the scientific community has only been able to respond with counter-evidence in the past 200.  However, this persistence does not make the argument tenable: we don’t throw virgins into volcanoes anymore, either.

For those individuals who base their belief in god on the teleological argument, I will grant the following: it almost makes sense.  Before a certain point in history it is very easy to understand why someone, when observing Nature, would ask, “I wonder who created this?”  After all, we can look at a painting and know who painted it.  If we sit down for a home-cooked meal we know who made the food we are about to enjoy.  “Who?” is one of the default questions we learn to ask when searching for (efficient) cause.  But, perhaps most important to our present discussion, “who” implies personhood (or at least intelligent agency).  Thus, the very nature of the question, “Who created Nature?” implies the existence of a sentient being outside of Nature.  (No being within Nature could have created it.)  There are two criticisms of the teleological argument that spin off from this point.

First, and of particular concern for theists, is the anthropomorphic nature of the question, “Who?”  As stated above, the nature of the question implies personhood, and, in most cases, a very human personhood.  This is a problem for theists because it is not at all straightforwardly clear that, if there were a who that created all of Nature, that such a who would be anything like a human being.  To quote Xenophanes,

“Mortals deem that gods are…as they are, and have clothes like theirs, and voice and form…yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as (humans) do, horses would paint the forms of gods like horses, and and oxen like oxen…” (1)

There is a second criticism that spins off from the question, “Who created this?”  And it is that the efficient cause is not always a who.  Consider an oak tree.  We know that oak trees grow from acorns, and that acorns come from oak trees.  So, if one were to walk outside and ask, “Who created this?” about an oak tree, they would have already confused themselves.  The proper question to ask is, “What state of affairs came about to bring this oak tree into existence?”  This question allows for the involvement of a who within the state of affairs leading up to the tree, but does not constrain the set of possible answers.  And we know the answer to the latter question about the oak tree: an acorn was buried and, over time, grew into the tree.  (Some philosophers think that the answer to this question must be pushed back another level.  They would say that another oak tree caused the oak tree in question, because the first tree supplied the acorn.  Others think that causation must be pushed back even further than second-level.  This may be the case, but at some point practical considerations must limit the depth of inquiry.)

Taking one very large step up in scope, let us apply this same question to Nature as a whole.  As I stated above, before a certain point in history it is very easy to understand why someone, when observing Nature, would ask, “I wonder who created this?”  What they were actually asking may have been something akin to my restated question, “What state of affairs came about to bring ____ into existence?” but they had already partially answered this question, perhaps unconsciously, by assuming that the causal mechanism involved a who.  At one time this was an understandable and acceptable, even expected, assumption.  Today it is neither.  Science and mathematics have provided us with the technology and methodology necessary to understand that much of Nature can be understood and accounted for without having to invoke a who as a causal mechanism.  (And I can think of no reason, aside from a nuclear war, to suspect that we will not, one day, be able to account for all of Nature in naturalistic terms.)  This being the case, any serious consideration of the teleological argument for the existence of god has met its end.

That said, I suppose that it is still possible to believe in a creative deity of some sort, but, as I like to say, an individual with such beliefs is doing little more than stapling god onto the back of a system that doesn’t need the extra weight.  (Occam’s razor)

Besides, isn’t the idea that it all just happened more fascinating anyway?

Void damn the distance.

References:

(1) From Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy.

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The following are thoughts from the outside.  I apologize for the length.

Voters in the state of California recently passed Proposition 8, a ballot initiative amending their state constitution and legally defining “marriage” as a union between a man and a woman.  This bill was, obviously, the center of much controversy, as California was previously one of the few states in which homosexual couples could be married under the law.

While the purpose of this post is not to comment on Prop 8 or to share my thoughts on homosexual marriage, I will say that I think the passage of this measure (and the ideology reflected therein) will go down in history as one of the great fuck-ups of our generation.

With all the attention that was paid to Prop 8 in the weeks leading up to and following its passage, I began to ruminate on the subject of homosexuality.  I will begin with a few comments about sexuality in general.

Sexual activity serves a number of purposes in the animal kingdom.  Among these are relational bonding, play, and, obviously, reproduction.  It will surely come as a surprise to some that “homosexual behavior has been observed in 1,500 animal species,” and that, “no species has been found in which homosexual behavior has not been shown to exist, with the exception of species that never have sex at all, such as sea urchins and aphis.” (1)  (The Wikipedia page on this subject is interesting and informative as well.)

With that said it is hardly surprising that homosexual behavior is found in humans.  (So much for the absurd idea that homosexuality is a choice.)  What is surprising, however, is the rather odd stance humanity has taken with regards to homosexuality.

Or is it?  A quick Google search for “percentage of people that are homosexual” and a skimming of a few of the results turned up estimates identifying between five and ten percent of humans as homosexual.  (I’m going to assume that these estimates are accurate.)  Have non-normative minorities not been pushed to the outskirts of society throughout history?  The Jews, African-Americans and other ethnic minorities, a number of religious groups, and women (specifically with regards to occupational opportunities) immediately come to mind, though there are undoubtedly other examples.

In America homosexuality is a taboo subject.  However, In recent years, as post-modernism has started to sink in and the first generation of children born in the “information age” has matured, the topic has become more accessible in public discourse, though it is not yet safe to say that homosexuality is “out of the closet.”  One reason for the hesitance with which the subject is approached is the overbearing influence of Christianity in the United States.

One unfortunate consequence of Christianity’s stranglehold on the American consciousness is the introduction of political action against homosexuals.  In 1996, Bob Barr (R-GA), introduced the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to Congress.  It was made into law on September 21st of that year.  When President George W. Bush ran for re-election in 2004, he secured the support of a large percentage of religious voters by promising to push a constitutional amendment through Congress that would have been very similar to Proposition 8, if it had passed.  Currently only four states allow same-sex couples to marry or participate in civil unions (though several others will recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions established in other states). (2)  With the odds heavily stacked against homosexual individuals, is it any wonder that a number of them have responded as they have?

This last statement requires explanation.  In situations involving the persecution of one people group by another, one generally finds that members of the groups under attack will respond in one of two ways.  First, they will quietly absorb the persecution and try their best to live a happy life under the circumstances.  Or, second, they will adopt a kind of “fuck the establishment” mindset and begin to accentuate the differences for which they are being marginalized in their behavior patterns.  When it comes to the public perception of the group at the receiving end of the blows, the stereotype is often defined by those individuals who have chosen to “fuck the establishment.”  Such is the case, or so it seems, with homosexuals.

As a result, in some ways, homosexuals may be responsible for the position they find themselves in.  (Not that homosexual people are responsible for instigating their ostrazation, but that they don’t do much to help the case against their aggressors.)  Sexuality, contrary to popular opinion, is only one aspect of being human, but many members of the homosexual community wear their sexuality on their sleeves instead of incorporating it into the rest of their personality (this is, of course, assuming that sexuality does not define personality).  Like I said when I began, these are thoughts from the outside, but it seems to me that gay-pride parades, flamboyant clothing, and drag shows are not necessary parts of a homosexual lifestyle.  Why must being homosexual include participation in these activities when they only serve to perpetuate and reinforce the negative stereotypes some people have about them?  Granted, not all homosexual individuals participate in drag shows and parades, but those who do affect the way those who are more moderate are perceived.

I realize that these issues are likely reflective of the wider trend in American society towards sexuality as a public interaction.  There is also a good chance that, because I am on the outside, I do not completely understand the homosexual lifestyle, possibly rendering my questions inane.

But hey, I thought I’d at least put it out there.

Void damn the distance.

References:

(1) http://www.news-medical.net/?id=20718

(2) http://gaylife.about.com/od/samesexmarriage/a/legalgaymarriag.htm

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