Saturday, August 30, 2008

Musings and Quotes for Saturday

Condensed from About.Com
"John McCain did the right thing and tapped Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running-mate.
".Palin showed a commitment to her pro-life conservative principles by not bowing to the pressure to abort her mentally-challenged child.
".Palin will be keenly aware of how her military decisions and the decisions she influences as vice-president will affect the men and women serving in the armed forces. Her oldest son, Trig, (sic) is headed to Iraq next month.
".At 44, Palin nullifies any advantage Barack Obama might have with his youth...brings a refreshing female voice to the debates and the campaign... has a likeable style and toughness .
"...earned a staggering 90-percent approval rating from her Alaskan constituents, not the easiest people to please. Her commitment to her principles and her willingness to follow through on promises makes her the toast of Alaska, the darling of the GOP and, now, the apple of the nation's eye."
Justin Quinn

Condensed from CATO Institute for Media
"She has been a crusader against pork-barrel spending and has taken on the corrupt Alaska Republican establishment. Certainly this pick carries a great deal of risk, but it has a high upside as well." Michael D. Tanner
"Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's selection as John McCain's running mate is a political masterstroke. Always an electorally attractive choice, Palin is an even stronger selection following Barack Obama's political punt on Joe Biden. Palin checks a lot of boxes for the McCain campaign: a maverick, anti-establishment profile; a youthful, telegenic, professional woman and devoted mother; and a non-Beltway politician popular among grassroots conservatives." Patrick Basham
"Palin supported and signed into law a $1.5 billion tax increase on oil companies in the form of higher severance taxes. One rule of thumb is that higher taxes cause less investment. Sure enough, State Tax Notes reported (January 7): “After ACES was passed, ConocoPhillips, Alaska’s most active oil exploration company and one of the top three producers, announced it was canceling plans to build a diesel fuel refinery at the Kuparuk oil field. ConocoPhillips blamed the cancellation on passage of ACES [the new tax]. The refinery would have allowed the company to produce low-sulfur diesel fuel onsite for its vehicles and other uses on the North Slope, rather than haul the fuel there from existing refineries.” "Chris Edwards

Condensed from Fox News.Com
" Women are not fungible.
"I don’t know if anyone sitting around with John McCain in the last few days has explained that to him; frankly, I don’t know if there even were any women sitting around with John McCain in the last few days. But, I think I understand a few things about Hillary’s base in the Democratic party, and why so many women have been so loyal to her, and if John McCain thinks that simply picking another person with similar anatomy is going to win their votes, he’s about to learn a very important lesson in gender politics." Susan Estrich,2933,413525,00.html

"I appointed both Democrats and independents to serve in my administration. And I championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. In fact, I told Congress — I told Congress, “Thanks, but no thanks,” on that bridge to nowhere.
If our state wanted a bridge, I said we’d build it ourselves. Well, it’s always, though, safer in politics to avoid risk, to just kind of go along with the status quo. But I didn’t get into government to do the safe and easy things. A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not why the ship is built.
Politics isn’t just a game of competing interests and clashing parties. The people of America expect us to seek public office and to serve for the right reasons.
And the right reason is to challenge the status quo and to serve the common good. Now, no one expects us to agree on everything, whether in Juneau or in Washington. But we are expected to govern with integrity, and goodwill, and clear convictions, and a servant’s heart."
Sarah Palin

Now, my own opinions are these:
I hate Obama's far left politics, and if elected he will cost this nation a lot, in terms of money, in terms of irreversible social policies such as came from the FDR's New Deal (like Social Security,) to LBJ's Great Society, whose "War on Poverty" still has young people asking by what means can we eliminate poverty, as if that is ever going to happen. You can't legislate equal pay to all persons; you can't take from the rich to give to the poor; and if you give a college education to everyone, there are still those who will make so much more than others, percentage-wise, that they will cause those who among the college educated will fail at life, to fall under the "poverty line."

But Obama is the person America needs to heal us from decades of wounds done to the self-esteem of black Americans, and to the esteem of white American's who were ashamed of what their neighbors had perpetrated on blacks. His election would give MLK's "Dream" a reality that others before Obama could never have brought. He acts like a politician, not like a black politician, such as Jesse Jackson. Oh, I admire Jackson for many things, including the teaching of
blacks in the 60's to stand up and shout, "Say it loud--I'm black and I'm proud!"

Jackson even has international foreign policy credentials which I admire: "In addition to Slobodan Milosevic, Jackson has also persuaded Hafez al-Assad, Fidel Castro, and Saddam Hussein to set American captives free."

But Jackson's personality often appears to polarize America. It is an historic fact that most black American politicians are polarizing. After all, they came of age in the violent era of the Civil Rights Movement. Obama is not polarizing and doesn't come from that generation. He does not even have any American ancestors who were slaves. That has caused some of those polarizing black leaders to question Obama's "blackness."

I like Obama. I really think he thinks that left-wing policies are moral, and good for people. But how he can square up those socialistic policies with the Constitution he has taught at the college level, can only be explained by the socialistic policies that our left wing courts have allowed to pass unchecked. He comes from a generation that believes because legislation and policies within the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society were not struck down as unConstitutional, that more of the same will be more than "ok," it will be cathartic for the younger generations who have demanded "social justice" and not gotten it.

With Obama they will get it, but they will push this nation further than it has ever gone, in the direction of Marx's proclamation that "From each [we shal steal] according to his ability [to be stolen from;] to each [we will give the stolen money] according to his needs [and according to how much we can afford to steal from those with ability.]"

That is not the kind of social justice that comes from the Constitutional dream of individual sovereignty. "Individual sovereignty was not a peculiar conceit of Thomas Jefferson: It was the common assumption of the day..." Joseph J. Ellis

On the other hand, the Republicans have gone along with much of it, and when they protested against leftist socialistic legislation, they protested too quietly and rarely about the socialism that such legislation represented. It was usually about the costs, or a side issue, or it was just partisan bickering.

For the cathartic effects, and because it would, in a John-Galt fashion, hasten the failures of socialistic leaders and thinkers in this country, I seriously considered voting for Obama. As I said, he's likable, and the fact that we would have elected a likable black man, rather than having this nation ripped apart more by seeing a contentious black man in the Oval Office, would heal many wounds.

But John McCain's pick of a young female who is as likable as Obama and who has the credentials of political integrity, if not of political background, changed the race. (She is a Republican who fought against corrupt Republicans in Alaskan government--and won.)

McCain will not be "four more years of Bush" because McCain pushed Bush to change much of the policy Bush was hell-bent on following. Those two have been political enemies far longer than they have appeared to be friendly. So he voted 90% with Bush? Well, sometimes voting against a bill is worse than voting for it. I suspect that if voting against Bush would not have given ammunition to the leftists in America, McCain would have voted far less than 90% with Bush.

And now, in one brilliant stroke, he has given us the same power of catharsis, for women if not for blacks; and since Obama is not a woman, we are forced to take "catharsis" one step at a time--either in the step toward black, or toward female.

See what I mean about voting against something? In this case voting against a likable woman V.P. along with a maverick Republican Presidential candidate would be worse than voting for a likable socialistic black male candidate with a contentious white male V.P.

Have a happy and safe Labor Day Weekend.

Quotes to Get You Through the Weekend
"Money won't buy happiness, but it will pay the salaries of a large research staff to study the problem." Bill Vaughan.

"If you want to be happy, be." Leo Tolstoy

"I am at two with nature." Woody Allen.

"Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up." Chinese Proverb

"The greatest reward in becoming a millionaire is not the amount of money that you earn. It is the kind of person that you have to become to become a millionaire in the first place." Jim Rohn

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." Mark Twain

"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistence." Daniel Hudson Burnham

"Operator! Give me the number for 911!" Homer J Simpson.

"First there are those who are winners, and know they are winners. Then there are the losers who know they are losers. Then there are those who are not winners, but don't know it. They're the ones for me. They never quit trying. They're the soul of our game." Paul William "Bear" Bryant

"When we got into office, the one thing that surprised me most was to find that things were just as bad as we’d been saying they were." John F. Kennedy

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." Theodore Roosevelt

"One of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is like, simply for the sake of knowing. When that desire is completely quenched in anyone, I think he has become something less than human.” – God in the Dock; C.S. Lewis

"Congratulations. I knew the record would stand until it was broken." Yogi Berra

"Only one man in a thousand is a leader of men — the other 999 follow women." Groucho Marx

"Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises."
Samuel Butler (1612-1680)

"I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong."Benjamin Franklin

"The price of greatness is responsibility." Winston Churchill

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream." Mark Twain

"For two people in a marriage to live together day after day is unquestionably the one miracle the Vatican has overlooked." Bill Cosby

"If a million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing." Anatole France

"In any free society, the conflict between social conformity and individual liberty is permanent, unresolvable, and necessary."Kathleen Norris

"We can laugh at those who think spirituality the way of weakness. Paradoxically, it is the way of strength." Bill W. from the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous

"I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." Michael Jordan

Please send all comments to

The Free Assemblage of Metaphysical Naturalists is the sm of the
Academy of Metaphysical Naturalism tm, the educational arm of the Assemblage.
This publication © 2008 by Curtis Edward Clark and Naturalist Academy Publishing ®

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Naturalistic Existence of Free Will, Soul, and Ego

In Tuesday's blog (8.26) I made a big deal of the concept of the actual existence of an actual human soul, and of free will as something actually available to men.

“Free Will,” according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP), refers to "a particular sort of capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives [and] that the concept of free will is very closely connected to the concept of moral responsibility."

As I shall show, this "moral responsibility" is at the heart of most schools of naturalism--and there are many varieties, but almost all admit, "Brains and buffaloes exist (for instance), but minds and moral values must not, because they are invisible to the five senses and therefore invisible to scientific enquiry." J. P. Moreland [italics added]

In quoting Moreland, I understand I am open to the naturalist's defense that I am using religious claims to counter scientific claims. But the heart of this metaphysical and epistemological portrayal by science of "man without mind or moral responsibility" is what is wrong about naturalism, and what is right about religion--for the wrong reasons.

It is because of the correct view of moral responsibility by religion, and of the wrong view by science, that epistemological caveats were placed on the definition of naturalism by which this Academy operates. [See sidebar]
[Mirriam-Webster Online defines caveat as "an explanation to prevent misinterpretation; a modifying or cautionary detail to be considered when evaluating, interpreting, or doing something." B.A.G.Fuller's definition, standing alone, does not cover all the subjective, non-normative goals of an empirical science that can scan a brain in real time and watch its parts "lighting up" while the subject under scrutiny looks at pictures of porn or posies, listens to various types of music, eats most-favorite and least-favorite foods, or in general has his or her empirical sensory organs stimulated.]

The view of an active will that is free of coercion whether it is coercion by other men or by nature, satisfies "the metaphysical requirement on being responsible for one's action. [ ] But the significance of free will is not exhausted by its connection to moral responsibility" (as we shall see,) continues the SEP.

For the sake of the argument allow that "ego" is an agent of cause in the lives of men. Naturalists will deny the ego exists, and people unfamiliar with the complexities of naturalism will not know why the ego should be discounted at all, since they believe all men believe it exists. The ego seems to be self-evident, and we base our morals on restricting the ego as it attempts to become king of a hill. Most naturalists do not agree it exists, that what appears "self-evident" is fiction designed only to explain, before modern science "showed" otherwise, why we acted in such and such a way.

So for the sake of the argment, "ego" is accepted by most men as the reason for demanding and accepting recognition for one's accomplishments of time, effort, and creativity; accepted as the reason for the recognition of individual sovereignty and the dignity of persons to remain free of human coercion; and accepted as the reason for values we place on other people, places, things, attributes and actions.

But naturalists don't accept free will, the soul, or the ego as real objects, not even as objects that reflect the reality of the mind, because they don't accept "mind" as anything but a fiction designed to explain a phenomenon.

The moral argument for them is exactly "[a]s you'd expect in a culture wedded to mind-body dualism but inhabiting an age of science..."

That partial sentence says it all, if you know what is at stake. The mind-body dualism leaves us "at the mercy of two monsters whom man [can] not fathom or control: of a body moved by unaccountable instincts and of a soul moved by mystic revelations—" Ayn Rand
For the New Intellectual, Men who believe in existence without a free consciousness want no part in moral responsibility, as the direct quotes below will show. That is why consciousness "inhabiting an age of science" is not a good thing for them.

The problem is that "they" have now declared that not only does the soul not exist either as "mystic revelation," nor as a natural element of the consciousness of man. They also now deny that consciousness is anything more than neurons firing, memes, genes, etc. and that what we think is consciousness--is not.

Modern science is philosophical materialism, "the metaphysical view that there is only one substance in the universe" and that that substance is empirical." The philosophical materialism of naturalists is the belief that spiritual substance does not exist.

In one sense only they are correct: that thing which they deny as "soul" cannot be objectively evaluated by any known scientific standards or methods. You can't make the "soul" light up like parts of the brain do. It is metaphysical, but metaphysical descriptions are descriptions of things that exist, in this case of what we sense as the effects we feel as emotional, or at least physical, within our bodies.

The difference between the materialist and the Objectivist position accepted by the majority of all humans who ever lived and who live now, is that "ego," and "free will" explain non-material objects that are not supernatural, and not of any substance except of knowledge of events in space-time that occur inside out bodies. As for "soul," Objectivists are on the side of the naturalists in declaring it to be the effect of empirical activities originating within the central nervous system, and which therefore die with the body.

Yet, it is disagreement as to the cause of these events that distinguishes the difference between materialistic science and objective epistemology; and it precisely the epistemology of both science and religion that is wrong.

A rational man will not harbor "the soul-body dichotomy. He will discard its irrational conflicts and contradictions, such as: mind versus heart, thought versus action, reality versus desire, the practical versus the moral. [ ] He will know that the [ ] volitional level of reason and thought—is the basic necessity of man’s survival and his greatest moral virtue. He will know that men need philosophy for the purpose of living on earth. Ayn Rand
For the New Intellectual

[I take up Rand so much in this article because one of the staunchest supporters of scientific naturalism, denying the soul and individual responsibility for personal action, is Tom Clark, of Naturalism.Org, already quoted above and much quoted below.

In email between myself and Tibor Machan, who has argued against Clark in the past, Machan said, "Clark is an avowed reductive materialist, which is a highly restricted version of naturalism (it begs the question as to what can be part of nature.)" Obviously, soul, ego, and free will are not "parts of nature," but are reduced to biological functions of the brain.

Science takes the fact that soul, ego, and free will cannot be objectively evaluated by any known scientific standards or methods to mean that no such ontological objects exist. When we insist they mean more than the identification of empirical effects on our nervous system, the effect that "feels" like what humans have always called our soul, our ego, our free will, science denies it. Once we give those objects the identity of a "moral existents" of consciousness, they cease to be scientifically useful. You can't put morals under a microscope. So soul, ego, and free will are denied, not as things we don't recognize and can not talk about, but as something with any scientific value. The only value to science of the soul and the ego is that they are the empirical effects of an empirical (chemical/electircal) cause, or of a conceptual, e.g., ideological, cause.

But conceptual causes are, themselves, attributed to empirical causes, thus eliminating them as ontological.

"In his book
Consilience, E. O. Wilson took note that sociology has identified belief in a soul as one of the universal human cultural elements. Wilson suggested that biologists need to investigate how human genes predispose people to believe in a soul." [attribution unknown]

"Man is viewed as coordinate with other parts of nature, and naturalistic psychology emphasizes the physical basis of human behavior..." says the SEP. [ibid]

"Daniel Dennett has championed the idea that the human survival strategy depends heavily on adoption of the intentional stance. [This,] Dennett suggests, has proven so successful that people tend to apply it to all aspects of human experience, thus leading to [to] conceptualizations of soul."

Watching parts of the brain light up (with functional magnetic imaging resonance) demonstrates a causal relationship between sensory stimuli, and those parts of the brain responsible for registering something about the stimuli. Comparisons are made on the particular emotions the subject is feeling at the time this-or-that part of the brain shows activity.

For example, "when you're in love, your eyes light up, your face lights up -- and, apparently, so do four tiny bits of your brain, said Andreas Bartels, a doctoral student at University College London who presented his research at the Society for Neuroscience."

We know this. This kind of thing is not new news. We've all seen it on TV if not in our own lives. What those of us in the general population don't comprehend is that scientists reverse the cause and effect, enabling them to make claims such as that because a part of your brain lights up, it causes an emotion; therefore, emotions are caused by events that take place within the empirical brain; therefore, "an individual’s development and behavior are entirely the result of prior and surrounding conditions, both genetic and environmental;" [italics added]

Or this: "Our bodies and minds are shaped in their entirety by conditions that precede us and surround us...We see that there but for circumstances go I. We would have been the homeless person in front of us, the convict, or the addict, had we been given their genetic and environmental lot in life." [italics added]

But in order to humor us about our souls, and in an attempt to explain what it is that people are comtemplating when they meditate upon their mortal souls, we get explanations like this:

"It doesn't know... to think about people playing harps sitting on clouds..." Daniel Dennett; The Atheism Tapes

The soul is the seat of self-awareness as a metaphysical entity. The soul incorporates the inner "voice" of each living being. It is the basis for consciousness of consciousness, because it is that consciously "given" thing within us upon which we focus our consciousness. We focus our consciousness back inside ourselves, and there we find an entity with a specific identity; the self.

Consciousness of consciousness is found in our Latin name. We are Homo sapiens sapiens, not, as some mistakenly believe, just "plain old" Homo sapiens. "Plain old" Homo sapiens is called "Archaic Homo sapiens" and lived "300,000 to 30,000

The soul is the basis for our seat of self-awareness, but not the cause. The cause is simply that when someone got around to looking, he saw. It had been there all the time, like math and oxygen. But someone had to be the first to see it.

Other animals have self awareness, but it is on the level of what naturalist and biologist Loren Eiseley called the eternal present. They are stuck in it. They can't think further than their next meal, or at least further than their next act. Chimps have been seen to take justice to the "eye for an eye" variety. Worse, they have been seen stomping other chimps to death just for having accidentally entered the other tribe's territory-- but they only stomped the other chimp to death after searching for it for hours, in apack like wolves. That is more than "eye for an eye," so it really means they have not given morality any consideration. They only live by their emotions, and if you are an invading chimp, friendly or not, you deserved to die.

A dog can think far enough ahead to know that when his master needs help, he must go seek that help. Dog's have a persistence to be admired. But after the rescue, they do not pat themselves on the back, and tell their friends, or their puppies, how they heroically ran up the hill, swam the creek, and ran two miles to get home to tell the Mrs. that the Mr. was injured. When the rescue is done, as far as the dog is concerned, its done. There may be residual pride. Who has not seen a proud pet. My cat's proudest moment was showing off her kittens, but after that it was the night she brought home an owl. She didn't egoistically act as if she even remembered it the next day.

So, after the event, everything is back to normal, and as for the chimps you wouldn't know in either tribe that anything out of the ordinary had happened. Because it was not out of the ordinary. And things were back to normal. Normal is living in the present with no thought to any means of bettering their relations with other tribes, or whether that is even necessary for their own survival as a species, as a tribe, or as an individual. They act as their species has acted since they popped up on the evolutionary scene, with a consciousness stuck in the moment.

Man's self-consciousness is on a different level. I like to think that psychologically man gained "sapient sapience" when the first Greek (or someone of another culture such as the Chinese,) made the first syllogism of philosophy and connected it to another and another. That was a feat no creature on earth had ever done before, and that none but man has done since.

So inner reflection, on an ontological entity, as a learned action, and the capability to make chains of syllogisms that are specifically philosophical, is the seat of the self consciousness, and what it is conscious of is its empirical sensory manifestations collectively called conscience.

But here is where I must repeat: science has the cause-and-effect backward. So what if the mechanism of the brain causes those empirical sensory manifestations? They relate to something, and that "thing" is value based. Science tests the lighting-up of the brain by using sensory stimuli, but then forgets to mention that all stimuli have value-based relationships to life; and that when it is man's brain lighting up to the smell of popcorn, or the picture of a national hero, or the sound of a melody that one danced to at his/her senior prom, that all those things have value-based relationships to a human life.

This forgetfullness should bother us--greatly. Man has the virtue of volition. Human beings are a volitional species, where "volition" means "[acting] without being compelled - by someone, or by external circumstances, or by mental illness," against one's rational considerations. The problem with this quote is that in the original it didn't end with "rational considerations." It ended with "to do it against one's wishes" which the materialist naturalist will tell you "are entirely the result of prior and surrounding conditions, both genetic and environmental." [italics added]

Volition and free will are synonymous, where free will means "the capacity unique to persons that allows them to control their actions," No such virtue as volition can exist as freedom to think or not, when genes and the chair you sit in and the sandwich you had for lunch are the cause of your desire to talk to your mother, or vacation in Orlando instead of New Orleans.

Why does science get cause and effect confused? It is entirely purposeful and based on altrusim; and not just on altruism, but on altruistic bones that we somehow get from mother nature even when altruism is a moral choice.

"The capacity for such self-modifying choices [as come with what some call free will,] and their direction, for good or ill, can always be traced back to influences that were prior to both our character and our choice-making capacity. Such tracing is at the heart of empirical explanation; it’s what science does for a living, partially. This is to say that, on a scientific understanding of ourselves, our autonomy and its uses are fully natural and fully determined, ultimately arising out of conditions that were not within our control.

"[To suppose the existence of free will] is to suppose that in empirical fact we are merely self-interested creatures. But we aren’t; there are many altruistic bones in our body," writes Clark. [2] [italics added]

Since he said this specifically in response to the "ruthless egoism" of Objectivism*, let me quote again from the originator of Objectivism: [*rational egoism is not ruthless. It is the justice one pays himself in recognition of his individual sovereignty and of the sovereignty of every other individual.]

"Do not hide behind such superficialities [in the argument about altruism] as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime." [italics added] Ayn Rand "Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World,Philosophy: Who Needs It

Altruism, as I personally argued with Clark, was coined by Auguste Comte and adopted in Britain by H. Spencer. For Comte the word meant the eradication of self as found in ones "desire," and it meant a life devoted to the good of others, not just freely offered when one had a desire to do so, since desire was to be eradicated. More particularly, Comte meant by "altrusim" selfless love and devotion to Society. In brief, it involved self-abnegation conceived as an ideal. As thus understood, altruism involves a conscious opposition to egoism, understood as rational self-interest.

Altruism is not to be confused, as Clark does, with kindness, e.g., "altruistic bones," or with good will or respect for the rights of others, said Rand. Altruism makes kindness impossible, because Comte also meant that altruism was opposed to the formal or theological pursuit of charity.

"The irreducible primary of altruism," Rand wrote, "the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good." [ibid]

Clark responded, saying, "It would be nice if all Rand’s acolytes examined her philosophy as assiduously as do you..."

To which I would add, "It would be nicer if educated men do not misunderstand it, or the meaning of such words as "altruistic," as badly as you do."

I said that science willfully forgets to tell us about the value relationship that existents have on our consciousness, and that this ought to bother us greatly. Well, here is the reason why. It is as "faith based" as religion is, and I can say this because people who forget to tell us about the value relationship of our right to give or not to give to someone needy is what altruism is all about; and the people who forget to tell us that tell us the things they want us to believe.

"Our bodies and minds are shaped in their entirety by conditions that precede us and surround us...Seeing that we are fully caused creatures - not self-caused - we can no longer take or assign ultimate credit or blame for what we do. This leads to an ethics of compassion and understanding, both toward ourselves and others. We see that there but for circumstances go I. We would have been the homeless person in front of us, the convict, or the addict, had we been given their genetic and environmental lot in life."

We are all blameless. The astronaut who walks in space cannot take pride for having earned that position of responsibility as a crewmember: it was "entirely caused by conditions that preceded him/her and surrounded him/her." And it was genes that "predisposed" him or her to believe that all the hard work and years of waiting were the cause of his/her position of responsibility on the crew.

Thus, it was Hillary Rodham-Clinton's genetic and environmental "lot in life" that prevented her from winning the Democratic nomination; and Barrak Obama's charm, youth, good looks, and electrifying speeches were not the result of having worked hard to earn or to maintain those virtues, or to use them at the time in his life when he knew he could make them come true; it was his "lot in life."

Do you know what a "lot in life" is? When used as it is here, it is a predisposition, pre-set fate, that which one carries in his genes as given him by some long-ago primate ancestor; and in his mental makeup as caused by the size of the bedroom he grew up in, the condition of the mattress on his bed, and the lack of calcium, or the excess of caffeinated soda he drank, while growing up or just before deciding to run for President.

"Researchers [from the World Health Organization] are asking people throughout Britain to describe how happy they are with their lot in life to help improve the effect of the healthcare they receive."

"[I]f we remain unconscious of [ ] predispositions we can only continue to run into inexplicable and irresolvable conflicts. These are the battles where logic and reason fly out of the window..."

"...environmental factors [ ] and genetic predisposition for asthma..." Yes, I believe we do have such things as predispositions to diseases that may be environmentally or genetically caused. But there is no environmental or genetic predisposition to running for President or for losing the candidacy, nor for robbing a bank, nor for drive-by shootings, nor for cutting fetuses from living wombs, nor for strapping a bomb to one's body and blowing it up in the middle of a market, nor for anything else that science would like to attribute to "genetics and environment," which, but for the grace of god go I.

Please send all comments to

The Free Assemblage of Metaphysical Naturalists is the sm of the Academy of Metaphysical Naturalism tm, the educational arm of the Assemblage. This publication © 2008 by Curtis Edward Clark and Naturalist Academy Publishing ®

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Naturalist Resources--A Short List Part 2

Last week on Thursday I published Part 1 of a list of resources for naturalists who are getting their feet wet in the subject, or who need further explanation. This is not going to be a "regular" Thursday feature. You won't see it again for several weeks, if ever. But tomorrow's blog, like yesterday's is about "free will vs. naturalism." That is a subject laden with pitfalls and dark corners and hidden doors. It won't be ready until tomorrow. Today, the list, Part 2.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is always a good place for good information. Its first two paragraphys under the heading "Naturalism" make clear the nature of the beast:

"The term ‘naturalism’ has no very precise meaning in contemporary philosophy. Its current usage derives from debates in America in the first half of the last century. The self-proclaimed ‘naturalists’ from that period included John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, Sidney Hook and Roy Wood Sellars. These philosophers aimed to ally philosophy more closely with science. They urged that reality is exhausted by nature, containing nothing ‘supernatural’, and that the scientific method should be used to investigate all areas of reality, including the ‘human spirit’ (Krikorian 1944, Kim 2003).
"So understood, ‘naturalism’ is not a particularly informative term as applied to contemporary philosophers. The great majority of contemporary philosophers would happily accept naturalism as just characterized—that is, they would both reject ‘supernatural’ entities, and allow that science is a possible route (if not necessarily the only one) to important truths about the ‘human spirit’."

The Secular Web is owned and operated by the Internet Infidels, Inc., a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to defending and promoting a naturalistic worldview on the Internet.

An apparent sister site, begins with its own short comparison between "metaphysical" and "methodological" naturalism, then lists a number of articles, all very much worth reading, under each heading.

(You will notice that where many "metaphysical" naturalists deny the existence of a "soul," and of "free will," this website takes the opposite view. See The Academy's Definition of "Strong" Naturalism in the left column.)

In addition, The Secular Web has one page devoted simply to listing all the names of the authors who have contributed to their site. The list is long, and impressive. They also have a Subject Index , and their own Library, which is another list

Freedom From Religion Foundation, , while not strictly a "naturalist" organization, has "more than 12,000 members, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics). FFRF has been working since 1978 to promote freethought and to keep state and church separate.
"The Foundation promotes freedom from religion with a weekly national radio show, its newspaper Freethought Today, a freethought billboard campaign and other educational endeavors, including scholarships for freethinking students. In addition, the Foundation acts on countless violations of the separation of state and church, and has taken and won many significant complaints and important lawsuits to end state/church entanglements. No one has fought harder than FFRF to legally challenge the "faith-based initiative."

They have a billboard reading: "Keep Religion OUT of Politics." It is currently displayed in Denver and will remain there throughout the Democratic National Convention.

The Skeptics Dictionary is like most other sites, attempting to explain the differences in the naturalistic points of view. It has a great number of live links to the various aspects of naturalism, then concludes that short section with this:

"The difference between mechanistic and teleological views may best be understood by considering a few examples," after which it lists the sex drive, bee pollination, pedophilia, What is the purpose of evil? teleology according to Spinoza, naturalistic worldview, and further reading.

The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia is a frequently used resource of mine. It is as objective as any reference, at least above the "blue line," where it merely defines the subject. Below the "blue line" is definitely the dogmatic version of the subject. But even having the dogma defined is often useful, and as dogma-defined goes, this Catholic reference is still objective, never preachy, merely saying what the Church says.

ALL ABOUT PHILOSOPHY.Org is obviously a theist organization, given that their only subtitle to "Naturalism" is "Improbable." But they do a good job of explaining the "defeator" arguments against naturalism (see this Academy's blog 8.11-8.16.08.)

It is definately good to understand the defeator arguments. As this blog explained in that week, you are an "uninformed" naturalist, according to Dr. Quentin Smith, if you don't know how to defeat the defeators. In a sidebar, All About lists other "world views" like atheism, secular humanism, and existentialism, among many. Interesting reading for anyone wanting to understand "the other side."

"Defense of Naturalism" by Keith Augustine, is his "Thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of theUniversity of Maryland, College Park in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree ofMaster of Arts 2001." So if you are up to a long academic paper, this one is for you. It is also available at The Secular Web, listed above.

"An Atheist Fairy Tale" is a well-put-together and interesting commentary on the connection between atheism and evolution, with many attributions, but it seems to have no author. But for the sake of the good tale, here are the links to it:
Evolutionism and Atheism
Common Objections
What is the evidence?
Intelligent Design
Theory or Fact?
Scientists and Bias
Evolutionism and Scripture
Are Creationists Honest?
Audio Video
Works Cited
It ends with this quote: "Evolutionism needs atheism needs evolutionism needs atheism needs evolutionism.Garbage in: Garbage out."

Another good argument for the "other side" is the PDF The Logical Underpinnings of Intelligent Design.

The Center for Naturalism and Naturalism.Org have a Yahoo group If you feel like discussing the subject with an organization that has some of the best scientific minds behind it, this one is for you. There is no guarantee you will get answers from any of those scientific minds, but you could always address your questions to one of those parent websites. Or you could get into arguments with their members about whether or not humans have souls and free will.

"NATURALISM IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OFSCIENCE AND CRITICAL INQUIRY" by Steven D. Schafersman was a "paper originally presented at the Conference on Naturalism, Theism and the Scientific Enterprise, sponsored by the Department of Philosophy, The University of Texas, Austin, Texas, February 20-23, 1997."

So, by clicking on that blue link to the conference, you automatically get ANOTHER resource. Don't you just love how the internet actually works?

"A Philosophical Premise of 'Naturalism'?" by Mark Isaak (another blue link) is published by Talkdesign.Org, which "is a response to the "Intelligent Design" movement of creationism. It is dedicated to: Assessing the claims of the Intelligent Design movement from the perspective of mainstream science. Addressing the wider political, cultural, philosophical, moral, religious, and educational issues that have inspired the ID movement. Providing an archive of materials that critically examine the scientific claims of the ID movement. We feel that the "Intelligent Design" arguments require this kind of focused attention due to their widespread use in antievolutionary activity."

Isaak's paper says, "we will see that the complaint about naturalism is applied unfairly to discredit only those parts of science that naturalism's critics oppose on ideological grounds."

Another of my favorite references for many things aside from naturalism is The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy . I'm not certain, but I think there is an Objectivist or a neo-objectivist behind this resource.

Apex Naturalism is an online magazine. On its About Page it says: "An apex is the top, peak or summit. Naturalism is a system of belief that proposes that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws. Thus Apex Naturalism means being dedicated to becoming the best Naturalist that we can be.
This inevitably means learning about ourselves, our naturalism and the world around us. This magazine is dedicated to that unending quest for wisdom and knowledge."

I just bookmarked that one for myself. It looks good.

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The Free Assemblage of Metaphysical Naturalists is the sm of the
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This publication © 2008 by Curtis Edward Clark and Naturalist Academy Publishing ®

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

On Free Will, the Soul, and the Single Intelligible Object

Little did I know several years ago that I would write a book on metaphysical cosmology, a subject I had barely even heard of. I had heard statements like, “Copernicus changed our cosmology with his heliocentric theory,” and, “Einstein changed it with his theory of relativity.” But I did not comprehend the magnitude of such "changes."

I am not a scientist, unless you consider metaphysics and epistemology to be science, which I do.
Metaphysics was considered by the all thinkers to be the “first science,” above all others, because presumably without it no other questions of science could be answered, let alone asked. Then the post-Renaissance skeptics ruined metaphysics by convincing the world it was unreliable at best, and a travesty of science at worst.

My book, "The Search for the Single Intelligible Object," began not as the burning desire to cover new ground, or to hash out old, forgotten and "disproved" ideas. It didn't even begin as the desire to write a book. It began as the burning desire to read as much of a variety of material in as short a period as I had ever—or rather, never—done before. I began and finished reading seventy-three books in about twenty-one weeks, books I never believed I would ever read because I was always so previously focused on specific subject matter. I could not do today what I did then, because of my focus on the works of contemporary Naturalists.

Maybe another month from now, or another year, I could do that again, when I gain a better focus on the contemporary works of Naturalism, which I need to do. I need to do it for several reasons: 1. to comprehend contemporary Naturalism which seems to exclude many of my own true beliefs; 2. to discover which of my own true beliefs are justified and which of theirs defeat my justifications; 3. which of theirs are unjustified, and why; 4. purely for the exercise of getting back to my first love, reading.

During those few short weeks, in 2005, which I found myself writing voluminous pages of notes on most of the subjects. This is not unusual for me--I've been a note-taker all my life. But over the years I have lost or discarded many of my notes. Most were worthless except as exercises in note-taking or in composition.

Those seventy-three books ranged from cowboy novels by Louis L’Amour and other writers of Western fiction--firsts for me--to Christian novels (another first) like the “Left Behind” series, books by Bodie Thoene, and by Frank E. Peretti; and a "documented" history of the Great Flood, including photos of the supposed Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat.

I read Clive Cussler, Danielle Steele, Dashiell Hammett, Tom Clancy, John LeCarre, James Michener, John Sescroart, Robert Ludlum, Jeffrey Archer and others of that genre. I read Barbara Bush, Sam Donaldson, and Bob Woodward.

"Pilgrim’s Progress" had never been on my must-read list, but I finished it. There was a book about Holland during the Reformation, and there was the biography of a Brahman, Rabi Maharaj, who converted to Christianity and then helped to found a world wide Christian youth organization, after working for Billy Graham. I had never heard of Rabi Maharaj before. How, I still manage to wonder today, can such intelligent people have visions of Jesus, as Mr. Maharaj did? I have my theories, but those theories have more to do with certain sciences of the brain, and not the subject of today's blog.

While reading those Christian-based novels, I discovered George MacDonald. One of the factors, for me, about which novels I come to like best, have to do with the characters in the stories. I discover that if I like the characters enough to wish they were real so I could meet them, talk with them, walk by their sides and take part in their lives as friend, student, teacher, then they are great novels. If the characters are such that I would want to meet them and exist in their world, then it is because we share the same metaphysical values, the same metaphysical world view, in other words, the same metaphysical cosmology.

MacDonald was the favorite author of C.S.Lewis, or so says the introduction to MacDonald's greatest work, now retitled "Malcolm." Originally two volumes, they were called "The Fisherman's Lady" and "The Marquis' Secret." But both novels were always about the most amazingly intuitive and rational being named Malcolm, a young man who comes of age and discovers a secret about his small Scottish fishing village and the marquis' estate, and consequently about himself. Malcolm does not remind me of the modern Christians I see all around me who are so pious and evangelical. Malcolm the Christian is a passionate but studiously thoughtful rational egoist. He and Ayn Rand's Howard Roark of "The Fountainhead" would have been great friends, I think. As this linked website states, "[T]here is a strong yearning to learn more about these characters of George MacDonald's immediately after reading the first."

I found novels based on history, such as one about a triangle between Queen Elizabeth, Lettice Deveroux, and the Earl of Essex. On of the best historical novels I discovered was about Welsh royalty in the twelfth century who quite possibly were the first permanent European settlers in the new world. It is still a controversy to this day, but here is the background:

"In 1580, Dr John Dee, a Londoner of Welsh descent, in his 'Title Royal', a document presented to Queen Elizabeth 1st (an English Queen of Welsh Lineage), mentioned 'The Lord Madoc, sonne of Owen Gwynedd, Prince of North Wales, led a Colonie and inhabited in Terra Florida or thereabouts.'" So wrote Hakluyt, a writer of daring deeds and exploration, in 1582 in a report on the voyages of Madoc. Hakluyt got his information from Caradoc of Llancarfan, who wrote about it circa 1140. I took it to be utterly believable, although the historical writer, James Alexander Thom, was forced to create a great deal of speculative fiction based on the few "facts" that are known. Even Lewis and Clark asked a great many questions about the decendents of Madoc, during their historic trip west.,GZEZ:2008-32,GZEZ:en-GB&q=First+Son+Madoc+novel

Most amazing of the true stories I read was of how Ross Perot did everything and whatever was necessary to get his imprisoned people out of Iran during the 1979 Wahabbi “revolution,” a rescue effort remarkable, and heroic a feat, by any standard. After reading it, I actually believe Perot had enough foreign policy knowledge and "daring do" to have been a good, if not a great President, had he not come off looking like "the funny little man" during his race for the White House.

But it may have been Herman Melville’s "Moby Dick" that I got the biggest kick out of. I certainly made many notes about it and copied many quotes from it. I use many of those quotes in my book, "The Search for the Single Intelligible Object." [See the Academy Store, in sidebar]

Fascinatingly, "Moby Dick" is the second most-studied book in English after the Bible. I found a lot of metaphysical world views in it even before I latched on to the word “cosmology.” It is those world views and the fact that each and every character in the novel has one that is unique to himself, that I believe make it the second most studied book in English.

I found almost as many cosmological perceptions in MacDonald’s faith-oriented "Malcolm," and those were certainly more usable and profoundly valuable in my personal life—as well as in the writing of my book—though I am an atheist by principle and have been since I was a child.

But it was in the finding of a definition for cosmology, after I was acquainted with the word, which propelled me into my introduction to Kant and Hegel, Spinoza, Schiller, Aristotle, Camus, Plato, Aquinas, Marcus Aurelius and others. Trying to understand the meaning of cosmology, I began to pour over dictionaries and encyclopedias of philosophy, library research computers, and the most generally helpful of all references, the "Syntopicon of the Great Ideas of the Western World," a part of the "Great Books of the Western World" series found in virtually every adult library. It was there, in the "Syntopicon," that I found my working definition of the word “cosmology.”

Never before had I contemplated the world, the heavens, the entirety of existence, as one thing to be understood as one thing, the way we may look at a grasshopper as being “one thing” and understandable in its entirety, within the boundaries of our knowledge. That our knowledge may change daily, grow by leaps and bounds, or be upset by something like Copernicus’ heliocentric theory, is not the point. Of course our knowledge will change; humans grow, that is what we do. The day our knowledge base quits growing our evolution ends, and we become like the unchanging but always changing creatures of nature, like the apes who are always the same generation to generation and oblivious that there is something greater “out there” than mere lights blinking in the night sky.

What I came to see “out there” beyond myself, that was greater than anything I had ever perceived, was Aristotle’s concept that “existence exists,” irrespective of any gods or God; that, to use a phrase of philosophy, any god or power higher than existence itself was “unnecessary.”

(Yet, this does not prove that no god exists. "Proving" that is a feat I hope I never attempt, because I find it an unnecessary thing to do, not to mention logically impossible, since I believe no one has sufficiently done it yet, and those who have tried have much more education in the field that I do. I can find enough about existence itself that is common between me and theists, and enough serenity in my own beliefs, that I have no desire to rob them of their belief. I will occasionally argue against faith, but not against the existence of God. Faith is the abnegation of reason, and so it becomes a proper subject of philosophy and of theology. The existence of God is a personal belief. As long as a believer does not find it necessary to push the against "the wall of separation between the church and state," or to stand in front of me as some "street ministers" have done and proselytize, he may believe whatever he wishes to believe. It isn't my call.)

Still, I hold no problem with anyone who accepts a god, so long as the rest of his or her life is conducted with rationality. Faith, and sometimes even religion, has been a force for good. I have learned this from personal experience: there is a “whole lot of faith and religion goin’ on” in my family tree, and I have loved and admired my relatives for the places their faith has taken them.
Cosmology is, epistemologically speaking, a recombinant of metaphysics and epistemology, in the sense that for each unique human existence, there is a unique world view. I use the word “recombinant” in the book.

It is where the recombinants are in accord with other men’s recombinants that makes us a civilization; every unique thinker--of which there are not as many as there are unique humans--each thinker contributes to civilization by contributing to us his or her thinking, and in the end civilization analyzes those contributions, and the rest of us often let that unique thinker's world view change our common thoughts. His unique view may be entirely of epistemological dimensions, or of metaphysics, or of a combination of them; but it must be of one, the other, or both. Both, as recombinants, are necessary for anyone to have a world view.

Copernicus and Einstein are only two whose thoughts we let change our cosmology. Kant had a piss-poor cosmology, epistemologically speaking. That of Aurelius was very clean and well ordered. Every character Melville wrote about in Moby Dick had a unique cosmology, a unique set of recombinants.

In order to relate to the reader how it can be that each of us has his or her own cosmology, I quote in the book many of the persons I named above, plus a great many others, so that you may discover just what I mean. Some are mean, as we perceive Dickens' Mr. Scrooge to be; some are sacrificial, like Abraham and Jesus; some men spit hellfire and damnation, others pour out pity or they are all-forgiving; some see the glass empty, some see it filled with everything that is wrong with man.

The way in which each unique thinker has touched us comes to us from his psychology. His ethics and his aesthetics come from his psychology, and psychology is the result of the recominants of metaphysics and epistemology. We can sometimes “see” the recombinants that brought men to their psychology; it usually comes to us as an intuition, a conclusion about the person's character. Psychologists and psychiatrists, are trained to see it. Psychology even has a branch now called epistemic psychology. But each unique recombinant has its own naturally resultant cosmology, which in turn creates the psychology by which that person walks through this world. Some "wake to the work of a man," as Marcus Aurelius defined it. Some hide from their own shadows.

A world view, is necessary to the proper functioning of men’s minds. Not all men appreciate its function. Some fear existence so deeply, as they have evaluated existence in their world view, that fear leads them to their demise. In some others their world view, their cosmology, has been the cause of their sainthood.

Moving backward from psychology we can ascertain a man’s cosmology, or if we have the capacity to plough further, we can go right past his cosmology to observe his metaphysics or his epistemology. Philosophers are always blasting each other for having a supposed contradiction in one or the other science. More often than not it is more important to see a man's cosmology, because his world view is what he feels in the depths of his soul. All of us “feel” in the depths of our souls, even those of us like myself who “know” our soul is only the manifestation of our central nervous system in its connection to our minds.

It is the goal of the Academy of Metaphysical Naturalists not to take the view that the soul is metaphysically of no importance, or worse yet that it does not even exist in reality, as so many of the contemporary Naturalists believe. Contemporary Naturalism places an emphasis on the mechanics of the brain, and goes so far as to say, "We are fully physical creatures, without souls. Since we are fully caused to be who we are and act as we do, we don’t have contra-causal free will." [italics added]

We do not “feel” our brains working nor "feel" the individual transmissions of each synapse. We can not literally feel our livers or our toenails without something else touching them, causing them to be noticeable. We can however “feel” our souls, because they are constantly being "touched," by our powers of cognition, as my book explains.

The soul is here to protect the sanity of the mind by giving it a sounding board. The soul and the mind are manifestations of our central nervous system, and upon death so go those manifestations. But I do not let that deter me from my attempt to becoming familiar with my soul. I am always amazed when someone asks me or another atheist, “If you don’t believe in life after death, why bother holding on to high standards in life?”

That my soul and mind are extinguished when my animal body dies is no reason for amorality. In amorality I might do harm to others. I might do hard to myself. But without a soul, one cannot have a world view, because to have such a view without an attachment to a soul makes us nothing but a collection of "antecedents," prior events and conditions in our lives which "program" us, making "an individual’s development and behavior [ ] entirely the result of prior and surrounding conditions, both genetic and environmental."

This is where I have no qualms accepting the faith of those who think God is necessary. "We shall argue that the very existence and nature of free will, purposive explanations, conscious minds, and the contingency of the cosmos are more reasonable given theism than given naturalism." Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro, An Argument from Consciousness and Free Will (Great Debate) (2007)

I do not agree with that statement. I think a rational Naturalism can as easily conclude the reality of such "purposive explanations" and "conscious minds." It is the goal of this Academy to bring that (partial) world view to Naturalism, where it once existed and from which it has now been expunged. The modern scientists of cognition and of the brain are so skeptical of such things, from what I have seen, that their ideas turn us all into creatures who can have no purpose save but to go through life acting like the steel ball in a pinball machine, victims of intentional stance, [Daniel Dennett] a behavioral strategy that predicts the actions of others based on the lack of causal-free-will.

Once it became clear to me that I was compelled to write on a subject about which I had never formally studied, I had to read, research, and write sometimes twelve hours at a time, and produce all I could about all I knew about cosmology. I was compelled to find out what I didn’t know, to make connections of logic I had not found in other’s works, to hash it out in words by re-writing sections over and over again. There were so many connections to be made beginning with metaphysics and epistemology and then on to cosmology, to psychology, and finally to ethics, I had them entwined like un-entwineable vines. But a philosopher must un-entwine thoughts, his own and the thoughts of others, in order to show faults and strengths, and fallacies and truths.

To mix a metaphor, I do not believe I have scratched the surface of my un-entwining. Cognition of ourselves being cognitive is what makes Man the “rational animal,” and I can not stop cognizing, denoting and connoting everything I see, like Aristotle on the Isle of Lesbos. And though I am no Aristotle, I can share with him that I am a thinking animal, and that existence exists. I do not share the cosmologies of many thinkers I quote in "The Search;" I only quote them to make the point that such ideas are easily found, oftenly and easily adopted by others, which is why there are fewer unique thinkers than unique Men. Or I quote them to make the point that "this or that" is a great way to feel in your cognitively-manifested soul, or that “this or that idea is an ugly rap” to hang on Man.

Bad cosmologies, bad world views cause madness in the minds of those who have them. Where that mind belongs to one of those unique thinkers, who then becomes the bearer of those ideas in a culture, (people such as authors, theologians, behavioral psychologists, etc,) their ideas can cause madness in the receiver of the bearings, you and I, because we want to believe that such experts know what they are talking about but we cannot "square up" what they tell us with what we already know, either with what we have previously been taught to be true, or what we have learned from cognitive experiences.

We are left in entanglements of competing ideas, until another thinker tells us we don't have any free will anyway, nothing really matters, we are dust in the wind. And so we see the failure of culture, and we see it in the ugly acts of people who feel lost, such as those of teen girls beating each other up on UTube; or of women cutting the fetuses from the wombs of other women to steal the baby, leaving the woman to die bleeding on the floor; or people who see school shootings or other mass murders as their only way out of such mental abysses as they find themselves in.

I am happy to be alive, happy to be able to understand by un-entwining the baffling mysteries which are mere tones of grey for some, and which go totally unnoticed by others. It isn't necessary for everyone to un-entangle such mysteries if they can successfully exist in this world. Math is my "baffling mystery" when I get beyond artithmetic. I can't do higher math the way some people can't read.

But we must hold our own unique world view in our own unique hands and peer into our subjectively unique world and make sense of it, seeing it as an organic whole, underestanding it as a "single intelligible object." We must correct our metaphysical mistakes in order not to see the organic whole as something overwhelming to us; in order not to see our smallness compared to the universe as that which overwhelms, and not to see our unique individuality with a low sense of self-esteem that causes us to feel small in comparison to others. We must not to see "being human" as something to be "overcome," as many believe it to be.

Overwhelming fear of the world comes from the psychology created when we are told that we only "think" we are conscious, that our behavior is entirely predicable, that we have no such thing as "free will" or "soul." It is the incorrect psychology, that says we cannot overcome being small in a big, big place. That feeling of smallness is what must be overcome if we are to be able to understand the meaning of being Man.

We can overcome being small in a big, big place.

We need to get back on the Enlightenment-period idea that the glass is full, full of everything that is good about Man. What is good about him is that he can determine what is moral, about himself or about the world, and fix his ethics or his psychology or his view of natural sciences, so that the bad does not begin to suck out the good, as the period we call the Dark Ages did to us.

What is good about Man is that he does not have to work hard at ethics so long as he does not do harm to others; all the rest is Scholastic, yet important. Questions must be answered, but let the answers be rational or the glass begins to empty, shot full of holes.

That "single intelligible object" about which I can think of as holding in my hand as a snow globe can be held, to see it as one organic thing of which I am a part, is a greater force than all of us put together only if we turn our metaphysics topsy-turvy. Otherwise, I am greater than that which is greater than me, because I can walk through this world as a Man and do a Man’s work, to paraphrase Aurelius, with just my own cognitive abilities as guide and counselor, and just one ethical rule to guide me: do not do unto others what I would not have them do to me.

Those ethics describe a world in which Men exist equally; the epistemology of it is “I am rational; therefore all men are capable of rationality.” The cosmology is that to pursue happiness, those first two things must be accepted, and that inanimate nature, i.e., non-thinking existence, can not defeat what it means to be Man.

The psychology of that ethics is “can do,” not the psychology of being on a speeding train on a world you didn’t create, but that the universe in your hand, in your mind, can be redesigned by you because you think. And so, men’s minds are laissez-faire, being that they are each unique. And as they are unique and laissez faire in nature, they have free will.

And if you have not achieved after reading "The Search for theSingle Intelligible Object" an understanding of how to reach that Enlightened cosmology and a non-hostile will toward men and toward yourself, then may God be with you, and may your faith be enough.

That faith is often enough for most people, and people with faith are good people for the most part. Do not think my own atheism or my use of Naturalistic ideas deters me from seeing good in people of faith. It is the contemporary thinkers with dark, overwhelming world views who see men as creatures with over-blown egos and who mess things up for the rest of Mankind by misleading us, wittingly or not. Most of them actually believe the drivel they teach us.

Be cognitive of that universe you hold in your hand; it is within your power to comprehend it, and you will feel as if God, in his infinite wisdom, really did create you in his own, nonmystical image.

Curtis Edward Clark

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The Free Assemblage of Metaphysical Naturalists is the sm of the
Academy of Metaphysical Naturalism tm, the educational arm of the Assemblage.
This publication © 2008 by Curtis Edward Clark and Naturalist Academy Publishing ®

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Memes, Free Will, Strong Naturalism, and Toilet Paper

[NOTE: This is the article I deleted yesterday. I got up at 2:30 a.m. to rewrite it.]

Last week (8.21.08) I used a quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP), which in part read that various contemporary philosophers "interpret ‘naturalism’ differently," that "philosophers with relatively weak naturalist commitments are inclined to understand ‘naturalism’ in a unrestrictive way..."

To prevent this Academy blog from being misunderstood, I found it necessary to post in the left-hand sidebar column the "strong" definition of "Naturalism" to which this Academy holds itself. It's author wrote a great many things which I'm certain would be arguable in this blog; as well as a strong definition of "Naturalism," this Academy holds a "strong" position on the philosophy of Objectivism, using quotes Objectivists where they support the Naturalist convictions argued here. Mr. Fuller can not be said to be Objectivist, but I cannot deny that his definition of Naturalism is my own. I can place Objectivism into Fuller's definition like a hand in a custom-made glove.

As to what is "weak" Naturalism, it often not only strays from the conviction that "natural grounds" are objectively definable and that in the area of human behavior "man's will" is as much a law of nature as are the firings of neurons and the possibility that some behavioral traits are genetic. How else to explain the lives of twins, separated at birth, who without knowledge of the other's existence, has managed to put together a life where even his choice of clothes is similar, not to mention the type of house in which he lives and the model of car he drives?

But this Academy recognizes that such things are not the things in a person's life that are metaphysically important. Siblings often have divergent world views while dressing alike; they often diverge from their parents' religion yet continue to maintain similar views on other things of importance. This is where the free will of the individual comes into play. Clothes and cars are not of metaphysically important where a person cares more for his own character and integrity, more for his ethics and world view, than for the aesthetics of his everyday choices.

SEP says, "There may be as much philosophical controversy about how to distinguish naturalism from non-naturalism as there is about which view is correct." And quite often it appears that statements or even entire theories put forth and defended by those who call themselves Naturalists seem, to other peoples' opinions, to be not only inclined to weaker definitions, but in an "unrestrictive way" appear to be completely un-Naturalistic.

Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmore are big targets for this Academy to be disagreeing with, but certain ideas cannot be allowed to go unchallenged, even by someone such as myself who has basically zero scientific background compared the people who's ideas need challenging. Such is the case with Dennett and Blackmore's defence of "memes."

Blackmore "has a degree in psychology and physiology from Oxford University (1973) and a PhD in parapsychology from the University of Surrey (1980). Her research interests include memes, evolutionary theory, consciousness, and meditation; [ ] no longer works on the paranormal; [ ] writes a blog for the Guardian newspaper," and appears on television. "She is author of over sixty academic articles, about forty book contributions, and many book reviews. Her books include Beyond the Body (1982), [ ] Test Your Psychic Powers (with Adam Hart-Davis, 1997), and The Meme Machine (1999). Her latest book is Conversations on Consciousness [was] due out in the USA in January 2006."

Richard Dawkins coined the term meme to describe "a unit of culture." More specifically, it describes what causes that "unit" to exist. The definition of a "unit" of culture seems to be found in the definition of meme.

Calling herself a "memeticist," Blackmore's ideas are characterized by the PBS station WGBH : "[C]ulture is carried forward by memes, [which are] units of ideas, habits, skills, stories, customs, and beliefs that are passed from one person to another by imitation or teaching. Memes are, in effect, units of information that are self-replicating and changeable, just as genes are." [italics added]

Objectively one must ask how something that is learned from another person through example or words can be "self-replicating just as genes are." Speaking of the comparison in the way genes and memes change, Blackwell says: "Our ideas, catch phrases, beliefs, games, and creations also evolve. Think of the differences between Ice Age cave art and modern painting, the chants and songs of centuries-ago people and the crooning of Britney Spears, the stone axe and the atomic bomb. Is there something gene-like that carries culture?" [ibid]

"Evolutionary Epistemology is a naturalistic approach [whereby] trial and error learning and the evolution of scientific theories are construed as selection processes," states the SEP, under the general description of memes. "[Richard] Dawkins observed," says the SEP, "that [ ] biological evolution is differential reproduction. [ ] If culture was to evolve, on this view, there had to be cultural 'replicators', or entities whose differential replication in culture constituted the cultural evolutionary process. [Memes] were characterized as informational entities which infect our brains, 'leaping from head to head' via what we ordinarily call imitation. Common examples include infectious tunes, and religious ideologies."

Princeton online describes culture as "the tastes in art and manners that are favored by a social group" and "acculturation: all the knowledge and values shared by a society.",GZEZ:2008-32,GZEZ:en-GB&pwst=1&defl=en&q=define:culture&sa=X&oi=glossary_definition&ct=title Values and knowledge are metaphysical components of the concepts held by a person. Those which are held in common among many in a society are merely that: common, and are hardly "infections leaping from head to head."

By most accounts, Naturalism does not support the idea of human free will. "A major problem with theories of free will is that arbitrary choices are simply random. If the will is fundamentally a randomizer, it is not clear how will is different from some kind of mathematical function. [ ] And if it is not different, then there would seem to be no reason not to assimilate "will" to naturalistic theories about indeterminacy and randomness in physical systems. Free will, consequently, would provide no basis for denying a materialistic and naturalistic interpretation of the self. " Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D.

But a Naturalistic interpretation of the self ought to include the idea that some "infectious tunes," for example, are actually repulsed by the minds of some people, for the very same reasons that create the values on which a person's character and integrity are grounded: the epistemic logic that gave those values their grounding. Why is it that some persons despise the music of Johann Strauss? of Elvis? of the entire Romantic school of concertos and symphonies?

Could it be they despise such music on the basis that the metaphysical values contained within those forms are anti-thetical to the live one has chosen to live? Naturalism in art is considered a backlash to the "idealism" of Romanticism. If one can choose to create a backlash to something one despises, what causes the despisement, what causes a desire or a need for a backlash, and what causes the precise form of the backlash? Such causes are decided by the values one has chosen, and values are based on the validations of one's epistemology.

If Naturalism in literature is the form of backlash to Romanticism accepted and used by most people who despise Romanticism, is it because of some of biological entity of consciousness called a "meme," or is it because once the wheel has been invented, it is not necessary to re-invent it? And if someone can create a new form of literature, for whatever reason, whether out of idealism or out of hatred for one or another form of idealism, is that not the definition of free will?

Why is it that I am expected by secular science to accept "that man's ethical values, compulsions, activities, and restraints can be justified on natural grounds," [Fuller] while at the same time I am expected to dismiss any idea of free will as against natural grounds? Is it because Naturalism "as encompassing sensationalism, materialism, determinism and reductionism" [David Ray Griffin] are "backlashes" against the theist defenses of free will?

Are the deterministic-minded scientists so afraid of giving in to theists' beliefs in free will that they are willing to go to any length to state a hypothesis that might give credence to the denial of free will?

It does not seem possible that a belief in free will could be construed as a belief in the supernatural. If Aristotle could formulate the concept of "qua," an objective standard applicable to any entity of life based on the nature of that particular entity where its "qua" was not necessarily applicable to any other entity of life--for example the difference in the nature of a deer and a hippopotamus--then is it not justifiable to believe that standards, not memes, are the basis of commonly held concepts among men?

If "weak," or non-existent Naturalism strays from the conviction that "natural grounds" in empirical reality are objective in nature, strays from comprehending "man's will" as a law of nature of "Man qua Man," then it strays from a rational difference of opinion about the nature of the "supernatural."

"Free will is a concept in traditional philosophy used to refer to the belief that human behavior is not absolutely determined by external causes," says The Skeptics Dictionary. "Traditionally, those who deny the existence of free will look to fate, supernatural powers, or material causes as the determinants of human behavior."

Invoking "supernatural powers" means that even in the realm of theists, there are "weak" and "strong" principles at work. Naturalists who deny free will can claim their denial is justified because strong theists justify free will based on supernaturalism, that of the existence of God or a Creator. "Free will advocates [ ] believe that while everything else in the universe may be the inevitable consequence of external forces, human behavior is unique and is determined by the agent, not by God or the stars or the laws of nature."

Now, this is where things begin to bog down and get messy. Christians have always argued for free will based on the theory that God granted it to us. The Skeptics Dictionary says the opposite. Deists, who deny any organized religion is legitimate, base their strict devotion to God precisely because they say it was God who gave Man Reason, and that from Reason necessarily comes free will.

Most Naturalists claim free will does not exist because their epistemic qualifiers for its existence are different than those of theists. Yet in other science you may read this: "Free will is probably located in the pre-frontal cortex, and we may even be able to narrow it down to the ventromedial pre-frontal cortex." --Stephen Pinker, How the Mind Works

According to Pinker's homepage at Harvard University his short bio goes this way: "Steven Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. Until 2003, he taught in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time, and Slate, and is the author of seven books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, Words and Rules, The Blank Slate, and most recently, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature."

Cognitive science is the area of expertise for Daniel Dennett. He seems, on a first reading, to disagree with Pinker. Dennett "is a student of neuroscience, linguistics, artificial intelligence, computer science, and psychology." "Philosopher and scientist Dan Dennett argues that human consciousness and free will are the result of physical processes and are not what we traditionally think they are."

I repeat, this is where things bog down and get messy. Perhaps Dennett does not disagree with which part of the brain free will is found in, but he denies that it has to do with epistemic considerations or metaphysical choices. "He argues that the brain’s computational circuitry fools us into thinking we know more than we do, and that what we call consciousness — isn’t." [ibid]

"The first problem that really grabbed me was the question of how on Earth a brain can learn. I thought there's got to be some way that neurons can try things out by trial and error and in effect get punished for getting it wrong and encouraged for getting it right."

The metaphysics of this Academy would maintain that while trial and error are necessary given that Man is not supernatural and omniscient, the "reward for getting it right" is the rational recognition that a syllogism of deductive logic was valid and thus memorable. In other words, in an effort of trial and error, the mind goes through equations of language, such as "If I stick my finger in a flame, my finger will burn." Man knows this from trial and error, and it is rationally evident, as well as physically, painfully evident.

The mind is limited in the number of deductive "equations" it can make. The number is 256, including variations known as "moods and figures." Out of these 256, only fifteen are valid. This means the mind has only 15 chances to "get it right," while it has 241 chances to "get it wrong." Is this not the "some way" that Dennett says was "the first problem that really grabbed him"?

Now, I'm certain that Dennett, an expert logician, went beyond this explanation to look for the neurological explanations for what happens in the brain during these 15 valid moments and these 241 invalid moments.

But what is revealing here is when he says that rational recognitions of logical validity "are just simple switches and springs and so forth. [ ] It takes on just the tiniest bit of mentality. It does something that we think of as requiring a mind."

So here is a Naturalist, a revered scientist in his many fields, who does not deny the existence of free will, but attributes it to "switches and springs" which "take on just the tiniest bit of mentality," in an act "that we think of as requiring a mind."

Well, doesn't it require a mind? Not the kind of rational mind a man of his stature and education would be expected to recognize.

This tiny bit of mentality is "what I call the intentional stance. Think of something as simple as a mousetrap. It's set up, it's open, it's waiting. Well, there's one little thing it can do. It can snap. And it may snap at the right sort of thing, it may snap at the wrong sort of thing."

So free will is the "snapping" of "mousetraps" in the "tiniest bit of mentality" that isn't really what we think of a mind, and the fact that it snaps at the wrong sorts of things means Dennett, this cognitive scientist, is not recognizing that when the mousetrap "snaps" it does so in an act of epistemological validation or invalidation of the syllogism that makes the whole mousetrap work in the first place.

I'm not willing to buy into any of it. Yes, I do not deny that the mind works neurologically but I stand with the "philosophers who maintain that the most important aspects of consciousness — intentionality and subjective quality," are matters of value judgments made by people who have validated enough syllogistic mousetraps to be able to rationally choose which mousetrap to spring and when to spring it.

I do not deny that if memes exist they are things that get trapped in our minds as "units of culture," but I deny that they are "infections" that cause us to do such mindless and purposeless things as to fold our toilet paper in squares. Anyone who folds TP in squares is not infected with the idea, but perhaps for no reason whatever that could be identified, chose to fold it. ""A major problem with theories of free will is that arbitrary choices are simply random." [Kelly]

So it would seem that memeticists such as Blackwell and Dennett and others cannot bring themselves to the simple idea that free will is often arbitrary and random, and that acts of free will such folding one's TP may have no "infectious" content but is a decidedly human and silly thing to do.

I cannot hold a strong position on Naturalism, and at the same time deny that the free will of humans exists; nor accept that its existence is based on the supernatural grace of God; nor deny that its existence is based on the justified natural grounds that consciousness can arise from atomistic and tychistic events tied to the nature of the brain itself.

(Tychism: A term derived from the Greek, tyche, fortune, chance, and employed by Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) to express any theory which regards chance as an objective reality, operative in the cosmos. Also the hypothesis that evolution occurs owing to fortuitous variations.)

Chance is an objective reality, and to deny that consciousness and free will are natural, not supernatural; or to accept it as supernatural, from a Creator rather than as existents of objective reality based on natural law, is to deny that Naturalism is objective, making it impossible to deny that some of its claims are not defences against theist arguments that free will can only come from God.

"The philosophical goal of pursuing knowledge about the truth of naturalism contributes to bringing the philosopher to an epistemic state where a cultural consequence is that the person desires and [ ] endeavors to bring about a certain state of culture, in this case, a mainly secularized academia. [T]he most important philosophical aspect of pursuing this cultural goal in a philosophically governed way is producing better arguments (to put matters in a simplified way) than the theist, which requires an openness to a fair-minded evaluation of good arguments for theism." [italics added] Quentin Smith

It is obvious that aguments of "infections" and "mousetraps" and "tiny bits of mentality" and the reasons people around the world fold their TP into squares, and that "the brain’s computational circuitry fools us into thinking we know more than we do, and that what we call consciousness — isn’t," are not better arguments than the Deist who claims a devout belief in God because only Reason can bestow Reason.

It is also obvious that the arguments of Naturalism are becoming so fragmented and convoluted in some cases, that the Creationist have a good chance of relegating Naturalism to the dust bin, if only because the Creationists sound so much more rational than some of our best known secularists.

And I thought Naturalism was about rationality, whereas theism was about the acceptance of faith, the most powerful abnegator of reason in the arsenal of logic--or illogic.

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