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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