Friday, November 28, 2014

The Satanic Grandeur of Modernity

What are the ideals of Western modernity? Liberty in at least three senses: freedom of thought and method, as demonstrated paradigmatically by scientists like Galileo, Newton, and Darwin; freedom from oppressive, dogmatic institutions like the Church, as instituted, for example, by the American democracy; and freedom to pursue earthly happiness, as enabled chiefly by technological applications of science which tend to elevate living standards. Also, modernists prize the originality of a Renaissance genius such as Goethe or Leonardo da Vinci. Modernity is thus an anti-Christian affair. Breaking with the past, including the doctrines of Christianity which dominated Europe for centuries, modernists sought progress in all aspects of life. Modernists overthrew stifling traditions, encouraging skepticism of dogmas and trusting in the authority of facts as understood by each rational individual. Modernists are thus humanists in that they posit natural human rights that don’t depend on any official interpretation of a religious text. Our rights to personal freedom and to pursue happiness are inherent, not conferred by a deity. However the Church might have protected medieval Europe from chaos after the collapse of the Roman Empire, the cure became worse than the disease, according to modernists, and so progressives awakened to their curiosity and to their pride as natural creatures who share the earth with other admirable animals. The Elizabethan Chain of Being, which ranked humans above beasts and plants, was replaced by the Darwinian continuum that takes morality to be less important than biological function.

The modern cognitive ideal is enlightenment, the objectivity to see the world as it really is. Modernists are methodologically naturalistic in that they understand that supernaturalism and theism are vacuous as explanations of anything, and so they ban references to gods or to divine intentions or purposes from their theories. This leaves modernists with a monstrous pantheism, according to which natural orders form by themselves for no reason. The world is thus undead: ordered and intelligible, albeit fundamentally random and bizarre, as represented by quantum mechanics—but also comprised of impersonal forces acting on material systems. The universal energy and matter are thus as baffling as the fictional zombie that shambles on with no intelligent direction. Mind, intelligence, and consciousness are byproducts of natural processes, not their first causes. Natural systems are beheld as having only aesthetic value as amoral artworks that are mechanically assembled by impersonal forces. When we see something as just art, we see it as arbitrary since it stands by itself without the context supplied by the perceiver’s presuppositions or social agendas. We don’t think of it as being useful, but simply as being; we see it as it really is, as a physical appendage of the monstrous, decaying body of the cosmos. And the awakened mind comprehends these grim truths by the method of depersonalization. For example, the scientist subjects her pet hypotheses to the impersonal tribunal of the natural facts as these are observed by multiple fellow scientists whose personal agendas are canceled out by their variety. Personal preference counts for nothing in this enlightenment. The facts are allowed to speak more or less for themselves; logic and evidence carry the day as the modernist learns to discount the cognitive weight of her intuitions and other feelings.

Paraphrasing Nietzsche, human nature is distinguished by its ability to be overcome. The enlightened soul thus divests herself of her personality, zombifying herself to become a fitting vessel for a vision of natural reality in all its equal undeadness. Objectivity is self-zombification, and this is the only respect in which the theory of truth as correspondence is valid. Symbols don’t magically agree with facts. Instead, the knower detaches from her emotions and instincts, which tend to delude and flatter her; she renounces her ordinary personhood so she can imagine what it’s like to be merely one material object in a universe of other such objects. Instead of transcending her earthly form, acquiring a spiritual body as in traditional monotheistic religions, the enlightened individual regards her every distinguishing characteristic as a distraction if not an outright illusion. Her position in history, her hobbies and nationality, her limited experience—all such ephemera are like the myriad trees that can prevent sight of the wood that hides in plain sight. The personal self in all its particularities is a void compared to the stunning truth of nature’s original undeadness, its self-creation and direction from nothing and no one. Instead of ascending to heaven, the modern hero is submerged in the decaying plenum.

The promising response to that enlightenment is horror, as understood by the existentialist philosophers. And so follows the noncognitive project of modernity; after knowledge comes action. First, the modernist frees herself from the archaic presumptions of obsolete religious institutions and from her animalistic impulses and egoistic biases, so she can mentally accommodate the blasphemous vision of the cosmos as an impersonal creation, which vision depresses and maddens her. Thus dawns the resolution to revolt against the natural order, to create it anew in our image, to be the gods that science never found to be responsible for nature, to undo the universe discovered by science, to clear away the wilderness with technology in retaliation for nature’s monstrosity that assaults the enlightened brain. The modernist thus prizes artificiality as well, the fruit of originality which replaces the old, natural and undead order with microcosms filled with emergent mentality and purpose. In particular, the linguistic, cultural, and technological worlds we create have the existential merit of being intended as improvements on the natural order. We cut down the wilderness and build cities, we fill the silence or the cacophony of animalistic screeches and howls with meaningful discourse, and we fill our minds and societies with worldviews and cultures. We technologically re-enchant the world after being rationally disenchanted with undead nature.

The esoteric upshot is that modernity is satanic. For centuries, Christians and Muslims have demonized the pride of the ancient pagans, of the Greek philosophers as well as of the ancient Indian and Chinese naturalists. “The first will be last and the last first,” proclaimed Jesus. “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,” warned Saint Paul. According to these monotheistic guardians of so-called morality, narrow-minded earthly happiness takes you to hell in an everlasting afterlife, while heaven is reserved for those who renounce their interest in natural success and have faith instead in a world beyond the undead one, in the kingdom of a righteous God. Christians and Jews added to the initial biblical idea of Satan as a skeptic who casts doubt on the perfection of God’s creation. Satan became a rebellious angel, Lucifer, punished for warring against God and his minions who sustain the natural order. The devil tempted humankind into original sin, forcing God to sacrifice his son Jesus, to save us from earthly bondage and death. Thus, rebellion against God’s creation has been condemned as the quintessence of evil. God called the universe good, so we’re meant to serve God’s plan, not to usurp God’s right to rule, to arrogantly act as gods ourselves as creators of new worlds. In this premodern view, the world is far from being monstrous, because there’s a person at its root—and not just any person but a perfect one. The distinction between the natural and the artificial thus collapses, since the universe would be an intelligently designed artifact, a teaching apparatus that tests our freewill to determine whether we can summon the faith to accept God’s plan for our salvation.

Of course, modernists learned that behind the fa├žade of the deity that rules Oz is a wily mortal, the theocratic priest who terrifies the masses to rule over them. But behind that wizard, in turn, is the zombie, the undead god working in all things towards no end but their oblivion. Whereas the monotheist personalizes the sin of modernity as being akin to Satan’s arrogance in the face of God’s majesty, the enlightened modernist understands her project as a less rational rebellion. The devil would have to be evil, given that God is defined as absolutely good, but war against God would at least make sense since war is literally a conflict between groups of persons. The modernist knows God to be the impersonal universe itself which pops arbitrarily into existence as a singularity that evolves into all the complex forms that are presently apparent. Strictly speaking, war against nature is impossible since a zombie can’t fight back. To be sure, nature will extinguish our entire species along with our world and our star. But that eventual end to us all will signify no divine judgment, no triumph of wisdom over sin. In the form of our preferred artificial world, modern salvation is thus absurd. We rebel against the natural order not because we’re superior to the world that horrifies us with its strange undeadness, but because that world ironically and temporarily undoes itself by means of the enlightened creatures within it. Enlightenment is a stage in this satanic process in which the undead god evolves a mirror to be repulsed by itself and grows hands to build a refuge for those who would reveal to God his monstrous identity. The universe is a teaching apparatus indeed—only, God is ill-suited to teach us mortals anything, since God doesn’t exist and persists now merely as a hackneyed piece of personification; instead, the universe develops the means to know itself as the colossal monstrosity it is and to attempt a pitiful, doomed engineering project of beautifying a behemoth.  

Obviously, modernists can’t afford to claim the satanic intention of their enterprise, since Christians have demonized it for centuries—indeed before the Renaissance, since they had the ancient enlightened pagan to despise, whose example catalyzed the modern revolutions in the West. Modernists have thus been robbed of their self-understanding. Exoteric Satanists make clowns of themselves in so far as they’re preoccupied with mocking theistic religions and conventional morality. Meanwhile, the masses are blinded either by premodern anachronisms such as monotheism or by the pleasures afforded by our artificial microcosms so that they can’t appreciate the existential purpose of modern technology. We create worlds not to be happy or to forget the horrors of pre-existing nature, but to spite the undead god, to take a satanic leap of faith that somehow our progressive efforts might in the end prove worthwhile, even as the illuminated ones know that all art is in vain. The existential revolt against the world’s monstrous impersonality is as arbitrary as every flailing of natural forces, because we ourselves are fundamentally undead. Whereas God was said to use Satan in his great scheme for his treasured creatures’ salvation, the undead god uses the satanic modern progressives to save itself from being wholly a work of horror.   

38 comments:

  1. Nice.Keep up the good work.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Embrace Anti-natalism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I see that antinatalism is consistent with much of what I write on this blog. It would certainly be quite rebellious to deprive the undead god of its eyes and ears, by terminating our species.

      But whatever I might think of the consequence of AN itself, I'm troubled more by the type of arguments that tend to be trotted out in support of AN, namely the utilitarianism. I think that if you accept morality and the idea that children are each precious and thus that we didn't deserve to be born into an unfair world, you're on a slippery slope to conceding that even adult life is valuable, in which case our extinction would be bad.

      Delete
  3. "...you're on a slippery slope to conceding that even adult life is valuable".

    You seem to be working under the belief that antinatalism states "that adult life is not valuable". Which is not the case. Valuable, as in the ability to provide utility, it's a truism. No antinatalist disputes that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wasn't talking just about instrumental value, or utility which is the value merely of being something in which we're interested. The means of hiding a body has utility for a serial killer, and so this kind of value is quite separate from ethics. No, I'm talking about normative value. The point I was trying to get at is that all adults have an inner child, an underlying innocence no matter what their crimes, a worthiness of being pitied for being playthings of an undead god. And yet that ethical value follows also from our autonomy, which leads to my main point against Inmendham: we have the potential to transcend the world's monstrousness, albeit in an ultimately tragic fashion, and AN's moral arguments are on a slippery slope to conceding as much. If we have that potential, the termination of our species would be bad. That's why I'm not an antinatalist, although as I said, I see how it's consistent with much of what I say.

      Delete
    2. The point I was trying to get at is that all adults have an inner child, an underlying innocence no matter what their crimes, a worthiness of being pitied for being playthings of an undead god.

      But again, no antinatalist disputes that, quite the contrary!

      we have the potential to transcend the world's monstrousness, albeit in an ultimately tragic fashion

      Yeah, like the existential hero you fancy yourself to be, and that secular cosmic existential religion your waiting, for which there is no hint it's coming. Color me unimpressed with your 'trascendence'.

      I'm not an antinatalist because their arguments don't work in my opinion, but then the 'pro-natalism', business as usual, mainstream view, fares no better.

      Delete
    3. Ardegas, if adults have an underlying innocence, they have the potential to do well, so at best the evidence of whether life is worth living would be mixed. Therefore, it would hardly follow that we should terminate our species by stopping procreation.

      Also, YouTube antinatalist Inmendham wouldn't grant that we have an underlying innocence, since he reduces us to beastly animals, to puppets doing our evolutionary dance, to gladiators in a bloodsport, etc. He talks out of both sides of his mouth, but he didn't admit this when I debated him and that's why he likewise didn't agree that we have the potential to transcend the world's monstrousness--not even in a temporary, tragic fashion.

      I do indeed think I'm an existential hero in my sense, but I don't think I'm alone. Anyone who understands the dark side of life, doesn't seek refuge in a worldview made of cheap delusions and rationalizations, but responds with creativity/art is heroic in that intellectual sense. Their heroism consists of the courage to face the inhuman, cosmicist truth and to endure while supported only by the pleasure of artistic inspiration. For example, I wrote a novel encapsulating my philosophy and I write this blog. I also apply my philosophy to my life in various ways.

      Regarding the existential religion, I never claimed to be some sort of prophet. I haven't predicted that it will arrive. I've argued, rather, that enlightened people ought to have a religious perspective, that we deserve a fitting, viable religion for our time. I don't assume that what ought to happen will happen.

      I hardly think my blog implies the "business-as-usual, mainstream view" of anything, including procreation. See my articles on sexuality. I think sex itself, not just the kind that leads to conception, is a horror and an embarrassment.

      Delete
    4. Wow, is "Youtube antinatalist inmendham" really a fair representative of the philosophy of antinatalism?

      Delete
    5. I meant to use Inmendham as an example of what an influential antinatalist says. He has made about 3,000 videos defending the viewpoint, after all. But do you have a specific point of disagreement in mind between Inmendham and most other antinatalists? Or is it his style of debate that you think is misrepresentative? My engagement with antinatalism is limited, so when I speak of Inmendham I'm speaking from that limited experience.

      Delete
  4. ". . . even as the illuminated ones know that all art is in vain.'

    Aren't you often extolling art as the only redeeming factor in human existence?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that is my view. What I meant, though, by "art is in vain" is that it's in vain in the final analysis, because, of course, the undead god wins in the end. The existential rebellion against nature is tragic, because all life will ultimately end and no one will remain to reflect on our struggle. Our artificial worlds will be undone, so in that long view art is in vain.

      The optimistic alternative is the transhumanist scenario in which life radically alters nature, in which case intelligent, rebellious creativity might not be futile even on the cosmological scale.

      Delete
    2. I see your point.

      Delete
    3. For any ephemeral animal, it seems odd to consider 'ultimate winning' to have a life which matters on a cosmic and eternal scale. That's not life, that's death (and transhumanism has always appropriated gaseous, eternal, heavenly themes, the withered christ in his otherworldly, pefect cyberconfiguration as it were). I'd call it a rather deathly, antilife perspective, which means its only optimistic if you hate life. It doesn't seem significantly different from antinatalism. Both want to end the plethora of nature's chaos and create a final ordering followed by endless sameness. It's the old irony of Kirilov. In order to prove free will existed, he had to end it. But of course! the ancient jews said almost as much when they equated having knowledge over something to raping it. I'm a big fan of the dadas distaste (but not refusal in many cases) at 'soiling' a blank page, ordering and limiting the plenum.

      What's so terrible about being a leaf on the wind? It certainly seems better than God's suicide you outlined. I can understand caring what happens to your loved ones and their future loved ones, eg. children. I'm not particularly concerned with the question of entropy though. It seems rather irrelevant except maybe that I wouldn't want it to cause pain to any living creature, but that's rather speculative.

      The undead god only wins in the end if you aren't satisfied at the end in my view. If art is a redeeming, or the only redeeming factor in human existence, that is, if it is capable of being redeeming at all, then it cannot possibly fail to win, whatever the game is supposed to be that we are winning or losing at, which it seems is a point of debate as well. If the undead god wins at the end, that's it, we've lost whatever game we are supposed to be playing. No buts about it. Unless of course we are playing two games at the same time, another possibility.

      Delete
    4. Oh man - transhumanism? I'll use Bakkers phrase 'Calling it transhuman is like calling birds 'transdinosaurs'.' It's simply a denial of an extinction.

      Transhumanism - the new scientism.

      Delete
    5. "denial of an extinction"-- that's brilliant.

      Delete
  5. My understanding of anti-natalism is that it is deemed to be immoral, or least a grave error, to bring people into existence without their consent, into a world in which they will surely undergo harms, perhaps very severe ones. It might be countered that life's benefits may outweigh its harms, but this argument is irrelevant. A non-existent agent (never born) cannot ever feel deprived of benefits; but an existent agent can experience harms. So the harms/benefits calculus is asymmetrical. Anti-natalism seems quite rational to me. It would also be rational under Christian theism, perhaps even more so: are you willing to take responsibility for bringing someone into the world who will not only experiences harms in this world, but perhaps an eternity of grotesque suffering in some hellish afterlife?

    It seems that fundamentally, procreation is an irrational act. But perhaps that is a fitting in an irrational universe.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "A non-existent agent (never born) cannot ever feel deprived of benefits; but an existent agent can experience harms. So the harms/benefits calculus is asymmetrical. "

    Non sequitur. Sorry, but how do you come to this conclusion?
    An existing agent can experience harms.
    An existing agent can experience benefits.
    A non-existent agent cannot ever feel deprived of benefit.
    A non-existent agent cannot ever feel relieved of her future harms.
    How is this anything but symmetrical?

    It only makes sense if the newborn is guarateed to live a life full of suffering. This doesn't apply in this world. In fact, if you are born in a rich, white family in the westen world the likelyhood that your life will be good is quite high.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Poor reasoning. An existing agent will necessarily experience harms. They will most likely experience benefits as well, but not necessarily. Pain is inevitable, pleasure is not. A non-existent agent will never feel anything at all.

      "In fact, if you are born in a rich, white family in the westen world the likelyhood that your life will be good is quite high."
      That is a very small number of people indeed. Even then, there are rich, privileged people who experience suicidal depression. Robin Williams is an example.

      Life, for the most part, is terrible. Whether you think the benefits outweigh the harms or vice versa in your own life, really comes down to your personal psychology and world-view.

      Delete
    2. I disagree on the facts here with you, it has nothing to do with reasoning. I believe pleasure is as much inevitable as pain in most cases.

      "Life, for the most part, is terrible."

      If you think that this is some kind of objective truth, then I would recommend reading your next sentence again:

      "Whether you think the benefits outweigh the harms or vice versa in your own life, really comes down to your personal psychology and world-view."

      So wouldn't you agree that in case you believe that your child would have a great future then it wouldn't be immoral to set it into the world?

      Delete
  7. As Mark Twain said: “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

    The idea is that in declining to bring people into the world, no harm is done. The non-existent agent will not experience life's inevitable harms, but will also not feel harmed by being deprived of its occasional benefits, since non-existent agents can't feel deprived of anything.

    It's not clear why, in an "undead God" universe, which is simply a decaying plenum that here and there produces whirlpools of contingent order, sentient agents should bother with the Satanic modernity of building little oases of meaning, which are all destined to be swept away anyway. Why bother? Especially when such efforts involve untold suffering to untold multitudes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "The idea is that in declining to bring people into the world, no harm is done."

      ...neither is any benefit done.
      The thing is, if an anti-natalist wants to divide the world into good/bad, benefit/harm or moral/immoral, then he or she can't just ignore all the good stuff. Evil exist? So does good. Harm exists? So does pleasure. Ignoring one of the ends of the spectrum is either inhonest or delusional.

      "..Why bother?"

      Well, that's not the question of anti-natalism, is it? ANs say it's immoral to bother. Noone is forcing anybody to reproduce, exept maybe some hormones in our bodies. As an AN you might want to fight those chemicals, but to this I say: Why bother? Is any good done, by not giving birth to a child?

      Delete
    2. But harm is done by bringing people into the world, because they inevitably feel harm.

      Anyway, davidm didn't even mention anti-natilism.

      My opinion is this: everyone can reproduce all they want, I just wish I was never born. "Why bother?" is the way I see life, like davidm. Everyone else can do whatever the fuck they want. Me? Maybe I'll adopt a kid.

      Delete
    3. "My opinion is this: everyone can reproduce all they want, I just wish I was never born. "Why bother?" is the way I see life, like davidm. Everyone else can do whatever the fuck they want. Me? Maybe I'll adopt a kid. "

      Fair enough. I pretty much agree, except for the never being born part.

      Delete
  8. Don't assume I'm an AN, just because I'm outlining the argument. To answer your final question, on the AN idea: Yes, good is done by not giving birth to a child. The good is sparing the prospective future agent harms. Yes, you also forestall benefits, but the non-existent agent does not care about missing out on stuff (see Mark Twain). As to the immorality of procreating, I'm not sure that I (assuming I accept AN) would construct the argument that way. I'm distrustful of such normative utterances, since I am not a moral realist. I would say, rather, that procreating is unwise, or a mistake.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Yes, good is done by not giving birth to a child. The good is sparing the prospective future agent harms."

      You can call me Jesus from now on, considering the hundreds, maybe thousand of lives I have save by not going on a killing spree.

      Delete
    2. Fascinating discussion! Yeah, I think the asymmetry argument comes from David Benatar's book on antinatalism. I'm not persuaded there's any such asymmetry.

      The point would have to be, I think, that a world in which there's no life would be good, because there would be no harm, whereas such a world wouldn't be bad even though that world would contain no pleasure. The fallacy here is the assumption that morality is objective. A world with no people in it, such as a world in which we terminate our species by no longer procreating would be amoral, neither good nor bad, because morality would die with us. The amorality of such a world, given the subjectivity of morality, makes for symmetry, not asymmetry.

      I think Benatar's point is that the absence of pain is good, but the absence of pleasure is not bad. That's supposed to be the asymmetry. But good or bad for whom? If the person doesn't exist in the first place, the question about what's morally good or bad for that person is vacuous, since moral judgments are subjective in that they depend on our interests and feelings and capacities.

      For some philosophical objections to Benatar's confusing asymmetry argument, see:

      https://www.princeton.edu/~eharman/Benatar.pdf

      David, you say that "in declining to bring people into the world, no harm is done." But that's not quite right since harm would be done to the final generation who would have to live with that grim fact. (See the end of Stapledon's Last and First Men.) Unborn people can't feel anything, but there's a current potential (in our reproductive capacity) to produce both harm and pleasure (in future generations), which again makes for a kind of symmetry. Even if actual people tend to experience more pain than pleasure, the possibility of transcending nature's monstrosity, as I put it, makes most people glad to have been born. Otherwise, there would be much more suicide, even granting that the thought of suicide is scary, etc.

      In any case, if we think of this in terms of terms of aesthetic value, we get more of an objective judgment about depriving nature of our rebellious creativity. The ugliness of undead nature should be more important to us than the subjective moral badness of our personal pains.

      Delete
  9. Benjamin Cain writes: "David, you say that "in declining to bring people into the world, no harm is done." But that's not quite right since harm would be done to the final generation who would have to live with that grim fact. "

    Yes, I raised this very objection in a (long) discussion with an anti-natalist at the Galilean Library message board. The thread is here: http://www.galilean-library.org/site/index.php/topic/4278-anti-natalism-reconsidered/

    The thread covers a lot of ground, and gets heated in places, though fortunately it righted itself. The discussion is complicated by the fact that my interlocutor is an anti-natalist, but also, having studied under Derk Pereboom at Cornell, a hard incompatibilist. This means he believes we lack moral responsibility in the "basic desert sense;" i.e., we lack free will in the sense that we cannot act in such a way as to deserve moral condemnation for our bad acts, or moral praise for our good acts. And we lack this basic responsibility regardless of whether determinism or indeterminism is true (hence "hard incompatibilism": free will in this "basic desert sense" is incompatible with either metaphysics.) Yet he maintains that procreation is "morally impermissible;" a lot of the discussion focuses on whether it is coherent to characterize any act as "morally impermissible" if we lack morality in the basic desert sense. But the thread also covers all the other arguments for and against anti-natalism, including the one mooted by Benjamin above. I think it's an interesting read for those who are, well, interested in this subject.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Benamin Cain writes: "The point would have to be, I think, that a world in which there's no life would be good, because there would be no harm, whereas such a world wouldn't be bad even though that world would contain no pleasure. The fallacy here is the assumption that morality is objective. A world with no people in it, such as a world in which we terminate our species by no longer procreating would be amoral, neither good nor bad, because morality would die with us."

    Apropos of this, at yet another message board, an astrophysicist (always good to get the philosophical perspective of someone in a different field; such perspectives can be startlingly on the money) wrote as follows:

    "I'm not sure I buy the notion that failing to exist results in less suffering than existing. See, I don't think that it makes sense to say that a being which fails to exist does not suffer. I think that, like an asymptotic graph, the value of suffering on failed existence isn't zero, it's undefined. It's a question that doesn't make sense, like the length of the fourth side of a triangle. You're taking a framework that measures from experience and taking it to a place that has no experience. So, what is it measuring, exactly? Saying that we would be better off, we would suffer less, if we failed to exists seems like a nonsequitur to me, or invalid in some fundamental way that I'm uncertain I can fully articulate."

    ReplyDelete
  11. Benjamin Cane writes: "The optimistic alternative is the transhumanist scenario in which life radically alters nature, in which case intelligent, rebellious creativity might not be futile even on the cosmological scale."

    How do you know this has not already happened? The universe has been around far longer than humans; maybe some other intelligent species that arose long before us already achieved "trans-specieism" and reconstructed the universe on a cosmic scale to reflect its own designs, which may or may not include caring about creatures like us? This was, as I recall, the theme of Stanislaw Lem's "His Master's Voice." This thesis would also explain the extraordinary fine-tuning of the universe without having to resort to explanations like the multiverse and the anthropic principle. If the universe has already been intelligently reconstructed by a prior intelligence (not any supernatural God) then the thesis of the Undead God might have to be revisited. It is also possible, and even probable, as Nick Bostrom holds, that we live in a simulation, and some scientists have suggested it might be possible to obtain evidence of this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. These are all fascinating hypotheses, David. I actually raised exactly the first transhumanist one in graduate school, to a philosophy of physics student. Maybe the laws of nature are actually prescriptions, because a superintelligent species has already altered the whole universe, or at least the part we know about, long, long ago.

      The question of evidence remains, of course. I'm not sure if this hypothesis takes care of the fine-tuning problem, for example, since the cause of that earlier species would still have to be explained. Likewise, if we're in a simulation, the origin of the species that designs the mighty computer must be explained. We push the problem back in this way, but it doesn't go away. I think Bostrom says that in the multiverse most universes would be simulations, so the real universes in which non-virtual life evolves would be rare. But how does that real life arise? By evolution? Or is evolution a feature only of virtual life programmed by the computer? Do we then appeal to a miracle, so that the non-virtual life substitutes for God?

      The myth of the undead God would indeed be at best incomplete, given that there's a prior species that created our universe. Still, computationalism could account for how natural (i.e. virtual) life is indeed undead, since such life would be artificial and not as fully alive as the prior, non-virtual species. I doubt, though, this simulation hypothesis could be decisively tested any time soon, though. Physicists have their hands full proving that string theory itself isn't more theological than scientific.

      Delete
    2. How would it be possible to alter the laws of nature/reality itself? That doesn't seem possible. Also Bostrom's simulation argument is relying on a vague intuition (probably influenced by hollywood movies like "the matrix" nowadays taking it for granted that something like the matrix would even in principle be possible, despite their being zero evidence for it) that computers could somehow "simulate" an actual physical world, when a computer simulation is only a simulation for those who perceive it from the "outside", not for anything "within" the computer. An avatar in a computer game isn't actually real, it is only perceived so from the outside.

      Delete
    3. An avatar in a computer game isn't actually real, it is only perceived so from the outside.

      Whereas you are real because you have a soul. Or some other supernatural component that delinates you from the intelligent avatar. Is that how you'd put it?

      Delete
    4. Whereas you are real because you have a soul. Or some other supernatural component that delinates you from the intelligent avatar. Is that how you'd put it?

      Umm no. The computer avatar completely lacks the actual physical structure that a real being has. On the physical level it is just electrical impulses on a computer chip and there is no reason at all why those should constitute a real being, merely because the electrical impulses light up dots on a computer screen that create the visual representation of an avatar for a perceiver. Even if you increase the complexity by using more data structures to simulate functionality, the data structures are only structured for the programmer, but on the low level they are again translated first into machine code and then into electrical impulses that have nothing at all to do anymore with the data structures.

      Delete
    5. iow for the usual computer simulations
      there is no isomorphism between what happens at the physical hardware level and what appears on the computer screen, since it is never the purpose of a simulation, for example of a physical process, to actually recreate the process itself, but merely to make calculations with the mathematical model of the physical process.

      Delete
    6. Sorry, you do know your brain uses electrical impulses, right?

      You're doing everything to out the intelligent avatar as just impulses and physical processes - why, do you think you're something more than impulses and physical processes? You go 'Umm no.' - what, is there some third category you are - you're not physical processes, you're not supernatural, you are....? What?

      Ben is right in that atheism seems to enter this sort of hollow, denied spiritualism. You'd claim you're not electrical impulses, you're more than that - but you wont own up to thinking you've got a supernatural soul or something (because you're not owning up to just being physical like the avatar is). You'll just keep treating the intelligent avatar as something you are more than, as if there's something more than physical. And you are it. That's your claim - if you saying you're not physical like the avatar is, then you're claiming you are something else. That's clear enough.

      Delete
    7. Anon, we have to distinguish between nomic relations and laws of nature. Changing the laws would be easy, since they're just statements uttered or written by people. They're obviously under our control. The issue is whether we can change the regularities of how nature generally works. Arguably, we've added to those regularities by evolving emergent properties. But I don't think it's logically impossible to create exotic particles that react with normal particles and create a synthetic reality. I think this is the subject of sf author Greg Egan's Schild's Ladder.

      I think the point about the simulation hypothesis is indeed that we'd mistake the simulation for reality were we caught in it, as in The Matrix movies. You're right that there would have to be intelligent designers in the deeper reality containing the computer to make sense of calling the subworld a simulation.

      You say there's no evidence for the simulation hypothesis. I don't have strong feelings about this either way, but I believe the growth of smart computers indicates that what we'd call a programmed simulation of personhood could feel real enough to the artificial individual. If there were some barrier to simulating personhood in a computer, that would indeed shoot down the simulation hypothesis. There's also the theoretical issue here of philosophical computationalism, which is a philosophical matter and not just an empirical one. That is, it's not just about the actual evidence but its interpretation.

      Delete
  12. Objectivity is self-zombification

    Just gunna say nah.

    If you must use the z word, this is like saying objectively accepting you are blind is blinding yourself.

    We are not complex enough to see how complex we are.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Callan, think of what you do when you're being objective. You're being dispassionate, putting aside your personal feelings and preferences and analyzing the matter, following logical algorithms and scientific conventions. The only difference between that kind of inner life and the one instantiated in a virus or a zombie is a matter of degree. Both are programmed: viruses strictly by their genes, objective people by rules of rationality. Of course, most of us are only imperfectly objective and so we lapse into our personal character that makes us more fully alive, even as we're trying to confine our attention to pursuing the most reasonable thoughts. The article here is about the limit case in which objectivity is indeed self-zombification.

      Delete