Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Opposing Nature: Life's Meaning in the Monstrous Universe

While most people are blissfully ignorant of academic discussions of philosophy, at least one quintessential philosophical question has long been mainstream: Does life have a meaning, a point, a purpose? Because this question is philosophical, it’s obscure, which is what lends the question its mystique. Thus, there’s the preliminary matter of the meaning of the question of the meaning of life. Douglas Adams satirizes the need for such prior analysis in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, telling of a supercomputer that discovers that the answer to the question of “life, the universe, and everything” is 42, which bafflers the questioners because they haven’t figured out the true, ultimate question. What kind of answer, then, do we want and what exactly is at stake? Could life be the sort of thing that has a purpose or a goal such that it might have a specific, knowable one? And whose purpose would it be? Could life be meaningful without a personal creator of living things?

Biofunctions and Absurdity

The prescientific approach is to interpret the problem as teleological and thus to compare organisms to artifacts, which entails that organisms are intelligently created. By comparison, a shovel has meaning because we assign it a standard which determines when the shovel performs well or poorly. A broken shovel fails to work as planned so that it no longer approximates the ideal for shovels. For a person or even an animal to have meaning in this teleological sense would seem to require that we be artifacts designed by some foreign intelligence whose plan for us includes the ideal we’re meant to fulfill. (A natural, as opposed to supernatural, creator of terrestrial species would need a comparable creator in turn and that creator would likewise need one, in which case either the series of creations would be infinite, like a baton race that has no beginning, or else there would be an ultimate Creator who would be a deity, a miraculously self-creating or eternal person.)

The mystery of life’s meaning would amount to the mystery of the content of our creator’s mind: the answer would consist of a revelation of what that creator intended to do by creating us or of what the creator hoped to achieve. The movie Prometheus explores this scenario, depicting protagonists who discover both that powerful aliens created life on our planet and that the aliens might have had dubious rather than noble, let alone divine motives for doing so. Were our creator flawed or inhuman, our ultimate function might be horrific rather than anything we’d want to enshrine. We might have been created on a whim so that we’d be akin to an absentminded doodle, in which case our life would be fundamentally absurd. Alternatively, we might have been spawned by a malevolent or arrogant deity so that our highest purpose might be the moral one of opposing our original function, of malfunctioning, in our deity’s judgment.

The conventional secular wisdom is that this teleological interpretation of the ultimate question has been superseded by Darwinism, according to which life forms evolve from each other: each is created by an impersonal process of natural selection. This scientific explanation will be completed as soon as we come to understand how the simplest living things developed from nonliving things. Assuming that sort of final understanding is on the way and life does evolve to that extent, from nonlife, life’s origin isn’t planned. Thus the analogy between species and artifacts breaks down, and we have no nonhuman, pre-assigned purpose. (Even if there were intermediary intelligent designers, such as extraterrestrial but carbon-based seeders of our planet, the mechanistic, Darwinian view would be that the first organisms emerged from nonliving matter.) The process by which we deliberately devise technologies differs greatly from that by which natural forces, initial conditions and elements come together to produce organisms. In particular, personal traits like reason and desire have nothing to do with life’s origin, according to the Darwinian perspective. 

For this reason, the question of life’s “meaning” would rest on a false premise. The answer is that there’s just as much or as little point to life as there is to the existence of anything else that emerges from blind and dumb physical regularities. Instead of the purpose of life in general, there’s only the function of a naturally selected trait. That function is just the job done by the trait that explains how the trait originated by a formative interaction between the organism’s genetic code and its ancestral environment. For example, a heart is supposed to circulate blood in the body, because that’s the effect that explains biologically why the heart has its capacities. What a trait is for depends on what it is and what it is depends on how it was made. Organic bodies are made by natural selection, so the function of our body parts is determined by the usefulness of what our ancestors did to survive long enough to reproduce members of their type, which members include us.

A biological purpose isn’t mystical or even ideal, that is, something that’s worthy of religious devotion or that ought to be fulfilled; instead, it’s the probability that a creature, whose body parts behave as those of its formative ancestors did, will sustain its species by transmitting its genotype to its descendants. There’s no scientific presupposition that the species’ continuation is good or that a malfunctioning trait fails to fulfill an ideal. Natural selection is an aimless series of events involving chemical interactions and mass extinctions that nevertheless assembles hordes of goal-directed creatures. The blind and impersonal creative process complexifies, producing animals that can sense the world, as well as people who create by means of real rather than merely apparent intelligence, thus differing from natural selection. But life in general has no meaning, and purposes are either biological or psychological, that is, species-preserving effects of evolved traits or desires of creatures that are strangely preoccupied with achieving goals, including unrealistic ones.

This is where the secular discussion of that popular philosophical question usually ends. Scientists have found that life is objectively absurd, as existential philosophers like Kierkegaard, Camus, and Sartre suspected. We’re all waiting for Godot, for the meaning of life to be revealed, but science has turned our faith into desperate hope and we’ve become pitiful and ridiculous in our childish refusal to leave behind our naïve prejudices. At most, we content ourselves with subjective goals which we set for us, lacking any cosmic role. In a liberal society, we’re free to choose our ideals as long as we accord others the same right. We thereby become both gods and artifacts, after all, the sovereigns we hoped resided somewhere in the heaven of outer space and the objects fashioned by our actions that reveal merely our personal plans. In turn, the hypocrisies and degradations of liberal society disclose life’s underlying absurdity. The consumer’s infantilization and shallow materialism, the accompanying displacement of liberal and democratic institutions by a plutocratic military-industrial-security-media complex, the postmodern incredulity towards any myth or social ideal and the apathy arising from the paradoxical idolization of irony—all such letdowns of modern civilization are so many reminders that an absurd, indifferent world permits only comically-defective substitutes for a divine world order. As in Goethe’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, we make for laughably inept gods.   

Pantheism: Nature as a Monstrous God

However, the inquiry shouldn’t end there, because the scientific picture of the universe entails not the folly of the question of life’s meaning, but a kind of pantheism which the orthodox physicists and cosmologists obfuscate by eliminating time itself from their theories. Early modern scientists from Descartes to Galileo to Newton and then on to Einstein, Hawking and the string theorists mistake the frozen, geometric image of nature in their mathematical models for the nature of reality, and so they infer that time is unreal. They think that because mathematical truth is timeless, so must be nature. The laws of physics are time-symmetric, since the scientists abstract from time’s arrow and depict natural events as happening all at once—and thus not as happening at all. If time is illusory, so is causality and the deepest understanding of natural phenomena requires our intellectual elites to master exotic mathematical concepts that defy human intuitions as well as ranging far beyond the available evidence. So argues theoretical physicist Lee Smolin in his recent books that culminate in The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time, written with the philosopher Roberto Unger.  

If causality and the nowness of the present moment are illusory, all our concepts of change, process, evolution, and creation must be misleading. In this prevailing, math-centered picture of nature, nothing changes because time is just a fourth dimension of space which can be geometrically visualized and objectified. And if nothing really happens, nothing can happen for a reason or in pursuit of an ideal. Thus, life certainly has no meaning and the mystery of whether our suffering now on this planet will one day be vindicated by the achievement of some cosmic good should be dismissed as a trick of maya. However, if Smolin’s critique of this paradigm is justified, we might wonder whether, instead of merely replacing myths with rational knowledge, the anti-time scientists also inadvertently bury the philosophical upshot of their work, by spatializing time. Again, the upshot isn’t atheism but pantheism: whereas science eliminates the need for the theistic hypothesis, scientists discover over and over again that nature does all the divine work we could ask for, by creating everything that exists in time.

This doesn’t mean, though, that everything has a purpose. After all, the reason scientists would have found themselves retreating from the pantheistic significance of their theories is that the creative power in question is monstrously impersonal. Instead of nothing happening in nature, because mathematical models tame natural processes so that they might be intellectually dissected, there’s the ominous unwinding of a headless universe. Far from being beautiful, as scientists from Einstein to Dawkins are wont to aver, nature’s mode of creation is creepy since it proves that personal creativity is laughably inferior and virtually insignificant by comparison. When I say that nature is “monstrous” I have in mind the full-blown Lovecraftian, cosmicist sense, which is to say not that nature is ugly as a matter of some provincial taste, but that the universe’s mindless, blind and dumb creativity—which is now as palpable as anything could be, given the triumph of science’s mechanistic mode of explanation—is an abomination with terrifically subversive implications. The scientific replacement of the traditional God with nature—and specifically with Time—threatens to equate our personal plans with so many clueless pretensions, human enlightenment with a form of insanity. There is no ideal blueprint copied by the products of atomic interactions, contrary to the Platonism beloved by mathematicians, nor is there any idea of how things should be, subsisting in a cosmic Mind; rather, according to Smolin, there’s just the reality of change, of emergence and complexification and evolution. Even the laws of nature are modified over time, and while these cosmic transformations are constructive as well as destructive, they’re alien in their aimlessness and indifference. At least, that’s the conclusion warranted by the scientific evidence of how nature is replete with mechanisms that operate regardless of what anyone thinks of them.  

Anti-Natural Artificiality is the Highest Good

If natural transitions happen for no reason, might life still have a purpose in a universe that is itself as divine as anything could be? We prefer to think that life’s advent isn’t accidental, that the hardships we face and the injustices we witness are for a greater good; otherwise, anomalous, sentient creatures may not belong in the universe and the cost of our remaining here would be the tragic one that we should suffer pangs of alienation. This is in fact the underlying message of Eastern religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism as well as of Gnosticism which influenced Christianity: the universe is flawed and noble creatures should seek moksha, liberation from the natural cycle of rebirth or from the original sin of being greedy mammals. Other religions such as Judaism and Taoism are, in effect, more apologetic for the true god’s monstrousness in that they proclaim we should make our peace with how the world works. Perhaps the world needs healing, as in the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, but the faith is that God’s creation is fundamentally good and thus the attempt to transcend it is blasphemous, even satanic. Surprisingly, modern, technoscience-driven societies side with the former, anti-nature religions. Lacking any rational plan, we unsustainably consume the planet’s resources, like tumors, and we obsessively uproot the world’s wild places, preferring artificial habitats that we devise. This is the secular form of moksha. Instead of meditating and practicing asceticism to free our consciousness, we free our bodies by using scientific knowledge to drastically alter our environments.

Whether this confluence counts as a clue to our life’s meaning depends, again, on what we want when we pose the question. The naïve wish is the theistic one according to which we should feel at home in the world, comforted by the faith that a higher power has our back. In the modern context, that faith is anachronistic and the true god is discovered to be omnipresent indeed, hiding in plain sight as monstrous nature, as our primordial nemesis. What we should do, then, must begin as a response to this dire position of ours in the inhuman cosmos. H. P. Lovecraft worried that the noble response—to learn how nature works—is nevertheless counterproductive since the scientific discoveries lead to disasters, including the scientist’s madness. Like Nietzsche, though, he implicitly trusted in the utility of his cosmicist message, since he published stories to popularize the sense of nature’s horrific weirdness. Nietzsche himself argued, in effect, for neo-Taoism combined with a Romantic faith in the power of art to enchant by way of a postmodern myth of our potential greatness. Monstrous nature evinces a savage, hideous will to power, and some of us can overcome our disgust and embrace our role as avatars of the cosmic will.

Whatever the particular meaning of life might be, the best way of life depends on our real position in the world. Nature at large is absurd, but the character of that absurdity inspires us to seek meaning in transcendence. Return to the teleological analogy of artifacts. The shovel has a function because it’s built to achieve the designer’s goal. This relation of a match between what something does and what someone intends is the basis for teleological value. The artifact’s purpose is to be like its ideal type, to strive, as it were, to be nearer to the mark. There’s no such basis for a post-scientific purpose of life, because scientists discover that living things are marginal in the universe’s evolution. Instead of approximating Platonic Forms or God’s intentions, sentient creatures are at odds with the rest of the world. Instead of being at home on Mother Earth, as in the ancient mythopoeic vision, living things are like the proverbial child who’s lost in the woods. While our purpose can’t, then, be handed to us, since natural forces have no hands, the world’s indifference imposes a great ambition upon us so that the atheistic, hypermodern meaning of life isn’t arbitrarily subjective after all. Our task is plainly to oppose nature with the alternative worlds we create, and we should do this because of nature’s monstrous absurdity which would otherwise pass uncontested.

This idea of existential revolt, popularized by the likes of Albert Camus, might seem juvenile. Indeed, the stereotype of existential philosophy construes it as so much whining that was hitherto tolerated only because the majority of it transpired as a way of lamenting the Second World War. But as I said, the revolt in question long predates that modern context, originating in the West with the progressive myth of Prometheus and the Gnostic one of the fallen, rebel angels, and having been practiced globally by world-weary ascetics for thousands of years. Indeed, life’s antagonistic relation to the environment is rooted in biology, as shown by Schrodinger’s What is Life?, which posits that an organism resists entropic decay through homeostasis, by maintaining information within the body that’s kept from the external noise. Life’s revolt begins, then, with the formation of the first membrane or barrier against the world’s indifference. The evolution of consciousness and intelligence adds to the body’s interior a mental alternative to nature’s mindlessness. Indeed, the kernel of truth in Plato’s speculation about ideal Forms is that every concept has a normative aspect, meaning that when a thinker maps part of the world, she inevitably simplifies and idealizes, ignoring some details and focusing on those of interest such as the factors that could be used to achieve her goals.

Thus, it’s not just the jaded, pipe-smoking, beret-wearing aesthete who scoffs at the world, but each one of us who prefers to think of alternatives to reality—which we do whenever we entertain a thought of how things should be, instead of deferring to what’s actually before us. Not even the simplest, most robotic animals defer in that respect, since they invariably treat phenomena as being ready-to-hand, in Heidegger’s sense, meaning that they interpret them in practical, life-centric terms. The brain is structured not to digest every iota of information it receives through the senses, but to translate and to filter that information to provide us with a useful map. That mental map isn’t itself an alternative to hideously-complex nature, but it enables us to displace the natural world with our machines, cities, ideologies, and other artifacts. That displacement is the existential revolt, the hypermodern moksha, the science-centered meaning of life.

When we wonder about the point of life in general and we realize that science’s deflationary view of the world renders the question itself nostalgic, we should look closer at what the technoscientific enterprise is both demonstrating and accomplishing. Nature is palpably divine, albeit freakishly mindless in its staggering creativity, and our counter-creations continue the work done by the anomalous, organic processes in our bodies, namely the production of precious bastions that breathe life and purpose and value into our true god’s sprawling, undying carcass. We want our purpose in life to derive from the nature of reality, not to be a matter of mere taste. That derivation happens with or without the traditional God. If the premier twenty-first century religion is bound to be pantheistic, that is, atheistic and scientifically informed, its practitioners will trust in the sacredness of the technoscientific project to replace the inhuman wilderness that’s forced on them, with an alternative world that embodies their uncanny ideals. We ought to attempt to slay the cosmic dragon so that its strangely gratuitous and impersonal system will stand opposed somewhere for at least some fleeting moment in the unfathomable vastness of space and time.

15 comments:

  1. It has probably been said countless times previously in comments like this one. Yet I must point out that the conclusion that we humans must create artificial bastions sounds almost like a apologia for techno-futurism or transhumanism. I admit I am no "Deep Green" Luddite by any stretch but when I look around at how unsustainably we treat the planet and other species around us it makes me uneasy. While I doubt it is your intention Ben, your profound philosophy could easily be used as an excuse by a member of the power elite to continue exploiting this world for their own ends or to maintain our current, failing Capitalist way of life. Instead of existential rebellion we get Thomas Huxley's 'Brave New World' or some other dystopian techno future.

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    1. Great point, Mephisto. The issue for me is what sort of behaviour can be proscribed, given a viable, postmodern religious framework (assuming Durkheim's and Tillich's interpretations of religious faith as mere commitment to what we find ultimately valuable, which is to say sacred). If we're worth a damn, we should have values which we care deeply about; we should be inspired to pick a direction in life and to condemn opposing ways of life. The problem is that the scientific and industrial revolutions and the death of God have made most traditional cultures grotesque by way of being embarrassingly outdated. So we need either a new set of values or a new way of justifying old ones.

      To return to your point, then, the questions are whether we naturalists, cosmicists, and otherwise enlightened, existentially authentic folks ought to condemn the power elites who are abusing the planet and the poor, and if so, on what updated, philosophically sustainable (atheistic, naturalistic, cosmicist, etc) grounds.

      I've talked a lot about the sociopathic power elites, but much of what I've said is ambiguous so this is worth another article. For example, in "Subhumans, Outsiders, and Glimpses of Posthumanity" I apply my historical explanation of social hierarchies, from "Psychopathic Gods and Civilized Slaves," noting that the alphas and the omegas are both social outsiders compared to the beta masses. This is consistent with Nietzsche's lauding of the alphas and with his contempt for the betas (for the followers who are most asleep in philosophical terms), but I add my account of the omegas. I offer further cynical, nonjudgmental remarks in "Sociopathic Power Elites, Beta Herds, and Omega Watchers."

      The point is that I try to understand the facts of how societies tend to be structured, leaving aside the question of what ought to be done. But I do consider that ethical question as well. I think we need to reconstruct morality in aesthetic terms, to naturalize moral judgments. Thus, in "Parasitic Supervillains and the Housing Bubble," I apply my aesthetic morality and condemn the Wall Street bankers as being insufficiently creative robber barons.

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    2. Here's a relevant passage:

      'By contrast, the postindustrial oligopolists build nothing. They are, then, parasites rather than superhuman creators. Instead of transforming the real world, replacing the natural wilderness with artificial microcosms that alter civilization as a whole, they manage dream worlds just long enough to scurry away with their private fortunes which they turn merely into the miniature worlds of their gated mansions. They do indeed seek to create something from nothing, a universe ex nihilo, but what they create is entirely for their benefit, and since their dream worlds siphon the life force from the masses who find themselves lost in the Kafkaesque financial maze, these postindustrial power elites are primarily takers, not makers. They gamble in the stock market, using weapons of mass financial destruction, including supercomputers to outmaneuver fellow con artists who are likewise looking for a free lunch. As China has taken over manufacturing, Americans are left more and more with their talents for hucksterism and myth-making. Their new ideas can be productive, as in the fine arts or in technological innovations, but they can also be cons, as in the case of the financial scams in the weakly-regulated American economy. But the postindustrialists aren’t just shameless thieves. They’re fallen angels, gods that have the misfortune of manifesting their glory in a languishing nation....

      'The postindustrial plutocrats pretend they have a right to an attitude like Yahweh’s towards Job, whereas what we know now about postmodern America is that not only is God dead, but so too are the human autocrats. All that’s left are the self-deluded parasites, the hollow shells that they enslave, and the omegas who watch from the wilderness.'

      But this seems incomplete to me. I came across a really interesting book called Sapiens, by the historian Harari, which gives the very long view of humanity. He points out that most animal species now are the domesticated ones such as chickens, cows, and pigs. For example, the chicken is the most common sort of bird, at 50 billion. Of course, domesticated animals, which we treat as machines that serve us, are also by far the most miserable creatures, locked as they are in their tiny cages and so on. So what follows from my blog on this issue? Can I condemn this behaviour for being unoriginal and thus ugly in aesthetic terms? Not really, since the domestication of species is quite rare and thus creative, even though it's evil, given traditional moral principles of equality, altruism, and so forth.

      So what exactly makes the destruction of the ecosystem wrong on my account? I give part of an answer in my response to antinatalists: we need to sustain the biosphere to preserve an enlightened class to rebel against monstrous natural forces, since that's the highest calling in life, as I say in the above article. But I'll have to think more about this and write up my thoughts.

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.ca/2014/05/domestication-and-modern-personhood.html

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.ca/2014/06/subhumans-outsiders-and-glimpses-of.html

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.ca/2014/04/sociopathic-power-elites-beta-herds-and.html

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.ca/2014/04/the-housing-bubble-and-americas.html

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    3. Thank you Benjamin for the really thoughtful reply and the suggestions for further reading. I keep forgetting that your blog is mostly concerning the "is" rather than the "ought". I appreciate the "is" more than the "ought" because if we can look at the world as it really is we can better adapt and change it to suit the "ought" we wish to design.

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  2. This is a personal question, not sure if you feel like answering. Are you on any mood stabilizers/anti-anxiety meds?

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    1. I'm not on any such pills or any other meds. I talk about anxiety here:

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.ca/2013/04/psychiatry-anxiety-disorders-and.html

      Here's a relevant paragraph:

      "Kahn’s explanation looks to me like it takes on the perspective not just of the genes, but of society’s winners. The winners and the best guardians and proliferators of the gene pool might prefer to think that the omegas withdraw because the losers recognize the superiority of the other members and bow out by suffering from sort of anxiety or depression. The anxiety becomes a physiological mechanism that eliminates those who are no longer socially useful, but the point is that this is supposed to be an active self-withdrawal for the good of the group. I think this reverses cause and effect. Anxiety and depression don’t cause the social withdrawal of omegas; rather, the cause is the omegas’ relative weakness or introversion which in turn causes them to lose in competition with stronger group members, so that the pecking order forms in an organic way. Anxiety and depression are effects of being on the outside of a society. When you’re alienated from a society, you can afford to look on it objectively, in which case you recognize the arbitrariness and absurdity of its rules and practices; you lack a social network and the distractions of cultural games, giving you time to ruminate and philosophize, which leads to skepticism, atheism, a greater sensitivity to suffering, and a general appreciation of our existential plight."

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    2. Anxiety and depression might not only be mental "illnesses" but a necessary result of clear-eyed comprehension of reality

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    3. Of course, when someone notes your dark philosophical views and asks whether you're taking anti-anxiety meds, the insinuation is that the views are caused by anxiety or depression. And one of the points I make in that article on anxiety and angst is that the causal relation can be flipped around: maybe the anxiety is caused by the philosophy, in which case the anxiety might be indistinguishable from existential angst or dread. And is a mentally ill person's alienation caused by the socially off-putting fears and loathings or are those negative feelings caused by the alienation which indeed enables a person to catch an objective glimpse of what's really going on in society?

      It's easy to write off deranged rants if they're one-offs and glaring symptoms of idiosyncratic neuroses. But when the cosmicist philosophy matches up with perennial mystical and ascetic traditions, it becomes just as likely the psychiatrist or other critic would be siding with society, protecting it from subversive discourses. That's supposed to be ruled out in the definition of mental disorder, but the main DSM criterion is whether suffering is debilitating, or whether it prevents the individual from carrying out her "social functions." So this conflict between society and individual is baked into the concept of mental disorder, after all.

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  3. I asked the meds question, I agree completely Brian M. That's why I asked, it seems to me that a lot of people today aren't properly comprehending reality, because they are on medication. The "anxiety" that so many people feel, is likely their mind responding to the tedious nature of their jobs/lives.

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    1. The question for me is whether an objective understanding of reality is conducive to making the person happy. Alternatively, such understanding might be a curse of reason, in which case anxiety and a tragically heroic struggle for some sublimation might be the default states of mind for what existentialists call authentic individuals.

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  4. Alternatively, we might have been spawned by a malevolent or arrogant deity so that our highest purpose might be the moral one of opposing our original function, of malfunctioning, in our deity’s judgment.
    In such a case and if such deity thought itself omniscient, would such a malfunction prove to it it was wrong? Twice even - on what it thought would happen and on the idea it had that it was omniscient?

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  5. What if the body was the oppressive environment of the mind, just as the environment outside us is oppressive to the body? For example, we often feel pain. We have no choice but to stop what we are doing and attend to the source of the pain. We're enslaved to our bodies. And we often feel pleasure as well, yet this is merely the body's method of enslaving the mind and keeping it complacent - a drug, if you may. It's the body's way of making sure we like things that are life-affirming: food, water, social interaction, etc.

    Should we go to war against our own bodies for their hidden oppression on the ego? Isn't the most authentic and rebellious thing to do, the most dangerous and reactive action, suicide? Shouldn't the rebellious thing to do be to seek out pain, avoid pleasure, and actively attempt to end one's life, simply out of metaphysical rebellion? We may not want to rebel, but this only means that our bodies, and thus the universe as well, have won. The tragic aspect of this would be that the only way we could win is if we destroy ourselves in the process - a rebellion against ourselves.

    The Buddhist teaching is that we are not identical to our bodies. We cannot control our aging process. We cannot control our hunger or thirst. It happens and we have to react to it. We are merely along for the ride. So although the physical body is in an entropic war against the rest of the universe, aren't our minds continuously being subjugated by the body?

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    1. Well, if organic life is anomalous in nature, for resisting entropy as Schrodinger said, bodies fall on the Mind side of the Cartesian divide. But consciousness, intelligence, and autonomy are anomalies within that larger anomaly, and from this introverted perspective, bodies are indeed part of the "external," "natural" world. In that case, yes, the meaning of life would involve ascetic withdrawal from nature, which would include withdrawal from our bodies and their impulses. Resistance to the sex instinct, for example, might be called for. I've defended that sort of asceticism on this blog.

      However, I don't see a slippery slope here to a defense of suicide. True, suicide would end the body's mindless compulsions once and for all, but suicide would also end the mind and thus the mind's ability to increase irony by further acts of withdrawal. The key question here is whether an act of suicide encompasses all possible acts of ascetic resistance or is equal in value to all the anti-natural acts the enlightened person would have accomplished if only she hadn't killed herself. I don't there is such parity; instead, a long life lived in rebellion against an inhuman world is greater in aesthetic value than the value of a single, admittedly powerful act of opposition to that world such as you find with the right case of suicide. Thus, I'm not in favour of suicide, but prefer a protracted war between the best of humanity and the haunted universe in which we're trapped.

      Mind you, that's only the prescriptive issue. On this blog I try not to preach, but mainly describe the situation as I see it. The point isn't that I think one course of action is best; rather, the point is that this is what's actually happening despite the fact that most people don't see it. Our species is in fact unconsciously resisting nature by replacing it with artificial worlds, and that resistance has an aesthetic value, which is the greatest value there is after God's demise.

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  6. The problem is that once you insulate yourself from nature, your insulation becomes the new nature. If you attempt to cling to your comfort and crush nature, your comfort, and then your very self, are next in line for crushing. We can only create in reference to what we experience in nature. Our aesthetic is not groundless, but is grounded in experience. There is a certain level of reconciliation with—and reverence for—the forces which enabled our uniqueness that is requisite for health. I agree that we should indeed pursue our aesthetic, but not in some vain attempt at replacing our origin with one of our own making. We should always be able to turn to the working model of pristine nature, which generated us along with our potential for radical rebellion, or our aesthetics are sure to be self-destructive. I do realize that this is probably the intention. Temples of suicide, if that is the closeted intent of this dysphoria, should not be so shy of itself. You should not advocate suicide for all simply because you are miserable. If you cannot find a way to reconcile your existence with nature, there is always a way out that doesn't subject the infinite potential of others to your listless cynicism. You possess only negative inspiration in fear of the ultimate source of creativity.

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    1. We should be careful to distinguish the descriptive from the prescriptive formulations of these ideas. I think civilization is underpinned by the sort of existential revolt I explain here and elsewhere on the blog. That revolt may be irrational, based as it is on horror and disgust with nature's impersonality, and so it may ultimately be self-destructive (ecological collapse, etc). That's a descriptive proposition which may be true regardless of whether we'd prefer the meaning of history were otherwise. Now, I also evaluate some such anti-natural revolt as being holy and tragically beautiful, but I don't say all artificialities are equally good. Some are nobler and more inspiring than others.

      I certainly don't recommend suicide. See my article below for more on that. In so far as my worldview is dark and may cause some readers to feel anxious or depressed, I'd say we shouldn't shoot the messenger. The darkness originates in nature's indifference and in its undead simulations of intelligent design, and that darkness is transmitted by scientific and philosophical discoveries and explorations of the truth. Our task is, as Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Camus, and the other existentialists said, to grapple honourably with the dark truth, to live authentically in relation to it. That authenticity likely precludes happiness in the conventional sense, but it likewise isn't expressed by suicide.

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.ca/2013/11/enlightenment-and-suicide.html

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