Daniel Dennett (1942-) is an American philosopher and atheist who argues that the mind operates like a computer. For Dennett, the sum total of our experiences shape and prod us from day-one of our existence.
Does this include space for individual free-will? Dennett argues that, although some activities may seem intentionally planned and chosen by an agent or agents, behind that lies an original intention not derived from any individual agent or collection of agents—i.e. Nature has endowed us with an original intention to protect our genes, and everything follows from that.
For Dennett the conscious aspect of the self that expresses a particular viewpoint arises from the act of expressing that viewpoint, much like electricity is generated by the spinning of a rotor within a coil.
He usually refuses to debate with other thinkers because he is so thoroughly convinced that his terminology is right and theirs is riddled with errors.
My refusal to play ball with my colleagues is deliberate, of course, since I view the standard philosophical terminology as worse than useless — a major obstacle to progress since it consists of so many errors.¹
He also implies that his view is more comprehensive than other philosophical views because, being more abstract, it can account for differences among philosophers.
But theologians could use the same type of argument to account for differences between Dennett and other philosophers who, themselves, believe that their views are closer to the truth than Dennett’s. Indeed, theologians could maintain that theirs is the more comprehensive view, one which proves incorrect Dennett’s initial assumptions about original intentionality and its relation to consciousness. Specifically, the theologian could say that Dennett overlooks the two essential agencies of human free-will and divine inspiration.
Dennett’s views have sparked much debate, most likely because he employs technological metaphors to explain consciousness. He has also opened the door to speculation among those who believe that encoding human brain patterns within a computer’s memory might be a plausible ticket to immortality within the not-too-distant future. In this case, eternal life would reside – or, perhaps, be trapped – in a silicon chip or its technological successor.
¹ Daniel Dennett, The Message is: There is no Medium, cited at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Dennett
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David Hume (1711-76) was a Scottish philosopher who developed a naturalist perspective on all aspects of human life.
For Hume, the highest good is based on the pursuit of happiness. We are personally happy when we’re good to others, not due to some high spiritual reward but because this approach leads to a harmonious social whole. So personal and social well-being go hand in hand.
This means that morality isn’t based on austere rational principles but on the desire for enjoyment. Accordingly, Hume believes that reason cannot determine anything without experience. And he goes as far to say that reason is the “slave of passion.”
Hume’s metaphysics, in particular his critique of the belief in cause and effect, remains an important challenge to our conventional way of seeing. All we can be sure of, says Hume, is that certain events occur one after another in a given region and for a certain duration.
In billiards, for instance, the white ball appears to cause the motion of other balls when impacting them on the gaming table. But here’s the radical part. Hume says that all we can truly know is that, in the past, the first ball impacted and the other balls moved. We cannot prove that the first ball’s impact will always be followed by movement of the other balls. And for Hume, there is no rational way to demonstrate a causal connection:
Reason can never shew us the connexion of one object with another, tho’ aided by experience, and the observation of their constant conjunction in all past instances. When the mind, therefore, passes from the idea or impression of one object to the idea or belief of another, it is not determin’d by reason, but by certain principles, which associate together the ideas of these objects, and unite them in the imagination.¹
Put differently, from prior experience we build up a series of expectations and habitual ways of interpreting observations. Hume calls these “ideas.” But ideas they simply are. Although we expect the billiard balls to move, we have no way of proving or knowing that they always will.
At first, this may seem absurd. But Hume’s critique of causality had a profound effect on one of the most important thinkers in the history of Western philosophy, Immanuel Kant. Mortimer Adler says “…Kant tells us that David Hume awakened him from his dogmatic slumbers.”²
In addition, on a quantum level of reality, contemporary physicists claim that observations of subatomic particles support the ideas of probability and simultaneity instead of linear causality.
However, some say it’s invalid to compare quantum and macroscopic levels of reality because subatomic particles exist in an entirely different arena, and behave in different ways than the larger aggregate objects which they make up.
This debate continues to this day, the answer to which might depend on one’s core beliefs and related worldview. Or in Hume’s terms, one’s “customs of thought.”
¹ David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1896 ed.), SECTION VI.: Of the inference from the impression to the idea, paragraph 278.
² Adler, Mortimer J. (1996). Ten Philosophical Mistakes. Simon & Schuster. p. 94, cited at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critique_of_Pure_Reason#cite_note-2
- Link blog: philosophy, hume, atheism, david-hume (pw201.livejournal.com)
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- “Cause Is Not a Fact”: (brothersjuddblog.com)
- Of Hume and Bondage (opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com)
- On David Hume (myintelligentlife.wordpress.com)
(a) In natural medicine homeopathy is a so-called “alternative” approach to healing based on the belief that illness arises from an imbalance of internal and external elements. The basic premise is that the basic life force, a sort of vital energy, needs to be rebalanced or realigned to restore health.
This is normally achieved by the practitioner assessing the whole patient, and not just the area of illness. From this assessment, what is believed to be the appropriate substance is administered, usually in a highly diluted mixture.
Critics say that the mixture is so highly diluted that whatever original substance was supposed to be administered is not present in the final solution.
Critics also say that, although the odd individual may show signs of improvement, homeopathic medicine does not stand up to scientific scrutiny. Unlike allopathic (i.e. conventional) medicine, there is absolutely no statistical evidence that it works.
As as structuralist thinker, O’Flaherty tends to see the vast and baffling repertoire of Hindu myth in terms of binary opposites.
Siva, for instance, regulates the balance of the universe though (seemingly) ungodly activities, such as tempting the Pine Forest Sage’s wives. Siva’s attempt to seduce the sages’ wives breaks the sages’ meditation, the power of which threatens the balance of the cosmos.¹
While they may appear to be quite different, both the alternative medicine and mythological studies definitions of homeopathy point to the notion that problems may be corrected by restoring balance.
¹ See Wendy Doniger, Siva: The Erotic Ascetic p. 173.
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Spinoza, Baruch (1632-1677)
Jewish philosopher of Spanish-Portuguese parentage who was barred from his synagogue in 1656 on the charge of expounding “atheism.”
This caused Spinoza to delve even deeper into philosophy, devising a metaphysical system that envisions God as one substance with a kind of dual nature.
The first nature is natura naturata (“nature natured”), this being the whole of reality that necessarily comes from God’s nature.
The second nature is natura naturans (“nature naturing”), an infinite and eternal essence out of which God freely creates.
Spinoza’s popular metaphysic is something of a Western parallel to the Hindu notion of an unmanifest and manifest aspect of Brahman. It also has affinities with the Taoist idea of the unnamed and named aspects of the Tao.
His take on the question of free will is that mankind’s thoughts and actions are determined by myriad causes–we only believe that we’re free to make choices when, in fact, we’re not.
In 1673 Spinoza refused to accept a teaching post for philosophy at Heidelberg. He is often touted as a forerunner to the Enlightenment, and his approach opened the door for several modern disciplines, ranging from deep ecology to biblical criticism. » Pantheism
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One of the six main schools of Hindu philosophy with conceptual roots in the Rig Veda but normally attributed to the sage Kapila (6th-century BCE).
Kapila postulated a fundamental distinction between spirit (purusha) and nature or matter (prakrti) as well as innumerable sub-categories.
He believed in the existence of individual souls and postulated the three gunas of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.
The gunas are qualities that constitute material nature and a corresponding consciousness within living beings.
- Sattva is the highest of the three gunas, refering to calm, light and peace.
- Rajas is neither the highest nor the lowest guna, translating to excitement, action, passion and force.
- Tamas is the lowest of the three gunas, indicating darkness, grief, fear and laziness.
Originally the three gunas existed in equilibrium but the workings of the spirit threw them out of balance. The inevitable tensions, conflicts, attractions and affiliations arising from their disequilibrium caused a process of cosmic and spiritual evolution, which for Hindus is much larger than the Darwinian take on evolution.
As with the theory of reincarnation, this is an imaginative, admirable but arguably limited human attempt to understand the godhead, the miracle of creation and the interaction of time and eternity. » Rajas, Sattva, Tamas
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Wave In physics a physical wave is defined as a regular disturbance in a medium, the net result being a transfer of energy.
Electromagnetic waves, however, may travel through a medium or a vacuum.
Many contemporary New Age writers dubiously liken waves to both matter-energy and spirit. According to this view, the Holy Spirit potentially could be measured with some kind of metering system.
This perspective seems lacking because it excludes a whole realm of grace and spirit said to exist beyond but within the world of matter and energy.
And arguably those who have not experienced the uniquely numinous quality of the spirit for themselves will most likely continue to suppose that matter-energy is equivalent to spirit, or perhaps reduce all things spiritual to vulgar materialistic or purely psychoanalytic explanations.
In Christian theological terms, God’s grace is said to be immanent within but qualitatively different from experiences stemming from the natural world of matter-energy (e.g. the aesthetic appreciation of a sunset or endorphin rushes from exercise).
Again, this distinction is seems to elude some New Age enthusiasts. And to complicate matters, poets, depth psychologists and mystics make the case for different types of spiritual experience–each type being qualitatively different from the realm of matter-energy.
» Adamski (George), Berkeley (George), Eliade (Mircea), Interference, Jung (Carl Gustav), Lenard, (Philipp Eduard Anton), Meditation, Otto (Rudolf), Particle, Particle-Wave Duality, Schrödinger (Erwin), Standing Wave, Swedenborg (Emanuel), Young (Thomas)
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a couple of large spirit houses in the woods Originally uploaded by doctor paradox
@ mae wok
Originally uploaded by doctor paradox
Animism The belief that natural objects like rivers, mountains and trees, as well as animals and people have a spiritual, animating principle.
Sir E. B. Tylor developed a theory of animism to try to explain the origins of religion.
Tylor believed that so-called primitive man developed a belief in spirits existing in nature from the actual experience of sleep, dreams and breathing.
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He argued that Christ and God were one and that this doctrine should be taught.
For Apollinarius, Christ’s human spirit was replaced by the divine Logos. As such, Christ couldn’t morally develop during his life because he was already perfect.
This view denied Christ’s human side and was rejected by an orthodoxy which believed that all of humanity could not be saved unless God was partly human.
Appollinarianism could only redeem the spiritual but not the natural aspects of humanity.
This distinction between spirit and nature is one that carries through today, with far-reaching implications for those who do and do not believe that the matter/energy dynamic is identical to spirit.
Although Apollinarius became Bishop of Laodicea (360 CE), he was condemned by the synod at Rome (374-380 CE) and the council of Constantinople (381 CE).
“Early Christian Gravestone, Jesus the Shepherd” by Walter Parenteau at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mwparenteau/451967950/, Creative Commons License
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