Questions on: Books
I was wondering if you have any book recommendations for me. I know that you are an active pursuer of knowledge and I would love if you would be able to recommend me any "must reads" that you have encountered.
Oddly enough, I cannot think of any work I consider to be a “must read” in a general sense. Some books are necessary to specific ideologies or disciplines. For instance, to understand clinical psychology one must have access to the ‘DSM-IV’; and to comprehend the roots of Christianity one must read the Bible. However, you cannot apply what you learn from the DSM without a basic understanding of human nature and the ability to abstractly connect actions to seemingly unrelated desires. You cannot truly understand the nature of religious belief by relying on the books that originally inspired the faithful without comprehending the desires behind the need for religion.
I have yet to find any one resource that completely addresses any particular concept. I read a great deal, and am always finding “titbits” of knowledge. Personally, I have a fondness for texts written long ago, for it gives me insights into a portion of human history that is not taught in schools. Freud is credited with discovering the conscious/subconscious division of the mind, yet this concept was quite familiar to the authors of the ancient Pali Cannon. Darwin is hailed as the father of evolution, yet two centuries earlier Paul d’Holbach showed a clear understanding of the concept, and referred to much older writers in the footnotes; following the references of these other authors sequentially back through time, we end up in ancient Greece, and the theory of evolution existing 2300 years prior to Darwin. There are philosophy professors today who believe Descartes originated the concept of “I think therefore I am”, but St. Augustine is the true source, some 1100 years earlier. Atomic theory predates Einstein by 2500 years, and I have read ancient Greek fragments referring to a universe composed of stars, planets, and galaxies, where the possibility of life evolving on other worlds is put forward - ages before Galileo and Copernicus. Marcus Aurelius, in the 2nd Century CE, refers to the ingenuity of the ancients, who discovered the laws of physics which so influenced his perception of the world - well before Newton “rediscovered” the knowledge.
My point would be that there is nothing that is a “must read” on its own, simply because we cannot risk accepting any one thing as being definitive. Over the years, I have learned that much of what I was taught in school is wrong. This is because we all have a tendency to accept that which is commonly held to be true. Therefore, to gain wisdom, we must look to many sources, and compile our knowledge from the pieces scattered throughout the works of many scholars. Philosophy in particular is not so much an answer to the mysteries of human awareness, as it is a debate that has gone on continually since the beginning of recorded history. Since the argument continues, there are no final answers, only the components of what may ultimately lead to a consensus. [back to FAQ index]
Questions on: Determinism
Could you expand on our illusion of free will? I understand that our human capacities limit us.. We will never be aware of ALL infinite causes that will effect our next decision. It's just difficult for me to grasp that my choices are pre-determined. If my whole life and all my decisions are already mapped out, I can never do the "wrong" thing? What is the need for evaluation?
We all know that we are going to die, yet we spend almost all of our time behaving as if it will never happen. We know it is predestined, and we have no choice in the matter, but even our absolute knowledge of this ultimate effect does not prompt us to appreciate the limited time we have. By our very nature, we would still function with “free will” even if we did have a better grasp of cause and effect.
Yes, our every decision is predestined, and we are incapable of knowing what each decision is going to be. My personal self-image causes me to believe that I will be making the right, or ethical, choices. This may not ultimately be the case, but I gain happiness, self-satisfaction, and mental well-being from believing that this is my destiny.
My actions are going to be contributing causes to everything that happens to me. Oftentimes I can clearly see the sequence: if I try to take food out of a hot oven with my bare hands, I will get burned. Much of the time, I am only speculating: if I fail to study prior to a test, I am likely to do poorly. Other times, I cannot make a connection in advance due to other unknown causes: I get robbed on the way to the store.
On occasion I will absent-mindedly get burned, even though I am normally quite aware of what will happen. My “free will” means that I do not always think about cause and effect, yet it was inevitable that I would be in that state of mind, and that I was going to be burned.
I may expect to end up with a low score on a test due to my failure to study, but do well because the test covered knowledge that I was quite familiar with. The test existed long before I saw it, and my knowledge was also pre-existing. The test results were destined to be as such. Contrary to my perception of the future, the effect was different.
I would not have been robbed on the way to the store if I had decided to drive instead, or had decided to have a coffee before I left, or chose a different store. My decision placed me at that particular location at that specific point in time. Unbeknownst to me, choices made by the mugger also placed him at that exact point in time and space. Neither of us realised that we had no option but to meet at that moment, for the causes had been in motion long before the incident.
We will function with the perception of free will because we have no alternative. We always make the “right” decision in the sense that it is the one we were predetermined to make. This does not mean that we simply let things happen because of determinism, for our consideration of each of our choices is also predestined. Our need to think independently, and uniquely, guarantees that we will always evaluate our options regardless of our awareness of cause and effect, for this capacity is also predetermined.
Even if it were possible for someone to behave as you suggest, and accept fate without evaluating potential consequences, then that individual was destined to be as such, and their state of mind forms a part of the chain of causes and effects. A life spent in such a way is pointless, and hence unrewarding. Their fate then parallels that of the majority: another potential genetic resource for nature to draw upon. Fundamentally, most people do not realise the implications of determinism, and go through life believing that their actions are inconsequential. Therefore, like your example, they lead a passive existence. They are herded in the direction others wish them to go, they think as they are conditioned to think, and ultimately they feel their lives are meaningless in the greater scheme of things.
A person who comprehends determinism realises that they are part of an endless sequence of cause and effect. Every action is the result of a series of causes spanning all of the past, each personal decision affects the future forever more. Being part of this should be incredibly exciting. Each of us plays a role in the destiny of mankind, and because we cannot know where we fit in the sequence, and how significant our contributions will be, determinism makes our choices far more interesting, rather than less. Each of us is important, and the mystery of what we can cause to happen provides a fuller life, not one that is more trivial.
From my perspective, I like to think that I was destined to put a great deal of thought into my potential effect upon the future. I feel an obligation to mankind, and inconsequential as my influence may seem at times, I can always feel a considerable sense of self-worth knowing that determinism invariably imbues my every move with the possibility of greatness.
You may have unwittingly made a comment on ethics to someone you encountered in a seemingly everyday situation, and your words stuck in their mind. Later, they repeated your comment to someone who ultimately needed that last piece to the puzzle in order to make a decision to choose a particular path in life. Perhaps that person becomes the next Gandhi or Gautama. Your “cause” has the effect of creating a peace movement that saves the lives of millions of people by making particular wars impossible. It was destined to be that way, but then you were the key to that destiny. Perhaps it would not be so exciting if you knew what the effect was going to be, but I think not. It would be wonderful to know that you were going to accomplish such a noble task, even with foreknowledge. In most cases, we cannot know, so the possibility is always there.
You did not save the lives of those people because the wars were never going to happen, since there were no other options due to cause and effect? Death and destruction would have occurred in an “alternative reality” if you were not a part of the picture. Fortunately you are. There have been many cases where people did not go to the aid of an injured person, thinking that someone else would. The injured person died because no one provided help. This was destined to be the result. Although fate could not be changed, each individual who did not act was a cause of the death. Do we then tell ourselves that causing someone to die is our destiny, or do we regret that we failed another human being? We cannot know what our role is in life, but often we can understand what the alternative to our actions might be. Do we feel that our fate is to be a negative or inconsequential one, or self-rewarding? Regardless of what determinism dictates, the results govern how we feel about ourselves.
This mystery of our potential provides endless hope, for although we may never make a truly positive, meaningful impact during our lives, we can never discount the possibility that we have ultimately changed the world for the better. [back to FAQ index]
All of my 44 years of life has eventually drawn me to the subject of "life" and what it really means. Born and raised in the South, I've always been somewhat afraid to talk about it with most people for fear they'd think I was some sort of nut case!
I've felt alone in that respect, all of my life. I didn't finish high school, but have been "lucky" or determined enough to make a comfortable life for myself. I feel as if I'm NOT contributing to the universe as I should. I feel like I'm living on another realm or frequency. It's not a bad feeling, just different. I'm not afraid of death, I've often wanted to leave this side and go to the "other" one, whatever that may be. I don't think it was out of depression or pain, but just to feel that I "belong". I've been blessed with an extreme sense of intuition since I can remember. I've often dreamt of future events that actually happened. In your opinion, what do you think I'm going through and who could I communicate with to help me?
You are far from alone in your interest in the meaning of existence. Throughout recorded history, there have been times and cultures where it has been a dominant theme in society. Countless works have been written focused on this philosophical quandary, and the seeds of our greatest advances were often planted by ancient scholars contemplating the subject.
We happen to be living in a materialistic age, and the majority are too often concerned only with the mundane matters of day to day existence. Fortunately, we also live in an age where people can find other like-minded individuals via the Internet. Never before has a person been able to ask a question, and be instantly referred to hundreds of thousands of individuals who have asked the same question, or attempted to answer it. Never before have we had instantaneous access to the thoughts and feelings of hundreds of millions of people. We may not be living in a time when most individuals care about abstract knowledge, but it is infinitely easier to find those who do.
Being different, in my somewhat biased opinion, is far superior to being just another member of the herd. It is always the minority that changes the direction of humanity. It is the independent thinker who drives the herd in the right direction. The majority fulfils its purpose in nature by being a vast gene pool, while those who think in the abstract perpetuate and advance knowledge. Each member of their respective group is equally important to the well-being of humanity, but neither is comfortable, nor successful, trying to live the other’s role.
Everyone contributes to the universe in their own way. Think in terms of the snowflake analogies I am fond of making in my writing. How much should a person contribute? Every contribution is important, and if we have the opportunity to do a little more, then we are fortunate. Logically, there was a final comment or action by someone that inspired Gandhi to change from a career in law, to a commitment to peace and freedom. Gandhi may never have noticed the significance of that particular moment in destiny, nor the person who caused it; yet a seemingly inconsequential event changed the world. Now, whosoever that unknown individual was, they altered human history, and perhaps it was the only moment in their lives that was of consequence; but that one action or phrase accomplished more than the deeds of a hundred million others.
There is no reason to fear death. After all, it is the consequence of life. Having the opportunity to experience existence from this unique perspective seems well worth the ultimate outcome of such an opportunity. Of course, being that we all must ultimately face an end to life, there is no reason to hurry along toward the end. Because there is only this one interval between birth and demise, never to be repeated in this way, we must appreciate the experience. Good or bad, every event is still one more opportunity to know what it is to be human. We can savour the good, and learn from the bad. Our memories of the unhappy moments in life are all that keep that suffering alive, just as our clinging to the special moments perpetuates the joy. The choice is ours.
The universe is cause and effect, and sometimes we are able to understand enough causes to determine what the effect will be. Sometimes it seems that we know too much about what will occur; but keep in mind that we always remember when we get it right, and tend to forget all of the times we were wrong. Thus, our selective memories give us a false illusion of our perceptions.
I don’t think you should be overly concerned about what you are feeling. I don’t do psychological analysis over the Internet, for it is far too easy to make a mistake. I do not get the impression that you are suffering from any significant mental disorder, and would suggest that you may simply be mildly depressed. We all pass through stages where we question where we are going in life, and wonder why we cannot find that clarity and peace we somehow know is available to us.
You may feel that you are living in a different “frequency”, but the common “frequency” is a social construct. Society, the media, politicians, clergy, and the other members of the herd pressure everyone else to conform. Being like everyone else is only “right” because we are conditioned to believe so. This does not make it right. Certainly, most people need to imitate the behaviour of the majority, simply because they would be lost without the feeling that they are the same as everyone else. Being different is only “wrong” for those who cannot comprehend being separate from the herd. Gandhi was different, Buddha was different, Einstein was different. Those that are capable of rising above the mundane should cherish the fact that they can think and perceive in ways unknown to the common man.
I think you can find a great many people to communicate with on the Internet. There are bulletin boards, webrings, and websites that will contain individuals who have the same concerns as you do, and people who have found their own particular answers. I have corresponded with thousands of people who have written letters similar to yours. You are definitely not alone. [back to FAQ index]
Questions on: Vegetarianism
I am a hunter, I kill for food. I hunt deer, elk, any wild game. We process our own meat from cattle. It is very benificial. We make our own bacon, cure our own hams etc. What are your thoughts on humans killing for food? Should humans become vegitarians?
Humans are, by design, predators. We are omnivorous; that is, opportunistic predators who can supplement our diet with vegetation. The design of our teeth, the placement and attributes of our eyes, and our digestive system are those of creatures who prey upon other animals. In other words, our purpose in nature is a part of the balance, where we exist to control the numbers of our prey, and the prey reproduce at a rate that compensates for our predation.
Humans are not designed to be herbivorous, and many vegetarians require vitamin supplements in order to survive. To acquire the needed nutrients, vegetarians must eat a wide variety of plants, from diverse areas of the world. Without our modern ability to transport goods from distant regions, vegetarians would perish. Obviously, in ancient times, no one was a vegetarian.
Since abstaining from meat is unnatural, and potentially fatal for the human animal, I do not believe that people should become vegetarians. Of course, individuals are free to choose such a lifestyle, but I do not agree with the ethical arguments used by extremists. They are confusing the innate values that are meant to prevent us from destroying each other, with those that ensure our continued existence.
Hunting is a natural instinct in humans, and provided it is not done strictly for the sake of killing, I see nothing wrong with it. Obviously, there have to be limits set on the number of animals taken, for there are far too many humans on the planet to allow for indiscriminate hunting. [back to FAQ index]
Questions on: Quantum Mechanics
(initial query) I'm not sure if you have read about quantum mechanics, but if you haven't, i urge you to read about it, and everything on the topic...
I am familiar with quantum mechanics, although far from an expert in the field. My difficulty with quantum mechanics is that it is purely theoretical, and due to the 'Uncertainty Principle', is inherently not provable; in other words, as felt by the majority of the scientific community, it is entirely based upon faith, and in the minds of many, a form of mysticism (i.e. a “religion”).
The problem with accepting quantum theory is that it invalidates the principles of know physics. Logically speaking, trusting concepts of faith over those of what we consider to be known “truths” is contrary to reason. Aspects of quantum mechanics may very well be true, but by the very rules of the discipline, the science is based on fuzzy logic, where it is acknowledged that any fact is in reality transitory, and subject to an ever-present error that cannot be eliminated.
Recent research may put an end to quantum theorising. There is preliminary evidence that the speed of light is not a constant; something that is the cornerstone of quantum mechanics. Judging by much earlier scientific research, I have always tended to believe it unlikely that light speed could be a constant. Of course, I am awaiting further studies to verify this most recent report, before taking either position as fact.
(followup) Quantum Physics exists primarily because sub atomic particles can behave like a wave AND like a particle. To furthermore make things more interesting, the trigger is weather we 'observe' the particle or not. Fuzzy logic is more of a way to understand quantum mechanics, because you can't apply normal logic to this. Using physic's "rules" to set up your brain background/context tends to confuse people. Basically, nomal logic dictates the letter "A" can be either "A" or "not A". Fuzzy logic takes in effect "A", "not A", AND both "A" & "not A" at once. (in a nutshell). Once you understand what i'm talking about, you'll be very perplexed
The differences in photon behaviour between recording location and recording trajectory are due to the 'Uncertainty Principle', where it is impossible to know both. We detect location and trajectory by bombarding the subject particle/wave with particles/waves, hence we cause the result of our experiment rather than observe a result. Do particles naturally behave as waves, or do they do so because we interfere with them by detecting their behaviour? This is the fundamental paradox inherent to quantum mechanics. We cannot know without influencing particle behaviour, and by doing so we invalidate our results. Quantum mechanics is widely disputed as a science because of this basic flaw; although it may be entirely accurate, this could be purely by random chance due to the very nature of the discipline, and because conclusions are not governed by standard scientific practices, it cannot be classified as a “true” science.
I cannot be perplexed by the results generated by quantum mechanics because I do not have faith in the methodology, therefore it is a non-issue. If the only way I can detect the trajectory of a bullet is by firing other bullets into the space I assume will be occupied by the first bullet, and draw my conclusions based on the fact that one of my bullets did not reach the other side, I have presupposed that both my bullet and the original were behaving in a given and consistent manner during the period where no collision occurred. Obviously, by detecting the first bullet’s path in this way, I have changed its trajectory, and the place it lands is going to be different than where it would land had I not “observed” it. Of course, I also have to fire other bullets at both the original and “detecting” bullets in order to know of their existence at their respective final destinations in order to “observe” them, meaning that I must make other assumptions based on the fact that I have introduced a random factor into the equation by interfering with both the trajectory and now, the location. I am trying to understand how bullets behave by using bullets that I do not yet understand in order to draw my conclusions.
There is a great deal we do not understand about the universe around us, and it is entirely possible that we lack the capacity to even begin to fathom the intricacies of nature. Science does its best to formulate explanations for all phenomenon, but much of our theorising is the result of a need to create the explanations rather than irrefutable proof thereof. At all stages of antiquity, science has frequently proven to be wrong, and our “truths” are only such at a particular moment in time. Every erroneous scientific benchmark throughout history was based on the very best and most advanced research available; there is no reason why we should assume that things are any different now.
Some concepts have been with us for a very long time, the very existence of subatomic particles comes to us from the Greeks, who created atomic theory twenty-five centuries ago; and it is entirely possible that it predates that, since we do not have a complete record of man’s history. Principles that mankind has clung to for thousands of years bear closer scrutiny, whether they be ethical or scientific, since they have not been abandoned when so many other “facts” have fallen by the wayside. [back to FAQ index]
Copyright 1998 - 2003 B.W.Holmes - all rights reserved (unless noted otherwise). Quotes from ancient literary works do not carry a copyright.