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← Edge challenges leading thinkers to name their 'favourite explanations'

prolibertas's Avatar Jump to comment 12 by prolibertas

My favourite idea is something that's probably going far beyond the pale for many on this website, because it comes from Buddhist philosophy (though I'm sure that if truly rational people reject this idea, they wouldn't reject it for no better reason than because it comes from a religion). Namely, it's the idea that the sense of 'self' in the sense of an 'I' that is independent of nature is an illusion, and that a lot of existential suffering arises from it. Negative states of mind like hate, envy, anxiety, arrogance, defensiveness, tribalism, dogmatism, etc. arise from and ramify 'I', while positive states of mind like love, compassion, empathy, equanimity, forgiveness, etc. arise from and ramify liberation from 'I' (the purpose of meditation, which strictly defined is nothing more than training the mind) into a sense of what the hippies call being 'one with nature'. I think this idea wins points - much like natural selection - for the ratio of its simplicity versus the wide applications that it can have. It's a simple life philosophy that selflessness is the path to personal happiness as well as the happiness of others, and by linking personal happiness to the happiness of others it also just happens to kill the arguments that we cannot be happy or moral without a belief in God.

As a side-note, I'm astonished that this idea was ever linked to supernatural religion rather than atheistic materialism. After all, supernatural religion has usually contended for dualism, the separation of mind and matter that is supposed to create the real, eternal 'I' in the form of the 'soul'; while atheistic materialism and science have both contended for monism, the inseparability of mind and matter, which combined with the fact that all the matter and energy that forms us is in a constant state of recycle and exchange with the matter and energy of the earth and beyond makes 'I' absolutely continuous with nature, and therefore an arbitrary and artificial construction. And, as noted, it's a gem to have as a rebuttal to theistic arguments about how atheism means misery, amorality, and immorality. I put this mis-association down to a quirk of historical contingency.

Mon, 16 Jan 2012 04:22:20 UTC | #908756