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Al Denelsbeck's Profile

Al Denelsbeck's Avatar Joined about 5 years ago
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Latest Discussions Started by Al Denelsbeck

Cultural blind spot - last commented 04 December 2011 03:28 AM

Bible stories for children - would you do it? - last commented 25 April 2011 11:22 AM

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Go to: Simply ... should I read the bible?

Al Denelsbeck's Avatar Jump to comment 10 by Al Denelsbeck

Well, I have to go against the flow here and say, only if you're masochistic. The 'key' passages that might provide you with some kind of knowledge are heavily interspersed with some of the most tedious and pointless drivel you've been unlucky enough to come across. And even if your attitude is such that you enjoy mixing it up with religious folk, there's actually very little that you'll get from reading it, since most religions have only a passing acquaintance with scripture anyway. They select what they like and ignore the rest, and even then, often misinterpret what they've selected.

Religion actually isn't about any particular divine communique. It's about privilege. Combating the excesses and abuses of religion isn't fostered by a knowledge of scripture, but a knowledge of how it is wielded, and by highlighting the failures, neither of which is assisted very much by a deep knowledge of the bible et al.

Moreover, for a serious understanding of far too much of it, you'd need to do more than read it, you'd need to study the languages and traits of the time periods when the passages were written. They do not translate easily into English, and the usages have changed significantly. As it is, many biblical scholars are at odds regarding the 'true' meaning of countless passages.

Finally, the primary failures of any religion are the distinct lack of provenance (proof that scripture is anything more than old fiction,) the failure to provide any explanations for historical events or match what we have figured out since their writing, and their inability to guide people towards useful attitudes and ethics. You really don't need to know any specifics to address these points, because scripture is irrelevant to them.

If you have the interest, go for it. If you think it'll be useful, you're almost certainly going to be disappointed.

Wed, 15 Aug 2012 22:11:33 UTC | #950842

Go to: The raw deal of determinism and reductionism

Al Denelsbeck's Avatar Jump to comment 104 by Al Denelsbeck

Comment 89 by Zeuglodon: This is what irritates me about the argument. You switch from choice as in "the process of narrowing down of potential actions to one action" to choice as in "ability not to be caused", the only escape from the latter being randomness. This is equivocation, the equivalent of confusing the chance of genetic mutations with the chance of natural selection.

No, you're misinterpreting my point. I'm saying that "choice" means, to many people who champion free will, that the 'self' or 'mind' or whatever are different from a collection of mere (heh!) physical properties. The laws of physics are what limits humans, not what defines them. The mind is able to imagine many circumstances than could not come about physically (the whole abstract thought thingy,) so the mind is more versatile than the body ruled by physics.

I'm well aware that there is no difference, but it still remains the concept that is hardest to get across to people. I made the point on my own blog [which I cannot link to because the mods seem to be removing them for an unknown reason] that the concern over free will is not whether we act within the constraints of physics or not, but whether we're happy with the process. We simply do not like the idea of something being "against our will." The realization that needs to take place, as far as I can see, if that the physical reactions within our bodies that constitute our choices also see to it that we get positive feedback on the process. The choice in my head, however inevitable, is approved simply because it's in my head.

And no small amount of it comes back to the idea that free will is what allows for salvation/advancement, in many different religions, and a deterministic universe means that this isn't the option it appears. Rather abruptly, we're trying to change worldviews - this will never be as smooth as swapping transmissions ;-)

Mostly because philosophers often argue over definitions in the first place. Philosophy is certainly muddled in parts (heck, my OP was about one particular muddle), and tracts of it are simply wasted ink, but again, we only point this out in hindsight.

I would contradict this in two ways. The first is that arguments over definitions seem to take place because that's what most of philosophy is, and a very significant percentage of it relies on using these as much as possible. For instance, "determinism" sounds like one among many choices, and is treated as such, but there is no viable alternative - even if we find something countering some law of physics as we now know them, it will join the rest within determinism. Determinism does nothing but refer to the laws of physics, but is misleading because it implies by nature that there are alternatives.

The second is, I'm not terribly sure it should be called hindsight. Recall that one basic tenet of philosophy was that logical arguments would lead to 'truth' - this is still used too often, and it also fails often, because there is no way for us to formulate a fully logical argument without omniscience. So our feeble little meat bodies rely on outside input to make up for the lack of insight. It was ego that provided the idea in the first place, not results, but it still exists.

Don't get me wrong - most of what I write about is philosophical. But I see too little of it trying to find the pragmatic, applicable aspects and too much of it is mental masturbation. And perhaps having provoked a discussion, I'll say that I'm not trying to sidetrack the thread ;-). I'll start a new one if it looks too lively.

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 18:10:40 UTC | #949442

Go to: The raw deal of determinism and reductionism

Al Denelsbeck's Avatar Jump to comment 87 by Al Denelsbeck

Damn, that's what I get for being away from a discussion that got off to a slow start then picked up speed - now there's too much to respond to!

Many of the concepts used in these discussions are older labels that we applied when we understood far less about what was going on, and the assumptions behind them all color our participation and reactions. For instance, when we talk about "awareness," how are we able to define this exclusively to ourselves, or the handful of species that we identify (see the much-earlier mentioned Mirror Test)? A tree follows the sunlight across the sky, bends roots around obstructions or occasionally drives them out of the way, and grows according to availability to nutrients. All of these are responses to outside stimuli, just like our ability to see red, so in what way does this differ from awareness? Or (as I suspect,) are we all just going through various levels of input and response? How much of a role does our ego play in our philosophical discussions of 'sentience' and 'will' and all that? ;-)

When someone finds these discussions objectionable because we "certainly" control our own destinies, are they interpreting the evidence objectively or are they emotionally reacting to their own ideas about external control? Or as I think I've been seeing in some comments, are they having a more negative reaction to some of it because they find much of philosophy to be horseshit?

[I have to admit to grinning when I say this, because I'm largely in agreement. Two of the prime issues with philosophy is that it rarely establishes the usefulness or even firm definition of the concepts that are debated, and that it too-often fails to seek functionality. And I'll wait for Steve to tackle that one ;-)]

By and large, I'd like to think that this thread made a good case for the concept of "free will" to be discarded as both ill-defined and irrelevant - but at the same time, we've done the same with religion, and we'll be dealing with that for a while yet. For anyone interested, it would probably be good to collect some prime debating points for your arsenal, because the subject is going to come up again.

As for the subject of determinism and ethical considerations. I agree that they are not specifically related, but it must also be kept in mind that the implications of determinism (or as most people consider it, predestination) have a distinct effect on ethical thought. Those that take any of this to imply that "nothing that anyone does matters in the end" can become unmotivated or confused as to their role in social structure and ethics, and this is a common side-effect of discussions about free will.

What perhaps needs to be emphasized is that we all play a part, which may well be physically determinable, but every choice that we make is still legitimate. Nihilistic inaction is just as much a part of the mix as exuberant vigilantism, so one might as well pursue the course of action that provokes the best feelings in themselves. That these feelings can be altered by outside input, such as the horror of people nearby, is exactly how we've evolved to work anyway.

The perspective that we've developed in our cultures over time is largely that we choose our destiny by our actions (religious or not,) which determinism actually destroys. Sure, I can make a choice, but it was inevitably going to be that choice anyway, because physics cannot be otherwise, so that really makes it no choice. I therefore liken it to a book, which has a fixed course but we're still interested in reading it, because we don't yet know what the course is - and in a nutshell, that describes our experiences throughout life. What we react to is not the course or the nature of reality itself, but the part that impinges on our senses (and contributes to our own decision-making.) We are not guides, but improvisational actors, playing a role based on both immediate input and past experience, and we don't know where it's going, but we can have fun with it anyway.

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 01:59:32 UTC | #949367

Go to: The raw deal of determinism and reductionism

Al Denelsbeck's Avatar Jump to comment 47 by Al Denelsbeck

Comment 46 by Premiseless: We all have gradations of choice within parameters of restriction and within such a framework there are those who have massively more options from which to choose as compared with others, even many who subjugate or garner others energies for their own aims. Saying "will" per se, is none existent begs the question as to what it is that is being employed by each human and who enforces or is enforced by others to deliver some of us maximal life opium as opposed to maximum life depressives.

Go read the original post again - that's actually what we're addressing here.

Free will has nothing to do with subjugation - it only deals with whether or not someone is controlling their own actions; it is strictly internal. You can, of course, interpret it any way that you like, but that simply puts you in your own little conversation.

And, uh, "maximal life opium as opposed to maximum life depressives"? Seriously, dude, don't try so hard.

Sun, 15 Jul 2012 11:07:46 UTC | #949241

Go to: The raw deal of determinism and reductionism

Al Denelsbeck's Avatar Jump to comment 42 by Al Denelsbeck

Comment 35 by nick keighley: not completly safe though. I for one disagree that religion is the only reason for the existence of free will. I think it is a perfectly useful concept in the every day world (despite its lack of theoretical under-pinnings). Free will may be our inabilityto completly describe someone's future actions. We choose to ascribe choice to people.

I should have written that better - I meant it to read that we can blame the origination of it on religious influences. Determinism has in many cases taken that position over, but the problem is, determinism as a philosophical concept is arguable, simply because it is a philosophical concept. But the laws of physics aren't, and those pretty much tell us free will is nonsense.

As for your last sentence, "We choose to ascribe choice to people," there are actually three factors related to that. Determinism does not actually deny choice, as in, someone acting based on their individual makeup - it merely indicates that the choice was inevitable. Nor does it imply, in the slightest, that someone is being forced to do something. While their choice is inevitable, so is their agreement with it! And finally, while determinism indicates that the path is predictable in theory, in reality there is no way that we could assimilate the information in any useful manner, and it is the very nature of future unknowns that we appreciate anyway. The physics of it all may be an unalterable book, but we still have to read it to find out how it goes ;-)

Sun, 15 Jul 2012 07:53:31 UTC | #949232

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