Descartes and God

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Descartes and God

Post  Walter P. Jeeves III on Fri Dec 14, 2007 8:12 pm

I kind of like Plato and Descartes. While I don't entirely agree with them, their logic makes sense. Most of their writing is a refreshing and lucid change from the confused meanderings my own mind goes on.

I agree with Descartes that there must be some sort of "god," though not necessarily in the Christian sense of the word. I'm not to sure about the all-good nature of such a "god." What do you guys think?
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Re: Descartes and God

Post  Riley on Fri Dec 14, 2007 9:23 pm

I don't believe that a "God" being is necessarily present. Physics is God.
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Re: Descartes and God

Post  Riley on Fri Dec 14, 2007 11:39 pm

God is defined as an infinitely perfect being.
Perfection includes existence.
Ergo, God exists.

Okay, I'm sorry, but this is the stupidest argument I've ever heard. I could make up anything--say, a giant, ravenous gorilla-hawk--and tell you that one of its qualities is existence. Ergo, it exists.

The Munchslorlbler is defined as a giant, ravenous gorilla-hawk, one of the qualities of which is existence.
This definition includes existence.
Ergo, the Munchslorlbler exists.


So now I've unleashed this horrible monster on the world, like God did when He CREATED ALL EVIL.

It just doesn't hold up. If you want an example that makes Descartes seem even more useless:

The Munchslorlbler is defined as a giant, ravenous gorilla-hawk, which is also perfect.
Perfection includes existence.
Ergo, the Munchslorlbler exists.


So this is how Descartes seeks also to prove that material objects exist:

I believe that objects exist.
God created all objects, as well as my senses.
If objects didn't exist, that would mean that God was tricking me.
God cannot trick me, because he is perfect.
Ergo, objects exist.


Except that he forgets that God is fucking with us ALL THE TIME. If God isn't allowed to trick us, then how is he allowed to kill our babies? And another thing: HE'S ALL-POWERFUL. He can do whatever the fuck he pleases. If he wants to trick you, then your flimsy definition of perfection isn't going to stop him.

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I'm much more into Socrates, because I'm firmly and passionately committed to the belief that nobody knows anything. I don't agree with any of Socrates's conclusions except that one. I like Aristotle, too. At least he wanted to actually benefit the human race, rather than just passively KNOW everything.
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Re: Descartes and God

Post  Walter P. Jeeves III on Mon Dec 17, 2007 7:03 pm

I agree with you, Riley, on the perfection argument. The flying spaghetti monster was enough to convince me of it's uselessness. However, the "god" I am talking about is not a being that is perfect, but rather a presence that can be found in every experience of the world. Here is my logic, written out a couple weeks ago when I was thinking about Descartes, with some minor edits. Out of pretension or respect, I wrote the following as a meditation of my own, and the ideas are my own, though obviously influenced by Descartes.

I take for granted the acceptance of Descartes "cogito ergo sum"--I think therefore I am.

While senses can perceive things that are “untrue” (as we might say about our dreams) these forms of reality have consequences that are far reaching. If I ignore the reality of the senses, I loose the reality of other conscious beings. Communication among humans, by word, voice, touch, is all a function of the senses. Without this external reality, or mental trickery as it may be, I would not have encountered Descartes philosophy and would not have proved to myself that I exist. His philosophical ideas must have come from the “evil deceiver” or from my within my self, but a part of myself that I was unaware of--my subconscious. I am disinclined to believe that it comes from within, because if it is I who create the world around me, consciously or subconsciously, it would not contain so much suffering and be so ill suited to my needs.

A short demonstration. I have tried (as you can too), using telekinesis, to lift this white notebook standing before me, yet it stays firmly in its place. If it were within my control--as I doubt it to be--then perhaps the experience of the white notebook would be created by me. But I do not perceive it to move, no mater how I alter my thoughts, therefore it must be created by something outside of myself. My current sensory experience must come from an external entity.

This external source is not a fixed characteristic, it interacts with the thinking thing that I am. It creates new sensory material of its own accord, without my forecast or consent. It communicates in words through human agents. It understands how I think, how my consciousness functions (or at least this is what the external source has lead me to believe, by providing me with the ideas of Descartes). The external source is, in a sense a being similar to I, but of greater capability. It controls what I experience and can communicate and respond to my thoughts. I have the second characteristic, but not the first. From this, I can conclude that while the specific agents (Descartes, Riley, or my roommate) have not been proven to exist yet, they all are part of a grand interlocutor who presents the ideas regardless of the agents’ existence. My existence in the physical world is a dialogue with someone other consciousness, but I do not no the nature of it. This consciousness is the "god" I refer to. An omnipresent being that controls every sensory perception I have.

Note that this definition does not exclude physics as a possible nature of "god." It is certainty omnipresent; it exists in every object or concept I can perceive with my senses. In fact, it even controls how my sensory perceptions function, defining the world I live in.

I choose to believe in something more than physics though. I have found consequences of pure materialism to be bleak, stripping us of free will, any meaning to life, and the usefulness of debating philosophy. The logic for this has to do with the nature of thought, correlation and causation, and a purely utilitarian view of philosophy, which are all arguments for another day. I have a shower to be taken and food to be eaten.
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Re: Descartes and God

Post  Riley on Tue Dec 18, 2007 6:33 am

Okay, I'm glad we cleared up that Descartes' argument for the existence of God was complete and total crap. I would have lost a lot of respect for you if you had bought al the way into that. To tell you the truth, your argument for a god's reality is much more logical than his, and to tell you the truth again, the difference between your "god" and my "physics" is so small that to debate it is to approach splitting hairs.

But that's exactly what I like to do. I'm not out to make converts, here; just to express myself and maybe entertain you a little. I have one beef with your argument: I disagree that "pure materialism" has to be joyless and drab. Here's why.

Imagine, if you will, a man in his mid-40s. Hopefully that wasn't too hard for anybody (that is, if anybody but Walt and myself is reading this crap). So this guy has just crested "the Hill," and he's moving into the slowed-down, entropic phase. He's not unhappy, though, for many reasons. His childhood was pleasant, passed in peace and prosperity. His parents were loving, kind people. They made sure that he was taken care of but not spoiled. He made close friends in high school, and they have remained close up to the present day. He knows the pleasures of fierce loyalty and fun. When he was 17, he fell in love for the first time, with a girl from his class, named, say, Yargon. The pair loved each other dearly and passionately for some time. The man lost his virginity, and figured out that he really liked sex, which he proceeded to pursue avidly for the rest of his life. He grew up and moved away, experiencing the pain and loss that inevitably follows such a geographical shift. But he soldiered on, because he knew that the grief he felt was only proof that what he once had was good. So the man experienced the pleasures of learning, graduated, and secured a rewarding academic career. He loved to read and devoured texts like they were…I don't know…that popcorn that's covered in powdered white cheddar. Yeah. Anyway, he eventually found a woman who shared his passions and whose personality fit with his like the pieces of a (good, German-made) jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes the two just lie in bed all day and tell each other how incredible they are. He has a stimulating sex life and two wonderful children, whom he adores. So, the man is completely content.

But there is one strange thing about this man: regarding existential matters, he is profoundly uncurious. He has never conceived of the big Why?. He doesn't care who or what created him, never put any thought into it. And nobody—not even his parents—has ever told him one way or the other. The world could be a random swirling of atoms, or the work of a benevolent dictator, or the twisted creation of a mad puppeteer whose daily diet consists of a few spoonfuls of mercury and a cod milkshake. The man has no idea, and furthermore he has no desire to know.

Now imagine that one day this man receives irrefutable proof that the second of the three scenarios I listed is true. There is an omnipotent God patrolling the high watchtower of the world and looking after his stunning creation. Does the man now look back on his life as something greater? Are his considerable feelings for his wife suddenly multiplied a hundredfold? Does he suddenly get more satisfaction out of his job, knowing that he is doing God's work? Use your knowledge of human nature to come up with your own hypothesis! Or I'll just tell you: No.

Conversely, say the man suddenly discovers that the universe is nothing more than a couple of elements chaotically crashing into one another, that what he feels for his wife is a chemical reaction in his brain. That he evolved from an apelike creature, and that the academic work he does is merely increasing the self-righteous arrogance of the world's most overrated animal. What happens then? Does he trash his happy memories of Yargon, since her attraction was just an animal impulse? Does he leave his wife, suddenly colorless, and reject the butterflies he still gets in his stomach (in the stomach, because it's roughly halfway between the brain and the genitals)? Does he abandon his children, since his selfless love for them is the work of the most primitive and reptilian parts of his brain, which are only there in the first place because the atoms of his ancestors randomly molded that way? No, he does not! He doesn't, because what he feels is no less real for its randomness, its animalism, its organic-ness. So what if that butterfly feeling is a chemical reaction, designed by the fathomless machinations of mother nature to better propagate the human species? It's still there, isn't it? If he thinks about it logically, there's no way those feelings can mean less to him, because they're physical, and now that he knows that the world is just atoms and nothing more, physicality is the ultimate attribute. In terms of THE MAN'S MIND (which as you admitted might be the only thing that truly exists, and which is in fact a big boiling mass of chemicals), there is NO DIFFERENCE between the results of divine intervention and the material churnings of a random universe.

Just think about this for a moment. We want the universe to contain a level of beauty, and so we imagine that some sort of divine being is up there, either pulling the strings or standing back and admiring his own sculpture. But wouldn't it be absolutely INCREDIBLE if all this beautiful stuff had just sort of HAPPENED? That would be amazing! Fantastic! Gorgeous! What if everything—volcanoes and mountain lakes and glaciers and fucking flying squirrels and George Lucas's brain—all were once a single infinitesimal dot of matter? Talk about the unity of all things. Isn't that just ridiculously cool? It's enough to study for a lifetime and never get bored! They were one thing, and they exploded outward and accidentslly made everything you love in the world! Holy shit!

Now, to address the issue of "free will, any meaning to life, and the usefulness of debating philosophy." In response to the last one, I'm just going to say that I'm not sure it exists. But who needs usefulness when it's fun and interesting? Philosophers think what they need to think in order to not go nuts. Nobody wants to go nuts. I've been thinking a lot lately, and the more I think, the less existentialism appeals to me. Again, here's why.

You say that materialism (or "science-ism," as I like to call it) takes a jackhammer to "the meaning of life." This may be true. In light of the fact (and I use "fact" loosely) that nobody intentionally created us—and therefore nobody's got a giant plan in mind for us—it's difficult to imagine that we have any sort of ultimate purpose. The universe doesn't really care about us, except for those insanely small parts of it that have become the human beings who are close to us. So if the universe doesn't care, why should we have a purpose, or destiny, or any sort of real goal at all? It's a good question, and the only answer I can give you is that we don't.

But you also make the claim that the end of purpose is the end of free will. That doesn't make sense to me. Isn't it exactly the opposite? If we DID have some kind of aim toward which we were constantly meant to strive, wouldn't that severely LIMIT our free will? We, as elements of a random and thoughtless universe, can do whatever we damn well please. The painter paints. The parent parents. The priest prays. The pirate plunders (and pillages and pilfers, too). Each of these people finds his or her own path to fulfillment, and no one tells them where they should be going (except for other people, who are just following their own callings). Life has no one meaning; it has a multiplicity of meanings. It has as many meanings as there are humans on Earth, and probably more. Isn't that a comforting thought? Whatever you need to do, you just DO. The MEANING of life is one big orange jumpsuit. The MEANINGS of life are custom-tailored to everybody on the planet, from the big'n'tall men's section to the most petite of the primordial dwarf ladies. We're free to try things on, see what fits and what looks best, and what is most comfortable. It's great! Isn't that a happy thought, rather than a disturbing one? The death of Meaning is the birth of Freedom! And the good feelings we get from using that freedom are the same, God or no gods.

So you see, all you have to do to appreciate the godless beauty of life is to totally remove yourself from the whole god/no god debate. How do you feel? Now put yourself back in it. Take a stance; take a stand. Now how do you feel? The same? Good.

Of course, there are all kinds of complications surrounding this philosophy (e.g. How do we structure our moral system in the absence of a god? and What is the role of art and beauty in a random universe? How did we, as evolving animals with no desire other than survival, begin to appreciate aesthetics? Note: I have answers for these, as well, but it would take me too long to go into it now. I should have been studying for the past hour instead of writing this). But I think you get the point. I don't like to flinch about stuff that makes me uncomfortable. Nobody's there to tell me what to do when I'm unsure, and when I die I'm going to really DIE. But I love life. A lot. How did that happen? I guess it's something I figured out for myself. And that's the whole point.
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Re: Descartes and God

Post  Walter P. Jeeves III on Fri Dec 28, 2007 7:05 am

It seems now is the time for me to step away from Cartesian logic. While it is an incredible tool for establishing truth, some things cannot be proven true or false. Kant elucidated this point, saying, "If something cannot be proved to exist [god in this case] then it cannot be proved not to exist." However, these ambiguities can be explored by hypothesizing what if? What if the universe was governed entirely by physics? What if there were no God, no meaning--only the natural forces that govern interactions between what we call matter?

My qualm with this what if (and ultimately with scientific determinism) arises with the amount to which it strips us of free will. If our actions, our emotions, and our thoughts are governed by physics and physics can be modeled, then humans can be modeled too. We know Physics can be modeled and predicted, as it is with ever increasing accuracy and depth. Though many of the equations and models lie beyond current human comprehension and beyond the computing power any machine we could ever construct. (Imagine all the molecule collisions in a single human being, let alone the universe. There are too many interactions to be realistically modeled.) However, mathematical models are precise and do not break down. Even the things that cannot be determined by our senses (quantum physics) can be modeled by statistics. Just because we don't understand the equations that model our brain chemistry doesn't mean they aren't there and that they don't have the capability to foretell all of existence, past, present, and future. We, as well as George Lucas, the flying squirrels, and even Yargon, are a solution to this system of equations when solved in respect to the present time. If a different time was plugged in, say t=10^(-10^100)s, the same system of equations would yield an infinitely dense point of compacted universe, no more or less sentient that you or I. It is just another solution to the system of equations.

Now, imagine Yargon making a decision--perhaps the choice to deflower our hypothetical man. Physics governs the chemical bounces in her brain and the electrical impulses in her muscles that ultimately culminate in the "Lets get it on" emanating from her lips. There is never a choice to be made, just a chain of physics governed reactions. Her love, lust, and fall to a feeling of being helplessly trapped in a relationship spiraling downwards are just minute parts of the solution for that given point in time. Her thoughts, her idea of free will, is all preordained.

This philosophy is inescapable. The scientists shouts "Quantum mechanics--there is random chance in the universe." But that thought in his brain is caused by the chemical reactions that can be modeled. The determinism only appears random because our observational tools are too imprecise. Imagine trying to determine the nature of a spoon by throwing grapefruit at it and watching how they bounce off. Our particle accelerators are similarly clumsy on the quantum scale, and must necessarily be so.

Just as Riley is the author of the hypothetical man, controlling his experiences, emotions and choices, physics is the author of humanity, controlling our experiences, emotions and choices. The hypothetical man does not exist outside of Riley's will. We cannot exist outside of the governing will of physics... to personify it. (The hypothetical man really does need a name, perhaps we could let him choose his own. No? Then perhaps you are beginning to see the loss of free will.) Scientific determinism means we can no more control our own lives, emotions, decisions, and thoughts than this fictional character can control his life, emotions, decisions and thoughts.

It is here, in my opinion, where scientific determinism arises at an impasse. We cannot help but to think and feel how we do. You say it allows us to "do whatever we damn well please." You're right Riley, it allows us exactly that, and furthermore it controls exactly what we damn well please. We cannot control or escape this set of bouncing molecules that so happened to end up having a ridiculously cool result including you, me, and Halo 3.

Eventually, we must take time off pondering the ultimate and unknowable complexity that governs our every action, pretend we have free will, and get on with our lives. What else can we do? It is preordained. Each character I type must be typed. Each point I argue must be argued. When I become bored or boggled by the complexity of the arguments, I forget about them and go choose to eat a bagel instead of grapefruit. It cannot be any other way. Is this free will? This ultimate control by physics? Is this any different than having a dictator god that controls everything, including that most dear to us, our thoughts?

I have trouble believing in this pure scientific determinism. In my earlier argument, I arrived at god as an external omnipresent interlocutor that communicates to us through our senses. Actually, there could be several of theses entities. I hadn't ruled out a plurality of gods in my cartesian pursuit. Let me now search for something other than physics that could be fill this definition of god, or at least undermine the authority of physics.

What if there was something more than the purity of mathematics, physics and their subordinate sciences? You said that man's mind "might be the only thing that truly exists, and which is in fact a boiling mass of chemicals." What if there were more to a mind than boiling chemicals? Something unmeasurable by any instrument of physics, unable to be modeled by any equation, outside physics itself. What if the human mind were an incredibly complex chemical reaction, a clockwork, but instead of a spring (the big bang) initiating the show, that the mental clockwork were pinned to a soul that wound it for the duration of life? The mechanics of the clockwork could still be determined by its creators, clockwork parents passing their genetic traits on. But the free will and decision making capability of the human are all of a sudden free from the ultimate heat death of the universe. Human now have the capability to believe they are themselves because they chose to act that way, to be that way, instead of being themselves because an amino acid bounced in a certain way. Now isn't that pretty cool?

Maybe it is just an ego stroke (we all want to believe we're unique), but I believe humans are more than the sum of our parts, our molecules. You add a fetus with some time, and out of it comes more than an older version of the fetus. All of a sudden a creature with free will and an soul independent of sciece-ism pops up.

This of course only brings more questions. What is a soul? Where does it come from if a fetus doesn't have it at one point, and mysteriously gains a soul weeks or months later? What difference does it ultimately make? What the shit happened to me arguing that there is a god? Now I'm arguing about souls, where did the god go? Jeez, Walt...

I can't answer these questions at this time. For the most part, I honestly don't know, and haven't taken the time to figure it out. I may be able to in the future, when I have though more about my beliefs, but then again, I may not. Remember Kant? Some things cannot be proven or disproven.

As for my argument about god, I don't even know if he/she/it exists anymore. In my exploration I investigated an interesting tangent rather than following my thesis with three paragraphs of evidence and a conclusion (thank the lord... or physics... or whatever it is that I believe). As such, I arrived in a different, but no less interesting, destination than I intended.

Physics may be god in the sense I found it in my earlier argument. I've certainly convinced myself of it omnipresence for the time being. But physics isn't all there is in this lonely world.





On a semi related note, here are some edifying quotes tangential to our discussion:

"The imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man."
- Richard Feynman

"We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about."
- Einstein
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Re: Descartes and God

Post  Walter P. Jeeves III on Wed Jan 02, 2008 12:46 am

Here is one more quote, taken from the afterward of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence. It presents questions about the nature of humanity, and and also proposes a loose idea. I don't know that I agree yet, but it was fascinating to read after thinking about these questions.

Chris, Robert Persig's son, was mugged and then killed.

"I tend to become taken with philosophic questions, going over them and over them and over them again in loops that go round and round and round until they either produce an answer or become so repetitively locked on they become psychiatrically dangerous, and now the question became obsessive: "Where did he go?"

"Where did Chris go? He had bought an airplane ticket that morning. He had a bank account, drawers full of clothes, and shelves full of books. He was a real, live person, occupying time and space on this planet, and now suddenly where was he gone to? Did he go up the stack at the crematorium? Was he in the little box of bones they handed back? Was he strumming a harp of gold on some overhead cloud? None of these answers made any sense.

"It had to be asked: What was it I was so attached to? Is it just something in the imagination? When you have done time in a mental hospital, that is never a trivial question. If he wasn't just imaginary, then where did he go? Do real things just disappear like that? If they do, then the conservation laws of physics are in trouble. But if we stay with the laws of physics, then the Chris that disappeared was unreal. Round and round and round. He used to run off like that just to make me mad. Sooner or later he would always appear, but where would he appear now? After all, really, where did he go?

"The loops eventually stopped at the realization that before it could be asked "Where did he go?" it must be asked "What is the `he' that is gone?" There is an old cultural habit of thinking of people as primarily something material, as flesh and blood. As long as this idea held, there was no solution. The oxides of Chris's flesh and blood did, of course, go up the stack at the crematorium. But they weren't Chris.

"What had to be seen was that the Chris I missed so badly was not an object but a pattern, and that although the pattern included the flesh and blood of Chris, that was not all there was to it. The pattern was larger than Chris and myself, and related us in ways that neither of us understood completely and neither of us was in complete control of.

"Now Chris's body, which was a part of that larger pattern, was gone. But the larger pattern remained. A huge hole had been torn out of the center of it, and that was what caused all the heartache. The pattern was looking for something to attach to and couldn't find anything. That's probably why grieving people feel such attachment to cemetery headstones and any material property or representation of the deceased. The pattern is trying to hang on to its own existence by finding some new material thing to center itself upon.

"Some time later it became clearer that these thoughts were something very close to statements found in many "primitive" cultures. If you take that part of the pattern that is not the flesh and bones of Chris and call it the "spirit" of Chris or the "ghost" of Chris, then you can say without further translation that the spirit or ghost of Chris is looking for a new body to enter. When we hear accounts of "primitives" talking this way, we dismiss them as superstition because we interpret ghost or spirit as some sort of material ectoplasm, when in fact they may not mean any such thing at all."
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Re: Descartes and God

Post  Riley on Sun Jan 06, 2008 2:06 am

Position or velocity, Walt? Position or velocity?

You know, it's still up in the air whether we can ever really know both. The more we know about a particle's velocity, the less we can possibly know about its position, and vice versa. So, the idea that we can actually model physics becomes slightly less credible at a very very small level. And if, as I posited, we are controlled by very very small things, then we cannot truly be modeled, either. You can know our velocity, but since you can't then know where we are in the first place, you can't really tell where we're going. You should read The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra. It doesn't make this exact argument, but it will show you that physics is a little more mystical than it seems--at a certain point, physicists are forced to simply throw up their hands and say with despair, "Fuck this." Additionally, the climax of the book makes a startlingly convincing argument that physical laws may be DECIDED BY HUMANKIND, and that therefore we really have no idea what the fuck is going on at a subatomic level.

But this isn't an argument about physics, though it could well turn into one. It's about free will now, I guess. And here's what I'm thinking: no matter what you believe, there will always be an argument AGAINST the existence of free will. This is because nobody really knows what free will IS. I'm not gong to make a hypothesis about the nature of free will right now, because it would take way too many words. Say there is some kind of God that created the universe and set it into motion, and then left it alone. This presents the same problem as a universe purely governed by physical laws--the mathematical nature of physics ensures that we have no true "free will," in the sense that I think you mean. Now, say that there is an omnipresent God who's pulling all the superstrings. Even less free will, since we're all controlled by that God (and I would argue against His existence, since if He does exist He's an Asshole). What is behind the scenes? Is it a God controlling us, or a big math textbook, or a soul, or a self? What is a "self," anyway? That's an argument for another day, but we're going to have to figure it out if we're going to argue about what free will is. Which we're not, yet. The point is that no matter which way you slice it, SOMETHING is controlling us, and that something can be a God, or it can be a soul, or it can be a purely physical self.

Now, as to the question of "free will." Philosophically, it's easy to point out that, in light of scientific determinism, "there is never a choice to be made." But that's where a fine-toothed logic comb can't really serve you. In the same way that a physicist who can determine where and when a subatomic particle is going to be can't predict whether his pedantry is going to get him punched in the face, the logician who waxes philosophical about the nature of free will can forget that his opportunities to act are slipping silently by. It's common sense--there WAS a clear choice. Yargon could easily have just sat there and not screwed her boyfriend, but she didn't, luckily for him. Right now if you managed to convince me that I had no free will, I would probably just sit around and stare all day. But you know as well as I do that that isn't much of a stimulating lifestyle, and on my deathbed I would regret my decision to sit around. So I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to, because I'm making a choice. It's there, even if it doesn't seem logical on the surface.

Here's the deal: whenever I make a "choice," I'm not totally sure what's going to happen. And nobody knows how my molecules are going to land, so nobody can tell me what decision I'm about to make. Insofar as it is possible, I am making a choice whenever I act. I KNOW, in the moment before any decision, that I have two or more options. I have control over which option I choose. It doesn't matter whether the choice is determined by my molecules, because my molecules ARE ME. They are what MAKE ME ME. Without them, I would be nothing. I certainly wouldn't be human. So if THEY are making the choice, then I AM, TOO. Your equation argument dealing with an infinite amount of "times" makes perfect sense. But the fact is that the system of equations WAS solved in ONE WAY and ONLY one way: this way. And the fact that I don't know what the outcome of any decision is going to be--and neither does anybody else--means that I don't FEEL devoid of choice. Most people think that Pandora let out the evils and--how lovely--the butterfly-winged Hope. That's a nice Americanization of a fate-ophile Greek tale. What really happened is that she managed to keep Foresight shut in.

And here's where it gets controversial. You say that you might just be on an "ego trip" believing that you're more than the sum of your parts. I would reply that you're probably right. Is a chimpanzee or a cow or a lizard or a termite more than just the sum of its molecules? Come on. To try to determine a difference between living and nonliving matter is an 18th-century endeavor. And what's the difference between humans and animals? Culture? Orangutans and dolphins have that. The use of tools? Chimps. Morals? What a joke--we've got fewer morals than elephants have. A soul? Where did THAT come from? I'm sorry, but any idea that's not supported by any evidence other than the fact that it would be nice if it were true sounds like bullshit to me. Science-ism, or the idea that humans are created and controlled solely by natural phenomena, is evidenced by the fact that it is scientifically possible--and a lot of value is placed on science at this point in history. Comfort beliefs (God, the afterlife, etc.) lead to bad things, like religious zealotry, predestinationism, self-denial, and the refusal to enjoy life.

Now, a short aside about poor Chris Pirsig. You and Chris's father are right in asserting that Chris is really a pattern in the giant tapestry of the universe--but it's a tapestry woven from physical particles! What makes a human is not simply the parts that are put together, but rather the WAY in which they're put together. That's why a human being is sentient and a rock is not. A rock is not arranged in such a way. And that's why a human can create art and philosophize, while a chimpanzee cannot. So Chris was a pattern--a very beautiful one. The pattern is an arrangement of the matter, and those things like ideas which are spawned by the pattern are not physical--and therefore they cannot generate anything physical. They can only influence the purely physical pattern. But the fact that something is physical does not mean that it lacks beauty. On the contrary; physical objects are some of the most beautiful things in the world (I'm forced, here, to think of girls, God help me), because the ideas they generate influence our brains in such a way that our brains find them beautiful. Similarly, the fact that something can be mathematically modeled also does not detract from its beauty. Example time.

It may be somewhat cliche to talk about music here. But think about it for a second: in the Pythagorean musical system (the one that Western cultures use), there are only 12 notes. How many different patterns can 12 notes produce? Not THAT many, in, say, three or four minutes. And there are a limited number of rhythms. Songs CAN be mathematically modeled. Some might argue that there's an intangible element, a "human element" in music, that you can't define. But that's a load of crap. If you think about it long enough and hard enough, you can pinpoint exactly what it is you like or dislike about a song. And if you knew enough about science, you could figure out which timbres are pleasing and which ones aren't without ever listening to a song. A powerful enough computer could create the best song ever (or EVERY song ever) by randomly combining notes and sounds and rhythms, in the same way that an infinite number of chimpanzees could type Hamlet more quickly than Shakespeare could have written it. It's all just soundwaves and air molecules and numbers. It all follows a relatively simple set of mathematical laws.

And yet...

"Easter Theatre" by XTC is the most beautiful thing I've ever heard. Why? It's just a rather repetitive pattern of finite notes spliced together into a three-and-a-half minute masterpiece. What's the deal with that? I'll tell you the deal: the mind that made it was a pattern of molecules arranged in SUCH A BEAUTIFUL WAY that when I hear it, I'm in absolute bliss. One of the most wonderful things about the song is that it WAS created by such a pattern. My sense of wonder only increases when I look at it that way. Screw it. I'm going to listen to it right now.
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Riley

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Re: Descartes and God

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