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Hello everyone, the following text regroups some thoughts from a journey where I kind of isolated myself from everyone else. Excuse any grammar anomalies and ambiguities in the philosophical sense, I was trying hard to transcript these thoughts so that they do not just vanish with time. I hope you tell me what you think about the subject.
Selfishness x Selflessness
In this isolation from the external world I am experiencing, concepts that used to be very direct do not seem straight anymore. Let us consider a person that sacrificed herself for the sake of others, we call that ‘Selflessness’ due to the fact that this person abandonned her pleasures, confronted her fears and gave up on the most sacred gift -‘life’- to help others that claim the ability to feel and live. The problem I see with this situation is that, why did that person give up on something that is directly linked to her in exchange of a ‘belief’- A belief that these ‘others’ actually are an extension of her ‘self’, I say that is a belief because in this actually state there is no evidence that these ‘others’ are actually experiencing ‘life’ as that person did, if there was a proof of that it would imply a rift in the individuality of each one of us. That would mean information about our perception is leaking the thing that I would doubt because it causes alot of contradictions with our initial assumption, since we supposed that these ‘others’ are experiencing the same ‘life’ as that person did, and a life implies a single individual perception and reaction to natural circumstances that should be UNLEAKABLE in any case. This would lead us to conclude that this person simply valued that ‘belief’ more than her own life leading us to two possibilities : Either that gamble is totally unworthy, or it is actually a win-win condition.
Let me explain furthermore, that person that we will be calling ‘X’ will be giving up on her life for the sake of her belief, and if that belief reveals itself to be true then that person would be rewarded ‘eternal’ stay in the ‘other’s’ consciousness as the savior of it (Their consciousness). The reward that interests us here is not that ‘eternal’ stay, but only that idea in ‘X’s’ mind, because yes that is what pushed that person to sacrifice herself, a glorious memory that was deemed more important than her own life. You may say :« That is not correct, at least not in the general case, alot of people sacrificed themselves and everything they had simply for the idea that the ‘other’ they cherished would keep on going ». Exactly. That person will keep on going in this life, carrying that glorious memory of ‘X’s’ sacrifice. And if not, these feelings of value towards the other only emerge from a projection of one’s self, making them a fruit of Selfishness. Every single path would lead us to the background filled with Selfishness, not necessarily with a negative meaning since the qualitative judgement is irrelevant in our take where we are but a mere observer. In other words, feelings, sacrifice, selflessness : They all are symbols of uttermost valuing of beliefs over one’s self, but is that not the ultimate selfishness ? One’s life is not his own creation, but one’s beliefs are perhaps not always his creations but surely and completely ‘his’ possessions, making them the most valuable in his eyes, even if unconsciously.
« Everyone believes. Everyone’s beliefs define them and that is the reason they protect it so 'aggressively'. »
PS: I am not denying the existence of "others" in the proper sense, but I believe in many aspects of the same "Truth" and just tend more to a Cartesian philosophy right now, and that is both weird and fascinating since it can engender alot more questions like "Does isolation from the outside world lead to the same Cartesian-like philosophy?".
Economy of Ideas
English, the amalgam of over fifteen hundred years of manipulation, nuance, and tradition, stands as the pinnacle of expression in our world. More than the spoken word; more than the written; more than the sum of its parts, the English language is a testament to the divinity of man and his desire to recount history whilst supplanting the gods of antiquity. In asserting ourselves in this medium, we choose to see our thoughts elevated to immortal status alongside Shakespeare, Dickens, and Austen or lost to simplicity, crammed into frivolous, coffee-stained notebooks which gather dust in the corner of some idle bookstore.
I have often considered myself a purveyor of sorts. My collection, composed of trinkets, stories, memories, and experiences, is rich and meticulously cataloged in every manner but physical. In travel, as in life, experiences come to define an instant and cause us to falter. Beliefs; unshakable. Faith; decrepit. The very act of living in a time such as this forces us to consider, with or without humility, the notion that our inherent nature is nothing more than a fabrication built upon a shifting foundation of self-reference and empty vows. Were it not for the development of these institutions which captivate our material world, scarcity and ruin would be but contradictions typified by the literal oxymoronic concepts they represent. But the very collector of experiences which guides my actions coerces me. Confounds me. It only permits me the capacity of free-will in those brief instances of unmitigated solitude when I do not doubt my own ability.
To this extent I have come to curate a vast collection of memories, evidenced by writing and photography alike (benign mediums in theory but not in practice). This experience has led me to believe that claiming one could explore the world and capture it in as few words as a song or sonnet is irrational; quite the contrary: we are better off living life in a manner consistent with our own beliefs rather than vainly trying to teach them to one another through art, faith, or community. The true course of action in this regard, then, is anarchical in principle and seldom altruistic.
That, it seems, is human nature abridged.
I wrote the following pages over the course of a lifetime. That is to say they are the culmination of such and are the living embodiment of one person’s perspective in an ever changing world. Knowing this, and knowing my own upbringing, it has become clear that to share my ideas and experiences with others may only serve to act as a selfish outlet through which I might influence a small sphere of individuals around me. Furthermore, it allows me to project my thought – my conscience – forward through time to some other soul. By any account, this is contradictory to well-mannered existence, though I have never been one to conform.
This aspect is vital as it allows us – or me, rather – to be introspective. But unlike some contemporary writers, politicians, and lecturers, I benefit from benevolence of youth and apathy. Take, for example, the late Randy Pausch. In his waning months, the esteemed professor of Carnegie Mellon saw it necessary to impart his knowledge upon others through his own medium but readily admitted the ulterior motive of such an action. In his dying days a man of high regard told the world his knowledge was not for them but for the children he would never see to adulthood. By contrast I have the luxury of time and not knowing when my ultimate demise might come and, so, have the ability to contemplate all that my life has brought to bear before involving others in the convoluted process of explanation.
Because, you see, altruism is not possible in any sort of sense. I could very well say I write this for a future self which has yet to emerge. That I, in squalor and contempt, pen these words for a possibility so that I might reflect on an age or time in my life which saw nothing but the underbelly of our society: enraptured by conviction and dictated by long dead men.
Ironic, don’t you think?
I do, and it’s likely that this is being read after my time (if at all). Though I do believe it will be found, at least once, by some triviality or another – yourself included – so as long as it is such I will go on. Because I want what I think and who I am to be written down in a frivolous, coffee-stained notebook, leather-bound and frayed at the edge. Because I want it to be lost to time and memory in an antiquated store front nowhere in the middle of somewhere. Because I want to be forgotten because that is as human as a human can be. Leave me in the corner and let Shakespeare and Lee sit on the pedestals of history. Leave them to the anthologies and let their moments gather dust and fall into disambiguation. Let them be elevated to immortal status, because I won’t be. No, I will go on living and making mistakes.
That is all I ask. And I have faith my wish will be fulfilled. This conviction provides an excellent segue to another point I have to level against the reader: that faith is an inherently blind endeavor.
By any case, the assertation of knowledge, benign and otherwise, only serves to drive doubt, dismay, and distrust into the minds of man. For an individual to maintain faith, they must be willing to remain deaf to the world about them; any claim otherwise proves the folly and/or conceit of the speaker, in which case their views may be dismissed as such.
This is not to say that the knowledgeable cannot recognize this truth. Quite the contrary. Instead it is to say that any man, woman, or child who, steadfast in their beliefs, indoctrinated at any point of life, that may so choose to tenaciously believe in an unabated deity is incapable of recognizing their bias or any possible fault in their theology because to do so is unorthodoxy and unorthodoxy, much to the chagrin of one particular Englishman, is to be dealt with most violently. Tis the American way. This stems from my own witness of American Christianity at work: Evangelicals, Protestants, and Catholics are all very much the same, though to say such a thing within any of the aforementioned congregations would draw much ire from the pulpit and His herd. Each is flawed to a degree and such flaws are exploited by the parochial dissidents in order to sway the sheep to follow a certain image of the shepherd. Now whether this is due to a need to truly lead the lost to a manner of living consistent with the legitimate foundations of a certain messianic figure or simply to bolster numbers in the name of a concept – ill-gotten by time – is up to deliberation. But such deliberation proves fruitless when undertaken, so I recommend you avoid any such debate as though the plague festered within its constraints.
Nonetheless, the martyrdom of their leaders and inexplicable infighting among those of the Abrahamic faiths – in combination with the visceral emergence of secular science on the international stage – leads to the infallible understanding that thought, while nigh infinite, depends as much on the economics and market trends of culture as the products on store shelves. Ideas are indeed limitless but the number of market shares is quite infinitesimal.
Furthermore the expression of these ideas relies on their intrinsic grasp and scope (read: value) as it pertains to communal, regional, national, and international zeitgeists. Because a notion is useless if it does not spark discussion, the method through which concepts spread through a society. (Or at least contribute to our understanding of the natural order of things.) Whether this discussion is proven ‘healthy’ or not remains to be seen – as such I cannot speak on the state of current things, but only those of the past – and the culmination of ideas in this theoretic Darwinism (demonstrated by the death of such concepts as feudalism, slavery, and the like) points to the undying understanding that our world is dictated by ordinal exposure of information to a populace.
Take, for example, the great debate of God v. Evolution. In theory this is far from a legal matter, but the capacity of both sides to enhance their faith (i.e. – religion) by bombarding the public sphere with what can only be described as self-incriminating evidence provides an excellent framework through which this topic may be explored.
Let us begin with God, or holistic religion, and the role that traditional religions have had in the advancement of society. Sadly, the principles of M-theory dictate that we cannot, in our current state, reverse time so that we may witness the supposed creation narratives and biblical encounters upon which many of today’s faiths rely. Rather, we have to take everything in one of three ways.
The first, and simplest, is to readily accept the liturgical accounts without fault. This is a bit of a Catch-22 in which the follower is forced into a formal, recursive logic loop reciting the very ideas of Pope which are, frankly, frightening to impose in an age as captivated with change as the 21st Century. Whatever is, is not right. That much I can attest to. Because if it were so, the very nature of space-time would falter because to exist would be enough; change would be an unnecessary formality dipped in redundancy.
The second way to interpret the Word is to do so with a grain of salt. A hint of skepticism never hurt anyone save for those who questioned a man’s status among the gods of yore. And, by such, it can be reasoned that the literal, or figurative, death of an individual at the hands of an all-becoming entity would have occurred at least once, providing definitive proof as to the existence of a boundless creator.
The third, and most common mindset in the world, is that of the non-believer. His or her very principles rely on refuting the profound knowledge of the masses (particularly those who are renowned experts within their field) with simple logic that makes the utmost sense. At least to them. This last tenet is important and provides the starting point for such divisive tribalism because, as is seen time and time again on this planet, if a point of argument goes against a way of thinking without reaffirming the owner’s world-view, then it is flat out impossible that such a thing could have occurred in any matter of thinking. The very idea of supporting such an existence is blasphemous at best and pariahlike in the most arduous of cases.
But by all account these sorts of thought processes may be just as easily attributed to the dissidents who proclaim the truth which is cold, hard science. This is because, at their core, faith and science are as equally reliant on the knowledge of a gifted few who then, in turn, project their understanding of the world via a written or spoken medium onto others in the hope of converting them to their way of thought. The argument, “You weren’t there so how can you be sure,” which is haphazardly thrown about by atheists is just as applicable to the very science to which they cling. However, the concept of, “This is the only way because this book tells us so,” that seems to be at the foundation of most every major religion which has been conceived by man could just as easily be applied to theistic opposition.
At their heart, theists and atheists are no different than dogs and wolves: they look quite similar with homologous structures, though one tends to be more tame than the other around children.
The Danish philosopher David Favrholdt has a short story called Power, about a man who learns "telepathy" and gains the ability to control other people's thoughts and actions. It turns into a Ring-of-Gyges-style story where the man, Roger, exploits his newfound power, before he himself becomes the victim of another telepath. At this point we get what might be the main philosophical point of the short story, Roger's existential reflection about personal identity and free will as he's fighting for control of his own mind against the other telepath, Durham. (This is my own quick translation, I haven't been able to find an English version of the book.)
It all seemed absurd to him. Everything that had happened in the last month had surprised him to be sure, who could have known that telepathy was so tangible, that it could be learned and used to an unrestricted extent. Yet it was a natural thing, like gravity and electricity. But now something had gone wrong anyway. For now when he had to be on guard and keep an eye on what he thought to see which were his own thoughts and which came from Durham, what became of his own I in the midst of all that? He had really always thought that the I was the same as all the thoughts one thought, but of course that couldn't be true. But if one exclusively had thoughts which came to one from the outside via telepathy, then one seemingly didn't exist at all anymore, being nothing but a body thinking another person's thoughts. But what person had thoughts that they didn't have from others anyway? Most people obviously never think an original thought, they are filled with opinions and ideas that they have heard from others or read in newspapers or books. Perhaps it was only very few people who actually existed at all.
Roger sat bewildered and lonely in the twilight of the restaurant. There had to be a free will, he thought. But how did it show itself, how did it come into view in one's life? Only through the choices one made, when one chose to do one thing instead of another, or chose to think one thought instead of a mass of other possible ones. But if one were no longer master of one's thoughts, then one no longer had one's free will.
There are probably different ways to reconstruct the argument in this, but the one that jumps out at me centers on the line about original thought. The idea is to extend the challenge to free will and selfhood that comes from mind control to the ordinary ways our minds are populated with thoughts ("opinions and ideas") transmitted from other people. Favrholdt mentions media ("newspapers or books") but the idea is naturally broadened to thoughts transmitted in your upbringing and through the general cultural medium. The challenge comes from biography and one's place in the world and history. The most interesting and radical interpretation Favrholdt (or Roger) makes is that this challenges our very ability to exist: without our own original thoughts we aren't even real people but only "bodies thinking other people's thoughts," like automata or pseudo-persons.
What does "original" mean here? It would be easy to object that not very many people can exist if the requirement is total novelty--thoughts that nobody has ever had before. I'd reject that reading of originality; we're only talking about original thought in the sense of individual thought, ideas and opinions "of one's own," which one has arrived at "by oneself" in a suitably robust sense. (These could even be thoughts one originally had from someone else, but shored up by arguments that are genuinely one's own.)
The theory that emerges here has the interesting property that it makes selfhood, free will, and personal existence vague or gradualistic entities: depending on the extent to which your mental life is your own, you may exist more or less, have more or less free will, and be more or less yourself. Some people will be more real than others, freer than others, and more fully themselves. This is a sophisticated property and a theoretical virtue that recommends Favrholdt's take to me.
Overall I'm sympathetic to this theory, and I was surprised to find the argument implicit in such a short passage of fiction so persuasive.
As a last point, I should anticipate the obvious objection that there's some absurdity or nonsense in denying "existence" to some people. Even if some people are "automata," won't they still exist, but as automata? This is only a convincing objection if one holds to a very strict and minimal concept of existence which isn't freighted in any way with existential concerns. Firstly, there's a question whether you can even disentangle the existence of my self from my existence pure and simple. It's common among skeptics about the self to speak in a way that suggests this--"You don't have a self"--and I've been speaking of the two separately here for convenience. But in a substantive way, denying that I have a self should probably be understood as denying that I exist (indeed this seems to be the way it's understood in ancient Buddhist texts such as the Milindapanha). Secondly, many people are probably familiar with a more phenomenological concept of existence which is bound up with ethical notions such as authenticity. It's possible to feel you're not living a real life, that you're "fake," etc.--in the limit, there are psychopathologies of "derealization." This should show the concept "existence" is more elaborate than this objection takes for granted.