Two in the morning.
I think I’m near to freeing my imagination from the throttlehold of religion. Biology is enough to live by. The only problem is where our ethics comes from. But the idea of a natural morality is nothing new, and I wonder what Hume meant by natural religion. Also, why did Blake react to this so violently? About seven years ago I worked on this problem, reading ebooks on my Kindle. But the scary part is how I drank beer like a fish at the time so I could scarcely function. My alcoholism was killing me. Can I say that my beliefs were working for me in 2015?
It was sheer desperation that led me to the doorstep of the Lutheran church two years later. It amazes me that there was even a thought process involved in my actions.
Maybe the real question is what gives us freedom of the will or the illusion of this. I wanted to read The Oresteia myself after reading Sartre’s The Flies, in search of the origins of freedom in Western thought. Or perhaps I’m just keeping my mind busy in order not to stray into alcoholism again. You can do worse things with your time.
Eight thirty five.
I slept well last night, though it was interrupted by a window. I plan to call my sister this morning to thank her for the birthday money and nice card.
Somehow, free will depends upon an idealistic scheme. Nature is definitely deterministic. If you consider that you are what you eat, you can actually reduce the self down to a bundle of impressions with no soul or identity… I was watching the birds, mechanical little things of pure instinct. A family of sparrows is upset by the invasion of a starling that threatens their nest. They know just enough to preserve themselves and ensure perpetuation of the species. But people are different. We can override nature and choose our destiny as individuals and as a group. Are we still related to the little perching birds out my back door? Science says we are. Religion says not really. And philosophy is the boondocks in between.
By the way, I reset my Kindle to start totally from scratch.
I don’t know how to feel toward my parents now. But I’m actually kind of glad they’re gone and I’m left by myself to figure out this life. I’ve known two types of people in my experience, if it’s fair to label them one or the other. One type is the esthetic and the other is ethical, particularly religious. But it’s hard to accept that the ideas of just two thinkers, Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky, should be so definitive. What if they had never written anything? Another question is, is it possible to be ethical without religion? I know nothing about John Dewey’s philosophy, so I can look into that. David Hume believed that people are moral due to feelings of sympathy for each other. He didn’t link this to metaphysics, as I recall. What he called sympathy is really closer to our empathy, where you imagine yourself in another person’s place. It’s also a little like the Golden Rule, or do unto others… Generally, I’m stuck on the problem of where morality comes from, which is a question of meta ethics. Should Christianity be the sole authority on right conduct, or are there many roads to the same goal? And, can you have morals without metaphysics? Maybe the Christian existentialists were wrong… Though the whole world feels like a Christendom, this may not be the truth anymore. It’s hard to be objective when I’m still a member of a Christian church. It’s difficult to see where we’re at and where we’re going.
Ten thirty evening.
Today’s business was executed this morning, so after that it was rather restless and dull. My dog doesn’t seem very happy with me. He goes through moods and phases like anybody with a degree of intelligence. I try not to personalize it; yet it’s a mistake to say he’s just a dog with hardened heart and ignore his needs. Again tonight I feel convinced that consciousness anywhere is a rational thing, and if logic is thrown off balance then it’s an instance of contradiction: life is supposed to be healthy and sane, everything in harmony. How could we possibly get it so messed up? An acronym I don’t hear very often is “fubar,” or f—d up beyond all repair. This is probably because people get used to living with the state of things less than perfect. The condition gets quite tricky with philosophy and religion because of the elitism of the first clashing with Christian love and forgiveness. It reminds me of the terrible phenomenon of Hitler and his ultimate defeat by the Allies. Perhaps philosophy is too idealistic for a world that’ll never be perfect? Maybe it’s about loving people and things the way they are?
Thanks for feeding back on what I wrote yesterday. I think it was the influence of Coca-Cola! But today I had two Snapples and afterwards I felt pretty lousy, so I took a gabapentin and went to bed for a few hours. The old proverb is true that you are what you eat— simply because the brain is a physical thing and every thought proceeds from brain activity. This is what I believe, anyway; there are some who will deny it, saying the mind is unrelated to the body, arguing for a sort of dualism of spirit and flesh. I think their position would be very difficult to prove. It’s a throwback to Cartesian thinking four hundred years ago. Descartes identified the pineal gland as the location where the soul interacts with the body— since proven false.
I’m thinking specifically of Pastor. He is quite paranoid about the facts of biological psychology, the physiology of the nervous system. Perhaps his belief system could fall if my point about materialism were proved to him. So it’s best not to discuss it with him. In biblical language, the personality is carnal and spiritual, but what I’m saying is the whole thing is carnal and the spirit likely doesn’t exist.
Culturally, people generally accept the soul or spirit. In ancient Japanese history, people would drive a hole in the skulls of their dead before burial to let the soul escape. I guess to most people the phenomenon of consciousness is a divine mystery, something imponderable and sacred for the reason that they don’t understand it. A lot of philosophy has been written about it. Sartre actually turned perception around to make the mind logically prior to what it perceives, in the same vein as “I think therefore I am.”
Mind over matter and matter over mind. Idealistic philosophers often eliminate the existence of matter totally, so only the mind is real. Maybe I’m getting a little tired of philosophy. The evidence points to nothing but the physical state of existence, and this is realistic and probably the truth. Philosophy is the most useful when it approximates science, in my opinion.
But then again, you wonder about the ramifications of materialism for freedom of the will…
I had a very brief dream that I had a book in my hands, open to a chapter titled in big bold letters, “FREEDOM.” Somewhere I might have seen this in reality.
My old friends were atheists and so was I along with them, but I had such a good time when I could allow myself to drink. But now, nothing is very clear to me. I still have the same feelings about religion and God. If his existence was self evident and I could feel it firsthand then belief would be easy. But I can’t see the workings of God in the world anymore. There are no deistic proofs.
It’s a beautiful sunny morning and bitter cold outside. A variety of birds have come through my backyard: sparrows, jays, robins, and a tan species like a dove on graceful wings with a lovely sleek head. You also see a squirrel now and then. Once I saw a gray squirrel, a rare thing. Usually they’re only found on the university campus. He was big and had a very bushy tail. I haven’t seen him again since that day.
The parsimony of William of Occam is very difficult to get around. No god is necessary to explain the existence of a world; or at least, it’s almost impossible to show the whereabouts of a deity.
But it’s a controversy that gives no sign of going away very soon. Personally I feel torn apart. Some people say that happiness is a nonissue; right now I think it’s the strongest case against religion, for what could be more important than being happy? For this reason I’m inclined to stay with the tradition of philosophy rather than the church.
Before I even got to the parking lot I could see that Lisa’s car was absent. When I went inside the store, Doug was behind the counter and the ambiance was kind of quiet and somber. I asked him about her and he said he didn’t know; he just got the call to come in this morning. The streets were treacherous with icy spots. Mentally, I feel myself deteriorating, unless it’s just my imagination. My mailbox contained some good news about my future income. Tomorrow I’ll have Gloria’s company: we planned to have breakfast at Carl’s Jr., and then I’d like to go to Bi Mart. Nothing very exciting. Today is one of those gray days, not much color or feeling, and a bag of mixed blessings. I hope Lisa is all right.
Her absence today started my day off wrong. If there was something I wanted to buy this afternoon, I’d go back and hope to see Kathy or Deb. It’s the story of my lonely life. I really couldn’t accept what Pastor was saying about the insignificance of personal happiness, and prioritizing the rights of society. It’s just backwards from what I learned in school. I feel that it is life denying rather than affirmative. It also gives him power over his flock because he’s the voice of society, the authority they have to obey. Now, I flex my mental muscle while I still can. Someday we might not be able to anymore. The Enlightenment is also called The Age of Criticism, which is far from our culture or what I’ve experienced of it. People don’t judge for themselves and aren’t encouraged to do so: they tend to parrot the things they hear without question. And philosophy now is just the memory of a dream I had long ago. What would I say if I could climb a high mountain with a megaphone?
Outside, the wind is howling like crazy. I’ve just awoken from a lot of wild dreams, though my conscious thoughts are on David Hume and the logic of Aristotle, about which my knowledge is rather sketchy. In my journal I wrote a few notes on the definition of “reason.” I figured that it’s not so much an ideal entity as a mental activity; a function rather than a form. Some thinkers wax mystical on reason, as if it were an essence, a spiritual thing or object of thought. I guess I can’t prove that it’s not an ideal, a transcendent thing. To meditate on it tends to elevate your mind to higher levels of thought, almost like intoxication or a religious experience. The speakers in Plato’s Symposium get tanked on wine after they get dinner out of the way and then expound the nature of love. But this isn’t very sober. For me, sobriety is still an experiment, and even the definition of sobriety is quite uncertain. All the while, the wind keeps gusting like fury outside my house. Is this to say that philosophy is hot air? I knew a counselor who said so. But she didn’t acknowledge that psychology had its origins in philosophy.
This morning it’s cloudy and dark. I think I’ll skip the market today and wait till Gloria comes, so then we’ll have breakfast out. I wrote a lot of stuff in my diary about Newton and David Hume. The unfortunate thing with determinism is what it does to moral responsibility. Years ago I ducked all blame by citing my diagnosis. Nothing was ever my fault because I was a victim of my circumstances. But I only disempowered myself by thinking this way. It gave me an excuse to drink more and more in a downward whirlpool… The way things are going, I believe that more people are going to think like Hume and Darwin unless we keep on top of it. I could be just speaking for myself. Times are tough. Regardless, my dog is hungry. It’s like any other situation to him. His ignorance may be bliss.
It’s a question of where our freedom comes from. I’ve heard Lutherans say it’s a gift from God. This isn’t too much of a stretch to believe. If you pursue determinism to its conclusions, there’s neither a Creator nor any free will.
Maybe free will is just a belief or state of mind. An attitude.
The real test of an action is its consequences.
I did just a little reading in philosophy for the afternoon and, among other things, I encountered the word “sobriety” associated with Enlightenment attitudes. I had also found “sober” in the book by Morton White. Naturally I came to ponder the definition of sobriety in a literal and figurative sense, and now I compare it to the beliefs and practices of certain organizations for alcoholism. How sober is it to think that a god will personally intervene and take over your life?
I once had a delusion during a psychotic drive to the coast. I actually stopped the car on my way to Florence, in the stretch with the railroad on the left, before you get to the Siuslaw River. I got out and went around to the passenger side, got in and sat down, and asked god to drive the rest of the way to the coast. So I sat there for a few minutes expectantly. But nothing happened, and the car remained where it stood. There was also a moment when I stood at the roadside and stared directly at the sun, waiting for it to turn to blood like the moon in Revelation. Again nothing happened. These are the things of madness. But it’s funny how, in describing them, I seem to be building a stronger case for the religious imagination. Where do the delusions come from and why do they so stubbornly persist? What is real and what is imaginary, and can they overlap?
Sanity and sobriety are the stuff of realism and rationality, but it’s unrealistic for a human being to be other than human.
Six thirty PM.
It was a blah kind of day for me. I felt tired from the restless night, and nothing seems to be going on around here; people are busy doing other things. So I scribbled stuff in my little diary today. It was better for my health to put poetry reading aside and shift my focus to analytic philosophy, whatever others feel about that. I want to be done with Christianity, just let it go and be left alone. It was especially harmful when Pastor preached about the devil and so many things that are not verifiable by observation. Just stupid stuff to scare us and control us. “A host of holy horrors to direct our aimless dance.” At some point my poor brain went tilt and I had a minor nervous collapse; but since the start of the month I’ve done better with my mind. I can remember when I still read Dostoevsky to harmonize with what the church was saying, though now I’ve given up on that completely. A dead horse can’t run anymore. I retraced the history of philosophy to the place where existentialism and the analytic tradition separated from each other. The first is basically reactions for or against religion: saying, where do we go from here? The second allied itself with science and used logic for its epistemic tool and touchstone. One is very concerned with ethics and the other not so much: it wants to know the truth mostly in an ontological way. It deals with common sense realism and totally dispenses with metaphysics. But any Christian will immediately point out that ethics depends upon a metaphysical plane of existence and an absolute like a god to be the lawgiver for humankind.
I don’t have an answer to that objection yet. Is everything truly allowed if God doesn’t exist? Was it atheism that made Smerdyakov murder the old father in The Brothers Karamazov? These questions reopen the whole can of worms; so I agree that we can’t dispose of ethics, hence maybe metaphysics either.