Category Archives: Philosophy

What Is Consciousness? (Philosophy / Neuroscience / Quantum)

What is consciousness? It is not as Descartes, “Cartesian doubt”, which says, “I think, therefore I am”, i.e. Descartes tried to doubt his own existence, but found that even his doubting showed that he existed, since he could not doubt if he did not exist. Now, Kauffman and Roli answered this question. Not as Descartes “Cartesian doubt”, but as how organisms find their way in their world.

According to them, finding one’s way involves finding possible uses of features of the world that might be beneficial or avoiding those that might be harmful.

“Possible uses of X to accomplish Y” are “Affordances”. The number of uses of X is indefinite, the different uses are unordered and are not deducible from one another. All biological adaptations are either affordances seized by heritable variation and selection or, far faster, by the organism acting in its world finding uses of X to accomplish Y.

Based on this, they make four major claims:

  • Strong AI is not possible.
  • Brain-mind is not purely classical.
  • Brain-mind must be partly quantum.
  • Qualia are experienced and arise with our collapse of the wave function.

“Our Brain-Mind entangles with the world in a vast superposition. We try to and do collapse the wave function to a single state. We experience that state as a “qualia”.”

But, does we have any evidences that qualia is associated with collapse of wave function? Yeah, not just one, we have many. First, qualia are never superpositions. From this, one can say that consciousness plays some role in the collapse of the wave function. Second, finding novel affordances is not deductive. Collapse of the wave function is also not deductive. Our experienced qualia are not deductions. Means, our ideas, grasping the point, creativity etc. are not deductions. Third, our analysis of the incapacity of universal turning machines and any classical system to see affordances has a further implication.

“Artificial Intelligence is wonderful, but algorithmic. We are not algorithmic. Mind is almost certainly quantum, and it is a plausible hypothesis that we collapse the wave function, and thereby perceive affordances as qualia and seize them by preferring, choosing and acting to do so. We, with our minds, play an active role in evolution. The complexity of mind can have evolved with and furthered the complexity of life. At last, since Descartes lost his Res Cogitans, Mind can act in the world. Free at last”

— concluded authors of the study

Reference: Stuart A. Kauffman and Andrea Roli, “What Is Consciousness? Artificial Intelligence, Real Intelligence, Quantum Mind, And Qualia”, Arxiv, 2021. https://arxiv.org/abs/2106.15515


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All in the Mind: Is Reality Real? (Philosophy)

Why the way we experience and interact with the world is entirely mind-made

Saltatory conduction is the process through which the brain receives information from the five sense organs, which include the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin. When sense receptors in the sense organs are stimulated, electrochemical impulses travel via a process of neurotransmission from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system. Once received by the central nervous system, these electrochemical messages culminate in the brain where they are transformed into coherent information that can be acted upon.

Saltatory conduction was first identified in 1939 by Japanese born American biophysicist Ichiji Tasaki, and scientific understanding of the process has increased significantly since that time. However, although the mechanisms of this fundamental biological process are well documented, it appears that some important implications of saltatory conduction have been overlooked in the scientific literature – particularly in terms of how it can advance understanding of how we perceive reality.

More specifically, saltatory conduction provides evidence indicating that the reality we perceive and experience on a day-to-day basis is far less real or concrete than collective opinion might suggest. The reason for this is that without exception, our sense of movement, touch, taste, pain, pleasure, sight, sound, and so forth are the product of the brain filtering, transforming and organising electrochemical information into a working three-dimensional mental construction.

For example, when we look at a tree, what we see is the brain’s interpretation of electrochemical signals that were transmitted by sensory receptors in the eyes. Consequently, our perception of the tree isn’t “direct” but is the end product of a biophysical process involving receiving, transforming, transmitting and then retransforming information. The same applies if we reach out and touch the tree – we experience the brain’s reconstruction, based on input from electrochemical signals, of how it interprets the tree should feel to the hand.

A good way to understand this principle is to consider how information is processed using Voiceover Internet Protocol that underlies web-based video calling platforms such as Messenger, Skype and WhatsApp. In such instances, a caller’s camera and microphone capture analogue video and audio signals which are then compressed and transformed into digital numeric packets. These data packets are then transmitted over a digital network before being decompressed and transformed back to analogue video images and audio sounds by the recipient’s video conferencing system. However, at no point can it be said that the two callers’ interaction with each other is unmodified and direct, as their video call is subject to various stages of data transformation and transportation.

A similar type of “data transformation” process occurs during saltatory conduction such that in reality, we never directly touch, smell, see, hear, or taste sensory phenomena. Consequently, although we have the impression of living in and moving through a physical world, we never truly go anywhere or do anything because at any given time, our experience of life corresponds to the mental projection of the brain. In other words, the manner by which we experience and interact with the world is entirely mind-made – we project a reality and then relate to it entirely within the realm of the mind.

Consider the analogy of a dream whereby the dreamer is invariably under the impression that what they are experiencing is real. For example, when dreaming, individuals can have the sensation of coming or going, pleasure or pain, and fast or slow. In fact, an individual can experience a dream as being real to the extent that it causes them to wake up screaming if the dream is sufficiently frightening. However, although the dream may appear real, in truth it has no material existence and unfolds completely within the expanse of the mind. In a dream, nothing really comes or goes, there is no here or there, no near or far, no up or down, and no fast or slow.

However, it’s not correct to assert that what we experience during dreamt or waking reality is unreal, because regardless of whether a phenomenon or situation exists in material absolute terms or is just a fabrication of the mind, we still undergo an authentic experience. Indeed, the extent to which a given experience is designated as authentic or meaningful is highly subjective and varies according to context and how the mind has been conditioned.

Nevertheless, it appears that as part of some fundamental biological processes such as saltatory conduction, there exists evidence suggesting a need to re-examine the accuracy of certain widely accepted scientific assumptions concerning the underlying nature of mind and matter. Perhaps through fostering a better understanding of the inseparability between mind and matter in this manner, new psychological and technological approaches will emerge that better enable humans to harness resources and benefit from both their psychological and physical world.

References: (1) Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2014). Dream or reality? Philosophy Now, 104, 54 (2) Soeng, M. (1995). Heart Sutra: Ancient Buddhist Wisdom in the Light of Quantum Reality. Cumberland: Primary Point Press. (3) Van Gordon, W., Sapthiang, S., Barrows, P., & Shonin, E. (2020). Understanding and practicing emptiness. Mindfulness, Advance Online Publication, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-020-01586-1 (4) Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Dunn, T., Sapthiang, S., Kotera, Y., Garcia-Campayo, J., & Sheffield, D. (2019). Exploring emptiness and its effects on non-attachment, mystical experiences, and psycho-spiritual wellbeing: A quantitative and qualitative study of advanced meditators. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 15, 261-272. (5) Vogel, H. (2009). Nervous System: Cambridge Illustrated Surgical Pathology. New York: Cambridge University Press. (6) Wireless Research Centre (n.d.). How Voice and Video Call Works? Available from: https://danenet.wicip.org/2019/04/23/how-voice-and-video-call-works/

Copyright of this article totally belongs to Dr. William Van Gordon, who is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Professor of Contemplative Psychology at the University of Derby (UK). This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

How to Find The “Self”? (Philosophy)

Finding yourself is a journey worth embarking on. This is where to start.

There is a defined path to find the self “quickly,” though the process could still hardly be described as quick. Many people are swift to dismiss Eastern modalities as outdated, unusual, and unworkable. But the fact is that in terms of finding the self, Vedic philosophy occupies a distinct position of respect. To proceed with finding Self, you will need:

1. A silent and serene location
2. The ability to meditate on the heart chakra
3. The ability to severely restrict diet
4. The ability to leave behind all technology and distractions.

© Crushpixel

In many ways, it is simple and straightforward. Get to a silent location and meditate on loving the self. Restrict your diet, so you are not eating any meat, processed food, caffeine, or alcohol. Avoid technology and eliminate all mental, physical, and emotional distractions.

Though this can be difficult to do, the results will be immense. It is the ideal healing modality. About three to seven days is enough for significant changes to occur with the above protocol. It can be repeated as often as necessary, and while you won’t succeed the first or even the tenth time, it is enough to fully rejuvenate you from the stresses of modern living in a big way.

Ironically, the quickest way to find the self is to do absolutely nothing at all. Your body, mind, and soul will heal if you stop eating, thinking, and reading garbage all the time. You will be in a perfect state of health if you stop doing things that put you in a depressed mood and environment. The grand irony of it all is that people need to ‘do something’ to fix an illusory problem. This leads to fad diets, liposuction, gender changes, unhappy relationships, and unaffordable mortgages.

Vedic philosophy has by no means a monopoly on silent retreats and fasting. But it really cuts to the heart, emphasizing these things and its constant focus on finding the self. There are hundreds of other esoteric modalities such as crystal bowls, visualization, spinning, manifestation, lucid dreaming, chakra work, and many more. While they might bring many benefits and even some paranormal effects, they do not cut to the core of finding the self. This involves letting go of everything you have learned to step into new dimensions.

The pinnacle of self-esteem ultimately culminates in self-realization, a state of being discussed in practically every piece of spiritual literature of note. This state goes beyond the typical human experience to full-bodied bliss and understanding. However, self-realized people are still flesh and blood, live to tell their experiences, have written books, and can be found by those who actively search for them.

Other Methods to Help Find the Self

There are more ways to try and find who you really are. It is best likened to the peeling of an onion where only the true self is left. A good place to start is to review all of what has happened to you in this lifetime and the major events. The point is not to wallow in them or take pride in their achievements. Just draw a linear map of the major events that happened, their effect on you, and try to see the bigger picture. This will help to build a degree of objectivity.

In terms of finding self, you do not want to be dependent in any way. Look at all the ways you are emotionally, mentally, physically, or financially dependent on other people and things. Become as self-sufficient as possible. This could entail eliminating cigarettes or bad food and finding a new job where you work for yourself. It will be different for everybody.

Finding self is an individual process. Nobody has ever self-realized themselves together. It is just not the way that the universe works. Groupthink is the antithesis of individual empowerment. Because even in groups, solutions only come from one individual with one spark of inspiration. There is no way to share creativity or ingenuity because it comes from within. This means that when you find the self, the practices that you use, and the philosophy that you adopt will be yours alone. If you copy what others are doing, you are already disempowered and will never find yourself. Without making decisions of your own volition, you are not giving yourself any power.

This article is originally written by Sarah-Len Mutiwasekwa who is a mental health advocate whose efforts are invested in breaking the stigma around talking about mental health and increasing awareness of these issues in Africa. This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

How Meaning of Life Was Invented? (Philosophy)

Thomas Carlyle on how to overcome an existential crisis.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), the Scottish author celebrating his 225th birthday on the 4th of December, was a towering figure in 19th-century literature, praised by everyone from Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Stuart Mill to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Charles Dickens dedicated his Hard Times to Carlyle, a portrait of Carlyle hung over Emily Dickinson’s writing desk, and James Hutchison Stirling noted that in the 1840s Carlyle “was every literary young man’s idol, almost the God he prayed to.”

Thomas Carlyle ©wikipedia

What he usually doesn’t get credit for is that he was the man who coined the phrase “meaning of life” in the English language.

In Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, published in 1833-34, the protagonist loses his faith in God, plunging into an existential crisis that Carlyle called the Centre of Indifference, where nothing really mattered. From a stellar point of view, “What is this paltry little Dog-cage of an Earth; what art thou that sittest whining there? … thou art wholly as a dissevered limb.”

In what Carlyle described as an atheistic century, where the Torch of Science burns so fiercely that “not the smallest cranny or dog-hole in Nature or Art can remain unilluminated,” the comforting religious worldview is “parched away, under the Droughts of practical and spiritual Unbelief.” Repeated disappointment gave rise to doubt, “and Doubt gradually settled into Denial!”

In the midst of this crisis, where “to die or to live is alike to me,” we hear for the first time the modern cry for meaningfulness: “Yet is the meaning of Life itself no other than Freedom, than Voluntary Force.”

Carlyle, like many of us today, felt that he lived in an era during which the voice of God had been silenced, suffocated by the triumph of the scientific worldview. This is the context where the phrase meaning of life was first needed. In using the phrase, Carlyle was directly inspired by German Romantics Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel using the German equivalent to the phrase, der Sinn des Lebens, a few decades earlier in their similar revolt against the rational and mechanistic modern worldview.

Meaning of life thus emerged to describe something that no longer could be taken for granted. It became the symbol of a riddle at the heart of our existence: If human life is an arbitrary and impermanent occurrence leaving no trace on a cosmic scale, then what could make this life worth living?

Carlyle, fortunately, had an answer. His protagonist emerged from The Centre of Indifference with a new foundation for meaning. This is what electrified the young generation in the 19th century. As historian R.L. Brett notes: “It was Carlyle who held out the promise of a vitalistic philosophy which could replace the materialist and mechanistic thought of the preceding century.”

The Ideal is in thyself” Carlyle proclaimed, “the thing thou seekest is already with thee.” Whether or not there is God out there, there is something God-like within us: Our freedom to not succumb to our animal desires but instead be guided by the better angels of our nature. Carlyle’s days of indifference were over when he realized that there is a mandate which “lies mysteriously written, in Promethean, Prophetic Characters, in our hearts; and leaves us no rest, night or day, till it be deciphered and obeyed; till it burn forth, in our conduct, a visible, acted Gospel of Freedom.”

What we find in our heart, according to Carlyle, is a call of duty to work. “Work thou in Welldoing” is our mandate. By engaging in purposeful work, we fulfill our role, and make our existence meaningful.

What you ought to do in life is not found in some abstract ideal but by carefully examining the situation you are currently in: “In this poor, miserable, hampered, despicable Actual, wherein thou even now standest, here or nowhere is thy Ideal.”

Carlyle’s recipe for a meaningful existence is thus simple. Assess your current situation: What are your capabilities and resources? What could be better in your life and in the lives of those around you? What could you realistically do to make these good things happen? By this kind of realistic assessment of your current situation, you already know what ought to be done:

“To each is given a certain inward Talent, a certain outward Environment of Fortune; to each, by wisest combination of these two, a certain maximum Capability. But the hardest problem were ever this first: To find by study of yourself, and of the ground you stand on, what your combined inward and outward Capability specially is.”

If you have much capacity, do much. Tackle some grand challenge of our time like malaria, climate change, or poverty. If you have little capacity, do what little you can in your immediate social surroundings. Don’t wait for some commands carved in stone to drop from the sky to provide absolute clarity and direction. Instead, start from where you are right now. Examine your current situation, your interests, your capabilities, and the ailments around you that you could realistically address. Then go out and ”Do the Duty which lies nearest thee.” Meaningful existence is that simple. It is a call to action, using what is within you to bring forth a slightly better world. And you’d better start today. For as Carlyle notes:

 “’Tis the utmost thou hast in thee; out with it then. Up, up! Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy whole might. Work while it is called To-day, for the Night cometh wherein no man can work.”

This article is originally written by Frank Martela, who is a philosopher and researcher at Aalto University in Helsinki. This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses.

Is It Right to Love Unconditionally? (Philosophy)

Susi Ferrarello, who is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, San Francisco answered what is unconditional love? Does it make us lazy human beings? And many other questions

For those who already know

You were born and that is enough, in theory, to know what unconditional love means. When at loss for words to describe unconditional love, people often point to parental love as the easiest example to explain what unconditional love actually means.

You were born and your parents loved you despite all your flaws and strengths.

Good for you! 

What about all those who struggled with the love received from their parents? Those whose parents were emotionally immature or those who were never enough for their parents; those who grew up with aloof parents or those who felt suffocated by their parental love? The rest of my reflections are for them: 

For those who have no clue

How often have you desired to be loved for who you are? How many times have you caught yourself chasing a relationship because you just wanted to be loved? Have you ever thought that unconditional love should imply sacrifice? 

Unconditional love is often the goal of an entire life and very rarely do we stop reflecting on what it is and how it can be achieved. Our instincts might drive us to fulfill our thirst for love in a chaotic way while our mind might lead us in directions that do not necessarily make our heart happy. Where is the right balance?  How can we experience unconditional love for ourselves or others?

Christian religion, for sure, dedicated refined discussions on what agape—charitable love—is and how we can achieve it. There’s an animated debate about whether we can take agape as a synonym for unconditional love. In fact, what is called agape refers to that brotherly love that keeps the community together no matter our individual flaws. Also, unconditional seems to be the love that God holds for us regardless of what we feel for God or the damages that we might  bring to God (For, God loved all humans unconditionally by sending his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins—John 3:16).

Yet, again, what if we are not Christians? What if we want to understand unconditional love in less Biblical terms? How can we be capable of this form of love? More importantly, should we be striving for this form of love? Or is it somewhat unethical being so forgiving toward ourselves and others.

Love, Ethics, and Humanistic Psychology

In the mid twentieth century, a group of psychologists rose up against the limitation of Freud’s and Skinner’s interpretations of human nature in search for a more holistic approach to human beings. Their positions were strongly influenced by existential and phenomenological philosophy—which means that they were trying to make sense of human existence as it unfolds in their life-world.

It seems that it was with the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, and then with the humanistic approach of Rogers and Myers that the term ‘unconditional love’ was first introduced under the expression of ‘unconditional positive regard’. This showed the healing power of love that developed the full potential of the human being. This term brought the sparkle of divinity to humans as it showed the importance of the unconditional acceptance of who we are in our healing.

Yet, one problem that always emerges in my practice when I talk about unconditional love has to do with the ethical boundaries. What are the ethical boundaries of unconditional love? Should we accept our children if they intentionally produce harm to ourselves and others? Should we keep loving an abusive partner?

Let’s Start with Parental Relationships

Let’s assume that parents should be an example of unconditional love for their children. Yet, how often have we encountered parents who cannot accept a son because he is gay, or a daughter because she is in love with the wrong man? In his 2012 book, Andrew Solomon reads for us a few lines from a bioethicists, Joseph Fletcher, who, in 1968, mentions a parental dilemma in relation to children with down syndrome:

“There is no reason to feel guilty about putting a Down’s syndrome baby away, whether it’s “put away” in the sense of hidden in a sanatorium or in a more responsible lethal sense. It is sad, yes. Dreadful. But it carries no guilt. True guilt arises only from an offense against a person, and a Down’s is not a person” ( Fletcher, Bard, 1968, 59-64)

This is an ethicist who clearly underestimates the power of unconditional love. In fact, now that we have higher acceptance of babies born with down syndrome, their life expectancy increased together with the quality of their life. Yet, before this, plenty of others were hidden in sanatoria or never allowed to live. 

I believe that unconditional love can be described as a force capable of bringing to existence the essence of a human being in any form it presents.

In this case, the children were the victims of blind parents. But what happens when the children are causing suffering to others? What if your children are also guilty of despicable crimes?

Let’s take Susan Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold, the shooter at Columbine. When interviewed, she was asked what she would have said to Dylan if he were still alive. She would have asked for forgiveness—she said. She was feeling sorry for not having understood the sense of confusion that Dylan was feeling inside, for not having been able to see him.

Clearly, Dylan did something wrong and clearly those parents had to acknowledge the tragedy that this caused. Yet, in reviewing this recent tragedy, Susan realized that more than avoiding all the choices that led up to that catastrophic event—going to college, marrying her husband, having that child—what she would change is paying more attention to the human being she was raising to know who he was and accepting or at least seeing his essence.

This acceptance does not erase the ethical wrong he personally did; it just gives existential justice to his soul. This person is no longer the whole cluster of projection of his parents’ dreams and regrets but he is his own existence. 

Same problems arise in abusive relationships

Is unconditional love the ultimate goal of our lives? If we say yes, aren’t we condemned to endure abusive relationships with our romantic halves, unfair parents, or siblings? To what extent does the pursuit of unconditional love nail us to a self-sacrificing life?

I would say to no extent. Unconditional love implies the ability to see, bring to awareness the essence of the person we are living with, whether that is just ourselves or our romantic partner. 

How often do we see what we want to see in the person we have in front of us or in ourselves? In one of my previous blog posts, I was playing with the Lacan notion that “love is giving what you do not have to someone who does not want it.” I believe that there is some painful truth in this.

Unconditional love does not mean that we are condemned to accept the rightness of an abusive partner, it means that we can see his unfair violence, but we stop making excuses for them in the pointless effort to justify our life in relation to them. 

Unconditional love means to be compassionate toward our child, partner, or ourself especially after the realization that not all the expectations are met; it means to have eyes to see what kind of life is unfolding in front of (and within) us and to have a heart big enough to accept the social implications of that life—whether that involves having a son who is a mass murderer or a daughter who wants to devote her life to justice. Human capacity to love unconditionally is a means to living a meaningful life. 

To conclude with a quote from Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning: “Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the essence of another human being unless he loves him”.

References: (1) Frankl, V. (1946). Man’s Search For Meaning, Beacon Press. (2) Fletcher, J. & Bard, B. (1968). “The Right to Die”, Atlantic Monthly, 221, 59-64. (3) Solomon, A. (2012). Far from the Tree, Simon & Shuster.

This article is originally written by Susi Ferrarello, who is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, San Francisco, and a philosophical counselor and is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses.

In Harari’s Sapiens, Meaning of Life is Just a Delusion (Philosophy)

The tremendous popularity of Yuval Noah Harari’s breakthrough book, Sapiens, left many wondering when did history become so popular. The answer, of course, is that the book was not really about history but about today, about a rupture in worldview we are facing right now – as Harari’s subsequent works, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for 21th Century, made clear. What Harari offers us is best summarized in his own words:

”A more general look at life in an age of bewilderment, when the old stories have collapsed, and no new story has emerged so far to replace them.”

What Harari is arguing is that humans have always constructed various myths and stories to explain how the world works and what gives meaning to our lives. He goes through the old stories, including Christianity and other religions, arguing that they are ultimately just stories created by humans that mix together wishful thinking, psychological tricks, and tales designed to appeal to human pride. ”Collective delusions about the afterlife” might have made our ancestors happier, but Harari argues that ultimately all these stories are wrong: We should expect ”nothing but complete and meaningless oblivion.”

In the footsteps of Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and other articulators of post-Darwinian, scientific worldview, Harari argues that the story of human life is that there is no story, and we simply must accept the bleak vision of human existence offered by science:

”In itself, the universe is only a meaningless hodge-podge of atoms. Nothing is beautiful, sacred, or sexy – but human feelings make it so. … Take away human feelings, and you are left with a bunch of molecules.”

Given that we humans are simply a bunch of molecules accidentally conglomerated together by the blind algorithms of evolution, ”our actions are not part of some divine cosmic plan” and there is no meaning whatsoever to human life:

”Any meaning that people ascribe to their lives is just a delusion.”

What sets Harari apart from many previous horsemen of disenchantment is that he condemns not only the other-worldly meanings offered by religions but sees that people finding meaning in capitalism, nationalism, liberalism, or even humanism are equally deluded. These modern ways to make sense and imbue our lives with meaning are to him just religious delusions in a new package. Human rights, the good of the nation, free will – these all exist ”only in the imaginary stories we humans have invented” and drawing meaning from them is at best a comfortable delusion, at worst a justification for atrocities.

I, for one, enjoy the challenge offered by Harari. It is refreshing to question one’s deep-most beliefs and values from time to time, and Harari’s matter-of-fact style of doing so is appealing.

The trouble starts when one investigates what Harari offers in place of the old stories.

Harari’s answer starts with denouncing us having any permanent selfhood. ”The free individual is just a fictional tale concocted by an assembly of biochemical algorithms.” The biochemical processes in our brains might create various momentary experiences but these flashes of experience do not add up to any enduring essence. Us having ‘a self’ is another imaginary story and only by breaking away from that illusion can we be liberated to see the world as it is:

”The universe has no meaning, and human feelings too are not part of a great cosmic tale. They are ephemeral vibrations, appearing and disappearing for no particular purpose. That’s the truth. Get over it.”

In essence, Harari is advocating a kind of Buddhist vision of life where the goal is to become liberated from suffering by ceasing to be attached to our feelings. For him, ”the most real thing in the world is suffering.” Morality is not about ”following divine commands” but ”reducing suffering.” Why should I care about the suffering of others? Because hurting others hurts you too. ”Every violent act in the world begins with a violent desire in somebody’s mind, which disturbs that person’s own peace and happiness before it disturbs the peace and happiness of anyone else.” The suffering of others is thus only relevant to you because it might increase your own suffering. How to be moral? Develop a deep appreciation of suffering through practicing meditation. That is Harari’s recipe:

”Life has no meaning, and people don’t need to create any meaning. They just need to realize that there is no meaning, and thus be liberated from the suffering caused by our attachments and our identification with empty phenomena.”

As a worldview this is blatantly inadequate. It fails to give us anything positive to do in life. There is nothing grand to aim at, nothing to hope for, nothing bold to strive for, nothing to accomplish. Just a negative command: Don’t make others suffer. And learning to be detached from one’s own suffering. When people ask ”What should I do?” Harari offers them Buddha’s advice: ”Do nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Meditating two hours each day, as Harari states he is doing, is fine. It might help one to cease being entangled to the hopes and wishes that make one suffer. But when one is relieved from suffering, one still has a life to live. One still has choices to make, and one still wants to fill one’s days with activities that are meaningful. For that, Harari doesn’t offer any answer whatsoever.

The inadequacy of Harari’s answer to meaning in life is best shown by examining his own life. He has written books where he tries to tackle the grand challenges of our age, devoting his career to offering humanity better answers and new hope to these questions. His books have touched the minds of millions of people around the world, offering new clarity and hope for a better future. Sounds to me that Harari has found a very meaningful way to live his life. But according to his own theory, ascribing any meaning to this is delusional. Only thing real is one’s own suffering and only valid motive is to become detached from that suffering. Other grand goals and values are just delusions. His theory of life thus fails to explain even his own motives and activities.

The impotency of Harari’s ideas about meaning of life are rooted in his inability to acknowledge anything else than some kind of objective, transcendental meaning to life. Although he has abandoned God and religion, he is still looking for the kind of meaning that only God can give to human beings. His thinking is secular but takes place using concepts defined by Judeo-Christian religious tradition. Anaïs Nin articulated well why this kind of search for meaning is not working:

“What makes people despair is that they try to find a universal meaning to the whole of life, and then end up by saying it is absurd, illogical, empty of meaning. There is not one big cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”

What if we accept that there is no externally given, objective meaning to life. What if we accept that only meaning that human life can have is the meaning humans themselves give to their lives. But instead of dismissing this as delusional, as Harari does, we embrace and celebrate this capacity to experience meaning in life. Free will might be an illusion. Me seeing my life as meaningful might be an illusion. But both feel real to me. And this is enough.

French philosopher Simon De Beauvoir argues that the trouble with most Western philosophy – and this applies also to Harari’s thinking about meaning – is that they approach life from outside. Instead, she emphasizes how each of us is already embedded in a particular situation from which we operate. Instead of searching for externally imposed values, you’d better start from what you currently experience as being valuable and worth committing to—and build on that. At the heart of what Beauvoir calls an ethics of ambiguity is a certain kind of humbleness regarding one’s values combined with an openness to learn and grow—and this I see as where the path to a more meaningful way of living starts.

Instead of treating meaningfulness as a metaphysical question, treat it as a psychological question.

Start from where you are right now, from your lived experience. Reflect for a while about recent experiences you’ve had. Think about which ones have been more meaningful than others. Then consider which ones have been less meaningful. Once you’ve identified the most meaningful experiences in your current life, start thinking about how to make life choices that guarantee more of those experiences in the future. If spending time together with a certain person is the most meaningful moment you can think of, how can you be with that person more often? If using your capabilities to tackle certain work tasks feels highly meaningful to you, what can you do to build a career path that better utilizes that skill set?

Harari partially acknowledges the experiential reality of human existence but stuck as he is in his Buddhist framework, the only experience he sees as real is suffering. However, the tapestry of human experiences is immensely richer than that. Yes, we suffer. But we also love, celebrate, care, enjoy, feel bliss – and experience meaningfulness.

Once we take this experiential approach to meaningfulness, science – the enemy of God-given meaning of life – becomes our ally. Psychological research can help us to identify the things in life that most consistently tend to make people experience their lives as meaningful. Such psychological research has proliferated in the last few decades, and based on my own research and research by others, I recommend focusing on three things: First, invest in your relationships. Most people, when asked what makes life meaningful, spontaneously mention their family and friends. As social animals we humans tend to experience our intimate relationships and the time we get to spend with our loved one’s as highly meaningful. Second, do good to others. When we are able to feel that our contributions matter, that we have a positive impact in the lives of other people, this makes our own life feel more meaningful. Third, find ways to express and realize yourself. Think about what activities and experiences you yourself find most enjoyable, attractive, and elevating. What are the activities that feel self-chosen – something you want to do, instead of something you have to do? Then go out and do more of that.

The recipe for meaningful living doesn’t have to involve anything more complicated than that. Just do the things that make your life feel more meaningful. Invest in relationships, do good to others, find ways to express yourself.

To Harari, who sees life as suffering from which we must detach ourselves, I offer the kind advice of William James:

“Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.”

Our life might be an accidental side product of evolutionary algorithms. Our experiences might be an illusion and all our values mere stories. But these experiences and these values are all we have. And by creating better stories and values we might make this experience called life more tolerable, more enjoyable, and indeed, more meaningful.

Meaning in life beyond Harari’s nihilism
Source: Frank Martela

References: (1) Harari, Yuval Noah (2011). Sapiens. London, Penguin Books. (2) Harari, Yuval Noah (2018). 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. London, Vintage. (3) Harari, Yuval Noah (2017). Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow. New York, Harper.

This article is originally written by Frank Martela, Ph.D., who is a philosopher and researcher at Aalto University in Helsinki and is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses.

Omnipotence Paradox Asks: Could God Create a Stone So Heavy That Even He could Not Lift It? (Philosophy)

The omnipotence paradox provides arguments to dispute both the existence of an omnipotent god as well as the existence of omnipotence itself. The paradox provides examples of two outcomes, both of which leave god with limited powers, and therefore not omnipotent. The most popular example is the paradox of the stone.

The paradox of the stone poses the question “Could an omnipotent create a stone so heavy that he cannot able to lift it?” If yes, he or she can create a stone so heavy that it cannot be lifted, then the being’s power is limited because it cannot lift the stone. If no, the being cannot create a stone so heavy that he or she cannot lift it, then the being’s power is limited because it could not create such a stone. In either scenario, the allegedly omnipotent being has been proven not to be omnipotent because it lacks certain abilities.

The omnipotence paradox also has implications in the debate about the free will of mankind. The same question could be asked, “Can God or any other omnipotent being create a man he could not control?”

Most people who refute the paradox claim semantics as their reasoning. That is, that the idea or definition of omnipotence is misrepresented in the paradox. The alternative is that true omnipotence, the kind held by God, is not necessarily bound by the laws of logic, physics, or mathematics. Another argument is that an omnipotent being does have every conceivable ability, including the ability to limit their own power. Thus, an omnipotent god could create a rock so heavy that he could not lift it because he’s also taking away his own power of omnipotence.

References: (1) Wierenga, Edward. “Omnipotence” The Nature of God: An Inquiry into Divine Attributes. Cornell University Press, 1989. (Accessed on 19 April 2006) (2) Hoffman, Joshua, Rosenkrantz, Gary. “Omnipotence” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 Edition). Edward N. Zalta (ed.). (Accessed on 10 March 2020)

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Catch-22 Leaves No Way Out Of The Situation (Philosophy)

The term was coined by Joseph Heller, who used it in his 1961 novel Catch-22.

Catch-22s often result from rules, regulations, or procedures that an individual is subject to but has no control over because to fight the rule is to accept it.

A catch-22 is a paradoxical situation from which an individual cannot escape because of contradictory rules.

So what happens is that a set of circumstances in which one requirement, etc., is dependent upon another, which is in turn dependent upon the first. Confused? Let’s go for examples.

The novel Catch-22 involves the case of John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces bombardier, who wishes to be grounded from combat flight. This will only happen if he is evaluated by the squadron’s flight surgeon and found “unfit to fly.”

• “Unfit” would be any pilot who is willing to fly such dangerous missions, as one would have to be mad to volunteer for possible death.
• However, to be evaluated, he must request the evaluation, an act that is considered sufficient proof for being declared sane. These conditions make it impossible to be declared “unfit.”
• Hence, pilots who request a mental fitness evaluation are sane, and therefore must fly in combat.
• At the same time, if an evaluation is not requested by the pilot, he will never receive one and thus can never be found insane, meaning he must also fly in combat.

Therefore, Catch-22 ensures that no pilot can ever be grounded for being insane even if he is. And this paradox just comes up many times in daily life.

Let’s say you just graduated and are looking for a job. But to be hired for a job, you have to have experience. However, you are constantly turned down for not having any, because first, you have to have a job to gain experience.

Let’s see another example say, you lost your wallet. You want to issue new IDs and cards then. But you have to have an ID to issue new cards, which was also stolen as it was inside your wallet.

That is what happens in a Catch-22 situation — no way out.

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How We Make Moral Decisions? (Philosophy)

In some situations, asking “what if everyone did that?” is a common strategy for judging whether an action is right or wrong.

Imagine that one day you’re riding the train and decide to hop the turnstile to avoid paying the fare. It probably won’t have a big impact on the financial well-being of your local transportation system. But now ask yourself, “What if everyone did that?” The outcome is much different — the system would likely go bankrupt and no one would be able to ride the train anymore.

Moral philosophers have long believed this type of reasoning, known as universalization, is the best way to make moral decisions. But do ordinary people spontaneously use this kind of moral judgment in their everyday lives?

Researchers at MIT and Harvard have shown that people use a type of reasoning known as universalization to help them make moral decisions in certain types of situations. This strategy is most applicable in social dilemmas called “threshold problems,” in which harm can occur if everyone, or a large number of people, perform a certain action. Credits: Image: iStock illustration edited by MIT News

In a study of several hundred people, MIT and Harvard University researchers have confirmed that people do use this strategy in particular situations called “threshold problems.” These are social dilemmas in which harm can occur if everyone, or a large number of people, performs a certain action. The authors devised a mathematical model that quantitatively predicts the judgments they are likely to make. They also showed, for the first time, that children as young as 4 years old can use this type of reasoning to judge right and wrong.

“This mechanism seems to be a way that we spontaneously can figure out what are the kinds of actions that I can do that are sustainable in my community,” says Sydney Levine, a postdoc at MIT and Harvard and the lead author of the study.

Other authors of the study are Max Kleiman-Weiner, a postdoc at MIT and Harvard; Laura Schulz, an MIT professor of cognitive science; Joshua Tenenbaum, a professor of computational cognitive science at MIT and a member of MIT’s Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines and Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL); and Fiery Cushman, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard. The paper is appearing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Judging morality

The concept of universalization has been included in philosophical theories since at least the 1700s. Universalization is one of several strategies that philosophers believe people use to make moral judgments, along with outcome-based reasoning and rule-based reasoning. However, there have been few psychological studies of universalization, and many questions remain regarding how often this strategy is used, and under what circumstances.

To explore those questions, the MIT/Harvard team asked participants in their study to evaluate the morality of actions taken in situations where harm could occur if too many people perform the action. In one hypothetical scenario, John, a fisherman, is trying to decide whether to start using a new, more efficient fishing hook that will allow him to catch more fish. However, if every fisherman in his village decided to use the new hook, there would soon be no fish left in the lake.

The researchers found that many subjects did use universalization to evaluate John’s actions, and that their judgments depended on a variety of factors, include the number of people who were interested in using the new hook and the number of people using it that would trigger a harmful outcome.

To tease out the impact of those factors, the researchers created several versions of the scenario. In one, no one else in the village was interested in using the new hook, and in that scenario, most participants deemed it acceptable for John to use it. However, if others in the village were interested but chose not to use it, then John’s decision to use it was judged to be morally wrong.

The researchers also found that they could use their data to create a mathematical model that explains how people take different factors into account, such as the number of people who want to do the action and the number of people doing it that would cause harm. The model accurately predicts how people’s judgments change when these factors change.

In their last set of studies, the researchers created scenarios that they used to test judgments made by children between the ages of 4 and 11. One story featured a child who wanted to take a rock from a path in a park for his rock collection. Children were asked to judge if that was OK, under two different circumstances: In one, only one child wanted a rock, and in the other, many other children also wanted to take rocks for their collections.

The researchers found that most of the children deemed it wrong to take a rock if everyone wanted to, but permissible if there was only one child who wanted to do it. However, the children were not able to specifically explain why they had made those judgments.

“What’s interesting about this is we discovered that if you set up this carefully controlled contrast, the kids seem to be using this computation, even though they can’t articulate it,” Levine says. “They can’t introspect on their cognition and know what they’re doing and why, but they seem to be deploying the mechanism anyway.”

In future studies, the researchers hope to explore how and when the ability to use this type of reasoning develops in children.

Collective action

In the real world, there are many instances where universalization could be a good strategy for making decisions, but it’s not necessary because rules are already in place governing those situations.

“There are a lot of collective action problems in our world that can be solved with universalization, but they’re already solved with governmental regulation,” Levine says. “We don’t rely on people to have to do that kind of reasoning, we just make it illegal to ride the bus without paying.”

However, universalization can still be useful in situations that arise suddenly, before any government regulations or guidelines have been put in place. For example, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, before many local governments began requiring masks in public places, people contemplating wearing masks might have asked themselves what would happen if everyone decided not to wear one.

The researchers now hope to explore the reasons why people sometimes don’t seem to use universalization in cases where it could be applicable, such as combating climate change. One possible explanation is that people don’t have enough information about the potential harm that can result from certain actions, Levine says.

The research was funded by the John Templeton Foundation, the Templeton World Charity Foundation, and the Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines.

References: Sydney Levine, Max Kleiman-Weiner, Laura Schulz, Joshua Tenenbaum, Fiery Cushman, “The logic of universalization guides moral judgment”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Oct 2020, 202014505; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2014505117 link: https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/10/01/2014505117/

Provided by Massachusetts Institute Of Technology