Thursday, May 25, 2017

The true nature of reality is strange

I’m a regular reader of Tyler Cowen’s blog, Marginal Revolution (which he runs along with Alex Tabarrok). As some of you know, Cowen is a libertarian economist with various and capacious reading habits, a foodie, and a collector of Haitian art. He’s just published a post entitled “Why I don’t believe in God”. I’m sympathetic with some of his points.

2. The true nature of reality is so strange, I’m not sure “God” or “theism” is well-defined, at least as can be discussed by human beings. That fact should not lead you to militant atheism (I also can’t define subatomic particles), but still it pushes me toward an “I don’t believe” attitude more than belief. I find it hard to say I believe in something that I feel in principle I cannot define, nor can anyone else.

2b. In general, I am opposed to the term “atheist.” It suggests a direct rejection of some specific beliefs, whereas I simply would say I do not hold those beliefs. I call myself a “non-believer,” to reference a kind of hovering, and uncertainty about what actually is being debated. Increasingly I see atheism as another form of religion.

I would especially mention that first clause, “The true nature of reality is so strange…” We do almost all our thinking within circumcised boundaries. Those boundaries may be more or less well defined of they may be fuzzy, but they are boundaries and most of the world is outside them. But when we try to think about it all, things just go wonky.

Coming to the end:
6. I do take the William James arguments about personal experience of God seriously, and I recommend his The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature to everybody — it’s one of the best books period. But these personal accounts contradict each other in many cases, we know at least some of them are wrong or delusional, and overall I think the capacity of human beings to believe things — some would call it self-deception but that term assumes a neutral, objective base more than is warranted here — is quite strong. Presumably a Christian believes that pagan accounts of the gods are incorrect, and vice versa; I say they are probably both right in their criticisms of the other.

7. I see the entire matter of origins as so strange that the “transcendental argument” carries little weight with me — “if there is no God, then everything is permitted!” We don’t have enough understanding of God, or the absence of God, to deal with such claims. In any case, the existence of God is no guarantee that such problems are overcome, or if it were such a guarantee, you wouldn’t be able to know that.
Personal experience, that too is strange. Music is friendly to such experience. Drugs too.

Will those post-singularity computers have such experiences? Is that what we are, a mystical experience in the mind of a post-singularity computer?

How strange.

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