Spritzophrenia

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Archive for the ‘Meaning of Life’ Category

Sorry Hitch, You’re Nothing

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens is dead. Long live… No, can we please not do that. Let’s tell it like it is. Hitchens, like all men of sense and reason™ was an atheist and a materialist. In other words, there is no God, and all that exists is the physical world we can measure with Hadron colliders, molecular resonance imaging, Hubble telescopes and schoolboy chemistry sets.

But he will be remembered! Briefly. For about ten years, maybe twenty, those who knew him or once read his columns may pause and say, “Ah, Hitchens. Damn fine writer.” Perhaps our children or grandchildren may find a dusty copy of “God Is Not Great” on our shelves and scan it curiously. More than likely, physical books will have gone the way of the cassette tape and be little more than a historical curiosity. Any surviving data of Hitchens’ will no doubt be lost in the tsunami of electronic porn, advertising and fiddle-faddle that passes itself off as “information” these days.

He will mean nothing. It may be small comfort to say that he never did mean anything, on a cosmic scale. Even on an earthly scale, he was little more than a ripple in the puddle of humanity. In 10,000 years Christopher Hitchens will be forgotten, like Madonna, Bill Clinton, Osama bin Laden and so many others who seem so terribly important to us now. If he is lucky he may rate a footnote in some obscure cyber-history of the early 21st century, to be catalogued and filed with the billion other PhD history theses published that year. If we haven’t already eradicated ourselves as a species, of course.

His dust will stick resolutely to the gravity well of a small and once-beautiful planet, perhaps fertilising a meagre plot of weeds. In a billion years a few atoms that once made up part of his spleen may be blown far across the galaxy as the dying sun ejects matter into eternity.

Sorry Hitch, you’re nothing. And the only reason we eulogise you is to help us avoid the knowledge that so too, are we.

Front Line Assembly | Everything Must Perish

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Posted in atheism, God, god, Meaning of Life, ontology | Tagged: , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Paradise Now: A Powerful Movie

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 16, 2010

Yesterday I asked if Muslims would find the movie “Four Lions” funny? Well, at least some Muslims do:

Humour allows us to conquer our own fears of terrorism and terrorists, and allows us to feel brave. We see the human weaknesses of our opponents, instead of buying into the myths of an invincible robotic terror machine. The fear created by the myths – whether perpetuated by the bin Laden’s or the Bush’s of this world – is itself part of the terrorisation process. If we can defuse the myth, we can get down to tackling the criminals at the heart of the violence and destruction…

explosion NYC

…In a global Gallup poll of 50,000 Muslims across 35 countries, the results showed that of the seven per cent of Muslims who said the 9/11 attacks were justified, absolutely none quoted the Quran to support their view. Again, it is politics, not religion.” From Can Terror Be Funny? at AltMuslim. More Muslim commentary here and a good US-based review here. (Some spoilers in these.)

On to another movie on the same topic, much more serious and equally important. Released in 2005, I think Paradise Now is one of the most thought-provoking movies made. (Along with “Dead Man Walking”, “Milk”, “Food Inc”, “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Lord of War”.) Don’t worry, it’s not boringly didactic.

The movie follows Said and Khaled, two Palestinian friends who are recruited to be suicide bombers. This may be the last 48 hours of their lives. Drama, humanity, evil, love, romance, tragedy, comedy, it’s got it all. The movie is not really about the Israel/Palestine question, it merely assumes this as the background to the question of whether killing others in protest is valid. Perhaps even realism, not just humour, can take some of the scariness away. The film is not simplistic, and without giving away too much it portrays both the terrorist and pacifist points of view well. Both men and Khaled’s girlfriend have doubts, but I won’t tell you how it ends.

I was stunned by it.

Independent trailer for Paradise Now:

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Posted in ethics, hardship, Islam, life, Meaning of Life, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Funny Famous Last Words

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 5, 2010

I came across a very cool little book yesterday, of “fond farewells, deathbed diatribes and exclamations upon expiration”. Some are tragic, some are uplifting, some are plain ironic:

“I wish I had drunk more champagne”

John Maynard Keynes

The British Keynes was not your average economist. Keynes, whose eponymous theories influenced Roosevelt’s New Deal and the rise of the European welfare state, was also a member of the famously liberated Bloomsbury group. He was politically liberal and sexually liberated, sleeping with many of the bohemian men in his circle and, of course, drinking champagne. Of that, and government spending, Keynes thought there could never be enough.

irony

“I’ve Never Felt Better”

Douglas Fairbanks

After suffering a heart attack in 1939 at the age of 57, “The King of Silent Hollywood” (Robin Hood, The Thief of Baghdad, The Mark of Zorro) reassured an attendant while resting at home, then went back to sleep and died that night. Fairbanks was an athletic movie star known for his charm, good looks, and— apparently— an inability to gauge his physical condition.

“The couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist— “

General John Sedgwick

General John Sedgwick was a corps commander of the Army of the Potomac who enjoyed a reputation among his men as a good-humored guy and relentless optimist. At the Battle of the Wilderness, while other men were diving for cover from Confederate sharpshooters, Sedgwick scoffed at the danger, stood up, and caught a bullet in his face.

Some “last words” in the book are official goodbyes, written before the author popped their clogs. Do you have any final words planned? I hope mine will be “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz…”

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Posted in humor, humour, Meaning of Life | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

There Is No Pain, You Are Receding

Posted by spritzophrenia on October 1, 2010

This is not a post about going bald. It’s part two of a short series on suffering and spirituality. Here I mention a common Christian “literalist” objection to theistic evolution:

Doesn’t Genesis teach there was no pain and suffering until the fall, and therefore evolution cannot have been the mechanism?

Christians, Jews and to a lesser extent Muslims, all take their origin story from Genesis. At a particular point in the tale the human race is flourishing and then everything goes wrong. Humans make Promethean choices that separate them from God, and like all choices there are consequences, much like choosing to jump from a cliff. Christians call this “the fall”.

If you’re not familiar, here’s the whole passage. Among other things, in verse 16,

To the woman God said,
I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.

~ Gen 3:16

woman, man, pain

In a literal interpretation— the approach anti-evolutionists normally favour— this clearly implies pain before the fall. Note the phrase “greatly increase”. In other words, there was pain before the human representatives made their choice, it just wasn’t so bad. On a literal interpretation, pain was around even in Eden.

And that’s really the only point I want to make today.

By the way, according to Galileo Goes to Jail, and Other Myths about Science and Religion from my public library, the church did NOT oppose anesthesia in childbirth based on passages like these. I also noticed that male domination (the husband ruling over the woman) only came in AFTER the fall. Take that, “women must submit to men” theology. Gee, maybe literalist interpretations of the Torah aren’t so bad after all? (Noting my post suggesting this whole section, like much of early Genesis, appears to be poetic in form, and reading those sections ‘literally’ is probably a mistake.)

There are some people who rather enjoy a bit of pain (see below).
More on the problem of pain tomorrow 🙂
Why not subscribe to my blog? (Top Left)

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What Do You Think?

Depeche Mode sing Strange Love:
I give in, to sin…
Will you take the pain… I give to you?
Pain, will you return it?

Also check out the great
Pain and Suffering remix (Replicant tribute)

Anyone like to guess the where the title of today’s post comes from? 😉
How do you think about physical pain and the meaning of life?

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Posted in agnostic, Christianity, god, hardship, Judaism, Meaning of Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

If You See The Buddha On The Road, Kiss Him

Posted by spritzophrenia on June 23, 2010

I’m thinking about benevolence. And compassion.

Early this morning the sky is grey and the Snapper card on the bus doesn’t work. I have only $4.80 left to my name. Just enough for the coffee which I’m hoping to treat myself to before the long walk home. I don’t tell the driver that. I’m too embarrassed.

I offer to pay cash and she tells me not to worry, “It’s the machine’s fault”. She gifts me a free ride into town.

I’m mulling this over as I leave my appointment and walk through the gentle rain. It’s so light it feels like prickles of mist on my face. Pleasant sensations.

Compassion is a word that Buddhists use a lot. It’s one of the really good things about Gautama’s “middle path”. I want to have more compassion for others, and even more so, for myself.

coffee flower

Coffee Flower.

Tiredly trudging along Willis Street, I’m conflicted. I really owe a gift to the couple who let me live with them when I needed help. Even if I buy a card from the thrift shop I won’t have enough for coffee. I decide I want to do the right thing, and buy the card. Ironically, the only blank card there has a photograph of a full cup of coffee. At the counter the friendly Chinese New Zealander gives me a large silver candle with my purchase. “We’re giving them away to celebrate Matariki, the Maori New Year”. “That’s right,” I think, “we’ve just had the turn of the winter solstice.” I’m amazed and grateful. I love candles.

I walk into a trendy Cuba Mall café, planning to ask them what my remaining $2.80 will get me. “Not much”, is the answer I’m expecting. Wonderfully, a long black is only $2.50. I was hoping for a latté, but that will be fine. I put my remaining silver, copper and brass on the counter, explaining I want to check if I have a few cents left in my EFTPOS account.

“Don’t worry about it mate, sort us out another time.” He gives me a discount latté, again unasked.

Now I’m sitting at a comfortable wooden table, feeling serene. Thankyou Cafe Plum.

Sometimes the search for meaning can seem long and hard. I’m not suggesting ‘the universe provides’. I don’t believe that. Whatever our beliefs, I think we can all agree the world could use a little more compassion.


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more below

When I’m not listening to Deicide I’m listening to Carbon Based Lifeform‘s eponymous Hydroponic Garden I cannot rate this album highly enough.

That thing about ‘the Universe’? I’m going to come back to it in a future post.

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Posted in agnostic, ethics, Meaning of Life, personal development, spirituality | 32 Comments »

Showing My Hand – The Meaning of Life

Posted by spritzophrenia on June 21, 2010

For twenty years, off and on, I’ve thought about writing a book on The Meaning of Life. Last year I decided to work more explicitly towards that goal, and this blog is part of my journey towards publishing. Here’s The Meaning of Life – Part One, for example. I really value your input and constructive criticism.

I had thought I’d call my book simply, “The Meaning of Life”. However, in my research I’ve just discovered a book in the library, published only a few years ago by a UK professor of English titled “The Meaning of Life”. Aargh! Robbed! Beaten to my goal! 😉

Actually, I’m feeling quite content and rather phlegmatic. Let’s face it, it’s a big question and there’s room for all. I haven’t read his book yet, but I feel my hand somewhat forced. Before reading it, I want to note down my general ideas for structuring my book, lest I be accused of plagiarism.

42 Meaning of Life
42 – I know, I don’t get it either 😉

Big caveats: This is the beginning of a work in progress, largely in note form, misses out a lot, and will no doubt change over the course of the project. This post is abandoned, rather than finished. (Hopefully the rest of my blog is more readable – eg my stuff on Atheist Spirituality). That said, here’s a preview:


Book structure.
I’m intending to make it personal as well as philosophical? How to pitch it? Academic versus popular is tricky. I want pictures! eg Engineers versus Physicists versus Philosophers

[Edit: I now think the structure will be more short vignettes, but the content will be similar, so will leave this here.]

Working Title:
42 Is Not Enough:
The Meaning of Life

“God is dead! And we have killed him!” – Nietzsche

“How can anyone discover what life means?
It is too deep for us, too hard to understand.
But I devoted myself to knowledge and study;
I was determined to find wisdom and the
answers to my questions”
– Ecclesiastes (The Bible)

“‘If life was devoid of realities there would be no meaning to life’, my father wrote in one of his forewords to his book, in Hindi” – Sri Bachchan, Indian actor.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.” – Joy J. Golliver

1. Welcome to Your Life
(Introduction)

My intentions, biases and background. (Perhaps to be unpacked through the book.) I’m an open agnostic, or perhaps a theistic agnostic or a deist.
This book is only the story so far. I’d like to revisit it in 20 years and update or change it. After all, I have neglected major religions like Hinduism, and I can’t possibly fairly evaluate everything. Look at how big the religion and philosophy sections in public libraries are! The dangers of guru-ism?

Having said that, I do think there are less than a dozen major worldview alternatives, eg atheism, theism, polytheism, pantheism, monism… And few options within those are realistic, eg polytheism is just too unlikely imo. Within theism, Mormonism, for example, is just too unbelievable. US archaeology alone destroys it. Sorry Mormons 😦

Disclaimer: I’m well aware that a non-adherent of a religion usually makes mistakes in emphasis, nuance and understanding when writing about it. My apologies for any factual errors. I feel uncomfortable criticising a spiritual path from the outside so I’m relying on those writing from the inside. I also acknowledge the large number of good, moral people in any worldview.

Music! Supertramp | The Logical Song That song really affected me and made me think, from a young age.

Feel free to skip straight to my answer, although it will be more fully understood in the context of other things.

“If everybody contemplates the infinite instead of fixing the drains, many of us will die of cholera.” ~John Rich

2. There’s no Escape
(The “feel” of the meaning of life)

It’s a universal question, and arguably the motivator behind the spiritual search. Atheist spirituality.
“God is dead. We have killed him” – Nietzsche. But this is a tragedy that N spent his life trying to overcome, not the triumphalism of some atheists. See nihilism. My experiences / thinking as a youth.

Humour – Monty Python’s film, Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy.

“There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.” – Douglas Adams

42 – note it’s called the big question of “life, the universe and everything”. Doesn’t mention the meaning of life, tho’ it’s implied?

Note 42 is the result of asking the wrong question. It’s worth considering is asking “what’s the meaning of life?” the wrong question too? (thanks Randy Murray for this).

The motivation for the search. Nihilism, atheism. Not all, or even most atheists end up nihilists, but it’s a strong pull for me.

To look in the eye of meaningless-ness is to feel the horror of being
“Cast out upon 40,000 fathoms of the deep” – Joseph Conrad??

3. Unpacking The Question
(What do we mean by ‘meaning’?)

What does “The Meaning of Life” (MoL) actually mean?
Distinguish between ‘meaning’, ‘purpose’ and ‘significance’. See my The Meaning of Life – Part One
Some people think that the question is a non-question, eg Marty at AtheistClimber. I respectfully disagree (as per my comments in his blog).

Animals and the meaning of life – dolphins, higher primates. Is intelligence alone the measure of value? No.

I think unpacking the question actually leads to a lot of insight into what the answer might be.

4. The Invisible Hand
(Theism)

Concentrating mainly on Christianity, as that’s my background but will also reference Islam and Judaism where I can. Judaism does consider the question to a degree. Victor Frankl was Jewish, although his conclusions in “Man’s Search for Meaning” do not require any spiritual point of view.

My previous conclusion that meaning is found “in God”, and later “in Jesus”. But what does that actually mean? Is it coherent? Probably not.

Conclusion: Surprisingly, even if God exists, it may not give an answer to the meaning of life. “God” cannot be a meaningful answer to the question “What is the meaning of life?”

Perhaps God needs a meaning of life too? Perhaps all “intelligent life” does?

5. If You See the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him
(Mysticism/The East)

So far, I don’t think the concept of the meaning of life is actually addressed by Buddhism. (Buddhist friends, please help?)
This leads to the interesting idea that MoL is a Western (theist influenced?) idea. My attempts at meditation. Ultimately, I don’t think Buddhism is intellectually helpful.

Mysticism? Christian Mystics? AW Tozer? (He now feels too hardline to me.) My few pagan / wiccan experiences? New Age worldview?


from http://offthemark.com

6. Both Beast and God
(Reason, Philosophy)

Am I a rationalist? Possibly, but there may be limits to reason (viz Bertrand Russell’s quote).

“To live alone one must be a beast or a god, says Aristotle. Leaving out the third case: one must be both – a philosopher.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

J P Moreland moving the question to being about value (in Scaling the Secular City) He’s a good philosopher, but I don’t think this satisfies. Although losing a sense of value is a consequence of loss of meaning for me.

Kai Neilsen and other atheist philosophers. The “new atheists” – Dawkins, Hitchens, et al (if I must! 😉 )

Philosophy is life’s dry-nurse, who can take care of us – but not suckle us. ~Soren Kierkegaard

The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it. ~Bertrand Russell

God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please – you can never have both. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains. ~Alfred North Whitehead

7. My Answer

I think the MoL is essentially found in living life. In life itself. (Not in biology, but in a human life lived.) Living, loving, enjoying sunsets, working to help others, playing a sport. Living itself has intrinsic meaning. (Or maybe not – that could be challenged.) Thus the specific meaning could be – in fact, must be – different for each person.

It’s the same conclusion Baggini came to, tho I came to it independently. But as he says, it’s not a great secret and you don’t have to be a great philosopher to figure it out. He is more eloquent than I am here:

“The only sense we can make of the idea that life has meaning is that there are some reasons to live rather than to die, and those reasons are to be found in the living of life itself. ”

Surprisingly, this is an answer that works for both theists and atheists.

(He also agrees with me that a religious worldview only makes a small difference to the outcome.)

“Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.” ~Andre Gide

8. How Then Shall We Live?
(Conclusion)

What life might be like, “living” the meaning of life.
This book is only the story so far. I may revisit it in 20 years and update or change it.

Bibliography
My working bibliography is here.

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What do you think? Would you enjoy reading such a book? Please comment below. Ideas and helpful criticism are really welcome both on content and structure, or anything really.

Posted in agnostic, Meaning of Life, meta, writing | Tagged: , , , , | 31 Comments »

The Meaning of Life (Part One)

Posted by spritzophrenia on June 3, 2010

Post number 56! It’s about time I said more about this book I’m supposedly working on. Haven’t got too far with it on paper yet, it’s all in my head. I’m a little distracted with ideas for novels, too, whereas this will be non-fiction. As I’ve said, Spritzophrenia is to help flesh out ideas for my writing among other things. Your comments will help a lot with this.

A major theme will be the “meaning of life”. Cue all the humorous lines from Monty Python and The Hitchhiker’s Guide. While genuinely funny, what these works do is display an underlying cynicism; they suggest the question is absurd and unknowable, therefore the quest is laughable. But I digress.

Of course, the number one question readers will want answered is this: Yes, I do think I’ve discovered the meaning of life. I do believe I have a satisfying answer for the big question. That’s for another time. For now, some thoughts around the topic.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide is right in one major respect: The question itself needs some unpacking first. What do we mean when we ask “what is the meaning of life?” I think meaning must be distinguished from purpose. The problem is, “what is the purpose of life” is much easier to talk about than the “meaning”. The purpose of life is either “there is none” or “what the creator intends”, depending on one’s religious point of view.

Meaning of Life

However, the “meaning” of life is something felt personally, it’s something that I think must be apprehended or ‘felt’. By analogy, if I’m shown a mountain view and have the concept of beauty explained, I won’t really understand until I feel or experience beauty for myself. Meaning is the same, it’s something that has to be felt. This is not to say meaning is irrational or has no logical base. Far from it. However, the logical side of meaning doesn’t truly satisfy, it’s the personal experience of meaning that we seek when we seek the meaning of life.

I have much more on this, but will let it out in small doses. I’m a little concerned that unpacking the question in good ole philosophical style will be dull and beyond many people. Guess I’ll have to deal with that when the time comes. What do you think? Will the general reader sit through this kinda stuff?

What do you think?

Posted in Meaning of Life | Tagged: | 6 Comments »