My New Diary, 11/28/2018

By Alan Carl Nicoll

Copyright 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

Socrates
“The Death of Socrates” by Jacques-Louis David (1787)

{11/28/18}  Weight 220.0.

Dreamt last night that I was a quarterback in a football game, making score after score, ending the game by waltzing into the end zone again.  I felt great.  That’s all I remember, but this might suggest a lightened mood “in real life,” perhaps because I had no worry about bedbugs.  I had vacuumed the bedroom floor, laid on the floor a blanket which had been in storage for months, then a couple of towels, and that’s where I slept.  It was a passable bed, though for covering I had an inadequate towel and my jacket.  I didn’t dare use the blanket which has been on my bed for a month after laundering.

My days seem to pass as insubstantially as a dream.  Although I’ve gotten some dictation done on the Prison Diary, most of my time seems to leave no trace.  Perhaps I’m sensing a deterioration in the formation of new memories?

A response from “N” to the above email, and my very long response:

Thanks for the full response, and I appreciate the intellectual integrity and thoughtfulness you have put forth toward your responses and some of life’s larger questions. I too have spent much of my life exploring some of life’s more grandiose questions and have clearly come to different conclusions.

I would agree with you in dismissing the concept that all religions are the same in foundation or in principal. I think over the years that has become a slogan for lack of diligence to understand the differentiation between the religions at their core. While Islam and Christianity are the world’s two largest religions, I would argue they are in fact quite different from each other and again at their core lead people in different directions. I would also agree that we should be more hesitant as a people than to purely rely upon felt religious experience as the foundation for the basis of if something is true or not.

But I do feel like that is a bit of a sticking point for your second e-mail, that your non-religious experiences that were simply transitory moods is a experience based on what you have defined as truth. So I think my next question would be, is there any truth that is absolute? Even thinking along those lines in the scientific since, history has proven some laws to be true over time and I would suppose those to be absolute, but in a since of social morality is there a notion of truth or right?.And does that range of truth just come from the role that Science plays with-in your atheistic worldview? I am not a science denier, and I think my biblical faith completely aligns with science. I undoubtedly agree that we would be greatly unwise to ignore science and the role that science plays as observing and giving definition to what is true about the world, but I think the world of emotion, love, joy, pain, hope, etc. is more than just an endorphin rush (although endorphins are no doubt apart of it). To water down the experience of those things, I feel, would be to water down life.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts,

N

My response:

N, thank you for this interesting response.  I see many things that might call for a response from me, but I’ll focus on two now.  This “focus” is rather unfocused, as you’ll see.

  1. “…your non-religious experiences that were simply transitory moods is a experience based on what you have defined as truth.”

Well, my defining the two experiences (the two that I can recall at the moment) as “transitory moods” is based on who I was when I came to those conclusions, only a small part of which would be my working or approximate definition of truth.  But I could not have then, and probably can not now, provide a complete and accurate definition of “truth” or “absolute truth.”  Many philosophers have written books on the subject, and I cannot compete with them.  It is a question about which I think sometimes, but which does not trouble me very much.  I think that reading Richard Rorty (Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, plus some essays) has given me a more relaxed attitude toward most philosophical questions and discussions.  I can’t do justice to his views here, but perhaps I can give a flavor of my understanding:  something can be taken as “true” when people no longer can find reasons to doubt it, when no one is willing to argue “the other side.”

This is peculiar, but it fits in with his other expressions of the value and, let’s say, purpose of philosophy.  I don’t fully subscribe to this super-pragmatist position, in part because I don’t completely understand it—Rorty isn’t always easy to understand.  But it also seems somewhat compatible (though very different) from my basic position, which is Critical Rationalism, as expounded by W. W. Bartley, III, and Karl Popper.  Popper promoted the “fallibilist” notion of scientific progress, which is summed up in the title of one of his books, Conjectures and Refutations.  Fallibilism, I understand, is the dominant view among living philosophers.  Anyway, Bartley perhaps originally extended this view into all areas of life (The Retreat to Commitment is the relevant book, I think) and called the position “Critical Rationalism” or “Pancritical Rationalism.”  Briefly, we accept as provisionally “true” whatever theory has best withstood criticism.  The important point is that theories, philosophical positions, or whatever answers we have to difficult questions, cannot be justified.  We cannot prove the truth of this or that, all we can do is make our best guess, and not worry too much what that is based on.  If that best guess cannot answer relevant criticism, we try to come up with a better guess—hence, “conjectures and refutations.”

This is not exactly a great answer, but it’s about as good as I can make it right now, for what my conception of “truth” is.  Indeed, “truth” is a very problematic word that I refuse to use with regard to anything more involved than this kind of practical question:  “Are my keys in my pocket?”  It seems to me that this question has one simple, true-or-false answer:  yes or no.  In-between answers can be imagined:  if my keys are hanging on the edge of my pocket, are they “in” or “out”?  But when it comes to getting through my day, meeting my needs, there is little need of philosophy.  Philosophy is a pastime of those who have leisure enough for impractical pursuits, and those who can get paid for it.  This pragmatic attitude is pretty much what I got from Rorty.

  1. “…I think the world of emotion, love, joy, pain, hope, etc. is more than just an endorphin rush (although endorphins are no doubt apart of it). To water down the experience of those things, I feel, would be to water down life.”

Other than philosophy, what I spend a lot of my, let’s say, “intellectual time and energy” on is neuroscience.  It’s a vast and difficult subject.  I intend no watering down of life when I call something a “transitory mood.”  Indeed, I tend to distrust all labels of persons or things, because they become substitutes for depth of thought.  I had basically two experiences of emotion which I found somewhat puzzling at the time and cannot really explain.  It might be worth taking the time to describe them.

First, I was in my twenties, I believe, walking along a street in my home town, the weather was typical Southern California sunny.  And I suddenly felt quite exhilarated, for no apparent reason.  I felt completely free of fear, though I would not have previously described myself as fearful in any sense; but whatever fears I might have been unconsciously experiencing, seemed now to be unreal—if I can speak of a “seeming” of something of which I was not conscious.  So, perhaps I felt the lifting of an unconscious burden which I cannot name.  If asked at the time, I doubt that I would have said, “all’s right with the world.”  That’s an intellectual position that I have never thought defensible (or so I think now).  This feeling, which was quite delightful and precious, did not last more than a minute, and, once it was gone, it has never returned.

How to explain this sudden rush of emotion?  I cannot explain it, and would likely reject any metaphysical, religious, or psychological interpretation, because I am a stubborn person when it comes to such things.

The second is less interesting.  I was in the office where I worked, standing at a window, wearing headphones and listening to some kind of sweeping, “Romantic,” possibly classical music or a movie soundtrack.  The weather was rather stormy, with dark, turbulent clouds.  The building was within a few miles of some mountains at the northern edge of the downtown greater Los Angeles area (specifically, Arcadia).  I looked up at a particular peak and had the thought, “God could be up there.”  It’s a thought that I rejected and to which I assign no importance.  In a sense, I was in a situation that was loaded with symbols that have become clichés due to extensive use in novels and movies, and I responded accordingly.  In the movie The Ten Commandments there is a scene in which Yvonne DeCarlo and Charlton Heston are gazing at a mountain wreathed in stormy clouds, and she says something like, “He is angry…”  This movie was very familiar to me; perhaps I unconsciously connected my experience to that scene; it doesn’t matter and there’s no way to know.  But, to me, it would be ridiculous to change my belief in the existence or nonexistence of God because I had that one experience of an unbidden thought.  If I want to spook myself with religious ghosts, all I have to do is to go into a dimly-lighted modern church like the Lutheran church in which I spent many hours on many occasions before my fifteenth birthday.  I can hardly enter such a church without there arising a momentary sense that “someone is watching.”  Again, I see no reason to accept such transitory sensations as having specific value towards one world view or another.

If I cannot rely on my calm, reasoned judgment of how the world works, but must instead follow every will-o-the-wisp twinge to its illogical conclusion, then I don’t know how to live.  I neither feel a need of any god, nor can I accept any intellectual argument that pretends to prove the existence of a god or anything supernatural, or to prove the “necessity of religion in life.”  I don’t claim to have “all the answers.”  I just claim to have some answers to some age-old questions, answers that work for me and that would be difficult to shake.  Most people, in my opinion, are fools when it comes to religion and the like; I feel no urgency about defending myself against them.  They generally end by calling me “closed-minded”; I know better, and can defeat any such accusation with facts of my experiences and reading.

Perhaps I am sounding a bit pugnacious, even “defensive,” in this email; I do not feel this way, however.  I am simply trying to explore and explain these difficult things as clearly and exactly as possible.

“Just an endorphin rush” is not language I would use, even if I wanted to talk about endorphins—it’s the “just” that I object to.  What I see myself as, is a very complicated question with many possible answers, some of which are explored in “The Bleak Philosophy.”  Most often, I think of myself as either “my mind” or “this body.”  If it becomes relevant, I can think of myself as “this continuing process of the universe, located approximately here now.”  These varying views are “models”; models, in my terminology, is how we deal with “mysteries.”  I do not have a complete model of a human being, even less so of myself.  We try to “carve nature at the joints”; but those “joints” are of our own making.

So, we are forced to use models because we cannot use the underlying mysteries in their full complexity.  We must make choices based on our understanding, which is always incomplete and approximate.  “Just an endorphin rush” is taking one small process from within a vast congeries of processes, and by saying “just,” we are rejecting all the rest as irrelevant.  Which I see as foolish.

Whew!

As you can see, I am in love with these questions, and with the “sound” of my own “voice.”  This was ninety of my minutes well spent.

Alan

Got paid today, bought five books from Thriftbooks for about seventeen bucks, some good stuff.

Had an early dinner with Pablo at Leo’s Burgers—this is our “better” restaurant these days, since I’m economizing “bigtime.”

Reading Natalie Goldberg:  Long Quiet Highway, a memoir of her early life with the emphasis on how she began writing.  It’s interesting, as she always is, but I mention it only because I want to set the scene for something I wrote on the slip I’m using for a bookmark:  “I have read more and written less, than I should have done.  True?”

I read like there’s no tomorrow.  I read almost frantically, trying to get to the heart of a book as quickly as I can, so I can hurry on to the next book.  And so, or perhaps unrelatedly, I can’t remember much of what I read.  Things that aren’t “important” don’t stick.  If something is “important,” I write it down.

Now, what if I stopped reading altogether?  And spent that time writing?  Do I have so much that is “dying to be said”?

The lengthy emails to Nic have come as something of a revelation.  I always am hesitant to write “philosophy” because I think it’s so hard to do well.  Yet those efforts went better than I would have expected.  I have these ideas at my fingertips; I am voluble and articulate when I talk or write philosophy, at least, my philosophy.

Or am I just getting a swelled head?

 

Diary entries from 6/1 to 9/30 are available in this file:  link.
Diary entries from 10/1 to 10/31 are available here:  link.

Copyright 2018 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All right reserved.

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