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Making a List of Everything That Exists

I once read an introductory philosophy book that suggested philosophy is an activity something like this: make a list of everything that exists.  Then discuss what goes on the list.  Do numbers?  Does God?  Does the stock exchange?  How about the sky — does the sky go on the list?  Are people on the list or only gravity waves.

What does it mean — make a list of everything that exists?   How would you do it?  Why would you?  Why would you think you could?

Could there be a person who believed in God, and then made the list, and noticed God was not on it, and then realized God did not exist?

What a strange thing to believe, that you could make such a list.  I wonder why I ever believed it.

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Who Goes There: Friend or Foe?

This is hard to write about and talk about, but I think the issue of “are you human beings good or bad?” masks a deeper issue, namely, do we expect the people we meet in the world to help us or hurt us. This is I think why it is hard to persuade people. If someone thinks we are actually out to hurt her, then why would she believe our reassurances, or care about our censure? She will view it as a trick to hurt her and those she cares about.
I wonder what sort of experiences cause people to view others as more likely to be potential friends or potential victimizers.
Everyone has to have had some sort of attachment so survive at all, because we are born helpless. Someone cared for us whether it is our parents or the institution that raised us. But as we get older we may learn about their limitations. Maybe they didn’t care for us as well as they should have. Maybe they abused or exploited or victimized us. Maybe our parents actually were our enemies.
Everyone has to have some trust in themselves, even at the most limited level to feed them and take them from moment to moment. but some of us have disappointed ourselves terribly. Some of us have been our own enemies.
Some people have been lucky enough to meet strangers who have later become friends. Even intimate friends — lovers — or business partners, or employers. Some of these relationships have ended up helping us, others have turned sour or ended in betrayal.
Given these experiences of help and hurt we then say different things when we answer the question “are people good?” Some of us mean — yes, our parents were good, but nobody has been since then. Others mean, no, nobody is good and we mean only we ourselves are to be trusted. Some say — yes, everybody is good — and we mean that we think we can find friendship in many strangers.
I think these different experiences can play out in the political positions we all “liberal” and “conservative” in our country right now in different ways.
Maybe some people were disappointed in their parents but found friendship and view this as a sign of progress.
Maybe some people trusted their parents but were betrayed by others, and have decided that people like their parents are the only people to trust.
Maybe some people do not trust themselves and search for safety in a leader or an idea.
I wonder how it all comes together. I find it painful to write about though. What do you think?

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Not a Big Deal?

Bilinda said to me you know if you meet a clone it’s not a big deal!

I was like, tell me Bilinda. I think it would be huge like — who am I?  That’s like me but it’s not me. It would blow my f-ing mind!

Bilinda said, no it’s just an identical twin. So you have an identical twin.   Big deal.

Okay, you got me.  What else is not a big deal?

Time travel. It’s not a big deal.

I’m like — come on!  It’s a paradox! I kill my own grandpa!  I am my own grandpa! That’s weird!

Nuh-uh said Bilinda. It’s like the anthropic principle.  Our standards of explanation just need to be trimmed to the wind of a different causal picture than was known in the stone age.

Okay okay. Time travel not a big deal, cloning not a big deal, ESP I suppose is no big deal

It’s not.  It’s just a biologically mediated E-S-P-N.

Then what is?

And she kissed me!

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Oh, Eduardo!

Eduardo said to me — I can listen to Bach every waking moment through the internet.  Simone Dinnerstein is playing the English suites.  So I work at Arby’s making minimum wage and all I need is a roof over my head and enough calories to keep soul and body together and an internet subscription to a streaming service so I can listen to Bach. I don’t get so many hours of life alotted to me.  I want to spend them listening to Bach.  It is the greatest pleasure.  Why should I afflict myself?

Oh Eduardo!  What can I say?  I can’t say you’re wrong, but I can’t bring myself to say you’re right!

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Classical Education a Salve for Trauma from Politics?

Weird political events are traumatic and “trauma” means the protective membrane around the self has been punctured.  What is the membrane?  The membrane is a membrane of expectations that the next event will fall between let’s say -3 and +3.  An event of -25 disorients and traumatizes.  How do we know the next event will not be -1 billion?

The salve is a classical education.  We read Suetonius we read Homer and we imagine what it would be like if we were at the siege of Troy, or having our eyes gouged out by a crab in the hands of Tiberius’s henchman in his pleasure villa in Capri.  This gives us a sense of the sort of ups and downs human history, particularly political history is capable of.   We get to engage with thinkers who were frank proponents of views that we or those in our social class do not take seriously: slavery, ephebophilia, the worship of the emperor or the mystagogues of Eleusis.

Chinese classics too.

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“Pandy and the Air Snakes”

Originally considered to be a “pseudunabulum” or never-existent book created by the action of amygdoloid plaques on my father’s brain, “Pandy and the Air Snakes” was later discovered at a used book store in Mexico city.  The “air snakes” of the title were no more nor less than forking chronological chains (forchrocha’s) stretching from Pandy’s neolithic and possibly post-apocalyptic society to two alternate realities, one of which (my one) a world in which Pandy is a confused memory of “Dragonriders of Pern” in my father’s demented consciousness, the other one of which a universe in which nested hierarchies are able to be violated by the explanation of a phrase, in this case “Pandy and the Air Snakes” being both that it is a sign of illness and the sentient creatures who falling from the sky in Pandy’s world and attaching to his brain give him the psi powers necessary to defeat the rapacious Glimps.  Cf. Glimps

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Sandy and Bobo Concoct a Way to Fool People

SANDY

I want to fool people!

BOBO

Good idea, how are you going to do it?

SANDY

Well my first step will be to tell a bunch of lies to fools.

BOBO

That ought to work.  As the name suggests they are easy to fool.

SANDY

Wait, what if some of the fools are friends with non-fools.  What will happen if the non-fools tell the fools “Don’t believe Sandy and Bobo!  They are fooling you!”

SANDY AND BOBO THINK

BOBO

Got it!  Simply tell the fools that the non-fools are not really their friends.

BOBO

How will I get them to believe it?

SANDY

 

By fooling them!

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“Religion is the language of dreams, politics is the language of waking” -Alicia Boxu Babu

A friend of mine is very critical of religion and recently posted that you hear people blowing up buildings in the name of God, but you never hear people blowing up buildings in the name of science.  It seemed to me that she could not really believe that.  After all we hear about the United States blowing up Nagasaki in the name of — what exactly?  Revenge, or victory, or the American way of life, or peace.  And we hear about people committing sins of omission all the time — not reading articles about the bloodbath in Yemen and instead reading an article about their favorite television show — and this is not in the name of any God.  So there is much bloodshed, positive and negative, not in the name of religion.

And yet there was clearly something troubling her about buildings blown up and people killed in the name of God.  I asked a friend, Rochelle, what she thought about this issue and she offered some clarifying thoughts.

“Your friend”, said Rochelle “Is worried not about violence — violence supports her way of life — so much as she is concerned with disorganized, unpredictable violence.  And she is right to connect religion with disorganization and unpredictability.  Since the Protestant Reformation religion has become a matter of individual conscience.  And religion is the dimension of human life that conceptualizes those wagers we are willing to bet our entire life upon.  What we are willing to live for and die for.  So if you add religion to disorganization you unleash the potential for unpredictable, disorganized violence.”

“What is your solution?” I asked.

“The only solution is an organized, universal church.  Before that there will be unpredictable violence.”

“What about no religion?” I asked.

“That is a superstitious dream.  Religion is baked into human neurobiology, like the love of music.”

“But what if intellectuals virtuously eschew religion because of its potential for mayhem?  What if they avoid it because it is intellectually unfounded.”

“Many may do so.  They will all be defeated by intellectuals who are less scrupulous than they, who are willing to use religion to organize the masses to defeat them.”

Rochelle’s pessimism disturbed me.  I didn’t want to see a replay of the 17th century wars of religion as various church militants struggled to bring the Earth under their scepter.  I knew that the prospect of religious violence had unnerved the previously secular democracies of the West and they had it seems resolved to fight fire with fire.  When Rochelle left the room (she was a dancer and was going on tour) her younger sister Shanay remained behind.  She was fifteen years old and regarded me from the shadows of their converted motel/apartment.

“There is a solution that Rochelle didn’t mention.”

“What?” I asked.

“Not a global church but the end of the nation state.  Not until politics becomes as disorganized and fluid as religion will there be peace.”

I went home by Lyft in a light rain thinking about these two sisters and their two stark possibilities: universal anarchy or universal theocracy.  I hoped they had left something out but the night was late, and I was tired and not as smart as I used to be or thought I had been, and I couldn’t see what.

 

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Last Words

ARNOLD

Do you think we did good?

SYLVIA

Sure.  We did great.  We survived for billions of years, we helped out those animals and computers.  We made some good art.

ARNOLD

Really good art.  And science.

SYLVIA

Yes.  We answered a lot of questions.

ARNOLD

We also asked a bunch of questions that we never answered.  And now we never will.

BEAT.

SYLVIA

Sure.  But maybe that’s cool.

ARNOLD

Why?

SYLVIA

Well maybe it’s cool that we were able to ask questions we couldn’t answer.  Like “transcendent”.

ARNOLD

You mean we’re like gods?

SYLVIA

Nah, probably not like gods.  Gods would like make heat or something.  Or go away to some other universe where there’s heat.  Or like make it so they don’t mind the cold.  They wouldn’t just be here on this meteor.

ARNOLD

Some gods might.  Like Norse gods?  (OFF SYLVIA’S SILENCE) Yeah I guess so.  Not like gods.  But cool.

SYLVIA

Way cool.

ARNOLD

Way cool.  I wonder what happens next?

SYLVIA

Well that’s one of those questions that it’s cool we don’t have answers to.

ARNOLD

But it’s cool that I could ask it, right. (OFF SYLVIA’S SILENCE) Cool, cool, very cool.  What do you want to do now?  You want to play a game?  Let’s play a game.  I’m thinking of a number between one and infinity.  Do you want to know what it is?  Do you want to do something else?  (OFF SYLVIA’S SILENCE) Oh.

LONG, LONG, BEAT

ARNOLD

It was twelve.

 

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Derek Parfit on Why There is Anything

In the London Review of Books the philosopher Derek Parfit asks two questions: “Why is there anything at all rather than nothing?” and “Why is there this?”.  He considers the possibility that there is all this because an uncaused God wanted it, and the possibility that there is this because there are infinite universes each in which a different possibility obtains, and we happen to be in the one where there is all this (the many worlds hypothesis).  He ends this installment of the two part essay on a cliffhanger, considering the view (axiarchics) that what is is explained by what is good.  It would be good if something existed therefore something exists.

I’m puzzled by the idea that the explanatory relation — A explains B — is not explained.  Parfit believes that even if there were nothing there would still be a need for explanation: a reason for there being nothing, and a reason for facts like two being even.  But why?  Why would explanation and the explanatory relation exist even if there were nothing.  Parfit considers the possibility of multiple universes as an explanation of why there is this.  But why does he believe what counts as an explanation is the same across all universes?  What if in some universes what counts as an explanation is different than it is here?  And if not, what explains that?

Parfit might respond: If you ask “why” you are committed to the existence of the explanatory relationship.  If you ask “why is something an answer to a question” by your very asking you show that you accept that there are questions and answers and that some answers are explanatory and some are not.  So the question “why ask why?” is a waste of time.

This is clearly untrue though.  We often ask questions for different reasons and accept different sorts of things as answers depending upon who we are, what we want, what mood we are in, and what’s troubling us.  And although we are committed at times to the practice of seeking explanation and asking questions, we are also committed to other things and other practices: living, eating, making friends, and so on.

Nevertheless it is a good essay and I look forward to the conclusion.

It’s also possible I don’t understand it — if I have mis-stated the rather intricate argument please let me know in the comments.

 

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