Friday, July 5, 2013

Authenticity and the Cost of Self-Creation

“Know thyself,” said the ancient Oracle of Delphi. Most of the world’s major religions and esoteric traditions teach that wisdom and happiness require self-knowledge. For example, Gnostic Christianity, which taught that Jesus Christ is a symbol of everyone’s potential for godhood, not a literal, single person who alone became posthuman, agrees with the Hindu and Jain teaching that the inner self is divine, that Atman equals Brahman, that the God who controls the world lies within. Now in the last century, Western philosophers abased themselves before science, turning philosophy into the pseudoscientific analysis of concepts, rushing to get their hosannas in before the start of postmodernity would make their scientism embarrassingly naïve and self-sacrificial. Science-centered, “analytic” philosophy became highly academic and so irrelevant to the masses that turned to social scientists and to charlatans in the self-help and New Age movements, for direction in their practical affairs. Postmodern philosophers now dance on the moribund body of analytic philosophy, celebrating the infantile freedom of artistic self-expression that’s left to those who lack any rules for intellectual discourse. But the World Wars united our species in a vision of human-made hell. The Western philosophical school that took that experience to heart was existentialism and that school echoes the ancient imperative to know yourself. The fruit of existential self-knowledge is personal authenticity.

However, the philosopher Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster, a psychoanalyst, write in the NY Times that the ethic of authenticity has become an egocentric search for happiness through consumption and work. As they say,
a postwar existentialist philosophy of personal liberation and “becoming who you are” fed into a 1960s counterculture that mutated into the most selfish conformism, disguising acquisitiveness under a patina of personal growth, mindfulness and compassion. Traditional forms of morality that required extensive social cooperation in relation to a hard reality defined by scarcity have largely collapsed and been replaced with this New Age therapeutic culture of well-being that does not require obedience or even faith--and certainly not feelings of guilt. Guilt must be shed; alienation, both of body and mind, must be eliminated, most notably through yoga practice after a long day of mind-numbing work.
More specifically, “The power of this new version of the American dream can be felt through the stridency of its imperatives: Live fully! Realize yourself! Be connected! Achieve well-being!”

Self-Discovery as Self-Creation

Critchley and Webster imply that the ethic of authenticity itself is dangerous and ought to be abandoned. However degraded the connotations of “personal authenticity” may now be, though, I think the distinction between authenticity and its opposite is ethically crucial. So what’s the distinction? I’ll leave aside here the technical discussions among existential philosophers. The word “authentic” derives from the Greek “authent” in “authentikos,” meaning original, primary, or literally one who does things himself (auto + hentes = self-doer). The ethical distinction, then, is between the self-doer and the passive self to whom things are done. And the point about self-knowledge is that your inner self can be born only after you discover what you are. If you’re ignorant of your true identity, your self lies dormant while other forces direct your life. In naturalistic philosophy, as opposed to the ancient theism of the world’s religions, you liberate yourself with self-knowledge, because the thought patterns you establish in your endeavour to know yourself set up the mental feedback loops that produce a more self-controlling agent in the first place. The cognitive process of self-discovery is really one of self-creation, and what you discover is largely your power of creativity. Without philosophical self-reflection or empirical knowledge of where we stand in the world, we’re less self-aware and more like animals than people in an ethical sense.

Whence, then, the existentialist’s moaning and groaning about angst? Well, liberating the self through the mental acts that forge an autonomous mind is paradoxically also an imprisoning of that mind. The self is liberated from the natural and social forces that would otherwise run roughshod over our raw materials and enslave us, creating us in their image, as it were. But without the deep thinking needed for self-knowledge, which walls us off from those forces, we lack the abstract concepts needed to protest our enslavement. On the contrary, we welcome the comfort of not having to define ourselves, because just as the birthing of the biological body is painful, so too is the mind’s liberation. The body departs from the womb and the enslaved, dormant, ignorant mind wakens to its creativity and so realizes its aesthetic potential to be original, to be a great artist rather than a hack or a pawn. The liberated self is freed to some extent from the world and when we recognize that separation which is entailed by even our limited freedom, which alone is naturally possible, we ought to mourn and wail in horror rather than shout in jubilation. For that birthday marks the moment we’re cursed by our reason, when we can no longer just go with the flow, but must appraise social conventions by our aesthetic criteria, condemning all expressions of enslavement as undignified and aesthetically uninspiring. Angst, then, is the fear of standing apart from some natural and social forces as a newborn mind, liberated by the mental work that carves out that self in the first place, by creating a network of ideas with which the free-thinking self identifies as its artistic masterpiece. That primary artwork is just a worldview, a vantage point on the world which largely is the liberated, albeit isolated mind. Those ideas, values, and memories (the latter also being rewritten over time and thus recreated) are the belfries, moats, bastions, turrets, gate houses, and other fortifications that prevent you from being overrun by the opposing hordes, but that also provoke doubts about whether you can ever reconnect with the rest of the world. (See the first section of this article for more on how abstract thinking shapes the mind.)  

Egoism vs Altruistic Rebellion

Is this liberated self just the ego, then, as the NY Times article suggests, and if so, is this why the ethic of authenticity has been co-opted by business interests? In so far as the ego is egocentric, the ego is either only partially liberated and self-knowing or else is a relatively poor artist. To see why, we need to consider what else is known when we seek to know ourselves. Just as we are (biologically) what we eat, so too in a sense we are (psychologically or spiritually) what we think. What I mean here is not that if we think we’re immortal we become immortal, for example. Rather, the extent to which a self is distinguished from the rest of the world rests on the originality of her mental labour, because that labour is the primary means by which she distinguishes herself. So if we think we’re immortal or immaterial, we’re not fully liberated, because those ideas are by now quite hackneyed and otherwise dubious, and so the self who identifies with them signals rather her slavery to tradition, public pressure, fear of death, and so forth.

When we meditate on our personal identity, thus ironically creating the very thing we’re trying to discover, we can’t help but also appreciate the nature of the world from which we aim to be detached. Theoretically, a purely extroverted person with little self-awareness would be more animalistic than an introvert whose mind is both more liberated and burdened by the pains of thinking herself into inner being and then of recognizing the gulf between that being and the rest of the world. Most people, though, are partially liberated rather than entirely enslaved by their environment, precisely because they’re partly introverted and thus introspective. We’re free-thinkers one moment, unenlightened pawns the next, because we have both introverted and extroverted tendencies. Regardless, we distinguish our inner selves best when we self-consciously act in opposition to what we consider the world to be. Thus, the freest acts are the ones that are the hardest to perform. If you see someone drowning, there’s no one else but you nearby, and you don’t know how to swim, the world appears to want that drowning person dead, as it were. The easy response would be to give in to fear and to let nature take its monstrous course, but were you to choose to risk your life and to cast yourself into the water, the mass media would call you a hero. That praise would be utterly insignificant, “You’re a hero” in that case being a mere empty-headed meme, bringing shame on every slave who repeats it. No, more important than society’s obsolete (God-centered) moral evaluation is that your courage would help to free you, not just the drowning person, by surprising nature with your rebellion against the tyranny of its norms. This doesn’t mean that anomaly is the mark of artistic greatness. Not all surprises are aesthetically appealing, but this sort of originality is a necessary condition of selfhood.

So original, creative acts are opposed to normal events. Obviously, nature is the ultimate creator, since everything in the cosmos is naturally made, including our bodies and our capacity for self-creation through our thought processes. The biological norm, however, is for nature to create animals that are mostly enslaved by natural forces (by their genetic programs, the naturally selected life cycle, and so on) as opposed to being creators themselves. We’re unusual in the extent to which we can distance ourselves from biological norms. We’re thus potential creators and when we come to appreciate that potential for novel, beautifully original interpretations of our experience, we necessarily juxtapose our higher self with the enslaved mechanisms which are the instruments of nature’s undead creativity. Although the universe is infinitely active, its creativity belongs to the universe as a whole, which evolves and complexifies in very general ways, so that the instruments of that change lack individuality. Even the stars which are largely independent and highly creative are slaves to their chemical and cosmological processes. By contrast, the acts of a liberated person aren’t fully explained even by psychological theories, but are best interpreted as unique works of art. An authentic person is unique in the universe, because she’s relatively free. Her autonomy is made possible by her trillions of self-adjusting neural connections, and she’s a god to the extent that her uniqueness elevates her above natural law. This isn’t to say that her acts are miracles; she doesn’t violate natural law, but she acts in a way that isn’t entailed by scientific theories. She creates new worlds, the first being her worldview which is the seat of her liberated mind.

This unique creator, then, this true god prefigured by all monotheistic metaphors, achieves her godhood by thinking hard about her real identity. What is she? What can she do? How does she differ from all other types and instances? What is the world such that she came to be in it? These are the sorts of philosophical and empirical questions with which liberated souls must grapple. The answer, in short, is that she’s a paradoxical natural being that transcends nature, like a singularity in which natural laws break down. Science can go only so far in explaining the patterns in our minds and in our actions, before the desire to understand and to control ourselves gives way to the artist’s taste for great art. The Gordian Knot of the human brain together with the liberated mind it embodies is a kind of white hole, a creative singularity that spews out everything rather than sucking it in (like a black hole). Instead of an event horizon, we have a worldview that shields us from the field of undead changes. Like the Big Bang singularity or a gamma ray burst, a liberated mind inexplicably creates a wealth of mental, cultural, and now virtual worlds (as opposed to physical ones). And just as nothing crosses a white hole’s event horizon to reach the singularity itself, we’re alien to ourselves and can occupy only the artificial inner and outer worlds left in our wake. Moreover, just as a white hole would be unstable, briefly spewing out matter in a godlike burst of creativity before collapsing, our species of potential gods may not be long for this world.

If our creations call for aesthetic appreciation rather than just empirical or pragmatic explanation, we stand similar to the universe as a whole, but opposed to every enslaved part of that whole. The world creates itself by its myriad processes and levels of complexity, and we create our artificial worlds, but we don’t engage with the whole cosmos. Indeed, we can comprehend that whole only with simplified models. Every impersonal mechanism we encounter in nature is active in some creative process, but is also undead and enslaved to the collective by causal chains. We perceive only the artist’s instruments in motion and the individual dabs of paint, not the artist--and that artist isn’t a person, but is the cosmic zombie itself, the warp and weft of the monstrous body that mindlessly develops before our eyes at microscopic and macroscopic scales.

So to return to the question of egoism, not all liberated selves need be selfish. On the contrary, selfish behaviour is animalistic, meaning that it’s genetically determined, so a worldview created by philosophical/religious speculation and scientific understanding should counteract any narrow-minded impulse. This doesn’t imply that introverts are more selfless than extroverts, although I would expect introverts to be more intellectually opposed to selfishness. Remember the price of mental liberation, of the inner self’s detachment from the world by way of a wall of ideology: the pain of anxiety, the horror of having to look out over the abyss that’s created by that very separation. Such suffering can make introverts withdrawn, preventing them from acting on their ideas, as Dostoevsky explained in Notes from the Underground. In any case, liberated, detached, and thus alienated minds will tend to have an outsider’s humility as well as empathy for fellow sufferers and pity for potential gods who are nevertheless bound and blinded.

We can test whether selfishness or any other disposition might be part of an authentic self, by asking how easily that tendency or type of behaviour could be explained in biological or psychological terms. When we act selfishly, is that clichéd or surprising? Does selfishness make us more unique or animalistic and commonplace? Does selfishness, consumerism, Machiavellian business practices, narcissism, or materialism help us creatively transcend natural norms or further our unreflective submission to them?

Lowbrow Authenticity vs Divine Creativity

Contrary to big business’s cynical version of the ethic of authenticity, which Critchley and Webster criticize, authenticity isn’t just about self-expression. The authentic person is a self-doer and that requires a search for self-knowledge which liberates the inner self in the first place. The process of freeing yourself, of appreciating your limited independence from natural and social forces is also one of enlightenment. When you throw down the chains that would bind you and make you a mere animal, you also open your eyes and see not just your worldview but the world as it is in itself, quite apart from you and your perspective. The abyss between the liberated mind and the rest of the world works both ways: you see part of your inner self through introspection, but also the independence of the world from you, because you become painfully aware of the abyss that’s the precondition of that mutual independence. A liberated mind can respond to her detachment in many different ways, but she’s unlikely to act as though she were the only one in the world or as if everything revolved around her. Again, such narrow-mindedness is reserved for animals that are controlled by their genetic programs.

Of course, the gambit of capitalistic and consumption-driven authenticity is clear enough. The slogans, again, are “Live fully! Realize yourself! Be connected! Achieve well-being!” How can you live fully? With the help of technoscience, with products that enhance your standard of living and afford you a rich, full life. How do you realize yourself? By distinguishing yourself not internally or spiritually, with the richness of your world view, but externally with outer signs of your wealth and success. How can you connect with others? Not with harmonizing creative visions, but with dehumanizing communications technologies that degrade the quality of intellectual discourse by forcing the godlike white hole through the filters of our subhuman machines and commercial interests. How can you achieve happiness? By all of the above, by pleasing yourself and basking in your glory. So say the egotistic predators that run or exploit the crony capitalistic economies.

What’s missing from this lowbrow authenticity is the existentialism, the dark side of mental liberation. As the Garden of Eden myth attests, freedom has a cost. When we learn what we are, we learn that death awaits us and that everything else in the world isn’t so free or personal, in the sense of being creators of unique artworks. Granted, the universe as a whole is the supreme creator, albeit a monstrously undead and impersonal one. But the particular processes that unfold around us are indeed confined by causal chains and the creatures that are caught up in them are infected by cosmic undeadness. We should want to express ourselves, but not in a vacuum; instead, our creative works should be meaningful in the context in which we find ourselves, and that context is our existential predicament. We should oppose the forces of slavery, the cosmic or social implements that would turn us into the universe’s or the oligarch’s art objects. Thus, we should free ourselves further from natural programming and from cultural norms. I’m not saying we need to live in a cave as antisocial ascetics. But if we identify most of all not with our bodies or our possessions, but with our liberated minds that we shape and that make us godlike, we should be focused on our artistic obligations, not on fulfilling our role in some undead process or competing vision. We’re bound to be influenced by what’s around us, just as no artist is perfectly original, and we should celebrate each other’s creations, but we shouldn’t lose ourselves in our environment; rather, we should help to enlighten each other, to prove to the undead god that we’re originators of worlds rather than just flies on its corpse.


  1. This is the call to walk off the cliff because Daddy left us when we were little. The world is dark and terrible, therefore we must go to battle against it. We must defy reality, for it is horrible and does not deserve our compliance. Life is a burden of which we must be relieved.

    Suffering comes from being alive. Life is the cause of suffering. Without life, there would be no pain; no fear; no hurting of any kind. Because I am a good person, I have decided to help everyone by saving them from having to suffer. When my work is done, none shall suffer.

    If you fight against your enemy so hard that you are constantly striving to prove it doesn't control you, then the lesson learned at the end is that it had been controlling you all along: your "resistance" was the act of searching for a way out of the maze.

    You are a different form of Cypher; one the wealthy didn't have the talents to critique. You want to stay plugged in, and find a virtue in knowing that you're a slave trying to maximize phony experiences, rather than to escape.

    Nihilism is always hypocritical prior to self destruction. Up until then, it's marketing. As Calvin and his mother said...

    Calvin: "You mean, mainstream, commercial nihilism can't be trusted?"

    Calvin's Mom: "'Fraid not, kiddo."

    The best you can do for paradise is playing violins and having a few beers while the ship sinks into an eternal abyss. You can't even compete with a 10% sadistic Christian heaven, let alone a cycle of enlightenment that welcomes the return of all.

    1. (Oh, the long quote-link above was a borrowed quote, in case ya didn't know.)

      Huggles. Have a wondrous weekend.

    2. I'm not in favour of defying reality. The world is creative and I highly value our creativity, so in that sense the existential rebellion is a reflection of reality. Nature rebels against its old ways by changing itself, by evolving and complexifying.

      I use the metaphor of rebellion, though, because natural creativity is indeed horrific in its undead indifference to life, and however godlike we may be, our works are at best tragically heroic in their conflict with nature's impersonal mechanisms.

      I'm not a nihilist, so I'm not sure what that point's about. I mean to write something directly on that topic.

      As for this Cypher business and your judgment that I'm the one in the matrix or in Plato's cave of superficiality, this depends on our metaphysics, of course. It's easy to declare that anyone who disagrees with you is stuck in a bubble of delusions. I've thrown around that word "delusion" a lot, saying that the masses are deluded about this or that. But I've tried to explain at some length how I think the appearance-reality distinction works and how we wind up deluding ourselves to avoid harsh existential truths.

      So were my philosophy just the claptrap of someone who's trapped in the matrix, that would have to be because there's a better metaphysical picture out there, that is, a better myth. And that may well be, but I'd have to be both convinced and inspired by that alternative viewpoint.

      I hope you have a great weekend as well.

    3. I'm not in favour of defying reality. The world is creative and I highly value our creativity, so in that sense the existential rebellion is a reflection of reality. Nature rebels against its old ways by changing itself, by evolving and complexifying.

      I use the metaphor of rebellion, though, because natural creativity is indeed horrific in its undead indifference to life, and however godlike we may be, our works are at best tragically heroic in their conflict with nature's impersonal mechanisms.

      I'm not a nihilist, so I'm not sure what that point's about. I mean to write something directly on that topic.

      As for this Cypher business and your judgment that I'm the one in the matrix or in Plato's cave of superficiality, this depends on our metaphysics, of course. It's easy to declare that anyone who disagrees with you is stuck in a bubble of delusions. I've thrown around that word "delusion" a lot, saying that the masses are deluded about this or that. But I've tried to explain at some length how I think the appearance-reality distinction works and how we wind up deluding ourselves to avoid harsh existential truths.

      So were my philosophy just the claptrap of someone who's trapped in the matrix, that would have to be because there's a better metaphysical picture out there, that is, a better myth. And that may well be, but I'd have to be both convinced and inspired by that alternative viewpoint.

      I hope you have a great weekend as well.

  2. I suggest Googling Alex Rosenberg's paper "Disenchanted Naturalism" for a provocative and bleak take on many of the issues discussed in this blog. He's an atheist philosopher and a moral nihilist who rejects mythologizing and story-telling about our existential plight, regarding it not as any kind of solution but rather an obfuscation. I'd link up the paper, but I'm not quite sure how to place live links at this blog.

    1. Yes, I'm familiar with Rosenberg. His views are similar to Scott Bakker's, with whom I've had some back-and-forth on these topics. I've sent Bakker a reply to his response "Necessary Illusions," which goes into some of the issues that are relevant to Rosenberg, such as the incoherence of scientism. But I hadn't read that paper by Rosenberg. Now I have, though, and I think I'll respond to it here in a couple of weeks, so keep an eye out if you're interested.

      Note, though, that he goes after moral value and purpose, but not explicitly aesthetic value. I think myths, philosophies, and worldviews are largely artworks that should be aesthetically evaluated. I assume Rosenberg would eliminate aesthetic value, too, since for him the physical facts "fix" all facts and presumably physical processes produce no art. And yet those processes are ultimately creative; they create stars, galaxies, organisms, and everything else that exists. The question, then, is whether certain creations/evolutions/complexifications have objective value or meaning when they interact with certain other natural creations, such as creatures like us with pattern detectors in our brains.

      Anyway, I do think Rosenberg's scientism is incoherent, although I like how he tries to deal with this problem at the end of his paper, "Eliminativism Without Tears."

      Thanks for pointing me in the direction of that paper.

  3. I am struggling with "aesthetics" as a guiding principle. Your definition of "aesthetics" and "creativity" is challenging for me.

    What is "aesthetics"? What is an aesthetic judgement? Aesthetics is not some independent reality, it is deeply rooted in the very "matrix" of culture and biology. The Golden Mean is not beautiful because a white hot quasar of creativity decided it is beautiful, aesthetic, because it reflects certain underlying realities that our biological senses find pleasing.

    Too, aesthetics which are in rebellion against "nature" often lead to their own monstrosities. Modernism in art is particularly unsatisfying in many cases.

  4. On a related note, I am struggling with the position that "rebellion" is always the correct path. Rebellion too often means sociopathy, not creativity. I think of "Going Galt" (LOL).

    1. I don't mean to take on board all of aesthetics, but only the existential kind that's been explored since Nietzsche. I've written about it here in a couple of articles under the Ethics section of the Map of the Rants. There's beauty and there's originality (independence as opposed to conformity). Beauty is the opposite of whatever repels our sense of good taste, whatever we're instinctively forced to regard as ugly or alien. I've got more to say on this, but the idea is to recapture ethics in aesthetic terms.

      So instead of thinking of moral laws, we should think of aesthetic taste. The theist uses this as an objection against atheistic morality: it all comes down to something as arbitrary and subjective as taste, says the theist. Just as there's disagreement in art, there would be disagreement about what's moral, and so if someone found murder to be beautiful, she'd be obliged to murder. But the instincts that underlie our sense of beauty and ugliness are hardwired into most of us. The trick is to build on those instincts as we come to understand our existential predicament. And I think that the heroism of originality as opposed to conformity is objective, not subjective.

      Plus, art is real, whereas divine commandments are not and our social commandments are tied up with dominance hierarchies, oligarchies, and power games. Art can be too, but great art is a transcendent power. Just ask yourself whether you've ever been moved (uplifted) by a movie, a novel, or some other artwork. I'm saying that worldviews should be judged first of all in those terms. If we have no myths in the non-pejorative sense, we're the walking dead.

      Anyway, while I'll say more about this in another article, I am still working this stuff out so I don't claim to have an airtight system. Maybe aesthetics will turn out to be too thin a concept to contain morality. But I think aesthetic evaluation is easier to defend than traditional morality, given Rosenberg's sort of naturalistic metaphysics.

    2. The skeptic in me would respond that this sense of transcendence, this uplift is in itself largely determined by learned behaviors and thought patterns, often derived from evolved cultural patterns and even the very same dominance hierarchies, etc.

      A speaking-in-tongues charismatic religious service is certainly uplifting for its participants, who believe they are uniquely blessed and able to survive snake bites!

      As for art being "real" that is a pretty bold statement that requires a clear definition of what "art" is. What is "real"? We can see the transcendent beauty in a Gregorian chant or religious art of the early period, but the sources of said art claim to be channeling sacred or divine essence. Are you saying that your (our) (modern) understanding of the beauty of a Bach concerto is superior to the understanding of Mr. Bach himself? Especially given the purpose of the art work, which is to celebrate and express the "unreal" divine commands?

    3. You're right that the mere feeling of being moved by art can be supported by many different worldviews. The problem with a charismatic religious service is that it's hideous in the extent to which it avoids dealing with our existential predicament. I begin not with aesthetics, but with philosophical naturalism, with the worst-case scenario, philosophical speaking. I then use aesthetics as a way to salvage some dignity, given that scenario. Christians don't accept naturalism, so they don't face the existential challenge head-on. (There are Christian existentialists, like Kierkegaard, but the atheistic sort is purer.)

      You're right also that "art" is hard to define. But whatever art is, exactly, art objects are perceivable as opposed to being entirely theoretical. God's moral commandments aren't so obvious. His so-called Word was actually written by humans.

      And I'm not interested here so much in evaluating music or painting. The topic is the aesthetic merit of ideologies and of the behaviour they cause. I'm talking about sets of ideas as artworks living in the mind. Which worldview is best in aesthetic terms, given philosophical naturalism and the existential plight of those who find themselves living merely in nature?

  5. Thanks, Benjamin. Don't mean to be asking so many questions, but your writings offer a new perspective to me, so....

    Where I still fail, and I am repeating myself I know is the conceptual of reality as horrific. At heart, this conception demands that there be something else, a "god" for instance, that will make everything better. We know that this is not the case, but again, I am still not seeing "horror" as the only or even a "helpful" response. I am a somewhat "passive" person (sometimes at great personal cost!) so I have no problem with just accepting the horror.

    Feeble? perhaps. :)

    I really do enjoy your writings, so forgive the questioning.

    1. Thanks, Brian. I don't mind the questions. They force me to come up with answers. ;)

      I see the existential emotions (horror, alienation, dread, angst) only as initial proofs that someone understands the philosophical implications of the scientific worldview. Maybe they're not necessary, depending on a person's character, but if someone can't understand why anyone would have those reactions to our existential situation, there's a good chance that person is deluded.

      At any rate, if necessity is the mother of invention, the helpfulness of those negative reactions lies in their spurring us to create a way to sublimate them. Many artists and comedians are tortured by their experience and they use that pain to produce better art. So that's how the horror would be helpful: as a part of the process of sublimation.

      God doesn't make our situation better. If anything, God is the cause of the horror. We have to make it better by creating a world that's less atrocious.

  6. Well...I was probably focusing too much on the "horror" and "dread" part of the equation. Anyone not suffering from "angst" and "alienation" would not be a regular reader!

    cheers! (or not)!

  7. Enjoyed that.

    Reminds me of Bergson's last sentences from "Two Sources of Morality and Religion":

    "Men do not sufficiently realise that their future is in their own hands. Theirs is the task of determining first of all whether they want to go on living or not. Theirs the responsibility, then, for deciding if they want merely to live, or intend to make just the extra effort required for fulfilling, even on their refractory planet, the essential function of the universe, which is a machine for the making of gods."

    1. Thanks. That's an interesting quotation. I do think it's more rational to put gods at the end of an evolutionary process than at the beginning. If the universe's function could be read off of the pattern that holds in its beginning, middle, and end, I'd say it's to create everything to destroy everything. If any gods show up in the interim, they're exceptions and ought to be existential rebels against the cosmic flow (the Tao).

    2. That only follows, dear Benjamin, if we are so arrogant as to assume, without evidence, that our tiny interpretation of what we call "time" is in any way comprehensive. The "beginnings, middles, and ends" you identify are rather lofty, self-centered ways to consider reality. There are certainly lots of beginnings, middles, and ends, but how can you, from your perspective down here, correctly conclude what are THE beginnings, middles, and ends?

      You're basing your philosophy, yet again, on the value-laden assumptions of one of the sets of human priest-kings living during a five thousand year period on this particular planet.

    3. Currently, I'm reading Lee Smolin's Time Reborn. If you're talking about relativity in physics, then yes there's no absolute time. And the subjective flow of time is lost completely in the Newtonian paradigm of explaining everything in timeless mathematical language (specifically, geometry). Smolin thinks the timeless view of the universe in physics is defective, because it extends Newton's method, which properly isolates systems to explain only parts of the universe, to cover the whole universe in cosmology. He thinks a better approach is to make time fundamental.

      Anyway, as I've said before, I do base my philosophy on modern naturalism, because I think it presents the worst-case scenario. So I assume that modern viewpoint in the Nietzschean way, to challenge my creativity. I criticize naturalism where I can and show how to overcome it, so that even if the worst-case scenario turns out to be the real one, we have a way of dealing with it.

      But how are we supposed to avoid basing our philosophies on the thoughts of others? Our worldviews wind up being human rather than alien, since we can hardly do otherwise, and yet existential cosmicism is not at all anthropocentric compared to the average person's viewpoint. In fact, naturalism by itself is less parochial than any exoteric theism, for example, because that theism puts a human face on the most fundamental reality. Esoteric theism is better because it doesn't take our anthropomorphisms so seriously.

  8. This one speaks not of relativity in the sense of time, but rather, your limited perception of this lifetime's time, or this humanity's time. It is attractive, faced with prehistorical lifetimes, to conclude that time has a beginning and end of, say, 5,000 years. In early preindustrialism, we may find "20 billion" so dazzling that we make a similar mistake of limitation, yet conclude that there is, still, The Beginning, The End, and A Resulting Interim.

    In the merely 5,000 year cosmology, Genesis and Revelations make sense. In the merely 20,000,000,000 year cosmology, Big Bangs and Big Crunches make sense.

    Confronted by that sense of pendency, it is natural for you to base your philosophy around the fundamental ideas of The Beginning and The End.

    You've also separated yourself from the divine. Much like, say, the rejection of Gnosticism, you've been taught by science-priests that you have to base your philosophy on the merely earthbound, because your ignorant/sinful soul cannot process divine creation/truth.

    Can we avoid basing our philosophies on the thoughts of others? No; however, you've chosen certain elite data sets in which to ground everything. That's our delightful old saw, and this one knows you're firmly resolved as to the data sets produced and disseminated by the plutocrats and their chosen priests of this era.

    Yet, let us be honest about it. We raise the connections in hopes that you will come to realize, "Everything I think about the nature of reality, existence, and self, I think based upon the conclusions reported to me by the scientists on retainer to the plutocrats who control this age."

    Did these elites get it right, despite their evil? Perhaps--that's certainly possible, right? Maybe the scientists, in need of their grants and salaries, pursued objective truth regardless of their desire to eat and fuck. We don't need to mince our steps beyond the point, though. The first point this one seeks with you is acknowledgement that the rationalizations for your higher philosophical structures derive from our current fiscal overlords.

    1. You're suggesting that my philosophy amounts to a passive selling of powerful people's naturalistic ideology. You say "the rationalizations for your higher philosophical structures derive from our current fiscal overlords."

      On the contrary, modern naturalism derives from the scientific revolutionaries who had to fight against the reigning powers of their day, namely the elites of the Catholic Church. But If we're talking about today's Western plutocrats, I'd say they have no metaphysical beliefs at all. These are hardly philosophical individuals. They think in Machiavellian, sadistic, and sociopathic terms. They don't care about philosophical issues. They're interested in business and instrumentally in anything that can further their concrete objectives. I'm opposed to that anti-philosophical objectification.

      Maybe they presuppose naturalism as opposed to some traditional monotheism. But does my blog really seem like an advertisement that sells the elite Western perspective (consumerism, pragmatism, nihilistic materialism, etc)? On the contrary, the subtitle of my blog is "Philosophy and Religion for Outsiders." If I speak for anyone other than for me, I speak for social outsiders (mystics, artists, ascetics, omegas, introverts, drifters, etc), not for the rich and the powerful.

      You seem to think there's a conspiracy here, that I'm pushing the dominator's ideology onto the outsiders, co-opting rebellious outlooks. Again, that's really not so. I'm saying that outsiders needn't fear the worst-case philosophical scenario, because we can creatively overcome it.

    2. Modern naturalism "derives" from scientific revolutionaries, but so did the Third Reich, The Monkees, and Weight Watchers. That kind of derivation is not very meaningful.

      When I say that your philosophy derives from fiscal overlords, what I mean is that you base all of the evidence, on which you draw your conclusions about the world, upon the scientific consensuses that were paid for, disseminated, and supported by the plutocrats you so regularly decry.

      This philosophy may be accurate. However, it rests only on the world that the reigning powers of the naturalist's day--the international financial elites who control world governments, corporations, armies, police forces, entertainment, science, education, public opinion, etc.--have described to you. All those studies, institutions, books, articles, childhood classes, and answers from your parents came from that information; from those sources.

      Can you accept that? The Democratic Party of the United States, for example, fosters evolution by natural selection and the Big Bang, thereby supplying the answers to the most profound questions about our existence, and the existence of the entire universe. The most fundamental claims about matter, reality, and consciousness rest upon the scientific conclusions of the industrial and post-industrial tyrant states, and it is from those conclusions that you take the next steps.

      When these elites' conclusions are challenged, they make themselves out to be rebels, because their new conclusions have claimed to be the successors of mild, bourgeois rebels now hundreds of years dead. This is untrue; the impoverished Jesus may have been a rebel in his day, but the later, Christianized Roman Empire had no claim to any legacy of "Christian rebellion" against authority, empire, religious conformity, poverty, et cetera--even if they had the biggest churches and the most golden crosses.

      Similarly, the technocrats of today claim that they are rebels because they call themselves "scientists," and some rebels in the past also called themselves scientists. Galileo, though, offending the most powerful men in the world by insisting upon observational evidence, bears no resemblance to the educational megacorporations that drug "hyperactive" workers, sweep the citizenry with radioactive fields, and dismiss debate as a pointless exercise.

      This one doesn't wish to turn the discussion into one of Big Bang or Evolution--we can do that, delightfully, elsewhere. What would be fruitful, though, is for you to reflect on all of the things you have been taught about the nature of the world, and who sponsored them. Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Donald Trump, Andrew Carnegie, the British Royals...?

      They're also the same things that the current elites use. It's irrelevant for purposes of this discussion whether or not the elites "believe" in them, just like it's irrelevant whether or not they actually eat McDonald's hamburgers. What is relevant is that the elites are selling those hamburgers.

    3. The epiphany to be had here is that, because you have drawn your conclusions about the fundamental nature of existence from information provided by elites, you are being controlled. You are not, actually, a social outsider--you are a social functionary, as to your philosophy, by drawing conclusions about how you should act and feel that are the conclusions they want you to draw.

      Please do not be insulted. This one believes that, in part, you are genuine in your desire to be what you would call an "outsider." You exist in a different level of control than most others, and to move there can be said to be a sign of progress, and certainly of intelligence. It is a much more difficult place to leave, though, because it was designed for people of your skills. For you, to challenge the fundamental "scientific" beliefs upon which you were raised is as difficult as for an evangelical adult to contemplate a God who couldn't care less who or what he eats, drinks, or sodomizes.

    4. I think that the cases in which powerful institutions sponsor philosophies or scientific theories are exceptions. Pharmaceutical companies have had some influence on the reductive approach to mental issues in the US, and these companies certainly put forward their philosophy in the ads that sell the drugs they produce. Moreover, natural selection was once interpreted for political reasons, by influential Victorians like Herbert Spencer and then by the Nazis, who spiritualized it with Nietzsche.

      But no, I don't think philosophies or scientific theories are generally produced for political reasons. This sounds a little like David Icke's massive conspiracy theory. On the contrary, that would require an enormous waste of money. Most Americans know nothing about natural selection, the Big Bang, or any other scientific theory. And they know even less about philosophy. There is a hedonistic, consumerist culture that unites Westerners, but that culture's sold directly by corporations through their advertising, and indirectly by Hollywood. If anything, academic philosophy departments stand against that culture, and most scientific theories have nothing at all to do with cultural materialism.

      What is the relevance of Big Bang cosmology to the culture of finding happiness through the consumption of mass-produced gadgets, and through hard work and social connections? The main driving force behind science isn't the need to brainwash the masses, since that's already taken care of by much more direct means; rather, it's the capitalistic interest in technological applications.

      Again, if we're talking about people like Bush Jr, Obama, and Trump, I hardly think they're interested in science or academic philosophy. Still, their ideologies come out in their speeches. Bush was a dealer in boilerplate Republican platitudes, Obama sells wishy washy, feel-good postmodern liberalism even while he personally is a pragmatic centrist, and Trump believes in the tough-guy New Yorker businessman ideal. But I think there's no chance at all that they control any academic philosophy or science; rather, they write books, give speeches, or play a clown on a TV show.

      As for me, I think the elites you're talking about would agree with many of my premises (naturalism, atheism) but not with my conclusions (ascetic detachment, skepticism about social conventions, ethical duty to confront the horrors of nature and to overcome them with myths, comedy, and detachment).

    5. "I think that the cases in which powerful institutions sponsor philosophies or scientific theories are exceptions."

      The above statement could be characterized, rudely--though accurately--as massively, stupendiferously naive. All mainstream philosophies and scientific theories are sponsored, directly and literally, by powerful institutions. The respected universities and academic journals that have the power to make ideas considered serious are cosmopolitan megacorporations with merely dozens of millions, or more often, billions of dollars in endowments, real estate, facilities, and intellectual property. They have their own police forces; they have worldwide brands, lobbyists, and massive revenue streams; their technology purchases and relationships with legislatures, judges, corporations, and media make them, often, the single most powerful entity in their community; they are often the biggest employers in their geographical area, give or take a Navy base or defense contractor.

      By controlling departmental funding, dean appointments, tenure and professorships, grant applications, publications, and the mere awarding of degrees to students, they control what the entire culture thinks. They define serious history; they define serious politics, science, athletics, law, and education.

      They are an arm of government. They dedicate parks and monuments to plutocrats who attended their halls. They name buildings, professorships, and entire courses of study after the people, and the preferred avenues of inquiry, who control them. They are so intertwined with corporate and military employment, and technology development, that they are essentially different heads of the same hydra.

      Ergo it is ludicrous to claim that philosophies and scientific theories are not wholly sponsored by "powerful institutions." All the tenets of the industrial and post-industrial ages were created and spread by the Prussian university model, and the robber barons who manufactured it.

    6. Well, you're right about the elite *sponsorship* of academic research. But you spoke of more than just sponsorship. For example, you said that the naturalistic *information* from philosophical and scientific theories was "provided by elites" to control people like me. I'm sure you'll agree that paying for some research isn't the same as determining the research's content. Granted, if there's enough financial or political pressure, the research can be falsified. But that's one reason why scientific findings are corroborated by independent parties. At best, you've insinuated that because the research is funded with corporate money, the scientific theories themselves reflect the wishes of the sponsors. You haven't provided much evidence to fill that gap, and it still seems farfetched to me.

      Something I should have said in your favour, though, is that although most people are ignorant of philosophy and science, elites might wish to control the content of academic theories to propagandize intellectuals, such as those who go to colleges and universities. I think Jacques Ellul says this in his book Propaganda.

      However, there's another possibility. Academics can interpret data in a way that pleases the most powerful forces in society, without any conspiracy. To get ahead in their careers, smart academics will know what's popular and what's subversive and they'll naturally steer clear of the latter. I certainly agree there are these political and economic pressures, but I think they're not nearly enough to explain why modernists generally came to accept philosophical naturalism. After all, the information that the academics had to reflect on was provided by *the world at large,* not by oligarchs. Are you denying that the famous scientific experiments happened, which overthrew the Aristotelian-Christian worldview in the West? Are you saying the elites falsified the data obtained by the telescopes?

      Surely you're only talking about the *interpretation* of the data, but here we find epistemic values (simplicity, fruitfulness, scope, etc) that help explain the preference for certain theories over others. For example, the strengths of Darwin's theory of evolution are clear. So is it your view that there's an alternative theory of the world which the power elites don't want us to hear, because naturalism best serves their political purposes? To show this, you'd have to prove that the alternative theory is clearly more rational and that it was thus ignored only because of a vast conspiracy, and you'd have to show that the elites had the power to shape the content of most academic work over the last few centuries. That's a big burden of proof.

  9. By all means, when I say "control," don't assume it's an active level of control, where men with top hats and curled mustaches slap postgraduate hands away from beakers, or brawny reptilian thugs arrive at a laboratory to decree that an experiment will not happen. There may be, for discussion purposes, a thousand subtle levels of control, instead of a single one. All threads, though, in a cui bono situation, can be traced back to the same source--the plutocrats you mention so often.

    Say we have an intelligent young girl who likes space and math. When she is birthed, she is attended by drugs and doctors who learned from the system, and when she is parented, she is parented by people who have already passed through the system. When she goes to school, she is told from her earliest age about the basic structure of the universe--a random place created by a Big Bang, and evolved by chance. Until she has her PhD, she will be instantly thought of as a deluded extremist if she challenges any component of this system--she will be bumped from classes, denied admittance to institutions, and never get even a Bachelor's degree.

    Once she begins her graduate studies, she would be drummed out even faster for challenging these core ideas. Let's assume, though, that she gets her MS and then PhD, is a true believer, and wants to study something--say, black holes. No one will give her grants because of her inexperience, so to prove her mettle, she has to work on the already-approved grant projects of older professors. She follows their instructions, attempting to gain additional observational evidence to support the contention they made in their grant application. Contrary evidence, if any, is deemed accidental or irrelevant, but most likely, they don't find anything "contradictory"--instead, they find something vague that they pretty much expected to find. Realizing that all of their futures depend on the status of this grant, the new PhD and all of her associates dress up the evidence as best they can, to explain how it "sheds new light" on some aspect of astronomy that everyone there had already read about in high school. A handful of people in that particular field take note; the scientific community at large is oblivious, since nothing was cloned, patented, or blown up.

    Years later, when the woman is closer to tenure and able to command her own grant applications, she finds out that her professors before weren't just jerks--they were doing what they had to do. She discovers that it costs tens of thousands of dollars, as well as permission to use the university facilities and staff, to research anything, and that you can't get a grant to do any research (let alone permission to keep using the university's property and employees) unless you submit a catchy proposal to a government agency or scientific foundation located in another State, with powerful board members who meet once a year, and who are only accepting applications in very narrow fields of research.

  10. After years of rejected applications, losing jobs, and getting re-hired at less prestigious institutions, she finally manages to squeeze a small application through, and does some observational evidence on black holes. She then discovers a surprising thing: there is no evidence of black holes. It seems more plausible that, at the centers of galaxies, great concentrations of electromagnetic energy cause vortexes to form, and that billions of years of star movement has resulted in light and mass shifting in ways that could, by an extreme stretch, make it appear to an observer that a "gravity well" had appeared.

    As soon as she starts writing this down, her fellow researchers warn her that she is radically challenging conventions. Several leave the team, writing letters of protest to the Dean, so that when the results are published, they are able to salvage their careers. The woman is brave, though--all her life, she has wanted to research, and she finally had her chance. She stays true to the scientific principles everyone told her she was supposed to be following.

    Her graduate student-assistants wisely quit, also, except for a couple who--like reporters investigating accounts of a massacre of civilians in Pakistan--are so naive as to believe it is their duty to report the truth.

    In the end, she finishes her report. The grant committee is shocked and tells her that her application is now administratively withdrawn, and funding is yanked. They are outraged at her professional irresponsibility. She is a brave scientist, though, and already has most of the evidence she needs. Her university's dean informs her that she will not be teaching any classes for the coming semester, and that she may no longer be part of any academic committees. The department chair tells her that they won't have office space for her due to recent budget cuts, and moves her to an office on the fourth floor of the school's old library.

    Anguished, her graduate students have to abandon ship, or lose their chance at a PhD and career.

    But she is brave. She submits her research to her usual journals. All of the major ones reject it immediately, because decades of scientific consensus has shown that there are black holes. Her report was supposed to explain why black holes work the way they do--not to suggest an alternative explanation for observed phenomenon.

    One journal, the smallest of the bunch, does manage to publish sections of her report near the back, under "alternative developments in fringe cosmology." When she gets the issue, our heroine is aghast to see that most of her findings were trimmed out, and that the journal published only quotes from the conclusion of her essay, where she states that it might be time to "reevaluate our thinking on gravitation."

  11. What do you do in a situation like that? We already know, because the story is essentially true, many times over--you publish your studies, very carefully, in foreign journals, or under "specialty" journals, like journals on plasma physics or electromagnetism. Not in cosmology journals, because plutocrat institutions, be they universities or presses, will not touch any criticism of the Big Bang theory, and of the nightmarish "nothing spots" they want everyone to believe in without evidence. The Big Bang theory has been disproved for decades, but almost no one knows (particularly not Americans), so powerful is the monetary stranglehold on U.S. and Eurozone institutions of education and research.

    Philosophical naturalism flows naturally, and inevitably, from the science that has been purchased by post-industrial oligarchs. That's why everything you write about is rational and sound, if you start from a proposition of believing the theories about the nature of creation and reality that the elites have paid for.

    Did the great experiments happen? Of course. The experiment that discovered the Higgs Boson certainly happened, for example. Now, mind you, the Higgs Boson was never observed, but that does not matter when the conclusion is foreordained--namely, there must be a Higgs Boson, whether one is found or not, therefore there was one. Millions of dollars were spent, and everyone agrees, therefore there was one. Reality must conform to grand theories, rather than the other way around.

    (If "the data" you're talking about is the Hubble Redshift, the data are accurate, however, there are many possible reasons why objects could appear to be moving away from Earth right now, and many which are far more plausible, and more thoroughly evidenced, than the already-disproved Horrendous Space Kablooie.)

    I'd love to go back to Market-Style Evolution, as far as one of the alternative theories you're looking for; the math is self-evident in the sense that it's implausible that 4 billion years of "random" could produce anything you see as you stand by your computer, and some of the elite arguments with mathematics are covered here and here.

    More specifically on the issue of how elites control science, and the popular presentation of science, here is a brief Dr. Dawson article on the way marketing organizations are currently using one of their biggest lobbyists:

    Voyage of the Meager. I'll highlight Dawson's most meaningful question: "How many works of real science are rehearsed for sponsors?"

    1. It looks like you're combining Kuhn's point about paradigms with Marx's theory of the economic basis of ideologies. I actually agree with both points, as far as they go, but I don't go the postmodern route of assuming that reality has no say in the matter of what we believe. Even though there are political and economic pressures on our beliefs, the world pressures us too. We've got to make sense of the world we live in to survive in it. The world can be interpreted in many ways, even if we limit our interpretations to those that build on the scientific methods of inquiry.

      But as to which theories tend to gain the support of most scientists, I think pragmatism trumps everything else--not just usefulness to the power elite, but to people in general. If money can be made on naturalism, that's because people's demands can be satisfied with technological applications of scientific theories, and that in turn must be because those theories are empirically adequate. This isn't to say they're metaphysically, finally True; but the theories must allow us to predict and control what's going to happen in certain contexts. So the economic usefulness of naturalism is tied to the realistic status of this philosophy: people can get rich off of applying naturalism, because if we interpret the world in that way, we can satisfy many of our demands (for food, exploration, safety, entertainment, etc).

      Now, granted, people got rich off of non-naturalistic philosophies too. For example, there was an Aztec culture based on worship of a blood god. Their riches, though, were only accidentally related to the content of their worldview. Fear of their gods caused them to fight hard in battle and to collect tributes from other city states. What you're saying is that there's a similarly deflationary explanation of the success of modern naturalism. But the levels of technological innovation are very different. Look at the Industrial Revolution which followed the scientific one. Could the Aztec worldview have possibly taken the Aztecs to the moon?

    2. You focus on physics, but I think physics is a special case, at least after quantum mechanics and the Standard Model, because of the centrality of math to that science. Lee Smolin is unhappy with how non-empirical physics has gotten. I'm only an interested layperson here, not a scientist, but as I understand it, physicists believe there are black holes largely because that's what Einstein's math tells them. If you accept general relativity, then you've got to accept the possibility of black holes. It's in the solutions to certain equations, not just in the observations. On top of this, though, there's indirect empirical evidence of black holes (see the Wiki article on black holes).

      So compared to biology, physics is more about math and less about direct observation. Physicists accept certain claims because they follow from the math. If you were to apply your skepticism to natural selection, you'd begin to sound like Ben Stein in his documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. But there's a lot of empirical evidence for the consensus view in biology. Also, there's no alternative theory that better handles all of that evidence.

      You point out that scientists are conservative, that they handle anomalies by ignoring them. But there's a great deal of money and fame awaiting those who overthrow conventional wisdom in science. That's what happened to Einstein, who refuted Newton. Darwin went up against the Christian worldview. I'm sure you've heard this before, but while scientists are subject to the same biases and egoism as everyone else, science is unusually self-correcting. Christianity has gone essentially unchanged for two thousand years, because it has no self-correction mechanism. Science does progress in ways that other disciplines don't.

      Postmodern relativists lump science in with everything else, throw up their hands, and say it's all bias, power, politics, and social games. All of that is indeed present in science, but science is distinguished also by its rather selfless methods. Scientists need public corroboration, they need to test their hunches rather than just arguing from authority, and so on. Western religions aren't so selfless; instead, they're infamously dogmatic.

    3. Thomas Henry Huxley: "The great tragedy of science – the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact."

      I'm glad that you mentioned the math of general relativity, and the things it commands, because there we turn to the conflict between inductive and deductive reasoning. The two central components of modern science--Big Bang Cosmology and Market-Style Evolution--are both examples of inductive reasoning. They represent a massive shift in "science," where free inquiry became so chained to plutocratic agendas that the old version of science you're imagining ceased to be allowed or popular.

      Your idea of science is much like the modern Christian's idea of Christianity--you associate science with humility, exploration, reflection, study, acceptance, and challenges to authority, yet at the same time, you're preaching the gospel of a trillions-of-dollars worldwide system of corporatized standard messages, where debate is stifled and the modern creature bears no relationship to its predecessor.

      As I said above, the biblical depiction of Christ was a poor, traveling rebel, who challenged the authorities of his day. The modern depiction of "science" is similar: people who, armed with nothing but the truth, tested and disproved hypotheses, and used observation to find out which theories were false, and which were more likely to be true.

      That idea is nice, just like the original idea of Christ, but it bears no relation to the cash-glutted, conformist universities and product-producing laboratories that are science now. They're both powerful images, which is why Christianity and science are such big businesses, but they're both untrue.

      Modern science has become inductive: scientists conclude, based on decades of accepted wisdom, that the Big Bang and Market-Style Evolution are true. Because those things must be true, they must be true--even if the evidence does not bear them out. So, when their thought experiments demand the existence of black holes, and random speciation within just 4 billion years, it must be true, in order to conform to their pre-existing conclusion, even when they have no observable evidence that it is true.

      For someone as intelligent as you, this is a rough blow to take; to discover that you have been living inside your own matrix, and taking things on the words of the exact same plutocrats who pay for the western political parties, football teams, dating websites, et cetera. Still true, though--do you want to side with inductive reasoning, and assume that the world must be the way elites demand that it be, or with deductive reasoning, and demand that you be provided with scientifically duplicable observations about the real world before you'll believe in a theory?

      And aside from that, remember the original reason this one interjected here: the source of these things. Your belief in their science may be correct (really, it may). It's possible that, despite being funded by elites for hundreds of years, our scientists have nonetheless induced accurate conclusions about the nature of reality. What is important for you to contemplate, though, is the way that--for good or for evil; for right or for wrong; for any purpose you like--elites have paid for the scientific conclusions upon which you base your philosophical conclusions.

    4. I really do agree with much of what you're saying, but I think you're stretching when you're generalizing about my view. I agree that much science now is tied to big business, including the military, the pharmaceutical companies, and so on. So much science is paid for by powerful people. I agree also that since I'm not a scientist, I defer on many empirical questions to scientists and thus indirectly and in part to the business interests. And I agree that while I've recently been stressing the heroic aspects of science (humility, reason, rebelliousness), there are also darker aspects. I've called these scientism and technoscience. Scientism is a philosophy, but I've found that many engineers, computer scientists, and other scientists as well as nonscientists indulge in it. Technoscience is the connection between business and science which produces the technological applications and thus the power-driven transformation of natural environments, and so technoscience may be a means of destroying all life (as I say in "The Environmentalist's Nightmare").

      But I don't think you're appreciating two points in particular that I've already stressed. You say that I'm "preaching the gospel of a trillions-of-dollars worldwide system of corporatized standard messages," but if you're talking about naturalism you're talking only about my starting point, not my conclusions. I preach existential/ascetic rebellion, which is quite unheard of in that worldwide system. So it follows that I'm critiquing naturalism. I'm not reducing it to absurdity, but I'm spiritualizing it from within.

      By the way, you switched up deduction and induction. It's induction that's more empirical and less mathematical.

    5. By God, you're right; I've been doing that for months and I keep reversing them. (It's Brent Spiner's fault, for saying "Deduction..." so cleverly.)

      Presuming they're used the right way, perhaps you'll be able to agree with me on their conclusions, even without being more familiar with, say, physics or biology. If we take it for granted that the world is a random place, created from an absolute singularity, with no meaning or purpose, then what do we do when we discover a supercluster formation (a supercluster in astronomy is a grouping of many clusters of galaxies)? This is information available to the layman--that there are observable galactic superclusters. Now, all available evidence--mathematics, gravitation, particle physics, astrophysics, and on and on--shows that these superclusters are so large that they would have taken far longer to form than the time that the Big Bang theory allots the universe.

      Confronted with that evidence, observational scientists would induce that the Big Bang theory is inaccurate. Supercluster observation has disproved it, and a new theory or theories must be postulated.

      What mainstream scientists have done instead is deduce that, because the Big Bang must be true, the superclusters formed as a result of supernatural, un-observable phenomena that transcended everything we know about gravitation, and is beyond our powers of observation. This is why "theoretical physics" is so big nowadays--because evidence is not only no longer required, but is actually contrary to what pop-science needs to keep expressing.

      (These supernatural phenomena have been called many things. The currently popular ones are "cosmic strings." Like black holes, they've never been observed, but they are required in order to prove the fanciful, elegant equations that mainstream scientists must believe in. From a science fiction perspective, cosmic strings are really cool, so it's worth reading about them even if you're not otherwise involved in the field.)

      The same thing happens in Market-Style Evolution. Because it must be true, when pop-scientists are confronted with a lack of evidence in the fossil record, or the mathematical improbabilities of a bat's unified sonaratical development, they disregard that evidence (or lack thereof), and deduce that random evolution is true anyway, just because it is.

    6. Consider the evangelical Christian discovering dinosaur bones. The Christian realizes that the evidence disproves her belief, but because the belief must be true, something must be theorized that forces observation to conform to hypothesis: ergo, Satan put dinosaur bones there to confuse people into sinning. Or, carbon dating is wrong, because it must be. Etc.

      Regarding your philosophy, you do "take off" far from the avowed conclusions of popular culture and mainstream science. On that, we agree on. Popular culture, and mainstream science, are creatures of hypocrisy: they create these random, terrible illusions, but then act as though everything's supposed to be okay because there is a royal baby, a new movie out, and plenty of high fructose crap at the supermarket. Millions of consumers bounce happily around the empty noosphere, eating and fucking and hoping to win the lottery, believing they're fulfilled while carrying out predetermined genetic functions.

      You find reason a curse, because your reason is unable to lead you from the elite illusions to happiness. You realize that the foundation of culture does not allow for working, fucking, eating, and getting a corner office to actually be acts of freedom, and so you are unsatisfied, and look to rebel. So, you're smarter than the rest of the fools.

      ...but you already know what I'm going to tell you. Because you are rebelling against the illusions they've created, you are actually controlled by those illusions. The course of your battle against them is as much a goal of those illusions as is a Valley Girl going to the mall to buy a new glitter smartphone case.

      This one doesn't begrudge you it. It's something that, in a way, we all must do--just as we all must try the consumerism-type behaviors of being immersed in the illusion in a different way. This one's own work, currently, is trying to move us past the need for the illusion at all. (From a different perspective, that task could appear similarly "ignorant" and "pointless," but hey, when in Rome.)

    7. Regarding astrophysics, I think you're working with a false dichotomy. The word you're looking for is abduction (appeal to the best explanation), not induction or deduction. Have you read Thomas Kuhn's book on scientific revolutions? He explains very well how scientists work within a paradigm to explain away anomalies, holding fast to the dominant theory until the evidence is overwhelming, forcing a paradigm shift. Before Copernicus, for example, scientists tinkered with Ptolemy's system to explain away the movements of certain planets, adding epicycles and so on to his cosmology of concentric circles. Copernicus offered a revolutionary new theory and scientists eventually sided with Copernicus. They didn't engage in either induction or deduction. This was a matter of favouring one explanation over another based on certain epistemic values, which Kuhn lists.

      So even if there are problems with the Big Bang theory, the question is whether there's a better explanation of all of the evidence. If we're talking about the choice between paradigms, the choice is radical and pragmatic, and thus not wholly rational; at any rate, it's guided by certain values (simplicity, elegance, conservativism, scope, fruitfulness).

      You say I think reason's a curse because I can't see a way for naturalism to allow for us to be happy. But I hardly stand alone here. I talk a lot about mystical traditions all around the world as coming to a similar conclusion, and mystics are just social outsiders who find creative ways to keep going despite their alienation from their popular culture. Buddhists, for example, detach from their instincts and preferences. Their reason or other insight shows them that there's no independent self and the implications are disastrous for conventional happiness.

      You say I'm working within a flawed worldview (naturalism), so the existential rebellion is illusory, but I see this more in Gnostic terms. As the Gospel of John says, Jesus was a light that came into the world of darkness to reveal a way out. Other Gnostic texts speak of the saviour as trying to wake people up to their true home. People are sleeping in the matrix or the cave and they need to realize there's a better way of living. Obviously, I'm not a saviour. I'm just a ranter. But the similarity is that we're engaging in an internal criticism or a critique of a worldview. So my point is that even if we're faced with the worst-case scenario, or even if naturalism were true, there would be a heroic way to live (creative asceticism).

    8. This is a darkly delightful situation to be in, because you (and Kuhn) have so well illuminated the way that the current concept of "science" is, in fact, "not science." In science, once a hypothesis is disproved by observable facts, the proper action is to discard the hypothesis and construct new hypotheses based upon the best available evidence. However, what so-called "scientists" are doing now is exactly what elite thinkers (who didn't then call themselves "scientists," by the way) did during Ptolemaic periods: they are being confronted by evidence that completely contradicts their treasured theories, upon which they justify elite rulership and mass disparities in the control of the world's wealth and power, and, instead of changing their theories, they pontificate at length upon outlandish new explanations that could--if they bore any resemblance to reality--save their precious theories.

      The king-priests who upheld the Ptolemaic universe did so because it was a universe of rigid order: one in which king-priests ruled, slaves labored, and Earth was at the center of the universe. Copernican observations would have destroyed that cosmology instantly, but because those observations were contrary to the ruling elite, they were disregarded. Disregarding them was unscientific, but pursuant to the golden rule, it had to be done.

      We face a similar situation now. When observations are made contrary to the cherished elite hypothesis, the observations are marginalized, and elites pay a sub-legion of un-critical, dogmatic, much-celebrated "scientists" to sit in endowed university chairs and make up fanfic explaining why the Big Bang is still true. The random universe justifies the hopeless consumerism or starvation of the first- and third-world masses, while the speciation of "superior beings" justifies the pyramidal control structuring of the world's resources, in an Objectivist way.

      Kuhn's "paradigm shifts" happen not when the "evidence" becomes so overwhelming, but when the masses finally achieve some form of moderately-successful revolt. When they do so, all of a sudden, genuine scientific observations are able to be heard. Those observations were always there; they weren't sudden insights that sparked the revolutions--it was the economic imbalances, among other things, that did that.

      If, in 2014, China invades the U.S., and the U.S. Congress is put on trial for war crimes, it would be a very stupid, very ignorant historian who claimed that the war-crimes trials had finally happened because "revelations of improper conduct during the Iraq invasion of 2003 came to light." The evidence of war crimes was always there, but it would take a sea change in society's power dynamics to permit that evidence to be "heard" in a way that would matter.

      So, too, with astrophysics. The evidence is all there, but as long as we are governed by Big Man Politics and White Coat Science, it will appear "unreliable" or "fringe" (necessarily) to the adulating masses of thinkers, and it will take a tangible revolution before people will allow themselves to look through the telescope.

      Similarly, if you and I were having this conversation on a different timeline, where socialist worker rebellions in Canada and the U.S. had overthrown the J.P. Morgan governments of the early twentieth century, you would take it as conventional wisdom that Plasma Cosmology and Lightform Evolution were true, and you would respect the very same evidence available to us here in the capitalist regimes as justification.