Thursday, December 31, 2020

Suffering For Lives

I get the sense that in our culture, serious voluntary suffering is unacceptable. However, there is at least one exception. When you are suicidal, you are required to keep living. It is socially unacceptable that you die, even though dying would end your suffering. You are expected to endure however much suffering you have to in order to save something of great value, your own biological life.

Maybe that's the only thing that really matters to us -- human life. But specifically, the life of humans we know personally. We might value all human lives, in principle, but where we say in an effective way "human life matters" (by urging people to keep living no matter what) traces out where, effectively, we encourage human life. We tend to only know people personally whom we like (we might sometimes also hate them, simultaneously, but we must like them to get close). So that's our effective moral circle. We are champions of love and care for people close to us whom we like. And we encourage people who are close to us, whom we like, to do their best to live forever, to put up with whatever awful feelings they have to to make that happen. That is a real commitment we call for.

But if we are altruists, we should care about distant people, or even all sentient beings. So then, if we are really altruists, we should be willing to suffer as much as we would have to avoid our own suicide, if that suffering is necessary to remain true to our altruism.

And if we are theists, we should care about God, and all that he cares about. Then, if we are really theists, we should be willing to suffer as much as we would have to avoid our own suicide, if that suffering is necessary to remain true to our theism.

Altruism and theism don't necessarily call for us to burn ourselves out, or to sacrifice our biological lives (although when truly called-for, they do). Altruism and theism are ways of life, ways of seeing things, sensitivities, the ability to take into account the existence of all people, or all sentient beings, or God. Usually they recommend that we be most productive in the long term, which usually means that we should practice moderation in pouring ourselves out, and that should be our default assumption.

We each have a biological life, which we are expected to fight bitterly to preserve. It doesn't matter how hard you work, or how little you work, with the time you have, you are expected to preserve your biological life. That basic life is what you fight for. Altruists and theists have additional lives. No matter how much or little you work as an altruist or theist (depending on the resources you have available), altruism is a life, and theism is a life, and these can end if we are not careful. These lives are really others' lives, of God and other sentient beings, and for their sake it is acceptable to suffer, just as it is acceptable to struggle to not end our own biological lives.

(God loses a life each time one of us is lost. So that he does not have to lose lives, each of ours, we should hold onto theism.)

Simantism, Part 2

We get more meaning from things than we put in. I think this is true of everything we encounter, but we really notice it with certain things that speak to us strongly and deeply. What we experience is that they speak to us, just as that they are meaningful. They tend to speak to us in a way that has something to do with who we are. Because they really are in accordance with who we are, they can speak to us. They are meaningful, and they use this platform to speak meaning to us.

For instance, suppose you hear that if you donate a kidney, it can save the life of somebody -- a stranger. This idea speaks to you. Because of who you are, the idea of donating a kidney is appealing, rather than disturbing or uninteresting. But the idea itself has vocal strength, it can speak to you strongly, beyond the energy you have already. So it can motivate you, in ways that you wouldn't have already been motivated.

Sometimes, having gained entry by meaning something in tune with who you are, such an idea (or other simantic word) can speak to you so strongly that you change. You are strongly tempted (or anti-tempted) to choose to see things its way. There is a lot of power in the things that can speak to us.

I think that all the time, this speech is the speech of a personal being to a personal being. Sometimes this is more clear than other times. We might see it more clearly when something speaks to us in a very personal way. How could an experiential word mean something so personal if it wasn't spoken by a person? We can take as an analogy for simantic meaning (a personal relating with something) the finding of semantic meaning (decoding of written or spoken symbolic language). I can imagine a book in the Library of Babel having wonderful poetry in my native language, but most of what is in the Library of Babel is meaningless. A typical book from the Library would be like reading pages and pages of mashed keys on the keyboard. If we tried to get semantic (rather than simantic) meaning, we would get nothing from it. The bits that made any sense might give us whiplash -- words could arise by chance, followed by other unrelated words. Somewhere in that Library there is a book that gives some kind of interpretive key to the nonsense that is before me, but it could take more than my whole life to find that key, and in the meantime I would have had to go through oceans of nonsense in all the books I search through, with no keys provided for them.

There are simantic words that are like books in the Library of Babel, things that give us a kind of whiplash, or that blank out our ability to assign a level of importance to them, to integrate them into the flows of our lives as ourselves, as personal beings. But most simantic words far more resemble novels or instruction books or phone books or newspapers. We find those writings meaningful because they were written by people. So simantically speaking, we find ourselves in something more akin to Wikipedia or the Internet as a whole, rather than a Library of Babel. It looks like we live in a world spoken by a person, as though the key to speaking to personal being is to understand it yourself, as a person.

If we were very lucky and found a book of lost greatness in the Library of Babel, some great poem, the poem wouldn't mean anything to us unless we understood the language it was written in. That language is where most of the meaning of the book is stored. We would have had to learn the language.

And in order for children to learn language, language must speak to them. They have to be drawn to the sounds and the gestures by which their parents try to teach them. There is a personal communication, a wordless dialogue which draws us to learning words.

The wordless dialogue might be identified as "deep calling to deep", that which underlies, for instance, the semantic words "I love you" spoken by someone like Boaz to someone like Ruth. "I love you" from the Library of Babel does not mean the same as "I love you" from Boaz to Ruth. The words "I love you" mean something coming from the dictionary, and they are useful in a general sense. But their real meaning comes from what "I" and "love" and "you" mean specifically between a given pair of people. Because they mean something specific, fleshed out by personal relation and intention between two discrete personal beings, there is a wordless dialogue between Boaz and Ruth, and it is actually spoken by God, is God's poem for each of them, the poem in which the two characters are them, saying "I love you" one to the other. They choose to say "I love you", but it is God who speaks the depths between them. Perhaps this expression of the wordless dialogue really originates with Boaz, but Ruth can hear it in many other contexts, the basic root or silent embodiment of other poems, unrelated to him. For our part, as liberal modern people, the word "democracy" speaks to us, or as humanists, the word "empathy". These semantic words do so because they are representatives of the underlying simantic words of democracy and empathy, the life realities in the world. How can democracy speak to us personally? How can empathy? The wordless dialogue is with a person, who speaks through our ideas to us.

We are spoken to by the things that are "deep calling to deep", but even with mundane simantic words like trash cans or bricks, or whatever is on your desk, the words being spoken have a personal origin, similar to how if you were married to someone named Sam, there would be something spousal and Sam-like when they say "I put the food in the refrigerator". We can tell when persons are speaking to us. Even before we know much about our spouse, before they become our spouse although not before they become who they are, we can hear their voice. So bricks and trash cans are not necessarily persons in their own right, but as words are extensions of the personality of the Speaker.

The set of all existing things is something to which we can relate. That simantic word refers to all things that exist. It can speak to us. How can it do that unless somehow it is a person? The set of all things can be a person if all things are conscious, parts of one person, who includes all experience into one complex of experiences, as is the case with the metaphysical organism.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

A Bridge Between Simantism and Legitimism

In simantism, it is assumed that whenever you experience something, it is as it appears to you. The sunset that you see really is beautiful. That sunset can turn into an ugly thing, or you can come to believe that it was ugly all along. What you experienced was beautiful, and referred to a deeper simantic word that might serve you beauty or ugliness in the future, altering your understanding of the deeper simantic word.

If you perceive a law, you might be uncertain as to whether it is valid or not. For instance, in some city, there is an ordinance against people sleeping on the streets. This was passed in an above-board way, according to the city's charter. But we might still wonder if it was valid. On the one hand, that is something that is hard on the people who have nowhere else to sleep. On the other hand, a city only has so many resources to deal with people who sleep on the streets. That city may have had some problems with people who slept on the street, so they threw up their hands and said "Let's ban sleeping on the streets". But then, how can we let ourselves think that we only have limited resources, when it comes to human well-being? Shouldn't we try harder? But then, maybe that's true, but maybe sometimes you just can't.

I could think through each of these considerations and as I went through the list go back and forth as to whether the ordinance was valid. Certainly it's valid as far as being legal, since it got on the books in a legal way. But the deeper validity, of whether it is just, I don't know. But I can try to form an opinion, and whether I try hard or barely try, I will perceive the law as either basically just or basically unjust. I will see it as being valid just for existing, and sometimes as a just law, as well.

The law that I experience in any moment is either just or unjust. It really is that, just like a sunset really is beautiful or not. I am always 100% right about that direct perception, even if that perception ends up betraying me. Maybe I think the law is just, but then talk to someone who sleeps on the streets, who breaks my sense that it is just, a breaking which to me is a kind of betrayal, something that is an insult to trust. Or I think the law is unjust, but then talk to the city council and find that opinion of unjustness (that incontrovertibly true experience of the law as unjust) as being untrustworthy, after I hear their perspective.

So then legitimism asks "what could possibly make something really be valid?" Can things validate themselves? Can things be created or built to be valid, and if so, how?

Self-Validating Things

Epistemic status: provisional.

If you see an object, whether physical or noetic, it ought to be, on some level. Nobody can argue with that "ought". Is there a reason for it to be valid enough to exist? Is it its own reason, or is there some other reason? We know that things are valid, but how is it that that validity is justified? If we know that things are valid, they must be justified as valid, but how?

What would it mean for an object to validate itself? It would have to be seen in our eyes as valid due to itself. Or, it would have to perform some kind of act to make itself valid. It might say "I am valid" in some language, knowing what it was saying. That is how it would convince us it was valid, whether in itself or having made itself so. The language in which it spoke might not be one of conscious words, heard or thought, although in some cases it could be.

In that case, it would have to know itself. And part of knowing yourself is knowing your relationship with all the things that are connected to you. Everything is noetically or sensorily connected to all other things in the universe. Just like we know that we feel a tiny amount of gravity from stars that are light-years away, so there is a tiny amount of relevance to each of us of any action that could affect us or be affected by us in any way, even very indirectly. There are noetic relationships between all thinkable things. Part of what makes "being" have its exact connotation are all the things that exist. So to be able to say, in an absolute way, that you are valid, and be right, requires that you know everything there is to know. If you say that you are right without knowing that, that saying is not reliable enough to really establish your validity.

In the case that an object has to be seen in our eyes as valid, rather than it itself telling us it is valid, some other being could say "that object is valid". But the other being would have to know everything there is to know, in order to say that.

What would it take to create validity, to create a truly valid thing out of nothing? Who is it who deserves to say "this ought to be so?" We can imagine it being valid to call God's will morally monstrous despite him having created morality itself. So, what kind of person is valid? Legitimacy itself is valid. Legitimacy is what self-validates, and from its own validity, it validates all things.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Parts of a Simantic Word

Epistemic status: Provisional, may break something I've already written.

The way to look at simantism is that humans personally relate to thought- and experience-objects, called simantic words. That's the foundation of experience and thus of existence.

Everything, both thought- and experience-objects, can be experienced. That is how we know about them. So all objects have phenomena. Likewise, all objects have some kind of concept that tells us what they are, defining the boundaries of what they are. A concept gives a unity to phenomena. And each of us interprets each thing that we see. Because of us, because of each observer, the thing observed means what it does. Meant reality, reality that is meaningful, is what we actually experience.

A simantic word is a union of phenomena, concept, and meaning. How could all these things be one thing?

Step back and consider a more familiar entity, a physical object. If I go for a walk in my neighborhood on a breezy day, I can look up at a palm tree, the leaves of which are rustling in the breeze. I can see the leaves rustling, and hear them. I somehow know that the sound and sight belong to the same thing.

I have a direct knowledge that sight and sound go together. Similarly, I can have direct knowledge that the concept and meaning of a thing and its phenomena go together.

So consider the rustling palm leaves as a simantic word. When I look at it, I have a kind of feeling or inner map. The rustling leaves occupy a place in perhaps a hierarchy or web of inner relations. I might intuit things I could do with the palm leaves. I might feel myself to be in some kind of intuitive relation with the leaves. I might know the fact of what kind of palm tree this is -- a foreign one, often planted in my city for convenience. That knowledge of the fact is tacit, contained in the meaning, and at any moment can be the bridge to the explicit thought of the fact. These, and perhaps other things, constitute the meaning of the leaves. To an extent, the meaning depends on me, on who I am.

There are connections to what is unseen, in the meaning of the leaves. We see the leaves and connect to things that are not apparent.

Whatever it takes to define the word "leaves" or "rustling" or "palm" or "rustling palm leaves" or "tree" or "breeze" (and so on and so forth) is the concept, of leaves, rustling, palm, rustling palm leaves, tree, breeze and thus of the specific rustling branch that I see and hear.

Concept and meaning may not be clearly demarcated. Perhaps the concept is what the word means to (more or less) everyone, or what it ought to mean to everyone, while meaning is what the word means to me (or in your case, to you).

The concept is both a perception of connections and a real relationship in the world of ideas. And ideas really do connect to persons (which are the fundamental units of reality). But we do not always see the real relationship in the world of ideas and to persons. So we can be mistaken, though we see things with so much solidity. A simantic word can be untrustworthy, if its concept or meaning does not connect properly. But every simantic word is as it appears to us.

The concept defines a thing, bringing into a thing what is not visible. So, for instance, I will never really see you. I will see a representation of you, a subset of you, and my interpretation of you, your meaning to me. But the concept "you" entails you as you are in yourself. (You may not even see you as you are in yourself.) But when I say "you", I am referring to you, not to the representations I see. It's entailed in the concept, which I do participate in.

What if I see a mirage? Is it a pool of water? I might think so from a distance. Is there a "thing-in-itself" for a mirage? Certainly. But it's not a pool of water. I can be wrong about the concept of a simantic word. I see the appearance of the pool of water, and it either turns into something that can get me wet, or it turns into nothing, depending on whether all along it had been a pool of water or a mirage. The "thing-in-itself" of the pool is a pool. The "thing-in-itself" of the mirage is a mirage. But I really was seeing a pool of water, before it turned out it was a mirage.

A concept is itself something that has phenomena associated with it, and which has meaning to us. It is a simantic word within an overall simantic word. Or we can apprehend concepts by themselves, definitions without phenomena attached to them. The simantic view is that a thing is a thing if it has meaning. The thing has meaning. It has to be one thing to be meaningful. So it is with concepts.

I can see the rustling leaves if my eyes are open and they are nearby. By seeing them, I perceive their meaning. But I can also see the meaning of the leaves, or connect with the concept of that particular tree's leaves, through memory or imagination. It's possible to see only part of a word: to only hear it, only see it, only sense or see its meaning, only sense or see its concept. But it is all one thing.

A concept may say one thing: "I connect to a certain experience" and not deliver that experience. True concepts are trustworthy. God is the one who causes concepts to correspond with experiences. If I connect with you, it is because God speaks you to me, in accordance with my concept of you, your meaning to me. My concept, your meaning to me, adjusts to fit the experiences I have. So God trains me to find certain things meaningful in a certain way.

I could be wrong that any other human person exists. Certainly it's easy to see how a particular person we think we know can turn out to be a mirage, and not a pool of water. I think I live in an approximation of reality -- and it's all approximations, speakings, except for the existence of the one who speaks my approximation to me, and me, as I relate to him. On the deepest level of reality, we are each alone with God.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Original Person Theory Meets Consciousness Monism

According to the original person theory, we are made out of the material of an original person. But then, each experience body is made fresh each day, ending when we lose consciousness, being created anew when we regain it. That's what we would expect if everything is consciousness (the view called "consciousness monism"). We imagine that there's some kind of consciousness material, which is in separate blobs, and we are each a blob, and we, the blobs, come in and out of existence when we gain and lose consciousness. This is an ontologistic view. We find ontology trustworthy, so we want to apply it to experience, and thus we imagine the consciousness material. And this ontology is so trustworthy that we don't want to break it when we try to bring in a new theory, like the original person theory. Maybe we have to break it, but we would like to not have to do that.

So then, is it the case that God creates a new person every time we come into consciousness? A new free will? As though the constructedness of our past is not really us. If not, then it would seem that we have a free will that is made up every day, and a constructedness that is not us. So where in all this are we? How do we exist?

Some of our constructedness affects the kinds of decisions we can make in the future. And some of our constructedness can be attributed to choices we made in the past. So if we look at things through the ontologistic lens of consciousness monism, a person exists as a person because their past is a partial reflection of their free choices, their past is remembered by God, and they are constructed in each new day according to their pasts.

The Ordinary vs. the Ontological

Epistemic status: provisional, may break something else I've already said.

If you come to this post from a link, it may be helpful to read this part from the end first:

I tend to use "ontologistic" and "ordinaristic" to apply to the uses of "ontology" and "ordinary" in this post.

--

Let's say you have a balloon. You can see it in front of you, drifting toward the floor (since you filled it with your breath and not helium). It is round and has a certain latex-y texture. It has a particular color -- perhaps it is red. You can kick it and it will fly in the air, then drift down to the floor. If you put it in the freezer, it will shrink.

And you could go on interacting with this balloon, yourself, using your own senses.

And that is all the balloon is. A round object, a thing. It is physical and you interact with it.

Arguably, this may be closer to how people related to balloons or the like in pre-modern cultures.

But if you ask a modern person what a balloon is, they leave the above world at some point. The above could be called the ordinary. And then they enter the world of the ontological.

What is a balloon really? Well, it's made up of molecules, both solid and gas. Has anyone seen a molecule? No, except in electron microscope images. So they've seen the images, but have they seen the molecules? No. But we take it on faith that balloons are made up of molecules. Well, the fact that balloons shrink in the freezer has to do with there being little molecules flying around inside the balloon, which slow down and don't push as hard against the latex when the temperature goes down. So some of us feel strongly that there is so much reason for molecules to exist, they do so much explanatorily, that that's good enough for them to exist. But in ordinary life, we never experience them.

When you look at a tiny speck on a slide, with your unaided eyes, and then look at an ordinary lab microscope pointed at the same spot, and see something of the same shape, but much more detailed, are you looking at the same tiny speck? You make a powerfully persuasive inference that you are, but it's not really the same thing. Likewise with a telescope. You could walk down a road, looking at a landmark with a telescope, and see that the landmark gets more and more similar to the magnified image you saw from a distance, as you approach. But when you get to the landmark, no matter how similar the image is, it's not the same thing at all. But you feel a strong poetry, like with the microscope, that convinces you that all along you were looking at the landmark that you now see up close, through the telescope's lenses. Maybe that poetic, inferential-linking phenomenon is so natural in these cases that even a pre-modern person, using a telescope or microscope, would feel it without needing to be taught it in any way, although they might not find it credible without being taught, when told that little particles are inside a balloon, called "molecules".

Once I've heard a convincing ontological explanation, I look at the balloon differently. But the balloon never changed. And while the explanation is convincing, it does not really mean that the things it posits by way of explanation, such as molecules, exist. They are just a helpful theoretical concept for understanding balloons (and electron microscope read-outs). The ontological is the world of poetry. And you can see how both literary poetry and philosophical and scientific theorizing expand our understanding of ordinary objects and experiences.

When we ask "what is consciousness?" we are asking an ontological question. But consciousness itself just is its contents. These contents vary for each person. I have to pick a specific example. Perhaps one of the few things I have in common with you, the reader, is that we are both reading sentences such as "These contents vary for each person", the very ones I am typing. You see the letters as well as I do. That is consciousness. Consciousness isn't some kind of filmstock. What is is what we are actually conscious of. But it's useful to talk about consciousness as a material, when constructing philosophical poetry.

I think that the ordinary is all that there is. But philosophy (and other forms of poetry) are helpful in understanding the true nature of the ordinary. So I think proofs of the existence of God, although ontological, can help a person to understand that what they are seeing in the ordinary is God. We can't see molecules, but we can see our experience bodies, and understand how they are spoken to us by God, that we are experiencing God when we experience them.

--

Counterpoint:

Maybe you can see a molecule "noetically", with the eyes of belief. And then it it is part of the ordinary. It got into the ordinary through the poetry of scientific reasoning. Perhaps we can perceive philosophical and scientific theorizing in its own independent world, through noetic "eyes" or "ears". It could be that we can alter balloons by understanding about molecules, because we can perceive the molecules in them noetically, which changes what the balloons are to us. Poetry is what links interpretations, a form of noetic perception, to sensory objects. The ontological is the world where we imagine the underpinnings of reality, and the world of the imagination is real, and some of the things that we imagine are fitting to apply to what we sense. When we pursue the ontological well, we find what is fitting to apply to the sensory.

All existence is ordinary, first-hand. But some of it says that it connects to certain things when it doesn't. And that is where we get our concept of non-existence from. A noetic thing (an imagined object or person) can be said to be unreal if it does not connect to the things it is said to connect to. A conceivable thing can be real in a way that bears more, or less, fruit, that which speaks to us as persons, with the voice of limitation or enhancement.

The ordinary is life as you experience it, not just sensory objects, or sensory objects plus noetic objects. The balloon is the balloon as you interpret it. Sometimes it's really just a balloon, has no latex or molecules or even any gases, although you can turn your noetic eye to them in other moments or contexts. Just a thing you can kick, or that your friend can pop, startling you.

You, as a person, experience life, spoken to you simantically. In earlier drafts of these ideas, I thought to call the ordinary the simantic, but thought it was too confusing and question-begging. I think it's good to have a way of talking about what is not "ontological" without committing the person speaking to simantism. But what I want to say is that reality is simantic, over and above being ordinary, and "ordinary" is a kind of scaffolding to reach "simantic".

I tend to use "ontologistic" and "ordinaristic" to apply to the uses of "ontology" and "ordinary" in this post. I don't 100% like making up these particular new words, but this is also done to avoid confusion.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Original Person

The following is a chapter taken from How Can We Love? that I originally wrote in 2014. Since then, my views have changed in some ways relevant to this, and I will discuss those changes at the end. I will also discuss how I find the ideas in this useful in 2020. (So if you clicked on a link to this page from somewhere else on the blog, you may find what you're looking for there most directly.)

2014:

[Chapter title:] FREE WILL

Defined: A determination is that which decides how things will be.

Defined: A will is the part of a personal being that decides how things will be -- the personal determination.

Defined: Freedom is undetermination.

Assumed: Everything needs a determination, or is an undetermined determination, or determines itself and other things. (Perhaps there are things that are undetermined and determine nothing else, but these are left aside as they affect nothing and are affected by nothing and so are effectively not part of our universe.)

Is the universe an undetermined determination? It is said that the physical universe began with the Big Bang (or a Big Bang). That cannot be explained. It simply is. Why did the Big Bang unfold in the way that it did? How can one reason from the singularity at the inception of space and time to all the particularity of the present world? But let us say there is some rule for this. Then what explains that rule? Perhaps it is "the very nature of reality" -- then what determines that? Something just is just the way it is.

Under this story, of materialism, it seems impossible for the human will to be free. This human will emerges from the interaction of determined physical particles. Therefore it must obey the one true undetermined, the Big Bang (or if there's anything more primary than that, then that reality). Or there must be some kind of intervention, some way in which the neurons can rebel, apart from that which emerges from the Big Bang. And we don't see any physical evidence of such an intervening thing existing, and anyway, where else would that intervention have its determination but from the one true undetermined -- the Big Bang or whatever might come before it?

But materialism may not be true.

Is there a hard logical reason to suppose that there is only one undetermined thing? It seems as though there can only be one thing that is completely free. Otherwise, some equal thing could impinge on its freedom. Of course, if that equal power had the same will, then there never would be an impingement. In that case, there would be only one will which was completely free.

Concluded, then?: There can be only one completely free will.

But could there not be a number of partially free wills? That is, wills that can be limited in scope by outside determination.

We could picture the universe as being a field in which wills or determinations interact. There could be one primary determination that brings about the existence of numerous derivative determinations without determining their natures. If one undetermined thing exists, why not a number of others, if not powerful enough to resist all influence, at least possessing some originality of determination? And then all of these free or partially free determinations could interact, to produce all the rest of the universe's development.

(Think of a board game. Each player is constrained by the rules of the game and the structure of the board, but each makes some choices as to what his or her piece does, and these pieces interact with each other to form the development of that particular playing of the game.)

But how can this primary free will give birth to more free or partially free wills? If it creates them out of some material, won't that material have to have been made the way it is by the primary free will, the creator? And thus determined by the creator. It seems a will that is built by another will cannot choose against how it's built.

But what if the primary free will makes them out of its own uncreated nature -- and that very nature entails freedom of the will? It does not create it by writing its essence down as instructions in the pages of a book, but by offering pages out of itself -- the real thing that makes a thing the way it is is its material, not its abstract definition.

The human body is like a machine, and so I suppose that God created the body like a mechanic designing and interconnecting the parts of a machine, bringing into physical reality a pattern only existing, before, in the mechanic's mind. But the will of human beings, if nothing else, cannot be created in that way. Instead, God gives himself into a limit, a finite pond washed up by an infinite ocean. (In the Hebrew of the Bible, humans are both "made" and "created".)

Because this human free will is limited in power, it cannot rule the entire person, and so humans have only partially free will. There is an aspect of the human's nature which does come from a friend or a parent or the physical body or some accident of the weather or digestion or physical illness. Yet "the pond within" is a piece of God, and cannot be denied its "little God"-hood. It is materially free.

Can God be free? If freedom is an inexplicable quality and therefore objectionable, then which is worse, that the Big Bang has it, or that God has it? Freedom has to exist, magical as it is.

But can God impart his own material into a limit? How can an infinite being separate a finite reality from itself? The Big Bang singularity is said to exist without time and space. Can there be limits to a physical entity without time and space? No spatiotemporal limits, at least. So the singularity somehow falls out of its own infinity into limitation. This is inexplicable to me -- perhaps it is only "magical" and is explicable to some other human being. But explicable or not, it happened. And so if that is possible for the Big Bang singularity, then what would make such a move impossible for God? He could impart himself into limited regions of space-time, numerous times, and thus create us.

And so I see a way in which, if God exists, there can be human free will.

2020:

One thing that this says, that I want to bring into 2020, is that free will is something that can't have arisen from a mechanistic process. If we really do have free will (in other words, if we do anything at all, rather than forces outside us acting on us), then that capacity to be ourselves must have come directly, imparted as one would split water off from the ocean to make a tide-pool. This is a way of saying that the origin of the personal must be the personal. So we descend from some original person.

I suppose I could add the original person to the list, along with the metaphysical organism, the Speaker, and the Father of legitimism, all as names for the same being. So it might seem I ought to change "MSLN" to "OMSLN". I'm considering doing a clean-up of all the terminology that I use philosophically, if there comes a time that I consider myself to be markedly more ready to try to promote MSLN, but until then, I will not change "MSLN", because of the work involved in doing so.

I don't keep up very carefully on cosmology, so either a) what I wrote above about the Big Bang might not be what people thought then or b) it might not be what people think now.

In the past, I wanted to defend the description of God that included "actually infinite" in its list of properties. I don't currently think that the description of God needs to include "actually infinite", and I am not sure that there is such a thing as actual infinity. I would tend to think that there is not (nothing in our experience is actually infinite) -- except in the case of everlastingness (e.g. processes which have always lasted a finite amount of time but which never stop increasing in duration). But I have not fully explored the question yet, and probably should in some other post.

"The real thing that makes a thing the way it is is its material, not its abstract definition." is an interesting statement. If I want to defend my past usage, I would say that what I probably meant was "abstract definition" (formal cause?) does make something the way it is, but "material" (material cause?) is the truer root of what makes a thing the way it is. I think in context of How Can We Love?, the emphasis on spiritual material over constructedness is fitting. How Can We Love? is about change in material, in part.

I think this charitable interpretation has some evidence in its favor from the original text, in the case where humans are implied to have been both "made" and "created". If God both made and created us, perhaps by "creating" us he was putting us into the finite ponds, and by "making" us he was making our bodies (including our brains and that which our brains determine about who we are).

What makes us "really" who we are? Our constructedness? The many layers of mechanism which determine many of the facts of our life and how we behave and appear to others? Or the fact that we are free, that we exist at all as persons?

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If I title this post "The Original Person", then maybe I ought to give some thought as to what this argument can tell us about God.

A short way to put this is: We are persons, not wills and consciousnesses. Persons have wills and consciousnesses. We do things, we make decisions, knowingly, as opposed to being forced to by mechanistic forces. We exist, as persons. We exist, as partially undetermined beings. It is in our undeterminedness that we do things. So the question is not "free will", but "free persons". Free persons descend from a free person. They can't be fully determined by anything else, so their undetermination must come from undetermined personhood.

We get the whole of personality from a personal source. People are different -- have different "constructednesses" or are "made" different ways. But what we all have in common is our material. The original person is a person in the most minimal sense, has will, consciousness, and preferences. He has a constructedness which differs from each of us, but whatever is necessarily a part of all personal being can be found in him. I'm not sure at the moment what, if anything, to add to "will, consciousness, and preference" among the foundation of personhood, but perhaps there are more features to be added.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

MSLN Theodicy

The argument

A theodicy is an attempt to justify God, given the evil of the world. I do think it is possible to justify the God of MSLN. Essentially, the argument goes like this:

1. God is good, absolutely.

2. Enough of us begin our existence not yet fully aligned with him.

3. We have to make choices -- real choices -- to become like him.

4. a. For these choices to exist, they have to be arranged to exist, so that we see them.

4. b. And the simantic word of "You can do wrong / choose against legitimacy" has to be spoken to us.

4. c. Enough of the time, 4. a. and 4. b. can't be done by God -- he can't tempt. He is too good, and too loving, to be able to will violations of legitimacy, and to cause us to will them.

5. So temptation must be done by beings other than God.

6. These beings are never more powerful than God, but are needed by God for their role in our salvation.

7. So these beings have bargaining power, and can negotiate a world order that is worse than what a loving God would ordain.

Now, fleshing out each point:

1. God is good, absolutely

This follows from legitimism.

2. Enough of us begin our existence not yet fully aligned with him.

Probably each of us can easily remember some time in our past when we were not aligned with God. It's likely we were born with tendencies which made us painful people, to ourselves and others. We did not do the kind of things that a completely empathic being would be able to bear forever. So we have to become like him somehow. If we see our destination as people as being in tune with him, then we must mature into that final state.

3. We have to make choices -- real choices -- to become like him.

If we are to become like him, it should be we who do so, rather than something else that determines us. So we have to be presented with situations where there is some uncertainty, where something bad seems good enough to be worth trying, or where we seem to ourselves unworthy of doing what is really good, or something else of that nature.

4. We need to be tempted, but God cannot tempt us.

Temptation is when we're put in a position where we are willed to choose to do bad. ("I will you to choose bad" -- you feel a push or pull from that willing, toward doing bad.) We have situations in our lives that seem to have been set up to tempt us. (As though the situation were saying "I will you to choose bad".) Also we can hear a voice speaking the simantic word of temptation to us. (The tempting situation needs someone to speak for it, to point out its potential.) God cannot will us to choose to do bad. He is absolutely good, legitimacy itself. He loves us too much to will that we be opposed to him through doing or being wrong.

He can't speak the word of temptation, or at least, he cannot will it. For legitimacy to will illegitimacy would be to make it legitimate. He can set up situations that tend to tempt us, but he can't will that they tempt us, and he can't set up situations that are designed to tempt us, by his own will. God often does what other beings will him to do (you can demonstrate this by making a decision and acting in the world, which he conveys to the people you interact with). Sometimes he does not approve of what he does on behalf of others. But the will had to come from somewhere. If he allows anything to happen, it's by his will, unless someone else chooses to use the free will granted to them by him, to do something against his will.

5. So temptation must be done by beings other than God.

Other spirits can set up situations where we are tempted, and can also will the speaking of the simantic word of temptation. If there are times where spirits are not available to speak that word, for tempting situations they don't set up, it could be that God speaks it in accordance with the situation's inherent potential for temptation, according to a law that the spirits are able to bind on him.

6. These beings are never more powerful than God, but are needed by God for their role in our salvation.

These spirits are subordinate to God, and God could stop them any time he wanted. But, for us to mature, he needs them.

7. So these beings have bargaining power, and can negotiate a world order that is worse than what a loving God would ordain.

He can't force them to do what they do, or else it would be by his will that the tempting is done. So they can freely choose to not tempt us. But God needs them to tempt us, although he also fights against them, by giving us reasons to disfavor choosing wrong. Because God needs them, and they know this, they can refuse to work unless they have "good working conditions". These "conditions" may include causing suffering beyond what is needed for our maturation. The spirits (enemies of God), want to hurt him, and also know that broken expectations create doubt and decrease motivation in us. Many of us have an expectation (whether supported by our official beliefs or not) that life will go well, make sense, flow, as though a loving God were caring for us. This expectation can be broken by the gratuitous evil in the world, which can then weaken our will to do what we really want to do, and thus makes it more likely for us to choose evil instead.

God puts the spirits in a situation where their evil nature is revealed. They may not really be tempted, in the sense that they experience no inner struggle -- they simply reveal who they are, by doing evil. But for them to take on the role of tempter is a complex thing. God intends them to be tempters according to the legitimate function of a tempter in bringing us in line with God. Their motives are more to pain him and lead us into enmity with him. And we choose how to respond to temptation. There are three stakeholders in the process of temptation: God, the tempters, and us, and each of us has our unique contribution to the question of whether we choose wrong. God does not have full control of reality. That way he can let us really exist as persons. Even though God wills us to be free, and wills the spirits to tempt us, he himself does not say that what is bad is good, as the spirits do. God does not violate his legitimacy by appointing them, in the way that he would if he tried to do what they do.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Flat View of Experience

According to simantism, every experience, every simantic word, is spoken to you by God. Therefore, in reality, every moment, whether good, bad, or ordinary, is divine.

In evil moments we may find it impossible to see God, but it must be through God that they are spoken nonetheless. God has to speak things to us that he would rather not.

Dreams, hallucinations, and peak experiences are taken to be more divine than others, by some people. But God is not found in the experiences themselves. Experiences are like poems, and God is like their poet. You can know something about a poet through their poetry, but a poet can write a lot of different poems, which say different things. How do you really know a poet? How do you get from only knowing what someone says, to knowing what it's like to be them? We can have many experiences of God, but we know God by kinship.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Is Eternal Conscious Torment Compatible with MSLN?

Epistemic status: provisional in the sense that, I think somewhere in MSLN there is reason to not believe in eternal conscious torment, but these arguments in their exact form may need revision; and also that I can only provide natural theological arguments right now.

Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) is the doctrine that some people will go to hell, existing forever in a state of conscious torment. It is an offensive doctrine, but one which may yet be true. Ordinarily we look at the Bible as the source for this doctrine. In the future I may be able to consider what the Bible says, overall, but for now, I will consider natural theology: reasoning about God. Reason is used in interpreting the Bible, and many people find reason trustworthy in itself, perhaps more so than the Bible. Natural theology and the Bible talk about the same subject: God. So what does the natural theology of MSLN say about ECT?

Would God want to or need to send people to hell in MSLN?

One popular definition of hell is "separation from God".

God may be able to bear us for a long time, but what is unbearable at all can't be borne forever. Fundamentally, God is the way he is (he is the right way he should be from the beginning). We differ from God in some ways that he can't bear (we are "sinful"). So either we must change to fit God, or we must be separated from God. A separation into ECT? Or a separation that destroys us? (The latter view is called annihilationism; "Annihilation": to make nothing.) Presumably, no one can exist when completely separated from God.

MSLN argument: the metaphysical organism

The idea of the metaphysical organism is a hypothesis about the means by which otherwise separate consciousnesses connect. In it, a consciousness connects to another consciousness by being conscious of its exact consciousness. Further, whatever connects me to the outside world experiences exactly what I do. So that being would experience ECT as well as I would. If God is the being who connects all consciousnesses, he would have to experience the ECT of all those who made themselves enemies of him. Could God ever rest? He would experience the unbearability of their torment for all time. They might not have the ability to stop experiencing what they experienced, but he would. Arguably, unbearability can't be endured forever, not even by God, because God would experience the unbearability as unbearable. So then God would shut down their consciousnesses, and this would be like them being annihilated, rather than experiencing ECT.

MSLN argument: simantism

However, maybe it is possible to think that God could cut himself off from these consciousnesses, and they could somehow exist apart from him. They would "speak" experience to themselves, in place of God, the Speaker. They would have a very limited simantic vocabulary compared to God. Maybe they could only speak the barest proto-conscious sense of will, preference, and trust. If he left them to an existence so minimalist that they couldn't torment themselves, it wouldn't be ECT, and it would resemble annihilation.

If they had a less-minimalist existence, could they torment themselves? Maybe, but not against their will, and though they might be the causes of their torment, the experience of the torment itself would be against their will. So it would be a case of them relating to what was not-them (simantism), and their torment would have to be spoken to them by another being. I have written in this paragraph as though it is possible to speak simantic words without God, but then, the simantic word of the entirety of reality, which is implied by a person's experience in the moment, would be spoken to them, and who can do that other than God? So God would have contact with them and would suffer as they did.

MSLN argument: legitimism

From the point of view of legitimism, whatever exists, in some sense should be, and should be absolutely. Absolute ought comes from a truly worthy will, is a truly worthy opinion. An opinion is conscious and personal, is part of a person. If God's opinion founds all of reality, he is conscious of all that is. Any lack of awareness on his part is of what does not yet exist. And what kind of opinion is so valid that it can found reality? The answer given in legitimism is that God is willing to take on the burdens he lays on others, and is maximally receptive to reality. So then, God would know of and directly experience the ECT of any who suffer it.

Summary so far

These considerations strongly suggest that God himself can't escape ECT if any of us remain in it. It is reasonable to guess that God would prefer to rest than to suffer, and it seems that in the very nature of unbearability, there is the inability to willingly endure it forever. So these make a case against ECT.

Does MSLN in some way support eternal conscious torment?

On the other hand, do these natural theologies lend any weight in favor of ECT? Perhaps legitimism does. Legitimism says that there is an absolute ought, which can be violated by personal beings. The violations are an offense against what should be. We know as humans that sometimes exacting a just penalty from someone heals an injustice. And this may be a foundational principle of reality. So, when people do what is unjust, they must pay the penalty so that legitimacy can be healed, unless the penalty is paid for them. So if their injustices are infinite, they deserve infinite punishment, and this could lead to ECT. ECT as a means to justice.

Finite beings don't have the power to cause infinite injustice in a positive sense. So we wouldn't merit ECT. But perhaps by us turning away from helping others, we are willing to shut the door on potentially infinite numbers of people, for all we know or care about, in order to enjoy our small pleasures. This could be considered in some sense an infinite injustice for which we might have to pay eternally.

The past is broken, made illegitimate by our acts. To fix it, someone could pay the penalty. But we can't pay for all our acts -- we would all die, have to be destroyed. But God doesn't want us to be destroyed. So he created reality with a more-finite partner, who shares his character. The Father (the metaphysical organism and Speaker), creates with a Son. This Son is legitimacy, as much as the Father is, because they decided on reality together as beings who were disposed to experience the burdens they lay on us. So he can take on the penalty. He dies existentially alone, facing annihilation. He does this willingly. Because he is legitimacy, he does not deserve to die, and so in himself is able to pay the penalty. And so legitimacy is healed. (The penalty is paid once -- if the Son died again, that would create a new injustice, for which there could be no further healing. Having paid the penalty, the Son does not need to remain dead/destroyed, and so he is brought back to life.) This healing of the past of legitimacy, healing of justice, makes it so that the underlying issue of justice is not an obstacle to us avoiding hell.

Though God does not need to punish us for justice's sake, God may still find a kind of punishment useful. We sometimes forget that he loves foolish people and people with a certain amount of psychopathic traits, people who might only repent if they feared death and punishment. There is a place for death, and for suffering hell, in the plan of salvation. But the suffering need not be eternal in order to provide an incentive for the salvation of those who require it. On the other hand, the idea of ECT, in some cultures and time periods, might have been one we liked to believe as a civilization, and were benefited by, even if the reality is that there is no such thing. The stronger image of hell doesn't seem to have been as unacceptably scary in the past, and may have saved some people that the softer image would not have.

A parent might say, "The consequences for hitting your brother are that you don't get to play video games for the rest of the night." They don't want you to do that kind of thing or be that kind of person, and want to give you a reason to see things their way. Hitting your brother is replaying the story of Cain and Abel -- you should be cast out of your house with a mark on you for the rest of your life. But the pain your brother felt, and the pall you cast on the trust and trustworthiness of the house, only merit you missing out on your greatest pleasure for a few hours. So God as the parent can ordain consequences for injustice without them directly paying for the deeper, truer injustice. And like a parent, he would ordain these, one would think, in order to preserve the good of his children in the long run, not for justice's sake.

The natural theologies of MSLN say that ECT is unlikely (God wouldn't want to experience unbearability) and that the parts of legitimism that lend themselves to ECT don't have to (given the death of the Son).

However, this is only part of MSLN. What remains is the interpretation of the Bible (the New Wine System).

What about the biblical component of MSLN?

I may turn toward study of the Bible itself, for myself, at some point, in evaluating MSLN. It seems like something I should do at some point. Until then, I will appeal to a few outside perspectives: the developer of the New Wine System, Philip Brown, favors annihilationism (giving arguments for that position in New Wine for the End Times) and this article and this article give me reason to believe that there are valid arguments for annihilationism, and that there is a debate -- it's not like annihilationism is a strange thing that no respectable Bible interpreter espouses. So for now I can leave the question of what the Bible says undecided, allowing for the possibility that the annihilationist part of the New Wine System is biblical, so that the Bible agrees with MSLN natural theology.

Why Take Offensive Doctrines Seriously?

Is religion something that connects to a human-judgment-independent reality, or is it something we make up for our own purposes? If the latter, then it is easy to cast judgment on certain doctrines. I will take for perhaps the strongest example eternal conscious torment. That is the view that hell is eternal and involves people being conscious of torment, which we should assume will affect some people.

Who would make up such a thing? Maybe someone who wanted to scare people. Or maybe there are side effects to belief in eternal conscious torment that are desirable. It might regulate people's behavior, motivate evangelical love, give purpose, or give life a welcome sense of gravity. We might think that none of these benefits would be worth frightening sensitive people, or worth giving us a view of God such that he would torture people for all eternity. If religious beliefs are made up for human purposes, what kind of person could be so cruel, to put that idea in children's minds, an idea that would rule their lives with fear? We could easily decide to suppress such a doctrine, since there would be no way it could be true if we didn't make it true by believing it (to whatever extent that that would make it true).

However, if God exists in a factual way, then it becomes important to consider the possibility that the things ascribed to God by people who believe in God might be true. And also, the things that we ourselves see, when we investigate. What we see has some connection with what really is, and that may be the case of any observer of life and the Bible. If we want to know the reality of God, then we want to know what he's like, and not just what we want him to be like. So we should look for the truth, and consider the points of view that we do not yet understand, held by other people. It may not be possible to understand God perfectly, just as it may not be possible to understand physics perfectly, but we should understand God enough for what is vital to our lives, like we understand the basics of how gravity works, or the dynamics of driving a car.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Degrees of Existence

When something exists to me, in some way it is not separate from me. What I can see with my eyes is wrapped up in my experience, is part of my experience body. If it does not exist to me, it is separate from me, and a thing that does not exist at all does not even have the possibility of coming into relation with me. It is as though it is infinitely separate from me. Some of the things I can see with my eyes, I'm not focusing on -- they are more separate, but still not so far away from my person.

Perhaps the intimate but non-obvious identity of my experience with part of God's as in the metaphysical organism idea lends itself to being read as God's non-existence. The being who is close in every way fades into the background -- as the background is everywhere, but the foreground is not. What I do not focus on exists less to me.

Betrayal, Insult to the Organ of Trust

Betrayal can defined as anything that is an insult to the organ of trust. "Insult" is used here in a medical sense, of something that causes shock, stress, injury or the like to an organ. The organ must recover in order to trust again. The "organ of trust" can be taken as a metaphor for the set of different receptivities or functions within a person or a person's body. It may be that the brain itself is an organ of trust.

Sin, About Us

Sometimes we think that sin is about us, about who we've proved ourselves to be, about how we've messed up, about how we are frauds, about that thing that we did, about us.

Guilt can be self-focused. When guilty, we can forget the people we've harmed. Even in the midst of feeling guilty about what we did to them, we focus on what we did, that one moment, instead of the bigger picture of who they are. And guilt can make us forget any outside reality, outside of that one act we did. It traumatizes and obsesses us, sometimes more than the person we harmed.

Guilt over the seen and vivid can blind us to our responsibility to the persons we can't see, including God.

Field vs. Market

A market is a segment of the population who will pay you for a good or service. There is a demand there.

A field is a location in time or space, or a segment of the population, in which your action is called for. There is a demand or implicit demand there as well.

The difference is that a market is specifically oriented toward making money, deriving self-benefit. If you're interested in profit, you're interested in markets. Whereas a field is oriented toward making use of your ability to do things. If you're interested in doing things, you're interested in fields.

Contexts

Human experience goes in and out of different contexts. A context is a complete and sufficient psychological place, a set of assumptions and meanings, and sensory experiences, its own complete world. In each context, we have a radically different future and past. And yet somehow it is possible to go from one context to another. I suppose you could imagine yourself as a solipsist, puzzling over this. You look to pure experience, as though experience is all that there is, and marvel at how pasts and futures can change, as time goes on. Each context is its own self-sufficient reality, yet it can lead to another, completely different one. Somehow you can be aware of this.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Temptation and Anti-temptation

Epistemic status: provisional.

A temptation is when you feel a pull toward doing something bad. The pull has something to do with who you are (often), but is other than you. Perhaps this pull is experienced as thoughts, or as hungers, or feelings -- anything that can have power over your decision-making process. You don't have to give in to temptation, but you are more likely to do bad or become bad when tempted. A real temptation (as opposed to being overcome by a spirit) never forces you to do something wrong, but it does correlate with and partly cause your free decision to do wrong. Or perhaps rather than causing your decision, it only occasions it. But without the occasion, the decision would not have happened, and it would not have altered you or your life.

In MSLN terms, a temptation pulls you away from God, from connection with God, loyalty to God, valuing God, love of God. But an anti-temptation is like a temptation, except that it biases you toward connection with God, loyalty to God, valuing God, loving God (and thus obeying and honoring God, among other consequent pursuits). It doesn't make up your mind for you or force you to do or be good apart from who you really are, how you really choose. Perhaps sometimes the Holy Spirit overcomes us so that we are encouraged in our religious walk, or to enable us to do things that we are not good enough to do, because those things are things God needs to get done through us in the moment. But these indwellings, if so strong as to be "not of us", aren't what I would call anti-temptations. Sometimes the Spirit can create an environment in us in which we are anti-tempted, thus in which we still have some ability to not seek God or to not do the right thing.

You can get yourself into a rut by giving in to temptations, but get out of it by giving in to anti-temptations. Anti-temptations are not only "given in to", but also "affirmed" -- maybe more commonly in order to participate in them we must affirm them, rather than giving in to them. Martin Buber's idea of "good as whole-souled decision" is what anti-temptation calls for. Anti-temptation does not feel the same as temptation, is made out of a different material, as it were. Generally the "giving in" of anti-temptation feels different from that of temptation.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Ethics as Wealth-Maximization

Ethics can be seen as "wealth-maximization", where quality of life is the wealth. But perhaps there is a different way of being ethical, that is less quantitative, or less economic in vibe. What would ethics be in a world without possession, where people meet each other only as people, not as rich or beautiful, or kind or patient? You and nothing but you, meeting someone else and no more. Or maybe there's a less "Buberian" way to avoid the wealth-maximization interpretation of ethics. Perhaps deontological ethics can ignore wealth, and have absolutes that are not part of a larger economy.

A truly moral person sometimes forgets the larger economy and lives only in the moment. You test yourself against your moment, not trying to make all the moments good. Making all moments good is possible perhaps only if we are economic and additive, utilitarian. If you cause other people distressing moments, then they can test themselves against such moments. The value in life comes from whether you pass the test, which reflects on you, rather than the quality of your circumstances, which does not. So if persons are valuable in themselves, in that way, what remains to those who seek to benefit all beings is to teach people to make good choices in whatever circumstance they are in, and to keep people from dying so that they continue to exist. And maybe even keeping people alive so that they keep existing is not essential, because the fact of a good person having existed remains even after the extinction of the human race.

Valuing Lives, Valuing Persons

In metaethics, there can seem to be a focus on providing people high quality of life. There is talk of lives worth living, lives barely worth living, and lives not worth living. This can be seen, for instance, in discussion of the Repugnant Conclusion.

Some people live lives of suffering and despair, lives which might be considered to be of poor quality. As altruists, we want to end all such lives.

The most expedient way to end a poor life is through death. The other way is through improving it until it is no longer poor. People living poor quality lives don't always have the choice to improve their lives, but they generally have the choice to end their lives.

But many of them do not, and live through their poor quality lives for a long time. Why do they live these inferior lives? One reason might be that they value themselves, and the only way they can exist is to live some kind of life, and a poor life is all that is available.

We can value persons for their qualities, not just as streams of experiences, or as series of experienced states of affairs. We can even value people purely for themselves, apart from any specific qualities. Value can reside in persons, and qualities of persons, and not just in experiences.

When life is at all unbearable, you pay a tax to keep living. If the unbearability is too great, you are tempted to die rather than pay the seemingly unaffordable tax. Having a higher quality of life keeps us away from such self-disvaluing.

Adversity is a part of life, but in the far enough future, may not be. Currently, we value ourselves by paying for our own lives. Can we really value ourselves without adversity, which makes us pay? It seems that it is possible to value things after having paid the price, but maybe not before. Maybe we will have to keep some adversity, or unbearability, in our experiential diet. Or we will have to figure out a way for us to truly value ourselves without paying for ourselves.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Pascalian and Non-Pascalian Nonzeros

Pascalian and non-Pascalian nonzero chances, definition: Any conceivable thing has a nonzero chance of being real -- we can call that the Pascalian nonzero chance. When we have some more solid reason to believe in something, the chance of it being real is also nonzero, is somehow higher, and can be called a non-Pascalian nonzero chance.

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In estimating risk and reward, there are two kinds of nonzero chances I know of: what I will call "Pascalian" and "non-Pascalian".

Blaise Pascal proposed a famous Wager, which goes something like this:

If God exists:

Being aligned with God promises eternal life. Value = infinity.

Not being aligned with God promises hell. Value = minus infinity.

If God does not exist:

Being aligned with God promises a finite life, followed by annihilation. (That life might be better or worse because of your alignment with the God-idea and God-community which must stand in for God if he doesn't exist.) Value = something finite.

Not being aligned with God promises a finite life, followed by annihilation. Value = something finite.

Expected value calculations are made by multiplying the expected payoff of a course of action by its likelihood. Investment is risky but can be rational if the expected profits are high enough. If you have good information about the likelihood and reward, if you keep pursuing investments with high expected values, in the long run you will win big at least a few times, and make up for all the times you don't. You can make expected value a part of your lifestyle, pursuing all kinds of rewards, so that at least one will take. This approach can be used when evaluating whether to invest in alignment with God.

Is it ever rational to act as though God doesn't exist? Seemingly, not if there is a nonzero chance of God existing. Can anyone be 100% certain that God does not exist? Is there any possible way that God could have been the one to create and sustain the world? One would think there is. So if there is a tiny but nonzero chance that God exists, you multiply that by the infinity of eternal life and still get an infinite payout. So your expected value is infinite, no matter how small that tiny but nonzero chance is. Likewise with the negative payout that comes with not being aligned with God. But if you don't align yourself with God, the most you can expect is something finite, a finite life. Align yourself with God, then, no matter what the truth is.

Inspired by Pascal's Wager, some people have discussed Pascal's Mugging. It goes something like this:

A man walks up to you on the street. He says, "I know you're a rational person. So I have an offer to make you. If you give me $100, there's a nonzero chance that I will give you any finite amount of goodness you want -- just name your price. There's a nonzero chance that I have magical powers." A truly rational person, aware of expected value theory, will seemingly have to offer the mugger the money, in order to follow the dictates of reason which they always do. So knowing this, a mugger can exploit rationalists, by playing on their devotion to expected value.

But rationalists (and atheists) hardly ever seem to want to fall for these appeals. I don't know if real Pascal's Muggings happen (although scams do, and appeals to enormous but unlikely future goods occupy some minds), but I would bet someone has offered Pascal's Wager to an atheist, and the atheist was unimpressed. But what's wrong with the Wager and the offer in the Mugging? If you stick to the possibility and logic, they look pretty good. Why do we have an intuition against them?

I'm not sure this really explains the intuition, but I can think of one problem with Pascal's Wager, which is that you have to ask "which God?". Any conceivable thing has a nonzero chance of being real -- we can call that the Pascalian nonzero chance. When we have some more solid reason to believe in something, the chance of it being real is also nonzero, is somehow higher, and can be called a non-Pascalian nonzero chance. Well, if being aligned with God requires us to do certain things and hold certain attitudes, we want to know which God that is, to know what those behaviors and attitudes specifically ought to be. If any one deity can be considered to possibly exist simply because he is conceivable, then why not all the other conceivable ones? If we have to satisfy every conceivable deity, we may end up with all of their demands cancelling each other out. And if they don't, it will probably take too much of our time to figure out how they all add up and balance. Deities could be into all kinds of things, in all kinds of proportions, to all kinds of tolerances.

Perhaps a similar objection can be made to the Mugger. Yes, there is a nonzero chance that the mugger is both honest and possessing sufficient magical powers, but if that chance is exactly as high as the chance that anything conceivable can be true, then it is equally likely that some magical thing will happen to cancel out the good the mugger promises (a leprechaun interferes, perhaps). Then if I take the offer, I'm out $100 and I don't get anything back in the end.

What is the size of a Pascalian nonzero? I don't know if anyone has defined it. A solid 1% chance is definitely non-Pascalian. That's something you can work with. 0.1% or 0.01% are also okay. If you keep adding zeros, though, at some point you get Pascalian. Presumably in people's minds (or guts) there's some exact quantification of "Technically it's got a nonzero possibility because it's conceivable". But I'd be hesitant to mention what it is for me, perhaps because if I did the math I'd have to do something I didn't want to do. I would have been hoping the low number I'd assign to my Pascalian nonzero would make it effectively zero in all practical calculations, but some mugger could offer me a sufficiently high reward, and I'd feel rationally compelled to give him $100.