Sunday, August 29, 2021

Giving Life vs. Untying Knots

My straw man conception of therapy is that it is all about untying knots. The therapist (or friend) can talk you through your problems and help you untie your own knots, so that your rope is free of knots. Then you will be at peace and accept things, and function smoothly.

But where do you get life from? What if someone gave you life, and you could tolerate having knots? Maybe life is better than unknottedness. But the therapist (or friend) may not be able to give you life, particularly if their orientation is toward problem-solving, or their goal is unknottedness and not life.

Jesus claims to give us life. How do we connect with Jesus? Perhaps by obeying his commands. We can "ask, seek, and knock", seeing God as someone who wants to give us good things, and that can give life. In times of desperation we learn to pray, desperate enough to listen to Jesus and believe that we have already received what we asked for. We can pursue and undergo the cross, and having been willing to cease to exist (and perhaps undergoing something like death), we come out alive. Perhaps in some other way, Jesus offers life.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Listening to Satan Can Have Good Results

I used to have a friend, whom I will call "A" (she was a philosophy major). At some point, she feel in love with a friend of hers, whom I will call "B", who had been pursuing her romantically. They became a happy couple.

I learned at some point from her that there was a young man who went to the same church as her and B, whom I will name "X". X was not a good person according to A. I don't remember all the details, but he could well have been immature, or had a bad personality, or was in some deep sense ill-intentioned, or something else. In any case, A did not trust him. And it became apparent that he had a crush on her.

At some point, X said that God had told him that he was going to marry A. (A and B eventually got married -- I don't remember if they would have been engaged at this point or not.) The pastor of A, B, and X heard about this and had a talk with them. He told X that God does not tell people that they are going to marry people if the person being sought or desired is in a relationship already (boyfriend and girlfriend? engaged? I can't remember / would depend on whether A and B were engaged at that point or not).

This story has stuck with me for years -- it came from a past era of my life, and it's been quite a while since I was friends with A, as well -- and I still think about what might have been going on.

Did X hear a voice from God? Or from some other spiritual source? Was the pastor's judgment Biblically-based? Or was he saying something pragmatic? Or was he led by the Spirit to say what he said? Or by a spiritual force of pragmatism?

I don't know, and I suspect that the people in the situation also didn't really know.

So what should X have done? Let's assume that he was sincere and wanted to please God. If God tells you you're going to marry someone who is in a relationship, but it could be Satan telling you that, you could say "I just shouldn't listen to that voice, try to forget I heard it". But what if God is trying to tell you something important? It's risky to not listen to God when he's trying to get you to do something, as much as it is to listen to Satan when he's trying to get you do something. So X might not ought to have just forgotten he heard the voice.

So now what? As a sincere, theistic young man, X might say "well, how can I be most pleasing to God in pursuing this message that I think might be from him, given the possibility that it is from Satan?" He might think of all the ways that Satan could use this message. Perhaps Satan would want X to harrass A and discourage her. Maybe Satan would be setting up a two-step scam, where because of him harrassing her, she had to (or would be tempted to) put up defenses, act out of fear, judge X, etc. Or maybe if he looked further ahead he could see the potential of Satan using his action to affect other people in the church community or the community as a whole. A two-step scam could be meant to get the pastor to form pragmatic judgments ("let's just not have creeps hitting on young women in my congregation") rather than really being open to the range of things God could be asking, weird though they may be -- to put practicality before obedience to God. And this emphasis on the pastor being the "professional manager of human situations" could affect his overall approach to leadership, making him less deeply theistic and thus less able to anti-tempt.

A smart, safe thing X could have done would have been to not mention that he expected to marry A, to stop showing outward romantic interest in her, and simply try to love her and love God, not with any sense of grasping but with the hope that is a "non-technique" (as Godfrey puts it in A Philosophy of Human Hope), hoping that someday she would understand that B wasn't the one for her after all, if that was in fact the case. Or even to persevere in loving her without grasping onto that potential outcome (of her realizing that he was more suitable for her). He could try to change to become more suitable for her.

If X learned the ever-educational way of the desert, and perseverance, hope, and trust in God, and sought to become a generally trustworthy person (and thus more trustworthy to God), through the message of "you will marry A", and didn't harrass or otherwise bother A, then no matter where the message came from, the outcome would be fairly unambiguously good from God's perspective (assuming that there are no other significant factors than the ones listed). It might not have been the best possible outcome (maybe X could, or couldn't, have known that God didn't really give that message, and either way it would have been better for him to not listen to it), but unless deciding to forget the message would have furthered some bigger plan of God's (that is, if we just evaluate this situation in itself), it would no longer be a win for Satan, but rather more so a win for God.

So, if that message came from Satan masquerading as God, if X had been serious about pursuing God, and had known how, he would have actually turned Satan's weird advice into something good.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

'Ought' Implies 'Can' But How Capable Are We?

I've heard the saying "'ought' implies 'can'". I take that to mean "If you say that I ought to do something, I have to be able to do it." This saying makes a lot of sense, but it can be a deceptive truth, because if we are unaware of the saying, if we instead think "'ought' is when reality demands something of me", then we may well find that we "can" do much more than we otherwise would have thought we could. If we focus a lot on how "'ought' implies 'can'", if we just don't want to do what reality demands of us, we fail to develop the capabilities and thus say "Well, I can't, so I'm not obligated to do anything."

Is ought something we ask of people, and so it would be unfair to ask too much of them? Or is the failure to do what we ought something we impose on reality, and it is unfair to reality to not do what is really called for? The answer to both questions is yes. I guess the way to practically sort this out (one way, at least) is to approach life as though you always have a duty to external reality, and you find out the limits of your "can" by pushing yourself further in your pursuit of fulfilling that duty. You learn that you "can't" by trying as hard as you can and being unable -- and to really know that limit, you have to keep trying even after you think you're unable, until you are unable to try.

If you don't want to do what reality calls for, you will find that you "can't" much sooner than if you do. If you do, you will be more correct whenever you reach the point of judging yourself as "can't".

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Theism Bias and Atheism Bias

It's possible to have a cognitive bias in favor of theism, as well as one in favor of atheism, or opposed to theism.

One experience that I had that makes me think that atheism bias may be a thing is what happens sometimes when I think about credences for the existence of God. I have found, often enough, that I can't believe in God unless I arrive at some internal credence of 1 that he exists. I think when we believe things to be true, it is often to us as though there is no possibility of them being false. To be made aware of uncertainty somehow completely destroys a belief.

A credence of 0.9 isn't good enough for me. I can't seem to process the probability of God existing, which ought to go a long way even if certainty isn't possible. Humans might not ought to be expected to be good at thinking involving probability, but I think there's even an inconsistency in me there, where the 90% threat of something means something to me, but threats that are 90% likely given the 90% likelihood that God exists do not bother me as much as they should, while I do respond (with fairly assiduous avoidance) to most 90% chances of threats that I think matter. I do think that unwittingly being deceived by Satan matters (a likely risk given the 90% chance the worldview obtains which includes the God I believe in). But I seem to often not naturally care about it for some reason, and I suspect that there is some kind of atheism bias at play. Rationally, I should care (at least by my lights), but sometimes find that I don't.

(Another explanation, which may avoid bringing in the concept of atheism bias: this may be a case where my belief in Satan has been more often in the past an ought-belief rather than an is-belief. On the other hand, maybe atheism bias often just is the difficulty of is-believing things related to God.)

That's an atheism bias that cuts through my usual theism bias. Atheism biases can find a more welcome home in other people (maybe the welcome home for them can itself be a bias).

Theism bias and atheism bias both (at least partially) discredit theistic and atheistic beliefs formed under their influences. It's possible that atheistic beliefs that break through a theism bias, or theistic beliefs that break through an atheism bias, are to be given more credit, for having arisen under hostile circumstances. However, I think that if you want to believe something badly enough, it generates its own bias both toward and away from belief. In other words, the fact that theism bias discredits beliefs formed under its influence creates an automatic atheism bias, which then discredits atheistic beliefs as well. (This puts a person in a kind of impossible position, at least while it lasts.) If atheists want to be atheists badly enough, the same dynamic should hold for them.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Hero's Journey vs. Absurdism vs. Ancient Judaism

I dug up this old unpublished post (originally written up in November 2020) because it is relevant to what I'm thinking about now. It was already a post in part about the process of writing it, so I thought it would be fitting to continue the process-nature of it by writing these responses to it now (summer of 2021), in blockquotes.

Sometimes I write comments on other people's posts that I realize later I would have been better off writing as my own blog posts. Maybe I'm scarred, formed, enlightened by my experience at the EA Forum, where everyone feels like there are high standards for discourse. Do I dare write something off-topic? Or only partially on-topic? But my mind is more comfortable when it doesn't have to stay in one place. So I'm erring on the side of posting this to my own blog, rather than posting under the post that occasioned this one. You may wish to read the original post at cerebralab first, to understand the context of what I'm saying, here. The basic topic is the worldview of old Dungeons and Dragons vs. new Dungeons and Dragons, which can be paralleled to absurdism vs. the monomyth.


This is the part I would have posted:

--I think myths can be applied to parts of lives instead of whole lives. The monomyth is a (relatively) good story to tell young people so that they go do something. Life can be a charmed adventure for a while. And you really can learn lessons. Many or most people experience some disappointment or burnout at the end of young adulthood. That's where the approximation stops working. (But the U-shaped curve of happiness shows that after a few decades, most people start being happy again, although their lives don't necessarily fit the monomyth life approximation anymore.)--

[And then I continue, with text I wouldn't have posted on cerebralab:]

I haven't played DnD much, but I see parallels between new DnD and JRPGs [which I am somewhat familiar with], and between old DnD and roguelikes, which I am [more] familiar with. New DnD vs. old, JRPG vs. roguelike, monomyth vs. absurdism -- are those the only options? Absurdism isn't all good, can tend toward nihilism or living in a convenient way. Personally I prefer things that are somewhat in between in sensibility, like Simone Weil or the Jewish view from within Captivity [the era when most of the Old Testament was written down]. Both of their views retain a strong sense of meaning and right and wrong even in a world that seems to invite being called "Godforsaken". Would those or some other solution provide young people with both "reality isn't all about you and things can go wrong beyond your control" (roguelike, absurdism) and "there is a real task for you to do, a real call for bravery" (JRPG, monomyth)?

I made a modification of the roguelike Angband in which there is something like the ancient Jewish / Weilian worldview -- at least, it's hinted in the game. Going into the dungeon is a moral and tragic thing -- it's so easy to kill monsters, but the monsters have value to you, but it seems like you have to kill many of them in order to make it down to kill Morgoth, the source of all evil, 100 levels down in the pits of Angband.

Angband can lend itself to an absurdist / mechanistic interpretation, but this modification of it is thematically moral (thus meaningful).

Killing monsters causes game-mechanical sorrow. You are beside yourself with grief when you kill a fruit bat or a blue yeek, as you should be. If this accumulates, you can be overwhelmed with stress and suffering, and you cry out to Tolkien's in-universe God, Eru Ilúvatar, to save you from your life. And he replies, in a game-mechanical way, and you return to the surface, broken, never to adventure again.

It's like the myth of Samson, as remembered by the Jews in Captivity, which is an interesting one to contrast to the monomyth. [The myth of Samson is another case of a split between "there is right and wrong" (meaning) and "things can go badly for you for 'game-mechanical' reasons" (no meaning).] Samson's hubris, aggressiveness, and naivety gets him in a situation where the enemies of Israel can break him. Having broken him, their own naivety and arrogance (or carelessness) leaves him in a position to kill many of them, at the risk of his own life. So he takes the opportunity and kills them, and himself. And he does more damage with that final act than he did to the enemies of Israel in the rest of his life.

Recommended: read Samson's story, in Judges 13 - 16.

I can see the myth of Icarus in Samson. Icarus flew too high, aspired to greatness and lost his wings to the sun. Then he fell into the sea and drowned. (But for modern people living the myth, many of us land on the ground, broken for the rest of our lives.)

I'm not adequately informed on ancient Greek myth to say all of what it meant for them, but for us, the myth of Icarus can be simplified to "you think you can be big, until you are broken and made small for good". Maybe that Icarus is more what cerebralab's writer would have preferred over the monomyth, if there has to be a myth. The outcome of "life is meaningless" and "you will lose your wings" is similarly "think safe, small, and convenient". If we could just keep that in mind, we would remain grounded in reality, for some meaning of "reality".

But in between Icarus and monomyth is Samson. Samson is part of an ongoing story, the Abrahamic promise being worked out in the people of God. He ends his life because his flaws have caught up to him -- and yet have placed him in a position for his greatest work. He dies for the people -- who will go on after him. The Old Testament view, in large part, was that there was no afterlife. So Samson does not think he will get that kind of resolution. But there is a God (who empowers him to kill), and there is an ongoing story.

I reasoned that Samson's story comes before Ecclesiastes (in terms of when it's supposed to take place). (Ecclesiastes is written by a "king in Jerusalem", a "son of David" (likely enough Solomon, I would guess), and Samson's story, found in Judges, occurs before there were kings in Jerusalem.) Ecclesiastes has the view that there is no afterlife. I know that Isaiah has a concept of the afterlife (for instance in ch. 26), and Isaiah was written after Ecclesiastes.

The Abrahamic promise was God's promise to Abraham that through Abraham's descendants, God would bless all families. The people of Israel are the chosen descendants of Abraham to carry on the promise. In order to establish and defend themselves, they had to fight their neighbors -- even if those neighbors were people they were supposed to bless. Why would God set up a situation like that? I tend to view God as having to make difficult decisions, a view informed by the theodicy that makes sense to me.

At one scale, Samson's life is "realistic" in the sense that I think cerebralab's writer means it. His flaws exist, are facts on their own two feet, as it were, and as facts will relate to him whether he wants them to or not. At that scale, life can seem purely mechanical (like the way Angband can feel mechanical, nothing but game mechanics -- no story, unlike a JRPG). But the overarching story gives his individual sacrifice meaning. Both his glorious but broken death and the humiliation and disability that preceded it are made up for by his part in the overall story of God bringing truth to the whole world, and thus, "blessing to all families". That overall story [the one of the Old Testament / Abrahamic promise] is one which the writer of cerebralab may not recognize. So from their [cerebralab's writer's] perspective, the myth of Samson may still be unrealistic. But if it is, it is not unrealistic in the same way as the monomyth. Samson is not some new-DnD God-PC around whom all of reality revolves. That's not how the Old Testament works. Not even God gets what he wants in the Old Testament (see 1 Samuel 15 for one example of this).

God doesn't get what he wants in many specific cases, but overall the process of reality will eventually end up spreading the truth to "all families", because God will persist until it happens. So God makes there be a story, on one level, even if he doesn't control reality enough to prevent it from being a "game" (an interlocking set of mechanics). Perhaps all stories must be made by a person, and some of them can only be made by God.

The story of Samson is good -- but it isn't popular. The monomyth, or something like it, is far more popular. Perhaps it is kinder on the mind, an escape. Or maybe, for most people, life is small and relatively safe, and the monomyth is not needed for them as a pathway to heroism. It suffices to think of heroes as heroes, and of themselves as small. The heroism that is in them is spoken to by the story, but they can remain in their small lives, escaping and then returning. I am aware of the view that God experiences great suffering (expressed by me in How Can We Love? and in this booklet). If I am being rational, it's hard to escape the thought that he does suffer immensely. After all, he is genuinely loving, and our lives are so painful to behold. And I think he experiences what we experience as we experience it, including our unbearable pain.

And yet it "feels" false. I have thought that perhaps my mind can't handle the truth. Since God experiences what I do, it is better for God if my consciousness is unclouded by empathy I can't handle. (Or perhaps I don't have enough natural empathy to get very far in this area.) So maybe the monomyth is an effective therapy, which does inspire some people. And though there is a better myth of real heroism, that of Samson (if you're unlucky), or perhaps of Moses, if you are luckier, it is not for many people, it seems.

Now (July 2020), I find it natural to think of God as suffering. It does not "feel" false. I think perhaps the idea went from being something I ought-believed to something I is-believe. I have the feelings that I would expect to follow that belief, given that I do not generally have strong feelings (as opposed to intentions) of empathy.

(Moses's myth, for modern people, is that in the later part of your U-shaped curve of life, you are called on to return to the project you had to abandon years ago, after years of toil where it seemed like it was all over.)

We could say that absurdism gives no heroism, monomyth gives the feeling of heroism, and ancient Judaism gives a real form of heroism.

I've heard (or read) someone, perhaps an effective altruist, saying that doing things that are different culturally, culturally frowned-on, even, is a way to have greater leverage. Having a different culture can give you leverage. Maybe the ancient Jewish people, by way of their cultural inheritors (Christians, Muslims, modern Jews, and many secular people), by preserving their difference, ended up having leverage over the world. And then true Judaism-in-spirit, the unattractive path to real heroism, remains as a point of leverage.

Christianity preserves this through the idea of the cross as something all disciples of Jesus in some sense pursue and tend to go through.

I think youth is a point of leverage. If youth could go better, if young people had better teaching, then they would be able to be different adults, and the world would change. And the Jewish story, if it is well-taught and well-supported, is something that is unpopular enough now that there could be low-hanging fruit to be picked if we adopt it as a culture or in our subcultures. We could teach people with potential that making things better is hard and sorrowful, liable to break a person, but it still must be done, because there is a God who desires it and in whom we trust, and there is a people who will come after us, a people of whom we are members, a field for us. Otherwise, we leave young people at the mercy of monomyth-becoming-Icarus, with no God and no people of God on either an explicit or implicit level.

To be clear / fair, dying for an ongoing people group could be secularized.