« Plotinus and I make so much sense | Main | Get your Armor of God PJs »

August 24, 2006


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.




"What’s disturbing is the prospect of so many true believers giving up the chance to fully live what may well be the one and only life they’ll ever get. That’s tragic."

"To someone who believes that this is all there is, everything in the cosmos appears infinitely valuable, infinitely worthy of reverence, infinitely marvelous. For so far as he or she knows, there is nothing else to which it can be compared."

"To someone who believes that this is all there is, life is of infinite value. Life is to be preserved and enhanced whenever possible, for death is considered to be the stopping point, not an avenue to somewhere else. To die for a higher cause may be admirable, but it isn’t expected to bring any reward other than death."




Terrific post!
Very nice to read first thhing in morning.


I would venture to say that we don't really understand what 'this' is let alone saying that its all there is.
What we have scientifically is some theories about what matter may be, what may be happening in the quantum realm and the galactic realm, how life evolved etc etc.
Immanuel Kant's question remains. We do not know what anything is in itself. It would appear to be impregnable mystery about its wherefore, let alone its why.
David Humes interesting point, that we cannot prove the existence of an objective world also remains. In other words, we have no real idea whats out there. It could all be physical, spiritual or whatever in between you choose.
So I would take a step back before we subscribe to yet more belief systems, such as 'this' is all there is.
Great bout of recent posts by the way.
ta ta

I agree with Nick. You are on a roll. Keep it goin'.

Guys, thanks for the comments. Nick, I agree that we shouldn't buy off 100% on a "this is all that there is" philosophy, because there may indeed be more.

My point is that it's absolutely certain "this" exists--the reality we experience here and now. Anything above or beyond that is conjecture, absolutely uncertain.

So a philosophy of life should be tilted toward the certain, not the uncertain. Evident observable reality should be the tie breaker between competing metaphysical systems.

To deny what is right before our eyes in favor of a hypothesized spiritual kingdom seems crazy to me. Increasingly, I'm attracted to those who urge us to view spirit as part and parcel of materiality, not something separate and distinct.

Yup. The only reward for a life well lived is a well lived life.

Zhoen, when you put it that way, it certainly seems like a fair deal.

I beg to differ that we can say for definite that it is absolutely certain that 'this'exists. Sorry to labout the point, but some recent philosophic speculations have suggested that for all we know, 'this' could all be a simulation in a super virtual reality piece of software designed by cosmic extraterrestrial intelligence millions of years in advance of humanity. Sounds laughable? Well, the point of such speculations is to confirm that we truly do not know what 'this' is. We have to take it as 'reality'in order to do science and live our daily lives, but the blunt reality is that we don't understand what 'this' is.
Other mythic scale speculations have included the Matrix film series amongst others.
I think David Hume's point remains. We cannot prove the existence of an objective world. We may wish to assume its absolute certainty of existence, but that is pure assumption. Makes sense practically to assume thus, otherwise you might not get up in the morning and engage with 'this', but philosophically speaking 'this' could all be mind, matter, virtual reality programmes or a dream in the mind of some infinitely intelligent being.
Whatever you choose!
Agree with you that arbitrary separation of matter and spirit is unsatisfactory both philosophically and esthetically. Most mystic traditions have at least some reference to the unity of all things, or oneness, that appears to satisfy your principle. Maybe you could blog on some of these some time.
ta ta

If you "believe" that this is all there is, then you've gone past agnosticism. Can't you stay with "I don't know"?

Amba, I said "anything's possible." To me that's an agnostic stance. My point was that we do know this physical existence exists, and we don't know that any sort of other form of existence exists.

So it makes sense to believe in what is right before our eyes, and have a healthy "I don't know" attitude toward whatever else there may be. This tilts a philosophy of life toward the here and now, not the there and then.

I'm not agnostic toward physical reality. I'm a believer in it.

My point, that you seem to be dodging, is that we do not know for certain that this 'physical' existence exists. That would be to fundamentally refute David Hume's challenge that the existence of an objective world cannot be proved.
For a start, what we have are sensory impressions filtered through the brain that give rise to the impression of something we have labelled a 'physical' world.
Thus the whole thing exists primarily in our minds. This argues for idealism or mentalism, or even solipsism. However, if you continue to insist that 'physicality' is nonetheless real, then we have to rigorously define this term and then 'prove' its objective existence as wholly and utterly separate from the thing called 'mind'.
If you study this carefully, you notice that it is impossible to prove.
Many physicists will admit the truth that we have theories about 'matter' but fundamentally these reduce matter to mathematical entities and abstractions that again exist in the realm of mind.
So it seems unwarranted to 'believe' in absolute terms in the existence of a wholly objective world of 'physicality' that is wholly separate from 'mind'. One may indeed adopt this as a most likely working hypothesis to account for most phenomena, but it absolutely may not be proved in absolute terms.
The universe is far from being a given. What it all may be in itself, rather than as it manifests in our sensory and mental sphere is really anybody's guess.
Hope you can answer some of these points.
Not being argumentative, but simply challenging an urge to necessarily 'believe' in anything per se.
ta ta

I think it was Carl Jung who said, "I don't need to believe in God, I have the experience." While an arguable position, the idea is pertinant to this discussion: belief is necessary in the absence of proof.

But let's back up and address the language gap. What is it to "know" such that it is meaningful to say, "I don't know," about existence? That, so far, has been an issue dancing behind many of these posts and comments.

If the knowable is the sensory, we can "know" this plane of existence, and should cease theorizing, because theories are meta-sensory and lead to fanaticism. Conversely, if the knowable is limited to the universally apprehendable, we can only really "know" what everyone knows absolutely; we must then continue theorizing as if our existence depended on it, since it most concretely does so depend.

Deistically, each of us is powerless to either "know" or "not know" since the knower and the knowable are identical and universal; the knowable is, from the point of view of the non-deity, relative. In this line of thought, belief represents a self-satisfying mood, because even non-belief is a relative position vis-a-vis knowing.

It's elves what tell me to write this.

Once we have decided on our "know", always reserve the right to be "wrong".

Nick, a term from a college philosophy class comes to mind: "naive realism." I believe I wrote a paper relating this term to Zen. Probably didn't make any sense then. Probably won't now.

Like Popeye says, "I yam what I yam." And this world is what it is. We all pretty much agree what it is. We get through life fairly harmoniously because humans (and also animals) exist in a shared reality.

I see a deer. My dog sees a deer. She also smells the deer, while I don't. Still, I find it difficult to claim that the deer is just in my mind. The deer also is in my dog's mind. And, I assume, in the deer's mind.

The universe is some 14 billion years old. For virtually all of that time there were no earthly minds around. Did the universe still exist? Apparently so. The big bang radiation has been detected. Light from distant galaxies shows us how the universe was billions of years ago.

So I still find the notion of objective reality quite persuasive. It sure seems like something is there whether or not a mind also is.

Now, I realize that how that something appears is dependent on the mind and senses apprehending it. And it doesn't seem possible to imagine the objective reality that exists when nothing conscious is aware of it, because my imagination is part of the consciousness that is me.

I guess my point, if I have one, is that what we're aware of right now is something. It seems real to me. It's the only reality that I know. Maybe it isn't real in some grand cosmic sense.

But I'm not grand or cosmic. I'm just me. So I've got to work with what I have and know. Which, I readily admit, may not amount to much in the ultimate scheme of things.

Thank you for your comprehensive reply.
Yes, there would certainly appear to be something there, but what that something is in itself may be is anyones guess.
What I am arguing for is to resist the urge to slide into objective scientific reductionist materialism or indeed into subjective idealist spiritualist metaphysics. I guess I am arguing for a strictly agnostic stance (yet another stance, belief or opinion).
Why not admit that, yes, a seemingly objective universe has manifested in our psyche and may have been present for billions of years, but we cannot ever absolutely prove this. It could indeed be a virtual reality programme written by super advanced extraterrestrial intelligence.
The fact that it appears to all manner of lifeforms is no guarantee of its absolute concrete objective 'reality', since virtual reality software does the same job.
I agree that for all practical purposes we must needs assume the concrete objective existence of our daily lives, but my point is that in absolute terms this is unjustified.
We do not know what the hypothesised objective universe is in itself, or why it is in the first place. We say it is wholly objective, yet evidence for it only appears in our psyche. We can say that it has been around for billions of years, but again that idea is reached only by scientific sensory extension instruments, whose results again only manifest in the psyche.
As for what remains of objectivity when there is no perceiving/receiving/creating? intelligence is again anyones guess. For all we know it could be a pure potential that is not concretised into discrete form.
We have no idea. And that is why I continue to champion seemingly hardcore unknowing.
Though of course this could be completely up the garden path. Who knows?
Good discussion. Anyone else care to pitch in and enlighten me and Brian?

That sounds refreshingly sane, and not at all the point of view of the subject post: "What’s disturbing is the prospect of so many true believers giving up the chance to fully live what may well be the one and only life they’ll ever get. That’s tragic." You share a reality with your dog, but not believers in organized religion.

I guess that is what fascinates me about your blog.

Oh, and scientists do not accept anecdotal evidence.

There isn't anything substantially different between missing out on life because you are identified with ideas about a future reward in heaven, and missing out on life because you are identified with ideas about reductionistic materialism.

It is not just "religious concepts" that absorb our attention and cause us to miss the moments and melodies in life. Any sort of preoccupation with thoughts of past and future will do the same thing.

Oh, and scientists do not accept anecdotal evidence.

It is identification with all of these ideas ("science") that cause us to miss the unfolding actuality of what is ("anectdotal evidence").

Prior to concepts such as science and anectdotal evidence, all things flow through us as direct experience. Anything that filters us from direct experience in support of conceptual ideas has a great danger of filtering out reality in the process.

"If there is nothing after death, ha ha! Jokes on them. Except, they won’t be around to be part of the laughter. Neither will I. Neither will any one of us.

Which isn’t all that funny. Nor, all that serious. It’s just what it is: a likely reality."

How do you square this statement with all the evidence from mediumship research, veridical perceptions during near-death experiences, and time-of-death visitations across vast distances to the living?

I think one has to have a precommitment to a belief system of reductionistic materialism to make the statement that anihilation at death is "a likely reality". Because it flies in the face of a great deal of evidence to the contrary.


Matthew, I more or less agree with you. The "less" part concerns the degree to which religious vs. other kinds of concepts generally affect people's lives.

I've never heard of anyone going to war in the name of reductionistic materialism, or taking a vow of chastity and joining a brotherhood of similar believers.

Some concepts inhabit our minds gently; other concepts occupy our minds with a vengeance. It isn't possible to live without concepts. You certainly used them in writing your comment.

It's the degree to which we cling to them and allow them to divorce us from direct experience, as you said.

"The universe is some 14 billion years old. For virtually all of that time there were no earthly minds around."

You are making two assumptions here.

1) Mind / Awareness cannot exist without brains such as evolved on earth.

2) "Your own" mind is a function of "your" brain.

There is a great deal of evidence that these beliefs might be mistaken. For example:


But if those assumptions are in error, the entire premise of "objective reality" as separate from consciousness comes into question. And we can certainly ask the question "what is an objective reality with no minds in it"? Because in the end, all definitions of reality require a consciousness that perceives it in some fashion.

"Matthew, I more or less agree with you. The "less" part concerns the degree to which religious vs. other kinds of concepts generally affect people's lives."

I don't know. I would tend to say that the "original sin" is the belief in a separate self. And that is a delusion that relatively few have seen through, whether atheist, Christian, or even Zen Buddhist.

"I've never heard of anyone going to war in the name of reductionistic materialism"

Well they certainly have done in the name of "scientific materialism" in the former communist countries.

"or taking a vow of chastity and joining a brotherhood of similar believers. "

Is that any more alienated from life than working at a job you dislike in order to accumulate material possessions and "get rich"?

"Some concepts inhabit our minds gently; other concepts occupy our minds with a vengeance."

Not sure about this. I think it is our attachment and identification with concepts that is harsh or gentle, not so much the concepts themselves.

" It isn't possible to live without concepts. You certainly used them in writing your comment."

Absolutely. We need concepts to function in the world. The question is whether we identify with them rigidly or not.

"It's the degree to which we cling to them and allow them to divorce us from direct experience, as you said."

Great statement.

"I would tend to say that the "original sin" is the belief in a separate self."

Bingo. The idea that there could be an objective reality is the first trick in filtration. We quickly end up occupied with the method and miss the mood, to coin a jazz phrase.

Mathew Cromer you have articulated everything I would have wished to say and more.
It is so true that scientistic reductionism is a faith in itself and yet it is transposed into a rigid philosophical absolutism that is wholly unjustified.
A harder line agnosticism that puts forth mystery as a basic fact of existence, seems closer to any unknowable absolute truth.
Good comments that people have gone to war and erected totalitarian regimes on atheistic and scientistic reductionism. Witness hard line communism and nazism, which together have blighted and destroyed more lives than all the religions throughout history (not apologising for religious intolerance or extremism - please note).
The key question remains, 'what is an objective reality with no minds in it?'
We can only speculate and not ever really know, because take away that subjective conscious perception and there is nothing of objectivity left. So it seems to me.
Philosophically speaking however, it certainly seems more real to have a more flexible philosophy of life that doesn't revolve around rigid adherence to faiths, whether scientific or religious.

I think this site is wonderful.

As a person with late-onset schizophrenia I have a tendency to obsess about religion -- all religion. This thought may help me to focus on savoring the here and now and ask myself: What is wonderful about schizophrenia? After all, many aspects are, if seen as a gift.

Redfox, you have a great attitude. Keep thinking (or not thinking, as you like) positively. Are you aware of RD Laing's book, "Politics of Experience"?

I enjoyed it a lot back in my college days in the late 1960s, when I got a BA in Psychology. Laing also wrote "The Divided Self." Both books, as I recall, spoke about the positive side of schizophrenia and other mental disorders.

Our understanding of mental problems has come a long way since then. The physical has come to be seen as the cause of the mental. However, it still seems wise to take a step back and ponder what is "normal."

For example, I hear voices talking in my head all the time. The thing is, they are my voices, the ones I speak to myself. So I guess I'm normal. But each of us isn't so different from people who hear voices inside their heads that seem to come from outside of them.

Nowadays, with cell phones everywhere, it's hard to tell who's "crazy" and who is not. I'll see a woman muttering to herself and wonder, "Geez, she's whacked out." Then I realize she's talking to a friend. Or so it seems.

Stay on the "yes" side of life. Like my dentist loves to say, "It's all good. It's all good."

It is not necessary for us to believe in "Ultimate Reality" for "Ultimate Reality" (i.e., "Existence") to be. What "IS" is, as It "IS" because It "Is" what It "Is," (whatever that is)!

To be, "Is" need not conform to our speculations about It; however, our living would be simplified (less hectic) if we behave in accordance with "Its" desire(s), assuming It has desires other than just to "Be."

Or, I suppose, it may be that "Ultimate Reality" and its contents, including "Us," are merely "Ideas" held in, or being drempt by Consciousness.

I definitely think this is an interesting question. Carl Sagan and more recently the Cosmologist Edward Harrison say the Cosmos is all there was, is, and ever will be.

However, Edward Harrison makes an interesting point. (Interestingly he uses the Cloud of Unknowing and Nicholas of Cusa, mystics rather than physicists, to make it). He divides the 'universe' which we experience through our various ways of approaching it, be they artistic, religious, scientific, whatever, and the 'Universe' which is the Totality of all reality. Harrison argues the universes of religion, myth, art, science, philosophy and so on are 'masks' of the Universe, which in itself is always cloaked from our true knowledge by the 'cloud of unknowing.' What Harrison is saying is that the universe and we are One, or part of the same One, and we will never end in contemplating the various aspects of this One.

Harrison also borrows Nicholas of Cusa's idea of 'learned ignorance' and applies it to the study of the universe. Learned ignorance is essentially the idea that the more we learn and know about anything, especially the universe, the more of a mystery it is, and the more we realise we don't know. I see this deeply reverential attitude occuring in many great scientists and cosmologists, from Roger Penrose to Paul Davies, all within a very rational framework.

For me the universe is all there is, but also it isn't all there is. It is all there is in the sense it is identical with Reality, but also it is only a reflection of a Reality which is in itself a mystery which is incomprehensible and always will be. There is no 'escape' from this world to another, the mythological imagery is really there to make you 'wake up' to the infinitely beautiful depths which are already here in the world in all its aspects right now.

However I also like the idea of the Scottish philosopher Eriugena, who held that our universe is a beautiful 'theophany' or manifestation of hidden reality which he called 'God' but which had much in common with an infinitely rich void or nothingness which (like the Buddhist sunyata) is at the heart of all things. We also in the next life contemplate more theophanies for an infinite period of time, moving eventually to where the entire universe dissolves back into God and into infinite reality.

This idea may be unproveable, but admittedly it is deeply attractive to anyone of a contemplative bent. In any case, I think the physical and biological and mental worlds should be endless sources of delight and contemplation for their beauty, visible and invisible, for atheist or believer alike.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)


  • Welcome to the Church of the Churchless. If this is your first visit, click on "About this site--start here" in the Categories section below.
  • HinesSight
    Visit my other weblog, HinesSight, for a broader view of what's happening in the world of your Church unpastor, his wife, and dog.
  • BrianHines.com
    Take a look at my web site, which contains information about a subject of great interest to me: me.
  • Twitter with me
    Join Twitter and follow my tweets about whatever.
  • I Hate Church of the Churchless
    Can't stand this blog? Believe the guy behind it is an idiot? Rant away on our anti-site.