Doubt and Daemons

While some may appear to lead a life unperturbed by fear and doubt, many are driven by forces less benign.

Who knows the answers to questions I have spent my life asking. Some believe, fervently even, that they have found terra firma in an ever shifting universe. Others see only an uncaring cosmos which, wondrous as it undoubtedly is, leaves us to make our own meaning, since none is provided out of the box.

With ever increasing conviction, I believe that the ancient philosophies of the east have the answers. At heart, the infinity we see around us just “is”. And always has been. Live with that, says the Tao. Do not battle the forces which surround you, row your boat gently down the stream.

Buddhism seems to go a step further. Recognize, it says, your own non-existence. Accept that your “self” is a mere illusion and abandon all attachments that your senses crave. Much like Susan Blackmore or Daniel Dennett might tell us, consciousness is not what it seems.

I do not believe that this absolves us of responsibilities, nor that it necessarily precludes enjoyment of the material world. Hard as enjoyment is for some of us to find. Nothing obliges us to act in any particular way (“good or “bad”), and I find it increasingly hard to concede that moral absolutes exist in objective reality. And yet we can proclaim our own rights and wrongs, our own morality. We can and must create our own meaning.

If we do not exist, then in a very real sense we have created a seeming existence out of nothing. For there is indeed “something that it is like” to be human.

Perhaps we too are creators then. Spawned by inert matter and blind mathematical evolution , we seem to have “emerged”. In a phrase used and abused by science and philosophy alike, we appear to be more than the sum of our parts.

And in that, a certain beauty may be found, hope even.

My hedonic set point is below average and yet I see how, as creators, that might be changed. For me, for all. If we arose from nothing, then we became quite something.

We became beings able to alter our own circumstances. To better ourselves. To develop societies and morals, fire and farmed food.

And yet, it is said, we do not exist. Perhaps clarification is called for. We exist to the extent that we feel emotions, we have senses. Pain and pleasure perhaps being the most obvious. Anger, greed and lust belonging to the least desirable of those qualia.

We exist to the extent we have memory, necessary no doubt to be able to navigate our way around a complex physical environment. We exist to the extent that we are aware of ourselves and our world, even if we do not grasp its true nature.

Now there is duality, if ever that word had meaning. A duality of existence and non-existence.

We are like a flowing river perhaps, or a candle flame, little more. A physical process which just happens to have evolved a way of being aware of itself and its surroundings. A material interaction commonly known as “life” which on its own, means little else other than biological self re-production.

None of that is to say that we can not become more. The birth of life from inert matter is a miracle which may be bettered. Bettered by ourselves, bootstrapping ourselves from the level of the beast to a technological prowess undreamt of even decades ago.

There, then, lies my optimism in bleaker moments.

In the power of the mind to elevate and improve ourselves. To paint glorious works of art, to build structures of exquisite beauty. To think wondrous thoughts, to write great novels and ethereal music.

To cure all ills, to provide a world where scarcity becomes a dim memory. Where money becomes an arcane memory.

Those then are my dreams, my better moments. Where beauty and hope is to be found.

In the patter of gentle rain, in the pounding of waves on a beach. In the gentle Norman chapel, and the light of stained glass. In the trance of Tchaikovsky, Handle and William Byrd.

We may not exist in the way we might suppose we do. But we have created something out of nothing. Black horror as well as paradisiacal beauty.

I dream of more of the latter and less of the former.

25 Comments

  1. The trial of this is to live as though we are the creators. Unfortunately history shows a sad record of those who rise to power with this philosophy. The best of human societies exist when there is a recognition that we are not all there is, that there is a Creator and purpose to our existence that is transcendental to the human experience.
    The falling of American society into an abyss of self-absorption and materialism from her place as a beacon of freedom and human advancement is evidence of the truth that “if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.”
    I wish I could hold out hope as you do that somehow humans would pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, but realistically, both the actual physical attempt to do this and the philosophical one are equally impossible. We can only succeed with “outside” help that comes from the God who designed us.
    your friend, always, c.a.
    Thanx for your thoughtful and challenging blogs!

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Incidentally, you have my wholehearted support in your despair concerning “materialism”. And indeed self absorption. To be honest I do not think we are that far apart. Its just that I’m a Taoist/Buddhist not a Christian. I have always believed that old trope “many paths up the mountain”.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I would love to discuss this sometime with you on voice if that is ever possible. My old fingers get tired just blogging a simple “food blog” as I am posting in a few hours. I wish you well, also.

        Liked by 4 people

      1. Amazing! There are fun things to imagine like timelines shifts, raises in collective consciousness, so many other ideas that could also exist… thanks for the optimism. 🙂

        Liked by 4 people

  2. Whether it is real or not real, we do have the ability to change our own reality through risk and courage.

    It’s very easy to stay in the current paradigm and be resigned to the fact that, as individuals we cannot change objective and consensual reality.

    We can always change our own subjective experience, if we truly have the desires go go against the grain and the thoughts and wishes of others.

    Call it entrapment, commitment or marriage (even!) but ultimately it’s our call, we either do or do not, and live with that choice and the path we tread.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. You are certainly doing just that – or planning to. To a certain extent I have done the same. Dropping out to work for myself 30 years ago was perhaps the biggest example. Yes I think on balance I probably agree with you about changing our subjective reality. Whether we can change or choose the qualia we experience is quite another matter. Mostly, I have NOT been able to do that. I have tried for many years, mostly by changing at least my external circumstances. Changing where I lived and what I did many times over many years. I now realize that change alone will not better the way I feel. Can you alter your mind, the qualia you experience? Can you raise your hedonic set point? Alas for the most part I have been unable to; but continue the struggle nevertheless. Call me Sisyphus.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My sister is a great example of taking a courageous decision to improve her qualia (subjectively) and that of others (objectively – witnessing her demise was so painful for many people including myself).

        She was an alcoholic for many years, spiralling out of control, until one day in a moment of clarity, she realised that the reaper was knocking at the door and the only way to escape was to go into rehab and take the 12 Step recovery programme.

        It worked for her, her qualia improved, her reality was changed completed and she is now a wonderful human being who does so much to help those that are in the state she was in.

        Those that surround her now are in awe of both her strength and her continued and sobering journey ahead.

        So yes I think our decisions can influence qualia, I don’t think we would evolve our own consciousness and experience things via wiser eyes if it didn’t.

        Liked by 4 people

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