Not signed in (Sign In)
    • CommentAuthorSteadyUP
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2010
    I think one has to distinguish between collective free will and individual free will. Alan Moore once said something very similar to Rachael's statement about predicting outcomes, except he was referring to populations. No amount of data could tell you exactly what kind of life one particular person will end up leading, but as the sample size increases from one to a thousand to a million, predictions become staggeringly exact. But to what extent does that take away from the "freedom" of all those people's individual decisions?
  1.  (8121.202)
    I remember finishing Dawkin's The God Delusion and thinking, well that all makes perfect sense (apart from that chapter where he tries to mathematically prove that God doesnt exist, that seemed a bit dodgy to me) but what about Nessie?

    Nessie is still real right? And that hidden valley in the amazon where there's still dinosaurs running about?
    And ya know, Thor, Batman, Cthulhu, those little black fuzzy mischevious creature things that you see in the corner of your eye when your really sleep deprived or high, Stephen Fry....

    It just seems a little bit depressing.

    Another thing, The Invisibles, Chaos Magick, Promethea, Aliester Crowley, Discordianism, Tarot, The I-Ching, Meditation, Yoga, Sigils, Spells, Prayer, Invisible friends etc, all that sorta thing I know that it has no paranormal power, there isn't some unseeable spirit guiding it all, but I do think all of them can be useful tools to organise and focus your brain, to help you achieve things that unaided would be nearly inpossible, course it all depends on how you use them, they can probably make you go a bit mental too.
    • CommentAuthorSteadyUP
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2010 edited
    Like South Park said - Superman and Luke Skywalker aren't real, but they've had more of a tangible effect on humanity than most real folks.
  2.  (8121.204)
    Yeah I had no religious upbrining, only went to church for weddings and school trips, but I had an empire strikes back duvet cover, a dodgy VHS taped off the telly that I'd watch every day and a shitload of battered toys collected from various car boot sales.
    In the same way some people were brought up catholic or jewish and no matter how secular they become it's always part of who they are, I was brought up Star Wars. (Course I still realise the prequels were a load of shit)
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2010
    I disagree with the general sentiment that with "enough information" a person's actions can be entirely predicted. Even with sufficient data collection, given our current model of the universe there is simply no way to predict what even a single photon will actually do with absolute certainty. We can only aggregate probabilities.

    That said, I don't think that that quantum indeterminacy has anything to do with free will. In that sense, it's moot.

    As to the question of "whether we have free will", I think it's silly. Sure you can trace a causal sequence back to some arbitrary neuron firing at a certain time, or the overabundance of some neurotransmitter in your temporal lobe, or the mystical energy field that magically is you, but does that matter? When I decide to bite the head off a chicken, I have made that decision. Why? Because the assemblage of things which is me came to it. Most of the arguing goes into what that assemblage of things actually includes, and I really just don't care, at least in the context of the question of freedom, because whatever it is it's me. If consciousness is just an emergent property of a complex system, woohoo, that's what I am. I'm cool with that.
  3.  (8121.206)
    We have free will. While certain attitudes may be shaped by the environment and personality traits guide patterns of behavior, what we choose to do with them at any given minute is up to us.
    • CommentTimeMay 3rd 2010
    There a divide between my cultural identity as a Buddhist/Jew and my thoughts on God. I view God as everything and aware. I simply doubt anyone else cares about my views ...
      CommentAuthorcity creed
    • CommentTimeMay 3rd 2010
    aha, here it is.
    Interesting article about a study of how belief in determinism/free will influences moral behaviour.
      CommentAuthorJon Wake
    • CommentTimeMay 3rd 2010
    I was without internet for a few days, so I've just now caught up with the conversation. I'm shocked to learn that I, as a materialist and science buff, have no appreciation of the arts. Obviously that is something only people who read tea leaves and watch their horoscopes have the capacity to do. I, lowly and myopic atheist that I am can only see a chunk of rock, and have no appreciation of the fact that

    say for instance

    It took Michaelangelo tens of thousands of hours to perfect his understanding of stone and anatomy, it took a dedication to his craft that required a vast and complicated society to support. That society could have been wiped out in any one of a billion possible accidents or atrocities, that Michaelangelo might not have been born into that family, during those times, and though another may take his place as a brilliant sculptor, there would be no David. That a chain of causality extends back through time, dodging all the counterfactual sinkholes in history, so that if but one of those chains were shattered, neither David nor I nor you nor any of us alive and reading right now may exist. And to know the subtle checks and balances of nature, to know the unbroken chain of life and science, even unto the tiny reductionist pieces, only enhances my love of art and humanity as a whole.

    You want spirituality? Look to the stars and know your insignificance to the universe. Then look to the people around you and know your importance to them, and know your responsibility to humanity, know the debt you owe to history and the balance yet to be paid to the future-- and tell me how I am diminished by not seeing ghosts in shadows.
    • CommentTimeMay 3rd 2010
    Jon, your last paragraph there is the best description of spirituality I have ever read. Thankyou for defining / defending atheist spirituality in material terms. You and Paul win this thread in my opinion.
  4.  (8121.211)
    There a divide between my cultural identity as a Buddhist/Jew and my thoughts on God

    That's true, for a lot of people it's more about a culture that one shares than about any creed or theology.
    • CommentAuthorcoffeemug
    • CommentTimeMay 3rd 2010
    The problem with discussions concerning subjects such as art and free will in a scientific context is that people tend to draw conclusions that make little sense. The same people who claim that there is no such thing as free will will go on and live their lives as they always have after, making choices and appreciating art as any of us do. The tension between what people tend to claim in scientific discourse and everyday experience is something that I, myself, find extremely peculiar. Yes, technically Michaelangelo's David consists of a hunk of hewn stone, but do you really do justice to the thing by describing it as such? Can you exclude the effect that it, or any other piece of art can have on people? The thing with reductionism in such a context is that people tend to loose sight of what actually matters to us as people.

    The apparent segregation of science from any of the mentioned domains, such as religion, art or spirituality is a strange thing. Science is, at its core, descriptive. Scientific knowledge is not concerned with how we should live our lives, but how it works. What we do beyond that, is not a matter for science per se. This is what bothers me about people like Sam Harris: yes, scientific theories can ascertain how to avoid or ease human suffering and the like, but the notion that we should do so, however matter-of-fact this would seem to most people, is not science. Values cover what we, well, value. You can discover what the specific values of a specific society are, or even, if you're willing to risk a bit of sociological archeology, where we got them. But that we value things in general, or that some values are better than other ones (or not), is beyond the reach of science. The notion that suffering should be reduced as much as possible for the most possible people is, in essence, a pragmatic, utilitarian ethical theory, based on specific, but relatively arbitrary values (avoidance of suffering, efficiency, etc.).

    Beyond that, I think we should do well to seperate paranormal phenomena like ghosts, fairies, and the like from the general discussion about religion or theology. The notion of the supernatural in a paranormal sense is usually about something that could be explained through scientific theory, even though it hasn't yet. When we get into the subject of religion (outside of the sociological and institutional context), we enter into a much more existentially interesting domain. What we as people do with our lives and what we should do, is something religions at least have an answer to. Might not be a good answer or one you agree with, but it's a definate answer nonetheless. Whether or not Nessie exists is not something which affects us in the very 'core' of our being, so to say.

    Speaking of which, I'm not convinced that we're anything materially more than biological beings (i.e. whether we have an immaterial soul, or somesuch). However, we are such wonderfully complex beings, who have accomplished so insanely much, that I'm kinda worried that people tend to skip right past that in order to look for wonders in the world. A rather 'simple' human thing like love (which, again, you can explain as a chemical imbalance, or somesuch, but I wonder why you would) or friendship, sappy as that might sound, shows far more of a divine touch than someone transmuting fish into whatever.

    And I think I kinda wandered of there.
  5.  (8121.213)
    @ Audley Strange

    I'm sorry if you were dismayed but Science as method is reductive, the models that we create using that method may be elegantly described, but in and of itself cold objectivity is what makes it work. I ask you, what else could scientific method tell us about the Statue of David? Please also be aware that prior to using my two extremes of scientist and theologist I did say what a normal person may say, someone who is not restricted by the rigours of those disciplines.

    Please don't get me wrong here folks I think both science and our imaginings are fundamentally important however too often people fall into one camp and dismiss the other precisely because they are separate. To me the trick is not to struggle to find common ground but to celebrate them in their differences in the same way one would sports and cuisine.

    I see what you're saying a little clearer now. I agree that the scientific method is calculating, reductive and objective. What I don't agree with is that art is totally different to that, and there's no overlap. Your suggestion that the two are fundamentally separate and should be appreciated on their own merits sounds reasonable, but it implies that because the scientific method is calculating, reductive and objective, art is entirely subjective, unquantifiable, and emergent or holistic. It's telling that your (seemingly) unconscious assertion about art conforms to post-modern deconstruction at a time when it's the dominant paradigm in art criticism (and a lot of art creation). I see post modernism itself as an area with no overlap with science, but not the art, imagination, or creativity that it attempts to describe.

    Just as a qualifying statement, I don't see what I'm about to say about art as denying the idea of subjectivity or emergent beauty, it sits along-side it. I also don't feel I need to "struggle" to mesh art and science.

    I do feel that many people, including creators have forgotten something about art: that whilst it is creative, creativity requires skill, and skill is learnt. Whilst it is possible to have our work branded as art without possessing any skills, for me, the heart of art is to be found with the exercise of great skill. I find that the most effective and emotive art is (or is perceived as) representational: it reflects the reality we see around us, and to represent that reality, we must understand it. Again, I don't mean to deny or devalue abstraction or fantasy in art, but If you want to abstract or fantasise, the mantra "know the rules in order to break them" applies. There are rules to be learnt, and you can accurately describe many of them as "reductive", because they reduce the complexity of visual reality to simple concepts or shapes in order to facilitate understanding and reproduction. There are many examples, but let's take perspective because it relates to what you said about Michaelangelo's David.
    I doubt it was in a fit of unreasoning creative passion that Michaelangelo distorted the proportions of David's body, truncating the legs, extending the torso, and enlarging the hands and head so as to offset the effect of perspective when the statue is looked at from below (as it is intended to be). That could only be achieved with calculated reduction of the form of the human body in three dimensional space, and it enhances the beauty and accuracy of the finished piece. It may not have been a quantitative adjustment, but it could be quantified, and by doing so I would appreciate his skills and the form of the statue all the more. I think that deconstructing or "reducing" reality is what an artist does in the pursuit of reconstructing it in a new form. Part of capturing the observed "essence" or "gesture" of a pose is explicitly being able to reduce it quickly to a few lines or shapes. That may not be "science" in the full sense of the scientific method, but it shares many elements (think of a painting as an experiment testing a hypothesis consisting of the method used to paint the image extrapolated from your observations of reality!). The painting may be emergent and beautiful, but then so are photographs from hubble which are the direct result of scientific research. Would you say of a hubble photograph "what can the scientific method add to our appreciation of that?". It's quite frankly an insult to the level of skill exhibited by Michaelangelo to say that all you need to know about his sculpture is that it's beautiful. The long hours of his craft are etched into the microscopic texture of the rock for those who would look deeper than the surface.

    So, the scientific method may be exclusively "calculating, reductive and objective", but those things are only "cold" if you think they are, and they are found within art, no matter what the post-modernists say!

    To clarify again, I don't think I'm arguing with you about the nature of science, or the beauty of art, or the fact that they're different from each other. I'm just trying to expose an attitude to art that seems to be explicit in your comments (as well as those of other posters on this thread and people I meet in life), and illustrate the areas where the two overlap.
  6.  (8121.214)
    @ Paul Duffield.

    Well thanks I'm glad you got what I was saying even if others were jumping to silly conclusions. Mea Culpa, I guess I should have been clearer.

    I agree with much of what you have said here but there is a couple of things that I would take issue with. Skill whilst important is, I think, useless without the ability to imagine something and then use the skills and knowledge to bring it forth. I know quite a few people who can draw incredibly well, but have no internal impetus to create something, they are all skill but lacking the imagination to put those skills to use.

    So I'd say that while Michelangelo's skills that gave him the ability to create David, it was his imagination that inspired him to create that specific form in that manner. This is where art resides to me. As I was discussing this with my wife I was using the example of a tree (which might be less controversial). Two people stare at a tree. Objectively they can both agree it is a tree. They can grasp that it is a biological process through time which is linked to other trees etc etc. However they stand at differing angles as the look at the tree. One person sees the sun rise through the last few autumnal leaves and declares that it is "a beautiful tree", the other sees bare stark angular branches set against the night sky and claims it "a frightening tree".

    Neither of these things are inherent in the tree.

    To me, this is where art resides. It is our own imagination evoking our own emotions. Artists in all fields have a talent which I think is greater than the skills they learn, they can drag out their own imaginings and use them to evoke our emotions.

    As for the hubble telescope images, Awe inspiring yes, but what can art, not scientific method, add to our appreciation of them?

  7.  (8121.215)
    @Audley Strange
    Okay, I think I see to the heart of what you're saying now. Amusingly it seems what we've both done is accidentally lump the methods of art, the inspiration for art and the results of art all together into one category "art", like many people were doing for science.
    So when you say "what can art add to the hubble images?" it seems to be that you mean more specifically: "What can our emotional and personal reactions to beauty bring to them?" I don't explicitly see those emotions as the methods of art, although they fuel and sustain its creation... but then I'd further argue that he same emotions of awe and personal perceptions of beauty also fuel the creation of science. The question is possibly what tools do you use to create further beauty from your observations, scientific ones or artistic ones?

    As an aside, I personally find that the moment of great inspiration, when an image enters your head, or when imagination fuses slowly into a concrete image is only a tiny portion of art, right at the beginning of the endeavour, and perhaps one that many non-artists share, maybe even without realising it. The rest is technical slog-work, bringing that image to life. Doing it every day, I only find it an enjoyable or passionate process when I'm in a good mood XD perhaps the true quality of the artist isn't the inspiration or the vision, but the motivation and stubbornness required to stick with the image after it might have one stale or faded in another mind?
  8.  (8121.216)
    I just want to say that I'm really glad I started this thread, and thank everyone for making it such an interesting and engaging conversation.
  9.  (8121.217)
    @ Paul Duffield Yeah I think we are somewhat on the same page. Though I would say that the end result of science and art to tell us differing things about ourselves, one about what we are and where we are and the other who we are and why we are... if that isn't utterly turgid.

    You and I are similar in some ways in so far as I also spend every day (almost) creating pages for my own humble webcomic. So that point is a brilliant one and one that has made me revalue my position slightly. Yes perserverence is all in both science and art and I guess the personal emotional rewards for turning a blank page into something or turning chemicals into something are the same. Yeah I always tell people who know I'm a writer (which is "officially" what I do or am supposed to) when they tell me they have a great idea "yeah, that's the easy part, fucking try implimenting it then get back to me." Though I found audiobooks are a great way of distracting my higher brain functions with something else as I concentrate and let my hands do the work.

    @ Rachael Tyrell. Another fine example of Whitechapel. We can agree, disagree, discuss, dispute, but it very rarely turns into a flame war.
  10.  (8121.218)
    @Audley Strange
    :) Cool, sounds like we've got a central meeting point for opinions. I'd agree that the results of art and science have very different aspects. How to characterise them is an interesting matter for discussion, (and personal opinion matters a lot here, since results are interpreted by onlookers) but the what/where, who/why distinction is a nice broad brush stroke to start with and refine.

    EDIT: P.S. I'm with you on the audiobooks, it helps to zone out and get on with things.

    Agreed! It's something I feel strongly about so I'm glad this thread has remained civil but impassioned. There's so much scope for misunderstanding in a topic like this.
    • CommentAuthorIsaacSher
    • CommentTimeMay 4th 2010
    Absolutely agreed. I may disagree with some of the viewpoints here, some very strongly, but there's absolutely no reason why a discussion and/or disagreement can't be civil.
    • CommentTimeMay 4th 2010 edited
    "Philosophers speculate about an invisible black cat in a black room with no light.
    Theologians find it."
    - Anon.
    "Purity of heart is to will one thing." - Soren Kierkegaard

    I'm a totally committed agnostic, a position I don't find well-represented in this thread. As Monty Python said so well, "There's nothing a person can't do if they really, firmly don't know whether they believe in anything or not." Humans don't deal well with doubt, let along radical doubt. I find smug self-assurance annoying, whether on the part of atheists or theists, so that's one reason I've kept out of this thread.

    Overall, I consider myself a radical empiricist, a monist and a materialist. One would think therefore that I'd be a strict atheist; however I've also been a practicing (neo-) Pagan, and nearly converted to both Judaism and Catholicism in turn. Why? Largely because I believed in the value of the various social and ethical practices of each, and also strongly believe in the value of ritual as a means of bootstrapping the mind into higher levels of consciousness.

    Secondarily, though, I also believe that Humanism, with a capital aitch, is also dangerous. "God is dead," quoth Nietzsche, but few remember the second bit - " - and we have killed him." Even fewer realize that for Nietzsche, this was a statement not of proud achievement, but one of profound fear and concern. We have killed God, and set up Man in God's place, and this is a matter of grave importance due to the fact that we have casually kicked the props out from under society and ethics without really giving a lot of concern as to what replaces it.

    The Enlightenment set about busily setting up Man, capital em and maleness explicitly stated, as a straight replacement. Some, such as Voltaire, were willing to examine the consequences of this straight up, but quite a few were willing to happily toddle along keeping the basic social structure of ethics and morality in play while trying to set up this new golden boy with clay feet as God's replacement. Reason is the new Faith. Science is the new Religion. And Science, Positivism and Modernism will show us the way through our bold new experiment in setting up Man and Reason as the center of Creation pretty much just like God was.

    This attitude of positivism, modernism and the straight swap of progress and futurism for religion pretty much led directly to modern colonialism, environmental disaster, and the Holocaust. Why? Because Man just doesn't function well as a God-substitute, and when Man becomes God, then anything done in the name of Man - the Race, Progress - still carries that religion-function with it. The Other still must be destroyed. Nihilism, Nietzsche asserted, would be the final end result of the death of God, unless we figured out how to grow up and get on with it. So far he doesn't seem to be wrong.

    There's been quite a lot of ink spilled on the above topic so I won't bother going into a full exegesis. Those interested should check out the legacy of Martin Heidegger's work, his role in Nazism, and his famous late-life assertion that "only a God can save us now." There's more to this than just the tired assertion that "atheism is a belief just like religion is," which isn't what I'm saying, so I'd like to head that off right now.

    Rather, this is about humanity's failure to deal seriously with the God-sized hole left in the heart of society after His murder, and our clumsy fumbling about trying to find something, anything else that will give the *why* to life that the gods did.

    Science is a method, not a belief set - but as a method, science also does not *give* values to humanity. Without God, we're left to come up with that for ourselves, in existential fear and trembling, and it is far too easy to walk around like Howard Roark just proclaiming that we've straight swapped out God for Man, and look isn't it wonderful? To really grasp the implications of a life without God, but *also* without Science and Man as religious methadone for the God-smack is what I've tried to reach for myself.