Scott Adams claims that hearing just one side of an argument by an expert is worthless since one is in no position to argue back, the alternative point of view remains unknown, and one is likely to be illegitimately convinced. I am self-conscious about this observation because many of the articles I have my students read largely present just one side of an argument. Sometimes, this is because a topic like moral subjectivism, or cultural relativism, involves flat-out contradictions and thus cannot be true. There is no “other” side, rationally speaking. The other pedagogical rationale for one-sidedness is where students have already been relentlessly pummeled with the opposing view. Such is the case with moral and cultural relativism. In fact, there are topics of which students have been so brainwashed and overexposed that unless they hear it from me they will probably never hear it. For instance, every single student, seemingly, is convinced that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Aesthetic subjectivism seems so obviously true to them that there is no need whatsoever to reintroduce the idea to them. The only job in the classroom is to make them aware that this view may well wrong – or more accurately, be a partial truth. The fact that male birds use beauty to attract mates, and we humans agree entirely that they are beautiful, despite there being not the slightest biological purpose or selection process being applicable, given that human women do not and never have bred with birds (Leda and the Swan, where Zeus rapes Leda in the form of a swan, was a) fictional, and b) rape), is an interesting case of cross-species, not merely cross-cultural, agreement about what is beautiful.
On the topic of determinism, my students are briefly exposed to the argument for it; brief because there is not much to say, and pages of argument against it. Determinism is logically consistent, but, arguing for it, is a performative contradiction, since rationality is an illusion if free will is an illusion. Determinism rejects agency, and an agent is a center of consciousness, of decision-making, and the pursuer of goals. Without such a person to argue with, one might as well be arguing with a brick. Also, since determinism is nihilistic, and students are presented with plenty of nihilism already, it is immoral to try to convince them that their lives are worthless and meaningless.
Lex Fridman is a Russian-born computer programmer and roboticist, with an interest in consciousness and free will. The trouble is, he keeps asking scientists of various sorts what they think of those topics, and they all say the same thing. Sean Carroll, a physicist, has similar interests and then asks only materialists what they think. They respond in the only way they can given their metaphysical commitments. Brian Greene was Fridman’s latest guest and his comments could not have been more banal. Greene is, of course, yet another materialist. Free will does not exist. Consciousness is reducible to particles in the brain – so that mystery is solved – and those particles all follow the laws of physics, including laws of physics yet to be discovered – end of story. “Freedom,” for Greene, refers to the supposed fact that living conscious beings have a wider repertoire of responses to stimuli than a rock does. This is an astoundingly worthless concept of freedom and in fact is simply a rejection of it. Having a “wider repertoire” of predetermined responses does not of freedom make. I once held up a plastic doll with preprogrammed phrases built into it to a fellow “philosopher.” I said I used it as a visual aid to represent what we are not. Her response was that we are precisely like that plastic doll, “only more complicated.” That is Brian Greene’s moronic view also and it has nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with the mind-denying nature of behavorism. The nice thing about the materialist view is that it is short and simple and they all say the same thing. No thinking required. The absolutely devastating consequences for human existence are ignored.
The following is an addition I have written to my article Does the Concept of Metaphysical Freedom Make Sense? They are some thoughts that occurred to me while lecturing on the topic. The Ungrund is the causeless cause, meonic Freedom, a word used by Jacob Boehme who encountered it in mystical experience, and an idea adopted by Nikolai Berdyaev. It seems to be the only possible way metaphysical freedom could exist.
Though the Ungrund is by definition The Great Mystery and unknowable, one way of thinking about it that could make it a little more imaginable, is to compare it to another dimension that you can reach into, like a wormhole. It is another dimension that you cannot see inside, but you can reach your hand in and pull something out. What you pull out will be related to you, and your desires, preferences, personality, knowledge, and life experiences. Einstein had to know a lot about physics and mathematics to generate the theory of relativity, and he had to have a great imagination. As a young teenager, he had read an encyclopedia that combined physics and biology and in it was the thought experiment of what it would look like to ride a beam of light. He never forgot this and it inspired thoughts that led to his breakthrough discovery, along with working in a patent office where clocks were being patented, getting him to think about time in a new way. What Einstein discovered was also related to his knowledge, desire to know, and life experience. When Beethoven composed music, he knew a lot about previous music, and also a great deal about music theory. His style of music reflected him, his personality, his cultural environment, and his preferences; and even the nature of his creative and imaginative impulses. Einstein’s insights into the Logos; the beauty of Beethoven’s music, represent something transcendent. Highly trained composers can compose in the style of Beethoven, but this is strictly imitative. It is possible to pull from the Ungrund something similar to Beethoven, but only in conscious imitation of him, and the results are derivative. What each musician pulls from the Ungrund, ideally, is a reflection of him and his interaction with the Great Mystery. It is a gift from the divine; a gift uniquely chosen for the recipient and in cooperation with him.
It is also important to note that the act of creation and imagination implies agency. And it is not the Ungrund that is the agent. The Ungrund provides the possibility of agency and creation, but it does not cause you to create. It is merely the precondition of both agency and creation. That is why it is the “causeless cause.” And it is how spiritual determinism is avoided. Without the Ungrund, spiritual determinism would just replace physical determinism. If God or some other spiritual item caused your creative act, then there would be spiritual cause and effect leading to a predetermined outcome just like physical determinism. Before your creative and imaginative act, you do not know what will appear. If you did, what you are doing would not be an act of creation. You try to position yourself in such a way that when you reach, something can travel along the link you have with the Ungrund. Sometimes we fail. But, even failure represents something good. If the successful creation of good things was guaranteed, it would be closer to an algorithm; a set of instructions, and that is the opposite of being creative. We talk about being “inspired” to create. The word “inspire” etymologically means to breathe or blow into – to breathe out something spiritual and transcendent which is then inhaled by us. A truth or idea is imparted to you. The Greeks thought of the soul (psyche) as the breath. Breath is invisible, it is the precondition for life, and it leaves the body when you die. There is something beautiful in the idea that genuine and good acts of creation reflect the unrepeatable Person made in the image of God. And this ability to create, this Freedom, with our link to the Great Mystery, is what makes us God-like – with the caveat that we cannot create anything that also has this link. We can make a piano, or a picture, but we cannot make an eternal soul with this connection to the Ungrund.