Social class, home environment, genetics and other factors all contribute to differences between individuals. People differ in looks, height, income, social status, morality, various kinds of intelligence and athleticism, musical ability, industriousness, discipline, and nearly every other human characteristic. Differences in culture, history, and geography generate differences between groups. Being born into a culture that emphasizes hard work, education, conscientiousness, and thrift is a tremendous advantage.
“Social justice” advocates describe the resulting disparate achievements as “inequalities” with the suggestion that these represent some kind of injustice. Unequal achievement is treated as though it must be the result of discrimination, “privilege” or some other unfairness, while it is in fact the inevitable consequence of differences between individuals and groups. These differences will exist no matter how a society is organized barring a race to the bottom where the laziest, least talented individuals set the bar and every achievement that surpassed that pitiful measure got confiscated and distributed – removing any incentive to do anything much at all. Continue reading →
The Person shares in the Divine as being made in the image of God. We too are free. We are co-creators with God; He in His macrocosm and we in our microcosm.
What it means for us to be made in the image of God is not self-evident. Berdyaev’s philosophy explores what it might mean and takes it further than most.
Perhaps we underestimate just how many things we have in common with God.
Berdyaev agrees with the mystic Jacob Boehme that God emerges as Being from the Ungrund whose nature is complete Freedom. Freedom is more fundamental than love, or goodness. It is their precondition. The Ungrund is beyond concepts and rationality.
The Ungrund is that from which God as a being, as the Creator, emerges. As Berdyaev writes, tautologically, the Creator does not exist without the created, God as love does not exist without the loved. God the Creator emerges simultaneously with His creation. God and Man create each other in this sense. God the Creator is the Logos responsible for cosmic order. Continue reading →
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself.
Your neighbor is a Person – the highest possible good, along with God. Your neighbor’s supreme value comes from the fact that he is made in the image of God, with an immortal soul and shares in God’s eternal nature.
Kant gets close to this when he writes “treat yourself and others always as an end, and never merely as a means.” However, Kant posits the moral law as of supreme value. It is possible to see that this is where his true devotion lies. This is the fatal mistake of elevating something higher than the individual, concrete, Person in conjunction with God. This accounts for the intuition that there is something ascetic, forbidding and anti-human in Kant and his willingness to seek to achieve an illusory moral purity, through, for instance, never lying under any circumstances; a moral purity being unattainable in a fallen world. Continue reading →
Consciousness is what permits intelligent responses to unpredictable and unknown situations. A truly safe and functioning self-driving car would have to be conscious. At the moment computers regard a car filled with water, suspended 20 feet in the air on the end of two prongs of an earth moving machine as “parked.” It can’t tell the difference between a statue and a person. Snow and other weather conditions that obscure the sides of the road mean it grinds to a halt.
George Dyson, the science historian, son of Freeman Dyson, in an interview with Sam Harris pointed out, in response to Harris’ concern that if AGI is ever created it needs to be “controlled,” that, by definition, AGI will not be controllable. It will have a mind of its own. If we ever did develop an intelligence capable of safely driving cars in the actually variable conditions encountered in real life, i.e., outside the bland environment of southern California, there is no reason for thinking it would be our slave and drive our cars for us. More likely, we would be its slaves and drive cars for it.
Folk psychology is the derogatory term used by physicalists for our normal natural language (e.g., English, Spanish, etc.) way of describing mental states and explaining why people behave in certain ways.
E.g., she didn’t go to the concert on Saturday because she hates Taylor Swift.
Some materialists believe that those who believe in the existence of thoughts, beliefs, desires, motives and other mental states are victims of “folk psychology,” an unscientific attitude that will in due course be replaced by explanations in terms of the activities of nerves or brain states.
For those people, folk psychology is a kind of superstition, like belief in demons, and it will be left behind by the onward march of scientific understanding.
The alternative to folk psychology
The alternative to folk psychology is supposed to be scientific descriptions of the brain. Instead of talking about beliefs, we will describe brain states, or nerve firings. Instead of saying “Timmy likes Sally,” we will say “Timmy is in brain state G.”
There is no evidence of any kind that natural language descriptions of mental phenomena will be replaced by scientific descriptions of the activity of the brain. The claim that this will happen is complete science fiction at this point in time.
It does no good to complain that I am talking about beliefs and desires when there is no alternative at all to doing so. It would be like accusing me of being old-fashioned for driving to work instead of teleporting. Teleportation does not actually exist and may never exist. There is nothing scientific about contrasting reality with science fiction. Continue reading →
John Searle introduced the Chinese Room thought experiment in 1980 order to give people a way to picture the difference between what computers are doing and the human mind.
The thought experiment was rendered necessary because many analytic philosophers have promoted CTM – the computer theory of mind. CTM is almost certainly not true. Computers are machines and machines are rule-following devices. Goedel’s Theorem and Alan Turing’s analysis of the Halting Problem prove that even mathematics is not simply a rule-following exercise. If it were, then mathematics could be formalized – meaning it could be reduced to the manipulation of symbols without having to worry about what those symbols mean. In fact, in such a scenario, “symbols” per se are eliminated and simply replaced with zeros and ones. Mathematical formalism would mean that truth is irrelevant, but Goedel’s Theorem relies on truth at crucial moments in its proof. The human mind is capable of “seeing” or perceiving truth, at times, such as with Goedelian propositions, and self-evident axioms such as P = P, in a way that cannot be reduced to rule-following and algorithms. Because of these issues, no machine can replace human mathematicians for solving the outstanding problems of mathematics. And the halting problem demonstrated that non-algorithmic (i.e., non-computer) methods are necessary for testing algorithms. The process cannot be automated and thus the human mind is capable of doing something other than following algorithms.
A student commented the other day that Berdyaev reminded her of some utopian summer camp in the Adirondacks she had gone to in high school devoted to ecological wonderfulness. Why? God is your friend, and never your judge or king. Like any friend, his offer of friendship comes with no threats and no consequences, delivered by Him at least. Any “friend” who said “Be my friend, or I’ll blow your head off,” or, even worse, “Be my friend, or I’ll condemn you to eternal torment” would be a psychopath, without doubt.
Today, after having time to think, and after today’s Avicenna reading, I replied that there is an awful (awe-ful) aspect to Berdyaev – complete freedom means complete moral responsibility. Humanity continually searches for escape from this. We dream up ever new escape routes and “get out of jail free” cards. Continue reading →
Berdyaev points out that if God and the individual human Personality are not someone’s highest ideal then that person is effectively promising to sacrifice the individual in the name of that supposedly higher ideal. The logic is simple and undeniable.
If someone says that under any circumstances, no matter what competing goods there may be or seem to be, the Personality is sacrosanct and to be protected at all costs, then that person is elevating Personality to the highest level of their morality in the manner that Berdyaev identifies as necessary and has abandoned his former allegiances.
Alternatives to the genuine highest good include the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, well-being, just plain “happiness,” social justice, feminism, equality, the nation, workers of the world, rationalism, science, and progress.
Every one of those “goods” is a murderous cult bent on the immolation of the human individual. If any object to this accusation, let him agree that Personality is paramount and beats out all competing ideals and that his former highest good is now secondary and always, in every situation, to be trumped by God and Personality. Continue reading →
For the Russian philosopher Berdyaev, freedom is absolutely fundamental. And freedom is connected with subjectivity and Spirit, rather than the objective (measurable) external world.
All attempts to locate meaning and value in things outside the human soul are doomed to fail. Thinking of the universe as an organism, for instance, seems like an improvement over thinking of it as a dead mechanism. It turns the cosmos into a living entity with a purpose, but it also means thinking of people as mere cells in this organism to be subordinated to the larger whole. Nationalism turns the nation into a false idol to be worshipped. Neither “history,” nor “progress,” nor “the human race,” nor Platonic Forms are particularly significant or even real. They are hypostatizations and abstractions. For Berdyaev, the concrete individual personality is the full locus of reality and value. Anything else renders the personality a meaningless nothing to be used as a means to some other end.
Kant, who also saw human beings as ends in themselves, pointed out that freedom must be a fundamental aspect of human subjectivity because love exists. This is known directly from experience. Each one of us has loved and been the recipient of love. Love cannot exist without freedom. We should let the datum of love determine our theories and speculations about ultimate existence. If love is possible, and we know it is, then freedom exists.
Louis Sullivan is credited with coming up with the phrase “form follows function.” It is useful to know that someone in the recent past invented this notion in order to raise the possibility of uninventing it.
Some quote “form follows function” as though it were an axiom of geometry that all remotely mature thinkers acknowledge as a foundational truth; even as a God-given dictum.
The phrase could even be rendered innocuous if “function” were suitably defined. What, for instance, is the function of houses and work places? They are there to serve human beings with all their intricacies. They are not there to shelter robots and automatons.
What do people want from houses? They want a house to be a home. They want it to be structurally sound, reasonably affordable, easy to maintain and they want it to be beautiful. Human beings feel at home with beauty. They are instinctively drawn to beautiful things and feel alienated by the ugly. This is why we carefully choose furniture, paintings, decorations, paint colors for walls, curtains and carpets. We attempt, with various levels of success, bearing in mind limitations of budget, to turn the house into a home. Many of us like to include house plants and pets as other living things to share our homes with. Continue reading →