Gödelian Incompleteness → Creaturely Freedom

It seems we cannot be free.

To each moment of decision, the schedule of inputs is what it is, and as completely constituting the matter of our decision, so it would seem that it completely forms our act therein. We choose what we wish to do, e.g., given our understanding of our circumstances as we find them as each new moment of life arises; but it does not seem that we choose our wishes, nor does it seem that we can choose what, how much or how well we understand. Decision begins with wishes and circumstances as all alike data.

Nor do we seem to be able to choose the way that we choose. The operation of decision – which is our lever of control over our experiences – is not itself subject to our decisions. We are not in control of our means of control.

It seems to us that we choose freely from among options, to be sure. But then, the entire schedule of options really open to us at any moment, however uncountably vast their number, are just as definite ex ante as the facts already accomplished that constitute the causal basis of decision.

Thus the bases, procedure and options of our decisions, being given to each moment of decision ab initio and so unchangeably, would seem to determine us to but one such option, again ab initio and unchangeably. What seems to us to be the free choice of a moment in our lives might then be no more than what it feels like to proceed from the entire schedule of the initial matter thereof to the one option that satisfies the desires felt as an aspect of those data.

Where in this account is there room for freedom?

That room may be found in Gödelian Incompleteness. But to see how this is so, we shall have to traverse several steps.

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Do not surrender your body carelessly.

They found Lucretia sitting in her chamber, melancholy and dejected: on the arrival of her friends, she burst into tears, and on her husband’s asking, “Is all well?” “Far from it,” said she, “for how can it be well with a woman who has lost her chastity? Collatinus, the impression of another man is in your bed; yet my person only has been violated, my mind is guiltless, as my death will testify. But give me your right hands and pledge your honour, that the adulterer shall not escape unpunished. He is Sextus Tarquinius, who, under the appearance of a guest, disguising an enemy, obtained here, last night, by armed violence, a triumph deadly to me, and to himself also, if ye be men.” They all pledged their honour, one after another, and endeavoured to comfort her distracted mind, acquitting her of blame, as under the compulsion of force, and charging it on the violent perpetrator of the crime, told her, that “the mind alone was capable of sinning, not the body, and that where there was no such intention, there could be no guilt.” “It is your concern,” said she, “to consider what is due to him; as to me, though I acquit myself of the guilt, I cannot dispense with the penalty, nor shall any woman ever plead the example of Lucretia, for surviving her chastity.” Thus saying, she plunged into her heart a knife, which she had concealed under her garment, and falling forward on the wound, dropped lifeless. The husband and father shrieked aloud.

What Lucretia knew is that there is no self hovering aloof from the body; we are our bodies, and to violate the body is to violate the person, mental guilt or not.  Such is the unique horror of rape. Continue reading

Freedom & Determinism & Time

Both determinacy and freedom are necessary aspects of temporal reality. And, so, because we are naturally and ineluctably temporal creatures, both determinism and indeterminism are true for us: but this, in different ways, for they pertain to different temporal epochs.

Determinacy pertains to the past of every occasion, and indeterminacy to its present.

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Reconciling Plato and Berdyaev via the Phaedrus

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Analytic philosophy is by the far the dominant tradition in the English-speaking world and many countries in Europe at this point, with a handful of “continental” schools, but in either case, atheism and materialism are taken for granted. The way Plato was taught, like the way my professors taught everything else, sucked the significance out, examined arguments out of context, and generally made Plato seem like a no-good philosopher. It was not until I had written my dissertation and been granted my PhD that I read Plato’s Republic for myself, because it seemed ridiculous not to have read it – like an English major being unfamiliar with Hamlet. It was a revelation and I was overjoyed to find such a congenial mind. Like Dostoevsky, who has been described as continuing the dialogues of Plato, I had found a friend.

While aware that some of my other friendships have ended, the one philosophical friendship I started to suspect would last forever was my love of Plato. However, my fairly recent discovery of Nikolai Berdyaev had me wondering how devoted I could remain to Plato. A Russian friend, hearing me describe one of my philosophical views, noted that it sounded like Berdyaev and recommended him to me. When another friend started taking a strong interest too, my new friendship with Berdyaev began, often feeling like I was entering into a dialogue with my future self, as Berdyaev extended some of my own thoughts into new domains.

The solution to my newly acquired doubts about Plato has been to step outside the description of reality found in Plato’s allegory of the cave, and to look to the Phaedrus, for an extension of the Platonic vision of spiritual and metaphysical realities that is more congenial to Berdyaev’s insights. [1] Continue reading

Can Evolutionary Biology and Naturalism Provide a Foundation for Morality?

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From Tom Stoppard’s play “The Hard Problem”

Naturalism, physicalism, and materialism are synonyms. They are names for a truncated metaphysics that omits any notion of transcendence and divinity. Someone might try to take dualism seriously without God; a dualism that posits material reality, and consciousness as a separate substance with its own substantial reality. But this would mean recognizing that there is something nonphysical and invisible that cannot be explained by science and operates in independence from purely physical forces. In other words, a spiritual reality. Most materialists recognize this and have been leery of even using the word “consciousness.” At the present moment, for some reason, some percentage of analytic philosophers are willing to use David Chalmers’ phrase “the hard problem” to refer to the puzzle of how subjective awareness could arise from the lump of meat in a sentient creature’s head. Positing a giant mystery at the center of human existence is a dangerous game for a materialist. They will find the hard problem to be an indigestible lump that spells the death knell for their physicalist complacency. By accepting that it is a problem at all, they are effectively admitting defeat. If the hard problem were a gift, they would be wise to return to sender. Daniel Dennett puts it thus: “I adopt the apparently dogmatic rule that dualism is to be avoided at all costs. It is not that I think I can give a knock-down proof that dualism, in all its forms, is false or incoherent, but that, given the 2way that dualism wallows in mystery, accepting dualism is giving up.”[1] Continue reading

If God’s Plan Is For Us To Determine Our Own Plan, Why Do We Need God? The Bullet-Point Version

Either God, the divine, the supernatural, and the transcendent exist or they do not. If they do not, then what is left is alternatively called “naturalism, physicalism, or materialism.” These are all synonyms and they imply that all that really ultimately exists are atoms and molecules. A naturalistic universe is one that can be fully described by science, at least in principle. If something cannot be measured and quantified, it is not objectively true and should be eliminated from one’s ontology, in this view.

  • Naturalism is irretrievably nihilistic. If naturalism is true, then value does not exist. Value cannot be measured. And neither can beauty, love, or goodness. None of those things can be measured or even clearly defined. Quotation from Anna Karenina, Part 4, Chapter 10:

‘But,’ said Sergey Ivanovitch, smiling subtly, and addressing Karenin, ‘one must allow that to weigh all the advantages and disadvantages of classical and scientific studies is a difficult task, and the question which form of education was to be preferred would not have been so quickly and conclusively decided if there had not been in favour of classical education, as you expressed it just now, its moral—disons le mot—anti-nihilist influence.’

‘Undoubtedly.’

‘If it had not been for the distinctive property of antinihilistic influence on the side of classical studies, we should have considered the subject more, have weighed the arguments on both sides,’ said Sergey Ivanovitch with a subtle smile, ‘we should have given elbow-room to both tendencies. But now we know that these little pills of classical learning possess the medicinal property of anti-nihilism, and we boldly prescribe them to our patients.… But what if they had no such medicinal property?’ he wound up humorously. Continue reading

Evolution 2.0 by Perry Marshall

Evolution 2.0 by Perry Marshall

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Evolution, as a concept and theory, for some people contributes to a sense of nihilism. The emergence of human life, for instance, can seem like it is the product of blind mechanical and chance forces devoid of meaning and purpose. Evolution 2.0 identifies some of the ways that evolution is not in fact purely haphazard, with parts of the process being quite purposeful and intelligent.

Modern evolutionary biology suggests that intelligence and thus a degree of consciousness might extend down to the cellular level.  Books like The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins imply some kind of genetic determinism where the organism is the product and tool of its genes in bottom-up and reductionistic fashion. The phenomena discussed in Evolution 2.0 show that this is just one side of the story. Cells can and do, for instance, edit their genetic code in order to promote their own survival, and ability to reproduce. Genes can affect cells, cells can in turn affect genes. It is not a one-way street. A revised view of things that extends intelligence down to the cellular level makes the universe seem like a more welcoming, less hostile place for human beings and one not solely governed by the laws of physics and randomness. Continue reading