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DeGaul
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I read a really great quote from the German neurophilosopher Thomas Metzinger:

 

"One way---out of countless others---to look at biological evolution on our planet is as a process that has created an expanding ocean of suffering and confusion where there previously was none. As not only the simple number of individual conscious subjects, but also the dimensionality of their phenomenal state-spaces is continuously increasing, this ocean is also deepening."

 

The thrust of the quote is that as evolution produces life in ever increasing numbers and varieties, it also produces ever increasing suffering individuals and new forms and colors of suffering. Of course, an optimist could easily reply that evolution also produces new and varied forms of pleasure, but I suppose I would see it the same was as I've argued for the antinatalist position: A dimension of pleasure never experienced isn't a loss, as no one would know what they are missing, but every real experience of pain is an experience that it would have been actually better never to have experienced.

 

If the universe had never evolved life, nothing would have been missed, but the real evolution of life has resulted in much suffering that it would have been better to do without.

 

I know that next to no one will agree with me, but it certainly does tingle the brain a bit to try and imagine evolution as a bad thing.....such a different take. Very interesting.

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I agree with the overall post in general...in fact I don't find much to argue against however, I still find an intrinsic value simply because of the brute fact that we are here. Whether or not evolution did or did not occur in another parallel universe has no bearing on me and you. You and I find ourselves now at this juncture. Hopefully, we can make something of it however futile it may be in the "long run". From an evolutionary point of view do we view pleasure as good and pain as bad and still within the context of what we define as "good" and "bad"? Or are I, you and we still referring to both as a moral imperative to seek one and avoid the other? Why can I not reverse it and say every real experience of joy is an experience that it would have been actually better to have experienced?

 

The human race at this point could potentially be viewed as a bad thing in regards to Earth.

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I tend to be anti-humanity, but mostly because of issues of suffering, and because I am, at heart, a misanthrope. I've spent some time reading some of the arguments coming from the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (www.vhment.org). They have some interesting points to make, but I reject their basic assumption that getting rid of humans would be good for the planet and other species. "Good", in what sense? I am basically suspicious of the idea that life is ever a "good" thing, although I entirely agree that since we are here we might as well make the best of it.

 

An empty universe with no life may have been a better one, under my interpretation, but since we don't have an empty universe and I'm here in it, I'm going to do the best I can to enjoy what joys that I can.....my wife, my friends, good booze, and good food. I'm going to enjoy it as long as I can, and then when my time is up, I'm going to go boldly into that dark night, finding what comfort I can in the dying of the light.

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An empty universe with no life may have been a better one...

Better how, and for whom?

 

The argument for non-existence is absurd, considering we must exist to even contemplate what is better and what is worse and to have the ability to affect outcomes. An empty universe with no life would be irrelevant and could just as well not exist at all; who would know or care?

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An empty universe with no life may have been a better one...

Better how, and for whom?

 

The argument for non-existence is absurd, considering we must exist to even contemplate what is better and what is worse and to have the ability to affect outcomes. An empty universe with no life would be irrelevant and could just as well not exist at all; who would know or care?

 

The ideas in the OP are new to me, but I tend to agree with what Florduh says here.

 

In any universe without life forms to suffer or contemplate suffering, the question of better-ness become moot. I subscribe to the definitions for 'good' and 'bad' laid out by Peter Singer in his book _Practical Ethics_. Good is what promotes our well-being; bad is what doesn't. So without a living organism whose well-being can be promoted, it doesn't make sense to think about whether something is good or bad, better or worse.

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I agree with NaturalMary and Florduh.

 

What good is this planet for the big dinosaurs, like T. Rex, now when they're all dead?

 

At the best We can argue it's better for us, humans, that the T. Rex is gone, but it's not good for the T. Rex. And is it better or worse for the world at large that T. Rex are gone? I don't think we can give a meaningful answer to that. :shrug:

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I'm not surprised most people disagree with me on this, because most people reject the argument for non-existence based on the asymmetry of pleasure and suffering. The logic behind the asymmetry argument runs like this: Most people will agree that pleasure is good and suffering is bad. And most people would agree that if an individual endures suffering, their life would have been better had they been able to live without that suffering. (I anticipate that many people will reply "not all suffering is bad.....some of it leads to a greater good." That is a different issue. In that case, suffering is endured for the sake of some other pleasure, whereas what I am talking about is needless suffering) Now, when we think about pleasure, it isn't the same scenario. We've all heard it said that you can't miss what you've never had, and that is true. Specific pleasures that an individual misses out on are not felt as a great loss if he or she never knows he or she is missing them. So, not experiencing certain pleasures isn't necessarily bad, but experiencing needless pain is always bad. Take this logic....skip over some of the technical logical number crunching for brevity's sake....and you get the idea that nonexistence takes away all needless pain (a good thing) and doesn't deprive us of any pleasures we could miss because non-existent beings can't miss anything (not a bad thing). So.....good thing + indifferent thing = basically good thing. So, nonexistence is a basically good thing.

 

But I would like to emphasize that this is not an argument for suicide. Because, now that I am here (and the rest of us are here), we are confronted by the evils of life, AND the evils of death. The vast majority of deaths involve a huge amount of needless suffering, and so the argument runs that coming into existence is a bad thing, and leaving existence is also a bad thing. Birth is bad and death is bad, and everything in between we do the best we can with.

 

Responding to florduh, I would ask what makes him think that our caring or thinking makes the universe relevant. In the words of Thomas Ligotti, the universe seems to be Malignantly Useless, no matter how you think about it. Yes, there are relative "uses". A potato peeler is useful when you want to peel potatoes, but existence itself is overwhelmingly useless, and no argument can demonstrate any use for it. No doubt some will respond to this by saying, "Existence isn't supposed to have a use. That isn't what existence does....it just is." Well, maybe so, but this just makes me want to stick my tongue out at the speaker in my own absurd jest and point out that an existence that just exists seems still useless to me, and I leave not at all satisfied by the existentialist bullshit telling me to "create myself" or some other such nonsense.

 

To Singer I would say that I find his arguments absurd. What do you mean by well-being? Who decides what the "well-being" of human beings is? I know nothing of "well-being". As Schopenhauer once pointed out, the vast majority of pleasure is not a positive experience, but the negation of some other pain, suffering, or simple boredom. I don't move toward my own well-being, but away from the very real pain I am confronted with everyday. And what better flight from pain could there be than if no life had ever evolved to feel it.

 

I know I will win no one over with these arguments who doesn't already have some sense of what I'm saying. Mostly I think pessimism is a predisposition, and I don't think that an optimist is capable of sympathizing with the pessimist view of life. Still, I find the arguments fascinating and share them simply for the intellectual stimulation. I'm definitely not looking for any converts to pessimism=)

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I can understand and see your viewpoint DeGaul. I have a certain sympathy toward it. That is because I see suffering as so pervasive. In fact it is difficult to imagine the various forms suffering takes, and the more complex the organism the more complex the varieties of suffering. I doubt my pet salamanders have much in the way of mental suffering going on, but of course I can't know that for sure.

 

There is a practice in Tibetan Buddhism - the following lines are recited:

 

"The three realms of cyclic existence have the nature of an ocean of suffering." Existence is suffering. While there are pleasures, there are also unimaginable levels of pain possible, and even likely, to occur.

 

Despite this fact, I do enjoy observing life, appreciating beauty, and being conscious. It is what it is, and I don't particularly want to die soon.

 

I once read a great story by Thomas Ligotti "The Last Feast of Harlequin". I have read Schopenauer "The World as Will and Representation". I read it over 20 years ago so I can't remember much about it, but it was impressive.

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Deva, I appreciate you mentioning Tibetan Buddhism. I don't often mention Buddhism on these forums, but much Buddhist thinking has influenced my thoughts over the years. I am particularly fond of Theravadan and Tibetan sources. I feel like the Buddha had a pretty good grasp on the issues at hand. His first truth, that Life is Suffering, was an amazing revelation. Of course, Buddha goes on to say that there is a way out of suffering. I don't know that I agree with that bit, at least not in the way the Buddha means it. I don't believe in rebirth, so I can't agree with the Buddha that it is a meaningful practice to pursue freedom from rebirth. I think perhaps the only real "solution" to suffering would be the voluntary extinction of the human race, but that would only result in an end of suffering for human beings. The other animal races would continue to live on in suffering, and no doubt will continue to live on until our sun burns out.

 

So, that is what separates me from Buddhists. I agree almost entirely with their analysis of the world, I simply don't believe in any salvation from it. I even agree with the compassion bit of Buddhism, as, much like Schopenhauer, I believe that compassion is the basis of morals. I think the only meaningful moral impulse is the impulse to help relieve the suffering of a fellow creature just because we so clearly share suffering with that creature. As the Buddhist concept of Bodhisattva embodies:

 

"Let me be a bridge, a boat, for all those who wish to cross over the waters."

 

That seems like the most noble sentiment a person can find in this world...that we should help one another because we all suffer together, and there is no divine source of relief. God or divine power cannot save, but fellow human beings can reach out to lighten each other's load.

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"Let me be a bridge, a boat, for all those who wish to cross over the waters."

 

That seems like the most noble sentiment a person can find in this world...that we should help one another because we all suffer together, and there is no divine source of relief. God or divine power cannot save, but fellow human beings can reach out to lighten each other's load.

I like that..... and to me, it seems the best way to live life.

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DeGaul:

 

I am an admirer of the Buddhist view, especially the Mahayana. I can't go along with some of the practices (I can't see how they relate to the view),but I also admire the Bodhisattva ideal.

 

The line I quoted about suffering is from the Ngondro practice of the Nyigma lineage. I enjoy doing that one. I like the Heart and Diamond Sutras, and I am facinated by the concept of emptiness.

 

I used to believe in rebirth but find myself having some trouble with it recently. It doesn't seem to jibe with impermanence and no-self which was also a Buddhist teaching. It seems like there must be something like an "astral body" (whatever that is) that conveys the actions and/or memories of the prior bodily existence, and I don't see how that works. The Buddha was Hindu, of course, and so he had that background of belief in reincarnaton, but now I see him as dissolving that idea when he denied the Atman (the Self) as a permanent, changeless Self. Maybe I have an inadequate understanding, though. Buddhism is very complex.

 

As far as Nirvana goes - is it extinction? Or is it real at all? There is the saying "Samsara is Nirvana" so everything is present now. I am not sure.

 

I see a lot in common with your view as expressed in your first post, and the Buddhist view.

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Deva,

 

The concept of rebirth in Buddhism is really difficult. I have tried over and over to understand it. The no-self doctrine definitely makes conventional interpretations of reincarnation problematic. I think that when the Buddha talks about rebirth, however, he means something very essential to his thinking. Since there is no self, that means there is no self from moment to moment in life, just streams of action leading to other actions. Under this interpretation, death isn't anything but another moment among many other moments and shouldn't be the "end" of anything. Action carries on, as it were.

 

But, yeah....I don't see how rebirth is meaningful if nothing really substantial carries on. And I really don't see how anything substantial could carry on.

 

Still, no-self and the fundamental nature of suffering are two of the most important truths that humanity has discovered. I think these truths alone leave us with a lot to think about.

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I am so honored to have you as my husband, DeGaul. You have helped me with my suffering, as terrible as it is, and who can say what terrible sufferings we will have to endure next?...the death of you? the death of me?, I hope we will die together because I cannot imagine my life without you.....isn't that every loving couple's dream? For the moment I will dream of that, but I will try to prepare myself for the worst.

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Still, no-self and the fundamental nature of suffering are two of the most important truths that humanity has discovered. I think these truths alone leave us with a lot to think about.

 

I have had much the same thoughts about the subject as you have expressed. I agree with your statement here. The implications of both no-self and suffering are profound.

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I think Buddhism has many great things going for it, but I also think it has some bullshit in there too.

 

Desire or craving is endemic to life. Rocks have no needs, no desires, no cravings, no self, and no suffering. But I do not envy rocks. Capiche?

 

As to the OP, I completely fail to see the point of it. Indeed it is so ludicrous to me as to defy description.

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You seem extremely irritated Legion. What's up?

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I read something about Thai Buddhism today that really rings true with my experiences here. They believe in karma, so you don't get road rage or any kind of nonsense like that because they think what they do will come back to them. Do good, good comes. Do bad, bad comes. And, they aren't fundamental about their beliefs so when others have a different spin on Buddhism, they are accepting of it.

 

I personally can't buy into the idea of a supernatural karma, et al, but I can see how it benefits a society when people believe in the laws of reciprocity. Thailand is nicknamed the land of smiles and it really is fitting. I'm sad to be leaving. Gotta catch a flight in a few minutes.

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You seem extremely irritated Legion. What's up?

It's a frustration of having wheat mixed with chaff.

 

Aristotle - illucidated four causes (wheat)... thought the brain was for cooling the blood (chaff)

Descartes - "cogito ergo sum" (wheat) ... machine metaphor in biology (chaff)

Newton - basically invented physics (wheat) ... over restricted natural law and gave birth to the particle chasers (chaff)

Buddha - dependent arising (wheat) ... no self ... (chaff)

 

You dig?

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You seem extremely irritated Legion. What's up?

It's a frustration of having wheat mixed with chaff.

 

Aristotle - illucidated four causes (wheat)... thought the brain was for cooling the blood (chaff)

Descartes - "cogito ergo sum" (wheat) ... machine metaphor in biology (chaff)

Newton - basically invented physics (wheat) ... over restricted natural law and gave birth to the particle chasers (chaff)

Buddha - dependent arising (wheat) ... no self ... (chaff)

 

You dig?

 

Yes, I dig, but you could be a little more polite about it. Look, there is no perfect system. That's because the human mind has its limitations. Deal with it.

 

If you dismiss "no self" as chaff, you haven't thought about it very much.

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you could be a little more polite about it.

I'm growing impatient these days Deva. I don't know what to do.

 

If you dismiss "no self" as chaff, you haven't thought about it very much.

I confess that I have not thought of "no self" very much. However I have thought of ego a LOT. And I'm telling you. There is no killing it. Even if someone were successful in "seeing past" their ego to a more robust and accurate reflection of their true selves, the ego would quickly re-establish itself out of neccessity of day to day operations.

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First, thank you Noumena. I can't imagine my life without you either. If I didn't have you to come home to and to share my burden, I would be swallowed up by the weight of my own thoughts. I love you so much, and I also hope that we die together.

 

Legion, you might want to reconsider your stance on no-self being chaff. The work being done by a lot of modern neurobiologists and neurophilosophers like Thomas Metzinger seem to demonstrate pretty convincingly that we do not have anything like a substantial self (meaning a persistent and lasting identifiable self), but rather that our sense of "self" is really the result of a complex neurological ecology which gives rise to the illusion of substance through behavioral trends and the dominance of certain neurological patterns.

 

Now, of course, we do have a conventional self.....the self we are all familiar with on a day to day basis, but even the Buddha didn't deny that.

 

I have to admit, I find it a little humorous that you would think my OP is ludicrous and defiant of description. I am lead to assume that you are one of those who naturally falls into the camp of "optimism". I, however, am a dyed in the wool pessimist. It is unlikely that people like us will ever see eye to eye, but it seems like your distaste for my arguments are more emotional than logical. No argument I've put forward is so fantastic as to make everyone a believer in my view, but nothing I've said is illogical or ludicrous. I simply point out what I see to be the facts: That there is an asymmetry in life between experiencing pain and experiencing pleasure. That existence itself is malignantly useless. That the fact that all life is going nowhere is an incurable condition. That much of who and what we are consists of unconscious habits....enough so that the great existentialist imperative to "Create Thyself" is shown to be a lie at every turn and rather it seems to be that humans, like all other animals, do not make themselves but are made by the evolutionary pressures put upon them..

 

We spend our days in hard labor or in listless boredom, if we are one of the "lucky". We chase after fleeting pleasure and fill ourselves with pain in the pursuit. And once we catch our desire, we suffer then as well, for fear of losing what we have so worked for. We struggle to be smarter and fitter, more beautiful and more likable, and then......old age, sickness, and death. And all that we have struggled for turns to ash in our mouths. And for our children?----we leave a legacy of the same, more distraction, more pain, and inevitable death.

 

Of course, the optimist will say that it was all worthwhile. All the joy is worth the pain. All the struggle is worth the triumph. That is all very moving talk, and at times I am even a little sympathetic to it. But still, it seems just another story we tell to ourselves to keep away the dark. More fairy tales of heroes and the demons they overcome.

 

Still, I enjoy my wife, a good drink, a good meal, and a good friend. But to me, these are blessings I have from the little luck that fate has granted to me. I certainly have it better than many others, and I am moved by their suffering. Yet, I can honestly say, with Peter Zapffe, that a deserted island is no tragedy, and I do not care if the human race continues on. I will enjoy my life as best I can, and when I am dead I will lay down my burden forever and sleep that darkest of sleeps that comes with no distracting dreams.

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DeGaul, I recognize that our notion of "self" is a model; it is a psychosomatic construct. My point is that we cannot effectively operate as organisms without this model.

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Legion, the Buddha did not deny that we need that construct to operate. He actually embraces that fact in his teachings, as his work on morality and behavior would make no sense without appealing to the construct of self-hood. His point in teaching the no-self doctrine, however, was to loosen the sense of rigidity with which most people treat "themselves". As most people see the self as an object, they treat the self as this precious "thing" that has to be guarded or discovered or some other such talk. When we embrace the concept of self as a constructed and fluid process rather than a thing, we begin to see that change and fluidity cannot be the enemies of self-concept but are integral to the nature of self-concept. In Buddhism, the thought is that by embracing the fluidity of self-concept, one will become less rigid generally and will exist more in the present moment, a precondition for the development of peace-of-mind in Buddhism.

 

Hmmm....as you can no doubt tell, I have a soft spot in my heart for Buddhism, but all things considered I am not convinced by Buddhism either. The idea that there is an escape from suffering is what I reject. Even in death, although an individual "self-model" perishes, the constituent parts of the being which manifested that "self" will simply go on to be incorporated into a new being and that being will suffer anew. As Moby so poetically put it, "We are all made of stars." And that is true. We are made of the elements of exploded stars, and in so far as those elements are us (and embracing materialism means we are nothing more than emergent properties of those very solar elements) the stars themselves find their way into the web of suffering. The Romantic Pessimist could say that fear and trembling reverberate down to the very heart of the atom, that in this universe of nightmares, no one and nothing escapes the dark. It is only in the final death of this universe, when space has expanded beyond mass and the total energy level of the universe is stretched so thin that all that is left is cold nothingness....only then will we truly have reached Nirvana. Only then will all things have been "blown out, without remainder". Then will the wheel of suffering grind to a blessed stop and only emptiness will remain.

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When we embrace the concept of self as a constructed and fluid process rather than a thing, we begin to see that change and fluidity cannot be the enemies of self-concept but are integral to the nature of self-concept.

I whole-heartedly agree with this. Indeed all models are learned. We are constantly learning anew who we are.

 

I like your style DeGaul. Welcome to ex-C. Stick around, but beware of me. I treat my enemies with much respect, but my friends get a constant urging to grow, grow, grow.

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