May 2013


NihilismRecently, with some reference to “weak theology” lurking beneath the surface, I’ve been hearing a lot of folks defending religion on the grounds that it’s really some form of mytho-poetic thought and not to be taken as a set of ontological statements about the world.  The idea seems to be that those who reject religion get it entirely wrong because religion is not a theory of reality, causation, the self, the afterlife, and why things are, but rather religion is really just a set of very powerful stories that help us interpret and understand the world around us.  In one recent discussion about these issues, a friend accused me of being unimaginative and overly literal for failing to understand that these are just potent stories through which we interpret the world, and instead treating them as a theory of our selves, being, the world, and the origin of things.

polls_tornado_5341_690052_answer_4_xlargeBefore responding to these claims, it’s first important to get clear on some points.  The ontological nihilist like me doesn’t deny that we experience all sorts of meaning in the world.  The idea that we would think this is one of the oddest ideas to ever sprout from anyone’s mind.  We’re wired to find meanings, purposes, and motives in everything that takes place in the world?  Why?  As Alex Rosenberg suggests, probably because being able to predict the behavior of others, how they would respond to this or that, was a life or death matter when we were back on the savannah.  You had to have some reliable way of deciding who would help you, who wouldn’t, who was a potential enemy, who might be a friend, who was a potential mate, and all the rest.  Of course, the blind watch maker of natural selection, random variation, and heritability doesn’t do such a good job at being distinguishing.  It gave us the capacity for thinking in terms of narratives, motives, and purposes, but didn’t restrict the use of this capacity to speculations about other humans and animals.  As a consequence, we would inevitably come to see faces in clouds, anger in storms, and favor when something surprising and good happens to us.  So it goes.  That’s how our lizard brains are wired.  Fortunately we’ve begun to develop techniques for getting around this in the last few centuries or so.

Nihilist that I am, I’m no different in this respect.  When something randomly bad happens to me, the thought flits through my mind that perhaps I’m being punished.  When a nice thunder storm happens as I was wishing for a couple days ago, the thought flits through my mind that perhaps I pleased the divinities in some way and they answered my prayers.  When I look at the barks of trees, I sometimes think I see faces or animals.  Us nihilists are wired the same way as everyone else and thus have the same fleeting thought.  The only difference is that we don’t take these speculations about motives that occur to us when we think about nature as veridical statements about the natural world.  We say “that’s a trick of my cognition, not something that’s really there.”  It’s the same with a nicotine fit.  Once you become aware that the absence of nicotine changes your brain chemistry, you no longer say “that person is being a bastard!”, but instead say “my brain chemistry is a mess at this moment leading me to think this person is being a bastard.”  Sure, we still experience the other person as driving like an asshole, but we know this is coming from us not them.  We consequently moderate our response to the other driver because we recognize this is a peculiarity of our cognition of the other person, not a motive on the part of the other person.

So back to the “religion as mytho-poetic thought” line of argument.  Here are my problems with this line of argument:

1)  It’s simply not true that belief is experienced in this way for 99% of the people that have it.  Folks don’t say “the story of Job is a potent story that teaches me a valuable lesson about life”.  No.  They say this is a theory of reality that explains why this or that happens.  I’ll never forget a discussion with an evangelical friend of mine.  A few years ago there was a string of bizarre weather events here in Texas.  We were talking about this and I alluded to climate change.  She chuckled knowingly and said “I don’t worry about such things because I know how the world will end” (alluding to end times theology).  For her– and I’ve heard this countless times since —Revelation is not merely a potent set of poetic stories, but is something like an insurance man’s actuarial table.  It’s a real prediction about what will happen.  It’s a theory of reality and causation and why events are happening.  This effects her entire politics and attitude towards things like climate change.  Outside of the United States, I’m sure there are a lot of folks have a hard time understanding US foreign policy concerning Israel.  What they don’t understand– and don’t believe when they hear it –is that there is a huge voting block that relates the Jews returning to Israel with Biblical prophecy and that any policy that interferes with that means a tremendous loss of votes and campaign donations.  Ergo, certain issues just can’t be discussed here.  I kid you not.  And don’t even get me started on the impact of these beliefs on science education and embodied politics here in the States.

jimagesI loves me some John Caputo, but I just can’t share his view that these myths are potent stories that help us to make sense of the world.  They’re full blown theories that make truth claims about the nature of reality, what will happen, why what has happened has happened, and what sorts of policy and practices we should adopt.  These are theories that have had a profound effect on our ability to respond to climate change, science in the states, as well as all sorts of gender politics.  It’s hard to escape the mytho-poetic theory of religious belief is a lot of hand waving by well meaning academics and enlightened people who just can’t bring themselves to believe that their neighbors really believe these things, that have sentimental feelings about the ritual they grew up with in their churches, and that have the misguided view that they can somehow persuade these people if they just talk about their beliefs in a nice way.  They don’t seem to realize that the lay will always bristle at the thought that their theory of reality is just a set of potent myths to be interpreted after the fashion of Levi-Strauss or, gag, Joseph Campbell.

2) If the mytho-poetic theorists are right, then they’re saying nothing different than the social constructivists and literary critics have been saying all along.  They’re saying that these things aren’t representations of reality or the way things are, but are social constructions, effects of the play of the signifier, creations of cognition, and all the like.  In other words, they’re rejecting the referential dimension of these things and giving culturalist explanations.  But this is what secular-naturalistic orientations have argued all along.  One then wonders why the mytho-poeticists continue to defend religion if they really believe all these stories are referentially false as theories of reality.  Why aren’t they busily deconstructing them?

3)  If it is true that these stories or theories of reality are just potent literature, why do they still continue to privilege sacred texts which have historically caused so much mayhem.  If religion was really just great literary works all along, why not instead find mytho-poetic meaning in great literature like Kafka, comic books, television shows, films, paintings, music, and so on?  Why hang on to these particular stories that were written by sheep herders that barely understood anything of the universe 6000+ years ago.  It’s bizarre that one would hold the theory that these things are just a way in which people create meaning in the world through narrative and then not consider just abandoning those particular stories that have been taken as theories of reality for so long.  After all, no one ever burned a witch, stoned a woman, or sacrificed a daughter over Kafka, but they certain did over these stories and have justified slavery and a variety of other egregious things to boot based on this particular literature.  Let’s make a clean break

4)  The mytho-poetic theory of religion just muddies the waters.  As I said, the vast majority of believers don’t advocate this theory.  Women, GLBT folks, scientists, etc., are all oppressed in very real ways by these things, and they affect American climate policy, scientific research (evolution, stem cell research, etc), and a variety of other things too.  The mytho-poetic theorist comes along and says “but that’s not really what they mean, these are just powerful stories that give life meaning!”  In doing so they provide cover for the worst manifestations of mytho-poetic thought (even though that’s not their intention).  These folks should be looking to what the lay believes, not what they read in their sophisticated journals and by theologians.

Yes, I too find the story of Jesus very potent and inspiring (as I do with Buddha and a lot of Greek and Roman mythology as well; especially the story of Apollo and Daphne).  Moreso, however, his life and not his death.  I’m also all for reading the Bible in exactly the same way as we read Homer, Hesiod, Virgil, and in the way ehtnographers interpret the religious beliefs of other cultures.

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shatter-clingIn a comment, my friend Matt Brown raises some interesting points about science and my criticism of Latour’s principle of irreduction.

Me:  Because to explain is to reduce.

Matt:  This is wrong from a philosophy of science point of view, or at least, an oversimplification. It is noteworthy that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Scientific Explanation (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-explanation/) includes no mention of reduction or reductionism. It is true that in order to explain we need to make some relation between the phenomenon and its explanans, but the explanans is not generally thought of as a reduction to phenonema at a more basic level. Main candidates for explanans include laws of nature (at the same level as the explanandum), causal mechanisms (most of which again are not reductions, e.g., mary throwing the rock explains the broken window), or unifications (again, many of which are not reductions, e.g., Maxwell’s unification of electricity and magnetism).

It is also worth pointing out that one of the most canonical articles on reductionism (Oppenheim & Putnam’s “Unity of Science as a Working Hypothesis”) argues that microreductions can be explanatory, but takes other things (deduction from explanatory law) as definitional of explanation.

Me:  The sciences explain the powers of H2O by reference to the features of hydrogen and oxygen.

Matt:  This example actually doesn’t work for you. While some features of hydrogen and oxygen, and some quantum mechanical principles like the Pauli exclusion principle, are part of the explanation of the features of water, but there are other chemistry-level parts of the explanation, including especially chemical bonds and related structural properties which are not part of atomic physics.

Me:  Indeed, even Latour’s own actor-network analyses are reductions.

Matt:  This looks true if you only focus on one moment in ANT analysis. (I just did Reassembling the Social w/ my grad class so this is fresh.) When Latour turns to look at actants, he recommends that we follow all of the connections that “make up” the actants, that make them do things. So while he might have us follow all of the parts of the Corporation as part of an ANT study of the Corporation, he’d also point out that the actants themselves aren’t themselves on a more basic level. Also, his point about the ways the Corporation “speaks” (wholly in documents) vs. how the person in the customer service department speaks to you on the phone seems relevant.

Unfortunately I wasn’t quite clear in my post on Latour and left out the central point I was trying to make:  there’s a difference between explanatory reduction (ER) and ontological reduction (OR).  Let’s take the materialism of Peter van Inwagen to illustrate OR.  If I understand Inwagen correctly, only elementary particles (whatever they turn out to be) and animal individuals truly exist.  Thus, for example, when a baseball shatters a window, neither the window nor the baseball really exist.  These are just fabrications of our crude perceptual apparatus.  What’s really occurred is an interaction between a plurality of different elementary particles.  There are no windows nor baseballs, only elementary particles.  This is an ontological reduction insofar as it’s basically making the claim that baseballs and windows don’t exist, only elementary particles.  OR’s deny the existence of some set of entities.

read on!

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night_critter_by_0149-d358tr6Bill Rose Thorn has a nice post up responding to my theses on Dark Ontology and, in particular, my claim that being is without purpose or meaning.  A couple of folks have misconstrued what I’m saying on this point, so it’s worth making a couple words of clarification.  What does it mean to say that the universe is without purpose or meaning?  It merely means that there’s nothing inscribed in the order of things that has a meaning, purpose, or divine.  Natural disasters aren’t rewards or punishments for how peoples have lived their lives.  The stars have nothing to say about the destinies of peoples.  History is not working towards some final goal.  There isn’t a battle between good and evil.  No divine being was trying to teach you a lesson when you lost a loved one or got cancer.  These are all just things that happen.  Nothing more, nothing less.  There is no grand drama of being where humans are at the center and where some struggle between the supernatural forces of good and evil are playing themselves out.  Humans happened as a result of random mutation and natural selection.  Nothing more.  We could have just as easily not happened and at some point we’ll evolve into another species that might be far more enlightened or far more brutal than us, or we’ll just disappear from the world altogether as a result of extinction.

hurricane-ivan_200_600x450What doesn’t it mean to say the universe is without meaning, design, or purpose?  Obviously it doesn’t mean that humans and other critters don’t create meaning.  We’re up to our eyeballs in meaning every minute of our lives.  When I use a hammer to pound nails I’ve assigned a purpose to it and given it a meaning.  When a person reflects on the significance of their cancer for their lives, they’re giving it meaning.  We set all sorts of goals for ourselves.  We wonder about the significance of Hurricane Katrina for culture.  We wonder what the impact of 9-11 will be on society.  We write novels and philosophies.  In everything we do we do so in a world of meaning.  2844003921_63008aab00_zThe thesis of naturalism and nihilism is not that there isn’t meaning.  It’s a thesis about where meaning comes from.  The naturalistic thesis is that meaning arises from the play of the signifier and our embodied, lived, cognitive experiences.  It’s the thesis that they aren’t in the things themselves.  When my daughter sees ponies in the clouds, they’re not in the things themselves.  We can only talk about the world meaningfully, but one of the neat things about meaning is that it can talk about the non-meaningfulness of existence itself.  Obviously a person’s cancer means a lot to them, but in the order of nature itself independent of their cognition, relation to language, and so on, there’s no meaning to their cancer in the sense of some metaphysically inscribed purpose, plan, or meaning to that cancer.  Nope.  They just suffered a sad genetic mutation as a result of some substance like uranium they were exposed to.  It wasn’t some divine being teaching them a lesson or placing them in some dire straits for some grand cosmic plan.  What I’m saying is no different than anything Spinoza or the Stoics said:  nothing in itself is beautiful or ugly, good or bad, purposeful or purposeless, only our evaluations make it so.  Good/bad, right/wrong, and all the rest are purely relational predicates.  My cats seem to take great delight in resting their little heads in my stinky shoes.  Me not so much.  Is the shoe’s odor loathsome?  Apparently not to my cat.  It’s my cat that gives value to that odor.  It’s value isn’t in the shoe itself.

Water dropletIf I were to name a single thing that I most regret in all that I have written in since 2011, it would be my defense of Latour’s principle of irreduction in my article entitled “The Ontic Principle” in The Speculative Turn.  Having reflected on this principle in the intervening years, I can’t help but believe that it would be a catastrophe to any knowledge-producing practices were it taken seriously.  Why?  Because to explain is to reduce.  The sciences explain the powers of H2O by reference to the features of hydrogen and oxygen.  Likewise, I explain the powers of hydrogen and oxygen by reference to more elementary particles.  When someone interprets a novel, they’re carrying out a reduction saying, in effect, that the “manifest content” of the novel refers to this latent, ideational content.  When a psychoanalyst interprets a symptom, they’re carrying out a reduction.  Indeed, even Latour’s own actor-network analyses are reductions.  He takes complex aggregates such as corporations and looks at all the actants that make them up.  He’s reducing these aggregates to more elementary units.  What we need is not a principle of irreduction, but of reduction that would allow us to distinguish between good and bad reductions.

The problem with the principle of reduction when taken at face value is that it leads us to treat every entity as an ontological given.  “God, is but a set of beliefs, you say?  Well by Latour’s principle of reduction this is an illegitimate reduction!  Therefore we must include God in our ontology!”  “Your depression is a chemical imbalance, you say?  Well that’s an illegitimate reduction and it really means all that your confused says it means!”  And while you’re at it, us Jews really were what the Nazis said we were because, well, it would be reductive to say otherwise!

I suspect that Latour himself didn’t think this is what the principle of irreduction means.  After all, all of his actual analyses speak against this as he perpetually carries out reductions.  What does Latour actually say?  He says, “[n]othing is, by itself, either reducible or irreducible to anything else” (The Pasteurization of France, 158).  It’s the second part of the proposition that’s important.  When he refuses reduction he’s challenging bad sociology.  Like the mathematician, he’s saying you have to show your work.  Somewhere or other he gives Freudian dream interpretation as an example of virtuous reduction.  What’s good about a Freudian dream interpretation.  It shows all the transformations (the dream-work) that lead from the dream-thought to the manifest content of the dream.  It doesn’t just say “dream x means y”, but shows how the thought or repressed desire gets elaborated into y.  Similarly, in the domain of Marxist social theory, it’s not enough to say “capitalism causes r”.  You have to show all the mediations and mechanisms by which we get from the dynamics of capitalism to a particular social phenomena.  We have to show our work.  However, showing your work is a reduction nonetheless.  A bad reduction is merely one that doesn’t show the mediations or how you get from point a to point b.  Not everything exists.  Sorry folks, there are no rainbows, though we certainly experience them as a result of the properties of light, raindrops, and our own neurological systems.  Whiteheadian nonsense aside, in the absence of those neurological systems rainbows just ain’t there.

renaissance-the-school-of-athens-classic-art-paitings-raphael-painter-rafael-philosophers-hd-wallpapersIn response to my post on dark ontology, a friend remarks:

I find these propositions intriguing but I have a few questions I would like you to address if you can.  You stated in two of the responses that you’re using ‘axiom’ not as ‘self-evident truth’ but as ‘constraint or rule w/in types of math’ and that if the term ‘axiom’ is unsatisfying then feel free to replace it w/’thesis’. Two questions: one, if axiom is used with little or no problem and in this instance for types of ontological issues, how would axiom as ‘constraint or rule within types of mathematics’ apply here? When referring to axioms of set theory for example, there are procedures (and I’m not using that term in any badiouian sense) and operations I could do; there are problems to be solved, and so forth such that it makes sense that this constraint, rule, or what have you productively governs my behavior as it pertains to specific types of mathematics. Here though, #12, and #15 for example, I’m not aware of how if they constrain certain moves within a discourse or are rules w/in a discourse that could do anything; be operationalized. How would they do any work? Like, how would #12 change discursive behavior? Would we stop singling out the Greeks in terms of past civilizations; would attempts to retrieve aspects of the past that some find potentially beneficial in a non-christian/post-christian setting be deemed/regarded as non-helpful? Same w/no. 15, would admitting the inability to resolve the climate crisis (or even alleviate it), do anything, produce an effect, in the way that certain rules within specific mathematic discourses produce effects?

Second question: if ‘axiom’ gets changed to ‘thesis’, what then occurs? How is thesis being used here? If thesis is simply retaining its’ everyday, colloquial use or meaning, then aren’t there supposed to be examples, or arguments, evidence of some sort, or just something to “back this up”? I mean how do you back-up number 12, or 15, or 16? Classicists view a lot of religious texts simply and utterly as literature, and isn’t it reasonable to suppose that a majority of religious believers view other religious folk’s text(s) as simply literature when reading them (albeit they don’t see their own as just literature)? Plus, a lot of literature comes from these prior texts. If I use ‘thesis’, should I be thinking ‘claims/propositions given where various knowledge-projects are currently’ or more ‘hypotheses’, or maybe, ‘speculations’?

Thanks for the difficult questions!  With respect to the use of the term “axiom”, my position is that sciences such as physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and neurology as well as social sciences such as sociology, ethnography, cognitive science, and psychoanalysis have shown us certain things about ourselves and the world that function as constraints within which philosophical questions must be posed to be legitimate.  We can’t just brush these things aside, pretend they don’t exist, or that we can continue to pursue philosophy in the same way in the way we did in the 18th century.  Certain positions just aren’t feasible anymore.  What I’ve tried to outline here is the framework within which questions of ontology, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and political philosophy ought to be posed.  The list, of course, is subject to revision and some of the claims might be abandoned.

Regarding your questions about the Greeks and past civilizations, I’m certainly not suggesting that we just abandon antiquity and pre-contemporary philosophy.  Certainly I’ve spilled plenty of ink writing about Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius (the best of the bunch), Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Leibniz, and a host of others.  When I talk about the splendor of our particular moment in intellectual history with respect to artistic accomplishments, the sciences, mathematics, politics, and the social sciences, I’m responding to a particular attitude I’ve often encountered among those working in the phenomenological tradition (inflected by Gadamerian hermeneutics) that speaks with an almost religious fervor about the Greeks as being an originary event, unparalleled in all of history, and that tends to be dismissive of anything contemporary.  My view– shared with Badiou, I think –is that we are living in the midst of the most exciting time in human history and in the middle of an unprecedented renaissance in knowledge-producing practices, politics, and art.  Antiquity and modernity just don’t hold a candle to the discoveries of mathematics and the sciences in the last century, the daring adventures of contemporary art, and the entirely new form of politics we’ve discovered.

The things we’ve discovered in biology, metereology, physics, neurology, sociology, psychology, ethnography, and mathematics are simply unprecedented in human history.  Comparing ourselves to the Greeks is a bit like comparing Euclid to the working knowledge of geometers possessed by craftsmen.  There’s simply no comparison, nor should we grant the geometrical knowledge of carpenters to the splendor of Euclid’s accomplishment and the manner in which it created mathematics.  My contention, then, is that these radical transformations and inventiveness in science, mathematics, art, and politics, are what ought to provoke contemporary thought in philosophy and theory.  Rather than dwelling in a dusty archive that perpetually tries to pretend these things haven’t occurred by endlessly engaging in a pious commentary on the pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, and so on, our age calls us to be the new Descartes’s, Spinozas, Leibniz’s, Rouseau’s, Kant’s, and Hegel.  Far from trying to defend the sovereignty of philosophy by protecting it against science, we should embrace the new age and ask what it calls us to think.

 

Over at Attempts at Living, arranjames has a nice post responding to my manifesto calling for a post-nihilistic praxis.  I agree wholeheartedly.  The points I laid out last night were intended to outline the constraints or framework within which contemporary social, political, and disciplinary questions are to be posed if they’re to be legitimate.  Some have expressed confusion over my use of the term “axiom” in that post.  In modern mathematics, an axiom is not a “self-evident truth” (nothing is self-evidently true these day) but a constraint on how a particular branch of mathematics is to unfold.  In this sense, an axiom is a sort of rule of the game.  It says “given this constraint, how must questions in this branch of mathematics be posed and what can be deduced?”  The axioms I set forth last night are what I take to be the only legitimate conclusions that can be drawn from the state of knowledge today in the physical sciences, biology, neurology, psychology, etc.  It’s simply no longer possible to honestly believe in a world characterized by purposiveness, body/mind divisions, design, the supernatural, and all the rest.  As Nietzsche saw long ago, we’ve completely lost this world.  Here are a few more axioms that I forgot in the last post.

21.  Humans are a particular type of animal among other animals and are not the pinnacle of being or existence.

22.  All human cognitive powers are biologically rooted or grounded.

23.  These cognitive powers evolved for the sake of getting around in a hostile world pervaded with other predators and for         reproduction.  It does appear, however, that our nervous systems are able to deploy themselves in ways that go beyond these original evolutionary aims.

24.  Our cognitive systems did not evolve for the sake of knowing the world or representing it as it is; which is why we must perpetually engage in critique in our knowledge-producing practices to protect against the insufficiencies of our cognitive structures.

25.  Consciousness has no special insight into the workings of the body from which it arises, nor any special insight into the causes of its cognitive and affective states.  As a consequence, evidence drawn from introspection has to be treated with caution.

26.  Given that all minds have a neurological substrate, we can no longer speak in generic or general terms about human minds as neurological structures are diverse in our species.  This is also attested to by the developmental plasticity of the brain.

27.  No philosophy can ignore or bracket the findings of the sciences and be legitimate.  Some basic scientific literacy is necessary for good philosophical work.  Similarly, basic literacy in the findings of ethnography, linguistics, sociology, and psychology are also necessary for good philosophical work.

28.  Philosophy is not a foundation for any other discipline, nor does any other discipline require philosophy to grant them legitimacy.  Each discipline develops its own epistemic criteria and protocols as a function of its investigation.  While philosophy can, of course, engage in critique of these protocols and render a service in doing so, other disciplines are in no need of the epistemological work of philosophy.  Indeed, philosophical epistemologies are often a hindrance to research in other disciplines as the philosopher is seldom aware of the specific questions and methodologies pursued and used in these disciplines and therefore arrives at them with a highly distorted understanding of what knowledge is in these disciplines.

29.  Everything that exists is the result of a genesis or development.

30.  Religions are not beliefs but are political institutions that exert power in the world in various ways and that organize people in various ways.  As a consequence, discussions of religion at the level of belief and whether or not those beliefs are true often miss the fact that religions are sociological entities.

31.  Theology seldom contributes anything to our understanding of religion and often muddies the water by presenting a rationalized version of popular belief and religion.  The claims of theologians are seldom reflective of what the population believes.  As a consequence, we have more to learn about religion from the ethnographer and the sociologist of religion than we do from the theologian who is generally what Deleuze called a State Thinker, even in his most progressive moment.

32.  There is no religion that does not involve the supernatural.  Those theologians that attempt to persuade us that religion is really about meanings and symbols do not understand what they’re talking about.

33.  Culture is not a domain outside of nature, but is a formation within nature.  Cultures are one more ecology among others.

34.  Nature is not harmonious nor does it strive for harmony, though harmony does occasionally happen for a brief period of time.

36.  The world is riddled with antagonisms and always will be.

37.  In ecologies and societies, there is no one cause for any particular event, but rather all events are “overdetermined” or the result of multiple causes.

38.  Everything is in a constant state of disintegration.  For this reason, work, energy, and operations are required for any ordered existence to continue enduring in time.

39.  Existence is indifferent to us, our sufferings, how we live our lives, and whether we continue to exist.  We aren’t, however, indifferent to each other.

40.  If aliens ever visit our planet they won’t be nice and they’ll be up to no good.  Star Trek is not a documentary.

41. Molecular biology has discredited vitalism and all its variants.

  1. mimagesThere is no meaning to existence or anything in the universe.  Life is an accident and has no divine significance (though it’s obviously important to the living).
  2. Nonetheless, many living beings give meaning to the universe.  It’s just not inscribed in the things themselves.
  3. All life will pass away and be erased.  Our sun, for example, will eventually expand and devour all life and culture in a fiery end.  It’s unlikely that inter-stellar travel will ever be realistic or possible given the vast distances of space, so all sentient life and artifacts of culture will be gone when this happens.
  4. There is no afterlife in any meaningful sense (yes worms will use our corpses as food to continue their life but that’s not me).  When you’re dead you’re dead and that’s it (though maybe the trans-humanists are right and we’ll develop computer technologies capable of uploading selves and thereby establishing a materialist immortality; I doubt it, but who knows).
  5. There are no purposes in being (in the Aristotlean, Platonic, and Christian Sense), nor is there any goal or aim of history.  All eschatologies are thus shams.  With that said, organic and technological beings arise in nature that appear to create purposes and goals for themselves.
  6. There is no plan to being, but rather it’s all anarchy and accident.
  7. There is no supernatural causation of any kind, nor any genuinely mystical experiences (e.g. astrology and merging with the totality of things) so anything that posits deep meanings, supernatural causes, purposes, and so on ought to be treated with disdain and ignored.
  8. Nonetheless, people do have “mystical experiences”.  They just aren’t caused in the way they suppose and are perfectly ordinary natural/neurological events (the oneness with everything that certain epileptics describe after a seizure resulting from all their neurons more or less firing at once).  Buddhist meditation is therefore a good psycho-neurological therapy.
  9. Dark ontologists experience wonder, awe, and a reverence for things precisely because everything is an accident and meaningless and therefore irreplaceable.  There’s nothing “spiritual” about this, unless one wishes to abuse language and, indeed, spirituality often dulls our ability to experience wonder at things such as the existence of life despite its improbability because it thinks there’s a designer behind these things.
  10. Nothing takes place in being that doesn’t have a physical or material substrate.  There’s no magic.
  11. There’s no particular wisdom of the ancients.  They just had techniques for producing effects in the minds of others through a different form of transference.
  12. The Greeks don’t hold a candle to the accomplishments of the last three hundred years in the sciences, social and political thought, mathematics, art, etc.  Heideggerian and hermeneutic reverence for the pre-Socratics, Plato, and Aristotle is therefore silly and myopic.  The Greeks should live up to us, not we to them.
  13. Everything is in nature, including culture.
  14. No God will save us.
  15. We’re very likely have ringside seats for the end of this particular chapter in evolutionary history because it’s not clear how we can respond to the crisis of climate change.
  16. If, as Caputo says, religious texts are like comic book stories that provide valuable life stories and ideals, we’d do better to draw our examples of such things from great literature than horribly written and poorly organized sacred texts that invite superstitious, non-materialist brutality and ignorance.
  17. There will never be a progressive form of spirituality as any discussion of the divine is always recouped as a justification for various forms of oppression (e.g., fundamentalists enlisting Hawking’s and Einstein’s statements about God for their own cause).  As a result, moderate believers are often worse than fundamentalists as they enable these dynamics of power.
  18. It’s cynical to say people are dopes and need to believe these things so we should make political use of them.  The people we say this about also sense that’s what we think.
  19. The worst abuses of history arise from believing that we’re acting on behalf of a goal or aim of history or an afterlife.  Once the permanence of death is erased in thought, the most horrific abuses of life are all justified as this world doesn’t matter, and when we say that history has a goal we justify doing anything in the present to reach that goal.
  20. This world is all we have.

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