Debatable

I was raised to believe in the power of rational debate to test ideas and discover truth.

This optimistic little fantasy has suffered much through my encounters with reality.

Nevertheless, here are some articles that present debatable ideas. I am open to the suggestion that I have got things wrong. Learning from mistakes and advancing to a new and better understanding by cooperative debate is what good people do.

Having said that, I should flag a few deep-seated opinions of mine that might be hard to shift:

  • I’m an atheist. Most of the time I think that religious belief is what takes over when thinking stops.
  • I’m a materialist. I think that the mind sits in the brain and the brain in the body, and that without the physical bits, there’s nothing going on.
  • I think that democracy is the best form of government, even if this leaves open huge arguments about what makes democracy work.
  • I’m sure the world is horribly complicated, and that most ideological positions involve oversimplifying how stuff works.

What do you think?

Debatable articles:

AutumnPersimmons

4 comments

  1. Hi Craig. Just a few random comments on your four “hard-to-shift opinions”, that might stimulate some more thought.

    – I think a better word for “what takes over when thinking stops” is spirituality. That can describe a meditative state where you are simply experiencing and noticing the experience without trying to understand or categorise anything. Religious belief is what happens when you START thinking about that experience and trying to understand it in terms of beings, forces or mythical events. Unfortunately we all know where that can lead.

    – A materialist? But most of the things that are important to you don’t exist in the material world. Hope, pain, meaning – none of these are made of fundamental particles. (And let’s not start on whether quarks and leptons actually exist anyway.) What about a song? (Not a rendition of the song, the song itself.) That’s nowhere in physical space. So are all these things just figments of my imagination?

    – Democracy is very important, but in my view REPRESENTATIVE democracy has become so corrupted that it needs to be at least partially replaced with something else. Have a look at http://www.newdemocracy.com.au.

    – On point four I’d say you’re not wrong.

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    • Hi Rob,

      Thanks for taking the time to respond to my notes. Thanks for the tip about http://www.newdemocracy.com.au — I love the idea of someone investigating democratic methods in a scientific way. I haven’t had time to investigate it detail, but I surely will.

      I guess I should be more careful when making phrases: “Most of the time I think that religious belief is what takes over when thinking stops” sounded good when I wrote it, but it is vague, and means more or less to different people.

      Plenty of things can be going on when thinking stops, and meditation is one of them, and singing, and any number of good mental states. I was having a shot at religious belief because it seems to me that people often resort to a religious belief when they want an answer and thinking isn’t giving them the answer they want. You are right to point out that a lot of thinking is religious. Thinking based on religious belief is just thinking based on untenable premisses.

      I am absolutely a materialist, and of course I don’t deny that I have a mental life. I think that hope, pain, songs and the many other phenomena we find quite real all are rooted in materiality. No hope without a physical entity feeling hope. No pain without a physical entity feeling pain. No songs without at least one impression of the song in a brain somewhere. In short, no dualism, no Platonic ideals, no second plane of existence that is separate from the material world.

      I don’t find much use for the word ‘spirituality’, because most people who use it are holding the door open to the possibility that there is another world, another dimension, a life after death. Maybe I’ll write some more about that one day.

      Best wishes, Craig

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  2. So a week after my gorgeous husband (an avowed atheist like yourself) died, a parcel arrived from a woman i had never met. Her note of introduction said she had been a friend of Phil’s when they were at high school and that they had kept in touch. She had not seen or heard from him in ten years. She had been walking along the beach the morning after he had died and he spoke to her, asking her to call me to say that he was okay and happy. She argued that i would be unlikely to be very receptive to such a call from a total stranger (which, also being an atheist myself, is very true). So he told her to look down and there at her feet was a beautiful shell. He asked her to send the shell to me with his message, which she did. Imagine my existential angst when i opened the parcel to find a shell that matched two others i have at home. Both collected on diving trips in the south pacific and not shells typically found in southern Victoria.

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