"Discuss the Nietzschean Approach to the meaning of life in Milan Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being."
Please, I am having trouble with this. What THEMES are evident? How do I CONSTRUCT the essay? What should I deal with first? How is the Nietzschean approach evident?
How are the themes of nihilism, existentialism and lightness and darkness evident?
Should I even focus on themes? I'm finding this very difficult.
It will be easy once you have done some reading and there should be enough on the internet: Search for Nietzsche and "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" but if this is a literature essay, don't read too much but concentrate on the novel. This would be easier to answer if I knew the subject you are studying.
Start off by quoting Nietzsche on eternal recurrence which is the MAIN theme. This is what you have to consider in relation to the meaning in the characters' lives. You can find a full quote at: http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/personal/reading/kundera-unbearable.html.
For one short outline of what Kundera sees as the "meaning of life" have a look at the plot overview at: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/unberaablelightness/summary.html.
The claim here is that since we cannot return, we can only find meaning by comparing different lives, like those of Tomas and Sabina I don't think this is fully correct. For sure, in comparing the lives of Tomas, Tereza and Sabina, Kundera is showing that the lightness which Tomas represents (which is really moral lightness or nihilism) is not to be favoured over heaviness and moral responsibility represented by Tereza. But he goes further and shows that while Tomas comes to accept heaviness through Tereza, Sabina doesn't come to accept it. Sabina ends up loveless and rootless and this implies that at the end of her life she wouldn't want to repeat it. Nietzsche's point is that if you think about the possibility of eternal recurrence, the question arises whether you would go for it or not, whether you would affirm your life. If this is a literature essay, have a look in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy to find out about Nietzsche.
The plot overview claims that meaning has "uncertain existence" because of the lightness/heaviness dichotomy. But it doesn't make sense to say that meaning has "uncertain existence" because this is to abstract meaning from people's lives and then we have no idea what meaning can be. Using novelistic form, and considering the possibility of eternal return, Kundera makes the meaning of life concrete and particular rather than a general abstraction, which Nietzsche would approve of.
So the main thing is to consider "the meaning of life" in relationship to Nietzsche. You can consider the theme of nihilism in relation to the behaviour of Tomas. Nihilism was easy for Tomas, it was light, but he wasn't living fully, with commitment. Life was a game where he had a rule about when he could see his mistresses and for how long following a recurring pattern that was only a parody of real meaning. After he met Tereza's he became a person of more integrity and would not withdraw his published views.
You could consider idealism after nihilism this is represented by Franz, who gets crushed. Idealism is very different from the real-world heaviness of Tereza. The meaning of life totally evades Franz he is worse off than Tomas and Sabina. He has to adopt the fantasy of Sabina as a guide to what he should do and lives with a woman to whom he isn't fully committed. Sabina represented a false god for Franz. For Nietzsche, God or perhaps any god, such as Sabina in Franz's case was becoming meaningless and so there is a need to look at living life more fully (through thinking about eternal recurrence) and to look at reality which is seen in the novelistic style Kundera adopts of looking at his characters from outside.
As far as I know, in limited knowledge of continental philosophy, Nietzsche isn't regarded as an existentialist. But you could look at Gregory Kimbrell's paper on Existentialism and The Unbearable Lightness of Being which can be found in the google search suggested above. According to Kimbrell who draws on Kundera's The Art of the Novel, Kundera adopts Heidegger's description of our existential situation as being a "spatial, temporal and cultural designation in which human beings are involved and are presented with a particular set of possibilities for the realization of their individual selves". But Kimbrell expounds Kundera's existential position in relation to Nietzsche's idea of eternal recurrence and repetition.
When you have read this answer and the papers on the internet you will find that we are not all saying the same thing. I think lightness and weight have a different meaning when considered in terms of nihilism and existentialism. So it is up to you to think about it for yourself.
I was reading in the Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity and came across the following statement: "Four centuries earlier Socrates at Athens observed that a really righteous person would be so unacceptable to human society that he would be subjected to every humiliation and crucified." Unfortunately, the statement is not footnoted. If it had appeared in a less prestigious publication than Oxford University Press I might not have thought much about it. But, I cannot for the life of me remember reading in any of Plato's writings, or any disciple of Socrates, any such statement. Can anyone point me to the text that this statement is referring to?
"The just man, as we have pictured him, will be scourged, tortured, and imprisoned, his eyes will be put out, and after enduring every humiliation he will be crucified..."[Republic 361e5, voice of Glaucon, translation Desmond Lee].
This passage, which has seemed prophetic to some Christian readers, has a specific philosophical purpose for Plato, and even if it is prophetic, it isn't offered as prophecy in the way that Nostradamus offers prophecy. Plato doesn't think of himself as looking in to a crystal ball. Conceivably, there is the question of whether Jesus could have read or otherwise encountered the Republic, but I'll leave the currently popular debate about Jesus's role in bringing about his own fate exactly where I found it. Those who do trouble over the prophetic qualities of this passage in the Republic make much of translation issues, and whether the greek text best justifies "crucified", or whether "impaled" and so on. But in my view, that's entirely besides Plato's point.
What Plato is up to in the surrounding context is setting up a 'thought experiment', as we empirically minded anglo-saxons like to call useful flights of the imagination. The question he wants to answer is: is it better to be just or unjust? In the passage, Glaucon is helping Socrates clarify the meaning of this question. Plato's thought is that if we want to see whether the enviable life is the life of the just, or instead the life of the unjust, then we have to arrange for these things to be pictured in their extremes. Thus: "We must strip him of everything except his justice". Imagine a man reviled, accused, tortured, who still withal remains a just man (albeit one who cries out in pain). Should we praise and attempt to imitate that kind of man? Over the course of the Republic Plato argues that the answer to this question is 'yes', and this is another point of confluence (or influence) between Plato and the Christian tradition. The most unhappy and pitiable man, Plato thinks, is an unjust, tyrannical man who has come into power (managed to get away with it). This belief is much doubted, but Plato has his reasons to do with mental health and the perception of reality (reasons compared by Iris Murdoch to Buddhist thought) and I, for my part, after reading and re-reading the Republic, agree with him. Perhaps I agree with him with waning intensity when I have particularly bad pain in the ear and grow impatient with some unhelpful doctor, but this, I suppose, is only to say what is patently obvious, that in certain situations it becomes harder and harder to think at all.
In responding to this, David Robjant refers to Desmond Lee's translation of the
Republic, which reads in part, "...and after enduring every humiliation he will
The actual Greek, which you can find at,
doesn't refer to crucifixion, but to impaling. (A search for the Greek equivalent of 'crucifixion' in standard Greek-English lexica returned nothing.) I suspect that Desmond Lee is either using a more familiar way to express the horror of the truly just person's fate, or is siding with those who would like to 'Christianize' this great pagan philosopher. A more recent, widely-used translation is that of G. M. A. Grube, as revised by David Reeve [Hackett, 1992]:
"They'll say that a just person in such circumstances will be whipped, stretched on a rack, chained, blinded with fire, and...at the end, he'll be impaled..."
Crucifixion seems to have been a Roman invention.
Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Emeritus
Should God the bible and religion be given the same consideration by evolutionists as scientific theory?
It meets the criteria. And if so wouldn't the extremist who assert "all religion is nonsense" be deemed by both creationist and evolutionist as being out of step and illogical?
Part of the problem here is determining the role of both. The Bible does not deal with 'scientific' truth but with religious truth as it is experienced by that particular group of people. This makes its subjective but in its very subjectivity lies its claim to truth. The worth of religious truth claims, therefore, cannot be determined by science, but only by the ones who hold to that particular religious belief. Science can determine its asserted truths by recourse to empirical experimentation and demonstration that its hypotheses concur with the accepted laws of physics etc. but it cannot demonstrate that the biblical text is 'wrong' since it cannot apply the criteria for empirical or physical determination to the religious vision of the world made in the biblical text.
We are confronted with the age old problem of the relationship between faith and science. To accept the biblical vision is not to be at loggerheads with the scientific vision of the world and one would expect vice-versa. However, it seems to be the 'in thing' that proponents of the 'new science' attempt to claim that science and its discoveries can give us all the answers. Indeed it can. It can give us all the answers it possesses thus far in its discoveries of the structure of life and the universe, it can show us what the physical purpose, or biological purpose of phenomena are, but what it cannot do is tell us or show us what its meaning is beyond the phenomenological. Only a different 'world' vision can do that, and men and women of faith make this claim.
As a Franciscan I embrace what science can reveal to us of our brothers an sisters in the universe, embrace it and claim them as Brothers and Sisters, and marvel at the splendour of God's creation, where every living thing is a little logos of his mind. At the same time, I accept the theory of evolution and the 'Big Bang' as the best working hypotheses we have at the moment for the historical and existential manifestation of physical phenomena. But, as a person of faith and religious belief, I believe that it can be given shape and dimension that takes it from the realms of the physical to the realms of the mysterious and profound and awe. It is not a question of logic, or illogic, but of perception and belief.
I have no problem with evolutionist theories, but they may have a problem with my assertion that the manifestation of physical phenomena has its source in the creative dynamism of God who simply speaks the word 'Let it be' but does not tell that physical phenomena how 'to be'. That is the inherent freedom of the universe and science cannot quantify that, only measure the consequences of its exercise of that freedom -evolution, the Big Bang, General Relativity, 1+1 will always equal 2 etc. Religion and science are not out of step, they are simply walking the same way by different roads.
Fr. Seamus Mulholland OFM
I was looking at Jurgen Lawrenz's Pathways article Discourse on Malady, and I have a question... Are MS and Le Monde one in the same (as a text) or what is their association? I am researching some of the persecutions that occurred during the early modern period of philosophy; and Descartes' burning of Le Monde is part of my research. I would appreciate any information you could give me. Thanks.
Heather Sokinas, a philosophy student.
My quick answer is that they're not the same. But this needs a little explanation.
The first thing you need to understand is that my piece on Descartes is a parody. The man died ages ago and it's not possible any more to "psychoanalyse" him. So the "MS" refers to the FICTION that an essay by Descartes has been discovered which looks like an early version of the Discourse. But this is just my writing, an imitation of the Discourse with some things changed, and the purpose was to give you, readers and students of Descartes, something unusual to think about: namely that he was very good at hiding himself from close scrutiny by others. I've come around to the view after reading much of his autobiographical texts and testimony of others that one of his really big problems was SUPERSTITION and I believe also that the "vision" he mentions in several of his writings and especially the story of the demon were a terrifying nightmare he went through on that day. So the design of the whole piece is intended to show that Descartes took up the struggle with himself to banish both superstition and the demon by giving us a MIND/BODY duality and a totally MECHANISTIC philosophy. In such a philosophy superstition and demons are impossible.
Now as regards Le Monde, this was Descartes' first book. It was due to be published in 1633, but after Galileo's condemnation, Descartes (who was a catholic) took fright that the same thing might happen to him and withdrew the book. The quotes I give from the book are genuine and show that he had good cause for worry: for he, Descartes, could be interpreted as having INVENTED HIS OWN GOD; after all, he practically dictates to God what laws of nature apply to any universe He might wish to create and so on. Now the last book he published, the "Principles of Philosophy" is actually Le Monde all over again, but by now completely rewritten and a bit of a tragicomedy, because he was trying the impossible of bending his own theories to make them innocuous to the theologians while still rescuing what he could of his own thoughts (and still trying to replace Aristotle). So this last book hasn't got the bite any more of the early one, because it has no teeth. Le Monde meanwhile has survived only as a fragmentary text.
In short, whatever I wrote Le Monde is factually correct. Just be careful you don't mix it up with my parody of the Discourse. As far as I am concerned, however, I have been trying to do what any conscientious fiction writer might do when confronted with big holes and inexplicable facts in a famous man's biography: plug them up with an imaginative reconstruction of what MIGHT truly have happened and could therefore explain many a puzzling fact about the man's known biography.
As far as Le Monde itself is concerned, you can chase up what Daniel Garber and Stephen Gaukroger have written about it; they are two authors who deal extensively with Descartes' physics.
My question is: Why are mathematics and theory the only practical way to determine the temperature of the Earth's core?
I've a feeling that what I'm trying to say is very simple, but I can't find a good way to express it. Perhaps you can help me figure out what I'm toying with here: If we call "Universe" the ultimate set of everything, from which nothing that exists is excluded (a common usage of "universe", I think) then we cannot imagine (posit, conceptualize, propose) any universe but this one just as it is because any imagined "other universe" becomes immediately a part of this one.
This scenario requires that we grant existence to ideas. (An uncontroversial claim, it seems to me, for while ideas do not exist in the same way that chairs exist, as existent things they are no less evident.)
Finally, a question (maybe): If we don't know what something is, can we nonetheless propose it?
Well you seem to have expressed it just fine. Ok, now what? You've defined the word "universe" in a particular way, and certain things follow from that definition. Yes, and...? Does this relate to the real world? How do you know?
The problem with your question is that it's not posed well. What do you mean by that little slippery word "is"? I don't know what an electron is, but I can talk about it, and even propose it because I know some of its properties. Are you asking whether you have to know something, no matter what, about something before you can talk about it? I would say yes, offhand. I suppose you could just say, "there's something which might be called a 'knuuxy', but I don't know anything at all about it beside that, and I'm not even sure of that." But you've just used "knuuxy" as a noun, and so we think, by that usage, that it's a thing, rather than a modifier, like "quick", for example. So we know something about it, and thus we know what it "is", to some extent. But since I don't know what you mean by "is", I don't know if I've answered your question.
Steven Ravett Brown
Of course! Beginning with the fundamentals, Socrates said "I know nothing" after this nothing is certain. To move forward as a society we have to make conclusions based on probability of truth rather than absolute truth itself. So what we do is create theories based on perceived knowledge that are in an ever changing state. When new information comes to contradict the old theory we reanalyze the theory and submit it again. This is considered a sort of microevolution of our species. Without accepting things as a 100 per cent truth there would be no way to move forward at all because we could never come to a conclusion without absolute truth. So in short, you can propose anything, but proving it is where its veracity come into question.
Is movement and having a body essential for self-consciousness?
Well for me as a first year philosophy student with very little reading under my belt it sounds to me like the question is asking can a mind exist without a body, but I may well be and probably am way of the mark. I am thinking along the lines of computers or machines.
No, you aren't way off the mark.
Though as I see it the question also applies to disembodied existence and whether this is possible. We can conceive of a mind without a body which allows many people to believe in a soul. We can say it is possible in the sense that people can believe in the soul, but when you look into the nature of the mental it doesn't look like a natural possibility. Thought is now taken to be affective, not a purely rational process. If it was a purely rational process it couldn't give rise to an idea of "self" which perhaps arises from body awareness and emotionally charged thought. Whether thought can be affective, or emotionally charged, when a being is disembodied is physically doubtful.
Factually, the biological nature of an organic being and neural activity in the brain are known to give rise to both thought and emotion.
You could look at Damasio's Looking for Spinoza. Damasio thinks that body imaging is essential for self-consciousness. In particular it is necessary for feeling. Feeling, for Damasio, is a conscious or mental state, whereas emotion is physical. How could the emotion associated with fear a sudden bodily rigidity and hastening of the heart beat be replicated in a computer so that it could give rise to feeling?
For Damasio, it is through feeling that we learn to go for things or avoid them. But you can't have feeling without bodily emotion. Can you imagine a disembodied being having feelings? What would a purely mental fear be or a mental love? Conceptually, fear implies being rooted to the spot or running away. Love implies physical movement towards that which is loved.
Consciousness is about mental states, but self-consciousness brings the idea of an individual. Self-consciousness is only possible if there is consciousness, but goes beyond it. A series of perceptions might amount to consciousness, but the concept of self-consciousness implies continuity: Memory and planning for the future in the light of the past which in turn suggests caring about the future and being in some subjective way related to one's own past.
It is unlikely that computers and machines could achieve this. Most people don't ascribe consciousness to machines. We don't suppose they have subjective experience, consciousness or a self.
On movement, you might consider perception and whether visual sensory experiences are sufficient for perception of spatiality. As a first year student it might be appropriate to look at Berkeley's New Theory of Vision. Also you might look at a modern paper published on the internet such as Rick Grush's "Skill and spatial content". This can be found through http://www.u.arizona.edu/~chalmers/online2.html. You will be able to find out about Searle's Chinese Room argument at this site too. Searle believes that nothing other than something built along the lines of an organic being can think. If you think otherwise, you will find support in arguments against him.
A while back, I took a course in Reiki healing (which I felt particularly drawn to). Although the course claimed explicitly that no special belief is required for the practice of Reiki, the course was steeped in new age metaphysics (chakras, meridians, auras, crystals, angels, energy fields etc.), all of which I am extremely sceptical of. (I regard myself as essentially an agnostic or atheist.)
For those who are not aware of it, the main metaphysical claim of the Reiki system is that the practitioner taps into a source of 'energy' from the universe called 'ki' (equivalent to 'chi' or 'prana' in other Eastern philosophies). 'Rei' refers to this energy's alleged divine source. Although I do not believe this literally, regarding it as somewhat of a 'figment of the imagination', I am aware of the psychological power of a mental image (creative visualisation), and so take the metaphysics as purely a (fictional) visualisation as an aid to practice. On practicing it, I have found it appears to be very effective, despite my scepticism. I thus seem to have a purely pragmatic approach to it.
However, some critics have claimed that it is impossible to divorce the practice of such arts from the associated metaphysical beliefs, especially the highly traditional forms, such as the style of Reiki I learned. Is it truly possible to practice such arts without 'buying into' the metaphysics to some extent (even it is only one's subconscious which accepts them)? If not, then how could a sceptic honestly practice without compromising his/ her rational belief system? (I'm ignoring the 'absent healing' aspect of the practice here, involving healing at a distance, which is purely a matter of faith).
My pragmatic approach to the subject does not feel very solidly grounded, however, and I sometimes wonder if a lot of what I'm doing is just pointless 'mumbo-jumbo'. I would therefore appreciate some philosophical guidance to shed some light on this issue, and to help put my mind at rest on this point!
Another important question is, would it be ethical for me to teach traditional Reiki (after taking the appropriate training) if I don't actually subscribe to the metaphysical beliefs which I am teaching? If I were to introduce a measure of scepticism (or pragmatism) into the training I were to offer, by saying that the metaphysics does not have to be taken literally, would this detract from the authenticity of the training I am providing, especially if I am offering it as training in its traditional form, which has never taken the metaphysics figuratively, to the best of my knowledge? (In traditional Reiki, for example, 'attunement' rituals are viewed as absolutely necessary for induction into the practice, in order to 'tune' the practitioner into the 'energy source', which is something I personally doubt is necessary, as a direct result of my scepticism).
I'd appreciate any help on these issues, as I'm wondering if a sceptic like me would be better suited to another career path!
If you find that Reiki is "very effective" perhaps there is a source of energy that is tapped into. This could have a divine source in which case I would understand this energy source to be in some way external to the individual. As you say, it is easier to believe in a psychological power but what would that be and why haven't psychologists founded this method of healing? What words would they use to describe the energy?
I would suggest that metaphysics isn't supposed to be taken literally. You are buying in to a way of speaking about an energy that can't be reduced to the physical and cannot be measured even if it is psychological. If you recognise this you are not compromising your rational belief system, but simply accepting that there are phenomena in the world that cannot be rationally explained.
The "mumbo-jumbo" hasn't been pointless. It is the origin of something you take to be an effective healing practice. It may seem obsolete, but you could try to respect the way the mystical origin has given rise to an effective practice.
Perhaps it isn't quite sincere to continue to practice traditional Reiki but I'm not sure it is really unethical to teach things you don't believe in. You could see teaching as being for the benefit of the one who learns and for whom the metaphysics might be acceptable.
If you were seriously sceptical you wouldn't have become a Reiki healer in the first place!
Probably. Most of that stuff is utter garbage. Let me put it this way: the placebo effect works about 30 per cent of the time. So if you can reliably demonstrate that you get better than 30 per cent "healing" or whatever from that stuff, you're above the baseline for plain suggestibility.
I'll put it another way. You can certainly justify practicing the above on the basis that if someone believes that it will help, it will, about 30 per cent of the time. If that's good enough for you, then, hey, go for it. Just be aware that anything else that people believe in will also help equally. The ethical question is whether it's moral to support beliefs in nonsense in order to achieve the real results that you will achieve through suggestion. A hard question to answer, since you won't convince most of the people coming to you that their beliefs are wrong. I wouldn't do it myself, but perhaps I'm wrong, and it's worth it for that effect, which is a real one. Be warned, however, that the placebo effect has its limits. You won't cure cancer and pretty much any sort of serious illness with it, and supporting a belief in what is basically superstition will bias people against seeking legitimate doctors who might actually help them. Aside from the dubious morality of supporting a belief in superstition in the first place.
You might take a look at a magazine called the Skeptical Inquirer on this sort of thing; it's on the web. Also, here are some references:
Giovannoli, J. 2000. The Biology of belief: how our biology biases our beliefs and perceptions. Rosetta Press, Inc.
Harrington, A., ed. 2000. The placebo effect: an interdisciplinary exploration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hines, T. 1988. Pseudoscience and the paranormal: a critical examination of the evidence. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.
Schick, T., Jr., and L. Vaughn. 1995. How to think about weird things: critical thinking for a new age. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.
Shermer, M. 1997. Why people believe weird things: pseudoscience, superstition, and other confusions of our time. New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.
Young, A.W. 2000. "Wondrous Strange: The Neuropsychology of Abnormal Beliefs." Mind and Language 15 (1):47-73.
Steven Ravett Brown
According to Robert Solomon, The Myth of Sisyphus is a philosophical theory, a vision of the absurd. Sisyphus really represents all of us as we spend our lives in futile quests. in the end, only personal experience is meaningful. Solomon asks if the absurd would disappear in the face of irrefutable evidence that God exists?
I've basically sort of given up answering questions like this... because I've done it so much. So first, go look in the archives on this site about questions on the meaning of life, the existence of god(s), etc. But your putting it in terms of "the absurd" is somewhat intriguing to me...
Let's say that we had that proof. Ok, something we'll call "god" exists. Now, that means, I assume, that we are, or should be, following some sort of "divine" plan that it has for us and the universe. Ok... so what? What makes that plan, or whatever, "meaningful"? Take a god... it's got this plan... and it's just made it up from nothing... after all, where would a god get a plan from, right? So it's made up some plan for life, the universe, and everything... and... so... what? What justifies it? What makes it any more meaningful than a plan you or I would make up? The fact that a god knows everything, and so its plan will work? Um... that's nice... but my plan might work also. I guess that a god knows that its plan will work, and so you and I know that its plan will work. In other words, god's rock will get to the top of the hill. Whoopee. Why should we care? Because there's no other game in town? No, not true, we can make up games also. Because god's game is better than ours, since we know it will work and we don't know that ours will? Well, that's some kind of criterion, all right... but it seems pretty weak to me. After all, maybe it's better not to know, then the game is more fun, right?
So, all in all... I just don't see that there's any more point, unless we want a sure win... and of course that assumes that god's plan gives us (and not just god) that win, which assumes that god is "good"... so we not only have to prove it (god) exists, we have to know its nature. And then, after we do that, we still have to feel that going with a winning game is somehow "meaningful", not "absurd"... and now that we're on that question, just what does make something "meaningful", after all? Or conversely, what makes something "absurd"? It doesn't seem to be having a plan, or a game... we can do that. Having a winning plan doesn't seem to add much... does it? So, what else?
Let me put it another way. There's a very interesting novel by Colin Wilson, The Philosopher's Stone, in which he asks somewhat the same question. His answer is that the mere existence of a being which is superior to us, plus our acknowledgment of it as superior, will motivate us to work for its ends. I think, based on the history of religions and of tyrants (which are actually not really separate issues), that he's correct. But the question is, should he be correct? Should we behave that way? We can look at studies of dominance/submission in animals for reasons that we behave like that, but those reasons have to do with animal survival, all well and good until now. But now we are able (to a certain rather feeble extent) to ask, answer, and act on higher-level, i.e., "existential" questions. God's providing us with a game-plan is the same thing, isn't it. You can bring the issue down to not wanting to go to hell, or some equivalent afterlife, but that's just avoiding the stick for the carrot... a refined version of animal training. Or you can say that the acceptance of some entity's dominance over us assures meaningfulness in our carrying out its goals. That seems pretty silly also, doesn't it. Or, as I say above, you can say that the assurance of being in a winning game provides meaningfulness. But that leaves the question of the game's goals open, not to mention why "winning" is meaningful, and not losing, or whatever... and so, you have to say that there's something about the end of the game that provides "meaningfulness".
Ok... what is it? Solomon, you say, answers that with "personal experience"... um... it's not the winning, it's the journey type of thing? Sorry, but I don't see that taking subgoals, the smaller steps on the way to the main goal, are any more meaningful than the main goal of the game. Maybe "personal experience" means things like friendship, love... etc.? Very nice, but why are those "meaningful", any more than anything else? Because we like them, they make us feel happy, satisfied? Well, yes, you can take that as your criterion for meaningfulness if you want... but why is that any more justified than any other criterion?
So this little meta-ethical romp does not seem to have come to a satisfactory conclusion. And I think that the reason, one reason, anyway, is that we started by asking the wrong kind of question. How, we asked, is meaningfulness tied to a god? Well... I guess it isn't, and so what? Then we have to look somewhere else, don't we... or ask just what we're talking about, anyway. Is "meaningfulness" a feeling? A goal? Something even useful to talk about? Where does that notion come from? What does it mean? I think that those questions might be more interesting to think about before we start with all the "god" stuff that people have gone around and around with for thousands of years.
Steven Ravett Brown
Not having read Solomons words I can only comment upon your quote and I can understand how you can interpret The Myth of Sisyphus in the way you describe but my own take is that the book already posits God/s existence, after all it was one who put Sisyphus there. So no, evidence for a God/s existence would not change his interpretation of the theory being a vision of the absurd.
However, I prefer to see the story as heroic as to me it presents the existence of freewill in Man regardless of the actions of any God/s. In his walk down Sisyphus is free and to me it shows that even if all our actions were to be determined or pre-destined, we would still have freewill.
A couple of questions on physical pain:
Do you feel pain when you are unconscious? A common situation would be in surgery. I admit I am not speaking from medical experience, but I hypothesise (perhaps foolishly) that people do feel pain whilst unconscious. Except when they wake up from their anaesthesia, they forget the pain they endured, and move on. Am I somewhat correct? Or is there proof that surgical patients don't feel pain whilst in surgery? I would imagine they have conducted many brainwave tests and concluded from that, that no pain is felt, but I don't believe our knowledge of the brain is complete enough to make such a conclusion.
This thought leads to other questions, such as the nature of pain itself. Most of it is a remembrance, and only during an infinitely small slice of time do we actually 'feel' pain. So consider being sliced by a scalpel. As it glides through skin and flesh, no doubt it would naturally "hurt". But I argue that the pain arises mostly from your thoughts; as you are remembering the pain before, and anticipating the pain after... and wherever the scalpel is up to, its actual cutting of that part only contributes to a minute amount of the pain you experience. E.g. some of you may have been unexpectedly struck with something, perhaps sharp, very fast. It surely would not have significantly hurt at that instant. Even if, after that instant, pain is felt, say from the resultant wound, I would still imagine most of the pain is a combination of memory and anticipation of other instances of pain. Just a thought.
These are good questions, and haven't been answered to everyone's satisfaction. As far as surgery goes, there are three kinds of anesthetics. One makes you unconscious, one is an analgesic, and one wipes your memory. The first is dangerous; unconsciousness can kill you, because it puts you near risk for heart failure and other system failures. So anesthesiologists don't go all the way with it, usually. The second dulls pain, yes, but doesn't usually make you unconscious without doses high enough to be very risky. The third is really nasty... you seem pretty much totally conscious, you feel pain, whatever, but you have zero long-term memory. So, I don't know... 30 seconds later or whatever after you're screaming in agony you've completely, totally, utterly forgotten it. No memory at all. So that's used, much more than I'd like to contemplate, in conjunction with the others, in a very delicate balance, which is why we pay anesthesiologists so much money. So do you feel pain during surgery? Haha... as you can see it depends on what they use on you. What you don't do is remember whatever you felt (in surgery) after the surgery. But you could be feeling it during the cutting as far as all behavioral and physiological and EEG measures are concerned, depending on the ratios of what they're dosing you with. That's why the other drugs are also used, to cut that down.
What if you're to all intents and purposes totally out on the first type of anesthetic above. Well, we can check that with EEGs, and if you're down far enough, and still alive, there are virtually no brain responses to stimuli that would normally cause them, and cause pain, and there are no other behavioral responses. Do you feel pain in those circumstances? No. I mean, what do you want? That's about as good criteria as you're going to get. Besides, we know where the areas of the brain are that cause pain. But what about lighter anesthesia, where there are no behavioral responses, but some EEG? Now here's the grey area... and no one knows. You wake up with no memory of pain, you've made no response... but. Let me put it this way... I'm of the school which thinks that to feel pain you have to be conscious, to some extent; that you can't feel pain (or anything else, or have any phenomenological experiences at all) if you're not conscious. Can there be "unconscious" feelings, pains, etc.? Yes... given that "unconscious" means something like "partially conscious" or "participating in processes which are also involved with conscious processes" or something like that. But again the kicker here is just how conscious do you have to be? Haha, don't ask me... no one, and I mean no one, including anesthesiologists, knows... because one can argue that in case where there is some brain activity, we've felt some pain but don't remember. Well... how do you either support or refute that? Even waking the patient up at that point won't do it, because it turns out that we seem to need some consciousness in order to remember. So if they say they didn't feel pain, one can object, again, that they had enough consciousness to feel but not enough to remember.
Now, you claim that the "nature" of pain is that it's a "remembrance" and an "anticipating". You are not supported by the neurological evidence. The appropriate areas light up with activation when we feel pain. Think about it. An argument of this sort, that we really don't feel some sensation, is applicable to any sensation. So we don't really see, hear, feel... etc.? But that begs the question of what we're having a memory of. If we never feel much, where do our memories, which seem so intense, come from? No, I think that both logic and data weigh against your claim... which is not to say that both memory and anticipation don't play a part, just as they do in all sensation. It's certainly not a black-and-white situation.
I don't know the medical literature on pain, so I can't give you references there. Some of the philosophical literature is:
Baars, B. J. 2001. "The Brain Basis of a 'Consciousness Monitor': Scientific and Medical Significance". Consciousness and Cognition 10:159-164.
Benedetti, F., A. Pollo, L. Lopiano, M. Lanotte, S. Vighetti, and I. Rainero. 2003. "Conscious Expectation and Unconscious Conditioning in Analgesic, Motor, and Hormonal Placebo/Nocebo Responses". The Journal of Neuroscience 23 (10):4315-4323.
Darwin, C. 1998. The expression of the emotions in man and animals. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Original edition, 1872.
Herz, R.S. 1998. "An examination of objective and subjective measures of experience associated to odors, music, and paintings". Empirical Studies of the Arts 16 (2):137-152.
Nikolinakos, D.D. 2000. "Dennett on qualia: the case of pain, smell and taste'. Philosophical Psychology 13 (4):505-522.
You could start there.
Steven Ravett Brown
That's a pretty sophisticated bundle of questions, Hong Li! But first things first: It is extremely unlikely that anyone feels pain while they're unconscious. I am assuming (since you refer to an operative scenario) that you have general anaesthesia in mind, and now it is (if you like) an instrumental fact of the body's life that the gases used in anaesthesia "knock out" the transmitters of pain, i.e. disable them from performing their normal functions. So non-functioning nerves + partially knocked out brain translate into a pretty secure non-perceptual condition. Bear in mind, as a supportive argument, that the brain itself contains no pain sensors, so that brain surgery is often performed with the patient fully conscious. This argues pretty conclusively that nerves carry pain signals, and when they're gassed, they cant.
The nature of pain is a very difficult issue to deal with even for experts, but your suggestions in the second batch of questions are very wide of the mark. Let me ask you how you can remember a pain when you are suffering injury unexpectedly and while you're not aware of being injured: as when you step on broken glass in the dark or get bitten by an insect? Further: the delay which sometimes (indeed often) occurs before we feel pain in instances of severe injury has nothing to do with memory, but with a manner of localising trauma devised by your body to ensure that you do not pass out until your brain has at least begun to coordinate suitable defence strategies. In any case, you are really way off with the notion that pain signals are weak and need bolstering from memory: What memory? Of severe pain? Then how perceived??
On the contrary, signal strength is directly proportional to the severity and/or danger to the system of the injury, as well as the sensitivity of the organ being injured, which may differ according to criteria of which we know very little (if anything). You are in fact, confusing something you may have read about the way memory functions: For it is the case, very probably, that a great quantity of the stimuli which bombard us every second of consciousness are referred to memory once your sensorium/brain cooperative has decided that they are virtually identical to information previously collected. Then it is more economical for your brain just to replay the memory, instead of using expensive and time consuming "live" resources to evaluate a run of the mill stimulus. The point here is that the important exceptions to this manner of dealing with daily experience are novelties, surprises and emergencies.
In those cases, the stimuli are passed to the brain "naked", as it were, so that your experience is vivid (and sometimes very confusing) because it is unfiltered. Evidently pain is "emergency" type, often also "surprise" type, and the pain is therefore a signal to you to do something in a hurry. There is a further criterion. Nerves usually require a refractory period after being stimulated; and so one of the other great principles is that they report changes in stimuli, and logically "switch off" when there is no change to report. This is one reason why pain can often be monotonously intense: but this is not because the pain is continuously transmitted, but because nothing in its quality has changed to arouse a nerve bundle to retransmit. Accordingly the "pain switch" (whatever it is) in the brain stays in the "on" position. But plainly this is not a memory function.
The real problem with pain is "what it is". A signal is evidently a form of electrochemical transmission that could hardly be pain-like. It also doesn't carry the sensation from the point of injury to the brain, but only a signal. Maybe this is what lured you down this track. Clearly the signal must be "understood" as something concretely sensory by the brain, which then produces an appropriate feeling. But in what Im describing here for you, there is no intrinsic difference between hearing music or speech, tasting food, smelling a flower or seeing a vase. All these sensation are transmission of essentially similar kinds. Modality determines the type of stimulus and the cortex being addressed, which must all have been calibrated over millennia of evolutionary fine tuning. But to what effect and purpose?
Well, before you conclude, by elongating what I've just written into a scenario of a "black box" type central command, or a "ghost in the machine" or an "homunculus", which is responsible for your "feeling" and actually "produces" it (by what kind of trick?), so that in actuality you don't feel pain or happiness or a nice taste on your tongue, but just imagine or believe or delude yourself into this feeling, I hold that there is a deep-seated logical error in this theory. It is of a kind with the error that tries to "locate" the little man in the box who sees for you, since obviously "you" cant see anything, being the recipient of nothing but electrochemical transmissions . . .!
Well: I think that on the contrary, the ancient, intuitive version of pain etc. was in most of its essentials correct.
You feel a pain in the foot or in your kidney, because that's where it is. And you feel it there not because of some prestidigitation within your cortices (i.e. essentially illusory stuff) or because of magical potions of chemistry sloshing around in your brain, but because the brain constructs for you, while you are awake and conscious, a body map. It is because of this map that you can find the spot on your back that itches, so that you can scratch it, even though you cant see it. Thus the injured site transmits pain signals to that part of the brain to have the information processed where the pain is that you feel, which you could not know unless the brain had first devised this virtual reality inside you, that is made up of every point in your body which is connected to the brain by a sensor. So the pain you feel is not because your brain receives pain messages, but because your bodies nervous system suffers it while the brain is merely called upon to identify and bring to your consciousness the spot that hurts. (Again, in most cases you can find that spot in the dark.)
Whatever factual information we have is available in Ian Glynn, The Anatomy of Thought, in which a discussion of nerves occupies about a third of the length of the book. Mind you, its a totally materialistic theory, but at least it has the virtue of not trying to push you into a particular "philosophy". Antonio Damasios The Feeling of what happens is another fine book on sensation, perception, cognition and especially the role emotions play in this triad. If you really want to know something about the subject, get those books. They're written with the lay person in mind, and they give you what must be regarded to this date the "state of the art", including everything you want to find out about pain and memory.