Quote of the Day – Carl Sagan

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

– Carl Sagan, The Persistence of Memory

Three Basic Theories in the Philosophy of Mind

“Imagine that you are standing in your kitchen, feeling a bit hungry, wishing you had something sweet yet nutritious. You see a bowl of fruit, spy a red, round, delectable-looking apple; perhaps you catch a brief scent of the apple and the orange next to it. After a moment’s reflection, you think that the apple will serve your purposes nicely and reach to pick it up. This simple scene, which occurs in countless variations at countless times, incorporates much that is at the heart of philosophy of mind.” (Crumley, Jack S.: Problems in Mind: Readings in Contemporary Philosophy of Mind. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 2000, page 1)

The nature of mind, consciousness, subjective experience and mental content is what philosophy of mind is all about.

The three commonly mentioned theories regarding the nature of the mind are dualism, property dualism and physicalism.

René Descartes

Substance dualism is the view that consciousness can’t be reduced to purely physical substance, but is dependant on non-material substance. Therefore, the mind and the body are not seen as identical. This theory is often closely associated with the 17th century philosopher René Descartes. He posits that we can be completely sure of our own existence and that we shouldn’t doubt it. Put simply – cogito ergo sum – I think, therefore I am. On the other hand, our senses are fallible and we shouldn’t trust them with such ease. We can doubt them. If we accept that things are indentical if and only if they share the same attributes, then we can conclude that the body isn’t identical with the mind. Why? Because we can’t doubt our mind existing, but we can doubt the existence of our bodies. Obviously, they don’t share the same attributes, so they can’t be identical. Another thing Descartes pointed out was that matter can’t think and that the mental doesn’t have extension in space. Dualism is criticzed because it doens’t account for the interaction between the non-physical substance and the body. It is not clear how something absolutely non-physical affects something absolutely physical.

Property Dualism

Another form of dualism is property dualism, the view that there is only one substance, commonly physical, but two kinds of properties relating to that substance. Those properties are usually seen as mental and physical properties. They are distinct and can’t be reduced or identified as one another. Property dualism can be seen as middle ground between dualism and physicalism, since it posits that only one substance exists and that humans don’t have a transcendent part. Such a view is also supported in physicalism. The difference is that property dualists still recognize mental properties as irreducible to matter, which is a view more oriented towards dualism. Property dualism is often criticized for not adequately explaining the connection between mental and physical properties and for lack of research.

Neurons

Physicalism is the view that only physical substance exists and its properties. The brain is the source of feelings, thoughts, intention – consciousness in general. Such view is very common among modern scientists and philosophers. They believe that science will eventually explain away all problems regarding the nature of the mind. Physicalism is often attacked for being reductive and for ignoring problems, rather than solving them.

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What is your view on consciousness? Is it dependant on the brain or is it partially or completely non-physical?

Feel free to leave a comment, so we can discuss! 🙂

Naturalistic Pantheism

The spiral is used as a symbol of naturalistic pantheism because it often appears in nature

Naturalistic pantheism is a philosophical viewpoint and/or spiritual path which identifies the Universe with god. The word “god”, however, is used as a metaphor for the beauty of nature or for nature itself, pointing out that it’s worthy of reverence. It’s not used to denote a real, transcendent being, such as the christian God.

Therefore, naturalistic pantheism was described as “sexed-up atheism” by famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, which is fairly accurate. So what differentiates it from pure atheism then? And why would someone choose it instead? The main difference is that naturalistic pantheism has an object of worship. Nature is seen as something sacred and awe inspiring by itself, without the need for a supernatural world. Just like atheists, naturalistic pantheists respect the scientific method, critical thinking, logic and philosophy and often dislike ideas such as pseudoscience, esotericism and alternative medicine. This can be seen as an advantage of naturalistic pantheism: it offers the comfort, community and answers that were usually attributed to religion, but at the same time – it stays true to science.

Baruch Spinoza

The idea of pantheism is common to various philosophical traditions, spiritual paths and religions, such as Hinduism, Daoism and some Pagan traditions, but we generally consider Baruch Spinoza, a 17th century Jewish/Dutch rationalist philosopher, to be its patron saint. In his magnum opus „Ethics“, he equates nature with god: “Deus sive Natura” (“God or Nature”). God is understood as a being of infinitely many attributes, so everything is god and god is everything. Although Spinoza’s pantheism seems to be more idealistic, proposing the existence of an infinite being, he was labeled an atheist and he was ostracized from the Jewish society. Regardless, his ideas survived and we remember him today as a great fighter for reason.

The Four Horsemen

Modern developments in pantheism tend to be more on the naturalistic, atheist side. This “second Enlightenment” happening today, called New Atheism, seems to draw more and more people to atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, free thinking and – of course – naturalistic pantheism. Its „Four Horsemen“ are Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens (R.I.P. – 15.12.2011.), Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris. They are all very active advocates of atheism, rigorously criticizing all forms of religion and religious practice. However, some would argue that atheists need something that inspires them and gives them direction and passion, something usually attributed to religion. Atheists usually answer that their passion lies in science, nature and doing good deeds. Therefore, atheists can be close to naturalistic pantheism without even knowing or acknowledging it. In that case, naturalistic pantheism would provide a great background for fostering such ideas, a large community of like-minded thinkers and feelings of inspiration and wonder simmilar to those commonly found in spirituality and religion.

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What are your thoughts on atheism and naturalistic pantheism? Do you think the term “pantheism” is justified?

Thank you for reading this post! 🙂

The Piaroa People

Piaroa Man

The indigenous Piaroa people live in the midst of Venezuelan and Colombian tropical forests on an area equivalent to the size of Belgium. Their total population is around 14,494. The name „Piaroa“ is a term of unknown origin, but they are also known as the De’arua (masters of the forest), Wothuha (knowledgeable people) and De’atʰïhä (people of the forest). The most peculiar thing about them is their strong sense of peace, equality, individual autonomy and anti-authoritarianism. I believe that the western society can learn much from the Piaroa and other so-called „primitive“ indigenous people.

The reason behind their strong need to foster peace and equality is their belief in a mythic past, where angry gods gained power and wealth through competition, aggression and greed. As a result of such behaviour, they have corrupted future relations within and between communities. The goal of the present day Piaroa is to maintain peace. To do that, a shaman chants every day while he makes a potion made from honey and water. The next day, the Piaroa consume the concoction, believing that it will keep them safe from violence for another day. The shaman also works as a mediator who resolves quarrels and instructs both children and adults to behave well, respect others and. The ideal a person should reach is tranqulity and self-control.

However, nothing divine is needed to keep a society peaceful, but rather a healthy dose of common sense. For instance, when comparing the western law enforcement system, which is corrupted, flawed and sometimes unethical with the simple Piaroa system, it’s rather evident which one seems more natural and humane. Rather than having jails and pistol-wielding police officers, the Piaroa enforce group therapy which not only reeducates criminals, but also prevents further incidents from happening. It seems as though the whole society benefits from particular cases. That’s not the case in western societies, where law enforcement systems perhaps raise even more ethical, economical and social questions than they can answer.

On the other hand, it’s vital to keep in mind the small size of the Piaroa society. It would be irrational to compare it to the size of the western society and except the same results, but it wouldn’t be irrational to expect at least some process or inter-cultural learning and communication. The western world most certainly could profit if it gained respect for „primitive“ societies and tried to incorporate their thoughts into its philosophy. It seems like returning to nature would also bring us back to humanity.

Piaroa Child

Ultimately, it’s clear that the Piaroa value collective coexistence above individuality, but that’s a sacrifice most western people aren’t willing to make. The solution lies in educating people to be more open minded and to think critically. As a result, an individual and the society around him/her would be more receptive to other, alternative ideas. The future generation would be given the great and hard task of gathering more knowledge, accepting different cultures and trying to analyze and incorporate indigenous ideas into the modern world. It would signify a newfound foundation for tolerance and peaceful coexistence which could bring humanity and it’s unrelenting spirit back to it’s full-hearted natural roots.

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What is your opinion about the Piaroa people? Do you know any other peaceful societies?

Thanks for reading! 🙂

The Beginning

Hello and welcome to my blog!

My main interests are philosophy, paganism, spirituality and religion, anthropology, sinology, volunteering, music, photography, simple and healthy living, martial arts and exercising.

I will usually cover topics connected with those interests and give more-or-less detailed opinions about them.

I encourage everyone who reads my posts to comment and to present their thoughts.

I hope you will enjoy myblog! 🙂