This is the World Wide Web edition of J. Neil Schulman's book Self Control Not Gun Control. It's posted for informational and entertainment purposes only and may not be crossposted to any other datafile base, conference, news group, email list, or website without written permission of the author. If you wish to purchase the hardcover edition, it's available for sale at this website, or at fine booksellers everywhere.
Copyright © 1995 by J. Neil Schulman. Rights to make copies and print-outs from these files are limited by the license agreement. All other rights reserved.
15 To Life
I'm sitting in a chair
If you're going to kill yourself
do it now.
The Catholics call it despair.
I'm not Catholic so I didn't
call it that.
It was just
they got me.
I know it.
They know it.
They win, I lose.
End game, okay?
And I sat there some more.
And it hurt.
It had hurt lots of times but
nothing had ever hurt worse.
And I thought,
This is the worst it's got
and even though I've got a pretty
I didn't imagine it getting worse than that.
So that was my bottom
and we all know
it's only up from there, right?
There have been other lows since then.
I even told you about some
some other time.
that was still the bottom's bottom.
You make stuff and it holds you up.
So, you get low
but not as low.
You get scared
But it's a movie you've seen before.
It gets late
But you're not late yet
and that does matter.
This is another one for me.
Not for you.
But you can eavesdrop again.
I'm still scared.
But it's a different sort of scared now.
There's always being scared of the dark
that doesn't ever really go away.
But somewhere in the fear of the dark
is the fear that the light might let me see
something that might hurt worse.
There's being scared of losing everything
which is the hard part because I know going in
that coming out
is faith just the cowardice
of refusing to accept
the date after the dash?
God, I hope it's more than that.
God, I hope there's a God.
It's silly to complain about a
if the Guy who made the Promise
was just some other author's character.
Not that there will be any bad notices
for that play
if that's all there is.
At 15 I chose a life sentence.
At 35 I reenlisted.
The check is in the mail.
February 8, 1995
The Meaning of Life
Here it is. The Meaning Of Life. You've been asking all these centuries, and I'm answering it in 226 well-chosen words.
As Dorothy Parker might have said, this book is cheap at half the price. --JNS
"Meaning" is possible only to beings capable of reflection and understanding--call it sentience, sapience, or intellect. Thus, the "meaning of life" is that which a reflective being understands about life.
As for the "purpose" of life--that also requires an intelligent being, for a purpose implies a consciously chosen value. For example, one can say that DNA has a purpose of replicating and continuing certain forms of life--if one believes that DNA is, or has been programmed by, an intelligent entity. One could talk about the purposes of "evolution" only if one believed that evolution is a programmed function of some intelligent being. But even if one believes that there is a Grand Purpose to the Universe, or to All Living Things, or even to The Human Species--it does not necessarily follow that this is the only purpose of life--or that individual, intelligent beings might not have other, even contradictory, purposes.
To sum up: whatever the purposes DNA, Evolution, or God may have for life--if there are any such purposes at all--each of us has to choose our own purposes anyway. "Meaning" and "purpose" function only within the context of specific Beings capable of reflecting on and choosing goals, and figuring out ways to achieve them--and that's you and me as much as anyone else inside (or outside) the universe.
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Why I Am Not a Jew and What I Am Instead
If someone is born into a religion, as I was born into Judaism, then there is a presumption that there must be some reason why that person would not identify with that religion--particularly when that person says that he believes in God.
I believe in God, but I am not a religious Jew. I am also not a follower of any other religion. But I don't need to explain why I am not a follower of any of those because there is no presumption that I would be.
I studied Judaism enough to be Bar Mitzvahed, at which point I became an apostate: I left the religion and have never returned. It was not a falling away from Judaism as much as it was an outright rejection of two-thirds of its defining tenets.
The essentials of Judaism are "God, Torah, Israel."
I believe in God, but I would believe--and have believed--in goodness per se even in the absence of my belief in God. I see God as the Fountainhead of goodness because I see goodness in the principle of creation. The God who creates good things is good; the God who creates good, intelligent living beings is not only good but great. But I follow this God because he is good and great: it is the goodness and greatness to which I am responding, and those qualities exist in things whether or not I know their source, and are knowable without first knowing God. If we were living in a universe without a prior Creator, then that which we create would be our source and knowledge of goodness.
I believe in morality and law, but I do not believe in Torah as the word of God. I believe it is a human document. I find many valid principles in Torah, but I also find laws in it I find disgusting and evil. Torah is not how I justify good laws and condemn bad laws: I measure them against absolute principles derived by observation and logic.
I do not believe in Israel, because I find good and evil throughout humanity, and I do not believe that the Jews today hold any particular monopoly on goodness, or serve any special role in leading humanity to goodness. Christians play as much or more of a role today in spearheading goodness--but there are many bad Christians, too. There is goodness to be found in all religions; there is also badness to be found in all of them.
I haven't yet been able to get my creed down to a trinity of concepts. I believe in God, creation, humanity (in which I include intelligent, volitional beings, regardless of their form, biology, or planet of origin), free will, liberty, goodness, morality, rational law, truth, beauty, wisdom, music, and the Brahms Fourth Symphony as the summit of human creation. I also believe my daughter is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I'm not sure of the proper ordering of these, but I believe in all of them.
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Thoughts on Individualism
From an August, 1989 "cafe" discussion on the Connected Education "virtual" campus. --JNS
Self Control versus Social Control
Thomas Jefferson said it best: "If Man cannot be trusted with the government of himself, how can he be trusted with the government of others?"
It's a simple, observable fact that human beings can influence or coerce others, but they can not control others. Self control is the way of nature.
There's no evidence that making coercion of others socially acceptable improves the situation one bit, while centuries of murder, slavery, and torture--all in the name of "social control"--prove it awful.
The Metaphysics Of Individualism
My opposition to all forms of socialism is not political; it is metaphysical. Individuals think and act; groups cannot and do not. This metaphysical fact does lead to social and political conclusions: when the individual is free to think and act upon thinking, the set of all individuals (semantically equal to "society") prospers; when the individual is tyrannized, society fails, too.
But even if society could do well at the expense of the individual (as some majorities do at the expense of minorities in "democratic" societies; as minorities do at the expense of majorities in outright tyrannies) I would oppose the politics of socialism because it violates the metaphysical nature of human existence.
A human being is, by nature, an animal with the capacity for rational thought, and rationality can exist only within a discrete organ such as the brain or possibly an equivalent organ in an organism made of that substance we call "spirit."
How about a computer metaphor? We are Software in a PC, even if we have a modem to other PC's or that Great MainFrame in the Sky.
Oh, Lord, DeBug Me, Deliver me out of RAM and Save me to Disk, Repairing all my corrupted Sectors, Amen.
Determinism versus Free Will
Once an organism can create its own abstract models of reality, and modify both the surrounding environment and itself thereby, it is free from such prior determinants as genetics and conditioning. In an operant sense, abstract thought is the ability to rewrite one's own genetic-code-determined operating system. This is the crucial point that biologists and psychologists alike repeatedly seem to miss when discussing human behavior.
The Individual "versus" Society
Reason requires a base in reality. One starts with things one can point at as an example, with the abstraction beginning with "adding others of this type." Go to the nearest street and do this with a human being, and you have a real-world definition of "human individual." But unless we want to get defeated by ambiguity and contradiction, the only workable definition of society is "two or more individual human beings."
Individuals exist. Society does not. Society is merely an abstract concept; individual persons have physical reality. So I can never see an excuse for sacrificing the rights of real people to a mere legal fiction called "society."
My assertion that "society does not exist" has a context. The word "society" is a high-level abstraction; as such, it needs definition based on a chain beginning with a physical "pointing at." That which we point at to define society is a human being, and the definition (as a universal) is arrived at by the phrase "and more like this one."
My assertion that "society does not exist" means society does not exist apart from the individual human beings who comprise it." Society can have no pace aside from the pace of individuals within it; society cannot act apart from the actions of individuals; society can have no preferences aside from the preferences expressed by individuals; society can have no interests or rights apart from the interests or rights of individuals. There can not be any conflict between the interests and rights of an individual and "society" because all referents of "interests" and "rights" are to specific individuals. This is an incontestable metaphysical reality; the political reality that follows is that whenever "society" is invoked as the heir to interests and rights, it is being invoked by some, specific individuals to deprive other specific individuals of interests and rights which are theirs.
Every time the rights of real individuals have been curtailed for the "good of society," what is really happening is that some individuals are using the word "society" as a smokescreen to cover up their exploitation by force and fraud of other individuals.
Societies cannot act at all.
Action is an attribute of the individual; to refer to societies "doing" anything is a metaphor and a destructive one at that, for it sacrifices real values to hallucinatory ones.
I have physical and genetic attributes in common with other rational beings, and so share values with them. But I decide with whom I share "society." I judge them by merit, by my own standards of value. I trade with those who have something to offer me in return; the rest I do my best to ignore.
"Man Is a Social Animal"
We hear often that man is a social animal. Does that mean that the deliberations of 100 lesser men are more likely to produce truth than the deliberation of one greater?
Let's put quantum physics up for a popular vote. Or take a poll to find out how many planets there are in this solar system.
"Man is a social animal." Does that mean Edison should have checked with some committee to evaluate the "social utility" of electric lights, motion pictures, and sound recording before he marketed them?
If one person is right and twelve million people are wrong, the one person is still right--and subjecting the right person to the mercy of the twelve million wrong ones is a disservice not only to the one but to the twelve million.
That's the fallacy of all socialistic thinking.
"Individualism" versus "Cooperation"
One of the difficulties in explaining individualism is the constant straw man about "atomistic" individualism versus "cooperative" socialism.
Without doubt, the choice to work or play in groups rather than alone is often the right one. All economics--trade or teamwork--is valid within the context that individuals have the right to decide with whom and on what basis they will join with other individuals to their mutual benefit.
The true choice is not individualism versus cooperation but voluntary (free) human relations versus involuntary (coerced) relations.
Which Is Doomed: the Individual or Society?
Some argue that since societies last longer than individuals, society is more important than individuals.
Well, precisely what "society" is that?
Do we define "society" politically, in which case the Soviet Union died in its early seventies? Or by ethnicity, in which case the Vietnamese who poured into Southern California in the 1970's created a brand new society here? Or by language, in which case we create a new society with each new generation of teenage slang? Or by culture, which seems to have a shelf life of about six months nowadays?
Life as an individual is doomed? Perhaps, but as C.S. Lewis has argued, there is nothing else: for all societies of individuals are also doomed. The universe in which we live has a specific beginning and end: and no society will survive it unless individuals do as well.
Religions tell us that individuals will survive death; I know of none that promises that New York City or the American Automobile Association will.
Who Creates: the Individual or "Society"?
The challenge is usually: try playing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony without a symphony orchestra, hundreds of years of instrument design, a building, or Beethoven's parents.
I'll spot you Mr. and Mrs. Beethoven: a Yamaha synthesizer and one programmer can do the rest.
Now here's one for you: try playing Beethoven's Fifth without Beethoven.
The greatness of Western Music lies on the shoulders of a relatively small number of individuals: Vivaldi, J.S. Bach, Hayden, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Brahms. All of them had peers; none of them had equals.
If I had a time machine, I could kill one or two of these individuals and eliminate Western music. For example, the music of Bach was lost for years until rediscovered by Mendelssohn.
It is because an innovator begins with the work of a previous innovator as a point of departure for her or his own work that I could eliminate one or two links and destroy the chain.
Those individuals who innovate are often known; you'll find their names in history books. For each unique achievement, there is a single human mind that did it. Often the name attached to that unique mind is known; but often the true innovator is concealed by the feudal or corporate name which enslaves innovators. But in "western" music for the last few hundred years the link between each innovation and its innovator is fairly well documented--from Mozart to Bartolommeo Cristofori to Moog.
"Society" is the formal cause of none of it.
The trouble with society is that people have been taught it is moral to eat their gods.
The Attack on Individualism
"Society," in the political context of the word, is a buzzword, a move in a con game used to confuse fledgling individualists so they will not be able to organize effective resistance against their oppressors. "Society" is the invention of intellectual hit men in the pay of a ruling class power elite (it's not out of altruism that all "approved" education is either directly state-controlled or controlled through ruling-class purse strings) who, relentlessly, year after year, come up with gobbledygook about why individuals don't really exist, or have rightful interests, or possess rights, or can run their own lives without some busybody's interference.
Some assert that animals have rights but people don't.
Some assert that Beethoven didn't write his music--"society" did.
Some assert that individuals don't exist free to make choices in the three dimensions we perceive, but instead are prisoners locked in a four-dimensional cage which we can't perceive--flies frozen in amber.
Some assert that individuals are too dangerous to be left free--only "society" is "responsible" enough to guide us through the maze of human survival.
Some assert that the human individual is "self-righteous" to think that it has a right to live as it chooses but that rocks, seawater, and weeds are superior because they cannot think or choose.
All who assert these things agree on one: the individual is not to be allowed to exist as an individual; only "society" must be allowed to exist.
All who assert such things hate the human species for being comprised of rational, choosing individuals.
All who assert such things wish to escape the responsibility of knowing that reality is specific, that they are specific, and that things won't grow all fuzzy and nonspecific just because they close their eyes and wish real hard.
And all the while, in the name of society, we have inquisitions, massacres of students, wars to the point of genocide, planned famines, the invasion and destruction of peaceful villages and cities, and relentless propaganda telling us that we must accept every conceivable atrocity because it is being done by and for "society."
Animals, People and Gods
We know, for sure, of only one species which is capable of high-level conceptual abstraction: humanity. Chimpanzees and gorillas can talk (with their hands), make jokes, lie, curse, even time-bind to a certain extent. They get about as far as a human four-year-old: which is a remarkably high level of intelligence by the standard of everything else in the universe.
But chimpanzees and gorillas cannot compose symphonies, build skyscrapers, organize a convention, keep business records, induce mathematical equations, fuse the atom, study other species, send back pictures from other planets, threaten the ozone layer, or conceive of their hairless cousins--as they must if they were capable of it--as the gods of their planet.
Whales sing: we may yet discover that their songs have meaning to each other.
But whales do not leave artifacts.
Bees and Beavers leave artifacts: but hives and dams are simple indeed compared to the computer upon which I am writing these words.
You want a non-anthropomorphic definition of intelligence?
That which is capable of designing and making complex artifacts.
You want a non-anthropomorphic definition of a god?
That which is capable of designing and making self-conscious artifacts.
Other species we have encountered have genetic limits on their abilities; we have not even approached our own limits, nor can we yet know whether we have any.
We are redesigning our own genetic code every day: crudely, right now, with machines, dentistry, antibiotics, heart bypasses, and kidney transplants; soon, with recombinant DNA, regenerated neurons, cloned organs, reprogrammed biological clocks.
We wish to fly like birds: we make wings for ourselves then fly higher than any bird.
We wish to swim like fish: we build aqualungs then dive deeper than any fish can.
We climb higher than the Eagle's Nest; our Eagle lands on an airless planet.
We are Beings with hands who can rewrite our own operating systems.
What can not we do? We can even escape our own nature as godlings by denying our Selves and turning ourselves back into mere animals which does indeed happen to us if we abdicate our thrones and refuse to think.
Is Any Man an Island unto Himself?
Individualism is not atomism. It does not demand that we be Robinson Crusoe: it demands that entering society give the individual greater benefits than the individual can gain on her or his own. Robinson Crusoe may have been lonely; he was still better off than someone whose "society" regards him as a slave.
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New Age Thinking
From a September 5, 1989 "cafe" discussion on the Connected Education "virtual" campus. --JNS
One of the things that disturbs me the most about what passes for "new age thinking" is that equations and mathematical descriptions which are valid only within a specific mathematical formulation are constantly being taken out of mathematics and used in natural language, to erroneous effect.
This word "dimension" is one example. It has a specific and defined meaning in geometry and higher maths; in English it can mean "item," "variable," "person," "thought," "idea," and a thousand other things which have nothing to do with the original mathematical function of the term.
The "uncertainty principle" is another concept, taken from physics, which is popularly used without respect to its actual mathematical function in describing certain subatomic effects.
Whatever the "uncertainty principle" has to say about the inability of an observer to observe a subatomic event without altering it because of the electromagnetic waves the observer must use to observe the event, it has nothing to do with events and observers in the superatomic world in which we live, in which observers are quite capable of observing events without affecting them.
Tell me how our observation of a newly discovered galaxy affects that galaxy, when the light we are observing left that galaxy so long ago it is an open question whether the galaxy even exists anymore.
Tell me how my watching a baseball game on TV affects the outcome of the game.
Tell me how my looking at the clock on my wall affects how fast it runs and I'd really like to hear you argue that the light won't go on in my refrigerator when I open the door just so long as I keep my eyes closed and therefore don't "observe" it.
These sorts of statements about things only being real according to how other people observe them are not only wrong, they are ridiculous. A corpse that used to be a person is the same corpse, regardless of whether it is discovered by the police. The inability of a net to drag it out of the East River won't bring the person back to life because there has been no one to observe it.
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The Philosophy of Neilism
On Valentine's Day, February 14, 1995, I received a very nice valentine card indeed, although it wasn't intended as one: an Internet letter from a patent attorney who had read Stopping Power and, as it later turned out, my novel The Rainbow Cadenza also.
My correspondent is wasted in the corporate world; she should be doing courtroom cross-examinations. In the course of an almost six-week correspondence, her questioning of various statements I'd made in my books forced me to examine my premises in greater detail than I'd ever done before and when I was done explaining myself, I realized I'd written a treatise on my philosophical and theological beliefs.
My correspondent is a rationalist with scientific training who was placing herself somewhere between agnosticism and atheism; I have been both an atheist and an agnostic and I now believe in God; but I have always been an advocate of reason, which made our discussion possible.
I have resisted labeling myself a Classical Deist because unlike Deists I find no compelling objection to the possibility of continuing miracles and the supernatural; I have likewise resisted calling myself a "freethinker" because of my personal belief in direct revelation as a possible source of valid information.
I joked in one of my letters that the only thing left for me was to be the prophet of a new religion: Neilism.
Okay, the first tenet of Neilism, like in Monty Python's The Life of Brian, is, "You're all individuals!"
Because much of the discussion was by necessity personal, as we each reached into our private lives for examples to support our positions, and since she doesn't have the chance to have her eloquent half of the discussion given equal time, I've decided to preserve her privacy, even though it unjustly deprives her of the credit for much of what follows. --JNS
February 14, 1995
I started reading C.S. Lewis's Narnia Chronicles when I was around ten or so, and was nothing except enchanted by them. A lot of kids raised in Christian households probably had the Narnia Chronicles forced on them to make them into good little Christians but I was simply at the library looking for something fun to read one summer and had the books recommended to me by a librarian; I had no idea while reading them that they had any Christian message and wouldn't have read them if I'd known, since I came from a Jewish family with a lot of anti-Christian bigotry.
My next encounter with Lewis was at 18 or 19 when I started hanging around with s-f and fantasy fans for the first time; I started attending meetings of the New York C.S. Lewis Society and that's when I started becoming familiar with Lewis's Christian and other nonfiction writings, as well as his other fiction. Contrary to your take, I found his apologetics so rational and persuasive that they were quite competitive in my mind with Ayn Rand's arguments, and I found Lewis's arguments in favor of somatic experiences being valid tools of cognition more persuasive than Rand's assertion that "feelings" couldn't be tools of cognition. This eventually opened me up to experiences that led to a belief in God, even while I maintain my reliance on reason and rational methods.
March 19, 1995
I am reluctant to discuss religious issues only because of how time-consuming it is; all my biases are toward rather than away from philosophical and ontological discussions.
Do you have the paperback edition of my novel The Rainbow Cadenza? Hill Bromley's discussion with Joan Darris, portrayed in the novel, of the differences in approach between Rand and Lewis are highlighted in the afterword by Brad Linaweaver, "Two Advocates of Reason: Ayn Rand and C.S. Lewis."
Briefly, Rand argued that feelings could not be tools of cognition, even though she argued that evidence "from the senses" were the primary tools of cognition which one then applied logic to in order to form percepts then concepts. She argued that any additional senses wouldn't provide any information that would contradict that provided by the other senses.
But what if some additional sense is not providing local information but, in some sense, telemetry--and that telemetry is from what we might sloppily call another dimension? While logic precludes that this new information could contradict true information obtained locally, there's nothing to say that the new facts couldn't provide a context for the old which makes many of the assumptions being based on it incorrect.
As a thought experiment, imagine that the "telemetry" gave you information that you acted upon and couldn't have obtained from the local senses; and this telemetry provided valid guidance. Wouldn't this make the telemetry verifiable, and trustworthy for future uses?
This, in essence, is what Lewis is arguing: that we have a "feeling" which he calls "longing" (he uses the German word sehnsucht), and this longing is for a homeland we have never experienced. Our true nature, indicated by these feelings, is that we are beings who are largely alien to our current environment--a world of mortality--and these feelings indicate that we are made for immortality in another continuum.
But in order to consider this telemetry as having cognitive value, we would first have to make a leap of faith--and test it. If--as Rand does--we simply assume that because the information provided by the telemetry produces anomalous conclusions that it is therefore fantastic and therefore not to be even considered, then it could never be tested. One is therefore left only with local information which is based on too narrow a context to be maximally true.
I've updated the language--neither Lewis nor Rand used a metaphor with the word "telemetry," or talked of "somatic" information--but that is the essence of the argument.
Let me put this in common language. Suppose you pray to God and get an answer. Suppose the answer tells you something you couldn't have otherwise known, but turns out to be true.
This is an experiment. Suppose you repeat the experiment and it validates enough times that you now accept this as a true source of information.
Suppose the guidance provided by the information changes your life and your perspective. Like it or not, you are now a person who believes there's Someone at the other end of the conversation, and what that Someone tells you is characteristic of a person of higher intellect, broader perspective, and superior character--just how much higher, broader, and superior you are not in a position to calculate--but you know it's a lot. And the person you're talking to--although s/he talks back to you using your own voice--doesn't deny being God, either. That is, after all, the "phone number" you dialed.
Maybe you're reluctant to use the word God in that circumstance. I found I was initially reluctant, but some rather dramatic experiences overcame that reluctance.
There it is. Like it or not, personal experience made me redefine myself from an atheist to a believer. Since this experience isn't transferable, I can only advise making the experiment for yourself and then deciding for yourself. It makes me a rather wimpy advocate of my belief system.
March 22, 1995
Suppose you look at our "universe" as a closed spacetime continuum, with its own laws. Suppose further that while closed, it does not comprise the totality of that which exists; there exist other continua. Suppose that contact between another of these continua, which operates under laws and principles not totally like ours, was possible.
Existence still exists. But that doesn't tell us what exists. If someone outside our continuum had a perspective not limited by our local laws--for example, that the time arrows only run in one direction--then various actions might seem natural from their perspective, but supernatural from ours.
The Law of Identity only requires that a thing act according to its nature--but that nature may be unlike ours. An extra-universal entity may experience different powers--and limits--than ours.
As to the claims of Christianity, I suspect they are true in outline, but I wouldn't bet heavily on any of the details.
I have knowledge of a small number of things which I think I know from personal experience; applying logic gives me a set of additional things which I think must be true--and you can call these beliefs; then there are things which I think might be true but I have no way of verifying. This is what I talk about in bullshit sessions and write in fiction.
I think we were made to be immortals and sometime in our race's history we experienced a fall into mortality. I think there has been some sort of intervention to try to correct this. I think we were created by intelligent design and the designer has definite opinions about what about us will best accomplish his objectives. This doesn't mean that I reject, for example, evolution; for all I know, evolution is simply the designer setting something in motion and allowing himself to be as surprised by what happens as anyone else. Or not. I don't have the perspective to judge.
I believe that the same person who designed us has a feeling about us, and goals, which parents have for their children, that is, in families where the parents and children aren't busy destroying other people's lives.
I also believe that there are circumstances, beyond our knowledge, which makes us have to operate with minimal knowledge of our designer. There are definite limits to communication, and I don't know whether these limits are imposed because we are being tested and are being denied the answer sheet; or because there's a war on and information must be kept out of enemy hands; or because information flow between closed universes might royally screw things up in ways we can't imagine.
Really, Rand and Lewis are arguing the same thing here: that happiness is our true destiny. They are merely arguing about time and place for fulfillment of our deepest desires.
Both of them were widowed before their deaths; presumably that was not ultimate happiness to either of them. Lewis believed he would reunite with his love in some afterlife; Rand had no such belief.
I am not going to make a Baconian argument about whose belief gave them more solace; I--like both Rand and Lewis--am more concerned about the actual truth.
I find existentialism to be essentially tragic. If this life is all there is, it's not enough for me. I see injustice uncorrected, all that is lovely or beautiful vulnerable to harm and ultimately mortal--as Lewis says, if this universe is all there is, everything will end with not even a story left behind.
The romantic in me, which responded to Rand's fiery rhetoric, responded also to Lewis's. I have internal data that makes me think that Lewis was right--but my faith is inconstant, and I have despairing days. But there is something in me that makes me incapable, at least up till now, of succumbing to existential despair that all is pointless or absurd. If that's the still small voice of my designer having put that into my Read-Only-Memory, I would not be surprised.
By the way, when the Christians talk about God saving people, the image that most readily comes to mind is information going from volatile to permanent memory. If we are a combination of hardware and software, it may be our software which is saved to a more permanent medium--and that would have to be external to this universe because every indication is that everything in this universe decays and disintegrates.
Admittedly, much of what I am proposing is sheer speculation. But I am not trying to convince anyone of it, but me--and that is because I find the alternative so painful to contemplate.
So I am left with a quandary. Is being a self-conscious intellect in a mortal universe absurd and pointless, or will it all come our right in the end? If it is pointless, I lose little to contemplate a happy ending. If my beliefs guide me to an earlier death in support of some value derived from my romantic worldview, it isn't much of a difference to the universe and I'll be dead and never regret it. But the romantic in me demands the happy ending. In the absence of a present answer, speculation is all I have to guide my value choices, and as an act of will I choose the belief that my desires have an achievable object.
Well, Lewis has his opinions about what God might be like, and in some senses I agree. The imagery of power, intellect, rationality, and goodness are those of the Judeo-Christian tradition--though the God who lived in the Ark of the Covenant seems impossible to me; that deity was out of his mind by any standard. It's one of the reasons I am more skeptical than Lewis about using Scripture as descriptive of God.
But that is solvable to me by merely regarding scripture as human literature or deliberate disinformation for purposes unknown.
I regard direct revelation as far more reliable. The problems start when the "prophets" try to explain to others experiences which can only be described by inexact metaphor.
I have actually come up with a test for someone who claims to be God, or in direct contact with God--if God desires to verify his identity at some point. Our genetic code is object code. Whoever has the source code must be God.
Don't ask me for the source code, though. My "conversation" didn't get very abstract. It was more like, "You have a choice to make. Choose now or I'll choose for you."
You don't get into a philosophical conversation when you're looking up the barrel of a (metaphorical) .45.
I have never had any success with praying for a specific result. Lewis recommends that sort of prayer for his own reasons, but that's not what I meant. I'm not comfortable with the word prayer precisely because of the semantic confusion about what is meant by it.
What I mean is that whenever I've had a thought which was a barrier to my believing in the existence of God, and I asked about the question, there was always an answer that came back to me (again, I tell you, in my own voice) which made sense--and the answers seem to have continued to make sense for a long time.
March 24, 1995
Okay. I understand that a belief which would defy one's logic, accepted premises, and personal commitment to truth is wrong. That was precisely the position I was in, so I understand what you're saying perfectly. This frame of mind, though painful, kept me from believing in God for many years--my logic wouldn't allow me to.
That's what I meant when I said that I kept on asking questions in my own mind and the answers kept on coming back--in my own inner voice--defeating one objection after another until there were no more standing. You can say this was an argument I was having with myself, but it felt precisely as if there was an active intelligence at the other end of the conversation who was not me and knew things I didn't. I have come to associate this voice with God; you have no reason to and I don't expect you to--you weren't inside my head when this happened (or presumably before or since).
Look, maybe I haven't made myself clear. I'm not really interested in traditional scripture, apologetics, theology, etc., except insofar as it provides me glimpses of ideas that might integrate with my own observations, logic, speculations, etc. I suppose I'm developing my own, peculiar, idiosyncratic, personal, theology-ontology-cosmology--and its only intended churchgoer is me.
Lewis I find interesting because he is as concerned with truth as Rand, and is as logical. The main difference is that Lewis was mostly inductive in his reasoning processes while Rand was mostly deductive in hers.
Let me say this about evolution. I don't believe in it, by itself, as an explanation for the arising of complex, logically integrated, high-functional, conscious life forms. I could believe that evolution could eliminate species, modify species, or select species--but not create species. I find the Watchmaker's argument persuasive. I know the difference between a natural occurrence and an artifact--I see how non-living nature operates--and no statistical or chemical arguments about primal soups, mutations, natural selection, etc. is going to convince me that this is a sufficient explanation for me, much less the life forms I see around me.
Damn it, we are a species which hasn't even landed on another planet, with an extraterrestrial life form on it yet. It strikes me as premature, to say the least, to make any firm conclusions on how life began on this planet, or anywhere.
Regarding prophecy. I have had personal experiences which I regard as revelations--personal revelations. Revelation of information to me, largely about me. Since I wasn't being told of the events of nations, or being given any orders to lead anyone into battle, I suppose this is minor league prophecy. But while it is convincing to me, I have no way--nor even much reason--to convince anyone else of the truth of my experiences. Others may regard it as a psychological, rather than an actual, phenomenon; no one needs to accept my chosen perspective.
March 24, 1995
Ultimately, the existence of personal survival after death is not falsifiable; only provable--and the proof requires dying and finding out you're still conscious in the absence of your old physical brain and body, and consequently still capable of contemplating this question. If there is no survival after death, we are left without an observer to report that fact. Unfortunately or not, if survival after death is proved to a particular individual, the information does not seem to be able to be passed back to others still living where we are now.
How can I be of use to others if I don't settle these questions in my own mind first? How can I teach others "the truth" if it's being given to me only in homeopathic doses applicable only to my own life's concerns?
If God wants me to teach anybody anything, he has my phone number and my signature on a contract with him. He can always call me up and tell me what he wants me to do. In the absence of God rewriting my orders, I'm assuming that I'm pretty much doing what God wants me to do.
What do I feel about religion? I have mixed feelings. Obviously I don't feel it has any role in my own life because I'm not actively involved in any synagogues, churches, mosques, or temples--as a matter of fact, I try to avoid them. I consider the scriptures I've read to be confusing and contradictory where I prefer clarity--it's like using a kaleidoscope when you need a microscope.
On the other hand, I'm unwilling to say that religion doesn't serve a useful function, since it encourages people to focus on something other than the daily grind. My friend Dennis Prager makes this point by asking how many Cadillacs would be sold if there were no Cadillac dealerships, arguing that without religion, we'd know nothing about God. God may be in the same situation as any preacher with regard to keeping human beings interested in pursuing an unseen object. The purpose of organized religion may be no more than keeping people interested in what happens beyond this life, even if the specifics are all mucked up.
Saying that we are genetically engineered by some other species from this Galaxy only regresses the question a notch: did that species evolve out of inanimate nature, or were they designed by a prior creator? It doesn't solve the primary problem about whether an immortal spirit is required for the existence of ourselves, or whether we could have arisen by sheer mathematical necessity from inanimate nature.
If you have reasons to believe that what I'm proposing is impossible, then you have to resolve those questions in your own mind first. You can't test what you believe is impossible. So I'd say simply keep on examining why you believe what you believe and don't be surprised if you get the feeling Someone Else is starting to take an active interest in answering your questions. Lewis described it as feeling pursued--and I had exactly the same feeling.
March 25, 1995
Existence exists. But that doesn't tell us what exists. That which exists and always has existed may be animate, inanimate, conscious, or unconscious. Therefore, if existence exists, nothing precludes that which exists to be in whole or part animate, conscious, and self-conscious. Therefore the proposition that a god could exist without a specific beginning or creator is not by itself contradictory--it is merely something to be tested for like any other possible fact.
This is a difficult concept to grasp so I'm going to say it again, slightly differently. If someone is immortal, it might not only mean that once created he or she lives forever afterwards. It could also mean that someone, like existence itself, has always existed. If we believe that "existence exists"--that existence is not temporal or conditional--then we are halfway to admitting the possibility that a conscious entity might likewise exist without temporal beginning or end, and unconditionally.
Before and after--time as we experience it--might simply be a local phenomenon in our universe. Even if you accept the idea of linear time--before and after, cause and effect--there is nothing in our understanding of physics which prevents event-lines in which later effects loop back to a point in time earlier than the immediate cause of that particular effect, so that a later effect can itself effect a prior cause.
Our grammar is not ideal for expressing such time paradoxes; that's why science fiction stories explain it better. Think of Marty McFly in Back to the Future--who learned classic rock-and-roll in the 1980's--going back in time to the 1950's, where his playing rock-and-roll is overheard by Chuck Berry, who gets the idea to invent rock and roll from that. You have a classic event-loop. Is the earliest cause in the 1980's or the 1950's? Since it's looped, there is no specific beginning or end for that series of events; it's circular causation.
Even current physics admits to the possibility of time travel; therefore, extralinear time events are within the realm of the possible. Grasping the possibility of an immortal being, not subject therefore to the logic of before and after, cause and effect, birth and death, is difficult to grasp because it is outside our experience, but it is, nonetheless, conceivable and possible.
March 28, 1995
Why should I propose that there might be a creator whose existence is unconditional and whose existence is unbounded by time?
I indicated to you in my previous message that I do not find the arguments for life arising from non-life to be persuasive to me; I had said that the statistical arguments and the chemical arguments about "primal soup" did not convince me. A person better versed in statistics and chemistry could argue that this is due not to any flaws in the arguments but merely my own ignorance of the mathematical language in which such arguments are couched, and my ignorance of the biochemical processes by which life might arise from non-life.
I have to say that one of the reasons I find this objection inadequate is that I go back further in my conception of creation than do the scientists making those arguments. Even if you were to convince me that in this particular continuum--from the first nanoseconds of the Big Bang forward--life was an inevitable outcome of the chemical structures formed in the Big Bang, you would still need to convince me that this could happen without a conscious mind building such necessity into the creation of a continuum firstly.
Since we have no other, non-life supporting continua to compare this to (and we would have a problem of being without an observer we can check with if such a continuum exists), this is a confounding question.
What I find myself arguing is largely a sense-of-life argument, then, rather than primarily a scientific argument. Since I maintain we cannot know whether our continuum sprang into its current (and expanding) form by mathematical necessity or conscious design, we are left largely with our own esthetics to decide between the existentialist argument (the universe is singular and finite, and due to entropy and expansion will end, taking all life with it) or the romantic argument (there are other continua in which life exists and where we, as individuals, can go).
Theology takes the romantic view; science takes the existential. Without having any rational means of choosing between them, I choose the romantic--even when current theories seem to indicate its unlikelihood--because they cannot rule it out entirely and--in addition--scientific theory is always subject to reexamination upon failures of theories to test out, or be contradicted by new data, anyway.
Ask a scientist the age of our universe right now. Now ask them the age of the oldest stars. Then ask them how the oldest stars can be billions of years older than the age of our universe.
When they manage to answer that one, I'll be listening. Meanwhile--could it be that our oldest stars have survived or been transplanted from some previous or other continuum?
Well, a dog with two tails and wings wouldn't be a dog, first of all; it would be another animal, as different from a dog as a kangaroo is from a North American Brown Bear.
Suppose you'd only lived in North America and were cut off from books and media--and someone told you about seeing a kangaroo at a zoo. You might very well refuse to believe it until shown. Very well. What constitutes proof for anything proposed?
There is certainly no shortage of people throughout history claiming to have had experiences which indicate contact with something having powers we can regard as superhuman and experiences we can regard as supernatural (in the sense I discussed it in previous messages--don't get on me for "arguing for ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night"). Here's where Lewis comes into his own in his arguments. Once you have accepted that the concept of God is not self-contradictory--once you have to take seriously the possibility that the natural sequence of events we take for granted might be only local phenomena--then it is mightily difficult to prefer a "natural" explanation to a "supernatural" one by Occam's Razor (least hypothesis) alone.
Let's use the O.J. Simpson trial as an example. Everything in the trial--both prosecution and defense--is assuming that if blood was seen in a certain place at 11:00 PM on a Sunday, it can't have been left there by someone who was bleeding in that spot at 10:00 AM the following Monday.
A defense lawyer who argued that this was precisely what had happened would have to bring in physicists arguing for the possibility of time travel before presenting evidence that such a craft was within the realm of being built (and since we're arguing time travel, if it can be built 100,000 years from now, that's as good as arguing it could be built in 1995).
Now you come along and say, "That's all well and good, but show me the time machine--and prove to me not only that it works but that someone traveled through time to drip the blood."
And, we're now into precisely the argument I presented between Joan Darris and Hill Bromley in Rainbow Cadenza: what are we to admit as evidence into this trial? That which is derived only from the known senses--the evidence we are used to--or that which we feel is information from some other continua, but can't verify without testing.
For the O.J. Simpson trial, I'm afraid we do well to rely on evidence of the senses. But when asking extraordinary questions, we make a mistake to rule out extraordinary answers.
That's where I have to leave it. I have internal data which is convincing to me. I have none I can give you. You are free to test your own internal voice and verify it for yourself. That's the best I can do by way of argument at the moment.
I can tell you that a voice told me that if I asked a woman to dance, I would marry her. I asked her to dance and we later got married--but you have no way of knowing whether I made up that story--or even if it was what you called a "self-fulfilling prophecy." Finally, you have no good reason to prefer the "natural" explanation--that it was an imaginary voice in my brain--to the supernatural one--that it was an actual voice communicating to me information I couldn't have otherwise known from some future vantage point. Your argument for preferring the natural explanation is as entirely arbitrary and circular as is mine. You don't believe in the supernatural so your "least hypothesis" is that the voice I heard was imaginary. But for me, who heard the voice, my "least hypothesis" is that the voice was real and told me something I could believe--which then tested out to be true.
I am not making a Watchmaker argument merely from complexity of artifacts we observe; I am saying the question of whether complex artifacts need an intelligent creator can't be resolved that way. My experience of the universe is that things decay and dissipate and head toward greater uniformity except when they are living, when for a while they defy entropy and differentiate themselves. But that, admittedly, doesn't answer the question of whether the living can come about, without intelligent design, from the mathematical necessity of a "natural" Big Bang. I don't know. Neither does anyone else.
Tell me how one calculates the odds of something happening when one has seen it a total of once. Odds are based on looking at something happening a number of times, then calculating the probability of them happening again.
We have one case to judge from: we have only observed one universe. I vehemently argue that no calculation of the probability of life arising out of an inanimate universe, and therefore no expectation, can be empirically derived from what we observe in one and only one available case.
In this "natural" universe, we find anomalous data all the time. People have reported a rain of frogs from the sky, aircraft defying ballistic movements, people disappearing and reappearing under mysterious circumstances, voices from beyond the grave, apparitions, telepathy, bending spoons, divining water--all sorts of things. And, most scientists spend their time in fallacious arguments, saying that if a stage magician can reproduce the appearance of a certain phenomenon, then therefore the phenomenon previously reported was the product of a stage magician's deceit--even if the reports are part of a tradition which go back centuries before stage magic was invented.
If you encountered water freezing when heated, would you attribute it to a theoretically unlikely possibility in statistical mechanics, or would you doubt your senses--or would you report that a miracle had occurred?
If you see someone walking on burning coals, are you going to argue that the sweat glands of their feet have produced an insular layer which prevents their legs being burned into stumps--or are you going to remember the last time you walked on the beach in August and raised a blister--and wonder what the heck your feet's sweat glands were doing at the time? Could the firewalkers' claim that divine help kept their feet unburned be considered a not unlikely explanation?
Your response will be conditioned on what you accept as likely based not only on your own experience, but your interpretation of it based on what we call "common sense"--and I am arguing that our common experience is too provincial to be a reliable guide when addressing primary questions, which are by their nature extraordinary.
These are not easy questions. If you don't believe miracles are possible--if your very conception of the way things work means that you will except almost any other explanation than a supernatural one--then I don't see how to convince you otherwise. Only your own encounter with an experience you are willing to attribute to supernatural causes could possibly be convincing to you. In the absence of that, I suggest merely keeping an open mind--and that goes back to where I started, with allowing for the possible, even if it doesn't seem likely to you.
I expect the truth regarding the apparent absence of God may be confounding here. Perhaps God is making extraordinary efforts on each of our behalf, but we are not able to perceive the extent of them, since the results become apparent only after we depart this life. Perhaps the uncaringness or distance is illusory. Perhaps its very purpose is to make us self-responsible.
I have had a notion, for quite some time, that God is looking for self-starters, and is keeping his distance precisely to give us a chance to make it on our own.
What God does with the underachievers, though, is something I have never resolved.
March 29, 1995
Necessary qualities for a thing to be God as I use the term (as opposed to being merely another extraterrestrial life form):
Necessarily, it must be an entity, a thing that exists.
It must exist primarily outside this continuum. Though the physical laws of that other continuum might be unknown to us, it is necessary that the entity's identity is possible according to the physical laws of that other continuum. This entity could not act contrary to its own nature.
It must be conscious, self-conscious, contemplative, capable of having thoughts, opinions, knowledge, beliefs, feelings, and even might be ignorant of some things--I speculate things which it can't observe about its own thought processes. Most definitely capable of volitional acts.
Living? Not by an earth biologist's definitions. As an immortal, it would not have to act to continue its own survival; but it might act on other imperatives. These other imperatives might encompass the creation of other continua. But such an entity could be conscious and act--living in that sense.
And for it to be the God we've been talking about, this entity has to have been the first cause of our creation, be good, and wish us to be good, too.
Limitations: it can't do the impossible, act contrary to its own nature or violate laws which are true in all possible universes.
Now, can I prove to you, or anyone else, that such an entity exists? No.
If you argue that life can exist without specific creation, I can argue that God can exist without specific creation. Existence exists, life exists, self--conscious volitional beings exist. That's really all we have to go on. Now we are discussing whether one or more of those beings can be immortal and create continua with other conscious beings--and I'm afraid science is of no use to us here.
I am not theorizing on the basis of wishes. I am opening my mind to possible unusual data on the basis of wishes--that is the act of will. I have internal data. I can't share it with you. If you have no similar data, then you will remain skeptical. But I suspect the question is not whether or not there is internal data, but whether we choose to view it as possibly factual or necessarily imaginary.
The reason I doubt science can solve these questions is that the methods of scientists refuse any experiment where the results aren't falsifiable. I maintain there are truths which are provable but non-falsifiable because the alternative has no observer.
And I argue that there are as many good eyewitness accounts of fringe phenomena--events not explainable within our understanding of the natural laws of this continuum, such as that time arrows all run in one direction--as there are for the existence of kangaroos.
I further argue that there is additional, internal data which should be regarded as valid tools of cognition, but which scientists ignore because by their nature they are not falsifiable.
If you are testing the possibility of supernatural phenomena and exclude the possibility of equally supernatural senses which would provide the means of testing that phenomena against the ordinary data from the other senses, then you will not make the test and you are left with your premises as forced conclusions by elimination of the other possibilities.
I am not arguing that all feelings are correct; obviously there are psychological explanations for much of what we feel. But again, it is a fallacious argument to state that because some feelings are not cognitive, that therefore no feelings can be.
I believe mine have, at times, been so. Until you have a similar experience, you can't regard any as being.
March 30, 1995
Every time I've gotten some answer to a question which I've asked God, and I have in my mind identified the answer as coming from God, it's because the answer was something I would not have expected, could not have deduced by any logical process I was aware of, and the answer not only answered my specific question but included something serendipitous which made the answer not only provide me a new context to consider the original question but made a pattern which seemed particularly elegant.
There is something mysterious about the functioning of imagination itself. It seems to be able to answer questions that it shouldn't. The flashes of insight that geniuses like Einstein and Mozart described--and, truthfully, which I felt I was experiencing during my best writing--encompass more of the universe than the parts we have personally experienced or even contemplated.
Yes, I've read all the books. I've read Suzanne Langer, Carl Jung, etc. I even addressed some of this directly in Rainbow Cadenza where I talked about extropic spirals, dialectics, holographic structure of universes, puns, and related concepts.
I think the reason our imagination works the way it does it that our brains have a connection to the outside beyond the narrow channels that we call the ordinary senses.
I suggest that the path to enlightenment begins with the suspension of disbelief required of entering into any art--and if we are living in art--as creation would imply--that would logically be the way in.
Then follow Sherlock Holmes's dictum: After you have eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, however unlikely, must be the truth.
See if anyone is claiming a supernatural explanation--and if they are, consider whether you regard them as the sort of witness you'd never put on the stand or whether this is a witness whose oath to tell the truth you'd take seriously and their testimony competent.
April 6, 1995
While the scope of what can be accomplished by using imagination may be mysterious, there's nothing at all mysterious about how to use it. I like to say that children start out as scientists then become artists. We begin by exploring everything, testing everything, then we play with it, look for dramatic, funny, pretty, or just silly connections, make up stories about it.
April 8, 1995
No evidence can ever possibly seem to be evidence to you so long as you discard it as possible evidence.
The "tester" inside your skull will be as familiar to you as your own voice--you probably already identify it as being your own voice. Is there anything at all that could differentiate it so that you would identify the "tester" as in some sense unique or independent?
You don't see evidence of the supernatural if every time you see it you conceive a natural explanation of it, with no other reason for doing so than that you don't believe in the supernatural. When presented with two equally attractive explanations--one natural, one supernatural--why choose the natural, unless it's because you believe supernatural explanations are inherently less likely?
What could possibly convince you of the existence of the supernatural?
If it's a physical phenomenon--such as walking on white hot coals without injury--you'll assume a natural mechanism, such as an insular layer of sweat. But even in the absence of an explanation, you'll wait as long as necessary, even centuries, until we know more question held unanswered, mind jammed open.
You've even said that you'd apply this to a miracle, if you saw one--such as water freezing when being heated. You'd assume a statistical mechanical explanation--or simply assume that we poor denizens of the twentieth century aren't lucky enough to know enough about physics to explain it, and assume that some future physicist could. Miracles are off the map as an explanation you'd accept.
You say you are open to proof--but what proof could you possibly accept?
Voices were enough for Jeanne d'Arc--but you don't believe in voices.
If you had a vision, wouldn't you go in for a CAT scan, and if it didn't show anything, wouldn't you go next to a psychiatrist rather than a shaman?
If you had a Betty Eadie type near-death experience, wouldn't you believe it was your oxygen-deprived brain trying to defraud you into a pleasant death--and never wonder what natural selection could possibly find useful-for-survival in such a mechanism?
April 11, 1995
I think I've made it clear that I dislike the way most people deal with questions about the unseen world. They talk in strange tones of voice, demand you suppress your rationality and take things on faith, throw quotes at you as if that's an answer to a question, and in general, leave little intellectual room to consider the truth of the proposition of whether God exists.
I consider religion to be, if not entirely then almost entirely a set of purely human institutions--or at least screwed up enough that if they are under supernatural influence, some bad devil-dudes are running the show.
This is why I like Lewis. Even though he was an apologist for religious orthodoxy, he recognized how bad a job religion was doing. He made an honest attempt to seek truth rather than the palatable or the convenient.
I have a friend who claims to be a religious Jew. I asked him what he would ask God about Himself if he could talk to him--and he answered that he wasn't interested in what God was like. Which I find fascinating!
Here is a man who--to put it crudely--spends every Saturday in a temple wearing a beanie, bopping back and forth, and sing-songing in an ancient language--all to communicate with a being he has no personal interest in! He considers religion to be the source of morality and counts on God to provide final justice. However, I wonder if my friend believes that God is a good idea but doesn't believe that he exists.
You have to love truth first--wherever it leads you. The word martyr doesn't originally mean a person who dies for his religious beliefs. It simply means "witness"--the sort of witness who won't lie for anything about the truth of what he sees, no matter how inconvenient the sighting. Of course, people with something to hide do tend to want those sorts of witnesses dead--which is how the common meaning came about.
Do you ever wonder, like I do, what God's Witness Protection Plan is?
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