Budding Philosophers

I’ve been calling my wife Mrs. H online lately to honor her request for anonymity.  I mentioned that to her the other night and she said, “ah yes, I’m Mrs. HiggsBoson”.  I love being married to someone crazy about science.

Anyway, we were sitting around the table the other night and my daughter asked us if we were 100% sure about something (I can’t remember the topic).  At the same time both HiggsBoson and myself quickly said that there is very little we can be 100% sure of.  Here’s some of the dialogue:

Daughter: Is there anything we can be 100% sure of?

HiggsBoson: Some things, like I am 100% sure you are my daughter.

Howie: Ah, but what if one of us is just a brain in a vat?

HiggsBoson: Oh quit it with the crazy philosophy stuff will you? [while my wife loves science, she isn’t a huge fan of philosophy].

Howie: The kids know what I’m talking about.

Son: What’s a brain in a vat?

Howie: That’s the idea that your body doesn’t exist, but that all of your thoughts are just generated by a brain in a jar somewhere.

Son: Oh yeah, I’ve thought of that before.

Daughter: me too!

Both of our kids seem to share my interest in deep life questions (especially my son). My wish is for them to never go through the pain that I went through in my search for answers.  Right now they remind me of how I was when I was young – a time where thinking about those things was just plain fun!  I’m glad I decided to return to that perspective.  Our children will know that the unknown is not worth the worry. They will also grow up knowing that their mom and I don’t worry about some invisible mind somewhere that gets offended if we don’t see the need to search for it.  And most importantly, they will know that if they end up finding the concept of a deity comforting to them that we will still love them exactly the same even though we don’t see things the same way.

Dear HiggsBoson: Thank you for keeping some balance in our family and for keeping your 3 philosophers from going to crazy town.  I’m so glad philosophy doesn’t float your boat, because we desperately need that balance in our family.  And I’m also glad we met after I was done with my stint with religion and also done with my desperate searching period, because if we had met before that we likely wouldn’t be together.  And that would have been a crying shame since we fit together like 2 puzzle pieces (oh, and by the way, thanks for the huge jigsaw puzzle you guys gave me on my birthday – I’m enjoying it quite a bit).  Have a great Mother’s Day!

And to all my readers who are mothers: I hope you have a great Mothers Day.  Maybe you’ll find the following video as heartwarming as HiggsBoson and I found it:

Moving Forward With Ultimate Questions

My blog is more focussed on moving forward when it comes to the big questions of life rather than looking back. So while I certainly plan to have posts that discuss why I no longer believe certain things (because I recognize there are many people who are still convinced of beliefs which have been shown to be very unlikely and more education is needed regarding that), I would much rather focus on the progress that could be made toward answering some of our big questions. While it is certainly possible the answers to some of these questions will forever be out of our reach, we don’t know this for sure so as I’ve said before I don’t see a reason to throw in the towel. And while I see it as likely that they won’t be answered conclusively for hundreds of years, humans could be around for a lot longer than that, so why not continue seeking for answers.

So in that vein, I’d again like to post what I see as ways of moving forward with these questions.

First, the video about possiblianism:

While I wasn’t very impressed with David Eagleman’s book “Sum”, the video above impressed me with the way he presents the ideas of there being a whole possibility space for answers to the big (or “ultimate”, or “metaphysical” – I use these words interchangeably) questions we have. Each of the religions that have existed represent dots in the tremendous amount of dots that exist in the possibility range of metaphysical reality. The other big take-away for me is the focus on using objective methods (scientific method being just one example of that) in our search for answers.

John Schellenberg, although more philosophical and sophisticated than David Eagleman, really presents a very similar viewpoint in these 2 videos: Part 1 and Part 2 (if anyone can tell me how to embed videos from the Closer to Truth website I’d really appreciate it).  I highly recommend taking the time to watch the videos, especially if you are interested in understanding my viewpoint regarding religion or ultimate truth (as some of my friends have asked me to explain my views on religion, this will now be the post and videos I forward them to, along with this and this).  Obviously a few short posts and a few videos can’t explain all of my views on religion, but it’s a good starting point for the main points:

  1. We have not yet reached a point in human history where we can conclusively know the answers to our ultimate (metaphysical, spiritual, religious, etc.) questions.
  2. The possibility space for answers to these questions is tremendous compared to all of the answers we have had in the past from religions.
  3. We should use critical thinking and the objective methods that we have used in all other fields of interest to explore and research these kinds of questions.
  4. All the rigorous and nit-picky checks as well as peer reviews that are applied in the other fields should apply to these questions as well because without them history has shown that we can easily fool ourselves into believing false things without them.  We have to avoid falling into the traps of “pseudoscience”.
  5. While some of these questions may never be able to be answered with these kinds of methods, we should not give up on coming up with unique ways to overcome these difficulties.
  6. If we end up agreeing that some of the questions are out of reach of these methods, then we honestly conclude that we don’t have the answers. We don’t grab a conclusion that seems to work best and say that that is the one that everyone in the world must adhere to.

Some examples of research that has already been done: consciousness, spiritual development, spirituality in the brain (this is just a short list of examples of things being researched that I’ve quickly grabbed and it’s likely some of them don’t properly adhere to the rigors I am talking about).

Now all sorts of questions arise when we discuss research regarding ultimate questions, and there is no way I can address them all in one small post, but I will try a few.

Some say that all ultimate questions are incapable of being studied by objective methods. Here I have to disagree.  While I understand the huge difficulties and even the possibility that some of them are out of reach, there are clearly still areas that are up for research using the methods that we know work the best.  The examples I’ve given above are some.  The main idea is that while a “supernatural” or “ultimate” realm may not be able to be investigated directly, the indirect effects that it may have on our natural realm are definitely capable of investigation.  I could say more here, but I’m running very long – I’ll leave it to another post.

I’m not suggesting we spend tax dollars on this kind of research, or even suggesting that everyone should give money towards it.  But if you are giving money to a “static” institution which declares that they have the truth and there is no need for progress or research to go forward then you should consider giving some of that money toward real research in these areas.

An important part of this process is being willing to give up on our most cherished beliefs.  We don’t have to abandon them completely (unless they are very conclusively wrong), but we must be willing to challenge them and consider that they might be wrong in order to progress forward.  History has shown that this is the way that we move forward. Flat earth, sun revolving around the earth, demons being the source of sickness, bloodletting for illness treatment, less than 10,000 year old earth, and evolution denial are all examples of cherished beliefs that a lot of people had a very difficult time giving up on (and some of them still remain as issues for a large amount of people), yet once we were willing to challenge and question them we were able to progress forward.