Sunday, 21 June 2015

What'sUp with the Blog?

In my current acquaintance, I have one friend who consistently challenges me to the extent of my intellectual capacity, constantly deconstructing my views on nearly every topic of any depth we discuss, and forcing me to view things from different perspectives. He and I have very different political viewpoints, and our arguments are consistently stimulating and fulfilling. He lives quite far away, requiring that we correspond almost entirely by email; and he recently fathered a child, which puts further constraints on the time we have to engage on a meaningful level.
In my everyday life, I have precious little opportunity for that sort of stimulation. I recently joined an online forum—after having forgotten that I did several years ago—because certain ideas discussed therein proved to be of some interest to me, and after I’d reached a certain required post count, I was allowed to enter one of the subforums for discussion of religion and theology.
In this subforum, I directed a question of by what thought process certain members of the forum who described themselves quintessentially rational and coldly logical came to subscribe to the belief system of any organised religion; the question was directed in particular to those members who professed to have ‘reasoned it out’, independent of any emotion, and claimed that belief in a deity was the most logical position given the evidence. I was truly intrigued, and could not bring myself to imagine the line of reasoning required. I asked them, as politely as I could, to spell it out for me that I might grok how they reached this conclusion.
An interesting, though not unexpected, thing happened. Veteran members of the forums voiced concerns that such discussions would most assuredly degenerate in short order into bouts of obstinacy and name-calling. I did receive some garbled and incoherent responses, along with some who politely explained that they adhered to certain forms of faith but were not particularly interested in debating about it. I was ready to shrug it off and move on, thinking the thread was a dead end, until one user asked for my beliefs. I said that the beliefs I hold which are pertinent to this particular conversation were A) That logic and reason are the best tools available to us for determining what's true; and B) That the evidence for the existence of any gods is not forthcoming. Based on these tenets, I refrain from accepting the proposition that any gods exist, until such time as sufficient evidence is presented. The response I got was the interesting part:
I agree. But reason and logic are just that, tools. They are mechanical tools that come to work once you have defined your premises (here, the basic statements you hold to be true without arguing them too much, like axioms in maths). And exactly here lies the issue. People here just don't agree on the possible premises and the level on which to handle this question (materialism being one of the potential pebbles in the machinery) and so since we are not talking neither on the same level, nor sharing the premises, any discussion even with reason is vain. Hence the idea that one side is pedantic and narrow-minded, and the other insane, moronic or delusional. If you are willing to discuss your belief, please state your premises and maybe there could be a discussion if all refrain from dismissing them without argument because they don't agree with it.

I replied that I suppose I could include premises such as: That existence is defined as something composed of either matter or energy; to argue that God is something composed of neither is to argue that existence equals nonexistence. I mentioned that to this a theist might respond that God is something else entirely, or beyond our comprehension; to which I would reply that if that is the case why bother even thinking about the matter at all, and so on down the rabbit hole. I was operating on the assumption that the individuals in question had already analysed these conundrums and came up with conclusions different from mine; and that rather than make assumptions or strawman, I wanted to hear it from them. The reply came:
If you want to define existence in this way, fine. My role here will just be to ask questions. Like: Do you deny any objective existence to abstract mathematical concepts? Even when they turn out to explain some physical properties? But those concepts are made of neither energy nor matter. How about other dimensions (I am not saying 'higher' because it denotes a biased point of view of a third dimensional being) and what could be there, can we know for sure that it would follow the same rules and be constituted of the same thing? Why shouldn't we be concerned by a being that has potentially had a crucial role in the existence of our universe and the only we currently suppose to exist outside our realm?
On reading this, my interest was piqued, and I replied:
No, I don’t expressly deny the possibility of other dimensions, but I question their influence on what we currently know to be reality. If a being consisting neither of matter nor energy were manifest in some other dimension, by what means would one suppose it has any influence over our dimension? But the phrase ‘we currently suppose to exist outside our realm’ is particularly curious. I infer that such a being could hypothetically exist within what we define as the real universe but that we don’t yet have the means of detecting it. If this is the case, is there any reason to bank on its existence, much less assume that it had any role at all in the existence of our universe?

As far as the existence of mathematical concepts, I would say that mathematics is a tool humans use to measure and define things in the physical world, and doesn't 'exist' in the same way as matter or energy, i.e., a physical body is present whether or not human minds are present to apply mathematical concepts to it.
When the following response came, I grew genuinely excited.
Higher dimensions suppose that there is a potential being for which time is the surface on which it lives for example, if such a being shared our dimensions it could affect them without having the restrictions we experience or potentially having an easily provable impact on our reality. If you want to restrict yourself to a god that exists within our physical world, then he can't have created it since he exists in the context of our 'reality'. Such a being is just another curiosity of nature in this case and proving it's existence would mean another field of research for science, but certainly not a proof for the existence of god. For your take on mathematics, you have the point of view of a physicist because you think maths are developed for our understanding of the physical world, while these applications are very often found after their development and some maths field may very well have no practical consequences or reality. But since separate people can discover them independently, can you really argue that they are strictly related to the human mind and have no existence outside of human thought?
I replied again:
I'm very interested in exploring that possibility. If time were the surface through which (or means by which) this being interacted with our dimension, could it do without the chronological restrictions to which all entities in our universe are subject? Creationists, for example, are fond of asking what was before the Big Bang, but the question seems to me nonsensical because what we know as time began at the instant our universe was formed.
Well, but they consistently describe manifestations in this plane of existence and are reliable because they conform to the rules of physics as we currently understand them. It's my understanding that theoretical branches of mathematics are nonetheless based on concrete realities; we can't resolve the Banach-Tarski paradox, for example, because an infinite scattering of points isn't physically observable. I would answer that different individuals with no relation to each other can make similar discoveries because they're operating from the same position of interpreting an imperceptibly larger reality through the limited filter of human cognition.

And there the conversation died. I thought we had just begun the probing, weeks have passed and I am persuaded that this thinker has found other ways to occupy his time.
In the interim, I was asked by one of the players in our campaign, ‘What’s up with the blog?’
I relate the incident above to explain the mindset from which I approach D&D.
The reason I seek out and develop so much background information for the worlds I create, and that I so much time preparing for each session, including trying—often in vain—to predict what decisions the party might take in order to formulate at least the skeleton of a plan for each contingency, stems from my geekish obsession with history, fascination with the human condition, and delight in the psychological and anthropological interest that comes of role-playing.
This, I think, is a fundamental divide from the motivation that brings most players together to experience these sessions. When I was still in the process of creating test worlds, I asked my party directly what aspects of the game they found most interesting, enjoyable, or fulfilling. More than one answered that D&D is simply a reason to spend time with people they don’t normally see.
For my part, I don’t enjoy social events, and I never have. My reason for playing D&D is what the game itself offers, with ‘hanging out’ a sort of side effect. On occasion I am able to bring myself into situations of pure socialising in a group setting, and I find the discussion generally deteriorates into irrational talking points on politics, or worse, particularly if the group is entirely male: The most abhorrent aspects of juvenile locker-room conversation coming to the fore. That the caliber of the conversation then remains at a fairly respectable level simply because people are more polite in mixed company, does not speak well to my mind of the value of ‘hanging out’ for its own sake. There are, in fact, few humans with whom I can spend more than an hour just ‘hanging out’ before suspecting that gnawing my own arm off might be a more constructive use of my time.
I say things not with any intention to offend, nor of any desire for sympathy for what could easily be construed as misanthropy; but rather, to illustrate that the game itself is primary, and when sessions prove disappointing for the aforementioned reasons, my inspiration to even think about the game, much less spend time preparing for it, wanes considerably. Distractions from the game, including banter about films and video games, the constant interjection of barely-witty jokes, and unilateral decisions to take smoke breaks during combat, ultimately chip away at my passion. Particularly irritating is the realisation that the opponents and challenges placed in the party’s path could most certainly be overcome with a clever application of strategy, which is incomplete or absent when priority is placed on socialising.
Sadly—at least for me, though perhaps only for me—our last session was again along those lines. Part of the problem, of course, is that while I’m certainly interested in Ancient Greece, I’m not nearly so much as in medieval England. But Minoa is the setting the party chose; I gave them an honest choice, and I’m not about to take my ball and go home. Besides, to change worlds again now, even if it turns out the party wouldn’t actually mind, would make me fickle to a degree for which I couldn’t forgive myself. Nonetheless, I’m uninspired. The next session is a few weeks hence, and I’m frankly grateful for the respite. I can spend my down time practicing my flute and harp, putting up tiles in the new bathroom, trying new recipes, planting trees around the perimetre of the property, and thinking about the Banach-Tarski paradox. I might come up with something to inspire me again.

1 comment:

  1. As someone who is religiously inclined, I find this very fascinating. I was taught, perhaps simply as a way for religious thought to safeguard itself, that ultimately belief in God (at least the one I believe in) requires faith. Depending on who you ask that faith will account for 0.1 to 100% of the heavy lifting in that person's conviction. That is to say, some people may want to struggle with their faith because they don't want to forgo logic and reasoning, and other people might just give it all up to faith and say logic doesn't even matter! Either way, however, there is still some faith that must be had that would account for the gaps made by our limited understanding of reality. I won't claim to know that my belief in God is infallible, but I'm definitely a fan of absolute truths. And in the case of "there is a God vs there is no God" I'd rather stand in the there is a God side of things. Especially if I can choose to believe in a sovereignty benevolent one. Also, it's unfortunate that religion has taken so many other forms than that of positive progression for the body and soul. In other words, that things like jihad, crusades, and the westboro baptist church exist is a sad consequence of the human element added to religion. Then again, the human element is a pre-requisite for religion, is it not? Anyway, sorry for just randomly hitting at like 700 different points in this stream of consciousness.