Commenting on: You’ve got nihilism wrong
Well, I can see where you are coming from. It makes a bit more sense now, and I feel I can tolerate Nihilists a bit more now. Still not something I would pursue, But I could understand why someone would think that way. Good talk
Commenting on: Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths in subculture evolution
You may know it, but this article is on an text book for students. Oxford consider include your piece for his English B for International baccalaureate book
Funnily enough, I agree with most of what you say, and there’s plenty of good advice in what you wrote. The aspect that I find interesting is when you say that nihilists are more scared of there being meaning in the universe than there being none. I haven’t heard this before - perhaps it’s something you observe in US high schools (I’m from UK and long since out of education), and perhaps this is the root of our differing perspectives.
The nihilists and existentialists I have known (including myself, although I would never be so arrogant to claim that I know myself!) are certainly not scared of there being meaning. In fact, in the past, we would have loved to know for sure that God exists externally to humankind and that meaning comes from God, and that there is an external and predefined purpose to life, and that if you lead a virtuous life, then you go to heaven and live forever. In fact, in our own ways, we all explored the possibility. I can imagine that those who are capable of having faith in God’s existence gain much comfort from it.
Alas, for existentialists and nihilists, there is no God, only a meaningless universe. There is no motive for believing that, it’s just accepting observable reality for how it appears. To us, acts of love and hate have no cosmic value, they simply feed into the chain of cause and effect. But this has, in fact, liberated us, because now, we get to decide what is meaningful, not God. We are unshackled from God’s rules. No God, no fate, no destiny, no sense of guilt at the very thoughts that pass through our heads, only personal freedom and responsibility for our actions. I have much meaning and many values in my life, towards my family, my friends, my work etc, but they are entirely subjective, and because, like most people, I want to enjoy life, my decisions and actions are based upon enjoying it and doing what I can to help others enjoy their lives too, because that will benefit all. Living in a meaningless universe does not necessarily mean handing yourself to the Darkside!
As for fakes at school…haha, that goes with the territory, I’m afraid. Teenage years are all about attempting to discover who you are and what your place in the world is, and for some, that takes some figuring out and leads down some very strange avenues. Especially these days! You have my sympathy though - from what I see, especially in the US, I’m certainly glad that my school days are long in the past!
also, I know I said “you” a lot, but I wasn’t specifically referring to you in general, just talking about Nihilists in a whole
Haha yeah, I don’t know much about the branches myself, but I guess I have a basic concept or something. One of the smarter things I have heard though Is that Nihilists are more scared of there actually being meaning in the universe than there not being. Think about it this way, you have two options. One, you can choose to believe that nothing has any signifigance, and what you do doesn’t really matter. Or two, everything you do matters and will have some outcome on what happens. That’s a scary thought right? Every move you do is carefully scrutinized or evaluated to determine what happens next, which I think scares some nihilist, so they choose not to believe that. And sure they could lead a life free from god and unshackled, but I can’t see the motive for that. Maybe depending on what country you live in, especially third world countries, but I really don’t think there should be any nihilists in America. I mean, do you not have a reasonable amount of freedom? Can you not lead a fulfilling life? What can you not do? Rob? Be a all around jerk? Not saying that you are a jerk of course. Just saying that I don’t necessarily see a necessity to be a nihilist. I mean, if you can be a nihilist and not bring everyone around you down, then go ahead. But one thing you should know, I am in highschool. And it is filled with fakes. This has a point, just wait. It’s just that some kids have a nihilist viewpoint, (Though most aren’t smart enough to know what nihilism is), and yet this was brought on by nothing. Really, It just seems the cool thing nowadays to pretend to be depressed and stuff like that. But I’m getting off track. Now, I don’t know if that example was real or nothing more than an example, but if it is real, I don’t want to tell you how to live your life. But I don’t think you should turn to nihilism because of that. You should re-evaluate. Look at your life, see what you have to be grateful for. See WHO you have to be grateful for. Appreciate them, because no one knows what we are put on this earth to do. Meaning is just what you have to determine for yourself. Look at who sticks with you and carries you and picks you back up. How do you think they would feel if all that they did for you was meaningless, and you told them that? You did say that you are a happy individual and lead a conscientious life, and if so, good on you then.
Thanks for the thoughtful response.
Perhaps I am more of an existentialist nihilist, if such a thing exists. There are apparently many branches of nihilism, and I’m an expert in none of them!
For some, nihilism has acquired a bad name and is associated with negative and even destructive approaches to life and those around us. Undoubtedly, there are those who associate their own innate or acquired negativity with nihilism, and I think these people tend to ignore the obvious (cause and effect - for example, my parents treated me badly, therefore I am angry with them and society and want to destroy) and blame the universe instead. But for some, nihilism and existentialism are springboards to personal liberation, and that springboard is the realisation that if there is no God, then the universe is inherently meaningless and we are free, unshackled from all constraints, seeing the universe as it is, ready to step forward into the future and create our own subjective reality.
I think those that have that sort of philosophical realisation and suddenly turn to despair and hate are extremely rare. There’s usually something going on in the first place.
Commenting on: No cosmic meaning
The link at “Vastness is one form of such non-ordinary meaning.” doesn’t work at present for me. Please delete this comment when you’ve fixed that!
Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist. And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened.
~ Nietzsche, Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen Sinn (1873)
I just reread the piece, and didn’t notice the bit that confused me first time through. Interesting. I think I was on a kind of fulcrum teetering over into getting the cosmos/universe distinction clear and for a moment there, I wobbled! It was worth the reread.
Their reign and achievements stretch across billions of stars
Their reign and achievements stretch across billions of stars
Actually, we would have noticed that. When a civilization is able to spread to other stars, it’s definitely able to surround a star and harness a large fraction of its power output, reradiating the waste power at a lower temperature. This is the archetypal “technosignature” that astronomers could find when they take the spectrum of a star.
Fortunately, we aren’t doing philosophy here. We’re figuring out how to get out of a pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting
Fortunately, we aren’t doing philosophy here. We’re figuring out how to get out of a pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting
(social media as simulated fame)
Obligatory xkcd: https://xkcd.com/2548/
Astrology and orderliness: I’d add that altitude is regularly positive-value. Angels, shining cities on hills, handsomely tall people. The stars, being a few kilometers up, were even higher up than the fluffy cloud heavens.
I thought at some time (18th, 19th c.?) it was thought that each planet had its own form of life and its own god running the local cosmos.
Well I didn’t know that nihilist could be that, though if you are calling yourself a nihilist only because you don’t think the universe has any inherent meaning I don’t know if that is a true nihilist. If it is though, then thanks for clearing that up. and when you say “What’s wrong with putting forth the idea that you are free to believe what you want without shame or guilt, and that you can embrace this personal freedom in a responsible way to lead a fulfilling and conscientious life?” I was thinking more a nihilist that doesn’t believe in religion or such, rather nothing at all, than being able to believe what they want. I have no problem with people believing what they want, if that is what you are getting at. But I thought nihilists didn’t believe anything, and the thing is that Nihilists don’t care about leading a fulfilling life and rather do jack with it because they don’t think it matters. Or am I wrong
Commenting on: MORE LUX: light bars for SAD
I agree about thinking of lighting technology as simulation of sunlight. I think it can be a little tricky to get it right. I continue to experiment with it. I have a 10,000 lux light box (since 1996, and it’s maybe my favorite light therapy), light earbuds from Humancharger (formerly Valkee), green light glasses, colored glasses for outdoors, and then spending an extended time outside. It’s a topic of great interest to me, so much so that I wrote a book about it a few years ago (full preview is open, so you can read it or else download the e-book): https://www.blurb.com/b/6825912-beating-seattle-s-grey-living-in-indoor-twilight
I think the indoor lighting standards are insufficient for our health and need to be revisited. Or, a light therapy room needs to be provided for people in the workplace.
I fell into nihilism and suicidal ideation after being excluded from school (for the reason of some romantic confrontation) and losing all meaningful relationships.
Then I started going to psychiatrists thinking I had some “chemical imbalance”, so I poisoned my brain with antipsychotics while ignoring the real cause.
Now reintegration into society is driving depression away, and I find meaning in a dream of changing wicked ways of psychiatry (that’s pretty romantic, too).
Thanks for your writings!
You say you don’t have a problem with Nihilists, then state that they lead ‘sad lives’.
How rude! I don’t consider myself a nihilist (I’m not overly keen on labels) but I clearly am one by definition, as, beyond the meaning which each individual imposes upon their reality, I don’t believe the universe possesses any inherent meaning. But I am a very happy individual and lead a fulfilling and conscientious life. So to refer to all people with a nihilist perspective as ‘sad’ is not only the worst sort of generalising but a tad antagonistic too.
You also write ‘I am not saying that you shouldn’t inform others, but don’t try to make them be a nihilist’.
Why not? What’s wrong with putting forth the idea that you are free to believe what you want without shame or guilt, and that you can embrace this personal freedom in a responsible way to lead a fulfilling and conscientious life? And anyway, these days, nihilists that try to actively convert others to nihilism are, beyond the healthy debate that exists between friends, acquaintenances and intellectual sparring partners, so rare that it’s not an issue. Perhaps you should direct your instruction to the proselytising religions, the true masters of conversion.
It makes sense to think of lighting technology as simulation of sunlight. If we acknowledge that light affects and triggers physiological processes in our bodies, then the treatment becomes one not of pills and chemicals, rather more holistic; for example, no one denies that ultraviolet light is fundamental for the metabolism and health of plants and reptiles.
Proper indoor lighting may have to mimic all the aspects of sunlight—from intensity to spectrum and variation during the day—to avoid conditions like SAD and D-vitamin deficit with metabolism and immune disorders. Until then, we have LED arrays and tanning beds.
Glad you liked it!
Not sure I understand the niggle? You would need unlimited power to compel either the entire cosmos or the entire universe. The phrase “dent in the universe” is ~10x more common than “dent in the cosmos” (according to Google search). Nihilist manifestos are also usually phrased in terms of the universe rather than the cosmos.
What a fabulous piece of writing. Takes you by the hand and leads to you through the vales of despair to somewhere much sunnier.
One slight niggle on the distinction between universe and cosmos. This required a little work on my part to reorganise my thoughts to comprehend the new distinction (that bit’s fine, and very enjoyable). But after you finally made the distinction clear, there’s at least one place (may be more) where you continued to conflate the two terms, which somewhat muddied things for me. Eg. Unless I’m being dim, in the following paragraph, the final “universe” should be “cosmos”…
“Some, hungry for meaning, say they want to “make a dent in the universe.” What’s up with that lust for cosmic vandalism? You need unlimited power to compel the entire universe…”
Other than that, all very clear and thought provoking.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with Nihilists although I don’t respect their viewpoints. If you want to live your sad life where you have no meaning, then by all means go ahead. but don’t try to spread your ideas to others that are obviously happy with their lives. I am not saying that you shouldn’t inform others, but don’t try to make them be a nihilist. I mean, honestly, you don’t even have to inform people about nihilism. There is no point, unlike educating people about things like racism. Its really well portrayed by memes. Buff dude: “God made us in his image and we all have meaning!” Based. Fat person: “The sun will explode in 9 billion years and nothing matters” Cringe. Just sayin’
Commenting on: No meaning from the Big Bang
I find it strange when people use the rhetorical trope/cliche of declaring that ‘society’ is telling/saying/stating anything in particular.
And, in my experience, one of the most common types of statement that ‘society tells me’ (and others) is that society is telling us some bad thing. I always find that a peculiar phenomena! Are the people making these statements aware that (many) others make similar ones and thus, it’s inherently somewhat contradictory?
Not only am I not aware of a way in which ‘society’ is “Telling people that the only meanings they are allowed to have are ones that can be experimentally verified”, I personally often find ‘society’ (i.e. people) saying exactly the opposite.
And maybe I’ve been reading David here too long, but even the idea of “other members of the same society don’t share meanings, and there is no available means to resolve the conflict” being something that is reasonable to complain about or lament seems very sinister to me. Maybe that impulse is related to a desire for Eternalism [David’s term]? I’m not sure in what way it would be reasonable for all members of a ‘society’ to share meanings – that reads horrifying to me; totalitarian even.
These are both excellent points! I’m planning to cover the first in “No objective meaning”; the second is discussed somewhat in “No cosmic meaning.”
An alternative take: Our modern society heavily relies on the methods of science to tell us what is true. But many of the meanings we would like to have are just the wrong type of thing to be amenable to empirical investigation using scientific methods.
Telling people that the only meanings they are allowed to have are ones that can be experimentally verified leaves … a gap.
Further: the possibility that there might exist sentient beings elsewhere in the galaxy that don’t share our meanings is not a practical problem. That other members of the same society don’t share meanings, and there is no available means to resolve the conflict … that sounds more like a practical problem.
Commenting on: Lite nihilism, on the way to completion
I’d recommend you look into the works of Sextus Empiricus re: the substance of your chapter-in-progress – assuming your subject is still the meaningness weltanshauung and your object is to move beyond aporia & illuminate a route to ataraxia…
I’m grateful for the Quillette editorial that hyper-linked me here, and have zero regrets for my day spent reading your insights; love your work, truly! But your mind appears orders-of-magnitude mightier than your pen. You might be meant or mentally fit to fill more than the shoes of a pop-scientist, a journalist for MIT’s Technology Review, another Futurist or late-postmodern self-help guru… If amenable to some internet rando’s stylistic advice: Consider reading Leo Strauss for lessons re: Obscurantism, the True Language of Philosophy (i.e., the Noble Lie/Pious Falsehoods + appropriate methodologies for scribblers in necessarily elitist/ esoteric /limited domains for the meta-minded…). Your prose screams “Fox” (prolly the style of writing most natural to trained engineers and STEM savants – Wittgenstein before he grew wise, circumspect, and began to genuflect to Indeterminacy). Whynot try the model of Tolstoy, Derrida – the Hedgehog?
I tried those “GLORIOUS-LIGHT” bulbs that Charlie A. posted above, and while they are very bright and have a sturdy mount, they flicker intensely. For me it creates a deeply “creepy” effect. An amazon reviewer commented that noticeable flickering is common in cheap LEDs. So I’m returning them and looking a little further upmarket (and also for bulbs with better CRI – color rendering index, a measure of how truly it renders colors, on account of having a more or less full spectrum).
Commenting on: Open-ended curiosity
Thank you! Fixed.
This piece would be better with a full stop after this sentence: “As a method of stabilizing the complete stance, open-ended curiosity takes intelligence, hard work, and generosity—as well as just openness”
That book looks interesting! I look forward to your comments about it after you’ve had a chance to at least skim it.
I can’t (currently) imagine it contains any big new insights. I’d expect that what Dennett calls ‘the intentional stance’ does most of the ‘heavy lifting’. But then (accurately) predicting new insights is kind of paradoxically impossible anyways. (If you could predict an insight, you’d probably already ‘have’ it!)
I really like the idea of ‘meaning’ being made of molecules – and not just in the abstract, but specific (hypothetical) discrete parts, systems, modules, chunks, and dizzying levels of new systems.
I think computer programmers have at least a hint of that kind of dizzying ‘meaning-making’. Nowadays, there really is a pretty vast gulf between physical interactions with computer hardware and the physical computations being performed in the ‘processors’. One aspect of the gulf is that a lot (most? almost all?) hardware now contains their own pretty powerful processors! But even just thinking about, in detail, the layers and layers of software in almost any program can be awesome/terrifying.
One ‘trick’ Dennett uses that I really like is that he spells out (at least in outline) the specifics of some otherwise very abstract notion. One of his criticisms of Searle’s Chinese Room that I really like is that the argument doesn’t concretely and precisely imagine what it describes, e.g. how big the ‘room’ would be, how long it would take for the person/automaton in the room to reply to ‘messages’ – according to the rules of the argument’s own metaphor. It’s much harder NOT to attribute ‘understanding’ (of ‘meaning’) to the ‘rules’ by which the person/automaton in the room operates once we have even an inkling of how Vast it really would be!
Similarly, I find it pretty easy to feel the intuitiveness of ‘meaning from matter’ after following all of the steps, even in outline, of ‘the best’ understandings of each of those steps, and particularly because we have only hints of the ‘depth’ of some stretches of those steps too. I think that makes it much easier to feel how bits of ‘proto-meaning’ could ‘add up to’ something like ‘real meaning’.
And you’ve covered a bunch of those steps yourself – so maybe I’m discounting how easy all of this is to understand. You’ve already helped me understand a lot of it! (Thanks!)
Commenting on: Romantic rebellion
Thanks, yes, as it says in the box at the top, this is a summary placeholder for what in theory will someday be much longer. The relationship with subcultures will be an important part of that. I was gesturing in that direction with “Romantic rebellion is a lot of fun, though, and can have terrific aesthetic value throughout the arts. E.g., rock’n’roll is all about romantic rebellion.”
Thank you, yes! He recently recommended this new book about that, which I’m intending to at least skim before writing about the evolution of meaning.
I’d think you’re at least somewhat aware of Dennett. He’s my favorite living (academic) philosopher!
I remember his book “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” covering a lot of ground in this and other recent and related posts by you, e.g. ‘meaning’ being ‘just another’ product of evolution.
What I think is missed is that the “romantic rebel” can create a “subculture” that at least partially mimics the values they aim to instill. Although the culture is defined by a “defiant pose”, that culture has real value to the people who partake and real meaning to them.In fact, the very nature of its opposition can be part of where the meaning derives from.
Commenting on: Reasons to be cheerless, part 3
I disagree that I need a purpose to perform an action.
Is the sun purposeful when it moves across the sky?
Does it find meaning in that motion?
I would also deny that purpose is inherently meaningful nor a dimension of meaning.
Does a wrench find meaning in its purpose?
If I make a clone for the purpose of harvesting its organs, would it necessarily find that meaningful?
This is exactly what I mean by you make assertions without evidence; you seem to think that I should accept your premise without comment, and that when I do not, that I am acting emotionally or irrationally.
I am not stonewalling you; I genuinely do not think as you do.
Therefore, I refute your premises which are not based on evidence.
Hi Dave, as title suggests - increasingly I see this trend in discourse online and otherwise.
To repeat old ground, it is the characteristic of the nihilist to regard nothing as meaningful, ergo it is innate to those truly engaged within that they not experience the aforementioned ‘upset’ emotional reactions.
Your previous reply declares anger, defiance and defensiveness as a characteristic of the nihilst but I would consider this uniquely the hallmark of the overly emotional philosopher; those who define themselves in singular philosophies and stubbornly defend these against the challenges of others, rather than considering, reflecting and challenging, are innately invested in their views to a degree encroaching the dogmatic and it becomes such that attacks upon the ideology are then seen as an attack upon the self - one needs only consider the religious as a compelling example of historical and continuing behaviour of this kind, though it can also be seen in the modern political landscape and in the likes of modern pop philosophers a la Dawkins and Peterson.
Paradoxically, often does the rationalist recognise that the influence of emotion weakens open minded argumentation and therein they discover the duality of their own insecurity; they cannot be the emotional one, for that would make them the weak one! And if the self is weak, the ideology as the self is weak, and the ideology cannot be weak, for then the self is weak!
Therefore within this looping insecurity produced by the attack that undermines both the self and the ideology of the thinker, this emotion they are experiencing must be that of the ‘aggressor’, the ‘attacker’ of the ideology as the imagined self. For only then may their personal reality be sustained in a non-damaging manner; the self-assurance of “I am feeling upset due to the aggression, defiance and defensiveness of the other” functions as a self-soothing, borderline masturbatory protection mechanism that undermines open discourse and the continual reflective growth that should define discussion yet is so often interfered with by emotion - it is, in truth, that the attack is found offensive, insulting, and undermining to the self and the ideology.
Thus I present for your consideration that the recognition and thereafter removal of these unwanted, undesirable and unproductive emotional reactions will result in a more open mind reception to contrary ideas and a deeper growth of the self.
Something to consider moving forward.
Purpose is a dimension of meaning. What is your purpose in commenting here? Are you doing it without any purpose at all? Or would you say that your purpose is not a meaning?
I am not angry, defiant, or defensive; I simply disagree with you.
Please do not interpret disagreement to have an inherent emotional tone; it’s intellectually dishonest and is not compelling.
I’m not angry; I disagree with you.
Please acknowledge that there can be reasonable disagreement, and that it is not unreasonable to ask for evidence to a claim.
I’m interested in two things in your responses.
First, exactly what do you mean by “nihilism”? I mean the stance that “everything is meaningless.” Is that what you mean?
Second, you sound angry and defiant and defensive. This is characteristic of nihilism. (There’s supposed to a lengthy discussion of that coming up.) Why are you angry and defiant and defensive? If everything is meaningless, including my claim that not everything is meaningless, how could you be angry about that?
There is a much simpler reason to be nihilistic: it is true.
You’ve provided no evidence to refute it, and just as you have said meaning is obviously real in many other pages, I can instantly counter with “no it isn’t”.
This is the problem with not actually backing your point, with simply asserting that something is not true; someone can instantly take the counter argument with equal validity.
Nihilism is true; I need no further reasoning, so even if you knock down these strawmen, you will do nothing to attack my argument.
So why can’t you do that instead?
Commenting on: Preview: eternalism and nihilism
Citation needed. You’ve done nothing to prove nihilism false or unworkable; plenty of evidence exists to the contrary. My life, my very existence, denies your unproven point.
You can’t simply assert a point; you need to back it up.
Commenting on: Nihilism: denying meaning
Citation needed; just because you feel those things does not in any way mean it is essential to the experience of nihilism.
Where is your evidence, besides speculation?
Strong disagree. Nihilism is great, and nothing in any of the pages you’ve posted has suggested otherwise.
Nihilism is not merely not awful, not merely okay, but better than the alternatives. Prove me wrong, without appeals to authority or slippery slope arguments like the “nihilistic apocalypse”, which is easily disproven from simple game theory.
Or just admit you specifically don’t like nihilism, even if you can’t come up with a coherent argument against it. That’s fine too!
But currently, you are just being intellectually dishonest.
Commenting on: “Nihilism is OK” is not OK
This is speculative at best; the nihilistic apocolypse has been readily disproven by game theory for decades. Please stop suggesting this slippery slope argument.