Comments on “Stances: responses to meaningness”

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Meaningness and the three bears

mtraven 2010-10-23

Hi David, congratulations on launching your site. You have quite a task before you of filling in all the boxes in your schema.

I think that your presentation of the various a/b choices may be a bit too schematic. Maybe I don’t travel in the right circles, but I don’t know any actual nihilists or totally rigid authoritarians. I suppose some people cling tightly to one stance or another, but most of us partake of bits of both depending on circumstances, and try to cobble together our own ad hoc syntheses.

But it’s very valuable to have these dichotomies laid out clearly and (the hard part) have a sketch of how a synthesis might be achieved.

Hm, maybe you could call this the three bears model of meaningness – there’s being too much in one direction (too constrained, too rigid), or the other (too loose) and then there is baby bear’s stance which is just right. For the children’s version.

Speaking of children, here’s one of my efforts to transcend the authority/rebellion dialectic.

The Middle Way ... not really

David Chapman 2010-10-23

Hi, Mike,

It's seriously odd that your comment arrived while I was in the middle of responding to Miikka's one about Robert Anton Wilson—inasmuch as you introduced me to his work, if I'm not mistaken. This coincidence must have something to do with the quantum wave function collapse. [Not.]

Anyway, thanks for stopping by...

It won't really be clear what the point of this project is until I've put up a half-dozen more pages that are meta to the work itself. Those will describe what I mean by a stance and how they work. One aspect of that is that, as mind-states, confused stances are highly unstable, because at some level it is obvious that they are wrong. As you say, no one can actually adhere to nihilism for long. But I think pretty much everyone falls into it briefly occasionally. More generally, as you say, people flip-flop between polarities and try to find middle ground. This instability is one reason stances trump systems. It's easy to maintain official adherence to Christianity, or anarchism; it's hard not to momentarily adopt stances that contradict those (like nihilism or "reasonable respectability") from time to time. Especially if you are a parent, in the latter case...

The Buddhist philosophy that influenced my work here is called Madhyamaka, or the "Middle Way" between extremes. Robert Ellis, whose work is closely related to mine, uses "The Middle Way" to name his core method. Three Bears; "not too tight nor too loose" is another famous Buddhist slogan.

But I deliberately don't use that term. My approach, based in the Dzogchen interpretation of Madhyamaka, is that correct views incorporate both sides of a polarity, rather than one that steers down the middle. "Dzogchen" means "entirely complete" in Tibetan. It is not a Middle Way—it's a Complete Way. So I use the term complete stance for those that cover both sides of the false dichotomy. Maybe that is more like a synthesis, although I am wary of the Hegelian implications of that term.

As you say, filling out those "schematic overviews" will be a lot of work. Probably a couple years' worth. I have a 300+ page draft from a few years ago, so much of the work of thinking through the logic is finished. But that draft was written only for myself, and re-presenting the material in language that communicates to a broad audience will be a big job.

Best wishes to you and Sam-the-future-of-anarchism,


yellow stripes and dead squirrels

mtraven 2010-10-23

I may have introduced you to RAW, but I think I learned from you to take him more seriously than I would have otherwise.

The bit about Dzogchen is interesting. I ought to have figured that whatever method you have for getting beyond the various dichotomies you outline was going to be a bit more complex and interesting than the mere middle-of-the-road-ness. I’ll look forward to your explanations.


I wanted to tweet this but it

Silver V. 2016-07-25

I wanted to tweet this but it was too long. I think I finally got the thesis you propose in meaningness. Lmk if this misses the mark:

“Eternalism: Universally fixed distinctions. Nihilism: Universally collapsed distinctions. Nebulosity: Pragmatic distinguishing (by someone, for something)”

That is, both eternalism and nihilism fail by taking the one doing the work out of the picture and projecting the work done onto reality. Nebulosity acknowledges that you always have someone doing work for something, and the distinctions (patterns) are relevant to this being.

Too darned many stances

David Chapman 2016-07-25

Close, but not quite!

The Big Three stance combinations” might help sort this out. But:

Eternalism: universally fixed meaning
Nihilism: total denial of all meanings
The complete stance: meanings are both nebulous and patterned

Eternalism comes in dualist and monist flavors.

Dualist eternalism: universally fixed distinctions
Monist eternalism: denial of all distinctions, with insistence that this has a profound universal meaning

Nihilism is almost always dualist in practice, although monist nihilism is theoretically possible and does show up very occasionally.

That is, both eternalism and nihilism fail by taking the one doing the work out of the picture and projecting the work done onto reality.

That’s typically true, but the subjective/objective dichotomy is somewhat distinct. There are subjectivist eternalisms; that’s roughly what existentialism was trying to do, although it collapsed into subjectivist nihilism.

The complete stance recognizes the nebulosity (and patterning) of the subjective/objective distinction, and takes the view that meaning arises in interaction, so it is neither subjective nor objective.

This is more complex than might be ideal… which maybe why this book is so enormous… or would be when finished!


Alice 2021-12-06

“That is, both eternalism and nihilism fail by taking the one doing the work out of the picture and projecting the work done onto reality. Nebulosity acknowledges that you always have someone doing work for something, and the distinctions (patterns) are relevant to this being.”

This isn’t even speculative; it just an assertion with no evidence and it’s not even meaningful.

There is always someone doing work for something; how do you eat?
Do you think nihilism results necessarily in death?
If so, I frankly find this a juvenile understanding.

The fact of the matter is, the author is simply wrong.
Nihilism doesn’t universally collapse distinctions; it simply proposes there are no proper classes, to borrow the set theoretic distinction.
There can be all the distinctions you like, there are simply no global classes, no universal class of “meaning” to which we can ascribe things.
You can distinguish a dog and a cat under nihilism; it’s simply that such a distinction does not have some global quantifier of “absolute meaning” ascribable to it.

Which is reality.
Biologically, species aren’t true “things” in the sense of a platonic ideal; they are processes, constantly in motion.
Look at ring species groups, say A-F.
A can reproduce with B, B with C, C with D, etc
But A and D cannot, nor B and E.
Are these all one species? Are they a group of subspecies?
The fact of the matter is “species” is not a coherent global distinction; it only has meaning inside of a context, when we are using it for a purpose.
There is no actual meaning to it; it is useful.

The author seems to deliberately misunderstand this in order to sell us snake oil that they cannot justify except by mischaracterizing other approaches.

Nihilism succeeds where “nebulousness” fails exactly because it is uncompromising: there is no top level, because it is incoherent.
Learn from naive set theory; just because we want things do not make them possible.

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