On the about page of this blog reference is made regarding what was termed “mindless nihilism.” Nihilism is an ambiguous term, so for clarity this blog entry will examine what I mean by nihilism in that statement, & why I consider it “mindless.” This isn’t an exhaustive argument against nihilism as a philosophical doctrine, but rather a refutation of a viewpoint that may have stemmed from it.
Nihilism in the context of that statement refers to “an extreme form of skepticism [sic]: the denial of all real existence or the possibility of an objective basis for truth.” (Dictionary.com app for Blackberry)
Obviously this seems attractive when arguing, simply because it allows one to not have to argue a point; to have no opinion, & to avoid ever being wrong. One might argue like this, we all view the world through a series of preconceived ideas, we call these ideas common sense (despite there being little common about them.)
“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.” – Albert Einstein
Furthermore, one could argue that we simply see things as we’ve been conditioned to, not as they are. Take magnetic fields, we believe they are there, but we can’t examine the magnetic field with any objectivity, only the results. The field itself is invisible, & thus could be anything (it’s simply a word to fill the gap). If I said the field was the power of a metal god dwelling in that piece of metal, & that all the iron filings aligned, in worship, or that other pieces of metal were drawn to these gods, you couldn’t prove me wrong. This would support the fact that there is not an objective reality, but rather many subjective ones that we all live within, & which are all linked only through our interactions.
The problem is that it’s easy to use arguments about abstract invisible entities, & to apply those to everything – easy – but faulty. Most people would agree that if we all see & feel a tree in a particular place, & all independently come to the conclusion that the tree is there, & then a blind man who has no reason to believe the tree is there comes along & breaks his nose walking into it, then we can say that there is a certain amount of objective truth that the tree is there.
I agree in the usefulness of nihilism as a perverse act which can teach us to separate that which we can say with a high degree of objectivity, from that which is pure assumption (after all, I’m probably guilty of that). Unfortunately, like most abstract philosophical ideas, its been watered down & adjusted as it has come to the general public. Many people I speak to have an idea that we all create our own reality, and we all have the right to live within the context of that reality. My issue here isn’t with the idea that one could live within their own subjective view of the world, it’s against the assumption that perception is reality.
Let me put it this way: we have a perception of the world, which is possibly influenced by reality to a greater or lesser degree, but our perception can’t alter the reality we live in. Each person has different perceptions, & they will live assuming those perceptions are correct, whether they can prove them or not. We all have a right to the way we view things, but, I believe, we also have a duty to come as close to an accurate perception of reality as we can. We assume the world is not flat, yet if it were, falling off the edge would probably result in us altering our view to suit the new data about the real world.
I find the idea that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you live by it to be repulsive, simply because it would lead to an amoral society, if morality is subjective as many people believe it to be, then immorality is impossible, because there is no objective morality to measure each individual’s personal morality against, that is, an amoral state – one void of any objective morality.
I also find that this idea doesn’t withstand the level of scepticism which allows it to exist. Consider this: Hellenistic philosophers abandoned the heliocentric model of the cosmos for the idea that the earth was the centre of everything. We currently believe that neither our sun nor the earth are at the centre of the universe, and we would argue that we have overwhelming empirical evidence to support this. For centuries the earth centred model was the dominant philosophy. This philosophy went a step further when it was decided that the world was flat, we have overwhelming evidence to support that this isn’t the case. The point is, regardless of millions of people believing these ideas, they never where or became reality. We now know that you can circumnavigate the globe & be sure you won’t fall off the edge, mainly because the edge isn’t there, & never was there. Knowledge of reality has liberating effects.
Another issue I have with this “own reality” idea is that it sounds very much like the people who believe it don’t seem to believe anything (if you would excuse the paradox.) It sounds like this to me, “you have your reality, I have mine, therefore there is no real reality, because we each create a separate one.” So “you believe that tree is there, I don’t, but that’s fine, that’s your reality, this is mine.” Does that mean I can walk through a tree provided I’m deluded enough to believe it’s not there? Of course not. This sounds like Descarte’s “brain in a bath,” or the Matrix’s: people as imaginative batteries, that is, we believe that reality is so repulsive &/or insignificant to the point it doesn’t objectively exist – or even matter – & since it’s something we mould with our minds, we can have it any way we like.
Here are the options, either there is a tree, or there isn’t anything or it’s something else (a stag with a mouthful of leaves who’s transfixed by two stupid humans arguing about whether he’s a tree or not there at all.) So, one person is right, or the other is right, or neither are right, but both can’t be right.
The point here is, not whether people have the right to faith or not, but when all reasonable modes of enquiry fly in the face of ones faith, then one needs to revise (or at least question) ones beliefs. We’ll probably never have proof of God; evolution; big bang or many other things (like metal gods & magnetism), but we do need to acknowledge that we may be wrong about these things, & that it’s counterproductive to hide behind, “this is my reality, & that’s yours.” Let’s make a definite demarcation between reality & perception.
To be fair, this blog focuses mainly on how we perceive the unprovables. This means we need to acknowledge that certain things are real, & provable with a certain level of objectivity, & certain things just aren’t, & we can’t use one unprovable to disprove another unprovable (or to prove another unprovable, for that matter.) The argument between intelligent design (supernatural origin) & big bang (natural origin) springs to mind. Both sides, of that argument, seem to think they can prove their point (& thus disprove the other point,) yet neither can, but both can make compelling subjective arguments.
People should be able to back up their views, in order to keep dialogue & progressive thought moving. I’m not for a moment saying that scientific enquiry; logic; mathematics; history or any other form of enquiry are ever good enough on their own, or even together, but at least they provide a certain basis for having a reasonable discussion. In order for us to use them effectively, we need to understand their limitations first. “Scientists say…” isn’t really a valid argument if what the scientist is talking about isn’t scientific, that is, observable & testable. I’ll attempt to examine the shortfalls of some of these methods in future posts.
If you disagree, you’re welcome to, just argue against this: this post represents my reality, by virtue of the fact that it is my reality, it must be correct, even if your reality, which is diametrically opposed, is equally correct. Uhm – I know – it sounds like a silly argument to me too.