Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Had we but world enough, and time...

Androo and I were watching Solaris a few months ago and got to talking afterwards about the nature of identity. Is a person based on someone else's memories of you, you? Nah, we agreed. But they are still a perfectly valid person. Is a person based on your memories of you, you? I didn't think so. I used to be comforted by the thought that my memories were all inerrantly 'backed up', so to speak, in the mind of God, and that whatever happened to the print (me) the negatives were still safe. But I don't know anymore. It just suddenly struck me one day that without continuity looking forward, I didn't care about continuity looking backward. If you run off a thousand prints, are they me? Nah. From the moment they open their eyes, they are newbies who happen to share my memories, since I- existing now- cannot trace a path forward to any one of them in particular. Does that make sense? Probably not.

Something like 99.99% of my memories are lost forever in the fog, which means one could conservatively slice out another ten thousand or so individuals from my experiences. By selecting those memories correctly, I am sure you could put together people with completely different opinions. Would they be me? Nah. I think those memories must be less important for what they are- the raw sensory data for life, embarassing dross, trivial offal- than for what they create: the unique time dependent worldview that I am clinging to now, like a rope across the abyss. Someone who shares my worldview is more important to me than someone who shares my memory. After I am gone there will be plenty of people who share the same sort of rather uninteresting memories that I have, and rather than having someone who shared the particularly mind-numbingly dull minutiae of my life I would much much prefer someone who thought the same way about the universe as I had. Androo pointed out that there was a Greg Egan story with exactly that theme, which of course there is. Greg Egan is way cool, except for his occasional pandering to wanky New Age interpretations of quantum mechanics.

There is a Chesterton quote that I don't have on me at the moment, and since Chesterton himself was notoriously famous for refusing to look things up, I will wing it. The gist of it is: 'what a person thinks about the universe is the most interesting thing about them.'

Which brings me to Marco's response to my inquiry (viz., "Who is this God person anyway?"): "I am extremely coy about my own spiritual beliefs, and I guess that is an important part of what I believe."

If not revealing your beliefs is an important part of what you believe, the implication is that what you believe about the universe is not important to any other person, hence, there is no objective reality. Don't you believe in an objective reality, Marco my old pal? Please say you are not a solipsistic prat!


Marco said...

Well... I looked up solipsistic in the dictionary, not really knowing the implication, and no; it doesn't describe me. I do realise that what I believe is important to other people. I do also believe in an objective reality - I think I'm just being a tad mischievous because I hate being pigeon-holed. I was terrified of looking up solipsistic just because of the possibility of it describing me too well. I don't like my views being too associated with any political party or mainstream religion - however, I may from time to time stand up for a party's view - I also backed a few of the things the Uniting Church was changing while most members around me were mutining. I am relishing the freedom of believing what I believe, and not being in any hurry to clarify the things I am not sure of. I think I can challenge widely held notions more effectively if I'm not associated with any group in general.

Marco said...

I don't know maybe I can try to be less mischievous:
Say when Dave says something like:

"It's the universe, taunting me like a bored housecat"

In my head it's an equivalent statement to "It's God , taunting me like a housecat"

When I read the statement "In God we trust", to me it's equivalent to saying "We sure as hell can't trust anybody here on Earth".

Marco said...

Maybe if I keep typing you might get a feel for what I believe. I often hear in Christian circles about the "mysteries of God" - well, I certainly believe the Universe is mysterious and I can call God the universe just as surely as anybody else. I think it nonsensical to "believe" in something so mysterious. For me it is paramount to a contradiction. However I am so used to the way God is interpreted in Christian conversations, that I sense when it is appropriate to use the term. Of course, most people that know me think that I'm extremely hypocritical. I sometimes find myself correcting non-christians (in my head)when they mention fate or the Universe - "You should have used the word 'God' there" To me Pagans and zealous theologians are often saying exactly the same thing in a different language. I also believe atheism to be one of the "weakest" religions. Even when it had state support in USSR it was self defeating.

Marco said...

That brings me to my world view on religions and countries. I view world religions are basically undergoing evolution, where each denomination is a "species", some undergoing gradual genetic change. I guess there is some survival of the fittest going on where some will prosper in certain environments. Some may well become extinct, some will compete vigorously, others will ignore one another, but overall you will see which ones are successful. Countries are also undergoing a parallel evolution. In my world view, separation of church and state is necessary so that they can adapt independently to their respective environments. This world view of mine does not lend itself to believing that one or another of these religions is the "true" one. I perhaps would like to associate myself with "successful" denominations and countries and even open myself to their vision of the truth. I guess that's a more than a little bit arbitrary and selfish view on life. What I probably share with a solipsistic is the lack of an "absolute" reality (for the moment) in my vision, and a selfish obsession with my own views on the world.

Marco said...

As usual any creative thought has already been thought of independently and posted on the web. This site, Evolution of religions, explains in detail my independently realised theory about religions, including the bit about separation of church and state. It would be kind of ironic for a creationist christian to believe in the evolution of religions.

Dave said...

Sorry, don't really have time to comment this morning, despite this being a discussion I could really enjoy sinking teeth into, but I had to mention that when I say something like "It's the universe taunting me" I'm clearly anthropomorphising in a vulgar, Lovelockian fashion.

I really don't believe in God, or more accurately, I have no interest and place no great importance in His existence*. If someone were to prove His existence, I would be interested to the point of saying 'Hmm. That's cool. Way to Be, God!' but I would like to think it would not markedly change my already-happily-self-regulated behaviour or my propects for ongoing postlife existence.


* The capitals are just good manners, you understand.

Marco said...

If I can remember back to when I used God in a posting, generally if I use it in an argument I am assuming belief in the same monotheistic God Christians, Muslims and Jews do (partly for the benefit of argument, partly wishful thinking that he'll punish the guilty whether I believe in him or not) I'm not sure if I'm just being hypocritical or whether I make sense at all. I will often make arguments against atheists/agnostics of the benefits of religion and why I think it better for my kids to be christian than atheist even if it is dubious that I believe what I want them to believe. I don't quite buy into supernatural claims of any of the major religions, but I don't suppress these kinds of claims just because I believe them to be false, or at least exaggerations. I do believe in certain concepts in the bible - such as loving your enemy, hating their sin not hating them. So often I see the Christians around me failing to grasp these concepts of their faith in day to day life.