Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Posts Tagged ‘Life’

An Odd Addiction

Posted by Jerry on July 1, 2008

In general, we humans no longer perform back-breaking work in farms, for example; nor do we run on our two feet–with a spear in hand–chasing prey. As a species, we have removed ourselves far away from the direct tasks of survival. We have moved into the phase of flourishment–or survival qua man; i.e., living as appropriate not to “man the animal” but “man the rational animal.”

Actually, it is more accurate to say that the best and brightest among us have ushered the phase of survival qua man for the rest of us humans. Human civilization progresses in the wake of these men of brilliance.

Today, a few taps on the keyboard, a few meetings in plush boardrooms, and a little ride to a high-rise office building ensures our “survival”–it deposits a fat check in our bank accounts. Of course, the leading motive behind all activity today is a sophisticated body of knowledge acquired by our minds. The point is, although reason was always our basic tool of survival, in today’s information age, reason has come to the fore as our most directly used tool of survival.

Reason–like all tools–has to be sharpened, developed, nurtured, and honed over time with repeated use, learning, and development.

When primitive man had to use his physical prowess to chase and kill his prey, he had to ensure that his body was fit for the purpose. Today, we don’t need to use our bodies in such physically demanding roles anymore. Our meat does not come warm, bloody, and fresh after a kill, but cold, frozen, and wrapped after days in transit. Today, we hardly think of our meals as necessary nourishment that sustains our body but as delectable pleasures to please our whimsical palate for the day.

Thus, although we have adapted our minds quickly enough to respond and act effectively in this new age, our bodies–slaves to the sluggish mechanisms of evolution–continue to remain in the state in which our hunting-nomadic ancestors were.

Therefore, I would assume that some level of physical activity–either through sports, dance, or light fitness workouts–are important routines to incorporate into our modern lives. I find it strange that someone would call physical activity “addictive.” This was exactly my reaction when–over the past weekend–someone told me that going to the gym is an “addiction.”

My mind thought: that’s like saying eating is an addiction. And indeed, while gluttony is unrelated to my thoughts, eating is an activity we indulge in very often every day! And never do we think that we are addicted to eating! Likewise, while steroid-induced body-building is unrelated to my thoughts, ensuring that you incorporate a certain level of physical activity on a daily basis is fairly essential to a healthy body in our modern lifestyle. To call this addictive is tantamount to saying that walking is addictive.

There is a rational approach to everything. And then, in corollary, there is an irrational approach that one can adopt towards anything. Like food, fitness and health can be approached either rationally–in which case, you can project how your activity aligns with your goal for a healthy life in the context of the reality you are surrounded in; or irrationally–in which case, you either ignore all needs for physical activity, become indiscriminate about your eating habits, or go overboard in body-building well beyond the reasonable needs of a healthy body.

Thus, to say the least, it is odd to disparagingly call a daily routine of physical fitness an addiction. Quite the opposite, it is a volitional and properly rational act done in the full pursuit of survival qua man. And this is not just my philosophical musings on the subject; I am confident that even medical doctors share the same opinion.

Posted in General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Personal, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Consistent Irrationality

Posted by Jerry on March 28, 2008

Most people function on a mix of rational and irrational ideas in their lives. There are only two ways you can survive: either you be consistently rational and act accordingly or you allow for instances of irrationality and hope that you will luckily escape the consequences of it or have someone else (usually, the government or rational neighbors) bail you out from the mess of your own creation.

It is only the human mind that can harbor contradictions, because it has free will—and since external reality does not permit such a mix of contradictions, the extent to which a person functions on irrationalities and contradiction, to that extent he is at war with reality.

Religion is fundamentally irrational. To the extent that you practice your religion consistently, it won’t be long before you either seriously or fatally harm yourself or someone else. It is the inescapable nature of reality. Here are just a couple of examples that highlight this principle manifesting in reality (from John Enright’s blog):

An eleven-year old girl is dead because her parents refused to take her to the doctor for a treatable condition. Instead, they chose to pray to god for a healing to occur. When, miraculously, no healing occured, and the child’s condition worsened over 30 days until she eventually succumbed to her death, her parents said that they did not pray with enough faith. Not to accept defeat in their battle against reality, the girl’s mother has now vowed to pray for her daughter’s resurrection:

An 11-year-old girl died after her parents prayed for healing rather than seek medical help for a treatable form of diabetes, police said Tuesday.

Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said Madeline Neumann died Sunday in Weston, just outside Wausau.

“She got sicker and sicker until she was dead,” he said.

Vergin said an autopsy determined the girl died from diabetic ketoacidosis, an ailment that left her with too little insulin in her body, and she had probably been ill for about 30 days, suffering symptoms like nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness.

The girl’s parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, attributed the death to “apparently they didn’t have enough faith,” the police chief said.

They believed the key to healing “was it was better to keep praying. Call more people to help pray,” he said.

The mother believes the girl could still be resurrected, the police chief said.

A very troubling aspect of this story is that the government’s child services division apparently finds nothing alarming about these parents’ behavior and its implications to their three other daughters. The dead child–whose death was directly caused by the faith and irrationality of her parents–has three siblings between the ages of 13 and 16.

The girl has three siblings, ranging in age from 13 to 16, the police chief said.

“They are still in the home,” he said. “There is no reason to remove them. There is no abuse or signs of abuse that we can see.”

In another account of a battle against reality, a father allegedly placed his infant baby in a microwave oven to burn; his wife explains that her husband was under the influence of Satan, who had taken advantage of a “weak moment.” Through some means, the wife acquired the knowledge that Satan was angry at her husband for choosing to become a Christian preacher. Therefore, Satan compelled her husband to put their infant child in the microwave, shut the door, turn it on, and watch as the baby suffered serious burns.

The wife of this demon-haunted man, however, does admit to an interesting fact:

Mauldin said her husband had a mental disability and her efforts to get him help have failed.

Those who claim that religion is not something to be made fun of are correct in one sense. Religion cannot be taken so lightly as to be made fun of; know that the believers are not taking their religion lightly–and to the degree that they are not, we shouldn’t either, because life hangs in the balance. Religion should be criticized, denounded, and condemned as strongly as the practitioners who practice it hold their faith.

The pernicious death-premise of religion is hardly recognized by even most secular folks and atheists. While the secularists and atheists are content with rejecting religious beliefs, many of them often acknowledge that some people need religion and that religion can certainly provide a path to a virtuous and moral lifestyle. Indeed, many atheists share the same moral code that religion prescribes! Religion is seen as a guide to virtuous living that can be secularized, which is the insidious nature of this form of irrationality—it hides under the garb of universal virtue. 

A majority of people in the world (including many atheists) consider only religious people to be some of the most virtuous people on this planet. Think Teresa of Calcutta. How many people believe that Teresa was lacking in any significant moral virtue? I’d venture to say—very few. How many think she was downright evil?

Do you see my point? 

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UPDATE: Yahoo! News and the Associated Press have just posted a more detailed account of the 11-year old girl’s death, including interviews with the parents and some relatives. Here are some of the details missing from the original link I posted in my article above:

An autopsy showed Madeline Neumann died Sunday of diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition that left too little insulin in her body, Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said.

She had probably been ill for about a month, suffering symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness, the chief said Wednesday, noting that he expects to complete the investigation by Friday and forward the results to the district attorney.

The girl’s mother, Leilani Neumann, said that she and her family believe in the Bible and that healing comes from God, but that they do not belong to an organized religion or faith, are not fanatics and have nothing against doctors.

She insisted her youngest child, a wiry girl known to wear her straight brown hair in a ponytail, was in good health until recently.

“We just noticed a tiredness within the past two weeks,” she said Wednesday. “And then just the day before and that day (she died), it suddenly just went to a more serious situation. We stayed fast in prayer then. We believed that she would recover. We saw signs that to us, it looked like she was recovering.”

Her daughter — who hadn’t seen a doctor since she got some shots as a 3-year-old, according to Vergin — had no fever and there was warmth in her body, she said.

The girl’s father, Dale Neumann, a former police officer, said he started CPR “as soon as the breath of life left” his daughter’s body.

Family members elsewhere called authorities to seek help for the girl.

“My sister-in-law, she’s very religious, she believes in faith instead of doctors …,” the girl’s aunt told a sheriff’s dispatcher Sunday afternoon in a call from California. “And she called my mother-in-law today … and she explained to us that she believes her daughter’s in a coma now and she’s relying on faith.”

The dispatcher got more information from the caller and asked whether an ambulance should be sent.

“Please,” the woman replied. “I mean, she’s refusing. She’s going to fight it. … We’ve been trying to get her to take her to the hospital for a week, a few days now.”

The aunt called back with more information on the family’s location, emergency logs show. Family friends also made a 911 call from the home. Police and paramedics arrived within minutes and immediately called for an ambulance that took her to a hospital.

But less than an hour after authorities reached the home, Madeline — a bright student who left public school for home schooling this semester — was declared dead.

She is survived by her parents and three older siblings.

“We are remaining strong for our children,” Leilani Neumann said. “Only our faith in God is giving us strength at this time.”

The Neumanns said they moved from California to a modern, middle-class home in woodsy Weston, just outside Wassau in central Wisconsin, about two years ago to open a coffee shop and be closer to other relatives. A basketball hoop is set up in the driveway.

Leilani Neumann said she and her husband are not worried about the investigation because “our lives are in God’s hands. We know we did not do anything criminal. We know we did the best for our daughter we knew how to do.”

Posted in Atheism, Culture, Objectivism, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Past a Quarter Century Plus One

Posted by Jerry on January 22, 2008

Go to fullsize imageWell, I’ve successfully lived 26 years on this planet today. Crazy, no?

Here’s a neat list of what some other people accomplished when they turned 26 [link from Paul at Noodlefood]:

At age 26:

American anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote her famous dissertation, Coming of Age in Samoa, which claimed that in some societies adolescence is not a particularly difficult time.

Albert Einstein published five major research papers in a German physics jornal, fundamentally changing man’s view of the universe and leading to such inventions as television and the atomic bomb.

Benjamin Franklin published the first edition of Poor Richard’s Almanac, which was to play a large role in molding the diverse American character.

Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Chereshkova became the first woman to travel in space.

College dropout Steve Wozniak co-founded Apple Computer. [Woah!]

Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, revolutionizing the economies of the United States and Britain.

Antoine Joseph Sax invented the brass saxophone.

“Johnny Appleseed” brought apple seeds to the Ohio Valley.

Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Italy.

Gon Yangling memorized more than 15,000 telephone numbers in Harbin, China.

Orion Krynen of Denver, CO reached this age without much incident. [Heheheeeehee. Kinda like how I feel. 🙂]

British ethologist Jane Goodall set up camp in the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve on Lake Tanganyika and began studying the lives of chimpanzees.

Ken Kesey published his first novel, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Thomas Pynchon published V., for which he won the William Faulkner First Novel Award.

Kirsteene Luhrmann of Melburne, Victoria quit smoking. [Nothing for me to worry about]

Stephen Breen from Dublin, Ireland found this site.

Darren Blackburn became the first and only athlete of the Principality of Sealand, despite being somewhat lacking in athletic ability.

Syd Jesus co-founded the dUdU Art Collective in Oakland, California and turned an entire warehouse space into a conceptual art piece entitled “The $5000 Gallery.”

Matthew Royer took a dog for a walk every day of the year in Minnesota, with a coldest daytime high of 0 degrees F. The average walk time was 30 minutes.

Derrick Pallas was horrified to realize he was losing his hair, just like Dad. 🙂 [Gawd, I identify with Derrick!]

Jan Birkeland from Norway managed to get to work without hitting a single red light.

Katherine Blauvelt in a skirt was deemed “all grown-up” by her boyfriend. 🙂

Kristen finally was able to get her fingernails to grow without chipping and peeling because she started taking a multi-vitamin on a daily basis.

Angie Olson got so drunk on her 26th birthday, her friends were able to dress her up as a clown. 🙂

Posted in General Work/Life, Personal, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments »

Why Choose to Live?

Posted by Jerry on August 8, 2007

In the ensuing discussion on Ayn Rand on a liberal blog that I linked to in my previous post, a commentor–apparently sympathetic to Objectivism–made the following remark:

There is nothing that I’ve read in Objectivist literature that suggests that the philosophy dictates that one ought to *want* to live; the philosophy begins after that fact has been decided by the individual. The choice to live is prior to any philosophy (could one “love wisdom”, but not want to live?). But in particular, Objectivism is explicitly a philosophy for living life.

I think this issue needs to be clarified: is Objectivism fundamentally based on an arbitrary injunction to live? Is there no normative injunction to choose life and not choose death? Is the choice to live, arbitrary? If Objectivism is fundamentally based on a choice that is simply arbitary, then doesn’t that bring the entire edifice of Objectivist ethical theory crumbling to the ground?

To my knowledge, this criticism of Objectivism was first raised by the philosopher Robert Nozick in his book Socratic Puzzles. In Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Dr. Leonard Peikoff discusses this matter very briefly, concluding that the choice to live is indeed a premoral choice, in that moral evaluation can only function within the domain and context provided by life as the standard.

Another commentor responded to the abovementioned quote as follows:

I believe this pre-moral chioce [sic] is quite wrong for two other reasons:

1) What does the choice to live really mean? Is it the chioce to live as long as possible? Is it the choice not to commit immediate suicide? Is it the choice to carry on as usual? This choice is simply far too vague to yield such a specific set of conclusions as the tenets of Objectivism. It’s like saying that if you want a car, then you have commited yourself to a Toyota.

2) Men have reasons to pursue their existence, that is, there are ends in themselfs that makes life worth living. Thus, the choice to live can be conditioned by the particular reasons people have for pursuing their existence. If morality is dependent on the chioce to live it is also dependant on the reasons people have for making this choice. Thus those reasons (be it becoming a dictator or what have you) are outside any moral or rational evaluation. What is left is pure subjectivism, with as many moralities as reasons for living.

I felt that since even people sympathetic to Objectivism can be confused about this most fundamental and crucial of issues, it is important to examine and explore the fundamental basis of Objectivist morality. What follows is entirely my own understanding of Objectivism, not an exact account of Ayn Rand, although I believe it best captures her intent.

In response to FO:

It is a contradiction to first state that man can make choices in life that make life worth living, and then give an example of such a choice as “becoming a dictator or what have you.” The contradiction is in the fact that choices that make life worth living have to also be consonant with the requirements of life, i.e., life-sustaining or life-supporting.

The agent of action here is an individual, conscious, living being faced with choosing an option that will make his continued survival worth it. Choosing an objectively life-negating option (or at the widest, an option that is not consonant with life-sustenance) undercuts his primary motive of deriving a value from that choice which is supposed to make his continued survival of some worth.

In other words, choosing an objectively life-negating act existentially and factually undercuts (or acts against) his desire to continue living–whether he is aware of this effect of his choice or not.

The requirements of continued survival imposes certain necessary and objective decisions upon the individual; of course, the whole point of ethical theories is to guide the individual towards making choices that are consonant with life-sustaining requirements, thus allowing him to pursue his desire to continue living and acquire values that make living worth it for him.

FO, I argue that the choice to live is actually not pre-moral in the sense that it occurs at some point along a chronological chain of choices. It is a metaphysically given fact that we are living beings–we live from the moment we are born, and this is not a matter of our choice. This is a metaphysically given fact. The ethical choice to continue living and pursue life is a choice that is implicit in the ethical nature and sum of all and every other choices we make in our lives as we go on about our daily lives. This implicit choice to live (or not) is internal to (and made in) every other choice we make in life.

It is this implicit ethical nature of the sum of our choices that need to be brought to the realm of explicit moral evaluation, which can then be scrutinized in accordance to moral theories and standards of evaluation. Rand pointed this out by stating that life qua man’s life is a *standard* of evaluating the moral status of our choices and values.

This does not mean that the choice to live is amoral or is made at some actual moment in our lives–although one can give it explicit, verbal form–but that the choice to live (or not) is implicitly made at every juncture of our daily activities–in our pursuit of values–and is implicit in the ethical nature of those activities; moreover, by making our individual daily choices, we are thereby–inescapably–either upholding the choice to live or the choice to die in the kind of values we choose to pursue. Thus, in a sense, our daily activities, pursuits, goals, values, and choices are various forms of realizing the same implicit choice to live or the choice to die; often, we are even explicitly aware of this fact.

Therefore, if the choice to live or die is indeed a choice that has a moral status, then what is the answer to the question “Why ought we to choose to live?” Or, “Why should we choose to live?” Observe that the question is seeking an answer that needs to lie somewhere outside of the system of life; in other words, the answer should be external to the conceptually hierarchical system of morality and values. Just as existence cannot be evaluated by reference to a standard outside or beyond existence, life cannot be evaluated by reference to a standard outside or beyond itself. Life itself gives meaning to evaluation by providing both a context and a standard.

The logical error being committed, therefore, by raising the question is that of the stolen concept: concepts such as morality, values, and choices are logically dependent upon–and internally related to–the concept of life. One cannot derive morality and values outside of the domain of life. Chairs and tables neither can have morals nor a need for them.

It is only because we have life that the need for a system of morality and values arises. We must realize that the choice to live is internal and inextricable to the morality of the rest of our choices and values, which means it lends meaning to the rest of our choices and values.

Just as it would be a logical fallacy to steal the concept of “cause” out of its logical hierarchy by asking “What caused existence?,” it is a fallacy to steal the concept of “ought” (a normative concept of morality) by asking “Why ought we to choose life?”

[Edit: Some significant edits to enhance the clarity of ideas, and included a reference to Dr. Peikoff’s discussion of this matter in OPAR]

Posted in Ayn Rand, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 37 Comments »

Understanding Human Existence

Posted by Jerry on June 17, 2005

Merely having life and therefore existing should not be a cause for much awe and wonder. Though it definitely is a valuable thing – to have life, there is something immensely more valuable than living: Being radiantly aware of your life.

What is having life? Animals have it. Even plants have life. Animals and plants live. We are a kind of animal. And as such, we can exist as mere animals, living our life away, simply waiting for life to pass because that is what animals do. Or we can live life like humans ought to. As Ayn Rand said: “Living life is not the same thing as avoiding death.”

Just the mere act of breathing and living is not worthy of much praise. Dogs do that, and the trees do that. The scientific definition of death is not just the stopping of the heart, but also the ceasing of the brain waves. Technically, a human being could survive with just a beating heart and no brain activity. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there are millions on this earth who are doing just that: living as creatures that breath and have beating hearts.

The difference worthy of all awe, wonder, and praise is the witness of that human being who not only demonstrates a clear evidence of life, but also a celebration of that awareness of his life — manifested in his actions, movements, reflections, pursuits, and achievements. The awareness of life by the faculty of self-consciousness is only possible to humans, not to any other creature on this earth, and therefore it differentiates a self-aware and thinking human from any other creature (human or animal).

It is only proper for humans to think. To use his faculty of thinking and intelligence to realize his experience of living. Anything less is not good enough.

Posted in General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Personal, Philosophy, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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