Philosophy of Language Reality and Human Development

I’ve begun to think about language in a sense that is to some extent, removed from culture and linguistics. There has been large amounts of thought produced on the role of language in philosophy (conveniently called The Philosophy of Language). I’ve started to peruse the writings of philosophers such as Wittgenstein, Cavell, Searle, and JL Austin and others who are proponents of what is known as Ordinary Language Philosophy. Much like the more famous Existentialists many of their views do not mix and match.

My readings of the those thoughts and works and my reading of the modern writing on these ideas at this point is very cursory, so much in fact that I’d rather not define any of their ideas here, what I will do is define my learning and thinking objectives and then touch on my thought and understanding of those objectives at this point before delving into the pool of intellectual knowledge that has preceded me.

My objectives as always involve the general human condition, and my attempts at answering questions about it through thought and study. My objectives are:

Learn and think about language and its relation to reality.
Learn and think about language and its role in human evolution and future human development.

The following is my understanding and thought about language in the context of the above objectives, mostly taken from my basic overview of Wittgenstein, although I’m sure it divulges quite a bit:

Language interacts with reality in a way other things and concepts cannot. Language defines reality, it gives it form and meaning. When objects and concepts have definition then logic kicks in and we’re able to develop ideas based on the things we can define (logic “kicking in” is a bit of a non sequitur that will have to be fleshed out later). For example: “That object is a four foot by six foot rectangle, therefore perhaps five foot by nine foot rectangles can also exist, even though I’ve never seen one.”

Since language has defined reality as it can be experienced by a human and has also defined some things nonexistent (like purple elephants), we have been able throughout human history build knowledge through the following linear explanation:

the apparent existence of reality > defining it with language > thinking about it with language > the passage of time

It’s knowledge of the world around us that has helped the overall development of the species, all facilitated first by the existence of reality as we know it and then by defining that idea with language.

A dog that is hungry and looking for food does not have any ideas, he is riding on instinct, he is interacting with his environment casually. He knows nothing of the idea of hunger, as we’ve defined it, or food, as it is defined by us, or how his food is processed or created.

Humans as a species have defined the concept of hunger, they’ve also defined the idea of a negative feeling, they realize not only through instinct, but also through simple logical reasoning that they need sustenance to quench their hunger, and as a population they’ve built a system of trade (imperfect as it may be at this point in the human journey) to be able to better facilitate avoiding that negative feeling.

This is were I stand now, I’m sure that I will hate this explanation later and either think it wrong, completely stupid or utterly simplistic, but we all have to start somewhere right? Thoughts? Comments on the subject? Don’t hesitate to start an argument, discussion, or thread of insults….

Matt Ridley Says Global Warming Won’t Be As Bad As We Think

Matt Ridley, atheist,accomplished science writer and banker on the government’s teat makes some unpopular remarks about global warming, not denial, but reasonable preparedness here.

These Things That Interest Me… Are Completely Absurd

This blog, as already mentioned elsewhere, is my tool for studying and discussing certain humanist ideas in order to bring myself to a point where I can defend or refute my position on certain topics. Now and in the future, I’m trying to be as objective,rational and logical as possible. Everything I’ll deal with here, will be dealt with with a skeptical eye (so climatologists please don’t get angry at me when I start on climate change). Skepticism in general seems to be a great tool to vet any idea.

With that said, this post is about two of my more abstract goals. I already maintain a blog about my life’s more practical short term/long term goals, but I felt a post like this belonged on this blog more than the others. The two goals I will start to discuss and form definitions here are:

1) to become completely faithless
2) to understand the human condition.

Both goals are unattainable, abstract messes, and both will need fleshing out, so let’s start now.

Being Faithless

This is not a goal that involves the belief in God specifically, as I mentioned before, most people in even the skeptical community (not necessarily the leaders and most popular bloggers/writers) have a lot of faith. Even Dawkins operates on a bit of faith, but it’s Dawkins’ convictions about God, that smallest sliver of faith, that I want to reach in all my studies and endeavors. Impossible right? Yeah, I know, but I’m mostly along for the ride anyway.

Working towards being faithless, means working towards comprehension and having an understanding that I’ve attained through my own reason and logic, to be challenged that reason and logic by others employing…their reason and logic! I’m not a big fan of just picking some source I like and sucking it down and making it my own opinion, I’ve caught myself doing that before, and I catch others doing it 99.9% of the the time. I however, prefer to work towards having no faith on any topic.

The Human Condition

This goal is perhaps more abstract than the previous, since what the “Human Condition” is, is in itself open for debate. I’ll start with a loose definition, that may be altered at some point, so how about:

the meaning of being a sentient creature in the universe we reside in.

You can see how this can shoot one way or the other, but this is why I maintain so many blogs (that I hope to be able to update often with content relevant to each blog soon), I am looking for that understanding of the human condition, first through myself and then through my relationships with others and thirdly through my education and reading. This one may be too abstract to be placed on a blog like this, but in general I plan to find out what the human condition is through, science, economics, the humanities (especially literature, language and philosophy), even to some extent religion. My main academic road will be exploring and discovering what the human condition is will come through my writing, through blogs like this, and through my own fiction.

My Weakness and Strength

My biggest strength is also my biggest weakness, it turns out I’m interested in everything. It pains me to say that I’ll have to pick one thing to try to become an expert in, and be an armchair expert in the others, but such is life in this culture, doesn’t mean I can’t try though right? Then to top it all off, I gotta deal with Absurdism..

Faith: The Obnoxious Word Part 2: Faith in the Humanist Communities and Why I’ll Stick With “Skeptic”

In Part 1: The Common Tirade, I waxed poetic about what many have waxed poetic about before. Go read it if you’d like. In Part 2, I’d like to delve a little deeper into the obnoxious word, beyond its meaning to most science circles as “religion”. We’re going to look at a more general meaning from and Merriam Webster:

-A belief that is not based on proof
-A strong or unshakable belief in something especially without proof or evidence.
-Allegiance or duty to a person.

How much “faith” is there in the skeptical, humanist and atheist community? I would say a lot. Now I’m not talking about Dawkins, Meyers, Hitchens, Dennet, or Harris. They are scientists writers, philosophers, who have through their experiences, thought, reading, education and experiments come to their conclusions. They are well vetted. What about the rest of us who’ve decided to take on one of these labels? What’s the difference between the new Christian that doesn’t really understand the Bible, but trusts his pastor and some of us, who don’t really understand the science, but just trust in the famous atheists, humanists, and scientists of today? A good number of us have just found refuge in the community and have taken a lot on a sort of faith that especially matches the second and third definitions above, or we basically have made the decision that the supernatural is extremely unlikely.

A lot of us would say that we had studied the evidence and that we had made informed decisions in direct opposition to those definitions above, and maybe it’s true. I still tend to agree with PZ Myers first line in this post:” Most of you don’t understand evolution” (You should continue on with the post, because he goes on to explain the basics in a beautiful concise style, that only inspires you to want to delve deeper into the subject. I sometimes wish PZ would start a separate science writing only blog, not that I think he should stop criticizing religion and culture on Pharyngula.)

In the above mentioned post, Myers mentions how most of his readers (a radical anti-religious bunch) either don’t understand evolution or have a very half-truth sort of understanding of it. Which means his followers (and there are many, he gets anywhere from 300 to 1000 comments on his posts and according to Google Reader he has 6600 subscribers) in his indirect view are relying on faith, or an allegiance to PZ Myers’ work and thought on the subject, or have a strong belief in evolution without knowing the evidence, or a faith that Dawkins, Gould, Myers ect really know what they’re talking about. Faith.

To some extent all of us in the community are guilty of this. I’m one of the few who admit it, and who are actively working and trying old school polymath style to understand the science (and the human condition in general, which goes beyond just science).

Whether right or wrong, or whether you like it or not, most of us are just like the new Christian that doesn’t really understand why they don’t sacrifice animals to God anymore like they read in Leviticus. We have faith that our side is right, because of some good persuasive writing by people who have done the leg work and come to their more humanist conclusions. This is the main reason why I like to refer to myself and probably always will refer to myself as a skeptic.

Should we be more like crazy ranting high school kids or should we be more like the people who post on Research Blogs?

Faith: The Obnoxious Word Part 1: The Common Tirade

‘Faith’ is that annoying thing that most in the skeptical, atheist and secular humanist communities seem to despise.  Most of them say, and I believe they’re right, that faith isn’t backed by evidence, and has a history of making people do stupid things like start wars and commit genocide and since we as human beings have based our lives and actions on something as irrational as faith we have to live in a culture where creationists spit on science, where churches go untaxed but no one else does, where some of these people of ‘faith’ want to acquire nuclear weapons in order to use them, all in the name of the ancient stories they believe.  All based on crazy, irrational, life-threatening faith.

I agree.

Well at least that’s where I lean.  Science is much more rational.  All truth is measured against the scientific method, theories and hypotheses all must eventually be tested in peer reviewed experiments, or at least like in the case of the ‘theory of gravity’ be more or less unprovable, but have complex data sets that support their existence, like using said data for atmospheric shuttle craft reentry or as a pretty damn good explanation for why the Earth circles around the sun.  Science is rational because it admits when it’s wrong, most scientists would love to be the one to prove some generally accepted theory wrong.  Religion on the other hand is filled with people who believe something, then start to try to justify that belief in the natural world.  John Lennox in his debate with Christopher Hitchens, tried to justify the fact that miracles do not break the laws of nature because God “feeds in an event”. Mr Lennox decides not to respond when Hitchens playing with Hume’s words says (paraphrased): “2000 years ago, what is more likely to have happened, the whole natural order for a couple of minutes is suspended to impregnate a virgin, or a young Jewish girl told a fib?” Apparently to a mind like Mr. Lennox’s God feeding in an event is more rational and is what happened.

There’s one side that is very rational, but admittedly does require an amount of faith, especially if you advocate one viewpoint over another for example loop quantum gravity versus string theory. Don’t ask me by the way which I advocate, looking into things like that is why I started this blog. The other side of the coin requires massive amounts of faith, then requires you to work backward in order to find evidence for its claims, and when there is no evidence it falls back on faith and says you’ll burn in hell forever if you don’t believe.

Rationality VERSUS Irrational Faith

The search for truth for the sake of truth VERSUS Trying to justify ancient traditions as truth

A love for Earth, humanity, life and knowledge VERSUS A stronger love for an unprovable afterlife

Part 2 coming soon: Is there too much faith in secular circles though?

The God Delusion Best Most Interesting Review Ever!


Recently and ironically “The God Delusion” has become the bible of the atheist communities on the internet and around the world   Richard Dawkins, in the same metaphorical manner, has become that movements messiah, bringing in the good news:  You don’t need religion and God almost certainly does not exist.”  I hesitate to use the word “conversion”, but the point of the book is to convert you, to change your mind to make you an atheist.  He writes a very entertaining book that touches on social issues, history, philosophy, logic and of course science.  Science, no surprise, is the area done best in the book.

If I were to judge the book solely on how much it entertained me, how well it was written and how interesting it was to jump from modality to modality (social issues to philosophy to science and back to social issues), whether or not it was in the context of atheism, I’d give the book a big fat A+.  It was a very entertaining read.  He was able to explain difficult concepts in an easy to understand concise language.

Judging his work based on how well it accomplishes its objective, which is to create atheists, then it gets a more mediocre grade.  The work is more likely to change the mind of a person on the fence, or someone that was on the way to calling themselves an atheist.  The work is certainly strong enough to get them.  The more religious readers that picked the book up would have already made their decisions before starting page one, a lot like Dawkins I would imagine if he sat down with a bible tract.

The main problem with the book acting as a conversion piece, is that it is too rational.  Most people, when it concerns religion, don’t care to hear about anything rational.  Since the piece isn’t propagandistic in nature it won’t change the minds of anyone reasonable, the religious need slogans and one liners, Dawkins provides very few (one good one is: We’re all atheists, you don’t believe in Allah or Zeus either, I just go one god farther).  Something Dawkins should have been more careful with for a book meant to convert, are some of the polls he cited, that weren’t scientific (some were just internet polls) and he also more than once assumed what an unfinished study would produce.  These things are not good science and certainly have no place in a book that is going to be scoured for any mistakes that could possibly discredit him.

My final impression is that the book isn’t really for changing minds, but a book for other atheists and to a lesser extent humanists and skeptics in order to give them a common ground for discussion on the topic of the existence of the supernatural. It’s had a major effect on today’s culture and on the fight between religion and science, therefore it’s a must read, but thank… natural selection? god? that it’s a fun read.

My Exploration Begins

Before everything, I am a writer and a reader, these two things fuel all my curiosity and most of my free time, since I (attempt to) sustain a number of other blogs with various subject matters.  At some point my reading interests have lead me to a number of science related authors, blogs and podcasts.  Once the curiosity rat in my head starts running on his wheel, it’s hard to stop him.

This blog is going to be about my learning and discovery of science related topics.  I am without a doubt an untrained, armchair scientist.  This blog is to chronicle my discovery, my ‘at the moment’ opinions, and some of my reactions to science news and other science blogs.  I love knowledge, discovery, and debate and hope to host all of that here.