23 January 2017

My Philosophy

I've mucked about with names for the kind of philosophy that interests me. And I was thinking about this yesterday and posted this on Facebook:
As I have thought through various philosophical issues over the last couple of years, and in the face of being called "materialist" or "nihilist" by detractors, I've often wondered what kind of philosophy it is that I'm into. A one word label seems not to exist yet.
I thought I'd nailed with with "dialectical naturalism", but this has been used already. Though I would argue the label fits my ideas better than it does Murray Bookchin's. 
So, in a nutshell, my philosophy is 
substance/structure dialectical naturalist—collective empirical realist—existentialism
I'm tempted to squeeze "evolutionary" in their somewhere. And in case anyone is wondering I put Buddhism in the category of methodology, which hasn't made it into the main description. So the long version would be: 
Evolutionary—Buddhist—substance/structure dialectical naturalist—collective empirical realist—existentialism.
One of my friends called my bluff and asked me to explain what I meant in a few sentences. So, without any justification, this is what I mean:

There is one world, the natural world. There is no supernatural. The world exists completely independently of our minds. It came into existence some 13-14 billion years ago. It is made of one kind of stuff, but all the stuff we can experience is structured to present us with pervasive complexity beyond our ability to easily conceptualise. Our experience is much simpler than the world itself. Both stuff and structure are real. Our minds tend to understand reality as a whole/part dichotomy, because its difficult to focus on parts and wholes at the same time.

All existence is temporary, except perhaps for the universe taken as a whole, which began at some point, but may continue expanding indefinitely.

The apparent distinction between mental and physical phenomena is not real - because there is one world, with one kind of stuff, there is only one kind of phenomena. However stuff is structured and our senses register objects in different ways. Mind and body are just two perspectives on one kind of stuff made into complex objects.

Our senses produce sensations that are interpreted in our brain. There is no such thing as "direct experience". On our own, we are subject to many cognitive biases and thus inference from experience is frequently unreliable. We get around this by comparing notes. By critically comparing notes we can make accurate and precise inferences about the world. At present on the human scale of mass, length, and energy our inferences are more precise than our ability to measure them.

The world looks different at different scales of mass, length, and energy (something that only became clear with the advent of accurate optics in the 17th Century). At the very least this means that we have to use different descriptions appropriate to those levels. But it is likely that the world is actually different on different scales, since we can make accurate and precise inferences about how objects behave at most of the levels that exist - though at the far extremes our present theories break down. Humans live somewhere the middle of the stack of the levels. We completely understand the physics of this level.

Seeking knowledge we can study lower levels to gain knowledge of parts and ultimately the stuff the universe is made of. Or we can study higher levels to gain knowledge of structures and systems. Different methods apply in either direction. Neither direction is more real or less real.

Causation is not a feature of the most fundamental levels. The world simply evolves in a patterned way. But causation at the human scale of mass, length, and energy emerges as a real feature of the world. And our prototype for causation is our own willed actions, so animism is natural.

We have conscious states but no consciousness. Conscious states are an emergent property of states in the brain as a system. One property of conscious states is that we have a first person perspective on experience. We don't know how yet.

Many experiences can be interpreted as motivated by an invisible external conscious agency, or as affirming mind-body dualism. To naive individuals such things are certain. The conflict around such things is more fundamental that a split between science and religion. It is between scepticism and naivete, where naivete is the natural position for humans to take.

Social animals have evolved empathy and reciprocity, and it is out of social interactions of individuals who prioritise these qualities that morality emerges. As it happens evolution is partly a matter of divisions, divergence, and competition, but largely a matter of combinations, symbiosis, commonality, and cooperation.

The lack of a supernatural, eliminating all gods, all forms of afterlife, and all extensions of moral concepts like fairness or justice to the world, does not make life less meaningful (nihilism). It makes our one and only life more meaningful (existentialism). But is also a burden.

Morality is partly a set of dispositions to follow the rules of our groups; and partly a choice to do so. We lean towards being prosocial, but there can be incentives towards being antisocial - a lot depends on what level of society the individual feels the strongest connections. Our collective dispositions and choices make the world moral or immoral.

Civilisation has changed the social environment so much that we now require a whole new skill set to thrive and prosper. Buddhism provides a number of skills for working with our minds and creating community amongst unrelated, disparate individuals. However, Buddhism, being based on pre-modern ideas, is itself in need of radical transformation. In my opinion this includes adopting all of the propositions stated above and understanding the justifications for doing so.

Everything changes, everything is up for debate.

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