Nowhere Man: You Don’t Know What You’re Missing

A blogger, named “Nowhere Man”, has a website (Wanton Soul) with which he’s been chronicling his first attempt to read the Bible. He appears to be skeptical of the Bible and religion but is giving them a shot anyway.

In a recent reply to a friendly and encouraging comment from an unregistered visitor, Nowhere Man said “What a beautiful thing to say. I wish that they were true about me. But I’m really not that great of a person. Something you all will find out with time I’m sure. But thank you for the kind words, Sweethart.” He had previously claimed he wasn’t a very good person, so when he repeated that claim, I responded with the following [edited] post . . .

Okay, Wanton Soul, you’re a degenerate.

We all have issues to work through. It’s called maturing . . . the human condition . . . life. Perhaps you have more issues than most . . . who knows? The point is: you can’t work on something until you acknowledge it (as you have done) in the first place. Just being aware of what you need to do is a step in the right direction.

I’m not sure what “really not that great of a person” entails but as long as it doesn’t involve hurting other people, I think that your future looks bright. At the very least, if you’re mindful of your faults, life will present you with a series of learning opportunities that will lead to greater insight and change for the better.

If you’re a murderer, rapist, molester, arsonist, thief, fraud, etc. . . . or suffer from an obsessive-compulsive disorder . . . then you probably don’t want to take the passive route to reform. You would, in that case, be best served by seeking out competent, professional, help: maybe medication or therapy or something more drastic.

If you’re merely an asshole, then welcome to the club. Everybody feels that way, to varying degrees, from time to time. Even Christians. Hypocrisy is inescapable. Do you need God or religion to improve yourself? Definitely not – unless you prefer to improve yourself through fear and guilt.

Personally, I believe that loving and caring for others (friends, family, partner) is positively transformative or can be if you want it to be. If you have nobody close to you, you can derive the benefits of love and caring by performing acts of love and caring. I’m speaking of charitable works: helping strangers. If you want to feel better, do better. If you want to be good, do good.

I remember being in Tijuana with my family. We were simply wasting money on cheap stuff we didn’t need. A little girl, selling packets of Chicklets from a box, passed by and we bought some from her. I looked at my family and I said, “You know what guys? This is ridiculous. Look at this crap we bought. We could feed a local family for months with the money we’ve just wasted. How would you guys like to take the rest of our spending money, change it to one dollar bills and start handing it out to these poor kids?”

My kids’ (James and Jasmine) faces lit up and even my wife was enthused by the idea. I cautioned them that we didn’t want to cause too much of a scene, so we decided to just walk back to the border and hand out the money to the kids as we went along.

Although we feel really good about that experience and it provides us with lasting memories of happy faces; it didn’t really do much to change the lives of those children. Nor was it something we could do on a daily basis. It might not be the best example for you but it gives you an idea of how simple it is to be a loving, caring, person. All you have to do is love and care. Whether it’s friends, family or strangers; you grow, personally, when you love them.

And you don’t need God for that.

If Nowhere Man took his name from the Beatles’ song (Rubber Soul album, 1966), then maybe he identifies with the lyrics. I append the lyrics here just for the heck of it . .  .

He’s a real nowhere man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.

Doesn’t have a point of view,
Knows not where he’s going to,
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?

Nowhere Man please listen,
You don’t know what you’re missing,
Nowhere Man, the world is at your command!

He’s as blind as he can be,
Just sees what he wants to see,
Nowhere Man can you see me at all?

Nowhere Man, don’t worry,
Take your time, don’t hurry,
Leave it all till somebody else lends you a hand!

Doesn’t have a point of view,
Knows not where he’s going to,
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?

Nowhere Man please listen,
You don’t know what you’re missing
Nowhere Man, the world is at your command!

He’s a real Nowhere Man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.

Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody!

© Copyright 2012


Kony 2012: The World’s Most Wanted Man

Joseph Kony is a despicable excuse for a human being. He has abducted tens of thousands of children in Uganda. He forces the boys to become killers and the girls to become sex slaves. He even forces the boys to kill their own parents. And he’s been doing it for over a quarter of a century.

KONY 2012 is a film and campaign by Invisible Children that aims to make Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.

The U.S. has sent an advisory team of 100 military experts to Uganda to train and assist Ugandan soldiers to capture Kony and bring him to justice. But if public interest in his capture wanes, so will government support. Help Invisible Children realize their dream by making Kony the most famous monster in the world. Tell others about this video and the Kony 2012 website.

Explaining Purpose

In discussions about self-determinism, some hard determinists dismissively parade opinion as fact. Their conviction trumps their rational integrity. We all need to be mindful that just about everything to do with free will and determinism is, thus far, a matter of opinion.

Almost 400 years ago, René Descartes claimed that, unlike the human body, the mind has no physical properties or spatial dimension: thus it can not be examined in the same way as the physical body. Today, we think of self-aware human consciousness as an emergent property of the brain but we still don’t know how or why it emerges.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, without access to media of any kind, you’ve probably noticed increasing numbers of news stories about consciousness and its associated properties (like intelligence and free will). The neurosciences have taken an interest in what was, until recently, a philosopher’s pastime.

Thanks to modern imaging technologies like fMRI and CAT scans, scientists now have ways to observe certain limited kinds of brain activity without having to open the skull of a living person. Although cleverly designed experiments have led to many theories about consciousness, new facts have been slow in coming.

Given the near-total mystery of consciousness, it is foolish to think we know much about its many properties, such as: self-awareness, intelligence and decision-making. No matter what your position on “free will”, it consists mostly of conjecture. The point being that almost everything about consciousness is a matter of opinion. Anybody claiming to know the answers is, in fact, confusing opinion with knowledge.

As I’ve tried to convey in the past, I believe that self-determinism offers an explanation for how we make choices and pursue purpose in a mechanistic, deterministic, universe. The key points of self-determinism address the usual objections of hard determinists. In the list, below, I first cite the hard determinist’s objection, then follow it (in parentheses) with self-determinism’s answer . . .

  • Causality means the inexorable cascade of all events is inevitable. (Not so! Animate beings and inanimate matter have different modes of response to causality. The law of causality: “Every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause” does not dictate a single, monolithic, mode of response — nor a single potential future for animate beings.)
  • Because all events are inevitable, free will is an illusion. (That’s a false dichotomy assuming a single mode of response to causality. There are other alternatives such as dynamic, intelligent, interaction with causality.)
  • Consciousness is entirely driven by deterministic, electro-chemical processes in the brain. (That’s a myopic, reductionist, point of view attempting to address a subject better suited to complexity theory. Consciousness is an emergent property of the brain. Thanks to mental feedback, we think about what we think about. This intelligent process is transformative and makes us self-aware, future-aware, manipulators of events.)

Causality’s cascade of events is NOT inevitable when intelligent human beings get involved with those events.

“Every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause” does NOT necessarily mean that a cause must have one and only one effect or that it is inevitable. The universe is not perfectly deterministic. The indeterministic quantum realm exerts an influence on the classical realm. The subatomic release of photons , the rate of radioactive decay, the quantum fluctuations that make up most of the mass of the universe (including your body), the workings of lasers and electricity . . . all these things involve quantum uncertainty. Yes, they’re highly consistent and reliable, overall, but not perfectly so at all points of time. Hell, even the universe itself began with a quantum fluctuation and was entirely chaotic in its earliest stages. The point is that the universe, while highly predictable, is not perfectly deterministic. For example: photons exert predictable pressure upon impact (think of solar sails) but their initial subatomic release was entirely random. Their effect on interstellar dust and gas is predictable in general but not perfectly deterministic.

Secondly, the law of causality does not mean there’s only one possible mode of response to events.  Inanimate matter responds to events mechanically and very predictably but animate beings are complex systems that respond to events in individual, unpredictable ways. There’s a huge difference between a rock and a brain.

Also, it occurs to me that maybe Descartes had a legitimate point. I’m not sure about this but if every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause, what about abstract effects? How material is an abstraction like consciousness or choice? How “physical” is it? If consciousness is an emergent property of the brain and it must exist before intelligent self-awareness can emerge from it, then self-awareness is at least twice abstracted from the brain. How does abstraction affect causality? Self-awareness is certainly not the same tangible, material stuff as the brain — yet we know it exists. Intelligent mental feedback, it seems to me, has all the transformative properties (self-awareness and abstraction) one would imagine is necessary for the emergence of choice and purpose: of self-determinism.

I don’t know what free will is, so I can’t say whether or not it’s an illusion. But I do believe that self-determinism is not an illusion.

I claim that human civilization is jam-packed with purpose — despite causality’s utter lack of purpose. You and I and social groups of all sizes have both unique and shared purposes. It comes from somewhere other than causality. It comes from us. We interact with causality and deliberate and decide what is important to us. We pursue purpose in almost everything we do. That’s empirical proof of choice.

Just because “consciousness emerges from deterministic, electro-chemical processes in the brain” does not mean that choice is equally deterministic.

Emergent properties are transformative phenomena that result in properties not shared by their constituent parts. Animate beings are made from inanimate matter. Life is an emergent property of organic compounds. Minds are made from neurons that are not conscious. Consciousness is an emergent property of the brain. I believe choice and purpose — self-determinism — are also emergent properties of the brain concomitant with self-awareness.

If you think about it, “self-awareness” and “mental feedback” are practically paraphrases of each other. Mental feedback is the mechanism by which we become self-aware. We are self-aware because we think about what we think about. I believe this is the transformative process by which we deliberate and make choices . . . it’s where the emergent property of self-determinism emanates from.

Is self-determinism a fact? I don’t know. Maybe it fits reality well or maybe it doesn’t. It’s just an explanation for the observable fact of human purpose. The problem with hard determinism is that it takes another observable fact — causality — and turns it into a false dichotomy by placing unnecessary restrictions on it. Animate beings do not respond like inanimate objects. With self-aware intelligence, it is possible to proactively interact with (recognize, understand, anticipate and use) causality instead of merely mechanically reacting to it. Instead of explaining human purpose, hard determinism simply denies it and dismissively labels it an illusion.

Human purpose and causality are both observable facts. They must, therefore, be compatible. Hard determinists simply side-step the philosophical challenge with false dichotomies. They’ve managed to talk themselves out of ownership of their desires, purpose, choices and actions. They’ve taken the simple concept of causality and, by placing unnecessary restrictions on it, made it even simpler. As Einstein once famously stated: “Everything should be made as simple as possible: but not simpler.”

© Copyright 2011