Tuesday, April 05, 2005

"The unexamined life is not worth living."

--Socrates (quoted by Plato in Apology)

I think what Socrates is saying here is that on some basic level, to be alive, to be human, is to actively examine life. If you don't think about how you want to live, then you give up those decisions to others. You become like an animal, or even a machine, in that you have no self, no agency acting independently. Socrates sees this sense of an independent, rational self, as essential to our humanity. Another translation of the quote reads, "the unexamined life not being livable for a person." This explicit reference to "a person" is evidence of the distintion being made between humans and animals. In fact, one could even interpret it to mean that it is an impossiblity for a human being to go through life without examining it. On some level, to be alive, at least in the human form, is to be conscious. To be conscious is to examine the world around you. Without examining the world, we would be zombies (in the philosophical sense). However, I do not completly agree with Socrates. The effect of other's ideas on one's own must be recognized. Nobody is completely independent. Socrates might argue that rationality is innate, and that each person can come to rational conclusions independently, but this does not refute my argument. Taking for granted that rationality is innate, (something that I do not, but will for the sake of argument) there is some creativity involved in rationality which allows one to look down the right logical path. The rules math, for example, are set, but many problems remain unsolved because no one has had the insight to chose the right path to find their solutions. It is this creativity which is susceptible to outside pressure (if not outside determination). One wonders whether there is any substantial ego at all, since science can find no point in the brain at which decisions are made, that is, there is no physical manifestation of a single-point ego (and the ego does seem to be a single point). I'm a materialist, and I think dualism is absurd, and so I seriously question the whole concept of a "Self." So is there really any examiner to do the examining? Socrates believed there to be one essentially a priori, as I alluded to earlier, but perhaps this is an incorrect assumption. If it is, then the quote is largely meaningless.

17 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

science can find no single point at which decisions are made...
well there isnt a single cell in the body that just "decides"...
science can show us how memories are made, and i am positive that in the future science will reduce the mystery of consciousness and decision making into some cell signaling pathway...
but to say that there is no self/////
i say there is a self
why else would individuals search for companionship
practice lifelong mating
humans are confined within their varying degrees of consciousness and forever, because they are each a 'self', seek understanding from other isolates

4:24 AM  
Blogger Mime Narrator said...

I think it is certainly possible that science may someday map all the pathways in the human brain (though perhaps far in the future, because the brain is very complicated). Consciousness, on the other hand, cannot be explained in that way. Even without the concept of a soul (I do reject dualism), how is it that consciousness comes out of just...matter. I think that it does, but the relationship between matter and conscious could, I think, be out of the reach of science. Anyway, my point about the lack of evidence for a true, physical, ego is, it feels subjectivly like it is a single point that makes decisions. Its "me." "I" did it. But my point is that you cannot pinpoint the "I" that makes decisions in the brain. I am all of the pathways, but the pathways are not an independent agency, as I feel that I am. So the ego is an illusion.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ego is only a middle-man. It is a thought structure that is actually totally useless. When one realises it, it vanishes but one's consciousness remains. Our consicousness is ultimately only a thought structure as well. The observer is the conciousness into which the thoughts are projected (i.e. our three-dimensional time space reality). Anything external to our body is stil within our mind.

This may sound a bit much at one gulp but Paul Brunton has argumented the point with science, logical and illustrative examples already some 60 years ago. Check The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga by Brunton for further reference.

And what comes to matter (as we know it) - it does not simply exist. Quantum mechanics can explain this easily. There is nothing that is solid, static, have colours etc. They are only abstractions derived from our senses nevertheless how useful they are for ordinary life.

/ThinkerIsNot

3:10 PM  
Blogger Jane said...

Actively examining life is what sets us apart from the rest of the animal world... contemplation is what makes us "human".

9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how did consciousness arise from matter?
there is evidence that many different forms of primates evolved to be upright around the same time
when bipedalism was developed///a more developed brain naturally followed...natural selection
so those who could reproduce most efficiently thrived....those who could hunt more efficiently thrived....so
those with even slightly more developed brains came to dominate,,,but it happened quickly
punctuated equilibrium
maybe there was some sort of a mutation in HOX genes. now instead of underdeveloped dumbdumb brain
one lucky monkey is seeing things clearly so to speak
and if this monkey guy is still a member of the species
anyways you get the picture.
consciousness from matter
can be explained from science
however i wish that it could not be and even after that explanation i feel like it didnt welllll
could it have gone like this
so a mutation in the HOX genes
now we can more clearly process information while hunting
strategy comes into play
it becomes normal the thoughts
should i do this or that
as technology comes into play and the survival game fades out the thoughts of which deer should i throw my primitive stick at become what is consciousness and how can it come from matter
fucking neurons sending pulses in our brains

1:48 PM  
Blogger Mime Narrator said...

I think your point was good at the end. How can consciousness come from neurons? Clearly, it does, but how? what is the relationship between consciousness and matter? Your explanaation is more about why conscioousness is in the form it is, and not why it exists at all.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Jane said...

my family has this friend... brilliant man - a brain surgeon, who has partly retired and moved to Israel to see the bible in it's original script as well as looking at all other sources... a medical man who always said he should believe in evolution finally gave in to this belief of his, after all these heads and brains he's seen he believes there must be something higher it can't just be evolution... its mine boggling - i've just dealt with a real blowing death a "love" of mine and it makes my head spin. I have always believed in a higher power but I don't believe it interacts, or i didn't until ...

10:15 PM  
Blogger Mime Narrator said...

I think the doubt people have in natural selection is usually unfounded. Over the vast amounts of time it has taken for human beings to evolve, it is not really surpising we would have a brain as complex as we do. Michael Behe's "irriducible complexity" and the like are really not difficult to explain away. Darwin himself wrote a good counter-argument to irriducible complexity in Origin of Species, though people like Behe seem to think it is an original idea.

10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is it that scientists have not been able to identify the consciousness or the ego in the brain?

How about those people who are already clinically dead but come back and have been consciousness during the time their brain activity was non-existing?

Maybe we are looking the issue from a wrong point of view. If consciousness is utilising brain as its vehicle and apparatus for its five senses. In another words it enhances & amplifies the sensations and self-realisation by the body (and brain). This would mean that the brain reacts after the fact and hence the 'awareness centre' cannot be found. Who has proven that our consciousness exists inside of our brain?

Similarly we have adapted the assumption that humans have developed from apes over evolution. Why the link has not been found? Why there are still crocodiles and where are all the hybrids that would be needed for the transformation of species in large leaps such as from apes to humans. Ever came to your mind that maybe apes are degenerated humans and not the another way around?

How much we really know and how much we believe (or assume) to know... And what is too radical to our 'world-view' to be accepted (i.e. fit to our thinking patterns = beliefs).

3:23 AM  
Blogger Mime Narrator said...

I doubt very much that anyone has been truly conscious when they have no brain activity. Either the monitoring equipment is wrong, or the person is conscious later, after they are back, and they just think it was while there was no brain activity. Its a very subjective thing.

What you are expressing here is dualism, and dualism comes into conflict with pretty much all of modern physics, so unless you purpose that we throw it all out, even though much of it has been varified time and time again, then I guess you can make that argument. Now don't get me wrong, science can be get it wrong sometimes, but to allow for dualism we would have to through EVERYTHING out. If dualism were true, then there would have to be some interaction between the mind and the body, and that interaction would mean that somehow the body would have to be affected by something non-physical, and that would be a violation of the conservation of mass and energy.

Now, there are links between us and apes. There is fossile record. Its not totally complete, but that does not mean the intermediate steps did not exist. If you take steven jay goulds idea, that evolution happens in spurts, it shouldn't be surpising that we only have fossiles of some intermediate steps, and not an entire continium. I'm really not sure what this crockodile bussiness is, you'll have to explain it to me. Your assertion that apes came from humans is just perpostrous, if you know how natural selection works. There just would be any survival value in going in that direction. Smarter people survive better, so why should natural selection select for dumb apes? I find that many people who don't believe natural selection just don't understand it.

3:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We do not understand the laws of nature and our science is altering its view all the time. Quantum physics is something we are only getting to understand. 'Non-physical' can simply mean something very natural but something we do not have any understanding as of yet. For example, where do all the energy (i.e. atoms, electrons etc.) go since they are not permanently here. We have no idea why those disappear in quantum scale. Is that 'non-natural'?

Quantum physics tells also that the observer affects the observation. We are observing as well while studying e.g. our brain. We are not outside of the phenomena.

Maybe we have to throw everything OUT. What's so scary about it? It has been done so many times in the past. We are only trying to explain things but as we can see things are not clear and sensible for us. Do we want to reveal the real truth or stick to our views?

Natural selection is one thing and my point was not about the development within spieces but across which is needed in order to create something that is anew and more complex.

Why is it that human physics has not changed much during the ages and we are way superior to apes? My point is that crocodiles are one of the oldes spieces around. Still they exists today as a unique branch of spieces. Why they are not destroyed by way superior of its own siblings (with natural selection)?

Degeneration is not against natural selection - it can just explains that something inferior can be developed and that branch has started to live its own progress and natural selection.

As long as things do not make complete sense at least I do not try to fixate to anything. That's way more dangerous than the scary fact that we may not actually know anything about the reality around us...

7:14 AM  
Blogger Mime Narrator said...

Quantum physics can be very strange, but it is on a very small scale. Neurons are much much bigger than anything in the quantum realm, and therefore it is not random. Besides, while it is true that the observer affects the observed, it does so in well-defined ways. I know alot of new-age stuff tries to appeal to quantum physics, but I think they take it a little bit too far.

As for natural selection, the human form has changed. We were apes, or something closer to apes, just some tens or hundeds of thousands of years ago (a very short time as far as evolution is concerned). Now, crockodiles are well adapted to their environment, so they do not need to change. They are not destroyed because they do not really conflict with organism that are a significant threat to them. Sure, human's are smarter, but we have no reason to go around killing crockodiles, so it doesn't matter that we are smarter.

Degeneration is fundementally against natural selectoin, in that the word degeneration implies a negative. If it becomes advantagous to lose some formerly useful trait, this may occur, but it really wouldn't be degeneration in that case.

Nothing is ever going to make complete sense. The way science operates is that we have certain well accepted theories, which must be falsafiable. So far, certain physical theories have not been falsified, and they generally agree with experimental evidence. Therefore, we accept those theories, for now, until we have some reason not to.

3:49 PM  
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10:12 AM  
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7:19 PM  
Blogger mwhighlander said...

The sooner you realize the Human Race is overpopulice, like a plague upon the Earth — The sooner you will realize the human race as a whole is merely the first sentiment life upon it. Neither more worth living than a tick upon a deer nor a parasite, your life means nothing. The faster you realize that the sooner you can understand the meaningless of your existence. A mere chance of occurrence with no real purpose. If at best you wish to benefit your life and those around you, you would end your life ASAP, letting at least one more ignorant Human believe their life is not a coincidence and that their life is actually worth living.

3:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and what if all things humans are striving for proves inhuman oneday, a man is blindly following the inhuman way to become a better and more competitive man, and at the end he gets mimed, leaving bunches of prizes, reputations, certificates- what for, who is inheriting, and inheriting what, does a man have the time how to think and what to think beyond his virtual life, if we agree- 'i think therefore i am' then i am defined according to the level i can think, each of us have our own level. could socrates explain to his fellow athenians how to examine life in socratic way! he merely reigned his days by his unique eloquence, an unbeatable intellectual giant, he did his job, and left us with that of ours,how can one boy comapre his reality to that of his twin, shouldn't one have his one way to define the purpose of his life,be it socratic or enigmatic, it cant be beyond his boundary of understanding, all great minds think alike, none identify the role of their lives identical to others lives, each socrates must have his own purpose, at least to be a socrates at all!

9:59 AM  
Blogger Jesse said...

It means SELF AWARENESS and SELF UNDERSTANDING--NOT "..examining the world around you"---he was talking about examining YOURSELF.

2:38 PM  

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