Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What is Art?! Finally an answer!

I realized last night what Art is. Maybe this is presumptuous and maybe I should reflect on it more than a day before deciding it is the best possible definition. However, I figure if I'm wrong, i can edit this later or other people can chime in with their contrary opinions. Basically, I feel passionate about this definition now, so I'll strike while the iron is hot with a blog on this point.

Art is a combination of stimuli whose meaning(s) are in a state of flux. This state of flux makes the art "alive."

It is readily contrasted to a fact. A fact does not change. It needs to be communicated only once (well, depending how clear the communication is and how good your memory is). Take this sentence:

"The capitol of California is Sacramento."

That's a fact. Communicate it and the sentence has served its purpose, it has been conveyed. Rereading the sentence does not add anything new and is a largely a waste of time.

Art does not communicate a fact, or does not communicate JUST a fact, but it rather embodies potential to evoke different meanings or feelings from different people or from the same person at different times. So you can look at a Picasso painting and get some insight or revelation about the painting, about yourself, about how you view the world. Then an hour later, you can go back and look at it again and see differnt meaning, gain different insight. The painting has not changed, but its meaning has changed.

How is this possible? Art accomplishes this by putting together different elements that have some dramatic interplay not just with each other, but with the audience. There are gaps or latent ambiguities in the art that necessarily require the audience to fill in the blanks from their own mind and depending how those blanks are filled in, the meaning of the piece can change.

As long the art has the potential to give rise to new meanings, it is a living thing. It bonds with the audience and becomes part of them or an extension of them.

However, art -- or at least most art -- is not eternally alive. A latent ambiguity in a piece of art may be susceptible to finite interpretations. Eventually, the audience has run the gamut of possible interpretations and relationships with that art, the art then ceases to live. Basically, to fully understand the range of pssible meanings in an art piece ends the life of that art piece, and it becomes inanimate. It ceases to be art and becomes a communication of certain specific, finite meanings or possible meanings.

Now, more possible meanings an art piece can have, the longer it can go before being fully understood to the point that it dies, the more eternal it is. I think this is the ultimate way that critics judge, or should judge, great art. Like the Mona Lisa with her ambiguous smile.

Well, I can already see that this view of art needs to be refined and expanded and evolved. However, I do think there is some kernel of value in looking at art in this way.

The best example of how this defintion of art makes sense, at least to me, is to consider movies as art. There are films you see once and never have to, or want to, see again because you "got it." There's not much mystery, it is readily understood and simplistic. If you are flipping channels and you see the movie is on, you will have no interest in seeing it again because one viewing was enough. There are other movies it seems you can never get enough of. Every time they are on, if you see they are on, you can get sucked into watching it again, like it is the first time.

Why aren't I bored watching Shawshank Redemption for the 50th time? A simplistic explanation is just that it is a great movie, riveting, whatever. However, consistent with the views stated above, I think the movie has a lot of strong and deep ambiguity about meaning and life and values and justice and every time you watch it, you can get something new from it, you can interact with it differently.

A saw a talk once by a screen writer who said the key to good stories was to give the reader problems the reader has to actively solve. You don't lay out all facts in the story for the reader, but you lay out hints and partial revelations and let the audience then do some mental work to put the pieces together into something meaningful. By making the audience actively engage in problem solving, you thereby engage the audience and create an engaging story. I guess my own view of art is somewhat consistent with that, only I am suggesting an elaboration, that if the story is easily solved, because the latent ambiguities (the problems the audience must solve) are too limited, too simple, the story has limited appeal and a short lifespan before it becomes boring. No one will feel any compulsion to see / hear / read it again. So I'm adding a value that a great story does not just have problems to solve, it has problems that can inherently be solved infinite ways (or at least the more the better) and can be solved differently based on the state of mind of the audience at any particular moment.

Well, I again see this needs much refinement. I think some people craft final articles for posting on blogs. I hope my readers (if any) will accept that, at least for now, I am using the blog as more of a stream-of-thought notepad to jot down ideas as they come to me, for possible refinement in the future or by others.

Ken Myers

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Logical errors related to faith and religion.

I am a believer in faith. I believe one place faith is appropriate is when the truth about a matter is not known (like what happens after you die) and one belief will support a healthy mindset (such as the belief that there is an existence after death in which we have some form of reunification with our loved ones) or an unhealthy mindset (such as a belief that death is an absolute end and nothing more exists).

Now, I would not have thought the latter belief was particularly unhealthy when I was single and childless. I had loved ones, but I guess the bond was not nearly as strong as that with my own children. As soon as I became a father, the notion that my children and I would one day lose each other permanently was depressing to the point of being unthinkable.

Now, I did not embrace faith in an afterlife only after becoming a parent. I had already decided for myself that belief in an immortal soul was more sensible than believing in nothingness after death, and was more optimistic. I view optimism as a healthier mindset than pessimism. However, becoming a parent reinforced my belief and I feel strongly had I been an atheist up to the point that I became a father, I would soon have embraced a belief system that afforded me hope of reunification with my children after death.

The bottom line is that we do not know, no one knows, precisely what existence we have, if any, after death. So, any belief -- including atheism -- is somewhat illogical compared to simpy admitting and embracing a doubtful mindset. However, I feel that the belief I have embraced allows me to love my children with less reservation, to avoid time spent worried about the risk that death is an absolute end, and having an stronger fear of death that might lead me to be more selfish in how I live my life in order to postpone my death or that of my loved ones.

I mean, I'm not happy about the notion of death, but I'm also not particularly worried about it. I have enough confidence in my view that death is only a transition, and that we ultimately will reunite with our loved ones, that I could easily see myself sacrificing my life for a greater good. I could also embrace a societal moral that people will not go to selfish, extreme lengths to prolong their own life at any cost. Death come to everyone eventually. I look around and see alot of fear of death, see people sparing no expense at measures to prolong their life even after they have reached a ripe old age. I feel this is not particularly good for the planet, these people use up resources better spent on other things.

I'm not embracing some view that all people should suicide at age 30 like in the movie Logan's Run. But I do think like the idea of people embracing a mindset that allows them, after reaching a certain age (like 70, 80, whatever) when they will NOT bend over backwards to eke out an extra month, year, whatever. I freely admit it's easy to say that at age 42. Will I feel differently at age 70? Maybe, only time will tell.

However, the point is that, in an overpopulated world where we are straining scarce resources to support our population, I don't particularly like the notion that so many people seem obsessed with extending the lifespan. Is it really so great if we manage to find scientific means to make lifetimes twice as long? Till the after lifespan is 150 years? 300 years? To me, that is not inherently good. It will almost overnight greatly exacerbate the population problem on Earth.

I think this terrible fear of death so many humans have makes us commit resources to extending life or preserving it at all costs, rather than focusing on other society goals like finding a fairer way to share Earth's resources, finding a higher purpose for humanity than merely prolonging our existence, etc.

So, anyway, I think a mindset that lessens fear of death is healthy and useful and positive. So I embrace such a mindset. Am I fooling myself? Have I brainwashed myself? If so, is that wrong if the end result is a healthier mindset? Is truth -- or true doubt -- sacred and inherently better than embracing a lie that objectively improves quality of life on Earth?

Okay, enough about that. The point is, I have faith. I like faith. I think I have more faith than most Christians I know. Most Christians I know, despite their supposed "faith" in immortality and an afterlife and reunification with loved ones, are inconsistently paranoid of death and depressed when loved ones die. To me, this reveals a certain dishonesty. Basically, the best explanation I can come up with for why they are so paranoid and concerned with death is that they do NOT truly believe the Christian view of the afterlife that they claim to embrace. If anyone has another explanation, I'd be glad to hear it.

Moving on, to the point I wanted to make initially, I was debating religion with a smart Christian friend. He made what I found to be a surprising logical error. He said that he was Christian because he had seen miraculous things in his life that proved his faith. So, basically, he was raised Christian and had faith in the Christian tenets. Maybe he woule have lost that faith at some point in time EXCEPT, he had some certain miraculous and inexplicable happenings. Maybe some one was supposed to die, prayers were made, and the person lived. Maybe this person was in danger and was spared by some seeming impossible coincidences. Whatever the case, it was enough to convince this person that there was some force watching out for people responding to prayers, etc.

The logical fallacy is that even assuming those miracles prove there is a divine force that watches out for us, some divine plan, some power to prayer, NONE OF THAT proves Christianity. In fact, I'm nowhere near being Christian, and I myself believe in all those things. I believe in a higher power that has a higher plan, that there is a purpose to everything, and that our own thoughts, wishes, prayers can help steer how the future unfolds.

So, basically, here's the problem in a nutshell: Imagine a man appears one day at the White House and claims he is Jesus Christ coming down for the second coming. I think we will all agree Barak Obama would be mightily skeptical (as would anyone else hearing this). Now, let's assume this man then takes Barak to a hospital and proceeds to cure all sick patients in that hospital with the touch of his hand. Question time: Does that prove the man is Jesus Christ? NOT IN THE LEAST! It proves nothing more than that this man has a power to heal with touch that is beyond what we can understand. That's it. Could be some advanced technology (maybe the man is an alien or working with aliens?) Could be this man has mastered some form of sixth sense or untapped human potential. Could even be some incredibly complex and wide-reaching conspiracy wherein every patient and every doctor in that hospital is part of some conspiracy to fool Barak and fake all the healings.

The point is, a logical thinker must be cognizant of what is actually proven by a miraculous event. Just because you are taught that belief in Jesus Christ can work miracles, and you then pray in Jesus Christ's name, and your prayer is then answers, in NO WAY, SHAPE OR FORM proves Jesus Christ existed, was the son of God, or that there is any validity to Christian dogma.

My own opinion is that the benevolent higher force that exists, whatever it may be, does not really give a flying fig how you couch your pleas for help. In fact, I tend to think we ourselves are fragments of God, like neurons that help to make up the universal brain of God, and whatever we wish for or pray for or expect to happen, is more likely to happen because our own Godhood helps to steer the future to unfold the way we hope or pray or wish or expect it will unfold. So, in that sense, it does not matter one whit if your prayer is in the name of Jesus Christ or Allah or Mohammed or Zues or Quetzelcoatl. Your wishes and expectations will still have power to steer the course of the future. You will still see the future unfold in ways that sometimes reveal some master plan and defy coincidence. This happens for everyone, even non-Christians (it has certainly happened for me) so it in no way proves there is any legitimacy to Christian dogma.

So you can go ahead and embrace those limited things that ARE proven by such miraculous events, just as I do, but please do not go too far and imagine those events somehow lock, stock and barrel prove totally unrelated, dogmatic religious dogma or myth.

Friday, March 23, 2012

On Veganism

In 2003, I was for a brief time jobless while living in Las Vegas, and contemplating a career change. In that place of uncertainty and perhaps even some level of depression, I made the decision to experiment with psychedelics at the age of 34.

Now, I don't recommend such experiementation for all. Again, I was 34. I had significant savings, so I was not in financial trouble. I was single and childless. Basically, the only thing I felt was at risk was myself, and I was not particularly afraid of death since one of my issues was feeling a lack of purpose to life. In those limited circumstances, I felt that this drug experimentation was, if not ideal, at least not particularly irresponsible.

For the record, I also opted for a legal psychedelic, which I will not name. It has since become a scheduled drug by the DEA. So it is now illegal, but at the time it was legal. I point this out because, in fact, I was not breaking any laws when I did this experimenting. From that standpoint, it was on par with getting drunk on alcohol -- imprudent, but not illegal.

This trip did not create hallucinations, but it did make me feel very aware of everything that the mind normally screens out of conscious thought. For example, I was entirely conscious of the weight of the shirt on my back. I had a bite of chocolate and felt like it had 100 times more flavor than anything I'd ever eaten. Basically, I was on sensory overload.

Eventually, without gaining any real insight about much of anything, I decided to call it a night. Before sleeping, I took a shower to help relax. It was as if I felt every drop of water on my body simultaneously. It was sensory overload to the nth degree. It became so overwhelming, I began feeling a sense of mental expansion as my mind tried to process it all. I felt a sensation very much like my mind was growing larger than myself, and larger and larger, and this accelerated. It became a bit like being in a rocket taking off and in a matter of seconds I felt something totally unexpected: I felt one with everything.

I was no longer "Ken," I was now a fragment of the universe, like a finger or toe, though much less significant than that. I was nevertheless a living tool for the universe. This, I later found out, is called "ego death" and sometimes happens on psychedelics, and it can sometimes happen for other reasons, such as the product of meditation.

This was not a frightening place. On the contrary, it was the most peaceful and harmonious mental state I ever experienced. There was no fear of death, or even pain. What happened to my physical body was unimportant because I was the universe, and the universe was immortal. It was a certainty of purpose and immortality that was infinitely comforting.

In that mental state, I still was in my own body, still had my own memories and thoughts. Aspects of my personality were unchanged. But the egotistical aspects were all erased. The things that we do regularly, without thinking about it, based on ego, based on insecurity, based on fear, those were all erased.

I slept and awoke to find I was still in that same mental state. I realized I was hungry and went to have breakfast. However, the notion of having some fried or overly sweetened breakfast -- my general preference -- was totally unappealing. I felt a desire solely to do that which seemed best for the universe, and for nurturing life in the universe. In that mindset, the notion of eating junk food, or anything bad for me, was just completely alien. I did not have to suppress or overcome any desire for sweets or junk food, there simply was no such desire. Instead, I had complete satisfaction and joy in the notion that I was eating in a way that nurtured the cells of my body -- cells I felt I had a duty to care for.

So I had some pieces of fruit and some healthy cereal. When lunch came, I had some plain white rice and a carrot. I saw that much of my kitchen was stocked with food I simply could not bring myself to eat because I knew it would harm my body, and my goal was to nurture life, including my own life.

I went to the store and as I shopped, I realized I could not bring myself to eat meat, or in fact anything that required suffering of an animal. I also was not sure if dairy came from ethical farming or not, so I elected to avoid it until I found out for sure. I erred on the side of depriving myself rather than risk supporting some source of suffering. In that moment, I adopted a vegan diet.

This was a complete 180 from how I had been eating. I was raised on junk food and my mother's pot roast and fried chicken and the like. I never thought I could do without those comfort foods. Yet overnight, I gave them up in that mental state of ego loss (some may say, "enlightenment," but I cannot say for sure that is an accurate label).

The psychedelic I had taken lasts about 6 hours according to everything I read, so it had long worn off. However, this mental state of ego loss lasted three days. After three days of living in a way that was completely selfless and nurturing of life -- not watching tv, not eating meat or any kind of junk food, spending my free time exercising, doing yoga, reading educational books, etc. -- my ego began to reassert itself little by little. A desire for chocolate finally led to me eating some junk food. Then a desire for a cigarette (I smoked at the time) finally overcame my 3 day abstinence from smoking. I had even been having thoughts of giving away all my worldly possessions, and becoming something of a monk. But those thoughts faded. I started watching junk TV and playing video games.

However, despite the resurgence of my ego, and returning to my old habits and ways, one thing that did NOT change was my veganism. For whatever reason, that had taken hold in three days and I did not want to give it up. It was, in fact, surprisingly easy to maintain the diet. I learned to cook delicious vegan foods which became comfort foods as satisfying as anything I had grown up eating.

One caveat is that my reason for staying vegan was a bit different than the norm. Over the prior days, I had done some reading on living to help the planet, to nurture life, etc., and I read how creating meat to eat uses a lot more of Earth's resources than creating grains, fruits and vegetables. I read how there simply was not enough resources on Earth for everyone on the planet to eat the typical American diet. So to eat that diet, one is effectively saying "fuck you" to the rest of the population, and is saying it is okay to take more than your fair share of Earth's limited resources, even if that indirectly causes suffering and starvation elsewhere in the world. Basically, I remained vegan because I felt I owed it to my fellow man.

This actually means I was not vegan. From reading some vegan literature, I learned you are only considered a vegan if you abstain from eating meat or any animal products because you feel the animal is on a par with humans such that eating the animal or its byproducts is unethical. I had a problem with that. For all I know, carrots don't particularly like being plucked from the soil and eaten. Trees give nuts and seeds to grow into new trees, not to be chewed up by humans. While we may be able to more readily empathize with animals and animal suffering, I was not sure that made it any better to make a plant suffer rather than an animal.

And where did that leave carnivors in society? Did vegans think it would be good to invent some kind of plant-based food that would satisfy all carnivores so we could feed it to lions, tigers, ant-eaters, sharks, etc., and thereby prevent any animals from being eaten by any other animals? Where did the goal of saving animal lives end? Did we need teams of veterinarians to go out in the wild and try to save and heal any sick or injured wild animal?

No, in the end, I decided life is meant to feed on life. Animals, too, are meant to be food. The notion that this is morally acceptable only so long as the animal is eating by a carnivore, but not an omnivore, seemed to be splitting hairs. However, I kept to a vegan diet not because there is something wrong with eating animals, but because it was selfish to take too much of Earth's resources for myself. I felt a moral obligation to try to live a lifestyle that was more sustainable and less likely to lead to famine, shortage, and strife among humans.

I also thought that while eating animals may be morally acceptable, there was something wrong with developing a system that essentially tortured animals in the process of grooming them for eating. So I still felt that there should be some more ethical types of raising animals for food, in a way that gave the animal some measure of quality of life before its ultimate slaughter for food.

I still think those are good thoughts and good reasons to be vegan, or vegetarian. However, I have "fallen off the wagon," when I fell in love with a non-vegan, and moved away from my vegan support network back to where I grew up. Times grew a bit rockier and I let that induce me to slowly and steadily eat more meat. These days, I eat as bad a diet, as meat-centric as I ever did. I do, however, look back on my year of being vegan with some measure of pride and longing to return to that way of eating. Not just because I have some guilt eating my current diet, but also because I frankly felt healthier eating that way. I weighed less, had lower cholesterol, at more of my own cooking, was more creative in my cooking, never had to fear about working with raw meat in the kitchen, etc.

So, basically, I do see myself resuming veganism one of these days, or at least vegetarianism. It is a goal of mine. I guess, though, I still would not be technically considered vegan because, again, my motive would be mostly that I think it is better for myself and humanity, and lessening animal suffering is only a secondary issue, and the notion that eating meat is inherently evil is, in fact, not a motive at all and not a position I think I agree with. (However, I am open to the notion I still have more to learn and maybe vegans have a point I just do not yet appreciate in this regard.)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What Makes a Happy Marriage?

I was inspired to write this by reading (or half-reading) an article on what makes a good wife, here:

I stopped reading when the author insisted that the first step is that the wife "must" choose the right man to be her husband.

No, no, no. There's no such thing as a perfect man or woman or wife or husband. And it is impossible for anyone -- no matter how long you date -- to think you will have perfect knowledge of the person you are choosing to marry. You learn a lot about that person AFTER marriage, and it may not all sync up to what you had wanted or expected, no matter how hard you try to search for some one who is "perfect" for you. Forget perfect.

DROP the expectation that you must find just the right person, and realize any two people can create a happy and loving marriage EVEN IF THEY ARE STRANGERS WHEN THEY MARRY! The proof? Thousands of years of arranged marriages in many countries have generated countless accounts of people finding love AFTER marrying. I'm not saying that's the best way, but it PROVES pre-marital selection is NOT the key factor in a happy marriage. What is the key? I'm not egotistical enough to think I have the perfect answer, but my suspicion (married for about 5 years) is that it rests on (1) valuing the concept of marriage, (2) honesty, (3) compromise, and (4) optimism.

Valuing the concept of marriage means to realize what I think a lot of people miss: Marriage is about synergy, it is about two people coming together and forming something where the whole is GREATER than the sum of the parts. It is not often, but there have been moments, when I feel like my wife and I are truly one "higher being," when we are acting in concern with common purpose and mutual love. These moments, though rare, reaffirm in me the expectation that these moments can become less rare over time. Moreover, to get to these moments, we had to really get past a lot of our own personal issues and traumas, things that rooted us in egocentric "me-centric" thinking.

Basically, we clashed a lot and had three options: divorce, empty marriage or work this stuff out. We worked it out, and are still working it out, and it is not easy, but the rewards are great because you grow as a person, you grow in your capacity to empathize and love and understand another person and, moreover, yourself.

I have read many times that you have to be okay with yourself to be okay with another person. I read this -- and I think a lot of people read this -- to mean you should avoid relationships, or at least serious commitment, until you feel you are attained a certain level of maturity or even enlightenment. I now think that is wrong. Maybe marriage is easier if both people come into it as such enlightened beings, but that is I think an unlikely situation for most of us. But hope is not lost. Marriage, and the communication with your spouse and working things out with them, can be what helps you become okay with yourself. When that happens, when your arguments with your spouse lead to personal insights and growth and healing and maturity, you realize the value of the spouse as therapist.

I often told my wife not to try making me her therapist, to get a therapist to work out her problems. I realized eventually that I was wrong, that spousal communication inherently serves a therapeutic purpose, and I was wrong to avoid that. When I stopped avoiding it, things got better, and I learned that I enjoyed talking to my wife. After years of marriage consisting of childrearing and staring at the TV together, with rare moments of necessary conversation, I found that I could find greater satisfaction getting to really know this other human being.

Well, that's all a long-winded way of saying that I have come to believe, and to experience, that if a person truly commits to the process of marriage, does not allow for the easy exit of divorce, or a total shutdown of communication (where you are functionally divorced even if you remain legally married and cohabitating), you will inevitably find your way to a deeper understanding of the other person and yourself. Two become one and you evolve in your thinking.

If you have such an idealistic view of marriage, if you truly commit that divorce is not an option, that you will keep your promise of lifelong marriage, then you will find there is a way -- there is always a way -- to love.

After that, you need to just be honest (very honest, no matter the cost or temporary hurt feelings), be willing to compromise, and be optimistic.

Honesty is hard for a lot of people. We have been sold a lot of false expectations by Hollywood about romance and love and life. Be honest about what you want, what you don't want. But be clear: Wants are NOT needs. A husband admits he finds another woman attractive, that's not infidelity but honesty. A wife feels bitter that she has a bad husband instead of one of the "good ones" who never get attracted to any women but their wives? False! Those "good ones" are just liars. And those lies, as well-meant as they may seem, chip away at the trust that helps to deepen understanding. And true love flows from understanding, not from deception.

Are you afraid that your "wants," if honestly revealed without deception, will drive away your spouse? Well, that comes back to the first key: Making the marriage bond sacred. If both people can fully trust that they will stay committed to the marriage NO MATTER WHAT, then no honest revelation can put that marriage at risk. Therapists often talk of about the importance of giving patients a "safe place" for them to be open and benefit from therapy. The best marriages are, in essence, a permanent "safe place" once each person in the marriage has fully committed, without reservation, that nothing will cause them to second-guess, the abort, to seek divorce. Then honesty becomes easy. And then you realize just how great it can feel to have that safe place, that complete honesty, that complete trust. And you love that so much, and that love bonds you to that other person.

A loving marriage is not just about each person loving each other, but about them loving the marriage, loving the bond, loving the honesty, loving the safe place they give each other, loving that they are each helping each other grow and evolve into something where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Again, synergy.

Next, we come to compromise. This is pretty much automatic if you value the marriage, you cannot expect to get everything in life you thought you wanted when you were single. Even without marriage, this is true. Life gives us not what we expected, but something that may be different and even better. Accept that you will not get what you want, but expect that what you will get will be (perhaps surprisingly) even better.

Take room decor. You may feel your taste must be reflected in your home, you may hate the idea of compromising on your notions of how the household should run, how the home should be decorated, where your family should live, what is for dinner, what to see on tv. But when you embrace compromise, you find out that giving in means getting back. Give in to what the spouse wants to watch on tv, and you may find you love a type of show you never expected, like a cooking show. You will grow in ways you could not if you were stuck only doing the things you already knew you liked.

And this is related to optimism. When you must compromise, it should not be with a heavy heart. You should not lament that if you watch two shows in the evening, you will only get to enjoy one and the other you will have to "suffer through" because your spouse has chosen it. You should start out with the expectation and hope that they will surprise you, that you will get to experience something new that you would not have selected for yourself.

Look at the nature of gifts. If you want something and you go buy it, that's good. But what if some one else buys something for you? It may not be exactly what you want, but it is something new, something you might not have picked out for yourself, and maybe it is even better than what you would have picked out for yourself. You can look at compromise as a form of gifting. When your spouse compromises to let you pick out what is for dinner, that dinner becomes like a gift you give your spouse. Maybe it won't fit, won't even be really what your spouse wants or likes, there can be hits and misses. But a life full of gifting is still more fun than a life of just doing for yourself, buying for yourself.

And, what I have found, is those times when the gift "misses," when the other spouse selects something that makes you cringe or disappoints you, it disappoints them, too. "Gee, I thought this recipe would turn out better" or "Gee, I thought this movie would be better" or "Gee, I thought this paint color would suit this room better" You will probably find that much of the time, if not all of the time, you actually are on the same page, even when a compromise leads to something unpleasant.

If I compromise and let my wife pick a movie, I go to it expecting a treat I would not have selected for myself. If it is a real stinker, I will honestly let her know, and I've found more times than not, she agrees and we have fun ripping apart the movie to one another. And we realize we have even more in common and are more in sync than ever.

So, I have optimism that when I compromise, I will actually gain more than if I had my own way completely. I have optimism that whatever honesty I express will ultimately be accepted and will lead to deeper love with my spouse no matter what short term friction it may cuase. And I have optimism that holding to this marriage as sacred, and not allowing for the "safety net" of divorce to be a possibility, will continue to move us along a wondrous journey of self-discovery in this life, a journey more fulfilling than if I were traveling alone, of even if I were traveling with a partner. Because in marriage, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Doubts, on the other hand, feed on themselves and become a viscious cycle of distrust leading to ruin. So optimism has to be constantly nourished and cherished, for an optimistic outlook is the grease that lets the gears of marriage turn on and turn through any temporary sticking point or unpleasant squeal or friction.

Okay, I really threw out a lot there in a "stream of thought" sort of way. This essay surely needs some editing / tightening, but I hope it is good enough that others can take something positive from it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The flaw of existential nihilism

According to Wikipedia, existential nihilism suggests that life is without objective meaning, purpose or extrinsic value.

One flaw in this philosophical concept is the use of the term "objective" which, itself, seems to be meaningless as used in this context. What is the difference between a subjective meaning and an objective meaning? Subjective means from a particular point (or points) of view. Objective means either from no point of view or, perhaps, from all possible points of view.

There cannot be objective meaning if that means meaning separate from any point of view. If there is no point of view, there can be no meaning because meaning is fundamentally is a process of understanding or appreciating a truth (i.e., realizing a meaning of something). It is an intellectual process. How can you have an intellectual process take place without an intellect? You cannot. The concept of objective meaning is, itself, an oxymoron if objective is meant to imply separate from any particular consciousness or group of consciousnesses.

Well, what if objective instead means from ALL points of view, thus being a universal truth if we are willing to limit "universal" to the realm of conscious awareness (i.e., not insisting that it exists outside of thought processes)? In this case, can there be objective meaning? Or, to put it another way, can there ever be UNIVERSAL AGREEMENT on a particular meaning, purpose or value?

There are two ways to answer this: theoretically and practically. The distinction is like asking if it is possible for everyone on Earth to have the same favorite food. Theoretically, this is certainly possible as there is nothing fundamentally impossible about this. Practically, though, one might say this will surely never happen.

The practical approach is intellectually dishonest. We cannot know what the future may hold, or even all that the past has held. To suggest you can KNOW that it is impossible that everyone on Earth will EVER in a million years have the same favorite food is an act of intellectual hubris because we cannot know what the future may bring.

So, let's return to the theoretical approach. Theoretically, I can postulate countless ways history may take twists and turns that lead to everyone on Earth having the same favorite food. Similarly, I can postulate countless ways we could also come to share identical values, view life as having the same meaning and the same purpose. I can even postulate these shared values extending beyond humanity to all life forms, from animals and plants to aliens in other galaxies. Thus, it is quite simple to imagine a way the future might unfold leading to all living beings evolving to a point of shared understanding and appreciation of the same values, purpose and meaning of life. Which is objective meaning, if "objective" means universally agreed upon by all subjective awarenesses.

So, in the end, the question whether life can have an objective meaning is either (1) a meaningless question if "objective" means separate from any point of view, and (2) must be answered as theoretically possible if "objective" means universally agreed upon by all points of view, as much as this may seem a practical impossibility to occur at any time in the foreseeable future.

Ken Myers