Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Philosophical Perspective of a Gnostic

My approach to reconciling the physical intellect with a Truth that it was designed to avoid seeing. 

Part III: Will That Be ONE Moral Choice or TWO?

The Basis of Choosing

The meaningless debates about the "question of free will vs. determinism" aside, let's just lay out some obvious facts.  One, the word "choice" is used because there is something to which it refers.  In fact it refers to an agent's ability to do more than one thing at any given time, depending upon what priorities exists in his mind indexed with his ability to assess his environment and determine what actions in it would best allow him to fulfill his goals according to those priorities.  If he already knew the answer to that question, then he would simply act.  This is surely not the real issue concerning the "question" of free will.  The real issue is twofold:

    "How did the agent come to reach his value matrix so as to prioritize as he did?"


    "How did the agent come to reach an end to his deliberation in any given instance?"

Values don't just pop out of thin air, but have some origin in the nature of things "as they are".  Values are, technically, of two sorts: objective an subjective.  The objective values are those which indicate the hierarchical relationship between an instance of phenomena and the general guidance enforced upon it by a law which issues from the overall unity of a field of phenomena centered on one "legislative force", whatever that may be (and for a time that is left open here).  Those sorts of values are, really, the ones that mathematicians, physicists, and deterministic/materialistic psychologists want to talk about, but even then only as a paradigmatic matrix of thought which yields predictive results compared to other ways of looking at things.  Such a "value" is really just a number representing a quantum of energy and the only issue is whether or not the entity or phenomenon involved is measured correctly and whether or not the "predictive paradigm" seems to agree with an imagined "field of influence" which guides that entity as if a law enforced from some unseen source, some "universal nature".  Regardless, that is the "public story" about values.  The other set of values which matters more here is the subjective set, which corresponds to an inner experience which tells a conscious mind that "this is worth pursuing rather than anything else currently known".  That is a qualitatively experienced value rather than a merely quantitatively measured indicator of value-driven behavior "seen from the outside".

Of course we can't generally ask a physical object how it feels when it falls to the ground, or begins to grow into a tree, or bears fruit in season.  These things we describe, but don't experience.  We experience what it is like when the "body human" does what it does, and we therefore can understand at least one set of subjective correlates for objective behaviors of entities.  We have direct experience of "values" and we also know how our minds work when we develop prioritized matrices for reaching those values as efficiently as we can.  We don't have any reason to hold back from doing so, and we go forward as we naturally should.  Of course the data we need to be absolutely sure what is the best way to reach our goals is usually not as complete as ideally possible, but we also know that the time-frame for making certain decisions is limited such that getting idealized quantities of information must compete with getting the decision made when it matters.  This domain of cognitive function which deals with uncertainty so as to make productive decisions is of unique interest.  How do we know when we have reached the best possible split between getting info and acting on it?

This is something which has to have a foundation in order to begin, and doesn't begin in a void. There is that "natural basis" which is already laid in a being so that it is fundamentally guided before it begins "searching" for the fulfillment of its "programming" in an environment.  If a mind is understood as a special kind of "machine" taken broadly, then we know that the machine must have already had a basic kinematic outlay, with functional limits which followed structural features inherently fixed in some ways, but plausibly adaptable in others.  The "fixed" end of the structure which makes decisions is the "inner sense" of what "values" are to be sought, and the more flexible structures simply act as antennae for detecting opportunities to fulfill the programming root of the behavior.  Those antennae will resonate with an environment which will tell that structure what it needs to know, more or less.  A certain amount of risk will be involved, let us say, but there can be no doubt about the basis upon which the project begins, the root values which are programmed into the being!  This cannot be doubted!

So most of what we need to know about choices are rather easy:  The basis of choices in inherent values, the inherent capacity to investigate the viability of fulfilling those values in various ways in various environments or cases, and a gradually growing anticipatory mechanism for sensing probability fields in domains which exceed the reach of practical investigation at any given time.  We make choices in this way, as do all beings.

Kinds of Values

One would think that there would be basically one set of values overall, differentiated by species of being, but never in such a way that the same species of being could possess contrary sets of values.  They could oppose each other in a given set of circumstances with respect to some goal each wants to achieve, perhaps in that their methods or objectives intersect such that the success of one will just so happen to inhibit the success of the other, but it wouldn't mean that they had different kinds of values or different kinds of objectives.  It might just mean that there is a limited amount of resources so that, for example, if there is only one juicy apple in a tree, and each person wants it, not both can have the whole thing.  They may compete, cooperate, or do whatever, but they both value the apple, and they both want to get it and eat it.  Their opposing each other in the effort of each to fulfill his own goal doesn't mean that their values are in opposition.

But when we discussed the types of beings there are, it was apparent that there were at least three types. And while superficially they all inhabit bodies of one general kind, there are two sets of values:  The physical and the philosophic.  The physical values are: eat and/or avoid being eaten.  If we think of the erstwhile apple as being able to sprout legs and run, then we can immediately integrate the first sort of value system into the prior example, especially if we can imagine that there are entities it wishes to eat, etc.  That is the alimentary domain of value-seeking which organisms have which must take in nutrients in order to continue to exist, and since a certain portion of their efforts to exist will always automatically program their activities, their need to sustain their own existence in order to act will automatically program a certain minimal set of actions which see to that need (or else that entity won't exist for very long compared with entities that do this, as even studies in cellular automata demonstrate).

The philosophic set of values is at odds with the physical set, and seems not to have had any physical basis in its structure.  There is nothing about human existence which ought to seek the basis of values as such, but should only seek
maximal aggrandizement of the specimen at all times.  Those entities which are better at this are "alpha" and those which are inferior are "beta".  The existence of a type of being which, whether or not it is structurally capable of alpha-type behavior, still chooses to behave "as if" there were some other sort of things that mattered, is a very strange entity if we wish to keep believing in physical laws that govern instances of phenomena!  What are its values?

As we know Socrates, among others, was one of these types of beings.  He paid a heavy price for this interest in the nature of value as such, and as a specimen of man he proved to be "obsessed" with it to such an extent that he would be considered morbid.  What mattered to Socrates, along with other "men of virtue" as he would have described them, was not merely the fostering of the body, but more importantly the tending of the needs of the soul, whose chief part would be injured if it were not put always first in importance.  Of course there are those who are more like Thrasymachus in their value system, and they view that all that matters are the results to be found in the physical world, because for them there may as well be no other world until they first have it made tangible for them in physical terms.  But for Socrates, and other beings like him, there is a strong sense that there is a set of values which do not reduce to physical terms at all and which actually exist in a domain only to be experienced by the mind of a being with a philosophic temperament.

Aside from the many avenues of examination which are available at this point, we'll just focus on one salient distinction between these two modes of valuing:  The philosophic mode can experience a sense of absolute value, but the physical can only understand relative scales of value.

Might makes Right

Thrasymachean beings, if you will, think that the leading vector in an efficient value-system is one that understands how to ride the current of the strongest force which guides physical events.  For them the only function of a mind is to calculate as accurately and as deeply as possible what the dynamics of physical action are so that whatever action they choose will do them the least harm while giving them the greatest possible chance for gain, insofar as these are understood from the point of view of having been a physical being, in this case human being.  So this is the thinking which Machiavelli took to its appropriate extreme on the basis of the arguments thrown about in the Republic (by Plato) which contained the idealogical battle between the Socratic and Thrasymachean perspectives on value.  Plato took the standard from Socrates and continued the Great Work of proving the point that whatever appears to be a basis for physical values is really inferior when understood on ultimate, metaphysical grounds, which only philosophic beings "made of gold" can understand.

There was something in a man like Socrates, Plato was endeavoring to show, which was precious and beautiful in a way that transcends any derivative values attributable to the body or objects in its environment in any relation to the body or its mind.  That value was in the characteristic of the mind of the beings which beheld that value, which appreciated it, and was a virtue of those minds, and was a value in itself.  It was not merely in that it was a structure of their minds which enabled them to pursue values "in the world", but it was of the nature of an experience of being who they were in themselves, even apart from any worldly action, no matter what the magnitude of the endeavor or degree of noteworthiness and praise with respect to others' views of it seen publicly.  It was an internal, private, and really far more precious treasure than any physically grounded sort of value.

But for Thrasymachean beings, physical beings, this is an ineffable idea.  What on earth is Socrates talking about?  In fact, who cares?  If he keeps "talking strangely" like that, we'll just put him in a position where character assassination will be easily performed using public forums and laws which seem quite handy for the occasion.  He'll be killed, or at least made a fool of, and he won't be a bother or us anymore with all his insistence that actions cannot merely be done in order to strengthen the worldly position of the doer and be called "good" but must be done by a standard of rightness which transcends perspectives and can be in itself a true and invariant measure of right action.  The reason this is inconvenient for men like Thrasymachus is pretty obvious when you realize that if they are ever truly bound by a transcendent basis for rightness then they cannot merely take by force and must first submit all their actions to what seems to them an arbitrary claim.  They would simply pay lip service to the idea (so as not to overtly invite disaster upon themselves in a culture which happens to pay lip service to "virtue in itself", or piety), all the while letting priests ritualize such things while they actually do anything they can otherwise get away with, simply bribing, ostracizing, or even outright killing anyone who gets in their way.   After all, says Thrasymachus, if Socrates is dead then he can't argue convincingly to anyone that anything I do might be wrong.  Therefore the best argument against him is to kill him.

Right makes Might

All men die, but not every man really lives.  This was said by William Wallace in the movie Braveheart, and would seem to catch the spirit of the actual man.  Fear of death is certainly not what motivated him to defy the King of England against all odds.  If the calculations of a Thrasymachus had their way he would have followed the wisdom of those whom he defied, which was to win at all costs, but better yet to survive.  Why meet a foe who is inspired to win in a fair contest, or at least why meet him fairly when he can be tricked into being blind to those who would betray him due to being bribed?  Or even better, why not trick him into giving himself up by corrupting others around and getting them to agree to let him be captured?

That's the way to "get things done" in a world where how many and how strong, or how cunning rules the roost!  So inevitably a hero who defies such odds will be beaten just as surely as a brilliant chess player must eventually make a mistake against a machine and lose, because the machine can just go as long as it is given power, and in this world physical power goes to those who strive for it without scruples, not to those who hold back out of some standard of value which cannot give immediate physical vindication, or even long-term physical advantages.  But such heroes as Sir Wallace never had in mind such power, but merely wanted to keep alive something of value within themselves in spite of such power, and for them this meant "really living", for they could feel the value wax when they did what was right, but wane when they did not, and they could tell from those indications that if they kept doing what was wrong for that inner value then they would die inside and in such a way that their continued physical existence would be as if that of the living dead, of no value.

The foes of such heroes have no such value to lose in the first place, so eventually they would win out, over time.  For brief periods a hero can route his brutish foes for so long and so far that a nation can be built within the perimeter of that success, such as was the early phase of the Persian Empire which truly championed the Good Religion as its primary purpose in existing.  When that empire "died inside" by the normal courses of corruption through the body and sense of those which should have been its most virtuous members, then it was all downhill from there.   Indeed, when they allowed within themselves the filth of those lands they conquered in self-defense, and when they greedily sought nation-building ventures so as to maximize their position rather than simply maintain their virtue, they were destroyed even long before Alexander got around to picking their corpse.  By the time the Arabs came around there was nothing to do but rob a grave.  Genghis Khan even came buy to desecrate the grave of a once living civilization of Spiritual Values, but it long since hadn't mattered, nor does it to this day.

Indeed, when the foolish, idiotic king of that land killed the Great Paraclete, Mani, that was the last straw for that self-debasing nation.  It would see millenia of desecration until today as result of its foolish willingness to debase itself and do no justice to the Messengers of Truth who came there many times, as They do everywhere in the world.  Jesus, Mani, Mohammed, to name only the well-known ones, are just some of those Beings.  Their works were either completely destroyed and rewritten (as were Mohammed's various textual legacies by the Caliph Uthman, in parallel to what was done with Jesus and Mani's writings), or they were forced into exile and hiding to be rediscovered only many centuries later (as with a library in the regions of western China and as with the Nag Hammadi findings, though these my hold many corruptions as well).  In any event, what we see is that when men are righteous, they don't die a normal, petty death, but strive without crippling fear to accomplish mightier goals and create real value for others in their wake, and they are very dangerous to cowardly, merely physical men when the chips are down and there is no way to use trickery or petty cunning, or when brute numbers and physical strength and equipment cannot overcome wisdom and courage.  They cannot be intimidated or bribed, and they won't bow down out of any foolish and ignorant belief that another man can claim superiority.   If every man were like this tyrants would be unheard of, economic and social prosperity would have gotten to the space age long ago, and much else would be different.  Indeed, what little there is worth living for was developed on the backs of these giants, not merely from the wits of human calculators.

Two Values, Two Beings, Two Realities

The question isn't how do such men or nations live and die, but how do such types of beings come to manifest in this world in the first place.  Obviously they are a different breed of being than those who just go along with the flow of this world, or else ride its currents with great and evil abandon (such as Genghis Khan did, the Evilest Murderer of all time).   These beings are not merely the same sort of physical thing which seems to serve just as well, or even more faithfully, as a container for minds of a far more Epimethean bent.

It is clear that the substantive root of being which manifests the value and the willingness to pursue it must have a nature which is a part that is in accordance with the whole of the universe in which it participates and from which it was generated.  Clearly the reward for being a Moral Being is very bleak in this universe, which clearly favors the moral brute, the being of physicality.  So from what universe does this philosophic being originate?  Not this one, of course.  The domain of reality from which it originates surely is at odds with the polarity of this universe, or else when the beings which are Moral Beings attempted to participate here thy wouldn't be so harshly treated, often because of their greatness as well as in spite of it. 

These value systems are totally at odds, and so they must originate from domains of reality which are likewise completely at odds with each other.   The beings which manifest those value systems are simply phenomenal manifestations of each their own overarching, manifesting reality which orchestrates events so as to produce expressions of itself which satisfy its own value!  What sorts of realities can these be and how did they each manifest?  Why have we found ourselves in one of them, and precisely this one in which the other participates at great cost and without any productive return?

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