Monday, April 7, 2014

“We had the experience but missed the meaning.”

Roger Kimball at PJ Media:

In one sense, as [English philosopher Roger] Scruton notes, philosophy is the helpmeet of science. It aids in the task of putting our conceptual household in order: tidying up arguments, discarding unjustified claims. But in another sense, philosophy peeks over the shoulder of science to a world that science in principle cannot countenance. “The search for meaning and the search for explanation,” Scruton writes, “are two different enterprises.” 
The problem is that we do not, cannot, inhabit the abstract world that science describes. Reason allows us to distinguish between appearance and reality; but our human reality turns out to be rooted firmly in the realm of appearance. “This worry is not just philosophical,” Scruton observes,

it is also spiritual. The meaning of the world is enshrined in conceptions that science does not recognize: conceptions like beauty, goodness and the soul which grow in the thin top-soil of human discourse. This top-soil is quickly eroded when the flora are cleared from it, and nothing ever grows thereafter. You can see the process at work in the matter of sex. Human sexuality has usually been understood through ideas of love and belonging. … The sexologist clears all this tangled undergrowth away, to reveal the scientific truth of things: the animal organs, the unmoralized impulses, and the tingling sensations. … The meaning of the experience plays no part in the scientific description. 
It is “naked truth”: in [T.S.] Eliot’s words: “We had the experience but missed the meaning.”

The scientific attempt to explore the “depth” of human things is accompanied by a singular danger. For it threatens to destroy our response to the surface. Yet it is on the surface that we live and act: it is there that we are created, as complex appearances sustained by the social interaction which we, as appearances, also create. It is in this thin top-soil that the seeds of human happiness are sown, and the reckless desire to scrape it away — a desire which has inspired all those “sciences of man,” from Marx and Freud to sociobiology — deprives us of our consolation. 

Consolation? Indeed, more: it threatens to deprive us of our humanity. In Plato’s phrase, philosophy turns out in the end to be an effort to “save the appearances.”

Bertrand Russell (no theist he) made the point quite emphatically in his theory of the mind, which he called Neutral Monism. Russell pointed out that we make a great error in understanding the mind when we assert that it is the material aspect-- the brain, neurons, neurochemicals-- that are most tangible, and the mind that is ineffable. The opposite it true, Russell insisted. The mind is the only thing of which we have direct experience. It is the most tangible, the most real, experience we have. We know our mind directly-- not through our senses, unlike any other aspect of the natural world, including matter. The material world is always experienced through the senses, and is removed a step from our experience.

Materialist reduction is never the whole truth. It always leaves out that which is most human and most real.

Materialist reductionism is a deeply flawed philosophical enterprise. There is obviously a place for reductionism in natural science, as long as the severe limitations of the reductionist program are understood. Reductionism is of some value in understanding restricted material and efficient causes in nature, but it is not the truth.

Materialist reduction is a limited enterprise, with little relation to the truth. Reduction is a radical abstraction that leaves out the essentials of human experience, and can never be the basis for a genuine understanding of man.


57 comments:

  1. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyApril 7, 2014 at 6:46 AM

    Here's an example of dark energy quantum entangled acoustics animating gigantic lumbering organo-robots. Now move along. Nothing to see here but oscillating air molecules and replicating meat.

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    1. Senile old fart,

      Another YouTube video, eh? Your link doesn't seem to work.

      Delete
    2. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyApril 7, 2014 at 7:19 AM

      backfield, it works for me. Perhaps the invisible gorillas monkeyed with your mouse.

      Delete
    3. Adm. G Boggs, the video you linked to is a stellar example of why humans are a Privileged Species!

      Delete
    4. Senile old fart,

      It doesn't work on an iPad. So I had to go and turn on the desktop - it's just the same old performance of part of Beethoven's 9th (admittedly one of my favourite symphonies) - you've linked to this before and it's still irrelevant.

      Delete
    5. Who's the "senile old fart" supposed to be? And you're not a troll, right?

      If religion were just fantasy, why does it bother you so much? Why waste your time here as opposed to, say, a forum on Lord of the Rings ...or My Little Pony, for that matter? Since it's all the same to you, what do you care what other people believe? That would be like me hanging around TalkOrigins all day arguing with atheists. I've got better things to do.

      Delete
    6. Michael,

      'Senile old fart' is Georgie Boggs. I started calling him 'senile old fart' when he started calling me 'blinkfast' and variants. I have a preferred moniker.

      As I have said before, I am fascinated how religion can make some (not all) of its adherents ga-ga. Egnor is a perfect example. This thread is about something real. Materialism. Not 'Lord of the Rings'.

      Delete
  2. Egnor,

    You assert, without evidence, that materialism will never eventually be able to explain everything in the Universe. Instead, you assert that it is absolutely necessary to have something supernatural, ineffable, for which there isn't the slightest evidence of it existing - and for which it is extremely likely that no evidence will ever be found.

    Sounds reasonable to me...

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    1. Commissar Boggs, Ministry of TruthApril 7, 2014 at 7:38 AM

      barkmad: "there isn't the slightest evidence of [a supernatural] it existing - and for which it is extremely likely that no evidence will ever be found"

      Of course, barkmad refers to physical evidence and his comment is a tautology. A methodology designed specifically to exclude all non-physical evidence cannot possibly "find" evidence that is non-physical.

      You're doing a great job, barkmad!

      Delete
    2. backward wrote: "...no evidence will ever be found."

      Not by anyone suffering from, as Plato said, "an error of understanding", which is exactly your case!

      Delete
    3. Senile old fart,

      Theoretically, some method could be found to confirm the existence of the supernatural or non-material.

      You just can't assert that materialism will never be able to eventually explain everything physical that we know exists (such as love), and as a result - by necessity - you must have something non-material to explain it. Without having evidence that the non-material exists.

      Regarding love; the physical basis of love and attraction is being worked out. Oxytocin as the 'love hormone" might be a bit of a cliche - but there's also the fascinating neurological condition of the Capgras syndrome, in which a discrete lesion interrupts the connection between the temporal lobe (where human faces are identified) and the limbic system (where emotions are generated). The afflicted individuals recognise another person (a parent, a spouse), but doesn't develop an emotional response. And as a result, the afflicted person often develops the delusion that a loved person ( a parent or a spouse) has been replaced by an impostor. And sometimes attempts to kill the person.

      Most of the stuff that makes us human is done subconsciously in the brain. Such as emotions. We are unaware of the subconscious processes, but they're still material. It isn't necessary to posit the existence of a soul or anything non-material to explain subconscious brain processes.

      We are aware of what the mind - the conscious brain - does. But we aren't aware of what the subconscious brain does, obviously. And the subconscious brain does the 'heavy lifting'.

      Delete
    4. Commissar Boggs, Ministry of TruthApril 7, 2014 at 8:23 AM

      blankfield: "we're aware of what the mind does" Huh???

      Who is the "we" in that statement, and what is the "mind" that is doing the doing? Are you a Cartesian dualist?

      Anyway, just to clarify:
      Methodological naturalism is the label for the required assumption of philosophical naturalism when working with the scientific method.
      --- Wiki: Methodological Naturalism

      I doubt you know what all those words mean, so please take the time to educate yourself before you make some inane comment.

      Delete
    5. Senile old fart,

      'We're aware of what the mind does'. I was paraphrasing Egnor's 'We know our mind directly'.

      If you object to my statement, then you should also object to Egnor's. So take it up with him too.

      But obviously. We are conscious of our conscious brain. We are not conscious of our subconscious brain.

      Returning to the Capgras syndrome - we can construct computer based face recognition systems, which can often do a better job than humans (for one thing, computers never get fatigued). But only humans develop an emotional response to a known face, be it love or hate. And we know that there's a material neurological basis for it - not some non-material ineffable cause.

      Egnor insisted that love can't be explained by materialism. The Capgras syndrome proves him wrong.

      Delete
    6. Commissar Boggs, Ministry of TruthApril 7, 2014 at 10:10 AM

      blindfool: "Egnor insisted that love can't be explained by materialism. The Capgras syndrome proves him wrong."

      That's one of the most ridiculous things I've ever read (behind, of course, the gigantic lumbering robot idiocy). How, exactly, does the Capgras syndrome "prove" him wrong?

      Delete
    7. Senile old fart,

      Egnor insists that materialism can't explain love. Why someone feels affection for someone known. The Capgras syndrome is an example of what happens when material damage destroys a person's ability to feel affection for a known person without affecting the person's ability to identify.

      Delete
  3. Tide goes in, tide goes out, never a miscommunication. You can't explain that.

    Bill O'Reilly

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    1. Wax on, wax off.

      Mr Miyagi

      Delete
  4. “Materialist reduction is a limited enterprise” Looks like the sooty old pot has seen its reflection in the shiny new kettle. Your unconvincing medieval arguments have no explanatory or predictive power whatsoever, and are only evoked when someone wants to make an “intellectual” argument for the existence of God. It’s hard to imagine an enterprise more limited than that.

    -KW

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  5. Commissar Boggs, Ministry of TruthApril 7, 2014 at 7:51 AM

    Daily Truth™:

    OK. I'm finally on board with the whole global warming thing. First they came for the spotted newts, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a spotted newt. Then they came for the arctic lakes, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't an arctic lake. Then they came for the Dartford warblers, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Dartford warbler. But now...

    They've come for the Louisville Sluggers:
    "If climate change reduces those extreme cold temperatures in northern states, which can kill [the white ash], it may allow it to spread north faster," said Dan Herms, a professor and entomologist at Ohio State University. "But surely they'll get to where Louisville Slugger is."
    --- The Daily Climate

    Baseball is sacred.

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    1. Admiral or Commissar (whatever your psychotic illness is making you this minute),

      And then they came for the senile old farts ...

      If I were you, I'd be worried, very worried...

      Delete
  6. Thought of the day: Not just the mind, but the brain is partly immaterial. On the hylemorphic account, all things are composed of matter and form. If brain is a meaningful term and refers to a universal it requires a form. Form is by definition immaterial.

    Curio

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    1. Ok. First this - All atheists and most theists today have inherited an understanding of nature and matter that the ancients didn't share. I don't mean the obvious fact that the ancients didn't have super colliders or particle physics. I mean, we've dropped two of the four causes.

      Let's take the standard model of particle physics as a given. String theory would work too, but since it's a little too speculative for my taste we'd better stick with SM.

      At the end of the day, all things are made of the same "stuff". You, me, this desk, the computer, my dead cat. They're all composed, at the fundamental level, of quarks. (Until we find something even more fundamental. Preons?)

      How is it possible that things in this world are different, if they admit no differences on a sub-atomic level?

      Atomism was a well worn theory by the time Aristotle wrote his Physics. To account for differences in things, we'd better posit something in addition to matter.

      Matter takes different forms. The columns of the temple of Artemis, and Michelangelo's David are both made of marble. Why are they different? They take different form.

      Form, for Aristotle, didn't just mean "shape". It meant something closer to essence.

      Brains are real things. The fact that we can use the word "brain" to refer to the 3 pound organ in your skull, as well as the 3 pound organ in my skull, means they must have the same essence. Otherwise we'd have to come up with a new name and definition for every 3 pound organ we observed.

      In addition to being composed of matter, the brain takes on a certain form. Form is not matter. Hence, form is immaterial.

      This blog is full of easy to read explanations of Scholastic metaphysics.

      Curio

      Delete
    2. Notice how Curio tries to put some intellectual meat on the bones by mentioning String Theory, the Standard Model, Atomism, Quarks, and Preons, before admitting he simply means “stuff”, and never referring to any of it again.

      Ancient philosophers correctly noted those things are made of stuff, I’ll give you that. The rest is a wrong guess by scientifically illiterate men about the organizing principles of said stuff.

      -KW

      Delete
    3. Curio: "At the end of the day, all things are made of the same "stuff". You, me, this desk, the computer, my dead cat. They're all composed, at the fundamental level, of quarks. (Until we find something even more fundamental. Preons?)

      How is it possible that things in this world are different, if they admit no differences on a sub-atomic level?"


      Let me get this straight, Curio. Hydrogen and helium are made of the same "stuff": protons, neutrons, and electrons at the subatomic level. Are you proposing that the difference between these atoms is a reflection of different form, whatever that word means?

      If so, this "explanation" explains exactly nothing.

      On the other hand, we have a pretty good theory (quantum mechanics) that elucidates the properties of both atoms rather well.

      Thoughts?

      Hoo

      Delete
    4. Ugh. Give a little, will you KW?

      Democritus posited that everything is made up of tiny colorless atoms back in the B.Cs. The reason I started with SM was so that Hoo, or whoever, could begin to understand Thomistic metaphysics with something they are already familiar with.

      It doesn't matter if the fundamental particles of matter are atoms, quarks or vibrating strings. I was driving at the following point: Believing that the universe consists only of matter, and matter is just tiny particles, gives us an insufficient explanation.

      Here's more on the four causes.

      http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/4causes.html

      Question KW, do you believe things have essences? Do you believe in universals? How is it possible to refer to many things by the same name?

      These are valid questions, but they are not questions that can be answered by performing experiments and taking measurements.

      Curio

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    5. Hoo -

      Let me get this straight, Curio. Hydrogen and helium are made of the same "stuff": protons, neutrons, and electrons at the subatomic level. Are you proposing that the difference between these atoms is a reflection of different form, whatever that word means?

      I'm so glad you used that example. I've long thought that chemistry, of all the modern physical sciences, has retained more of it's Aristotelian heritage.

      Hydrogen and helium are made of the same stuff - and yet have different properties. And so we'd be reasonable if we concluded that hydrogen and helium were, in some sense, different. So yes - they have different forms. We can designate them by atomic number, but note that modern, mathematical science is only interested in quantitative differences.

      You'll find no measure-numbers in Aristotle. He was writing about qualitative differences in nature. I'm sorry you find the formal-cause explanation adds nothing. It doesn't give us predictive power over nature. The only thing it does is give us a coherent account of nature.

      Curio

      Delete
    6. This problem isn't unique to Aristotle, Curio. All of philosophy is vague in the same sense. Too general. Not specific enough.

      Hoo

      Delete
    7. Final note on Quantum Mechanics contra Thomism:

      They are not in competition!. They are asking different questions, using different methods, and naturally - getting different answers.

      More than a few 20th c. Thomists (Anthony Rizzi, William Wallace, Stanley Jaki) had PhDs in physics. Modern science builds on the firm foundation of Aristotelian metaphysics - rather than overturning it with new experimental results and mathematical models.

      C

      Delete
  7. I wonder if Bach, Hoo, and KW are honest with their wives, girlfriends and children (in Troy's case -- his boyfriends). "I would say I love you but to be honest I have to say I have a little extra oxytocin in my brain for you." How very empty and sad.

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    1. Well, that does sound similar to my idea for "materialist valentines cards". But more to the point - calling someone "you" has already taken one out of eliminative materialism. No one actually sees people as sacks of chemicals.

      Bach has already said on many occasions that he isn't a reductionist, and admits to something like a mind (the part of the brain that chooses between competing options).

      I don't know Hoo or KW's position on many things, other than they find philosophy to be an exercise in futile speculation.

      C

      Delete
    2. Commissar Boggs, Ministry of TruthApril 7, 2014 at 2:17 PM

      BR: "I wonder if..."

      No one lives their life as if the philosophical tripe they spout were true (and remains unconfined) - even socially successful psychopaths don't do that. However, I doubt they enjoy normal social lives by any stretch of the imagination, any more than Sandra Fluke could possibly enjoy a normal social life.

      Delete
    3. Curio,

      I'm not certain that I'm not a reductionist. Having a mind (a conscious brain) doesn't mean that there isn't a subconscious brain which is doing an enormous amount of work (all the heavy lifting in fact) in processing sensory inputs to create a seamless picture of the external world, coordinating motor actions, making decisions, attaching emotions to thoughts and sensations, etc, etc.

      Affection for a spouse or girl friend is added by the lambic system, and she doesn't need to be present, just thought of. Subconsciously. You don't have to think to feel affection. But it's still done by the person's brain. The person.

      Delete
    4. Oops 'lambic' should read 'limbic'. I should stop typing when I'm listening to the hymn that Copland used in 'Appalachian Spring' on the radio.

      Delete
    5. The subconscious part of your brain had a slip. The only question is - was it Freudian, Jungian, or Libetian?

      Also, thanks for clarifying your position. Indeed the limbic system is active when our loved ones are around. For better or worse.

      Curio

      Delete
    6. Curio,

      I suspect the slip was the spellcheck on my iPad. It thinks 'lambic' is a word.

      Anyway. Off topic Matt Taibbi has a new book out today on inequality in America. His last book was 'Griftopia' which did a lovely job on investment bankers, Obamacare and Republican/Democrat politics.

      I've had it on pre-order for at least 6 months, with mounting impatience.

      Delete
    7. Sounds interesting, you'll have to let us know if it's worth reading.

      The whole system seems, from where I stand, terribly corrupt. Despite the populist rhetoric, Obama's admin. has been nothing but lenient with Wall St. crooks.

      Curio

      Delete
    8. Curio,

      I only got it this afternoon. So far, so good. He's not particularly kind to the Obama administration.

      Delete
  8. So you're saying that you don't really love anyone, is that correct Bach? Your parents, grand parents, siblings, wife, kids? No one because love really doesn't exist outside of hormones in your brain? Is that correct?

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    1. Big Rich,

      Your brain (assuming you have a brain, which I'm beginning to doubt...) is you. The love you express is no less real even if it's caused by neurotransmitters in your brain. Love, just like a rainbow, is no less beautiful for knowing its basis.

      How about telling me how you think love is generated?

      Delete
    2. Well, it's an act of the will for one. So love presupposes "free will", which materialism doesn't grant.

      Curio

      Delete
    3. Seriously, Curio? You think it requires an act of free will to love someone? Wow.

      Delete
    4. Troy, oh most definitely. I hate to sound like some sort of ultra traditional reactionary... but the "modern view" of love is pretty far off base.

      If you've ever seen a romantic comedy, or any kind of romantic movie, you can get a good intimation of it. The view of love as a mushy feeling. A swarm of emotions that overtakes you. Raw passion.

      St. Thomas, my favorite philosopher, had it right. To love is to actively will the good of another. That means even when you don't have a rush of dopamine upon seeing them. Even on those days when your wife bothers you, doesn't look as attractive, etc. You still act in such a way as to make her feel loved.

      So, on that definition, there's absolutely a free act of the will taking place. Think of a shotgun wedding. If Hicksville Joe holds a gun to your head and says "marry my daughter... and love her while you're at it!", you're not in the best position to express genuine love.

      Curio

      Delete
    5. Curio,

      The 'free will' is that the conscious brain agrees to accept the decision made by the subconscious brain - made for reasons of which the conscious brain is larger unaware.

      Delete
    6. Bach,

      You may find a Richard Dawkins quote congenial to your position. It's from his excellent book the Extended Phenotype

      "We would also probably all agree that the human nervous systems are so complex that in practice we can forget about determinism and behave as if we had free will" (p. 11 of the edition I'm looking at)

      We had a little back-n-forth a few posts ago on free will, and it didn't get too far. What exactly the "subconscious brain" is and does is still open to further investigation. Given the absurdity of rejecting things like love, law, and moral culpability, we ought to at least admit that we behave as though we had free will.

      Curio

      Delete
    7. Curio,

      Agreed. Society can't function without the presumption of 'free will'. That people are responsible for their actions. It's just that I define 'free will' as 'conscious uncaused decisions'. Most decisions are made subconsciously for reasons of which we're usually not aware (and the mind then agrees and looks for a rational reason for the decision) and are caused (everything has a cause).

      If decisions were conscious and caused, then if you know the causes, then a person's decisions become potentially predictable by an observer, and the person no longer has free will.

      Delete
  9. Love is transcendent. It is an attribute of God that exists outside of me. It isn't simply a physical brain response. If it is one cant really love anyone. If it is just a physical reaction it may go as fast as it came. When the reaction's gone, do you quit loving your parents? Your kids? This is why materialism is so bankrupt. If you follow it consistently it produces monsters so most materialists talk a good theoretical game but can't go home and tell their loved ones what they really think. They know instinctively that love is transcendent whether they admit it or not.

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    1. Big Rich,

      If love is transcendent, then why do a large number of marriages end in hate and divorce?

      Love and affection are learned responses - such as riding a bicycle. You never forget to ride a bike. You don't stop loving or feeling affection suddenly.

      Anyhow. You don't have any evidence that love is transcendent, and not physical. The Capgras syndrome demonstrates that love is in the brain (see my comments to Senile old fart above).

      Delete
  10. Simply because fallen people don't always practice perfect love doesn't mean perfect love is not transcendent. Jesus practiced perfect love -- "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." You know this. I really don't need to explain it to you. Do you have kids? Have you told them that your love for them and their love for you is just meaningless hormones ? I doubt it. You tell them you love them and they understand that to mean something bigger than random, meaningless hormones. If they don't, that is very sad indeed.

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    1. Big Rich,

      Do you have problems with reading comprehension? I never wrote that love or affection is just 'meaningless hormones'.

      Go back and read my comments. Or better still, get someone to explain them to you.

      Delete
  11. That's what your position boils down to, Bach, "neurotransmitters in your brain," and nothing more, but I submit to you that you know that this is not true. You know that love for your parents, wife (what were your marriage vows, btw?) children, is more than that and you know that by reducing it to a physical brain function only, you've made love ultimately meaningless, subjective and capricious, and because you've rejected transcendent love, you have diminished yourself. One cannot live a full life without understanding and accepting transcendence. To reject it is to reject yourself because you are a transcendent being created in the image of God. You reject that at your peril but you accept it to the promise of a more fulfilled and satisfied life in tune with what you know and practice already even if you consciously reject it.

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    1. Big Rich,

      Not just neurotransmitters in the brain, but also rewired neural circuits in the limbic system, resulting in the emotions of love and affection whenever the loved person is seen or thought about.

      As permanent as the ability to ride a bike.

      Love like a rainbow doesn't stop being beautiful for knowing the underlying physical basis. Saying that it's transcendental doesn't add anything. You wouldn't claim that being able to ride a bike or use a foreign language are transcendental, but they have exactly the same basis; reinforced neural circuits with repetition over time resulting in a long lasting change.

      Delete
  12. So in your world, your feelings for your family are just evolved physical responses but nothing more?

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    1. Big Rich,

      Will you stop with your 'gotcha!' moments already? Adding 'transcendental' to the real physical basis of affection adds nothing.

      Claiming that something is 'transcendental' explains nothing. And you have no evidence that it exists.

      'Evolved physical responses' actually says a lot. That they're useful in ensuring survival.

      Delete
    2. Big Rich,

      Another way of expressing it is to note that the human brain has evolved to be the way it is. It didn't evolve to 'love'. Love is a learned skill. If you don't have the opportunity to learn to love (as with the very unfortunate orphans in the Roumanian orphanages), then you won't love.

      Nothing transcendental. Love doesn't develop by itself.

      Delete
  13. If love is not transcendent, then it is meaningless. You know this but won't admit it because of the implications which turns you and every materialist into someone who can't even say they love their parents and mean anything by it other than they have some brain activity. Wow how special your parents and significant other must feel. "Hey baby, I have some brain activity for you." Romantic! If love is just a learned response, it is nothing, and I've already asked you previously, if everything is just brain activity, how do you know you're not a battery in the Matrix? How do you know what is real and what is just your brain creating your reality? And why bother loving the orphans -- survival of the fittest, remember -- or anyone else for that matter, if it's just a reaction in your brain and where did you get the morality you're spewing about orphans. Who cares about orphans? Didn't de Sade have it right? Might makes right, right? Morality can't exist in a materialist world so rape and torture are perfectly acceptable if that's what floats your boat. Isn't that how the "other" animals do it? The tiger isn't immoral for killing the cubs of the rival male, is he? No need for caring for orphans or love -- just reactions in the brain. Are you seriously telling me you can't see the gapping hole in your worldview? It's got to be pretty miserable too. It isn't just that you don't really love anyone. It's that they don't love you either. How does that feel? It's got to be pretty depressing. Don't you want to know that you are loved with an unconditional transcendent love?

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    1. Big Rich,

      Well, how do you know you're not a unit in the Matrix? With the idea that the 'transcendental' exists implanted in you, but still just as unreal as everything else you perceive?

      And anyway, what makes you think that love mediated by brain function can't be real, meaningful and long lasting - just the same as mastering a foreign language? And capable of giving exactly the same pleasure?

      By the way - tigers don't form prides. They're solitary. You're thinking of lions, in which the lion kills the cubs in a pride he's taken over, in order to induce the lionesses to go into oestrus.

      And the story about the Rumanian orphans wasn't about morality. Do a Google search and find out for yourself the damage they suffer.

      Delete