Wittgenstein's Bastard

Waxing - and Waning - Philosophic


An investigation into the utility (or futility) of seeking meaning in a quasi-post-modern world.

In his famous Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein sought to design a philosophical system encompassing everything logic could show. He concluded, "That of which we cannot speak, we must pass over in silence." Even though the phrase is a tautology, it is still wrong. Our aim is to speak of that which Wittgenstein could not: the illogical majesty of the universe, the nature of its creator and the meaning of man's being all wrapped up in it.

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Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: German-English Text





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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Good and Evil in a Value-Neutral Universe

In Life, the Universe and Everything (the third book of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series), Ford Prefect's reference to "eddies in the space-time field" is misinterpreted by Arthur Dent as "Eddy's in the space-time field." We later learn that Arthur, too, was correct, for the most improbable of reasons. But what, exactly, are eddies in the space-time field all about?

In the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, we learn of an evil plot to alter the fabric of space-time. We know it's evil because it involves profit motives - on behalf of both the Guide and the Psychiatrists' Guild. And we learn about idealists struggling to keep space-time coherent. But we never get to the root question, why does this matter?

The reason this all comes up is that there's a whole other crop of people talking about space-time, quantum fields and the like: the self-help gurus. One expects the profit motives of the Psychiatrists' Guild to pop up any time, since there are big bucks in this. And what's it all about? Changing your relationship to space-time, to the quantum field.

Since we are all in the space-time field - no respectable physicist could argue with that, changing our relationship changes the whole field. Only very subtly, of course, do these changes show up outside an immediate region. But our every action does in small measure resonate out across the universe. Or, at least it does if everything is interconnected.

I'm typing on a little computer. My fingers are generating enough force to push down the keys. That amounts to force in a certain direction that must send some shockwaves, however imperceptible, down into the table and so on. Cumulative with all the other pressures from here and there, this will have a tiny effect.

Do my actions, or anyone's actions, simply see their force diminish as transmitted across space-time, meaning that I can act as I please with little consequence? Or do the actions reverberate throughout space-time? And if I can, and do, alter space-time for my own purposes, does that really mean anything?

If you read the self-help gurus, you're definitely advised to align yourself with the universe's energy. But are you doing this for the universerse? Or you? Or both? If you're doing it for the universe, what purpose are you serving?

We are often advised to live our lives as works of art. And yet society celebrates the nutcase who makes waves, has a ripple effect. We honor tragedy above comedy, thinking it more "real". But this is a distorted mindset. Reality does not have to be pain and suffering. It can be a field of daisies all blowing just the right way in the wind because, in a fit of circular reasoning, that's the way they should blow. It does not have to be a homeless man with AIDS. Nor even the violent but remarkable process of a baby being born. It could be a piece of chocolate that tastes just right for that moment, again in a bit of circular reasoning, just because it does.

In the value-neutral world of space-time, there may actually be values to be had. Among these, harmony, unity, purity. We admire the mountains, with all their jagged edges, and wonder at God's majesty. But when we make something ourselves, we value smoothness, sleekness. What does this mean?

If God or the Gods have given us a bumpy world, why do we try to make it flat? In a word, ease - the opposite of disease, as every good self-helper can tell you with a smile. We make it easy for the car to whisk over the road, the wind to whip over the car, the rain to run down the house. Only Heinz boasts that it's hard to pour their Ketchup. It must not be smooth as a mountain stream, though why they'd admit to this is unclear. But here comes a thought.

More than one religion talks about reunification, either of God or God's energy. The Hindu seeks Nirvana, elimination from the cycle of being and absorption into the cosmos. The Buddhist, fleeing Dukkha, seeks to be swallowed up by the universe and disappear.

The Christian wants to depart this mortal coil for heaven, a place free of physical torment where one is reunited with the Creator. Clearly this unity or harmony with the creator, a place free of the disunity of separation from the source and stuff of the creation, is a big deal for people.

Can we, however, eliminate the ordinary sufferings of life by finding unity with the creator via unity with creation? Is heaven two steps to the left? Astronomers haven't indicated it's "up there," the way we think of it. So maybe, just maybe, heaven is two step to the left, provided they're in the right direction, with the right intent.

Where's that put right and wrong in a value-neutral universe, though? If you're relaxed enough about it, the universe simply is. That means field-distortions - anger, hate, love, desire and all the rest - are just part of the grid, something that pops up. But if the religious ideals of unity, harmony and purity have arisen not by accident but from an intuitive understanding of some deeper universal purpose, then maybe there is a standard for good and evil in a value-neutral universe: Keep the disortions down, keep the integration and uniformity up. In other words, if we are to live our lives as art, eschew the lumpiness of tragedy, with all its loose ends, and play for comedy, with its penchant for harmonization and resolution.

So the motto for the seeker in a value-neutral universe might be this: Keep it smooth.

posted by gbarto at 4:54 PM