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Immune to nihilism
Posted: 05 June 2008 07:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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Salt Creek - 05 June 2008 09:31 PM

I was a unitarian universalist one summer, for about six weeks. Her name was Molly, and she was the minister’s daughter.

“And then I saw her face, now I’m a believer”

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Posted: 06 June 2008 06:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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This whole nihilism thing looks a lot like that “Why do atheists hate God so much” nonsense. It reminds me that there are two kinds of atheists: New School atheist like us who do not believe in God, and Old School atheists who believe that they don’t believe in God.  All those 19th and early 20th century thinkers were really up against It. There were few places where such an evacuation of faith could have any meaning of its own. Not believing in the ideas that generated the everyday world around them left them isolated and alienated. For the theist, the question is veiled. What they are really asking is, “Why do they hate us so much?”
Most of us (and I know there are many still trapped in a sacred world) never lived in the world they tried so hard to convince themselves wasn’t really there. Most of us live in a world so secular that we can get through a whole week without it mattering in the slightest to anyone around us whether we believe in Jehovah or WhoEver. Those of us who look to Science for meaning have found that our everyday world isn’t about believing in the universe, it’s about trusting each other.
Anyway… This nihilism thing is more of the same. There’s two kinds, and which one you see depends on where you think you are.

The Old Nihilism….

…as described by the somber, condescending voice of Dick Cheney, over scenes from Metropolis and 1984
“The world of the nihilist is an empty, drab and pointless place. Life is meaningless and concepts like loyalty and fidelity can find no purchase in a mind that knows only fear and lust. The nihilist stumbles through a grey world without the clarity provided by the pure white light that illuminates our reason and reveals the shadows of the dark places where Evil lies in waiting. No such moral beacon exists for the nihilist. Nihilists gather together on Sunday Morning to watch paint dry and to listen to the sound of no hands clapping. Love, trust, sincerity… what would a nihilist do with such things?”


The New Nihilism….

…as described by a cheerful and smiling Betty White, over scenes of a meadow full of bunnies and kittens….
“Too many of us are spending our lives in a world so full of meaning that living in it is like traveling down a road that is cluttered with so many road signs telling you the way it is that you can’t see and enjoy the scenery. Pull off that dusty old road and head into the wilderness. Why not live your life in a fresh, clean, meaning-free universe. Each of us has a chance to see what the universe can mean to us right now in our lives. Let love and trust find their own path to meaning with those around you one day at a time.
Why spend four thousand years reading about what the universe meant to everyone else? When you judge for yourself, everyday is Judgment Day. Why not wake up each morning and open your eyes and greet that first inrush of photons with a smile and a “What’s all this then?”


Personally, I’m okay with the universe, and I feel privileged to be here. Maybe it all means something to somebody and maybe it doesn’t. I’m sure it would look exactly the same to me either way.
If one were to look through a telescope and find meaning in a distant constellation, wouldn’t that be what the stars meant hundreds or thousands of years ago? Am I wrong to assume that meaningfulness does not travel faster than light?
If so, doesn’t that mean it will take billions of years for the universe to mean anything to us, anyway?
Maybe Cern will use their particle accelerator to discover the mean-on and the anti-mean-on. Then we will know that nihilism is just an interaction of quantum mysticism.

… and a bit more from Dick
“The universe is full of meaning. You can find it anywhere. You just have to have the right attitude and know where to look. I’ll show you what I mean. Hang on, while I put this stick of gum in my mouth. The rest of you will find a piece under your chairs. Now, repeat after me, while chewing vigorously…. Nihilism. Nine eleven. Nihilism. Nine eleven. Talk about your chickens coming home to roost….”

[ Edited: 06 June 2008 07:13 AM by Nhoj Morley]
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Posted: 06 June 2008 07:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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Salt Creek - 05 June 2008 09:31 PM

I was a unitarian universalist one summer, for about six weeks. Her name was Molly, and she was the minister’s daughter.

If you had really been a unitarian universalist, you would have united with the entire congregation, not just Molly.

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Posted: 06 June 2008 09:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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homunculus - 04 June 2008 11:27 PM
waltercat - 03 June 2008 05:00 PM

. . . If meaning is created, well, then there’s meaning.  And that is not compatible with the nihilistic claim that the universe is without meaning.

Waltercat, in your experience and/or reading, is a nihilist by definition also a depressive, or somehow charged with negative energy, so to speak? I ask for your feedback because I’m wondering how lindajean and you could come up with such disparate statements on what it is to be a nihilist. Is one of you correct and one mistaken, according to standards within the philosophy community? I can read all the various definitions of nihilism, by the way, and not have any satisfactory (to me) answer to my question. So I’m asking for help from you and CanZen, as well.


I have been thinking about how to respond to your very interesting question, h.  I guess part of the problem is that I don’t know any nihilists personally.  I have known people who claim to be nihilists, but most of them betray this commitment in any number of subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) ways.  Salt Creek, for example, often comes across as a nihilist, but I have come to realize that he is really just a run-of-the-mill misanthrope.  SC has clear ideas about how the world should be and views about what would make the world better.  So, he does have aesthetic and moral values.  But he takes a great deal of pride in claiming that his values are not anthropocentric, unlike the rest of humanity.

Since I don’t know him personally, I have no idea is SC is a depressive.  Since he is not really a nihilist, I guess this is really neither here nor there as far as this discussion is concerned.

I think that a real, honest-to-goodness nihilist would find it very easy to slip into depression.  But this is not because a nihilist is depressed by definition but rather because human nature is such that we are constantly struggling to find meaning and purpose and we find it next to impossible to live a life that we self-consciously regard as pointless.

I wonder if your question isn’t more of a question about whether my understanding of nihilism is correct.  To answer that question, I could throw around my educational weight and declare that I am an authority in virtue of my degrees etc.  (and I certainly grant that I do sometimes resort to such arguments).  But I really do expect that if one reflects on the sense of the term (and on its etymology) one will see that I am correct.  The term ‘nihilism’ comes from the same root as ‘annihilate’, which means to “to cause to cease to exist.”  That which is annihilated no longer exists.  Nihilism is thus the philosophical theory that meaning, purpose, and value do not exist.

I think that most of the atheists on this forum would be better described as existentialists rather than nihilists.  Existentialists (such as Camus and Sartre) recognized that there is not a ready-made source of value and purpose in the universe.  The task of the individual who recognizes this is to, in some sense, create meaning and value out of his own actions and decisions.  On this view the only meaning that exists is the meaning that we create through our own choices.  I think this view comports with Canzen’s views; much more so than nihilism.

[ Edited: 06 June 2008 09:22 PM by waltercat]
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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
-Ivan Karamazov

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Posted: 06 June 2008 10:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 06 June 2008 11:31 AM
Salt Creek - 05 June 2008 09:31 PM

I was a unitarian universalist one summer, for about six weeks. Her name was Molly, and she was the minister’s daughter.

If you had really been a unitarian universalist, you would have united with the entire congregation, not just Molly.

If I was a glutton, maybe.

This was more of an al fresco church picnic - light, fluffy, creamy cupcakes with sweet cherries on top, moist, fuzzy peaches, and oysters on the half-shell fresh from a beach of seaweed and salt air. None of this “covered dish” stuff, with indescribable amalgams of vegetables, bacon, and canned mushroom soup.

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Posted: 06 June 2008 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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Salt Creek - 06 June 2008 02:38 PM
Bruce Burleson - 06 June 2008 11:31 AM
Salt Creek - 05 June 2008 09:31 PM

I was a unitarian universalist one summer, for about six weeks. Her name was Molly, and she was the minister’s daughter.

If you had really been a unitarian universalist, you would have united with the entire congregation, not just Molly.

If I was a glutton, maybe.

This was more of an al fresco church picnic - light, fluffy, creamy cupcakes with sweet cherries on top, moist, fuzzy peaches, and oysters on the half-shell fresh from a beach of seaweed and salt air. None of this “covered dish” stuff, with indescribable amalgams of vegetables, bacon, and canned mushroom soup.

For a moment, I thought you were actually talking about food. Hope you enjoyed the cherries.

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Posted: 06 June 2008 12:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]  
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Wow, Nhoj, that was fuckin’ beautiful.  I could say a lot more, but I don’t want to clutter or debase the compliment. Take the rest of the day off—with pay. You deserve it.

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Posted: 06 June 2008 02:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]  
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Nhoj Morley - 06 June 2008 10:40 AM

everyday is Judgment Day. Why not wake up

This is like the voice of the anti-Watchtower Society.

In the other forum, I’ve been trying to talk up floccipaucinihilipilificationalism. It is the antithesis of misunderestimationalism.

Meaningfulness travels at a speed somewhere between the speed of light and the speed of shit through a goose. For most people, meaning gets stuck in neutral, but for a lucky few, something has meaning for a few days, and then, OOPS!, it’s on to the next meaningful thing.

This is just my exegesis of what Nhoj said. He said it best.

[ Edited: 06 June 2008 02:13 PM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 06 June 2008 02:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]  
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The word nihilism always confuses me. I think it is annihilism, and that I understand and agree with. grin

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‘Every reflecting mind must acknowledge that there is no proof of the existence of a Deity’

‘If ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, knowledge of nature destroys them’

Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Posted: 06 June 2008 07:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]  
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waltercat - 06 June 2008 01:42 PM

. . .
I wonder if your question isn’t more of a question about whether my understanding of nihilism is correct. . . .

Thanks much for the information, waltercat. I hope that by now you realize how much I respect the level of knowledge you’ve managed to arrive at in your field. Generally, my skepticism targets the entire philosophical field, and several other fields, as well. It feels terrific to be able to pose questions to be addressed by experts such as you and CanZen, and I’ll attempt to digest what you said. I hope your patience with my questions continues.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Posted: 07 June 2008 07:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]  
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Salt Creek - 06 June 2008 02:38 PM

None of this “covered dish” stuff, with indescribable amalgams of vegetables, bacon, and canned mushroom soup.

“Hot dish!”

I wonder why I keep thinking about Garrison Keillor while reading this thread.

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“I will tell you with the utmost impudence that I esteem much more his Person, than his Works.”

  (Dryden, St. Euremont’s Essays, 1692.)

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Posted: 08 June 2008 01:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]  
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M is for Malapert - 07 June 2008 11:32 PM

I wonder why I keep thinking about Garrison Keillor while reading this thread.

I’m glad to see that there is another Garrison Keillor fan around. One good reason to leave church by noon on Sunday is that this is when A Prairie Home Companion comes on the local radio. Keillor never fails to crack me up.

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Posted: 08 June 2008 02:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 08 June 2008 05:42 PM
M is for Malapert - 07 June 2008 11:32 PM

I wonder why I keep thinking about Garrison Keillor while reading this thread.

I’m glad to see that there is another Garrison Keillor fan around. One good reason to leave church by noon on Sunday is that this is when A Prairie Home Companion comes on the local radio. Keillor never fails to crack me up.

And for an extra treat, if you get the CBC you can listen to his Canadian counterpart: Stuart Mclane on the Vinal Cafe (and how the hell does one spell vinal?) on Saturday morning or Sunday noon.

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Posted: 08 June 2008 03:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]  
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burt - 08 June 2008 06:27 PM

(and how the hell does one spell vinal?)

Make a quick study of organic chemistry, and the revelation will occur. In the vinyl analysis.

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Posted: 08 June 2008 05:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]  
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Salt Creek - 08 June 2008 07:27 PM
burt - 08 June 2008 06:27 PM

(and how the hell does one spell vinal?)

Make a quick study of organic chemistry, and the revelation will occur. In the vinyl analysis.

Question: I have never once seen you listed as an “Active Member.” Is there some way that you shield your identity when you are reading the posts, or do you actually suspend time itself when posting, so that the rest of us mortals never see it happen?

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