On the Meaning of Life: a Response to Some Musician and Andromeda’s Wake


Let’s clear the air here,

I haven’t been very active, but I was working 70 hours a week and I just didn’t have the time to write on my blog.  Therefore, when I write “recently,” I mean within the last month.

So “recently,” I’ve noticed atheists on the internet have been fleshing out what their personal beliefs are on the meaning of life.  I’m aware there is no pattern in my perceived increase in frequency of this type of post, nevertheless, I feel compelled to respond.  The two atheists to which I’m doing so are Some Musician here on WordPress and the YouTuber Andromeda’s Wake.  With that written, this isn’t so much a critique of their posts—though I put Andromeda’s Wake through quite a schlacking—but questions or food-for-thought on their atheistic world view.  Although my response is applicable to them both, the issues I attempt to raise are mainly derived from Andromeda’s Wake’s video.  The intent here is not to come off harsh or inappropriate to the context at hand, though I foresee my post being received in such a manner.  This whole paragraph is my contingency disclaimer for such interpretations.

On one last note before I go in guns blazing (just kidding), if you have not checked out Some Musician’s blog, do so immediately before finishing my post.  Oscar was the first to welcome me to the discussion here on WordPress, and to say our subsequent exchanges have been fair is a gross understatement.  He has been cordial, thoughtful and moreover, been everything I hoped to find when I started my blog.  So go over there now and subscribe, subscribe, subscribe.  If you enjoy engaging in meaningful dialogue with others and thinking about their beliefs and your own, his blog is a must.  This is the link to specific post to which prompted me to write the below post.

Oh, and here is Andromeda’s Wake’s video:

My critique begins at 3:58-4:45.  Here, Andromeda’s Wake admits we have no free will and shows he’s a determinist — a hard one at that.  He’s not a soft determinist or what’s known as a compatibilist—one who believes there is no contradiction between everything being causally determined and the existence of free will.  He says “our reasons, emotions and moral choices are products of the conscious mind and are necessarily dependent on stimuli from the external, physical world.”  Andromeda’s Wake reasons this from his view that the mind is indistinguishable from the brain.  If this is true, and our brain responds to physical stimuli, then our choices are merely biological responses to physical and chemical button-pushing.  Therefore, according to Andromeda’s Wake, “free will is an illusion.  Yet, however bleak this may seem, it remains purpose, morality, spiritual experience and emotional energy are all real.”

Andromeda’s Wake, really?  From what it seems to me, you reasoned yourself into a contradiction.  The reality of purpose, morality, spiritual experience and emotional energy does not exist under a view where free will is illusory.  Take morality, for example.  If our choices, including our ethical ones, are determined by our reactions to physical laws, then it’s difficult to see why morality exists at all.  Ought implies can.  If we don’t have free will, then how can we be held accountable for our actions.  Given Andromeda’s Wake’s reductionist metaphysics, it’s impossible to see how my killing of John was nothing other than a bio/chemical reaction to certain stimuli.  I was not responsible; whatever stimulated me was.  If this is true, then I struggle to discern why we should take morality to be real or let alone seriously in the first place.  As an aside, I hope this meta-ethical conclusion appears as equally disturbing to you as it does to me.

Furthermore, the same line of thought applies to purpose, spiritual experience and emotional energy.  If free will goes, than so do these three in spite of Andromeda’s Wake’s mistaken view that they don’t.  I actually find myself frustrated at his arbitrariness in this video.  He concedes free will is non-existent, but lumbers on and acts like there are no philosophical repercussions for such an admittance.  On different occasions, he will declare our free will non-existent, but then right afterward, talk of feeling purpose when sending a friend an e-mail or that morality is still relevant.

Now, Andromeda’s Wake does go on and assures us that even without free will our lives can still be “good” and worthwhile.  He says, “but even if we fully embrace the notion we don’t have free will, we can still be happy, make others happy and lead very fulfilling lives.”  Andromeda’s Wake defines a good life as a happy life, but again I disagree.

Granted, sans free will does not mean we can’t “feel” happiness—our body can be stimulated to experience the biological sensation of happiness—however, I would argue happiness is not solely intrinsically valuable in life.  Remember, Andromeda’s Wake doesn’t believe we are endowed with free will.  That, we are merely organisms with sensory receivers and our subsequent actions are dictated by stimuli in the physical world.  In other words, we are manipulated into feeling happy.  We don’t choose to be happy; we only react.

I don’t know about you, but the implications of such a proposition leaves me feeling distraught, and I’m not the only one.  Philosopher Rene Descartes pondered whether an evil demon was deceiving him, something philosophers nowadays call a brain-in-a-vat hypothesis.  All our perceptions are actually our brains being prodded through electrodes and chemicals feeding from tubes.  Another modern and more familiar rendition is found in the Matrix franchise.  Neo certainly rejected the life wired into the Matrix to disguise the fact his life force was being siphoned to power machines as unworthy of continuing.

The "Chosen One"

Last but not least, I offer the late philosopher Robert Nozick’s essay “The Experience Machine.”  In it, Nozick challenges us to think of a device exists that allows the user to experience anything he or she wants.  The user can be plugged into it indefinitely and essentially feel happy for the rest of his or her life.  Nozick concludes pleasurable experiences and happiness are not the only things intrinsically valuable, and he would disconnect from the machine.  There is something about having the autonomy to do and feel as we want that is worthwhile in its own right.  As my ethics professor said, we not only want to feel like we’ve beaten Roger Federer in tennis, we actually want do it.  I can’t help but find myself agreeing with Nozick and company.

I also hope you see how Nozick’s experience machine is similar to Andromeda’s Wake’s worldview.  According to it, we are plugged into a big experience machine (the physical universe).  And yes, sometimes we are juiced to feel pleasure and happiness, but we are only responding to whatever program the machine is running.  We don’t have the autonomy to feel happiness on our own.

So, Oscar, (I haven’t forgotten about you), I just would appreciate if you would think about these implications.  Although I don’t know what you’re actual worldview is, I feel like this is a fair challenge if it’s anything like Andromeda’s Wake’s.  I also acknowledge that I didn’t answer any of the issues you brought up in your post on the meaning of life, but I wanted to steer the conversation to this.  If you want a post addressing yours, please just let me know, and I’ll be happy to oblige.  But please just take this, like I wrote earlier, as food-for-thought.

Eat until your heart’s content,

Modus Pownens

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7 thoughts on “On the Meaning of Life: a Response to Some Musician and Andromeda’s Wake

  1. Ah! Thou hast graced me with such kind words! I don’t think I’m necessarily deserving of them, but, then again, maybe you felt a compulsion to write such extollments. 😉

    I would be very much curious to read your thoughts on my assertions of God leading a seemingly purposeless “life”, as well as my assertion that atheists definitionally value life more.

    First, as a bit of a side-rejoinder, I would simply like to remind you that even if one concedes such futility in the deterministic atheist universe, this does not provide any indications that God exists. I thought it somewhat necessary to say this simply for the sake of saying it.

    Now, on to to nitty-gritty.

    I am more of the compatabilist sort, so much of the criticisms in this post are not applicable, but nonetheless, there are a few points that I would like to respond to, the most important of which is related to “value.”

    You seem to criticize atheists finding value in anything. “On different occasions, he will declare our free will non-existent, but then right afterward, talk of feeling purpose when sending a friend an e-mail or that morality is still relevant.” You see, criticizing AW’s value in sending an e-mail is really missing the point of what the nature of “value” is in an atheistic world view. Now, I’m interchanging ‘value’ with ‘purpose’ here because I think value would be more appropriate to what AW was trying to convey. Something does not have to be objectively valuable in or order for me to find it valuable. I may find my being the pianist in a concerto valuable, but this does not mean it is objectively valuable. Indeed, no atheist would admit that anything “of value” is objectively valuable, so to criticize AW for him injecting value into something – anything – is completely besides the point. I fully concede that my life is not valuable in any cosmic sense, yet this does not deter me from making my life valuable in subjective terms because that’s all I can really do. If we want to take value in broader terms, I think I would actually assert that much of what we find valuable is completely subjectively dependent on each person. You will undoubtedly find something valuable that I will not – a family keepsake, for instance. Yet, because this object, whatever it is, has meaning to you, it is valuable to you. I have a $10 that is certainly not objectively valuable. Yet, it is valuable to me because it was a present from my mother at a time when we couldn’t afford Christmas presents. It is not objectively valuable, but this does not detract from the subjective profundity of such an inconspicuous trinket. Therefore, I don’t think that anyone can criticize you or I to be valuable, as value is predicated on subjective terms.

    The other thing I wanted to bring up is the illusory makeup of emotions (basically your last three or so paragraphs). I’m reminded of the debate with Hitchens, Harris, Wolpe, and some other rabbi (I’m sure you know what I’m talking about). Harris recounted an illustration in which a philosopher proffered the notion that we are basically a part of a computer simulation and Harris thought it would be truly depressing if we were in a simulation that had one of the religions be an actuality. While I concede that it is somewhat distasteful to ponder such possibilities, this does not negate the fact that the theist is just as subject to such possibilities as the atheist. Simply because you believe you have reason for what you believe, does not negate the possibility that you are wrong and that you are, in fact, simply a part of a computer simulation. Yes, it’s depressing to think of the possibility, and that’s why most atheists don’t think about it all that much. As of now, there is no possible way for us to determine if such a scenario is factual, so why spend our time obsessing over it? This may not be intellectually satisfying, but that’s all we can muster.

    1. Thee hast deserved it! Plus, it now puts thou in my debt and hence obligated to send traffic my way. My strategy is to ride your coattails to glory and fame, especially due to your moving up in the atheistic online community with your appointment to Tuesday Afternoon. So, don’t ruin this for me, Oscar, lol.

      I will respond directly to your original post soon. I have another post I want to get up first and then I will focus my scrutiny upon yours. But now on to the topic on hand! Olay!

      First, as a bit of a side-rejoinder, I would simply like to remind you that even if one concedes such futility in the deterministic atheist universe, this does not provide any indications that God exists. I thought it somewhat necessary to say this simply for the sake of saying it.

      I understand you’re covering your bases here like any good debater does, but I’m well aware that this wouldn’t justify theism even if it was proven to be true. This post wasn’t an attempt at a positive case for theism. The fault most likely lies with me for not clearly segueing from your post to this one.

      I am more of the compatabilist sort, so much of the criticisms in this post are not applicable, but nonetheless, there are a few points that I would like to respond to, the most important of which is related to “value.”

      Well, I am too in the theistic sense, and I figured you were a compatibilist. However, I find the atheistic compatabilism, from what I understand from David Hume and Arthur Schopenhauer, to be as what Immanuel Kant called “wretched subterfuge.” I am open to learning more about it though and also receptive to the possibility that free will can exist in a naturalist’s worldview. As of right now, it’s not a hill for me to die on.

      I think you misunderstood my critique of Andromeda’s Wake. The thrust of my attack was spearheaded at the fact he conceded he was a determinist, but then erroneously played morality, purpose and value were still in his hand to play. By admitting determinism, those cards were discarded from him if he were to be consistent. Andromeda’s Wake offered no argument to reconcile this discrepancy either. So, I think intellectually speaking, I was quite justified in lambasting him. Where I hesitate is the fact he wasn’t really offering anything to be critiqued, and therefore my criticism might not be appropriate for the context of the situation.

      Oscar, I actually agree with you that an atheist’s life does have value as he or she can input value on something. It’s such a poor argument, and unfortunately a belabored avenue of assault popular amongst my fellow theists, that I don’t employ it. But if an atheist constrains himself to a box without free will, I fail to see how he or she can value anything.

      The other thing I wanted to bring up is the illusory makeup of emotions (basically your last three or so paragraphs). I’m reminded of the debate with Hitchens, Harris, Wolpe, and some other rabbi (I’m sure you know what I’m talking about). Harris recounted an illustration in which a philosopher proffered the notion that we are basically a part of a computer simulation and Harris thought it would be truly depressing if we were in a simulation that had one of the religions be an actuality. While I concede that it is somewhat distasteful to ponder such possibilities, this does not negate the fact that the theist is just as subject to such possibilities as the atheist. Simply because you believe you have reason for what you believe, does not negate the possibility that you are wrong and that you are, in fact, simply a part of a computer simulation. Yes, it’s depressing to think of the possibility, and that’s why most atheists don’t think about it all that much. As of now, there is no possible way for us to determine if such a scenario is factual, so why spend our time obsessing over it? This may not be intellectually satisfying, but that’s all we can muster.

      Ironically, your comment reminds me of something Richard Dawkins said in a debate once about how “the why questions are silly questions” or something along those lines. I guess I find naturalism’s inability and subsequent negligence to address these issues as evidence against it. Theism, I believe, does provide ontological answers to these greater metaphysical and meta-ethical questions. For the sake of argument, if we are a part of a computer simulation devoid of free will, I struggle to reason why morality matters. If philosophers are to explore what it means to be good or what is the good, then they are responsible for having an ontological foundation for doing so. Naturalism seems woefully shallow in this endeavor. So, yes, theists are subject to the same possibilities, but I think theism is up to the challenge while I feel naturalism isn’t. I hope that makes sense, Oscar. Thanks again for your always welcome comments.

  2. “Well, I am too in the theistic sense, and I figured you were a compatibilist. However, I find the atheistic compatabilism, from what I understand from David Hume and Arthur Schopenhauer, to be as what Immanuel Kant called “wretched subterfuge.” I am open to learning more about it though and also receptive to the possibility that free will can exist in a naturalist’s worldview. As of right now, it’s not a hill for me to die on.”

    Yeah, Kant was kind of a douche, though, considering that he considered that all the philosophers before him practiced some form of dogmatism lol. Oh well, this is probably a discussion for another time.

    “Ironically, your comment reminds me of something Richard Dawkins said…”

    -_- That was uncalled for lol. I don’t think I explicitly denounced the pursuit of the “why” question, but I can see where I was a bit ambiguous. I agree that, as of now, naturalism does not provide many intellectually-fulfilling answers. You say that theism is up to the challenge you must remember two things: 1) theological inquiry has been around much longer than most secular thought. It wasn’t really until the Enlightenment with the likes of Descartes that naturalism started to gain any ground. 2) While theism has proffered arguments that seek to explain the “why” questions, I don’t really any of them have not been disproven (an assertion which I’m sure you would contest). It’s true that naturalism’s arguments are almost non-existent, you must understand the difficulty in arguing any philosophical assertions when there is no real way to prove anything.

    1. Hi there, Oscar.

      I’m writing in response to your claim that “while theism has proffered arguments that seek to explain the “why” questions, I don’t really any of them have not been disproven.”

      I take you to be making this inference:

      (1) I don’t know of any sound theistic arguments.
      (2) So, there are probably no sound theistic arguments.

      But of course, that’s only a valid inference if you’re given this inference rule:

      (3) If there were a sound theistic argument, then I would probably know about it.

      And there’s a lot of work involved in justifying (3). Now, you’re a smart guy, so maybe you’ve done that work, but I would at least like to get your agreement that doing that kind of work is necessary in order to make the inference from (1) to (2).

      P.S. There’s a recent post on my blog entitled “The burden of proof” that seems relevant to all this, if you’re interested.

      🙂

      1. Occam,

        You’re correct in everything you said. I must remember to be more careful with what I say! While I do think I have read a good majority of the arguments proffered, it would be dishonest of me to say that I have read them all. So, let me amend my statement,

        “Of the theistic arguments that I have encountered, there has not been one that has not been disproven. Having said this, I concede the fact that I have not read all the arguments ‘for existence’ and there may be ones out there that have not been disproven.”

        I’ll check out your post, Occam. And thanks for keeping me honest!

    2. I didn’t mean to insult you, Oscar. I would never conflate your thinking as the same caliber of Richard Dawkins on these matters.

      Yes, it’s very difficult to argue for any position, but Oscar I don’t view you as the skeptic you’re appearing to be. Epistemologically speaking, when you say “there is no real way to prove anything,” are you referring to the Munchausen trilemma?

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