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.
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,