Friday, March 18, 2011

Do you have a God-shaped hole in your heart?

This post from PZ mentions that inane expression about how we all have a God-shaped hole in our heart that can only be filled by Jeebus. Gag me with a spoon.

But I think from a certain perspective, we do all have an existential deficiency that one might (if one were so-inclined) describe as a "God-shaped hole in the heart", whether we are aware of it or not. Only problem is, God doesn't fit, and neither does anything else. That's because the "hole" is a hallucination, an inherent artifact of human cognition. The God delusion works for some people to distract them from the "hole", because all of the inherent contradictions and incoherencies make it difficult to maintain a sharply-reasoned focus on the problem at hand; but it really doesn't do anything to address the problem.

The "hole" which I am referring to is the lack of an existentially satisfying answer to two of the Big Questions, specifically, "Why is there something rather than nothing?", and "Why do we actually experience our sentience?" It is my opinion that both of those questions, as reasonable as they sound (and still sound to me), aren't really questions at all, they are just meaningless words, no more useful than "This sentence is false." But they sure don't feel meaningless, and this is why I say we all, whether we admit it or not, have a specific existential deficiency.

I talked about the question of subjective conscious experience in a recent post, and also mentioned the problems with "Why is there something rather than nothing?" I want to amplify what I said in that post: Both of those questions are apparently subject to an infinite regress, but I believe that regress is a result of a cognitive deficiency inherent in being a human (and maybe inherent in being a sapient being of any kind). Just like the sensation of free will, they are nothing more than hallucinations -- but a hallucination that is impossible to avoid.

The correct answer to "Why is there something rather than nothing?" lies in physics and cosmology. I will not attempt to mount any sort of answer, because 1) I'm not qualified, 2) I'm not sure we really have the right answer yet anyway, and 3) I'm not entirely convinced the right answer is knowable by us even in principle. Note that this last point is entirely distinct from whether there is a right answer. In the distant future, the accelerating expansion of the universe will mean that galaxies are moving apart faster than the speed of light, and so any sentient observers that might be around at that time would have no way of knowing even in principle what the rest of their universe looks like -- but that doesn't mean the rest of the universe wouldn't be there. I don't rule out that the physical answer to this question may be similarly inaccessible to us.

But that still leaves us with the distinct feeling that there is a metaphysical question that remains unanswered, that for any physical explanation one can always say, "Okay, why that?" I am pretty sure that is nonsense. It's not existentially troubling (well, to me at least) to think that there are fundamental particles for which the question, "Okay, but what are those made of?" is invalid and a bit silly. So why should it be existentially troubling for there to be fundamental laws that just "are", and don't need some other deeper layer to explain them? Well, it's existentially troubling anyway, and knowing that it's nonsense doesn't really help.

It seems trivial to me -- so trivial that I continue to be baffled that philosophers and theologians ever took this stuff seriously, let alone that they still argue about it to this very day -- that any sort of goddy explanation is equally vulnerable to the apparent infinite regress. That is, if fundamental laws of physics are not an acceptable answer to the something-rather-than-nothing question (and I think it is acceptable, it just doesn't feel that way to us silly humans), then neither is the god hypothesis. Many people feel like it does, but they are just being distracted. "Okay, why that?" "Magic!" That's not an answer at all.

I've already covered the other question, but in brief, the correct answer to the problem of subjective experience is to point to our neurology. The infinite regress here is, "Okay, but what's actually experiencing those neural impulses?" It's a nonsense question; the question was already answered. It just doesn't feel like it has, because of our difficulties in comprehending our own non-existence. And just as with the other one, the theistic explanation dazzles rather than explains. If neural circuitry is not a sufficient substrate for conscious experience (and I believe it is, it just doesn't feel like it), then neither is the "soul" a sufficient substrate. "It's magic!" is no answer at all.

Most of the other Big Questions I think do have rather satisfying answers. "Why are we here?", for instance, has the literal answer that rests in natural selection, and the metaphysical answer that, since sapience is the substrate of meaning, the "why" has to come from us. We have a monopoly on meaning, and the idea of an external meaning to ourselves is just silly-talk. It's not even that our existence is externally meaningless; it's that meaning-external-to-sapience is nonsense words. You might as well ask about light-external-to-photons. Once we realize that 100% of meaning is determined by ourselves, I think that's both liberating and inspiring. The correct answer to "What happens after we die?" is troubling, I suppose, but it's a clear and unambiguous answer, with not even the appearance of an infinite regress or anything like that. And so on.

But yeah, we do all have a "god-shaped hole in our hearts", and it's the inability to ever give an existentially satisfying answer to those two hallucinatory questions. God doesn't actually fill that hole, but for some of us He's shiny enough to distract us from it!

No comments:

Post a Comment