## It is said that mathematical axioms are neither true or false, but that they infers/imply their conclusions, and this is said by those with formalist leanings .

Will you not agree that if this is true, then it means that mathematics is based on unsound arguments if the axioms so used are false. And rarely do mathematical physicist check to see whether their axioms are true, rather they device a theory that fits(predicts) experiments(think Bohr model of the atom). It seem science uses this kind of reasoning a lot. There are no point particles nor isolated systems as envisioned by Newtons laws, yet these are foundations of classical mechanics. So there seem to be something false used to deduce something true. It seems unsound reasoning is pervasive in science, and I ask why should it be an issue especially in religious arguments? Why can’t we construct religious arguments using some hypothesis regardless of its truth.
–Johnson Mafoko

This is a much more interesting and complex question than your first. The basic concept is something I’ve studied for years, but unfortunately it is less straightforward than it seems at first.

You’re actually talking about two separate things, axiomatic systems and modeling.

In terms of the first, axioms are the starting point for any formal system. They are not considered “true” or “false” because truth is defined in relationship to the axioms.

When you say something is “true” in a formal system, what you really mean is that it is at least as guaranteed as the axioms.

In the case of mathematical systems such as Euclidian geometry, there is no necessary claim that the objects of the system have any physical reality, they exist only within the conceptual space defined by the axioms.

Physics, however, adds an additional claim that a given mathematical system “models” something real in the physical universe. In other words, if the mathematical system describes a certain numerical relationship between a triangle and a square, the claim is that a physical object in the shape of a triangle would have the same relationship with a physical object in the shape of a square.

It’s never a perfect match, and there is no way to definitively prove that the physical system follows all the same rules as it’s mathematical sibling. All that can be done is show by experiment that the measurements predicted by the mathematical system mirror the actual results produced by testing the physical system.

The advantage to all of this is that understanding the mathematical system allows you to make useful predictions about the physical system. For instance, the development of calculus allowed people to aim cannons with much greater accuracy. It was the practical results that convinced people of calculus’ worth, not because they had a metaphysical belief in infinitesimals. People tend to speak of scientific discoveries as if they were solid eternal truths, but what they really are is sets of tested, reliable, useful predictions.

Let me return to your query of why you can’t start from an unsure axiom and build towards a true conclusion when constructing a religious argument. You can certainly build a mathematics-like axiomatic theory of religion –many philosophers have done so. But none have had much success in showing that their system is a testable, reliable analog of the observable world.

For instance, in the Hindu religion, they believe in a system of karma where good deeds and bad deeds lead to rebirth in a better or worse existence. However, there is no good way to test the theory of karma, since one cannot –at least to my knowledge –reliably establish whether a given person is the reborn version of another one.

I myself am deeply interested in creating a testable, reliable theory of morality that aligns with my religious and metaphysical commitments. But it is far from being an easy task.

## Just recently saw the following argument in a logic book: all lions are herbivores all zebras are lions ————– therefore all zebras are herbivores this seems to be logically valid syllogism, but it is disturbing.

I have been reading your site, and there is somewhere you said a conclusion can logical valid but unsound. Is the following argument valid but unsound? I am not sure about what unsound arguments mean? Can you please clarify this for me. – Johnson Mafoko

Yes, that is a valid, unsound argument. The structure is good, but the content is bad. This is the case even though the conclusion is correct.

The way it works is this:

Invalid means the structure is bad. There are no benefits to an invalid argument, the premises have no meaningful connection to the conclusion.

Valid means the structure is good. If an argument is valid, it means the conclusion is at least as good as the premises. So if you put in true premises, you get a true conclusion. However, it doesn’t mean that if you put in false premises you get a false conclusion. In logic, false premises can lead to any conclusion, even when the argument structure is valid.

Sound means that the argument is valid and that the premises are true. A sound argument will guarantee a true conclusion. It is the only type of argument that guarantees a true conclusion.

Please note that only “formal” arguments –the kind of very artificial, highly structured arguments found in logic books and dealing only with unambiguously true or false statements –can be either valid or sound. (Different terms are used for less formal arguments).

## I have existentialist leanings and see myself as a humanist. As a Christian I have had a problem reconciling these three philosophies…

…Thank you for making the attempt. I like it. My question
concerns Paul Tillich’s critic of pure existentialism, stating that
our use of language is universal and points to essentialism. He argues
that Christianity is comprises a dynamic between essentialism and
existentialism. You need both. You can’t separate the two. Is it
really possible to state existence proceeds essence when we worship a
universal Christ, historically grounded? Hope you can make sense of my
confused thoughts. – Eric

Here’s the short version of the answer: Christian existentialism must be understood as distinct from the more familiar atheist existentialism of a Sartre or Camus. I would describe it as follows: In (and only in) the context of a relationship with God through Christ, no essential constraints of law, morality or identity are absolutely binding.

So in atheist existentialism, your existential freedom is absolute, but in Christian existentialism, it is your relationship with God that is absolute, and your existential freedom stems from that relationship. You can look at is as a recasting of the classic Christian belief that servitude to Christ is freedom from the world –i.e. “My yoke is easy…”

Hope that helps. My response is original, but heavily influenced by Kierkegaard, particularly “Fear and Trembling”.

## Is conscious experience an epiphenomenon of the brain?

Hello,
I would like to find out how you could answer the following question:
Is conscious experience an epiphenomenon of the brain?

I’ve dealt with this question several times before, but I’ll gladly address it again. Epiphenomenalism is the idea that mental phenomena –thoughts, feelings, acts of will –do not cause physical actions, but are only a response to them. I think I have deliberately moved my arm, but in fact my arm moved as a physical reaction to electrical signals in my brain, my thoughts did not cause it, but only observe it.

The motivation behind the development of epiphenomenalism is the difficulty of explaining the connection between the mental and the physical. Even today, there is no known explicit mechanism by which my act of will translates into a motion of my arm.

Yet epiphenomenalism is easy to debunk. It presents itself as an explanation of a mystery in the world, but all it really does is deny that that mystery takes place in the first place. It does not have any positive explanatory value.

The best argument for epiphenomenalism I think, is the argument from fiction. If I read a book, it is possible for me to get so deeply involved in the story that I feel as though it is happening to me in the moment. Even though I the reader do nothing to influence the events of the story, the skill of the writer makes me feel as though I am making the choices that in reality are being made by the character (really by the author).

Yet the metaphor of the book requires that the text has been prewritten, and that the shape of the narrative reflects the will of the author. No random assortment of letters on a page would have the power to create that same illusion of agency. In the same way, no plausible purely physical, unwilled sequence of events has yet be proposed that can explain, for example, why my physical body is sitting here, making motions with my hands that precisely produce this specific email that my mind believes itself to be composing.

Again, let’s say I’m the dictator of a small country. I decree that statues should be erected in my image nationwide, and poems written to commemorate me that should be chiseled into the pedestals. Epiphenomenalism has no explanation for why these statues and specific combinations of words subsequently appear all around the country –if not in response to my dictatorial willing that it should so happen. It’s a bit of a stretch of the imagination to call it a pure physical coincidence. At most, the adherent of epiphenomenalism can claim that all this directed complexity could theoretically spontaneously appear physically through some as yet undiscovered mechanism. Yet all that does is exchange one mystery for another.

## The great mass of humanity is obstinately and blindly stuck in a repetitive consumerist dynamic

Q: Thank you for replying. I must say, your goodwill and faith in people is quite admirable.

I agree that a shift towards creative / artistic production is something of great value and represents a positive destiny for human beings. The great problem that we face however, is that there is a significant percentage of the human population that is truly vacuous, inane and can see no benefit in creativity. I do not speak solely about artistic production, as creativity. Any pursuit which requires a person to imagine, plan, develop, strategise and do in order to achieve a goal or actually make something has got to be positive (obviously not so much if that goal involves violence or cruelty). It’s about self determination, and then positive action in a purposeful direction I suppose.

The great mass of humanity however is obstinately, and blindly stuck in a repetitive consumerist dynamic, that can only be sated with newer, bigger, more.  These are the Philistines. These are the people who litter our beautiful countryside with McDonalds and KFC  refuse, who live for generations on Welfare payments quite proudly, or conversely who stockpile fortunes and steal from hard working creative producers. They are different, but the same, they need each other.

Some humans are above this dynamic to a certain extent (we all must participate at some level, consciously or not,) and living truthfully. If our consumerist culture hides a search for meaning, well that just confirms my opinion that many people are vacuous and inane. After several centuries of good living standards, one would hope that the lucky amongst us (the Westernised world for want of a better description) would have arrived at a nobler and greater expression of the meaning of our lives.

We haven’t. Instead, we are becoming more spoilt, more spoon fed, more demanding. Everything is false. People “give to charity” from their credit cards, instead of helping their neighbour who may be struggling .

I am being somewhat polemical, as obviously, this is not always true. There are pockets of resistance, which naturally, the dominant culture attempts to subsume, and then mass produce the results to increase profit.

Whilst the majority continues to sleep, and fails to dig beneath the gloss and artifice, the idiocy of human beings will only increase.

I think human beings are deliberately dumb, until they are forced from their ignorance, and then they begin to wise up.

For now, the fact that “good men are doing nothing”, to me, makes us evil.

In answer to your question; What should people spend their time and resources on?

I would say people should spend more time getting their hands dirty growing food, walking  or cycling  to work,  creating community projects, asking serious questions of their municipal councillors, raising funds  instead of demanding funding, refusing to purchase the next big thing, taking a risk, laughing at the deliberately ignorant, being outspoken,  and less time gossiping about The Voice (guilty as charged), purchasing processed foods, spraying Monsanto chemicals all over the countryside, and dumbly believing that what they see and hear on mainstream news is actually anywhere near the truth of the matter.

Whatever happens, I have a feeling that soon enough the truth will be revealed. There will be those who are capable of handling it, and there will be those who simply cannot.

Michaela

A: I wouldn’t say that I see human beings as intrinsically either good or evil, but as capable of manifesting both.  The question then becomes how can the good be promoted (because in my experience, suppressing the evil is counterproductive as an approach).

The chief problem is this.  In the sea of thought, most people are not swimmers.  They need a boat –i.e., a elaborated system of beliefs and structures –to keep them from drowning.  Even when a cultural system is “sinking”, people won’t abandon it unless they feel confident they can transfer to a new boat (another system) that will float.

That’s the current situation with relationship to consumerism.  We all know that boat is sinking, yet in the absence of a workable alternative, people cling ever more desperately to what they know.  Accordingly, my emphasis on the Arts is only partly because of my own love of them –I also think they have the potential to serve as the foundation for a more healthy socioeconomic system.

## Why do we continue to evade the truth? …Are we dumb or are we evil?

Everyone in the Western World and beyond knows that we hold the key to personal/societal/cultural/financial transformation. We know that everything we do is wrong. Instead of going out and doing exactly what we should, ie stop spending, stop our vacuous pursuits (Plastic surgery springs to mind), stop supporting imperialistic expansionist ideals, we proceed to have larger, more ostentatious weddings, speak in ever more inane rhetorical loops and ignore more steadfastly all
the blatant signs of truth. (Collapse).

Are we dumb, or are we evil?

Michaela Crompton

I’ve found that any persistent negative behavior generally has some legitimate meaning behind it, no matter how worthless it may seem on the surface.

In this case, I think that the excesses of our consumerist culture hide a well-disguised search for meaning.  By reducing everything to a fiscal value, we impose an order on the world that gives us (the illusion of) lives that make sense.
To cut to the heart of the matter, people never stop doing wrong things because they learn those things are wrong –they stop doing them only in the case that they learn ways of being that are better.  I think it’s ultimately more effective to make ambitious steps to bring new positive things into the world then to try directly to eliminate the old negative things.  You’ve asked why people don’t “stop spending, stop our vacuous pursuits, stop supporting imperialistic [expansionism], [stop having] larger, more ostentatious weddings, [stop speaking] in ever more inane rhetorical loops and [stop ignoring] more steadfastly all the blatant signs of truth.”  But what do you expect them to start doing once they stop all that?  What, in your estimation, is a valid pursuit?  What speech is substantive, not inane?  What should people expend –if not money –their time and resources on?
This is a real question.  For instance, my current efforts are aimed towards shifting our society away from materialistic consumption, and towards artistic production, because in my view, that represents the positive destiny for human beings.  But there may be other legitimate answers to that question as well.

## Beauty in Art

If you’ve been following our series, we’re looking at whether War can be eliminated and the economy revived through the creation of a system that combines the competitive aspects of Sport, the objectivity of Science, and the non-materialist orientation of Art.  Back before the holidays we made a start on a synthesis by examining aesthetics (a topic closely associated with art) that are native to Sport and Science.

Our prior discussion gave us two possible aesthetics to base our new system upon. (It also raised a question: Why, if there are aesthetics native to both Sport and Science, do we need a new system at all? The answer is that aesthetics are not primary in either Sport or Science. In Sport, winning is more important than Beauty; No coach was ever fired for ugly wins, or retained for beautiful losses. In Science, results are more important that Beauty. Given the choice, a beautiful theory is always preferred, but in many cases the ugly theory is all that is available.) For full effectiveness, we would like our new aesthetic to have a large area of overlap with one is traditionally considered of high value in the world of Art. In other words, we want to create an aesthetic that is as clearly defined as those of Sport and Science, but that also covers the commonly acclaimed great works of Art.

As different as are Sport and Science, their associated aesthetics actually have a certain level of similarity. Both start with a high level of challenge, in Sport, the challenging opponent or athletic task, in Science, the challenging dataset. Both require success to be distinguished, in Sport by athletic grace, in Science by insight-granting simplicity. Both rely on an element of integrity. In Sport, an accusation of cheating, steroid use, or game-throwing will tarnish an otherwise beautiful moment. In Science, the use of faked or manipulated data and egregious “fudge factors” destroys a beautiful theory. Given these parallels, the obvious next step is to see if any analogs to these factors –“Challenge,” “Grace” and “Integrity” –exist in the world of Art.

## A Thought on Life for the New Year

Each of us is a little tiny piece of God; our purpose here is to appreciate the other tiny pieces of God; and our lives on Earth will be a pleasure to the exact degree that we can accomplish that task.

(Happy 2012, everyone.  I’ll try my best to get back on schedule by next week.)

## Science, Faith and the Supernatural

Of all children’s authors who have integrated their Christian beliefs into their writing, C.S. Lewis is perhaps the most famous and well-respected, both within and outside the faith community. His celebrated Narnia series is uncompromising in presenting its author’s beliefs and values, yet also stands on its own merits as an compelling compendium of magical adventures.

Not every book in the series has aged equally well, and there are places where Lewis and I part ways, theologically speaking, yet one of the Narnian Chronicles continues to serve as a touchstone for me in my faith journey. It is not the much loved first book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” nor the controversial last book, “The Final Battle,” but rather an often overlooked middle book called “The Silver Chair.”

In this Chronicle, Jill and Eustace (two children several degrees of separation from the Pevensie family that forms the main focus for the series) are sent into the hinterlands of Lewis’ fantasy world on a quest for a missing prince. They are given a set of instructions by the series’ representation of Christ, Aslan the lion. As is typical for the series, however, they ignore these instructions and end up dangerously off-course.

The key moment in the book comes when the children have become completely lost. Desperate for some divine sign, they are shocked to look out their window and see, shining in the moonlight, huge letters spelling out “UNDER ME.” They quite naturally take this as a direct and unmistakable message from Aslan to look for the prince in some kind of underground chamber beneath the letters.

Later in the book, their sense of surety turns to doubt when they are informed that the words they saw are actually the last remnants of a much longer inscription placed there by a king of the giants many centuries earlier. As easy as it was to take those words as a divine and supernatural message, the children are told, the inscription actually has a completely rational and natural (for the setting) explanation. Furthermore, the age of the inscription –written hundreds of years before the prince ever went missing –renders nonsensical the notion that the words might have any current relevance whatsoever.

The children are left to agonize over whether or not they should believe the rational explanation or their own intuitions. As it turns out, however, both explanations are correct. The words are both an impersonal, and largely meaningless remnant of a centuries-old inscription, and a private, personal, timely and accurate message from Aslan to the children about their quest.

I think about this passage whenever anyone demands I make a exclusionary choice between science and faith, between rational explanations for events and supernatural ones. In the case of “The Silver Chair,” the author, C.S.Lewis, has created two alternate explanations for the same event. One explanation is direct and causal, the other has deeper meaning. One answers the question of how the letters were placed, the other answers the question of why. If a children’s book author can create nested layers of meaning like this within the fabric of a world he himself created, why do we find it so hard to believe that the author of our own existence might not do the same?

## Reconstructivist Art: Eternal Sunshine

[NOTE: We'll take a break from our current series for the next couple of weeks until the holiday season is over]

Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” considered as an example of Reconstructivist Art

The aggressively intellectual, modernist and experimental inclinations of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman were synthesized with the dream-drenched classic humanism of director Michel Gondry to create a remarkable piece of cinema that dramatizes and reifies the entire Reconstructivist process of deconstruction followed by rebuilding.

Nod to Artifice: Nearly the entire move is presented as taking place within the brain/memory/imagination of the main character, although this fact is not clear to either him or the audience until late in the movie. Since the character’s memories are being deliberately dismantled, many of the films’ most memorable images are different visual representations of a world being unmade –buildings crumbling, objects falling from the sky, people vanishing, things going dark and blurry, colors disappearing, and so forth. The audio of the film also features a re-occurring sound motif, a computerized beep similar to a filmstrip advance noise, that represents the completion of the erasure of a memory.

Classic Structure: The plot of the movie follows what is often called the “oldest of all plotlines”: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl, although the classicism is subverted by the fact that the audience experiences the major events in reverse order.

Iconic and Transcontextual Elements: The most important set of icons and transcontextual elements in the movie are not imported from external sources, as is more typical of reconstructivist art, but are iconicized and transcontextualized within the continuity of movie itself. They are a set of subjectively objects and personal effects, gathered by the main character as an aid to the memory-erasure process, that appear both within his mental reveries, and externally, as stolen and malappropriated by the main character’s romantic rival.

Moments of Genuine Depth and Emotion: The crux of the movie is the moment at the very end when the main characters, their affections for each other having literally been disassembled and deconstructed, face unblinkingly the inevitable mortality of their relationship, and take the plunge for Love (representing the Real) regardless.

## Beauty in Science

Part of a continuing series on how to combine Art, Science and Sport to create a hybrid capable of replacing War.

Like Beauty in Sport, Beauty in Science also proves easier to define and understand than Beauty in Art, particularly with an example of the contrast between an “ugly” theory and a “beautiful” theory. Towards this end, consider the historical attempt to understand the motion of the planets in the nighttime sky. For centuries, the dominant theory in the West was that all the planets orbited around the Earth in concentric circles. A elegant idea in conception, it turned into a very ugly theory when put into practice, for the simple reason that it did not match well with the observed data. When actual observations of the night sky were compared with the geocentric model, it seemed as though sometimes the planets were reversing direction and moving backwards, speeding up and slowing down, or simply not appearing where they were supposed to. So in order to keep the theory alive, the idea of “epicycles” was invented, smaller circular paths that interacted with the larger orbits and caused all the observed eccentricities.

What made this an ugly theory was partly that it was hugely complex, hard to understand, and frequently inaccurate, and partly that it was filled to the brim with what is often called “fudge factor,” numbers and calculations added for the specific purpose of getting the data to come out right, but without any larger justification or explanation. In the case of the geocentric theory, there was no explanation for the epicycles, or how big they were, or how many of them there might be. They were added solely to make the larger theory less flagrantly wrong all the time.

In contrast, the eventual heliocentric theory of the solar system was a very beautiful theory. It is simple, and easy to understand. It can be explaned in a single sentence, which even most non-scientists can understand: “All planets move around the sun (in orbits that are shaped like ellipses with the sun at one focal point).” It matches all the observed data with a high degree of accuracy, and without any need for “fudge factors.” In addition, it makes clear previously unsuspected new insights. For instance, the variability in the speed of the planets is completely predictable from the observation that a line between the sun and any given planet will trace out an equal area in an equal amount of time for any portion of its orbit, a result that could never have been suspected in the “ugly” theory.

If we generalize the scientific aesthetic in the same way that we generalized the athletic aesthetic, we derive something like this: Beauty in Science is a theory that brings order, simplicity, new insights and consistently correct predictions to a complex, challenging, and previously impossible to understand dataset, and that does so without either manipulating the original data or adding unexplained, unmotivated factors into the calculations to force them to match the observations.

Next Week: Back to Art

## Beauty in Sport

To recapitulate our project, the goal is to combine Art, Science and Sport to create a hybrid capable of replacing War.  But is there a way to do this without just creating some Frankenstein-like assemblage with none of the strengths of any of its parents?

Instead of cobbling this institutions together, maybe a better approach is to look at ways they already reflect each other at a deeper level.  For that reason, this week’s post has the unusual title of “Beauty in Sport”.

The aesthetic of Sport is found in its purest form not in any hybrid “pretty” sport, but rather in the most “ugly” and bare-knuckled of gladitorial athletic contests –sports such as American football. Beauty in football, for example, is an underrated player on an outmatched team scoring the winning touchdown in the game’s final seconds seemingly without effort, despite the full overwhelming force of the opposing team. That is the moment that football fans live for –at least when it ends in their team’s favor. It is an easy scenario to grasp, and can be generalized as follows: Beauty in Sport is a clean, graceful victory over visibly overwhelming odds.

Given that the goal in every sporting event is a clean victory (meaning one where no one cheats, and everyone plays their best) , the real variable factor here is the level of difficulty, as intensified by things such as being outmatched, losing a key player, or being in the final seconds of the game, and as existing in dynamic tension with the grace of the triumph. A good real-life example is provided by Kerri Strug’s memorable last performance in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. As an Olympic competition, the level of challenge was already at a peak, but it increased by several orders of magnitude when Strug injured her leg shortly before her final vault. Normally she would have dropped out of contention in favor of letting her leg heal, but her teammates were relying on her final vault to secure their shot at winning the gold medals. When she soldiered through to complete a nearly flawless vault, and then subsequently collapsed in pain, the contrast between the grace of her performance and the obvious difficulty of having achieved it on a bad leg combined to create a moment of memorable athletic Beauty.

Next Week: Beauty in Science

## Art + Sport = ?

Sport, Science and Art each have strengths, but none of them has proven capable of replacing War in its natural form. It seems plausible, however, that one could create a true War-class ECS by synthesizing the three together. In other words, we might be able to reverse-engineer the system we need from the parts that we already have.

A good place to start is with some combination of Art and Sport. In imitation of Sport, we need a hierarchical competition format that will provide a consistently high level of challenge to a wide range of participants. In imitation of Art, we need an aesthetics-based approach that will remove our system from the realm of physical dominance and prevent it from being weaponized. As it happens, there are several notable hybrids that already match this recipe. One of the most prominent is the Olympic-class sport of figure skating, which is judged equally on athletic talent and aesthetics. Other Olympic sports where aesthetics play at least some role in the judging include gynmastics, skateboarding and diving.

There are also a number of hybrids on the other side of the Art/Sport line. One of the most influential is “slam poetry,” a dynamic spoken-word art form centered around competitions judged with Olympic-style scores by an ad hoc panel drawn from the audience. Another is the California-based phenomenon of “clown” or “crump dancing” (as chronicled in the documentary Rize) which similarly takes on aspects of Sport while retaining a focus on aesthetics. In addition, talent competitions ranging from the elite Van Cliburn piano competition to televised reality competitions such as American Idol also meld together these basic ingredients of competition and aesthetics.

When, however, it comes time to mix in our third ingredient, the objective legitimacy of Science, none of these hybrids proves suitable. The problem is that aesthetic judgments are generally considered irreduceably subjective, matters of individual taste that can neither be quantified nor made universal. The problem is made especially acute by the fact that no widely endorsed definition of aesthetic value in Art exists. If a thing cannot be defined, it cannot be measured, and if it cannot be consistently measured it might as well, from a scientific point of view, not even exist.

NEXT WEEK: Quantifying the unquantifiable.

## what is life ? i am not able to understand the things around me. i am not able to define myself, my position.

In the old days, prior to Individuality, your Identity was entirely a function of what slot your community plugged you into.  You might be the Village Idiot, the Village Chief, the Village Medicine Man, the Village Wise Woman or the Village Whore, but there was no question of you taking on a role outside of the roles predetermined by your village (or tribe or clan, etc.).  The invention of the Individual Self was the great innovation of the Western World, and it provided centuries worth of vitality and interest to a world bored with group Identity.  The shift towards the Individual Self reached its extreme with the philosophical movement of Existentialism, which held freely willed individual choices to be the ultimate foundation upon which everything else rests.  Yet the Individual Self can no more thrive on its own than a head can survive without a body.  This is because the Individual Self exists in a constant, unresolvable state of Tension between its Existence and its Desires.

Your Existence consists of all the mundane facts that uniquely specify you as a individual distinguishable from all other individuals.  Are you male or female?  How old are you?  Where do you live?  Are you in good health?  How tall are you?  What race are you?  What do you look like?  Do you have brothers and sisters?  What language do you speak?  What kind of personality do you have?  What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?  Where are you right now, and what are you doing?

Your Existence makes you who you are, but it comes with challenges.  First, it’s in flux; the “details of you” are always changing.  For example, each day you’re a little older.  If you chop vegetables too recklessly, you might lose a finger and suddenly that becomes a permanent part of your Identity.  Take a class, and you gain a skill.  Get a bump on the head and you lose one.  Even your personality may shift throughout the course of the day, with the passage of a month, with the changing of the seasons, or simply in response to how much sleep you got the night before.

Second, the details of your Individual Existence can –and often do– come into conflict with other major component of your Identity, your Desires.  Your dream is to become a professional basketball player, but you’re 4′ 8″ tall.  You want to have your own biological children, but you’re not sexually attracted to people of the opposite gender.  Being able to drive is an important part of your sense of independence, yet you can no longer see well at night.  In this way, it is not just the facts of our Existences, but also the patterns of our Desires as played out in opposition to those facts, that make us who we are at the Individual level.

In the not-so-uncommon event that you have become somehow alienated from your own Individual Self, there are things that you can do in order to regain your personal connection with your own persona.  One time-honored technique is to pay more attention to your dreams and nightmares.  Another is to do what Jungian psychologists call “shadow work,” in order to identify and come to terms with the darker side of your Individual persona, your repressed and rejected Desires.  Yet these techniques, as powerful as they are, can do but so much; and if we just consider the Individual Self, we are forced to stop here, forever trapped between the Scylla of our Existence and the Charybdis of our Desires.

If we widen our field of vision, however, we see that the key determinant of how we actually experience our Identity lies outside the Individual Self.  It is the Relational Self, the Identity formed within the context of every community to which we belong, that determines how our Individual Self will find its means of Expression.  In other words, the life you live will be given shape by the people around you.  It is true, as the Existentialists claim, that no one can take away your freedom to make your own choices.  You alone are in control of the decisions you make at any given moment.  But those choices and decisions will draw their meaning from the shared behavioral vocabulary of your community.

For example, in the highly structured, conformist environment of Japanese primary schools in the nineties, as simple an act as leaving one’s shoelaces untied marked a student as a rebel, a non-conformist and a subversive, gaining her the admiration of peers and the approbation of teachers throughout the school.  Yet during the same era, the same act of leaving one’s shoelaces untied would at most mark a student in the more relaxed environment of a typical American school as careless.  In order for the same Individual, transplanted from Japan to America, to Express the same Desire to rebel, her behavior would need to be augmented to extreme levels.  She would need piercings in her nose, combat boots on her feet and a bomb in her locker in order to garner a comparable level of shock.

We could also consider the imaginary case of a mother who changes neighborhoods and is amazed at the rapid and disturbing changes her child goes through in response. Perhaps he used to be a polite, straight “A” student with an after-school job. Now he is foul-mouthed, rude, and facing charges for drug dealing and murder.   In truth, her son’s underlying personality is still the same. He has always been ambitious and driven. In his old life, he used manners as a way to get people to do what he wanted, pursued money by working an after-school job, and channeled his ambition into his schoolwork. Now, however, he lives in a world where the rules are different, and has adjusted his behavior accordingly. Manners get him nowhere among his new peers, but bad language brings respect. His old job involved long hours for little pay, but drug dealing makes him wealthy. Doing homework used to put him at the head of the class, but becoming head of a gang requires a reputation for deadliness. His transformation from honor student to murderer may seem like a Jekyll and Hyde narrative about two completely different people, but on closer inspection it is the story of one consistent personality manifesting in two contrasting ways in two contrasting social contexts.

Given that your community has such a strong impact on the life you lead, are there ways to improve your Relational Self?  One answer is that which all our mothers did their best to impress upon us –and for good reason –find a better group of friends.  Do your best to integrate yourself into a community that has the values you wish to live into, accomplishes the things you wish to accomplish, and in general, embodies all the traits you most admire.  That said, this may be more difficult than it sounds.  Sometimes the groups that surround us are inescapable.  Sometimes a better group is difficult to find, and sometimes ties of blood, history or loyalty keep us bound to the group we already have.  It may be difficult to judge a group accurately from the outside, and even if you do find your ideal group, it may be impossible to gain entry to it, or to take on your preferred role within that group.  Thus if we go no further than the Relational Self we can be nothing more than the passive product of our environments.
At this point we’ve seen you tormented at an Individual level by the unbridgeable gap between your Existence and Desires, and compelled at a Relational level into the modes of Expression entailed by the community to which you belong.  Is that all there is to life?  It might be, were there not one final self, a self rejected by the Existentialists and debunked by the Empiricists, a self largely forgotten by the modern age –your Universal Self.

It may be easiest to think of this as your Ideal self, the best possible “you” you could be.  This is a you that thinks like you, looks like you, sounds like you and has every facet of your personality, down to its very core, yet without the selfishness, destructiveness, willfulness, greed, envy and other weaknesses of the you that actually manifests within the world.  But is this Universal You just a dream, illusion or fiction (as claimed by both the Existentialists and the Empiricists) or is it somehow latent inside you, waiting to be brought into the world?

Fortunately, there is a simple, effective and reliable method to draw ever closer to your Universal Self, and to do so, moreover, without giving up your Individual Self in the process.  That method is first to identify your unique gifts and talents; second to develop them to their highest extent; and third to put them to work on the behalf of your community.  If you love music, become the best musician you can be, and then play for those around you.  If you are good with your hands, become a builder, and build homes for the homeless.  If you like to be in charge, develop yourself as a leader, and lead people in a positive direction.
If you apply this method consistently and conscientiously; if you are willing to cycle through the process repeatedly; if you keep strictly to positive initiatives, rather than initiatives that primarily act in opposition to someone else; and if you always interpret “your community” as broadly as possible (i.e. as all of humanity rather than narrowly as in just your own friends and family) you cannot help but move progressively closer to your Universal Self.  Furthermore, in doing so, you will find that embodying your Universal Self not only helps you resolve the Tensions inherent in your Individual Self, it will also help you become your best possible Relational Self, by bringing you into your best possible relationship with those around you.

NEXT WEEK:  Back to Art

## Art

Fourth in a series on ending war.

Art may seem like a odd substitute for War, but there’s reason to not dismiss the idea out of hand.  We already know that Art can be a powerful economic engine, legions of starving artists and musicians notwithstanding.  For proof just look at the movie and music industries.  What may be more of surprise is that Art has played a role on the battlefield as well.  In the days of the Roman Empire –which lasted for well over a thousand years –conquered cultures were kept in thrall to the Empire as much by the superiority of Roman art and culture as by the threat of force.  As much as having Roman overlords may have rankled, few barbarians truly wished to trade in their refined Roman existence for a return to crude tribal living.  Similarly, on the other side of the world, the Chinese Empire survived being repeatedly invaded and conquered by barbarian hordes because Chinese art and culture were so advanced that the invaders inevitably assimilated into the host culture instead of the other way around, as the physical conquerors became the culturally conquered.

But how does Art do versus our criteria?

1. It makes jobs that challenge individuals and nations to their limits:  The answer here is both yes and no.  No, certainly, with regards to nations –no country faces its greatest challenge in maintaining itself at the cutting edge of artistic advance.   Yes, on occasion, with regards to individuals.  True, a hobbyist painter or casual guitar player isn’t experiencing much of a challenge, but dance and acrobatics challenge the physical limits of the human body, special-effects laden movies challenge the limits of technology, conceptual art challenges the intellect, “diva” songs challenge the human vocal range, and so forth and so on.  Any artist at the top of their field is probably at or near the limits of what is humanly possible in one way or another.
2. It distributes jobs:  Here we find a deficiency.  There’s no real structure to distribute Art jobs in the way we found in other ECS candidates.  Furthermore, as with Sport, we’ve become segregated into producers and consumers with regards to Art.  Legions of musicians and artists starve while a small handful of celebrity entertainers serve as the primary artists in the lives of millions.  This is a trend that would need to be reversed before Art could actually serve as a legitimate Employment-Creation System (ECS).
3. It makes jobs meaningful by:
1. serving as a test of ideologies:  Here art does surprisingly well.  Didactic art, which explicitly promotes a given ideology, is rarely a success, but every piece of art, no matter how innocuous it may seem, presupposes some philosophy, some viewpoint about the world.  The way an artist solves artistic problems actually says a great deal about his or her views on how to solve general problems of life.  In addition, art cannot be as easily alienated as technology.  You can imitate a foreign art form, but you cannot create valid original work in the same vein until you internalize the ideology that gave birth to the artwork in the first place
2. being definitive:  The killer subclause strikes again.  An artistic triumph cannot be definitive in the same way as a physical triumph, because Art is too subjective.  There is no common standard for Art, and no two observers can be relied upon to agree at all times on the merits of any piece of art.  Each region prefers its own art, yet even two siblings who grew up in the same household can have opposite artistic tastes.

Things seem bleak.  With Art, Science and Sport all striking out as potential substitutes, we are left stuck with War and Consumerism as the dysfunctional institutions that are destroying us, but that we cannot do without.

And so this is the end.  Or is it?  If a natural substitute for War and/or Consumerism existed, it would likely already be in use.  But what about a synthetic substitute?  Each of our candidates was strong in some areas, and weak in others.  Could we add together the best of each, and create a new system capable of getting the job done?

We’ll take a moment next week to explore the nature of identity, and then return in two weeks to see whether or not we can go ahead and construct a synthetic Employment-Creation System capable both of rescuing Capitalism and putting an end to War.

NEXT WEEK:  Identity