Thursday, January 26, 2012
Do atheists exist?
The TED talks are as good a place to begin your study of humankind as any - all these highly motivated people! Motivated to do what? Anything from cure blindness in Africa to swim a specific body of water at age 60. The first you can certainly understand as a purpose in life, though it's going to run you into grave problems of overpopulation and famine. The second, well, maybe you can see the point, but I can't. I just never got into Amazing Feats of the Body. Yet I've seen a world enthralled by a similarly ridiculous contest of minds, chess between a snotty kid named Bobby Fischer and the world champion, Boris Spassky. This was decades before the personal computer could beat us all at anything. You wouldn't believe how interested we all were in this, because it had something symbolic to do with the Cold War. That doesn't exist now, either. You could say it never did, just an idea. Poor Bobby - his Wikipedia entry includes a section called "Sudden Obscurity." No kidding.
Inflicted as I am with shingles (painful) and depression (worse) - and who knows whether they're related or just different neurons colliding in the mix - I found myself watching a TED talk by someone on whether I exist. I won't name him or post it, because I've found it a bad policy in life for a little tiny bug to make an implacable enemy of a powerful person. But really . . . it was a tasteless porridge of Buddhism for Toddlers and modern science.
But this guy got himself a PhD in philosophy and went on to make a career out of talking about this kind of thing and writing books about the rock-bottom-dumb questions of (Western) philosophy, which must surely be as dead as chess by (snail-) mail.
In that, a nerd sent another nerd a move on a postcard. A penny postcard. Nerd2 thought about it and made his move and sent a postcard. Try to imagine a world that slow. That was a world in which long distance calls cost a lot of money, and were only made in the event of a death. But you knew you existed and so did everything else, and it never changed. Every Sunday night Dinah Shore came out in what seemed to be the same prom dress and sang "See the USA in your Chevrolet . . . " and blew a kiss. She does not exist anymore, but are you telling me she didn't? I saw her.
You, however. No, according to this TED talk, you don't exist. I mean, what made you think you did? The fact that every night of your life you confront the same stubborn stupid oily skin? Your exact cowlick? The food trap between the molars on your lower left?
No, you're just a bunch of relationships, the way water is just a couple of hydrogen atoms mingling with an oxygen. So if you thought there was Evian and Yellowstone and the Baltic Sea, there was rain and ice cubes, think again.
There are opposing theories about existence, such as the belief that we are all ideas in the mind of God. I rather like that, but if I were an atheist, it would make me nervous.