Friday, July 25, 2008

If I were a smart man . . .

If I were smart enough I would write a book and the title would be, The Problem of Pleasure.

Now, you might imagine that, with such a title, I mean to write a book on learning how to deny or control human passions -- because they can be a problem. But I mean that not.

I derive the title and idea from a Clives Staple Lewis work, The Problem of Pain, an insightful apologetic book on how the co-existence of pain and a loving God are an inherent contradiction, and how theists and especially Christians should address the issue. But Mr. Lewis was smart. And in many ways wise and good, and was qualified to write a book about such subjects. I have no capacity for that kind of thought nor the qualifications.

My ignorance notwithstanding, I think the subject is worth investigation because evolutionists and non-theists have for years taken advantage of the "why suffering exists" conundrum. So I think some smart someone, need turn the question the other way and ask this question. "If there is no benevolent First Cause why is there pleasure?" I can mildly understand the instinct for survival that keeps an organism sustaining itself with food and drink but what gave that organism the sensation of sweetness or other pleasures and why.

Pleasure, long the burden that breaks the moral back of many a good man is actually a reason to believe in a benevolent Creator. Kind of paradoxical.

Summary: Is the problem of pleasure a greater difficulty for the atheist than the problem of suffering for the theist?

If I were a smart enough, I would answer it myself.


whoisjake said...

So I put some thought into this... and let me disclaim that I'm an atheist...

I some thought into this (which is good, because I've yet to come across this "flip the argument" with the pleasure/pain story)... and I'm not going to say that I have an absolute truth, but only points to think about.

So let's take an example of the pleasures involved with sex (without any detail, PG here)... The question becomes... are they necessary? There are plenty of organisms that reproduce without any pleasures at all, or even a-sexually.

But when natural selection steps in, it's about function and evolution. A genetic mutation that started moving our nervous system into that region caused animals to receive brain signals that triggered results. These results could have easily progressed the evolution of that section of the nervous system, not necessarily a function of survival, but a "honing" of an essential function to survival.

Another angle that is commonly talked about, communication. We humans can communicate using our vocal chords. Is it an absolute necessity to survival? Nope, plenty of animals have survived with a multitude of various communication mechanisms survive and mutate, we're just a branch in the evolutionary bush that has the unique capability to form a language. It enhances our communication and natural selection drives us to continue to have the ability to produce sounds and learn language.

To simple put it, it's not a function of survival. It's not black and white: If an animal has pleasure, he will survive... but it's a continual improvement on an already evolved system that will ensure survival.

Granted, with all of this banter (see, even I can be humble)... I did nothing to push the "pain and a Loving God" argument... just some thoughts!

Francis Shivone said...

Thanks Jake -- You know much more about the actual science of evolution than I.

The musing is a reflection that both sides of the "benevolent creator" position have philosophical problems, and that I think it would be an interesting study from the kind of opposing viewpoint.

Our desire to know looks backward and forward, "what came before me and what is to come." I am curious and wonder about both, like everyone else.

Always, like your thoughts --

whoisjake said...

The advancement of those philosophical arguments is a tough situation...

That's a whole other side of things that I don't want to get into in a comment... :)

Thanks for such thought provoking blog posts!

Francis Shivone said...

All fine and good. Let me know when you see the Dark Knight.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

First things first....
Despite my Borgian Baptist leanings, I think you can make a non-theistic case for the evolution of pleasure. As a very general rule, things that bring us pleasure happen to be those that help ensure the survival of the species. Things that bring us pain tend to be harmful for the species in the long term.
I think we're so emotionally involved in what can be described as positive or negative stimuli that we forget that our consciousness is merely a series of electrical currents made "self aware".

Speaking of self-awareness, I was disappointed in the Batman movie. Too long. The dialog was too contrived. Everyone is going nuts over Heath Ledger's performance, but I felt that anyone could've done the same thing. It could've been almost anyone under all that makeup. And what was up with all the dogs? I can usually catch symbolism, but I missed it this time.

Francis Shivone said...

TWS -- I guess I'm alone on the "pleasure" opinion.

As to Batman, I think I wrote my review too soon after seeing it and under the influence of all the positive reviews that I read. After letting it sit for a week I like it less partly for reasons you stated. I think Batman 1 was a much better movie.

Also, agreed with your economic comments yesterday.

Andrew said...

"our consciousness is merely a series of electrical currents made 'self-aware'"

How is it possible that electrical currents which communicate in a diadic way could create a being that communicates in a triadic way?

To me, language is the great mystery of human existence and is totally unexplainable by material evolution alone (this is not to deny the ability of evolutionary theory to explain many other things). Merely waving the hand and saying language is a "result of evolution" ignores the huge gap between the language-sign system of humans and the sign system of animals. John Deely's "What distinguishes human understanding?" is a wonderful intro to this topic.

whoisjake said...

@Andrew - I would agree that it is a huge gap to say that language is result of evolution... I think maybe I was talking about the ability to learn and utilize the language.

I'm not sure if I follow your comment on traidic communication... I understand that neurons are diadic, but I'm failing to see (maybe it's that I feel like crap and can't think straight) what you're getting at...

Another interesting philosophical problem... talked about by Daniel Dennett in Freedom Evolves is that if our brain and neuron structure is a pure chemical and electrical machine... then theoretically we could "freeze" that machine and probe for it's current "state". Since we claim to know about how our brain works chemically and electrically, we could then predict what the next "state" of our brain is... thus completely eliminating the notion of "Free Will"

Love this stuff in the morning!

Francis Shivone said...

You boys are way over my head. But I do like the thoughts.

Kenny said...

I think Andy's point here (and yell if I'm misrepresenting, Andy) is that all these electrical currents are diadic in that they are purely a response. A happens and B reacts. One to one, Straight line.

Language is triadic by nature, involving the sign user, the sign and the thing signified. It cannot be reduced any more than that. SO how does a diadic process give rise to something that is by its nature triadic? How does a movement from a to b suddenly give rise to something like poetry or a dirge or Aesop's fables? How does the fight or flight response of seeing a tiger get morphed into the symbol of a cave painting of the tiger that conveys not just the reaction to that diadic response, but helps to explain it and put it into some sort of context for the viewer?

Language and art are not really that explainable in neuroscientific terms. Not just the experience and its chemical properties, which I'm sure can be imaged and charted, but the whole phenomenon itself. WHy the heck do we place ourselves in a world of signs that gives shape to our existance outside of the diadic world of biological necessity and survival responses? I mean, does Moby Dick just teach you to get the hell away from big aquatic mammals because they are dangerous? Can what Moby Dick is in itself, and its effect on the world of signs of the reader, be equated with a readout on a PET reporter gene scanner?

Man, I sure hope not. If we are going to move that far down the road of neuroscientific and biological determinism (a kind of Secular Calvinism), we are not going to like what's waiting for us at the destination, I think.

Doubt that gets at your problem, jake, but there you are.

Kenny said...

lol, reading a transcript of a discussion between Tom Wolfe and Michael Gazzaniga from Seed and came across this quote from Gazzaniga:

"There is a very clever little experiment that you would be amused by, run by my colleague Jonathan Schooler. He has a bunch of students read a paragraph or two from the Francis Crick book, Astonishing Hypothesis, which is very deterministic in tone and intent. And then he has another group of students reading an inspirational book about how we make our own decisions and determine our own path. He then lets each group play a videogame in which you're free to cheat. So guess who cheats? The people who have just read that it's all determined cheat their pants off."

Andrew said...

Yes, precisely my point Kenny. Well said.

Francis Shivone said...

Great comments all, thank you.