Wednesday, October 6, 2010

M-Theology, Free Will and Determinism

One of the most longstanding issues in Christian theology is the tension between divine sovereignty and free will.  In one corner, you have Presbyterians like my bad self.

We Calvinistas have argued...quite logically...that in order for God to be God in any coherent sense, the Creator must be all knowing and all powerful.  Nothing whatsoever can happen without God having a hand in it somehow, because to imply that would suggest that God is not either omniscient or omnipotent.  Predestination, with it's assumption that God has foreordained those to be saved, is one of the necessary theological results.  Double predestination, which takes that and flips it to the hell-side, is another rather less pleasant result.

Then there's the "everything is God's will" correlate argument.  If God is completely sovereign, and all actions flow forth from God, then I'm just doing God's will when I down my sixth single malt whiskey of the evening.  If God is all powerful, then there's no way I could even raise it to my lips without his say-so.    So...cheers!

It also means that God wills all sorts of far deeper narstiness.  Like, say, the killing fields of Cambodia.  Or the Holocaust.  Or Jeffrey Dahmer.  All part of the plan, baby.  All part of the plan.

On the other side lie those pesky, pesky Baptists and possibly a Methodist or two.  They argue...quite logically...that a God who created human kind absent free will would not be a God we could meaningfully worship.  Without our free and unfettered assent to God, coming into right relationship with God would be meaningless.  What's the point of repentance and the transformation of our life if we're just a puppet?  How can we be in relationship with God if that relationship involves no choice on our part? 

So what matters is that we assent, that we repent, that we wander up weeping to the altar for the twenty-seventh time this year to renounce that demon-whiskey.  We have to choose to be baptised, or it has no meaning.  But...if our will is what matters, and it is for us to choose whether we follow God or not...then God is powerless over us.  And if we can choose against God's will, then God is not all-powerful, not the Almighty, not the font of all being.

We have us a little conundrum.  Or, rather, we had.

Hawking and Mlodinow, along with the other theoretical cosmologists who posit a multiverse, may have accidentally resolved that argument.  The presumption of M-Theory is that the real nature of creation is the actualization of every possible thing.  This quantum-theory presumption is important, but not only because it gives a place for heaven and establishes that God is a likely aspect of the multiverse.

It also means that the God who created all things can do so without in any way limiting our free will.  Within the infinitely manifold providence of M-Theology creation, we may choose to act however we wish.  God sets us into an M-theory creation fully and completely free.  We are given the right to follow any path we choose, while the story of what happens to us as we set our feet down any of those paths remains known to God, even before we've taken that first step.


A theology that integrates this view of creation into itself lifts the dark weight of deterministic horrors that seem antithetical to God's nature.  It also retains free will, as fully and meaningfully as it can be retained as a concept.  It does that while fully affirming God's creative and sovereign power, and the deep significance of our response to God.

This, as I have said before, is non-trivial.   At a bare minimum, it's one less thing to pointlessly fight over.

So does this mean where the rubber hits the road?  How does this speak to our day-to-day lives as moral and ethical beings, given the choice of figuring out how to work our way through the fuddliness of an incredibly complicated existence?

Further up, and further in...

15 comments:

  1. My only issue with a multiverse cosmology is that I don't quite see how free will still has any meaning when everything that could happen does. By that I mean, if I make a choice to feed the hungry, does that mean that in millions of universes I didn't? That in millions of universes, they weren't fed? If so, how can any of our actions mean anything? Whether I choose to feed them or not, they will still, somewhere, go hungry tonight.

    As someone who never really stopped believing in Narnia (or the Discworld, for that matter), the idea of a multiverse captures my imagination like almost nothing else, but thinking through the implications sometimes depresses me.

    You'll probably address these issues in your next post, but my question is this: if a M-Theory means that anything that can happen does, somewhere, then where lies our motivation to change things for the better in our little sliver of space-time, especially when doing so merely ensures that another universe will be a little worse?

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  2. @David.

    I think you are right that a multiverse might help solve the philosophical free-will versus determinism conundrum, but I don't agree with you that it solves the theological injustice of predestination conundrum. In fact, I think it makes it worse.

    In your M-theology, the iterations of the damned are still created by God. God has to write the stories of child rape and slavery and genocide in all their gritty details, leaving out nothing, and then lay them them like traps in our path.

    And how does this thing work exactly?

    A. Are each of us one single soul that travels through our tree of alternate histories like a hamster in a habitrail, choosing forks, so that the paths not taken are occupied merely by souless robot versions of ourselves going through the motions that God scripted for them? Are there insentient animatronic versions of ourselves programmed to writhe as if in agony in the hells we avoided by just not going there? Or, even weirder, the souless robots of heaven. It looks like Mom and it acts like Mom, but sadly the real Mom isn't there, and you don't want to know where she really is.

    Or.

    B. Does our soul split in two at every fork, so that our myriad soul clones occupy every possible slot of punishment and reward? In which case, how is that any better than old school Calvinsit predestination? In this picture God still created all the souls he needed to fill the pits of hell and made sure that each of them would arrive there according to his plan. Only now there are soooooooooooo many more of them. A gazillion for each of us.

    I just don't see the appeal. As a child I used to imagine how hard it would be to enjoy heaven when you know that people you loved that had not been saved, and that kind of ruined it for me. This would be worse. Way worse. You'd know also that an army of your clones were being tortured. Or that you were surrounded by the automatons of the damned.

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  3. @ Sofia: Aye, it's a weight, it is. But some things make it easier to bear. I'll be interested in your thoughts on my subsequent post.

    @ Browning: But for you, everything makes it worse, invariably and without question. I say, we are created, and our Creator lays before us an infinite array of choices. "Here. Be. Live. You may do however you wish. Just watch out where the huskies go, and don't you eat that yellow snow." And yet you find this total freedom oppressively confining. Unless, of course, there is no God, in which case it suddenly gets wonderful and noble and awe-inspiring.

    You have such endearing consistency. I prefer to approach it with an attitude of hope and fierce gratitude. As an old friend once said, in another context, the multiverse "..is unthinkably awful, but that just serves to make the beautiful parts that much more so. We are so lucky to be alive at all."

    A pity you're not able to tap his wisdom as you think about the ethical ramifications of this for people of faith.

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  4. @ David. No, that is a convenient way to dismiss all my objections -- saves you the trouble of thinking about them enough to address them -- but it's not a true to picture of who I am. I can imagine concepts of God that would not be objectionable, and might even be wonderful -- but they seem improbable in light of the reality I see around me, or do not fit with the wild speculations that theists try to present as truth. What do you say to Jack Chick when he levels the same accusation at you? Aren't you just a total pessimist with regards to his picture of the cosmos, "endearingly" consistent in your inability to accept how wonderful it is ?

    I do not find total freedom confining, but I perceive that what you describe in your M-theology is not total freedom, but good old-fashioned double pre-destiny written exponentially large. (Or it is a very strange kind of universe that is populated with largely uninhabited automatons acting our scripts --some of them horrible -- written by God.) I don't think that this is something that can only be seen by the single-minded God-hater that you imagine me to be. I bet it would not be that hard to find a theist who agrees with me, don't you? If you have some way to respond to my objections, I'd be very interested to hear it. Really. But don't just be condescending and dismissive.

    ***********

    Another problem has occurred to me. M-theory says that ours pasts are just as indeterminate as our futures. That is so wildly counter-intuitive that I'm not sure how to understand it. I guess it means that when I remember that past, my observation of it in my memory somehow uses quantum weirdness to pick out a single past and fix it out of the myriad pasts that led up the moment of my remembering. Some of my pasts will be more probable. But that still implies that there are a myriad of versions of me with actual histories that I can't remember. It's hard for me to make sense of that, but if you accept M-theory then you need to accept that as well.

    How can you deal with something like theologically? Because while I can see that I have free will to determine my future, my past seems to be chosen for me. If in any given instant I remember a past at random, and that past is sinful, is it justice to hold me responsible for it? Especially when all my sinful pasts were written into the fabric of the multiverse before this iteration of my soul unfortunately intersected with them?

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  5. @ Browning: Again, I can't see how having every choice open to you and no choices precluded is not "total freedom." That seems like one of those concepts that should be self-annihilating.

    And when I say "endearing" I'm not patting you on the head like a good little boy. I actually do find your consistency reason to feel, while occasionally frustrated, somehow appreciative of your integrity as a being. You cohere in ways that make you knowable. And knowledge of the other is my self-professed highest principle, eh?

    Given that that hopeful, positive thinking friend I quoted was you, I obviously have respect for some of the insights you have, even if you are unwilling to apply them to the faith that coming to terms with this wackadoodle universe seems to require.
    ------
    Oh...and the automaton thing you're pitching out there. I don't get that. Why would another iteration of Browning not be just as fully Browning as you are? Perhaps even more so. Why, in your approach, is it not possible that you are the automaton, locked into a particular pattern of being that countless other iterations of Browningness have long since abandoned?

    I have no difficulty with the former. It's a common insight in the mystical wing of faith that I inhabit. I think the former more represents the freedom we see in being, across all possible selves.

    My sense is that even your consistency is not a sign of the latter.
    -------
    That last point you raise from The Grand Design...about infinitely variable alternate pasts for any given present...is one I had some conceptual trouble with as well, for precisely the same reason you did.

    I think in terms of the moment in which we find ourselves, that's functionally meaningless. I know what I did this morning, and consolidating my position as Supreme Autarch of New Jersey was not one of those things.

    However, it did occur to me that what might be meant by that is that a moment in which the alignment of matter is identical to this one might arise as the result of another causal chain in M-theory creation. Is that the same instant? Do the streams cross?

    Danged if I know. At certain points, contemplating the variability of M-Theory has felt like contemplating time. Where is that moment when my self is present? Where is that potentiality in which I actually have being?

    It's pleasantly shaking, in the way that qawwali dance is shaking.

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  6. @David.

    Thank you for clarifying the "endearing." The feeling is mutual. I also find your dedication to your faith to be adorable. :)

    I'm saying that in your M-theology, the "total freedom" is an illusion (unless you accept the automaton scenario, which you seem open to, I guess -- though it has it's own serious problems).

    The logic of it is easier to see if you break it down to its simplest version. Let's say I am a virtual reality programmer, and I create a tiny toy matrix universe. It only has two things in it: Joe and a cannoli. I have programmed Joe to know only three things: (a) he wants to eat the cannoli and that (b) he does not want to displease me, his creator, and that (c) I will not be pleased if he eats the cannoli. I have also programmed Joe with one ability: to freely decide whether or not to take the cannoli. (You could also ask me, "If I did not want Joe to eat the cannoli, why did you program him to want to eat the cannoli?" But never mind that.) Now, if I've created a classical linear universe, I could just run the program once and see what Joe does. But, in my infinite love and wisdom, I decide instead to create a complete mini-multiverse where every possibility is actualized. For this to work properly, I need to program two separate versions of Joe, one that I know will take the cannoli and one that I know will resist the temptation. So I ask you, did I still program Joe to have free will? My intuition tells me that in this scenario there are two Joe's and thanks to my design, neither has free will. They both have destinies that are determined in advance by my decision to create a complete multiverse.

    For what it's worth, I think this parable illustrates the same objection that Sofia has stated in a somewhat different way (proving that it is not an inherently God-hating atheist way to think.)

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  7. Now suppose I recognize that it is unfair to judge Cannoli-Cadging Joe for playing out the role that I wrote for him and forced him to play. I wish to have a complete multiverse but I also wish for Joe to have real free will, rather than just the illusion of it. There is one alternative that is more complicated. I create a universe with three time slices, one in which Joe is faced with his temptation, and then two more that fork off from that moment, and in one Joe pushes the fateful cannoli away and in the other he guiltily licks the crumbs from his fingers. But these moments are like frozen tableaus that contain no sentient being. They are occupied by mere material Joebots. That sentient free willed being is the soul of Joe, and after building the Cannoli Matrix, I install that precious payload soul into the initial state Joebot. Now, faced with the forbidden cannoli, this unique singular Soul'o'Joe can choose his path, like a rat in a maze of possibilties, and at the end of the program the path not chosen contains no solo Joe soul. That way, if he chooses rightly there is no one to damn, and vice versa.

    This saves me the worry of having created a Joe predestined to incur my wrath. But, of course, it also has its problems. If you expand this idea into a full scale multiverse you end up with quite a lot of soulless bots, some of whom are programmed by none other than God to commit terrible crimes while their absent do-gooder pilot-souls are off in a neighboring universe volunteering at the shelter. And on the other hand, that saintly one may also be the empty vessel, while her corresponding sentience is at the Grand Central Station recruiting new talent for her brothel. That is a bizarre and disturbing prospect. (Plus the whole, thing relies an a kind of mind-body dualism that doesn't work for me personally, and that appears to be somewhat counter-intuitive for you as well. "Why would another iteration of Browning not be just as fully Browning as you are?" is a very good question--one that a skeptic of the concept of dualism and "spirit" would ask. )

    Is it possible that I am an automaton? Interesting to consider. If so then my free will is certainly an illusion, and I am just following a script laid out for me by my creator, and "I" can't be held responsible for my actions. In some sense, there would be no "I." But I know that is false because... well, cogito. Ergo sum.

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  8. @ Browning: And from the Cogito, any of those selves would be able to reject the argument you've just made about their bot-ness, in precisely the same way the I in I rejects it.

    Where I wonder about the implications of M-theory taken from a non-theistic standpoint is with its ramifications for the interrelation of beings. If you fall back to the Cogito (as all post-Cartesian philosophy does), what does this imply about the reality of those around you?

    I could, for instance, think of you as just a Browning-bot, an automaton whose sole purpose in the solipcistic universe that rests on the particularity of my being is to challenge me when I blog. Particularly if I use the word "atheism" in the title or as one of the keywords. It's remarkably like an on-button when I do that.

    From a secular standpoint, what does this do for your ethics? Is it to be disregarded as irrelevant...even if it's insights into the fundamental nature of being are materially accurate? What's your stand on that?

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  9. @ David. "And from the Cogito, any of those selves..."

    Ah, but they aren't selves. That's just it. And this is not just some solipsistic skepticism on my part. I think it follows logically from your assumptions. It's one horn of your dilemma. If they are all selves, then none of them have free will. And if there is a someone, a unique self who truly has free will, then the actual manifestations of the paths not chosen must be uninhabited by selves.

    But you are replying to me about this automaton thing as if I think it's real. I don't. I think it NEEDS to be real IF you wish to claim that we live in a theistic multiverse with actual free will rather than the illusion of free will. And that is a problem for YOU, not for me. Your mission is not to show how ridiculous this scenario is, because I agree. It's bat[poop] crazy. It's a reductio ad absurdum. Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to show me how I am wrong about the necessity of this nonsense in your M-theology. If not double predestination writ large, and not the immaterial-soul-in-a-maze-of-automatons world either, then what? What is the third way?

    I'm all ears. So far, your only answer has been "It's obvious, but you just can't see it. Because you are broken. Because you just hate God." From my point of view, that's a kind of hybrid of ad hominem and question begging. It also is a kind of tacit admission that you accept double predestination. God might have made me such that I am fundamentally unable to perceive him. I suppose for all I know that could be true, but it does not reflect very well on God if it is. And it seems foolish to me to fear this possibility.

    As for solipsism, we've already had this conversation, and, as I said before, I'm against it. I think radical skepticism is a pointless philosophical parlor game, and solipsism is just a more specific facet of radical skepticism. So to answer your question, solipsism is completely irrelevant to my ethics, and this doesn't bother me a bit because there is no reason to think that it is materially accurate.

    As for my robotic predictability: What can I say? We have similar interests. Cosmology? Atheism? This stuff is like catnip to me. You have attracted a fully engaged reader. We should all be so lucky. As for me, I find it immensely entertaining, educational and enlightening to have a vigorous but amiable discussion about these things. I am grateful. I probably don't say that enough.

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  10. @ Browning: Quite the contrary. If they are selves, then *all* of them have free will, in the most complete possible sense of the term.

    Are they self-aware? Of course, in the same way that I hold that you are. Let's think metrics here. Could any of them successfully pass a Turing Test? I would say so, although I've known some humans who need some test-prep help for that one. If they can, you'd have no grounds for asserting they are automatons. In a few more years, even our robot friends won't merit that pejorative.

    Why is this only my problem? It's not a theist v. atheist issue, but a broader issue about the nature of being. None of the arguments you've about Robot Joe and His Cannoli can't translate over into an entirely atheistic determinism. Remove God, and from your arguments what you as a secular person have left over is an infinite array of possible biochemical processes, which would be no more "free" than the god bots.

    Deutsch talked about this at TED recently, and argued briefly in favor of M-theory as the means by which free will can be conserved against materialist/realist determinism. Adding God to that multiverse equation wasn't his intent, of course, even if he's inadvertently made it a logical possibility. Given that what I'm saying about free will is essentially his argument (or the argument of the alternate universe liberal Baptist Deutsch), I think you've kinda painted yourself into a conceptual corner.

    And I don't for a moment think you can't experience a sense of the Maker, Browning. Nor are you somehow incapable of it. It's just that you won't. As you've acknowledged, it's an act of will. You are free to make that choice.

    Ah! So I'm catnip! Well enough. I'm also grateful, not just that you read, but for the rather considerable thought and effort that you put into your comments and our exchanges. Heck, it isn't even your blog.

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  11. @David.

    You contend something that consists of a number of essential elements: (1) We live in a multiverse that was (2) intentionally created by a benevolent creator, (3) so it should be just, and so (4) we must have actual, non-illusory free will, and so (5) the multiverse is complete, such all possibilities related to our willful choices are also actual. Falsification of any of these elements disproves your contention. Same with a contradiction between any two of them. Is that fair to say?

    However, I don't expect the multiverse to be just. I would like to think that we have free will, but I am open to the possibility that we do not. Perhaps it is an illusion. So while you are right, of course, that free will / determinism is still an issue in a godless multiverse, and therefore an issue for me as well, it is not quite the same kind of issue for me. I am not the one who has painted himself into a corner, because I am quite willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

    And if you pay close attention to Deutsch, he explicitly denies that a multiverse means we have free will to choose which universe to inhabit. He says that it gives us "a framework to understand what it means to choose something" in a deterministic universe. I admit that I don't yet know how to understand that, but my confusion about it is not terribly relevant to the truth value of your contention, which is far more incautious and vulnerable on several points than Deutsch's or mine.

    Joe's mini-multiverse is deliberately programmed -- it has a "God" -- because it is a toy model of your contention. If you remove the "God" from the thought experiment, it might become a toy model of my picture of the multiverse. It might bring me to better understand that, God or no God, Joe has no free will, and the implications of this might be unsettling for me. But this is irrelevant to my argument with you. It's like saying, "Well, maybe my contention's notion of free will is incoherent, but you don't have a good explanation free will either!" It's a tu quoque fallacy. It does not help you to defend your contention.

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  12. I think maybe I'm confusing you with my various colorful scenarios. Forget the automatons. They were just a way for me to anticipate a possible solution for your problem and to illustrate a new set of problems that would come with that solution, but your quibbles with the particulars of them are distracting you from addressing the main thrust of my argument. (Though I am very intrigued that your intuitions about automatons are actually in concert with my thinking. You seem like a natural-born skeptic of Cartesian dualism. In the argument between Daniel Dennet and Alvin Plantinga on this subject, this puts you on Team Dennett. Bully for you! Have read any Dennett on the nature of consciousness or on free will?)

    Rather than try to illustrate my quarrel with your contention, let me try to distill it to its essence: If God intentionally creates the complete multiverse and us with it, then he intentionally creates those actual versions of beings that necessarily and inevitably defy his will. So there can be no free will. If it's not necessary and inevitable for some versions of us to defy his will -- that is, if all versions have real choice -- then the multiverse is not complete. Some possibilities are not actualized. And if it's not complete, then, in your model, those choices were never available to us in the first place. So, in your model, all possible choices are chosen in advance by God when he fashions the multiverse. It was one thing to say, in a classical universe, that he created beings who could potentially defy him if they so chose, and this too had it problems as you point out in your original post. But in a multiverse, God actually creates those who actually defy him in every possible way. Therefore, it must be God's will that every possible sin actually be committed. In other words, God's will demands that his will be actually (and not just potentially) defied. His will is literally against his will. That strikes me logically impossible. So one or more elements of your contention must be false.

    ****************

    And, no, my disbelief in God is not an act of will. (I don't know how you got that impression.) I cannot will myself to believe in God, any more than I can will myself to believe in Tinkerbell.

    ****************

    You are not the catnip. Cosmology and atheism are the catnip. You might be the mouse.

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  13. @ Browning: Confused? Hardly, although it must be pleasant to think so. Of course the existence of free will in your cosmology is relevant to our argument, in that it changes your stance in our discussion. Where the evidence leads, as you’re interpreting it, is to the collapse of your ethical paradigm.

    You, from your own argument, are a robot in an open boat. Your noble interpretation of that tale suddenly has no more purchase, from your perspective, than my faith. There is only the chaos of the waves, and the cessation of biochemical processes in the rapidly cooling corpse on the shore, and the meaninglessness half-knowledge of the strangely ephemeral arms that receive you. Honestly, that seems to me a more authentic reading of Crane’s rather stark and unforgiving naturalism, which didn’t exactly brim over with warm-hearted existential bonhomie.

    From the standpoint of classical rhetoric, you’ve just annihilated your own ethos. When argumentation does that, it’s not a minor error. You can cry “tu quoque” all you want, but for those human beings who aren’t prep school debaters, you’ve diminished the persuasiveness of your position. Of course, my noting that is awfully ad hominem of me, but I’m just trying to be helpful. ;)
    ------
    What gave me the impression that choosing atheism was just an act of your will? Why, you did, when you professed your choice not to seek meaning and purpose in being. Your atheism is an act of will by any meaningful definition of the term. More precisely, where you stand now is the result of a series of decisions and interpretations of reality, all of which have reinforced your sense of identity. So it goes. You are a free being, and you've chosen your path.

    Or so I assert, in my incautious way. You, along with Deutsch, seem a little unclear where you stand on the subject.
    -------
    On theistic free-will in an M-theory universe, there is a rather significant element of faith you seem to be missing: the assertion by the faithful...and here I’m speaking of trinitarian Christianity...that we aren’t ontologically separated from God.

    The point and purpose of faith is the expression of that which is good, through our relationship with the Creator. We are created as free beings, able...as Hawking and Mlodinow argue, and you waffle...to choose which path we take. We also have the choice of engaging with our Creator through faith, and from that faith taking a path that will maximize our joy. Or not. From our freedom, in which God is essentially gifting us the right to share with God in the formation of being, we can create horror and bigotry and darkness. That approach to being is our choice, but it is ultimately as self-annihilating as universes that collapse in on themselves because of fundamental instabilities in their physics.

    His will is that we are free, and that we pursue the good. In the completeness of God’s will, we do. If we screw up, it’s on us. We’ve been given total freedom and all the guidance we need to use it, after all. From a Christian perspective, that’s the narrative of the Fall in a nutshell. I’m not suggesting...or anticipating...that you accept that. But from within the bounds of the metanarrative that defines my worldview, the issue you raise is a non-issue.
    --------
    Yeah, I don’t buy Cartesian dualism either, even though I have a very well developed pineal gland. I’m far more theologically Jewish in my understanding of mind/body relation than I am theologically Greek.
    --------
    And if you were the cat, I think I’d peer out from my mousehole and name you Ginger. For the color, of course. And the spice. It seems to match your temperament.
    --------
    Here I find myself musing that while this is enjoyable, we are sprawling a bit. As much as I hate Twitter, one of the advantages is that it makes lobbing essays at one another rather less of an option. 150 character limits really do focus a conversation. Just an observation.

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  14. @David.

    Yeah, the debate has been sprawling, but I have found it entertaining and very useful. And I enjoy writing essays. Speak for yourself though when you say "lobbing." Yes, yours have been high, slow and lazy, but I rather think I have been returning laser-guided swimballs. (I know, I know. But since you admit that trash talk is all your up for anymore: "Pointing out my fallacies makes you look like a prep school dweeb! And if that's ad hominem, well... so's your mother!")

    Speaking of fallacies: "...you professed your choice not to seek meaning and purpose in being." Total bullshit. I never said that. I seek meaning and purpose in being. And I find it too. I just don't find it by believing in fantasies. And I couldn't make myself believe in them even if I wanted to. If you think you can, then I dare you to set a kitchen timer and believe sincerely in Tinkerbell for five minutes. Just stop when the bell rings. I mean, how hard could it be? (Though that's part of how this whole thing started, I guess. You think Stephen Hawking just gave you permission to believe in anything you can imagine. Ergo, Anselm!)

    But it's amazing to me that you can't see the existential solidarity in Crane's story. It's not even subtle. Have you read it recently? It's really, really good -- deeply and powerfully moving, all the more for being based on true, personal experiences of its author. But I think it helps to have three or four decades under your belt to truly appreciate it.

    Of course, the nature of free will is puzzling and discomfiting, and mortality is a BITCH. But can one properly face these things by contemplating the treacly bromides of Mr. Tumnus? "As an old friend once said, in another context..." "...it must be pleasant to think so."

    But you're right -- the argument is played out. Ginger is bored. He's going to go find a sunny spot to curl up and read Sam Harris's The Moral Landscape.

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  15. @ Browning: I only throw them that way because you seem to have such trouble catching the faster ones. ;0)

    So you do seek meaning, eh? I thought you never entered into a situation with anything other than utter objectivity. Ah well.

    In fact, I did read Crane again, following one of your glisten-eyed paeans to it. It's a damn good story. I can see where you take it as a foundation for a firm-jawed existential defiance of the essential meaninglessness of being. But the moment you cling to in it passes, and it ends bleak and cold and pointless. Wonderful, wonderful story, though. Crane is truly brilliant...the short story, done well, is perhaps the most elegant form of prose.

    Enjoy your reading! I'll look forward to playing catch with you again soon.

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