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Ryan and Jacob's Questionnaire

The recent rant and earlier rant have some clues which need to be solved in order to find the ranters' website.  Somehow these clues did lead to the website, which is http://www.eternalambition.com/.  One of the most interesting aspects of the rants and also the website is the questionnaire, which asks these eight questions, to which I've supplied my best answers:


(1) What is your view of religion and how did you derive it? What limitations do you see in a strictly scientific view of the world, and what is necessary to overcome those limitations? 

Religion, like Science, is a way of looking at the world. It has its own axioms, e.g. belief in God, and its own way of deriving Truths, such as moral principles, from those axioms. Science, too, has a set of axioms and a way of deriving Truth from them. One of the limitations of Science is that its methods never prove anything; they can only disprove things. Another is that the axioms and methods are a reflection of the way our minds are constructed, and so we find exactly what we expect to find. It's as if the map of the maze we should run is projected by our mind into the space in which, sure enough, we find that maze and run it. To overcome these limitations we first need to recognize they exist, and then we need to imagine how intelligent creatures lacking our specific predispositions would formulate axioms and methods, and then try to apply them. Alternatively, we could recognize that when we peer into the cosmos, or deep inside an atom, we are really peering into our own minds, and what we find in either place is a reflection of these minds. Then we can ask the question what science, viewed this way, tells us about ourselves. 

(2) How do the things that you do in your day to day life differ from the things that you'd like to be doing in your day to day life in the future? 

After I win the lottery, I will quit my middle-management job and become a teacher. I would like to teach math to junior-high or high school students. 

(3) What values, morals, principles, and codes of conduct are most important to you? What if someone is in your way, or somehow interfering in the goal you are pursuing, would you consider killing them, given there were no consequences?

As a participant in society, my moral code is one that improves the lot of society as a whole. I view my role in society in terms of concentric rings (that intersect to some degree), with myself in the middle, and family around me. My job is around that, then my neighborhood, state, country, and world. Where the interests of an inner ring conflict with those of an outer ring, I show preference to the inner ring, but will tolerate some pain in an inner ring to promote significantly greater good to an outer ring. Harming others is to be avoided, though, unless by not doing so, I bring harm to myself or an inner ring.  (Naturally, I'm not always completely successful in adhering to this moral code, but I try to learn from my mistakes.)

(4) Do you prefer to follow your heart or your mind - why? Can you describe a time that you did something that went against your reason because of your heart? Did you regret doing it? 

This question presupposes some kind of difference between following one or the other. The "heart" is something I regard as an innate or unexamined aspect of my mind, so to the extent I follow it I follow my mind anyway. So the question won't be a total waste, I'll take it to mean whether I ever do things without examining my own motives or otherwise think them through. The answer is, yes, all the time. In fact, even when I think I've thought it through, upon further reflection I often realize my thinking has been seriously flawed, perhaps because it was based on "scientific" ways of thinking, which, after all, are projections of my own mind on the word I perceive.

Sure, I'll relate one anecdote. I was tired of my girlfriend, so I let her discover me with another girl rather than confront her with the news that I didn't intend to date her any more. Absolutely I regret that. It was mean, for no reason except to spare me some emotional effort. 

(5) Imagine that you are given the opportunity to live on an isolated island for five years with up to three people of your choice. Survival will be extremely easy on this island because you will be given plenty of food, shelter, and other necessities for life. The only difference is that you are isolated from the rest of humanity and have no technology. Would you go? Who would you take with you and how many would you take with you? 

Assuming I could ensure my kids were old enough to be out on their own, I would take my wife for, you know, companionship, and I would take Ryan and Jacob for philosophical discussions. I would also take the complete writings of the masters of philosophy, especially the Greeks and the modern Existentialists.  Together, Ryan, Jacob and I would get to the bottom of the advantages and shortcomings of the "belief systems" (religion, science, moral teaching, and others) we labor under, and try to separate the aspects of these belief systems from the Truth, if there is any, in an effort to better understand both the belief systems and the Truth. 

(6) Who or what is so important to you that you can't live without it? What things or people truly matter to you in your life? Why? 

First, what would it mean, "can't live without" something? Does it mean that without that thing I would just die? Or does it mean that without it I would not be the person I am now, and so that old person would cease to exist, being supplanted by a new person? That meaning is typified by loss of memory. If I equate "myself" with my memories, then to lose them I would cease to exist. Countless thought experiments illustrate this point. For example, if my memories were exactly interchanged with those of another person, then *I* would continue to exist in the body of that other person. But this line of reasoning misses the point of the question, because it's not the importance of the memories that make them such that I can't live without them, but rather the equation of memories with me that make it so.

So let me try again.

Another interpretation of the question is that I would want to kill myself if certain things were made to disappear. On the one hand, it's hard to think what that might be. If I lost my reasoning ability, for example, I might want to kill myself, but without that ability I might not feel so strongly. On the other hand, I have, for time to time wanted to kill myself for no reason at all. So, again, I think I've either missed the point of the question or simply have no answer for it.

The follow-up questions shed some light on the type of answer you expect in this section, especially because they're not only not restatements of the first question, but not even very closely related to it in my mind.

My memories, my reasoning ability, and the vague notion I have that my mind (and similarly, the mind of every other person, for them) is projecting the reality of the world on the world. That vague notion, which philosophers such as Kant have felt much more keenly, but, alas, which becomes no more clear in my mind after having read some philosophical works, is what matters most to me. The reason is that like the person who keeps expecting to win the lottery, but not to be struck by lightning, even though the latter is more likely, I keep expecting to have an epiphany with respect to the nature of reality (or lack of it).

(7) How do you justify doing something for fun or enjoyment? 

By viewing society in my admittedly simplistic way, I can justify doing something for fun by pointing to the improved quality of life for the one in the very center, me, while at the same time not significantly harming the outer rings, or any member of those rings in particular. 

(8) Do you see that there is anything wrong with the way people act, or with the way our society exists? What exactly? Can you imagine how it could be changed? 

Sure, people don't stop to consider their course of action on society. A clear example for me, since I do it every day, is freeway driving. The freeway is a microcosm of society -- a laboratory -- in which individual and aggregate behavior can be seen for what it is, and how the individuals affect the aggregate, and vice versa. I try to cut in front of other people as rarely as possible while still maintaining a speed that is above average or as close to average as possible. When I'm stuck in a slow lane, I try to contain my aggressive impulses, knowing their expression would benefit me less than they would harm the aggregate of motorists.

One aspect of behavior that bears on this question is retaliation. When B perceives that A has wronged him, it is likely that A has no such idea. So when B retaliates against A, A is outraged. B, meanwhile, feels that the wrong has been only partially avenged. A now feels the need to retaliate, but to retaliate at just the level of B's recent action would not sufficiently express A's outrage at the unprovoked assault. So A inflicts double the pain that B has just committed. B, already feeling that he had not fully avenged A's earlier insult, now feels the strong need to double A's recent outrage. And on and on it goes, with A and B in an exponentially escalating war of retaliation.

To the extent that society permits (and somehow, teaches) individual acts of retaliation, this is something wrong with the way people act, and with the way our society exists. It is conceivable that moral teaching could address the issue of retaliation head-on, and in a convincing way (not, for example, the way the Christian teaching says to "turn the other cheek", but no Christian feels he should really do such a dopey thing!) teach, for example, that retaliation at a level half that of the wrong that was done, will result in an exponential decay, not escalation, of violence.

Your first seven questions bear on this one. If we were to examine our scientific, religious, and moral teaching to understand how they are designed (or, if not designed, how they came about) to further the aims of society, especially as these aims conflict with those of individuals, then insight could be gained into how these teachings could be improved to help society.


Related pages on this website

Home page for Rants, with a link to the story behind this rant

Next: Now click here for my critique of the duo's manifesto