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GoatLord

Argument from experience

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Proposal: It is impossible to conceptualize a thing that is not traceable to previous experiences. For example, the color green cannot be conceived of unless the subject has a previously stored memory of a green object. Therefore, green cannot conceived without referencing an experience containing green information.

 

If this is true, then why is it that humans have, for so long, insisted upon the existence of God, bigfoot, aliens, the afterlife, ghosts, chupacabra, succubi, and other phenomena which has never been explicitly captured? Using the "argument from experience" approach that has now been explained, we can suggest that such phenomena are:

 

A) Cultural hallucinations that amplify in potency as they become long-lasting memes, causing people to witness such phenomena via the power of suggestion or perhaps an intense willingness to believe that it is "real,"

B) Misinterpretations of actual phenomena, which have been described so poorly for so long that the literal thing bears little or no resemblance to what we claim it is, 

C) Some combination of A and B, or

D) Something else entirely.

 

I myself tend to lean toward C, as I cannot think of a way to imagine something that lacks context or does not build off previous experience, although there are extreme circumstances under which context-less experience may arise (i.e. geometric hallucinations that refuse to conform to three dimensional spacetime). This explanation allows these phenomena to be "true" in that they point to actual things, yet also asserts that these things have never been properly described, leading to blind men and an elephant outcomes. Using this method of examination, the supernatural and superstitious aspects of man can be discussed in greater depth.

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One explanation of the notion of super-human beings is extrapolation.

People see the obvious things: an ant, a mouse, and a human. If there is a mouse that is greater than an ant, and there is a human that is greater than a mouse, people think that probably there should be something that continues that trend line.

 

And I agree with B).

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53 minutes ago, m8f said:

 If there is a mouse that is greater than an ant, and there is a human that is greater than a mouse, people think that probably there should be something that continues that trend line.

That's actually a really good explanation for the belief in "supreme beings" or a "higher power." And yes, it fits very well with B), that there is something true being described, but it is not what we claim it is. I think that, at least as far as deities or a singular god is concerned, we assume the existence of an organismic hierarchical structure of which we are not at the top of. But even deeper than that, there may be experiences which suggest what the top of the totem pole might be. The problem is that anecdotal evidence is about as unreliable as it gets. I like the idea of the ant/mouse/human logic. Bigfoot, on the other hand...I want to say that might be more like echoes of our memories of being more ape-like in the far past, manifesting as hallucinations.

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Rogue programs that The Matrix has contextualised and rationalised as said phenomena, duh. Don't you know anything?

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2 hours ago, m8f said:

One explanation of the notion of super-human beings is extrapolation.

People see the obvious things: an ant, a mouse, and a human. If there is a mouse that is greater than an ant, and there is a human that is greater than a mouse, people think that probably there should be something that continues that trend line.

 

And I agree with B).

 

Got nothing else to add.

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As I said it's a good explanation, but it doesn't tell us whether or not there are ways of determining the fullness of the spectrum of consciousness/intelligence/agency. More than likely there are groupings of matter in the Cosmos that we would describe as "supreme beings" due to our primitive understanding of the universe...and it makes me wonder whether there has been actual contact with such, perhaps in the past or even now. I find the idea of "it's all in your head" a bit repugnant because it doesn't provide a starting point for the experience that led to the belief in super-humans.

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1 hour ago, GoatLord said:

If this is true, then why is it that humans have, for so long, insisted upon the existence of God, bigfoot, aliens, the afterlife, ghosts, chupacabra, succubi, and other phenomena which has never been explicitly captured? Using the "argument from experience" approach that has now been explained, we can suggest that such phenomena are:

Before I look at the 4 options, there's one thing I'd like to point out: You don't need to have experienced something to know that it exists, or even to be able to explain a phenomenon that you yourself have never seen in person. For example I've never seen a supernova in great detail myself, but I can explain, roughly, why they happen, and have not even a shadow of a doubt that they exist. Why? Because observatories have captured images, and of course science.

 

2 hours ago, GoatLord said:

A) Cultural hallucinations that amplify in potency as they become long-lasting memes, causing people to witness such phenomena via the power of suggestion or perhaps an intense willingness to believe that it is "real,"

And here's where you'd first need to define "real" to have an actual conversation. Sure you can say it's a hallucination, and therefore conclude that whatever it was that has been seen is only in a person's mind, and you'd be correct, but that doesn't change that the person in question has actually seen it and therefore deems it "real". If anything, the problems arise when people say that penomena which they themselves have never seen, cannot explain, replicate, or provide any supporting evidence for, are fact.

 

However, if you believe in what you've "seen" strong enough, and are convincing enough, chances are you'll make a bunch of simpletons believe you without any reservations whatsoever, that yes indeed, the Chupacabra exists and eventually it turns into "folklore".

Another folklore example that I'm intimately familiar with are Zombies. According to popular belief, those are mindless undead creatures, as depicted in countless hollywood movies. In reality, Zombies aren't fiction, but they aren't "undead" either. Zombies were people who have been experimented with, oftentimes being severely poisoned, "tripping", and injured, they were disposed of when they were of no more use to whoever was conducting their "research" while still not even being entirely dead at times, that's how that folklore came to be for the most part.

2 hours ago, GoatLord said:

B) Misinterpretations of actual phenomena, which have been described so poorly for so long that the literal thing bears little or no resemblance to what we claim it is, 

Epilleptic seizures and schizophrenia belong into this category. People way back when couldn't explain them, or actually treat them, which is why they called in a priest in a black robe who was to perform an excorcism... Because that's how you get healthy, you have a man in black clothes yell latin curses at you while being tied to the bed. If that doesn't cure you straight away, then I dunno what will.... /sarcasm

Similar situation with Vampires... Buried people were said to be Vampires, because their nails were still growing after they died, for example. Another reason for the belief in Vampires is that sometimes people have been buried prematurely, and once they knew where they were, they tried to escape their coffin, leaving scratches inside of it and such.

In either case people have seen something which was real, but couldn't interpret it the way we can these days.

2 hours ago, GoatLord said:

C) Some combination of A and B, or

D) Something else entirely.

 

What the reason was depends entirely on what's been seen, and a whole bunch of other factors such as how traumatizing an experience was...

As for D, in all honesty one of the first things that comes to mind is "the god of the gaps". A way of thinking that aims to somehow insert god, or divine/demonic intervention into any niche or spot where science for example does not yet have a clear and definitive answer.

In the evolution versus creationism "debate" for instance you'll experience no shortage of idiots who either deny obvious evidence, or put god into the equation where science has not yet drawn a clear, high-resolution picture. Not only do I find this way of "arguing" aggravating, but I also consider the "god of the gaps preachers" to be dangerous, and here's a reason why:


Isaac Newton was one hell of a great thinker. At the time he was alive, he was something you could consider a "universal scolar", because there was next to nothing people knew at the time that he had no understanding of. Just to be clear, the entirety of human knowledge at the time wasn't anywhere near as "vast" (relatively speaking) as it is today, so the bar was low by comparison. Regardless, he was the brightest candle on the cake, and he was also a very religious man. When he figured out, "roughly", how gravity worked, there were still things his formulas at the time couldn't quite explain, such as the motion of some of the planets in our solar system, and instead of refining his formulas to the ones used in physics today, he said "maybe god steps in every now and then to correct things". It's not like he couldn't have figured it out, that guy came up with calculus intuitively, almost on a dare even. He had the capacity, but his research stopped the very moment he put god into the equation. Who knows how much more we'd know about the way the universe works today, if he didn't pull off a "god of the gaps".

And that's why I hate that "god of the gaps" way of thinking as much as I do, even though I'm very religious myself, It's a "philosophy" of ignorance. As far as I'm concerned, there's no issue with being religious, it's all about knowing where to put your deities, and what to leave them away from... But there's clearly a problem when people use the bible as a science book, or use every next best scientific frontier to invoke their god(s).

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I think it's because since we are, to the best of our knowledge, the only thing that thinks, feels, and acts like we do, we're unconsciously hoping that there's something else out there that's just as intelligent as we are.

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2 hours ago, GoatLord said:

Proposal: It is impossible to conceptualize a thing that is not traceable to previous experiences.

That's a flimsy proposition.

2 hours ago, GoatLord said:

If this is true, then why is it that humans have, for so long, insisted upon the existence of God, bigfoot, aliens, the afterlife, ghosts, chupacabra, succubi, and other phenomena which has never been explicitly captured?

  • All human religions start with animism, which is basically attributing human-like mindset to animals and things. There's a spirit of the house (such as the Roman penates), a spirit of the woods, a spirit for each tree in the woods, a spirit of the brook, and so on. There are spirits for diseases and spirits for cures. Spirits for intangible things like emotions and for tangible things like rocks. Spirits for small things, spirits for big things. There are the spirits of the dead, too, the ancestors who are still there somehow. And all that means that there is a spirit for the people, for the whole nation: the tribe's god. And when you vanquish an enemy tribe, you profane the idols of the vanquished tribe's spirit, to weaken it and to complete your victory. And you force the people you have conquered to worship your tribe's spirit. Because now your tribal god becomes the only God, and all others are demons, and congratulations you have invented monotheism.
  • Bigfoot. Apes and bears are animals that exist. From afar, they can look like weird humans. "Orangutan" means "forest person" in Malay. So even with your premise, imagining other somewhat-human-looking animals is certainly nothing impossible.
  • Aliens. Life exists on this planet. Even with your premise, it is therefore possible to conceptualize life existing on a planet. As soon as you discover that there are other planets, you can conceptualize life existing on them. Remember also the discovery of the "New World" on this very planet, where suddenly Europeans discovered the Americas where there were different animals and plants and people with complex civilizations of their own; aliens are merely an extrapolation of this concept to space instead of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • The afterlife. Refer to animism again, the idea that those who left are still there somehow, in a spiritual dimension. Congratulations, you've just invented the afterlife!
  • Ghosts. Refer to animism again. Yes, a ghost is a spirit of an ancestor, exactly.
  • Chupacabra. Shepherd finds dead goat, drained of its blood. Shepherd figures there's some prey animal out there which sucks goat blood. Names it the goat-sucker. Congratulations, you've invented the Chupacabra! The goat-sucker was probably just a coyote or wolf or something and the dead goat's blood was simply drained by gravity and went mostly into the soil, but hey.
  • Succubi. Forget about the sexy demon ladies, and read up on night terrors. People feeling like they're paralyzed, with a crushing weight on their chest. That's where you get folktales about evil spirits (remember animism? there are spirits for every fucking thing you can possibly imagine) sitting on people during their sleep and creating nightmares. (Look up the etymology of nightmare. It's not a female horse.) That's how you get succubi and incubi.
    1fGv6Fb.jpg

Also: Keep in mind that we're on a forum that is about a game where the premise is that people open teleportation gateways that allow demons to invade. Where's the experience to permit this concept?

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30 minutes ago, Gez said:

Also: Keep in mind that we're on a forum that is about a game where the premise is that people open teleportation gateways that allow demons to invade. Where's the experience to permit this concept?

Tom Hall opens the fridge. Congratulation, you have just invented Doom!

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The argument that 'a concept cannot be conceived until it's experienced' is a really, really strong Empiricist position, you're going to open yourself up to a lot of annoying contrary arguments. For example, placing emphasis on experience, we know that if we place a coffee cup on the table, it will stay there. But 'experience' also does not rule out the possibility of the coffee cup morphing into a cyberdemon and blowing the house into smithereens. But we know that won't actually happen. Something else is at play here in the human mind that goes beyond our need to rely solely on experience. I would say a good example that represents this is humanity's unique invention- language. We're able to create infinite outcomes from a limited set of rules. If it was the case that we couldn't conceive of something that hasn't been experienced, then it could be argued that we couldn't think sentences that hadn't been written before.

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But even the premise of Doom is based on previous experiences being referenced (games, movies, music, literature, etc.). So my argument is that the memes which have survived history are built from memories of experience, but not necessarily direct experience, by virtue of language and its capacity to simulate experience. The idea is to figure out the sources of these culture memes through reduction, which several of you have already demonstrated. It gets the most difficult with deities, since the whole question of "What's at the top?" might not be answerable. But the why of animism might tell us something. 

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I think you're begging the question with the first example. Can we treat the quale of a color the same way as the concept of god, ghosts or anything else? I'm not sure that experience of the qualia of red and green could be combined in the same way to imagine yellow as we could combine the concepts of building and plane, or gym and swimming pool.

 

Putting aside the questionable initial example, the conclusion you draw from it instinctively feels true to me, although I'm not sure we could prove it yet.  But the human capacity for recombination means you can get pretty far with just a little experience.  E.g. for much religion, I see a whole lot of experience of the parent-child relationship projected out. Love, protection, authority, punishment, guilt. It's not mentally such a distance from powerful to all-powerful, parent of some to parent of all.

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6 hours ago, GoatLord said:

But the why of animism might tell us something. 

It's worth investigating. The farther back you look at the epicenter of monotheism, you will see that it was also the epicenter of animism and polytheism even farther back in time, and that much of it was re-purposed over countless generations and power struggles, to become the current centralized religions. And there might have been some cross-pollination between Christianity and Buddhism early in their formation by way of Greco-bactrian interactions, despite how different they turned out.

 

Look up the Proto-Indo European mythology and how it relates to much of what was later converted by monotheism, up to Germanic tribes in the West for instance. Or greco-buddhism and how it influenced the course of eastern religions up to Japan, but also early Christians.

 

As you go to the fringes of that epicenter, you can see stronger ties to animism, which is likely born out of what @Gez described.

 

Of course I'm being overly simplistic here. We are talking about millennia of cultural interactions spanning countless cultures with different zeitgeists over the course of chaotic events and little records left. And I'm overlooking a few cultures here. But hopefully I'm giving good pointers for your own research.

 

I agree with you that it's hard to find something that isn't derivative of one or multiple other sources, but the idea of a god/deities is hardly different if you dig deep enough.

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9 hours ago, GoatLord said:

But even the premise of Doom is based on previous experiences being referenced (games, movies, music, literature, etc.). So my argument is that the memes which have survived history are built from memories of experience, but not necessarily direct experience, by virtue of language and its capacity to simulate experience. The idea is to figure out the sources of these culture memes through reduction, which several of you have already demonstrated. It gets the most difficult with deities, since the whole question of "What's at the top?" might not be answerable. But the why of animism might tell us something. 

Have you ever had trouble starting up your car, and, exasperated, just shouted at it something like "why won't you start!?" ? Because if so, congratulation, you've invented animism by talking to your car's spirit.

 

The ability of the human mind to ascribe human minds to things that don't have human minds is quite astounding. We're social animals. We're genetically wired to interact with our peers. Our brains are trained to think about what the other guy would be thinking so that we can guess how they'd react to our offers so that we can make a bargain with them. And so we end up making a bargain with the spirit of the funny-shaped-rock where we give it some of the fish we've caught in exchange of them granting us luck in our attempt to hunt a boar.

 

This is related to our ability to see recognizable shapes, and especially human faces, where there are none. Like this intimidating mop. :-)

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Yeah, that mop is badass. You don't want to mess with that mop. That mop can kick your butt. And speaking of things that can kick your butt:

uWjW1UO.jpg

Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?

 

In fact, you can even fit that tendency neatly in your own "argument from experience" hypothesis: we experience having a mind, so we have trouble imagining things not having a mind.

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9 hours ago, Kira said:

I agree with you that it's hard to find something that isn't derivative of one or multiple other sources, but the idea of a god/deities is hardly different if you dig deep enough.

Yes, and I find that fascinating because, on the one hand, there is a consistency across most all cultures in terms of their tendency to assume an upper layer of being, regardless of whether it's mono- or polytheistic. On the other hand, this consistency almost suggests that our assumption of upper layers is innate, and in particular our tendency toward ritualized acts might not be unique to human primates. It would be very interesting if we could somehow uncover the lost epochs of history and understand the exact origins of these beliefs. 

 

@Gez also makes some good points about the inherent anthropomorphic patterns that dominate our consciousness; likely they were evolutionarily useful in the far past, but led to some peculiar misinterpretations as consciousness arose within us. At the same time, our perception has always been built on inaccuracy... Which is why, on the subject of deities and mythical creatures, I find myself wondering how much of this is our solipsistic nature (putting a face on everything) and how much of this is some kind of reminder from reality itself that there's a layer to all of this that is "god-like." Mythical creatures like Bigfoot are more easily explained as ancient memes that are treated as literally real, but the "out there" stuff like deities, as I said, is exceedingly difficult to dissect. As @Gez said, "We experience having a mind, so we have trouble imagining things not having a mind." And that fits pretty nicely with so much of the phenomena I used as examples centering around entities with thinking minds. Perhaps on some level it is an intense cosmic yearning for an otherness that is not only like us, but more sophisticated in every way, as these entities—in particular, aliens—are depicted as having far more powerful minds than our own.

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