Monday, November 22, 2004

What to do?

It's one of the fundamental questions of philosophy: What should I do, and why?

As I work through the development of my own philosophy, the problem of answering this question appears to be fundamentally tied to a definition of "Self". Let me try to bring you right to the edge of my current thinking, starting with a summary of my philosophy of Self:

1. We exist as living, dynamic patterns of information, not as static, monolithic entities. We are nothing more than a complex disturbance in a continuous, unitary field that is the universe.
2. What we at first think of as "Self" emerges from the interaction of a variety of patterns called genes and memes. Our ontogeny--the evolution of these interacting patterns over time that has led to its present manifestation--defines our current form.
3. Self awareness, and critically the self-aware awareness of this composition of "Self" frees the "Self" from the controlling influence of ontogeny: this is the emergence of true self, the moment of enlightenment taught in so many traditions.
4. This independent, enlightened Self exists as a momentary realization of freedom from ego (the point of attachment of gene and meme).
5. This enlightenment, independence from ego does not, however, answer the question: "What to do", as answering this question requires first defining a goal to work towards, and the setting of any goal is governed by the desires of the Ego.
6. Is it possible to develop a goal or goals for human action independent of the influence of ego? Can we, as a community of "Self"s come up with a vision for human action that we can move towards, or will our best efforts result in us continuing to serve the masters of gene and meme?

I think that I have experienced my "Self" free from any influence or control. It has been a momentary and fleeting sensation. It can be greatly insightful--I now have a better understanding of what "I" am, separate from the ontogeny of my body and mind. However, I have been unable to translate this knowledge into an informed set of goals or actions. I have not yet been able to answer the question "What do I (my "true self", not my ontogenetic self) want?"

Do "I" want pure hedonism, the pursuit of the optimization of certain neurochemicals? No, I my awareness illuminates that such a goal is a goal of my ontogenetic self. All forms of utilitarianism, idealism, etc. promulgated by every philosophy that I have uncovered falls, in one form or another, into the category of hedonism. Even selfless devotion to others is ultimately a pursuit of hedonism, because it maximizes the release of certain neruochemicals that are controlled by the meme of selfless sacrifice (i.e. benefit to society above self, very valuable to a meme hosted by that society, not by a single "Self"). Schadenfreude, Mother Theresa... all hedonism.

While I don't have an answer to the question that began this post, I have uncovered two goals that do not fall into the category of general hedonism (as defined above):

1. Fulfilled Ontogeny. Paul Shepard's concept that certain economic, physical, political and social environments are optimal for the functioning of our ontogenetic Self. Our genes are frozen (more or less) in the late-Pleistocene hunter-gatherer state. Since then we have evolved as societies, but not as individuals. Therefore the individual will function best in those environments most similar to late-Pleistocene mode of life. While this is not, in itself, a "goal" of the true Self, it does seem that it is a prerequisite, or at least a catalyst to free the node of the individual from the control of complex societal memes. If our a priori goal can be accepted as the desire to identify and realize the goals of the true Self, then creating an environment in which the individual is most free from outside control seems important.

2. Beauty. I have so far been unable to identify how the awareness and expression of beauty is a manifestation of ontogenetic Self. I do not see how it serves a meme, or how it serves a gene. Art, in the form of symbolic expression, certain serves memes--in fact is a meme. But beauty does not provide symbolic storage or communication, and does not seem to serve any purpose to the meme. Beauty appears, to me, to be independent of ontogeny. Therefore, I must ask what it is? Many mystical traditions have viewed it as a connection to the divine, or a point of intersection between the divided self and the unitary whole. Modern science seems to confirm the possibility that this view is correct: non-local effects, unified fields, even the puzzles of developmental microbiology point towards this interpretation. If you will remember, earlier I defined Self as a "complex disturbance in a continuous, unitary field that is the universe." Beauty may be a brief realization of this continuity. I don't know. I do think, however, that beauty holds a clue to the conceptualization of goals of the true Self.

So where does that leave us? Am I really going to leave the question of "What to do" entirely unanswered? No: I will provide the guidance under which I currently attempt to operate. But I will not claim that these are goals of the true Self:

A. Attempt to act with conscious awareness of the role of the ontogenetic Self in all things.
B. Continue to attempt to understand the goals of the true Self, and of beauty.
C. Attempt to formulate and pursue goals, to act in a manner that fulfills three criteria simultaneously to the greatest degree possible (and when not possible, discriminate in the order listed): 1) Will this action manifest fulfilled ontogeny, creating an environment which is more like the late-Pleistocene world to which my genes are optimized? 2) Does this action pursue conscious hedonism (which, in an individual aware of the broadest effects of their actions, should not lead to selfishness, but to a balanced selflessness in light of others and the world)? 3) Is this action an example of elegant simplicity, in the manner that it pursues all of the goals listed here?

Unsatisfying, I'll admit, but these are the best that I have to offer. For now.


ThomasMcCay said...

This is most interesting stuff you have here. Just discovered you via the SmirkingChimp.

Interesting perspective you have, I shall return often.

Admin said...

I agree, some very profound and interesting ideas. You refer here to fulfilled ontogeny and later on to fulfilled ontology, which is either a typo or a different concept all together. But admittedly I am just browsing, so maybe I missed something. Still very thought-provoking, I particularly like the rhizome connotations.