The Newsletter for Dangerous Thinkers


Truth Wisdom Reason Ultimate Reality


Issue 22, October 2002

This newsletter is unashamedly devoted to truth, genius and wisdom, which, of course, makes it totally anachronistic and out-of-fashion.   Some people even go so far as to call it "medieval" in nature.  The truths that it points to are subtle, profound and hard to discern.  They aren't the sort of truths that you can hold out in front of everyone, as you can a scientific result or a mathematical proof.  Rather, they are like beautiful diamonds that are buried deep within the mind.  Much personal digging is required if you want to cash in on this wonderful treasure.   But sadly, most people are too afraid to dig, lest their whole minds cave in.  And so this newsletter is really only for the courageous few.  Let the morons endlessly prattle on about how these inner diamonds don't exist.  It is their loss, not yours.  Let them revel in their poverty.  What does it matter to you?  You are a fine young explorer of the spirit!  May you go all the way with your explorations.  May you succeed where others fear to tread!

Welcome to Genius News.


The Middle Way

Destiny and Will



From the Twilight Zone

Enlightenment & Bliss

Is the Ego Inevitable?



Willing, Wanting & Reality

From the Archives

The Logic of Certainty

Subscription Information

The -[- symbol will return you to this contents table from each major section.

Leyla: Is there anything inherently wise?

David Quinn: Sages and their actions are inherently wise. That is to say, anyone who is conscious of Reality.

Leyla: Is this Reality not brought to consciousness through the middle-way?

David Quinn: It depends on what is meant by the "middle-way". What do you mean by it?

Leyla: Actually, I'm more interested in what you mean by it (and how it applies directly to what you wrote elsewhere):

"Hopefully, what Shardrol means is that although the enlightened mind continues to function from its "referential coordinates" as before, it differs from the ordinary mind in that it no longer believes in the ultimate validity of these coordinates, due to its understanding of emptiness. In other words, while the enlightened mind continues to operate within duality, thus preserving the existence of its consciousness, it no longer believes the dualistic creations that it experiences in each moment are ultimately real."

David Quinn: The middle way represents the intellectual path to enlightenment. One travels down this path by rejecting the idea that a dualistic position can embody the Truth.

In particular, one rejects the duality of "existence" and "non-existence", together with all of the views and beliefs that rely on either one of these dualities as a basis. For example, one rejects the idea that the Universe is either materialistic or non-materialistic in nature, that it is either temporary or eternal, that it is either subjective or objective, that things are either real or illusory, and so on. It is only by learning how to see beyond duality, as it were, that one can begin to comprehend the nature of Reality.

Leyla: OK. What is the purpose, then, of such a wise person taking a dualistic position on a dualistic issue?

David Quinn: He does this in order to address people's attachment to duality. He is like a doctor who prescribes various medicines in order to cure people's illnesses. He himself is perfectly healthy and doesn't require any medicine. But he recognizes that other people are in need of it and so he provides it for them.

In other words, a wise person uses duality skillfully for the purpose of weaning people off duality. He himself has no attachment to duality, but he recognizes that other people are trapped in it and need his help.

Leyla: So, what you are saying is that in order to demonstrate the value and benefits of Truth, it is necessary to adopt a lie? Doesn't this proposition serve only to perpetuate ignorance of Reality by that very adoption? Isn't that a bit like the doctor infecting himself with the same virus as the patient...are you telling me that Kevin (and I say Kevin because this whole discussion is a result of this thread) only raised the issue of the lack of wisdom in the Kuran to infect himself (even though he can cure himself thru his knowledge of Reality) and thus show infected people how infected they are? I'm not sure that that forwards the stated purpose emphasised above.

Wouldn't it be simpler, and more effective, to demonstrate the value and benefits of the non-dualistic position since the path to enlightenment is travelled by "rejecting the idea that a dualistic position can embody the Truth"?

David Quinn: Indeed it would, except that there is no such thing as a non-dualistic position that exists in isolation from duality. A "position" is dualistic by nature, as it essentially consists of being for something and against something else. A non-dualistic position is thus a contradiction in terms.

So when an enlightened sage adopts a dualistic position in order to correct another person's delusion, he isn't really engaging in a lie. For in the end, there is no position which he affirms as being the truth, and thus there is no position from which he can deviate and enter into falsehood. The only thing that he affirms is that all duality is an illusion, and he does this in thousands of different ways, depending on who he is talking to.

Your analogy of the doctor infecting himself is incorrect because the sage never really infects himself with the virus of duality. Even though he constantly manipulates duality for the purposes of freeing people from duality, he himself never falls under the dualistic spell - not even for an instant.


Thomas Knierim: It is obvious that decisions require free will (=volition), because otherwise, if decisions were merely the deterministic consequences of previous cause-effect chains, they would belong into "destiny" category.

David Quinn: Each decision is the inevitable consequence of what has happened before it, but that doesn't mean that it belongs in the "destiny" category. Destiny implies an unmovable sequence of events that cannot be altered by our actions. It ignores the fact that our actions are part of the universal process of causality and therefore capable of influencing the future.

I personally don't believe in destiny because I can't think of anything that is not open to change, at least in principle. Even our deaths in the future are not a formality. It is possible, for example, that in the next few years humans will find the technological means to circumvent biological death and allow our minds to live on. Granted, it's a very remote possibility at this stage. But nevertheless, not an impossibility.

The only things that are not open to change are logical truths and the timelessness/deathlessness of Nature itself. I suppose we could say that it is Nature's "destiny" that it will continue to unfold forever. There is certainly nothing that anybody or anything can do to change this. So this would be one of the rare instances where the concept of destiny is applicable.

Thomas Knierim: I see a contradiction here. If each decision is an inevitable consequence of prior events, as you say, then basically you are citing the viewpoint of psychological determinism, which says that decisions are completely determinate. How do you logically avoid fatalism from such a position?

David Quinn: The fatalist believes that there is nothing he can do to change things. By contrast, I assert that we are able to change things, if we are caused to do so.

Thomas Knierim: Cute. This is still the position of fatalism, though, since you assume that we "are caused" to change things instead of "we cause" change.

David Quinn: It is just a figure of speech, isn't it. A bit like how we say that the weather "washed" out the sporting event, or the stock market "crashed". It would be silly to base one's entire philosophy on a figure of speech.

From a practical point of view, we can say that free will exists and that our psychology is indeterminate. This is because (a) we are ignorant of most of the causes of our thoughts and decisions, and (b) our egos have a vested interest in what will unfold in the future. And so we have no choice but to act as though we were a free agent and had free will. But from the ultimate standpoint, free will is an illusion because our every thought and decision is fully determined by causes.

It's a bit like what happens when we watch a play. The characters in a play are constantly engaging in circumstances and making decisions. And if it is a particularly good play, we can become so absorbed in what is going on that we can forget that it is just a play. We can forget that the characters aren't real, that they aren't really making decisions.

Similarly, it is easy for those who absorb themselves in the play of life to lose sight of the fact that their decisions are not really their decisions at all, but just the flow of Nature.

Thomas Knierim: This would imply that our consciousness is watching a movie. The grand show is the unfolding of reality, the inevitable future. It would not matter whether you strive for enlightenment or not, because enligthenment is either certain or impossible. Instead of meditating and philosophizing, you could as well watch the Simpsons on TV. In such a view, the notion of karma becomes entirely meaningless.

David Quinn: I'm not really saying this at all. There is no question that our consciousness plays an active role in our affairs. It isn't just a passive observer. The only thing I am disputing is the idea that consciousness somehow dwells over and above the process of causality. It doesn't.

Thomas Knierim: I have some difficulties understanding your position. Further above you said: “It's a bit like what happens when we watch a play. … We can forget that the characters aren't real, that they aren't really making decisions.” The question is then: are we really making decisions, or not? In other words: are the decision ours, or are they consequences of prior conditions, which are not ours?

David Quinn: Both. When we say "we" or "ours" we are talking about a conglomeration of causal processes that we have conceptually isolated from the rest of the Universe's causal processes. Aside from this arbitrary conception, there is no "we" or "ours" at all.

Our consciousness/will is like the wind in a hurricane. The wind actively interacts with the rest of the elements that make up a region's climate and produces the energy and devastation that are normally associated with hurricanes. Without the wind, there could be no hurricane. It is central to to its existence. And yet it is a fully determined entity from beginning to end.

Similarly, our consciousness/will actively particpates in the decision-making process and, without it, there could be no decision-making at all. And yet it too is a fully determined entity from beginning to end.

One of the problems you are having in understanding my position is that you are restricting your conception of causality to that of mechanical determinism. In other words, to the sort of thing that only billiard balls and metal cogs engage in, and not intangible thoughts and invisible processes within the mind. This automatically creates the dilemma of where to fit consciousness and will into the causal equation.

But as I say, it is a false dilemma. It is irrational to try and reduce mental processess down to purely physical processes of the kind that billiard balls engage in. Mental processes are very different from billiard balls, even though both are causally created.

It is a matter of stepping back and observing that pure conscious thought and active decision-making is part of the very fabric and flow of Reality - and that, ultimately, it is up to Reality itself to "decide" what happens in each successive moment. It is all God's will, as it were.

David Quinn: Keep in mind that if decisions aren't the product of deterministic processes, then they become causeless events that pop into existence out of thin air. That is to say, they would have nothing to do with us.

Thomas Knierim: My position is that organisms with brains are "agents" of free will. To say that neuronal processes in the brain are cause-effect chains is simplistic and therefore inadequate. Of course, there are causes and effects at work, but it is not A follows B, B follows C. The mathematics of neuronal decisions are poorly understood.

David Quinn: It still comes down to the fact that an event is either caused or uncaused. There is no third alternative. It makes no sense to speak of a "partially-caused" event, for example.

Thomas Knierim: It all depends on how you understand causation. For example, if you think it happens like in a Turing machine with a finite number of states and defined state transitions, I would say no, it's probably not like that. But if you add probabilistic state transitions and self-adaptive mechanisms, then the picture gets more realistic. However, even a neuronal computer can mimic that sort of thing. Besides, it sounds too much like meteorology, the classical example for non-classical causation. BTW, I assume that everybody has heard of non-linear dynamics, or more popularly: chaos theory and the butterfly example.

This is sophisticated, but there's one main ingredient missing: consciousness, or awareness (I use the terms synonymously). Consciousness is the real enigma and it is at the same time the key to understanding how the mind makes decisions. Since we are always conscious of percepts, emotions, and thoughts, there is an incredible level of recursion, i.e. mind reflecting onto itself, and this consequently raises complexity to an astronomic level. It's unlike anything else on earth.

David Quinn: You can make it as recursive as you like, but it still doesn't change the fact that everything occuring within the human brain is caused. As with non-linear dynamics, recursion would be impossible without causation.

I personally don't regard consciousness to be an enigma. Sure, I don't fully understand the way it works, but then, I don't fully understand the way a cloud or a car or a hydrogen atom works either. As with everything else, cosnciousness is a phenomenon that comes into existence when the circumstances are ripe and disappears again when these circumstances change. To use Buddhist language, it is merely one of countless dharmas (or "things") and contains no more mystery than any other dharma.

From an evolutionary point of view, consciousness and the ability to make decisions seems to have evolved as a fast, practical means of dealing with complex situations. Consciousnesss enables the brain to rapidly process the constant flux of new information in a coherent manner. The ability to make decisions gives the human organism more flexibility in his behaviour and allows him to adapt more readily to changing circumstances. Both have been central to our own species survival over the past hundred thousand years. An yet it is all part of the flow of causation.

Thomas Knierim: It is not my intention to question causation itself here. Causation is surely logical and valid, although it more complicated than most people assume, as I tried to point out in my last post. There is hardly such a thing as a Turing machine in nature, except perhaps on a very low molecular level. Causation in mental processes is much more complex.

David Quinn: No way. Causation is exactly the same everywhere - whether it be in the mental realm or the physical realm. If you think that it manifests differently in different realms, it's a sign that you don't really understand the fundamental nature of causality.

Of course, it may well be that our scientific models of causal processes within the mental realm are more complex than those concerning the physical realm. But that's another issue entirely. It doesn't change the fact that the core principle of causality is infinitely simple and the same everywhere.

Thomas Knierim: I was talking about causality as an abstract idea. You are right in saying that causality manifests only in one form. But can you say what this form is? Can you name it? It is certainly not the form “A causes B”. “A causes B” is only an abstraction, which is appropriate for most of our everyday perception. Billiard balls, for example. The red ball moves in this-and-that angle, because the white ball hit it at this-and-that angle. Our everyday experience is filled with objects in motion, classical mechanics, so the simple-minded man assumes that this is how the universe works. However, the fact that people are attached to simplistic ideas doesn’t make these ideas right.

Our own psychology constantly reinforces the “A causes B” type of causality. We perceive event one and then we perceive event two and after prolonged repetition of these two events in sequence, our brain creates a pattern and we see a cause and an effect. We also confuse causality with equivalence. For example, it is not the case that gravity causes things to fall down. There is no “A causes B” here. Gravity and acceleration are equivalent; they are one and the same. There is also no causality in the case of billiard balls, since the motion of billiard balls follows from their momentum and positions, which can be mathematically expressed as a matrix equivalency.

So, before we discuss causality and how mental processes reflect causality, please tell me exactly what you mean with causality.

David Quinn: It just means that whatever exists in a given moment cannot help but exist in the way that it does because of all that has gone before it. It is the perfect fruition of the moment. There is no room for anything else to have occurred and therefore no possibility of anything else occurring. And in the end, that is because its causes have already come into existence and been determined.

To put it another way, since a thing doesn't have any real existence or inherent nature of its own, it is wholly reliant upon what is not it for its existence. Everything that it is has come from somewhere else - i.e. from its causes. A cause, then, is anything that is necessary for something else to exist.

Thomas Knierim: I don't deny the causal relationships of decisions and other mental processes, but my contention is that on account of recursion we cause actions ourselves, instead of "we are being caused" to act. Volition is not caused externally. This is indeed what free will means.

David Quinn: It could be that we are in fundamental agreement, after all. But for me to accept this, you would have to acknowledge that no matter how recursive our internal causal processes may be, they can always be traced back out into the external world eventually.

For practical purposes, I can agree that the decisions "we" make are the result of our own inner causal processes and often have no direct connection to the outside world. We're not just mindless puppets whose every action is the direct result of whatever happens externally to us. But at the same time, it remains true that the innumerable causal chains which lead to each of our decisions have no beginning. They go back and back and back and eventually leave our bodies and join the multitude of causal processes which make up the rest of the Universe.

Thomas Knierim: Yes, mental processes have causal relations extending backwards (and forwards) into the outside world. However, this does not mean that all our decisions are determined externally or can be traced back to the outside world. The degree to which behavior (including decisions) can be traced back is variable. In this regard, human behavior is not different from other physical phenomena. In fact, the only “barrier” between mind and the outside world is this body, otherwise the two are identical. This is quite a subtle issue, so I will try to be extra clear here. There are two models of determinism. The first is classical determinism, which results from an inappropriate, simplistic understanding of causality, and the second model is non-linear determinism, or better possibilism.

Classical determinism goes back to the Greeks. According to Democritus, a presocratic philosopher, the world is a result of atom collisions. All material phenomena are caused by atoms colliding, forming compounds, and destroying compounds. Each individual collision is cause and effect at the same time. Since collisions happen according to simple mechanical rules, everything is predetermined. This is a typical example of “A causes B” type of thought, which leads to the idea of an “iron block” universe. In other words: the universe is one large equivalence, according to this view.

In contrast, the non-linear determinism, which I find to be a better description of reality, is based on the observation of randomness in nature. From non-linear dynamics we know that complex systems show irregularities, which manifest in random states of a system. Turbulent airstreams, for example, are a schoolbook example of such chaotic behavior. This type of thing happens whenever the number of inputs in a sufficiently complex system greatly exceeds the number of outputs on account of feedback, for example, if the momentum of a single gas molecule is determined by that of all surrounding gas molecules and at the same time provides input for the surrounding molecules. I am convinced that the neuronal firings in our brain exhibit a similar dynamic and are therefore subject to chaotic behavior.

David Quinn: Maybe. But in what way does your "non-linear determinism" conflict with classical determinism? Isn't the former a part of the latter? In other words, doesn't random, chaotic behaviour also consist of things being pushed about in the classical causal manner, just as order processes do? Doesn't classical determinism embrace both random, non-linear behaviour and ordered, machine-like behaviour?

Thomas Knierim: There are some scientists who hold that consciousness is a function of neuronal complexity. There is the hypothesis of a certain complexity threshold that separates conscious machines from unconscious ones, whereas humans would fall into the former category on account of their superior “wet” hardware. This view was relatively popular during the late eighties when I studied computer science. My university was involved into a number of fashionable and presumably well-sponsored AI projects, such as building electronic football players. Some AI projects even had useful applications. :-)

Today you will hardly find people with a basic understanding of neuroanatomy and computer science who still uphold the consciousness threshold hypothesis. It is just too obvious that other factors play a significant role in building intelligent machines, the most important of which are architecture and self-organization. Although processing speed and complexity are important, they surely don’t create consciousness. We have to realize that up to the present day, engineers are not able to construct anything remotely resembling the brain, not even the mosquito’s brain.

Of course, there are machines that can paint cars, play football, answer questions, and mimic all sorts of human behavior, but if you look at the internal structure of these machines, you will realize that they are completely different from the brain. Most of them are assortments of good old von-Neumann machines. Attempts of building chip architectures resembling the brain’s neuronal structure have –until now– completely failed. Even the simplest parallel architectures introduce massive problems in programming. The best that can be said is that neural architectures have been moderately successful in real-time signal data processing.

My bet is that automatons will not become conscious, no matter how sophisticated the architecture. Consciousness is not a hardware function. We are conscious, because we were conscious before we were born. But engineering surely has the potential to come pretty close and mimic conscious behavior almost perfectly. Perhaps we will live to see the time when we can have a philosophical discussion with our personal computer. Perhaps we can even buy a robot that we can order around at home. But surely, there is nothing conscious in that PC or in that robot; which is to say they will remain true “zombies”.

David Quinn: A hundred years ago people wouldn't have accepted that man-made machines could one day fly to the moon. There is no reason to believe that the current inadequacies of AI technology will always remain the same.

To my mind, the most likely scenario is that consciousness will be created in robotic brains accidently. When it happens, we won't really know how it has been created - and we won't even know for sure that it has been created.

It is a bit like how primitive man accidently discovered how to create fire. They didn't know anything about the principles of combustion or of thermal energy, but nevertheless they did manage to learn how to create fire and manipulate it for their own purposes. It will probably be similar for artificial consciousness.

Thomas Knierim: Yes, it might happen. I am not saying that artificial intelligence is impossible, but only that it is improbable with current technology. Of course, there could be a new discovery, a paradigm shift. Who knows? I can only say that computer technology does not automatically lead to artificial intelligence, which many people seem to believe. Even if we manage to create intelligent automatons, it doesn’t mean that these machines are conscious. Consciousness and intelligence are very different things. Consciousness may be emulated by advanced circuitry and software, but I don’t think that we will see any of these machines actually waking up.

[What you say above] is not entirely correct. There were people who predicted space travel more than a hundred years ago. If I am not mistaken, Jules Verne did so. Still, you are right in saying that it wasn’t mainstream thought back then. However, you have to see that the situation was different then. It has completely changed. Today, there’s computer technology, space technology, Internet, wireless communication, and there is Hollywood telling us that all this is merely the beginning. Most people think that conscious machines will be built in the not too distant future; in fact even many scientists believe this. It’s mainstream thought. I am clearly in the minority position here.

You have to see that conscious machines are now more fantastic than moon travel was hundred years ago. The principle of jet propulsion, the distance to the moon, and the principle of gravity were all known for several hundred years. So, the basic principle of moon travel, the big picture so to speak, was quite intelligible at the beginning of the 18th century latest. Today we still don’t know how intelligence works. We found out a few things about it, but we can’t see the big picture yet.

David Quinn: I agree with your thinking on this issue. It may be thousands of years before conscious meachines are created, or it may never happen at all. We may never learn the secret of how consciousness can be produced from matter.



- Seeds of Doubt -

by David Quinn

A: I have experienced God.

B: Perhaps it was the Devil?

A: But the experience was uplifting. My being was overwhelmed by heavenly bliss.

B: It would be no trouble for a Devil to create some heavenly bliss.

A: I felt a great love envelope me.

B: The Devil's evil embrace, I should imagine.

A: But my priest told me I had been touched by the grace of God!

B: Your priest is undoubtedly a puppet of the Devil.

A: When I open the Bible, I suddenly understand what the scriptures are saying.

B: Naturally. The Bible was inspired by the Devil.

A: But I have witnessed many wonders in which people were miraculously healed of crippling diseases.

B: Mere party tricks to draw in the punters.

A: And I have seen saints performing great works of compassion.

B: Ah yes, compassion is most seductive, isn't it?

A: Many mystics have claimed to have seen the face of God!

B: All an illusion, I'm afraid.

A: Look into a child's eyes. How can you not see the reflection of the Divine?

B: There are no depths to which the Devil won't stoop.

A: Well, at least you have to admit that the Church has been around for thousands of years.

B: True, the Devil is very pursuasive.

A: How do you know that the Devil did all these things and not God?

B: The Devil created your God.

A: What is the Devil?

B: Your own ego.


Kevin Solway: What are your thoughts on Islam? Has anyone read the Koran? What do you make of these quotes? Are these English translations wrong?


"Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends." (Koran, Surah 5:51)

"Slay them wherever you find them...Idolatry is worse than carnage...Fight against them until idolatry is no more and God's religion reigns supreme." (Koran, Surah 2:190-)

O ye who believe! Murder those of the disbelievers .... and let them find harshness in you. [Koran, Repentance: 123]

Humiliate the non-Muslims to such an extent that they surrender and pay tribute. [Koran, Repentance: 29]

"There will not be found [anyone] more hostile to the believers than the Jews and the idolaters." (Palestinian TV, April 13, 2001, quoting the Koran - Sura 5,84)

Muhammad said, "The last hour will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and the Muslims kill them" (Mishkat, page 147.)

According to the Koran, the Jews try to introduce corruption (5:64), have always been disobedient (5:78), and are the enemies of Allah, the Prophet (Mohammed) and his angels (2:97-98).

He that chooses a religion over Islam, it will not be accepted from him and in the world to come he will be one of the lost. (Q 3:86)

Mohammed promised his followers seven heavens in which: They are to cohabit with demure beauteous as corals and rubies...full-breasted maidens for the gardens of delight.... They're to lie face to face on jewelled couches, and be serviced by immortal youths...young boys, their personal property, as comely as virgin pearls.... We created the houris [dancing girls] and made them virgins, carnal playmates for those on the right hand.... We are going to wed them to dark-eyed houris. [The Koran 55:56; 55:58; 78:33; 56:12; 52:16-17, 24; 56:35-38; 52:20]

Who told me that the act of Jihad, the act of killing non-Muslims was good? Well, if you read the Koran, you will find that in a certain sura God says that he has bought the lives of the Muslims in return for the rewards of Paradise. They kill non-Muslims and get killed in this war-effort, & the reward for these Muslims is paradise & paradise is a huge garden inhabited by the most beautiful virgins, who live in palaces, & there are countless pretty pearl-like boys to serve them as well. [Anwar Shaikh]

The deeper study of the Koran, Hadith, and Arab history led me to believe that Islam had been cleverly devised on the principle of divide and rule. And its purpose is to enable the Arabs to dominate the rest of the world. I have no doubt the Prophet wanted to raise himself to the same status as Allah. Muhammad loved Arabia & its culture, and his one desire was to create a strong, conquering Arab nation that believed in him and propagated his name. This could only be achieved by imperial dominance. [Anwar Shaikh]

When I began to study the Koran, the holy book of Islam, I found many unreasonable ideas. The women in the Koran were treated as slaves. They are nothing but sexual objects. Naturally I set aside the Koran and looked around me. I found religion equally oppressive in real life. And I realized that religious oppression and injustices are only increasing, especially in Muslim countries. The religious terrorists are everywhere. But if I criticized Muslim fundamentalists and mullahs in particular, it is because I saw them from close quarters. They took advantage of people's ignorance and oppressed them. They considered women as chattel slaves and treated them no better than the slaves of the ancient world. [Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin, in exile]

The earth is flat, and anyone who disputes this claim is an atheist who deserves to be punished. [Muslim religious edict, 1993 Sheik Abdel-Aziz Ibn Baaz Supreme religious authority, Saudi Arabia]

If someone becomes a Muslim then apostatizes, he would be asked to repent; if he does not repent, he should be killed. [Imam al-Shafi'i, The Ordinances of the Qur'an (part 1, p. 289)]

Somebody may say: `Do you want to deny freedom to people?' We say to him: `If what is meant by freedom is to disbelieve in God's religion, or the freedom of infidelity and apostasy, then that freedom is abolished and we do not recognize it; we even call for its eradication, and we strive to oppress it. We declare that publicly and in daylight"' [Dr. Taha Jabir's, "The Islamic Society" April 17,1984, p. 26]

Marsha Faizi: First of all, I must say that I am not an Islamic scholar as is Anwar Shaikh. That said, I will say that I am in some disagreement with Shaikh though not complete disagreement. I can respect someone who turns against his religion. However, in doing so, I think it is prudent to be truthful and it is prudent to not simply flip-flop one's contentions as Anwar Shaikh has done in the interest of politics and nationality.

I was born into a Christian family and I have rejected Christianity. There is much that I do not like about Christianity as it is practiced. However, I do not believe that it is a worse religion than other religions. I don't believe that Islam is a religion that is worse than other religions. It was for this reason that I became a Muslim when I married a Muslim. It did not matter to me.

Anwar Shaikh is partially driven by his pro-India stance. He believes that Islam ruined India and caused all non-Arab Muslims to become subjugated to Saudi Arabia. Since he is Pakistani, he believes that Islam is especially detrimental to Pakistan. He believes that the "peaceful brotherhood" brand of Islam is not true Islam but Sufism or the result of cultural exposure to Hinduism. He believes that Islam is a religion of war and murder and division and was intended to be that way by its prophet, Mohammed. He also puts forth the proposition that Mohammed considered himself to be greater than Allah.

I am not writing to defend Islam because I do not care for it or any other religion. However, with things in the world being the way things are in the world presently -- much fear and anxiety about terrorists -- some things should be made clear. I do not believe, as Anwar Shaikh believes, that the basics of Islam promote hatred of nonbelievers. Just this weekend, three medical students were accused of discussing upcoming bombings as they ate in a restaurant in Georgia. At first, it was said that they were playing a joke. But that has been retracted now. It seems that they were merely discussing their upcoming medical rotations and a woman sitting near them thought they were discussing upcoming attacks. She reported this discussion to authorities.

Allah Rehemkah!! As though they could have no better sense than to discuss -- in English -- planned terrorist attacks in a public restaurant when the United States is in a Code Orange terror alert! One young man is a naturalized American citizen and the other two were born here. I am not sure that they know how to speak their native languages. All three have American accents. I don't know how this woman could have thought they were speaking about upcoming terrorist attacks unless she has a very vivid imagination.

Anwar Shaikh's writings perpetuate hysteria. His web site features illustrations that highlight violence and murder. I don't think this sort of hysteria is needed when there is already enough hysteria over Muslims. Most Americans cannot distinguish an Arab from a Puerto Rican. Hysteria combined with ignorance is deadly.

I have not been able to find in my Koran all of the passages cited in your post. This could be due to my ignorance or it could be due to a difference in translations. My Koran is standard -- the translation by Yusef Ali. It was my husband's Koran and still contains his bookmarks. In fairness, I should say that Yusef Ali is said to be a translator with a Sufistic slant.

[Looking at your quotes:]

"Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends." (Koran, Surah 5:51)

I found this in my Koran in Sura V; 54. It says, "O ye who believe, take not the Jews and the Christians as your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other."

The translator's note says: "That is, look not to them for help or comfort. They are more likely to combine against you than to help you."

"Slay them wherever you find them...Idolatry is worse than carnage...Fight against them until idolatry is no more and God's religion reigns supreme." (Koran,Surah 2:190-)

My Koran says in Sura II, 190-191: "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, But do not transgress limits; for God loveth not transgressors. And slay them wherever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; For tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; But fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they first fight you there; But if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith."

Verse 192 reads: "But if they cease, God is oft-forgiving, most merciful."

The key idea here is to fight only those who fight against you; who seek to oppress you. Mohammed did not preach the idea of turning the other cheek. At that time in history, Muslims were being persecuted by a Pagan autocracy so this was applicable.

The translator's note reads: "In general, it may be said that Islam is the religion of peace, goodwill, mutual understanding, and good faith. But it will not acquiesce in wrong-doing, and its men will hold their lives cheap in defense of honor, justice, and the religion they hold sacred. Their ideal is that of heroic virtue combined with unselfish gentleness and tenderness, such as exemplified in the life of the Apostle. They know that war is an evil but they will not flinch from it if their honor demands it."

"O ye who believe! Murder those of the disbelievers .... and let them find harshness in you. [Koran, Repentance: 123]

I could not find this -- probably because I do not recognize the Arab word for repentance. The Suras all have titles but they are written in Arabic transliteration and I do not know the meanings.

However, I found this on the subject of repentance in Sura XLII: 25-26: "He is the one who accepts repentance from his servants and forgives sins: and he knows all that ye do. And he listens to those who believe and who do deeds of righteousness, and gives them increase of His Bounty: but for the unbelievers there is a terrible Penalty."

Since the time that I wrote the above, I found the Sura Repentance. In Sura IX; 123, it is written: "O ye who believe! Fight the unbelievers who gird you about, and let them find firmness in you; and know that God is with those who fear him."

This conveys a rather different sentiment than the one which you cited.

"Humiliate the non-Muslims to such an extent that they surrender and pay tribute. [Koran, Repentance: 29] "

The Koran says: "Fight those who believe not in God nor in the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and his Apostle, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of The Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."

Jizya was a tax that non-Muslims paid to Muslims in order to be allowed to exist in Islamic society with full protection of that society. It was no set amount and it was more symbolic -- acknowledgment that those whose religion was tolerated in Islamic society would not interfere with the preaching and progress of Islam. (Yusef Ali)

"There will not be found [anyone] more hostile to the believers than the Jews and the idolaters." (Palestinian TV, April 13, 2001, quoting the Koran - Sura 5,84)

The Koran says in Sura 5; 85: "Strongest among men in enmity to the Believers wilt thou find the Jews and Pagans; And nearest among them in love to the Believers wilt thou find those who say, 'We are Christians': because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world; and they are not arrogant."

The translator's note says: "The meaning is not that they call themselves Christians, but they are such sincere Christians that they appreciate Muslim virtues, as did the Abyssinians to whom Muslim refugees went during the persecution in Mecca. They would say, 'It is true that we are Christians, but we understand your point of view, and we know you are good men.' They are Muslims at heart, whatever their label may be."

Muhammad said, "The last hour will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and the Muslims kill them" (Mishkat, page 147.)

I do not have a copy of Mishkat al-Masabih. However, I will offer these few quotes I could find:

"If you overpower your enemy, treat your forgiveness of him as an expression of gratitude for defeating him." Ali ibne Abi Talib

"It is better for a man to take a rope and bring in a bundle of sticks to sell than to beg." Mishkat al Masabih.

"Whoever approaches Me walking, I will come to him running; and he who meets Me with sins equivalent to the whole world, I will greet him with forgiveness equal to it." Mishkat al Masabih.

Bondi: Islam means "submission to God's will". Moreover, we should not miss that religions are just things made for the masses. The teachings of Islam can be interpreted exoterically for them just to 'have faith', while Islam has an esoteric way, see Sufism, which was more or less lost due to incomprehension. For example, 'sacred war' (jihad) can have a completely external meaning that we can see from the previous (mis)interpretations, while has a meaning of realizing yourself through 'fighting' your way towards God.

I AM: Islam, like all the other religious books, is full of love, hate, peace, violence, and contradictions written with a wide open stance and passed down by word of mouth, allowing infinite interpretations.

Unfortunately a large amount of the human race take these books seriously. Islam is only what you make it or what you've allowed others to make for you.

Kevin Solway: What I think of Islam depends on what Islam is.

1. If Islam is what those who call themselves "Muslim" actually practise, then I don't think much of Islam, because I haven't come across any wise Muslims. Rather, I have come across many extremely ignorant ones, who call themselves, and have been conferred the title "Islamic scholar".

2. If Islam is what is taught in the Koran, then my opinion of Islam is slightly higher, but still not very high, as I haven't seen much in the Koran to impress me.

I see now that the quotes I gave at the beginning of this thread were poorly translated into English. But even a good translation doesn't do much to improve them.

Take the following statement from the Koran for example:

"O ye who believe, take not the Jews and the Christians as your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other." (Koran, Sura V; 54)

Now this takes the position that Islam is superior to both Judaism and Christianity, and that Judaism and Christianity are enemies of Islam, and, taken in the context of other teachings in the Koran, should be subdued if not destroyed. I don't see how the Koran could be interpreted as teaching anything else.

3. If Islam is submission to Truth, then Islam must be a good thing. But is such an Islam to be found among those who call themselves Muslim? It seems not.

Marsha Faizi: Are you Christian? You sound like a Christian.

Kevin Solway: I would probably be judged to be a Christian or a Buddhist by a Muslim, which is a worry, because if they follow the instructions of the Koran they might try to kill me as an enemy of Islam!

Marsha Faizi: Is it not true that Christianity and Judaism are the enemies of Islam?

Kevin Solway: It depends what you mean by "Christianity" and "Judaism". Fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Judaism may well be the enemies of Islam. And it may be that mainstream Christianity and Judaism are as well. But if it is written into the Koran that Christianity and Judaism are enemies to be subdued and/or destroyed, then we should not be surprised if Christians and Jews want to see the end of Islam.

Marsha Faizi: In my lengthy post, I was careful to offer the translator's note that stated that a Muslim must be careful of Christian and Jews because they will combine against those who oppose them. The passage says nothing about destroying Christians and Jews

Kevin Solway: Yet the Koran clearly states that if Islam is being attacked (or possibly threatened?) by an enemy, then the way is clear to destroy that enemy. Now the passage I quoted (as well as other passages) casts the Christians (to a lesser degree) and the Jews (to a large degree) as the enemy, who are at least a big threat. "O ye who believe, take not the Jews and the Christians as your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other." (Koran, Sura V; 54)

The very next step is to attack those whom you are scripturally forbidden friendship with, and who are scripturally only working to serve themselves ( . . . and possibly plotting against you).

Marsha Faizi: I cited other passages of the Koran that spoke of the need to recognize Christians as allies; learned men.

Kevin Solway: Yes, that is certainly a relief. But does that mean that all the others are enemies to be destroyed?

I think that the Christians and Jews of of today are probably equally as insane as the Muslims - ie, very much so - but it seems to me that Islam has the potential to be more dangerous - because of what is written in the Koran - and because of the way in which foolish Muslims interpret it (or fail to interpret it as the case may be).

Yes, a person should fight to defend what he believes in. But the Koran, as quoted, assumes to do a person's thinking for him. It quite literally points-out who the enemy is supposed to be (Christians and Jews, generally speaking), and then more or less says "fight them to protect your faith". This isn't bad if the instructions are given to wise people, as they can make up their own minds about right and wrong, but when you give those instructions to herd animals, then all hell will break loose.

My main reason for giving those quotes at the beginning of the thread was firstly to see whether they were a correct translation, and secondly to see whether anyone could interpret them in such a way that they didn't mean "Fight Christianity and Judaism". You provided some good alternative translations, which were enlightening, and also put forward some reasonable differing interpretations, but I didn't find them very convincing.

David Quinn: Personally, I haven't seen anything that is even remotely wise in the religion of Islam and, because of this, I would rather see it disappear from the face of the earth. At least the religions of Buddhism and Christianity do contain some wise teachings, which creates the impression that there is some hope for the human race. But in Islam there is nothing. It is a purely animal/herd religion that suppresses all rational thought.

Even the mystical tradition of Sufism is a very poor cousin of the mystical traditions of the other major religions. The Sufis could never say anything too truthful or direct for fear of getting their heads lopped off by the animalistic Islamic community. It is beyond a joke. The world would definitely be a far better place without Islam.

Marsha Faizi: The Koran contains the exact things that are related in the Christian Bible. Islam holds Moses and Abraham and David and Joseph and Jesus and Mary in high esteem. If the Bible contains wisdom, then, the Koran contains the same wisdom.

The big difference between Islam and Christianity is that Islam preaches One God. Though Jesus is considered to be a wise man, he is not believed to be the son of God. The idea that Jesus could be worshipped instead of God is considered to be blasphemy in Islam. Christians worship God only as a secondary God. Allegiance, for Christians, is to Jesus. Christians believe that one cannot come to God except through Jesus.

I don't worship Jesus. The very idea of worshipping Jesus seems ridiculous to me. I do not believe that there can be any "middleman" in one's relationship with nature. The entire crucifixion scenario in Christianity is meaningless to me. I do not believe that anyone could die for my sins. I would not allow anyone to die for my sins. I would rather rot in Hell than to ever allow anyone to die for my sins. I am responsible. What I have done in my life that has caused suffering is because of me and I am answerable to these things. Ethically, I would not use Jesus as my shield or my excuse, even if I believed this to be possible.

I would not have crucified him had I been present in his time and I will not crucify him now.

The very idea of using Jesus as my excuse is disgusting to me. I see no wisdom in that. I see no wisdom in Christianity, the result of the New Testament. Would I offer Buddha as my excuse? No. That is not something that can be done.

The one wisdom that I see in Islam is the rejection of Jesus as Savior. I am grateful that I learned from that. My exposure to Islam underscored that for me. It severed my mind from Christianity forever. You yet have that attachment. It is like a psychological umbilical cord. You should drop it. You will be forty soon.

There is much bullshit in Islam as there is much bullshit in all religions. I don't believe that God will provide me with lovely virgins in the afterworld. That's a fantasy; a delusion. But it is no more fanciful than what most Christians believe. I do not believe that I will go to Heaven where roads are paved with gold either. I do not believe in Immaculate Conception. Islam contains no tales of virgin births with God as the father.

That's just plain weird. Islam is not a religion of wisdom. I don't believe that there is such a thing as a religion of wisdom. I also do not believe that there is a religion that is humanist. Drop Jesus and drop your worship of Buddha and you might know God. You use Buddhism as a mighty crutch between yourself and nature. Are you afraid?

Bondi: I was really surprised to see the pitiful comments from David. What the hell is this modernist-Americanist bullshit of "moving forward" and "progress"? The only phrase I miss is "civilised world"......

David Quinn: I was refering to progress in the realm of intelligence and rational thought. Fundamentalist Islamic culture is the complete enemy of rational thought and has to go. It belongs in another, less-developed era and has no place in the 21st century world.

But this is not to say that I am supportive of the American (or Australian) way of life. I only rate our culture slightly above the fundamentalistic Islamic culture, and that is only because we make a few more (albeit usually empty) noises about freedom and individual rights.

If we were to compare the development of culture with the development of a single human being, then Islamic fundamentalism is the sandpit mentality of five year olds, while American culture is the aimlessness and silliness of early adolescence. I would like to see our culture grow beyond adolescence.

Leyla: How do we make [Fundamentalistic Islamic culture] go? What should the plan be, exactly?

David Quinn: The only permament long-term solution is the promotion of rationality and wisdom in individual human beings. We have to set the example ourselves by living without delusion and then encourage others to do likewise. The more rational and wise a society of individuals become, the less openings there are for institutionalized insanities, such as Islam, to gain a foothold.

In the short term, there is no easy solution because we are dealing with the almost unstoppable momentum of hundreds of millions of people who are so lost in their dreamworlds that they can't be reasoned with. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to herd them all into one geographic area and then nuke them into oblivion. That would certainly help world peace and social progress immeasurably. It might be a bit impractical though .....

Seriously, the only way that irrationality and insanity can be attacked is by demonstrating the value and benefits of truthfulness, which is the main reason why Genius Forum was created in the first place.

Kevin Solway: Increasingly, I am coming to understand the "aggressiveness" of Islam as a reaction against the relative non-judgemental acceptance of Christianity, or the insipidness of Christianity, as Nietzsche would put it. But that doesn't make Islam right.

A case in point is the treatment Cat Stevens, a Muslim, dished-out to Salman Rushdie, when he accused Rushdie of blasphemy - a crime punishable by death under Islamic Law. Cat Stevens clarified, in his formal statement to the press : "Under Islamic Law, the ruling regarding blasphemy is quite clear; the person found guilty of it must be put to death. Only under certain circumstances can repentance be accepted. "

Elsewhere he explains that such a killing must only be done after "due legal process". But what is "due legal process" in this case, but a number of authorised Muslims deciding that Rushdie be killed for what they perceive to be slander?

More fighting words from Islam:

"O you who believe!
do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends;
they are friends of each other;
and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend,
then surely he is one of them;
surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.
[Koran 5.51] "

This teaching from the Koran squarely sets Christianity and Judaism apart from Islam, saying they are "unjust". This is virtually the same as saying they are a harmful enemy. And elsewhere in the Koran it says that the enemies of Islam should be subdued if not destroyed.

Many words can also be found in Islam about how much is shared between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, but words in the Koran such as those quoted above, and those spoken by Cat Stevens and so-called "Islamic Law" are bound to cause big trouble when they are fed to people of little intelligence.

Leyla: You mean like, G Dubbya?

Kevin Solway: Certainly. I can well understand how ordinary Christians feel threatened by another religion whose holy scriptures single out Christianity as unjust, and (arguably) as enemies to be subdued or destroyed - especially when that other religion might soon have access to a lot of nuclear weapons.

Dan Rowden: I'd like to see the religious mentality in all its manifestations disappear from the face of the earth, whether that be Christendom, Islam, Judaism, religious Taoism, the religious face of Buddhism or even Humanism (which has replaced God with "society" but which is equally religious in its underlying psychology). It's tempting, with respect to Christendom to say that it, unlike Islam, has Jesus, but this wouldn't be accurate. Christendom has no more to do with Jesus than religious Taoism has to do with the Tao te Ching, or Nazism and National Socialism has to do with Nietzsche.

Herd-think, in whatever way it is expressed, is the real problem. Religion is but one form of it.

Oh, and isn't it funny how everyone indignantly dismisses as "fundamentalists" and "fanatics" those religionists who actually stick to the letter of the law of the scriptures that are supposed to be their spiriutal and/or temporal authority. Why don't we dismiss the moderates as "insipids" or "religious agnostics"? Obviously it's because we identify with their insipidity.

Kevin Solway: Over the last couple of days I have been attempting to read the Koran, to see if there is anything good about it.

Today I have given up trying to read it, because I think it is a waste of my time. I believe it is the product of a sick mind.

I think there is some kind of awareness of truth behind it, but that connection is remote indeed, and the mind of the writers of the Koran has been polluted with much poison, which has become embodied in the Koran.

I was hoping to arrive at a compilation of half-decent wise quotations from the Koran, but the following is the best I could come up with: [2.42] "And do not mix up the truth with the falsehood, nor hide the truth while you know (it)." On a scale of great quotes, out of ten, the above probably ranks a score of 1.

Here is another: "God changes not what is within people until people change what is in themselves." [13:11] This one probably ranks 0.01, because it is just plain stupid. What is worse, for every quote I found of a similar quality to the above, I found fifty that are a hundred times worse.

I find much of the Koran quite repulsive. Much, if not most of the Koran comes across as fearful and paranoid rantings, trying to scare people into submission by beating them with a big stick. I don't believe it has anything to do with wisdom.

I will here attempt an abstract of the Koran:

Believe in Allah.
Pray to Allah.
Don't be an Unbeliever.
If you are an Unbeliever, you will go to hell.
If you believe, you will receive virgins as your
reward in heaven.
Don't make friends with Christians or Jews.
Don't make friends with the unjust.
Unbelievers are unjust, and are doomed.
Pray to Allah.
Allah will destroy the unbelievers.
If unbelievers repent, then you might forgive them.
Submit to Allah.
If you don't submit to Allah you will be punished.
etc, etc.

Here is another typical example of what I found:

"But whoever disputes with you in this matter after what has come to you of knowledge, then say: Come let us call our sons and your sons and our women and your women and our near people and your near people, then let us be earnest in prayer, and pray for the curse of Allah on the liars." (The Family of Imran 3.61)

This comes across to me as plainly vindictive. What gives the Koran away as a fraud is that if a person is truly a "believer" (which means he would not only know Ultimate Truth, but also have faith in it) then he would be repulsed by all that is in the Koran. He would have no need of "praying for the curse of Allah on the liars". And he could make up his own mind who to make friends with and who to avoid.

What more can I say? Can anyone else find something good about the Koran?

David Quinn: I personally didn't sense any awareness of truth when I read the Koran, so I'm not sure what you are refering to here. Can you articulate what you mean by this?

Kevin Solway: On a lowly level, the quote which says "speak the truth" might indicate some crude awareness of truth - but not necessarily. Similarly, the phrase "pray to Allah", might be interpreted as "rest your mind in direct awareness of Reality", which would make the phrase relatively wise. But taken in the context of the whole Koran, this interpretation would be hard to justify.

Bondi: Your problem, David and Kevin, is that you do not make a distinction between esoterism and exoterism. These writings are exoteric, namely they are the external aspect of the doctrine. Something that was made for the masses not to stray far away from truth - not for the individual to become immersed in them.

Kevin Solway: If the Koran is an esoteric teaching, then one must say that it is very, very poor. On the other hand, if the Koran is an "external" or "exoteric" teaching, "made for the masses" so that they might not "stray far away from truth" - then how can that be? If something is "external" to Truth, then it is not Truth: it is false. Given that such an "exoteric" teaching is false, does it yet succeed in keeping the masses "not too far away from truth"? I have personally yet to meet a Muslim who is "not too far away from truth". Every Muslim I have met is nowhere even remotely close to Truth.

In any case, what is there in the Koran, specifically, which is "close to Truth", or has the effect of keeping people close to Truth? Precious little, as I far as I can see. If I wanted to be reminded of the direction in which Truth lies, the Koran would certainly not be my choice of reading.

If you want ordinary ignorant people to become "close to truth" then you must encourage them to reason things through, and think for themselves, and to enjoy thinking. The Koran does none of this whatsoever. Threatening people with hell for not being a "believer" is no help to anyone.

Bondi: Basically, I agree. To be short: The Koran is directed to people who do not in any way wanted to be reminded to Truth. That's the reason for threatening them with more and more terrible things, I suppose. Without esoterism, there are no such thing as exoterism, either. Exoterism has no use without the backup of esoterism; an élite, for example, which keeps the light of Truth shining. We can see the complete lack of such an intellectual élite nowadays.

Marsha Faizi: These are quotes from Muhammed:

The ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of the martyr.

The best of friends is one who is best in behavior and character.

The love of the world is the root of all evil.

The most excellent Jihad is that for the conquest of self.

Do not exceed bounds in praising me, as the Christians do in praising Jesus, the son of Mary, by calling Him God, and the Son of God; I am only the Lord's servant; then call me the servant of God and His messenger.

Assist your brother Muslim, whether he be an oppressor or oppressed. "But how shall we do it when he is an oppressor?" inquired a companion. Muhammad replied, "Assisting an oppressor consists in forbidding and withholding him from oppression."

He dieth not who giveth life to learning. Whosoever honoreth the learned, honoreth me.

The Messenger of God was asked, "What is the greatest vice of man?" He said, "You must not ask me about vice, but ask about virtue;" and he repeated this three times, after which he said, "Know ye! The worst of men is a bad learned man, and a good learned man is the best."

Verily God doth not taketh away knowledge from the hands of His servants; but taketh it by taking away the learned; so that when no learned men remain, the ignorant will be placed at the head of affairs. Causes will be submitted to their decision, they will pass sentence without knowledge, will err themselves, and lead others into error.

An hour's contemplation is better than a year's adoration.

Philosophy is the stray camel of the Faithful, take hold of it wherever ye come across it.

Go in quest of knowledge even unto China.

Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.

The knowledge from which no benefit is derived is like a treasure from which no charity is bestowed in the way of the Lord.

Do you know what sappeth the foundation of Islam, and ruineth it? The errors of the learned destroy it, the disputations of the hypocrite, and the orders of kings who have lost the road.

To spend more time in learning is better than spending more time praying; the support of religion is abstinence. It is better to teach knowledge one hour in the night than to pray all night.

Whoever seeketh knowledge and findeth it, will get two rewards; one of them the reward for desiring it, and the other for attaining it; therefore, even if he do not attain it, for him is one reward.

One learned man is harder on the devil than a thousand ignorant worshippers.

The pursuit of knowledge is a divine commandment for every Muslim; and to waste knowledge on those who are unworthy of it is like putting pearls, jewels, and gold on the necks of swine.

That person who shall pursue the path of knowledge, God will direct him to the path of Paradise; and verily the superiority of a learned man over an ignorant worshipper is like that of the full moon over all the stars.

He who knoweth his own self, knoweth God.

Verily the best of God's servants are just and learned kings; and verily the worst are bad and ignorant kings.

To listen to the words of the learned, and to instill into others the lessons of science, is better than religious exercises.

He who leaveth home in search of knowledge, walketh in the path of God.

One hour's meditation on the work of the Creator is better than seventy years of prayer.

The acquisition of knowledge is a duty incumbent on every Muslim, male and female.

Acquire knowledge. It enableth its possessor to distinguish right from wrong; it lighteth the way to Heaven; it is our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when friendless; it guideth us to happiness; it sustaineth us in misery; it is an ornament among friends, and an armour against enemies.

With knowledge man riseth to the heights of goodness and to a noble position, associateth with sovereigns in this world, and attaineth to the perfection of happiness in the next.

Learn to know thyself.

The calamity of knowledge is forgetfulness; and to waste knowledge is to speak of it to the unworthy. Who are the learned? They who practise what they know.

God hath not created anything better than Reason, or anything more perfect, or more beautiful than Reason; the benefits which God giveth are on its account; and understanding is by it, and God's wrath is caused by disregard of it.

Say what is true, although it may be bitter and displeasing to people.

Be in the world like a traveler, or like a passer on, and reckon yourself as of the dead.

Kevin Solway: These quotes are pretty good, but I don't think you will find them in the Koran. Can you find out which books they come from, and how important those books are to Muslims?

Marsha Faizi: These are the sayings of Muhammad as compiled in the hadiths or ahadiths. The hadiths are considered to be as important to Muslims as the Koran. They are the teachings and sayings of the Prophet.

I chose the ones that appealed to me. There are others that I find less appealing; just as there are sayings of Nietzsche that I find more and less appealing.

David Quinn: Are they really the sayings of Muhammad, or are they merely attributed to them? I find it difficult to reconcile those quotes with a married politician.

Dan Rowden: Or a man who supposedly wrote the Koran. Prima facie, I would say those quotes are almost certainly just attributed to Muhammed. Then again, maybe it's the other way round and the Koran is merely attribited to him!

The bottom line in any of these situations is not so much who wrote them but whether they have worth or not in themselves. Getting to the truth of authorship is something I'd prefer to leave to historians and academics - the web weavers.

Marsha Faizi: As a human being, I also have to wonder if it may be possible that you, David, in your present condition and with your present sets of beliefs, cannot conceive of the possibility that the prophet of Islam could possibly have had any wisdom. The sayings of Muhammad are somewhat separate from the Koran. The Koran was the message of God as revealed to the prophet. Yet, the prophet was a man who was in many ways the same as other men. He had ideas and ambitions and desires in much the same way as other men. He never claimed, like Jesus, to have supernatural powers or to be the son of God.

Yet, the sayings of the man are considered to be as important in Islam as the Koran. I like the hadiths because they give a human face to the religion; a human mind. Much of the Koran was meant to pull many sects and traditions and cults into one cohesive whole that was in some agreement, however broad.

As for marriage, he was beyond marriage. He had multiple wives. It was not a marriage in modern terms; in the way that we think of marriage. He was not tied to one person. Women were, during the time of Muhammad, quite a separate issue from man. They were not considered to be less intelligent than men but they were separate. They were things that had to be cared for as possessions.

Dan Rowden: I think this discussion of Islam and the degree of ignorance it brings into the world, in contrast to other religions, revolves, somewhat, around the two different faces of any religion: the esoteric and the exoteric. The outer face of Islam is pure rubbush, pure herd and demensia, as is the outer face of of Judaism and Christianity (as is, for that matter, the face of any herdly group ay all); the Exoteric dimension of any religion is more about controlling the behaviours and mechanisms of a given population than anything else. It's about ritual, not mind.

The Esoteric dimension of the "big three" sometimes has something worthwhile to say (or at least individuals within it).

Personally, I find all the religions to be equally worthless, at least in their outer expression. What is of worth with regard to the "inner" is a matter of sorting the wheat from the chaff. The "random" - more philosophical than religious - quotes that Marsha supplied aren't all that bad at all (but I suspect came from various Sufis and not Muhammed himself).

The extent of the spiritual value of Esoteric Islam is a question some might like to explore; however, my admittedly limited experience of it does not lead to me to want to go further in my personal exploration of it, or to particularly recommend it. Perhaps there have been some Islamic Meister Eckharts. I don't know. Perhaps someone does. I think it's entirely possible there have been and I see no reason there wouldn't have been.

And I think it is entirely worth making the point that the social "progress" one may ascribe to "Christian" nations has had Sweet-F-A to do with Christianity and everything to do with secular forces within these societies. The idea, which many seem to hold, of Christianity as a meaningful force for "civizilation" and Islam not, is pure codswallop.

Marsha Faizi: Islam is not a religion of hate and ignorance. It is a religion like Christianity and Judaism, fraught with incongruities and ambiguities and codes of conduct suitable for their times. The backwardness exhibited by Muslims in many countries in opposition to the United States was not the intention of essential Islam. The intent of Islam was to raise up his people to civilization; to the best standards of life; all people.

Wisdom is not something held exclusively for the white. It is available to all people if they will seek it. Wisdom does not speak only English or only the language of the Anglicans. Your beloved Buddha was from India. Jesus was brown, at least, if not Negroid.

David Quinn: Marsha is right in saying that Islam doesn't have a monopoly on religious fundamentalism. Christianity and Buddhism have their fair share as well. But it seems to be a lot more prevalent in Islam, and this is mainly due to the very nature of what Islam is - namely, a religion of submission.

Some people would argue my view of Islam is an illusion created by the Western media's focus upon Muslim extremists. But I have my doubts about this. Even more moderate forms of Islam demand open displays of submission from its adherents. For example, everyone must bow down together towards Mecca and pray in unision five times a day. This alone fosters a fundamentalist, submissive mindset.

Marsha Faizi: I never saw the prayers of Muslims as submissive in the way that you are thinking of submissiveness. It is not submission to a religion or to Mecca but submission to God. It is submission to the will of God. It is acknowledgment of one's smallness in the universe.

Also, it is not just bowing down. One does not simply bow down and pray. The whole process takes about fifteen or twenty minutes, not counting ablutions. I never prayed in that matter and my husband did not force me to do so. But I watched him do it many times. It is part standing, part sitting, and part putting one's head on the floor in the direction of Mecca. I particularly liked it when my daughter used to jump on his back while he was praying. She would stand with him and fold her hands like him and sit like him but, the minute he put his head on the floor, she jumped on his back -- or she would put her head down to the floor with him to try to peek under his head to see what he was doing.

Muslim prayer is a ritual that involves much more than bowing. I realize that you are thinking of it as a form of submission in the way that the rituals of a cult could be said to be submissive. I do not see the Muslim form of prayer as more submissive than the Christian taking of communion or Christian baptism.

David Quinn: It would be interesting to know how prevalent atheism is in Islamic countries. To me, that would constitute a reliable indicator of how much freedom its citizens actually possess. Do you have any data on this, Marsha? I would wager that it is extremely small. There seems to be very little diversity in Islamic countries.

Marsha Faizi: The rate of atheism in Islamic countries is between one and three percent of the population.

David Quinn: How do this three percent survive? By keeping their views to themselves, one would imagine.

Marsha Faizi: Pretty much, yes. In Pakistan, I can say that there is an intellectual elite that is allowed some manner of free thinking and there is also the "great hypocrisy." Many people are Muslim in name only -- Muslim not by belief but by cultural upbringing.

"I don't agree with those who think that the conflict is simply between two religions, namely Christianity and Islam. Nor do I think that this is a conflict between East and West. To me, the key conflict is between irrational blind faith and rational logical minds. Or between modernity and anti-modernity. While some people want to go forward, others are trying to go backward. It is a conflict between the future and the past, between innovation and tradition, between those who value freedom and those who do not." -- Taslima Nasrin

I agree with this. It is a fight between religiously induced ignorance and logical thinking. It is not a fight between East and West. It is a fight between progress and regression.


"My main thing will still be thinking, but more importantly it will be love and contributing to as many people as I can before I die."


Rhett: I've come across the statement a few times that "enlightened people live in a perpetual state of bliss".

Dan Rowden: That may or may not be a reasonable assessment of things depending on what one means by "bliss". The usual intent of that, however, is piffle.

Enlightenment as a state of bliss is the sort of thing one hears in dipsy New Age circles. Enlightenment is not an emotional state of any kind. It is not a form of happiness or contentment or anything like that. As I said in another post, wisdom manifests as non-attachment. That's what wisdom is: non-attachment. And non-attachment is not some posture one adopts; it is not indifference; it is not some psychological technique one employs so as to isolate oneself from potential causes of suffering. Non-attachment is the consequence of the destruction of the ego, which itself is a consequence of an understanding of the nature of Reality which has been infused into every aspect of one's consciousness. Wisdom is a radical transformation of consciousness.

It's almost impossible to describe what enlightenment is like because whatever you say will inevitably be received through egotistical filtures and will therefore be a distortion of it. The only way to get a proper perspective of what enlightenment is, is to attain it for oneself.

Leo Bartoli: But we can say much more about it, can we not?

Dan Rowden: In the sense that I was speaking about it in my reply to Rhett, no, we can't, not without inevitable distortion taking place. I was, of course, speaking about the nature of the direct experience of enlightenment, not simply about what enlightenment constitutes. Enlightenment is not like any other experience you can point so, so there is always a certain danger in trying to liken it to some emotional state or other.

Leo Bartoli: I mean, you have been there have you not? Are you not fearless with enlightnment?

Dan Rowden: That is part of what non-attachment is, what the absence of ego is, as is the absence of all emotion and psychical disturbance. But when it comes to describing the direct experience of that state - that is, what it is specifically like to be there, there is really nothing with which to liken it. This is why one should avoid trying to describe it in terms of things like "bliss" or "happiness" or "contentment" or "peace" and so forth. These terms no more capture the essence of the state of enlightenment than would terms like "sadness" or "melancholy" or "indifference" or whatever one prefers to think of as the opposite of peace.

"Liberation" is about the closest descriptive term I can come up with, but only where no emotional connotations are granted to it.

Leo Bartoli: Are you not always acting in a perfectly wise manner, effortlessly? Isn't it true that you haven't a worry in the world? Not the least thing can move you emotionally?

Dan Rowden: Again these things are all natural consequences - facets - of the state of non-attachment (egolessness), but they don't describe what the subjective experience of this state is like -; they merely help define the state of affairs. That's certainly important, but it was not what I was talking of in my response to Rhett.

Leo Bartoli: If enlightenment is your thing and the purpose of this list, then couldn't you say one hell of alot more about your personal experience than you do?

Dan Rowden: In one sense, yes, and I have said plenty about it over the years. In another sense, no, I can't say all that much more about it. I mean, what exactly would I liken it to?


Dan Rowden: In my experience "alternative" communities are alternative only on a very superficial level. They're really not alternative at all in that their essential desires and wants are the same as everybody else. They want happiness, security, community etc. They are just as egotistical in their needs for such things as those operating in more conventional society. "Seeking" tends to be little more than part of their "alternative" social identity. I don't regard it as particularly authentic. But that is my experience. However, a true seeker shuns any community structure therefore it doesn't make any real difference to him which one he's living in.

Russell: Interesting point but how else would you define this forum if not as a form of community? As we are all actively participating in this discussion (seeking the discussion) by your definition we cannot be 'true' seekers as we are seeking a community...

Dan Rowden: Community is not just a group of people doing something; it is all about the underlying mentality, the herd mentality to be precise. This forum is not like that at all; it is really just a hotch potch of individuals utilising a service. Some may engage this forum in a communal sort of way. They may gain certain egotistical benefits from it. I certainly don't.

Russell: I hate to bring up the subject of egos (it is a complicated area of discussion) but I am trying to qualify your reasoning.

Dan Rowden: What do you mean by "ego", exactly?

Russell: Can you be exact about an ego? In my muppet way of thinking I would describe 'ego' as the quantification and justification of 'self-worth' a series of expectations of how the external world will/should react to me.

Dan Rowden: Ok, well, that's a psychological idea of ego; mine is more ontological with psychological consequences.

Russell: In plain english and to use myself as an example. My ego is the imaginary entity I believe myself to be ('Russ') which I constantly evaluate and re-evaluate using a number of external devices such as my social mirror i.e. how do people react to 'me'...does their reaction match the expectation of my 'ego'(my self image) - how can she possibly say 'no' to my sexual advances!? I'm good looking! How can they possibly say I am stupid when I 'know' I am intelligent. The whole 'ego' concept in my mind is a 'thing' it does not exist. It is truly man made! I create and protect it at all costs because it is a direct internal measure of how much value I have during my existence. It clouds my judgement and my ability to see clearly because I naturally want to protect my self-worth at all costs because (and here is the crux of it all) I have been told that my life should have meaning through upbringing/media/society etc.

Dan Rowden: Ok, but I'm not sure if any of that really breaks "ego" down into a well defined concept; what you're describing is more a group of psychological responses we place under the umbrella of the term "ego". My definition of ego is: the concept of an inherently existent self; a self that endures and exists independently of anything else.

Russell: What do you mean by 'self'? This is the bit I am particularly interested in, as I have yet to find a good description of what self means....a lot of people start referring to the ego..and personality...and go round and round in circles but do not nail the fundamental issue of what 'self' is... I'm interested in what you think the 'self' is.

Dan Rowden: An appearance within mind to which we give the label "I" or "Me" and to which others give the label "Russell" (or whatever else). I can't say anything more concrete than that about the self because the self isn't any more concrete than that.

So, then, what is mind (I hear you asking) :- the body of such appearances; the totality of them.

Russell: Would someone born into void have an ego with nothing to test his assumptions on?

Dan Rowden: Well, that's not possible so I think the question is moot.

Russell: So you 'know' what is possible!? Fantastic! Can you tell how you know this is not possible?

Dan Rowden: A void dos not possess that which can cause a thing to be born (I will concede that it depends on what meant by "void").

Russell: Not a great fan of abstract thought experiments then?

Dan Rowden: Sure I am, if they aren't so sufficiently removed from what is true an possible as to be useless. Hypotheticals that cannot be related to the world are pretty meaningless.

Russell: If you are only interested in what is 'possible' in the external world you are a scientist. You are projecting your own rules and preconceived ideas about reality and therefore what is and isn't possible within it. I would accept it is 'unlikely' but will not accept it is not possible. To state something so bold is to state you understand beyond any doubt reality. I'm not saying it is not possible that you completely understand 'everything' but only that it is unlikely.

Dan Rowden: It's got nothing to do with the external world or science; it is, again, depending on what you mean by "void", a truth by definition that a void doesn't possess that which can cause a thing to be born - or anything else.

Russell: In this case the point is to think about what the effect of removing all external stimuli would have on the person in the void. Would they still have an 'ego' if 'yes' then your definition would be correct - if 'no' then the ego does not endure independently of anything else..... I personally think an ego needs feeding to exist. Philosophy so I have been told is a way of thinking not a science.

Dan Rowden: Yes, but you've already assumed there exists a real and abiding boundary between the self and the external world that allows for such "dismemberment" of reality. You need to examine that underlying premise before attempting to surmise anything from your hypothetical.

But, I'll run with it for a moment: if you remove all other things, there still remains this "void" which is nevertheless a thing which the person differentiates from themselves; that is, it's "me" and "other", hence the ego can still exist. If that is not so then consciousness itself isn't present and the whole issue is out the window (consciousness being relation and differentiation).

Russell: Broader questions as the topic is the nature of happiness....

What is the benefit of being an enlightened sage devoid of emotional attachment?

Dan Rowden: Absence of ignorance; absence of suffering; sanity. Of course, if one doesn't care about such things then there is no benefit at all.

Russell: Surely the wiser man will accept reality (whatever than means to the individual) but still open himself up to the varied experiences that this existence has to offer?

Dan Rowden: You mean, like ignorance and all that goes with it? The wise man, by definition, has left all that behind. The question which stands before you at this time, is what constitutes the body of a wise's man's knowledge and of an ignorant man's ignorance.

Russell: Or am I just naive :-)

Dan Rowden: Ignorant, I'd say, more than naive, but there's probably a bit of naivete there as well. Even though it's an inevitable fact of life, given that we are not born wise, that we are indeed ignorant, people like to think of themselves as naive rather than ignorant; it sounds a lot nicer and is a lot easier on the ego.

Russell: Ignorant is fine. Step one in this journey we are undertaking (albeit that some are futher down the road than others) is the realisation that we are ignorant. Being told I am crap in bed hurts my ego but being reminded I am ignorant doesn't anymore. It's the truth.

Dan Rowden: Socratic Wisdom, you might call it. Knowing that we don't know. It is the truth [that we are ignorant] and there's no shame in that whatever; all shame lies in having come to this particular piece of knowing and just remaining there.


18 year old Andrew Wiseman came to the list with all the confidence that youth enjoys, parading the fact of its 160 IQ and deeply philosophical mind. As it turns out he made a fair fist of his initial foray into the discussions. The following dialogue begins with his personal slant on the question of free will and the origins of our desires. The first section is to some extent a repeat of the content of the "Destiny and Will" thread, but I have included it as it leads into a discussion of what ethics may be derived from a position of the lack of freedom and control of willing and wanting and also into a discussion of the nature of consciousness itself:

Andrew: Here is a logical deductive argument:

1) One only willingly does what one wants to do (buy definition).

2) One does not, and cannot control what he/she wants, wants to want, or wants to want to want...

3) One does not control what he/she willingly does.

Dan Rowden: Therefore, one does not in fact do what one willingly wants to do because one has not willed what one wants to do.

Andrew: I'll admit that there are problems in the language but the argument seems quite intelligible.

Dan Rowden: Seems like just another argument against free will to me.

Andrew: If the definition of control is: the power to cause an action by willing the action then we do have control, however, most people would not agree that we were in full control unless we could also control our will - to be able to decide what we want to want. But we don't control our will - it is the way it is and there is nothing we can do about it - we cannot decide to do something we don't want to do - that would be impossible. In the case where you wanted to drive a needle through your thumb to make the point you have free will, the situation has already changed, you actually want to drive the needle trough your thumb - you wouldn't do it if you didn't want to!

Dan Rowden: Action based on conscious willing expresses a want, a particular end, a desire to cause certain effects; this desire stems from certain values and goals. Do we choose those value and goals or does Nature, speaking somewhat poetically, choose them for us? Obviously the latter is the case. We would slip immediately into infinite regress if we posited that we did [originally] choose these things because that would necessitate an underlying want and will (for those things) and we would have to subsequently posit a motivation for that and so on and so on....

That is, we could never get to a basis for those original values and goals. To express it another way, choices are expressive of values, conscious or unconscious; to say that one chooses certain values (or wants) and is therefore in control, is to say that one already and originally possesses certain values and wants, but their basis is what? Obviously, an unchosen nature.

The question is whether it's reasonable to suggest that one's nature, having been established by Nature as that which consciously wants and wills and chooses, can be said to be "in control" of such things, or whether since things express their natures as they necessarily must, whatever that nature is, speaking of being in "control" is pretty much redundant: i.e. one does not will to will; one wills because it is one's nature to will.

Andrew: You explained the situation in far fewer words than me. To took the words (I wish I could thing of) right out of my hypothetical mouth. There is a more fundamental basis for values if you realise what values actually are - what determines them.

Dan Rowden: Well, for me that fundamental basis is best described as: a whim of Nature. It's a somewhat poetic description but nevertheless accurate. Of course, this is really saying nothing more than it is illogical to suppose that one is responsible for one's essential or original nature. Such a proposition is self-evidently absurd since one must already be something to be able to act in any way whatever, but one clearly cannot be one's own cause. Nietzsche wrote something interesting on this point in "Twilight of the Idols":

"What alone can our teaching be? - That no one gives a human being his qualities: not God, not society, not his parents or ancestors, not he himself (- the nonsensical idea here last rejected was propounded, as "intelligible freedom" by Kant, and perhaps also Plato before him). No one is accountable for existing at all, or for being constituted as he is, or for living in the circumstances and surroundings in which he lives. The fatality of his nature cannot be disentangled from the fatality of all that which has been and will be. He is not the result of a special design, a will, a purpose; he is not the subject of an attempt to attain an "ideal of man" or an "ideal of happiness" or an "ideal of morality' - it is absurd to want to hand over his nature to some purpose or other. We invented the concept of "purpose": in reality purpose is lacking. . . . One is necessary, one is a piece of fate, one belongs to the whole, one is in the whole - there exists nothing which could judge, measure, compare, condemn our being, for that would be to judge, measure, condemn the whole......But nothing exists apart from the whole!

That no one is any longer made accountable, that the kind of being manifested cannot be traced back to a causa prima, that the world is a unity neither as sensorium nor as "spirit", this alone is the great liberation - thus alone is the innocence of becoming restored. . . . .

The concept "God" has hitherto been the greatest objection to existence. . . .We deny God; in denying God, we deny accountability: only by doing that do we redeem the world.
- " Nietzsche [The Four Great Errors]

I think it is reasonable to employ notions of "control" and "conscious will" to those whose nature has been constituted, by Nature, to express these qualities. It has become inculcated in the human brain through history that this automatically applies to everyone - that everyone is sufficiently conscious so as to be treated like beings who consciously will their wants and their values and goals and their subsequent natures, but this is pure mythology. Nature is less than generous with her "awarding" of the fate of awakening.

Andrew: Because this argument shows our will is not a source of motivation for action independent of a cause, we have to then look for what causes our will to be one way or the other and hence, discover what the true motivation for all willing action is.

Dan Rowden: There is no real answer to that other than: Nature.

Andrew: In a sense, I suppose you are right. Would you, therefore, argue that it is impossible for us to construct an artificial mind capable of independent thought?

Dan Rowden: I don't see an - in principle - barrier to such a thing. It's all about replicating a physical structure that generates certain phenomena. We only just begun to meaningfully map that territory. Mind you, in a very real sense, we engage in this creation everytime we have a root and subsequently spit out a sprog (procreate, to say it nicely), so I actually find the whole AI debate kind of boring.

Hell, we can't even work out how to make ourselves more intelligent. In fact, we're so enamoured with ourselves that we don't even readily perceive such a pressing need!

David Quinn: What do you think is ultimately true in life?

Andrew: I don't know just quite how to take that question. Do you want me to say what I think is the most true thing in reality or the most fundamental truth about reality?? A little bit ambiguous!

I'll answer it one way, I don't know if this is quite what you mean. I think that the only thing anyone should ever worry about is doing what they want to do.

Dan Rowden: But surely there's no "should" to be had regarding this, since you've already argued that this is necessarily what people do anyway. The notion of "should" can't meaningfully exist in your world, can it? It's automatically redundant.

Andrew: I know it doesn't sound particularly impressive but there is a lot of philosophy behind it. Basically the point in life is to find a path to maximise one's own pleasure however I would like to stress, this does not lead to the typical idea of the hedonist lifestyle even though this is the definition of hedonism. The hedonists morality has received a lot of 'bad press' because of terribly mistaken predictions of the effects of the lifestyle.

David Quinn: How do you envisage the ultra-hedonistic philosophy manifesting in your own life? What does it look like? What do you imagine you'll be doing in ten years time?

Andrew: My theory of morality goes like this:

Everything we do is ultimately selfish and there is nothing we can do to get away from that fact. It would be logically impossible for us to do something we did not want to do. Because I realise this basic fact, I can understand the underlying reasons for why people act the way they do in most situations.

David Quinn: Although I agree with the general thrust of this, it isn't strictly true that all people are selfish. A person is only selfish to the degree that he is still spell-bound by the delusion of self. This, of course, means that 99.999% of people in this world are thoroughly selfish - including the helpful, altruistic, Christian types. But an exception needs to be made of enlightened sages who are no longer fooled by the illusion of their own existence and who are no longer emotionally motivated to preserve or protect

Andrew: You don't see the point. I have had this conversation with many people and from experience, if you don't see it, you don't see it and there is nothing I can do to make you see it. I will try though. Of course I should be humble and say I could be wrong on this issue, but because I see it clearly and distinctly (as Descartes would have said) I would say I am 99.99999999999999% sure what I am saying is true - it just makes perfect sense - every sane person is 100% selfish (Although this does not imply that they disregard the feelings and well being of others!!)

The 0.001% of people you defined are still 100% selfish, regardless of their intellect, moral values etc...... Why? Because no matter how you look at it, they are living the way they WANT to live. They physically cannot willingly do anything else - by definition of what it means to will to do something. In other words, in making any decision they predict various courses of action and will ALWAYS take the path they believe will lead them to the situation where they are most happy - this is the path they want to take.

David Quinn: Okay, in that sense, I agree with you. Everyone is 100% selfish by that criteria. I was making the distinction between the ordinary person who emotionally wants things to happen in a certain way, and the enlightened sage who dispassionately and unemotionally works towards a future outcome.

The sage doesn't invest emotionally in any particular future outcome, and therefore ultimately doesn't care on a personal level which way the future pans out. Although his goal might be for everyone on the planet to become perfectly wise beings, it wouldn't upset him in the slightest if wisdom disappeared from the face of the earth.

Andrew: Because we ever only do what we want to do, the purest way you can ever explain a willing action is by explaining why you wanted to do it - not why you "should" do it.

If everything we do is in order to please ourselves (I donate to charity because I LIKE helping people - I like being in a position to make others feel better) then I suppose I would say that we are all hedonists even though most people don't realise it. However, as I mentioned before, real hedonism does not lead to the kind of life most people would expect. When we act to please ourselves this does not mean we ignore other people!!!! Other people affect our lives greatly and friendships are an extremely important part of our personal pleasure.

Most sensible people realise that they would not find it particularly fun to go around stealing, raping and taking drugs even though these acts may produce a lot of pleasure for a short period of time. Sensible (or should I say, well informed) people find that the lifestyle we have already become accustomed to is the most pleasurable path to take through life. At least, the most probable, most pleasurable path.

A hedonist, in practice, would actually live life as a utilitarian however they would not, morally, always have to be trying to cause the greatest pleasure for the greatest number. Causing the greatest pleasure for the greatest number usually, in turn, causes the greatest pleasure for the person doing the act - and this is why hedonists would become utilitarians. However, the hedonist would not be acting immorally to do something which is later found to be an act defying the utilitarian principle. As long as it can be shown that the hedonist had good reason to want to do something, then they are not acting immorally.

You may have noticed that this means that it is impossible for a hedonist to willingly act immorally. Well that is exactly what I think is true! Sin does not exist - it is only a word used to describe the differences in the wishes of people. If someone murders another person, we would usually say that the murderer committed a sin - an 'evil' act. I am saying that this is an unreasonable thing to suggest! You will probably think, therefore, that I am defending the murderer. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact I am saying that you can morally do whatever you want with the murderer because I believe we should always do what we want to do (by my definition of the word 'should'). However, it is unreasonable to call him a sinner or an evil person because this is assigning him a label which is purely subjective - based on no objective category (if that makes any sense whatsoever!). There is nothing to say that the murderer is objectively evil, although it would be acceptable for each individual to classify him a rating in their own eyes.

David Quinn: The concept of sin isn't necessarily incompatible with the reality of hedonism. For example, if a person hedonistically values the ideal of perfection and hedonistically determines that a person is moral to the degree that he is perfect, then he automatically creates the category of sin/immorality as a result. To him, a person is an immoral sinner if he refuses to value perfection or doesn't make a good enough effort to eliminate his imperfections.

Andrew: No, it is impossible to sin in a true hedonist's view as an act which is universally classed as a 'sin' because there are no objective laws of what is right and wrong. Hedonism doesn't say what we should or shouldn't do and hence what is good, what is bad and what a sin is.

David Quinn: Unless, of course, it pleases the hedonist to do so .........

Andrew: Naaa, sorry, but not even in that situation.

David Quinn: It seems you are unnecessarily limiting the options of what a hedonist would do. Are you saying that a hedonist "should" never say what is good or bad?

I don't believe in an objective right and wrong, yet I still find the terms "immoral and "sin" useful. Because I place so much value on truth and enlightenment and believe that everyone should be striving for these things (because it pleases me to value a saner, more rational world), it can be very appropriate and useful at times to call someone immoral or a sinner. It is particularly effective when they place value on these terms.

Andrew: Hedonists can only detest or like others for their own reasons but they must realise that those people cannot universally be classed as sinners or do-gooders. However, a murderer for example can be shown not to be complying with the principle of utilitarianism and so gives the hedonist social power (ie knowledge they will not be out of place to make a suggestion of a course of action) to condemn the murderer - as other members of the society would be similarly condemning.

David Quinn: Would you say that a person who rejects your hedonistic philosophy and believes that some people are unselfish is objectively wrong?

Andrew: Hmm, that seemed like a really good question when I first read it but then I realised that your mixing up ideas of ethical right and wrong with truth value right or wrong. I think that truth value is generally objective but based on very fuzzy rules - I haven't thought much on this issue.

David Quinn: I reckon you should make it a top priority. How can you know that anything you say is actually true if you don't know what truth is, or what its rules are?

Andrew: I suppose, as in most philosophical arguments the problem, here, is arising because of a discrepancy in the ideas of the definition of words. If a sin is something which can universally be classed as a wrong thing to do, then no one is a sinner as I have argued in the previous paragraph. However, if sin is defined as that which defies the principle of utilitarianism then it is true that people often sin. However, this should not be a reason to condemn a person as evil - they are breaking no moral rules.

However, I must stress again - this does not mean we have no jurisdiction over those who we would usually class as evil. We are free to do what ever we want with them and we can justify what we do to them in terms of why we want to do it. I may lock a murderer in a dungeon and throw away the keys. I can justify this by saying I want no more people to be killed. Nevertheless I cannot say that the murderer is an evil person, because of this I would be better not to punish him for the sake of causing him displeasure (this doesn't usually help educate murderers). Although, of course, if I want to hurt the murderer, for vengeful reasons, then there is no reason why I "shouldn't" - if I want to.

So what I am really saying is - Do not speak as though people are to be condemned because of any objective rule. You should always find the real reasons why an act is sinful rather than taking the easy way out. You never know who you may be insulting unnecessarily using unreasonable objective morality.

David Quinn: I don't see how it could be insulting. If my listener still submits to the idea that objective morality exists, then he will probably benefit from my reference to thoughtless, dishonest people as "sinners" (or "morons", "women" or "herdsman" or "evil" - or whatever seems appropriate at the time). It might cause him to re-evaluate the meaning of the word "sin" and lead him to associate it more with ignorance and untruth, and less with traditional religious morality. That would be progress, in my view.

On the other hand, if he is beyond the delusion of objective morality and can decide what is right and wrong for himself, then he doesn't have to listen to a word I say.

Dan Rowden: An act is sinful if I say it is. There is no other reason.

Andrew: I disagree entirely. Of course it depends just what you define as a sin but I would have said that sins don't exist because objectivism is a load of rubbish IMHO.

Dan Rowden: Yes, but what I said doesn't allude to any notion of objectivity of morality. Precisely the opposite, in fact. This is why I defined "sin" as whatever I say it is. That is, what is "good" and "bad" for me is a judgment which arises entirely out of my own values and goals. Let me break it down to very basic ideas (using "good" and "bad" rather than the term "sin"):

Good - that which proceeds from my will.

Bad - that which hinders the procession of my will.

Andrew: If you are using the word to explain why someone shouldn't do it (Ie don't have sex before marriage 'cause its a sin) then you are not going to be very convincing and you are also likely to cause a lot of people to start worrying unnecessarily.

Dan Rowden: Well, I could certainly make a practical case as to why my values are better than everyone else's, but I certainly wouldn't introduce non-existent objective forces to do so.

Andrew: The only time you should argue that something is wrong is when it is defying the principle of utilitarianism.

Dan Rowden: The only time I regard something as wrong is when it stands in the way of my goals and values. Often, utilitarian notions (when defined as the greatest good for the greatest number) do just that and I regard them as wrong! "Utility", for me, means: that which progresses my goals. I don't really give a toss about the greatest number because most people are ignorant and deluded and have ideals and notions of morality and Reality that stand in direct opposition to my goals and values. What I can do is to make the case that my goals and values and better and/or more logical and should be adopted by others. More than I can't really do.

Andrew: "Don't have sex before marriage 'cause you're insulting God in the process." would be a reasonable argument however I doubt many people would be convinced by it A) because they may not believe in God B) they may not believe God would have this unreasonable view.

Dan Rowden: Sure, which is why I practically never involve myself in petty moral argumentation. I stick to matters of more ultimate importance; matters that do have an "objective" reality (i.e. are necessarily applicable to everyone: e.g. the fact that everyone's values are, at bottom, a whim of Nature).

David Quinn: What are the workings of reality?

Andrew: I'm sorry to disappoint you, I don't think I quite understand the nature of existence fully just yet! However I do have a way of looking at reality that seems trivial to most people yet goes deeper than most people dare set foot.

I sat in bed one night and really thought to myself, what is reality. I decided that reality would not exist if consciousness didn't exist. This is an argument based on definitions - I think that most people would define reality as that which we are aware of -

David Quinn: They should do, but they don't. I agree with you that existence cannot mean anything other than appearance to a consciousness. It is literally what existence means. But people tend to back off from affirming this because it would mean affirming the idea that there is no existence beyond mind, which would be a bit too wacky and unconventional for them. They
might start going mad if they began thinking along those lines.

Andrew: If there was no such thing as consciousness anywhere in the universe, there would be nothing to witness the rolling hunks of rock floating about in space and so, as far as I'm concerned, there is no reality.

David Quinn: No question of it. If there was no consciousness in the universe, existence could never arise.

Andrew: Anyway, regardless of whether anything actually exists if there is no consciousness, I want to explain the nature of the reality I'm talking about - consciousness.

People have always mistakenly assigned thought to consciousness - most famously Rene Descartes. I have found, through reason, that consciousness has nothing to do with thought: Imagine a normal man lying on a hospital bed. He is fully conscious. To reduce his consciousness we may remove his eyes and ear drums and inject him all over with local anesthetics (I cant spell) so he cannot receive any sensations at all. We would still say he was conscious because he could still think to himself, so most people stop there and think that his thought is his consciousness. However, if we then get someone else into the practice room and instead remove his 'thought processors' we realise that he can still be conscious - he can still feel pain or pleasure or even have specific emotions if we inject his body with drugs or touch his brain with an electrode.

David Quinn: Do you think so? If a person were to cease engaging in thought altogether, then how could he make distinctions between anything? How could he even determine that he was having experiences at all? Consciousness only arises via the experience of definitions and contrasts, and thought is necessary for this.

Andrew: What you are saying is that awareness arises out of our awareness of definitions and contrasts. hmmm something fishy going on here don't you think?

David Quinn: No, I'm saying that awareness of definitions and contrasts is all there is. There is no other kind of awareness.

Andrew: So, you believe it is impossible to feel pain or any other sensation even if you are not thinking?

David Quinn: That's right. It is impossible.

Andrew: How can I convince you this idea is not solving anything? If there are parts of the brain that cause feelings then they must be the end product - they are the most fundamental 'measurement' - not a measuring device. You seem to be saying that when we feel something there is some part of our brain that causes the feeling (I would have said HAS the feeling) but then it must signal our 'thought processors' that a feeling is taking place! What could the 'thought processors' possibly do with this information?? Its like telling a computer to feel pain! There has to be something in the brain whose sole purpose is to produce this sensation - it can then communicate information telling other parts of the brain 'pain is being felt' because this would be completely worthless - the dedicated part of the brain has already been stimulated inherently producing a sensation. "You" do not need to be told "you" are feeling pain - "You" just feel pain!

David Quinn: No, it happens more like this: First, the nervous system carries the signals associated with pain from the injury to the brain. Second, the brain processes these signals, using memory as a template, and inserts into consciousness the experience of pain. This experience of pain is, from the outset, a mixture of thought and sensation. There is really no such thing as a pure sensation, one that is completely free of thought. Thought is what enables the mind to distinguish the experience from other remembered experiences and establish its identity. It gives the sensation defining and shape. All of this happens before we can
consciously direct our minds to the experience and reason abstractly about it.

Andrew: When I read that response the first time I thought of a really good reply to it. But I've now forgotten it. I'll have to come back to this at some point. All I can say is that I think what you're saying is rubbish. It is what appears to us to be true but is just not logical.

David Quinn: When a person who is blind from birth is suddenly cured of his blindness, it takes him awhile before he can experience the kind of ordered perceptual world that we are all familiar with. He goes through a lengthy period of perceptual chaos in which his sense of space and perspective is seriously undeveloped and out of wack, and he lacks the mental ability integrate different perceptions together to form objects. The key reason for this is that his thought-processes aren't able to make their usual contribution due to a lack of material from the memory banks. The emotions and sensations are there, but the required thought isn't. Babies have to go through a similar process.

Andrew: Well I would say, that during this period he is still seeing exactly what we would see even though he cannot mentally understand the images. The problem is due to conflicting information coming in from his sense of sight and his sense of his thought. He can see exactly as we would see yet he has the feeling that what he is seeing is senseless. Its all a problem in the though stage as part of the external world, IMHO.

Andrew: I hope we can agree that what we are arguing about here is awareness. Consciousness is awareness as far as I'm concerned. If the two are not identical then I think I'd prefer to use the word awareness rather than consciousness - it is our awareness of things which make reality (or a form of reality), as we have agreed.

Where you used the word experience I think you were also actually meaning awareness. Maybe not?

David Quinn: Yes, in this context, experience means awareness

Andrew: You agreed that it is straight forward to believe that it is our awareness of physical things - such as rocks floating through space which brings them into 'reality'. Wouldn't you say that we are aware of our own thinking. Don't you agree that thinking occurs as a physical process in the external world, much like rocks floating about in space, more specifically neurons firing in logical order in the brain. Science can explain thought in much the same way it can explain physical objects. It is our awareness of though that makes it real.

David Quinn: But it is also thought which makes our awareness real as well. Awareness is just as much a creation of thought as thought is a creation of awareness. They are mutually-dependent upon each other for their existence.

Andrew: Do you really think you could imagine awareness (emotion and sensation) had you never experienced it yourself? How would you describe it to someone awareness (an alien for example) who had never experienced emotion or sensation? I definitely do not think that awareness is a creation of thought or even mutually dependant - I think we can be aware of thing other than our thought.

It is awareness itself which completely escapes scientific explanation and this is why people tend to believe in the soul - something metaphysical, completely outwith our understanding. This seems to me to be a good description of emotion and sensation itself! I cannot see any way how we can understand how emotions and sensations exist in the physical world at all. In fact, maybe by definition, they don't exist in the physical world, in which case, what kind of existence do they have?

David Quinn: I'm not sure that I am following you here. Why is it difficult to connect emotions and sensations with the physical world? An emotion is a fight-or-flight response to the things we sense in the physical world. What is the problem?

Andrew: I'm beginning to wonder if I really am the only being in the universe that actually 'feels'. I often wondered that - why am I 'me' and only 'me' what is so special about 'me'. Then I realise the most predominant identifying feature that makes me different from other people is that I only know about my own emotions and sensations. How then do I know that anyone else has them. I came to the conclusion that it is physically impossible for me to deduce whether or not you (for example) are capable of 'feeling' until I can discover what 'feelings' actually are. I could scan your brain for areas of activity but that does not tell me one way or another whether you are feeling anything or not - even though I may relate your scan to mine when I am having any particular 'feeling'

The way you are speaking really makes me think that you might not have emotion or sensation at all. Otherwise, I just cannot understand how you could take them so perfectly for granted! They are most definitely not just a fight-or-flight response!! they are 'feeling' and it is impossible to explain them more clearly than that! You surely have feelings but you do not see them existing anywhere else in the rest of the universe. You cannot measure them in anyway whatsoever (you don't measure them - you HAVE them (maybe even the word 'have' doesn't properly describe what is going on here!))- they have no definable qualities as far as you know, yet you can distinguish each different feeling so perfectly well from each other even though you do not understand the difference between them. I suppose the main thing that made me realise how weird emotions and sensations is that I recognised the difficulty in programming a computer to have a feeling.

David Quinn: You'll have to define "feeling". I find the way you use this term confusing.

Andrew: I suppose the definition I would give is - 'feeling' is the only thing we are ever directly aware of/concerned with. You have to experience it to know what it is as it is completely inexplicable in more basic terms.

I came to the conclusion that awareness is caused directly due to emotion and sensation (sight smell touch... including the 'feeling' of thought) because a conscious being without feeling of any kind seems to be a contradiction on terms - this being would be an unconscious zombie.

David Quinn: Yes, a being that no longer experiences thought is entirely unconscious.

Andrew: My point here was, the zombie can still think even though it is not aware of its own thinking (doesn't feel thought). I'm glad you are agreeing with me on this point. I would imagine that 'something' can 'feel' without thinking about it. You still don't agree with this though do you? If you do agree that something can go through the low level act of simply 'feeling' without thought then would you not agree that this necessarily means the 'thing' is conscious.

If something feels pain then it is an inherent fact that they are aware of the pain - awareness is defined as the phenomena of feeling any of these 'things' we cannot really describe clearly - pain, pleasure, red, cold, salty, loud, interesting, ridiculous.....

Andrew: Having realised that emotion and sensation are the cause of consciousness I wanted to find out how emotions and sensations work (I wish there was a general term for both!). But suddenly I realised that no one really knows what emotions or sensations are!! And later I realised I cant think of any way it would be possible to understand them other than to just take them for granted.

Dan Rowden: They are we define them to be. Sensation is either a physical feeling or a general feeling or awareness. Feelings are a category of experience. An experience is anything that presents an appearance to mind. Mind is the body of these appearances.

Andrew: How do you answer the questions, for example, what is the physical difference between pleasure and pain, how do you program a computer to feel pleasure? Later, again, I realise that emotion and sensation are the sole cause of faculties (if that's the right word) such as morality and religion. If it weren't for emotion and sensation ethics wouldn't exist!

David Quinn: Animals experience emotion and sensations and yet they lack religion and a system of ethics. The main reason why they lack these things is because they lack the conscious capacity to formulate abstract thoughts and manipulate them logically.

Andrew: Of course, that's completely true. We have a morality and religious beliefs because we have the tools to construct these ideas - we have the intelligence animals lack. However, if we had no emotion or sensation, there would be no reason at all why we would have created ethics (maybe it was a bit silly of me to include religion here - that doesn't really hinge on emotion and sensation even though some of the principles which follow from it do). Why would ethics exist if we didn't care about anything - we wouldn't care about anything because we would be 100% indifferent on all issues no matter how intelligent we were - we would have no fear of dying even.

David Quinn: You're linking ethics to emotions/sensations in way that I'm not following. Ethics only arises when we begin valuing an ideal of some kind. For example, I value wisdom and ultimate knowledge, which causes me to ethically value those things in life which promote these values - e.g. reason, skepticism, iconoclastic questioning, single-mindedness, courage, introspection, open-mindedness, individuality, etc. So ethics are linked to values.

Secondly, ethics don't always come from emotions. Most people's values are emotionally based, of course. But some people are more advanced than this and consciously choose their values via reason.

Andrew: Well, if you realise what you yourself actually mean by 'value' then you may begin to realise what I mean. What fundamental ideas is the idea of 'value' based on?

David Quinn: A value is anything that a person considers important, and a person's core values are usually a matter of life and death. For example, many people regard their own reputation in the community to be extremely important, and some would even go so far as to kill if it meant preserving their reputation. They value their reputation highly.

Andrew: I'm trying to steer you towards seeing motivation the same way I do: Define what is 'importance' - what makes something 'important'. It is effectively the same question as "what is the definition of value, as in to value something"

David Quinn: An object is only important if someone thinks it is important. It gains this importance when he invests a lot of time, emotion and thought to it. When he sacrifices things of lesser importance for its sake.


From: David Quinn
Subject: Re: What is genius?
Sat, 14 Jun 1997

David Quinn: Well, I define Ultimate Reality as whatever the mind sees when it has eliminated all its illusions. What is an illusion? A belief in something which doesn't ultimately exist.

Victor Gunasekara: The problem with your definition of illusion (which is required for your UR definition) is that people may not be sure whether the thing considered exists or not. Take for instance belief in UFOs. You say that this is an illusion if UFOs do not exist, and not an illusion if they exist. But how are we to determine whether UFOs exist.

David Quinn: Well, Victor, we've plunged straight back into the realm where you and I last drew swords - the question of logical knowledge vs empirical knowledge.

I personally cannot say whether the belief in UFOs (I assume by UFOs you mean flying saucers and aliens) is an illusion or not because I have no concrete evidence either way. So until I have some strong evidence, I cannot be sure whether they exist or not. If some aliens appeared at a press conference with President Clinton, then I might accept that, yes, aliens do exist after all. But then again, I cannot be absolutely certain of this conclusion, for it could very well be a hoax of some kind. In the empirical realm, absolute certainty can never be attained.

However, in the philosophical realms we can establish with certainty whether something is an illusion, and we can do this by using logic to expose contradictions. For example, if we define 2 as 1+1, then the perception that 2+2=5 is an illusion, for it contradicts the original definition of 2.

This principle is the same in all philosophical analysis of Reality. Free-will, for example, is an illusion, for it cannot exist without being in contradiction. This is because there are ultimately only one of two ways in which anything at all can be created - either a thing is caused or it is uncaused, both of which are incompatible with the idea that the mind is the ultimate originator if its decisions. Since the very idea of free-will depends on the notion that the mind is the ultimate originator of its decisions, then free-will automatically becomes an impossibility.

Thus, there are some things which can be established with certainty.

Victor Gunasekara: Jesus had a belief that God exists. Since you have included him in your list of geniuses are we correct in deducing that in your opionion this belief of Jesus was not an illusion and that you yourself holds that God exists?

David Quinn: If the word 'God' is used to refer to Ultimate Reality, then yes. Certainly, this was the God that Jesus worshipped.


The issue of the possibility of attaining certainty in matters - and of the overall logic surounding that possibility - is of such importance to the thinker that it is an issue that cannot be overdone. That is it such a dominant part of the prevailing modern intellectual ideology means it demands as much analysis as possible. The logic is simple yet easily missed. Even among those who agree that it is incoherent to claim that certainty is impossible, a very particular logical consequence of that goes whizzing over their heads: that at the very least we can be certain that particular claims are necessarily invalid. This immediately opens the door into the realm of certain knowledge and verifies that certainty is possible, and more than that, is real and actual..........

Dan Rowden: Let me make one thing, one logical point, as clear as I possibly can: it is impossible to coherently claim that we cannot understand the ultimate nature of Reality, as the only way that claim could be meaningful is if it contains the knowledge it denies. Therefore, it contradicts itself and becomes meaningless. That is, the claim has no import if it does not contain knowledge of Reality, which is knowledge it purports to deny us.

Gary: I agree with this. And I think it is also the case that, though one cannot claim that "knowledge of the ultimate nature of reality" is impossible, it does not follow that such knowledge is possible; nor that such knowledge is impossible. It says nothing about it either way. It says nothing about anything because it is, as Dan points out, simply incoherent, meaningless.

Rhett: We seem to have achieved consensus on this issue.

Gary: Well, you know, it is common among us philosophical types to say things like "interested in the nature of reality". But, I have come to think these statements are simply meaningless -- without content.

"It is possible to understand the nature of reality" is just as incoherent as "It is not possible to understand the nature of reality".
For the first statement to be true, it would have to already be true -- there is no criteria for proof or falsification. If the latter statement were true, it would be it's own counter-example (as Dan pointed out).

Dan Rowden: I don't agree with the extra step(s) you've taken here. The reason that the claim that we cannot know what is ultimately true is inevitably incoherent and meaningless is because it cannot be true; that is, it cannot be asserted without contradicting itself. You may find this of interest, on this point, if you haven't seen it already:

However, this is not so of the claim that we can know what is ultimately true, since, even if the content of particular claims are false, it does not follow that the content of all claims are necessarily false; that is, it is possible for the content of a given claim to be true. The claim that such knowledge is possible does not automatically contradict itself like that of its opposite assertion.

Since it is possible for the content of a particular claim to be true, the more general claim - that knowledge of what is ultimately true is possible - is coherent and meaningful. I'm happy enough with the logic that states that: if the existence of a possibility cannot be coherently doubted, then that possibility exists.

Russell: Hello everyone!

Me: Russ, 30, interested in developing a greater understanding of 'myself' and the nature of existence. Fundamentally believe that the only possible truth is 'we cannot be sure of anything'. Unfortunately this means that whatever conclusions I reach will be fundamentally flawed because they could be the deranged rantings of a lunatic, AI programming from a greater being, etc etc.

I cannot prove it either way - everything we say in this forum is speculation.....(which is no bad thing if the conclusions we all reach give us a sense of peace).

Dan Rowden: That would include the view that we cannot be sure about anything, wouldn't it? Can you see why I would see that point of view as self-defeating and/or not to be taken seriously? If it could be wrong I'm not especially interested in it; if it is right, then it contradicts itself because it claims a significant piece of certain knowledge (and is really underpinned by a whole host of undisclosed notions which are held to be right). Basically, it's a claim that can't possibly be right. At the very least it must carry the qualification: there's only one thing we can sure of and that's that we can't.......................etc.

Russell: Why must it carry qualification? Why can't it read 'We can't be sure that we can't be sure.'?

Dan Rowden: Because the word "can't" denotes surety.

The trouble is, that, as I suggested, it [the philosophy of uncertainty] is still underpinned by notions of reality and consciousness that are held to be correct but are just ignored. Do you see what I mean? When you ask someone who holds this view why they hold it, they immediately go into a spiel about how they think reality is, but duly ignore the fact that these propositions - held to be valid - contradict the final conclusion. So, in the end, even if the person states that said propositions are themselves, not certain, it still becomes absurd because the conclusion can never be true, because any time that it's asserted to be true (certain) it contradicts itself. That which cannot be true is necessarily false. It's the fatal flaw of post-modern thinking.

Russell: To be honest 'no' I'm not sure what you are getting at. Can you expand on the notions of reality and consciousness that are ignored?

Dan Rowden: I don't really have to. They can be almost anything - anything that ends with the conclusion that we cannot be certain of anything. It's that conclusion that matters and the fact that it has been reached - somehow. I mean, if it's just an idea that one has plucked out of one's backside then there's no reason to take notice of it (other than maybe to avoid it). If, however, it has been reached on the basis of certain premises, then those premises are either true or not. If one does not hold to them as true, then any conclusion reached on the basis of them is of no interest to me at all. How could it be? It's like someone saying to you: "I want you to seriously consider my conclusion even thought I have no ideas if the premises underlying it are valid or not." It's like building a house on sand and asking someone to come and stay the night. I mean, sorry, but I've got better things to do.

Since the conclusion - however it is reached - that everything is uncertain cannot be true as it necessarily contradicts itself, I have no interest in it. Usually, however, this idea is not based in firm reasoning but in a sort of general and nebulous sense of doubt. People think that if an idea can be doubted then it is immediately undermined, but this is very wrong-headed. Whilst doubt and skepticism are exceedingly important tools for the thinker and are great intellectual virtues, they are not valid in and of themselves and they can sometimes take on the character of irrational dogma. Doubt can be just as irrational and baseless as knowing or believing.

In short, one either has reasons for this conclusion that all is uncertain or one doesn't. If one doesn't, then it is necessary irrational; if one does and the reasons are valid, the validity of said reasons automatically invalidates the conclusion that is said to be reached by them, in that they will necessarily constitute genuine knowledge.

Russell: 'Thought' is a process which neither science nor philosophy can prove an understanding. There are theories of Dualism etc but there are a lot of conflicting ideas. As none can be 'proved' to be correct (and even then to be 'proved' to a human involves thought) you have to conceed that ultimately we simply cannot say we 'know' anything.......we simply 'think' we know.

Matt Gregory: I think, that to start thinking, we have to start with something basic. Like... Are you having experiences? Can you know either way if you are or not?

Russell: I don't know at what point we start to think and the experiences I think I am having I have no way of knowing if they are real or not (at the moment). And what does 'real' mean? Real to me - sure. 'Real' in the context of absolute reality i.e. am I currently a brain in a jar being interrogated by your good self via some electrodes in the brain? If this was the case then the experiences would not be 'real' to you and the external world.

I think the real point I am trying to make, is to me a fool in the desert would prod the ground, feel substance and start to build his house. 15 years later after a lifetime of work the house is complete. The house is the most elaborate and decorative thing you can imagine - admired by all. As soon as the rain comes the sand loses cohesion and the house collapses. Building on a foundation that you falsly believe to be solid is plain stupid.

I see a lot of people with nice houses. I hope it never rains. I am trying to examine the core of the problem which in this case means - 'Are the foundations of my thinking solid?'. I have come to the conclusion that they are not due to the uncertainty of 'everything'. That doesn't mean I can't build on just means I am more capable of building a house that can withstand heavy rain.

Gary: The statement "Certainty is impossible" is absurd. But the statement "I don't know whether certainty is possible" is not. The first statement is a kind of trap. The second is a kind of liberation.

Dan Rowden: That's fair enough. Saying "I don't know" in any context is really just an expression of simply honesty. But then again I don't think that it takes all that much thought to show that certainty is possible. That things are and perception is happening is something certain.

Gary: Depends how you define certainty. To take a couple of possibilities:

1. If you define "certainty" as "it's impossible to be mistaken about it" -- this is logically insupportable.

2. If you define "certainty" as "a feeling of absolute sureness" -- this is just an emotion.

Dan Rowden: I certainly don't mean the latter. By "certain" I mean a notion that cannot be coherently doubted. That is, where said doubt requires the notion that is being doubted, as in the idea that perception is happening (doubt being an act of perception).

It's like questioning the brute fact of awareness. It cannot be done, therefore the fact of awareness is certain. A=A is a similar case in point.


All images in this publication are taken/adapted from "The Devil's Gallery"

Editors: David Quinn and Dan Rowden

Disclaimer: editorial opinions expressed in this publication are those of its authors and do not, necessarily, reflect the views of subscribers to Genius-L or Genius Forum.  Dialogues adapted from Genius-L and Genius Forum have been edited for the purpose of  brevity and clarity.  Certain spelling mistakes and typographical errors have been corrected to preserve meaning.



Back Issues:

Index Issue 1 Issue 2 Issue 3 Issue 4 Sex and the Sage Issue 5 Issue 6 Issue 7 Issue 8 Issue 9 Issue 10 Issue 11

Issue 12 Issue13 Issue 14 Issue 15 Issue 16 Issue 17 Issue 18 Issue 19 Issue 20 Issue 21 Issue 23 Issue 24

Copyright © 2000 - 2007 David Quinn & Dan Rowden