Sunday, 27 March 2011

Weird is weird

The world is a weird place, but then it's hard to say in what way, for it's not obvious what we're supposed to compare it with.


  1. This THE observation isn't it.

    Without any comparable we know that our behaviour is often weird and immoral.

  2. Amoral.
    In this case.
    What is a moral?

  3. To be amoral would be without moral sense, an incapacity for dealing with circumstances that require moral judgement. Severe mental illness may render one as such.

    "Natural disasters" could be said to be amoral; however if one believes they are under the direct control of God, then they would fall within the sphere of moral action. This latter contention would require us to accept an a priori claim that God is "all powerful"; however these is no easy way to spell out what exactly that means. On the strongest reading it would entail absolute control over everything - the problem with this is it seems we can find things that neither we nor God could have the power to change (for e.g. the existence of numbers and their relational properties). The weaker reading is that there are certain things that not even God could change about the universe; so we should read for "all" only things that could be changed - could God erase his very existence? If one concedes to the weaker claim, we are forced to admit that any direct understanding of God's actions would depending knowing the full extent of His capacities, which we don't; therefore cannot rightful attribute natural disasters the "will of God".

    "Without any comparable" ... now one may be tempted to say there a comparable, viz. God or, indeed, one may suppose that moral judgements are platonic forms, i.e. exist independently in another realm beyond space and time. The problem with either response is that we have no independent means of assessing whether we had the correct interpretation.

    So what options are we left with? Well, we take ownership of our own moral governance. Indeed, this view is not incompatible with the idea that God gave us freewill: to take care of own own moral passage, together with the responsibility it brings towards others. However. it would also entail that believing in God is neither necessary nor sufficient for being morally good. Indeed if "believing" were a condition for entering heaven, then not all the good people would get in - which begs the question, would God be immoral for barring non-believers?

    So, if we cannot properly compare ourselves to some external guide, how are we to determine the right and the wrong path? Well, we can look to ourselves and each other - we can compare and, more importantly, we can imagine how we ought to act; what would be the right course of action? This need not be entirely relativistic, for moral disputes are only possible if there are ground upon which you can agree and agree to disagree. And one need not dispense with the notion of moral perfection, as here it would could be understood as the attempt to do the "best you can", given the circumstances. While murder may aways be wrong, it can sometimes be justified: there was no other way round it; it was least immoral thing you could do and to not have acted may have precipitated an even lager moral outrage.

  4. The real inspiration for this post was one of my mental ruts when I was asking myself: is weird weird, or just normal, but then how can what's weird be normal? Unless it's normally weird?

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

    Hunter S Thompson

  5. Weird is only relative to the individual's template for 'normal', morality is relative to his cultural indoctrination.

  6. There's a passage in Alice in Wonderland that goes like this:

    "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

    But, of course, if meaning were just a matter of "intended meaning" it is unclear how communication would be possible, for we would all have our own idiosyncratic or "private" meaning for a word and, consequently, could never be sure we were using it in the same way.

    Now "weird" is dictionary defined as: "involving or suggesting the supernatural; unearthly or uncanny." "Supernatural" implies "above" or "beyond" natural explanation, i.e. our current understanding of the laws thereof. So we could all, in principle, agree on something being "weird" if we can find no "natural" explanation for it. Though, the thing in question may turn out to have a perfectly natural explanation; however, this may only be discovered later as our knowledge of the natural world expands - Arthur C Clarke's Third Law suggests: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

    In this day of advanced civilization and physics, you'd have thought that "weirdness" would have diminished; not increased. But I think there's a good case for saying that the latter; not the former, situation currently obtains. I will take one example, though I believe there are many: quantum entanglement or, as Einstein famously ridiculed it, "spooky action at a distance".

    The "weirdness" or "spooky" thing about this phenomenon is that it appears to contradict one of the centrally defined historically characteristics we associate with matter, i.e. that one discrete piece of matter can only affect another if there is physically contact. Whereas, the quantum entanglement experiments seems to show that "physical" connection is not necessary for a causal influence to manifest, which is weird (or "spooky"), because the experimental evidence both supports two apparently mutually exclusive hypothesis: (i) matter is merely composed of discrete physical entities and (ii) matter is just one continuous substance that only appears to be instantiated as discrete particulates.

    Regarding morality as "relative" to "cultural indoctrination" - I go along with this to a certain extent, it is no doubt true that cultural influences are very strong; however, I think relativism tends to collapse into itself. Relativism implies a relationship between two things or more. It you cannot, with any certainty, individuate which two or more things are related to each other and in what way, then you are in danger of becoming unstuck. For example, take the statement: "morality is relative to culture" but which cultures? Isn't culture relative too? My point is, I agree that some things are only understood as being related to other things, but if there are no fixed terms of reference - points of agreement - then there is no opportunity for disagreement; dispute.

    So I would agree that morality is not as "static" with respect to understanding as is physics, nonetheless, it is not entirely free-form: we can dispute others' moral codes, we can highlight discrepancies and we can say something about how others "choose" to live, because they - and may be me - haven't thought everything through.

    Always good to hear from you "Pisces Iscariot" always reminds me of the Smashing Pumpkins album of "B" sides, "Album", now that dates me.

  7. If it dates you then you should know that the Pumpkins were around when I was in my thirties.
    To personalise relative wierdness: The society that I grew up in considered me 'weird' because I wore earrings and dressed like a new waver in the '80's.
    To personalise relative morality: The society that I grew up in, being in the hands of the occupier, considered itself morally superior to the indiginous majority.
    (for further insight read the BIO part on The Far Queue.
    I get what you are saying about relativity needing a fixed point about which to swivel but it should be remembered that when contemplating the universe, the big bang is the fixed point, all else is relative.

  8. The thing that worries me most, is that, lately, any act of rebellion is so readily co-opted by the corporate fashionistas, that we have arrived at some kind of conceptual communism; not in any material sense, but that rather you are no longer allowed to own your own being.

  9. By-way-of-explanation: re earlier discussions - I don't think I made it clear: I'm not a theist; however, I would not describe myself as "atheist", This, perhaps, is merely a linguistic preference on my part, for I see no point in being against a belief that is not rationally available: I can't believe in God because I can't identify such a thing as not to believe in. How can you be against something that has no identity? I don't even accept the epitaph "agnostic" as it implies one "does not know" where I question: what is there to know to be in doubt about? Having said that, I think it's worth trying to assume a "God's eye view of the world", even though it's ultimately unachievable. In my book, it is no more than the attempt to see, given what we've got, how we could make things better.

    And may be this is a long way round of saying, "I think I agree with you."

  10. The system has learned to eat all opposition and call it 'healthy' that is how it survives.
    wrt atheism: your logic contains a double negative (seeing no point in not believing in something because its not rational) ouch.
    Atheism is not a belief, it is an individual understanding of the most likely reality. Death is death, life is its own reward.
    If we begin with the biggest irrational belief, ie that their is some supreme being who oversees this disaster we call earth, then we must logically believe in ghosts and magic too.

  11. Apologies if this appears argumentative, I'm just rattling my gums :D

  12. My parents were not particularly religious, but I'd say they gave it the benefit of the doubt. My early schooling, on the other hand, rested in the hands of "true believers". In some ways I think that accelerated the contrarian in me. I understand your double negative comment, but it doesn't stick, for you cannot be against something that is unintelligible. How can you disagree over something whose existence cannot be identified? I think atheism is a concession, in the sense that it admits that there is something agreed we can argue about. Ask a believer to describe their God and, nine times out of ten, they have no idea, such is the paucity of their faith - and faith relies on reason, not blind observance. Atheism is the belief that God does not exist,but why take a position where none is to be had? My opposition to the God Squad is not based on a dispute regarding the being or not being of God, rather responsibility; that we should take it and not dump it on a hypothetical. I don't think I'm disagreeing with you on anything substantial, it's just I'm fussy when it comes to the paint on the banner.

  13. Here's to a world of contrarians.

  14. Specific moral systems and how they differ aren't really the issue are they?

    Even though I think you would be hard pressed to find a culture where it is acceptable to wear a checked shirt with seersucker pants.

    The issue is the concept of least for me.

  15. "Specific moral systems and how they differ aren't really the issue are they?"

    Couldn't have put it better myself.