Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's Actually a Lifestyle

Critics think they are beating up on atheism by calling it a religion, a worldview, or an ideology. Sure. I agree it can hold some properties of any of these things.

For me, the logic that has led to atheism also leads to the maxim that our lives and our lifestyles are up to us -- within legal and moral boundaries, of course. Our health, fitness, and well-being do not come by the grace of God but by our own daily behavior. They come by our own efforts.

Surely, sometimes our efforts are not good enough at a particular moment. Surprises, chance occurrences, and mistakes crop up and force us to adjust our behavior temporarily or permanently.

We are in charge of our lives, if not always (or ever!) in control. The religious like to say that God is in control or the universe is in control. I disagree with this, but the practical result is the same: each of us lives by choice and subject to chance.

I'm back to lifting as well as running, although I have been running with my 7-year-old daughter, so we tend to do more jogging than actual running. But don't get me wrong: I'll take jogging with my daughter every time over running by myself. When she and I are out on the road together, I tell her that this is the only today we get, so we might as well push ourselves to do better than ever. And then we run hard to the finish.

Adam Savage, of Mythbusters fame, captures this same idea eloquently in a talk he gave to the Harvard Humanist Society:
Here are a few things I've learned.

Prayer doesn't work because someone out there is listening, it works because someone in here is listening. I've paid attention. I've pictured what I want to happen in my life. I've meditated extensively on my family, my future, my past actions and what did and didn't work for me about them. I've looked hard at problems and thought hard about their solutions.

See, I order my life by the same mechanism that I use to build things. I cannot proceed to move tools around in the real world until my brain has a clear picture in it of what I'm building. The same goes for my life. I've tried to pay attention. I've tried to picture the way I want things to be, and I've noticed that when I had a clear picture, things often turned out the way I wanted them to.

I've concluded by this that someone is paying attention—I've concluded that it's me. I've noticed that if I'm paying attention to those around me, to myself, to my surroundings, then that is the very definition of empathy. I've noticed that when I pay attention, I'm less selfish, I'm happier—and that the inverse holds true as well.

I think one of the defining moments of adulthood is the realization that nobody's going to take care of you. That you have to do the heavy lifting while you're here. And when you don't, well, you suffer the consequences. At least I have. (And in the empirical study I'm performing about interacting with the universe, I am unfortunately the only test subject I have complete access to, so my data is, as they say, self-selected.) While nobody's going to take care of us, it's incumbent upon us to take care of those around us. That's community.
Yes, life is cool. Living is cooler. Run hard while we can...but better to stay together.


  1. "each of us lives by choice and subject to chance."

    By choice? Are you choosing? Freely choosing? Or are you determined by physical laws? Are you choosing or you imagine are choosing?

  2. And your point is....


  3. According to you, your lifestyle is not a choice is what you are determined to be.

  4. Really? According to me?

  5. Of course. Or you have a reality base for freedom?

  6. I love your snide questions.

    Look, are you trying to ask me about free will?

    From what I have read, I'm willing to accept the idea that free will is an illusion.

    We still live most of our lives as if we did have free will.

    Now, if you have a fucking point to make, just make it.

  7. My point is that you have a reasoning problem:

    "We are in charge of our lives"

    "We still live most of our lives as if we did have free will"

    Don´t you?

  8. No, you have a reasoning problem.

    Statement 1: "We are in charge of our lives"
    Statement 2: "We still live most of our lives as if we did have free will"

    These two statements say basically the same thing, that free will may be an illusion but it is a workable enough concept for everyday use.

    Have a look at this article, which gives a good argument as to why free will is a fiction: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/02/04/0915161107.full.pdf+html

  9. I´m not debating if free will exist or not, but if I accept your view that it not exist, you are not in charge of your life, you are doing what you have todo without any choice.

  10. Even without free will, we are "in charge" of our lives.

    You'll remember that I distinguished "in charge" from "in control." What I mean by "in charge" is that we are each able to assume a kind of ownership over our own lives.

    We see the different behaviors and actions that we do and feel responsible for them. The actions we do are determined by our genes, our environment, and stochastic elements--including the way we feel about the actions we take.


  11. "Clearer?"
    No, according to you we have only the "illusion" of be in charge of our lives is only a "workable enough concept".
    If you are right, you are not in charge of your life, maybe the phisical laws will never allow you to understand.

  12. Why don't you like the idea of free will being an illusion?

    If it's true, what really changes?

  13. The differences is if free will is an illusion be charge of his own life is an illusion too.
    Qualify an act and he does it as good or bad is an illusion.
    Feel that somebody freely loves you is an illusion.

  14. Rambam12:45 PM

    Conflation of atheism and materialism alert!

    Atheists often take a materialist stance because atheists tend to favor parsimonious explanations of reality that fit with the evidence. It is difficult to square free-will with the universe that we observe. Likewise, the subjective experience of free-will is suspect because all subjective experience is suspect. Further, humans are quite predictable and this fact greatly undermines the supposition that free-will exists.

    Blas contends that this means our choices our illusory. I am fine with that. He seems to think that whether one accepts or rejects this fact makes a real difference in quality of life or position on the moral totem pole. It doesn't. We can no more accept the illusion than we can renounce it. Illusion implies a misrepresentation of reality. This is off because here, the illusion is the reality. We cannot reject it one way or the other. Anything we do feels like a choice.

    For many materialists, human experience is all we have. To suggest that human experience is somehow inferior to some imagined alternative is silly.

    I think these sort of debates really underscore the naiveté of the theistic viewpoint. The theist likes to make sweeping claims about what they do not understand. They imagine the atheist leads an empty life because if they suddenly had the same rigorous honesty, they would freak out. Atheists get comfortable with "I don't know" and they are therefore not bothered by the fact they can't come up with a tidy little story to indoctrinate their kids with about the matter of choosing between good and bad.

    Perhaps the materialist allows for our choices to be illusory (I think even materialists are unwilling to rule out an as yet undiscovered material basis for free-will). Adding additional theistic illusions and an illusion about the illusory nature of choice would not seem to help matters.


Feel free to comment if you have something substantial and substantiated to say.