real but unimportant? 

#1
Before the forum went down, I suggested that psi phenomena and the afterlife could be real but not actually very important in terms of ethics and the meaning of life. Somebody challenged me by saying that the fact that I and so many other people spend so much time talking about these things just shows that they must be important for ethics and the meaning of life. This was an interesting point, but I think it's wrong.

One reason why we care so much about these things right now could be that they are sexy, dangerous and taboo. Once they become mainstream science, it may be that we'll come to see that they don't actually make any difference to us ethically. The fact that something is exciting to me right now doesn't necessarily mean that it has any deep meaning or significance in the great scheme of things.

Another point is that there could just be cultural reasons why we think that, say, the afterlife is very important to us for meaning and ethics, even though when you think about it philosophically there doesn't seem to be any such connection. This is basically what Nagel was getting at in his famous essay 'The Absurd'.

I think we should remain open to the possibility that psi and the afterlife are real but at the same time either not relevant to ethics and the meaning of life or even negative. Too many people just assume that they have to be positive.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#2
Since AFAICTell no one* can successfully explain morality without resorting to some kind moral realism in practice or find their way out of the is/ought problem I'd say we're pretty screwed if we rely on people like Harris to figure out naturalist ethics.

*By "no one" I also mean people who appeal to Platonic Morality.
 
#3
Since AFAICTell no one* can successfully explain morality without resorting to some kind moral realism in practice or find their way out of the is/ought problem I'd say we're pretty screwed if we rely on people like Harris to figure out naturalist ethics.

*By "no one" I also mean people who appeal to Platonic Morality.
Yeah, moral realism may be correct, but what has that got to do with God, the afterlife or psi phenomena?
 
#4
I'll just add that I find it very suspicious that so many believers in psi and the afterlife seem to think that these things are extremely important, and quite a few even think that the existence of these things, or belief in them, can help to bring about a utopian world without war and greed. It's funny that we never seem to hear people saying, "Yeah, the universe is a really weird place, and psi phenomena and the afterlife are real, but none of this will help us to make the world a better place."
 
#5
I'll just add that I find it very suspicious that so many believers in psi and the afterlife seem to think that these things are extremely important, and quite a few even think that the existence of these things, or belief in them, can help to bring about a utopian world without war and greed. It's funny that we never seem to hear people saying, "Yeah, the universe is a really weird place, and psi phenomena and the afterlife are real, but none of this will help us to make the world a better place."
There's been a widespread belief in an afterlife since religion was invented (and probably for a long while before). Whether it has made the world a better place or not is a good question.

I consider the question of whether we survive physical death to be important and interesting but recognise that many others don't.
 
#6
There's been a widespread belief in an afterlife since religion was invented (and probably for a long while before). Whether it has made the world a better place or not is a good question.
An interesting question is "how were religions invented?". Some such as the Cult of Osiris may have been based upon something like induced near-death experience as part of an initiation rite. There was secrecy around such ceremonies, but were supposed to be a way for the initiate to grasp some wisdom. What use was this? I don't think the aim was to focus solely upon the afterlife, but rather to use what was learned to guide how this earthly life was lived. The link between religion and the state is a very long one, and at least in its most well-intentioned form, this was supposed to encourage wise actions by the ruling classes, that is, a very physical, here-and-now significance affecting many lives.

In my opinion, the greatest problem with such religions systems is the secrecy surrounding the innermost knowledge, carefully guarded and maintained by a priestly hierarchy. What is needed is closer to what we have now, at least the beginnings of it, a situation where near-death experiences are widely distributed among the population, without regard for any controlling hierarchy. Just as society has moved away from rule by a single king or emperor, towards a more distributed system of individual politicians (though not without its failings) religion and associated wisdom too needs to break free of controlling structures in favour of enlightened individuals.
 
#7
Obiwan, I think you have to distinguish between something seeming important to you right now and something being genuinely important. I am afraid of death and I really hope that consciousness continues after the death of the body, but it could be argued that I'm just being immature and need to grow up. Indeed, that's what a lot secular humanists would say. The question is, am I right to want an afterlife?

Many of us want there to be an afterlife, but that doesn't mean that an afterlife will actually give us all the things we think it will. For example, it could be that we'll be just as confused in the afterlife as we are now about why the universe exists, why there's so much suffering in the world and why we exist. After all, it's not as if people who've had NDEs have received incredible philosophical or theological wisdom that nobody had thought of before. Vague statements like 'we're all connected' or 'love everyone' aren't really of much use.
 
#8
Another example of the utopianism that seems to be driving some believers is the way they look back to a golden age of small-scale tribal societies where people were much more telepathic than we are now and therefore much happier and much more ethical.

For all we know, it could be that being more telepathic is actually a bad thing in many ways, and that we're actually better off as we are now. But oh no, the assumption is always that greater telepathic abilities means more happiness, harmony and love.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#9
An interesting question is "how were religions invented?". Some such as the Cult of Osiris may have been based upon something like induced near-death experience as part of an initiation rite. There was secrecy around such ceremonies, but were supposed to be a way for the initiate to grasp some wisdom. What use was this? I don't think the aim was to focus solely upon the afterlife, but rather to use what was learned to guide how this earthly life was lived.
Yup:

"For it appears to me that among the many exceptional and divine things your Athens has produced and contributed to human life, nothing is better than [the Eleusinian] mysteries. For by means of them we have been transformed from a rough and savage way of life to the state of humanity, and have been civilized. Just as they are called initiations, so in actual fact we have learned from them the fundamentals of life, and have grasped the basis not only for living with joy but also dying with a better hope."

-On The Laws, Marcus Tullius Cicero
 
#10
T
Obiwan, I think you have to distinguish between something seeming important to you right now and something being genuinely important. I am afraid of death and I really hope that consciousness continues after the death of the body, but it could be argued that I'm just being immature and need to grow up. Indeed, that's what a lot secular humanists would say. The question is, am I right to want an afterlife?

Many of us want there to be an afterlife, but that doesn't mean that an afterlife will actually give us all the things we think it will. For example, it could be that we'll be just as confused in the afterlife as we are now about why the universe exists, why there's so much suffering in the world and why we exist. After all, it's not as if people who've had NDEs have received incredible philosophical or theological wisdom that nobody had thought of before. Vague statements like 'we're all connected' or 'love everyone' aren't really of much use.
I'm not sure your wanting an afterlife is either right or wrong. The question 'is there an afterlife' seems perfectly valid in its own right as far as I can see. As to the implications if there is or isn't one - well that seems up for debate.

I don't follow the distinction you make between what is important to me and what is 'genuinely important'. If it's important to me then it's genuinely important, if not to humanity in general. Given that most of the world is theistic in one way or another, and most religions posit an afterlife of some sort, I can't see how the question isn't both genuinely and generally important.

On the one hand I agree that the messages brought back by those who have experienced an NDE may sound like apple-pie and motherhood but it doesn't mean they are wrong.
 
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#11
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I'm not sure your wanting an afterlife is either right or wrong. The question 'is there an afterlife' seems perfectly valid in its own right as far as I can see. As to the implications if there is or isn't one - well that seems up for debate.

I don't follow the distinction you make between what is important to me and what is 'genuinely important'. If it's important to me then it's genuinely important, if not to humanity in general. Given that most of the world is theistic in one way or another, and most religions posit an afterlife of some sort, I can't see how the question isn't both genuinely and generally important.

On the one hand I agree that the messages brought back by those who have experienced an NDE may sound like apple-pie and motherhood but it doesn't mean they are wrong.
Can you really not see the distinction? On your subjectivst view, if I really feel that war is noble and glorious, then it is! But surely we can be wrong about what's really important or valuable. Ten years ago there were lots of things I felt to be right or true which I now see were not.

I'm not saying that 'love everybody' is wrong. I'm saying that it's pretty much meaningless unless we have a world-view and values to fill in the details. For example, think about issues like animals rights, environmentalism and the gap between rich and poor in the world. How does it help just to say 'love everybody'? What do I do with that?   
 
#12
Psi can be connected to the ethics if the simplest thoughts can have effects on others, so we have to put more emphasis on mental hygiene. An afterlife may be related to ethics in the case that we must realize that death is not the end can help to not being selfish or not follow the philosophy of every man for himself.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#13
Can you really not see the distinction? On your subjectivst view, if I really feel that war is noble and glorious, then it is! But surely we can be wrong about what's really important or valuable. Ten years ago there were lots of things I felt to be right or true which I now see were not.

I'm not saying that 'love everybody' is wrong. I'm saying that it's pretty much meaningless unless we have a world-view and values to fill in the details. For example, think about issues like animals rights, environmentalism and the gap between rich and poor in the world. How does it help just to say 'love everybody'? What do I do with that?   
I think the transcendent experience offers a powerful motivator for being involved with other living beings. We can extrapolate from a Christian base when considering this, and assume for the sake of argument the "All Now Is Love" stuff what awaits people ->

From a general, not specifically Christian perspective, why would faith be enough for salvation, rather than a contest of good works? Well if take "faith" as trust in humanity's potential/capacity for love, we can see that putting effort is what counts given the diversity of circumstances. Focusing on "faith in Love" also removes the unhealthy competition/aggression structures and social selection that comes from cultural conditioning and genetic wiring of the "ape" inside of us pulling down the "angel".

So yes, there's no definitive action plan, but there is a new understanding of one's connection to living beings and the importance of compassion for the suffering occurring around the world. I think Positive Gnosticism, while admittedly one "reality tunnel" with flaws, makes the most sense of this - we are God descended into matter, and we need to take this world seriously because it's a place to learn. Not to mention suffering is real no matter what paradigm you adopt.
 
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