Idle Contemplation about life, purpose and meaning

Hambydammit
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Idle Contemplation about life, purpose and meaning

 I watched several nature documentaries yesterday, since my whole city has been crippled by six inches of snow, and I had time on my hands.  (An inch of snow is rare here.)  One in particular struck me as thought provoking.  It was about killer whales and seals.   As many of my readers are probably aware, killer whales employ complex cooperative strategies to hunt seals.  This much was very interesting, and I could probably write a whole article on the evolution of cooperative strategies, but this is not what captured my thought processes.  Instead, I was intrigued and somewhat put off by what happens after the prey has been captured.  Rather than kill and eat the seal immediately, the whale drags the unfortunate (and still very much alive, and still screaming) seal into deep water where there is no escape.  For the next thirty minutes or so, or until the seal is finally dead, the whale plays with it.  She tosses it into the air, dives down and resurfaces just in time to bat the victim with her tail, sending it soaring, sometimes twenty or thirty feet into the air.  It really is rather horrifying to watch.

In the same series of shows, I watched as sea turtles laid their eggs on the shore by the thousands.  Before the eggs were hatched, land predators sniffed out many of the nests and pillaged them.  Once the turtles emerged, they began a trek to the sea in which only one in a hundred survived predation. 

I started thinking about this in terms of “purpose.”  If we are to say that life has a purpose, then the purpose of those baby seals’ existence is to die a gruesome death.  Killer whales need food, and they eat seals.  They eat seals after torturing them for a half an hour.  (Incidentally, my cat does the same things to chipmunks.)  Similarly, ninety-nine out of a hundred baby turtles has been born to die in the mouth of a bird or a fish.

There is a species of shark — the sleeper shark — that has been quite elusive to scientists, but has been filmed repeatedly in the last five to ten years.  In most cases, these sharks have parasites that look like worms attached to their eyes.  The parasites are literally burrowed into the eye of the shark, and live there until they or the shark dies.  I don’t know about you, but last time I got a fleck of dust in my eye, I was in pain that made me quite unhappy at the moment.  I don’t presume that a shark’s eye is identical to a human’s eye.  After all, salt water hurts our eyes horribly.  However, it is an eye, and it does have nerves, and we can only assume that these parasites cause the shark pain.

I recently had a brief discussion of the problem of evil, and it got me thinking about the nature of nature.  My friend pointed out — correctly, I might add — that the problem of evil is irrelevant in a discussion with theists.  If we can imagine a god who can do anything he wants, we can imagine a god who can justify the existence of evil.  (It doesn’t mean we have to believe in him, or justify his actions as good.  It just means we can imagine it.)  However, I’ve been thinking about the existence of suffering in nature, and have realized just how strongly it points to natural selection.

Consider that organisms are “gene survival machines.”  By this, I mean that genes are the self-replicating recipes for making organisms, and organisms are the mechanisms by which genes replicate.  Genes are math formulas, as information goes.  The organisms that reproduce do so because of math, and likewise for those that don’t.  There is no intent, and there is no guilt.  There is only what works.

Now, I want to get you to think outside of your own perceptions for a minute.  This might be a difficult exercise, but let’s try very hard to do it.  The result, I think, will be worth the effort.  Let’s begin by asking a simple question:

Why do we eat?

The answer is obvious, right?  We eat because eating keeps us alive.  But this is just the causal answer.  Eating is necessary for us to stay alive, and therefore, we eat.  But that doesn’t answer the bigger question.  Why are we designed so as to need to eat?  There is lots of energy in the universe, and if we let our mind run free, we can imagine lots of ways in which we could gain energy without having to eat.  We could simply absorb energy from the sun.  We could live off the thermal heat from the earth.  Perhaps it’s possible that we could somehow use motion, from the tides, or the motion of the planet to gain energy.  Of course, plants do use one of these methods.  They convert solar energy into real work in order to grow.  But… why do animals need to eat?

This question ought to be a real stinker if we believe in Intelligent Design.  Eating is the main cause of suffering in the animal kingdom.  A cheetah chases a gazelle and either catches it or not.  If not, the gazelle has expended lots of energy and needs to eat.  Perhaps it has hurt itself in the process, running over uneven ground.  The cheetah, if it does not catch the gazelle, suffers horribly from hunger pangs, and has to try again, only this time without as much energy.  Less energy means less chance of success, and more chance of injury, which is painful.  

The larvae of certain wasps are laid inside a living caterpillar host.  They literally eat their host from the inside out while it’s still alive.  Spiders inject their prey with chemicals that dissolve them from the inside out.  Sea stars extrude their digestive organs and literally engulf other creatures, eating them alive.  Even the bacteria that plague us and cause us no end of discomfort are “eating” in a sense.  The entire planet, it seems, has been built such that creatures can eat each other and cause each other pain.

It’s easy enough for a theist to slough off this argument.  After all, it’s just the natural order of things, and God made the earth for people, not for animals.  We are his prize.

(Is this starting to sound really hollow to you?  I hope so.)

We still haven’t really gotten around to why we have to eat.  For that matter, why do we have to reproduce?  It seems natural and logical that we reproduce, but why?  Reproduction, as you can easily see, leads to overpopulation.  We want all of our offspring to survive, but we can produce more offspring than the last generation by simple math.  There is no such thing as a creature that simply tries to reproduce itself without adding to the overall population.  Why?  Very simply, such a creature would inevitably die out, even if only by chance.  A population that reproduced one for one would succumb to accident, disease, predation, and natural disaster, and each time any member died, the population would be permanently reduced.  Eventually, the species would die.

The thing is, producing more new organisms than currently exist is a dead end as well.  Eventually, the food (why do we have to eat again??) would be exhausted, or there would be no more room.  Sure, we can observe that predators take care of this for most animals, but… why?

When we examine both eating and reproduction without thinking such platitudes as “it’s just the way things are” we can see that neither makes a whole lot of sense.  Eating leads to suffering.  Reproduction leads to overpopulation — and suffering.  Our very existence, by its nature, is built upon suffering.

Here’s where being intelligent can be a real bonus.  We can look at the nature of life and realize that there is no higher purpose in it.  The reason we eat is that the second law of thermodynamics is true.  We cannot continue to live without continual additions of energy.  When life began, it may very well have gotten its energy from the sun, or perhaps the earth’s thermal energy.  In any case, it did what it could with what it had.  Natural selection produces variation, though, and eventually, it stumbled upon a way to use energy that had already been converted — by eating.  Eating is more efficient than converting solar or thermal energy.  Once natural selection stumbled upon eating, the course was set.  We are a product of blind chance “discovering” how to use stored energy from another being.  We take from others so that we may live.

It’s not magic.  It’s not destiny.  It’s certainly not pretty or good.  We humans, fortunately, have the capacity to recognize our own place in the universe, and our own distinct lack of destiny.  We have the opportunity to choose less suffering over more, and (dare I say it) we have the capacity to choose not to reproduce.  For that matter, we have the capacity to choose to end our own lives, although I think that is a rather extreme “solution” to the “problem.”  I’ve been leading up to an article on speciesism, and I haven’t been able to write it yet.  I think this line of thought might be the final catalyst to get me going.

In short, life is what it is, but it is helpful sometimes for us to step outside of the obvious and look at the underlying structure.  Reproduction and eating seem like they are without question — we are here to reproduce, and we have to eat.  The thing is, we don’thave to do either if we don’t want to, and neither has been ordained or predestined, and neither is “good.”  They are, like everything else, good subject to their consequences.  Reproduction is good if the goal is to reproduce, but why do we want to reproduce?  Eating is more immediately good because it keeps us alive, but the very process of eating is suspect when it comes to “the greater good.”  How many animals suffered to give you your meal?

It is not my intention to suggest veganism.  I’m a meat eater.  The point that I’m making is that we often think of the world as being too clean cut — good and evil, destiny, purpose.  The fact of that matter is that we are apes.  I don’t mean we are like apes.  We are apes.  That is our taxonomic classification.  We’re very smart apes, and we’ve managed to do something none of the other apes has done — populate virtually every corner of the world.  But, I believe we have the intellectual and moral obligation to realize that we aren’t doing anything any differently than the other animals.  We’re producing more of ourselves next generation than last, and we’re using other resources — including other animals — for our own benefit despite the fact that our benefit necessarily involves suffering.  Do we have the moral obligation to regulate our own population?  We, alone among the animals, could conceivably achieve zero population growth — and even reduce the population, if need be — for we could react intelligently to our environment in the case of accident or natural disaster.  We, unlike any other animal, have the capacity to intelligently design our own destiny.

Isn’t it amazing that blind chance should have stumbled onto intelligence, and in the process, made us into the equivalent of the gods we create?  We have the capability to reduce suffering and create good in the universe.  I, for one, feel privileged to be a part of my species, but I feel ashamed when we do not recognize our own place in the universe, and our own power.

 

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Very interesting. I love

Very interesting. I love reading what you write Hamby.

loved the last paragraph..lol


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 I have often arrived at

 

I have often arrived at the discussion about how eating causes suffering through talking to a vegetarian friend of mine. One of her favorite arguments for her vegetarian diet is that she doesn't believe it's necessary to inflict suffering on other animals.

My initial, unsuccessful counter-argument to her perspective was that we are biologically "designed" to eat almost everything, including (perhaps even especially) meat. She defeated me by saying that, since we can eat everything, then there is no reason for us to eat meat when there is an alternative that causes less suffering. Maybe at one point we were FORCED to eat meat more often when food was more difficult to come by. This is no longer the case.

But the counter-argument I eventually arrivated at, and which worked, although it didn't change her opinion, is that the suffering of animals exists for the same reason eating exists. We eat because it keeps us alive. As a result, the body has developed positive reinforcement for eating and negative reinforcement for not eating. But also, not being eaten keeps us alive. More specifically, not allowing ourselves to be ripped to shreds keeps us alive. So our bodies have developed negative reinforcement to that end: namely, a central nervous system that can generate pain as a way of telling you to move your fucking ass.

Both the pleasure and the suffering that comes from any animal eating any other animal is a product of the fact that eating MUST ultimately be done in order for there to be life. Nature simply discovered before we did that, in a world where life requires eating other life, it's better to be the eater than the eaten. This is expressed in the pleasure/pain distribution in the act of eating. That being said, what does it really mean to observe that eating causes suffering?

So the real moral rule here is not abstaining from eating other animals entirely. Instead, it's that when it comes to meat, it would be very kind of you to only eat it when you're actually hungry. Respect the circle of life, bitches.

 

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 Heh.  I really don't want

 Heh.  I really don't want to get into a vegetarian/vegan/omnivore discussion because I really can't think of a way to construct a solid argument for any side.  However, you raise some good points.  Every once in a while, I get into an argument just for the sake of honing my arguing skills, and one of the topics I tackled recently was vegetarianism.  My interlocutor (also just practicing debate, so no blood was spilled in earnest) insisted that if we can reduce suffering by only eating plants, we should.  I countered by making note of the number of species that have been driven extinct to make room for farmland.

There was an awkward silence after that.

The thing is, there are very painless ways to kill animals.  If we want to reduce suffering, we can do so.  For many animals that humans consume, there is also the argument that if we do not eat them, something else will.  Which is worse -- to be dragged down and slowly clawed and choked to death by a pack of wild dogs or to be knocked immediately unconscious?

Of course, this raises the question of breeding animals just to be food.  In the wild, the cow population would be miniscule compared to our domestic population.  Is the net sum of the suffering caused to animals we caused to live specifically so that we could kill them worse than the net sum of them never living -- if we take into account that to replace the human nutrient value obtained from cows, we would have to use at least as much or more land, and would still necessarily reduce habitable ecologies for other wildlife?

But then, just because a fox does not know anything of agriculture, does that make the rabbit any less food, just because it doesn't live on a farm?

Perhaps the only thing humans can truly do to reduce suffering in the world is voluntarily choose not to reproduce.  There isn't much that can be done for this generation, but if there are less humans next generation, there will be less animals bred for food, and more space for wild animals... but then... are animals in the wild any better off?  Death of old age is almost nonexistent in the animal kingdom.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Hambydammit wrote: I

Hambydammit wrote:

 I watched several nature documentaries yesterday, since my whole city has been crippled by six inches of snow, and I had time on my hands.  (An inch of snow is rare here.)  One in particular struck me as thought provoking.  It was about killer whales and seals.   As many of my readers are probably aware, killer whales employ complex cooperative strategies to hunt seals.  This much was very interesting, and I could probably write a whole article on the evolution of cooperative strategies, but this is not what captured my thought processes.  Instead, I was intrigued and somewhat put off by what happens after the prey has been captured.  Rather than kill and eat the seal immediately, the whale drags the unfortunate (and still very much alive, and still screaming) seal into deep water where there is no escape.  For the next thirty minutes or so, or until the seal is finally dead, the whale plays with it.  She tosses it into the air, dives down and resurfaces just in time to bat the victim with her tail, sending it soaring, sometimes twenty or thirty feet into the air.  It really is rather horrifying to watch.

In the same series of shows, I watched as sea turtles laid their eggs on the shore by the thousands.  Before the eggs were hatched, land predators sniffed out many of the nests and pillaged them.  Once the turtles emerged, they began a trek to the sea in which only one in a hundred survived predation. 

I started thinking about this in terms of “purpose.”  If we are to say that life has a purpose, then the purpose of those baby seals’ existence is to die a gruesome death.  Killer whales need food, and they eat seals.  They eat seals after torturing them for a half an hour.  (Incidentally, my cat does the same things to chipmunks.)  Similarly, ninety-nine out of a hundred baby turtles has been born to die in the mouth of a bird or a fish.

There is a species of shark — the sleeper shark — that has been quite elusive to scientists, but has been filmed repeatedly in the last five to ten years.  In most cases, these sharks have parasites that look like worms attached to their eyes.  The parasites are literally burrowed into the eye of the shark, and live there until they or the shark dies.  I don’t know about you, but last time I got a fleck of dust in my eye, I was in pain that made me quite unhappy at the moment.  I don’t presume that a shark’s eye is identical to a human’s eye.  After all, salt water hurts our eyes horribly.  However, it is an eye, and it does have nerves, and we can only assume that these parasites cause the shark pain.

I recently had a brief discussion of the problem of evil, and it got me thinking about the nature of nature.  My friend pointed out — correctly, I might add — that the problem of evil is irrelevant in a discussion with theists.  If we can imagine a god who can do anything he wants, we can imagine a god who can justify the existence of evil.  (It doesn’t mean we have to believe in him, or justify his actions as good.  It just means we can imagine it.)  However, I’ve been thinking about the existence of suffering in nature, and have realized just how strongly it points to natural selection.

Consider that organisms are “gene survival machines.”  By this, I mean that genes are the self-replicating recipes for making organisms, and organisms are the mechanisms by which genes replicate.  Genes are math formulas, as information goes.  The organisms that reproduce do so because of math, and likewise for those that don’t.  There is no intent, and there is no guilt.  There is only what works.

Now, I want to get you to think outside of your own perceptions for a minute.  This might be a difficult exercise, but let’s try very hard to do it.  The result, I think, will be worth the effort.  Let’s begin by asking a simple question:

Why do we eat?

The answer is obvious, right?  We eat because eating keeps us alive.  But this is just the causal answer.  Eating is necessary for us to stay alive, and therefore, we eat.  But that doesn’t answer the bigger question.  Why are we designed so as to need to eat?  There is lots of energy in the universe, and if we let our mind run free, we can imagine lots of ways in which we could gain energy without having to eat.  We could simply absorb energy from the sun.  We could live off the thermal heat from the earth.  Perhaps it’s possible that we could somehow use motion, from the tides, or the motion of the planet to gain energy.  Of course, plants do use one of these methods.  They convert solar energy into real work in order to grow.  But… why do animals need to eat?

This question ought to be a real stinker if we believe in Intelligent Design.  Eating is the main cause of suffering in the animal kingdom.  A cheetah chases a gazelle and either catches it or not.  If not, the gazelle has expended lots of energy and needs to eat.  Perhaps it has hurt itself in the process, running over uneven ground.  The cheetah, if it does not catch the gazelle, suffers horribly from hunger pangs, and has to try again, only this time without as much energy.  Less energy means less chance of success, and more chance of injury, which is painful.  

The larvae of certain wasps are laid inside a living caterpillar host.  They literally eat their host from the inside out while it’s still alive.  Spiders inject their prey with chemicals that dissolve them from the inside out.  Sea stars extrude their digestive organs and literally engulf other creatures, eating them alive.  Even the bacteria that plague us and cause us no end of discomfort are “eating” in a sense.  The entire planet, it seems, has been built such that creatures can eat each other and cause each other pain.

It’s easy enough for a theist to slough off this argument.  After all, it’s just the natural order of things, and God made the earth for people, not for animals.  We are his prize.

(Is this starting to sound really hollow to you?  I hope so.)

We still haven’t really gotten around to why we have to eat.  For that matter, why do we have to reproduce?  It seems natural and logical that we reproduce, but why?  Reproduction, as you can easily see, leads to overpopulation.  We want all of our offspring to survive, but we can produce more offspring than the last generation by simple math.  There is no such thing as a creature that simply tries to reproduce itself without adding to the overall population.  Why?  Very simply, such a creature would inevitably die out, even if only by chance.  A population that reproduced one for one would succumb to accident, disease, predation, and natural disaster, and each time any member died, the population would be permanently reduced.  Eventually, the species would die.

The thing is, producing more new organisms than currently exist is a dead end as well.  Eventually, the food (why do we have to eat again??) would be exhausted, or there would be no more room.  Sure, we can observe that predators take care of this for most animals, but… why?

When we examine both eating and reproduction without thinking such platitudes as “it’s just the way things are” we can see that neither makes a whole lot of sense.  Eating leads to suffering.  Reproduction leads to overpopulation — and suffering.  Our very existence, by its nature, is built upon suffering.

Here’s where being intelligent can be a real bonus.  We can look at the nature of life and realize that there is no higher purpose in it.  The reason we eat is that the second law of thermodynamics is true.  We cannot continue to live without continual additions of energy.  When life began, it may very well have gotten its energy from the sun, or perhaps the earth’s thermal energy.  In any case, it did what it could with what it had.  Natural selection produces variation, though, and eventually, it stumbled upon a way to use energy that had already been converted — by eating.  Eating is more efficient than converting solar or thermal energy.  Once natural selection stumbled upon eating, the course was set.  We are a product of blind chance “discovering” how to use stored energy from another being.  We take from others so that we may live.

It’s not magic.  It’s not destiny.  It’s certainly not pretty or good.  We humans, fortunately, have the capacity to recognize our own place in the universe, and our own distinct lack of destiny.  We have the opportunity to choose less suffering over more, and (dare I say it) we have the capacity to choose not to reproduce.  For that matter, we have the capacity to choose to end our own lives, although I think that is a rather extreme “solution” to the “problem.”  I’ve been leading up to an article on speciesism, and I haven’t been able to write it yet.  I think this line of thought might be the final catalyst to get me going.

In short, life is what it is, but it is helpful sometimes for us to step outside of the obvious and look at the underlying structure.  Reproduction and eating seem like they are without question — we are here to reproduce, and we have to eat.  The thing is, we don’thave to do either if we don’t want to, and neither has been ordained or predestined, and neither is “good.”  They are, like everything else, good subject to their consequences.  Reproduction is good if the goal is to reproduce, but why do we want to reproduce?  Eating is more immediately good because it keeps us alive, but the very process of eating is suspect when it comes to “the greater good.”  How many animals suffered to give you your meal?

It is not my intention to suggest veganism.  I’m a meat eater.  The point that I’m making is that we often think of the world as being too clean cut — good and evil, destiny, purpose.  The fact of that matter is that we are apes.  I don’t mean we are like apes.  We are apes.  That is our taxonomic classification.  We’re very smart apes, and we’ve managed to do something none of the other apes has done — populate virtually every corner of the world.  But, I believe we have the intellectual and moral obligation to realize that we aren’t doing anything any differently than the other animals.  We’re producing more of ourselves next generation than last, and we’re using other resources — including other animals — for our own benefit despite the fact that our benefit necessarily involves suffering.  Do we have the moral obligation to regulate our own population?  We, alone among the animals, could conceivably achieve zero population growth — and even reduce the population, if need be — for we could react intelligently to our environment in the case of accident or natural disaster.  We, unlike any other animal, have the capacity to intelligently design our own destiny.

Isn’t it amazing that blind chance should have stumbled onto intelligence, and in the process, made us into the equivalent of the gods we create?  We have the capability to reduce suffering and create good in the universe.  I, for one, feel privileged to be a part of my species, but I feel ashamed when we do not recognize our own place in the universe, and our own power.

 

 

You just mirrored thoughts I've had for some time now. This was a great read. Laughing out loud

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The life exists for what it

The life exists for what it already does - creating, preserving, evolving and eventually destroying it's own form. It also exists to increase it's complexity and integration. It's a source of uncomparable creativity, which is necessary, because every ecosystem serves as a basis (let's say, food source) to some higher ecosystem. If we analyze what it does, then we should ask ourselves a question.
If plants lives on minerals, animals lives on plants, and humans lives on animals, what does grow on human species? If every "kingdom" of nature serves to support a supreme "kingdom", what the humans are supporting?
We clearly see, that every "kingdom" is shaped by needs of a superior "kingdom". For example, plants evolves to interact with bees more effectively, or animals gets domesticated by living under a human influence. There is some hierarchy of fitness, but this hierarchy is mutually interdependent. (for example, we can't remove the plants, otherwise both animals and humans would die)

Maybe it ends with humans, however I find it very unlikely. All humanity is yearning for a purpose, a sense of life. It's the most important question after the basic needs for survival are satisfied.

OK, I don't know if it's a tenable idea, in this moment I just hope that it's interesting.

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Luminon wrote:The life

Luminon wrote:

The life exists for what it already does - creating, preserving, evolving and eventually destroying it's own form. It also exists to increase it's complexity and integration.

I feel like this is saying that life itself has a purpose or reason for being. I'm not convinced that that's the case.

 

Quote:
It's a source of uncomparable creativity, which is necessary, because every ecosystem serves as a basis (let's say, food source) to some higher ecosystem. If we analyze what it does, then we should ask ourselves a question.
If plants lives on minerals, animals lives on plants, and humans lives on animals, what does grow on human species? If every "kingdom" of nature serves to support a supreme "kingdom", what the humans are supporting?
We clearly see, that every "kingdom" is shaped by needs of a superior "kingdom". For example, plants evolves to interact with bees more effectively, or animals gets domesticated by living under a human influence. There is some hierarchy of fitness, but this hierarchy is mutually interdependent. (for example, we can't remove the plants, otherwise both animals and humans would die)

This sounds suspiciously like the great chain of being. The trouble arises when you think of the relationship between all life-forms as ladder-shaped. You'd have to think of it as more of a web. Humans can still serve as prey for plenty of other creatures, but we've managed to outsmart the lot of them. Predators aside, we still support other forms of life. There are little mites that live in our mattresses and eat the dead skin we live there. We have friendly bacteria that live in our stomachs. We help other forms of life in a more indirect way. Take grass for example. How unbelievably successful grass has been in the grand scheme of things, simply due to the fact that we humans love to walk on it! You're welcome, grass. It's important to not oversimplify how interrelated life-forms are and how varied those relationships can be in the way they support/hinder each other.

Quote:

Maybe it ends with humans, however I find it very unlikely. All humanity is yearning for a purpose, a sense of life. It's the most important question after the basic needs for survival are satisfied.

I'm positive that humans are not the end of anything here. We're just another brick in the biological wall here. Of course we think we're special, though. After all, WE'RE US! Why wouldn't we?

I don't disagree that all people (probably) are looking for a sense of purpose in their life. Everyone wants to serve the tribe proper. Everyone wants the rest of the tribe to know who they are and that they are an indispensable member of the group.

But I would be hesitant to compare that feeling to our other feelings and especially to our biological drives.

Quote:


OK, I don't know if it's a tenable idea, in this moment I just hope that it's interesting.

It's always interesting to consider what one's purpose should be.

 

But I stress what I think is the proper form of the question: What should my purpose be?

As opposed to the traditional form: What IS my purpose?

=]

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Quote:Rather than kill and

Quote:
Rather than kill and eat the seal immediately, the whale drags the unfortunate (and still very much alive, and still screaming) seal into deep water where there is no escape.  For the next thirty minutes or so, or until the seal is finally dead, the whale plays with it.  She tosses it into the air, dives down and resurfaces just in time to bat the victim with her tail, sending it soaring, sometimes twenty or thirty feet into the air.  It really is rather horrifying to watch.

Without trying to derail the thread (the entire article was great), this tidbit alone easily deserves it's own full-blown article.

Did you know that marine biologists have not only observed Orca pods 'picking-up' hunting tips from one-another (that is, one pod essentially spying on another) like the infamous 'splashing the seal until it falls off of the ice floe' trick, but also 'discovering' fun things to do with their food (like the game of catching & tossing described in the article) - and also establishing taboos against them?

Did they feature the footage in the documentary you watched of the Orca cow essentially scolding her two calfs who started playing with a seal they caught (behavior they had apparently copied from some strangers they had been watching), slapping her tail in front of them and immediately ending the game by biting the seal in half (...ahem... perhaps not the best way to impart on one's children a healthy respect for screaming animals. But hey, she tried, right? Sticking out tongue ).

 

This is such a great example of why the theistic charge that morality can't possibly had evolved over time is such an open and shut case. We can watch it freakin' happening. No deity told the mother whale that she should stop her children because it was wrong for them to torture the seal; she just didn't want them mimicking the behavior of a competing pod, and immediately ending the seal's plight (albeit not in a manner particularly favorable to the seal) was a side effect.

Quote:
"Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence, and enjoy it to the full."

- Leon Trotsky, Last Will & Testament
February 27, 1940


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 Quote:Did they feature the

 

Quote:
Did they feature the footage in the documentary you watched of the Orca cow essentially scolding her two calfs who started playing with a seal they caught (behavior they had apparently copied from some strangers they had been watching), slapping her tail in front of them and immediately ending the game by biting the seal in half (...ahem... perhaps not the best way to impart on one's children a healthy respect for screaming animals. But hey, she tried, right? Sticking out tongue&nbspEye-wink.

No.  You must find this for me.  I must see it.

Quote:
Did you know that marine biologists have not only observed Orca pods 'picking-up' hunting tips from one-another (that is, one pod essentially spying on another) like the infamous 'splashing the seal until it falls off of the ice floe' trick, but also 'discovering' fun things to do with their food (like the game of catching & tossing described in the article) - and also establishing taboos against them?

I know that they learn from each other, but I did not know they had taboos.  Where'd you see that?  I'd love to read it or watch it, or whatever.

Quote:
 Without trying to derail the thread (the entire article was great), this tidbit alone easily deserves it's own full-blown article.

Oh, yes, it definitely deserves lots of attention.  I think dolphin research is equally, if not more important, to understanding ourselves than primate research.  It's nice that the primates are closely related to us, but our behavior is far different than a lot of them, and there are a lot of parallels between human society and dolphin society.

 

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This is not the clip I

This is not the clip I watched, though it does demonstrate a somewhat similar phenomena:

 

They shove the seal off of the floe, play with/examine it, and then put it back without eating or killing it.

 

The one I watched was on a DVD documentary... I really don't remember which one (I'm thinking it's the bonus disc that came with Planet Earth), but the amazing footage captured above shows essentially the same thing - sans the eviscerated seal and associated scolding. Sticking out tongue

Quote:
"Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence, and enjoy it to the full."

- Leon Trotsky, Last Will & Testament
February 27, 1940


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 KB, that is vicious cool.

 KB, that is vicious cool.  I've never seen them do that before.  Thanks so much.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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.

Hambydammit wrote:
In the same series of shows, I watched as sea turtles laid their eggs on the shore by the thousands.  Before the eggs were hatched, land predators sniffed out many of the nests and pillaged them.  Once the turtles emerged, they began a trek to the sea in which only one in a hundred survived predation.

You sure do get wordy.

Hambydammit wrote:
I started thinking about this in terms of “purpose.”

This is the fundamental mistake. Purpose is an abstract. It is a human thing based upon thinking and developing a purpose. Without thinking swatting a fly is normal human behavior but it is not a purposeful activity. NOT swatting a fly takes purposeful intent.

Hambydammit wrote:
If we are to say that life has a purpose, then the purpose of those baby seals’ existence is to die a gruesome death.  Killer whales need food, and they eat seals.  They eat seals after torturing them for a half an hour.  (Incidentally, my cat does the same things to chipmunks.)  Similarly, ninety-nine out of a hundred baby turtles has been born to die in the mouth of a bird or a fish.

And I have seen an average size dog toss a squirrel into the air at least 20 feet by a twist of the head. And the dog was still doing it after I lost interest and walked away. What we can ask is how many similar nature footage exists which is deemed too nasty for us gentle viewers. I cannot say this is not normal predator behavior just because the footage I have seen does not show this kind of thing. It sort of makes us stand out for our interest in a clean kill unless we are bullfighters.

Hambydammit wrote:
There is a species of shark — the sleeper shark — that has been quite elusive to scientists, but has been filmed repeatedly in the last five to ten years.  In most cases, these sharks have parasites that look like worms attached to their eyes.  The parasites are literally burrowed into the eye of the shark, and live there until they or the shark dies.  I don’t know about you, but last time I got a fleck of dust in my eye, I was in pain that made me quite unhappy at the moment.  I don’t presume that a shark’s eye is identical to a human’s eye.  After all, salt water hurts our eyes horribly.  However, it is an eye, and it does have nerves, and we can only assume that these parasites cause the shark pain.

May I ask if you are bothered by the human eyelash mite? It only lives on human eyelashes. If that is hard to answer, tell me how they are transmitted? Eyelash to eyelash contact? OK we rub our eyes and touch each other's hands as children but still the first thing you think about is 'strange things human females do.' But are they parasites or symbiotes? Do they eat things that will screw up our eyes? What would that shark be without them? 

...

Isn’t it amazing that blind chance should have stumbled onto intelligence, and in the process, made us into the equivalent of the gods we create?  We have the capability to reduce suffering and create good in the universe.  I, for one, feel privileged to be a part of my species, but I feel ashamed when we do not recognize our own place in the universe, and our own power.

The best explanation I have come across for intelligence is that the path to it is a sequence of so many odd events that it is a low probability event. Given all the other smart apes which lived over the last 10 million years or so the path is rare even if almost all the right equipment has evolved. Without getting involved in current arguments Neanderthal is gone and we have lots of ideas why but nothing generally accepted as to why they are gone.

As to this feeling you are talking about, too much acid rots the mind. Why do we have such experiences which are simply more common with drugs. First off, it is a feeling not a fact. Feeling you recognize a fact is not the same as the fact. The only place the feeling has ever converted to fact is when they relate to math and the sciences. Inspiration, insight, the feeling of awe and then it converts to something useful. Although one can read of and even listen to friends recounting individual experiences into human affairs in everyday matters it has never translated into real life beyond the individual.

For example, the insight into the structure of DNA came in a dream, at least as one popular story goes. Since then we can all understand DNA with enough effort. Insights like this are common in math and science, intellectual disciplines. When it comes to "our place in the universe" it never goes beyond the individual. We have no common language for this subject as we do for math and science. We cannot communicate it.

FWIW, back in the late 80s I achieved Zen enlightenment if that is measured by breaking out in hysterical laughter when thinking about why you were looking for it. It got embarrassing. The fact is that is cannot be told and I can go through all the Koans but all the are saying is it cannot be explained. It can only be discovered. At this point I exclude the Koan, What is the sound of one hand clapping? That is a spanking. The monks were kinky. In any event it does not put food on the table or take away hunger. And after you stop laughing you move on.

As an atheist you should appreciate the obvious. No matter how much or how little you learn, no matter how good or bad it makes you feel, when that heart stops beating it is all for naught. It is not worth even two naughts. The search and the feelings keep you from being bored between now and the grave.

Why the interest in finding something more than the Orca you are? It keeps you from being bored. It is something to occupy the quiet times when there is nothing to do even with 500 cable channels. Even when you have nothing better to do than see what nonsense I have posted. That shows how desperate you are.

Unless you believe is something extra-personal whatever you see is what you are. Enjoy looking at yourself. Self-absorption is something we are good at.

Jews stole the land. The owners want it back. That is all anyone needs to know about Israel. That is all there is to know about Israel.

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Archeopteryx wrote: I have

Archeopteryx wrote:

 

I have often arrived at the discussion about how eating causes suffering through talking to a vegetarian friend of mine. One of her favorite arguments for her vegetarian diet is that she doesn't believe it's necessary to inflict suffering on other animals.

My initial, unsuccessful counter-argument to her perspective was that we are biologically "designed" to eat almost everything, including (perhaps even especially) meat. She defeated me by saying that, since we can eat everything, then there is no reason for us to eat meat when there is an alternative that causes less suffering. Maybe at one point we were FORCED to eat meat more often when food was more difficult to come by. This is no longer the case.

But the counter-argument I eventually arrivated at, and which worked, although it didn't change her opinion, is that the suffering of animals exists for the same reason eating exists. We eat because it keeps us alive. As a result, the body has developed positive reinforcement for eating and negative reinforcement for not eating. But also, not being eaten keeps us alive. More specifically, not allowing ourselves to be ripped to shreds keeps us alive. So our bodies have developed negative reinforcement to that end: namely, a central nervous system that can generate pain as a way of telling you to move your fucking ass.

...

The simpler answer is, only eat predators. That makes us an instrument of divine justice. The easiest way to eat predators is to order any dish which includes rabbit.

 

Jews stole the land. The owners want it back. That is all anyone needs to know about Israel. That is all there is to know about Israel.

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Archeopteryx wrote:I feel

Archeopteryx wrote:
I feel like this is saying that life itself has a purpose or reason for being. I'm not convinced that that's the case.
This question can be brought back to the question "why the universe exists" which nobody can answer. I think the way to some kind of answer is in observation what the universe does as a whole, and what function does the life perform in this scheme.  However, for the most of observers, the universe is dead and mostly empty. From the esoteric point of view, the planets, suns and galaxies are forms of life, even the energy itself is a form of life. From that point of view we and the world are one, (one great life composed of lesser lives) and thus such a questions are worthy of knowing and putting to practice. 
I.A.G.A.Y. was saying a similar things, and I can totally agree with him.

Archeopteryx wrote:
This sounds suspiciously like the great chain of being. The trouble arises when you think of the relationship between all life-forms as ladder-shaped. You'd have to think of it as more of a web. Humans can still serve as prey for plenty of other creatures, but we've managed to outsmart the lot of them. Predators aside, we still support other forms of life. There are little mites that live in our mattresses and eat the dead skin we live there. We have friendly bacteria that live in our stomachs. We help other forms of life in a more indirect way. Take grass for example. How unbelievably successful grass has been in the grand scheme of things, simply due to the fact that we humans love to walk on it! You're welcome, grass. It's important to not oversimplify how interrelated life-forms are and how varied those relationships can be in the way they support/hinder each other.
The great chain of being may have some truth in it, unfortunately it does exactly what one would expect from a medieval idea, it's driven ad absurdum, like applied to express a superiority of a king over people, or a man over woman and children. 
The ladder-shaped relationship is indeed possible only between whole kingdoms of nature, like plants as such, and animals as such, etc.  The humanity is very low in numbers and complexity, compared to other areas of nature, (like a coral reef) this doesn't put us very high. Instead, the hierarchical qualifier here would be rather the ability to express a consciousness in some form, activity, intelligence, intuition, wisdom, etc. If there are lower expressions of consciousness and higher, it is possible that there may be even higher. This is the success, not biologic expansion, but development in quality of mind. This quality gives also a power and responsibility, this is a moral point in there. Our immediate need and purpose is to use our abilities to live in harmony with ourselves, with each other, and with environment. Such an answer is good enough as a start, so it would be good to start, actually.


Archeopteryx wrote:

I'm positive that humans are not the end of anything here. We're just another brick in the biological wall here. Of course we think we're special, though. After all, WE'RE US! Why wouldn't we?

No, we're the biggest and heaviest brick on the top of the wall, which can fall and hereby bring down the rest of wall. Or it can rebuild the wall from it's currently miserable state. No other brick of the wall can do it. This is why we're so special.
As for the biologic point of view, there is very little what I'd expect to change physically in humans. According to esoteric sources, there should be only a minor change in the eye, so people will be born, who will be able to see etheric planes of existence. The main area of development is in the psyche. Our perfected qualities, like physical, emotional and mental will be brought under a greater control and then an intuitive abilities of humanity as a whole will be developed. This will reveal a great vistas of future in front of humanity. But our contemporary problem is to live in harmony with each other and the environment, otherwise there will be no future. This needs some serious activism.


Archeopteryx wrote:
I don't disagree that all people (probably) are looking for a sense of purpose in their life. Everyone wants to serve the tribe proper. Everyone wants the rest of the tribe to know who they are and that they are an indispensable member of the group.

But I would be hesitant to compare that feeling to our other feelings and especially to our biological drives.


The problem is in a definition of a tribe. Some people sees only themselves as a tribe, others sees their state, religion or race as a tribe. But it is necessary to see all humanity as the tribe which must be served, otherwise sooner or later someone reaches into a tribal war hut for nuclear darts. I keep that in mind every time I meet some suspiciously looking Roma man, undoubtedly thinking about my wallet. (change for black, Palestinian, shudra, unbeliever, whoever is disliked in your area of world) There is nobody we can exclude.
We can not think about ourselves in terms of animals anymore. If some animal in nature gains an advantage, it multiplies so much, that it eats everything away and then dies in massive numbers. There is no fox, let's say, thinking "well, I shouldn't eat and procreate so much, otherwise there will come a rabies, famine and other plagues to wipe out too many of my offspring." We humans have to think like that, but that's not all. What can you do, when you have no money or power? How do you get anything in this world done? By complaining, and whining. Global whining, if possible. If our politicians sees that so much people complains about something, they have to notice it. They may not give a shit about it, but they must act for it. This act of complaining and activism should finally work like a nerve system of organism, which reacts on a threat. Without that, we're like a paralyzed animal. Another reason to consider the development of humanity not yet finished.
 

Archeopteryx wrote:
But I stress what I think is the proper form of the question: What should my purpose be?

As opposed to the traditional form: What IS my purpose?

=]

I hope I answered well Smiling

Beings who deserve worship don't demand it. Beings who demand worship don't deserve it.


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Great read, Hamby! That

Great read, Hamby! That description of the whales playing with the seals was very creepy but interesting. I roll my eyes when people say humans are "above" other species, as if animals were dumb, drooling organisms when in fact they are definitely different but not at all uncomplicated.

Nature is cruel but nessecary. 

*Our world is far more complex than the rigid structure we want to assign to it, and we will probably never fully understand it.*

"Those believers who are sophisticated enough to understand the paradox have found exciting ways to bend logic into pretzel shapes in order to defend the indefensible." - Hamby


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Maddox is a pussy. I eat 5.

Maddox is a pussy. I eat 5. Laughing out loud

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