Letters to a concerned Free-Thinker, Letter #13: The Principles of Freethought

Dear Thinker.

If I were to set out the principles of freethought, principles that represented the ideals of the freethinker, would others who called themselves such agree with me? It would appear that freethought by its very essence cannot be represented by any one collection of principles, or ‘doctrines’ for that matter. Freethought is by its nature free. However, to take freethought to literally mean, “To be free from all external influences” is to misunderstand the concept entirely. Freethought does not advocate for the literal separation from all external factors, but rather it casts a sceptical eye on all external factors that wish to lay claim to truth, or which wish to advocate authority and tradition over individual inquiry. It is not the mere advocacy for an anarchist mindset; rather it is the advocacy for a mindset that uses logical analysis, reasoned argumentation and critical thought when assessing reality. Freethought may not adhere to doctrines, but it can be said that freethought is represented by certain principles. It is these basic principles that underline the philosophy behind freethought, and establish what it means to be a freethinker. It is because of the existence of this philosophy that the principles of freethought can be laid out. It is for this reason that I now attempt to do just that: to lay out the principles by which most, if not all, freethinkers align themselves to.

The following six principles create the foundation for freethought. They are listed below in numerical order; after each of these principles has been listed, they will then be expressed separately in the subsequent paragraphs that follow. Without further ado, here are the principles:

1. Question anything that relies upon authority, novelty or tradition for its foundation; for humanity is a fallible species.

2. Base all conclusions upon logic, reason and evidence; all conclusions that depart from this process, depart from reality.

3. Never fall prey to self-conceit or assumptive reasoning, for both lead to confirmation bias; one must assess thought constantly.

4. Seek out knowledge for its own sake; learning is an ongoing process, act accordingly.

5. Reject all forms of totalitarianism; for totalitarianism is thought control.

6. Beliefs motivate actions; unjustified beliefs lead to negative actions.

In regards to the first Principle:

Positions that rely upon their mere longevity, power or novelty have at their basis a superficial foundation that is easily replaced when the razor of doubt is applied to them. Authorities of any sort acquire their authority through public grant; for without support of any kind there would be no acknowledgement of their positions, hence no acknowledgement of their power. Public opinion is susceptible, most times, to error; for consensus is no guarantee of validity. Humanity is a fallible species that is capable of making mistakes in its own judgement – which it rarely admits to before damage can be done. There have been many instances in history where these mistakes in judgement have kept humanity ignorant, but one example will suffice for this piece. This example is of course the shift from geocentrism to heliocentrism:

The public consensus in western civilisations for nearly two millennia held that the Earth was the centre of the universe. This belief is known as ‘Geocentrism’: the belief that the celestial bodies orbit the Earth. Though the ancient Greeks originally held this belief, it was only given its status by the works of the Egyptian scientist Ptolemy.  Ptolemy’s model had, for centuries prior to the Copernican model, dominated western thought about the place of humanity in the universe. For centuries, establishments centred education, ideologies and other systems of thought on the notion that Earth is a privileged planet amongst the stars, hence humanity is somehow privileged because of this. It was not until this system, for its length of time, was finally challenged by individuals such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei that the reformation of thought could finally take place. The synthesis of Copernicus’ model of ‘Heliocentrism’ and Kepler’s ‘laws of planetary motion’, gave rise to a new understanding of the universe. Galileo’s additions to the synthesis, and his support for the theorem, gave rise to a flurry of dissenters who wished to hold onto Ptolemy’s model.  The Roman Catholic Church denied the Copernican model of the universe on religious grounds, but it was only until the trial of Galileo by the inquisition that this changed. This trial represented a turning point in humanity, as it would only be decades after this trial that humanity would realise its mistake in judgement.

The message that can be taken from this example should be obvious and is as follows:

What is considered valid today can be considered invalid tomorrow and as a precaution it is always imperative that the acknowledgement of this fact be recognised; for it is only when the recognition of fallibility is understood that real honest investigation can begin. In the debate over facts, no amount of individual acknowledgement ensures the validity of a proposition; only the evidence in support of that proposition ensures its validity. And though change comes gradually with the chipping away of past ideas, it is only with the persistence of new ideas and the alignment of those ideas with reality, that reformation is possible. Reformation is fuelled by questioning, which is at the heart of scepticism. For the foundation of freethought rests upon scepticism and the only way to exercise this scepticism is through constant questioning; questioning that is interested in truth.

In regards to the second Principle:

A house that is built upon mud will not withstand the mightiest of storms; for the rains that come will wash the foundations away, leaving nothing but the remains of a house that attempted to flee its own destruction. A house, however, that is built upon concrete foundations and is supported by strong materials, is able to resist any storm that is thrown at it; for its foundations will pass nature’s tests. The analogy of the two houses should be evident in meaning: the first house represents an unjustified conclusion; well the second house represents a justified conclusion. In addition to this, the storms represent reality and the challenge it poses to conclusions. If a conclusion is unable to meet with reality and treat reality as its master, then that conclusion is ultimately debased. A conclusion, for it to be considered one, needs to have its components justified. Justification for a proposition must come in the form of evidence, which is simply a means of recording the connection a proposition has with the world around it; the state of the world a proposition claims, must align with the actual state of the world. If a proposition is not justified (in other words is ‘unjustified’), then that means the proposition is unable to find a means of linking its main components with reality, thus making it false.

The role of reason, logic and evidence are the means by which the rational mind makes sense of reality. The process of understanding the world can only come through its analysis, and it is only through the analysis of reality that humanity knows itself. Logic is a means of mapping out the functions of objects, propositions, ideas and so forth within reality; it is the blueprint that allows humanity to make sense of reality and the processes and functions that occur within it. Reason is a thought process that is applied to the relationships of functions within reality, hence is the means of demonstrating how these relationships and functions work. When one is able to demonstrate these relationships and functions with logical principles, then they are reasoning their way through reality. Both logic and reason are means of understanding and analysing reality; and with their aid has come the development of societies.

The rational mind uses reason to dictate what conclusions it draws, as reason is the foundation that gives rise to the alignment of one’s thoughts with the world around them. Reason is a means by which humanity makes sense of the world and the recognition of it as a guiding force in one’s life is something that cannot be ignored; for when one engages in a discussion, they are unwittingly surrendering their faculties to the presumption that reason is useful. Reason is a huge step forward in the cognitive evolution of Homo sapiens, as it distinguishes humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom. It gives humanity the cognitive ability to think and act in a manner that is beneficial, as opposed to a manner that leads to the negation of survival. The adoption of reason has led to the development of society and it continues to remain an important element in the evolution of humanity. Without the ability to reason, there would be no humanity. Freethought owes its existence to logic, reason and the process of justification for beliefs, as these tools have forged the identity of what it means to be a freethinker.

In regards to the third Principle:

Confidence is not a bad attribute to have, especially in circumstances that require it, but overconfidence can be detrimental to intellectual integrity. When one is overconfident of their ability to think, they are likely to overlook their own faults in their assessment of others. This overconfidence leads to self-conceit, which elevates the individual to a status that is non-existent to their peers. The intellectual landscape positions everyone as equals, all have to play by the same rules of logic and reason; the only way an individual proves himself or herself on this landscape is through their own merit and thought. Self-conceit is a handicap to the individual on this landscape, as it makes the individual feel superior to these rules. When individuals feel cocksure of themselves, they will find their method of thought superior to others, hence will favour all lines of thought that confirm to their own. In this respect, self-conceit leads to confirmation bias: where the individual seeks out information that is preferable to their preconceptions, rather than assessing multiple sources of information that may be counter to their preconceptions.

For one to be wise they need to have intellectual humility and integrity, both are quintessential elements of a healthy intellectual mind. In order to have these elements one must be constantly vigilant of their own thought processes and constantly assess their thoughts through reflection. The acknowledgement of one’s own failings and the regard to judge oneself by the standards they put on others, is the characteristic of a freethinker; and if these characteristics are not evident in one who labels himself or herself as a ‘freethinker’, then what are they but pretenders? Be critical of every position, whether the majority or the minority supports that position, because – and you will realise this in time – the mere fact that one person raises their hand and vouches for a position, does not in any way strengthen the validity of that position. Yes, the position may have more support, but even that support can be misplaced. In all circumstances, take the position on its own merit and see if that position agrees with reason, the facts and so forth. Whether there be a crowd of a thousand or just one overbearing individual, never be intimidated by numbers. If the forces of the entire world stand against the truth and link hands to raise flags in error, then it would be one’s obligation – regardless of the opposition – to see that the truth is upheld.

In regards to the fourth Principle:

The acquisition of knowledge brings humanity closer to itself, as every instance of newfound knowledge allows humanity to see itself in the mirror of life. There is never a moment when one is done learning something new; everyone is constantly learning something different every day. Learning is a never-ending process, with rewards that are as varied as the very things being learned. To deny this fact is to deny what it is to be a human with the capability of thought: an individual who values knowledge for its own sake. Being able to know how to think as opposed to what to think, is the deciding factor that separates an autonomous mind from an enslaved one. An autonomous mind that knows how to think will not require the need for an ‘arbiter of knowledge’, as it will be instead independent on its own ability to identify problems and solve them, whereas an enslaved mind will be constantly dependent on an arbiter for its knowledge.

Freethought is the epitome of an autonomous mind – it is what education seeks to deliver. The result of education, in the sense of learning how to think, is to grant the individual freethought. A freethinker owe their position to the education they received, either taught to them or learned independently. Freethinkers agree unanimously on the value of education and the role that the acquisition of knowledge has in the emancipation of the mind. It is for this reason that it is included as a principle.

In regards to the fifth Principle:

The enemy of freethought is and has always been totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is the boot that wishes to stamp the white dove of liberty. Totalitarianism is characterised by the need of an entity, or an individual, to pursue absolute control of the mental state of an individual, and/or a group. (Thought control is what characterises totalitarianism; it is the desire of each totalitarian.) A totalitarian is the polar opposite of a freethinker in every single intellectual respect. What a totalitarian desires is in direct conflict to what a freethinker desires; well the latter pursues the autonomy of mind, it is the former that pursues the control of it. Every single totalitarian state that has ever existed has attempted to achieve control of the mental faculties of the population it governs. However, every time the attempt has been made to fully align the populace’s beliefs with the totalitarian’s beliefs, it has always been met with resistance. This resistance comes as a result of independent minds grouping together to resist forces that are against their own interests; every independent mind wishes to keep their own banner of mental autonomy. These independent minds reap the benefits of freethought and will likely fight tooth and nail to ensure its survival.

If a democratic society wishes to keep its democracy and ensure the prosperity of its future generations, then the population of that democracy needs to speak out against tyranny when it pokes out its ugly head. Freethought needs a democratic environment to flourish, because the liberties ensured by a democracy allow for the free expression of ideas between thinking individuals. Freethought depends upon this steady flow of ideas – it is the ‘part and parcel’ of freethought. Therefore, all freethinkers – in order to protect this steady flow of ideas – have to be enemies of totalitarianism (they have to be enemies of the totalitarian).

In regards to the final Principle:

Beliefs are what motivate actions; no action is made without a belief guiding it. With this said, beliefs that do not align with the way the world is (i.e. that is to say that are ‘unjustified in nature’), are likely to lead to negative effects on the subject holding the belief and to others around them as well. Take a simple example: If Alison believes in the proposition ‘Humans can fly’ and attempts to act upon this belief by jumping off a  skyscraper, then Alison will have to suffer the repercussions of her actions – this can come in the form of severe injuries or even death. In this example (though cliché), Alison was motivated by her belief in the proposition, however the belief was not justified which meant that the belief led to a negative action. If humans could indeed fly, then her belief would be justified and there would be no negative actions acting upon the belief alone. What is important to realise is that beliefs dictate the actions of the individual; what one believes will determine the life they lead. At first glance, this may not appear to be an important principle to note, however one could argue that this principle is the most important of all. If beliefs do indeed motivate actions and certain beliefs lead to negative actions, then it would follow that one should be cautious of what beliefs one holds to. To emphasise this, well at the same time using a more modern example of the negative effects of unjustified beliefs, let us take the most recent threat that has managed to emerge out of the Middle East: The Islamic State Of Iraq and Syria (aka ‘ISIS’).

Islamic state leaders announced in June of 2014, the desire for a global Islamic state (caliphate). The running of this caliphate will be done through sharia law – where the fusion of Wahhabi Islam and government is maintained. The purpose of this caliphate, as it is believed to be by those who wish to establish it, is to bring about judgement day, where the Monotheistic God of Islam will finally judge the people of the Earth. This belief is held by many Wahhabi Islamists, and has been one of the main driving forces behind the recruitment of ISIS fighters. These fighters will do anything to achieve that belief and anything to adhere to the edicts of their ideology, such as killing innocent civilians for the purpose of fear and the flexing of muscle. However, this belief supposes a number of assumptions, primarily being the assumption that a ‘Righteous God exists’. This belief has not been justified, because of the fact that it is a belief that relies on faith. Faith is one of the most dangerous components to a bad idea, as faith allows a belief to align with an idealistic reality as opposed to actual reality. The results of this poison cocktail have been overwhelming. The most recent of the horrors of ISIS has been the brutal shootings at a Tunisian beach and the beheading of a French factory worker. These are just some examples of the many atrocities that have happened in the wake of ISIS.

Freethought depends upon the healthy flow of ideas and the constant reassessment of beliefs to match with reality. It is for this very reason that freethinkers, those who wish to call themselves such, are unanimous on this very principle; for beliefs do motivate actions and it is what beliefs one has that will determine their course. Having a world of individuals who base their beliefs on reality and who help individuals align their beliefs, is a world that benefits all people. It is a principle that is the only thing separating a freethinker from a blind zealot, as a zealot dies for unjustified beliefs.

With all this said, these principles form the basic ‘definers’ of freethought. They may be broad and general in their scope, but they allow truly inquisitive minds to hone in their critical thinking skills. One may not have an authority on such principles, but one does have a mind that is capable of exercising thought. The only thing that remains for me to reiterate, is the question that I originally began with: If I were to set out the principles of freethought, principles that represented the ideals of the freethinker, would others who called themselves such agree with me? Only the freethinker can decide.

Knowledge is power.

Use it.

Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson

The Woe Of A Dreamer

Lost in an echo long since uttered…in a place long since forgotten.
We have time to be; and pick out the hollowed reminisce of an echo.
Dreams come so quickly before leaving.
The mind seems to be at a miss to their origins;
only having time to remember glimpses of past experiences.
Playing those treasured moments back in a reel,
like a film which never ends.

The long to return to some distant dream;
to some distant corner of paradise… seems impossible.
The moments that haunt can never be replayed as they once were originally.
Those moments of revelation, that draw the mind to explain the mystery of the day,
are only realised in those passing lights.

Beauty is exaggerated; hurtful pains hit home to gripping moments.
Knees are dropped to engage for but-a-fraction, before entirely disappearing….
Why cannot the moment remain for longer?
Why must it flee with the recoiling of darkness?
Why must the dream end?

The dream of the world to be as it was,
(the dream for it to return to a state of innocence)
can be heart aching.

It is human desire to become a child once more;
echoing the longest of woes.
The human mind’s desire to be a child once more;
to be innocent, care-free, calm and secure.
The shift from childhood to adult can (and is) the most turbulent of mental storms.
For if winds be too much, those sails that carry across ocean waves…
lead to rocky shores….

And so was the woe of the dreamer.

Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson

Knowledge Blast: Agnostic Thought

We are, for a better use of the word, ‘limited’ in our ability to fully conceive of our place in the grand scheme of the universe…if there is a ‘scheme’ to begin with at all. What does one mean by this? Well, for one, think of the limitations of the human body in matters regarding understanding. Neuroscience has given us insight into the nervous system, which allows us the ability to compute sensory information collected from-what we believe to be- reality; it has shown this system, thus far, to be at fault. Instead of revealing a perfect system that would allow for us the ability to fully perceive the world around us, without the tendency to align perceptions of reality, with biases favouring self-interest and self-preservation. We are instead evolved with a pattern recognition system that favours matters that regard self-interest, and self-preservation; pattern seeking mammals who have developed systems of ‘order’, with a-some-what, ‘disordered’ nervous system. The irony alone should make us stop to think about just how much we claim to know about the world around us.  In philosophy, specifically that of epistemology- which deals with the nature of what we claim to know- there is an epistemological position known as ‘agnosticism’, and it deals with knowledge…especially that of its limitations. 

Before we can lay the ground work for agnosticism, we need to first understand a couple key words and their definitions. Firstly: the word ‘belief’ refers to an ‘act of confidence in a proposition’; to hold a ‘belief’ is to have confidence that, one’s idea of reality conforms to the way reality functions.  The belief in the proposition ‘pigs fly’, for example, is to say that one has confidence that pigs-for all intended purposes-can, in fact, fly. Beliefs can either be justified (this being in the sense that those beliefs have evidence to support them, in the form of an account of a causal linkage- linking ideas and reality together), or they can be unjustified (this being in the sense that those beliefs have little evidence to support them). When a belief is justified it is constituted as being ‘knowledge’; when a belief is held but is not justified it is constituted as being ‘faith’. Secondly: the word ‘knowledge’ refers to a ‘well-justified true belief’; as mentioned before, if a belief has been substantiated well enough with evidence that the belief aligns with reality, and thus is constituted as being ‘true’, then that belief constitutes  as being ‘knowledge’. Semantics aside: onto agnosticism.

Agnosticism is a position on knowledge… nothing else. It is specifically the position on epistemology that states, absolute knowledge and certainty-on matters concerning human understanding-to be unknowable; in other words, it is the position that says, ‘we cannot claim to know absolute knowledge and certainty on any matter regarding truth’ (From the Greek word, ‘agnōsis’, which literally translates into ‘without knowledge’). It is the rejection of absolute knowledge claims. Originally coined by the British biologist, Thomas Henry Huxley, in 1869-in which he clarified that:

“Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle. That principle is of great antiquity; it is as old as Socrates; as old as the writer who said, ‘Try all things, hold fast by that which is good’; it is the foundation of the Reformation, which simply illustrated the axiom that every man should be able to give a reason for the faith that is in him, it is the great principle of Descartes; it is the fundamental axiom of modern science. Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him.”(‘Agnosticism’, 1889, Thomas Huxley)

What Huxley means by this, is that agnosticism makes no claims beyond which reason permits it can. It is not arrogant in stating absolute certainty on a matter that has yet to be ascertained; it simply states that we are limited in our capacity to know. Furthermore, Huxley expresses that the role of agnosticism is ‘not’ meant to be taken as a position of mindless ignorance towards the truth of a proposition; it is simply meant to be taken as a position of scepticism towards claims made in absolute certainty and knowledge. Huxley’s reasoning follows from the fact that the methods in which we come to knowledge are inherently at fault. This is due to the limitations of the human mind in fully conceiving the world around it. For instance: we have yet to traverse the whole of the cosmos, and reveal everything within it, to make claims of absolute knowledge about it. Those who are certain in their convictions, over the truth of a proposition’s validity, cannot be so; to claim absolute knowledge on a proposition, they need to possess all available knowledge in the cosmos, including the past, present and future. This is just not possible given our mental limitations.

Huxley’s use of the word ‘agnosticism’ differs tremendously on how the public uses the word today. For instance: it is wrongly assumed that agnosticism is a position between, ‘atheism’ and ‘theism’, or otherwise portrayed as a ‘non-compatible term’ that cannot be reconciled with either ‘theism’ or ‘atheism’. This false understanding of agnosticism is not merely a manifestation of the misconceptions aimed at those who are ignorant about the term’s meaning; it is also held with such vehemency,  by those who are reluctant to want to be associated with ‘theism’ or ‘atheism’, for cultural reasons. In understanding agnosticism, to be merely a position on knowledge that neither affirms the claim of absolute knowledge about a proposition of truth, nor makes any comment on the nature of believing in said proposition, the ‘agnostic’ is humbling themselves with acknowledging their limitations. It should be noted that agnosticism does not deal with belief; it only deals with knowledge. Whereas theism and atheism deal respectively with belief or non-belief in a deity’s existence, agnosticism and Gnosticism deal respectively with what we claim to know about that deity’s existence or non-existence. Agnosticism takes the position that absolute knowledge and certainty about the non-existence or existence of a deity is unknowable, and Gnosticism takes the position that absolute knowledge and certainty about the non-existence or existence of a deity is knowable. Therefore, the word ‘agnostic’ is compatible with the word ‘atheist’ or ‘theist’, as is the word ‘gnostic’.

This compatibility can be expressed as so:

-Agnostic atheism: Does not believe in a deity’s existence, but does not claim to know that a deity does not exist.

-Gnostic atheism: Does not believe in a deity’s existence, but does claim to know that a deity does not exist.

-Agnostic theism: Does believe in a deity’s existence, but does not claim to know that a deity does exist.

-Gnostic theism: Does believe in a deity’s existence, but does claim to know that a deity does exist.

Agnosticism can be further expressed in terms of the strength one is willing to put in this scepticism towards claims made in absolute knowledge. ‘Temporal agnosticism’, is the position most often taken by those who identify as ‘agnostic’; it expresses that the data for a deity’s existence or non-existence is inconclusive, and thus one should withhold their judgement in either proposition. However, this does not mean that the data will remain inconclusive; it just means that until such time when the data becomes conclusive to a proposition’s validity, judgement should be withheld. ‘Permanent agnosticism’, takes a much more hard line position than temporal agnosticism; it states that due to our limitations as evolved primates, we cannot make absolute knowledge claims about the non-existence or existence of a deity. Therefore, strong agnostics state that judgement cannot be made about either proposition’s validity. Agnosticism’s sceptical approach towards claims made in absolute knowledge and certainty is the cornerstone of inquiry, in both science and philosophy; it is for this reason that many in both the scientific and philosophical disciplines will state-when they are uncertain about the truth of a proposition-that they are ‘agnostic’ towards it. This is both an honest and humble thing to do, when one does not know.

If we are to conceptualise agnosticism in a frame work that will do it justice; we need only look as far as Richard Feynman. Richard Feynman was a theoretical physicist who worked at Cornell University in the mid-20th century; best known for his work in quantum mechanics, specifically that of quantum electrodynamics. An avid speaker and educator, Feynman is known for his intellect and support for the scientific method, as well as the ‘Feynman method’ of learning. The Feynman method of learning involves four key steps; these steps will be applied to agnosticism, but these steps can be applied to any concept one is willing to learn. These steps are as follows:

Step 1: Identify a concept of study.

-Example: Agnosticism

Step 2: Explain concept, as if to teach others about it.

-Explanation: Agnosticism is a position on knowledge that states that absolute knowledge and certainty are unknowable. 

Step 3: If one gets stuck on explanation, refer back to original source material.

-Original Source Material: “Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle … Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.” (Huxley, Thomas. ‘Agnosticism’. 1889.)

Step 4: Simplify Concept and use examples, along with analogies to emphasise it.

-Simplification of Concept: I don’t know. 

-Example of concept in use: “What is in that unopened box?”, “I don’t know…and neither do you.” 

-Analogy of concept: “If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a teapot revolving around the Sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”(Russell, Bertrand. “Is There a God? [1952]”. ‘The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, Voll 11: Last Philosophical Testament, 1943-1968’. Routledge. pp. 547-548.)

The Feynman method allows us to understand agnosticism by means of looking at the concept, and identifying with it. From Huxley to Russell, agnostic thought has sought to represent itself in society, through society’s great minds. These minds have sought, in their endeavours to push against the tide of extremism that absolute knowledge brings, to build a society by which inquiry and scepticism are held up as beacons of hope for the world. Furthermore, those who proclaim-with such vehemency-that they know the truth of a matter absolutely, and everyone else who does not know this truth are simply wrong, are deluding themselves in their conclusions. As mentioned at the start of this piece, the human mind is limited in its capacity to know the world around it, and as a result, conclusions that are made today can be wrong tomorrow. This is why scientific hypotheses are tested against reality, and falsified; if the hypothesis succeeds all the tests against it, and is proven empirically, it is ranked up to the level of ‘theory’-which is one of the highest distinctions attainable. However, this theory is ‘not-wrong’ but it is not ‘right’ either, for future experiments could undo the ones done at present. This is why science makes provisional conclusions and not absolute ones.

We live in a time of turbulence and confusion (The most recent example of this has been the death of twelve ‘Charlie Hebdo’ satirical artists, in Paris, at the hands of Muslim extremists. What was their crime? For daring to draw cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, in an ‘unflattering manner’.), where many seem to find themselves speaking out against extremism; the kind brought by those who claim to hold the ‘Truth’…the absolute ‘Truth’-as it were. For these demagogues and proliferators who espouse rhetoric, anyone who scrutinises or expresses doubt towards their claims makes themselves a target for violence and censorship. This is worrying in the 21st century, where science has revealed tremendous things about our limitations; if we wish to continue to live as a species, we need to throw off the shackles of certainty and embrace humble doubt. The first step towards wisdom is to realise how ignorant you are; once you realise that, then acquiring knowledge becomes an act of humility. And, it is for this reason that we have got thus far in our cognitive ability to inquire about the cosmos around us. If we are to continue to do so, it is time we start striking back at those making claims of absolute knowledge and certainty…before it is too late.

Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson (8/01/2015)

Letter to a Concerned Free-Thinker, Letter #11: Piercing the barrier:

Dear Thinker.

The power to convey ourselves in writing can be an arduous task, for words have only power in projecting just one mode of expression. Language is a philosophy of its own, it has the power to shape the human imagination; it allows individuals who otherwise could not express themselves in mode of speech, a platform by which to espouse their ideals and emotions onto others. As language is complex in its means to express a particular thought, there are always many ways and many problems that come with the expression of a particular idea. For one, with writing there are many words that can be used to express an idea, and in some cases the words that are used to express that idea, can impact on its effect in the world. Words are the foundation of our world, the way we use them will impact upon the way the world will act in response; provocative words will evoke invocative responses, some of which can be harmful in the understanding of the idea expressed, as no one enjoys subjecting themselves to violence.

When this mode of expression [language] is under the threat of censorship, whether it by the thought police or the politically correct ones-who find pleasure in the manipulation of language and the censorship of ideas-it is then that language becomes most powerful; for in times of silence, the power to utter a dissenting opinion, can mean the difference between the freedom or slavery of thought.  Writers, speakers, poets and artists should realise the power they have in shaping the reality they situate themselves in; for one, they have the power to change the way individuals view the world, this can come at a great benefit or cost depending on the way this power is exercised.  The current generation of writers, speakers and so forth, will have an impact on the next generation through how they project their thoughts. Past writers have influenced the minds of current readers; those readers have then gone on to influence the world of today. With such power and influence, having the education to understand the impact gives an extra ‘oomph’ to its affect:  a punch necessary to knock sense into others.

Jotting down anything one can on paper or through all the other means available for projecting oneself, frees up that much needed space in the mind, which can then be used to store more information. And from where should one get this storage? Well, from reading books and engaging in conversation of course-the best conversation being that of heated argumentation. Making sure to keep in conflict with one’s own position on matters concerning understanding, is a necessity. Our brains have been shown, by neuroscience, to have a tendency towards favouring pre-conceived biases that are in the interest of self-preservation; having these biases challenged once-in-awhile ensures an open-mind, as minds need reminding of the possibility of their fault.  Alison knows this; she may only be just over eighteen, but she understands that our minds are limited in their capacity to understand the world. “Knowing this capacity [she re-iterates to me], allows us the capability to adjust to a better understanding of our own condition in the cosmos.” As one can see, Alison has been practising with the formulation of language; the younger you start, the more likely you are to pierce the barrier that exists between the formulation of thought, and that of written and spoken word.

The important thing to know about the construction of language is that it adapts to the environment in which it happens to be situated in. Depending on the context, the language that is used will vary in its power to affect those that are engaged in communication.  Thoughts will be altered when they come into contact with other thoughts; like projectiles being nudged off course, thoughts can lose their intended meaning and circum-to that of another’s. This is especially problematic when one considers the environment in which those thoughts are meant to act upon, if one cannot successfully convey a thought in the public sphere, what hope do they have in impacting the world?

There is one thing that can be assured with language, and that is the construction of worlds yet visible to human experience; worlds that are the products of the imagination, and the future we have yet to visit. Alison’s journal (a small white book she carries with her wherever she travels, often used for writing down her thoughts) has, on its cover, seventeen words of inspiration…they are as follows:

“Give me a pen and I shall write the dreams of tomorrow, with the words of today.”

These words, she tells me, gives her the strength when she feels unable to write; I hope they might give you some strength as well.

There is a lot to think about in this letter, better to give one time then to overwhelm one with thought; as liberated thinkers navigating through this world, we must find time to stop and drop anchor….

Knowledge is power, as long as one can use it right.

Experientia docet, est ultimum.

This letter I write to you now.

Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson

Knowledge blast: Epistemology

The branch of Epistemology is one concerned with the examination of knowledge i.e. how we come about knowledge and understanding from the world around us, and the nature of this process. Knowledge can be defined in the Greek Philosopher Plato’s words as, “Justified true belief”, epistemology deals with the analyses of how we achieve this justification. Epistemology has many different branches pertaining to it, these branches are called “epistemic theories” (another term to denote ways of acquiring knowledge i.e. practical methodologies of finding justification.) and they are various in number; fideism, rationalism, empiricism, just being a few examples of the many epistemic theories that exist. Epistemology is important to know, as the ways in which everyone conducts their lives is based upon at least one epistemic theory; it is with this epistemic theory that we base our understanding of the world upon. There are distinctions to be made within epistemology between monism and pluralism; the former, Monism, refers to a unified or “mono” theory of acquiring knowledge about an object, this is to say it refers to one method of acquiring knowledge about a thing. The latter, Pluralism, refers to multiple or “plural” means of acquiring knowledge about an object, this is to say that there may be more than one way of finding out about something rather than a single unified observation. Through the understanding of just a few of the many epistemic theories and their histories, we can provide a path for further enquiry and enlightenment. 

In epistemology, multiple methodologies have been attributed to finding knowledge in the world, with the limitations of time one has; I hope to provide at least some explanation of these epistemic theories and their formulations. Let us focus on just four aspects of epistemology, these being expressed as; Rationalism, empiricism, fideism and foundationalism. All these aspects try to vindicate Plato’s definition of Knowledge; epistemic philosophers spend their time studying these theories and there relation to the world and how we achieve what we consider being knowledge from the world around us. It is important then, to note that some of these theories go on a scale from epistemological monism to pluralism (dependant on intensity, as we shall see in the following paragraphs.). 

Rationalism is an epistemic theory that states the basis for knowledge as being contingent upon reason alone; this is to say, knowledge is acquired solely on the basis of mental thought (intellect) without relying upon the senses. A concept to remember is ‘a prior’ which is to mean arm chair reasoning, reasoning that does not require one to vindicate with evidence (eg. Things like, “all cats have four legs”…and it’s just obvious). The father of Rationalism, Rene Descartes (French philosopher who lived in the 16th century and came up with the phrase “I think, therefore I am”, cogito ergo sum), introduced the theory which based on the assumption that the mind alone could come about knowledge about the world. Rationalism is in opposition to the next theory we shall look at, which is empiricism. Epistemological monism occupied the extremes of Rationalism, this is to say that those who promoted it loudly (Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza) relied upon metaphysics (the field of philosophy dealing with the fundamentals of reality) as a foundation to achieve knowledge about reality, and reasoned that existence was a formulation solely of the mind. 

Empiricism, unlike rationalism, is an epistemic theory that states that knowledge can only be acquired through the experience of the senses. This introduces us to another important concept ‘a posteriori’ which is justification through experience (eg. Instead of just saying all cats have four legs from your arm chair, you get up and look at a cat and you conclude based upon that experience.). Empiricism is the basis for modern science; “empirical method’, is a method that incorporates the collection of data through experimentation, and the accumulation of evidence to base theories, and draw conclusions in natural philosophy (aka Science). John Locke and David Hume, both 17th century Philosophers, are responsible for this epistemic theory; they argued that knowledge is only acquired through the computation of sensory information (the collection of information), which is the best means of acquiring knowledge. They were also epistemological monists and argued against rationalism; this conflict that was being brewed was as a result of the 17th century enlightenment values, which rejected prior forms of tradition and authority as being the means for knowledge. Since rationalism and empiricism broke away from the traditional forms of knowledge seeking, they both sought to get the better of one another…how could this war be ended?

This combining of rationalism and empiricism with the synthesis of the two epistemological monist theories into a dual (or pluralistic theory), came about with the talented 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant argued that ‘a prior’ reasoning formulates concepts that are then vindicated through ‘a posteriori’ means; ultimately formulating understanding of the world we perceive. In other words, it is through reason and evidence that we come about knowledge; we can neither understand reality without the synthesis of ‘a prior’ and ‘a posteriori’. This is how science works today (small criticism; ultimately, without the computation of sensory information, all notions of reality crumble, as our body works based upon the ordering of collected information and the processing of that information via the mind through body synapses. Ultimately meaning that sensory experience is the only means of acquiring knowledge…this view is also known as radical empiricism.).

Fideism is an epistemic theory that is unlike the prior ones we have been discussing. Fideism states that knowledge can only be acquired through faith alone, anything other than faith is considered hostile and misleading. This epistemic theory values faith (belief without evidence) over reason, as a means of coming to knowledge, the best way being through divine revelation from God. Tertullian (3rd century theologian) can be credited for the first use of fideism with the quote, “the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.” (Credo quia absurdum); later individuals, most notable, Blaise Pascal and Soren Kierkegaard, later re-developed fideism to express how all epistemic theories relied of faith, because of this faith in God is of higher importance to gain knowledge. This is another example of an epistemological monist theory. 

Foundationalism is the final term we will look at, it is not as much an epistemic theory more than it is a foundation for epistemic theories. Foundationalism concerns itself with proper basic beliefs or “PBB”, these “axioms” are self-evident beliefs that help an individual function in the world around them, beliefs such as; I exist, other minds exist. That anchors all our other beliefs and allows us to progress in the world, without basic beliefs we risk slipping into the realm of scepticism; the negative solipsism which makes us question our beliefs and whether they are true or not. It is because of the limitations of the human body that we need to have our beliefs grounded on a proper system by which we can come about understanding about the world. 

It is through epistemology that we seek out the means of understanding and acquiring knowledge, learning the means by which to come about truth and the relative theories pertaining to it; one can set a good foundation for their beliefs and thus create a means of acquiring future knowledge of the world. For tomorrows world is based on the foundation we lay today, and it a proper foundation that will ensure the prosperity of tomorrow’s world.

Knowledge Blast: Totalitarian Thought

When the word “fascist” is uttered in any setting involving more than one conflicting body; it most likely will be used out of its proper discourse, by those who lack an understanding of its definition. The word is tossed around in naive-socialist circles like a hot-potato, almost to the extent at which if a differing of opinion were to be made against the norm, if expressed by an individual, may immediately condemn them to being called it by all those (who by chance) do not like what they have to express. This failure to understand words and their proper usage is to blame for this nativity, so what can be more fitting then explaining the word and the thought that surrounds it?

To start off lets define terms. Fascism is a system of government characterized by dictatorship; the word originates in ancient Rome from the word “fasces” which is a pile of sticks used by legionaries and subsequent soldiers of the Roman Empire during long tracks and marches across Europe and the Mediterranean. It was later to be used as a symbol for the 20th century, used by Benito Mussolini’s fascist party who used the fasces symbol to represent their political ideological movement in Italy during the late 1910’s. Fascism as mentioned already has a major characteristic and that is dictatorship, to understand this term we need to look back to the Ancient Romans who coined the term. During the early parts of the 5th century B.C.E Rome became a republic after having three hundred years of monarchy rule; the Roman kingdom was overthrown and started expanding to the rest of the Italian and Mediterranean peninsulas. The senate on behalf of the people ruled Rome expanding its land grab from the small city states to the large Mediterranean. During the republic’s expanse into the Mediterranean and Europe, governors mostly generals and senate approved leaders, would hold territories on behalf of the senate by which the senate would legislate orders to the governors on how to run the territory and so on. However territories captured by warring nations or barbaric states, would often play victim to unrest and tragedy, this unrest and tragedy would interrupt progression and endanger the republic autonomy; causing great economic and military problems for the republic. The solution to these problems had to do with retaining control of the populace of the territory; the only way this could be done was through authoritarian state rule which was given to by the senate on behalf of the republic temporarily to the most competent leader in the republic, to retain order by any means necessary. The ordinary magistrate of the senate had legal means to and guides to attain the republic’s states, but during the first Punic war in the 3rd century B.C.E, by which saw the establishment of the extraordinary magistrate (officially called “magister populi”-master of the people). The status passed by the senate to the general allowed him to rule by decree or “dictatorate” (shortened later to “dictator”). This leader was assigned a committee who were solely under the generals command (committee of “magister equiem”-master of the horse) this oligarchy helped the dictator retain control of the state after the warring parties had been quelled. This dictatorate lasted for a couple months just until order was restored before it would be relinquished. Gaius Julius Ceaser was the first “Dictator for life” in the 1st century B.C.E after the collapse and scattering of the republic, ceaser retained the status and enhanced it to a year. He used military might to maintain his rule collapsing the republic into an empire, ruled under History’s first totalitarian state. The classical dictatorship came before the neo dictatorship, to differentiate between the two; classical refers to the original purpose of the roman dictatorship which was to retain order on behalf of the general well-being of the state, by which the subsequent rule would be relinquished after a temporary time, the main characteristics of this type of dictatorship is authoritarianism. Neo (new age) dictatorship refers to Ceaser’s model of dictatorship and the subsequent models of dictatorship based on it; by which the purpose is to benefit the dictator’s interests for however long the dictator remains in power, the major characteristics of this type of dictatorship is totalitarianism.

Authoritarianism is in essence dictatorship with a leash; the power is limited in their actions to totally control the state and the people within the state, thus limiting them to the marginalisation of power. Totalitarianism is different as it is dictatorship of the leash, total tyrannical rule can be applied by the state power on the people of the state, the methods are endless and they last as long as the power lasts. A huge understanding in the evolution of neo dictatorship is the change in how these states who vestige a totalitarian state, control their populations. Let us take one case as an example of totalitarianism, say Nazi Germany. National Socialism is the combination of German patriotism and fascist leadership, an ideology created by Adolf Hitler that saw the blend in ideology and government being first truly utilised. To understand this dynamic evolution of neo-dictatorship from the solely relying on militarism and imperialism, to neo-dictatorship running on tyranny and ideology; it must be highlighted the important differences of neo-dictatorship of Cesar’s day and Neo-dictatorship of Hitler’s day. Ceser’s day militarism was the major security of power for rule, Cesars vast armies kept him secure (external protection) from his neighbours however this did not prevent internal conspiracies being expressed against him, this particularly is major flaw as with a totalitarian state to truly maintain total control it must maintain it both internally and externally. Hitler’s Germany was internally secured via two aspects, Ideology and intimidation; by keeping the blast of propaganda and ideological fear, Hitler’s Germany could be maintained internally. When ideology is injected into neo-dictatorships, that is, when they take a new form, instead of becoming entirely hollow states, they start acquiring life. It truly is a bone tingling sensation to witness the birth of life in these states, as their tyrants increase in power frenzy can be seen growing amongst the maintenance of the state, when the form of rule starts becoming more and more an entity of it rather than the robotic systematic government it had been to start off with. In 1944 upon the inevitable defeat of National Socialism, Joseph Goebbels the propaganda minister for the Reich made one of the most chilling speeches ever produced. Called “Total War”, the power of twenty years of propaganda administered by the state was put into overdrive in a speech that expressed the ultimate need for the civilian to serve his country in order to feel that he has contributed to the state. This frenzy created solely from ideological indoctrination, fear and intimidation, all of which would become cultivated in creating an internal state by which the neo-dic tatorship could survive, was the nature of National socialist dictatorships. The very essence of Nazism cries out totalitarianism as it combines total power and tyranny to maintain the selected interest of the dictator or ruler of the state for any given amount of time, whereas in authoritarian states the powers that be are prohibited in their liberty to dispense with law and order the way they want, keeping vestige interests in not only their own needs but in the power’s means as well.

This is why fascism in the sense of Benito Mussolini’s Italian fascist party was authoritarian in nature, that is to say an oligarchy gave Mussolini limited power, that during the Second World War when breached meant his immediate removal by the oligarchy at which he had been maintained by. Quasi dictatorships who look back to the classical dictatorships, this being of course the running of the old roman empire by senate elected dictators, will be states such as aforementioned already Italy during fascist rule, and Spain during the rule of Francisco Franco that can be seen to have incorporated elements of authoritarianism and totalitarianism to the extent at which both parties could have domain and power but they were always limited by either internal conflicting bodies or external ones that would prohibit the expansion and consolidation of power that would prohibit neo-dictatorships well at the same time allowing time to freely be maintained (neo dictatorship and classical dictatorship); the synthesis of authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Another example of totalitarian neo dictatorship is the communist regime, like the Nazi regime the communist regime ran on a system of systematic maintenance pushed by fear and ideology. Through indoctrination of the populace to be more subservient and willing to die for the state, communism under Stalin could be utilised to have had total control as the dictator maintained power to the extent that the power itself could not be removed easily, and the willingness of the people to love what they fear (sadomasochism) became more apparent. It is the nature of totalitarian states such as Nazism, communism and to a lesser extent orwellianism (George Orwell’s ,1984; big brother state, by which the full utilisation of propaganda, fear and intimidation sought in advancing the nature of a neo-dictatorship to the extent by which it becomes nature to be under a totalitarian power) that there forms see vestige interest in utilising power for as long as possible, and when so ever should the power be removed its ultimate goal is to kill the state itself well undergoing its own annihilation.

Victims, who live under states like these, can be subjected to years of propaganda, skewing their view of the world. If you ever wish to see the power of indoctrination just look at the surviving Hitler Youth today, most of them went through an undoctrination after they were captured by western forces. However they still hold great sympathy for the years of service under the regime of Nazism, this is the power of totalitarianism with ideology; it can make its population entirely subservient and entirely willing to die for the regime!

As the decades went on and the ever increasing destruction of totalitarian states increased, fascism especially the blurring of totalitarianism in pop culture and culture in general became more apparent. Dystopian classics such as George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “a brave new world”, captured society’s imagination and paranoia by showing the possible potential of totalitarianism if left unchecked. In most of these types of novels the importance of liberty and freedom of the individual was always highlighted as a means to inject strength into the paranoid individuals. The only means by which such power and total control is stopped, is by the constant awareness of the people of the state about the nature of their government. If the people do not regulate the duties of their government the process of neo-dictatorship become ever more apparent. When authoritarianism is allowed to take hold, if left by the people for far too long it will grow in totalitarianism, this is why the duty of the people is always to be aware of the growing concern its government wishes to have in the individual’s life and the limiting of liberties of that individual to a fake sense of security. That is the only way totalitarianism can be avoided by the people, is the unanimous will to step in the line of fire and protect the fundamental liberties of the state’s populace. The seeds of totalitarianism are found in places at which hierarchy and a top to bottom system is utilised, this is why religions are innately totalitarian as they vestige interest in the God’s needs and the representative of the Gods to maintain a false sense of security. Theocracies are dictatorships run by religions (if one were to play the technical semantic game the correct term to use for a group of religious bodies controlling a government is a “ecclesiocracy” but for all intended uses “theocracy” is made also mentioned), showing the true nature of such groups to maintain totalitarian elements of control. When theocracies such as Iran and Saudi Arabia are mentioned, one cannot help but think of the public hanging and execution of all those willing to disobey the regime’s holy text (the hanging of homosexuals is a grizzly example). It is because of this that states have a duty to limit all religions from gaining any mention in government, because the very nature of all religions especially mono-theistic, are totalitarian by nature.

Fascism has been morphed however by socialist groups over the years to the status of an insult, this blending and redefining of terms is a potential danger, as in order to attain what the word means. It must be utilised as such to the extent it accurately represents what it is needed to represent, this is why insults with the word “fascist” always seek (in the eyes of those enlightened) to add disappointment. Remembering what has been discussed always seek to hold a better understanding of words as to not lose the intention of those words.

Knowledge is power

Use it

Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson

The Power of the people: Experientia

It should not be any surprise that people can inspire people, in the pursuit of a better understanding of the world. That is why everyone should be able to teach the person next to him or her, something that they do not know. For ideas are meant to be spread, such as a wild fire, across the forest of potential. This the reason that one should devote themselves to that process, devote themselves to the spread of enlightenment, and to give people the realization that you are never to young or old to dream big. You are never to young or old, to give something to the world.

As people, we should all be teachers and educators, not in profession, but in society. Teaching those around us about ideas, concepts, philosophies, they yet have to realize. To combat ignorance, and grow knowledge. It is the desires of the Greeks before us, and should be our desire not just to grow in brain power, but in human interaction. And better ourselves to a more “progressive reality”; never being apathetic to poor living standards, and never witnesses to injustice and intolerance.

Knowledge thus in that sense, is truly powerful.

Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson

Knowledge Blast: Naturalism

Generally what we deem “natural” is what we have understood in the world around us; from laws, to objects, organisms etc. Anything we find out to be a product of this world, whether it be by human hands, or by nature; is deemed in the “natural plain” (or realm) of existence. Hence Naturalism is the idea that this plain of existence has rules and laws by which it run, and that there is nothing outside this plain of existence by the sheer fact that if something does exist outside of our understanding of this realm, and we find out what it is, it becomes something “natural” as we have observed it in nature. Thus Naturalism, is an ever growing understanding of the world around us, and how it works.

Naturalism encompasses two aspects, Natural philosophy (science) and methodological naturalism (scientific method). These terms are not mutually exclusive as one operates with the other. Generally Science is man’s way of understanding the world around him; by positing ideas and forming hypothesis based on those ideas, then following out that hypothesis with experimentation. Allowing for evidence to be analysed and falsified before finally being concluded upon, based on where the evidence leads and what simple conclusions can be met (Occam’s Razor) from the experimentations. The element of demonstration and discussion is also a key part of the scientific method, for if it is a theory that weighs in the natural plain of existence it must be established in a way that can be related to that plain it is discussing (i.e give proof for your knowledge base idea).This method is also self-correcting, hence the falsification bit that was mentioned. Claims that aren’t falsifiable are not good explanations.

Now there has been much discussion on what then is to be deemed “Un-natural” or “super-natural”. Now there are a couple of problems firstly with these terms. What we consider to be natural is within our understanding of the plain of existence we in-habit. If we find laws by which we have not yet come across, we shall establish those laws as laws, and thus (as you can see) those”un-natural” laws, become “Natural” laws. Anything outside our understanding is often coined as being “un-natural” or in some aspects “super-natural”, however one has to point out that these terms are flawed by means that, if we find out about something; most likely we will establish it as being in the realm of existence i.e the “natural realm”.

The multi-verse and other such theories, posit multiple universes, that may operate on different physical and epistemic rules and laws. One could ask “Wouldn’t any universe, who’s laws are different to our own; be considered ‘not-natural’?” well you see the dilemma in that question. Here is an analogy that explains this sort of thinking. You have a Jewellery box, in it you have various sized boxes; each with its own content. The various smaller boxes represent different universes, with different laws. They all exist in the Larger Jewelry box, and that is what we consider to be natural. You see that discussion happens about what is deemed “un-natural” and “natural”, yet one must realize that what we don’t know is not “un-natural” for when we discover it, it is added in the list of what is natural or what can come about by means of natural laws.

This is why meta-physical claims, such as God and fairies, that posit super-natural explanations can not be falsified and thus are wrong. As they posit different realms that, if existed, would be encompassed in a larger realm that we would call natural. As anything we don’t know, that we find out, we add as something nature posits and creates; if intelligent beings existed outside the realm of space and time, they don’t exist to us. You see, meta-physical claims are flawed by the outset, and are un-scientific, and rely on a premise that is un-falsifiable.

This is why when one calls himself a “naturalist” at times they do not even realize what nature, or what the definition of a “naturalist” is. If you believe this realm of existence is the only existence, and you keep in mind what we discover will increase that plain of existence, then you are a naturalist. One would go a step further and state that all people are naturalists, by the sheer fact that if they believe in the “super-natural” they must realize that the term they are using is in sight of a lack of understanding of a possible realm within our existence, that if discovered, would become something “natural”, even though it was already natural to begin with. By this logic, it can be safely said, that the only realm of existence is the “natural realm”, and anything we do not understand is still “natural” as it occurs within our plain of existence; and when we find out about that thing which we do not understand, it becomes Natural.

Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson

Letters to a Concerned Free-Thinker, Letter #5: Immortality and Death

Dear Thinker.

Mortality – whether or not we wish to admit it – is the condition that we are born into; one is born with a limited amount of time to indulge in existence before they are finally, and violently, thrown out of it. This may scare some of us, existence being a temporary thing, but it should not deter us from at least enjoying the experience of it. One cannot do anything about their mortal state – and as a result one should instead live out it to its natural end. Yet, with this fact of our own mortality there are still those who persist that there will be a next life; and who thus live out there life in the hopes of reaching it. Journalist and polemicist, Christopher Hitchens, put it plainly:

You are expelled from your mother’s uterus, as if shot from a cannon towards a barn door studded with old nail files and rusty hooks. It’s a matter of how you use up the intervening time in an intelligent and ironic way… [sic]

Death is the end, it is the figurative “barn door”, and how one chooses to live it is entirely up to them. This brings me to the nature of this letter, and the question I wish to address. It is the question of mortality vs immortality, and whether or not one is willing to consider if immortality is worthy a desire: would you want to live forever? You see, it is easy to give a simple answer with little thought and little dedicated time, but it is another matter to give a full answer with detail. Immortality is most desirable to humanity; the ability to forsake the chains of nature’s justice and escape death, is one which tempts us. It is for this reason that one wishes to dispense with the idea, and argue why immortality is not, as it is portrayed, a good desire to have.

Taken at a second glance and with a more scrupulous analysis, one can see why such an offer would be more harmful than good. Consider this: You have all the time in the world to do anything, how much effort do you exert on the things you do, given that you have all the time to do those activities you so desire? I could imagine the effort would not be as strenuous, given the fact that the time pressure that births the best of works is virtually absent; one of the largest incentives for completing a task becomes non-existent with immortality. Here we see is the first problem, the first “Red flag’” in this offer of immortality, there is no time limit or effort put upon the individual. Care and effort arises from the constraints of time; when there is a limit (in regards to ‘time’ being that limit), we will act accordingly – exerting as much care and effort as possible in completing the most trivial of tasks. The one who chooses immortality has no need to complete a task, for they can come back to it whenever they so choose to do so; why bother doing the task? However, one sees a bigger issue, one at which may be more relevant than the last. The ultimate consequence of immortality is that one’s life becomes Meaningless; nihilistic in nature. One will get to this a little later.

As mortals we know instinctively that what we do has an end to it; and thus, as if a slap to the face, it gives us a reality check at which to gather our intentions and move hastily towards a resolve of the occurrence we are faced. More time needs to go into each activity, and each activity has a unique individual attribute as morals derive meaning from these activities. Immortality takes away the unique individualism in those activities, and draws them to a simple one liner: “what’s next?” To emphasise this let me pose you an example:

Imagine if you will two distinctively different children. One is named Socrates Ballister, and the other is named Alice Locke. Both are given the exact same task, namely that of building a structure out of matchsticks.  Socrates is given a limited time of 1 hour to complete the task, well Alison is not given a time; she is given the freedom to do other things. Imagine the state of Alice, how much time and effort she will exert as opposed to Socrates. Daily activities will become more predominant then the activity first given to her. Who knows, she could not even complete the task, or she could hold up the completion of the task for years to come. And suppose she eventually got to it, would she really exert as much effort? Socrates is different. He is limited in his task; meaning that he must use his intuition, the viable resources, dexterity and speed to hand in the structure before the hour is up. Socrates must place purpose into what he does, and dedicate his time and effort to his work. The reward given to Socrates is the acknowledgement of his own creation, which is what is sufficient. However, as for Alice she had no incentives – no burden placed on her shoulders to complete the task before her, and thus no reward.

The above example only highlights the value of time, and we all must not forget that time may be a great factor in the running of our activities in life; however, it is not the most predominant reason for life itself, or a purpose for the individual. Time allows for causality: if there is no beginning then there is no end; if there is no end then there is no beginning. If there is a beginning but no end, then there is an endless causal chain (logic would suggest) going on into oblivion. If there is a beginning and end, then there will be a natural cycle at which there will be a clear direction (outward perspective: one that is not contingent on inward relation). A mortal’s life consists of events that have natural ends. A person makes a cup of tea, the intended function of that cup is to provide sustenance to the drinker, and once this need is met it serves no purpose besides its initial one. Immortality is an infinite Cup of tea by which the initial purpose of sustenance is there but its value diminishes over-time; drying out its purpose, or initial value. The great importance of time and natural progression is its ability to initiate value in the subject that is a part of it; everything has a purpose, every means by which a person wakes, does an activity etc. As they provide a natural means by which to start another causal chain of events, by which all bear on that initial starter.

The immortal offer may sound good, but over-time the tasks that seemed worthwhile at the beginning, begins to lose value to the person initially doing it. As humans we have the tendency to imagine things in relative time (this is to say we view it as ‘close-time’, not thinking long-term about our decision processes.), but when we are speaking of ‘infinity’, which is the nature of time to an immortal, the amount of activities one does in that time will lose warranty faster than that of a mortal – but there is an added hook to the offer! The interaction one has with their fellow human being loses value, for the individual has to go through a succession of loves and heart breaches. For the price of immortality means that one can never love someone with their deepest passions, without the fear of losing them. Granted that this can also happen to mortals, but the good thing about mortality is that you can die and experience love in its truest sense, rather than experience loneliness in its truest sense. The only logical conclusion that one can draw is to simply not have any relationships; for if one does not have relationships then one cannot experience that pain of loss. However if humans are naturally a social species, who need unity and love to derive purpose, then would not that in itself diminish a purpose for the immortal, who is bound by time to stay, and who cannot by in unison with others? Say you did not care for your fellow constituency, and instead embellished in narcissistic luxuries. Say that you only cared for the material luxuries in your life. One must realise that those things also are temporary, and once those material possessions lose their appeal they will also fade away into obscurity; evermore losing value and steering you towards the point of boredom. Or will you embrace nihilism? In fact if you were an immortal in this case you would slowly become a nihilist, would you not? Then what would happen?

Religions seek to offer immortality; an eternal life in the form of heaven, or some sort of paradise, as an incentive for subscribing to their religious dogmas. It is in this case that one should refer to the aforementioned discussion, however, with the added incentive for reproach. In the most widely subscribed monotheistic, Abrahamic and messianic religions, the mandate of worship means an eternity of worship. One is offered heaven and a relationship with the almighty, “what could be so bad about that?” Now at first it sounds good, but keep in mind what eternity means. If one spends an entire lifetime climbing a steep mountain they will find that they have not even scratched the surface of the timescale of infinity, for there is no end in sight when talking about eternity.

By trading in one’s life for an afterlife, one is relinquishing the life they have for a fantasy; a fantasy of the darkest kind. For the fantasy they are given is a promise of an eternal worship of a narcissistic God, one at which there can be no expression of renouncement. A deity who can never relinquish its control over you, something that is no better than embracing nihilism, or embracing an ultimate surrender of the facilities as the offer from religion is bent on doing. Many people wish to leave the discussion on immortality when religion is interjected, as they fear it may affect them or may offend them. However, one must not forget that conversations to do with death, mortality and immortality are bound to collide with religious discussion eventually, why not start it here? As free-thinkers we must be ready to take on the opinions and statements of those of the religious lobby.

It would appear that a large proportion of humanity has not come to grips with their own mortality, many it would seem live for the next life rather than this one. They waist their life on the idea of an afterlife, and adjust their whole frame of focus to living out that ideal. The most devoutly religious individuals raise whole families under the guise that there will be an eternal bliss, an eternal paradise for them when they die. How sad it is to understand where religion originates, and the history of religion’s evolution through the epochs, and still see individuals cling to an ideal that clearly has no foundation. The only reason for why religion still holds prominence is because of the amount of individuals who raise their children with these beliefs, and who thus do psychological damage upon them by shifting their gaze off of reality. However I digress, and come to now to a speech that is to be mentioned. It comes from Christopher Hitchens, and it befitting of the aforementioned discussion on immortality. He was debating intelligent design advocate, William Dembski, it is in response to a question the moderator asked about eternal life, here it is:

Why don’t you accept this wonderful offer? [Eternal life in heaven] Why wouldn’t you like to meet Shakespeare, for example? I don’t know if you really think that when you die you can be corporeally reassembled and have conversations with authors from previous epochs. It’s not necessary that you believe that in Christian theology and I have to say that it sounds like a complete fairy-tale to me. The only reason I want to meet Shakespeare, or might even want to, is because I can meet him anytime because he is immortal in the works he’s left behind. If you’ve read those then meeting the author would almost certainly be a disappointment. But when Socrates was sentenced to death, for his philosophical investigations and for blasphemy for challenging the gods of the city, and he accepted his death he did say, “Well, if we are lucky perhaps I will be able to hold conversation with other great thinkers and philosophers and doubters, too.” In other words, that the discussion about what is good, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is pure, and what is true could always go on. Why is that important? Why would I like to do that? Because that’s the only conversation worth having. And whether it goes on or not after I die, I don’t know. But, I do know that it is the conversation I want to have while I am still alive. Which means that to me the offer of certainty, the offer of complete security, the offer of an impermeable faith that can’t give way is an offer of something not worth having. I want to live my life taking the risk all the time that I don’t know anything like enough yet… that I haven’t understood enough… that I can’t know enough… that I am always hungrily operating on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I’d urge you to look at those who tell you, those people who tell you at your age, that you are dead until you believe as they do. What a terrible thing to be telling to children. …and that you can only live by accepting an absolute authority. Don’t think of that as a gift. Think of it as a poisoned chalice. Push it aside however tempting it is. Take the risk of thinking for yourself. Much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to you that way. [sic] (Christopher Hitchens, William Dembski Versus Christopher Hitchens, 2010)

Hitchens, as do many great intellectuals and free-thinkers, pushes the harm of immortality no better in the aforementioned extract. One mentions him here since he has long since departed from this planet and contributed a good deal to the modern free-thought movement.

Immortality, in a way, is more harmful than good, because it steals the time away from us when it is most needed to motivate us. Mortality gives us perspective. It allows us to set aside much needed effort, focusing us to apply consideration to what we do now. Immortality gives us comfort when it is not needed, security when it is not warranted. Mortality gives us the stress when we need it. Time is the only difference between mortality and immortality, as to the mortal time is god, to the immortal time is merely an illusion. Yet, humanity thinks of itself as a god; humans longs to be immortals. With this said, and the last word made on the matter, one can only end with an extract from Alan Lightman’s beautiful book, Einstein’s Dreams, which was written in 1992. It emphasises the cost of immortality:

With Infinite Life comes an infinite list of relatives. Grandparents never die, nor do great-grandparents, great-aunts…and so on, back through the generations, all alive and offering advice. Sons never escape the shadows of their fathers. Nor do daughters of their mothers. No-one-ever comes into his own…such is the price of immortality. No person is whole. No Person is Free. (Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams, p. 93, 1992)

Knowledge is Power.
Use it.

Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson

Letters to a concerned Free-Thinker, Letter #10: Knowledge is power:

In times of silence, the greatest weapon that can be utilised is the power of speech; with it, the cloak of silence can be uplifted and communication restored. We all have ways at which we express ourselves and communicate to others our intentions; it can be both pronounced and subtle, it is all a matter of looking for the right indicators. Language, whether it is non-verbal, verbal or written, is language none-the-less and we express it in every single thing we do in our daily activities in life. Thought is communicated through language, the simple gesture communicates an array of thoughts that our brains’ subconsciously harvest and utilise; we build thought based from external pressures, daily conversations and daily interactions with one another. That is how societies come about; when humans communicate with humans, for the intentions and means of one another’s survival. This interaction evolves into something more than just hedonism and survival; it develops into admiration for the surreal. It develops into the love of the majestic in the natural world; aesthetic qualities, altruistic means, are each adopted by us when our intelligence evolves.

A young woman taught me a lot about myself, her words still echo in my mind even after her long departure. Alison Locke, a woman I shall forever remember, gave me one of the most powerful statements about the human condition; she told me,

“No one should give up so soon on the human condition, everyone who gives up on the human condition is giving up on themselves; for it takes but a moment to realise what it means. It has been said that many individuals do not feel adequate with their place amongst the daunting world, no one notices them, no one understands them; they tell themselves it is there fault for this abandonment. Oh, but it takes a moment to realise the power of one’s actions on another, if they had known that they are but one part of the human experience, if they had known that what they do has impact on others; then they most certainly may understand the state of the human condition. If only they had known their place amongst it, if they had only had the proper will to learn which is at the heart of all of a decent education, for it has been said many a time before…”

“Education is the match stick that lights the world a blaze with the will to learn; to be educated is to be in ability to pursue understanding of the world they inhabit. Education, emancipates the mind from the shackles of ignorance, and empowers the individual towards enlightenment. The human condition is the centre of all of us, what one may do now affects the whole part. My will to understand the world around me, is the will my fellow sister and brother has to understand themselves, ‘true enlightenment’, if it can be called that; is not solely latent in the dormant abyss, but is much more. Enlightenment is to find oneself amongst the abyss, to find understanding of the world around them well acknowledging the dark that surrounds them. That is why the human condition, is tied to us all, we all want to understand the world in which we inhabit, and we all want to be human! No better way of feeling human is to understand, or want to understand, the world around us; to be a part of the human experience, that is what we all do. We all live now with one another, and that is why no one can ever be separate from the human experience, they need only live now in the sun. That is the state of the human condition.”

Empowerment comes from education through the learning and understanding of not just the outer natural paradigm, but of experience of life and the individuals within it. We all are inspired by words that communicate empowerment, we all get goose bumps when listening to something that truly speaks to our metaphoric soul; such as a grand sympathy is being played that truly brings us to deep felt emotions. Our minds relay information from our senses, through sensory experience, our thoughts and expressions respond to this experience, and emotion comes from it. When we lose loved ones we feel the need to express our sensory experience we had with them, in the form of emotion; often that of tears, which brings us closer to those experiences we truly valued from them, its empathy at its finest! Empathy, the emotional attachments we have with one another, are subject to sensory experiences, and the moments we value are ones we remember; glimpses of those sensory experiences of reality are housed in our minds, like machines that store information, our brains hold those experiences in the form of memories. Emotions are built from them; expressions of deep felt belief in the form of passionate language, is just what it means to be human.

Concerned Free-thinker, both young and old, ideas that you express on paper and share with others do have an effect on them; this is guaranteed, but it should not be your intention to change others, it should only be your intention to express ideas. Do not write for fame, for it is an ever-more increasing cancer that consumes and destroys the body. Do not do it to be rich, for it too is a cancer that spreads. Do not try to be someone else, never mimic another man’s voice lest ye want to hold the baggage he carries; difference is uniqueness. An individual has but one life to lead, best they lead it doing something original rather than a copy of another’s.  Seek uniqueness for its own sake, seek independence for its own sake, seek freedom of thought for its own sake; language is meant to express deep felt beliefs and this is just one aspect of language that truly makes it powerful.

There is something that should be addressed in this letter, it has to do with all of us, it has to do with the feeling of being alone; loneliness. There is something unique that connection brings, and that is love; it cannot be stressed enough, that the only cure to a lonely soul is love. There is someone out there who needs help, and the only way they are going to get it, is through the aid of another; this is tantamount to eradicating the sense of loneliness. We all want to feel secure, feel like our words are not falling on deaf ears; we wish to keep connected. This can sometimes be hard in a world that values the individual more than the collective. This is not entirely bad, because after all, we do need people finding their own voice, but we need to keep in mind while when we do this, that we do live among others and in communities. Some of us have families, our “tribes”, at which we use to interact with other “tribes” in an even bigger “Tribe”, we call society. We are social creatures and need to feel as if we are contributing, for if we do not we feel we are contributing we will instead feel that we are doing a detriment to society; this is why so many who have the feeling of loneliness think that no one loves them, if unchecked this feeling leads to an even greater sense, that one is simply not needed and therefore should rid himself from society all together. That is why suicide is such a prevalent matter in the western world, as in the west we privilege success and innovation, but forget community. As a thinker living in the west, you should remember that the way you can change this is through the words you write and the language you express; it can be said that the individual who can inspire just one person out of a crowd of millions, has the potential to change the world for the better. After all ideas are theoretical applications that are created in response to the world around us and the reality we live in, for the sole purpose that they have is to one day become practical applications that we can utilise in reality, to create a “progressive reality”. That is why thought, especially free-thought (not in the arrogance of selfish values) in a free-society, should be utilised for the better.

This brings us to the centre of this letter, and that has to do with the power of language, and its contribution to the empowerment of the individual through the enlightenment of the mind.  Knowledge (as mentioned in the pursuit of epistemology letter to you), has to do with our understanding of the wider natural paradigm we exist in. We establish understanding through ideas that we have that are justified by the natural realm, to constitute it as being potentially valuable in understanding ourselves and the outer world of our brain. Language is one way we come about knowledge; through interaction, we can stir up the pot of ideas…two minds are indeed better than one. Enlightenment was built on the principle, that cooperation for the benefit of one’s understanding and one’s potential is crucial in achieving knowledge and understanding. The enlightenment movement of the 18th and 19th century that spawned science, individualism and the rejection of tradition, was built on this principle; better benefiting one another with education and empowerment of the self, rather than the acceptance of dogma from sources of “antiquity”. No longer was it the norm to simply nod about when given a potential source of information, the norm became cultivating and questioning the ideas within that information, for the better enlightenment of social activity and individual understanding.

With the introduction of free-thought, which then was a privileged gift from wealth (which is sad, because today wealth does play a major part in education; robbing “free” from “Free-thought.”), could be entitled to all. Poverty was created with this growing distinction between self-righteousness and self-enlightenment, very different things; the one seeks to view learning as a means to an end, the other sought to better fulfil one’s knowledge in accordance to others. The mistake when it comes to knowledge, is the illusion that knowledge somehow will guarantee you privilege; that is not the case, in fact, it can be said privilege only comes about through circumstance. People of enlightenment, may be knowledgeably better off, but often they miss circumstance to promote themselves and their constituency; living under the infatuation of another. This is why not everyone is remembered in the cannon of history, and a lot of individuals do get left out and marginalised. This is why circumstance and enlightenment harbour (unfortunately), appreciation in our materialist paradigm in the west. Now materialism is not necessarily a bad thing, after all, our bodies are made of organic material and one cannot help but note that to survive you must adopt the material.

Where does language fit exactly in the marketplace of ideas? Well dear thinker, where it fits is in the transportation of ideas to others; the value of the enlightenment introduced the mass production of ideas and the creation of the free enterprise. This enterprise was for all who were willing to take a rational approach to every day viewing. This is why nothing taken on faith is considered worth anything unless justified with sufficient evidence; for fools only accept things based on nothing. Knowledge is power, if you know how to use it; the reason why it is power, is because it can do one thing and that is empower. When people are empowered by ideas and understandings of those ideas, they will in all circumstances improve themselves; this is the nature of an enlightened mind, which always seeks to improve that which needs improvement. Books, poems, interactions etc., are all forms of inspiration and enlightenment for the individual, to not only find his voice, but acknowledge his place among the social species. Yet the enlightenment is not for the “privileged few, in some elitist mind out there, it is for everyone, and in-fact can only work effectively with the entire collective; as opposed to the minority of a culture. The measure of success really does come when the majority truly start to improve themselves, having the will to progress and change and spread the enlightenment to others in the way to help them. This is an ideology, not just an idea, but a belief put into practise; this may deter people, but it is the only ideology that seeks universal acceptance and fulfilment, why should it be deterred?

The essence of free-thought is housed in the enlightenment movement, never before could one read the works of great literature without being hassled by the government and tradition of the day. The burning of books by societies, that are ruled by those who reject the freedom to learn and the freedom that the enlightenment brings; are societies where suffering and misery increase, as silence is adopted and fear pressed, we should all be weary of the value of language being deplored in such societies. Language is at the centre of the trade and teaching of ideas to others, this communication that is at the heart of the pursuit of empowerment through the affirmation of knowledge, is central to the utilisation and enhancement of our species. When we step into the world and embrace it for what it is rather then what we want it to be (deplore nihilism), finding understanding from the things we are curious to find out about, then do we gain potential. We still do not know a lot about the world, we still are finding out new and interesting things about our existence and there is never enough for one to learn and understand, nor enough for one to teach (the essence of philosophy is its application to spread ideas to others, in the hopes of better fulfilment and enrichment.). There is never a lack of unknown things to be known, the world and the cosmos are filled with countless of undiscovered worlds and undiscovered things, which it would be foolish to ignore or learn from it. There was never a dull movement for words to play into the alteration of human development; (forgetting the old stories and lessons of history, in favour of the new, “Out with the old, in with the new”, as the old saying goes. The value of language in every day conversation is the main reason for progression among our species.) from the primitive grunts used for the most simplistic needs and survival between each other. This has evolved into huge applications and sophistications of letters and speech to be harvested by ourselves to better enhance the world. Who does not want to see the riddance of poverty, intolerance and injustice? Who does not want to see all these things which deplore man; rid of? It takes just one voice, one word to just one individual, to change the world; there is never an idea too small to be used, or too big to be understood. It just takes the will power to learn and embrace what is, beauty and enlightenment come from it.

This brings us to the end of the letter, my dear thinker, I have written many letters to you and I will continue to do so. But there is one thing I need you to remember, corny as it may sound, ‘never forget yourself’; in a world where conformity is pushed, and confusion rife, remember your voice. Remember why you learn in the first place, why you embrace the pursuit of epistemology, why you are willing to go the extra mile in the journey only limited to a short distance. “The journey of a thousand miles starts with the single step” (Leo Tzu) and you are taking that step and running. Socrates, Hitchens, Nietzsche, Sagan and all the other thinkers, philosophers, doubters and scientists had tough times finding their own voice; but at the end, men like these found themselves (though it was never easy) doing something truly revolutionary. Spreading the ideas they created to others, in the hopes of further improving the world. That is my goal as I write to you, that you take something from these letters as I continue to send them, some form of will to understand the world. The will to understand ideas and life, and all these things, take what you can from them and run for the mountain tops. Remember that we all stand on the shoulders of greatness, it only takes acknowledgement of this fact to truly wish to continue the pursuit of understanding; this is the heart of all that one has to offer now…just listen read closely.

Knowledge is power

Use it.

Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson