nihilistic, doesn't it? I've heard this from a philosophy professor, but also from normal people who don't seem to be able to explain what they are saying. Often it seems reactionary.
I've always had a problem with this school of thought, but I've never been able to really wrap my head around why, and what I thought was the more accurate way to look at the world.
But lately, I've formed this idea of reality that I thought I'd share with you. I've never taken a philosophy class, so excuse me if it sounds silly.
Ok, if I say "finger", most of us on the planet know what I am talking about. You can lift your finger triumphantly in the air and waggle it about. You can touch your keyboard with it. Even babies can learn what a finger is and how to use it to pick their noses and do other fun things.
Language helps us form a consensual reality. This reality is basically universal. For instance, I can say "love" and translate that into Japanese, and a Japanese person can get the general idea of what I am talking about. If I form a sentence, "I love my child", that other person on the other side of the planet can relate to that statement and agree or disagree.
Consensual reality has often been explained as "if enough people believe something, then it's real." This is not necessarily true. For instance, most people believe in a deity, but there is no evidence of anything supernatural, so most people are probably wrong. But just about everyone knows that water is wet, and they are correct.
People fall into the Bandwagon Fallacy trap often, though, and marketing companies and politicians use it ad nauseum to manipulate people. How many times have you been told something like "the majority of the people in this country are Christians, therefore we are a a Christian nation, and Christianity is the True religion." Or, "most people love these chips, so you have to try them."
But if you define it properly, then we do have a consensual reality. Language of all sorts helps us share our experiences and communicate to others, sometimes even from around the world.
For example, a person can go to some remote area of the Amazon where a tribe has been cut off from the rest of the world for eons, and the two disparate peoples can learn to communicate with each other in a short time. First you have body language, pointing, gestures, etc. Then you have spoken language combined with pointing.
But it's even more than that. My dog, a creature of a different species, responds to my communications with her. I can tell her to "sit" in English. I might add a hand signal. And she will sit because she understands what I'm saying to her. We have trained each other.
That's a form of consensual reality. If we had no objective meaning in our lives, we couldn't share our thoughts and feelings, and our actions would not impact other people.
The philosophy professor I met who said, "we can't know anything, and therefore it's all meaningless" used the same language I use to tell my dog to give me her paw. He used the same way of communicating his nihilistic view while he sat in a chair and drank a latte.
I also sat in a chair next to him and drank tea. We both understood what the other person was drinking and sitting on because we have both learned the same language, and we both used our senses to smell and look at the tea, and to see and feel the chairs.
So, I think to say that we can't know anything is not just meaningless but hypocritical because you use your brain and language to express that idea. The same brain that lets you drive a car, use a cell phone, have a conversation.
I've also heard religious people express something similar, that reality is subjective. But it's been awhile so I can't recall their arguments enough to tackle them.
Has anyone ever expressed this philosophy to you? Or do you feel that reality is subjective? If so, why?
Also, have you ever heard a religious person express something similar?
A note on nihilism. I think that there is a grain of truth to what they are saying. Nihilism posits that life has no intrinsic value, purpose or meaning. I think that it's easy for a new atheist to think that this is the case. And, in a way it is.
There is no loving creator who gives us a purpose. No one has a destiny. No one is owed anything. There is no karma or justice or fairness.
Here's the key to not falling into a black depression over this information. As humans with consciousness, we are how the Cosmos can know itself.
We create justice for ourselves, we create fairness. There's still no supreme loving deity pulling our strings (which I prefer, actually) but we create our own purpose and we decide what is valuable to us as individuals, as small groups, as societies, and as the entire human race. We do all of that, all on our own, with our big brains. We feel love and passion, grief and happiness.
It's just that some people mislabel our values, our morals, our justice, and our purpose as coming from an external source instead. Which is sad because they are forfeiting their responsibility and decision-making to something that doesn't exist.
For those of us who come to terms with the fact that we are steering our own ships through the darkness, we are then able to make smarter decisions than abdicating to a fickle, jealous, angry deity of which there is no evidence.