Two days as a "materialist", Experiment

Perhaps this belongs in Social/Natural Sciences or Psychology but because I like Philosophy much more than Science I will put it here.

A couple weeks ago I decided to try and think like a materalist (or at least the way I thought a materialist would think), as in every realm of philosophy I try to be my worst critic and often empathize with those who’s believe are completley opposite/differant from mine in order to understand how i could be wrong , why they disagree with me (or better yet “Why they disagree?”).

Basically in my normal midset I believe in an eternal soul, an afterlife and gods (though not necessarily the absolute specifics of any, as i am still not sure as to the true nature of each). I believe there is a bright side to any situation and that all things happen for a reason. I dont believe anything in the physical world can ever become “Utopian” or “Perfect” but I do think people should strive to come as close to it as is possible (Happiness) . I believe conflict is a natural part of life and growth and therefore I don’t think world peace is something that can be achieved (I think there will always be wars). I also believe Justice is a real part of the natural order of things and not merely a concept we hold in our minds.

That said I went a couple of days looking at life as if no one had a soul, there was no afterlife, nor gods, no divine justice, Simply having consciousness in a random inherintly meaningless existance. My basic morality didnt change but the actually purpose for it seemed unclear, “Why care about anything if everyone will be dead eventually anyway?” My opinion on dieing didnt change, “every one dies, its pointless to fear it and it is ultimately futile to try and avoid it.” I still held onto concepts of being a good person but again i didn’t really understand why, “If when you die you cease to exist What is ultimatley the differance between living a long happy live and a short horrible one if the end result is a blank slate?”

In this state of mind I saw self awarness as a cruel curse, hexed on me by apparently random chance and frighteningly enough I started thinking that perhaps the quote that I most despise would be true, that “Ignorance is Bliss” :-& .

I also started to think of Near Death Experiances as merely hallucnations occuring in the brain due to the lack of oxygen going to the brain.
How cruel a fate to not only live in an existance with no afterlive but to be fooled by ones own mind into believing it to be true!

Eventually I stopped because some of these ideas seemed so ridicoulous to me and I firmly decided I could never nor would ever want to be a materialist.

I would describe the experiance as Bleak and overwhelmingly Apathetic, I’m a little suprised that a lot of materialists don’t simply shoot themselves in the head. :question:

I don’t envy you materialists, yours is a hard lot it life, a poorly chosen one in my opinion but a hard one all the same. :wink:

Kudos for actually trying out some ideas in the flesh, although I don’t know if 2 days is long enough nor if it’s really relevant considering you were so opposed to it in the first place. Because to claim that you turned away from Materialism because the ideas are “ridiculous” appears…disingenuous as it seems more likely that you turned away because you simply didn’t like the ideas. They left you with a bad tummy. Meh.

You also have a backwards view of Happiness, as that ‘striving for an impossible perfection,’ has also been labelled Tragedy.

but again i didn’t really understand why, “If when you die you cease to exist What is ultimatley the differance between living a long happy live and a short horrible one if the end result is a blank slate?”

Two things for me (as a weak materialist) really

  1. That it enhances your life, those around you as you live it.

  2. That that this ‘effect’ goes forward in those around you, kids if you have em and stuff you may leave towards the future
    (Nicely illustrated in ‘It’s a wonderful life’ - where its not heaven or hell thats a fundamental concern for Clarance but what would have been different if the fella had never lived)

A good materialist would probably allow a longer time frame for such and experiment and maybe involve a group of people. Your methodolgy and set up do seem to anticipate your conclusions a bit - but, in fairness, plenty of ‘scientific’ surveys do this too!

Like manys the weak materialist I’d actualy be very pleased if you were right about the after life, near death experience etc!



What you describe isn’t exactly materialism.

You don’t have to believe in matter to look at life “as if no one had a soul, there was no afterlife, nor gods, no divine justice.” Matter is a dualist medium, posed to exist as the object of one’s subjective experiences. I have rejected it myself because there is no immediate experience of matter, only mediate - “through my interpretations” of it. I grew up with that outlook, but ditched it at around 19 years old - and I still don’t believe in souls, afterlife, gods and divine justice.

A better label for what you tried out would probably be existentialism. (There is an irony here, with materialism meaning the belief that everything is matter: matter was posed as something that lasted - hence phrases like “what really matters”. Souls are also things that last, only they are “spirit” rather than “object”. A belief in materialism only differs from your belief in that it favours “mass” over “energy”).

You would be remissed to not experiment with all outlooks on life. I remember switching back to materialism as a test once, and I suddenly felt minute and insignificant in a world seemingly far more vast than I could comprehend. It made me wonder why people pose the medium of “matter” at all - maybe they like feeling small.

I regard souls, afterlife, gods and divine justice as other superimposed concepts. They are like a carrot on the end of a stick, beckoning you through life with the promise of reward and lack of loss. The emptiness you felt would have been the experience of having this be taken away from you. Perhaps people with your beliefs like being led through life, perhaps even being eager to get through it? I don’t want to live for someone or something else, I would rather linger and enjoy life without belief in concepts that promise something better, luring me away from it toward “something else”.

Existentialism is for those who like life for what it is - not for what comes at the end, controls it, moderates it and eternalises it “from beyond” (a beyond that you will never experience while alive). Is it so awful to be left with life and nothing more?

I think it teaches you to live, and your beliefs teach you to look away from life - and that is bleak and apathetic.

What the experiment could mean is that transition is difficult and unsettling, and not necessarily the materialistic view itself.

The corporate social darwinists are thriving in their materialist world. Those with more spiritual humanist leanings find this very very strange, but the idea of karma does offer a kind of explanation methinks.

Materialism as a philosophical position needn’t be materialism in the consummerist sense.

And karma doesn’t explain anything, it’s cause and effect turned into a metaphysical moral mess.

Did you try imagining that tomorrow you or a loved one will be dead? I suppose everyone is different, but I would have thought that most people who tried that would feel a heightened sense of caring.

Karma is cause and effect with respect to morality. Usually when you introduce cause and effect into something chaotic and boundless it’s seen as an introduction of some kind of systematic order. The whole point is explanation - just as fluid dynamics can help explain ocean currents.

So you don’t believe it’s true because it would make you happier and be easier for it not to be? Doesn’t seem very rigorous.

There’s a lot of work and thought gone into addressing the existential angst you felt. More than 2 days worth, anyway :slight_smile: Yes, it’s uncomfortable thinking there’s no father figure looking after you and guaranteeing that death isn’t real, but if you’ve no real reason to believe it other than that it puts off facing reality’s difficulties, the tooth fairy and Santa Claus are still out there waiting for believers too.

Ok, Anon, my understanding of Karma is admittely basic, but here is how i think about it, maybe you can say where you disagree :

Cause and effect can be used to describe (eg explain) things, and that works well enough in specific context. Turning those terms into a principle of causality, as a law of the universe, or an unbroken chain of cause and effect, is a turn to metaphysics. It clouds more then it explains. The point of that metaphysics is often to prescribe a morality, rather than describe, though it may do this under the guise of a description, or the Truth. From what i know of it, Karma seems to be such a metaphysics.

Just people would like to believe that their good actions, or good intentions, will be met with good consequences, and evil actions will receive their due. But this is only what they wish morality to be, i don’t think it describes it all that well when confronted with real evidence. “Goodness” will be abused often enough, and “bad” people get away with things all the time, if they are smart about it.

How specific a context are you talking about? Most people, scientists included, describe change in terms of cause and effect as a principle, and a law of the universe. It is about pattern recognition. If you can recognize the patterns, you can have some control over how things work. So science naturally leads to technology, to the point where it can be hard to differentiate the two.

Karma is a working theory with respect to what kinds of thoughts and behaviors increase suffering for oneself and others, and what kinds of thoughts and behaviors decrease suffering for oneself and others. People who believe in the workings of karma take a middle view between two extremes: that the quality of one’s life is a matter of chance and that the quality of one’s life is a matter of fate.

I don’t think karmic theory is correctly seen as a theory of justice, or divine retribution.

I’ve written a bit more about karmic theory in the past here. One thread specifically discussed the non-theistic nature of karma in the Buddhist tradition.

I dunno, something like, if i drive off a cliff i will likely die. The driving of the cliff being the cause, and me dying the effect. They are words used to split up events into more understandable bits. But it’s not an unbroken chain of cause and effects. Not everything needs to be related with everything.

I don’t know if they view it as a law of the universe, maybe they do, but then i would disagree with that.

I don’t know if this is good, but here’s a passage from wiki about the hinduist version of karma :

[i]Karma is not punishment or retribution but simply an extended expression or consequence of natural acts. Karma means “deed” or “act” and more broadly names the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction, that governs all life. The effects experienced are also able to be mitigated by actions and are not necessarily fated. That is to say, a particular action now is not binding to some particular, pre-determined future experience or reaction; it is not a simple, one-to-one correspondence of reward or punishment.

Karma is not fate, for humans act with free will creating their own destiny. According to the Vedas, if one sows goodness, one will reap goodness; if one sows evil, one will reap evil. Karma refers to the totality of our actions and their concomitant reactions in this and previous lives, all of which determines our future. The conquest of karma lies in intelligent action and dispassionate response.[/i]

Even if ignore the parts about free will, previous lives, etc,… i still can’t subcribe to the picture of causality that’s been painted here. I just don’t think everything is connected. “The totality of our actions” certainly goes beyond the specific context i was speaking of earlier.

The article indeed claims Karma is not about retribution, but to me it just looks like they have invented a natural version of God to introduce retribution.

What could else be the motivation behind such a doctrine, absent any concrete evidence to support it?

Edit : I will add that i possibly could agree with a light version of Karma, eg that our actions have consequences, and that it’s a good idea to take that into account.

To clarify, all I’m discussing here is my understanding of karma in the Buddhist tradition. There are many variations on karmic theory. I’m personally only really interested in one of them.

Buddhism doesn’t discuss an unbroken chain of cause and effect. Buddhists talk about dependent origination.

Sure. Likewise, I don’t think of karma as a “law of the universe” either. Some do. The Buddha in fact is said to have rejected that view as well. When he asked a student to explain dependent origination, that students said “when such and such happens, such and such will definitely occur”. The Buddha said that was an incorrect understanding of dependent origination. (Karma and dependent origination are inextricably linked concepts in Buddhist theory.)

Maybe I’m misunderstanding your objection though.

What do you mean what else could be the motivation? The motivation is related to the existence of suffering, and the desire to understand how it works.

Some people think quality of life depends on chance. Some people think it depends on fate. Some people think it depends on having lots of things. Buddhist theory disagrees with all of the above, and proposes its own view.

Yeah, i figured as much, that there are a lot of versions, and that there was a possibility that we were talking past eachother. My comment was initially made in the context of Jonquils sleight at materialists. Insofar as Karma is similar to the materialistic view on cause and effect, i have no problem with it.

You think people will stick to pure understanding of how it works, the existence of suffering? They’ll want to do something about is first and foremost, no?

That’s why i think it’s purpose is prescriptive, more than descriptive… especially if there are no real observable facts that could support the more exotic elements of the theory.

Let me try this. Do you think people will act differently if they believe :

a) God is watching all of their actions, and will punish them for the bad ones

b) All of their actions will have their consequences in the future of their live, and even in future lives (i know this is not your view on it), and that good will reap good, etc…

c) Their actions only have direct physical consequences, and everything else is totally random

Brilliant. Can I use that one (with reference)?

Revenge lurks in the soul of spiritual types as well I see.

Well, you’ve got the existential angst bit down well, but there’s a lot more to materialism than “coping” (i use that term loosely) with no gods, no eternal life, and no moral world order. Part of being a materialist is to be forever questioning, forever hunting, forever curious, forever inquisitive. We are never naive or egotistical enough to claim we are a special snowflake with a divinely sanctioned moral purpose.

Yes, sure, go ahead. And thank you for the compliment!