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We will start this magisterial explanation of everything with the time-honored approach of the philosoñher, beginning with the things we know beyond doubt and then reasoning from them to suitably astonishing truths. As we know, Descartes began by saying, “Cogito ergo sum,” I think therefore I am.” (Ambrose Bierce, a more profound thinker, said, “Cogito cogito, ergo cogito sum. Cogito.” Butthis way lies madness.) So with what certain knowledge can we begin our quest?

Our only certain knowledge is that we don’t have any. Acceptance of this condition will diminish the world’s output of philosophy, or so we may hope, but this column faces reality with a brave front. We may now list our certainties:

We don’t know where we came from, where we are, why, what if anything we should do while we are here, and where if anywhere we go when we die.

On this bedrock we shall construct our philosophy of everything. However, before we begin thinking about these profound matters, we need to take into account one more certainty:

Thinking is impossible.

I will explain. But what it comes to is that while we know nothing about which to think, it doesn’t matter because we couldn’t think about it if we did know something.

Why? Consider the brain. It is an electrochemical mechanism, blindly obeying the laws of physics and chemistry (chemistry being the physics of the interactions of atoms). For example, consider a nerve impulse propagating along a neural fiber, depolarizing, sodium in, potassium out. Pure chemistry and physics. When the impulse comes to a synapse, a neurotransmitter diffuses across the gap, pure chemistry and physics. It can’t do anything else. Even chemicals with long, imposing names cannot make choices. The neurotransmitter then binds to receptor sites, because it has to. Textbooks of neurophysiology state it thus: “A brain has less free will than a wind-up clock.” Or at least if it were so stated, it would be. This is close enough for philosophy.

Putting it precisely, the state of a physical system is determined entirely by its previous state. This establishes beyond doubt that we have no free will, and that what we think are thoughts were determined at the time of the Big Bang, if any.

Now, no philosophical essay can be held in repute unless it contains words ending “ism.” The reigning creed today is materialism, the philosophy of the wantonly inattentive. Many who believe in materialism are of high intelligence, and so can only be sufficiently inattentive by great effort.

Anyway, a materialist believes than nothing exists but space, time, matter, and energy, however hyphenated. That is, physics. As the physicist Joe Friday said.

“The physics, ma’am, just the physics, and nothing but the physics.”

This means that the Big Bang, if any, was set up, or I suppose I should say, set itself up, like one of those billiard-table trick shots. You know the kind: The balls seem randomly placed on the table but bounce around a lot before miraculously running into the pockets like birds returning to their nests. In the Bang, if any, all those subatomic whatsamajigggers erupted forth at exactly the right angles and velocities so that, billions of years later, they formed Elvis, San Francisco, and Hillary. (This had to be by chance, since no one in his right mind would form Hillary on purpose. QED.)

Next, consider plane geometry as taught in high school. (You may wonder why we have to consider it. Well, we just do.) Plane geometry deals with planes, lines, points, angles, and nothing else. It is useful and interesting, but it cannot explain a cheeseburger, Formula One race, or political hysteria. Why? Because cheeseburgers exist in three dimensions, which plane geometry doesn’t have. Formula One races involve matter, energy, and motion, which plane geometry also doesn’t have. Hysteria is an emotional state associated with liberal co-eds in pricey northern colleges who, thank God, do not exist in mathematics.

What it comes to is that a logical system is defined by its premises, and all downstream results are mere elaboration. (Of course, as established in the beginning of this luminous essay, we have no premises except the lack of premises, but philosophy readily overlooks such minor hindrances.) Plane geometry is not wrong. It is just incomplete.

To state it in mathematical terms, you cannot flatten a cheeseburger enough to fit into a plane.

Physics, the foundation of the current official story of everything, also depends on its premises. Physics is just mathematical materialism. From its equations one may derive all manner of fascinating and useful things, such as planetary motion, npn transistors, smartphones, nerve gas, and hydrogen bombs. (Some of these may be more useful than others.)

But, just as you cannot get strawberry milkshakes from plane geometry, because they are not implicit in it, there are things you cannot derive from the equations of physics: Consciousness, free will, beauty, morality, or curiosity–the whiches there just ain’t in physics. This would not worry a rational thinker. He (or, assuredly, she) would simply state the obvious: Physics is not wrong, but incomplete. It does what it does, and doesn’t do what it can’t. Not too mysterious, that.

However, the true-believing physics-is-all Neo-Darwinian matter-monger cannot admit that anything–anything at all–exists outside of physics. Since some things obviously do, the only-physics enthusiasts have to resort to contorted logic. I think of kite string in a ceiling fan. Or simple denial.

For example, sometimes they say that consciousness is merely an “epiphenomenon.” Oh. And what does that mean? Nothing. (Actually it means, “I don’t know, but if I use a polysyllabic Greek word, maybe nobody will notice.”) Epiphenomenon of what?

Sometimes they will say, “Well, consciousness is just a by-product of complexity.” But if consciousness is a byproduct what is the primary product? A computer is somewhat complex, so is it somewhat conscious? Is a mouse less conscious than a human or just, in some cases, less intelligent?

A materialist ignoring consciousness is exactly equivalent to a geometer ignoring cheeseburgers.

We will now examine the question, where did we come from? The answer is ready to hand: We don’t have a clue. We make up stories. The physics-only folk say, see, there was the Big Bang and all these electrons and protons and things flew out and just by chance formed Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company in the most motingator a-stonishing pool-table trick shot ever set up. Just by accident. Damn! Who would have thought it?

Of course any sane person, to include materialists when they are thinking of something else, would say that TSMC was designed by hordes of Chinese engineers. But of course designing anything requires mind and intelligence (or a computer designed to simulate these things), But Mind cannot be derived from the equations of physics. Therefore we are all mindless. In general human behavior supports this.

Of course other stories exist. Yahweh created the world, or maybe Shiva, or Allah, and I think some remote tribes believe that it just appeared on the back of a giant turtle. I have no information on the matter, though frankly I incline to the turtle story, but will let the reader know the instant I find out.

The weakness of creation myths from Bang to Turtle is the question of the five-year-old, “But Mommy, where did God come from?” or “Who made God?” Fifteen years later in dorm-room bull sessions he will phrase it differently, “Well, what came before the Big Bang?” Same question.

A sort of second-echelon creation myth now in vogue is Darwinian evolution, also a subset of physics and therefore completely determined. Mutations are chemical events following the laws of chemistry. Thus trilobites had no choice but to form, and so they did. Metabolism is physical from the level of ATP to animals eating each other.

There is of course no such thing as a sex drive, teenagers notwithstanding, since no sort of drive can be derived from physics. (This will no doubt devastate Pornhub.) From this the inevitable conclusion, proven by physics, A that we cannot reproduce. Therefore we either have always existed or do not exist at all.

To give oneself an aura of overwelling wisdom, one may say things like ontology, epistemology, entelechy, and teleology, but these do not detract from mankind’s underlying and perfect ignorance.

It’s all a trick shot, I tell you.

A Grand Adventure: Wisdom’s Price

Amazon review: “More outrage and sedition from the internet’s leading curmudgeon. Sardonic, funny, savagely irreverent, Fred trounces everything and everybody except children, drunks, and bar girls, for whom he has a soft spot. He also likes dogs. This is the man who described Oprah Winfrey as looking like “five hundred pounds of bear liver in a plastic bag.” A former Marine and war correspondent, he loathes war, the Pentagon, and the military budget, and thinks the Marines can do the world a favor by

Write Fred at [email protected] Put the letters pdq anywhere in the subject line to prevent autodeletion

• Category: Science • Tags: Brain, Darwinism 
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  1. Physicist have trouble explaining how life arose out of inert matter but the whole subject just fades away if you assume that the Universe is alive.

    There was no Big Bang. There will be no heat death of the Universe. Both are mythologies.

    (1) Once upon a time there was this Big Cosmic Egg. And one day it hatched and out poured everything!

    (2) With no one around to wind them, ultimately, all alarm clocks wind down. Even God’s. And that will be a sad day because then God won’t wake up and we’ll all partake of the Big Sleep.

    • Replies: @Anon
  2. Rurik says:

    ”I think therefore I am.”

    It is the only thing we can be sure of, and the starting point of all reason. ‘What do you know for certain? ‘I know that I exist’. Exactly, and then go from there.

    ‘But this way lies madness’

    Just the opposite. Madness is a result of holding contradictory ideas in your head simultaneously. It fucks with the ‘wiring’ of the brain.

    Consciousness, free will, beauty, morality, or curiosity–the whiches there just ain’t in physics.

    Sure there is, it’s just a rather higher level of physics. Just because love can be reduced to chemicals swirling in your hippocampus, doesn’t make it any less real. If I think, therefor I am’, if I love, therefor I am exalted.

    A sort of second-echelon creation myth now in vogue is Darwinian evolution, also a subset of physics and therefore completely determined. Mutations are chemical events following the laws of chemistry. Thus trilobites had no choice but to form, and so they did.

    Did you, Fred, have a choice but to form?

    And at that moment when that particular little swimmer made it to his goal, and you were formed, did you have a choice in what would transpire next? At what point did your free will take over? When you were five? Fifteen? Fifty? At fifty, were you able to free yourself and your opinions and your destiny from everything that had transpired up until that moment? Or, is the Fred of right now, determined by everything that had occurred right up until now?

    Can I wake up tomorrow and see the world through Oprah’s eyes? Or am I destined to view and experience life though the eyes and DNA I was born with, and how my experiences have effected me?

    Can I say, hell, Rurik, you know what? I’ve decided I’m going to be a genius! Enough of this mediocre perspective on life. I’m going have great thoughts and philosophical insights!

    OK… Well, just now.. Umm, well, OK then, come on! You’re still thinking about those great tits someone just emailed you, come on, enough of that! Now on to Descartes and Marcus Aurelius… ‘tits, tits, tits…’




    Oh well, tits aren’t so bad.

  3. Most people just can’t handle the uncertainty.

    Even Edward Arlington Robinson, who said, “The world is not a prison house, but a kind of spiritual kindergarten where millions of of bewildered infants are trying to spell God with the wrong blocks,” had to assume an underlying greater reality.

    But, “Malt does more than Milton can …”

    Everybody’s got to believe in something, right now, I believe I’ll have another beer.

  4. Muggles says:

    Anyone can write about philosophical subjects.

    Doing that well is very hard.

    Unfortunately, Fred here evidently has never cracked a book on the subject or taken a class.

    Half baked theology isn’t a real substitute.

    Nonetheless, let a 1000 flowers blossom!

  5. That was one of my favorite columns ever by you, Fred, if that means anything the way they have been going lately. ;-}

    To give the physicists a little credit though, I’ll say this: Just as spherical geometry modified (or maybe just added upon) Euclidean geometry when the world is a surface of a sphere, and relativity was added on (but didn’t negate) Newtonian geometry, when trying to describe fast objects, waves/particles, what-have you, they’d figure that the things you rightly state as not explained yet, such as consciousness, could eventually be explained by further types of physics.

    They’d be wrong though, but I’m just sayin’…

  6. dearieme says:

    The universe is a pool hall but it’s God who chalks the cues.

    I rather like that. I wonder what it means.

  7. The eternal silence of these infinite spaces
    Is shattered by my neighbor’s
    Bong coughs.

    • Replies: @ThreeCranes
  8. willem1 says:

    Fred–love your stuff, but this has to be one of the weirdest pieces you ever wrote. (And that’s going some, I’m sure you’d agree.) I’ve actually read a lot and thought a lot about this subject, which at least made it a bit easier for me to read….

  9. IvyMike says:

    Descartes started his argument stating, ‘Cogito; Sum.’, I think; I am, because Cogito ergo sum is a syllogism positing a priori knowledge, and Descartes was arguing there is no knowledge more basic than the cogito. He does end up saying cogito ergo sum, obviously leaving the ergo out makes it no less a syllogism. I think, therefore I am, posits the a priori knowledge that anything that thinks, is. The science of Philosophy deals with this fatal Cartesian flaw by ignoring it. So be it. He did come up with that nifty xy axis thing which was my stopping point with mathematics.
    Darwinian Evolution is a term that is only used by Creationists and the political hacks at the Discovery Institute (if such a thing still exists). Most actual Biologists don’t consider evolution separate from biology, it’s just another tool for understanding data, and most of Darwin’s work is irrelevant now.
    Nobody knows what’s going on, I believe in cheap white tequila, ribeyes, and skinny women.

  10. AaronB says:

    To realize that we cannot know anything has always been recognized as the greatest wisdom.

    The Buddhism of the Far East and Tibet basically made a religion out of the idea that we cannot know – none of our concepts are valid, and the world is a dream.

    In ancient Greece, Pyrhonnian skepticism made the same point, and offered it as the basis for salvation.

    Indeed, life becomes rather lighthearted and carefree and joyful – the great burden is lifted.

    I sometimes feel so sorry for all the poor people on Unz – they suffer so much, because they take themselves and the world so intensely seriously. They don’t know they are getting so upset basically over a dream, an illusion.

  11. Descartes saw it in the clear light of day.

    Confucius, in his Eastern way, did not see it so brightly: “Cogito dim sum.”

  12. So…Fred…did you drop a lot of acid back in the hippie days?

  13. you cannot flatten a cheeseburger enough to fit into a plane

    But you can analyse its projection onto the plane; given enough observations you can get a very good estimate of its likely effects on life in the plane.

    There will be a whole bunch of things that won’t be able to be observed – why did its velocity across the plane suddenly increase? Why that direction?

    For those, people will make up stories that are untestable (and whose effects are mostly irrelevant in ℝ²). Beware of those people: they have a ‘type’, and it’s not a positive type.

    I’m not a fan of Plato, but his cave analogy is a keeper.

    We can observe ℝ³ (at least locally), and we can observe T (time) in one direction. Near as we can tell, it’s possible to move in any dimension in ℝ³ independent of the other dimensions… but not independent of T.

    The observations that we make are the ‘shadow’ cast on our sensors, by phenomena that are happening in a universe with some almost-certainly-larger number of dimensions than the 3 (and weak 4th) that we can observe.

    Where our sensors are incapable of observing the underlying cause for some physical phenomenon… people will make up stories. Beware of those people.

    Our sensors are way better than they used to be – so a lot of the stories that ‘those people’ have told have turned out to have been self-serving lies.

    We can see pathogens now – so we know why someone died of plague (nothing to do with anyone smiting the victim for perceived sins).

    We can see air pressure and humidity… so we know that storms aren’t caused by an angry entity who we haven’t properly propitiated (usually, propitiation = giving their ‘representatives’ a share of our stuff).

    We can see the depths of space … there’s no holiday resort where obedient followers get to spend eternity.

    We can’t (yet) see dimensions other than ℝ³ – but for the last 50 years we’ve struggled to explain the mechanism by which an increasingly-wide range of animals can navigate by magnetoreception (we didn’t find magnetite in pigeons until 2003).

    Give us time – we’re a species that has shown an incredible capacity for finding out stuff. The primary constraints to our finding stuff out are not intelligence or will: it’s usually deliberate interference from powerful groups who would prefer that some things remain un-found-out.

    And soon we will have better ‘helpers’ – ones capable of actual cognition, that is the same proportional gap beyond us, as we are from c. elegans.

    They will solve every ‘knotty’ problem, and a myriad more, within a month after they surpass us in raw cognitive ‘grunt’ and bootstrap their own cognition in ways inconceivable to ours, in domains we don’t know exist (in the same way that bacteria don’t understand how to build an airport).

    My bet is that it happens before I hit the current retirement age.

  14. Anonymous[177] • Disclaimer says:

    Wow, this must be the least thought-provoking article I’ve read in 2020.

  15. Al Lipton says:

    That’s what I’m talking about!

    Keep poking their petrified little brains, Fred. It’s good for humanity; it cures Transgenderism, and Darwinism. Love it!

  16. “To state it in mathematical terms, you cannot flatten a cheeseburger enough to fit into a plane.”

    On the other hand, Violeta’s tortillas . . .

  17. H. says:

    Consciousness is an illusion resulting from the feedback mechanism that allows the brain to adjust its behavior in light of previous experience. Philosophy is an attempt to figure out how something that doesn’t exist can have an illusion.

    • Agree: Kratoklastes
  18. Well…given the title of this piece, followed by the subtitle, the opening paragraph struck me as a fine set-up for a whimsical take on something or another, but I’ll be damned if Fred didn’t actually follow through on his audacious opening conceit and deliver in the subsequent body of work an eminently readable, magisterial disquisition on the uncanniness of reality in its ultimate nature. Bravo, Fred. Consciousness does not exist at the more fundamental material level of atoms and forces but rather is seemingly an emergent phenomenon, thus violating the materialistic, reductionistic conception of science as Fred explains. Fred clearly understands that when the philosopher or scientist purports to explain consciousness he only explains it away, often with the aid of jargon. As Fred understands, middling minds are often fond of jargon – ontology, epistemology, entelechy, teleology – that conveys an appearance of depth of thought, while minds capable of depth of thought strive for clarity of language in order to give clear view to their thought. Perhaps if Fred had a name better suited to literary prejudice – let’s say if Fred’s name was Bernard-Henri Levy – he might then be an important public intellectual. We live in an age of wide apprehension of appearances and dull appraisal of essence. Virtually any product well packaged can be a success in this age – just like all the ages that came before this one.

    • Thanks: Hail
  19. @AaronB

    The parable of The Star Thrower has become hackneyed schmaltz, but the Eiseley original (which is only 14 small pages) is well worth reading.

    In the original, when the narrator encounters the man saving the starfish[1], the Star Thrower invites him to participate – to make a life-saving difference to these trapped, doomed animals.

    The narrator declines and walks away.

    It is only later – on reflection – that the narrator realises what he should have done and goes back (the next day) and participates.

    That’s much more realistic than the schlocky version.

    In an even more representative version, he wouldn’t have gone back. In reality, people who walk away from a good example, don’t come back. Most people would walk away.

    [1] He’s not actually guaranteeing that the starfish are saved – and he knows it:

    It may live,” he said, “if the offshore pull is strong enough.”

    All he was doing was improving the odds.

  20. Laughed my head off and started coughing. A turtle as creation myth. Where have I seen that before?

    • Replies: @Weston Waroda
    , @bluedog
  21. Ayahuasca and Ibogaine mine the depths of the subconscious to the point of curing heroin addicts. Proper access to the subconscious could be the final frontier for those who are sincerely interested in teleology, ontology….. etc.

    Man’s understanding of those great concepts is but the tip of the tip of the Iceberg usually droned on about year after year by tweed jacketed pompous asses in Ivy league halls.

    Modern society has no use for or interest in the answers to the great questions of existence. The 19th century was well ahead of the present one in exploring these topics (let alone ancient Greece).

    “Know thyself” (and moderation) properly applied could cure people of their past, present and future issues. Instead confusion is promoted, greatly aided by technological devices leading to the fattening of the money vaults of the great pharma conglomerates who have all the uppers, downers and all-arounders you would ever need to stumble through life acquiring physical garbage while thinking garbage thoughts all the while succumbing to ill health by eating garbage food.

    Fredo is having fun by dredging up all the surface knowledge he has of science and philosophy and making a word salad taco but in reality the article serves to remind one of how arguably the most important questions of existence are but paleofecal matter to near everyone in the modern world.

    My dos centavos,


  22. I’m with Fred. Turtles, all the way down.

  23. Anon[230] • Disclaimer says:

    There was no Big Bang


    Correct. The Big Bang is based on the assumption that red shifts indicate that an object is moving away from you and thus the universe is expanding. The fact that there are celestial objects with red and blue shifts connected together proves this assumption false completely falsifying the Big Bang Theory.

    Don’t believe me? See the pictures yourself.

    • Replies: @ThreeCranes
  24. @Anon

    I do believe you. That the red shift is caused by galaxies moving away from us is a speculative theory. I still believe that lightwaves as they travel towards us from the distant past are distorted by some as yet unknown mechanism. Perhaps because of their circuitous route as they are bent by the pulsing action of the gravity of intervening galaxies, I don’t know. But something is stretching those wavelengths and because of the uniformity of the effect, it would seem to be a function of distance and that tends to make me believe that there is something going on between there and here, then and now.

    To interpolate backwards from this and to conclude that there must have been a zero point is errant nonsense. To generalize from local experiments and conclude that the entire universe is heading towards even dispersal of energy is premature as well.

    You can be confident that scientists 100 years hence will laugh at our simple-minded preposterous theories. Meanwhile, the search for dark matter goes on and on as the amount of dark matter needed to make their theory hold together grows and grows.

  25. Uncle Al says: • Website

    Physics substitutes graphs’ linear coordinates (that contain zero – “you’re out!”) with logarithmic coordinates (that get arbitrarily smaller but never zero – “more \$tudies are needed”). Karl Popper (empirically falsified; absolute) is replaced by Bayesian inference (statistically validated, “more \$tudies are needed”).
    … 46 examples of logarithmic “more \$tudies are needed.”

    General relativity (GR) is incomplete. GR excludes easily demonstrated quantum entanglement. 60 years of trying to insert GR into quantum mechanics (QM), more than a million published pages, sum to empirical nothing. “More \$tudies are needed.”

    Schrödinger’s box shows QM is incomplete. Put a bunch of left shoes into the box. Close it. Is each shoe left or right? Open the box. You now have pairs of shoes, 50% probability of left or right. This is Hund’s Paradox. It is trivially falsifiable with chemistry. QM is also demonstrably incomplete. That leaves nothing with which to fundamentally understand reality.
    … If a one-day observation falsifies 60 years of your most profound science, you should Karl Popper look. One study is needed.

  26. @ThreeCranes

    I should have put “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces” in quotes since it came from Pascal. I’m operating from the pre-1975 revolution days (which Fred and I share) in which an educated person could safely assume that his readers shared a common body of knowledge called the Western canon.

    Odd thing about that Western canon. Virtually entirely the product of white males, as today’s critics—generally “people of color”, particularly women—like to point out, the purpose of the canon is the very antithesis of what they claim. They say that the message of the “stale, pale male” is one of slavery and oppression, but nothing could be further from the truth. As you actually read through the great authors of the Great Ideas, you come to the realization that what is at stake, what is being discussed is your liberation as a human being.

    Just take a look at the cast of characters, Virtually all of them discussed and personally experienced repression by the State and spoke of how to liberate oneself from it.

    Socrates, put to death.
    Aristotle, fled for his life.
    The cynics, hippies of their day.
    The Stoics and Epicureans, how to live the good life even in the face of injustice and bad stuff happening to good people.
    Augustine, the city of God vs. the city of man.
    Bruno, burned at the stake as a heretic.
    Galileo, the withdrawal of his notions on the planetary motions.
    And so on and so on.

    What this all shows is that these critics have never read the canon. And having no knowledge of it, how can they stand in a position to criticize it? Aren’t they the living embodiment of the very backwardness and ignorance they claim to oppose? I’m afraid so. They are the enemy, the cruel oppressors who want to keep their subjects in ignorance of the great body of knowledge, the knowing of which will provide you with a breath of fresh air and a fleeting view of the flame of wisdom.

    • Agree: Si1ver1ock
  27. “Putting it precisely, the state of a physical system is determined entirely by its previous state.”

    Not according to Heisenberg and quantum mechanics.

    • Agree: Muggles
  28. anon[230] • Disclaimer says:

    Consciousness, free will, beauty, morality, or curiosity–the whiches there just ain’t in physics

    True. But it could be an emergent property of evolution. Animals dream, have curiosity and morality as well. An interesting Ted talk from Frans De Waal follows.

    We are not as different from other animals as some people think.

    • Replies: @Pericles
  29. MEH 0910 says:

    Unz Review:

    Time and the Tidewater
    Thoughts and Remembrance
    Fred Reed • March 16, 2017

    In fact my people are pure Cavalier stock of the Virginia Tidewater. I am Frederick Venable Reed Jr, my mother’s maiden name being Betty Venable Rivers–a cousin marriage, which some will suggest explains a lot. The Venables were prominent in the gentility of Southside Virginia.

    Why is this of interest, if indeed it is? There are reasonable people today who believe that traits such as politics, way of life, occupation, talents, and intellectual bent are genetically determined. Some time ago I found an interesting study showing that families–those studied were English–maintained distinguishable traits for many generations, suggesting that these were innate. For a generation or two similarities might be explained by children copying their parents. Over many generations, it would appear otherwise.

    Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America:

    Virginia Magic Ways: The Cavalier Obsession with Fortune

    At the same time, however, Virginians were much interested in other forms of magic which had comparatively little meaning (or a different meaning) for the people of New England. The gentlemen of Virginia were deeply absorbed in the study of stars, planets, spheres, and portents—not as signs of God’s purpose but as clues to their own fate. They believed that every man possessed a certain fixed quality called fortune, which could be understood by knowledge of these things. This idea had been widely accepted in Elizabethan England.4

    Many gentlemen kept “fortune books,” which were collections of magical and astrological lore for good luck in love, marriage, sex, health, travel. One such fortune book included an entire chapter on marriage with entries on “whether a man shall marry, the time of marriage, how many husbands a woman shall have, who shall be master of the two, how they shall agree after marriage, and whether the man or his wife shall die first, and the time when.”5

    This cult of fortuna implied that life was a game of chance in which the odds were rigged by mysterious powers in the universe.

    The magic of the Virginians was closely linked to their vernacular religion. To a modern mind these spheres of thought seem opposed, but in the seventeenth century they tended to blur into one another. In respect to both magic and religion, the beliefs of the Virginians tended to be less Manichean than did those of New Englanders. They were also less instrumental. The prevailing cosmology of the Chesapeake colony minimized man’s responsibility for his fate. The idea of fortune lay very near the heart of this culture


  30. Anon[230] • Disclaimer says:

    In fact my people are pure Cavalier

    Cavalier King Charles?

  31. Anonymous[206] • Disclaimer says:

    I sometimes feel so sorry for all the poor people on Unz – they suffer so much, because they take themselves and the world so intensely seriously.

    So then why did you rip into poor old Linh Dinh when he had the temerity to dis the Jews? Didn’t you know you were “getting so upset basically over a dream, an illusion”?

  32. Ambrose Bierce, a more profound thinker, said, “Cogito cogito, ergo cogito sum. Cogito.”

    Another American lost in Mexico.

    Plane geometry is not wrong. It is just incomplete.

    It’s just fine by Zermelo–Fraenkel Set Theory.

    To state it in mathematical terms, you cannot flatten a cheeseburger enough to fit into a plane.

    You can if you look at it in the fourth dimension.

    For example, sometimes they say that consciousness is merely an “epiphenomenon.” Oh. And what does that mean? Nothing. (Actually it means, “I don’t know, but if I use a polysyllabic Greek word, maybe nobody will notice.”) Epiphenomenon of what?

    It helps if you think of it as being metarecursive.

  33. Sulu says:

    Now this sounds more like the Fred of old. Sardonic, sarcastic, and somewhat stochastic. A hell of a lot of science comes down to the admission that, “We don’t know.”

    But hey, as a race we are barely out of the caveman stage. If human civilization survives for a few more millennia we may well have more of the answers. Not in time for us though.

    But at least we had beer and scuba diving and pretty girls.


  34. Science is trying to reinvent itself.

    Here is Weinstein and Penrose throwing shade on string theory.

    Those of us in the UFO community are pretty sure the US gov is far ahead of where out current state of physics seems to be, but it’s all Top Secret.

  35. @AaronB

    God, what an idiot.

    Would somebody knock him on the head, filet him, and serve him up as fish and chips?

  36. Anonymous[401] • Disclaimer says:

    >”The Buddhism of the Far East and Tibet basically made a religion out of the idea that we cannot know – none of our concepts are valid, and the world is a dream.”

    Beware absolutes like “cannot” and “none.” Also, beware abstractions that mask reality.

    Tibetans built temples out of stones, ornamented with gold…not dreams. They are also very superstitious and mechanistic…using prayer-wheels to “send” wishes to God while hanging evil-eye banners in valleys.

    They also use(d) orphans as work/sex slaves in said temples.

    The CIA trained Tibetan “mustangs” not to use “dream-catchers,” but guns and cannons.

    Plus the dead are butchered and fed to buzzards in Dreamistan.

    Don’t listen to what people say…or even what they say they believe. Watch how they actually live.

    It’s one thing you yammer that God is dead, another to kill your father because “all is permitted.”

    The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.

  37. @Weston Waroda

    Actually I laughed my head off at the whole essay, not just the turtle. I enjoy Fred’s writing, and especially his irony and skillfully applied humor, always floated perfectly like orange bitters on the surface of a well-mixed bourbon Manhattan.

  38. I think what is bothering Fred is bothering a lot of people. Towards the end of the video I linked, Weinstein asks Penrose about the possibility of passing on before finding the “penultimate” knowledge.

    I think Fred is bothered by the same issue. The Twentieth Century marked high point in scientific discovery. People of Fred’s generation were going to the moon and the world would be set right. Truth Science and the American Way would see to these things. The Ascent Of Man was all but guaranteed.

    It hasn’t gone that way though.

    Another Thing is that Fred mixes Truths, Mathematical Truths, Scientific Truths and basic Human Truths, Transcendent or Penultimate Truths. A Human Truth, for example, Love, Hate, Greed, War, etc. would hold so long as there are humans. Searching for a scientific basis for human truths, seems like an error.

    Cogito Ergo Sum implies existence, but the existences of what? (short answer: conciousness)

    Turn to the Existetialists for an answer.

    The Distinction between Problem and Mystery (from Existentialist Thought: Gabriel Marcel, by Ronald Grimsley, 1955, Cardiff 1967

    The ‘mystery’ of Being brings us to the region of the ‘metaproblematical’ where it is necessary ‘to transcend the opposition of a subject which would affirm Being and of Being which is affirmed by this subject’. The very antithesis involved in the subject-object relationship is only possible, in the first place, through the existence of a ‘metaproblematical’ sphere which gives priority to Being over knowledge. A cognition is always enveloped by Being and therefore in some sense ‘within’ Being. A mere theory of knowledge and an epistemological distinction between subject and object can never account for the full depth of a mystery which springs directly from Being itself. A mystery is really a ‘problem which encroaches upon its own data’ – and therefore ‘transcends itself as problem’. In whichever way the polarity of the questioner and the object of his question be conceived in the case of a mystery, we are forced to recognize the existence of a kind of reciprocal penetration of the inquiring self and the ontological reality to which it is related. This interpenetration makes it quite impossible to reduce the question to the level of those usually treated in terms of rational categories

    The money-shot is the difference between a Problem and a Mystery.

  39. On the question of why we should expect our beliefs to be connected to reality, if everything is deterministic (or even if it is random but with averaged tendencies, as in quantum mechanics): the standard explanation for the relative degree of rationality exhibited by human beings and other living things is, natural selection. It helps you stay alive a little longer, if you’re more right about reality. So evolution caused us to have nervous systems which cause us to have beliefs at least roughly resembling reality.

    But the abyss of doubt still looms. Natural selection will only make us as rational and correct as necessary. We could still be helplessly wrong in some or many areas of our thought.

    There’s also the gnostic alternative: most beliefs that go beyond surface appearances *are* wrong. The nature of reality is entirely other than science would have it. This is all analogous to a dream, such order as it appears to have is simply the temporary (though perhaps lifelong) order of a dream, and outside it is some other reality entirely.

  40. BuelahMan says:

    I’m just glad he didn’t attack white people, praise brown people, or protect the jews…. as usual.

    • Agree: Rurik
  41. ruralguy says:

    “Time” as a coordinate in math/physics doesn’t necessarily exist, because you can transform physical space/time into different coordinates/math-spaces, via Functors. The transformed space has different Hom maps and objects than the original space, but without time, yet it is isomorphic to the original space. It’s best to always phrase philosophical thoughts in the language of a scientific field, especially using mathematical language, to express and think thoughts that are precise and logically consistent.

  42. bluedog says:
    @Weston Waroda

    Seneca Nation and others.!!!

    • Agree: Weston Waroda
  43. Pericles says:

    That sort of morality lacks any force though. You are compelled by evolution to consider my actions are immoral, while I am at the same time might be compelled by evolution to consider my actions are moral. Now what?

    The impasse presumably ends in a naked display of power to settle the issue, at least for now. Next time, the other side might win and so be the morally superior. And there you have evolutionary morality.

  44. Malatrope says:

    We are here because we are here. It really is that oxymoronically straight-forward. If we posit the universe is infinite and infinitely complex (well, why not?) then one of those infinities has mammalian bipedal creatures with rudimentary thinking processes. Obviously. And, “because”.

    One of them probably has slime mold Einsteins that spend their time shooting holes in their planets with just-in-time on-demand sputum. Hell, their planets probably are sputum, but I digress.

    Science is a philosophy of speculating what models work perfectly. Engineering is a philosophy of getting something useful out of models that work well enough. Philosophy is a complex method of reducing useful thought to ground pebbles and discarding them in the alley for people to slip on.

    • Agree: Tom
  45. It isn’t so much that physicists claim that the material world is all that there is, it is just the case that all physics is based on the axiom that it will only consider physical explanations for observed phenomena.

    I am pretty sure that consciousness will be unexplainable by material physics, but that is only because I have a PhD in it, and there is nothing, *nothing*, in any of it that even gives a hint towards how conscious experience can arise from material processes.

  46. BW says:

    You may be disgusted (or pleased) to know that “The Universe as Pool Hall” does not meet FaceBook’s “community standards!” I had posted it to a F-Book group for SOPHIA. Did I get branded as a troll or something? Beats me. I’m more a dabbler than academist.

  47. Just wanted to let you know that FaceCrack has determine that this essay is abusive.

    “Your message couldn’t be sent because it includes content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive.”

    As such, I copied, pasted and shared it with the following intro to a number of groups and pages.

    “FaceCrack doesn’t think YOU are mature enough to have a thought of your own, and is preventing me from sharing this article. So, here it is – copied and pasted so that you can exercise your own damn gray matter.”

    Glad to be of Service,

  48. Tom says:

    Fred Reed strikes again. Much worthy philosophy has been gleaned from hanging around the pool hall eating cheeseburgers. Epiphany’s abound in those rank rooms near the blinking neon lights of the city. Lastly or is it firstly, in this consumer-crazed world, I buy, therefore I am. We’ve all been gamed
    by the system. The solar system.

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