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our context [Jul. 3rd, 2007|07:37 pm]
Humans translate into conscious thought and decisions the impulses that are common to most mammals: sex, food, parenting... We view these thoughts and decisions as being the products of our own volitional thought processes (and in some ways they actually are), but we often arrive at the same decisions an animal would make. Procreate with the most viable mate we can find, eat the tastiest food, do what we can to make sure our offspring make it to adulthood.

When we see animals making such "decisions" and taking actions like caring for their offspring, we say to ourselves, "aw, how cute, the mommy wants her baby to be strong and happy someday, just like what we want for our children." But it's not that the animal is similar to a human; it's that the human is actually still an animal.

"Dad, what do you think about all the time? You're always thinking all the time."
"Ohh, all kinds of things."
"What about?"
"Oh, about the rain, and about troubles that can happen, and about things in general."
"What things?"
"Oh, about what it's going to be like for you when you grow up."
"What's it going to be like?"
"I don't know. It's just what I think about."

Animals mindlessly eat and hunt and have sex and run away from predators and protect their young. The only reason why evolution made it so that we eat and hunt and have sex and run away from predators and protect our young is because our genome wants us to create another copy of it that will do the same. And that fact doesn't make our lives sad or any less meaningless; it is what creates the context for us to be happy and seek meaning in our existences.


The above quote is from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert Pirsig), page 202 of the 1984 Bantam edition.

[User Picture]From: balthial
2007-07-04 11:31 pm (UTC)
I haven't for some time had the impression that my thoughts are my own volition. But I don't think that all thoughts or even most thoughts are explainable by basic evolutionary urges. I think our brains are too large and complex for any force, even evolution, to fully control.
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[User Picture]From: gitanoamericano
2007-07-05 07:10 am (UTC)
I've been told to read that before, and now I'm really thinking that it would be a good idea. I love the rejection of the "evolution equals nihilism" thought that you see a lot.
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[User Picture]From: ashleyisachild
2007-07-06 05:02 am (UTC)
Yeah, it's pretty decent, but it's pretty long. I love the rejection of the "evolution equals nihilism" sentiment too. It's pretty irrelevant to everything he talks about Zen and the Art though. Except maybe implicitly.
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[User Picture]From: azazelea
2007-07-05 01:32 pm (UTC)
I started reading Zen a couple of weeks ago, but got fed up with his attitudes towards women in the first few chapters (so-and-so doesn't care about how the motorcycle works, but it's ok, because she's a woman and that's just how she's wired) and gave up. Maybe I'll have to give it another shot.
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[User Picture]From: ashleyisachild
2007-07-06 05:05 am (UTC)
Ick, yeah, I totally forgot about that part. I must have pushed it out of my memory. Maybe that was a widely-accepted scientific "fact" at that time though (maybe?). I dunno. I don't think he's necessarily betraying too much disrespect with that statement, though. He shows that he respects women as thinkers later on in the book when describing some scenes with some female students.
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[User Picture]From: sethomas84
2007-07-09 04:34 am (UTC)
I was thinking a few days ago about how everyone's philosophy is built upon a rather enormous contingency--whether or not there is an afterlife. We have the unwashed masses believing in one while the scientific echelons reject an afterlife, a stasis akin to the period when Stoicism was en vogue while most people were polytheists in the Roman Empire. In the 14th Century it was a priori that there's an afterlife in the same sense that in 100 years it might be taken a priori that there isn't.

Doesn't that seem like a rather big contingency?

I was thinking that while everyone is certain that religious fundamentalism will kill society, I see it nigh impossible to implement a public policy based on secular humanism (which is not to call it a bad thing in the least).

I was thinking maybe society at large could resurrect some form of Pascal's Wager in regards there being an afterlife. (I think the concept of hell is stupid and silly, so that's not the issue.) What I mean is maybe we could implement a social norm based on living just enough to merit a positive afterlife (seeing oblivion as the alternative) in case it does exist while being pragmatic enough to deal with the supposition that there might not be an afterlife.

...That's the context in which I read the quote you posted. As for the spoken-of context, that genetic propagation is the biome of our happiness, I think it takes a great deal of strength and goodwill to say "I will stay in spite of the objective meaninglessness of staying alive". I've dealt with suicide from the perspective of "this will be a new experience!" as well as "existence as I know it... ends now." Obviously I prefer the former, but I don't really know what's best.

I guess I should just spread my genes until I become less pensive.
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