29 Apr 2012

## Steve Landsburg, Religious Atheist

I have previously said that U of R economist Steve Landsburg is a very religious atheist, and I mean that sincerely. Steve derives his sense of the universe from mathematics, as opposed to his belief in a personal God. If it turned out that arithmetic contained a contradiction, I really think we would find Steve in a drunken stupor living under a bridge in a few years.

Anyway, in a recent post about mathematician Stanley Tennenbaum Steve writes:

I write as one who believes (like most mathematicians) that the system of natural numbers (including the operations of addition and multiplication) exists in an objective sense. By that I mean precisely this: Statements about the set of natural numbers (such as “Every natural number is the sum of four squares”) have objective meanings; they are not just strings of words. I take it that a thing exists if one can speak meaningfully about its properties. The facts that every natural number is a sum of four squares, that every number can be factored into primes, and that an odd prime number is a sum of two squares if and only if it leaves a remainder of 1 when divided by 4, are all properties of the system of natural numbers. Because it has these properties, the natural number system exists.

It would be nice to give a succinct definition of the system of natural numbers. That turns out to be quite impossible. …This means, in effect, that there’s no way to uniquely specify the natural numbers….

That’s where Tennebaum’s Theorem comes in. What Stanley proved (and of course I’m paraphrasing a bit here, because this is a nontechnical forum) is that in any nonstandard model of arithmetic, the rules of addition and multiplication are so complicated that no computer can be programmed to carry them out. In other words, you and I, whose brains are computers, have no hope of really understanding those addition and multiplication rules.

It seems to me, then, that our only hope for picking out the honest natural numbers from among a sea of impostors is a direct appeal to intuition. Fortunately, almost all of us have that intuition. We’ve known what numbers are since we were three….

So I contend that 1) the natural numbers exist because we can make meaningful statements about their properties, and that’s what existence consists of, and 2) the natural numbers are unfathomably complicated in the sense that there is no hope of pinning them down by any sort of description, even if we allow ourselves to incorporate sophisticated ideas like Tennenbaum’s into our description.

As many of you know, I’ve argued more than once (some of you might say more than necessary) that the existence of an unfathomably complex structure that was neither designed nor the product of evolution is a definitive counterexample both to the “intelligent design” argument that says a complex structure needs a designer and to Richard Dawkins’s position that all complexity is a product of evolution. It also settles (for me) the question of why the physical Universe exists — once you’ve explained the existence of something as complex as the natural numbers, explaining the existence of something as relatively simple as the Universe becomes a mere exercise. [Bold added.]

Steve has been an outspoken critic of people who claim to believe in the popular monotheistic faiths. And yet, if you stand back and look at what Steve is doing in the quotation above (especially the parts I put in bold), you will see his own position is pretty incredible itself.

First, Steve says that something exists if we can describe its properties. OK, watch this:

(1) God is omniscient.
(2) God is omnipotent.
(3) God is omnibenevolent.

These aren’t properties I dreamed up; these are standard attributes of the personal God about which mainstream theologians have written for centuries. So did I just prove that such a God exists?

Steve is going to have to say no–since he can hardly believe that people nowadays actually still believe in the God of the Christian Bible–and yet, that’s what pops out of his own framework. Now maybe Steve will say, “Well, your purported principles contradict each other. A being can’t be omniscient and omnipotent at the same time; even Mises has an argument about that in Human Action.” We can all have that discussion in the comments–I fallibly predict we will–but that’s beside the point. I could easily come up with a list of properties describing God that are consistent, and I wouldn’t have thereby proved that God exists, in Steve’s book.

So right off the bat, Steve is in trouble. A principle that he thought was beautiful and elegant when used to support his own belief system, for some reason will have all sorts of caveats when a Christian tries to use it. (In fairness, Steve does take on the ontological argument in his book. I really don’t see how Steve thinks he gets around his own critique, and neither does frequent Free Advice peanut-thrower Ken B. in the comments at Steve’s post. Thanks to Silas Barta for bringing this to my attention.)

But beyond that problem, there’s another with Steve’s commentary above: Look at the part again where he says, “[O]nce you’ve explained the existence of something as complex as the natural numbers, explaining the existence of something as relatively simple as the Universe becomes a mere exercise.”

Come again? I think I missed the part where Steve explained the existence of the natural numbers. Especially if you click on the link and read the whole thing, you’ll see that most of Steve’s time is spent explaining problems with previous attempts to characterize the natural numbers.

Indeed, this is truly the “explanation” Steve offers: “It seems to me, then, that our only hope for picking out the honest natural numbers from among a sea of impostors is a direct appeal to intuition. Fortunately, almost all of us have that intuition. We’ve known what numbers are since we were three.”

Sorry Steve, that’s not an explanation. If I said, “We know God exists because I have direct intuition, and most humans from history–though the percentage has gone down in the last 200 years, I grant you–have the intuition that there is a greater force than themselves in the universe, they think there should be a ‘meaning’ to life to make sense of everything,” I’m pretty sure the atheists would get medieval on me in the comments.

* * *

A few weeks ago Brian Shelley sent me this NYT review of a book (The Righteous Mind) that discussed how people deploy their reason to justify whatever views they already hold, on other grounds. I think there is an important point here. I hesitated to bring it up, lest exposing myself to accusations of, “Aha! Murphy finally admits it, Christians don’t trust reason!!”

We can all easily use our minds to spin out all sorts of justifications for what we believe in, or to blow up the intellectual edifices constructed by our rivals. I’ve run into this problem even in my normal work, where (say) I’ll come upon a Krugman piece or something from a think tank pushing federal subsidies for wind power, and it is expected that I’m going to poke holes in them.

It would be silly of me to say that this isn’t a biased structure. The one thing I try to do, to maintain my intellectual honesty and integrity, is to say I can never use an argument to attack my opponents, that I simultaneously would reject if my opponents used it against “my side.” (Well, there are other, obvious things too, like not making up statistics, not using graphs that are misleading, not deliberately taking someone’s remarks out of context, etc.)

But I’ve noticed that even here, things aren’t so cut and dry. If you’re a clever guy like Krugman or me, we can come up with “refinements” of the principles involved, so that really the two things aren’t analogous, and it’s fine for me to use the Principle-Version-A when blowing up the bad guys, but when they try to use something similar on my allies, nope it’s illegitimate because it’s actually Principle-Version-A-Prime.

To be clear, I honestly think I’m on the side of truth and that my conclusions would lead to a better society than what Krugman et al. are pushing, but my point is that I have recognized that my own rational introspection on the matter isn’t a disinterested bystander. And by the same token, I try not to get as outraged at Krugman et al. as I used to, because he presumably thinks the same thing.

Coming full circle back to Landsburg: To me it is laughably obvious that he is using principles to defend his worldview, that he would mock if I were to adopt them in defense of Christianity. This doesn’t underline that reason is useless, it rather shows that our opinions as to what constitutes a “good argument” depends not just on pure reason itself.

#### 114 Responses to “Steve Landsburg, Religious Atheist”

1. joshua says:

“… the existence of an unfathomably complex structure that was neither designed nor the product of evolution…”

Is Steve assuming theists don’t think God designed the number system?

• Bob Murphy says:

He gets into that a bit in the comments of the post. I think his position is that even most theists agree the natural numbers couldn’t be different, and hence they weren’t designed.

• david nh says:

Or else they were designed really really well.

• Ken B says:

And Bob, I have thrown peanuts at this too. There are unprovable statements. According to SL we can have worlds where any such is true, or untrue. This opens up space for a ‘designer’ to select which world really exists.

• david nh says:

Also –

The world’s imperfections? – evidence that God doesn’t exist.

The world’s perfections? – evidence that God doesn’t exist.

• Ken B says:

Now you’re talkin’!!

Actually though it’s simpler to point out that what most monotheists believe about god is contradictory. Which they admit implicitly every time they say ‘with faith all things are possible.’

• Bob Murphy says:

nice, david nh.

• anon says:

david nh, you seem to be making an implicit allegation of fallacy, but if a concept is self-contradictory, it is not fallacious to claim both P and not P are inconsistent with it. Consider the term “married bachelor”. If someone is married, then they’re not a bachelor, and therefore not a married bachelor. If someone is unmarried, then then they are not married, and therefore not a married bachelor.

2. Silas Barta says:

Some other things I would add is that we don’t naturally have intuitions about the natural numbers — we generally have to be taught these things, and that’s the reason most of us had “intuitions” about natural numbers when we were three. There are cultures that never advanced much on the numeracy scale and never have to differentiate between one, two, and many.

I think you’ve also highlighted how Landsburg selectively equivocates when speaking of “existence”. He’s clearly using different senses of the term, which is what allows him to open the door to natural numbers existing because we can describe them, while closing the door whenever someone tries to do it for other “Platonic unobservables”.

• Egoist says:

“Some other things I would add is that we don’t naturally have intuitions about the natural numbers — we generally have to be taught these things, and that’s the reason most of us had “intuitions” about natural numbers when we were three.”

Humans MUST have intuitions about natural numbers, because if we go back far enough in history, there must have been a first person who was never taught, and therefore had to have come up himself, the natural numbers.

No explanation of knowledge acquisition can rest on people teaching each other ideas. There must have been an originator of the idea.

“There are cultures that never advanced much on the numeracy scale and never have to differentiate between one, two, and many.”

• Silas Barta says:

Intuition for things that allow *some* people to figure out a useful system called “the natural numbers” =/= universal intuition for the natural numbers.

• Egoist says:

Agreed.

Wasn’t individual intuition the kind of intuition that was presumed?

What the heck is “universal intuition”? Is it different from your intuition?

• Silas Barta says:

universal intuition = intuition that virtually everyone has

• Egoist says:

How many is virtually?

Who doesn’t have intuition?

• integral says:

Virtually, almost all, in the same way that almost all people are born with a fully functional body with no defects, and some are born with stunted legs or arms.

• Ken B says:

I’m also a little unhappy with SL’s necessarily sharp division of intuition for the natural numbers, and intuition on the complex numbers. He doesn’t discuss it but if he claimed we all have universal intuituion about complex numbers he’d lose the argument in the first paragraph. Since C is uniquely defined by N there should be no real difference here.

You all have good intuition about Complex Numbers?

For math geeks: Did Cardano? What about Euler’s errors?

• Bob Murphy says:

You know Ken B I like you a lot better this week. I wonder why?

• Steven E Landsburg says:

Ken B: C is of course not at all “uniquely defined by N”. The same set which is the complex numbers in one model of set theory is NOT the complex numbers in another model of set theory, though N is the same in all models.

This is an extremely important point. Whatever you believe the set of real numbers is, I can force that set to be countable (and hence certainly not the real numbers) in a larger universe.

The reals and the complexes depend on your set theory. The naturals have a unique standard model. That’s a world of difference.

• Bob Murphy says:

I think Steve Landsburg could seduce me if he really tried. I don’t even know what he’s saying but I dig it.

3. Anonymous2 says:

I should ask Landsburg, but I don’t see why it’s so difficult to pick out the natural numbers. But that must be my naivete about math.

And just out of curiosity, is there anyone else besides him that holds this view about numbers and the universe?

• Steven E Landsburg says:

Anonymous2: I’m not sure at what level you’re asking the “Why is it so difficult?” question, but the key phrases are “Lowenheim Skolem Theorem” and “Godel Incompleteness Theorem”.

Re “Is there anyone else…” the answer is of course. The number of anyone else’s depends on what details you’re asking about. Does anyone else believe in the objective existence of the natural number system? Yes, most mathematicians believe this. Does anyone else believe that mathematics is the fabric of the Universe? Yes, a substantial number of people believe this (Max Tegmark prominent among them), bur probably many fewer than believe in the existence of the natural numbers.

• Not Anonymous2 says:

If Godel’s incompleteness theorem was used as an axiom in a larger theory, would that theory be incomplete (or else inconsistent), in accordance with Godel’s incompleteness theorem itself?

If so, then wouldn’t that imply Godel’s theorem is itself not provable within the confines of its own parameters?

• Steven E Landsburg says:

There’s no need to take Godel’s theorem as an axiom; it’s already a theorem.

• Not Anonymous2 says:

OK forget about the word axiom (I know it means something specific), but my question has to do with using Godel’s theorem as a portion of a greater theory, the way a theory has components called axioms.

I used the word axiom perhaps incorrectly, but my goal here is to ask what the outcomes are of a theory that contains Godel’s theorem as a “component”, where “component” is the word for a theorem that is a part of a theory, but is not an axiom.

• Steven E Landsburg says:

NotAnyonymous: I honestly don’t understand your question. Godel’s theorem is true, in exactly the same sense that 1+1=2 is true. It is part of mathematics. The proof requires only simple combinatorial reasoning, of the sort that’s available within any logical system of any strength at all. I have no idea what “using it as part of a greater theory” might mean. We use it all the time, of course, I just don’t get “what part of a greater theory” means.

• Not Anonymous2 says:

I mean use Godel’s theorem as true in a theory the same way one might use 1+1=2 as true in a theory.

In other words, 1+1=2 can be used as a “component” to prove a mathematical theory true. Godel’s theorem says that this theory is either incomplete, or inconsistent.

Well, what about using Godels’ theorem in a theory the way one uses 1+1=2 in a theory.

Would THAT theory be incomplete or else inconsistent?

• Beefcake the Mighty says:
• Silas Barta says:

Does anyone else believe in the objective existence of the natural number system?

Yes, people who equivocate between the sense in which “imaginable” things exist and the sense in which e.g. rocks exist.

Does anyone else believe that mathematics is the fabric of the Universe?

Yes, people who like vague, feel-good statements about math.

• Egoist says:

I like the cut of your jib.

• Ken B says:

@Anonymous2: I can give you a quick answer. We usually do math by working with axioms. We choose axioms to describe the object of interest, such as the natural numbers, or the real numbers, whatever. The problem is that we can PROVE that axiomatic systems are inadequate in some ways. There are inevitably things that are true but that we cannot prove from the axioms (SL’s Godel reference) and other very strange systems the axioms fit (SL”s L_S Theorem reference). So no nice clean formal way to pick out just what we mean by ‘the natural numbers we count and reason with’ is actually possible.

4. Scott Angell says:

Nice post, Bob!

BTW (and maybe this is elementary), but why would math ever be found to contain a contradictory statement if it does not admit contradictory statements?

It seems that math is being taken to be an ideology or a physical object or something like that. It can’t be found to contain a ‘defect’ (as a concrete object or set of ‘beliefs’ presumably could) or else it wouldn’t be math! If I posited a contradiction for consideration as inclusion into the ‘body of mathematics,’ a mathematician would tell me “Nope, sorry kid. We don’t allow those kinds of things here.”

Isn’t this a case of assuming one’s conclusions, or something like that?

• Scott Angell says:

OK, read the remainder of Landsburg’s post and now I’m really confused.

Math is an abstraction. The purpose of abstractions (at least, of the philosophical and scientific varieties) is to reflect reality in an idealized fashion, so that reality can be ‘thought about.’ Why is he worried about hypothetical sets of numbers which do not attempt to reflect reality, but are just whimsical logical constructs? They don’t reflect reality because they weren’t meant to.

I suppose it might be interesting if they somehow accidentally did reflect reality, but is it really so surprising that they don’t?

5. Egoist says:

“To me it is laughably obvious that he is using principles to defend his worldview, that he would mock if I were to adopt them in defense of Christianity. This doesn’t underline that reason is useless, it rather shows that our opinions as to what constitutes a “good argument” depends not just on pure reason itself.”

This is where I make an impromptu appearance.

You’re exactly right, Dr. Murphy. The unique’s opinions as to what is “good” for it is not bounded by any generalized, universal, abstract rule; not even logic, not even rationality. The ego is unique and transcends all universals. As soon as one introduces conceptualizations of “the good”, that’s the ego talking.

You attempt to drive your ego away into God. Landsburg attempts to drive his ego away into mathematics. You both submit yourselves to your respective universals, and yet because the ego cannot actually be driven away, it says hello in you by you saying that your intuition is that God exists, and it says hello in Landsburg by him saying that his intuition is that natural numbers exist.

I agree that both of your reasonings are virtually identical in form. Although you mentioned it only in passing, you pretty much proved (it would be great to see a rigorous explanation of this blog post) that even atheist mathematicians can and do “think like” theists of all stripes, if they too attempt to put their ego onto something outside themselves where it comes “sacred.”

I hold the concept of “intuition” to be the ego manifesting itself in an otherwise indescribable way in the person’s thoughts. The reason why the natural numbers can be understood through intuition, and why it’s so hard to codify, is because the ego is unique and indescribable, and when the unique comes across diverse and multitudinous objects over time, it is “natural” that a system of counting should arise. One ego. One ego interacting with one apple, two apples, three apples, four apples. Counting apples is really the ego counting how many times the ego interacts with external objects. The basis of counting in single units is the ego, and because the ego is indescribable, so are natural numbers. Intuition (the ego) understands itself and so understands counting that which is not itself, like apples.

The ego being unique and indescribable is also why we see so many problems in understanding the attributes of the various exteriorizations of the ego, such as God: omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.

The ego is the source of the realizations of uniqueness and nonuniqueness, omnipotence and lack of omnipotence, omniscience and lack of omniscience, omnibenevolence and lack of omnibenevolence.

All of these generalized universal absolutes are barriers to the unique, and that’s why they are all comprehended by the mind.

I have one for Landsburg:

A flying unicorn is an animal that has the general shape of a horse, but with a single horn on its forehead, and two large wings, one from each side of its upper abdomen. This is a meaningful explanation of said animal’s properties. According to Landsburg, this animal therefore exists. Moreover, and amazingly, Landsburg is telling us that we don’t even need to empirically observe the object before we can know it exists?

• Carrie says:

Egoist, you are all over the map. I’m afraid your comments are filled with as many mystic statements and inherent contradictions as the religionists you critique. I am writing in the hopes that you can clarify your definitions so that I can understand what you are trying to say.

You explain the ego to be “unique and indescribable,” so I have no idea what the ego is. You then say intuition is the ego. You also say intuition is “the ego manifesting itself in an otherwise indescribable way.” You refer to a “unique,” which I assume is some type of thing or being, since it has “opinions.”

In this comment you critique Landsburg for “telling us that we don’t even need to empirically observe the object before we can know it exists.” Earlier in this thread you appeal not to empirical evidence but to the notion that “[h]umans MUST have intuitions about natural numbers, because if we go back far enough in history, there must have been a first person who was never taught, and therefore had to have come up himself, the natural numbers. “ [As an aside, knowledge of natural numbers is not an intuitive process, but that’s a story for another day.]

Could you please define what you mean by an “ego” and a “unique,” how you know these alleged entities exist, and how these alleged entities come into existence and become associated with a particular person’s body. Until I understand that there is no hope of comprehending any of what you write.

• Egoist says:

Carrie:

You explain the ego to be “unique and indescribable,” so I have no idea what the ego is.

It is me.

You then say intuition is the ego.

I said the ego is manifested by way of intuition in thought. I didn’t say intuition IS the ego.

You refer to a “unique,” which I assume is some type of thing or being, since it has “opinions.”

I have opinions.

In this comment you critique Landsburg for “telling us that we don’t even need to empirically observe the object before we can know it exists.” Earlier in this thread you appeal not to empirical evidence but to the notion that “[h]umans MUST have intuitions about natural numbers, because if we go back far enough in history, there must have been a first person who was never taught, and therefore had to have come up himself, the natural numbers. “ [As an aside, knowledge of natural numbers is not an intuitive process, but that’s a story for another day.]

I don’t understand the issue you are raising.

Could you please define what you mean by an “ego” and a “unique,” how you know these alleged entities exist, and how these alleged entities come into existence and become associated with a particular person’s body. Until I understand that there is no hope of comprehending any of what you write.

Did I not just say the ego is indescribable? Now you’re asking me to describe it.

• integral says:

But surely it is me?

• Carrie says:

I still have no comprehension of this undefined “ego” and “unique” of which you speak. You use words and phrases without precision and without any reality-based referents, making it impossible for anyone (including yourself) to know what you are talking about.

Yes, you DID define intuition as the ego when you wrote: “Intuition (the ego) understands itself.”

Thus, your description of the ego now includes four non-defining features:
“unique and indescribable,”
“the ego manifesting itself in an otherwise indescribable way,”
“intuition,”
“me.”

It is no wonder I do not know what you mean. I referred to your statements as mystic because you speak of an entity you cannot define, cannot describe, have no evidence of, and of which you haven’t the slightest notion of its nature and properties. Is the ego a spirit? Is it a physical body? Does it exist independently of your physical body? How does it arise? But you complain, “Did I not just say the ego is indescribable? Now you’re asking me to describe it.” Until you can define and describe the ego using reality-based referents, you have no business using the concept.

Upon reading your comments in last Sunday’s post (Don’t Play Cards With Jesus), your disregard for meaningful expression becomes even more striking. You put forth various proclamations including:
“[I am] the center of the universe,”
“I do not consent to any morality,”
“I am master over truth and lies, and use them both to my benefit when it suits me,”
“Beholding oneself to truth is beholding oneself to a Lord. I am servant of no Lord. I am owner,”
“I do not adhere to any general maxim of truth or morality. I use these silly superstitions as tools for my own benefit.”

From this jumble of words I interpret that you believe in primacy of consciousness over primacy of existence. You fancy that you do not consent to any morality, yet your idea of using “silly superstitions” to your advantage is itself a value/moral judgment; your morality is some variation on pragmatism in which the good involves fulfilling whims in the expediency of the moment. Another inherent contradiction is your claim that you can act for your own benefit without being able to define what “you” are and without a truth-based standard for determining what actions benefit you.

I will, however, give you credit for one accurate statement: YOU are indeed NOT beholden to truth!

• Egoist says:

Carrie:

“I still have no comprehension of this undefined “ego” and “unique” of which you speak.”

Do you comprehend yourself as a unique entity that owns but is not owned? That’s ego.

You use words and phrases without precision and without any reality-based referents, making it impossible for anyone (including yourself) to know what you are talking about.

I am a reality based referent. I exist.

Yes, you DID define intuition as the ego when you wrote: “Intuition (the ego) understands itself.”

I should have said “(via the ego)”. I made it clearer above and was sloppy in that quote.

Thus, your description of the ego now includes four non-defining features:
“unique and indescribable,”
“the ego manifesting itself in an otherwise indescribable way,”
“intuition,”
“me.”

Everything except the intuition part.

It is no wonder I do not know what you mean. I referred to your statements as mystic because you speak of an entity you cannot define, cannot describe, have no evidence of, and of which you haven’t the slightest notion of its nature and properties.

The ego is me the unique. I can’t describe something that is unique, because descriptions requires referents to other entities. I could at best only tell you that I own various properties, such as human, man, living creature, etc, which are universals that refer to many entities.

I am unique, so there is no universal referent description possible.

Is the ego a spirit? Is it a physical body? Does it exist independently of your physical body? How does it arise? But you complain, “Did I not just say the ego is indescribable? Now you’re asking me to describe it.” Until you can define and describe the ego using reality-based referents, you have no business using the concept.

I have business in whatever gives me pleasure and happiness.

Your error is that you want to be the owner of my reality, which you are carrying on by demanding that I ought to obey the rules you are carrying on your cross. You are demanding that I obey the rules of reason, and if I don’t obey those rules, then you will deny me. You can never deny that which exists. I exist. I am me. No rules of thought from you are applicable to that which is unique.

I do not put myself under any rules. I transcend them all. I own your rules for my own benefit. Your rules don’t own me. I own them. You can tell me that I am disobeying rules of thought all you want, but I do not prostrate myself under any rules of thought the way you do. I do and think what gives me pleasure.

The irony here is that you are the mystic. This is why you keep repeating it. You keep repeating I am a mystic because your mysticism is being rejected, and you fallaciously perceive that rejection to be a replacement of one mysticism for another.

You are clearly attempting to put your ego in the God called reason. I can tell you are a Randian through and through. It bleeds through your verbiage and mantras. Like Rand, you want to oppress the unique ego with the rules of reason, and you call that “rational self-interest.”

I laugh at this because it is like saying enslaved freedom, or collectivized individual.

You want to oppress all individuals under the concept “reason”, despite the fact that I can and do derive real world, Earthly pleasure from engaging in occasional (according to my tastes) “irrational” thinking and acting (according to Randians).

Rand was disgusted by women becoming football players. She was disgusted by homosexuality. She was disgusted at irrational, whimsical behavior. Why was she disgusted? The exact same reason why a priest is disgusted at atheists. It’s because her religion, and yes, the cult of reason is just another religion that suppresses the ego, her religion compelled her to separate humans into “rational” and “irrational”, the same way priests separate humans into “devouts” and “sinners.”

I am above such mystical Aristotelean/Thomist superstitions.

You are in absolutely no position to tell me what I have business in doing and in not doing.

Why should I “regard” any rules if it does not pleasures me? I regard only that which I derive happiness in.

You see, you’re only response to this would be to simply deny that I can derive pleasure this way. Your religion prevents you from recognizing the fact that I can and very much do derive immense happiness by looking at art and sculptures that Her Royal High Priestess considered to be “anti-man, anti-life, anti-universal concept that denies the ego, anti-Rand’s religion.”

The cult of reason died in the 19th century because it limited the ego. Randians have no explanation for why the Age of Reason was only temporary. They can only chalk it up to “people were idiots because they didn’t continue on with it.”

You see, God, “humanity”, “reason”, throughout the ages a series of universals, one after another, served as the new master under which the ego was to be suppressed. The fallacy from the cultists of reason is that they believe that because it’s not supernatural, but natural, that it is no longer mystical. But it is still mystical, because it is still asking that the ego be put in something outside me, in some abstract land of “reason” in your case, whereby I am denied my uniqueness.

Rand was just another spiritual mystic dressed up in Earthly garb. Notice how many times she speaks of “the human spirit.” This is identical in form to “the Godly spirit.” Whatever it is, it isn’t ME. It isn’t MINE.

You put forth various proclamations including:

“[I am] the center of the universe,”
“I do not consent to any morality,”
“I am master over truth and lies, and use them both to my benefit when it suits me,”
“Beholding oneself to truth is beholding oneself to a Lord. I am servant of no Lord. I am owner,”, “I do not adhere to any general maxim of truth or morality. I use these silly superstitions as tools for my own benefit.”

From this jumble of words I interpret that you believe in primacy of consciousness over primacy of existence.

No, I don’t “believe” anything. As for the primacy of existence or consciousness, I as ego exist. That is primary over the concept of “consciousness”.

If you tell me that my statements presuppose consciousness, then you’d be the one asserting consciousness over existence.

Or, what’s more likely, you have a limited supply of ammo you consider yourself the lucky recipient of from the high priestess, and you waste them whenever you feel so much as a whiff of a likely target.

You fancy that you do not consent to any morality, yet your idea of using “silly superstitions” to your advantage is itself a value/moral judgment; your morality is some variation on pragmatism in which the good involves fulfilling whims in the expediency of the moment.

No, that’s quite false. I am not saying I “ought” to do what I am doing, as if I am obeying some rule against my Earthly desires, and I am not saying you “ought” to do what I am doing either.

That I find using silly superstitions to my advantage is not a moral pronouncement at all, because there is no “ought” present. I do what derives me pleasure. There is no morality here.

You see, you need me to elicit a mystical morality, like you do, so that you can attack it with your own morality. I am not presenting a morality to you. I am presenting me as I exist. I do what derives me happiness. I am not beholding myself to any system of rules, of morality over above me. I am unique.

I own morality and I use it to my advantage. If a moral code says I “ought” to do X, then I will do X when it suits me, and I will do ~X when it suits me.

This is not a morality. This transcends all morality. There is no “inherent contradiction” here. You only need to believe there is one because you are beholden to a religion that cannot be applied to me.

Another inherent contradiction is your claim that you can act for your own benefit without being able to define what “you” are and without a truth-based standard for determining what actions benefit you.

That is not an inherent contradiction. We lose thoughts of our own reality all the time when we are in the moments of deepest pleasure.

No human acts the way you think they do, of engaging in self-reflection when they act for their own benefit. I don’t know about you, but for me, I rarely if ever do that. One cannot possibly find pleasure and happiness in the world if one self-reflects instead. When I go to a baseball game, or a nice hotel room for two, my happiest moments are when I forget myself, when I don’t think “I am me.” No, it’s when I think “These objects pleasure me.”

It’s what you in your religion call “whims”, or “irrational self-interest.” When you say that, you’re just saying newly incarnated versions of “sins” and “sinful behavior.”

I will, however, give you credit for one accurate statement: YOU are indeed NOT beholden to truth!

Exactly. Now you’re getting it. I am not beholden to ANY rules, reason, logic, truth, God, ten commandments, they are all mystical illusions that I own and use and don’t use for my benefit.

• Carrie says:

You are demanding that I obey the rules of reason, and if I don’t obey those rules, then you will deny me.

*I* make no such demands or denials upon you. *Reality,* which exists independently of your desires, does.

I am not beholden to ANY rules, reason, logic, truth […] they are all mystical illusions that I own and use and don’t use for my benefit.

When I observe the miracle of you jumping from a 100-story building and demonstrating that pavement is but a mystical illusion, I will have no choice but to give up my cultish beliefs. Truth be told, I’m getting awfully tired of having to listen to Rachmaninoff, speak in a fake Russian accent, and smoke cigarettes.

• Egoist says:

*I* make no such demands or denials upon you. *Reality,* which exists independently of your desires, does.

Nonsense. If reality did impose such demands, then how can so many people be acting “irrationally” and loving every minute of it?

Reason is not reality. Reason is a human tool, to be used for MY sake when it suits me and to be ignored and rejected when it doesn’t suit me.

I am reality. “Reason” is a human creation that can be destroyed at will. That’s why there existed a finite Age of Reason, instead of a “Forever Time of Reason.”

You’re telling me that reality imposes the rules of reason on me, but that is just a modern incarnation of a priest telling me that God imposes the rules of religion on me.

And yet here you are telling me that I shouldn’t violate the rules that are in accordance with reality. Well, if reality really did impose on me what you are saying it does impose on me, then how in the world can you at the same time tell me I shouldn’t violate your rules? You’re presenting a morality to me, not reality. You’re telling me I OUGHT to think and do this and that, according to reason. But that is not according to ME. According to ME, I use reason and I don’t use reason, when it suits me.

I will not choose “rational behavior” over my own happiness. If I derive pleasure from engaging in what you consider to be “irrational”, then your rules to the contrary mean nothing to me.

If all you’re saying is that I am forced by the laws of the universe to do and not do certain things, then you’re only telling me a trivial truism. You’re not exposing any mystical proof that this means I OUGHT to obey the rules of reason. That is committing the Humean Is-Ought gap fallacy.

If I tell you I exist, I am, that I am me, that I do what derives me pleasure, according to my MIGHT, then the cult of rationality bounces off me like a sorry worm that believes that it is God.

You can tell me that I am stopped by the laws of reality, and I will agree with you. But that is so far different than you telling me that I ought to conform to this or that absolutist morality, that only someone incredibly deluded by mystical thoughts such as you, would commit.

When I observe the miracle of you jumping from a 100-story building and demonstrating that pavement is but a mystical illusion, I will have no choice but to give up my cultish beliefs.

But that is not what you are presenting to me. You are not presenting to me the physical characteristics of pavement, nor the laws of gravity. You are presenting to me a morality of thought that I must become servant to as against my desire.

There is no morality that I cleave to, including one that encompasses rules on whether one ought to fall off buildings or not.

You are equivocating is with ought.

Reason is an ought, not an is. Rand herself at least recognized this. Reason must be chosen. Reason is a tool. Therefore, if I find that in a given situation, doing the “irrational” thing suits me, then I will do it. If I find that doing the “rational” thing suits me, then I will do that.

I am the top value. The top value is not reason. Reason is below me.

Truth be told, I’m getting awfully tired of having to listen to Rachmaninoff, speak in a fake Russian accent, and smoke cigarettes.

Maybe you should realize that Randianism leads to one being compelled to sacrifice oneself for the cult of reason. Of course, just like Hegel, and just like Marx, Rand also believed that there can be reconciliation between the ego and some universal concept, as long as the individual prostrates themselves under it.

Hegel believed the individual can be made free when it is in perfect conformity to Mind.

Marx believed the individual can be made free when it is in perfect conformity with Species-Man.

Rand believed the individual can be made free when it is in perfect conformity with Reason.

Neither Mind, Species-Man, nor Reason are ME. They are all either tools, or fetters, for ME, for MY benefit.

You are refuted by me simply denying what you claim I ought to do in accordance with your religion of Reason. You tell me I ought to do X in accordance with Reason, and I will reserve the power to decide if this suits me, or if it doesn’t.

• Carrie says:

Also, you will have to construct the building yourself, because you say “Thoughts only exist when they are mine.” Since no-one else’s thoughts exist, no-one but you has the ability to design the building.

Also, the building must be constructed from a shapeless material such as silly putty, because you say “I am master over truth and lies.” If you protest that silly putty cannot provide the supportive structure for a massive building, you will have to concede that there is an external truth (reality) over which you are NOT the master.

• Egoist says:

Also, you will have to construct the building yourself, because you say “Thoughts only exist when they are mine.” Since no-one else’s thoughts exist, no-one but you has the ability to design the building.

Who’s the mystic now?

I can’t claim to know the existence of your thoughts unless they become my thoughts.

Unless of course you want me to take you…”on faith“, or “by whim“, dun dun duuunnnn!

You’re like a priest who says that I must serve an intelligent designer. You might as well have said: “Since you’re telling me that you will reject the notion that God designed the universe, it must mean you’re saying you have the ability to design it yourself.”

No, I am not denying “thoughts in general.” I can only know you have thoughts by interacting with you such that your thoughts become my thoughts.

I cannot admit the existence of that which I do not experience.

Also, the building must be constructed from a shapeless material such as silly putty, because you say “I am master over truth and lies.” If you protest that silly putty cannot provide the supportive structure for a massive building, you will have to concede that there is an external truth (reality) over which you are NOT the master.

I think you’ve conflated truths and lies, with facts and falsehoods. I cannot choose facts or falsehoods, but I can choose to use truth and lies to suit me.

Is this what all Randians do? Conflate denying Reason as ultimate master, with denying reality as such? Or do you have any original thoughts you’d like to share?

• Egoist says:

BTW, what “mystic statements” and what “inherent contradictions” are you talking about?

• Carrie says:

I referred to your statements as contradictory because in one sentence you critique Landsburg for not being empirical, and in another sentence you appeal to intuition rather than to empirical observations as being the source of knowledge.

• Egoist says:

I didn’t critique Landsburg for not being empirical. I just said he’s not being empirical.

You mistook my identification of what he’s doing, with a moral or ethical critique of what he’s doing.

• Cody S says:

Egoist,

If you find yourself faced with taking one action that will serve your (short- and long-term) pleasure and one that will not, regardless of the morality of either, you will, according to your MIGHT, take the first?

6. Jonathan M.F. Catalán says:

Just to clarify something, what does Steve mean in the following,

I write as one who believes (like most mathematicians) that the system of natural numbers (including the operations of addition and multiplication) exists in an objective sense.

What is the alternative sense? (I’m not implying there is no alternative sense, I just want to know exactly what he has in mind.)

• Silas Barta says:

Don’t bother, Jonathan_M.F._Catalán. The more scrutiny you apply to his profound claims, the less insightful they become.

7. Daniel Kuehn says:

So I’m not a theologian, ontologist, or mathematician but….

… it seems to me you can mistake a part of reality for God, but it seems pretty hard to mistake a part of reality for a natural number. A number is just a useful concept. If it walks like a natural number and talks like a natural number, it seems like that implies its a natural number. Not so with God. You can have experiences or access to knowledge that seems divine but isn’t.

I’m pretty sure of all that – God is quite easy to fool yourself into intuiting in a way that numbers just aren’t.

What I wonder, though, is if that defense upsets Landsburg’s whole deal with the “objective” reality of numbers.

btw – Bob, I’d be interested in your thoughts on this whole Krauss thing that’s bubbled up.

• Jonathan M.F. Catalán says:

I’m no mathematician either and I think Landsburg’s reference to objectivity is a bit ambiguous, but what I think he really wants to say is: a natural number is not just a useful concept. Natural numbers objectively exist. We use our language to describe what objectively exists as part of the physical uniform, just like we use the word “tree” to describe that particular organization of elements.

So, as far as I can tell, the major difference between Landsburg and Bob (wrt to religion) is that both Bob and Landsburg agree there are such things as natural numbers because both have experienced them. Bob believes in God because he has experienced “Him” (I’m still wondering why one religion over the other, though — he did answer this in a blog post, but I didn’t find it convincing… if I had to choose between a religion I would choose Judaism); Landsburg doesn’t, because he hasn’t.

You can say that it is easier to “fool yourself” into experiencing God, but you can’t say for certain that this is true for Murphy (or anybody else, for that matter). In fact, the only reason you’d say this is because you haven’t experienced God. But, imagine someone who hasn’t experienced natural numbers — for some reason (even if this is impossible in the real world, because we come across the use of numbers all the time) — comes to you and says, “You are fooling yourself into believing in natural numbers. I know, because I have never seen one.” Suppose that you spend effort in proving to him the existence of natural numbers, but he’s so stubborn that he just doesn’t buy your story. Surely, it would be reasonable for you to reject his accusation of you “fooling yourself,” because you are sure that there are natural numbers.

• Silas Barta says:

… it seems to me you can mistake a part of reality for God, but it seems pretty hard to mistake a part of reality for a natural number. A number is just a useful concept. If it walks like a natural number and talks like a natural number, it seems like that implies its a natural number. …
What I wonder, though, is if that defense upsets Landsburg’s whole deal with the “objective” reality of numbers.

Yes, it does, because Landsburg is saying *much* more than “hey, natural numbers are a useful [part of a] model for explaining the world”.

Btw, one can’t be using the same definition of “math” (though Landsburg believes he is) when claiming that both:

a) Hey, it’s cool that math is useful in explaining the universe,

and

b) Math is infinitely complex.

Why? Because for something to have explanatory power, it must *reduce the complexity* of your explanation! Someone infinitely complex can’t do that! At the very least, you must admit that we’re using a *small, tractable subset* of math when we do awesome scientific stuff with it.

• Silas Barta says:

Sorry, that should be “something infinitely complex” not “someone infinitely complex” … though same diff in this context I guess 😉

8. Steven E Landsburg says:

The difference between properties like “God is omniscient” and properties like “Every natural number is a sum of four squares” is that I have a clear proof of the latter, and that proof appears meaningful. If that proof is meaningful, the conclusion is meaningful, and I don’t see how it can be meaningful unless it is about something. That something is the set of natural numbers.

For “God is omniscient” I have the intuition of people like Bob Murphy, which is analogous to some of my intuitions about the natural numbers. But what I don’t have is any analogue of Wedderburn’s proof that every natural number is the sum of four squares.

• James says:

Steven,

You seemto be moving the goalposts. First you say a thing exists if if “one can speak meaningfully about its properties.”

Now it’s an issue that there is no analogue of some proof. Do you need proofs about Bob to belive that he exists too?

• Bob Murphy says:

My intuition >> Wedderburn’s proof.

(Perhaps a more serious response to come in a day or two…)

• Bob Murphy says:

Actually Steve I can tell you right away what my response is: What James said above. You are moving the goalposts I think, or at the very least, you are relying on that crucial word “meaningfully” in your original statement to do all the heavy lifting. Anything you want to admit with your principle, you will just make sure is “meaningful,” and anything you want to deny, you will say is meaningless.

Here’s a proof that God loves you, Steve:

P1) God loves His children.
P2) Steve Landsburg is a child of God.
C) God loves Steve Landsburg.

That is a valid proof, and I hope you don’t tell me you find any of those premises meaningless. You know exactly what they mean.

I suppose you can come back and say, “But you’re assuming the conclusion. Your premises contain the concept of ‘God,’ and that’s the very thing under dispute.”

Right, and although I don’t even know what it is, I imagine Wedderburn’s proof has to invoke numbers in its assumptions or premises. I.e. if someone honestly didn’t know what the natural numbers were, going into the proof, would they be able to follow it?

• Egoist says:

“Right, and although I don’t even know what it is, I imagine Wedderburn’s proof has to invoke numbers in its assumptions or premises. I.e. if someone honestly didn’t know what the natural numbers were, going into the proof, would they be able to follow it?”

Awesome.

• Tel says:

Natural numbers (despite their name) don’t really exist in the physical world. You can get kicked in the bum by a size 9 boot, but you can’t get kicked in the bum by a number 9. However, the abstract concept of natural numbers is useful for us in the way that we look at the world… it’s an abstraction, but it makes it much more convenient to order shoes.

I don’t have any problem with the idea that God is an abstract concept that can be useful when wrangling with certain moral and social problems… such as where we need some sort of overarching authority who is without prejudice and sits beyond the system itself. We even attempt to build human equivalents such as a referee at a football match, or a judge in a court of law (but of course, those human equivalents are not fully equivalent because they cannot achieve the purity of the ideal).

To some extent Socialists (esp Atheist Socialists) tend to substitute an all powerful and all seeing government into an approximately equivalent slot — Christians say, “God has a plan for us,” but Socialists say, “We have a Five Year Plan to prosperity.” After a while they even seem to believe that their government loves them (maybe that’s just a put-on but I do think they believe it). Needless to say, no human government can fulfil the abstract ideal either because they themselves are part of the system that they pretend to control.

I know that Christians want God to be more physical than that, they want to be able to walk round the corner, sit down and drink a beer with God. As an Atheist, I also would like to have a beer with God.

Steve, you don’t have clear proof that “every natural number is a sum of four squares.” The four-square theorem is nothing but an aesthetically pleasing internal consistency within an incomplete conceptual framework built upon assumptions. Your proof is no more of a proof than proving that god can bench teh 275 because it is assumed to be omnipotent. The difference between those beliefs(beyond aesthetics) are the coherence of their broader conceptual frameworks with reality, which can be judged using information gained through either the senses or intuition.

I don’t see the point in championing intuition and internal consistency when religious people have similarly justified feelings and thoughts concerning god; and math has the clear advantage with the senses. Either way, nothing escapes agrippa’s trilemma.

Will there ever be proof?
Or all we all just headed for doom,
Still consumed by beliefs,
And I know there never be proof,
That’s why I’m an epistemological nihilist,
Cause there can never be proof.

• Daniel Kuehn says:

Steve –
re: “For “God is omniscient” I have the intuition of people like Bob Murphy, which is analogous to some of my intuitions about the natural numbers. But what I don’t have is any analogue of Wedderburn’s proof that every natural number is the sum of four squares.”

But I’m not even sure the intuition is comparable. The intuition about God could be wrong, and other people have similar intuitions about other gods. I can’t think of what it would be like to be wrong about your intuition about natural numbers. Is that even possible?

• Egoist says:

Of course if your standard is that which natural numbers themselves are based, then of course you won’t find any possible examples.

• Bob Murphy says:

Daniel, I think you are beautifully illustrating my point here with your questions to Landsburg. You say, “I can’t think of what it would be like to be wrong about your intuition about natural numbers. Is that even possible?”

Well of course people’s intuitions about the natural numbers can be wrong; have you seen Americans’ SAT scores on the quantitative section?

So really what you’re saying is, can we be wrong about something that we can prove is true? Or maybe, can we be wrong about something that is really blindingly self-evident to everybody who isn’t pretending to not “get” it?

Well OK, but by the same token, of course I “know” that God is omniscient. If He weren’t, it wouldn’t be even the type of being I have in mind when I invoke the concept of “God.” By definition, God is omniscient.

I am as certain that God is omniscient as I am that (say) the force is strong in Anakin Skywalker, or that 2+2=4. According to Steve’s criterion for existence, God, Anakin, and the operation of addition all exist.

• Ken B says:

There’s a nice example one can google (or duckduckgo) which links up this topic and Bob’s Hercules musings from another thread. “Hercules and the Hydra” presents a simple result about natural numbers that is, to most of us, deeply unintuitive, and which cannot be proven without recourse to transfinite reasoning.

• Bob Murphy says:

If you do end up in hell, Ken B., you should provide entertainment for the other lost souls.

• Ken B says:

And here I was agreeing with you Bob!

• Egoist says:

I think there is an element of truth in the notion that hell is eternal separation from God.

Theists consider hell to be eternal separation from God similar to the way I consider utter torment to be eternal separation from my own ego, and thus total and complete subjugation underneath where or to what that ego is perceived.

It is the experience of being a permanent and total slave. It is the experience of a complete abandonment of one’s own reality and contemplating how that would feel if that were possible.

It is like contemplating one’s own non-existence. It is the greatest antithesis and most absolute of non-existences, that anyone can think about.

I am ego, so separating me from that ego, would be total repudiation of my reality. That can be tormenting if one truly believed it were even possible to do it.

If one believed ego is not oneself, but God, then separating from that ego would still be a total repudiation of your reality. That would also be tormenting if one truly believed it were possible.

I am never going to experience hell, because I am never going to repudiate myself, this ego. I will never put this ego in some other realm under which I am to be subjugated, be it God or Humanity, thus making it appear as if it can be taken away from me by that perceived alienated power if “it” so wishes.

I retain the ego that is me. I cannot give it away. I can only believe I gave it away.

Hell is reserved for those who believe. Hell is reserved for those who believe that their perceived alienated ego is beyond their power and control, and that they did something “sinful” according to the specific cult of alienated ego worship.

There are many diverse false egos around the world masquerading as official doctrines of God, or Humanity. The diversity has persisted since the dawn of mankind. That alone should be have been proof that reality of one of a union of unique egos (true and false egos), not a collection of God’s children, or Humanity’s children.

Each of one us are unique in the full ontological sense. All absolute generalities are illusions that are not me.

• Carrie says:

Here you go contradicting yourself again, Egoist.

Here you say hell/torment is “the experience of a complete abandonment of one’s own reality.” In an earlier comment to this entry you said “We lose thoughts of our own reality all the time when we are in the moments of deepest pleasure.” Hell/torment now equals deepest pleasure?

Here you say hell/torment is separation from your ego. In an earlier comment to this entry you said “my happiest moments are when I forget myself.” Hell/torment now equals happiest moments?

You either have no idea what you are talking about, or are dishonest, or both.

• Egoist says:

Here you go contradicting yourself again, Egoist.

I haven’t seen you show any previous contradiction I made, so I don’t see how your use of the word “again” is justified.

Here you say hell/torment is “the experience of a complete abandonment of one’s own reality.”

I didn’t say that was possible. I was trying to speak like a theist so that the theist can understand what I mean.

In an earlier comment to this entry you said “We lose thoughts of our own reality all the time when we are in the moments of deepest pleasure.” Hell/torment now equals deepest pleasure?

Here you say hell/torment is separation from your ego.

In an earlier comment to this entry you said “my happiest moments are when I forget myself.” Hell/torment now equals happiest moments?

When I say I forget myself, I don’t mean I am putting my ego in some other concept or entity outside myself. Forgetting my ego is NOT the same thing as contemplating a separation of myself from my ego.

The ego manifests itself in me in its fullest extent by me forgetting myself and enjoying the world around me. Pure enjoyment of surroundings is the non-deluded ego.

When I say hell is contemplating a separation from one’s ego, that is not the same thing as forgetting oneself in acts of enjoyment.

The ego is retained fully when you believe it is least present, namely in “whimsical”, “irrational” behavior.

The contemplating of hell is not the contemplating of any reality, since I hold that one can never actually be separated from oneself. Ego cannot split from ego. But believing it can is to me a torment to those who believe it.

You either have no idea what you are talking about, or are dishonest, or both.

Or, you have no idea what you’re talking about because you’re too busy trying to smear me as a sinner against Randianism, instead of actually reading what I am saying. Ever consider that possibility?

You’re antagonistic towards me precisely because you are interacting with an ego that won’t play by your religious rules.

9. joeftansey says:

“(1) God is omniscient.
(2) God is omnipotent.
(3) God is omnibenevolent.

These aren’t properties I dreamed up; these are standard attributes of the personal God about which mainstream theologians have written for centuries. So did I just prove that such a God exists? ”

Really? With natural numbers, we can test our description of their attributed properties. That’s why Tennenbaum qualified existence as speaking “meaningfully” about properties. Additionally, we know what numbers are in advance and describe their properties ex post facto. With god you just kind of start making up properties.

“Come again? I think I missed the part where Steve explained the existence of the natural numbers. Especially if you click on the link and read the whole thing, you’ll see that most of Steve’s time is spent explaining problems with previous attempts to characterize the natural numbers.”

There’s a difference between characterizing something and listing some of its properties. The universe exists because we can correctly list (some of) its properties. He’s just saying meaningful listing is a sufficient condition for existence…

I think you’re uncharitably interpreting “explaining the existence of the universe” to mean “explaining how the universe got here”. What he means is “explaining THAT the universe exists”.

“Sorry Steve, that’s not an explanation. If I said, “We know God exists because I have direct intuition, and most humans from history–though the percentage has gone down in the last 200 years, I grant you–have the intuition that there is a greater force than themselves in the universe, they think there should be a ‘meaning’ to life to make sense of everything,” I’m pretty sure the atheists would get medieval on me in the comments.”

Err, no. It’s not an explanation for the existence of natural numbers. That comes from meaningfully describing their properties, which has nothing to do with intuition. What he’s explaining is how we even conceptualized the set of natural numbers in the first place. They could still be nonexistent if we couldn’t meaningfully list their properties. I don’t see anything he wrote implying that popular intuition = truth.

• Egoist says:

Really? With natural numbers, we can test our description of their attributed properties. That’s why Tennenbaum qualified existence as speaking “meaningfully” about properties. Additionally, we know what numbers are in advance and describe their properties ex post facto. With god you just kind of start making up properties.

You can’t “test” the theory of natural numbers. Natural numbers are axiomatic. Yes, one could point to three apples and say “1, 2, 3”, but it’s you that is using natural numbers to understand them.

There’s a difference between characterizing something and listing some of its properties. The universe exists because we can correctly list (some of) its properties. He’s just saying meaningful listing is a sufficient condition for existence…

Omiscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, are “meaningful” properties. They are a listing of what theists believe are the properties of God.

Err, no. It’s not an explanation for the existence of natural numbers. That comes from meaningfully describing their properties, which has nothing to do with intuition. What he’s explaining is how we even conceptualized the set of natural numbers in the first place. They could still be nonexistent if we couldn’t meaningfully list their properties. I don’t see anything he wrote implying that popular intuition = truth.

Meaningfully describing properties of natural is definitely derived from intuition, for it is intuition that grounds the counting basis of natural numbers.

• joeftansey says:

“Yes, one could point to three apples and say “1, 2, 3″, but it’s you that is using natural numbers to understand them.”

Shifting goalposts. No one said anything about understanding. For argument’s sake we take the set of natural numbers as “given” by intuition, and can describe some of their properties ad hoc.

“Omiscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, are “meaningful” properties. They are a listing of what theists believe are the properties of God.”

Shifting goalposts again. The meaningfulness of the properties themselves is not in question. The meaningfulness of their attribution is.

“Meaningfully describing properties of natural is definitely derived from intuition, for it is intuition that grounds the counting basis of natural numbers.”

What intuition yields “that every natural number is a sum of four squares”? None. We obtain the set arbitrarily. But what we build on top of that is meaningful.

• Egoist says:

Shifting goalposts. No one said anything about understanding. For argument’s sake we take the set of natural numbers as “given” by intuition, and can describe some of their properties ad hoc.

No goalpost shift. What’s “given” requires understanding.

Shifting goalposts again. The meaningfulness of the properties themselves is not in question. The meaningfulness of their attribution is.

No goalpost shift here either.

Landsburg only referred to what which is meaningful.

What intuition yields “that every natural number is a sum of four squares”? None. We obtain the set arbitrarily. But what we build on top of that is meaningful.

Intuition does not mean instant knowledge.

• joeftansey says:

“No goalpost shift. What’s “given” requires understanding.”

Understanding implies knowledge. Simply listing a property does not constitute understanding.

“No goalpost shift here either.

Landsburg only referred to what which is meaningful.”

“Meaningfulness” is not a floating concept here. It is the meaningfulness of attribution, not the intrinsic meaningfulness of properties.

“Intuition does not mean instant knowledge.”

No one said anything about knowledge. Stick to the original vocabulary, k?

• Egoist says:

Understanding implies knowledge. Simply listing a property does not constitute understanding.

But Landsburg said that properties only need to be meaningful for them to exist.

Murphy listed meaningful properties, but Landsburg the atheist would be compelled to rejecting them, thus contradicting his own criteria.

“Meaningfulness” is not a floating concept here. It is the meaningfulness of attribution, not the intrinsic meaningfulness of properties.

Nobody said anything about floating concepts.

And Landsburg was referring to intrinsic meaningfulness of the natural numbers. He wasn’t saying natural numbers exist because attributing them is meaningful. he was saying natural numbers exist because natural numbers are meaningful.

No one said anything about knowledge. Stick to the original vocabulary, k?

You said “build on top”. That is knowledge acquisition.

The fact that every natural number is the sum of four squares is knowledge. It is not arbitrary.

• joeftansey says:

“But Landsburg said that properties only need to be meaningful for them to exist.”

No he didn’t. He said the attribution of properties had to be meaningful.

“Nobody said anything about floating concepts. ”

Taking “omniscience” on its own and saying it’s “meaningful” is just talking about floating concepts.

“And Landsburg was referring to intrinsic meaningfulness of the natural numbers. ”

No. He was referring to the fact that we can meaningfully list properties they have. He didn’t say they were intrinsically meaningful.

“You said “build on top”. That is knowledge acquisition.”

No it’s concept acquisition. Like acquiring the concept of natural numbers…

“The fact that every natural number is the sum of four squares is knowledge. It is not arbitrary.”

Maybe. But that doesn’t matter. The point is that it is meaningful for us to identify that property of natural numbers. It is not meaningful for us to say X has property A B and C because X is defined as having A B and C.

10. Ken B says:

RPM:”The one thing I try to do, to maintain my intellectual honesty and integrity, is to say I can never use an argument to attack my opponents, that I simultaneously would reject if my opponents used it against “my side.” ”

But of course that’s precisely what you DO do when we present you with the argument from multiplicity, or ask you why the exact contents of the Bible and not the Gospel of Thomas, stuff like that.

11. John Hall says:

I was under the impression that the Godel incompleteness theorem said that there were things in arithmetic that were true that you couldn’t prove were true. Wouldn’t the converse be that there are things that are false that you could prove? Ie. a contradiction. Given that Landsburg believes in the theorem, as I believe most people who read about it do, I don’t think Landsburg would care much if you found a contradiction in arithmetic.

• Bob Murphy says:

Why do you think if Godel’s theorem is true, then its converse is also true?

No, Landsburg doesn’t think arithmetic contains contradictions, and if it did, he’d jump off a bridge (without tying himself up first, like he does already).

• Ken B says:

He’d jump off it in order to sleep under it?

• Bob Murphy says:

• Ken B says:

You know Bob you have the purrrrfect rebuttal to Steve here. Purrrrfect. If the world is math then everything in it is logical.But belief in god is not logical. So QED, the world is not math.

I’m surprised you haven’t pointed this out! 🙂

• Ken B says:

@John Hall: No, that would not be the case. Actually the theorem states that if arithmetic is consistent then there are true but unprivable statements.

12. Carrie says:

[This is a response to Egoist; the comment thread was becoming too narrow to reply.]

If all you’re saying is that I am forced by the laws of the universe to do and not do certain things,

Yes, that was my main point. You accuse me of “Conflat[ing] denying Reason as ultimate master, with denying reality as such.” I do not make this error at all. Reason is not the equivalent of reality; it is the means by which rational men understand reality. Based on your earlier comments I thought that YOU conflated reason with reality, and denied both.

Your continued imprecise language is what causes this confusion. You make broad pronouncements and then state the opposite of your original expression when asked for clarification. In this comment you say “I am reality.” As written, you are equating yourself with reality. Do you mean you are PART OF reality? Do you mean you exist and reality exists and you can comprehend reality? Or do you really mean you ARE reality and reality is you, and that nothing exists outside of you?

Yes, I deny the is-ought dichotomy. And despite your protests, you do apply some degree of the is-ought relationship. You claim that you act for your self-interest, which you explain to be that which brings you (or your “ego”) pleasure. Your IS is that you want to experience pleasure; your OUGHT is that you hold certain beliefs and engage in certain actions that you think will bring you pleasure. For example, you say you use or don’t use reason when it “suits” you. Thus, you are operating on the principle of I OUGHT to use reason here because doing so WILL suit me and I ought NOT to use reason here because doing so WILL NOT suit me.

<There is no morality that I cleave to, including one that encompasses rules on whether one ought to fall off buildings or not.

As I have just shown, you ARE holding on to a morality: the morality that says you SHOULD do what brings you pleasure (as opposed to bringing you pain, or bringing others pleasure, or bringing others pain, etc.).

You are right that belonging to a cult involves sacrifice; and I would go so far as to say that belonging to a cult is self-destructive. I cannot speak for “Randians,” because I am not one. I don’t listen to Rachmaninoff, I don’t speak in a fake Russian accent, and I have never smoked and never will. Beyond that, there are some facets of Objectivism with which I do not agree— limited government (as opposed to anarchy) being one example.

In terms of coming up with an original thought, according to your earlier statement I can’t do that anyway, because you claim no thoughts exist but your own.

• Egoist says:

Yes, that was my main point. You accuse me of “Conflat[ing] denying Reason as ultimate master, with denying reality as such.” I do not make this error at all. Reason is not the equivalent of reality; it is the means by which rational men understand reality. Based on your earlier comments I thought that YOU conflated reason with reality, and denied both.

It is “a” means. It isn’t the only means. Reason isn’t the only means I can use to suit my interests. I can and do utilize “irrational” means to suit my interests. Irrational love, irrational whims, irrational behavior is something that exists, and because it exists, reason is a calling, an obligation you are presenting to me as something I ought to obey. It is not ME. Because it is not ME, I transcend reason as a unique ego.

Your continued imprecise language is what causes this confusion. You make broad pronouncements and then state the opposite of your original expression when asked for clarification. In this comment you say “I am reality.” As written, you are equating yourself with reality.

Imprecise? Or not translated into Randian verbiage?

The opposite of my original expression? Or against the straw man you thought I set up for you to knock down?

Do you mean you are PART OF reality?

I mean I am me, and everything not me is something to be owned by me, according to my might.

I do not deal with issues of reality as a whole, as if I have put my ego outside myself in some abstract mystical land, having a bird’s eye view over me and everything else together. I keep my ego. As such, I am owner. I am owner of that which surrounds me. I can be overpowered, by the rock’s hardness, and by your might, but I own everything as means of usefulness for my enjoyment.

Do you mean you exist and reality exists and you can comprehend reality? Or do you really mean you ARE reality and reality is you, and that nothing exists outside of you?

I am certainly aware of my own limitations of might, of will, and because of that, I know I am not the only thing that exists.

I exist and I use my external surroundings for my enjoyment.

Yes, I deny the is-ought dichotomy.

You do realize that Rand never reconciled this dichotomy, right?

And despite your protests, you do apply some degree of the is-ought relationship. You claim that you act for your self-interest, which you explain to be that which brings you (or your “ego”) pleasure. Your IS is that you want to experience pleasure; your OUGHT is that you hold certain beliefs and engage in certain actions that you think will bring you pleasure.

You’re conflating self-interested intentions with moral duties. They are completely different.

You equivocated the term “ought” to mean both a moral duty, and what one deems are the required means to fulfil one’s desired goals.

You have to choose what you mean by ought.

I reject the moral ought. I do not reject the “scientific” requirements for achieving desired ends.

Beliefs of what could give me pleasure are not moral claims of what I ought to do. I do not do what I do out of any duty towards some rule or morality. I do what I do to derive me with happiness.

For example, you say you use or don’t use reason when it “suits” you. Thus, you are operating on the principle of I OUGHT to use reason here because doing so WILL suit me and I ought NOT to use reason here because doing so WILL NOT suit me.

This is not a morality. This is a using of one’s tools to achieve desired ends unconstrained to any morality.

Morality removes ends from possible seeking. It is not a scientific based behavior of “If I want to achieve X, then I “ought” to do Y.” No, a morality would constrain my egoistic desires and tell me that I ought not desire X and I ought to desire Z instead.

I am not operating on any absolute moral principle that is over and above my own enjoyment. Ego transcends all morality constraints.

“There is no morality that I cleave to, including one that encompasses rules on whether one ought to fall off buildings or not.”

As I have just shown, you ARE holding on to a morality: the morality that says you SHOULD do what brings you pleasure (as opposed to bringing you pain, or bringing others pleasure, or bringing others pain, etc.).

No, you did not show that at all. You only tried to attribute to me a morality that I serve and under which I restrain my selfish desires.

I am not operating under any “should” that I am to obey.

I am not saying anyone “should” do what I am doing. This is what I AM doing. I am not telling you that I should do it, and I am not telling you that you should do it either. It is what I am doing because it suits me.

You can try to infer a morality in this all you want, but you won’t find any, because I am only talking about what IS, not what “should” be. I am telling you how things ARE. How things are is separate from any notion of how things should be.

Your problem is that your religion of reason is so deep that you cannot even grasp what it means to think and act amorally. You perceive rational morality in everything the same way a priest perceives God in everything.

Again, because I am telling you this is what I am, and this and that is what gives me enjoyment, there is ZERO, NONE, NADA relation to any notion of what “should” be. What should be and what is completely collapse into the ego that is.

You are right that belonging to a cult involves sacrifice; and I would go so far as to say that belonging to a cult is self-destructive. I cannot speak for “Randians,” because I am not one. I don’t listen to Rachmaninoff, I don’t speak in a fake Russian accent, and I have never smoked and never will. Beyond that, there are some facets of Objectivism with which I do not agree— limited government (as opposed to anarchy) being one example.

Oh, so you’re a FreedomainRadio cultist I gather? The pool of Randian outcasts who cleave to a new religion, this time UPB, under which I am to obey and serve.

In terms of coming up with an original thought, according to your earlier statement I can’t do that anyway, because you claim no thoughts exist but your own.

Should I have taken you on faith that you have these thoughts you are referring to? Or are you going to express your thoughts, after which they become my thoughts, so that I can know through some means other than faith?

• Carrie says:

Me: [Reason] is the means by which rational men understand reality.

You: It is “a” means. It isn’t the only means. Reason isn’t the only means I can use to suit my interests. I can and do utilize “irrational” means to suit my interests.

Please re-read. I said reason is the means by which RATIONAL men understand reality. People can and do shun reason and seek to understand reality through means other than reason, as you demonstrate.

I exist and I use my external surroundings for my enjoyment. […] I do not deal with issues of reality as a whole,

So your external surroundings are not part of reality as a whole?

You say I am a Randian and that I do not have any original thoughts of my own. Then when I present my understanding of the is-ought dichotomy, you chide me for not being Randian enough. What?!

You are incorrectly using the word “morality” to mean arbitrarily imposed rules with no basis in reality and no bearing on one’s state of being. Acting to further one’s happiness in a rational manner IS the purpose and function of some moral systems, whereas you deny that acting to further your own happiness is a moral issue. You have misdefined morality as a code that “removes ends from possible seeking,” such that you can remain convinced that morality has no bearing on your life.

Now you are acting in a manner that you believe will further your happiness, but you are “not telling you that I should do it. … It is what I am doing because it suits me.” Why are you acting to further your own happiness as opposed to furthering your unhappiness? Is it not because you believe you “should” do so?

No, I don’t listen to Freedomain Radio.

Congratulations, Egoist. You have successfully shown yourself to be more detestable than even Gene Callahan could hope to be on a bad day. Until you have something substantive to offer and can stop contradicting yourself within the same comment, I am done responding to you.

• Egoist says:

Please re-read. I said reason is the means by which RATIONAL men understand reality.

I know. I don’t need to re-read that. You’re presenting to me something that I ought to do to obey the ideal of a “rational man.”

But what about irrational men? Do they not exist? If you admit their existence, then rationality is a morality, not a claim to reality or fact.

People can and do shun reason and seek to understand reality through means other than reason, as you demonstrate.

I am talking about what I find to be enjoyable for me. That is the reality that reason has no monopoly over. I do not serve rationality. I serve nothing.

So your external surroundings are not part of reality as a whole?

Reality as a whole? I only recognize ME, as unique. Everything else is mine. There is no bird’s eye view of the universe as a whole. I view the universe as me, and nothing else. You keep trying to convince me of a mystical view.

You say I am a Randian and that I do not have any original thoughts of my own. Then when I present my understanding of the is-ought dichotomy, you chide me for not being Randian enough. What?!

You only said you reject the is-ought dichotomy, without presenting any understanding of it.

You are incorrectly using the word “morality” to mean arbitrarily imposed rules with no basis in reality and no bearing on one’s state of being.

Morality has no basis in MY reality as ego. It is a tool I can create and destroy. It is not something I serve.

And which “one” are you talking about? If you’re talking about any one but me, then you are indeed talking about arbitrary rules, because they are not my rules. They are the rules you believe all rational men ought to follow.

There is no basis in reality for any morality. Morality is an illusion.

Acting to further one’s happiness in a rational manner IS the purpose and function of some moral systems, whereas you deny that acting to further your own happiness is a moral issue. You have misdefined morality as a code that “removes ends from possible seeking,” such that you can remain convinced that morality has no bearing on your life.

You see how you had to include “rational” in “rational manner”? You’re not talking about MY manner. You’re talking about some arbitrary manner that has no bearing on me.

You keep attributing to me something that I reject.

I am not here telling you that you ought to behave in accordance with “rational man”. I am not here telling you that I ought to behave in accordance with “rational man.”

This is the second time I have told you that me doing what I want to derive enjoyment is not a morality. YOU have misdefined morality. You are trying to attribute to me SOME morality so that you can then play the game according to your rules, instead of my rules.

I will not play according to your rules. I am ME and I am unique. Your rules are nothing to me. When are you going to get that through your head?

I have not “misdefined” morality. You have. You are trying to insinuate that me doing whatever I want, is some sort of morality, when it is not any morality at all. It is ME that exists. This is who I am. It is not me telling myself, you, or anyone else what I believe I ought to do. There is no ought implied in any discussion of what is. This is the Humean fallacy that you keep committing. You cannot infer any ought from an is. Rand failed to show it. You didn’t even attempt to show it.

Now you are acting in a manner that you believe will further your happiness, but you are “not telling you that I should do it. … It is what I am doing because it suits me.” Why are you acting to further your own happiness as opposed to furthering your unhappiness?

Furthering my unhappiness? I don’t even know what that means. I do what I do to derive enjoyment. Asking me why I am what I am is like asking me where or how the universe arose. It is not for me to answer.

Is it not because you believe you “should” do so?

We’ve gone over this. No, it’s not because of any sense of duty or moral obligation that this is what I “ought” to do.

It is who I am. It is what I do. There is no “should” here.

No, I don’t listen to Freedomain Radio.

You claim you’re not a follower of Rand, you claim you’re not a follower of UPB, and yet everything you say is textbook Rand/UPB. I see zero originality.

How do you reconcile that? Are you taking me for a fool?

Congratulations, Egoist. You have successfully shown yourself to be more detestable than even Gene Callahan could hope to be on a bad day.

Awww, giving up so soon?

Until you have something substantive to offer and can stop contradicting yourself within the same comment, I am done responding to you.

You haven’t shown how I contradicted myself, and you’re not the judge of what constitutes substance in my arguments.

I am “detestable” to you? Congratulations. You’ve just exposed yourself as nothing but a mystic. If we were living five hundred years ago you probably would have called me a sinner.

All your protestations are misguided. You are inferring what does not exist, which makes you a mystic.

• Egoist says:

Note: When I say

“What should be and what is completely collapse into the ego that is.”

I don’t mean should is valid and is absorbed with is to create a new ego. I mean the ego collapses all discrepancies between should and is by way of destroying any illusory duty to should, and only recognizing what is.

• Egoist says:

You said:

“Reason is not the equivalent of reality; it is the means by which rational men understand reality.”

This is just the same old religion dressed up in new clothes:

“Faith is not the equivalent of reality; it is the means by which faithful men understand reality.”

“Humanism is not the equivalent of reality; it is the means by which humanist men understand reality.”

etc

And what about “irrational” men? What of them? Are they not real? Are they non-existent? Are they “sinners”? Are they evil/misguided/wrong/self-destructive?

Irrational men exist precisely because in your cult of rationality you believe “true” humanity, or the true ego, resides in “rationality”, and because of that, your cult of reason is exposed as nothing but a new age religion of moral oughts and shoulds.

It is not ME. I own rationality and irrationality, to suit MY desires, not the desires of reason or rationality.

Your moral call for men to be “rational”…that is not me. It’s nothing to me. I will be rational when it suits me and I will be irrational when it suits me.

• Carrie says:

I will be rational when it suits me and I will be irrational when it suits me.

Alas, by what means other than reason can you determine what will and will not suit you?

• Egoist says:

Alas, by what means other than reason can you determine what will and will not suit you?

You remember when you said

“Reason is not the equivalent of reality; it is the means by which rational men understand reality”

?

Why did you use the adjective “rational” in front of men, if not to distinguish these men from “irrational” men?

You aren’t stealing concepts are you?

• Carrie says:

Perhaps you can provide an example of how you can irrationally determine what will or will not suit you.

• Egoist says:

Sometimes I have sex with multiple people at the same time, unprotected, high as a kite, exposing myself to potential longer term life threatening diseases and health problems. I do it and I enjoy it.

Sometimes I engage in incredibly dangerous outdoor activity, on a “whim”, so to speak, and I enjoy it.

Sometimes I punch people that did not threaten me in any way, but did something I disliked to someone else, and I enjoy it.

One time I throw a dart at a dart board to choose my investments, engaging in zero fundamental or technical analysis, and I enjoyed it.

Sometimes I go to the local church, and lie to the priest, and enjoy toying with deluded people who believe they have a channel to God, and I enjoy it.

One time I even sacrificed a good friend’s friendship for the sake of whimsically gratifying myself with his significant other, and I enjoyed it.

Perhaps you can tell me how obeying your master called reason has served to further your enjoyment, and your explanation for why I could derive enjoyment from engaging in irrational behavior.

• Egoist says:

To answer your question, the other means I use are what you call “irrationality”, “anti-reason”, “whims”, “at the moment urges”, etc.

• Carrie says:

From where do you think these things arise? Are they biological urges, for example?

Do they serve to sustain your life? Can the immediate urges you act upon actually be contrary to your long-term goals? If so, how do you determine which action to pursue?

• Egoist says:

From where do you think these things arise? Are they biological urges, for example?

They arise from the ego manifesting itself in a recognition that rational/irrational, reasoned/whimsical thoughts are tools, not masters.

Do they serve to sustain your life?

I don’t want to merely “sustain” my life. If I wanted that, I’d trade extending my life in a cage in lieu of consuming my life in freedom.

I want to enjoy my life.

Kind of like Rand smoking cigarettes, but with less mysticism.

Can the immediate urges you act upon actually be contrary to your long-term goals?

My goal is to enjoy myself in the present. I do not sacrifice my present enjoyment for some non-existent future.

I do not put myself underneath an indeterminate future and divinate the future as some “calling.”

If so, how do you determine which action to pursue?

Whichever one I think will give me the most enjoyment.

• Carrie says:

You believe that a momentary urge to drink some tea, to listen to music, and to murder a noisy neighbor “arise from the ego manifesting itself in a recognition that rational/irrational, reasoned/whimsical thoughts are tools, not masters?” I do not understand how biological drives such as hunger have anything to do with manifestations of recognitions of mental tools. Would you act on all three of those urges if you thought they would bring you pleasure? If you thought they would not bring you pleasure, why would they not bring you pleasure?

My question was not whether your momentary urges MERELY sustain your life. The question was whether they sustain your life. My reason for asking is that, in order to experience your moment-to-moment pleasures, you must be alive. Drug use, or jumping from the 100-story silly putty building, may be temporary urges that you follow, but engaging in them would prevent future enjoyment. Oh wait, you say the future is “non-existent” anyway. With your hedonist lifestyle, that future will come sooner than later.

• Egoist says:

You believe that a momentary urge to drink some tea, to listen to music, and to murder a noisy neighbor “arise from the ego manifesting itself in a recognition that rational/irrational, reasoned/whimsical thoughts are tools, not masters?”

I don’t know, because I’ve never had those particular urges.

If on the other hand I consider how this one time I was playing tennis, and then had a momentary urge to smack the ball out of the court after a missed shot, and enjoying it, but then realizing that I had to go get the ball since it was our only one, then yes, that is the ego manifesting itself in using rational/irrational thoughts as tools.

I do not understand how biological drives such as hunger have anything to do with manifestations of recognitions of mental tools.

Hunger? Who said anything about biological needs? If I derive enjoyment from avoiding hunger pangs and living longer through eating, then I will do it.

There is no ought derivable from this particular is. Look at anorexics. They don’t eat. Hunger isn’t a master. It is a strong biological urge for sure, but it is not my master.

Would you act on all three of those urges if you thought they would bring you pleasure?

Of course.

If you thought they would not bring you pleasure, why would they not bring you pleasure?

Again that question “why” is like asking me why I exist. I don’t know. But I do. And while I’m here, I am unique.

My question was not whether your momentary urges MERELY sustain your life. The question was whether they sustain your life.

What’s the difference?

My reason for asking is that, in order to experience your moment-to-moment pleasures, you must be alive.

I don’t ONLY engage in “moment to moment” urges. It depends on what I find enjoyable at the time.

You think in far too binary a way. If I don’t present myself to you as a long term planning calculating robot, then I have to be a mindless short term thinking, whimsical beast. There is something in between you know.

I use both. Sometimes I engage in what you would call whimsical behavior, other times I engage in what you would call more calculating, “rational” behavior.

Drug use, or jumping from the 100-story silly putty building, may be temporary urges that you follow, but engaging in them would prevent future enjoyment.

I can’t speak for jumping from silly putty buildings, but drugs are not inimical to future enjoyment.

You’re just telling me scientific truths. OK, but what do they have to do with me? If I want to jump from a 100 story silly putty building, then your rules are nothing to me. If I want to toke with my friends, then your rules are still nothing to me.

Telling me that I could die is something I accept, but it’s not something that compels me to not do those things, if those are the things I want to do.

Oh wait, you say the future is “non-existent” anyway. With your hedonist lifestyle, that future will come sooner than later.

You see that? You’re trying to convince me to obey your rules of prolonging my life. Why should I choose a dreary longer life, over a more exciting shorter life, if that is what I want?

You’re presenting to me something that I ought to do, but that’s not me.

You don’t like it that I live a hedonistic lifestyle? And what, is the opposite supposed to be a rule for me to follow?

Have you not been listening to anything I have said? All your rules are nothing to me.

• Carrie says:

Oh, I thought of another sincere question.

If I understand correctly, you act to fulfill your immediate desires, and you do so based on whims and momentary urges. What, if anything, would you say distinguishes a human from a grunting baboon?

• Egoist says:

If I understand correctly, you act to fulfill your immediate desires, and you do so based on whims and momentary urges.

I do, but please note that’s not all I do. Sometimes I derive pleasure from whimsical urges, other times I derive pleasure from calculated planning.

I do not treat either whims or calculated planning as absolutes under which I am to obey at all times.

What, if anything, would you say distinguishes a human from a grunting baboon?

I also do not put the ego in “humanity” under which I am to serve. The differences between humans and baboons has nothing to do with the difference between humanity and ME, or baboons and ME.

I am unique. I have only one property among many of being a human.

Just like you differentiate between humans and baboons, so too do I differentiate between humanity and me.

You can spend all day coming up with differences between humans and baboons, such as level of “rationality”, cognitive ability, etc, but you will find that at some point you will no longer be able to describe ME. I as the unique am above all such attributes and properties.

• Carrie says:

Okay, so what distinguishes YOU from a grunting baboon?

• Egoist says:

Okay, so what distinguishes YOU from a grunting baboon?

Ego.

I am ego, and the grunting baboon is mine, the property of me, ego.

Are you talking about physical attributes? Spend your days coming up with those differences if you want. They won’t be ME. They’ll just be properties of me and the properties of the grunting baboon.

It’s interesting how you feel compelled to juxtapose me with a grunting baboon. I actually find that quite amusing.

For I know exactly why you are doing this. You are trying to convince me that because I belong to the species man, and not baboons, that I somehow have a duty, an obligation, a calling, to serve the concept “man”.

I am to be “the ideal man”, but not myself. I am to be a good, obedient, “man”, and not a bad, disobedient, ego.

I am to be a believer, not a sinner.

I am to be a humanist, not an individualist.

I am to obey the laws of “humanity”, not my own laws.

I get it. I know what you want. But I’m not that person. I am dangerous. You need a nice, docile, obedient “man” for your ego’s enjoyment. That’s how your ego manifests itself.

You put your ego in “man”, a John Galt ideal type, from which you are to worship, the same way Rand worshiped her ideal man, and inevitably found that Frank didn’t, and couldn’t, live up to it, so she had sex with Nathaniel. Then she found he wasn’t the ideal type of man either.

• Carrie says:

All right, Egoist. I think I understand now.

The universe exists outside of you, yet you own it. You are You. You do not know why you are what you are; you just Are. You use drugs, have group sex, and choose your financial investments with a dartboard. You would murder a person who had not committed an offense against you, if you thought doing so would bring you pleasure. Morality is an illusion and it is not your Master. You do what you want, when you want, without knowing why you want. Indeed, you are Unique.

Is that it?

• Carrie says:

What distinguishes you from a grunting baboon?

“Ego.”

What is ego?

“It is indescribable and unique.”

Er… what again is ego?

“It is me.”

And what does me do?

“That which brings me pleasure.”

What brings you pleasure?

“Group sex, drugs, and murder.”

Why?

“I am master of the universe!”

Good riddance, you druggie murderous slut. Keep doing what you’re doing so that your hideous existence is extinguished from an otherwise enjoyable world.

Someone… please tell me this is a bazinga?!

• Egoist says:

The universe exists outside of you, yet you own it. You are You. You do not know why you are what you are; you just Are. You use drugs, have group sex, and choose your financial investments with a dartboard. You would murder a person who had not committed an offense against you, if you thought doing so would bring you pleasure. Morality is an illusion and it is not your Master. You do what you want, when you want, without knowing why you want. Indeed, you are Unique.

Is that it?

You have to be careful when you start down the road of “would”, what I “would” do, where you say “if” I derived pleasure from X, then I “would” do X. OK, that is true as far as it goes, but that doesn’t mean that I actually do find pleasure in those things.

Since I am not a mystic like you, I do not speak of other worldy “woulds”. I only speak of what is. I can tell you that what I am, is not, at this time, a murderer.

What distinguishes you from a grunting baboon?

“Ego.”

What is ego?

“It is indescribable and unique.”

Er… what again is ego?

“It is me.”

And what does me do?

I’ll momentarily stop things here. This question is a non sequitur, That the ego is me, has no bearing on what I do and do not do. All you know is what I am doing with you here. That is all that exists when it comes to you and I.

“That which brings me pleasure.”

What brings you pleasure?

“Group sex, drugs, and murder.”

This is a mischaracterization. This is very much like a priest who contemplates what someone who wants to leave the church would do: Have sex with Satan 24/7.

Did you not see the words “sometimes” in front of those things? It means I do other things besides those things.

You are now in full fledged straw man mode because you don’t know how to deal with me. That’s fine, but I’ll just say that your image of me is wrong.

Why?

“I am master of the universe!”

That is not what I said, and yet you put quotes around it as if I said it. I am not master of the universe. I am master of me. If that is something that makes you so uncomfortable that you can only perceive that to mean I consider myself master of the universe, then it’s clear, and this is amusing to me, you are no longer following your own dictum of “reason” and “rationality.”

Your ego is now manifesting itself through your emotions, your whims. You see? We’re not always calculating rational people, are we?

Thanks for proving just one point among a list of points.

Good riddance, you druggie murderous slut. Keep doing what you’re doing so that your hideous existence is extinguished from an otherwise enjoyable world.

Ah, so now your ego is manifesting itself in you contemplating my death.

You see how so right I am, and how I brought that out of you, which you now act like it’s my fault?

You call me a slut? It’s perfectly consistent with your own professed morality you hypocrite. Since when was monogamy a moral code in libertarian anarchism? Oh that’s right, it isn’t. Your true colors are now showing, and I knew you’d show your true colors, because every religious case like you is using religion to cover up something you’re deeply ashamed of. I’ve seen it a million times.

Someone… please tell me this is a bazinga?!

What’s a bazinga?

• Egoist says:

“Good riddance, you druggie murderous slut. Keep doing what you’re doing so that your hideous existence is extinguished from an otherwise enjoyable world.”

I’ll just emphasize that Carrie said this on her own free will, under no duress from me.

Carrie wants me to die.

Because I am anonymous to her, and because all I am doing is speaking of the ego, she in effect wants the ego, her ego, to die.

She is an enslaved ego who wants to ingratiate her externalized ego master, by calling for my death.

If I’m depraved, so is she.

Who else wants to kill me? Any takers? We can play rock paper scissors.

• Bob Murphy says:

OK guys I think this is a good time to roll the closing credits.

• Egoist says:

Oh and one last thing.

Taking drugs and having group sex doesn’t end my life. They make my life more enjoyable.

Yes, I realize these are “sins” of the body in your religion, but your religion means nothing to me.

Telling me “good riddance” is rather amusing to me, because it just shows your ego manifesting itself in a desire to own the universe, specifically myself as your property, from which you desire to jettison me as you would household garbage.

Do you see that? You chastise me for appearing to consider myself master of the universe, and yet there you are, your ego, treating me exactly as I have been explaining the ego to be. Your ego wants to own me, use me to your benefit, and if I do not, then you desire for my annihilation as like a thrown away banana peel, or sandwich wrapper.

If my ego makes you call me names, then so be it.

If my ego makes you call for my death, then so be it.

If my ego makes you realize your own ego, then even better, because my ego is served better when other egos are stronger. I can do more with an educated, bright flock of sheep, than an uneducated, dimwitted one.

• Egoist says:

“OK guys I think this is a good time to roll the closing credits.”

Yeah, because the death of humans is reserved to your ego, called God. Enough playing around the sandbox. it’s time for the kids to go to bed while the “grown ups” who represent God take over.

If we can talk about your ego, through God, casually contemplating the deaths of billions of people throughout the centuries, why not Carrie’s ego?

Maybe she needs to talk things out and this is her way to do it?

• Bob Murphy says:

??? I am trying to reason with you guys, but if you want I will exercise my supreme will and delete further comments. It gives me pleasure, so why shouldn’t I?

• Bob Murphy says:

Anyway, Carrie, I think you realize his position, and I don’t see any point in pursuing this inquiry.

• Egoist says:

??? I am trying to reason with you guys, but if you want I will exercise my supreme will and delete further comments. It gives me pleasure, so why shouldn’t I?

Hahaaaa! Sweet.

I for one want to see that will being exercised. Preferably not against me though.

Anyway, Carrie, I think you realize his position, and I don’t see any point in pursuing this inquiry.

It’s her inquiring about herself, really. Does she realize her own position? Does she really comprehend what she said about wanting my life to end?

I think this has been a rather enlightening discussion, to be honest. Carrie, the seeming libertarian anarchist, the seeming rationalist, wants me to die because I take (some types of) drugs and engage in unorthodox carnal pleasures.

How many other egos are out there that I can clean up and put better clothes on?

Maybe I can get the nicest blogger Nick Rowe to admit he wants to annihilate all redheads. That would be fun.

• Tel says:

“Humanism is not the equivalent of reality; it is the means by which humanist men understand reality.”

I think most rational Humanists would 100% agree with that statement. Understanding of any form whatsoever only exists in our heads… but reality exists outside.

13. Steven E Landsburg says:

The comments got too narrow for me to post this in its proper place, but I want to thank joeftansey (http://consultingbyrpm.com/blog/2012/04/steve-landsburg-religious-atheist.html#comment-37110) for his precise and accurate paraphrase of my blog post, and his correction of the misunderstandings expressed in earlier comments.

• Beefcake the Mighty says:

Butt-plug say wha?