Human History Is Written In Blood And Guts—Not Decimal Points


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333 magnify

Environmental Stimulus Leads Us Around By The Nose, It’s the Carrot/Stick theory, Go Ask Clarence Darrow; He Believed Man Was No More Responsible For His Conduct Than A Wooden Indian—Only The Toughest And Smartest Get To Perpetuate And Survive

July 10, ‘82

A lot has happened in five days, the highlights of which I am about to relate. The weather got better once I hit New Brunswick. With the wind at my back, I managed a couple of 90-mile days on a good to excellent highway. In New Brunswick I was lucky enough to find two very nice campsites, both of which were in beautiful forests. I am putting all this down on paper while drinking coffee in McDonald’s–an ideal place to write. I passed the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall on the way here, and I need to get down a few thoughts concerning that event before I move on.

People should be consistent within the round of their beliefs, but that consistency has limits. Values and judgments go together, but with new information, sometimes beliefs get challenged, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. When a person values the freedom to question his or her beliefs that person remains open and free. When a person holds beliefs, but is unwilling to stay open to the question ‘why,’ then the mind closes down, and that is a terrible waste.

I met Mike at our preestablished destination, a beach park just outside of Shediac. His bike, however, was on another train. That mistake would need another day to get resolved. No problem, I went to the retail brewery and bought 12 beers, and, at the fish store, I picked up 6 lobsters and a loaf of bread. Mike and I decided to celebrate our bad luck together. I had left my towel and my spare tire on a tree stump at last night’s campsite and Mike had no bike. Nothing could dampen our spirits, though. It was a great feast.

The next day we headed out for Prince Edward Island. We were excited. Behind me, was all of the bad weather, so we took advantage of the good weather by stopping to enjoy the scenery. My favorite stop was the one at the end of the day—that was not necessarily so with Mike. He seemed to enjoy them all. I guess that was why we didn’t get to PEI until almost dark, and, unfortunately, good campsites are hard to find in the dark. We put our tents up in a mosquito-infested farmer’s field. In the morning, before we could pack up, we were hit by a pack of flies. Mike split first. He told me that he would meet me at the first coffee restaurant. It was a bad morning for both of us.

Whoops! I almost forgot about last night’s disaster. When we were looking for a campsite our bikes got tangled, and I went careening over the handlebars. Fortunately, the bikes were okay, and so were we (minus some body contusions), and that brings me to the present. It seems that either Mike or I have made a wrong turn. I’m sitting in the first restaurant that I came to and there’s no Mike. I’m about to backtrack and check out the other highway. Summerside is the next town up, so if all else fails I’m sure we will meet there. I hope this is not another rerun of our last bicycle trip together. On that trip we split up and never did get back together-at least not back together on bicycles, anyway. I know Mike’s shortcomings and he knows mine. I am going to do everything possible to make sure that everything works out on this trip. This is the last time I will see Mike for a long time. After this bicycle trip, he is moving to Kansas City to teach school.

July 12

We didn’t hook up because Mike was out looking for the trout-fishing stream that the guy in the grocery store told him about. We finally found each other at a campground not far from Summerside. Mike was all hyped up about fishing, so after we set up camp, he started to prepare for his fishing trip. Poor Mike, by the time he got it together it was already late afternoon. His disregard for the clock got in the way of his own plans. At the end of the evening, sitting around the campfire, he complained about not having enough time to fish and I was quick to point out that when you ignore the clock things hardly ever work out. I think (hope) Mike has become more time conscious now. I realize that it’s a nice to forget about the clock, but it sure isn’t practical. Even if we were fishless, the six beers he brought back to camp made the disappointment-both his and mine-easier to handle.

This island gets more beautiful all the time. We camped further up along the national seashore last night. We arrived at our campsite late, around 8 PM, but this time it wasn’t bad. We managed to get a campsite because the campground had no hookups. The motor homes found somewhere else to camp. In fact, I’m still waiting for my morning coffee because open fires are not permitted. My pot is sitting on an old cast iron community stove. I haven’t even checked out the ocean yet. I’m helpless without my morning coffee.

Yippee, the crows are cawing, the bugs haven’t surfaced yet, and the sun is out, and my coffee is done. This is just the beginning of what looks to be a great day. Mike isn’t up yet, but I expect him soon. I’ve been thinking about some of my ideas and (there goes a rodent, maybe a marmot?) soon, I hope, I’ll be writing them down. Mike has uncomfortable sunburn, but I think he will survive. He’s also a late sleeper. I had hoped to talk to him about my newly acquired philosophy. Back in Michigan, I gave him a copy of my last paper and he told me that he would read it, but unfortunately he lost it before reading it.

July 14

Hello again. I’m looking out over Campbell‘s Cove; it’s a very nice ocean view. This is the nicest campground so far. It’s to bad that we can’t stay, but, after checking our money situation, we decided to head for Nova Scotia. The weather is beautiful.

Mike and I stayed at Rustico Campground for a couple of days and then biked up the north coast of the island. That part of the island is much less touristed, as it is heavily forested and less populated. Today we will bike down the east coast, and camp somewhere close to the ferry. Oh, before I forget, last night Mike and I spent a very enjoyable evening at a bar, or maybe I should say pub. The place had a remarkably quaint atmosphere. The booths were set into honeycomb walls. The mood just begged good conversation. In fact, that’s when I found out that Mike was a staunch determinist. When the subject of evolution came up, I said “it’s a theory” and he said, “No, it’s a process, which, more or less, selects the changes taking place with regard to the environment.” He also said, “It’s only a theory in the sense that it represents a ‘pattern of claims’ that scientifically explains those changes.” Well, that got the ball rolling because I was quick to point out that creation’s starting point cannot be found in matter.

“Oh,” he said, “and what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing much,” I said, “it’s only that the way we know anything at all is because we relate things to other things, and things are relative.”

“Go tell that to the starving children in Ethiopia,” he said, “or to South Africa’s tortured black activists. I’m sure that will make’em feel a whole lot better!”

“Now wait a minute, that’s not fair, you’re jumping way to far ahead,” I said. “Take length for instance. That concept is fixed only by the operations used to measure it. Identity is the same way; it’s fixed by the conceptual relationships used to oppose it, or by arbitrary labeling. You know, as I know, that our descriptions of the material world, especially at the quantum level, become strained. Your cause and effect assumptions get the kybosh on that level. Indeterminacy rules down there.”

“You’re saying quantum indeterminacy affects human behavior? I don’t think so,” replied Mike. “Human history is written in blood and guts, not decimals. It’s all about power relationships. If you don’t believe me go ask the psychologists. For them environmental stimulus leads us around by the nose. It’s the carrot/stick theory, and the toughest and smartest get to perpetuate and survive. But, knowing you, if you’re still unsure about determinism, go ask a Hindu about karma. In fact, why not go right to the boss–Einstein. According to him causal laws are responsible for everything, including human behavior.”

“Well, you have to admit that indeterminacy, on the quantum level at least, makes it easier to believe in free will,” I said.

“So what,” replied Mike. “Indeterminism is mere chance; it’s not free will! A nerve impulse that is not determined is no more than a random jump. Call it what you will; but an inherited jumble of neurons caught up in socially constructed relationships is nobody’s idea of a free and independent will.

“If that’s true,” I said, “than how can anyone be held responsible for their behavior?”

“That’s precisely what Clarence Darrow asked,” Mike responded. “He believed man was no more responsible for his conduct than a wooden Indian. And, he defended his clients based on that philosophy. Was he successful—you bet! All you have to know is that we are waltzing down the straight and narrow without a clue! That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but if you take it with whiskey, you’ll sleep better at night.”

“But what about moral judgments?” I said, “Is praise and blame really meaningless?”

“Look, I didn’t say I had all the answers,” replied Mike, “I’m not God. If the old man can be found, go ask him.”

“To bad you didn’t read my paper,” I responded. “I’m not saying I have all the answers, but my opinions are legion.”

“Go for it then,” Mike replied. “If you have the answers to philosophy’s perennial questions then be my guest; have at it!”

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