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    1. What awoke in materialism: A philosophically pessimist view of the cosmos and life

      Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the marketplace, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!" —As many of those who did not believe in...

      Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the marketplace, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!" —As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? —Thus they yelled and laughed.

      The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”

      "How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto."

      Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. "I have come too early," he said then: "my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

      It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: "What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

      • Friedrich Nietzsche, “Gay Science”, 1882

      The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

      • Howard Phillips Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”, 1928

      “Humans desired reasons. Reasons for pain. Reasons for sadness. Reasons for life. Reasons for death. Why were their lives filled with suffering? Why were their deaths absurd? They wanted reasons for the destiny that kept transcending their knowledge.”

      “And that was God.”

      • Kentaro Miura, “Berserk” (83), 1996

      What's it say about life, hm? You gotta get together, tell yourself stories that violate every law of the universe just to get through the goddamn day.

      • Nic Pizzolatto, “True Detective”, 2014

      The universe of modern science engendered a profounder horror in Lovecraft’s writings than that stemming from its tremendous distances and its highly probably alien and powerful non-human inhabitants. For the chief reason that man fears the universe revealed by materialistic science is that it is a purposeless, soulless place. To quote Lovecraft’s “The Silver Key”, man can hardly bear the realization that “the blind cosmos grinds aimlessly on from nothing to something and from something back to nothing again, neither heeding nor knowing the wishes or existence of the minds that flicker for a second now and then in the darkness.”

      • Fritz Leiber, “A Literary Copernicus”, 1949

      With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.— I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I should wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.

      • Charles Darwin, in a letter to Asa Gray, 1860

      In a way, Darwin discovered God—a God that failed to match the preconceptions of theology, and so passed unheralded. If Darwin had discovered that life was created by an intelligent agent—a bodiless mind that loves us, and will smite us with lightning if we dare say otherwise—people would have said "My gosh! That's God!"

      But instead Darwin discovered a strange alien God—not comfortably "ineffable", but really genuinely different from us. Evolution is not a God, but if it were, it wouldn't be Jehovah. It would be H. P. Lovecraft's Azathoth, the blind idiot God burbling chaotically at the center of everything, surrounded by the thin monotonous piping of flutes.

      Which you might have predicted, if you had really looked at Nature.

      • Eliezer Yudkowsky, “An Alien God”, 2007

      The whole earth, continually steeped in blood, is nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be sacrificed without end, without restraint, without respite until the consummation of the world, until the extinction of evil, until the death of death.

      • Joseph de Maistre, “St. Petersburg Dialogues”, 1821

      One night in times long since vanished, man awoke and saw himself. He saw that he was naked under the cosmos, homeless in his own body. Everything opened up before his searching thoughts, wonder upon wonder, terror upon terror, all blossomed in his mind.

      Then woman awoke, too, and said that it was time to go out and kill something. And man took up his bow, fruit of the union between the soul and the hand, and went out under the stars. But when the animals came to their water-hole, where he out of habit waited for them, he no longer knew the spring of the tiger in his blood, but a great psalm to the brotherhood of suffering shared by all that lives.

      That day he came home with empty hands, and when they found him again by the rising of the new moon, he sat dead by the waterhole.

      • Peter Wessel Zapffe, “The Last Messiah”, 1933

      For the rest of the earth’s organisms, existence is relatively uncomplicated. Their lives are about three things: survival, reproduction, death—and nothing else. But we know too much to content ourselves with surviving, reproducing, dying—and nothing else. We know we are alive and know we will die. We also know we will suffer during our lives before suffering—slowly or quickly—as we draw near to death. This is the knowledge we “enjoy” as the most intelligent organisms to gush from the womb of nature. And being so, we feel shortchanged if there is nothing else for us than to survive, reproduce, and die. We want there to be more to it than that, or to think there is. This is the tragedy: Consciousness has forced us into the paradoxical position of striving to be unself-conscious of what we are—hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones.

      • Thomas Ligotti, “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race”, 2010

      This realization threatens to put us in a persistent state of existential fear.

      • Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski, “The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life”, 2015

      What does it mean to be a self-conscious animal? The idea is ludicrous, if it is not monstrous. It means to know that one is food for worms. This is the terror: to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consiousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression and with all this yet to die. It seems like a hoax…

      • Ernest Becker, "The Denial of Death", 1973

      In the literature of supernatural horror, a familiar storyline is that of a character who encounters a paradox in the flesh, so to speak, and must face down or collapse in horror before this ontological perversion —something which should not be, and yet is. Most fabled as specimens of a living paradox are the "undead," those walking cadavers greedy for an eternal presence on earth. But whether their existence should go on unendingly or be cut short by a stake in the heart is not germane to the matter at hand. What is exceedingly material resides in the supernatural horror that such beings could exist in their impossible way for an instant. Other examples of paradox and supernatural horror congealing together are inanimate things guilty of infractions against their nature. Perhaps the most outstanding instance of this phenomenon is a puppet that breaks free of its strings and becomes self-mobilized.

      […]

      Whether or not there really are manifestations of the supernatural, they are horrifying to us in concept, since we think ourselves to be living in a natural world, which may be a festival of massacres butonly in a physical rather than a metaphysical purport. This is why we routinely equate the supernatural with horror. And a puppet possessed of life would exemplify just such a horror, because it would negate all conceptions of a natural physicalism and affirm a metaphysics of chaos and nightmare. It would still be a puppet, but it would be a puppet with a mind and a will, a human puppet—a paradox more disruptive of sanity than the undead. But that is not how they would see it. Human puppets could not conceive of themselves as being puppets at all, not when they are fixed with a consciousness that excites in them the unshakable sense of being singled out from all other objects in creation. Once you begin to feel you are making a go of it on your own—that you are making moves and thinking thoughts which seem to have originated within you—it is not possible for you to believe you are anything but your own master.

      • Thomas Ligotti, “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race”, 2010

      Why, then, was the human race not wiped out long ago in great, raging epidemics of insanity? Why are there so few individuals who succumb to the pressure of life because their acuity reveals to them more than they can bear?

      A consideration of the spiritual history and present state of our species suggests the following answer: most people manage to save themselves by artificially paring down their consciousness.

      • Peter Wessel Zapffe, “The Last Messiah”, 1933

      Although we typically take our cultural worldview for granted, it is actually a fragile human construction that people spend great energy creating, maintaining, and defending. Since we’re constantly on the brink of realizing that our existence is precarious, we cling to our culture’s governmental, educational, and religious institutions and rituals to buttress our view of human life as uniquely significant and eternal.

      • Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski, “The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life”, 2015

      Man is an animal who has to live in a lie in order to live at all.

      • Ernest Becker, “Escape From Evil”, 1975
      10 votes
    2. Assume the Sapir-Whorf Linguistic Theory is accurate: What languages would be best to learn, to improve one's cognitive functions and/or worldview?

      Inspired by the recent post about Arrival / The Story of Your Life The idea of linguistic relativity ... is a principle suggesting that the structure of a language influences its speakers'...

      Inspired by the recent post about Arrival / The Story of Your Life

      The idea of linguistic relativity ... is a principle suggesting that the structure of a language influences its speakers' worldview or cognition, and thus individuals' languages determine or influence their perceptions of the world.

      There's, of course, a lot more to it, many variations, and all still at least somewhat in dispute.

      Nevertheless, as the title says, assume it's true, and speculate on which languages would be the most interesting to learn from an "expand your mind" perspective.

      7 votes
    3. Postmodernism, conservatism, reactionarism: A brief attempt at deconstructing the purist fans

      The recent reaction to the Rings of Power trailer and a thought-provoking video about ragebait from the Youtuber Arbitor Ian made me think about this topic. Fan as Identity and Fandom as Tribe We...

      The recent reaction to the Rings of Power trailer and a thought-provoking video about ragebait from the Youtuber Arbitor Ian made me think about this topic.

      Fan as Identity and Fandom as Tribe

      We all know that guy who is an extreme purist about a beloved franchise. As they love to talk about it, they love the source material, or they love the originals. Any adaptation of or addition to these is seen as deviating from these "sacred texts". Especially if the more recent material produced significantly differs from these sacred texts, it has to be bad. So, you should watch or create hours-long videos nitpicking them.

      This type of person accepts as a given that the original material they are talking about is sacred. Therefore, any change to it is bad. They are often known as a purist, however, I think the better term for it is conservative.

      There is research that posits that fandom is basically a postmodern tribe and fan a postmodern identity (1, 2). The idea is not entirely new. Sports fandoms and fans have been noted for these qualities before (3, 4).

      I think this makes intuitive sense to people who read both humanities and participate in a fandom. Fans take their fictional worlds to heart, and they strongly identify with the characters, the universe, the stories, the games, etc. Combined with the weakening of more traditional identities, and the rise of internet that has created the conditions to connect with people worldwide, it's not surprising that such postmodern identities and tribes would be born.

      The Conservative Fan

      I talk about conservatism here in the broad sense, meaning being biased toward conserving what traditionally exists, a standpoint that values tradition. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry about this is well-researched.

      "Conservatism in a broad sense, as a social attitude, has always existed. It expresses the instinctive human fear of sudden change, and tendency to habitual action."

      I think the "purist fan" fits this definition perfectly. Combining this with the idea that a fan is a type postmodern identity, we can assert that this type of fan is a type of postmodern conservative. Therefore, fandom purism is a type of postmodern conservatism.

      The Reactionary Fan and Outrage Culture

      There are a lot of descriptions of what a reactionary is, and there is no agreed upon definition. I'm going to use a definition that makes sense to me as a broader definition.

      For me, a reactionary, in its broadest sense, is someone who doesn't analyze things much and instead opts to act on impulsive emotion, which is very often anger, resentment, hatred. They approach topics from a very bad faith position. They make short, quippy, and wrong statements.

      Reactionaries often, but not necessarily, defend conservative or conservative-adjacent views, because conservatism is biased toward reacting to changes and seeing them as negative. This aligns with the reactionary mindset that is built upon heavily reacting to things. Since change is inevitable and will always create reactions, conservatism -which is about resisting change- is a perfect fit for reactionarism.

      A relevant extension of this reactionarism is the outrage culture. A production can't be just bad or mediocre, it has to be awful. You can't just dislike it and move on, you have to feel outrage. You have to belittle it at every chance you get. It's because your identity as a true nerd, and a fan of [insert fictional world], is threatened. You have to act now! They are trying to take it away!

      Ragebait being amplified by social media algorithms also strengthens this. However, pointing to it as the sole reason would be a mistake.

      The Synthesis and Some More Considerations

      The purist fan is a postmodern conservative. They attach their identity very strongly to some sacred texts (book, comics, movie, etc.), and they don't want them to change. Therefore, there is a heavy bias involved in discussing developments around these texts.

      The conservative fan can also be a reactionary fan, but doesn't have to be. They don't have to go out there and yell at people, or condescendingly talk to their social circle, like a reactionary fan does. However, they often do.

      It shouldn't be hard to see why conservatism and reactionarism, in the context of fandom, would be related to their corresponding ideologies in the classical sense of the words. While decompartmentalization exists, and people don't necessarily act the same way in different areas of their lives, it makes sense that a general attitude about change would affect one's approach to both fandom and regular politics.

      I think this is a major reason why we see so many loud "purists" about fandom topics follow reactionary politics in regular politics. It also explains why the regular reactionaries can so easily convince fandom reactionaries to adapt their arguments. They come from the same attitude toward change and same attachment to conservative identity politics.

      So, this is my analysis of this topic. Before closing, I want to raise a question that's been on my mind. The quote I shared at the start of the post, the fear of change, I suspect this might be one of the key underlying characteristics of these people, both in regular and fandom politics. People who get attached to certain periods of time in the past so strongly that they dislike any change, or even react violently—they are at the heart of this.

      There is a related, very famous meta-analysis studying 22,818 cases (88 samples) across 12 countries. Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. According to the study, conservatism is negatively correlated with openness to experience (-.32) and positively correlated with dogmatism-intolerance of ambiguity (.34).

      Returning to fandom context, what I'm trying to get at is that maybe holding so dearly to experiences we've had as kids or teenagers is maybe not that good. Sure, there is nothing wrong with nostalgia, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying things we did as kids or teens. But I suspect this overemphasis on being forever teens is turning people into dogmatic, reactionary people. Maybe it's time to grow up and accept change, even find ways to cherish it.

      Very Important Note

      This is not an endorsement of any change to stories and franchises. Obviously, some can be bad. In fact, many adaptations of source material lose some things, partially because of differences in medium and partially because of financial interests involved in movie and show production. RoP is a good example of mediocritization due to financial concerns.

      As you can guess, I did not even like Rings of Power. But even though I've been a Legendarium fan since I was a kid, it wasn't because they changed the source material. It's because I think RoP was, to use a more modern term, mid. However, this did not cause me to go on a rant about how they are ruining the Legendarium. This is a key difference, in my opinion, between simply disliking and being a reactionary.

      16 votes
    4. How did people correct for inaccurate time pieces in the past?

      I bought a Timex Expedition North Titanium Automatic a few months ago and have been enjoying it, but it gains about 10s a day that I have to correct. Nowadays we have incredibly accurate and...

      I bought a Timex Expedition North Titanium Automatic a few months ago and have been enjoying it, but it gains about 10s a day that I have to correct. Nowadays we have incredibly accurate and precise clocks that can tell us exactly what time it is, but all mechanical clocks and watches have some amount of inaccuracy.

      How did people account for inaccurate clocks in the past? Even if time didn't need to be standardized outside of a community until the railroads and a central clock in town could act as a reference for the entire community, wouldn't the central community clock drift? Eventually the central clock could say it was midnight at sunset. While people can tell that is incorrect, how could they say to what extent it was incorrect?

      8 votes