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Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 15 October, 2019 10:10PM
Sawfish Wrote:
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> Your opinions, fellow-readers?


Well, I just finished reading Heiroglypchics (thank you to Dale Nelson for the suggestion). I think I know what Arthur Machen's opinion would be on this topic:
"The conscious opinions of a writer are simply not worth twopence in the court of literature …."

I tend to agree, but perhaps more could be said that would not be entirely irrelevant. But I need to get my thoughts in order.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 19 February, 2021 03:41PM
Lovecraft's materialist philosophy says that we have no free will. That's the same as to say, "I am 'dead' -- I am a 'thing' that may be acted upon by equally mindless forces in the universe, forces that include You, the other person in the room. I possess no real human dignity; my culture may endow human beings with 'dignity,' but that is spurious. We are all nothing but objects, like particles of dust, like planets, briefly existing in a meaningless cosmos till the matter of which we are comprised takes some other form." There is only a mindless and endless chain of cause and effect.

I submit that no sane person can really believe this, however much he may entertain the notion intellectually, because we do perceive and know ourselves to be agents, beings possessed of will, not inert. I can't truly believe myself to be dead when the very ability to think shows that I am alive.

Lovecraft hoodwinks himself with his philosophy. He thinks he is facing the cold facts. Rather, he is committing elementary self-delusion such as a moment's reflection should show him cannot be. His philosophy is not the product of reasoning; it's something he fancies to be true. I do not believe he really believed that anyone had every right to treat him no differently from a pebble, but if materialism were true, that would be the case.

I do wonder -- this is a distinct issue from the validity of someone's philosophy -- if Lovecraft's materialism was not something he wanted to be true (and so he tried to convince others of it) because it gave him emotional protection. Lovecraft's situation reminds me of the old Simon and Garfunkl song:

A winter's day
In a deep and dark December
I am alone
Gazing from my window
To the streets below
On a freshly fallen, silent shroud of snow

I am a rock
I am an island

I've built walls
A fortress, steep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship
Friendship causes pain
Its laughter and its loving I disdain

I am a rock
I am an island

Don't talk of love
Well, I've heard the words before
It's sleeping in my memory
I won't disturb the slumber
Of feelings that have died
If I never loved, I never would have cried

I am a rock
I am an island

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room
Safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me

I am a rock
I am an island

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries

----It will be said that friendship was important to HPL, and his massive correspondence & so on shows it was, and yet my sense is that he might have found it easy to cut off someone who asked anything much of him other than epistolary camaraderie; if someone offended him, he could cut him off and continue on.

He enjoyed the stimulation of discussing books, talking at great length about his ideas and his travels. But I wonder if other people ever meant much to him. Did he learn from them (other than learning about books he hadn't read, that sort of thing)? I wonder if people were allowed to get past those defenses of his.

A philosophy in which everything is, really, an object, has its conveniences if you don't want people to get too close.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 19 Feb 21 | 04:14PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 19 February, 2021 04:22PM
This is interesting, Dale.

Let me start by asking for clarification. I don't want to assume that I know the boundaries of your position and therefore put words into your mouth.

Quote:
DN:
Lovecraft's materialist philosophy says that we have no free will.

Is this unique to Lovecraft's understanding of materialism, or is it a general feature of materialism? Is it true that all materialist thought posits determinism?

If true, this seems to imply that free will is co-joined to non-materialism, and hence to a spiritual reality.

Is this also accurate, Dale? I don't know, I haven't thought exhaustively about it and I'll tip my hand here because I'm not looking at this as a contest, but rather an opportunity for me to learn something.

My gut feeling is that the grosser circumstances are clearly defined by determinism. The instant that my wife was born, of Japanese descent, to two parents of short stature, she was never going to play in the NBA, as it is now constituted.

But her decision to marry me, I do not see as necessarily predetermined--I mean, I had to kick a lot of other guys out of the way.

So is it possible for determinism/free will to operate within certain scopes, rather like the difference in the perceived reactive physics of subatomic, microscopic, and astro physics?

I'm nowhere near sure.

There's always the mumbo-jumbo answer offered in infinite realities as posited by quantum mechanics, and intuitively (but not necessarily logically) I reject this, but if you write yourself an intellectual blank check by accepting a multi-dimensional, unbounded, timeless universe, anything is possible, I suppose.

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 19 February, 2021 04:55PM
Yes, a discussion rather than some big debate.

Materialism means that everything that happens, without exception, must be accountable in terms of material cause and effect. Lovecraft's mechanistic materialism probably held to, or implied, a strict determinism: everything happens as it must as the consequence of mindless motions of matter. A more recent notion of materialism might allow sheer random, unpredictable happenings, and so would not be deterministic as Lovecraft's version was. In either case, what's ruled out is happenings that are effected by free wills.

But if nothing possesses a free will, then everything is -- a thing; nothing can be a person.

Does that make sense?

Now, I'd say that it's impossible for anyone, except for people suffering from severe mental illness, truly to believe that he is a mere thing and not a person. Except in such extreme situations, we know ourselves to be subjects and not mere objects. But Lovecraft would have it that the universe, the "all that there is," is a collection of objects. Mind, agency, free will must be illusions -- or else we have admitted that there is more, after all, than mere mindless matter.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 19 February, 2021 05:10PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Lovecraft
> His philosophy is not the product of reasoning;
> it's something he fancies to be true. I do not
> believe he really believed that anyone had every
> right to treat him no differently from a pebble,
> but if materialism were true, that would be the
> case.

If you had actually read his letters, you would find that he reasons a lot about this.

Basically his argument is that the materialistic Universe of cause and effect is much too complex and intricate for our senses to perceive it as such. Therefore we live our lives thinking as though we had a free will.
Neither did he deny the value of comfort, dignity, or the pain of suffering, in this great stewing cosmic crucible. He was not all apathetic or indifferent to life. He appreciated the pleasures that the complexity of certain stimuli bring to the nerve centers (for example chocolate, sunsets, scenes of landscape, lines of poetry, fine architecture, art, and female company although sexual relationship appeared brief). He appreciated when the succession of cause and effect flowed smoothly, and within the illusion of free will strove to live his life as tolerable, comfortable, and pleasant as possible.

Personally I don't fully share his materialistic philosophy, because I believe there is a spiritual dimension and purpose to the cosmos. But I still think one can live a perfectly satisfying life from his kind of perspective. He found contentment in that philosophy, partly because he was so intelligent and could view its wonderful complexity, without panicking over its limitations for the personal self. Many people cannot accept, and fear, the brevity of a human life span, and therefore simply and readily accept any religious dogmas that tell them there is eternity for themselves after death.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 19 February, 2021 05:16PM
I don't deny that Lovecraft was a hedonist, Knygatin.

Lovecraft wanted his outlook to be based entirely on a materialist version of science. A problem with this is that it is possible to do "good science" that is indistinguishable from the most horrifying crimes against humanity:

[en.wikipedia.org]

But I'd refer back to what I've written earlier today for observations about the (in)validity of his philosophy. (I haven't read all of his published letters, but I've read one of the Arkham House volumes thereof and various essays and so on.) I don't want to repeat myself here.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 19 Feb 21 | 05:19PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 19 February, 2021 05:23PM
Whereas I agree with you on several points, Dale - ie, to say that we lack free will is arrant nonsense and I think you’re right that HPL probably used this worldview to justify his interactions with others - I’m not sure I buy into your theory that a supposed lack of free will would place us on par with an inanimate object. In this respect, I see Knygatin has beaten me to it, but anyhoo -

The argument in support of a deterministic universe is that God can deduce from - say - an atom’s trajectory after the big bang whether you intend to put your cat out or not. The theory doesn’t discount the illusion of free will. You think you’re acting of your own volition when you decide whether or not to put the cat out, but countless factors - what you ate an hour ago, a prospective visit to the bank, whether it’s raining - will influence that decision and these events are all preordained because they are the end result of a process of cause-and-effect that can be traced back to the beginning of time as we know it, and so (by extension) is your decision.

Supposedly!

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 19 February, 2021 05:32PM
Well, dignity, and the sense of natural harmony, prevents one from doing horrendous and atrocious crimes onto others. That was Lovecraft's perspective.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 19 February, 2021 06:04PM
Knygatin Wrote:
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> horrendous and atrocious
> crimes onto others.

Those who do, are out of touch, out of harmony with the elements. They not only cause suffering to others, but also to themselves. A mechanistic philosophy that is based on intelligence, understanding of Nature, psychology, culture, and sociology, is not indifferent to nor excuse such behavior. Intelligent people flow with the laws of Nature, and follow its paths of harmony and meaningful rewards.

As to hedonism, I have only recently learned to stop eating sugar! Sugar is a drug, and a poison that is very damaging to the body.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 19 February, 2021 06:36PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Well, dignity, and the sense of natural harmony,
> prevents one from doing horrendous and atrocious
> crimes onto others. That was Lovecraft's
> perspective.


I'm just saying that you can't derive ethics from the scientific method or from materialism. It's certainly convenient to oneself if other people behave ethically; but to what can I appeal if I believe they (and myself) are wholly determined by the mindless chain of cause and effect? I may say "I wish you wouldn't do that," but I can't say "This is wrong."

Lovecraft needed people to be inconsistent -- to act, towards himself, as if they believed they could, and should, act ethically; while he denied to them the real dignity of agency, of the capacity rise transcend mere mindless cause and effect.

The Japanese scientists mentioned earlier today might have replied that the concept of their victims as possessing any innate dignity was meaningless to them; their victims were just things. They might have said the only "natural harmony" of interest to them was the hegemony of the Land of the Rising Sun, harmony with the will of the Order of the Chrysanthemum, etc.

I started this discussion today because of something I read now that I have revived my Samuel Taylor Coleridge studies. Man, if only STC and HPL could have met. here were two with fabulous gifts for weird imaginative writing and also philosophical interests. Maybe HPL would have given STC a listen where he wouldn't have listened to anyone else.

I do see STC as the founder of the modern weird tale: just read "Christabel." He was the founder of modern mythopoeic fiction -- "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." It was said of Gogol's realistic short story that modern fiction "came out of Gogol's 'Overcoat'" -- well, the ouevre of Dunsanian fantasy came out of Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" as the "overcoat."

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 19 February, 2021 06:48PM
Seemingly the descendents of the 'person from Porlock' are ridiculed to this day for his behaviour. One of the Dirk Gently books actually revolves around a parallel universe exactly like our own, but for how Kubla Khan is the epic STC intended it to be.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 19 February, 2021 06:56PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> As to hedonism, I have only recently learned to
> stop eating sugar! Sugar is a drug, and a poison
> that is very damaging to the body.


Christianity teach us nil about avoiding damaging hedonism. But science, a knowledge of chemistry and so forth, actually does teach us that.

Religion (including Christianity) has further, throughout history, been a device of intolerance, excusing brutality and abuse in its name. Its deeply ingrained delusions are still causing suffering to Western society, inability to follow Natural laws, and may actually cause our complete downfall.

High science is a better tool, than religious superstition, for attaining Natural harmony and truth.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 19 February, 2021 07:25PM
I don't see, Knygatin, how you get from science, a tool for describing what is (that is, what is susceptible to measurement, etc.), to what ought to be done. Science could tell me how to breed a better slave for a job. It could never tell me that I ought not to breed slaves.

I haven't brought up any religion here. Is it your view that honest recognition of the reality of free will (which I experience as I experience myself to be a person), necessarily leads to a religion? That could be, but it it more than I have argued.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 19 Feb 21 | 07:32PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 19 February, 2021 07:38PM
In truth, does any of this matter in a material sense?

Call me Sancho Panza, but I'm damned if I can see it. What I *do* see, however, is that I'm strapped into the ride, it started quite some time ago, and there's no getting off so long as I live.

Do we really need this "first cause" sort of insight? What difference could it make--unless you conceive of an intelligent external grand purpose, and hence by implication an eventual weighing of individual sin/virtue at some point down the line.

For my entire life I've not seen anything that indicates an external purpose to life that cannot be economically explained by the will to live and reproduce. This appears to be the whole ball of wax, so far as I can tell.

Where's my wine...

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 19 February, 2021 07:55PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I don't see, Knygatin, how you get from science, a
> tool for describing what is (that is, what is
> susceptible to measurement, etc.), to what ought
> to be done. Science could tell me how to breed a
> better slave for a job. It could never tell me
> that I ought not to breed slaves.

I hope not to be a wise-guy, but by what overarching rule is this true?

Seriously, in the present environment, I neither what to be enslaved nor want to enslave others in the sense of chattel slavery (as opposed to penal imprisonment with a work requirement), but I'm well aware that this modern ethos has not always been considered either wise or binding, and are we then to say that former iterations of humanity who *did* think that breeding slaves was within the norm were necessarily evil as judged by an independent external moral authority?

>
> I haven't brought up any religion here. Is it
> your view that honest recognition of the reality
> of free will (which I experience as I experience
> myself to be a person), necessarily leads to a
> religion? That could be, but it it more than I
> have argued.

What if the concept of personhood, as you have conveyed it, is nothing more than a solipsistic illusion? I don't find it troublesome, frankly, since I'm in for the duration of the ride. It really doesn't matter, in the end, if I thought that I had free will, but did not actually have it, or I actually *did* have it and acted on it.

It only matters if you think everything is predetermined and so make no attempt at independent decisions, feeling that everything will fall into place--or not...

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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