Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Conversation With Susan Blackmore



I hope Susan Blackmore doesn't mind me sharing our brief email exchange, but as we both concur that there is no point to the universe, it doesn't really matter either way! Here is a slightly edited version of what we discussed:




"Jan 17th 2006

Dear Susan,

I have been involved in the parapsychology community for a number of years.

However about March last year it suddenly dawned on me that not only were my peers conducting poor research, but that parapsychology itself is almost entirely delusion. My PhD had been inspired by Darwin and Dawkins alike (though I'm sure Dawkins' would not be pleased to know that) and I have always used evolutionary theory for the basis for all of my theorising about almost any subject.

So at a parapsychology conference I realised that there is no god. No afterlife. And that there is no point to anything. So, I quit parapsychology completely.

My question to you is this. I understand that you are completely aware of the real nature of existence. That everything really is pointless. But that being said, why bother trying to do anything? Why try and convert people? Why participate to any great degree in the fictions
that human create? So it doesn't matter if you do or don't, but why do? I met James Randi a few years ago and find him an interesting character. Why fight against superstition, when ultimately all human being is made up and there is no real point doing anything?

I hope you don't mind this email - but then it doesn't really matter either way!

Louie

Jan 17th 2006

Gosh - that's pretty dramatic. I am torn between being glad that someone else has had the same experience I had, and sorry that it must be so painful for you. After all, I got my PhD and had a lot of interesting times before I finally gave it all up. Either way I congratulate you on taking such a strong and principled decision.

Now - to your deep and difficult question. I would say this, though I don't exactly have good answers. As living organisms we have to keep acting; that's what living things do. Committing suicide is acting, staying in bed and refusing to do anything useful is doing something, getting on with a creative and fulfilling life is action. So which should we do?

Perhaps it's clearer to say "which DO we do?" because the "should" implies a self with free will who has to choose, and I do not think this self exists. I mean - if you press the inquiry deeper you have to ask who is acting? One answer is that the body is acting, another is that the whole universe is acting. An answer that most people believe but I think is untrue is that some kind of soul or inner self is doing it. The Zen approach (and I've long practiced Zen) is to drop the false notion of self and stop doing. Tough! But this is what this thing here does. Perhaps surprisingly it seems to be having a great time, getting on with a very full and interesting life !

I don't know if this helps, but thanks for writing. It was really interesting to hear from you.

Sue

Jan 17

Hi Sue.

I wasn't expecting such a speedy reply. By all means ignore it if you so desire. When I read your response on The World Question Center, I was reminded of your experiences in parapsychology (in which you are still a dirty word) and beyond. I was impressed that your interest in evolution and your rejection of parapsychology suggests that we both had something of a very similar experience. This certainly has been a very tough time for me.

I agree that even the you that we experience is an illusion. Consciousness is given to us by brain functioning. We are all an end product and yes, free will must to some degree be an illusion. I have tried to drop my ego as much as I can. I do not think I make a difference in the universe and I do not wish to be worshiped by anyone.

There are three facts which I now choose to acknowledge as the most important. There is no point to life. There is no survival after death. One day, the whole universe will die. With that knowledge I now find my life almost joyless. What point knowledge acquisition? Since one day it will be gone. What point acquiring money to buy pointless things that I have no interest in? The only important thing is experience and I would argue happy experiences. By all means do what you want to make yourself happy. That is how I am trying to live my life. But it is very very hard to do. I used to fill my life with inane past times (such as reading and watching films) but this seems to me to be unreal. Letting people's memes infect my brain.

Your reply made me smile, which is always a positive thing.

Louie

Jan 19

Dear Louie

I have been thinking about your message and wondering why you might find life joyless and I do not. I cannot remember whether I did find it so when I first began to accept these things but it is so long ago! I think the "as if" route is quite common. I do not take it myself but I understand why other people do (I have discussed this to some extent in my book "Conversations on Consciousness" and even in my cons textbook - look up "as if" in the index).

Otherwise I can only say this - I suspect that if you just get on with it you will find joy arising in the most unlikely times and places. Don't go seeking it, don't hang onto it when it comes, and surely it will. of course joy, like everything else, is pointless but .....

Well , best of luck.

Sue