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The Mystics of Muscle

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As a quick introduction, I discovered the works of Ayn Rand about two and a half years ago (beginning with The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and have lurked on this forum since, well, shortly thereafter. I have always been impressed with the reason, clarity, and intellectual curiosity displayed on this site, although I never contributed to the discussions myself. I'll make a formal introduction in the appropriate thread soon.

I was fascinated by her ideas, but her continual references to and tirades against the "mystics of muscle" bothered me. I wanted to read more about her ideas of reason, logic, ethics, concepts, virtue, and science, not these tirades against ideas that nobody really held. Sure, psychologists attribute certain disorders to environmental factors or somesuch, but the mere fact of helping the patient overcome them implies that with a will one can overcome those influences. Nobody really believes that all judgments are subjective and there's no way to tell what is true except by looking at what society says, and that different societies have different 'truths.' And certainly nobody could have the 'idea' that there are no ideas and that thought is just a convenient illusion. It seemed like she had set up this straw man and was attacking it, almost implying that to disagree with her was to be mystical. I understood her fight against religion (midwestern US raised, here), but I was only impatient once she started telling me that I make choices and that I see what I see.

And then I attended a few meetings of my (Baptist) University's Athiests' and Agnostics' Society. I was absolutely shocked. I had met people before who had said "there are no absolutes" or "morality is relative" or somesuch, but it was usually the result of muddled (or lazy) thinking. But these students believe it: absolutely, truly believe it. They somehow do not believe in their own free will or ability to think, and yet they have weekly meetings devoted to discussing ideas. When I tried to make a case for morality, it took maybe 20 minutes to pin them down and get them to admit that human take actions in pursuit of some goal (happiness), and that this requires sustaining one's life. Even bringing it down to concretes took so much argument: I asked one why he goes to class instead of lying on the couch and drinking beer, and his response was a patient explanation (paraphrased): "Because the cultural values that I was raised with and the influences of my environment and my genetics and the attitudes of the society around me conditioned me to seek out an education..." I finally explained that the only possibility is that he expects some benefit, and they agreed that humans are selfish. Unfortunately, it was getting late before I could get an admission that man must be rational to survive, (As in, answers to the question "By what means does man acquire basic necessities" were "his hands," and when I say his mind, I get "You don't need technology to get food. There's food in nature and you don't need to be rational to pick a banana," and "All rationality gave us is more food and iPods," and "Well, how do monkeys survive without developing tools--we could live like that!" and "if you take a skinny man with a PhD and a big man and put them in the jungle the bigger one will survive"--if this last isn't mysticism of muscle then I don't know what is.)

I honestly do not understand it. These are all very intelligent people though, well-spoken and informed on many topics (especially evolutionary theory, which is not surprising considering the rampant Creationism at this school). In fact, I was impressed and pleased earlier in the evening as they cogently argued evolution against their Creationist Christian member (I was amazed to find myself turning to her later as a beacon of (!) rationality and humanity when they began telling me that valuing reason is just an arbitrary human conceit, that the Earth's dominant life-form is bacteria, and that there is no moral difference between killing a man and bleaching the countertops. Yes, I tried that exact statement as a reductio ad absurdum of the claim that humans have no special moral worth, and yes they agreed wholeheartedly with it.)

I've not had much training in philosophy aside from Objectivism (and Christian theology very early in my life). My studies are the sciences and engineering, so I must ask you what would make people think this way? It's like a joke or some bad satire, but they're not deadpanning, and I feel like Dagny "disarmed by the riddle of what makes this possible." I could see a thug or a priest hating the mind, but that cannot be the motive of a group of intelligent students who have formed a non-University-sanctioned group to meet weekly and discuss ideas. So if they're not stupid or hostile to intellectual discussion, then the problem must be some flaws in my arguments or in my presentation. Perhaps I was just unprepared for the denial that man has a mind and depends on it for survival, and that made me unconvincing, although how they think food gets to their plates I don't know.

I'm not asking for advice on how to argue (I'd need more than a few sentences on a forum post for that anyway), but rather insight into why someone might believe this, and the only other people I have to talk to are Christians. Could it just be that they're well-off students at an expensive private school who just never bothered to think about who makes the things they take for granted and what that requires? Yet Ayn Rand's writings lead me to believe that even adults and serious philosophers think this way. Reading the wrong sorts of books, maybe, and not properly analysing the content? Is my group perhaps just an anomaly, a reaction to a Baptist upbringing and God-fearing school? Have you encountered anything like this?

I apologise for the length for what looks now to be a simple question, but I thought it important that you understand exactly what I encountered (as best as I can boil down an hour-long discussion).

I am pleased to meet you all.

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Moose:

non-University-sanctioned group

However, I suspect you just said that so we could all be impressed that you guessed the school.

"ooooooooh" :)

But now that you've named my school, I want to reassure everyone that it is not an official campus organisation, nor would they be allowed to post flyers on campus. However, the administration does not prevent us from meeting on campus and peaceably discussing whatever we like. I don't complain; I'm just happy they now allow Swing Dancing.

Edit: Or maybe I just realised it's displayed in my profile. D'oh!

Edited by Vital Signs
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There are a few discussions here and there about what could cause someone to be rational or irrational (if you want some in Ayn Rand's own words, get The Return of the Primitive and The Voice of Reason if you haven't already), but what it really boils down to is that they choose to be this way.

I remember having occasional bouts of fashionable skepticism when I was in high school (along the lines of "you can never really be sure anything exists"), and I think it boiled down to something like this:

1. I'm unhappy

2. All the reasons people tell me why I'm unhappy or should be happy make no sense

3. Actually, most things that people tell me make no sense.

4. Probably, nothing makes any sense.

It's more a feeling that everything in life is total B.S. (an easy feeling to develop in some circumstances) than anything so abstract as a philosophical conviction . . . it makes you vulnerable to people that say, in tones of revealed truth, that a donut is, actually, a cloud of whirling atoms and you can never really see things "as they actually are".

So, in short, the real problem is a personal philosophy built out of a hodgepodge of vague feelings and quotes from quasi-mystical wise men: i.e. a lack of integration. When you remember that almost everything you encounter as a youngster is bent on encouraging you NOT to integrate your knowledge, the picture becomes pretty grim indeed.

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I am pleased to meet you all.

Pleased to meet you too. One obsevation I have made with such atheists is that, as you mentioned, they are largely reponding antagonistically to theism. What they fail to realize is that religion is a primitive form of philosophy. It gives you metaphysics, ethics, purpose, etc. So when they stumble across one of the many inherent irrationalities or contradictions they decide that the whole thing is garbage and throw out the baby with the bath water. This incidentally is why many "atheists" find jesus later in life and he makes their life better again. They reincorprate religious based philosophy into their decision making process and their life improves somewhat giving them proof that god exists and loves them and all that crap.

So, in short, their primary axiom is that God does not exist, when their first Axiom should actually be that the Universe, does.

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I posted an entry in my LJ about this quote I found about "coming alive." I couldn't find the quote, but it was something like: "The best day of your life is the day you learn to live for yourself." This guy who I had previously thought was pretty intelligent replied with this:

Surely you can limit your thoughts to yourself and yourself only, but what if you're wrong? Other people's opinions do matter, no matter how wrong you think they might be, for who knows who is really right in the end.

Happiness isn't always attained through fulfilling individual needs. Selflessness, in my opinion, is the most admiral of qualities in a human being. Altruism might as well be considered "coming alive" to me.

Its hard for me to believe that people actually think like this. I would say a large part of this problem is just lack of exposure to the right ideas.

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1. I'm unhappy

2. All the reasons people tell me why I'm unhappy or should be happy make no sense

3. Actually, most things that people tell me make no sense.

4. Probably, nothing makes any sense.

While this may be a fine description of your own bouts of scepticism and those of a lot of other people, it doesn't hold for philosophical scepticism: It's not as easy as you make it seem.

I would say a large part of this problem is just lack of exposure to the right ideas.

In that case the people who don't hold objectivist points of view don't exactly choose not to do so: You're blaming their 'flawed thinking' on their environment.

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In that case the people who don't hold objectivist points of view don't exactly choose not to do so: You're blaming their 'flawed thinking' on their environment.

This guys flawed thinking is the fact that he doesn't make the effort to think. Exposure to the right ideas can inspire a person to think. I would define the "right" idea as thinking for oneself. If a person is irrational, meaning they make no effort to think, most, if not all of their ideas come from their environment. So assuming a person is not rational, and is not exposed to the "right" ideas, he is bound to believe any ideas set forth.

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This guys flawed thinking is the fact that he doesn't make the effort to think. Exposure to the right ideas can inspire a person to think. I would define the "right" idea as thinking for oneself. If a person is irrational, meaning they make no effort to think, most, if not all of their ideas come from their environment. So assuming a person is not rational, and is not exposed to the "right" ideas, he is bound to believe any ideas set forth.

Alright then. So "exposure to thinking for oneself can inspire a person to think". What on Earth does that mean? :)

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That’s why the current crop of high profile Atheists like Dawkins and Harris concern me as much as the religious right. They (the sceptics) ignore or disregard the idea that philosophy has to be treated a unified whole, not as a bunch of talking points used in an argument against mystics. I’ve been listening to a lot of Atheist oriented podcasts recently and they all are philosophically subjectivist, determinists etc.

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I've not had much training in philosophy aside from Objectivism (and Christian theology very early in my life). My studies are the sciences and engineering, so I must ask you what would make people think this way?
I think the most concise answer can be found in Ayn Rand's essay, "For the New Intellectual." For a much more detailed, and quite fascinating account, I recommend Dr. Leonard Peikoff's History of Western Philosophy lecture series (the latter is quite expensive, but if you are interested in starting a campus club for Objectivism, or joining one if there happens to be one at your school already, then you can have access to it for free).

I am pleased to meet you all.
Likewise. : )
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I remember having occasional bouts of fashionable skepticism when I was in high school (along the lines of "you can never really be sure anything exists"), and I think it boiled down to something like this:

1. I'm unhappy

2. All the reasons people tell me why I'm unhappy or should be happy make no sense

3. Actually, most things that people tell me make no sense.

4. Probably, nothing makes any sense.

That's very similar to what I went through in high school. I remember proudly telling a group of christians during a debate in english class that, "I have no morals."

I also have several atheist friends who would fit right in with Vital Sign's atheist group. I think they developed their subjectivist ethics the same way JMeganSnow and I did. Luckily, I picked up Atlas Shrugged from the school library and started thinking for myself.

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While this may be a fine description of your own bouts of scepticism and those of a lot of other people, it doesn't hold for philosophical scepticism: It's not as easy as you make it seem.

Personal skepticism/cynicism can be a bridge to later philosophical skepticism, is what I'm saying: you develop a very nihilist/malevolent universe sense of life, so that when you encounter philosophical skepticism you "feel" it is correct. It matches your subconsciously-held view of life and reality as, basically, a bunch of B.S.

Taught since early childhood that there is no guide to reality other than apparently causeless "feelings", youngsters will of course go along with whatever philosophical outlook suits those selfsame feelings. The underlying problem is that you have to learn how to think rationally, and no one directly teaches children how to do that any more. So, either they have to figure it out somehow on their own (a daunting task, but possible), or they have to be "exposed" to the "right ideas" so that they can see the method in action and learn how to do it.

Seeing the methods of a thinking person can certainly help you become more rational if you've never seen the methods in action before, much like how watching someone peel an orange can help you figure out how to eat one if you've never seen an orange before. There's nothing weird about learning through imitation, it's perfectly normal. The point is that you have to, at some stage, understand the reasons for why you're doing specific things, not just "I'm doing them because this is what I've seen before."

That's very similar to what I went through in high school. I remember proudly telling a group of christians during a debate in english class that, "I have no morals.".

Ouch. That's the sort of thing one winces to remember. :lol:

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I've not had much training in philosophy aside from Objectivism (and Christian theology very early in my life). My studies are the sciences and engineering, so I must ask you what would make people think this way? It's like a joke or some bad satire, but they're not deadpanning, and I feel like Dagny "disarmed by the riddle of what makes this possible." I could see a thug or a priest hating the mind, but that cannot be the motive of a group of intelligent students who have formed a non-University-sanctioned group to meet weekly and discuss ideas.

Why can't it be their motive? Sure, they formed a group to discuss ideas--but what ideas are they discussing?

Consider that you are in a group devoted to talking about how you hate an idea--the idea of God. You are in an atheist society--a group of people who gather together for the purpose of being anti-God. It doesn't require a positive view of the mind in order to reject the idea of God. All it takes is a negative view of religion.

If you want to find people who love the mind, propose that your atheist club change its name to the Secularist club, and focus the discussion on secular philosophy rather than atheism.

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Personal skepticism/cynicism can be a bridge to later philosophical skepticism, is what I'm saying: you develop a very nihilist/malevolent universe sense of life, so that when you encounter philosophical skepticism you "feel" it is correct. It matches your subconsciously-held view of life and reality as, basically, a bunch of B.S.

Of course, but I was talking about philosophical skepticism, not about feeling skeptical, or having a skeptical sense of life.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, I've not had much of an opportunity to return, because a school performance I'm in rehearses during the Athiest and Agnostic Society meetings. The only one I've had an opportunity to attend was a presentation of the scientific evidence for God, presented by one of the engineering faculty.

I do appreciate your insight, MisterSwig, as they are formed specifically against an idea, and that does not require a positive view of the mind at all. There is a reason why it is the Athiest and Agnostics Society rather than the Philosophy Club or somesuch. I find it hard to blame their views on their environment as some of them are at least familiar with Ayn Rand's ideas, so lack of exposure is not an issue. Their positions are certainly chosen (well, not if you ask them, ha).

I will try to find a copy of Ayn Rand's essay (I think that was also the title of a book of hers, no?)

Thank you for your input, everyone, and sorry it took so long for me to acknowledge it.

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  • 1 year later...

What seems to be described is a world view which starts with rejecting Idealism, a believe in an other worldly dimension controlling reality,

in favour of Materialism, the believe that only matter exists. Since rejection of Idealism shuts the door to faith based 'higher' truths and values

something else has to replace that.

The described group seems to have gone straight from Materialism to Determinism, the conviction that an individuals behaviour is entirely predestined by

genes and environment influences. The idea that a mind, made up of braincells, operating under the laws of physics and entirely subject to all kinds of

outside influences just might exactly be the kind of entity that has the capacity to choose among alternatives, reason and make sense of its surrounding

in conceptual terms seems to allude them. I think they have rejected the concept of free will because they have never given themselves a definition of it

that is actually possible in reality (or likely no definition what so ever). I would almost suggest that the only creature they would consider to have a

free will would be one without a brain at all...because they seem to hold the fact that the brain exists and is made up of something as an argument against

it having the property of a free will. There denial of the value of a human comes from the same root; denial of identity, in the case of the value of man,

the denial of the fact that man, even though he is made up of atoms, just like the counter top, is an entity by its own right, with numerous emerging

properties like for instance intelligence, capacity to procreate and mortality, which are pretty distinct from the properties of counter tops.

Ayn Rand defined morality as 'a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions' thus delimited it becomes quite easy to dismiss the act of killing a

man as morally bad and identify the act of bleaching the counter tops pretty much morally neutral.

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One obsevation I have made with such atheists is that, as you mentioned, they are largely reponding antagonistically to theism. What they fail to realize is that religion is a primitive form of philosophy. It gives you metaphysics, ethics, purpose, etc. So when they stumble across one of the many inherent irrationalities or contradictions they decide that the whole thing is garbage and throw out the baby with the bath water. This incidentally is why many "atheists" find jesus later in life and he makes their life better again. They reincorprate religious based philosophy into their decision making process and their life improves somewhat giving them proof that god exists and loves them and all that crap.

So, in short, their primary axiom is that God does not exist, when their first Axiom should actually be that the Universe, does.

I agree very much with this observation.

I don't like it when some people simply bash religion as if it had no value at all. The transition from magic to religion implied the beggining of volition - for the sake of it - and the replacement of instinct with morality. This occurs during the Agrarian Revolution. Not long after, a single God is erected "who brought you out of the house of Egypt out of the house of slavery" and to keep that freedom (of being human) one must abide by a set of rules. Or in Aristotetle's words: there's enough free time for some people (priests) to think about thinking ( Metaphysics - creation of philosophy )

Then the Age of Reason leads to the Idustrial Revolution and this changes most parameters very fast, and perhaps at an ever increasing pace. The reasons behind those millenary rules are disproven. Kant comes to the rescue and then, Marxism and materialism arise simply migrating the old rules (altruism) and applying them to a not fully grasped new reality. Perhaps Nazi germany is the best example of a frantically religious socialism.

By this time we have Ayn Rand outlying an integrated philosophy with a moral code that holds each human's individual life as its own end. but that relies on one basic premise: that reality exists.

But just at the same time we have a whole set of scientists inventing quantum theory and declaring that reality indeed doesn't exist, or there're multiple realities subjected to the observer. This relativists, Atheists, consider themselves the true avant-guarde and think of any philosophy that relies on certainty (on facts!) as the same old unprovable story.

I was brought up in a very urban agnostic climate. Why would educated, intelligent, well off students go for it? Because as Jenni said, most think that probably "nothing makes sense". It's not lazyness it's either cowardy or utter agnosticism in the worse connotation of the word: "I don't know, and I don't care to, after all I might be wrong". The fact is that it takes a lot of guts to declare that Reality exists, that I exist. It also takes intellectual hierarchy to understand that even if matter and energy are interchangeble, and a donut is a cloud of atoms in close-up, ideas still exist and are of a higher order than matter and energy. It takes to understand the crucial, miraculous difference, between entropy, and extropy.

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What seems to be described is a world view which starts with rejecting Idealism, a believe in an other worldly dimension controlling reality,

in favour of Materialism, the believe that only matter exists. Since rejection of Idealism shuts the door to faith based 'higher' truths and values

something else has to replace that.

The described group seems to have gone straight from Materialism to Determinism, the conviction that an individuals behaviour is entirely predestined by

genes and environment influences.

That is how "Atheists" turn out to be true believers. Only not in a bearded God, but in a "Universe", not in fate but in randomness. Luck controls their life so they don't have to. That takes a lot of faith.

Edited by volco
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That is how "Atheists" turn out to be true believers. Only not in a bearded God, but in a "Universe", not in fate but in randomness. Luck controls their life so they don't have to. That takes a lot of faith.

That's a good identification. Yep, they're in love with randomness, with purposelessness. No wonder they're so nihilistic.

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Welcome to the forum! And I have to say I can really relate. When I first started reading about the reasoning behind her ideas, I was a little confused. Altruism? She opposes altruism? Altruism to me at that time I thought was a very antiquated and almost meaningless idea. It represented wussy do-good wannabe's the way I saw it. I didn't think anyone really cared now days about altruism, Americans are supposed to be the most selfish people on earth. And then in the following years it became apparent how wrong that connotation is. Altruism isn't antiquated and dead all, it's just about all there really is. And her ideas only seem more and more true the more I see and experience.

When it comes to science and the intelligent people who seem like they should know better, I think Determinism is a big culprit there. Obviously irrational philosophies are the first cause, but I think Determinism is the particular specific area of thought within natural sciences. It's the reason you will hear scientists say things like "there is no free will" "a persons personality just flows from them", and they particularly love this one, "scientists don't discover facts". They will say it all with a big goofy ass grin on their face like they're thinking "Oh it's just so absurd! Tee-hee-hee!".

Edit: Ok I didn't realize this was bumped from 07 >< But oh well may still be relevant to someone.

Edited by IchorFigure
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  • 2 weeks later...

Essentially all of these religions are just theories of humongous speculation. Everyone of these scholars and followers have their own ritual about how who we are, who's above us and what rule's are commanded upon everyone. But it's all based on the "eyes" of these authors of illustrious books. How in the world can we make fact of these accounts? Religion is but an ongoing quest for much of the human race to actually define what their God/Entities promised them, if they did this and followed that. It's fine to that, just don't it all over the place. Don't parade it around with such ignorance and such lack of proof, it's getting really, really, old. Science is kicking the ass of these "noble men". With technology and free will, the free man can attempt to debunk these mystics, but enjoy and learn about his existence.

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