Friday, September 02, 2011

Quiddity Quest


Everyone talks about “spirituality,” but less often is it especially clear what we (or they) actually mean. That’s why, together with The Immanent Frame and the historians of religion Kathryn Lofton and John Lardas Modern, Killing the Buddha has been quietly working since the beginning of the year to develop Frequencies, a new online “collaborative genealogy of spirituality.” Today, finally, the site is being unveiled.

While at times our task might have seemed as opaque as our object of study, the majesty of what we’ve managed to come up with will speak for itself. Over the course of 100 days, 100 never-before-seen essays will be appearing on Frequencies, each taking on some facet of the bigger-than-sky-sized constellation of things that came to mind when we dared say the word in question.

I am licking my chops and sharpening my utensils in anticipation of the most savory, Ouroboran word-salad ever assembled.


  1. OK. Allow me a preemptive strike: If there is nothing spiritual about us, why would you be concerned with pain and suffering? After all, it's just chemo-electrical signaling. There is nothing experiencing the pain, is there? It's all just patterns of biological activity. The world is an event or set of events, none of more value than another. In fact, value has no meaning except as some kind of imperative resulting from the complicated patterns of neuron firings in our brains that cause us to choose one direction instead of another.
    I'm not seeing that you believe that your hatred of Michael Vicks is simply a bias you happen to have, but that is what results from your strict no spirituality stance.

  2. A preemptive strike! Is this about the whole selling-Texas-to-Mexico thing? Dude, I told you, I'd get you out of there first, jeez.

    It's sorta like that Steven Pinker thing I quoted a while back:

    But greedy reductionism is far from the majority view, and it is easy to show why it is wrong. As the philosopher Hilary Putnam has pointed out, even the simple fact that a square peg won't fit into a round hole can't be explained in terms of molecules and atoms but only at a higher level of analysis involving rigidity (regardless of what makes the peg rigid) and geometry. And if anyone really thought that sociology or literature or history could be replaced by biology, why stop there? Biology could in turn be ground up into chemistry, and chemistry into physics, leaving one struggling to explain the causes of World War I in terms of electrons and quarks. Even if World War I consisted of nothing but a very, very large number of quarks in a very, very complicated pattern of motion, no insight is gained by describing it that way.

    Value has no absolute meaning. We create it and persuade others to share it with us. You're right, in one sense, life only is "just" patterns of biological activity. But we don't live on that level. No one does, not even the most rigid reductionist. As for what we call the part of us that invents symbolic meaning and abstract reasoning? You can call it "spiritual" if you want, but then it seems to me we're right back where we started, wondering what exactly that means.

    My hatred of Vick is a bias I happen to have. It's one that's shared by a large number of people who value some of the same things I do, but I also know of plenty of people who don't care about dogs in general, let alone pit bulls, and who value the fact that he can throw a football more than his character as a human being.

  3. Give yourself some credit: the world would be a better place without people abusing dogs or each other. "Absolute value" is hard to justify, but we can't escape the fact that we live our lives as if it can be. Your way of thinking seems like saying it's irrational to want someone like Vicks punished.

  4. we don't live on that level

    Right. Are the things that exist on the level we live on real or not? Do we exist or not? When you say the "level" makes a difference to our concern about pain and suffering, is that difference rational or merely something we do? If it's rational what makes it so? There used to be people who said one can't be held culpable in any way for harming a dog because they have no souls. See, there's nothing really in there to harm; a real dog is not significantly different than an automaton dog. But that's not true, is it? Why not? Personal bias is a pretty weak reason to punish another person. I can't believe you're satisfied with that answer. Anyway, the people you're getting out the cutlery for are looking for a better one.