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  Contributed by:Ben
Origins of Science homework tonight was fun: it was on the four basic philosophies of the Greek Hellenistic period. Well, I decided to post my responses, so here they are:

a) Summarize each of the following philosophies: Cynicism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Neoplatonism.

Cynicism - Emphasized that true happiness is not found in flighty material things, but in everlasting metaphysical goodness. People shouldn't be concerned with death or pain and shouldn't care about treating it in others.

Stoicism - They believed in a universal natural law that was based on timeless human reason and was intransitory. The denied any difference between spirit and matter, in effect proposing a monism, where matter and soul are all intertwined and composed of the same thing. They drew attention to communal fellowship and believed in the laws of Fate: everything is destined to happen out of necessity, so live life as it comes, neither trying to make it better nor worse. They said we must accept the happenings of life undisturbed at what happens externally to us.

Epicureanism - The joy of life is to achieve the highest possible happiness, basically, hedonism. The purpose of life is to avoid pain and seek out pleasure. This didn't stress immediate gratitude, however; it weighed carefully future results versus current pleasure. Obviously, it may be good to save up money to have a good life over the long run, rather than blowing it all on chocolate now and getting one heck of a sick stomach. Nowadays, they would argue in favor of teen abstinence (or at least protection), saying a few minutes of pleasure is not worth a possible lifelong affliction with a deadly STD. They believed in Democritus' theory of the soul atom, that animals are made partly of soul atoms, and when these animals die, these soul atoms spread out and form into new living creatures. Thus, death is not permanent; life is transitory, flitting between any variety of species, like reincarnation. Epicurus said, "Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist." The showed no interest in politics or community and advocated for a hermit lifestyle.

Neoplatonism - The world spans between two poles: the ultimate light that is God, and the ultimate darkness where the light cannot reach. The darkness is not its own separate existence, but rather the absence of God, thus arguing against the opposing force of God, who is typically known as Satan. There is a large gradient in between the total presence and total absence. Thus, the soul is in the lightness, close to God, while matter is in the darkness. But in the form of each living thing, its soul, is a spark of the light. The gradient goes like such: humans and animals have the biggest spark and are closest to God, then less so, trees, and even less so, inanimate objects, such as water and rocks. This is a Gaia-like philosophy commonly seen in Eastern religions. One of their beliefs was that mysticism - divine insight - could be achieved rarely in life by certain people who managed to get close to God's light very briefly.

b) Which of these philosophies best matches your approach to life? Why?

None of them, really. Cynicism doesn't seem right because some happiness is found in material things, and good health and nutrition are important for happiness (I believe in a bottom-to-top pyramid of needs such as that proposed by the great psychologist Mazlow, not the other way around, top-to-bottom). Death is very important because it is the end, essentially, of you - the thing to capitalize on, not ignore!

Stoicism seems ridiculous to me. There is no universal law based on human reason; there really is no standardized human reason anyway. "Reason" is nothing but thought patterns moving about in people's brains, and these move about a bit differently in all of us. There is no golden standard by which to judge everything by. I do like the emphasis on the community, but the Fate is horrible! Free will exists, and every second we have an infinite number of choices available to us. Fate is simply wrong.

I don't really like Epicureanism, either. Pure hedonism is not a good goal. And certainly true happiness cannot be found by living a hermit-like existence, without the companionship of a mate or society, and certainly only the most luxurious of fun-providing goods (such as computer games) can only be provided by extremely large, advanced societies. The soul atom theory is nifty, if false: it is true that when we die, our bodies decompose, and our atoms returned to the Earth, to become incorporated in a new multitude of organisms. And their vision of death was spot-on: when we die, we don't even exist anymore, because all we are is the sum total movement of neurotransmitters in the brain, and once the brain is dead, we are gone.

Neoplatonism is good but it fails on so many levels. I like the idea of Gaia: the living spark in all living things. But there is no special God full of light, and the more animate something is, the closer it is to being bathed in the divine radiance. Blah. This theory is not very good philosophically and certainly not good scientifically.

Myself, I believe in a humanistic destiny philosophy. Basically, we owe it to ourselves, as members of the human race, to do as much good as possible to all humans. If that requires sacrifice, so be it; there's six billion of us and increasing; one measly human is not special, no matter how special that one many feel to itself. Thus, the ultimate goal is to reach up to humanity's true potential: get off this measly planet, colonize the universe, and bring into existence uncountable quadrillions of more humans. This is our biological imperative: "Go ye forth and propagate." Thus, I see it in my future to do some technological work on space flight, making it more efficient, cheap, or what not; whatever it takes to make it happen more often, and begin funnelling people off this planet. If we ever do encounter another intelligent species, it'll be instant warfare, with the very property of the entire universe at stake. There's no room for friends with extraterrestrial intelligences in the REAL world.

  Contributed by:Ben
I'm reading this great book called Manifold Time by Stephen Baxter; it has two sequels so far, Manifold Space and Manifold Destiny. I haven't read much of it yet but it's a great book and as I started reading it, I realized, "This is exactly what I think is important!" Baxter recognizes our biggest problem is overpopulation and the pollution of the Earth. You can argue over it however much you wish, but it IS happening, except the timescale varies. But if we don't get off this planet before then, the timescale is irrelevant. We need to focus more of our energies on space travel and in general harvesting the rich universe around us. We put entirely too much effort into pointless endeavours: paying for the elderly, curing all those diseases in Africa, and what not. It's all pointless if we don't get off this Earth, because we'll all be dead! The ultimate destiny of the human race is to reach our ultimate potential: and that naturally means making our presence in this universe as big and widespread as we possibly can. And we've been stagnating ever since we ceased journeying to the Moon.

  Contributed by:Ben
I'm posting a philosophical discussion I had with a friend. The players:
Cyde2 - me
Nbaman2003 - Mark Gray-Mendes

Here's the link

  Contributed by:Ben
Here's a very neat philosophy I picked up from, of all places, Slashdot. I agree with it perfectly.

There is no such thing as Time.
Time is just a concept that's useful to us.
It's easy to check this for yourself. Have you noticed that whatever time it is, it's always the present?
The present moment is all that there is. Eternity is the timeless now.
Even memories are experienced in the present. We're living an ever changing present moment.

  Contributed by:Ben McIlwain
Perhaps my other post was confusing you all; let me say that once and for all, I am a strict Atheist; that below was simply some of my more wacky alternative theories.
That said, let me bring up a point I've considered. What creature likes being worshipped? In what creature is worship a desirable trait? Boring worshipped is disgusting - no entity of any advanced intelligence should want it. Thus, a God, assuming It should exist, would despise being worshipped by humans. The greatest entity of all would not need the opinions of us flawed peoples. That is why I detest religion - a lot of time is wasted praying to some God or other when, if the God was real, it would detest all of the annoying attention. And look at how much time is spent praying and revering and worshipping God - for many people, it's on a weekly basis. Personally, I think a God would reward with Heaven those who do not waste their time foolishly embarrassing It; those who discover a good moral code for themselves and do not depend on the punishment of God to keep them in line.
If there is no God, as I believe, all this worship and time wasted of religion, is moot. If there is a God, not only is the effort moot; it actively sends that person to Hell; for no ultimate Entity would enjoy being worshipped.

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Fyre's Domain 2002