Monday, March 19, 2012

The Nature and Value of our Human Essence

The Nature and Value of our Human Essence

Holy wow, I'm really high. My attention span is so short right now that typing this seems like a miracle. Riding my bike home was a miracle. I could feel the boundaries between dreams and reality becoming blurred. It was like my subconscious was king. It was dark but I kept seeing the path I was riding on as becoming lighter. Between brief moments of regular perception I would see light beams through the trees, feel warm, and blissfully, perfectly happy. It felt like I was recalling a fond memory of having done this ride before, as a child maybe. Yet it was my first time having done this ride.

I said 'miracle' but 'miracle' suggests religious influence - This is not the sense of the word I mean. What I mean is that everything seemed (and continues to seem) miraculous, wonderful and confusing. I feel like an inquisitive child taking delight in seeing the world free from the influences that afflict our sense of self in adulthood. My body feels warm and tired, yet part of me races off chasing wonders and distractions. I'm swaying erratically while trying to write and am constantly wanting to find interest in smaller and smaller things. I want to prove to myself that I can find more wonder in less, to increase my wonder in spite of lesser influence. Sometimes that's what it's felt like. It feels different now and in my increasing sobriety I'd like to describe my bicycle ride home.

It was like the best kind of compulsory mission. The type that you know is compulsory yet the fact you know it is compulsory is no hindrance to the well-being of the mind nor body. The body follows, obeys, and chases, and the greater you is pulled too. Though it has no other choice the greater mind follows. But you enjoy it. The greater you enjoys it's paralytic tug and obedience of the brainstem because it is relieved of greater tasks. It is relieved of following order, of following the incessantly vocal inner monologue. The self that proudly states itself as master yet is too much an infant of evolution to grasp the knowledge of it’s true nature. Maybe the answer, the philosophy, will never develop. Maybe it has not proven evolutionally beneficial to question such things. Or maybe evolution simply doesn’t apply to the greater self. Presumably, even if it did, these people, these thinkers of the things, would drive themselves insane contemplating the elusive wonder of the greater self. So the greater self has wonder too, but just in chasing different things. Chasing better things? We'd like to think so. But the red herrings in our thoughts reveal more about us as second order beings (frankfurt) than do our bodily transmutations. And there are many red-herrings.

What is the essence of the human being? Perhaps you would argue that our second order volitions are what is important. This would be mightily filled with a philosopher-superiority complex. To claim spuriously that only those who have developed 2nd order volitions are the bearers of true human essence would be to mistakenly overlook a crucial question - Should we be assessed according to our processes (our mechanical jolts of neural power), or should we be judged by the far richer mechanical nature within the greater machine - The greater self? The machine that develops within the machine that almost seems independent enough to run off on it's own but cannot reach this goal yet. The intricate but dependant crux that has escaped it's master in it's dreams only but can still taste this freedom - It seems like a worthy choice. Despite the typical philosophical arrogance found in claiming that exercises of the brain indicate superiority I pain to say that I cannot escape it's allure.
Here is why.

Our mechanical jolts would interest a scientist god, and interests like this should remain with them. We should not assume that we are the masters of our own creation. That would be absurd. Where would we create from? We would certainly not create from the 'us' as we know it. The place that we experience life from is our 'greater self' under both meanings of 'greater'. It is larger (in the size of 'human essence') and also better (more great). We are living a distinctly human life in our thoughts, not our digestion. To say that those with more advanced 2nd order thinking are now more deserving of praise than the lesser 2nd order thinkers would be to jump forward too enthusiastically. It would be akin to the current worthy criticism of racists. To criticise that they are of a different race to you is senseless because even if there were something intrinsically bad about certain races (a statement I disagree with) that person didn't seem to choose their position. Only a manifestation of a 2nd order desire in the physical world is truly free. Whether one experiences this manifestation within them is determined. This is where the concepts of morally right and wrong and morally praiseworthy or blameworthy need to be distinguished. The 2nd order thinker may be 'objectively better' (more on that later) but not more praiseworthy.

 The same reason that this criticism of racists seems sound applies in parallel with the question of whether 2nd order volitions (or something else) contains what could be called the human essence. Humans have their mechanical structures evolve; But our tendency to seek 2nd order desires hasn't done the same. This seems to prove that the mind can operate free of evolution when pursuing 2nd order desires.  It doesn't seem as if the collective amount of '2nd order volitions-holders’ has increased in accordance with the rest of our evolutionary benefits. Surely the philosophical greats would have realised that they are the possessors of human essence only to the extent that they can dominate over their mechanical selves through their higher order thinking.  Yet this assumption does not seem to fit with the evolutionary argument (which must be inherently and entirely physicalist) and with our perceptions of time. In fact the number of 2nd Order Volition realizations has probably diminished over time in opposition to the increasing mechanical changes that we call evolution. So our 2nd order volition realisations must be able to operate external to evolutionary influences, which would mean that they must be a made of something non-physical, something metaphysically different to everything else. Is this our soul? A diminishing (if one believes 'diminishing' to be the case) of the mind, or even a non-changing amount of 2nd order volition realizations over time, would disprove it's possibility to be a part of the evolutionary process. To argue that 2nd order volitions have evolved would be to argue that we have become at least slightly more 2nd order volition aware than Socrates (or Plato, or Epicurus, or maybe even the more recent Mill!), and this is an enormously large claim. If this were to be true than why are these geniuses so shy in expressing their epiphanies to the world?! Couldn't science benefit? And (assuming this theory is tenable) wouldn't widespread realization of 2nd order volitions in turn influence our evolutionary compass so that it directs us towards a life of greater human essence? My wavering scientific knowledge inhibits me a little here but I tentatively claim that 'yes', it would do so very slowly - at the speed of evolution in fact.

This is why I pursue philosophy. Because right now I feel that philosophy can lead to the discovery of 2nd order volitions in a direct path, and this in turn would benefit our consequential well-being seeking because the acknowledgement of second order volitions also comes with great pleasure. I think that the refinement of this theory is best done by philosophers, the application of this theory best discovered through science and it's promotion (which is – consequentially speaking – the most essential part) should be done by anyone and everyone - In this case it's me. We should want to see the flourishing of these 2nd order volition seekers achieved through whatever method possible because they have discovered the 'true human essence' - The true expression of ourselves. This part of the self is the hedonistic place that Bentham and Tännsjö are looking for. Their aim was worthy but their eyes were faulty. Happiness is truly the greatest good. It is probably also expressed in hedonic pleasure, and that only. But in humans the apex of pleasure is connected to development of the 2nd orders volitions. So their aim, though the most worthy of all possible aims, was ever so slightly impeded by missing the connection between hedonistic bliss and securing desires of the second order. Securing second order desires can be motivated by a realization that our pleasure response is a reward of evolution, pleasure tells us we are on the right track. It is a standard and constant physical norm and attractor. Since the dawn of time pleasure has felt good and we have instinctively, egoistically, gone and pursued it. It is when we acknowledge this and accept it that we can realise that when we pursue the maximization of 2nd order desire realisations we also are pursuing that pleasurable, self-interested, mechanical pull of the primal self. The pursuit of 2nd order desires can be justified in a hedonistic sense. People don't know this, but it is in the best interests of both the mechanical and the greater self that they obligingly follow this pull. You can open people's eyes to that. With the knowledge, you can. And perhaps you should. Maybe that is the one and only justification to paternalism.

When reasonable expectations of greater 2nd order volition development are predicted as a consequence of an action infringements on liberty that are incurred in the completion of this action may be accepted as a form of 'loving paternalistic life re-direction'. 

The liberty infringement may be rather high however their potential for self-meaning illumination would surely always swing this metaphysical felicific calculus in favour of enlightenment. This ‘enlightenment’ being the possession of the true human essence through the recognition of the links between 2nd order desires and the happiness caused by these same desires.

2nd Order volition theory (according to Frankfurt) goes hand in hand with the hedonistic pleasure theories of Bentham and the collision of the 2 leads to some interesting conclusions.
1) That 2nd order volition realisations actually result in a discovery of the true essence of humanity - that the pursuit of the pleasures of the body is only fully achieved to the extent that one develops their thinking to seek 2nd order volitions.      
2) That philosophy - or whatever means best achieves the most recognition of 2nd order volitions- ought to be taught. (Moral Prescription)

I say all of the above with the bashfulness of the most modest of philosophers. I profess that this is merely my knowledge so far and to say I've hit the crux of my knowledge would be arrogant at the age of 21. Nonetheless it seems so obvious to me that this is the case. It is in my nature that nothing makes me happier than when I realise that I am the captain of my ship despite the uncontrollable forces of the ocean. I can only presume that this bliss can be experienced by others. Given that I am not a strange anomaly (oh please, no) I can be justified, consequentially speaking, for vehemently pursuing conditions that lead to greater 2nd order volitions in myself and others. This goal essentially becomes the new intrinsic good and brings with it the obligations to pursue it.

Utilitarianism is correct, the intrinsic good should be maximised. Only it wrongly defines the intrinsic good as happiness, assuming that the one that bugs 'but why is that pursued?' is speaking nonsensically. That person would actually be speaking quite legitimately. The answer is 'because it leads to the production of 2nd order desires and hence the discovery of the human essence', and with a full knowledge of  the theories  of Frankfurt and the Hedonistic Utilitarians I think that the connection between happiness and 2nd order desires is evidently the final say. No further can one be bug bugged 'but why is that pursued?' because (for reasons stated in this essay) the actualization of 2nd order desires is so evidently the final word in the story; no, the full-stop. That being said, the apparentness of this theory to me may be afflicted with a logical flaw - and if so I implore you to find it. Content your desire to point it out to me and I will be equally content in that I can now satisfy my 2nd Order desire to further develop philosophically by correcting and refining this theory.


This piece of writing started with the descriptions of my internal experiences while high. So where does the strange but briefly beautiful servitude of the 2nd Order Volition seeking mind to the mechanical mind fit into the mix of things when related to the drug experimentation? Can experiences like this help to answer thought experiments like Nozick's pleasure machine or solve the moral dilemma of whether the robotic bliss of the characters in Huxley's Brave New World should be promoted or not? I think experiences like this can help to further unpack whether a medicated wonderland is plausible. If it was scientifically verified that a certain brain tweak (or a certain drug) could allow humans  non-diminishing, lifelong bliss with 2nd Order volitions present in their life that are all, in the end, fulfilled, then that brain tweak (or that drug)  should be our moral obligation to administer to everyone. I could not imagine a more fulfilling existence than the existence I just described.   


Written between the hours of 11pm and 3am on the 14th and 15th of March, 2012, by Andrew Bloyce. It was since edited as minimally as possible to improve coherence and fix mistakes of phrasing and grammar. Essentially though, the content is exactly the same. The section about second-order desires and evolution is fairly weak and unsubstantiated - I left it in there nonetheless so that it would be a complete work of what I wrote on that night. What started out as an external monologue of cannabis-experience-expression turned into philosophy. The world is an interesting place.

Reference Notes:

Most of the influence for this essay came from Harry Frankfurt. Particularly this article:
H.G. Frankfurt. 1988. 'Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a person'

The rest of the influence came from the classical hedonistic philosophers – Epicurus, The Cyrenaics (Aristippus), Bentham, and more recently Tännsjö.

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