Why ‘Prometheus’ gets it all wrong, and why it matters

There were a lot of things wrong with Prometheus (daft dialogue, ridiculous character behaviour, odd-pacing, odd-editing and incongruous music), but I’m only going to focus on the greatest error the film made: its ridiculous distain for scientific fact. I’m going to explain just how badly the writers got it wrong and why it matters. I almost laughed before I realised how tragic the tale is.

If you’re telling a fantasy story you can pretty much get away with anything. With science fiction, depending on how “hard” or “soft” you want it: you can get away with a lot less or a bit less respectively. Prometheus fails as science fiction because there is nothing more scientific about its premise than the Never Ending Story’s. But even if you want to say that Prometheus is a bit of fantasy fun set in space, it still fails because it contradicts some of the most important and established knowledge we have, just as any fantasy story that depicted the earth as being the fourth planet from the sun would instantly lose all credibility and connection with the audience. Similarly, even a fantasy about humans must depict them as creatures with two arms, two legs, and not, for example, 100 tentacles.  We know that the earth is not the fourth planet from the sun, so whatever planet “earth” we are told is the fourth from its sun, it’s not ours, and it’s not our earth, and it’s not us, just like we might connect with a 100-limbed fantasy species and even empathise with them, but if you call them “human” you’re just being silly. But imagine that a large politically-powerful group of people had a vested interest in perpetuating a myth that our earth is in fact the fourth planet from the sun. All the evidence notwithstanding, Mars is the third planet and Earth is the fourth. What seems like a scientific faux pas and bit of fantasy fun takes on a darker and worrying shade. Well that is the problem with Prometheus.

The basic plot of Prometheus is: an alien race dropped their DNA in the oceans of earth long ago and so created humans. This is about as scientific as saying that you can take a drop of blood from a dog, inject it into a giraffe, and expect the giraffe to give birth to dogs or giraffe-dog hybrids. The very definition of “species” in fact is a community that can only breed successfully with itself.

During the film, it’s discovered that these aliens called “Engineers” have a 100% DNA match with humans. This is either rubbish or meaningless, take your pick. If the writers were trying to say that the Engineers are genetically similar to humans, the match is trivial: every living thing that lives or has ever lived on this planet shares the same DNA. A lot of DNA is arguably junk anyway, but “there is more than 95% to 98% similarity between related genes in humans and apes in general. (Just as in the mouse, quite a few genes probably are not common to humans and apes, and these may influence uniquely human or ape traits.) Similarities between mouse and human genes range from about 70% to 90%, with an average of 85% similarity but a lot of variation from gene to gene…” [source] So if they have the same DNA code as us, so what? That only proves that they evolved on earth. But if the insinuation is that they are a 100% DNA match with humans, despite being aliens, that is nonsense because…they aren’t human! That would be like a forensic detective placing you at a murder scene 5000 miles away and 5000 years in the past, because your DNA was a 100% match to a criminal in the past, which is impossible, or matching you because you both happen to be human beings…

But, even if aliens could drop something in earth’s primordial oceans that could somehow mingle with DNA…even that doesn’t make sense because evolution simply doesn’t work that way. A few Star Trek episodes tried to do something similar with evolution and failed for the same reasons. In those stories, the premise was that evolution could be sped up and the results observed in hours or days instead of millions of years. This is such a spectacular misunderstanding of evolution that it makes me depressed just thinking about it. But before I explain that, let’s start at the beginning:

All living things on this planet are the product of common descent. We all share the same DNA and metabolise energy in the same way because those fundamental parts of life happened once, billions of years ago, and not again. All life is descended from very simple self-replicating molecules. On this planet, DNA eventually got this job and the code used is the same today as it was 3 billion years ago. (If life exists on another planet, it too almost certainly started with very simple self-replicating molecules, but it’s overwhelmingly improbable that it would evolve the same DNA code as Earth’s, if it even used DNA at all.) Today, there are thousands of computer programming languages because each was designed by a human computer programmer for a specific need. But in nature, there is only one programming language and it had to be modified and utilised only by trial-by-fire selection in the wild over a very long time. (Incidentally, the ubiquity of this one (and only one) natural language is another argument against intelligent design.)

The “Engineers” could not have any DNA similarity with us unless they came from earth, which they clearly did not do. But we didn’t see the Engineers dropping DNA into the earth 3.5 billion years ago (unless the opening scene of the film was supposed to be earth at that time…in which case I suggest History of the Earth 101 for the writers to give them an idea of what this planet was like so early in its life. Let’s just say Hell would’ve been more hospitable.)  But suppose the engineers got DNA started in the first place (which isn’t implied in the film) all those aeons ago. Is that any better? Nope. Which brings us to:

Humans look the way we do because on this planet we are a member of the primate family. We share a common ancestor with all apes alive today, and our nearest relatives are chimpanzees. The modern human being as we know it today is only about 150,000 years old. But, we didn’t have to evolve this way. On earth, countless unpurposed events directed life in different directions. To name just two: the great oxygen catastrophe and the Cretaceous–Paleogene event (which wiped out the dinosaurs) – two events which forever shifted the course of evolution on Earth, and which were unplanned and devastating in their own right. The oxygen catastrophe didn’t have to happen, but it did. A meteor didn’t have to hit the earth and wipe out the dinosaurs, but it did. On this planet in the past, creatures that we would call primates today found it advantageous to walk upright thus freeing their hands for manipulating the world. On this world, that gave them an advantage over their competitors in the wild. Those creatures which would become us developed higher intelligence as tool-using thinkers. But as Chuck from sfdesbris.com says: “it’s not enough to be smarter, smarter has to give you a distinct advantage.” It’s not a foregone conclusion that evolution will lead to intelligent life, although given time and the right conditions one might expect it to. One might also expect that intelligent life on other worlds would be analogous to humans as tool-using thinkers, using their appendages to manipulate the world and freeing up their bodies to evolve larger brains. But that is not to say at all that such life would also evolve from creatures that would look anything like primates – they could just as easily look like walking octopuses. Again, on earth – we look the way we do, not because some alien dropped some DNA in a pool 3 billion years ago (and most certainly no sooner), but because we evolved from similar looking creatures who evolved from similar looking creatures, all of whom can call themselves descendants of apes, who in turn can call themselves descendants of whatever small mammals remained (or evolved) after the mass destruction of the dinosaurs left niches in nature for new creatures to fill.

To say that aliens created humans is absolutely stupid because we already know how life developed on this planet and everything we know and have ever learned in biology, genetics and geology confirms it – just like we know the Earth is the third planet from the sun. And this makes the entire premise of the film pointless, (much like the Answers in Genesis website). It’s like a great mystery novel akin to the space equivalent of Angels and Demons, but the final startling revelation being: the earth is flat and the sun orbits it.

No matter how wild your story premise is, there must be a part of the audience that thinks “this could happen, this is how things might’ve have been, even if they weren’t.” For example, imagine a story where aliens brainwash Hitler to invade Poland. Silly, yes, but at least it can’t be disproved. (Of course, something isn’t proven true just because it can’t be disproved.) But with Prometheus, it simply can’t be true, because we didn’t pop into existence with unique DNA 150,000 years ago – we evolved from other species very slowly and share our DNA with all other life on earth. The story is not reflective or metaphorical, it’s dumb.

The only way to have Prometheus’s story make any sense as regards its DNA claim is to say that aliens created DNA itself and put it on earth 3 billion years ago, but even that doesn’t explain why the aliens are almost identical to humans: you cannot predict which path evolution will take because evolution, by very definition, is simply the change of gene frequencies in generations responding to the pressure of natural selection. Natural selection can be caused by sexuality and/or environment, but it’s location specific. The millions of varieties of life you see on earth today are only possible because it takes evolution that long to produce any noticeable change at all, especially speciation (although evolution on every meaningful level is an observed documented fact.) To illustrate this by contrast: if a species were already perfectly suited to its environment and its surroundings never changed, that species would never change (and evolve), not in ten million years.

But why does it matter? It matters because Prometheus is a major international release that completely abuses a wondrous field of science. It’s rubbish at best and slander at worst. It matters because there are people in positions of power who deny evolution because it contradicts their ignorant beliefs about the universe, and they want to push those beliefs on you and your children, by law, in the classroom. It matters because evolution is as established and beautiful a scientific fact as anything the human race has ever discovered, and it’s a travesty that it’s so badly misunderstood in the 21st century, so much so that most people who see Prometheus won’t even notice anything wrong with its “science”.

And the moral of Prometheus the film? Our protagonist Elizabeth Shaw regains her faith in god (of course, the personal choice of god of the writer, which is the Christian version). At one point she is teased about her faith with the claim “I guess creating life is easy…anyone can do it…you just need some DNA.” But that’s the kind of nonsense strawman of evolution that no evolutionist ever claimed! Life didn’t happen on earth because of some DNA in an ocean…DNA is only a coding language. It is genes that allow characteristics to pass from generation to generation, and NATURAL (or sexual) SELECTION is the only method by why nature can pass on some genes and withhold others. So no, you need more than just a bit of DNA…and that fact is totally ignored (deliberately?) by the writer(s) of Prometheus. Is there any other scientific field that could be so grossly disfigured and butchered by a film writer in this day and age and still get approved? I don’t think so. What do you think?

The irony here is sadly amusing: if the moral of the story was to have the protagonist reclaim her faith in god and challenge the notion that life on earth evolved naturally…it speaks volumes that such a notion was only possible in a fantasy land where the real world can be ignored and the movie script can make the impossible possible, just like the bible has the sun stand still in the sky. Most people don’t take those stories seriously, with good reason. But some do unfortunately, and they even try to re-write scientific fact to suit their beliefs. Some even use their big chance writing a Hollywood screenplay to push their creationist agenda on a worldwide audience. The sad thing? Many people don’t know any better.

***

Further reading:

The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins. Not arguments, no debate. Read this if you doubt the facts.

Evolution at Wikipedia (if I were ever to endorse compulsory education this would be the second thing on my list.)

Other good critical reviews:

http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/ridley-scotts-prometheus-anti-science/

Privileged Planet? Yeah right…

Imagine receiving a gift from a long-lost relative: a great mansion; on the outside the most beautiful house you could conceive. Unfortunately, over 80% of the mansion is uninhabitable, partly due to flooding, partly due to mould or razor sharp rocks. Other parts of the mansion are closed off from collapsed roofs and other areas have dangerous animals infesting them. Of the 20% of the mansion that you can actually live in, most of that is too cold in the night and too hot during the day – you have to wear protective gear most of the time. There are insects carrying diseases around it and invisible viruses and bacteria that can make you very sick, if not kill you. Worse, parts of the mansion are prone to structural collapse at any moment with harmful or even fatal results. Even this 20% of the house that can you get by in was only re-conditioned that way by countless previous owners, each struggling to improve it over the course of their entire lives; the work even costing many their lives. Outside the house is an unbreathable expanse, entering which even for a split second means certain death.

Now imagine being told that the state of this mansion is no accident, but a wonderful gift that hasn’t simply fallen into disrepair – no, this great house was designed specifically for you, and its current condition is exactly how the designer wanted you to receive it! This is just the look he was going for! This is the best house that could possibly be imagined! There is simply no improving this building, you are told. More so, the designer expects you to be eternally grateful for this gift every day – but if something goes wrong with the house, it’s your fault. Worse, if you can’t understand why on earth anyone would specifically design a house like this, you aren’t intelligent or spiritual enough to grasp his higher motives. Finally, imagine being told that the designer was the most intelligent individual who’s ever lived, the greatest structural engineer of them all, the master of building design, an expert in human biology, and someone who truly cares about his work and the people who live in his homes…

How many people on earth today accept creationism?

Are we insignificant?

I really like Brian Cox’s TV series’ on science, (predominantly cosmology), because he demonstrates wondrous facts about the earth, solar system and universe. I have seen how his shows appeal to a wide variety of people and I think it’s great, in this miserable cynical mystical soap-opera ridden and reality-TV infested culture, that the general public are still fascinated by the physical existence around us. 

It is virtually impossible to describe, and literally impossible to imagine, just how vast the universe is. Approximately 15 billion years since we can say “time” in the manner we understand it, started. Our minds and bodies have evolved to see a slight fraction of the EM spectrum, useful for hunting/gathering on ancient plains, and building things to our scale of observation and interaction. The universe below our perceptual range is almost incomprehensible, but the universe beyond it is perhaps more so. One only has to consider the space between stars, and the staggering and ridiculously huge flight times between them to grasp that, in a very real sense, as much as we might ever learn about the universe, this, this life, this planet, this continent, this house, this job, are all we will ever know.

There are two ways of looking at this. The most common one, and the one I used to hold, is to realise just how tiny human beings are in the cosmos; to look at the age of the universe, and how long it will continue before motion (and therefore time) cease to exist; at the tiny slice of the temporal pie we’ve had on earth; at the enormous power the sun radiates every second and how all the manmade energy ever produced in total, multiplied a million times, wouldn’t come close to the fireball we orbit.

None of this is untrue, but the conclusion, the general feeling that many people take from these facts is: how small am I? How insignificant is the human race? Nothing I do matters. I am nothing in the grand scheme of things. But this line of thinking is unwarranted, because the mind makes a faulty presumption, a presumption based on our cultural value judgements and mindset. A presumption that almost all intellectuals, scientists, idealists and politicians make.  A presumption that is so glaringly false, but only once it’s realised. It is the presumption, or idea, that all values must be values in the eyes of some external grand mover, i.e. someone other than us. But since all of us are just individuals, and none of us (we are told) is the arbiter of value, the actual arbiter of value must be no one.

Another way of looking at it is: if the universe were only 50 years old, would that make you feel less insignificant? If the universe ended outside the orbit of Neptune, would that make you feel less tiny? If every planet in the solar system had humanoid life, would you feel differently about your place in the universe? If all the stars in the universe except our sun died overnight, would your feelings for those you love change?

It’s easy to come up with rhetorical spiel to ease a lonely mind. It’s harder to actually believe it. But you should believe it, because there is no “grand scheme of things”. There is no god who gives your life meaning; who sees a phenomenal universe and yet chooses to value your little life; there is something far more relevant in play: you, who in all the mindless universe of matter, energy, waves, dust, rocks, and empty space – who can do what (for all intents and purposes) no other thing could do a few hundred thousand years ago: think. Think, judge, choose, create, love. Only a being capable of valuing can value. The question is not: what value is your life to the universe? The question can only be: what, in this universe, is of value to your life? Ten trillion trillion stars in ten trillion trillion galaxies, or the man or woman you love? The majesty of Saturn’s rings, ethereal dark matter, stupendous space-time defying singularities, or your family, your career, your passions, your goals?

“All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again” is an oft-quoted line in one science-fiction show. In cosmology it is very true: all of this has happened before, and all will happen again. Stars were created, exploded, and died, long before ours came into being. The death of stars begets new stars, and planets.  And if stars are ten a penny, or a dime a dozen, we couldn’t print enough money for them all. This cycle has continued for billions of years, and it will continue for trillions more. “And in all of that, and perhaps more, only one of each of us.*

If a nebula, or ringed-body, or sunrise, or sunset, or night-sky smattered with stars – purposeless conglomerations of matter and energy – are beautiful, how much more so the chosen free conscious acts of humanity? The invention of the wheel, the discovery of electricity, the constitution of the United States, art, poetry, trade, and the source of them all, love?

The next time you find yourself contemplating humanity’s, or your own worth in unnecessarily humble terms, consider: “insignificant” – to whom? “Small” – compared to whom? “Worthless” – to whom? “Nothing we do matters” – matters to whom?

Life is what makes values possible. And for all we know, we’re the only rational life in existence. This means, the only values in existence are mine and yours. So we cannot be “valueless” transient specs of dust in this universe – far from it. In a very real sense of the word; the only meaningful use of the word, we are the most valuable things in existence. So the stars will go on burning long after you’ve died. The difference is: stars will never know any differently.

Aliens exist, but you shouldn’t care

Do you believe in aliens?

This is a really vague question. If a “believer” asks you, they want you to say “no” so they can follow up with “how can you believe we’re the only life in the universe?!11one”. But of course – that wasn’t what the question was. The question really means “do you believe we are being visited by aliens?”

I maintain that the same logic that makes alien life so overwhelmingly likely is the same logic that makes me thoroughly disbelieve in alien visitors. In short, aliens DO exist – but you shouldn’t give the matter a second thought.

Why do I believe that aliens exist but that we are most definitely not being visited? It’s quite simple and brief to be honest:

Evolution: if you understand it in any reasonable detail, you’ll appreciate that it’s not luck-based at all. Given the right conditions, and time – evolution is bound to happen. Of course, there are no guarantees over what form that life will take.

Probability: It doesn’t matter if earth-type worlds are rare or common in the universe. Earth is certainly unique of all the planets we’ve charted so far and the solar systems we’ve scanned to date. I think it’s fair to presume that earth-type worlds are rare – but however rare you want to make them you have to appreciate the vastness of the universe. It is a statistical certainty that somewhere out there, amidst the quadrillions upon quadrillions of stars, that an earth-type planet orbits a star like our own. (To be honest, quite a variety of star-to-planet distances/compositions would probably be acceptable.)

So vast is the universe it would actually be a statistical impossibility to not have any other life out there! And if you have life, and time, and enough planets – at least one of them should produce intelligent life – perhaps even rational.

But, this is where the alien fun ends. Remember how vast the universe is. In order for us to make contact with alien life, you not only need another species to be alive, be intelligent, develop space-travel, but do so within observable range of the earth.

Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. Try to appreciate just how quick that is. It would still take 100,000 years travelling at that speed to cross our galaxy. Beyond that, at the same speed, the next closest galaxy is 2,540,000 years off. In fact, even the closest star to us would take over 4 years to reach at this speed.

Humans have only been sending out EM transmissions into space for a century. The very earliest transmissions which are nowhere near as powerful as those we send now are only 100 light years away. That’s one 1/1000th the diameter of the galaxy. In order for aliens to even be aware of our existence they’d have to be within 100 light years of earth. As we know, it’s an inconceivably-gigantic universe, and the odds of that life out there being within such a ridiculously tiny radius of earth don’t bear thinking about.

But the real killer, and for me the totally unassailable argument against alien contact (let alone visitation) is time: the universe in its current state of existence is about 15 billion years old. The earth is over 4 billion years old. Life has only been on earth for a few million years. Humans have only been on earth for a couple of hundred thousand. We have only been using electricity for just over a century. We’ve been sending out EM waves for a shorter time than that. We only achieved space-flight 50 years ago. We have only been actively looking for other worlds by scanning a tiny fraction of the heavens for a few decades. Now, even if another intelligent space-faring species actively looking for life existed, or will exist – you need them to be at least at our level of technology, give or take 50 years for either of us, and within 100 light years of earth (at a stretch). And, however we communicate with each other, that signal cannot travel faster than light.

To put this in illustrative terms, let’s use what I’ll call the time-overlap thought experiment: pick a number between 1 and 4 billion: that number is how many years back in time you will travel to a random place on earth. Another person does the same. What are the odds that the two of you will now meet up? And even if luck be damned, and incredibly you both picked the same number, and live at the same time on earth – you need to make contact before you die of old age – but let’s say you’re both different ages, both or either of you could be very young or very old. Where do you look? Which direction do you start out in? What do you look for?

It’s the same with aliens. Maybe they existed but died out ages ago? Maybe they are only now discovering the internal combustion engine? Maybe somewhere out there a CO2-laced volcanic world orbits a yellow star that will evolve intelligent life in many eons to come? Or maybe they are just like us typing blogs on their internet right now, but are just too far away. Who knows?

It’s fascinating to consider, but it’s speculation without resolution. Ultimately, the notion of alien visitors (especially given the total lack of proof) should be dismissed out of hand. The existence of alien life, either good or evil, is totally irrelevant to us. So although it’s overwhelmingly likely they are out there, by the same principle it’s overwhelmingly certain we will never ever know about each other.

Life as the Ultimate Value

Continuing a discussion on a recent article of mine, here is my reply to one of the commenters on that article. Because my reply is so long and explains in detail the Objectivist theory of rational values and life as the ultimate value, and refutes any alternative notions, I thought it would be helpful to display it here in a blog of its own:

Martin’s comments are in italic and bold:

Evanescent you are repeating yourself, saying nothing new and failing to answer the questions and avoiding them instead. I will analyze your last comment one more time and list the question for actual answer rather than avoidance.

Just because you refuse to accept the answers I give doesn’t mean I am avoiding anything.

Incidentally, you, like your anti-objectivist kin, have yet to answer the challenges that I have presented. Namely: name an ultimate value other than life (since I proved that there MUST be one), and: state your own objective moral system and justify it philosophically from reality.

I am still waiting.

“Life is the ultimate value because there is none higher – life makes value possible.”

This is the genetic fallacy. Just because life is the cause of value does not mean it is value. Alonzo made an equivalent argument over the existence of value versus the value of value.

Objectivist definition of value: that which one acts to keep and/or gain.

Does one act to keep and/or gain life? Yes. Therefore life is a VALUE.

Q1: Now please answer and try to refute either what I or Alonzo said.

“There is only one “ultimate” value, by definition, and because life is an end in itself.”

If a value is an end in itself – the other meaning of intrinsic BTW.

You are wrong here. An end in itself does NOT mean intrinsic, it means that it is not a means to any other end.

Intrinsic (in the case of value) means that something is a value in and of itself, without reference to a valuer. Life is NOT a value in itself and Objectivist doesn’t claim that it is. It does claim that life is a value to the VALUER. It does not claim that human life is sacred, or precious in and of itself. What it DOES claim is that a human being’s life is a value to HIMSELF/HERSELF.

…(versus a value that is a means instrumental), then there is no “by definition” that there is only one such value. Q2: Where is your argument that this is singular? Q3: What is the meaning of an ultimate value if it is not intrinsic? Do you just mean an end in itself?

Already answered in my paragraph above.

As Ergo and I have already proven, there must be an ultimate value for philosophical and logical reasons that is an end in itself. You haven’t actually rejected this I don’t think, since you recognise the epistemological nihilism that would await you, therefore I assume you accept it; you just deny that life is the ultimate value. However, it necessarily is, and it necessarily is the ONLY ultimate value for the reasons argued above.

“Nothing else is an end in itself. Further up, I challenged anyone to disagree with this by providing an example of something else that IS an end in itself. This challenge remains unmet.”

This challenge has been repeatedly met. A desire to avoid pain, a desire for happiness, a desire to avoid predators, a desire for food, a desire for drink, a desire for sex. These are all ends in themselves.

How can you not realise the absurdity of your own statements?

Why do you DESIRE these things? Why is happiness a value to you? Why is food, drink, sex, a value to you??

These are self-evidently NOT values in themselves. You eat because you ENJOY food, and pleasure makes life worth living. You eat because otherwise you will die. You eat ultimately because you are pursuing your LIFE. Eating is a means to an end. All forms of recreation are a means to an end. Food and drink are a means to an end.

To ultimately destroy this argument of yours, I will use another analogy using “food” and “drink”. Imagine you are immortal (like a vampire or something) and you don’t need to eat or drink at all – of what value would food and drink be to you then? None.

Imagine you didn’t care if you enjoyed your mortal life or not. Of what benefit would tasty food, good friends, great sex, be to you? None. Zero. They would be valueless.

Everything you can possibly think of is only a value to you in the context of enjoying your LIFE and furthering your LIFE. They are of NO value outside of this context. And it is this more than anything else that refutes everything you’ve said. More than just objective philosophy, this is just common sense. How can you fail to see that?

They are all relational values the value is in the relation between the desire and its fulfillment. Q4: Your “stealing the concept ” argument is invalid. How can you show these are not ends in themselves without breaking Occam’s Razor?

Occam’s razor is totally irrelevant here. For a start, O.R. doesn’t state that the simple-minded explanation is the best. First off, it has to ACTUALLY BE an explanation to begin with! Your suggestions for alternative “ends in themselves” explain nothing, contradict reality, and open more questions – therefore they are not parsimonious and in fact violate O.R.

“There are no rational “multiple ends” – this is logically self-evident.”

Empty rhetoric. Q5: Where is your argument that this is self-evident.

Every goal that you pursue, you do so with your life as the ultimate value. You might deny this but that’s irrelevant, as I’ve already shown it’s the case whether you realise it or not.

Example: to pursue multiple ends is contradictory: it is akin to smoking whilst having therapy for lung cancer (which of course some people do). This is irrational. If one wants to live, therapy is the answer, but smoking is inimical to human life. One might claim to be pursuing pleasure by smoking, but if one’s wishes to stay alive, the irrational pursuit of pleasure (or pain for that matter) is contradictory. Either you want or live or you don’t. If you do, don’t smoke. If you don’t, kill yourself immediately. There is no rational middle ground.

Incidentally, this AGAIN shows you that pursuing pleasure/pain CANNOT be an end in itself. IF it was, then one should pursue pleasure <i>for the sake of it</i>, which means one should take harmful drugs, rape girls for pleasure, steal money, hurt people if necessary etc etc – do WHATEVER brings happiness to you! Is this what you’re suggesting?? I doubt it, but if pleasure is an end in itself as YOU claim, this is the logical corollary.

I won’t labour this point further: it has well and truly been established: to avoid irrationality and contradictions, an ultimate goal/value is necessary.

Far from being “empty rhetoric” this is the objective rational basis of Objectivist morality. And if you think about it, this is probably how you live your life – so why do you deny it here?

“All values (or subvalues I should say in this context) as pursued because they ULTIMATELY either benefit your life or detract from your life.”

This is a beneficial side effect. We have evolved to have the desire-as-ends that we do as they enabled our ancestors to survive and reproduce and we are the result. No animal reasons nor is able to reason this way. As humans we can go further but only need to replace this as needed. Q6: The same argument is made by genetic biologists that the ultimate goal is successful reproduction. As far as I can see these are both abstractions. How can you refute the geneticists and show your is better than theirs?

Because Objectivism identifies man as a rational being, not as a mindless animal. How we evolved to become rational beings is really irrelevant. Evolution is NOT a prescription on morality, and you won’t find a single evolutionist who would claim that it is!

Objectivism recommends that a rational being pursue his own rational happiness in his life. Happiness is not to be found by pursuing arbitrary emotional or instinctive impulses, such as to eat, defecate, or fornicate wherever and whenever one wishes (like an animal would).

Evolutionists describe how life developed to the point it is. Philosophers attempt to answer the question: “how should man live his life? What is right or wrong?” These questions are NOT answered by evolution, and even Richard Dawkins would agree with me on this. Ayn Rand was a monumental philosopher because she answered these questions objectively, rationally, and derived them from existence itself.

“One cannot pursue rational values that conflict with this.”

Q7:Define rational values. I suggested means-end rationality but you appeared to reject this. Means-end rationality is about reasoning over means not ends.

A value is that which one acts to keep and/or gain. If it is non-contradictory with the hierarchy of one’s other values (which themselves are subordinate to life itself), the value is rational.

To use the earlier example, cigarettes are an irrational value.

“Even if you want to talk about “sub-ends”, the way we talk about subvalues, in other words, where one acheives or accomplishes something – even the acheival of this “end” is itself a means to another. The only way to avoid an infinite regress of “means” and “ends”, where all values and goals take place in a vacuum of arbitrary and random action – is to have an end that is an end in itself – something is not a means to anything else: life.”

Q8: Geneticists would disagree with this (see above). What do you say to them

Infinite regress can be also avoided with multiple desire-as-ends so this does not refute such a position.

As I have shown, multiple desires-as-ends do NOT exist, because they result in contradictory irrational behaviour.

To repeat: let’s say my smoking is a desire as an end in itself. Let’s also say that my wishing to avoid dying of lung cancer is a desire as an end in itself. Here we have multiple “ends” – notice the contradiction??

This is just one example, but it is impossible to name ANY “desires as ends” that either: do not conflict with each other, or: reduce ultimately to the pursuit of one’s life. This proves the point.

“Objectivism posits LIFE. What do YOU posit? What is YOUR philosophical alternative?”

You are implicitly equivocating over life. I post life too but this does not lead to Objectivism, that is the whole point. I am not presenting an alternative as such, I am saying that everyone seeks to fulfill the more and stronger of their desires.

You are correct that people seek to fulfil their desires, but that is because they DESIRE what they VALUE. And if you wish to live as a rational being, your values should be rationally chosen. Since I doubt you disagree with this, we can proceed to: desires in themselves are NOT guides to actions. Why? Because our desires and emotions are not always rational. Emotions are REACTIONS to the world, not descriptions of the world, therefore they are not reliable guides to what is good or bad for us. E.g.: I’m sure heroin feels amazing (I’ve never taken it) but it is not a rational value (desire) to pursue, because it is BAD for me; for my life; it is ultimately deleterious and potentially lethal.

If on the other hand, one pursues (or desires) rational values, then one’s means will never conflict with each other, or with one’s ultimate end: happiness (non-contradictory joy) in life.

“The examples that you mention, such as pursuit of happiness or avoidance of pain are YOU begging the question – you steal the concept of value into YOUR argument, but these are concepts that are epistemologically dependant on and derived from LIFE.”

Confusing instrumental again. Your are imposing an ad hoc rationalization

Q10: where is your logical or empirical argument that your approach is correct?

Already answered this.

“By even suggesting that you SHOULD desire to avoid pain, and SHOULD desire pleasure, you ASSUME that one already lives a life that makes such values or non-values possible, and that one is pursuing one’s life and happiness in such a way to avoid that which detracts from such life and seek that which benefits and aids such life! Which is exactly the Objectivism theory of rational values.”

There are no SHOULDS here. Once you have burned your hand in a flame you do not want to do so again. There is no should involved. Desires exist we are not arguing over having desire-as-ends people do not have have, only recognizing the desire-as-ends they do have and the implications of this. You are performing the same instrumental error as before. It does not matter how often you assert it this error will not just disappear without an argument.

I have dealt with the issue of “desires as ends” etc above.

“An ultimate value is actually philosophical necessary, and the fact that you would question this with “multiple desires-as-ends” is propesterous!”

Q11: How about making an argument as to why this is preposterous.

Already done above.

“Otherwise one would not act with any rational goals – one could eat healthy food one day and drink poison the next; why not, unless life was your value?”

Q12: What is a rational goal? This sounds very Kantian, I thought Rand did not like Kant.

Already explained rational goals above. There is nothing Kantian about this.

Q13: What is the logic that leads one to eat poison one day, certainly not the desire-as-ends already listed.

“One could be obnoxious and vicious one day and pleasant and mild the next; why not, unless you had an ultimate goal?”

One always has “ultimate goals”, which ones are activated depends on the situation. When you are thirsty you seek to satiate that thirst. When you are not thirsty you do not.

But if you were incapable of dying of thirst, you wouldn’t seek water! Water sustains life, therefore water is a value (a means) only because life is the ultimate value (an end).

However, life is a not a means to ANYTHING ELSE. One drinks in order to live, but one does not live in order to do anything else. Life simply is; it is metaphysically given.

“It should not even need to be spelled out that desires are NOT ends!”

To be accurate it is their fulfillments that are the ends.

As I’ve shown many times above, it is rational values that should be pursued, because they are consonant with life.

“If they were, I could desire to chop off my big toe, as an end in itself.”

Q14: Why would you want to do this?

Why would I NOT want to do this??? That’s the point!

You cannot answer that without begging the question. You’d have to answer that it would be painful. But when I’d ask: why avoid pain? And you’d answer: “avoiding pain is an end in itself, so avoid it for the hell of it.” And I’d answer: “well, pursuing pain is an end in itself, so I’ll chop off my big toe for the hell of it.”

“I could desire to shoot you in the head, or eat the bark of a tree, or masturbate on the street corner, or eat nothing but chocolate all day, FOR NO OTHER REASON that the desire itself.”

All these desires are possible and people have had and acted on them. Who is going to recommend and encourage them, rather they are to be condemned and discouraged?

You are begging the question: why should they be condemned rather than encouraged?? If they are ends in themselves they cannot be condemned on any grounds! If would take a foundation of higher value from which to judge an action not good or bad, because “good” and “bad” are terms that presuppose the question: “good or bad to whom??? To what??”

Again, Objectivism answers: life. You don’t answer anything, which means you have no grounds to condemn any action. That is yet another reason why “ends in themselves” is a meaningless bankrupt notion.

“But then we wouldn’t be talking about rational values! All desires are desires precisely because we believe we accomplish something by attaining them; by acheieving these values.”

Yea duh!. I am thirsty and I fulfill my desire for water by drinking water.

Because you want to LIVE.

“But this assumes that they are of VALUE TO SOMETHING, and beneficial TO SOMETHING… but to what??”

When I drink this satisfies me.

And when a paedophile rapes a kid he satisfies himself. Desires as ends, eh?

I’ll underline this because it’s important and the crux of the matter:

You cannot condemn the paedophile for pursuing his desires “as ends” because that would require you to posit something higher than “desires” as a guide for right and wrong. Objectivism can condemn the paedophile, because LIFE is the ultimate value and must be pursued rationally, therefore all desires are means to an end, which means they can be judged in relation to THAT END. But since you accept multiple desires as ends in themselves, you can no basis to judge anything.

“Objectivism answers: LIFE.”

Q15: So when you are thirsty you want a drink because it will save your life. If you don’t think it will save your life you will not drink?

Well, yeah! I drink water to live, just as I avoid poison in order to live. What alternative are you suggesting??

“A further example of the validity of the Objectivist philosophy is that it is impossible for you to provide two examples of rational values that one would pursue that ultimately conflict with each other.”

You need to define what a rational value is then we can see it is impossible or not.

Did this above.

Certainly desires can conflict and this leads to dilemmas, a subject of much philosophical analysis, partly because there can be rational support to both sides of certain dilemmas.

Ultimately, there cannot be rational support to both sides of a dilemma. That is like saying there is rational support for the propositions that the moon is made of cheese, and that is isn’t. In the end, the facts of reality always win out because reality does NOT contain or tolerate contradictions.

Morality also pertains to facts of reality, so there is always a right vs wrong; there is always a good vs bad, and there is always an irrational vs rational.

To suggest that two contradictory positions can be equally rational is illogical.

“All your philosophical attacks and positions are premised on a foundation of air (because you reject the notion of ultimate ends in themselves, a contradiction);”

This is false, no-one here rejects ultimate ends, it is just we have defined what we mean and you have not.

I had. And if I wasn’t clear before, I certainly have been with this post!

“…in fact, you have to assume Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology for yourself in order to attack it (the fallacy of concept stealing: because even your warped notion of values and ends presuppose Objectivism).”

This is a completely empty argument we have covered before. One does not need and can indeed reject Objectivist “metaphysics” and epistemology and make these arguments as we have all done here.

You can indeed reject Objectivism but you must still steal its concepts in order to make your arguments work. That is the point I am making.

I don’t think I could have been more detailed and complete in this post. I believe all your objections/questions/suggestions have been answered and refuted.

Planetarium for your PC

I came across a piece of software this morning that is a must, if you like astronomy or planetariums!

It allows you to scan the heavens in 360 degrees, external to earth. It’s also in real time so you can see the earth as it would look in space right now, and where day and night are.

Here’s the link: http://celestia.sourceforge.net/ (opens in new tab)

And here’s a screenshot from my computer of the earth in space at this moment in time, 12.42 pm GMT:

celestia

Objectivist Round-Up 32

OBJECTIVIST ROUNDUP # 32


Welcome to the 32nd Objectivist Round-up. I must apologise for the lateness of this week’s post; the time difference is always a factor. I will endeavour to post much earlier next time!

Rational Jenn presents “Freedom From Feds

And says: “Many so-called “homeschool-friendly” politicians have been advocating a Homeschool Tax Credit to help families offset their education expenses. There are many homeschooling families who would like to take advantage of such a credit. I argue that since every homeschooling family in the US enjoys complete and utter freedom from federal government oversight of their educational choices, methods, hours, subjects, attendance, etc. that accepting such a tax credit would ultimately invite federal guidelines and regulations, undermining an unfortunately rare thing for US citizens–complete and utter freedom.”

Flibbert presents: “Gay Marriage: I’m still for it

And says: “This week’s post was actually spawned by the discussion that Ari started with his carnival submission last week and it’s really a reprisal of arguments I’ve stated in the past, but it’s been a while since my blog has gone explicitly gay, so I figured it was time to trot out the gay marriage pony again. Now, if you do read this post, please be sure to read the second post I made in which I discuss a particular aspect of marriage unions that does not apply to other contractual agreements. This is important because I owe y’all a follow-up post to both of these to address some more challenging concerns that Qwertz has mentioned on his blog. (How’d you like that? I pimped not only two posts of my own in here but TWO other blogs as well. This is why I’m a marketing professional. Do not attempt this at home.)”

 

Stella at ReasonPharm presents: “ Want universal healthcare? Get ready to quit drinking

How government meddling in health care is leading, as it inevitably must, to government meddling in citizens’ lives in Britain.”

 

AriArmstrong presents: “A Fertilised Egg is not a person

Legally defining a fertilized egg as a person is a terrible idea, so of course Mike Huckabee endorsed it.

 

Evanescent presents: “Free speech versus Respect

And says: “Since freedom of speech is an undeniable necessary individual right, those who claim that it must be exercised with restraint are contradicting themselves – and are claiming illegitimate rights. “Limited free speech” is a contradiction in terms.”

 

Ergo at Leitmotif presents “The Right to Property

Here’s a taster: “To live, man must use his mind in dealing with reality. He must therefore be permitted to act freely on the directions given by his mind, his reasoning faculty, in order to tackle the task of survival. This includes being left free to create, fabricate, invent, or procure by means of free trade property that he believes might help him in achieving his goal.”

 

Monica at Spark a Synapse presents “Welcome, my dears, to the noble art of divination

And say: “This week, I delved into the fascination and entertainment of handwriting analysis. As it was eerily accurate for me and the SO, I’d love to hear what others knowing more than me have to say about it! I think most people would be surprised at its accuracy and the insights gained about personality and character, and I’m guessing it comes largely from the intelligence and police communities. A fun night of entertainment for sure. I also wrote another post this week that I almost included in the carnival instead, and I think it deserves a mention. It’s entitled, The Right to Eat Food. It’s about some of the disturbing intrusions of government into our food industry by the Food Safety Testing Peopleguys cracking down on small farmers that sell products directly to consumers. Our Government doesn’t like that and they want to stop it, with SWAT teams and guns if necessary. Yes, Your Government is preventing access not only to medicines and lightbulbs, but FOOD that is not available in any grocery store and in some cases, might save lives. It’s scary, it’s wacky, it’s wrong. BUT – the good news is that farmers are doing a great job of fighting for their rights. Read all about it!

Thanks to all for some excellent articles. The next carnival is on March 6th. You can submit your article here.

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