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Posts Tagged ‘does it matter’

Ron Currie Jr delivers a really fun, clever read in Everything Matters! The book cover sells the book as more of comedy than than the sci fi/philosophy/absurdist mystery it is.  The essential question of the book – does anything we do matter?

The premise is set up with the unavoidable apocalypse that only the main character, Junior, knows about.  He has always known when humanity will end.  The book covers how Junior navigates life – from birth to the apocalypse – knowing that it will all be over and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.  In the end, Junior is left with a choice… hide his knowledge from everyone and live with this lonely knowledge or reveal his secret and suffer a different set consequences.

Currie uses a variety of viewpoints and literary devices to give the story context and arc.  I particularly liked the subtle countdown, sort of a reverse page numbering used when the omniscient narrator/being giving Junior his knowledge talks.  It leaves you with a sense of “uh oh” i know this is going to end… which is part of the point of the story.  We know the ending and we know exactly when it ends and the countdown gives the reader the sense of just how far we’ll get into the characters lives before it all ends… and the dread was real for me.

The prose moves your brain right along.  Reading it in one longish sitting is possible and fun.  Currie develops the main character reasonably well.  The secondary characters aren’t always developed much further than some basic behavior patterns.  The book does move along a large time horizon though – making character vignettes rather difficult.

Generally a good reading experience… so…. do we get anywhere with the big question: does it all matter?

No. I didn’t.  And I didn’t expect to.  Does it all matter is a personal question.  I presume the answers I get from this book are the personal perspectives of the author.  Ultimately it is an optimistic view that family, love, connection matters – even at the expense of intellectual honesty.  Ah, isn’t that a secondary big question?!  Is it “better” to keep certain facades intact to make life bearable/enjoyable versus really chasing and embracing truth, no matter its ugly consequences?

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Here’s another nice piece from JEAB on determinism.

In About Behaviorism (1974), B. F. Skinner addresses how the discussion of self control may appear contrary to a behavioristic formulation suggesting some lack of determination. Or does the behaviorist’s use of ordinary language, or for that matter any of his own behavior, violate his behavioristic account? Had Skinner not decided to write that book? Skinner states the issue in another form:

If human behavior is as fully determined as the behaviorist says it is, why does he bother to write a book? Does he believe that anything matters? To answer that question we should have to go into the history of the behaviorist. Nothing he says about human behavior seriously changes the effect of that history. His research has not altered his concern for his fellow men or his belief in the relevance of a science or technology of behavior. Similar questions might as well be asked of the author of a book on respiration: “If that is respiration, why do you go on breathing?”

I remain unsatisfied with the conclusion that “Nothing he says about human behavior seriously changes the effect of that history.”   Certainly the act of writing a book (doing the research) has little impact, but a long exposure to researching behavior and determinism DOES change the effect on that history because it becomes the history.

When that happens, then what?

Does anything matter?  Let’s take that question on its own, outside of the context of any particular researcher or philosopher.  If determinism is true, then does any investigation matter?  

The trouble here is that what is determined and what we mean by “matter” is by no means clear.  

What is determined is hard to pinpoint because behavior is part of an open, dynamical system.  There are so many things pushing and pulling on a person at any given time, all of those things are determined.  They come together in ways that make it damn near impossible to tell what is being determined, in fact it’s so complex we often just chalk it up to choice and free will.  I like to think about the weather when trying understanding unpredictable determinism.  We can all agree the weather is completely determined by the air, water, land, jet streams, sunlight, etc. etc. and yet we like to say “it has a mind of its own” because what it actually does is hard to predict.  By determined we mean that there is no free will or random chance, everything is connected.

What “matters” in a behaviorist philosophy is always relative to the historical values of the person questioning what matters.  There is no universal matter.  The behaviorist investigates and writes down their investigations because their history (environment, genes) determined it so.  This is what Skinner implies with the line “Similar questions might as well be asked of the author of a book on respiration: “If that is respiration, why do you go on breathing?””   You can’t really stop breathing even if you understand it all.  You can’t stop believing what you believe and acting according to those beliefs simply because you grok behaviorism.  

All in all, nothing matters.  Nothing matters in some universal way.  It might matter to you and that is determined by your history.

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