12. The concept of the whole: answering children’s questions about the meaning of life

(We want to reiterate at this point in the Blog what we said at the start of our first Post: that Posts 1-4 of the Blog are essentially theoretical in nature and set the ground for all subsequent posts. They are intended to be read sequentially. Familiarity with them and the page ‘Summary of Hlatky’s view’ will be assumed in Posts thereafter.)

This Post is a sequel to Post 11. It was written by Hlatky in the 1970s, and the greater part of it is translated here for the first time. It was part of a public exhibition consisting of photos and texts intended to illustrate Hlatky’s hypothesis of the original cause and meaning. The exhibition was organised under the auspices of the group Action to Broaden the Dialogue.

Hlatky had a great interest in the subject of children (they receive 150 mentions, for example, in Understanding Reality). Here he argues the relevance of philosophy for their mental health.

This is our elaboration of the first paragraphs of Hlatky’s text:

Hlatky begins his piece by reiterating that, from the point of view of his hypothesis, consciousness is permanent. It doesn’t simply come into existence with the body. We are permanent conscious parts of the permanent conscious whole (God). We connect to a body at some stage during the growth of the foetus, drawn to a life in creation because of the possibility of meeting there our need for relationship – the experience of mutuality – in relation to like parts similarly connected to a body (and, of course, in relation to God, who expresses himself indirectly through his creation). Neither birth, nor even the foetus, is therefore the start of consciousness or of life.

The crucial change that occurs at birth itself is that the baby emerges into a full experience of God’s creation and can thereby start making sense of life, with the ultimate benefit to it of understanding life and thereby meeting its need for love. This ability after birth to orientate to the external environment contrasts with the gestating baby’s experience in the womb, which is limited and has no external referents to help the gestating baby make sense of that experience. So understanding the whole reality is what birth makes possible and is what drives the baby’s and the child’s mental development from the very start.

The crucial element in child-rearing for Hlatky is to maintain the child’s connection to the external reality, which means avoiding overly encouraging non-reality-based thinking in the child through an over-emphasis on its own creativity. Otherwise one is recreating a central element of the experience of the womb (the fact that there are no external referents in the womb for the baby’s experience) which birth has eliminated. This hampers the natural development of the child’s thinking.

What follows now, along with the rest of the piece, is Hlatky in his own words:

We register early on that stories divorced from reality are much easier for a small child to ‘understand’ than accounts based on real situations. We interpret this as a natural interest, and call it ‘imagination’, which we think must be developed. So without the slightest idea of why we are doing it, or its consequences, we start cramming the child’s mind with stories that take its attention away from its connection to the reality that is in front of it. Instead we establish in its newly awoken mind the arbitrarily governed, law-free reality of day-dreaming. This encourages irresponsible playing with the function that thinking has in life.[1]

In doing this we create a habit of thinking that excludes the resistance and lessons that reality offers us. That means we develop conclusions and values that can never entail the feedback that reality offers. These conclusions and values are thus completely meaningless: they are isolated from the environment in the same way that experience of reality is isolated from the environment in the womb, but in an unnatural and therefore disturbing way.

The concept of the whole is the key

Before language comes into the picture as a guiding factor, the child’s judgement is governed solely by its experience of being alive and the wish to understand everything it comes across. Therefore it is self-evident to the child to judge and experience things as living, independently of whether any particular thing moves or not. So we can understand why they love a worn-out rag-doll without any thought that it is not alive. As for ourselves, we never think about the fact that to have an experience of – that is, to be conscious of – a non-living, dead state, is an impossibility. Nor do we ever think about the fact that our judgement, our conclusion that such a state exists – and consequently the way we experience such a state in our minds – is a consequence of absurd thinking in theoretical opposites, an adherence to an irrational idea that, as modern science now shows us[2], also theoretically goes against what we know.

Children’s unequivocal belief in life is not a charming misunderstanding, but a natural need. It is also an absolute condition for the natural functioning of the capacity for understanding. And by that is meant understanding logically, so that thinking doesn’t develop irreconcilable contradictions. Children are born by Nature to acquire a living connection to the living reality, and they want to understand it and love it unreservedly. That is the meaning of life.

The teaching that the state of death is the alternative to the state of life, and the notion that reality is essentially a dead object unworthy of love, and at best something of interest or an amusing plaything, is a terrible shock for the child, because these ideas are irreconcilable with the child’s original natural consciousness. This shock can be softened, but never cancelled out, either by play (even if in practice play can be ‘great fun’) or by the great excitement experienced in being the best in every possible kind of contest, through outplaying or eliminating others – instead of loving one another.

Without a concept of the living whole, children can never learn to think in an unequivocal, unified way about reality – the truth – or acquire any experience of what an unequivocal love of reality – the truth – is. The original, natural will to understand becomes stalled and suppressed by misleading language before it has got going. And if children develop their judgement about reality on the basis of the idea of the alternative to life, they can never then find a satisfactory answer to life’s original meaning.

The concept of God

All other species have some form of communication by sound, but their ‘language’ is limited to, and governed by, their existential needs. Only humans can think about and talk about the whole reality. So human language has a special purpose (see Post 10). And it can be used for good or bad. In practice this means that language determines whether people’s connection to reality remains healthy or, in an endless number of different ways, becomes unhealthy.

In order to ensure that children’s innate natural wish to understand themselves as being in a living relationship with the living reality does not become disorientated from the outset, and become split in two directions (living/dead), we must introduce the reality-based concept of God into every child’s thinking at the earliest possible stage.

In order for this concept to become, and remain, reality-based, the concept must never become associated with fairy-tales; we should only talk about God’s existence in connection with the two characteristics that every child can understand: cause and love. We should speak of God as the cause of everything that exists when it comes to the mental understanding of what is happening in reality. And we should speak of God’s love when it comes to the emotional understanding of the intent, the meaning of what is happening. And we should refer to the fact that God must unconditionally love, in the same way, everything that exists, because everything belongs to God’s existence.

On the basis of this information each child can then reflect and ask further questions. We should then wait for the child’s questions, merely taking care not to introduce into its thinking any idea that any person has a special position in relation to God’s love, because any such idea can only create confusion based on the inferiority or superiority we experience when we compare ourselves with others.

At what point we should introduce the concept of God can never be a problem, because it cannot happen too soon. The earlier the child can begin to link the information it has to a clear conception of belonging, cause and love, the better.

Love of God’s existence

Apart from having to be connected to reality ourselves when we teach children language, we must keep constant track of what questions they have managed to form a clear conception of, and what concepts are still absent for them or unclear to them. Communication breaks down when we either underestimate or overestimate children’s ability to understand us.

Viewing it like this, we should really not hold to any predefined schemas, but be completely open and sensitive to the child’s questions, bearing constantly in mind that the child has to reconcile and link every new bit of information with previous information, and that this process is disturbed by both too much information and too little. If we are conscious in this way of how the child’s judgement develops, then we should always give a clear answer solely to what the child wants to find out, no more and no less, with the insight in mind that language communication and, with it, understanding one another – mental clarity – is absolutely dependent on the meaning of every concept being completely clear.

This clarity is what gives language communication its health. By contrast, unclear, vague statements are a sign of inadequate, unhealthy communication. The essential thing for preserving mental clarity, however, is the realisation that learning is not an end in itself: it is not a question of a quantity of knowledge that is supposed to find its way into the child’s head. It is Nature’s intention that the brain is only the tool for the heart.

If we are to restore and preserve emotional contact with our children and with one another, what is required of us is that we realise that the biological meaning of thinking and understanding – that is, its natural, original meaning – is to maintain the integrity of this emotional contact, which is an expression of the health of human consciousness. Thinking is only the means; it is not an end in itself. The goal and the value of thinking is emotional health. And this emotional health depends on our deriving a permanent benefit from the full value of life in the form of an undisturbed experience of love: love of our life, love of everything.

Every human life, from morning until night, is inescapably a constant striving for this benefit – the undisturbed experience of love – because that is the meaning of life. But if we are not conscious that we are part of an unbreakable biological togetherness that arises from Nature and exists within the frame of a single existence (God), this striving remains unconscious and therefore disorientated and confused; that is to say, it becomes more and more unhealthy. This mental ill-health is the only way that Nature can create for us ever new feedback material, reminders that prod us towards the insight that it cannot be the meaning of our lives that we should live without consciousness of the meaning of life. […]

Initially, children ask their questions on the basis of their pure human reason, which has not yet been disturbed and which has, corresponding to it, a crystal-clear logic. We spontaneously love this basic attitude in children: it fills us with warmth and feels freeing, beautiful, loveable. We call this attitude children’s innocence, and we envy them their uncomplicated state of simplicity. From the perspective of our own complicated emotional lives, torn apart by thousands of contradictory values, we interpret their ‘innocence’ as ignorance and a lack of experience of life. In fact, this simplicity has nothing to do with any lack. Rather it is an expression of the natural uniform wish to understand, in an undivided love of reality, everything just as it is in reality. […]

It is easy to explain to children that reality is a unity, because all our experiences point us unequivocally towards that assumption. Then every child can quite easily understand that if reality exists as a single cohering unity, it must be invisible to us. This is self-evidently the case with the whole. But it is also self-evidently the case with the parts: we can remind them, for example, that we can never see or get hold of the consciousness of another person; that the only way to come into contact with other people is via what their bodies express and then above all via the capacity for speech, that is, by talking with and understanding one another. If children are given this reminder, they automatically become grounded in their experience of their consciousness as their abstract existence, as their real identity.

The perspective of thinking

It is self-evident to every child at the outset that it is by Nature that people are connected to reality; that it is Nature that sees to it, in a meaningful way, that people are sitting on the Earth, that they are surrounded by other people, animals, plants and stars, that they have ears to hear with, eyes to see with and so on – in other words, that it is because of Nature – life – that everything is as it is. That Mummy and Daddy have a role to play in the situation in which the child finds itself is as self-evident to the child as all other roles are. The question cannot arise for the child as to what would constitute playing a bigger role or a smaller role or no role at all.

This experiencing of their situation without making comparisons is the hallmark of the natural state of human consciousness. It is the basis for the lack of ambiguity in children: their undivided interest in everything, and an unprejudiced wish to understand the whole reality as it is by Nature. It is only when children learn language, and start taking part in people’s explanations and interpretations of reality, that this original, self-evident basic insight of theirs can become distorted. That is because all they generally encounter is a process which they find completely incomprehensible and shocking: that of people constantly setting values on the different roles through making comparisons between them.

They notice that no one is willing to stick up for a discussion based on consciousness of the whole situation of life and of Nature’s role behind these relative roles. But what they cannot yet grasp is that when the wish to understand is based on this comparing of roles, it automatically excludes consciousness of the whole and the wish to think about and understand Nature’s role. That is why the only way they can oppose the generally accepted way of thinking is emotionally. Mentally they are defenceless; they are not adequately equipped to withstand the constant impact on them of language communication. And, without noticing it, they become increasingly drawn into the generally accepted way of thinking, until in the end they are completely absorbed into it. In the meantime they also become completely identified with the general wish to understand via comparing and valuing everything in various ways.

Footnotes:

1. Since Hlatky wrote this, the situation has been made much worse, of course, by first the proliferation of TV channels and then the development of computers and the Internet, so that many children now spend several hours a day in so-called ‘virtual realities’.

2. There is only the study of light in physics, not darkness.

11. The need of children

This Post, by Åse Skeppholm and Philip Booth, the authors of this blog, is intended as an introduction to Post 12, a piece written by Stefan Hlatky and published at the same time. We intend to follow up Post 12 with two or three further Posts, by ourselves, on the subject of children.

  1. Hlatky’s view is that the need of children – and that means of every human being – is to understand the whole reality, because only in that way can they understand themselves and the meaning of their life.
  2. In order to achieve this understanding, a certain kind of thinking is required of us, as discussed in the Introduction to Understanding Reality:

“The reflection that is required of us […] is different from the complicated, intellectual thinking that is promoted by our educational system and that we are so used to today. We need to return to the kind of reflection on our immediate experience that we had as children. It is part of Hlatky’s thesis that children ask all the right questions to arrive at a logical understanding of the original cause of the world around us, but that they generally give up their quest at a certain point because the grown-ups are confused and cannot answer the children’s questions satisfactorily.”

  1. For Hlatky understanding the whole reality means understanding its original cause. This is the original problem of philosophy. The commonly accepted view is that this problem is not solvable or only worth saying something about if you are an expert, be it scientific or religious. And yet children invariably show an interest in the subject, once they have worked their way through more everyday and local examples of cause and effect. In doing this – asking their questions, which, to adults, seem interminable – they represent the hope for the future philosophically, and prevent complete suppression of the subject by the adults.
  2. And yet children’s enquiries about the big questions of life – life’s origin and meaning – often make their parents uneasy. The parents can feel that their answers are inadequate. Or they can feel embarrassed that there is something they don’t understand and can’t explain to their children. Or they can want to pass on answering the questions to others, knowing that the child is likely to regard it as odd that the parents are not clear on the subject. Or the parents may not wish to sound dogmatic by saying anything too definite, particularly about God, feeling uneasy about the basis on which they might state any such belief. Or they may fear being stumped by the child’s fearsome logic.
  3. Or if, by contrast, the parents confidently state an atheistic view, they cannot avoid having to deal with the consequences of that view in the child’s attitude to life – fear of death being the most obvious.
  4. Children set out on their task of understanding reality from the very start of their lives. They do it non-verbally to begin with, but are guided by an unconsciously held view that life is meaningful, and of a piece, and that it is good. This is reinforced by their experience that everything they need is provided for: in terms of their bodily needs, essentially by their parents; and in terms of their principal need – the need for relationship, companionship, love – by the very existence of other people.[1]
  5. Child-rearing, on this view, then becomes a question of keeping this view (which is initially held unconsciously and non-verbally) alive in the child when that view has the chance to become conscious – as it ought to become – through the acquisition of language. (And this is where our last Post, about the function of language, comes in.) It is at this point, obviously, that things can go astray if illogical answers are given to the child’s questions. Hlatky describes this process in Post 12 accompanying this Post.
  6. Child-rearing has come to be seen nowadays as the task of developing each child’s ‘full potential’ while avoiding passing on any psychological ‘hang-ups’ the parents may have. This is based on the view that human beings are basically developable (rather than that we remain basically the same throughout our lives). This view of child-rearing is in stark contrast to Hlatky’s view that the task of the parents – indeed of society as a whole – is to keep alive in the child this felt sense of a meaningful connection to a meaningful, purposeful reality.
  7. The child’s persistent ‘why?’ – implying that everything has an understandable purpose – should give the parents the clue to this orientation in the child. ‘How?’ – the primary question in an atheistic view – is secondary to ‘why?’ for the child. And yet the child is often encouraged towards regarding ‘how?’ as the primary question by parents who feel more comfortable answering ‘how?’ than ‘why?’ So, for example, in answer to the question ‘Why does it snow?’, the technical answer about air temperature and water droplets generally comes more readily to mind – and is actually an answer to the question ‘how?’ – than the answer that it snows when it gets cold in order to provide a covering for the plants to keep them warm. That is an answer that relates to the ‘why?’, the purpose.
  8. But if the parents stick with the why and the child’s search to understand the original cause and meaning, it only remains for them to introduce the word ‘God’, representing the creator of everything – the original cause – in the way that Hlatky suggests in his piece. The idea of a conscious original cause will readily fit the child’s sense that the whole reality is purposeful: that reality must have a conscious being behind it.
  9. The importance of the parents’ – and society’s – task is stated by Hlatky no more strongly than in his article, written in 1976, The Organic View of Unity (Chapter 3 of Understanding Reality) [UR pp.166-7]:

“The belief in life, the belief in the living unity, and the religious thinking linked with that belief, are part of the innate human characteristic that distinguishes us from animals. If human language – the tool that religion uses to answer children’s questions about the meaning of life – is impoverished by having its role restricted to that of making only mechanical descriptions and connections, this will still not get rid of this characteristic. We must realise that the greatest conceivable offence against children is to prevent them from developing their innate feeling for the living unity of existence.

[…] With all their natural questions about life and reality, children constantly try to put a living image together. But the attempt is futile so long as it is the generally accepted practice in upbringing and education to gloss over their questions with a vague reference to the progress of technology. Technology offers only the mass production of data and ‘truths’ that relate to a dead, mechanical view of life. Given such ‘progress’, mental health can only deteriorate with each generation.”

Footnote:

1. Hlatky interprets the infant’s first smile as reflecting its realisation that it has this company that it needs (see also Post 4).

10. Why do humans have the language that they have?

(We had said that our next Post would be about answering children’s questions about life, but then we realized we couldn’t do this without writing something about language first. Hence this Post, which is intended to be read in conjunction with Posts 11 and 12 about children, which will follow shortly.)

  1. If you take the view, which we have argued throughout this blog and elsewhere, that the original cause must be a conscious being – which Hlatky follows tradition in calling God – the question ‘Why do humans have the language they have?’ becomes: ‘What purpose does human language serve in God’s creation?[1]
  2. (An aside: this way of thinking – of relating everything back to God’s purpose – can be a difficult one to get used to when one has been brought up with an atheistic view of the original cause, where everything is seen as arising out of a directionless and undirected evolution. This way of thinking is also difficult for God-based views that do not ascribe a logical purpose to God’s activity.[2] )

    The human need to understand reality
  3. We have to take a step back and consider the need human beings have to understand the whole of reality. This means understanding cause and effect as it applies to the whole creation, including its original cause. We can safely assume that animals don’t have this need. They appear interested in understanding only those details of creation that they have to understand in order to meet their existential needs. Consider by contrast how children explore causality in relation to the whole of creation. They begin with their immediate, local surroundings, and gradually their interest expands to include everything. And eventually they move on to questions about the original cause and meaning.
  4. As we have argued[3], creation should be regarded as God’s effort to make himself known to and understood by us. This is the need he has. In the original situation, before creation, we, the parts, have no experience; there is nothing there to experience. And so we have no perspective on our situation. So we can’t realize that we are inside God. By connecting to a body in creation and having the perspective we have there – for example, that we are living in a whole (this is what the night sky tells us and it explains why it is such an experience for children when they first notice the stars) – we can understand that the original cause of all we experience must, logically, be a conscious being who is like us in having the same need for relationship. From this follows clarity about our relationship to life, the meaning of life and what our identity is – as we have argued in Post 2 and Post 3.
  5. The question then is: given that we need to understand the whole of creation, could we understand it – including ultimately the original cause and meaning – if we did not have language?
  6. We certainly don’t need language for the practical management of our daily lives: we could achieve this with more or less complex sounds, gestures and behaviour, in the way that animals do[4] – even if we can do this more effectively and efficiently with language.
  7. So let’s look at how human language develops. The first step is that we give a word to all the things  – both conscious beings and objects – that we come across. This is why Hlatky refers to human language as ‘everything-covering’. We then add to those words other words describing actions: what we call verbs. This allows us to describe, using language, the causal links between the things we have named. Expanding this, we gradually build up a theoretical model of how the world ‘works’, and this allows us to orientate ourselves to the changeability of the world. If our model is inaccurate, we run into problems and, ideally, we revise our model. The ultimate goal is, through reality-based dialogue[5], to reach agreement[6] about the original cause of the whole creation and at the same time the creator’s purpose in creating it.
  8. It is this dialogue that cannot be achieved without human language. That is because such dialogue involves us in discussing something – God – that is not within our direct experience. We can’t experience God directly if we are inside him.[7] So we cannot indicate him non-verbally, we cannot point to him. We have to give a name – allot a word – in order to be able to refer to him and discuss him. God, for his part, is stuck with having to ‘talk’ to us indirectly through creation. Hlatky’s hypothesis implies that there is no more that he can do.
  9. But the capacity for language that he endows us with, when used in the way God intends us to use it, is adequate for understanding God, that is, meeting his need – and thereby our own need too.[8]
  10. [To follow up on the theme of language, the reader might like to view this segment of the videoWhat is the significance of language?’, or for greater depth view the video as a whole.] 

Footnotes:

1. Of course, just the word ‘why’, used precisely, implies the purpose of a conscious being. Unfortunately, ‘why’ is often conflated with ‘how’: it is used to mean ‘how is it that…?’, or ‘how has it come about that…?’. ‘How?’ in fact relates to the technical, the mechanical; ‘why?’ relates to the purpose of a conscious being. It is important to distinguish between the two: see, for example, Post 2, paragraph 9.
2. Consider its application to the question of meaning in Post 2.
3. See Post 2, paragraphs 5 & 6.
4. For more on the difference in this respect between humans and animals, see UR p.113; also UR p.124.
5. For a discussion of the problems of not anchoring a dialogue in reality, see UR pp.45-6.
6. We have repeatedly emphasised the need for this agreement elsewhere in this blog (e.g. Post 4). See also UR, p.47.
7. And, as we have said elsewhere (Post 2, paragraph 8), the situation would not be clarified were it possible for the creator to be present in its creation, for example, by incarnating as a human.
8. Hlatky addresses the idea that language might be thought to be inadequate in general terms in Appendix A of Understanding Reality.

9. A philosophical view of climate change (3)

This is an extract from a discussion on the subject of climate change with a member of the audience at a talk Hlatky gave at the ABF Huset, an Adult Education Centre, in Stockholm, Sweden, on 10 February 1993. Hlatky argues, as in Post 8, that technology should always be at the service of, be relative to, biology. He also returns to the theme of identity as the underlying problem, as we discussed in our first Post on climate change (Post 7).

Stefan Hlatky: … You […] have to […] think about whether it makes sense to continue with a one-sided industrialism that isn’t adapted to biology ­– for it isn’t – waiting, in vain, for biology to gradually adapt to it, meanwhile just pushing ahead completely regardless.

Audience Member: It’s surely the use of fossil fuels – coal and oil – that are the most dangerous for us?

SH: Isn’t it that we don’t question how much energy we need, what we need energy for? Isn’t that the difficulty?

AM: Yes, you know that the world would go under in just a few weeks if you took out as much energy all over the world as we do in the Western world.

SH: Yes, and yet the market economy is spreading to the whole world now, so that the whole world is getting this craving to acquire just as many refrigerators and all sorts of things. And then refrigerators aren’t actually as important for Sweden as for warm countries. Sweden would cope better without refrigerators than they would.

AM: Who is responsible for this type of planning? Surely there should be a supranational body responsible for it which can control the development.

SH: You certainly could have one, but that’s what I am maintaining: that if we could get this other basic view out[1], the problem would solve itself. Because then people would realize that it’s Nature that organizes. So when someone comes and wants to organize something without reference to Nature, we should say to that person: ‘Leave off! First, you should recover your consciousness of Nature, and then you can talk!’

AM: What exactly should we be allowed to do? What if we set up a list of things we shouldn’t do – in order to rescue Nature. What action can we still take?

SH: As soon as you can talk with people, the problem of forbidding people doesn’t arise.

AM: Yes, but I have driven here by car, for example. I’ve driven fifty or sixty kilometres today, around a lot of places.

SH: Yes, since Sweden is set up for cars, you can’t drop the car just like that. People are right when they say ‘Without the car, Sweden will grind to a halt’. But for that reason we should be able to realize that now we shouldn’t build more unless it’s entirely with the idea of benefitting biology – and not toppling it. For there’s certainly also a biological benefit to be had from having a car.

AM: Why can’t humans provide for themselves – ‘dig where you stand’?

SH: Because of status… because everything humans experience is identity. And an identity that’s completely without perspective. For our [real] identity is Nature-determined, and then it is balanced. But a person can’t balance their [created] identity. They can’t stop at ‘Yes, I could become world champion, but I’m content with tenth place’. Or stop competing altogether – that would be even worse. Because, when it comes to identity, it’s a fight about everything, a fight that can’t be prevented. On the other hand, if you were to give people back their natural identity, then the fighting would stop. And people would end up laughing at the hunt for identity that they’d been engaged in before.

AM: But what is human identity then?

SH: A being with consciousness of the whole who can’t help loving the whole creation. And that you can rely on. But the condition for that is that the person changes the I-identity, which is the consequence of time-consciousness, to this space-based consciousness of the whole[2] …and, starting from that, they think about a creation that is valid for everyone in the same way.

AM: But you are brought up by this society to think…

SH: Yes, but imagine if a general discussion about that were to start and were to lead to an insight, so that as they bring children up people were to stop ruining every child-mind by indoctrinating it with this idea of ‘I’ [UR, pp.43-44] in this way. Then the whole problem would be done away with from the bottom.

AM: Is this the competition person?

SH: Yes, it’s the competition person, who absolutely must have an identity, because it [their real identity] has been taken away by the I-idea in childhood… through the illusion that you get your identity with the I-idea. It’s a tremendous force in this upbringing: that you get your identity through the I-idea.

AM: But if one could get people to do this, then people would become completely passive instead, perhaps, and just day-dream or something like that.

SH: That’s what people believe. Can one become passive through thinking this? It bears reflection… because it’s Nature that is active, and we have to relate to Nature. And one doesn’t have to create an identity for oneself, but one has consciousness as identity.
It’s undeniable that this hunt for identity makes people incredibly active. Just consider one sport, tennis: where everyone who’s identified with tennis is fighting and fighting and fighting. Or consider running in the forest or on the streets – because those are also identities. [Now addressing the group:] This is what Gunnar [the audience member] thinks, that it will be dull if one takes away from people this constant struggle for identity…. because it is a struggle for identity, a mutual struggle for identity. But think about it: would people then really become dull?

Footnotes

1. Hlatky is referring to his own view, which he had been presenting earlier in the talk.
2. Again Hlatky is referring to ideas elaborated earlier in the talk. They can be followed up in Understanding Reality [UR, p.40] (see not only the paragraph in black in this link, but also to the end of the section it is in, as well as the section headed ‘Time’ that follows it).

8. A philosophical view of climate change (2)

This article (already on our website) was written by Hlatky on the occasion of the very significant first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which took place in his home town, Stockholm, in 1972. Associated with the Conference was a People’s Forum, where any member of the public could make their views known. Hlatky’s own title for the article was: ‘The demands of common sense[1]on the eve of the forthcoming conference on the protection of the environment’.

Nature is absolute, technology is relative

The generally accepted idea that we can ‘improve’ Nature through technology is the basic cause of all destruction of the environment.

Nature sustains our needs. Technology comes into the picture through the fact that the needs that exist because of Nature require of us some action – a technological procedure – if we are to satisfy them.

The needs remain fundamentally unchanged (i.e. they are absolute), while the satisfaction of them is ongoing in a constant renewal, for better or worse (i.e. it is relative), in that we constantly, time and again, succeed or fail in the process.

When the technological process is faulty, the satisfaction diminishes or fails to be forthcoming; we become unsatisfied. We experience the lack of satisfaction as a fault, because it is a fault; it is not any fault in Nature, however, but in the process, thus in the technological. This means that all faults are technological; no biological faults can ever arise.

It might be thought that this is hair-splitting. So be it. But bear in mind that, even if it is, it is crucial to the whole development of our judgement[2]. For by attributing the fault to Nature, we automatically glorify technology; we give it an absolute value in its relationship to Nature. We then start looking for faults in Nature; we become dissatisfied with Nature instead of looking for the fault in our own action, in the technological. To value technology above Nature and then to look for and ‘establish’ the fault in Nature is the primary cause of all pollution of the environment.

Our[3] demands are therefore the following:

  1. To stop presenting technology as a doctrine of salvation 

This implies in practice:

(a)  To stop all the nonsensical talk about unintelligent Nature as against the intelligence of human beings who are supposed to rescue Nature with technological solutions. The absolute purpose of Nature is to endure, to go on. It does not destroy itself; nor can it be destroyed or rescued by humans. The idea of self-destruction is the speciality of human beings (war, suicide, substance abuse, environmental pollution, driving madly along the roads, and thousands of other perverse ways of risking one’s life) – all this because of the fact that, as the highest species on the Earth’s surface, humans can either choose to be more intelligent than animals, by using their ability to understand themselves as a part in the whole reality; or they can choose to misuse their intelligence by using it in the same limited way that animals use theirs: with regard only to themselves.

(b)  To stop all the nonsensical talk about nature-reserves[4]. For natural reasons every human being knows that Nature is one and indivisible, because all our experience supports this view. The research results of ecology have only lent a differentiated scientific corroboration to what common sense tells us.

By the encirclement and preservation here and there of Nature, we only create a misleading conception of it and a narrow, and therefore distorted, love of it, together with the deceptive belief that we have thereby done all that we can do. In practice these boundaries bring no protection for Nature, but only preserve the technological lunacy outside the nature-reserve.

  1. Never haggle at Nature’s cost

A doctor is not allowed to intervene and operate without a diagnosis, without there existing nature-determined causes for a technological intervention. To encourage and make propaganda for technological toys for children and grown-ups without a carefully thought-through and factually stated biological motivation is just as harmful as encouraging doctors to perform operations as ends in themselves, without regard for the patient’s health.

Technology has a decisive significance in our lives, and must under all circumstances be at the service of Nature. There is no such thing as an innocent or neutral technology, that is, a technology without any consequences. Any technology that is not biologically motivated is inevitably anti-biological. Technology as an end in itself is, firstly, the undoing of psychological (mental) health – through our identification with the technological, which automatically blinds people to the biological (the natural). And, secondly, it is the undoing of physical health and the environment. If we want to avoid the dangers of technology, we must create an insight for children into this question of principle while they are still young.

  1. An insight must be created into the paradox of discussing economics vs Nature.

Everyone knows that no one can express biological values in money or in any other unit of measurement. The practical consequence of this fact is that Nature cannot possibly come into our economic reckonings. Unconscious of this, we have fallen into the habit of immediately thinking about economics as soon as the subject of Nature comes up – as if we are convinced that we live from money and not from Nature. To place economics in relation to Nature is the gravest imaginable offence to human intelligence – to our own (when it amounts to self-deception), as much as to the intelligence of defenceless children, who thereby acquire from the very start a basic view of their situation in life that is inconsistent with reality. Economics can only go with economics, never with Nature!

A technology that cannot be pure is not worth having 

If we simply weigh up the economic pros and cons, then it is obvious that a rushed or botched job is cheaper than an intelligent construction. To use economics on the basis of faulty indoctrination and the prevailing disorientation about the basic questions of life as a way of getting people to accept botched jobs, while invoking the holy economy, requires an unnatural piece of intellectual acrobatics; it is therefore without basis and thus unintelligent, an unconscious self-destruction as we allow ourselves to be hypnotized by short-sighted gains.

If any technological solution proves to be anti-biological, that is because it has not been thought through and it must be developed further. The fact that a suicide weapon is cheap is no reason for destroying the whole of humanity.

Common sense tells us that there can never be an intelligent motive for setting anti-biological botched jobs in motion. Unfortunately we have so perfected intellectual acrobatics (unintelligence) that we are unable to come up with a natural thought, unless we happen to be sitting in front of our leisure cabin in the nature-reserve to which we have banished Nature. Nothing should be allowed other than an absolutely pure technology that Nature can absorb without being disturbed. To haggle over this demand is to chose the dirty over the pure, the unclear over the clear, the unintelligent over the intelligent, the unreasonable over the reasonable, and destruction over development.

That the demands put forward here cannot be carried out in the blink of an eye is self-evident, but if we do not define the principles unequivocally as they are in reality, then all our actions will remain confused.

Footnotes:

1. Note that the subtitle of Hlatky’s and Booth’s book, Understanding Reality, is ‘A commonsense theory of the original cause’.
2. ‘Judgement’ is a generic term for the conclusion or set of conclusions that each person comes to in their efforts to understand reality, and what they come to value, the judgements they make, as a result of these conclusions.
3. This piece was written under the auspices of Action to Broaden the Dialogue.
4. The idea at the time was to contribute to the protection of Nature by establishing national parks.

7. A philosophical view of climate change (1)

This is the first of three Posts on climate change.[1] The other two will be published over the next few weeks.

The problem

  1. We assume, in line with the view of the overwhelming majority, that the current serious changes in climate are threatening to the human species and are created by it.
  2. Philosophically, we tie the problem to the question of identity. Crucial to this is the modern identity based on the search for freedom and wealth. Hlatky describes the historical roots of this in Post 5, God or Mammon?
  3. Essentially, the fixed identities of the medieval period, based on a hierarchical society predominated over by the Church and other authorities, were replaced by an emphasis on human freedom. While the freedom of the individual from oppression by other individuals is self-evidently unobjectionable and unproblematic, this went hand in hand with the gradual rejection of any belief in a conscious original cause. Humans thus came to regard themselves as free to organise themselves solely as they saw fit and to pursue freely chosen ends, without regard for any divine order or divinely ordained leader. This extended to the use they made of Nature – no longer seen as God’s creation.
  4. Crucial to the practical furtherance of these goals has been the development of modern science (at first not atheistic, but later generally so), from the beginning of the 1600s. This has paved the way through technological advance to the possibility of greater and greater exploitation of Nature.
  5. Along with this, the digital age has served to promote the disconnect of humans from Nature.
  6. Unfettered human activity has culminated in the climate problems we see today.
  7. Because Nature is not seen as given by a God for an understandable purpose (see Post 2), the question as to whether it might be perfect for its purpose (see Post 2; also UR, p.129ff) cannot even arise. Rather, the now generally held view is that Nature is not perfect. That is, Nature is not all good, but both good and bad. It ‘blindly’ offers us, for example, only a one-off life that has no inherent meaning and in which there can be suffering.[2] Our major goal, therefore – the argument runs – must be to explore Nature with a view to gaining control over it; humans can then improve it[3], get rid of the bad, and create a better life for themselves. So Nature is no longer seen as absolute ­– at least, not in any positive sense; and human creativity has come to be seen as primary, and not as relative to Nature’s creativity.[4]
  8. The extent of this human creativity is nowadays regarded as boundless: the human species can be improved, death can be overcome; whatever problems there are will all be solved by technology, its development exponentially speeded up by artificial intelligence.[5]
  9. So the crucial step historically, in our view, has been this switch to an out-and-out identification with human creativity. And this in its turn has been facilitated by the failure of the world monotheisms to come up with a reasonable – that is, Nature-based [UR p.137], reality-based – hypothesis of the original cause. Therefore, equally importantly, they have not come up with a reasonable hypothesis of the original meaning – of our place in creation and our relation to it.
  10. This blog’s major contention is that unless this identification with human creativity is challenged and agreement reached as to our real – in our view, common – identity (see Post 3), based on a Nature-based view of the original cause and meaning, no technical solution to the problems of climate change will ever work in the long run.
  11. We may one day – even one day soon – be forced by catastrophic surface changes in Nature[6] to impose considerable lifestyle changes on ourselves and to draw back from our unfettered creative activity. This will be particularly the case where these surface changes in Nature have a negative impact on our ability to satisfy our existential needs. But the necessary changes in lifestyle will not be welcomed and fully embraced. On the contrary, a struggle for the diminishing resources will ensue, in which those who are able to afford access to them and/or can have control over them – as individuals or countries – will seek to hang on to as much of their current lifestyle as possible, challenged by those less well positioned doing the same.
  12. And, even assuming for a moment that Nature is given enough breathing space to recover itself,[7] we will be back at the business of ‘improving’ Nature in the blink of an eye unless we can agree upon a philosophy that can underpin the required lifestyle change.[8]

    The necessary philosophical re-evaluation

  13. We invite the reader to reflect on the possible contribution of Hlatky’s self-evidenced-based hypothesis of the original cause and meaning – developed in this blog and on the associated website – to the solution of the problem of climate change.
  14. To summarise Hlatky’s hypothesis: God is behind Nature in an ongoing way. Nature is God’s purposeful activity. It serves God’s – the original non-created whole’s – need to be understood by his original non-created parts. If the parts extrapolate from the experience they are able to have as human beings in creation, they can then understand that God must exist and is basically like them: he has the same need – to be understood as like and thereby loved – that they have. At the same time, the need of the parts is also satisfied, in their relationship with one another and with the whole, whom they experience indirectly through the whole’s activity, that is, Nature, creation.
  15. But to have the necessary experience in creation, the parts must have a body to connect to. This body is part of Nature and completely bound to Nature. This bondage to Nature is experienced by us via needs, which act like forces from inside us. These encourage us to do our part in sustaining the body, which otherwise Nature sustains within an overall ecology. We can ignore our needs – by refusing to eat, for example – but not the consequences of doing that, consequences which again Nature will provide.
  16. This situation does not have to be seen by us as problematic, however, since God has provided everything within Nature that is required to satisfy our existential needs. In addition, we are encouraged to play our part by the pleasure we experience in satisfying them.
  17. It is in satisfying such natural needs that we cannot avoid using Nature [UR pp.51-2]; they are the principal reason for our interaction with it. And ‘interact’ is what we should do, rather than interfere [UR p.68]. This means relating to Nature – which requires us to understand its purpose as a whole.[9]

    The solution cannot be solely technological

  18. Without Hlatky’s view (or some other equally Nature-based, reasoned view), the debate about climate change will be conducted solely in technical terms. This is the case now.
  19. Firstly, the single overriding technical question is posed: ‘Is Nature actually being adversely affected by the uses humans are making of it?’ If we assume that answer to be ‘yes’, the next technical question becomes: ‘Which of the uses we are making of Nature are particularly harmful and should be modified, curtailed or halted?
  20. Appended to this is a debate about what technology might be applied or developed in an attempt to produce a technical solution to the problem.
  21. It will be conceded within such a view that every detail in Nature seems to have a function in a system, established solely by evolution, and that, technically speaking, we run risks when we cut across this. But that is not the same as allowing that Nature as a whole has a purpose [UR p.135]: God’s purpose (so that fundamentally it is not mechanics, but God’s need, that drives the whole activity of Nature).
  22. We leave Hlatky to summarise (UR p.42):

    Stefan Hlatky: Science can never answer the philosophical question ‘why?’, and is therefore bound to the idea of time, and to continually examining the past in order to try to foresee the future. I say that I can in principle foresee the future the moment that I understand creation as a purposeful order, an order that is changeable on the surface but not fundamentally.

    Philip Booth: You mean that, because the purpose of creation never changes, the basic order never changes?

    SH: Yes …no matter how much we interfere with creation on the surface, by polluting it, destroying forests and so on. We can confuse the order on the surface, but the order will always eventually reassert itself, from the very moment that we stop confusing it with our own creativity that is blind to Nature’s creativity.

    PB: But if we don’t think creation has an unchanging purpose…?

    SH: Then two different sets of principles rule the future. The first set of principles is that which actually rules the order of Nature. This set is determined by God’s need to be understood and therefore by his purpose in creation. The second set of principles derives from the meanings created by human beings, who have to organise themselves in some way – since life is always interaction, which includes interaction with other human beings.

    PB: And as people nowadays are generally educated by modern science without any agreement about the order of Nature, they can’t see the virtue of being ruled by the order of Nature?

    SH: That’s right. And in that case they can’t avoid having to agree about and be ruled by the different meanings or purposes human beings create, even though that process invariably brings endless conflict – which is why it was always said that wars are inevitable. And nowadays such competition about meanings – which is inevitable when there is no agreement about Nature’s meaning – has even been made into a virtue by the ideology of the market economy (see Post 5).

    Conclusion

  23. There is widespread agreement nowadays about the science of climate change – despite dissent in some important quarters. There is also widespread agreement about the technical steps that would be needed to counteract the problem – despite disagreement about the prioritising of these. The real problem is a lack of motivation, both individually and collectively, to carry out those steps. This is because we are not willing to change the lifestyle based on this identification with human creativity and based on the consequent meanings created by human beings (including, obviously, the pursuit of wealth). Or – and this has the same root – we are passive, because, in a blind faith in future human technology, we believe that human creativity will solve the problem in time.
  24. Greta Thunberg[10] and the children who have started protesting recently around the world are right to chide the adults and to seek to goad them into some action. But this action will be ultimately fruitless while it is based on this identification with human creativity. And the danger is that the children themselves will become adults who are equally wedded to it.[11]
  25. Although it would be a strange stance to expect children to take, they also need, therefore, to goad the adults into reaching some philosophical clarity and agreement (such as, for example, the possibility Hlatky offers) – without which action will be ineffective other than temporarily.
  26. None of this means that we should sit idly by until such philosophical agreement is forthcoming. But it does require the insight, which is nowadays suppressed, that such a discussion and agreement are ultimately going to be necessary – and that philosophical agreement is possible, as long as we are determined to remain reality-based in our thinking.[12]

Footnotes:
1. Reminder: this Post assumes familiarity with our About page, our Summary of Hlatky’s View page and the first four Posts
2. For the question of suffering, see UR, pp.108-9.
3. See Post 8, which starts its argument from this point.
4. For more on the historical development of this idea, see UR pp.121-3.
5. For a typical example of the faith in technology and AI, consider the views of Stephen Hawking. He can imagine, for example, that AI could develop a will of its own that might be in conflict with the will of humans; or, he writes: ‘It might be possible to use genetic engineering to make DNA-based life survive for at least 100,000 years’ (extracted from his last book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions).
Or take what Yuval Harari says in his bestseller Sapiens: A brief history of humankind: ‘The project of the Scientific Revolution is to give humankind eternal life.’ (p.298)

6. … only ‘surface’, because Nature does not change fundamentally. [UR p.100]
7. This leaves aside the question of whether it is too late for humans to save their species – see e.g. The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells. But note that it will never be ‘too late’ for Nature, since, as Hlatky points out, we can never harm Nature. Nor can we rescue it.
8. …much as the pursuit of wealth has been largely unaffected by the financial collapse of 2008.
9. For the contrast between ‘relating to’ and ‘controlling’, see UR pp.52-3  or UR p.159.
10. Or see her speech at the United Nations.
11. For the centrality of the contrast between human creativity and God’s creativity, see the conclusion of the dialogues between the two authors of Understanding Reality [UR pp.164-5].
12. For further reading, see UR pp.57-8 and UR p.70. For more on the subject of freedom, view this excerpt from Hlatky’s videoed talk, God and Science.