Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Greg Egan: "Born Again, Briefly"

Nonsense and Nominatum

Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege, the German mathematician, logician and philosopher said,  “The idea of sameness challenges reflection.” Sameness, in this sense is a=a or a=b, which, by logical standards, indicates a relation between objects or more problematically, a relation between objects and their respective sings or names. The former is a priori and the latter—in Kantian terms—synthetic, meaning it cannot be known a priori. The point being that knowledge is not being expressed in either a=b or a=a. In order for “a” or “b” to have a nominatum, a “baptism” must occur, if you will, in naming an object. There has to be some prior understanding—what Frege calls sense and nominatum—of what “a” designates (nominatum) and what sense (meaning) is attached to “a.” Due to the complexity of language, this is completely arbitrary. Recognition of objects by identification with words or signs (e.g., a=a or a=b) is completely subjective. The sense and the nominatum of an object are contingent not only upon the nominatum but the context as well.

Frege uses the example of the evening star and the morning star. The phrase “morning star” and “evening star” both designate the planet Venus, i.e., the have the same nominatum but have different senses in relation to the time of observation. But what happens when we designate objects that have a sense but no apparent nominatum? Frege gives this example: “the heavenly body which has the greatest distance from earth” where his declares the denotation corresponding the connotation is vague at best whereas it has a sense but it is debatable whether it has a nominatum.

As we develop mental images of objects and concepts (internal or external), the inner pictures must be distinguished from the images themselves. These internal pictures or images are associated with a sense (feelings, meaning, emotions) and an internal nominatum (image) regardless of its existential status. Frege puts it: “The image is subjective; the image of one is not the image of another.” Image is particular to the individual; Sense is property of many. And here, one could only imagine the beauty of pure unadulterated sense-experience would be the most divine expression of humanity possible—as it should.

Greg Egan’s essay Born Again, Briefly demonstrates how religion systematically hijacks the experiential moments of humanity and replaces those personal meanings in regards to sensations—as Frege illustrated—with second-hand superstition and myth as dictated by self-serving institutional dogma. This can be expressed by the phrase: Give us your mind and we’ll do the rest. And this is exactly what Greg Egan allowed his older brother to do—albeit reluctantly as he explicitly admitted he was “ambushed.”

What should be disturbing to anyone who is paying attention to their surroundings is that Egan’s experience is exactly how con men operate. His brother took full advantage of his birth-order, familial position, and his seemingly “16 year-old worldly knowledge,” which—as is always the case—involves well recited indoctrinatonal programming learned by the rote memorization of scripts. These tactics are consisting with those employed by used car salesmen and real estate agents to proselytize and persuade an unsuspecting mark to change their mind about reality. So, as in Egan’s case of full indoctrination at the age of 12, it’s easy to see why it takes a while to unravel. Sometimes it never does.

One has to ask how we fall for such a con game. Apparently it’s easy given all the gods we have invented over the millenniums. The world is a scary place and, at the same time, a wonderment of beauty. None of the Greek, Roman, Hindu, or Abrahamic, etc. (ad infinitum) gods have ever been proven true—much less exist. But if religion gives some people comfort, why do atheists think belief in the supernatural to be wrong. I think it goes back to Frege’s idea of sense and nominatum. Religious belief sacrifices reality—both good and bad—for the comfort of myth that deludes and dampens our thought about the natural evolutionary process of inevitable demise. Theists are forced to supplement the meanings of personal experience for those dictated by dogmatic teachings of religion. For the institutionally religious, the real meaning of life seems to be simply to frightening for most to discover for themselves. The irony is that theists fear death so much that many are willing to adopt any given religious myth of a hell that contains eternal suffering and damnation for “sinners” committing thought crime as opposed to the possibility of nothingness after death. The very thought of this is patently absurd.

I guess it would be nice if all were set right in the end.  But just a cursory glance around here on Earth and one can see that’s obviously not the case. Maybe the idea of sameness does challenge reflection—reflection upon what we as individuals want out of life. We may not be free to choose our own destiny in life but we are completely free to choose what that destiny might mean. That’s one freedom we shouldn’t abandon under any circumstances. 

1 comment:

  1. Very thoughtful piece, Dean. One irony: some true believers do succeed in becoming
    shockingly callous to death... as witness the comparative response to Koran burning & massacre noted in the nytimes yesterday.