Dualism vs. Monism in a Nihilist Context
This world may be a simulation. We may be figments of the imagination of a daydreaming god. We may be pure mathematics, or data in some cosmic computer. Or we could be physical beings, or some combination of the above. However, if this world has one characteristic to rely on, it's this: it creates the same response to the same causal impetus.
That means if you pick up a ball and hold your arm up away from your body and drop the ball, it will fall -- every time. Even if a friend sneaks a hand in there to catch it, it will begin falling first. If you put a support table under your hand so the ball doesn't drop, the effect can be observed that the instant the table is removed the ball drops. The principle is consistent. Causality is consistent (although in multicausal cases there is some variability due to chaos and the inability to have consistent conditions like wind, uniformity of matter and the like).
Dualism posits that there is another world where there are pure rules that differ from the rules in this world. In other words, this world is a put-on, but it's not the result of that other world, rather an inferior and unrelated copy to it. This breaks the principle of consistency. In addition, it rebukes the design brilliance of this world and encourages us to de-sacralize it. Further, it creates an arbitrary claim that can be manipulated by those for whom truth is a distant secondary concern to immediate reward through the work of others.
In my view, this world represents something utterly consistent with the logic that we have in our minds by intuition or can derive from experiments in the world, or even in our minds using arbitrary data. In fact, this world represents an optimization of design to take advantage of logic. A simple example is the sheer efficiency of trees: they are resilient, efficient, and highly effective at propagating themselves without wiping themselves out through overbreeding.
One interesting aspect of this logicality is that it does not aim for perfection. It shoots instead for things that work in every situation and, even if it takes many steps to get there, always get to an increasingly complex result. This means that if there are 100 seeds, nature does not guarantee that every one sprouts; it guarantees that absent truly blighted conditions, at least one will survive. Even more, it guarantees that in truly blighted conditions, something -- if even bacteria or fungus -- will survive, and begin the process of evolving until three billion years later it's a human. That is the genius of nature's design!
For this reason, I see our world as a logical optimum, and see it as unlikely and even laughable to posit a division between this and another perfect world. Especially when the other perfect world sounds like human wish fulfilment, such as the idea that judgment will occur over the bad and the good will be rewarded. Even more when it is suggested that, as in Heaven and Hell, this other world involves an eternity of doing the same stuff over and over again. It is discontiguous with the logic of this world and with logic itself that this world exists in that form, and that its activities are as described.
However, this is the nature of our thinking when pointing toward any world that is a correction to this one. We immediately turn to human ideas and judgments, desires and feelings. We shape it after what we wish were true, because after all it's a correction. But that requires us to abandon logic and causality and instead focus on a world that seems like the creation of a personality itself, even though nothing else works this way.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's materialism, or the idea that matter is all that exists. I don't want to go into a lengthy argument here, but since the organization of things follows logic, and thoughts follow logic, and logic stands both intuitively and as a self-referential architectonic whole, it seems to me that logic comes before matter. Meaning: the organization of matter is a product of logic, not the other way around. Thus materialism itself is nonsense and there is clearly an underlying thought-like logical order to existence. I think it more likely that we find something like a simulation, where we are logical aspects of some larger logical entity, than a standalone system regulated by matter; if anything, we probably exist in a universe which is so logical that the concept of nothingness had to be created, which in turn required the concept of somethingness, which in turn created what we know of today as matter.
Thus we have both dualism and materialism negated, which leaves us with monism, a system where matter and idea are part of the same continuum, and any perfection is found in this world and any additional "metaphysics" would be part of the same logical system. In this the whole is logically consistent, which fits with the principle of consistency seen in all things observed so far. However, this leaves us with a question: how is monism different from some form of idealistic materialism?
The best answer is found in the work of Immanuel Kant, who perceived that our minds "filter" a raw reality and come up with a limited version of that which our physical bodies can perceive and serve that up to us. We know that our minds will remove from our perception the anomalous and incomprehensible in everyday life, and that we navigate the world through memory and basically confirm our memory instead of perceiving anew. How much else is filtered out? How much is invisible to us because it is not physical in the sense that we commonly recognize?
Monism suggests to us that instead of a world made of personality and the judgment of that personality, like the Heaven/Hell dualistic world, we exist in a single continuum of which the visible physical world is but a small part. Thus what we see is logically consistent with all that is, but is only part of the story. The end result there is that we can posit additional layers or dimensions to our world without them being dualistic, in that they will obey the same logical rules that we see here and will be similar. They may be interwoven with what we know of as reality. Even more, without the imposition of time, there may be other directions in which we can travel through this raw reality-space.
This might explain why monism is not as popular as dualism. It's harder to grasp, and although it's more consistent, it's less certain. It is also less satisfying than the idea of final judgment and slotting of people in Heaven or Hell, an image that I find comforting whenever I run into someone with bad or excessively selfish intent. But ultimately it is the only explanation that is logical and consistent, without which we are forced to consider our world as nonsense and treat it correspondingly badly, while leaving our futures in the hands of near-arbitrary conjecture, and denying the causal/logical idealism underlying all of existence.
Most people view nihilism as a form of hyper-materialism, or denial of all but the immediate and tangible. In my experience, what nihilism is in a sensible interpretation is a denial of human projection, and thus a focus on reality as it is. This then includes the aspects of it which we do not understand and are not easily grasped by humans. Both materialism and dualism make no sense under nihilism because they are impositions of the human perspective, e.g. touch and emotion respectively, and not a logical observational path from reality to the human. A sensible path is that we see reality, analyze it and understand it; projection is where we figure out what we want to find in reality, find an example of it, and hold it up to represent the whole. Both dualistic religion and the negation of it fall into this category.
While most people hold that nihilism is a rejection of anything other than the individual and its immediate desires, needs, emotions, feelings, judgments and autonomy, I see this philosophy as something that can be called "fatalism" because it has given up on anything larger than the individual, including society, truth, creativity, and the world as something outside of the human mental construction. It believes that human efforts at improvement are ineffectual or doomed. A more sensible version of nihilism is that it is a rejection of everything other than what exists. It is not concerned with emotions, judgments, feelings and/or desires, but instead is concerned with how the world works and how it can be interacted with. Where most people think of themselves first, and see the world as a manifestation of their will, the nihilist sees us as a manifestation of the world's properties.
However, this does not imply a need to limit ourselves to the material, because since the world is a logical place defined by its consistency above all else, the only limit that matters is what is logical according to the order of this world. As logicality precedes materiality, the logicality is more important, and this implies layers of existence outside of the material which must also be considered. It is not sensible to call these "metaphysical" as they are part of the same spectrum of physicality, much like different colors are part of the same spectrum, including invisible colors that are outside the parts of the spectrum we can perceive.
In fact, this philosophy affirms nihilism by showing us the truth of the triad of traits normally associated with nihilism: nothing is true, nothing is communicated and nothing is known. That is because in this world, the option of truth is a subjective one; many choose to avoid truth, in fact most do. Similarly, people must be receptive to have communication occur, and must be able to recognize knowledge for it to do its work as knowledge. The grim fact of life is that truth only exists to those who know how to locate it, communication only occurs between similarly situated parties, and wisdom is only visible to the wise. But even that fact will be disputed by people who wish to believe otherwise.
While wildly misunderstood, nihilism in its only sensible form is a rejection of human projection. That requires that we pay attention to the world and its function, rather than our emotions, desires and judgments regarding it or what we wish it were like. This does not limit us to the visible world, or even only the tangible world, since we need to use logical thought to even construct those fully. Rather, we instead may even reject appearances and tangibility in favor of those logical constructions which fully explain the world, which is part of a consistent trend since the earliest evolution of humanity toward more use of mind and less reliance on appearance.
Dualism is an enhancement of the differences between appearance and structure. By creating a world of inconsistent structure in addition to this one, dualism posits that this world is entirely appearance, and the other world is entirely structure. In fact, both appearance and structure exist in this world, and if the other world is inconsistent with them, it is likely a world of appearance and not structure.
This creates the troubling implication that it is human projection and thus an affirmation of it would be a rejection of nihilism. On the other hand, materialism suggests no possibility of structure beyond the material, which creates clashes with the underlying idealism of the cosmos, creating a disconnect between appearance and structure which makes appearance seem to be an independent and important measure.
A nihilist of the Hollywood type is basically an extremely self-focused anarchist. This person's justification is that they believe in nothing, thus they limit their concerns to what they know is "real," namely themselves and their immediate desires only. Further, in theory this person is possessed by an urge to destroy, which makes no sense as that requires a positive valuation. It seems more like a description of a person having a mental health issue than thinking their way through nihilism.
Nihilism reduces itself from negation of everything because nihilism is in itself an affirmative act, a valuation of the world and a separation of what is actual from what is not. Thus even someone who tried to act out the Hollywood ideal and reject everything would soon find themselves both affirming some facts of the world, and rejecting some illusions of the self being absolute and separate from the world. A nihilist in the first seconds of nihilism might wander down the anarchist path, but within an hour of thought would be headed in a different direction.
Through this nihilism rejects another kind of dualism, which is the separation between human preference and reality. In this vision, which occurs exclusively in materialist thought, the human choice is somehow absolute and universal, where the natural world is viewed as random and/or illogical. This mirrors the projection of human thought onto a dualistic perfect world, which resembles human feeling and desires, as separate from a world where human feelings come secondary which is thus seen as appearance because it does not represent the "true" world of the personality. This dualism exists both in materialism and in metaphysical conditions.
For this reason, nihilism is not only compatible with monism, but is only compatible with monism. The false dualities of materialism and metaphysical dualism together represent the antithesis of nihilism, which is human projection. Further, to a realist, both dualism and materialism fail to deliver what is necessary for a logical view of reality and also show the influence of human projection, which means it is wisest to reject them and move on to something that is more representative of reality, even if it does not "appear" to be so.
February 2, 2014