Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Problem of Infinite Regress

One particular argument for the existence of God is as follows: Given that the universe exists, there must be something that created it. So if God is defined as the creator of this universe, then God must exist.

There are two problems with this argument. The first problem is infinite regress. If the universe exists, then God exists. If God exists then a God of God exists. And this argument can go on forever. This question of "Who created God?" is the problem of infinite regress.

Consequently, some people would argue that the statement: "If X exists, there exists something that created it." is itself false. And consequently, the concept of "The God of God", becomes unnecessary. The problem with this argument is that the concept of "God of the universe", is also unnecessary in this particular view.

In other words, if we are willing to accept that God exists without a creator, why not accept that the universe exists without a creator as well?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Nightmares That Kill

Papa Roach in "Blanket Of Fear":
So hold on to your dreams
Because your nightmares might seem like your reality
Hold on to your dreams
Because your nightmares might seem like your reality

I'm falling in my dream; I finally hit the ground
I'm falling in my dream, I finally hit the ground
I hit the ground
Because I, I cant keep my mind from going into dark places (Full lyrics)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

About Love - Part 1: Love and Jealousy

This post handles the issue of open-relationships, however it approaches the subject from the point of view of the emotions that are relevant to relationships. The notion of love is very critical to the conception of interpersonal relationships, because the emotion of love is one of the determining factors to the nature of that relationship.

Love is a general term. Consider the following statements:
- "I love chocolate."
- "I love science."
- "I love my parents."
- "I love my son."
- "I love being in love." (Or a general case of loving a particular emotion)
- "I love that person." (In the context of friendship)
- "I love that person." (In a context of romance)

As it seems, there are different notions of love. There are different types of things that can be the object of love. And there are numerous ways to love an object of a given category.

However, the general theme of love has to do with the feelings that are accompanied with the object of love. Generally speaking, pleasant and positive feelings. So when you say, "I love chocolate" your love is contingent on the 'reinforcing' feeling that occurs when you experience eating chocolate. Same applies to the statement about loving science, which implies that there are pleasant feelings that accompany the experience of studying science.

Let's take a moment and talk about the concept of a 'reinforcing feeling'. I will not discuss the causality issue of reinforcing feelings, but the phenomenon of it. A reinforcing feeling is the type of feeling that you will want to experience again. You eat chocolate, you like the taste, so you will want to eat more. You find studying science enjoyable so you will engage yourself in that activity. And this relationship between an experience and the feelings that accompany that experience, coupled with a contingency that the feelings in question are pleasant (hence reinforcing feelings) would be the basis upon which the emotion of love is realized.

So, let's further our discussion to the cases where the object of love is a person. In those cases, the interaction is more elaborate, and the concept of reciprocal love comes into light. If you love chocolate, the interaction is strictly one-sided since chocolate is an inanimate object. If you love your cat, the situation gets slightly more complicated since the interaction is two-sided. However, when you love a person there are many more elements that come into play. Reciprocity in love becomes a major element. However, in my personal view which is consistent with the view of reinforcing feeling, love of one person to another is independent of being 'loved back'. Hence, one-sided love is an actual possibility. In general, reciprocation of love acts as an amplification tool. In other words, if you find that being with a person is a pleasant experience, and they in return find your company pleasurable, two things will happen: First, the two-sided positive interaction will make the experience more pleasurable, and hence would enhance the 'quality' of the experience. Second, the two people are naturally going to spend more time together, and thus will increase the 'quantity' of the experience. And the combination of those two effects would amplify the experiences which realizes a more profound notion of love.

This conclusion is important, so as to differentiate love as a feeling directed towards a person, and love viewed in the context of a relationship. This implies that the conception of love in the context of a relationship needs to be a pleasant experience in the case of bestowal of love, as well as, the reception of love.

While the concept of love that I just described is highly self-centered, but still this love involves the concept of a relationship (in the general sense) and can also be related to interpersonal relationships. If we consider the statement "Person-X loves Object-Y", we are describing an interaction between 'Person-X' and 'Object-Y', and not only are we implying that there is an interaction, but that this interaction is considered to be a pleasant experience from Person-X's point of view. And this interaction embodies the relationship in question.

After this crude introduction to the emotion of love, let's divert our attention to the emotion of jealousy. Again jealousy means different things to different people, but the most general theme about jealousy is fear of loss. This is the main property that I will assume to be characteristic to the emotion of jealousy. And to make a stronger notion of jealousy, jealousy is about fear of loss of ownership.

To make an example outside the realm of sexuality and fidelity, let's consider this typical scenario concerning children. Let's consider two little kids, and they are playing together in a room. And in that room there is a toy that belongs to one of the kids. At some point the kid that does not own the toy, goes ahead and starts playing with that toy. Now, the kid who the toy belongs to would notice this action, and this would trigger the emotion of jealousy, and consequently would go to the other kid and asserts his sense of ownership. He might say something like: "Give it back, it's mine!". This scenario illustrates a display of the emotion of jealousy.

And this is exactly what happens in a sexual context or even a pseudo-sexual context. If a man sees another man hitting on 'his woman', it would trigger an emotion of jealousy, and would consequently try to assert his sense of ownership. Needless to say, this is a general theme that applies to girls being jealous towards another girl, and it also applies in a context of non-heterosexuality. That being said, the general theme here is that people are acting based on a perceived sense of ownership.

However, this sense of ownership needs to be put in question. It is a generally accepted notion that people who are in love 'belong together'. But jealousy is actually demonstrating a different notion that people who are in love 'belong TO each other'. Personally, I consider both notions to be misleading. And I also consider the notion of 'belonging-to someone' as not only misleading, but insulting as well. In other words, I would consider the notion that 'Person-X belongs to me' as an insult towards Person-X, and I -personally- find that insulting someone I love as an action that is not in my best interest. Likewise, I would put into question a statement of love from a person who is insulting me.

So, if we go back to the view that love is correlated to pleasant feelings, I find that insult does not fit the profile of love, and consequently jealousy and love are at direct contradiction (at least based on that particular view of insult and unpleasantness).

There is a notion that some people believe that jealousy is an act of love. The argument would go something like: "If you love a person, it is a normal -maybe even healthy- to display the emotion of jealousy." Personally, I dismiss such an argument based on my above mentioned views. However, there are some more generalized accounts based on which we might dismiss this argument. One such account is the view that jealousy is a 'distancing emotion' and it also is a display of distrust. Jealousy at its core is a fight of "me" against "them", and in this mental picture, the person views himself at a distance, and views that his partner and the third party are forming a bond which he needs to break. And hence, the person who feels jealousy continuously perceives the relationship to be in flux, where the relationship is suffering from continuous ups and downs that he needs to fix. This shows that the person feeling jealousy sees the relationship as 'hanging-by-a-thread', and also shows a great amount of insecurity regarding the trustworthiness of his partner.

Jealousy in terms of the objects that the dynamics are occurring can be thought of as a 'threesome'. It is a 'threesome' in the sense that it involves three entities. The lover, the object of love, and the rival. When talking about jealousy we are often discussing the theme of a love triangle. A guy is in love with a girl, and there is another guy trying to win the love of that girl. However, if we take one step back, and see the larger picture, we find out that jealousy (in the sexual context) is actually a 'foursome', the fourth entity being society. This is in the sense that the jealous person is not only concerned about his personal interest in the loved one, but also concerned about the feelings of shame and embarrassment that is associated with infidelity. There is a social pressure that if a man sleeps with your wife, then you will be socially rejected. If we want to discuss jealousy in terms of fear of loss, we can easily see that a person has not only a loved person at stake, but also a perceived notion of 'honor' as it is applicable in the social context. I will not go into further details about this problem, but it is obvious that the social context of a relationship is influential.

In addition to jealousy, there is a related -but very different- aspect of negative emotions that are emphasized in closed-relationships. This aspect is mostly illustrated in discussions I have about open-relationships with guys, namely envy. The argument goes as follows: "Imagine that you got a girlfriend, you agree to have an open-relationship, and the end result is that your girlfriend is having sex with a new guy every day, while you are failing at finding any sexual partners. Would you still want the relationship to be open?" Now, obviously this argument reduces open-relationships to a contest of which partner 'scores' the most. Envy is the emotion that is characterized by distress over other people's good fortune, which is exactly whats going on in this particular argument. This kind of argument shows deep misunderstanding of the person making that argument as to what open-relationships are really about, but it also demonstrates a very negative aspect of closed-relationships. Jealousy is an emotion directed towards a third party, who is perceived as threat to what we own. On the other hand, envy is an emotion directed towards your partner in such a way that you'd hate for good things to happen to your partner. And this emotion of envy, in my opinion, is at much more contradiction with regards to love, compared to jealousy. In other words, if the concept of love leads to destructive actions directed towards your partner, then that conception of love is self-refuting.

Now, let's talk about a concept that many people have, namely 'true love'. The notion of 'true love' implies the existence of another notion of 'false love'. I am not interested in the exact definitions of those notions, but the fact that we differentiate those categories is revealing. The distinction implies that 'true love' has specific features that do not exist in the general concept of love. And since we are considering love in terms of the feelings that accompany it, this means that the person making the distinction has a different set of feelings to describe 'true love' as opposed to 'false love'. So, for the sake of argument, let's define 'true love' as the type of love someone is interested in. Which means that the person looking for 'true love' is looking for a specific set of feelings that accompany that emotion of love.

Going back to the emotion of jealousy, some people might argue that in fact jealousy leads to pleasant feelings. To demonstrate that, let's go back to the example of the kids, where one kid starts playing with a toy that does not belong to him. To view the events in terms of causality we can say that:
1- The kid who displays jealousy has a perceived notion of ownership of the toy.
2- The kid then perceives a situation where his sense of ownership is threatened
3- Based on that perception the emotion of jealousy is triggered
4- The kid decides to act upon his sense of ownership
5- The kid consequently asserts his sense of ownership
And at stage 5, our example has ended. But let's consider the continuation of this scenario, by supposing that the other kid concedes and gives back the toy.
6- The toy is returned
7- At this point, the kid to whom the toy belongs to might get a sense of authority over the other kid.
8- This perceived sense of authority is interpreted as a pleasant feeling.

We can see that jealousy has a causal relationship with pleasant feelings under some circumstances. And this leads some people to find a correlation between love and jealousy. Basically, the person who asserts that his notion of love requires sexual fidelity, is indirectly trying to satisfy a need for authority. So when a person tells a loved one: "I expect you to be sexually faithful", he is indirectly saying: "One of the pleasant feelings that I experience with you is a sense of authority, and you need to keep it that way, because my love for you is contingent on that pleasant feeling." In other words, love is reduced to a tool using which a person maintains his sense of authority.

At this point we can go back to the notion of 'true love', and ask ourselves: "Is that sense of authority a feeling that I would ascribe to the kind of love that I am interested in?". For some people the answer is 'yes', but for me, the answer is 'definitely not'. Obviously, this argument implies that open-relationships does not work for everybody, only the subset of people who reject the view that jealousy is a desirable feature of love.

Of course, some people would argue that expectations of fidelity have less to do with the sense of authority, and more to do with the sense of security. I agree that in this view expectations of fidelity can be viewed less harshly, but once again the question is raised: "Is that sense of security a feeling that I would ascribe to the kind of love that I am interested in?"

Finally, this series of posts handles only a small part of my personal theory of open-relationships. Open-relationships can be approached in terms of emotions, psychology, dynamics of relationships, ethics of relationships, or practice. This post discussed the emotions of love and jealousy. But this is not the most important issue regarding open-relationships in my opinion. The issue the I think is most important is the dynamics of the relationships, which I introduced (without details) in this post. In the context of that post, love is part of the motivation to be in a relationship. And thus, this series is merely one aspect of the broad topic of open-relationships.

In this series:
About Love - Part 1: Love and Jealousy
About Love - Part 2: Love and Curiosity
Next: About Love - Part 3: Love and Sexuality
Next: About Love - Part 4: True Love