June 2002

Menno Rubingh's Philosophy Page

The usefulness of philosophy, from a point-of-view of evolutionary survival.
Philosophy as a down-to-earth tool that furthers mental (cultural) evolution of any kind of intelligent entity, and (since ideas are programs whose execution has also physical effects) therefore benefits the physical evolution of the intelligent entity as well.

Menno Rubingh (c) 2000
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Greetings, Visitor !

This page is the ''philosophy'' entry to my website.  (My website does contain some other things besides philosophy, such as various things on computer programming, including some stuff on programming of types of ''intelligent'' software.  See here.)

I am a person who thinks that philosophy is somehow useful, i.e. that philosophy yields tangible results that make people stronger, make people better survivors, and give people more tricks that they can use to ``grow and conquer'' if they so wish.  The word ``useful'' I explain in Darwinian evolutionary terms: to me, a thing T is useful to a person P when that thing T makes person P into an entity that is more powerful in the evolutionary survival struggle.  To me, evolutionary survival and/or growth power is the only criterium for labelling things as ``good'' or ``bad''. 

Is the above an ideology that makes believers in that ideology into Nazi-like mean base un-civilized creatures ?  No, I don't think so.  ``Survival and growth'' does not have to be identical to short-term survival of only yourself; it can also e.g. mean the survival and growth e.g. of ``culture'' in general. 

In my opinion, taking survival as one's yardstick is ``better'' than other idealistic goals, because survival is more a ``minimal'' thing.  If the going gets really tough, every living entity in my opinion forgets all its nice idealistic beliefs, and takes the action that ensures its survival.  Moreover, it doesn't have to ``think'' very much about deciding this way.  In my opinion, this ``will to survive'' is by necessity built-in into every living entity that survives.  By necessity, because if taking the actions that ensure its survival were not built-in into the entity, then that entity would die out, and with it would die out the ``programming'' that made the entity choose any other action than survival. 

Is ``survival'' only a thing only that we fall back upon when in dificult circumstances ?  In my opinion, no.  I think that ``growth'' is virtually (in effect) identical to survival.  With the ``growth'' of a living entity E I mean: any action that makes the position of the entity E stronger; that is, which enhances the chances of survival of E when circumstances would become so difficult that survival of E is threatened.  In my opinion, every kind of living entity that survives, must also have this willingness for growth built-in.  When its immediate survival is not threatened, an ``intelligent'' entity will in my opinion try to strengthen its position so that it becomes more robust and resistant agains possible future difficult situations. 

Is ``survival'' a base, physical, non-intellectual thing ?  In my opinion, no.  Because it is, I think, possible to talk not only of survival of physical entities, but also possible to talk about survival of ideas.  In my opinion, ideas are almost ``tangible'' things much like physical entities are: ideas in a person's (human's) head do affect the behaviour of the person.  By the word ``idea'' I mean anything that is mental, anything that is learned.  Beliefs, methods, thoughts, philosophical systems, scientific models, etc., are all ideas.  Ideas in a person's (human's) head are what programs are to a computer: ideas are programming that (at least for a significant part) determines or affects human behaviour.  Learning a good set of ideas/tricks/methods makes a person into an entity that has more survival power.  The judgement ``good'' and ``bad'' applied to ideas follows again from the survival/growth criterium: a ``good'' idea is an idea that helps a person survive, a ``bad'' idea is an idea that is detrimental to survival of the person. 

Philosophy is the action of trying to create new ideas.  Philosophy makes ideas into dynamic things rather than immutable, static givens.  Since philosophy deals with, acts on, and produces new and changed ideas, no idea can be holy to philosophy.  In order so as to make it possible that philosophy can arrive at new ideas, philosophy must have complete access to any ``input'' ideas, must have complete freedom to do any processing on those ideas, must have freedom to generate any (possibly random and/or arbitrary) new idea, and must have complete freedom to propose or suggest any ``output'' idea.  If one restricts this ``freedom'' of philosophy, one makes the tool that philosophy is for the purpose of creating new or mutated ideas, less effective.  In my opinion, philosophy is the basic tool that makes fast human mental/cultural evolution possible.  Armed with philosophy, humans can ``consciously'' explore ``meme space''. 

In my opinion, then, philosophy is a survival tool.  Philosophy can be called useful, because it has the capability of creating ideas that can be useful for survival.  Philosophy is an action done by physical living entities, which action has as output programs (ideas, beliefs) which have the capacity to affect the behaviour of those same living entities.  Philosophy is living entities changing their own programming.  In my opinion, an entity that is in principle capable of (to some degree) changing its own programming is in principle a more adaptable thing than an entity that can not do this and that is stuck with a more fixed, static, non-adaptable programming. 

Now about idealism.  Above, I have attempted to explain why I think that survival is ``the'' goal in life, and why I think that philosophy is useful (for that goal).  Now, talking about ``goals'' and ``usefulness'' means in effect to talk about what is ``good'' (and ``bad'') in life, about ``ethics'' (= the study of what is ``good''), about ``the purpose of Life'', and so on.  I think that Life has no transcendent purpose; instead, the ``purpose'' of any living entity is its growth and survival.  I think that any living entity ``feels good'' (i.e., ``happy'') when it feels that its survival position is becoming stronger.  This is in my opinion an automatic thing, it's not necessary to make searching for ``happiness'' or trying to make your survival position stronger into idealistic goals.  I think that every entity that survives and grows automatically already will pursue these ``goals'', whether it thinks about it or not. 

I think that survival/growth, and philosophy, are ``useful''; but I don't think that it's necessary and/or helpful to make survival/growth, and/or philosophy, into idealistic things.  I think that any thing that claims to be useful, has to prove its usefulness in practice.  Considering an idea (such as the idea that philosophy is useful) as an idealistic goal in my opinion is not helpful to the usefulness of that idea.  In my opinion, making an idea into an idealistic goal does not really strengthen that idea.  If an idea or method were really useful, then it would not be necessary to become idealistically enthousiastic about that idea or method; instead, it would be enough simply to use that idea or method in practice.  In my opinion, all ideas that get presented as idealistic things are by definition somewhat suspect.  A person wanting to learn useful ideas had in my opinion better look at methods and ideas that are simply used for (seemingly) useful purposes in practice, not listen to prophets who present ideas as idealistically desireable. 

Above, I explained why I think that philosophy, to be at all possible, has to regard everything without there being any subjects that may not be investigated and/or inquired into.  That is: there are no ''holy'' or ''taboo'' subjects for philosophy.  Philosophy therefore is inherently irreverent towards any precept, any moral rule, any ideology.  All ideologies and moral rules are subject to being investigated, analyzed, criticized, etc., by philosophy.  This means that preciely in order to be capable of producing results that are helpful for growth/survival, philosophy must be ``irreverent''.  It's impossible to advance if you are unwilling to step on and crush with your feet the herbs in front of you.  Be too ``reverent'' towards, and to believing in, existing ideas, and you will always be stuck where you are; and in this way you cut off your own road towards growth. 

``Growth'' is therefore, in my opinion, not an idealistic thing.  It however surely does ``feel'' good to grow, to advance, to build, to make yourself and your world into a stronger and more healthy thing.  It can ``feel'' so intoxicating that it's easy to be led into regarding it as an idealistic goal.  Many civilizations have fostered an aggressive (and successful) ideology that make people want to grow and conquer, an ideology that gave people the necessary self-confidence to grow and conquer, and to invest in their own civilization.  However, in my opinion it is uselessly overdone to regard growth as an idealistic ideal: growth is in my opinion simply the basic, down-to-earth operation of all living entities.  In my opinion, we have to regard belief in growth and the self-confidence to grow/learn/build, more as an absence of beliefs that impede the basic down-to-earth built-in automatic action of any living entity, than as a positive ideology in its own right.  I regard ``belief in growth'' more as freedom from limiting beliefs than as a positive ideology.  I think it is not very necessary to make ``growth'' into an idealistic thing.  Everything that has a healthy chance of survival, already by necessity automatically does it.  ``Belief in growth'' is more a falling-back upon basic behaviour than something very high-blown, idealistic, and/or fragile.  It is not an idealistic religion that needs to be defended: on the contrary, it is an automatic, ``mathematical'' inescapable reality, somewhat like Newton's laws. 

Instead of ``growth'' being a positive ideology, it is in my opinion the reverse: An entity that does not believe in wanting to grow, and that by its beliefs is programmed to execute behaviour that does not further its own (or its culture's) growth, is ``sick'', and is a victim of a `` thought contagion'' (= a belief that is not advantageous to it).  Wanting to grow is in my opinion much more often a result of an absence of any positive ideology that impedes growth, than a result of a positive ideology that furthers growth. 

``Growth'' is to me also a definitely pragmatic thing.  You just grow in any direction that seems optimal given the situation you are presently in.  You adapt your plans to the circumstances.  Optimal growth is helped by not having rigid, fixed, immutable, ``idealistic'' plans that you try to follow even when circumstances dictate otherwise.  ``Growth'' in my opinion includes opportunism: if an easy chance presents itself, then it's not useful to have a belief or ideology that prevents you from making use of it.  Being pragmatic and opportunistic, and free from rigid preconceived beliefs about what is always the ``right'' action in this-and-that circumstance, is a help to growth. 

The word ``growth'' above I regard as indicating physical as well as mental growth.  For humans (and presumably for any intelligent entities), ideas are very important, as well as physical things.  Learning is an example of mental growth.  Study is exploration into new mental realms. 

I think that it is ``right'' and ``fitting'' :-) that growth is a non-idealistic and pragmatic thing.  This is because an intelligent entity ``believing'' in growth in this way is not forced to espouse a positive belief or ideology.  This keeps the eyes of the entity open to look unbiasedly at its environment, and keeps all its options open for possible actions to execute.  Rigid belief in any ideology very often cuts off possible courses of action, and colors incoming perceptions -- which therefore impedes growth.  Any ideology that is too rigidly believed in is in my opinion always by necessity more an impediment to growth than a help to growth. 

Bringing this back to the topic of philosophy, and to ``ideas'': any idea or method that philosophy generates, is in a way of course in itself an ``ideology''.  A useful method to make for example bread, is a ``belief'': a person following the method ``believes'' that it is (in the given circumstances) the optimal method for making bread.  Any idea that is valued by a person P, however, in my opinion does not have to be regarded by P as a ``religious belief''.  This is another consequence of the situation that philosophy is irreverent towards all beliefs.  Every method, idea, trick, that the person P has in his head can be regarded by P as simply a pragmatic collection of programs at his disposal, that he might execute if it ``seems right'' or ``seems useful'' to do so.  I mean: it is, in my opinion, possible to do away entirely with regarding the methods/ideas in one's head as ``ideologically right'' or ``religiously right''.  It is not very useful to regard a person A who has learned a seemingly large collection of useful tricks as somehow ideologically superior above other person B: the superiorness of A will simply be shown in practice -- if it's not shown in practice, then A is not so superior after all.  It is a waste of energy to dwell on the ``ideological'' desirability of learning good tricks.  Learning good tricks ``should'' be an almost ``automatic'' goal of any intelligent entity: I think that for example all children tend to start off with being thorougly curious about everything and almost unstoppable in wanting to learn everything. 

Curiosity and willingness to learn, that is, willingness to expand yourself and to grow intellectually, is in my opinion automatic in any intelligent entity.  Absence of curiosity and interest in learning, rather than presence of it, is a remarkable, exceptional thing.  A person who has no willingness to learn and tends to stop other people's willingness to learn, in my opinion must be regarded ``sick'' in the sense of having fallen prey to a limiting thought contagion. 

Wanting to further the health of both one's body and one's mind in my opinion ``should'' not be a remarkable, exceptional thing either.  It ``should'' be the automatic action of any entity that is both physical and mental to want to grow in both its physical and mental aspects.  I regard both (1) entities that pursue physical growth only, and (2) entities that pursue mental growth only, as remarkable exceptions.  To want to grow, for an intelligent entity, ``should'' in my opinion imply seeking to enhance both one's mental and physical health.  The myth of the physically weak bookworm professor who completely disregards his physical health is in my opinion just a myth; in the same way, the myth of the sportsman who only seeks physical ``health'' and has a total disdain of anything intellectual is just as much of an oxymoron. 

I think that healthy people always at the same time seek both physical and mental health.  Healthy people in my opinion have no difficulty regarding mental and physical health and growth as basically the same thing; and they can dynamically adapt the specific mix how much energy to expend in both kinds (X parts physical and Y parts mental) to the given (changing) circumstances. 

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