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The Pursuit of Happiness

This presentation is part of a wider series on the quest for eudaimonia, roughly translated from the Ancient Greek as "happiness", more literally translated as "a good demon", which in that context refers to having a good spirit - the word "demon" having received a bit of a negative reputation through European Christianity. Previous related presentations include "The Continuum of Needs and Wants", to the Melbourne Agnostics, on November 14, 2020, From Stoicism and Naturalistic Pantheism to Effective Altruism" to The Sea of Faith in Australia, on April 21st 2022, and "We Are We Do: Emotions, Trauma, and Happiness", a presentation to this group, the Melbourne Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, on May 15, 2022.

The Soul of the Machines? - The Current State of Advanced Artificial Intelligence

It worth introducing this presentation by making reference to the International Society for Philosophers, of whom I am credited as a group identifier for this presentation. The Society was formed in 2002 in association with Pathways to Philosophy program, and the society has some 2000 lay and professional philosophers from ninety-three countries. Whilst supported by a board and officers, the driving force of the Society was Dr Geoffrey Klempner, who unfortunately passed away in November last year. I confess that I am not entirely sure of the status of the Society in Dr Klempner's absence, and can only hope that the board is able to take up and continue his project. For my own part, this presentation will have to do as an activity in his memory, following the spirit of philosophical investigation.

This is not the first public presentation that I have given on this subject although it is the first in several years. In October, 2006 I addressed a service of the Melbourne Unitarian Church on the topic "The Age of Spiritual Machines: The Artificial Intelligence Predictions of Ray Kurzweil". Almost five years later in July 2011 I was granted the opportunity to present at the Humanity+ conference at the University of Melbourne under the topic "More Human Than Human", where I explored the necessary logical pragmatics from intelligence to a moral consciousness. Two months later, in September 2011, at The Philosophy Forum, this subject received further elaboration with a presentation entitled "Machines That Think: From Artificial Intelligence to Artificial Consciousness?", and four years after that, in August 2015, another presentation to the same group, "The Philosophy of Computation and Computers".

The Unbearable Abuse of The Silent Treatment

The Silent Treatment is perhaps the worst sort of emotional abuse that can be inflicted on a person and also one of the most widespread. There is an excellent short article on the subject available on The Atlantic, including a great deal from Purdue psychology professor Kipling Williams, who has studied the behaviour for more than thirty-five years. He notes: "People use the silent treatment because they can get away with it without looking abusive to others and because it's highly effective in making the targeted individual feel bad." There is an enormous problem here because the victim literally feels the same pain as physical pain but because it has not been expressed, they do not exactly know why they're being punished. It can be so devastating that many victims, especially those in co-dependent situations, have expressed that they would prefer directed rage or even physical violence in preference to The Silent Treatment. Tragically, if there is a genuine grievance, The Silent Treatment is profoundly ineffective for the perpetrator as well, as they cannot achieve a resolution because it is never stated with clarity. It is, in a nutshell, a hurtful and abusive act of self-sabotage on their part.

Is Moral Reasoning Innate or Learned?

Like many debates concerning the relationship between "nature" and "nurture," there is a tendency for people to either adopt a partisan position on extremes or a muddled and vague position somewhere in the middle. This presentation will begin with an overview of the modern development of nature versus nurture debate, before moving on to the evidence of moral innateness and the comparison with the morality as a learned skill, before coming to hopefully useful conclusions on the matter.

The initial problem often comes from philosophers, because of course philosophers do tend to develop hypotheses first before they're actually tested, and people are attracted to the logical coherence and brilliantly pithy statements, rather than the subsequent evidence that is slowly developed over many years of stuffy journal articles that are boring but important. John Locke, for example, could exclaim in "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding" in 1689:

"Let us suppose the mind to be, as we say, a tabula rasa, void of all characters, without any ideas. How comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store, which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it, with an almost endless variety? When has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from experience."

We Are We Do: Emotions, Trauma, and Happiness

Our story begins with two elderly gentlemen sitting on a hillside overlooking their village by the seaside. We'll call them Peter and Simon, (good Biblical names, with a little pun included), but any names will do. They've had long and successful lives and they're enjoying their retirement and they're reminiscing. It's a beautiful day, the sounds of seagulls is in the air, the sky is blue with just the hint of white clouds, the sun shines and bounces off the calm sea, and a gentle breeze cools our friends.

But Simon is particularly rueful. He shakes his head and frowns. "Looks at those beautiful fishing boats going out to sea, Peter," he says, giving a disdainful wave. For decades I was the best builder of boats in the village. But do they call me Simon the Boat Builder in the village? No!" Peter nods slowly and silence passes.

Simon is not to be stopped. "After being a boat builder, I became a house painter. Looks at those beautiful houses, with their fresh whiteness, unsullied by the elements. But do they call me Simon The Painter in the village? No! And then, for my third career, I became the town planner. See those new streets and buildings, which I designed to fit the geography. I even went to university to learn this! But do they call me Simon the Town Planner in the village? No!"

"But just one goat!"

From Stoicism and Naturalistic Pantheism to Effective Altruism

In some regards, this presentation will be operating on a high introductory level to some concepts that I have already discussed in the past at the variety of philosophically-minded public groups that can be found in Melbourne. For example, once can found related previous presentations with titles like presented to SoFiA, Melbourne, in July 2021, "The Continuum of 'Needs' and 'Wants'" to the Melbourne Agnostics in November 2020, and "Is Pantheism an Atheism?", to the Melbourne Atheist Society in August 2016. I will begin with a discussion of the philosophical tradition of Stoicism and its relevance to contemporary times, and especially its important role in both positive and clinical psychology. From this, the presentation can move to an elaboration of the Stoic views of physics, and in particular their contribution to pantheism in general and natural pantheism in particular. This is also an opportunity to dig into that much-vexed question of free will versus determinism. Finally, and as a way of conclusion an application of Stoicism and natural pantheism to effective altruism.

Initial Hypotheses On Emotions, Trauma, and Happiness

1. We do not have executive control of what emotions are generated by the brain, and all emotions are valid.

2. Pharmaceutical approaches to mental health are necessary for acute treatment, but have reduced effectiveness for chronic treatment.

Thoughts on Open Relationships

Serial monogamy is not for everyone at all times in their life. Despite our cultural celebration of the norm, it often does not seem very successful. It used to be the case that over 50% of marriages would end in divorce; that number has declined significantly, but partially driven by the fact that more people aren't getting married at all, or are getting married later. Rates of infidelity, obviously more prone to sampling error, range from 25% to 40%.

For some, some sort of open relationship is an alternative. Again, not for all people at all times of their lives. This said, for the latter, there need to be boundaries in place so that all participants can feel comfortable with the situation.

The following are a few ideas, from a somewhat inexperienced position, with additional commentary inserted from those who are somewhat better versed. It serves only as an initial contribution to the subject.

Promising, Forgiveness, and Redemption

I am going to assume that all of us here have made and received promises. We may have even had promises made to us broken, and we may have have even broken some ourselves! We probably have forgiven some of these transgressions against us, and may have had our own forgiven. Promising and forgiveness are universal to all people, all cultures, and all times. Indeed, there is perhaps no other moral principle or ethical understanding so widely shared than the recognition promises ought to be kept. Exploring why promises have such a special position in social relations is something that we all feel very deeply, but it is curiously not something that is often explored. Thus, for a good third of this address, an attempt is made to describe some of the key features that make promises special. Following this, and with equivalent attention, an exploration of the notion of forgiveness. Finally, there is a exploration of the conception of redemption, which whilst having well-known theological overtones, incorporates the idea of "redeeming" or a returning to a prior state. In presenting this discussion there is an emphasis on interpersonal relations, that is, actions between natural persons. However, there are also interesting parallels in the activities with the contractual obligations between organisations as legal persons.

Pantheism: Beyond Atheism and Theism

There are really only three broad topics that are addressed here. Firstly, a definition of pantheism, especially in respect to theism and atheism. Secondly, an elaboration on what is meant by the word 'beyond', as there are multiple meanings being used, and thirdly, why pantheism can be expressed as being 'beyond' atheism and theism. For the first part, a significant portion is drawn from a presentation I gave to the Melbourne Atheist Society on August 9, 2016 entitled "Is Pantheism an Atheism?", which left the answer to subjective experientiality. For the second part, the elaboration especially draws upon the definition of "meta-" in Ancient Greek, and the German concept of Aufhebung and its role in dialectical reasoning. Hopefully, with these two parts in firm foundation, the concluding remarks of the presentation, which really encapsulate the title, will have equivalent confidence. But, with a warning in advance, there is an interesting concluding twist which can be a matter for a lot of further debate.


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