The Modern and Zombies

There is an amusing essay here about the deadness of modern life and our culture’s fascination with zombies and how the two may be related on some levels. It is an interesting connection because the modern, in relation to its streams of naturalistic influence (philosophical naturalism) has a way of reducing everything to the point of “deadness” really, for want of a better word. What is the difference between being alive and being dead? At first glance the question appears obvious, rather dumb even. But if life is just matter-in-motion, if it is just chemistry, if it is only signals from our brain to raise an arm and such, then is that “life.” Certain brain injuries leave people in just such a state of “life.” If anyone remembers the scene in the movie “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” where the character played by Jack Nicholson is lobotomized, we see the difference between being alive and just existing. Bacteria, worms, and maggots have the same sort of “life.” What is the difference between that type of “life” and what we as humans normally experience? One would probably say “consciousness” is the difference. But materialism reduces this down to chemistry too. It is an illusion really. Modern life tends to reduce us to machines, where our “humanness” our “spirit” is only an illusion. But we are not machines, we are flesh and blood—thus the better analogy may be we are reduced to, if not zombies, at least a zombie type existence.

People on the street don’t normally give this much thought, but the zeitgeist, the world-view operative at any given time in a culture, has a way, like fog, of seeping in and coloring they way we view ourselves and the world. I think in much of the modern escape into endless entertainment, over-eating, consumerism, drug and alcohol addiction, sex addiction, and even the mindless violence one sees, for instance after a city’s team wins a sports championship, or more apt in the endless military adventurism and war drum beating, we see an attempt to “feel” to truly “live” because of this “deadness” bequeathed to us by the modern related to its materialism. These acts are almost done in rebellion to the disenchantment of the world and ourselves. The modern, in its technological aspect, allows all the conveniences for an easy life and the ability to acquire, but no narrative of purpose, no over-arching noble goal, no romance, no love, no redemption, and no forgiveness. Thus, there is living, and there is living. Without such aspects as love and purpose, we simply become the living dead, walking around, consuming, defecating, reproducing, and then becoming food for worms. In a billion years, if not sooner, if humans and the earth are gone, there will be only silence and no one will care and nothing will have mattered. If so, then consuming and living for one’s self becomes quite easy, which is so obvious—just look around. I mean, if there is no point, then what the hell?

It is hard to imagine why anyone would believe in something that reduces us to zombies really and blurs the line between truly living and simply existing, especially when it is a choice to believe that way. There is no “evidence” or “fact” or new discovery that would force or compel one to believe such a thing. It is a chosen faith, which makes it all the more amazing. What ramps it up to incredible is that it flies in the face of our experience. Even if we had been duped into thinking the “facts” demanded we believe this way, we know deep down, that we are more than chemistry and matter-in-motion; we know that we do exercise free-will, that without love, grace, purpose, redemption, and forgiveness, most nothing else much matters in this life. We live for all the things the naturalist tells us are illusions—which should have been our first clue it was a bankrupt and false view of reality.

If we think of this on a larger scale, internationally, as a nation, it becomes rather depressing. The modern in its materialism translates to a hollow and shallow age. Thus, the best we can muster as a culture in nobility of purpose and adventure is to consume the world’s resources and make the planet safe for corporations to do business, while the people doing the work are entertained by Hollywood and Las Vegas. And, if you challenge or disagree with us, we will bomb the living hell out of you. We offer the world two choices: You can be dead–or you can be the living dead. You choose.

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10 Responses to The Modern and Zombies

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    “It is hard to imagine why anyone would believe in something that reduces us to zombies really and blurs the line between truly living and simply existing, especially when it is a choice to believe that way.”

    That's a classic. Facts don't seem to make much difference.. we can believe anything we want. Why not believe you are the pope, or Napoleon?

    The question you should be asking is: “Are we machines?”. Well, there are people we pay to come up with answers to questions like that, called scientists. They are telling us that we are indeed machines, made of chemicals. You may differ, but ask yourself why & how. There is another class of professionals, called theologians, who are paid to come up with justifications for faith. They even have PhD's from what I hear! As you know, they start with faith and work backwards to how the world must be, trying (if they have some integrity) to stay outside the confines of what science says. They have thus come up with “super”-nature, souls, and other pseudoscientific fantasies that pose as fact, while studiously avoiding any empirical connection with reality.

    There is a better name for this type of thing, which is- making stuff up. And there is a perfectly upstanding place to go for creative people who want to make stuff up to suit what they would like to believe. Which is Hollywood, writer's workshops, the arts in general. I wouldn't knock this pursuit at all- there is a place for illusions and uplift. But it tells us different things than the question you pose at the outset, which is … are we machines?

    Happy holidays!

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  2. DL says:

    Burk,

    “That's a classic. Facts don't seem to make much difference.. we can believe anything we want.”

    Where in the entire post do I say or even imply that? Answer: Nowhere.

    There are plenty of scientists, with PhD's even, who do not believe we are only machines–probably a majority on balance, because even those who are not theists probably think it going too far to think we are just machines.

    Other than giving us a good example of what Bernard on Eric's blog noted as, “…Some atheists for example [have] a narrative about intellectual superiority that they really ought to examine…” (http://thepietythatliesbetween.blogspot.com/), did you have an actual substantive point?

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  3. Burk Braun says:

    Darrell-

    You claimed there was a choice about what to believe- that either we are mechanism or we are something (?) else more to your taste.

    “It is hard to imagine why anyone would believe in something that reduces us to zombies really and blurs the line between truly living and simply existing, especially when it is a choice to believe that way. There is no “evidence” or “fact” or new discovery that would force or compel one to believe such a thing.”

    Now despite your claim to the contrary, the entire field of biology says one thing- that we are mechanism. Why else do we study the development of flies, the nervous systems of worms, and the cognitive capabilities of cats, etc. and so forth? It is because we are each an all built on very similar plans, all gradually elaborated in different directions, each informative to how we as humans work, top to bottom.

    So you do not in point of fact have the choice that you given to yourself in this post. It doesn't exist. Whether you want to deal with these facts in a straightforward fashion, or hide from them is mostly your own business. But if you invite comment on these kinds of thoughts, then here I am.

    Indeed, the main example you present speaks precisely to this issue- the lobotomy. Nothing could be more physical, interfering with whatever you take to be soul/spirit, etc. Do you propose that some sort of “essence” of the lobotomized person remains somehow untrammeled and untouched, despite all indications that the person has been changed by physical intervention? You would have zero evidence on your side. That person is gone, unless the brain can physically find some way to repair itself.

    For the intellectual superiority, I admit everything, and stand tried and convicted. Now prove me wrong. I am sorry to be such a grump about all this, but the self-indulgent and simply wrong thinking I see going on in the guise of theology (not to mention philosophy!) is truly alarming, deserving the most sharp attack and engagement.

    After 9/11, I don't have to explain at length how damaging this kind of thinking can be. It might be that everyone-gets-along ecumenicalism as advocated on Eric's blog is a better approach to moderating its own premises of theology, but I am not sure that is the case. Making people think via critique also has its place. But just say if I should spare you further comments.

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  4. Burk Braun says:

    In fairness, you would reply- what about Francis Collins and similar scientists?

    And I would reply that their theistic messages are all said under the guise and inspiration of their theistic commitments, not out of any biological data. Collins is perfectly mechanistic when it comes to his actual work, which deals with genetic alterations leading to phenotypic traits. In his and other hands, the story is always the same- mental and other traits arise from environmental, developmental, or genetic sources.

    Not everything has been tracked down, but there is certainly no scientific program that is looking for “spiritual” traits arising from astral projections, supernatural sources, and the like. That would be totally fruitless, approved by no funding panel because it has not theoretic justification in biology as we know it. And quite the opposite, of course, since such traits are now pretty easily induced by drugs and electrical stimulation.

    So Collins's beliefs in this direction (implanted moral law, spirituality and the like) are purely fill-in-the-gap theology using (or abusing) what is unknown, not what is known, and is contradicted by the theoretical and practical underpinnings of the many scientists at the NIH who actually study these things, who are slowly figuring out these remaining mysteries.

    I will bet that when all this is better understood, Collins will merely say that the “moral law” he claims to be divine has actually turned out to be equivalent to game theory as it plays out in natural selection, and thus there was no conflict anyhow. QED. Natural law was what he meant by transcendence all along.

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  5. Darrell says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. Darrell says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. Darrell says:

    Hello Burk,

    “You claimed there was a choice about what to believe- that either we are mechanism or we are something (?) else more to your taste.”

    Yes, exactly right and what does that have to do with saying that: “Facts don't seem to make much difference.. we can believe anything we want.”

    The very fact that there are plenty of scientists who choose to interpret the facts differently than you do means there indeed is a choice. We can choose to interpret data or facts differently. The fact you think we are zombies or machines is clearly more to your taste I guess, but it certainly isn’t based upon some “fact.”

    “Now despite your claim to the contrary, the entire field of biology says one thing- that we are mechanism.”

    Unfortunately for you, one, there are biologists (that have PhD’s too) who disagree with you and, two, biology (even the entire field) doesn’t get the last word on questions of meaning and significance. Biology is one area of knowledge; it is not the entire spectrum. We are now discussing what the biological data might tell us, and thus we are into philosophy. Your entire response is a philosophical response, not a biological one. You are trying to tell us what it all means. Biology does not “say” so, you do. Big difference.

    “So you do not in point of fact have the choice that you given to yourself in this post. It doesn't exist.”

    Wow, no fundamentalist anywhere could have said if better than that. I see, so everyone must agree with you? We all can be stupid or agree with Burk. Tell me again why your guys are such a minority? This is just like those who say we have no choice because “god” has not left that to us—it doesn’t exist.

    “For the intellectual superiority, I admit everything, and stand tried and convicted.”

    No, what you stand tried and convicted of is that malady that normally affects bright but immature freshman college students who are so sure they know it all. Don’t worry, I’m sure you will grow out of it. Of the other charge, the jury is still out.

    (Continued)

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  8. Darrell says:

    (Continued)

    “In fairness, you would reply- what about Francis Collins and similar scientists?
    And I would reply that their theistic messages are all said under the guise and inspiration of their theistic commitments, not out of any biological data.”

    Yes, and we would say that your atheistic messages are all said under the guise and inspiration of your atheistic commitments. But, it would be more accurate to say that each message or interpretation rather, arise from the biological data but clearly end up with different conclusions because of the different premises, but the data is the same for each. I would even go so far to say that both interpretations are within the bounds of reason, I would simply say the position of someone like Collins (and many others) carries far more weight because it gels with our actual lived experience, because it more closely aligns with other areas of knowledge, and because it squares with what the great majority of cultures (including the educated and elite slices of those cultures) have believed in most ages and times.

    By the way, the point about the lobotomy was not that what we think of as soul or spirit is somehow an essence untouched (something I wasn’t even addressing), but rather that it demonstrates the difference between “living” and existing. How do you express that difference?

    As David B. Hart has noted: “That is to say, we tend to imagine the relation between the soul and the body as an utter discontinuity somehow subsumed within a miraculous unity: a view capable of yielding such absurdities as the Cartesian postulate that the soul resides in the pituitary gland or the utterly superstitious speculation advanced by some religious ethicists that the soul may “enter” the fetus some time in the second trimester.”

    Such seems to be the straw man you are engaging. The more orthodox and traditional Christian view is, as again noted by Hart: “But the “living soul”… is a single corporeal and spiritual whole, a person whom the breath of God has awakened from nothingness. The soul is life itself, of the flesh and of the mind…the body must be regarded not as the vessel or vehicle of the soul, but simply as its material manifestation, expression, and occasion.”

    Finally, does your family and co-workers know you believe yourself to be a zombie or machine? Just kidding.

    Merry Christmas!

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  9. Burk Braun says:

    Darrell-

    “… whom the breath of God has awakened from nothingness. The soul is life itself, of the flesh and of the mind …”

    I may be unschooled in higher philosophy, but this kind of locution seems meaningless to me. Could you explain how this breath works? What is going on here that is not going on in, say, a fruit fly?

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  10. Darrell says:

    It's meaningless to you because it is metaphor…were you hoping for a numbered graph or a picture of god pursing her lips and blowing?

    Well, what is the difference between you and a fruit-fly?

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