It seems that I just got a thought that might be a contribution to the problem of qualia.

Qualia might be, simple and amazing, the sense impression of a sense impression.

What does that mean? Sense impressions per se, that is, data as such, cannot generate qualia, as data is only sufficient for identifying external entities, but does not say what inner experience should be caused by these entities. So, the latter must be a property of the inner “screen” where all sense impressions and received and then interpreted. However, what sense data causes on this screen would go unnoticed if there would not be another “inner sense” or “meta sense” that would capture that and feed it back as sensual data, perhaps even on the same screen. So qualia is proposed here to mean the self-perception of the brain in the state of perceiving, or, as above, the sense impression of sense impressions.

I recently started to verbalize my ideas on what the “basics of reality” are, resulting from some years of rather casual thinking about the “basic questions of life”. In that process, I hit with the concept of free will, which is a challenging problem in my system.

Wherever one speaks of “free will” and means something that can come up with decisions out of no reason, this is not free will but chance. Because everything that happens for no reason is, per definition, chance. And you surely won’t reason for man being responsible for his actions because he made random decisions. So we cannot have attribute-less, reason-free, unqualified “free will”.

What there can be is decisions because of a reason, where the reason can be a logical conclusion, or the character of a person, which is either an inclination to good or bad. In confirmation of that view, in practice logical reasons and other influential factors can be assigned to every human decision.

Man can only be responsible if he knew that his own behavior is “morally untrue”, i.e. against the will of God. And, penalty is only a just action if man knew of the impending penalty for his morally untrue behavior. Else, a reason to obey (the fear of penalty) would have been inaccessible to the mind of the respective person. Also, knowing that ones own behavior is untrue will make the (hardware-based) conscience ring.

Now to uphold behavior against the will of God, man must employ self-deceit, namely, thinking that God is small. But self-deceit is a lie, so his conscience will ring, being a DNA-contributed “program”.

Emotion as the source of non-rational behavior in man must be involved in the free ill issue: only if man chooses an emotional (non-rational) decision though knowing that the opposite only would be true, this can be thought to be an act of the will, as it’s not guided by reason in any mechanical way. In Eden, the right option would have been an (in that situation) non-rational decision for God, out of positive emotion towards God. Today, emotional decisions to do evil in spite of knowing that it’s untrue are decisions of the (free) will.

Which means also, free will decisions can only be towards items one is emotional about (towards persons and animals and plants and things, e.g. “loving ones car”). And, free will decisions are only possible if logic and emotion point in different directions. Emotions are influenced by facts, but slowly, and only if a persona allows it.

It must be wrong to think that you can sort out an instance or subsystem in man that “is” the free will. Because that would be either separate from all other subsystems, so tat its decisions are chance, not free will. Or it would be a reasoning subsystem, so that its decisions are logic, not free will (and perhaps chance, where logic cannot come to an conclusion).

Rather, free will is a joint achievement of the whole system “man”, including brain, emotions, body, senses, etc.. It is not free in the sense that there would be an arbiter (the “heart”, or “person”), independent from everything, that emits decisions. Instead, free will is qualified with all attributes of the individual system “man”, and necessarily so because else it would be chance. But, free will is free because it cannot be guessed out, because it’s the result of a complex system (an emergence?), that is, being mad up in a feedback-rich process. There are multiple influence factors like emotions, simulations in thought, aims, experiences, memories, logic, values (“first principles”) etc.. To get to a decision, these (which together make up the “inner man”) are in chaotic interaction, like influence factors of weather, and it might be even in theory impossible to calculate the system behavior even when knowing the starting conditions most exactly, as thoughts are not exact in character, but can take on various degrees and forms in various contexts (“fuzziness”).

So after all, we have the whole man being involved in a decision, and it’s free because it cannot be guessed out before, but it’s qualified so that an educated guess will often be correct. If man is a self-referential information-based system, there is no meaning in saying he decides “as he wants”. Instead, he makes up his will by making a decision, because before the decision, there is nothing that knows or can known what man wants.

Now the interesting question is, can man influence “himself”, i.e. the content of his inner man that will eventually lead to a decision? Yes, if he happens to decide (because of some external event, perhaps) to submit himself to a situation that will change his character, or to an authority that he wants to obey.

The problem with this view is, does it reduce man to a machine? The answer could be, man is a machine that nobody can understand, and that lives on its own. Then, “personality” (including responsibility etc.) is a concept introduced to regulate the interactions (social interactions) of such machines. The interesting question is, then, if only man is such a machine (because he’s an image / model of God, not a real God) and God a “real person”, or if being a real person and being such a machine are identical things.

If you have a machine that understands the basic stuff about the objective reality, then this machine can be responsible. Because it understands that it must decide adequate decisions according to that understanding, which includes the will of God, the role of love, the mode of function of societies etc..

The chaotic mode of making up decisions should not let you get the impression, these decisions would be made by chance or by illogical means. It’s rather comparable to an unguided group decision process.(And in addition, in this process every “group member” learns from a decision for its behavior in the next decision process.) Free ill is therefore free as a group decision can be. In the internal decision process, group members are individual emotions, thoughts, memories etc..

Now, if there is no free will in the sense that everybody could decide in every situation “whatever he wants”, but he’s mostly bound by inclinations and stuff, what about responsibility? Ain’t it unjust to treat people as responsible for their actions? Yes, if responsibility is understood as being the justification for vengeance. But no, if it is assumed that, though somebody might not have been really able to avoid an evil deed, he’s able to change, or better, be changed by education. The concept of responsibility would then be an expression of the moral will of God, namely, to bring morally deviant individuals “back on track” by means of education (which even might include educational punishment). The difficulty here is, how would a concept of eternal punishment (“hell”) fit in?

Adding to an inspiring conversation (thanks, Judith 😉 ) at a party yesterday, here are some thoughts on the adequate role of emotions.

Human emotionality is the image of God’s. In this sense, we cannot determine if there is any innate “meaning” in emotionality: the eternal God could’ve found himself to have emotionality, and could have created human emotionality for that reason alone. However, we can also assume that God is what he wants to be, and as he is good, he uses his emotionality in a good way. So, instead of asking for the meaning, we can at least ask: How can we use our human emotionality in a good way?

I’m now making a basic assumption here that would need another article to detail it out: good use of human emotionality is to:

  1. Use it as the way to experience the outer world. In the broadest sense of emotionality as “inner experience”, without it we would experience no “qualia” and thus lead a boring, mechanical life, even consciously unaware of our own existence. Emotionality, therefore, makes life interesting, intensive and (hopefully) beautiful.
  2. Use it as the driving force in life. Without being enthusiastic about something, human beings don’t strife hard to reach something. Other motivating emotions are anger (hopefully justified), hope, faith etc..
  3. Use it to connect to other people. Emotions are a means of communication and social bonds.

So emotions have at least these three aspects: experiential, motivational and social. In all aspects, our emotionality, and with it, our human existence, is “unlogical”. In the sense that there’s no way of logically deriving an emotion from the circumstances in the outer world alone. For example, there’s no compelling reason why I am enthusiastic about the things I am, as they could be exchanged at least by similar items. (Now some naturalists will argue that they can be derived from the combined circumstances of the outer and inner world (i.e. outer world and brain content), while free will proponents, like me currently, would argue that this is not possible either. I won’t go into that here.)

Now, in spite of being illogical, emotions can still be justified, in the sense of being an adequate experience of the outer world, an adequate motivation how to affect the outer world, or an adequate act of communication. To abbreviate, I will call those emotions to be “true”.

For an emotion to be true, it is however not needed that it arises without conscious contributions. If there is a reason to have joy, our joy is still true if we ignite or amplify it by activities like celebrating, music, or having a meal, maybe with alcohol. Remember e.g. the commands for religious feasting in old testament times. But note also that “true” emotion also relates to the degree, not just the quality.

Now, here comes another assumption that needs detailing in its own article: emotions should be true. Because our inner experience is a secondary world, using information to represent the outer world, and to maintain false information willfully is lying, i.e. a moral problem.

And here is where the practical questions start. For example, I’d say that substance-induced emotions (the inner experience mediated by drugs) are untrue if they don’t conform to the condition of the outer world. People might use drugs to feel relaxed, or uninhibited, or to forget their problems. But these feelings don’t change the external world: their stressful condition, inhibitions and problems are still there, they even grow bigger because they are not being dealt with.

So I’m opposing here any kind of drug addiction (even addiction in general) as “untrue use of emotions”. I also oppose use of external, stimulating measures to cause emotions that can not be caused without them in healthy people: these are “unnatural” emotions and thus not true to reality. Among these are psychedelic drug trips, the inner experience of being in a drunken stupor, and the like. I do not oppose the use of drugs that affect the central nervous system in medicine: they cause untrue emotions, but just as a bye-effect that must e accepted to reach a higher goal like palliative treatment.

Also, the frequent use of stimulating means to cause (true) emotions can indicate a kind of emotional inability, which will need treatment and training. For example, I myself need to learn relaxing based on facts like enjoyable, good social relationships, that is, independent of sensual stimulants in the current situation.

There are two modes how Christian live out joy: either, not at all, or they claim to have joy because of a 24-7 immediate relationship to God. That’s in parallel to the two ways that the “third way” articles oppose, namely: lifeless orthodoxy, and the 24-7 paradigm.

The third way of joy would be: use your emotions in a true way (see my article on that), but use them as your natural ability. Your emotions have no innate connection to God, they are no God experience, and are not caused by God, but by things that somebody does, be it God or man. Especially, worship is no God experience. You are not “close to God” in worship, but might feel close to him. And that’s o.k. if it’s true, and stimulating that feeling by worship is o.k. if it’s true.

Here’s a thought that regularly came to me when talking with tax consultants, lawyers, gamers and teachers (with permission for one country’s school system), to name some.

There are two sorts of skills: those useful in a certain culture, and those universally useful. Of course that’s a rather rough model, as every skill has varying parts of both.

Acquiring cultural skills is to learn the rules man made up for navigating and operating in a certain society. To me, such haphazardly defined rules have no worth and no justification. It’s a waste of time to become an expert in them (while it’s surely necessary to learn the basic rules, as it’s an interface to ones current society).

Personally, I never had the motivation to acquire one of the above mentioned skills, and also not to learn a rare language, become an expert in doing my German income statement for the tax, learn to play a complex game and the like. Simply because these are not useful in a global context. That’s my personal globalization, so to speak. I’d rather want to become an expert in English, cross-cultural understanding, social skills, computing, technology, mechanical construction and the like, as these are globally relevant and will help me when traveling and living in different places of this world.

This is inspired by an excerpt of Francis A. Schaeffer: The God Who is There. Basically, Schaeffer unveiled the transition from the “old” understanding of truth as concordance with facts in the objective world, to the “post-modern”, Hegelian understanding, where truth is an ever-changing synthesis, created in the clash of synthesis and antithesis in discourse.

I would confirm the old understanding that truth is an absolute, unchanging antithesis. Hegelian synthesis can only be, if anything, the incremental approximation of two theses, forming a synthesis as a new thesis, to an unknown true antithesis.

But, and this might be the reason why dualism / Hegelian synthesis emerged: people, esp. Christian people, by far over-applied rational, logical arguments. Namely, to areas where they did not know the starting conditions exactly enough to do any logical conclusion.

These areas are large, including all theology except the most basic stuff (the creation, the Christ, the work of Christ). A hint that one is in this area of misapplied antithetic truth is: if different people come to vastly different conclusions, and if it is apparent that logic was just instrumentalized to support ones pre-existing opinions.

And because this was the case so often, other people came to the conclusion that logic cannot lead to truth, resp. that there is no absolute truth. So they came up with dualism.

The solution to revive the “old” understanding of truth is to keep your silence and don’t argue if you don’t know the starting conditions exact enough. Arguing (more precisely here: speculation) is, in many cases, just done because it is so much easier and so much more interesting than doing the work. The work is, scientific experiments, measurements, data collection. Because people did not do the work, we’re lacking large amounts of even the most basic knowledge in areas such as theology. Instead, we have tons of speculation and clashing theories and struggling … .

In the tradition

In this blog, there’s a special tradition of “third way” articles. It started off with the first real live post on this blog on 2007-07-20, titled What kinda company with God is possible?. I developed there, for the first time, the “brand new idea” that personal encounters with God (immediate God-experiences) are far less commonplace than Christians commonly wish and think. This was accompanied by “The third way of life in this world”, where layed out a happy, relaxed lifestyle to deal with these believed facts, namely, that God rarely interacts directly with us while we are on earth.

These contained the basic idea, and I then applied it to various realms of the Christian life. In “Third way cont.” there were experimental thoughts on how to discern immediate and mediate activity of God. It is claimed that God’s immediate activity is (1) the Gospel, once and for all, (2) some supernatural acts to confirm the Gospel. The conclusion of “Called, the third way” was to “[v]iew your actions as essentially human activity in obedience to God’s general will, except where God’s immediate instructions surprise you.”. This was supplemented by The necessity of pragmatic faith“, which was on how to live out our relationship to God while we yet don’t know exactly what it consists of and what not. There were some other related posts, but these were the central ones.

This post will be another element in the series of applying the “third way” line of thought. This time, to the central matter of “hearing the voice of God”, which is at the very heart of Third Way and its two alternatives, namely, lifeless unemotional legalism (not hearing anything, just reading the book) and the 24/7 paradigm of a continuous immediate communication with God.

What means to read the Bible realistically?

The issue really was a heavy burden on my mind during the last weeks, until I recognized today that I had come up with a sustainable answer long ago, namely, the “Third Way” hypothesis. What makes the issue difficult is that there are many really intelligent people out there who argue for the 24/7 alternative. Concretely, I read e.g. the interview of Relevant Magazine with Dallas Willard, titled “Stepping Into Community“. This post is more or less a comment on that.

Willard makes many good, true points. Among others, the “seduction of the culture” and of technology is reality. With the latter he means the illusion of power, being “the center of ones world”. But the answer is not to make Christianity a meditative religion by having extensive times of solitude. Solitude ; in the sense of psycho hygiene is certainly o.k., but then it’s definitely a natural measure. But, judging from the Third Way hypothesis, to think like Willard that solitude makes us “feel that one has a soul” and “that there is a God” is far off. This is pure baseless spirituality, in the sense of listening to some inner-psychic movements. It’s in no way something to determine truth about the self and God, and Christians should, in my view, not get involved into such stuff. It discredits their faith, which, unlike any other, has a firm basis in historical facts.

In his book “Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God” Dallas Willard gave the recommendation to “read the Bible realistically”, i.e. to assume that the experiences recorded in the Bible are of the same quality as ours would’ve been if we had been placed in the same situation. He says, “Unless this comes home to us, the things that happened to the people in the Bible will remain unreal to us. We will not genuinely be able to believe the Bible or find its contents to be real, because it will have no experiential substance for us.” (p. 35)

Now this is in itself a good and valid point, but at least others with like point mean it this way: the experiences recorded in the Bible are the same as ours. Then, where we read about somebody getting a vision or prophecy, it shall be just the same thing as if today somebody claims to have an “image” or “prophetic word” from God. Given the disputable quality of most of these impressions and images today, this style of interpretation makes the Bible lose the obvious character of god experiences, just to get it closer to our day-to-day experience. But it’s not justified to conclude from our current lack of obvious God-experiences that this was so through the ages. If the vague level of our God-experience was the same through history, then it puts the whole Christian faith in danger of being “disputable”, a creation of the brain (mediated through meditation, music etc.).

Instead, my understanding is: the Bible includes the few special events where God revealed himself in most obvious and supernatural manner. Third way means to expect something alike at very few (<10) occasions in ones personal life, and to relax knowing that. With this insight, one can then go and try to record these revelations in the lifes of others, but it’s no alternative any longer to desparately long for “hearing the voice of God daily”. There is no such thing.

The worth of all-natural spiritual exercises

So the claim is here that most Christian practices like prayer times, congregate worship, meditation, sermons, inspirational Bible times etc. have nothing supernatural in them. They can have that element if God choses to speak, but he can speak in any situation of life also – “spiritual” activity has no special role there. So, what worth has “spiritual” activity, then? We should start to prosaically view these as all-natural, but helpful practices to remember, “engrave”, and apply the Christian truths. This would also open the door to an unchurched, sober handling of these and like practices, and to the invention of new and perhaps even more effective practices. The purpose would be to detect consequences of the Christian doctrines for the personal life, and to learn and repeat the insights that one has had before (because the brain as a neurl network learns by repetition).

The “Third Way” hypothesis does not say that meditation, prolonged times of prayer, having ones daily inspirational bible time, inner experence etc. is worthless. It just says that these are means to better understand and to engrave the Christian truths on the mind, and they happen fully in the natural realm. The brain, as a compley system (i.e. one with feed-back) experiences effects of incorporating Christian truths, and understands them by thinking them through. The effects can include joy etc., and are justified, because they are logical consequences of the Christian doctrine, which is true.

Willard is right in what he says about “stepping into the community that’s already there”. But: this community is basically no supernatural thing, and being a disciple is also for the main part an issue of long-term education and learning, and making oneself subject to authority that non-Christians reject, not of being connected to some supernatural source of power.

The psalms can be used as a model for the effects of the above mentioned “religious” practices: they are prayers, include memorizing and verbalizing some truths that the author knew, and often include the answers to initial questions by reflecting upon these truths. No direct, personal encounter with God was experienced! Also, it’s important to see that a big part of the Bible books does not (!) relate stories where peope experienced God. Only Genesis, Exodus, the prophets, partially Kings and Chronicles, and then in the NT, the Gospels and Acts and (in the sense of having a vision) Revelation do. Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Numeri, Leviticus, Deuteronomion, Ruth, Esther, and the Epistles do not! Which means, direct encounters with God did not cover everything in Biblical times: there were other things to write upon. Basically, Paul wrote down some reflections on the Gospel, enabled among other things by his understanding of the Jewish religion as a Jewish scholar. Also, Ecclesiates, Psalms etc. are “reflections” on revelations of God, including reflections on the creation and what one can learn from it about God. Also, the Bible includes many stories where people had to wait a long time, even decades, to hear from God or experience God. David, Moses, … . We feel uncomfortable with this and wish otherwise, and I think that the theology of “day-to-day encounters with God” springs just from this wish.

We should step back from the illusion of inter-personal communication and continuous intimate communication with God. For the most part, the world “runs on its own”: God looks at it as it unfolds the power of the Gospel he has given to the world through his son (who preached it first), and God sometimes contributes by signs and miracles. The view that personal encounters with God are to be expected on a daily basis is to be rejected because it is an extra-biblical concept. In the Bible, we see only some few events recorded: the most prominent God-experiences. These happen on special occasions only, not day by day. God spoke through some few prophets in OT times, and in NT times also notall have the gift of prophecy.

The role of the Spirit and of human activity

What’s difficult to include in this Third Way view is the activity of the Holy Spirit. I think it’s, for the main part, mostly an inclination to a certain way of thinking (namely, holy thinking), which therefore leads to correct Christian doctrine, encouragement, remembering Christian truths etc.. So, mainly, the Holy Spirit is perceived as a subtle “force” in the mind, making oneself inclined to some way of thinking. This is more compatible with the way preachers preach and prepare their sermons, than saying spiritual gifts would include steady inter-personaly communication with the Holy Spirit. Only on special occasions, the activity of the Holy Spirit will be perceived as the activity of a person. He is a person, but mainly perceived as a force, and a power. Having the Holy Spirit must not make us expect to “hear the voice of God” constantly.

The viewpoint presented here is no celebration of human power and activity, however. Human powerlessness is evidently seen in his need for grace (and by the way, Sabbath is an image for this, and not for finding God through meditation as Dallas Willard proposes). As Christians who received and receive grace, human activity has its place: there are many commands in the NT to exert human activity, and Christian community is, on the implementation level, human activity. Now, peope do indeed not change because of this human activity, but because they accepted the authority of God, learn from God (which is implemented in the activity of the community!), and because of the Holy Spirit who is the non-fading inclination to holy thinking in them.

So it could be excpected that a religions with the same contents but whithout a God would also change people, but to a lesser degree because there is no Holy Spirit. And, most importantly: human beings would never create such a religion if there is no God, as they’re no inclined to do it, as they’re evil. History shows that there’s no invented religion with the same ethics as Christianity. So the question if there could be Christianity without a Christian God is answered: theoretically yes, to a certain degree, but this could never happen because huanity is unable to invent Christianity.

To conclude: this “Third Way” view on the voice of God, church, Christian community, and Christian living in general, is my definite opinion that matured during the last 2-3 years. Everytime I grasp it again, it is something very relaxing, inserting lost joy into my life, declaring the desparate search for “personal community” with God as a phantom search. So there’s no need to get unsure in these matters again, even when reading books and articles from people who are sure that it’s the other way round ….!!


Start date: 2009-05-16
Post date: 2009-05-17
Version date: 2009-05-17 (for last meaningful change)