Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
[flagged] Nothing Matters (alexmaccaw.com)
59 points by tosh 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments

Suffering matters. Because we all are capable of experiencing it. And it should be the basis for systems of morality, and therefore help guide our decisions.

If you take "only suffering matters" to its logical extreme, you get Antinatalism, which essentially says our goal as intelligent beings should be to stop existing in order to minimize suffering.

Yes, suffering matters, but certainly it shouldn't be the sole basis for morality.

Note that your parent does not argue "only suffering matters", only that "suffering matters".

From GGP (emphasis mine):

> And it should be the basis for systems of morality...

Suffering exists so that you don't get burned twice. Remove suffering, die in a fire.

This is sort of my thought process as well; the universe is unjust as long as suffering exists in any form at all. Whether this has any sort of inherent “meaning” is sort of beside the point, because suffering doesn’t have to have deeper meaning to be horrible in and of itself.

So you want to eradicate all suffering? You know the easiest way to do that right?

Stop having children? I’ll admit, it’s a very nice idea in theory, even though I don’t plan to follow it myself.

I believe parent comment meant that if all humans were to somehow stop existing at once, there would be no humans suffering.

He has a pretty weak argument though: green also exists. And most experience it directly.

I’m not sure I follow - what do you mean?

Existence and commonality of something does not make something an important topic.

I don't mean to read minds here, but the only way I was able to parse your message is that "something" refers to suffering, and it seems you're implying that suffering exists and is common, but is not necessarily an important topic?

Or did I misunderstand something?

Turn off simulations where the net amount of suffering vs joy is negative? Even if it’s barely a net positive it’s not necessarily worth the suffering.

Though I agree, I'd nitpick "unjust". Suffering could be called just or unjust depending on the situation, but I certainly think everyone can get on board with minimizing/eliminating suffering.

This is a good example of accepting nihilism, and then immediately rejecting nihilism because nihilism doesn't matter. Well done.

Ok, I remember the first time I got high and tripped out on whole nihilistic/insignificance thing.

You can also go the other direction, and think about the mind-boggling complexity of a single cell in your body, and all these cells working together to form, say, a tiny thought in your brain. We're pretty spectacularly significant, if you compare us to small things rather than big things.

Regardless, you'll have to define "meaning" for me before you can convince me that it's all meaningless. I have a definition for it that works for me, and it is relative and dependent on perspective.

    I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and 
    don't let anybody tell you different.
    Kurt Vonnegut
Yup. Gotta keep some perspective.

A very old wonderment indeed.

These are the words of the Quester, David’s son and king in Jerusalem

Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.] There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.

What’s there to show for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone?

One generation goes its way, the next one arrives, but nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old planet earth.

The sun comes up and the sun goes down, then does it again, and again—the same old round.

The wind blows south, the wind blows north. Around and around and around it blows, blowing this way, then that—the whirling, erratic wind.

All the rivers flow into the sea, but the sea never fills up.

The rivers keep flowing to the same old place, and then start all over and do it again.

Everything’s boring, utterly boring— no one can find any meaning in it.

Sounds like someone discovered Nihilism?

>Sounds like someone discovered Nihilism?

... and then rejected it.

> and then rejected it.

Or, it can be said, they went on to discover Optimistic Nihilism.

Alex, you should crack open some Nietzsche. I recommend Zarathustra of course.

Agreed. Seems like Alex just discovered a useful thread of thought that Uncle Fred found and rode for many years. To say, "nothing matters", is just the beginning of that wild ride to living vitally in the eternal return.

From an interdependent worldview, the question that nihilism poses loses any meaning, because we accept that all things are meaningful in relation to some things, and all things are meaningless in relation to other things. Nothing stands on its own. Nothing is meaningless or meaningful. All things are perceived in relation to others. I believe a great number of people are ready to leave the dualistic worldview that dominates the world today. Interdependent worldviews will inspire many solutions to some of the major problems the world currently faces.

"the Absurd" refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life, and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe.

"The stranger" by Albert Camus is available as an audiobook on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-Wlj2JkEec

I listen to it in my car!

Related Kurzgesagt video: optimistic nihilism https://youtu.be/MBRqu0YOH14

Life being so small and fragile doesn't make us insignificant, it makes us the most significant thing in the universe. What is happening on this planet matters, because each individual human matters, because your experience and your suffering are real. Your experience is profound on a cosmological scale, because you are the only thing within the universe which can experience it.

Nothing matters; therefore meaning is meaningless. Please feel free to assign meaning as you see fit, and go about your day as normal.

> Nothing we ever do will ever be remembered or matter.

I am not so sure about this. Our data based society pretty much guarantees that a lot of information about what any one of us did will make it into the future as long as the species (and tech level) survives.

Even more so if we get off-planet. But yeah, ultimately that doesn’t really matter to the main point of the article.

On a long enough time scale, everything is forgotten.

Forgotten, but not gone.

You really think all that data is going to be maintained for 1000 years...or a million years...or a billion years?

Likely, yes. Any computer now can store the entire internet from 20 years ago.

If we have just one similar breakthrough in the future, storing it all will be trivial.

I would argue that it's extremely unlikely. Where do have the stats on how many bytes the internet was in 1999? I suspect it was at least a few petabytes so I'm doubtful of your claim. And by the way it's more than just having the bytes, it's having the programs that can run them and interpret them in a meaningful way.

I highly doubt we'll be able to continue increasing the amount of data stored ad infinitum. There are fundamental limits such as what we're hitting with Moore's law today. Don't make the mistake of extrapolating out linearly too far on any trend.

>Any computer now can store the entire internet from 20 years ago.

I doubt that. But my guess is that 1000 dollars worth of today's hard drives could store all the text on the web of 20 years ago. Maybe all the text on the web and posted to Usenet and mailing lists during 1999.

There were a huge number of images on the web and Usenet of 1999. And an awful lot of pirated movies and software packages posted to Usenet in 1999.

He missed the best part: you, your consciousness, what in folklore we would call your soul, is nothing more than a sidecar pilot program for the phenotype your dna has 'chosen' to create. The selfish gene only cares about the self gene.

The problem with being smart is that it make you realize so many things that a non-smart person will never understand.

Many of those things, are likely to make you sad, and some of them might even make you question your own existence

This reminds me of a quote from Dostoyevsky : "Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth."

Lets put some P in PhD. I mean, like two thousands years was quite enough to say everything about nihilism.

I think I was 8 when I had these thoughts. They seemed meaningless, so I moved on.

Really, though, it is the beauty that matters....

D'oh, first thing I had to think of while reading the article was the definition of edgelord in the Urban Dictionary.


You’re welcome to think it’s meaningless, and I’m welcome to disagree.

The other day I was listening to a podcast with Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, two people that annoy me to no end, but I'm a glutton for punishment. In the podcast they made the point that if a man were to pursue his true biological imperative in modern society, he would just get paid to donate sperm all day at a sperm bank. That was a joke obviously but it speaks to a kind of simple, outcome-oriented way of looking at who we are. But the truth is we did not evolve to procreate, we evolved to have sex. The distinction is subtle, but it's there. We are amazing creatures but our DNA doesn't encode the big picture, it only encodes enough for us to make another link in the chain.

I think it's ok to step back and admire the big picture, but I don't think we are equipped to live in a way where we find agreement with the big picture.

In the world where nothing matters, would be no heroes.

Agreed, so we might as well do something interesting. We inject meaning. Or we don't and suffer. Totally up to us.


> I’d just like to take a second to point out how absurd all this is.

This passage from CS Lewis's Mere Christianity seems appropriate:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I com­paring this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: A fish would not feel wet.

Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense.

Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: Just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

Why would a sense of justice need to come from God? Mere fear of death would naturally lead to a prohibition against murder. Desire to keep things for oneself would lead to private property and the prohibition of theft. Etc.

And if our sense of justice does come from God, why does it develop over time? Modern people who read the whole Bible are usually struck by how unjust the God therein is.

That's the problem with interpreting the Bible literally. God represents something of psychological reality.

> Why would a sense of justice need to come from God?

Is justice absolute or (culturally) relative? The Nazis† thought they were doing good: were they not? Were they "wrong" just because they lost WW2? If they had won, would they have written down that they were "right" and have history remember that 'fact'?

If they were morally wrong, regardless of winning or losing, where did that 'objective' moral fact come from?

You can certainly be an atheist and me moral and act justly. But where do you pin your morality to? If someone is an atheist, and probably a materialism (i.e., the only thing that exists is matter), where is justice in the scientific realm? What does a molecule of morality look like?

† Let's just invoke Godwin's Law and go for the extreme case.

Here's the problem - God doesn't exist, and all morality is relative. The only absolute laws are the laws of physics.

And yes, there is a universe in which the Nazis won and it's taken for granted that they were right all along.

So now what?

> Here's the problem - God doesn't exist ...

Aristotle would disagree:

* https://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/07/first-way-some-backgrou...

* https://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/08/first-way-moving-tale.h...

* https://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/09/first-way-part-ii-two-l...

* https://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/10/first-way-part-iii-big-...

> The only absolute laws are the laws of physics.

Then you're left with explaining the laws of physics and why they exist. Those laws are contingent after all. See Aquinas's "argument from contingency" (though not the general cosmological argument or Kalām variant, which are not very good) as well as Leibniz:

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_argument#Argument...

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_sufficient_reason

For a fuller treatment see Feser:

* https://www.amazon.com/Five-Proofs-Existence-Edward-Feser/dp...

Aristotle disagreed with inertia too. He was wrong about many things.

Atheism doesn't say the universe has no meaning or is senseless, it says there is no reason to think that any of these stories about gods are real.

Meaning is still here.

>If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: Just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

Completely incorrect conjecture. Let's take for instance the Flaxinrlent. Now, I've just made up this concept, but I can still define it. Let's say it is a 4th dimensional creature that takes up negative space made up entirely of marshmallows from 20,000 years ago. This concept, the Flaxinrlent, is now something we can roughly agree upon, we can devote our lives to searching for it, we can say that Flaxinrlent is what makes life worth living. But if we search long and hard enough we would probably start to realize that Flaxinrlent doesn't exist and probably couldn't exist knowing what we know about reality. Would it still be appropriate to state "If the whole universe has no Flaxinrlent, we should never have found out that it has no meaning"???

This is a theory at least as old as Pascal (and probably much older): "tu ne me chercherais pas si tu ne m'avais déjà trouvé" (you would not be looking for me if you hadn't already found me), but it has many holes.

For one, it assumes that "God" should, by necessity, be on the side of "good". That's groundless. The world could certainly just as much have been created by a mean being, as a way to entertain himself, like a lonely kid would raise ants for the pleasure of crushing them.

More importantly, it's a tautology. It's based on the premise that what one considers just IS just. But why? Morals is only an opinion that varies with time and place. There used to be many justifications of people oppressing people, just as there are today many justifications of people oppressing animals. The idea of right and wrong is historic. It changes.

And finally, the big problem with trying to demonstrate the necessity of God is that it makes revelation unnecessary. God announced himself to creation because creation cannot infer his existence from the observable evidence, or by thinking about it. If God can be proved then he doesn't need to speak, which then results in a contradiction (since he (supposedly) did).

Justice can be meaningless on a cosmic scale, but appropriate and sensible at a local, tribal level. This is how most people think.

The universe as a whole is probably meaningless / a simulation that doesn't care. We can still find meaning in a local level.

The fact that these localized ideas do not generalize as we would like does not sound like an argument in favor of God, just that the societies that have evolved are by definition the stronger, more enduring ones. These societies have ideas about meaning and justice that are propagated by inhabitants of the society. Justice looks vastly different in different cultures.


Please don't take HN threads further into religious flamewar. The GP provoked it, but you stoked it. Please don't—we don't want those flames here.


>This is just flexing words to confuse your brain and assert his idea about God. I don't know the author, but anyone advocating for a God or a religion is a person 1. with an agenda and 2. can has no scientific basis for his thesis.

Yes, most of us have been atheist 15 year olds, we know the arguments...

>God, the one in Quran or Bible, doesn't exist. It's as simple as that. The same with morality; as dark as that thought is. We are just too weak to face the truth.

So, do you act morally when you're sure you're not gonna get caught? Do you try to do the right thing for others? For your kids? Why, since "morality doesn't exist"?

The truth is that we've built morality and so it exists. The universe might not care, but we do.

> So, do you act morally when you're sure you're not gonna get caught? Do you try to do the right thing for others? For your kids? Why, since "morality doesn't exist"?

Yes. Because I have free will and chose to. In my experience, one's religious beliefs have no bearing on whether they act morally or not.

For one, science doesn't really bode well for "free will". Free will presupposes a soul or some way for non-determinism to enter into the world.

Second, this "free will" choice is either random (so could go either way), or determined on some previous shaping of your character. In other words on a morality (didn't have to happen through specifical moral education, e.g. church lessons, could just be through example by your parent behavior etc. But it's still a morality).

>So, do you act morally when you're sure you're not gonna get caught? Do you try to do the right thing for others? For your kids? Why, since "morality doesn't exist"?

For fun basically. The game of life seems really easy to cheat at and so I self-impose some rules to make the game more interesting, just like I avoid using cheat codes in video games.

Also, slightly more seriously, no one is a perfect actor and to not act morally in private will absolutely spill out into one's public persona.

> The truth is that we've built morality and so it exists.

We did but it is a concept not a physical thing. It's also relative from person to person and from a culture to another. It is not a truth.

>We did but it is a concept not a physical thing

Which is neither here, nor there.

For one, concepts are also physical things (e.g. the correspond to chemical changes and neuron synapses in the brains on those knowing about them).

Second, even if abstract, concepts still affect the physical world by influencing actions.

Besides, nobody argued morality is a physical thing.

>It's also relative from person to person and from a culture to another. It is not a truth.

Physical things are also perceived differently rom person to person and from a culture to another. A dish might be great for one, but disgusting for another, for example.

Something being relative is opposed to it being absolute, not opposed to it being true.

E.g. if I say I love X, that is relative and personal. But my love can be true.

> We did but it is a concept not a physical thing.

We actually don't know this. People have qualia, which is an unexplained physical phenomenon. It could be that the universe comes with some universal signal that twists the thought processes of all beings with qualia, so as to shape their feelings about moral questions, to align them with true universal morality.

Obviously, I just made this up, and even if it were true, maybe you'd call the signal false universal morality, but it could be a physical thing.

In response to your comment, I’ll quote the article itself:

> We’re all very sure we’re right, and the other people are wrong, conveniently forgetting that we made up those things too.

Not everything ever posted online is right. The author of the OP also made this up and he too believes that he is right. Doesn't mean that he is. If there is an objective reality with absolute truths, rights and wrongs then it follows that somethings are right and somethings are wrong.

Science is a systematic, evidence/reasoning based method of discovering the truths and eliminating the wrongs.

It boils down to whether or not you believe in an objective reality.

That's the purpose of science, to determine as objectively as possible what and who is right and wrong. If you think that there is anything at all objective anywhere in the universe, then science is a good strategy for figuring that out.

>That's the purpose of science, to determine as objectively as possible what and who is right and wrong.

And yet, that's not logically possible, as it's circular reasoning.

You basically take a principle of faith (e.g. regarding induction), and you combine it with an empirical method.

I'm saying that if there are true things about the world to know, then science can help you figure out what they are.

If you define "right" and "wrong" as "true" and "false" then you can understand them via science.

>If you define "right" and "wrong" as "true" and "false" then you can understand them via science.

There's nothing "true" and "false" about not defauding you/killing you/treating you like shit you if I'm to benefit from it.

Scientifically speaking it's just a cost/benefit calculation (e.g. whether I'd get caught or not).

Many people go for just that. We call them sociopaths. If we all started doing just that (and ignored moral principles), society would be chaos.

Science can't replace morallity, except in trivial cases.

Even if science says "it is true that society would be better if everybody did X" (e.g. didn't do X bad thing) that's still not enough of a basis for a morality.

Because for science it is also true individually that "If you can do X and know you wont have any negative backslash on you particularly, you can benefit from it".

How does science determine whether genocide is right or wrong?

We don't know yet whether we can figure that out with science.

Yes, the belief that we must base all of our knowledge on science is itself a "religious" belief:

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism

* https://blog.apaonline.org/2018/01/25/the-problem-with-scien...

> We’re all very sure we’re right

I'm not. But I'm not sure why is anyone advocating for a particular God. I think he should speak for himself. If you are advocating for religion as a way to structure and control society, I can see sense in that.

> I don't know the author, but anyone advocating for a God or a religion is a person 1. with an agenda and 2. can has no scientific basis for his thesis.

There is no scientific basis for Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem either. That doesn't mean it it false.

> God, the one in Quran or Bible, doesn't exist. It's as simple as that.

Aristotle would disagree:

* https://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/07/first-way-some-backgrou...

* https://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/08/first-way-moving-tale.h...

* https://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/09/first-way-part-ii-two-l...

* https://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/10/first-way-part-iii-big-...

See also Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, and Leibniz, not of whom make reference to the any kind of Sacred Scripture

* https://www.amazon.com/Five-Proofs-Existence-Edward-Feser/dp...

Your "counterargument" is certainly versatile and efficient; it can be used at any time without even needing to read the other person's argument!

Not convinced there is no such thing as morality, which can expressed be as right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, altruism vs. selfishness, etc.

You just have to let go of religious distortions of the concept. Take a step back and look at it more from an evolutionary biology perspective.

To me it has to do with aligning your goals with the goals of others. It is a very important concept for a social animal, especially one with high degree of cognitive sophistication such as humans, to have.

> To me it has to do with aligning your goals with the goals of others.

That is fine but you have already put it relative to what you think. If everybody does that, then morality will differ from a person to another; and thus it becomes meaningless.

You can do that with any word. I mean, I might define "up and down" differently than you. You might think they have to do with gravity, the orientation of the head and eyes, or the center of the earth. But most of the time, we agree on what they mean because we aren't in outer space or hanging upside down while using them in conversation. We can adapt to situations like a piece of paper on a horizontal table, where "up" has more to do with how it might fall into our visual field.

But the words aren't meaningless just because we might disagree on some edge or corner cases.

The thing is, lots of people use words all the time without getting analytical about it. My daughter is 5 and knows what right vs. wrong is, but I doubt she could explain it to anyone without it just being circular.

When people use the words "right" and "wrong" (and all the related words such as good and bad and moral and immoral), most of the time they all pretty much agree with what it is. Stealing is wrong, cheating is wrong, killing is wrong. Helping someone who is hurt is right.

You can come up with scenarios where there are ambiguities, sure, just like with up and down, but most people agree on the basic ones.

>I don't know the author

C.S. Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, the second() most famous fantasy literature ever written in English as well as a number of other famous books. He is as much a classic as Dickens and a damn sight more accessible than Bill Shakespeare.

I'm an athiest and don't agree with his assertions but he's definitely worth reading if you haven't already.

()Okay, perhaps Beowulf gets this spot.

> I don't know the author...

Hmm. C.S. Lewis is perhaps the most influential Christian thinker of the last century. If not, he's second to Francis Schaeffer. You wouldn't think much of a Christian who didn't know who Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris were.

> but anyone advocating for a God or a religion is a person with an agenda

Perhaps so. So is a person advocating for atheism a person with an agenda. So where does that leave you?

As C.S. Lewis said in reply to a different atheist: "That is why the motive game is so uninteresting. I decline the game and continue the conversation."

So: You claim that God - any God - does not exist. What is your basis for claiming this? It sounds like your basis is science. Is that correct?

what do you mean does not exist? do you mean right now in the various forms he has been described in the books, or has never existed? if you care to elaborate...

That's right, nothing matters. So you should give me all your money because it's meaningless anyway.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact