I just found a whole bunch of amazing videos! To avoid flooding my Reader Shared, I’ll embed them all in this collection post.
Skepticism does not lead to nihilism. It leads to agnosticism. This realization makes evident the fictionalist solution to the problem of skepticism: To evade the void of absolute agnosia by means of a certain leap of faith (or even just a short skip of faith).
It’s not inconsistent to be radically agnostic on an absolutely strict level while retaining a more useful outlook (such as standard materialism) on a slightly less scrupulous level, because these “levels” are parallel to each other: They do not meet, and cannot contradict each other. One mind can (and, I will argue, should) entertain a whole range of worldviews on different “levels of faith”.
I like to think about this as analogical to how fractals develop through iterations of its equation: Think of the range of worldviews as developing from completely faithless agnosticism through gradual iterations of faith. If absolute certainty is all you’ll accept, you’ll be left in absolute darkness. With a cautious number of faith iterations, the moderately admissive materialist outlook produces an image far more complex and informative than the simple “I don’t know” of radical agnosticism. At the aft end of the range, magical thinking, with its very lenient attitude with regard to faith, is capable of producing the most beautiful, intricate and exciting sorts of fiction, with the cost of sacrificing accuracy in how reality is interpreted (in fact, the interpretative pretension can be dropped altogether).
Here’s a demonstration of how a Mandelbrot fractal develops (I think it goes up to about 200 iterations in the end):
Both extremes (of doubt and faith) are far less useful than the moderate position (at least when it comes to science and most practical purposes), but they both have significant strengths as well: Radical agnosticism is philosophically interesting (in much the same way a black hole is interesting to a physicist, even though he/she has no wish to live anywhere near one), and the latter is psychedelically interesting (in the literal sense of revealing the soul). Here’s a demonstration of how incredibly deep and rich the Mandelbrot fractal can be with a whole lot of iterations (watch in high quality):
The analogy fails to capture one important factor, namely the strong correlation between faith-satiated worldviews and psychosis. Hopefully, virtualism can, if not vaccinate against it, at least build resistance to this tendency. Because faith-satiation is key to a lot of good things as well.
Here’s an explicit list of levels that I alternate between, from the strictest to the most lenient:
- Black hole agnosticism: I’m completely and utterly agnostic about absolutely everything. I can’t say if the sun will rise tomorrow, if there’s a hippapotamus in my room, not even if 2+2 equals 4. I acknowledge no truth, not even logic. This extreme level of agnosticism would, if lived, render a person completely dysfunctional. (In a schizofrenic way, I guess.)
- Philosophical agnosticism: Hume’s fork appears. I still don’t believe that any statement about reality is true, but math, logic and the entire virtual realm is trusted to be stable and safe. This is where I try to be when doing philosophy.
- The rational level: I accept a lot of science as true. I’m a materialist, and try my best to disregard speculative nonsense surfacing from my subconscious. What I’m interested in is communicable general statements that are very precise in prediction.
- The irrational level (or range of levels): The scientific method is disregarded. I’m free to immerse myself in naive realism, practice some mental dancing, or believe in free will. As a formula: I’m a character in a play or a game where I also have producer powers (as opposed to how it is at the rational level, where I’m trying to be objective). My fictional world has to be internally consistent to some degree, but there is very lax requirements with regard to reality-fittingness. In fact, I’m almost indifferent to reality. All that matters are my circumstances, both external and internal.
- The magical level (or range of levels): Even contradictory things can be believed. Dreams typically dive into this level. It can be very enjoyable, but the experience is usually too fragmented and confused to be of any value beside relaxation.
This picture of a range of parallel levels can make it a lot easier to avoid some of the classic mistakes, like hypostatizing ideas or allowing faith-based thinking to interfere with strict philosophy. Even the most threatening of all, that of becoming coerced by skepticism into an impoverished and bloodless worldview.