20 January 2010

The myth of The Myth of Sisyphus

Unless one is willing to take refuge in strong Platonism or Cartesianism and embrace the existence of an autonomous “Ghost in the Machine”, the mind is the body, and the body is the mind. Despite Camus’s anguished claims...there is no absurd gap between our need for transparent certainty and a dense world devoid of meaning. The world is reasonable - not in the sort of transcendent, absolute sense that Camus rightly dismisses as wishful consolation, but in an eminently embodied, anthropocentric sense. The process of evolution ensures that the tight fit between our values and desires and the structure of the natural world in which we have developed.....all of cognitive and cultural innovation is grounded in - and remains constrained by - the structure of our body-minds.
-- from What Science Offers the Humanities by Edward Slingerland (2008). Earlier he has noted:
Camus’ gift as a writer and rhetorician is what in fact invalidates his basic philosophical point, because -- despite his claim that he rejects any ‘scale of values’ -- the very power of his ideal is derived from predetermined and universal human values: being awake is better than begins asleep; being clear is better than being muddled; being strong and courageous is better than being weak and cowardly. Camus’s creativity consists in recruiting these universal normative reactions and mapping them in a quite novel manner: lucidity consists in knowing nothing for certain, and courage consists in rejecting those transcendent truths that were one perceived as requiring strength to defend against unbelief.
Predetermined and universal values are, says Slingerland, an inescapable part of humanity's evolutionary inheritance:
The pervasive, subtle power of innate modules appear to contaminate every attempt to break away from ordinary human thought. Consider the vision presented by Camus of l’homme absurde, who supposedly sees the world as it appears through the lens of Darwinism: mechanistic, unfeeling, and meaningless. Much of this book has been dedicated to arguing that both Darwin and Camus are right about this much: we do live in a mechanistic, meaningless universe. Yet we are mistaken if we think that insight into lower levels of causation can, in any existential sense, completely free us from higher-level structures of meaning in which we are innately entwined. Despite its surface bleakness, Camus’ vision strikes many people - including myself - as powerful and beautiful. Why is this? It is because, despite Camus’ conceit that he has freed himself from false consciousness, a work like The Myth of Sisyphus is inextricably permeated with human level values such as clarity, freedom and strength, and the fundamental motivation of such work is the wonderful feeling of control and understanding that we acquire when we have seen through surface appearances to the very “truth” of things.

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