Assuming no metaphysical reality, and everything is just spacetime and matter, where do the moral concerns regarding suffering and pain come from?

Your definition of “physically real” doesn’t seem very useful. Your write that justice and mercy aren’t something we must believe in, but what are beliefs other than “electro-chemical reactions”? Yes, “justice” and “mercy” are “real” in that sense. So is “injustice” and “cruelty”. The lie to believe in, with the electro-chemical reactions in your brain is that there is some universal standard making the first two good and the last two bad, when at the level of atoms, electrons and electro-chemical reactions they are equivalent.

Pratchett’s definition of “lie” does not seen particularly useful either.

Why must we believe in a universal standard? I don’t believe in one. What would it be? If you read some accounts of people behaving kindly and other people behaving cruelly, would you really need to consult a standard to see which ones you thought were good and which bad? No I don’t think you would. You’d have an immediate response based on who you are as a person. Most people will have a general idea that rape and murder are bad, while charity and helping others are good. This doesn’t come from any standard but from our own evolved nature, (which unfortunately also gives us tribalism and prejudice).

I think a lot of angst comes from worrying about The Big Picture: The vast and indifferent cosmos. But who cares about The Big Picture? It’s fun to contemplate the vastness of everything, possibly after a couple of bong hits, but we don’t live there. We live here on earth, in human society, and it is best to act to keep things running as smoothly as possible. (Which of course we often fail at miserably)

A lot, but maybe not enough. Which might be one of its problems.

I don’t think we need to, but that was not what you were quibbling with the Pratchett quote about initially so I’ll just bow out of this interaction at this point.

This comment inspired me to make the thread Is the universe old or young?

Probably for the best. We are talking past each other. What I said is exactly why I disagree with Pratchett.

Terry was a nice guy and a fun writer, but did he ever write anything that wasn’t a platitude?


It matters because part of what we are, as conscious social animals with language and written communication, includes consciousness of what is happening to others, and there’s not a lot of difference between whether it’s happening right now or if we find out about it in the same way, but it already happened.

It matters, because it’s part of makes us different from rocks.

By your logic, wouldn’t that also mean that Santa Claus is physically real?

No. Justice is when people receive appropriate consequences for their actions. Someone getting paid for their work, for example, or a criminal receiving a legal punishment. These are real things that happen every day. A person in a red suit delivering presents with the aid of flying reindeer is not real.

But not physically real, surely?

Why not? If someone stiffs you on a contract, you’ll have a physically real response, no?

I’m not sure I follow. If you tell a little kid that Santa’s not bringing him presents this year, he’ll have a “physically real” response, too. That doesn’t mean that the thing that’s triggering him is physically real.

I think possibly the distinction that Larry_Borgia is trying to make is between something that exists only conceptually (e.g. Santa Claus) and something which, although conceptual or abstract, relates clearly to physical events and states (e.g. the concept of “theft”).

Yes thanks. I phrased it clumsily. Justice may be an abstraction but it has real world effects. And all concepts, including Santa, exist as patterns in our brains.

Okay, but how is that fundamentally different from the Pratchett quote - that these things only exist because we believe in them?

They exist because they are patterns we have evolved to follow. We don’t choose to believe them, we couldn’t not believe them. Even bad actors understand they are behaving badly. Social animals such as crows or apes show a sense of behaving fairly. Justice isn’t a fantasy that we concocted to make the universe seem nicer. It’s a set of behavior patterns we follow (more or less) because that’s what our species does. It’s no more a fantasy than birds migrating or beavers building dams.

I’m still not seeing where that conflicts in any significant way with the Pratchett quote. Nothing Pratchett says there is speaking to free will at all. He’s not talking about choice, he’s talking about practice. Cats don’t choose to be predators, but kittens still need to practice hunting. Humans may have an instinctive drive towards justice, but it’s one that needs honing, and children’s stories are one of the ways we hone it.

The quote also needs to be understood in the context of the story, which takes place in a universe where believing in something can cause it to actually, physically manifest. When he talks about running the universe through sieve and not finding a grain of justice or mercy, the point isn’t that justice and mercy aren’t real, it’s that they don’t exist absent the human experience. The universe isn’t just, or merciful, except to the extent that humans make it just and merciful.

I have taken the universe and ground it to to the finest powder and passed it through the finest sieve and have not found an atom of my interest in continuing this argument, so I’m cool, I guess. Good night.