Month: March 2016

A Hughman #6-9 Finishing the Series

I’ll cover the final four episodes of A Hughman’s I Wonder series in a single, final post, to limit an excessive clutter of posts.

Episode 6: The Optimistic Nihilist

A friend once told me I was an optimist in pessimist’s clothing (which is pretty accurate, I reckon).  So the idea of optimistic nihilism is naturally attractive to me.

The episode explores the concept of how we replace the noumenal sense of purpose often derived from a religious framework, with something else that is worthwhile.  I found the following quote, around minute 4, fantastic. Continue reading “A Hughman #6-9 Finishing the Series”

On Sandcastles (and the Meaning of Life)

Sandcastles are fantastic.

One of things I love about being a dad is that you get to build sandcastles at the beach again without too many folks thinking you’re strange. Perhaps this is a peculiarly Australian thing, where our beaches and sand are the envy of the world?  Teaching your kids the secrets of a good ‘drip castle’ and creating networked cities of towers is just good clean (albeit sandy) fun.

This image came from a site that I didn’t know existed until I searched on Google for an image. – celebrating all things drip-castle!


The thing about sandcastles is that you can’t make them last.  It can be fun salvaging them from imminent destruction for a time, but ultimately the wind, the waves, the water – they always win.  I’ve taught my kids the mantra “the water always wins”.  Sandcastles don’t last.  It is wise to embrace this truth rather than rail against it – to laugh as they tumble.

Does that make building sandcastles an activity devoid of any point or value?  Does that mean that it is wrong to find satisfaction in crafting a particularly good one?  Is the value of a sandcastle’s intrinsic worth increased by taking a photo of it, so that its form can be preserved long after it has returned to the elements from which it came?

I’ve learnt something about finding meaning in life from building sandcastles.  Continue reading “On Sandcastles (and the Meaning of Life)”

A Hughman #5 – The Everything Graph

In episode 5, we explore the idea of veldt (though I’m not sure if the term is actually developed in this episode of the next one – that’s the trouble with listening at lunchtime, and not taking notes as I go).

This is A Hughman’s term for our cognitive framework, which is (necessarily) unique to everyone.  The term comes from the savannah’s of southern Africa, I think, and it’s an interesting idea, though I’m still not sure it achieves everything A Hughman wants it to.

I’m probably just missing the point a little, and should probably have a second listen.

A Hughman #4 – The Paradox of Truth

Episode 4 of A Hughman’s outstanding series starts getting heavy – as the title accurately suggests.

The episode explores the nature of paradoxes and of the concept of Truth (with or without a capital t), in particular.

It’s not easy to summarise the argument of the episode – far better, of course, to listen to the source material.  As I understood it, A Hughman suggests that Truth as typically conceived is an illusory goal.  Only an admission that it is ultimately unattainable in the sense of “discovering the objective reality that is out there” can lead to an appropriate ‘seeking’ and growth.  It picks up the ancient Skeptic philosophical concept of acatalepsy – the incomprehensibility of all things.

He suggests that we effectively create rather than discover things as we investigate them, and craft stories which are, hopefully, ‘reliable stories’.

One point I wasn’t completely clear on is his understanding of the relationship between truth and reality.  That is, by suggesting that the stories which form our conceptual framework can be ‘more reliable’ or ‘less reliable’, that is (is seems to me) an admission of an objective frame to which we grapple.  I think he still believes in a real and objective ‘thing’ which our stories are faltering attempts to articulate, but I’m not completely sure.


I appreciated the shift in thinking away from ‘Truth’ to ‘truth’, and the acknowledgement of the provisional and subjective nature of our experience and articulation of what we perceive.  But I feel that the way he articulated it felt a little flabby, somehow.


While it may be true that “sounds” only exist when there is a hearer to receive and process them, this only matters to us.  That which we perceive and give the name “sound” nevertheless exist independent from us in some real way. The universe was interacting with itself without the need for any mind to perceive it.  When, finally, we perceive distant galaxies colliding, we may then say “that is beautiful”, but our description of it in this way does not alter it, it merely provides our responce to what we are able to perceive of it.

I feel I’m missing something in his articulation, but perhaps this will be clearer in later episodes.  I may link from the video to this page, to see if he can clarify what I’m missing.

A Hughman #3 – The Serenity of Reality

The next installment of the series is ‘The Serenity of Reality’ (episode #3).


The key concept of the episode is that of ‘scientifically informed intuition’.  Essentially, this is the concept of wonder again, but considered within the context of the mind-expanding potential of scientific understanding.

Again, it’s a great episode, that felt almost meditative.  It felt like a particular expression of mindfulness which seeks to locate the individual as part of a grander narrative.  A subsuming of the self within the broader context of the universe, conceived and perceived through a scientific lens.

There’s nothing especially profound about the insights of the video, but they are beautifully articulated, and stirring, nevertheless.

Thoroughly worthwhile.

A Hughman #2 – What’s in the word ‘Atheism’?

Episode 2 of A Hughman’s YouTube series was also excellent.

I really appreciate his care and caution regarding how labels are applied and thrown around.

The basic thesis, that we all answer this question differently depending on the specific frame of reference of the referent is sound.  The attitude that I can’t answer the question until I’ve met you, and to answer it in conversation with a person feels right.

Yet I also feel there is more to say.  The protective and nuanced position he takes is claiming a sort of moral high-ground which is healthy and positive.

But we find ourselves in various cultural contexts in which it can makes sense for someone to say that they consistently fall into a particular position with respect to the various conceptions of god they come into contact with.  For that reason, it’s not inappropriate for someone to use the shorthand of their most typical response as their position.

Thus, it’s appropriate for a Christian to say “I am a theist”, even though they do not believe in the Greek gods.  Or for an American to say “I am an atheist”, meaning they don’t believe in the Christian, Muslim or other gods that people speak of, even though they may technically be happy to admit that it is quite possible something exists which someone might label ‘god’, and even though they believe ‘love’ exists, which someone might say “is” god.

Also, I think there are more than the five stated positions.

Nevertheless, a thoughtful and thought-provoking video that is an excellent conversation starter, and I’m loving the series so far.

I Wonder [A Hughman #1]

I’ve just listened to the first YouTube video from A Hughman, and it was a refreshing and enjoyable way to spend some time on my lunch-break (even if I couldn’t really see the screen properly in the sun).

I’m looking forward to his other episodes.

I was already beginning to think that ‘wonder’ is one of the most powerful things you can experience, and a noble end in itself, but this video meditates on the issues beautifully.