An Interview with Lance Schaina

Erin: Which philosophical tradition do you find yourself agreeing with most?

Lance: In terms of intellectual agreement, I find myself agreeing most with the skeptics, with the exponents of total skepticism; I guess you'd call it Pyrrhonic skepticism: not only do we not know anything, but we don't even know what it is we can know and can't know. But as far as philosophical traditions that I like, I like the philosophical traditions that allow for spirituality, the existence of God, and God intervening in our human history. Traditions like Pythagoreanism, Platonism... Bishop Berkeley, Kierkegaard, Christian existentialists, people like that.

Erin: Which philosophical tradition do you find yourself disagreeing with most?

Lance: Some traditions make comments about human nature that I think are wrong, that are not deep enough or a complete enough portrayal of human nature. For instance, when Nietzsche says, "well, the only real driving forces we have are the will to power and the will to dominate," I think that's missing the whole story. I think we have a will to understand and a will to meaning.

Erin: To understand what?

Lance: To understand why we're here. What good is it that I'm here? Not simply to decide, "I'm going to dominate things and control things and feed myself as much food as I can, and acquire as many things as I can, and have power over my environment as much as I possibly can." There's that question of "Why should I do any of these things? Why should I go around trying to dominate and have control over my environment? Why should I protect myself? Why should I continue to endure if enduring is painful?" Because there's got to be a meaning, there's got to be some reason why I would want to succeed and dominate and endure. I disagree with traditions that simply ignore this whole issue.

Erin: Name some philosophers whom you admire.

Lance: I really admire Kierkegaard because I think he was brilliant, and he saw things very clearly. I think that the fact that he saw how important the role of faith is in our lives and in our thinking is very important.

Erin: Do you find yourself following his traditions?

Lance: Definitely. The idea of asceticism, of chastening myself to gain something higher. He seemed to be of an ascetic bent, especially if you read Kierkegaard's Christian works.

Erin: What do you mean by "something higher?"

Lance: Higher in the sense of, "What is it really to be fully human?" What is our purpose for being here? Is it being fully human simply to go about satisfying my desires? To eat and copulate and defecate? Let me think of an analogy... Let's say you get this really wonderful measuring device. It's able to measure to the nearest millionth of a gram. It's so awesome, a chemical scale, and what you use it for is to measure out how much tuna you're going to put in your tuna salad. You've got this wonderful machine, this wonderful tool, and you're using it for a silly purpose, when you could just as easily use a fish scale, or something like that. It's that way in a sense with a human being. Whereas, on the other hand, if you were to use that chemical scale to measure out serum to heal some disease, and you had to be accurate to the nearest microgram, then you'd be using it for what it's for. It's the same with the purpose of a human being. Sure, we can use ourselves for purely animal purposes, to eat and drink and copulate, but there's a higher purpose, a higher function that we can also perform. That incredibly accurate scale is just fine for measuring tuna, but there's better things it could be used for, more in line with its special function. Same thing with us. Animals don't create art or music, or philosophize. Yet we do these things. So when I say, "living for something higher," I mean for a capacity that's more refined and more peculiar to us. I think the highest capacity is the religious capacity, because although some animals build things, beavers build dams, bees build hives, how many of them bury their dead? With artifacts, because they expect their dead are going to be traveling on to some new world? Well, Neanderthal men did that 100,000 years ago. We still do that now. Ever since we became Homo Sapiens, ever since we became conscious, we've had a sense of the eternal and a sense of the spiritual. I consider the religious calling even higher than living, say, ethical lives. We live for those purposes which are more specific to humans. We have a yearning for the ultimate. We are more than just animals, we're more than just computers.

Erin: Does God exist?

Lance: Yes He does. I say God exists because there's a lot that leads me to believe that He does, to speculate that He does. Who created the universe? The second law of thermodynamics says that all things are moving toward chaos and disorder. We know the universe couldn't have been around the way it is right now forever, because we'd already be in chaos and disorder right now. So, something started us twenty billion years ago. Also, my feeling is that all of this wouldn't have been created without some kind of purpose, so I take as an axiom that God exists, knowing that there's nothing in my observation to prove or disprove the existence of God. I can't scrutinize it any more. I've got to stop somewhere and say, "well, I take this as an axiom, I speculate that this is true, and I'm going to assume this." I have to choose one way or the other.

Erin: Would you say God exists in a more physical way or spiritual way?

Lance: It could be that God is sitting out there somewhere and we just haven't perceived Him. Him, Her, It. He could be sitting on Jupiter watching us right now, or he could be holding the entire universe in the palm of His hand, watching us, and plucking His finger in whenever He feels like it. I don't know. I'll tell you what, though: I feel that I've felt a connection with God in my thought processes. I feel that I've contacted someone outside myself. I feel I've been taught things inside my mind, in my times of prayer; taught how to love people, with a pure heart, taught how to react to certain situations, given a perspective so that I can act unselfishly and calmly to events that happen around me. I've been given a pity, a good pity for people and for how sad our condition is in this universe. I feel these thoughts come from God, that God is somehow triggering these thoughts, and that they don't come naturally.

Erin: What is your philosophical perspective on the age old question of free will vs. determinism?

Lance: To put it simply, I think we definitely have free will. I think there's no scientific support for the idea of determined behavior in human beings. There's never been a case of a psychologist or a psychological theory being able to predict the behavior of a particular human being in any way whatsoever. No one can predict anything. We have Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and Godel's incompleteness theorem so that even from a scientific point of view there are processes beyond our ability to predict, we just can't, it's impossible. Also, we have a mathematical notion called chaos which says that, in many physical systems you can have an infinitesimal change in the condition of a variable and it causes an infinite and, practically speaking, completely unpredictable change in the state of the system somewhere down the road. The whole notion of determinism, from a scientific point of view, comes from us being able to say, "tell me enough about the initial state of the system, tell me the physical laws, and I can predict everything that's going to happen." Well that's great for dropping a potato off a wall, but it doesn't work for human behavior; there are too many variables, too much indeterminacy in the system. Without this confidence that everything is predictable in a nice classical Newtonian way, there's no reason to believe human behavior is determined.

Erin: What about Nostradamus?

Lance: What about Nostradamus?

Erin: What about his prophecies?

Lance: Well, I'll be honest, I've read them, and it all seemed so vague to me, like Sydney Omar's astrology column where you read Virgo and it says, "watch yourself, you might have problems today," and, ok, I sure did, he's a genius, he's prescient. He talks about animals coming from different places, and then I'm supposed to buy the symbolism about what this animal means or what that animal means. He was never very specific about anything... he talks about a great war with Hisler or Hister, and, well, OK, if he was so great, couldn't he get the name right? It was all just really vague and silly.

Erin: As you know, there is currently a raging debate in science over the issue of artificial intelligence. Do you think that artificial intelligence in the future will equal or bypass human intelligence?

Lance: I think it has in a lot of ways already equalled and bypassed human intelligence. I think that for it to replace a human being we need to bring up an artificial intelligence robot in much the same way as we raise a child. We would have to give it certain abilities of learning and certain needs: needs for affection, needs for bonding with other people, need for affirmation, a herd instinct, etc. etc. We would have to bring it up as an infant, and then we would start to get a computer that thinks as a human being. This is assuming, of course, that we can make a mechanical analog of this squishy stuff inside our brains. We're assuming we can make all the millions and billions of connections just right, and that might not occur for another 500 years, and in fact that might be impossible, there might be something peculiar about a biological system that makes that impossible. For us to sit down with our little erector sets and make a brain may be impossible because you might literally need the woman's womb and a zygote with little chromosomes to be able to make a brain just like this one up here. It may require things so subtle that we can't do it with our little erector sets.

Erin: What if, in the future, they can make an adult into a "bionic person." Do you think that it is possible or even ethical?

Lance: I accept as an axiom that there's something special about human beings, that we're really wonderful. If I'm going to set about making a computer, then the moment I say, "I'm going to make a computer like a human being, and maybe get some measure of success" then I think that's ok. But the moment I start to view human beings as sophisticated computers, then I've done a deep sin against humanity, a crime against humanity. I think that's what's happening in our society right now. The more we see each other as walking talking computers, without any of the sanctity or mysticism of life, we murder part of what it is to be a human being. We're murdering that, and we make it easier to use each other, to kill each other and enslave each other, and enslave and murder our children which is already happening in incredible degrees in our society in the United States. If there's nothing holy about a human being, why should I care about them? Why should I care about a human being any more than I care about my VCR, or my computer or my toaster oven? All I'd care about is what they have to do for me, what service they have to render to me. So to me, the unethicality of artificial intelligence comes not when we're trying to bring machines up to human level, and being fearlessly honest when we fall way short, which we do right now: computers are really good at adding numbers, but they're terrible at doing anything that human beings do. They really are. A two year old infant bonds with others more than the most sophisticated computer, and has affection more, and needs; there's just no comparison. The moment we start trying to bring human beings down to our level of computer technology, that's when it starts to be unethical. So, I think that 500 years from now in bionic man-land or whatever, I think that as long as we continue to view humankind as holy and sanctified, and that there really is something reverential about us being alive, and the things you say and the things that you do with your life are worthy of note, and study and sympathy; as long as we can preserve that so that we see cyborg-ness the same way we view a prosthetical limb now, so that what's really human about you is unchanged by that, then I think building "bionic men" would be ethical.

Erin: What are your views on abortion?

Lance: I think from the point of view of the sanctity of human life, it's a crime. It's terrible because life, the life giving process, isn't holy anymore, if we can just reach inside a woman, and grab whatever's inside there and flush it. You read the Old Testament, you read Leviticus, and if I even touch a woman while she's on her period, I'm ritually unclean. And she's ritually unclean for 10 days during her period. The reason for that isn't because she's all irritable, it's that time of the month. The reason is the same reason the Bible is the book which makes the hands unclean; it's because there's a holiness there, a reverence for life. The life giving process is so holy, so important, that anything having to do with it has a ritual effect on you in terms of your interaction with the community. It's a holiness there, for the same reason you couldn't touch the Ark of the Covenant of God; to a lesser extant, that's why you don't touch women on their period. That's the kind of attitude we need to have more of with life, and with the life-giving process. If we lived in a society where there was enough respect for the life-giving process, men and women in bed together would make sure they weren't going to unwittingly participate in this very holy process. And pregnant women would be happy and honored to carry their children to term, with support from society, so that one of the 10 to 20% of the couples in this country who are infertile could adopt a newborn baby. If life isn't holy, if the life-giving process isn't us co- participating with God in creation, then first go aborted fetuses, then go infants, then children. Which we're already seeing happening: in terms of infanticide the U.S. is number one in the developed world. We murder more of our children than any other country on earth, according to the UN study that was done in the early 80's. In that study we were number one in child murder and number two in child abuse. We are an extremely child abusive nation, and one of the reasons for that is there is no holiness to the life-giving process.

Unfortunately the cow's out of the barn already as far as the sanctity of human life in the sense that we live in a country where many more people think abortion should be legal than illegal. So although I think abortion is terrible, I am against abortion laws. We live in a country that likes abortion and tolerates abortion. Except for a relative minority, we get along with abortion just fine. We have 1.5 million of them every year. To try to legislate against that would be like trying to make legislation to outlaw slavery in 1810. We weren't at that point: no one wanted to outlaw slavery in 1810 except for some Quakers and Unitarians and people like that. We live in a country that wants abortion.

Erin: What do you think happens to us after death?

Lance: I pretty much buy the near death experience scenario. We float up from our body, go through a tunnel, meet dead relatives, meet Uncle Charlie, go to the bright light of infinite love and compassion. I think that it is something that really happens to some essence in our body. I don't think it's simply serotonin pick-up inspired by anoxia in the brain, or frontal lobe epilepsy, things like that. I don't buy that. The proof that I've read of that is too speculative, too many holes in it. They say that if you have the right kind of epilepsy, or if you have a runners high of some sort, that you're having a mini near death experience, when I see little relationship between these and near death experiences.

Erin: Have you read up on near death experiences?

Lance: Oh yes, I've read a lot about it.

Erin: What have you discovered about it?

Lance: Well, I know that right now if you take a group of people who die, whose hearts stop and are resuscitated, about forty percent of them will have this experience, will recall this experience. Regardless of your culture, religious beliefs, or age, the experience is basically the same, and it has basically the same meanings to everybody. That it's God at the end of the tunnel, whether it's Jesus or Buddha or the Unmanifest Absolute...

Erin: Do they see somebody? Do they see whomever they believed in?

Lance: They see a bright light and have a feeling of complete love and acceptance, and they surmise that that must be God or Jesus or whatever.

Erin: And none of them have gone past that stage?

Lance: No. In fact many are told once they go past that stage there's no turning back. A lot of them are given the choice, "Well, you can either go back or you can stay with Me, stay here. What would you prefer to do?" Some of them will consider their family members back home or whatever, and then they'll want to return, and the moment they make that decision is the moment they're revived. It's very common right now. Everyone has roughly the same experience --atheists, agnostics, believers, children. If you give two people the same dose of some drug like LSD, they will have completely different experiences, yet everyone has roughly the same near death experience. So I tend to believe this is more than just some mental state. But we'll see what happens when we die!

Erin: What do you see as the major differences between science and religion? Moreover, do you see science and religion as compatible?

Lance: All science is is the systematic recording of people's repeatable experiences. Tycho Brahe observes the planets and writes down where all the planets are at particular hours of the year, codifies that, Kepler looks at the data, realizes that they're all elliptical orbits, "Wow, they're all ellipses!" He writes that down. Newton takes that and says, "well, if they're going to be elliptical orbits, the only way we can make elliptical orbits out of planets being acted upon by the sun's force of gravity is if the law of gravity is inverse square; if the force of gravity is F equals Gm over r squared." All it is is the codification of observation. Whereas religion is a striving for that which is beyond our observation, beyond our experience. It's trying to have a relationship with God, with the ultimate questions and ultimate purposes of the universe. So science is observation while religion is more trying to have a relationship, and trying to figure out how we are going to live in that relationship. The more I study science, the more wonder I see in the universe, and the stronger my belief in God gets.

But there're times where religion, in the mythologization of something, asserts something that doesn't accord with observation. Then science has to step in and say, "well, say what you want about God, and have the kind of relationship you want with God, but the earth isn't the center of the solar system, the sun is. You're incorrect there. Heaven can't be up and hell below; we know what's in the earth, it's a bunch of molten iron. So that myth has to be set aside." But the realities behind the myths are still there.

Erin: If you were stuck on a desert island and could take only five philosophically oriented writings, which ones would you choose?

Lance: Phaedo by Plato, Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard, Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous by Berkeley, Pensees by Pascal, and Varieties of Religious Experience by William James.

Erin: What ethical systems do you find most admirable?

Lance: I think the ethics of Jesus are the most admirable. It's the system where you are really loving people and really having compassion for people. Where what's important is our relationships with people and their relationships with God. It's not important that I win, or that I gain things, or own things. I don't know. That's kind of weak. I'm tired.