I interviewed Ajay Dave, my younger brother. He is a fifteen-year old high school freshman who lives with me and our mother in Coppell, Texas. Along with school, he plays football (for his one of his school’s teams) and is heavily involved in activities at his local Hindu temple. Ajay is a firm believer in the principles of BAPS Hinduism.
25. not much
Analysis of Survey Response:
Ajay’s responses to the survey are difficult to categorize. This could be due to many reasons: inconsistencies in his thinking and worldview, flawed questions, or other reasons.
There were a couple of interesting inconsistencies with his survey response. First, all of Ajay’s answers concerning the experience machine, except for one, indicate that he values contact with reality. The lone exception is that Ajay would “plug in” to an experience machine in the case of the Antarctic trip. When asked about this discrepancy, and informed that the “experience machine” questions concern how much the interviewee values contact with reality, Ajay said that he “values reality when it matters, not on a vacation for fun.” In light of the various “experience machine” questions and their respective answers, Ajay’s view is a reasonable one.
The other inconsistency occurred in regards to Angela and the questions that test Hurka’s views concerning errors in knowing one’s place. Though Ajay feels that it is appropriate to lower the dosage of pain killer so that Angela would stop thinking that she is on Mars, he does not feel that the further reduction in pain-killers is worth it. (The second reduction would shift Angela from being at a loss as to her whereabouts to knowledge of them.) When pressed about this point, Ajay said that in the case of the further reduction, the doctors’ input could inform Angela as to her whereabouts. Ajay feels that this could be done instead of using a reduction in pain-killer dosage. Upon hearing this defense of his answers, I looked again at the relevant survey questions (numbers nine and ten), and saw that number ten (about the second reduction) does not explicitly preclude the possibility that Angela’s doctors (or others) might help her. Though this is also true of number nine (concerning the first reduction), it is reasonable in that question’s circumstances to assume that others’ input might be useless because Angela is suffering from a delusion. I find Ajay’s view to be reasonable, and also feel that these two questions might be bettered.
I chose to interview my brother because of his deep religious commitment, which I do not share. Therefore, my non-survey questions concerned religion, belief in God, and how both affect his views of a good life and a meaningful life. At no point did I inform him as to why he was chosen, as I thought this might bias his answers.
I first asked Ajay how he would define a good life. He said that it is “a life that makes you happy but is morally right so that others around you are happy.” I noted that he did not mention either God or religion in his response. I next asked him about what constitutes a meaningful life. His first response was that it is one that “makes you feel fulfilled.” When I pressed him about this tautology, he elaborated and said that a meaningful life would involve success, “[helping] other people,” and “[doing] things that make them happy.” When I asked him if one can have a good life without believing in God, he answered affirmatively. Given his values, this surprised me very much. When I asked him whether one can have a meaningful life without believing in God, he said “No.” Though he didn’t mention God in his original description of a meaningful life, I think that this was mere oversight on his part. I continued and asked him about how belief in God changes a person and his life. Ajay said that it can make a person feel happy, protected, and satisfied, help him achieve his goals, and cause him to help other people. He added that it makes tough situations easier to deal with.
I think Ajay’s views on how belief in God adds to a person’s life resemble Layard’s conception of religious belief. Layard categorizes religion as a personal value, and my brother thinks along similar lines. Unlike Tolstoy, my brother did not mention meaninglessness as caused by death. Nor did he mention how belief in a true God can connect one to the infinite, which was essential to Tolstoy and his views.
Though I did not ask Ajay any questions arising from Wolf's perspective, I do think that his views fit, in some sense, into Wolf's framework for having meaning in life. Ajay yearns for both God and religious experience, and fulfills Wolf's criteria in that he has a positive subjective experience relating to something (the redemption of his soul) that is objectively worthwhile.