Monday, October 31, 2005
This seems like a great practice and I can understand its appeal. Yet, previous to this I was reading about Taoism in Chuang-Tzu. There, he mentioned the centipede speaking with the walrus. The walrus asks the centipede how he handles so many legs. The centipede responds that he doesn't try to think about it, but lets it flow naturally. If he actually stopped to think about it, he'd trip.
This sort of automatic "flow" as it might be called, also seems to me to be an approach with good potential and application.
But how can I reconcile these two concepts, which seem directly at odds with one another? I know they both come from different traditions, but might there be some philosophy by which we can know when mindfulness is proper and when flow is proper? Both of these traditions seem to be encouraging them exclusively, but this doesn't seem like truth to me.
Sunday, October 30, 2005
People livin' like they ain't got no mamas
I think the whole world addicted to the drama
Only attracted to things that'll bring you trauma
Overseas, yeah, we try to stop terrorism
But we still got terrorists here livin'
In the USA, the big CIA
The Bloods and The Crips and the KKK
But if you only have love for your own race
Then you only leave space to discriminate
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you hate then you're bound to get irate, yeah
Madness is what you demonstrate
And that's exactly how anger works and operates
Man, you gotta have love just to set it straight
Take control of your mind and meditate
Let your soul gravitate to the love, y'all, y'all
It just ain't the same, always unchanged
New days are strange, is the world insane
If love and peace is so strong
Why are there pieces of love that don't belong
Nations droppin' bombs
Chemical gasses fillin' lungs of little ones
With ongoin' sufferin' as the youth die young
So ask yourself is the lovin' really gone
So I could ask myself really what is goin' wrong
In this world that we livin' in people keep on givin' in
Makin' wrong decisions, only visions of them dividends
Not respectin' each other, deny thy brother
A war is goin' on but the reason's undercover
The truth is kept secret, it's swept under the rug
If you never know truth then you never know love
Where's the love, y'all, come on (I don't know)
I feel the weight of the world on my shoulder
As I'm gettin' older, y'all, people gets colder
Most of us only care about money makin'
Selfishness got us followin' our wrong direction
Wrong information always shown by the media
Negative images is the main criteria
Infecting the young minds faster than bacteria
Kids wanna act like what they see in the cinema
Yo', whatever happened to the values of humanity
Whatever happened to the fairness in equality
Instead in spreading love we spreading animosity
Lack of understanding, leading lives away from unity
That's the reason why sometimes I'm feelin' under
That's the reason why sometimes I'm feelin' down
There's no wonder why sometimes I'm feelin' under
Gotta keep my faith alive till love is found
People killin', people dyin'
Children hurt and you hear them cryin'
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek
Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
'Cause people got me, got me questionin'
Where is the love?
-- Black Eyed Peas, Elephunk
Friday, October 28, 2005
To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.It looks like a marvelously interesting site. I look forward to checking it out in more detail...
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
At first it sounded a little new agey and spacey, but he makes some points which might be worth serious consideration. As I had previously read of, the philosopher David Chalmers has identified the "hard question" of consciousness which relates to trying to explain the "qualia" of consciousness - in other words, what it feels like to be conscious as opposed to the "easy question" which regards mere neurological function correlated to behavior.
The Dalai Lama suggests that our experience of consciousness is inherently subjective (from a point-of-view), so we may need to employ inherently subjective methods to further understand its nature. Enter meditation. In brain scans, it appears that masters of meditation are capable of directing their brains into some pretty unusual patterns of activity, and this may tell us something about the nature of consciousness.
Then, reading from several different sources, some things seemed to relate to one another and I thought I should post my thoughts on this. In a paper called Buddhism and Cognitive Science, J. Niimi writes:
In another series of studies Newberg and d'Aquili propose that sensations of spiritual connection or transcendence of the self correlate with decreased blood flow to structures in the posterior superior parietal lobe, in a region they refer to as the "orientation association area," the module of the brain that compiles sensory data into a perception of the body's location in its environment.Now, it makes sense that low blood flow in an area of the brain known for handling perception of our body's location would result in out of body feelings. But then later, in an unrelated Wikipedia article on meditation, I come across this:
Predominantly, studies of meditation report positive effects. However, some studies report that meditation may have adverse effects in certain circumstances (Lukoff, Lu & Turner, 1998; Perez-De-Albeniz & Holmes, 2000). If practiced improperly or too intensely, meditation can lead to considerable psychological and physiological problems, such as the symptoms of Kundalini...Looking up Kundalini Syndrome in another article I find (bold mine):
Theorists within the schools of Humanistic psychology, Transpersonal psychology and Near-Death Studies describe a complex pattern of motor, sensory, affective and cognitive/hermeneutic symptoms called The Kundalini Syndrome. This psycho-somatic arousal and excitation is believed to occur in connection with prolonged and intensive spiritual or contemplative practice (such as meditation or yoga)... Cognitive and affective symptoms [among others] are said to include psychological upheaval, stress, depression, depersonalization or derealization, intense mood-swings, altered states of consciousness (trance-like experiences), hallucinations (inner visions or acoustical phenomena), but also moments of bliss and deep peace.
Could it be that intense, long term practices of meditation allow the most skilled of us to direct brain activity to such an extent that blood flow is reduced to certain areas of the brain for long periods? If so, it seems that lack of blood (oxygen) to brain cells tends to kill them. It doesn't seem unreasonable to think that damage to areas like the parietal lobe might result from this and yield the symptoms we see in Kundalini Syndrome.
This is, of course, very rare and not meant as any sort of warning against meditation. I present it merely because it's such a fascinating thought and because it came to me after seeing these bits in different sources and putting them together. Whether I've put together these facts in a way that more knowledgeable people would think is sensible is another matter, of which I'm not certain.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
While many other leaders, legislators, and scholars may have made great strides in promoting the advancement of equality and justice, what made Rosa Parks special to me was that she was not a leader, but an ordinary individual. Her actions would inspire both followers and leaders such as Reverend Martin Luther King. People whose message may have been critical to them in their time, but a one that was essentially applicable to any creed, sect, or era.
Philosophically, her brave actions bring up the question of, when is lawlessness or disobedience ethical? Surely, the rule of law is an important ethic in itself, but laws alone do not dictate what is ethical. In "The Means/Ends Principle" I say that the question of ends and means only arises when there is a conflict of values (2.13.4). The Rosa Parks bus incident is a prime example of a conflict between two values (obeying the law and equality).
So many people, when confronted on their ethics, retreat to legalism: "I was just following orders", "I did nothing illegal", "I followed the law", "I didn't technically lie because of the definitions of my words". Clearly, Mrs. Parks showed us that the principle of dignity and equality for all human beings, far outweighed the principle of obedience to just any sort of law.
Rosa Parks was not a highly educated scholar, but in her own wisdom she reminded us that laws exist to further the imperatives of justice, not to undermine them. To do this, in the dangerous climate she did it in, required enormous courage. For that, she will be remembered.
Update: October 28, 2005
I was pleased to read in an Associated Press news article that Rosa Parks has become the first woman, and one of a select few people (30th), to have her body lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington D.C. In addition to that, the first seat of every city bus in Detroit and Montgomery will be reserved until her funeral.
In an article criticizing Dennett's notion of the "Bright" in the Wall Street Journal, Dinesh D'Souza inexplicably focused on atheism and atheists thinking they're "brighter" than everyone else. Defending belief in the supernatural, D'Souza recalls Kant, saying,
Kant persuasively noted that there is no reason whatsoever for us to believe that we can know everything that exists. Indeed what we do know, Kant said, we know only through the refracted filter of our experience. Kant argued that we cannot even be sure that our experience of a thing is the same as the thing-in-itself. After all, we see in pretty much the same way that a camera does, and yet who would argue that a picture of a boat is the same thing as a boat?
Kant isn't arguing against the validity of perception or science or reason. He is simply showing their significant limits. These limits cannot be erased by the passage of time or by further investigation and experimentation. Rather, the limits on reason are intrinsic to the kind of beings that humans are, and to the kind of apparatus that we possess for perceiving reality. The implication of Kant's argument is that reality as a whole is, in principle, inaccessible to human beings. Put another way, there is a great deal that human beings simply will never know.
I completely agree with Kant, as I have written here. But if that's true, then why does D'Souza claim to know them? Doesn't the above quote of his specifically say he can never do this?
The concept of the Brights and D'Souza's article are summed up here:
The homepage for the Brights is here:
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Biblical scholar James Robinson points out that Jesus understood that to do otherwise was to lead to a never-ending cycle of violence, and the only way to break this cycle was through forgiveness. In my own writings, I have said,
Love your enemies and pray for those persecuting you, so that you may become sons of your Father, for he raises his sun on bad and good and rains on the just and the unjust.
-- Q 6:27-28, 35c-d, Matthew 5:44-45.
And what if they do not return our kindness? Consider how unfortunate they are to be so locked in their views that they cannot even be reasonable or considerate. Let us not return their lack of respect with our own, for this will only cause a downward spiral.Professor Robert Axelrod has run simulations of ethical evolution and found there is actually a logical functionality to forgiveness. In describing a simulation where various behavioral features evolve based on what is most successful, Axelrod says (bold mine),
-- The Noble Conspectus, Chapter 1: Diversity.
What accounts for TIT-FOR-TAT's robust success is its combination of being nice, retaliatory, forgiving and clear. Its niceness prevents it from getting into unnecessary trouble. Its retaliation discourages the other side from persisting whenever defection is tried. Its forgiveness helps restore mutual co-operation. And its clarity makes it intelligible to the other player, thereby eliciting long-term co-operation.
-- Robert Axelrod, http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/1/1/review1.html
And now to the point of today's post. I have found an excellent short article describing the Dalai Lama's discussions on the subject of forgiveness...
Friday, October 21, 2005
Thursday, October 20, 2005
A poster on Yahoo's forums asked, "Aren't Americans better than this?" To which I responded...
...No - Americans are not "better" than anyone else. In fact, we never claimed to be better than anyone else. We, as a people, are just as flawed and have just as much good potential as any other people - no less, no more.
What we do claim is superior is not we as people or our culture, but the system of democracy, human rights, and free economics that we happen to be a user of.
All nations will have those who break the law and misbehave and America is no different - what is different is that, in some countries the desecration of enemy bodies is the norm, in some countries torture by the military is the norm. With Americans, when it happens, there is a big hoopla (as there is here), the accused are put on trial, and punishments are carried out, and even the accused are afforded rights.
Even in this system, there are problems and flaws from time to time, but it is far superior to a situation where families are routinely slaughtered, where civilians are not just accidentally killed but targeted as a matter of policy, and where brutality is the norm, as is the case under these theocracies, dictatorships, and terrorist organizations.
This is why bringing democracy and freedom to other people is essential. Not because it will make them better people or dissolve cases of criminals among them, but because it is a more noble, humane, and decent system that all humans as dignified beings have an inalienable right to.
I might add to this that this impression that Americans are better, or that they claim to be superior, is harmful to both Americans and others. This is not at all the point in the first place, and whenever these inevitable acts of crime pop up it creates a huge stink, as if something has happened that Americans claim doesn't happen. It is democracy and freedom that is superior - not us.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
“The noblest exercise of the mind within doors, and most befitting a person of quality, is study.”
William Ramsey, Nobel Prize Laureate in Chemistry, 1904
“Understanding is a kind of ecstasy.”
Carl Sagan, Celebrated Scientist
I once asked a philosophy professor “What is philosophy about?” He said philosophy is “radically critical self-consciousness”. This was 35 years ago. Only in the last five years have I begun to understand that statement
I took a number of courses in philosophy three decades ago but it was not until I began to study and understand Critical Thinking that I began to understand what “radically critical self-consciousness” meant.
I consider CT to be ‘philosophy light’. CT differs from other subject matter such as mathematics and geography in that it requires, for success, that the student develop a significant change in attitude.
Anyone who has been in military service recognizes the significant attitude adjustment introduced into all recruits in the eight weeks of boot camp. During the first eight weeks of military service each recruit is introduced to the proper military attitude. During the eight weeks of basic training there is certain knowledge and skills that the recruit learns but primarily s/he undergoes a significant attitude adjustment.
I would identify the CT attitude adjustment to be a movement from naïve common sense realism to critical self-consciousness. It is necessary to free many words and concepts from the limited meaning attached by normal usage—such a separation requires that the learner hold in abeyance the normal sort of concept associations.
The individual who has made the attitude adjustment recognizes that reality is multilayered and that one can only penetrate those layers through a critical attitude toward both the self and the world. To be critical does not mean to be negative, as is a common misunderstanding.
If we were to follow the cat and the turtle as they make their way through the forest we would observe two fundamentally different ways that a creature might make its way through life.
The turtle withdraws into its shell when it bumps into something new, and remains such until that something new disappears or remains long enough to become familiar to the turtle. The cat is conscious of almost everything within the range of its senses, and studies all it perceives until its curiosity is satisfied.
Formal education teaches by telling so that the graduate is prepared with a sufficient database to get a job. Such an education efficiently prepares one to make a living, but this efficiency is at the cost of curiosity and imagination. Such an education does not prepare an individual to become critically self-conscious.
If we wish to emulate the cat rather than the turtle we must revitalize our curiosity and imagination after formal education. That revitalized curiosity and imagination, together with self directed study prepares each of us for a fulfilling life that includes the ecstasy of understanding.
I think that radically critical self-consciousness combines the attitude adjustment of CT and combines it with the curiosity of the cat and then takes that combination to a radical level.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
This is just the sort of thing one can expect when our society refuses to provide adequate and equitable education. By that, I mean a full education which includes an understanding and respect of the principle that everyone must be allowed to have free speech or else everyone's free speech is in danger.
Such ignorance also leads to the idiocy of neo-Nazism and racism displayed by the original protestors. A lack of knowledge about history and social science leaves a void easily filled with propaganda. Furthermore, these uneducated are more often poor, which results in crime-ridden living conditions, thus fueling animosity...
Above: Ignorance and hatred a common combination.
Not only that, but it is the unequal access to quality education that maintains such class distinctions and alienates impoverished sections of our society. If one wanted to create a group of barbarians, what's being done in this society would be a perfect way to accomplish that...
Above: Barbarians at the gate
There's no doubt that each individual is responsible for his or her actions and should be punished accordingly when breaking the law. But that doesn't change the fact that people are encouraged to take such actions and it behooves us as a society to, at a minimum, not encourage such things by creating these conditions.
You reap what you sow, and it seems it's harvest time in Toledo.
Friday, October 14, 2005
Actually, I pretty much agree with what you say, generally. But a big part of why I agree is, as you point out yourself a few times in the work, is that you are not proposing anything substantially different than what already exists. It seems your goal is to 'objectify' existing ethical trends, not try to reinvent the proverbial wheel.
True. I think what I'm trying to do is call attention to what it is we are really doing in our ethical deliberations, so that we might do it more proficiently and with more focus.
When I use "Objective" I mean things that external to, and independent of, sentient minds (for our purposes, human minds). Things like matter and energy, physical objects, the physical laws of the universe, etc. When I use "Subjective" I mean ideas, ideologies, notions, thoughts, beliefs, etc., that are products of the human mind.That's reasonable. I would tend to agree with this.
But what is your thought about the Pythagorean Theorem (the length of the hypotenuse squared is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides) - is that objectively true?
If not, then do you think that other intelligent extra terrestrials somewhere could invent/discover it? It seems to me that if they can, then it must be a fact that is discovered rather than invented - something that exists and is true apart from our knowledge of it.
If it IS objective, then where does it exist? What atoms, "matter, or energy" is it made out of?
I think our definition of "objective" needs to include certain data about dispositions and inter-relations OF matter in the universe.
Now... Here is a question: Is Mr. Spock from Star Trek objective or subjective? It's a bit tricky.Yes, but I think the 'trickiness' comes from an imprecise definition of "Mr. Spock". If, by that label, you mean an organism of a non-human (actually half human) species, from the planet Vulcan, then Mr. Spock is not objective and does not exist (don't say that at a star trek convention surrounded by people in uniforms).
But if, by the label "Mr. Spock" you mean a bit of data (a "meme") which is a description of a character, then not only does Mr. Spock exist, but it is fully objective - every bit as much as we can say that Windows software (a collection of data) objectively exists. Furthermore, the "Mr. Spock" meme, like Windows, is continuously replicated in multiple formats and mediums, and spread across the planet, having real effects.
I think your take on the objective/subjective issue is too heavily focused on what's inside and what's outside our skulls. What might make it more clear, in my view, is to set that issue aside for a moment and recall that 'everything is atoms' (or particles, strings, whatever).
When it's all said and done - it's all a bunch of particles bouncing around, and everything we think, see, do, describe, philosophize about, and so on ALL boils down to that simple fact. These are all descriptions of one set or subset of interactions of particles in this gigantic universal soup.
(I think, being in the company of Stoics, who are materialists, I can say this without ducking my head!)
Now, that includes brains and it includes the activity of brains. And, just as much as data on a computer disk, it includes thoughts, memories, emotions, etc. These are all names we give to certain arrangements and activities of sets of particles.
The key, like our defining of what we mean by "Mr. Spock" is in defining what we mean by terms.
When I say that ethics is objective, the earlier portions in which I define exactly what is meant by "ethics" is absolutely essential to making that statement meaningful and true. If even a slightly different notion of the word is substituted, then the sentence "ethics is objective" may not mean the same thing, and may not even be something I agree with.
But, if we are to approach anything rationally, I think a precise definition is important. I also give my reasons WHY I have defined 'ethics' as I have, and this would be another matter to debate in its own right.
So, ethics are like the Pythagorean theorem. They are objective because they describe something that is true and objective about the interaction of Homo Sapiens individuals and their effects. Furthermore, similar species on other worlds (if they are similar in their natures) could discover (not invent) true ethics themselves, and this overlap would illustrate the objective nature of these "rules of efficient interaction".
Now, with "Mr. Spock" (the meme), it is not the case that other worlds would "discover" this concept independently (apart from amazing coincidence). This meme/bit of data doesn't refer to anything objectively true in the universe. Many of the principles embodied WITHIN the character may, however, and these are generally principles of rationality and ethics. For example, aliens might generate a fictional character that believed "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few".
Anyway, I think a similar type of ambiguity creeps into ethics. As you astutely pointed out in your work, ethics come from humans and cannot exist without humans.True, but the Pythagorean Theorem cannot exist without triangles, to which it references. The fact is that humans objectively exist, and they exist in this universe. So, because of this, human ethics, which describes very real and objective things about how humans can most efficiently interact, is also objective.
Let me look again at space aliens, but this time a hypothetical example of one with vastly different instinctive responses, biological life cycles, and so on. Let's call them the "bleebs". The bleebs would have their own set of ethics, which define the set of moral norms that, if accepted, would generate the greatest level of survival and prosperity for that species. Now, maybe because of bleeb anatomy or psychology, one of these sub-ethics might be eating your children at some point. For the bleebs, this would be ethical, and it would be objectively so. Because the bleebs WOULD exist, and bleeb ethics would be as true as rules about how to build the strongest bridge or the fastest sail boat.
For those species capable of consciously molding their own behavior to learned norms (not just acting off immediate instinct) ethics *IS* tied to that species. But this doesn't render it subjective because the species isn't subjective. They are made out of matter and interact in certain ways. Therefore, the most "ideal" set of procedures for them to interact is *literally* a matter of engineering.
...But I do not believe that ethics are some 'force' in the universe that exists independent of the human mind and will, such as in gravity.Consider that, if you ignore gravity, you will fall. In addition, if you ignore ethics, there will be an objective effect and you will similarly bring harm to yourself. It's just that the effect is much more complicated because of the intricate web of interactions among so many people and factors.
So, while I wouldn't call ethics a "force", I would say that it defines something as true and as objective as the formulas describing gravity and the Pythagorean Theorem.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Like many others throughout history, Robinson thinks he knows what Jesus really preached. But considering his credentials, he just may have a good head start. The former director of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, he was the intimately involved in making the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Gnostic gospels became part of the public discourse. He also organized the Internal Q Project that reconstructs the original sayings of Jesus, and it is this analysis in particular that has helped shaped his thesis. According to Robinson, Jesus' original gospel is now obscured by the canonized literature. The message is intense and simple: trust God to look out for you by providing people who will care for you, and listen to him when he calls on you to provide for them. It is a "radical trust in and responsiveness to God" that can make society function as God's kingdom.
The book really does highlight the remarkable differences between what most modern Christians think of as their faith, and what Jesus actually (most likely) taught and said. After reading, I found what I hope is a current email of the author's and sent him this letter...
I have just finished reading, The Gospel of Jesus, and wanted to thank you for this wonderful book. It will go on my "special shelf" for certain.
I was raised in a Conservative Protestant home in the southern United States, and related to what you said about Jesus' message being overlooked by a nearly exclusive focus on supernatural salvation through him as a human sacrifice.
For many years I have been (and still am) a Humanist with an entirely scientific and non-supernatural view of the world. Recently I have been discovering new ways of thinking about a more naturalistic concept of "God" than the personified conception of conservative Christianity and other major religions. This, mainly through my explorations of Taoism, the materialist-but-sacred Logos concept in Stoicism, and the correlation between Heraclitus' Divine Fire and modern Complex Systems theory. Although, I still prefer not to use the term "God" so as not to mislead people into thinking I believe something I don't.
Your book, therefore, came at a perfect time for me. Jesus' thoughts on 'seeing God in Nature' struck a cord. While my concept here may be far more impersonal and naturalistic (perhaps pantheistic) than even Jesus intended, it makes many of his conclusions fit for me in ways never before possible.
I enjoyed learning about the history of the development of the synoptic gospels. I also enjoyed reading of Jesus' notions concerning how we treat our enemies. Of course, I have heard his teachings before, but the pragmatic "cycle breaking" way you (and originally he) framed these values truly related to me as a Humanist.
Thank you for showing religious conservatives a more true and rational path that can still be spiritual and fulfilling, while at the same time showing secular folks like me the value in Jesus' original gospel. Your approach and aim in this book was truly noble.
Update, October 20, 2005:
I've just read Professor Robinson's email reply to my letter! Because it was an email to me and there was no understanding between us that it would be public, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to post it here. But he was very gracious, personable, and pleased that I liked the book. I thought it was nice of him to return fan mail so I figured I should mention it.
Wednesday, October 5, 2005