"Put yourself in my shoes." Sounds simple enough. But as far as I know, humans are the only things on this earth that can accomplish that feat. Inanimate objects cannot. Plants cannot. Other animals cannot, can they?
Start with a fish, a bird, your dog or cat (you know, the one that "loves" you back), and proceed to dolphins and primates. Although other animals can display that they care in some way for other things, I don't think they can have empathy or that they can project themselves into an imagined existence as something other than themselves. People can.
If you could be anyone or anything, go anywhere, or experience any time other than the present...why don't you? You can, if only temporarily, if you put your mind to it!
Thanks to pseudoku and his recent post on Kurt Vonnegut and yeast for the inspiration for this post.
Can a person effectively and engagingly argue for something without arguing against something? Or vice versa?
It would seem difficult to pursue one without the other, presuming that the objective is to persuade others. For instance, Obama makes his case by villifying the current state of, well, just about everything. McCain chooses to villify Obama personally. Which candidate has a larger opportunity based on those targets?
Now that we know where each candidate stands in the "against" arena, what about the "for"? Here's where McCain loses out yet again. Obama is effectively telling America exactly what he plans to do, along with exactly what he says the effect of those policies will be. That's where people can get confused or disagree - regardless, however, of the effects of his policies, we know what Obama stands for.
What does McCain stand for? Not what did he used to stand for, but what does he stand for right here, right now? We know he stands for winning the war. Beyond that, we don't know a lot, other than that he's against Obama's proposals.
In the final analysis, Obama is against more of the concrete, real world problems than McCain appears to be. Obama is also for more of the things that matter to people than McCain appears to be. In politics, appearances are everything; therefore, whatever these two men ACTUALLY STAND FOR OR AGAINST, Obama has outflanked McCain on every front of this engagement.
This post was intended to be a different branch of yesterday's atheism article post, but I somehow got sidetracked. I'll pick that train of thought back up later tonight or tomorrow though!
"A great deal of the information is, obviously, personal, because past
achievements are not guarantees of future ones. It is good to know more
about the personalities of each candidate. Acquaintances and friends of
the past can indicate a tendency or proclivity of that candidate to
take certain things or aspects into greater account. Though not in and
of themselves a proof, a spouse, children and surely friends create
some kind of a framework by which to assess the candidate."
- Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, On Faith panelist, October 8, 2008
The Rabbi does not beat us over the head with "you must think this" or "this has to mean that." Rather, he simply points out that which we know to be true, based on our own life experiences and learning, then leaves it to us to draw our own conclusions and act accordingly. Which is what we will do anyway, whether someone attempts to forcibly coerce our decision process or not.
Genius, I am certain, can be found in the realm of dealings with other human beings. Some have it, while almost all of us do not. This Rabbi clearly does, as did another famous Rabbi who roamed the Judaean desert long ago. They may physically lose out in the short term, but they will continue to impact their fellow man and woman long after they are gone. Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. spring to mind instantly, but there were and are many others, people of peace who were put down by people of violence, but whose voices only grew that much louder after their deaths due to the impressions that were made on others.
What does this post have to do with what I think of Obama's past associations? Nothing at all. I was just moved by the simple yet profound wisdom found in another's response to it, that's all.
Through the crowd you can shove and jostle just enough to get a clear line of sight.
Just in time, it turns out, as the heavy, angled metal blade rides straight down its wooden frame, abruptly ending its short journey as the head of someone offensive to the Revolution is instantly and cleanly separated from the body that once carried it.
Connect this to conservatism and the Catholic Church if you can; if not, allow me to do it for you.
The Church had been a huge supporter of the Enlightenment, of the new democratic governments resulting from the American and French Revolutions, and especially of the potential that these governments possessed to check rabid European nationalism and powerful central heads of state. These monarchs and dictators were threatening the very existence of the Papacy and even of the Church itself, as they salivated at the Church's vast property holdings and wealth. The Popes, eager to alter the landscape, were overjoyed with the developments in France, as the French kings had attempted to literally own the Papacy through the forced extension of its time outside of Rome and in Avignon. So what happened next?
Change happened. Radical, hyperfast change happened in France, and was threatening to spread throughout Europe. The papacy had been the Rock of Christianity since it was deemed as such by Jesus when he called Peter the rock on which the Church would be built. Slow-moving, never-changing, stable, conservative papal leadership had been the one constant connection from the Pax Romana to the present. But it was now marginalized by the leaders of the new nations of Europe - or at least it HAD been, until things got entirely out of hand in the French Revolution.
Anarchy would have been the next logical step, but instead, a young military commander named Napoleon took the reigns and restored stability. Lo and behold, the Church and the Pope started being viewed in a different light: tradition, conservativism, and lack of change suddenly looked rather appealing to not just the leaders of Europe, but to the people themselves. People who had feared their situations spinning entirely out of their control within a relative blink of an eye. Even the popes themselves began to reconnect with the tradition and purpose of the Rock and act accordingly.
The question must be asked: how bad ARE things? Change can be good, in small doses with a reasonably certain outcome of something better than before. But wholesale change for change's sake may not be necessary or even advisable unless the situation is so desperately untenable and threatening that to continue on the same course would be catastrophic. Otherwise, the way we've always done it (status quo with minor yet constant improvements) will probably suffice, even though it will always be unpopular to do something other than embrace "change" with blissfully ignorant open arms.
A little freaked out this morning when I saw this online Wired article dated yesterday, as it goes into great detail about the subject of one of my very own posts here on April 8, but I'll recover.
One man's name is Piotr Wozniak, and his story and method of devising a method to remember things long-term (as opposed to forgetting them soon after the test or class is concluded) is an utterly astonishing tale as far as I'm concerned. What he discovered through his own painstakingly detailed research on himself as the test subject, using handwritten logs over a period of time, served as independent verification of studies conducted in labs long ago that were somehow never publicized or seized upon by the intellectual community or the public. He knew nothing of those studies (he conducted his own self research back in the 1980's before such information was readily accessible to all).
The other hero is the man who created this field over a hundred years ago with his own research and observation. Here's an excerpt from Wired that talks about him and then about Piotr's SuperMemo program, but do your best to set aside 10 minutes or so to get through the entire article (which is actually about Piotr's method for employing working aspects of this mental phenomenon) yourself:
"In the late 1800s, a German scientist named Hermann Ebbinghaus made up lists of nonsense syllables and measured how long it took to forget and then relearn them. (Here is an example of the type of list he used: bes dek fel gup huf jeik mek meun pon daus dor gim ke4k be4p bCn hes.) In experiments of breathtaking rigor and tedium, Ebbinghaus practiced and recited from memory 2.5 nonsense syllables a second, then rested for a bit and started again. Maintaining a pace of rote mental athleticism that all students of foreign verb conjugation will regard with awe, Ebbinghaus trained this way for more than a year. Then, to show that the results he was getting weren't an accident, he repeated the entire set of experiments three years later. Finally, in 1885, he published a monograph called Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology. The book became the founding classic of a new discipline.
Ebbinghaus discovered many lawlike regularities of mental life. He was the first to draw a learning curve. Among his original observations was an account of a strange phenomenon that would drive his successors half batty for the next century: the spacing effect.
Ebbinghaus showed that it's possible to dramatically improve learning by correctly spacing practice sessions. On one level, this finding is trivial; all students have been warned not to cram. But the efficiencies created by precise spacing are so large, and the improvement in performance so predictable, that from nearly the moment Ebbinghaus described the spacing effect, psychologists have been urging educators to use it to accelerate human progress. After all, there is a tremendous amount of material we might want to know. Time is short.
How Supermemo Works
SuperMemo is a program that keeps track of discrete bits of information you've learned and want to retain. For example, say you're studying Spanish. Your chance of recalling a given word when you need it declines over time according to a predictable pattern. SuperMemo tracks this so-called forgetting curve and reminds you to rehearse your knowledge when your chance of recalling it has dropped to, say, 90 percent. When you first learn a new vocabulary word, your chance of recalling it will drop quickly. But after SuperMemo reminds you of the word, the rate of forgetting levels out. The program tracks this new decline and waits longer to quiz you the next time."
Life is the past. Sure, there is also the exact instantaneous moment that is the present RIGHT NOW, and there is the concept of the future (what will, or could, happen), but for all practical purposes, life is our memories. The way to prolong life, then, is to prolong memories. This can be done in only one way: making more of them; which, in turn, can be done in one of two ways: live longer, or engage in memory making, that is, memorable activity.
Our brains don't slow down or speed up (at least not without external influence, chemical or other). So if the brain takes a certain amount of time to get through memories, then it would take longer to get through more of them, resulting in the perceived extension of time. This is somewhat paradoxical, since actually engaging in the memory making activity typically makes "time fly." Yet, after the fact, say a few months or years later, when we think back to a span of time (hours, days, month, whatever), the periods that time seemed to fly are the periods that are now remembered as longer, more eventful, more memorable than the times when "nothing" was going on. Do your own thought experiment here: remember a courtship, an intensive learning time, a period when a new sport or skill or body of knowledge or relationship was being learned. The time really seemed to pass quickly, didn't it? Now, contrast some of those periods, with known lengths (maybe something took 3 weeks, or a day, or 2 years) to a similar period of time when "nothing" was going on. Which period now seems longer? Most likely, the periods where nothing was going on are merely blips in memory, if they can be recalled at all, whereas the active and engaged periods are filled with vivid memories that take some processing power and time to think about, thereby making those periods seem longer in duration.
The way to prolong life is to spend as many of your 1440 minutes per earthly axial rotation as you can on activities that will create memorable associations in your mind years from now, blasting through the days full throttle, generating years worth of memories and experiences that will seem like they must have taken several lifetimes to accumulate, rather than doing as most people do (especially the older ones with "nothing to do" now that they are retired and their children have long since moved on and they have picked up no hobbies or passions to get them through their remaining decades of life), which is putting life on autopilot, just trying to get through the days, surviving the pain and/or loneliness, and nothing more. The days that take forever to live through, while at the same time resulting in memories years from now of vast stretches of years of nothingness, mere voids on the timeline of life. Bleak? Perhaps. Changeable? Yes!
Mankind has built upon its own advancements for thousands of years by studying, understanding, and applying previous generations' collective knowledge and wisdom. This is no longer the case in America. At first, the intellectual and learned elite of societies would discuss and debate important issues amongst themselves, eventually improving or, at the very least, thoroughly informing themselves of the leading thoughts and practices of the day as well of days past. Then, the written word and the ability to pass down knowledge and observations verbatim enabled vast leaps and bounds in our development, up until the invention of radio and tv, which were far more entertaining than conversation or the written word. Now, Americans are no longer schooled in the knowledge and wisdom of antiquity, or "the classics," or whatever that body of human experience can be called. There is not enough time between all of the math and science and other topics that must be digested (at least SOME history is required, but not enough, and with nowhere near the diversity to which we should be exposed). So we turn out highly unenlightened, non-worldy, non-versed scientists and business people and sales professionals and athletes, some of whom may eventually, as they get older (into their 30's), decide to delve into the wisdom of thousands of years for themselves in their own free time. Like me. Yet as I experience these discoveries and insights and revelations for myself, I feel like I'm the only one who knows them or cares to know them as compared to most of my acquaintances - until I visit blogs such as La Vie Quotidienne by Shefaly ( http://laviequotidienne.wordpress.com/ ). She has a community of fellow bloggers and readers, many of whom seem well-versed in philosophy, religion, history, etc. (although that's not what her blog is focused on per se), and it's a joy to post comments there and be surprised and engaged by the thoughtful and well-versed replies to them.
Wait - those happy thoughts almost made me forget my initial rant about the lack of exposure to the classics in the American education system. Oh well, I suppose we can only do what we think is right for our own development and leave it to others to discover for themselves. As for myself, learning an ancient written language should be just what I need to move things along, so Greek it shall be!
Once my 2 kids were old enough to speak, they quickly realized they had become able to blame and tattle on others (specifically, EACH other). As parents, the ultimate dispensers of justice and, as required, punishment, in the household, my wife and I were constantly called upon to settle matters fairly. After a brief honeymoon period in this role, I realized that I was doing my children no favors by handling situations in an utterly fair and logical manner - after all, was the "real" world based on such fairness and logic? Absolutely not! So my mission shifted to preparing them for that cruel, cunning, survival-of-the-fittest mentality, as I did not wish to see my innocent babies devoured alive by such a hostile and unforgiving environment. They quickly adjusted, taking to my entreaties of "who ever promised that things would be fair? Life isn't fair! You need to be able to handle unfair situations on your own! DEAL WITH IT!"
After feeling better about my handiwork, I recently came across some advice from a spiritual source: the home should be a safe place, a fair place, a place where children can be taught the concepts of justice and kindness in dealing with others, since the external environments that they undoubtedly find themselves in are outside of a parent's control and are no place to learn such things. Man, did I feel like a loser. Although I constantly do my best to set a good example for my children, to show them how to treat others with respect and compassion (and honesty and fairness), I could see how they might take my problem-solving words to heart about "life not being fair" and apply that to the frontier that is the playground. Fortunately they are still considered model children by many (hopefully all) of our friends, family, and acquaintances, and seem to have a deeply ingrained sense of what is right and wrong and how to treat others (even though it's hard to do sometimes). But to the title of this post, am I raising a couple of wusses? Will they grow up to be idealistic losers who get walked all over and taken advantage of by unfair and unjust sharks? And more to the point, is it better to be that idealistic person who's occasionally victimized or taken advantage of by others than to be the one doing the exploiting and the gaining? I believe it is. Such is the way of this world, and hopefully my children can enjoy it as much as I have in spite of those realities.
Driving to work in downtown Dallas, there are a couple of places where it makes sense to exit the highway for a mile or so and then get back on in order to avoid traffic bottlenecks. In doing this, I've noticed a stray dog for the past couple of weeks hanging around the same general area. After a few days of ranging over an area, then a smaller area, then a specific intersection, and then a particular corner of the same intersection, he has remained in that same spot day after day. I didn't know why, until Monday when I was behind another vehicle at the stop sign that the dog hangs out at and I saw the driver roll his window down and toss a mostly-eaten Egg McMuffin to the dog, who promptly devoured it in one bite. This animal has figured out that if he hangs out at this one specific point, people throw food to him.
Similarly, when I first started working downtown, I noticed the street beggars that asked passersby for money. There weren't a huge number of them, and it didn't cause an uncomfortable feeling for me. But day after day, I grew to recognize the exact same people in the exact same places, indicating that they, like the dog, had concluded that inhabiting those specific places resulted in people giving money to them. You may ask yourself, "well, if they make enough money to eat and live and do whatever it is they do when they're not there, why wouldn't they continue to do so?" In the case of the dog, I can agree with that train of thought: his only thought is of food, and he can run around for enjoyment as much as he likes.
But with people, the thought should not be of only food or alcohol or money; it should also be about what is done in exchange for that money. When an action is taken, it is taken either for the intrinsic value of that action, or for the expected outcome of that action. People should not be assessed as successful or unsuccessful on the basis of their net financial worth (a mere outcome of action taken); rather, success should be judged based on the enjoyment they experience in the activities undertaken in pursuit of their livelihood (the intrinsic value of the action taken) as well as the contribution, positive or negative, that is made by them to society as a whole (an effect of the action taken that extends beyond the individual taking the action, of which our awareness makes us human). If a person makes $100,000 per year by stealing other people's belongings, and he thoroughly enjoys himself while doing so, he is still not "successful" because he places such a drain on other individuals. If a person makes $5,000,000 playing basketball and brings great joy and excitement to millions of fans, yet he does not enjoy himself in the process, then he likewise would not be considered a success as a human being. And finally, in the case of the person who enjoys the work he or she does, and makes enough money to sustain a lifestyle that agrees with him or her, and helps their fellow man in the process, that person may be considered successful - at least by my standards, which may be different from yours or anyone else's. Those people are exceedingly rare to come across, and if you are fortunate enough to know of one, then you will know what I'm describing. Almost all of us fulfill one or two of the three requirements, but not all three, and to me, the realization of all three is what every one of us should be striving to attain.
Edge.org has an essay by Jonathan Haidt that provocatively interrogates the "new atheists" of pop science, questioning their methods as being more passionate and emotional than scientific (though by and large they are scientists leading the movement). I could not agree more with that assessment, as I have made the same one myself. Haidt is very rational in his approach, and takes an approach that one would expect out of any scientist in this debate. Though himself an atheist, his dealings with facts and studies allows for a productive engagement by both sides. So productive, in fact, that there are quite a number of responses by other Edge contributors to his essay.
I do not take issue with what he writes, and I only wish to shed some light on one of his assertions. He states that:
"surveys have long shown that religious believers in the United States are happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people. Most of these effects have been documented in Europe too."
I would advance the opinion that if "religious believers," who by definition are believers in a better afterlife or, at the very least, a better existence or non-existence to follow their earthly bodily ones, are surveyed, then they would in all likelihood be happier than their non-believing counterparts. If one has a better circumstance than their present condition to look forward to, this would produce a self-described "happier" state than one who has nothing to look forward to. Likewise, if the achievement of that preferred condition were predicated upon helping others during their time on earth, then those religious believers would naturally be more inclined to do so.
So that would explain two of the four survey findings. As for the healthier and longer-lived statistics, only one is really relevant since health is a driver of longevity; i.e., if a population is healthier than another population, then it would in all probability also be longer-lived than that population, all other factors being equal. And as to the health or non-health of groups of survey respondents, I can only say that each of the two groups had a 50% chance of being healthier than the other, so further research in that area would be required. If, on the other hand, it were observed in survey after survey of various populations that there is in fact a high correlation between health and religious belief or non-belief, it could very likely also be correlated to a relationship between health level and happiness level.
Are these cause and effect relationships, or are they merely consistent with other "symptoms" of whatever it is that predisposes certain people to religious belief, mental/psychological happiness, and physical well being?
Aristotle used his 5 senses and his magnificent mind to become one of the earliest scientist-philosophers, a term I use to combine science, which is, or at least ought to be, wholly based on using our 5 senses for observation of "things" and making connections between what is observed, with philosophy, which is trying to figure out what our senses cannot reveal to us through direct observation. I assert here that science is continually and acceleratingly shading into philosophy, and that that is a bad thing. The difference between the scientist-philosopher, of which Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas are exemplary models, and some of today's "scientists" is that while Aristotle and Thomas clearly delineated the two and used scientific or sensory observation of "things" to form their philosophies to color that which could not be observed, today's scientists use their philosophy, their postulated explanations of that which has not been observed, to create what is presented to the world as science. And when they are eventually proven wrong by new facts that have only just now been brought to light (whether "now" was yesterday, 50 years ago, or 500 years ago), do they see the error of their ways and admit that they do not have enough observations of relevant "things" to form the philosophy that they are attempting to force upon the world as "science"? Of course not! They only revise their theories, which are subsequently treated as newfound knowledge and celebrated by the masses as advances in human achievement, when in fact all they really are are usually nothing more than future disproved nonsense.
A recent case to illustrate this topic is what has come to be generally accepted by most people as the "theory of evolution," which portrays homo sapiens sapiens (yes, there are two sapiens, if you thought it was a typo) as the culmination of hundreds of millions of years of genetic variation and mutation until finally, voici! Mankind in all his artistic and never-ending creative glory! Skipping over the first several hundreds of millions of years of life on this planet and going right to the past 200,000-1,000,000 (this seems a rather large span of time, but bear with me), we have in the fossil record a sampling of old bones that resemble humans, or chimpanzees, or apes, in that their skulls or hands or legs or what have you are somewhat reminiscent of human skulls and so forth. "Scientists" cannot even agree on the age of these bones; at one point, they may be declared as approximately 400,000 years old, but then after some other dating "advancement" or discovery of other relative "evidence" it may be re-trumpeted as 285,000 years old, or even 800,000 years old. The point is, it cannot be known how old the bones are, because it never was and never can be a fact that was observed and recorded by anyone at any time. Nor can it be observed what these creatures actually looked like, what they did, or how they did it. What HAS been observed and recorded is the fact that humans are the only creatures, ever, to record their observations. Be it cave art or notches of hunting kills on a stone axe, people are the only creatures to have ever bothered or been able to record their observations. Was this "evolution?" Did it just randomly occur to some heretofore unintelligent prehistoric beast after hundreds of millions of years to record an observation of something in some way? And would this spark of brilliance be related to the same miraculous (just don't call it "God") flash that ignited life on this planet from lifelessness in the first place, or the "big bang" that supposedly started the universe from a massive (or was it massless) yet infinitesimally tiny ball of nothingness, or everythingness? And why do these theories make perfect rational sense to "scientists" and people the world over, while they simultaneously refuse to entertain the possibility that God exists? Finally, why again, exactly, do we trust everything these "scientists" tell us, when almost none of it has been observed by anyone, ever? Where are Saint Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle when you need them?!
8 paths to personal fulfillment, based on my own extensive study and practice:
1) Look within yourself. You will find what motivates you, what brings you joy or sadness, and eventually, what you believe. This is your soul, or essence, or spirit.
2) Look outside of yourself. You will find that you are not everything; instead, you are a part of something, and everything else is a part of that same thing.
3) Expose yourself to as much as possible. Experiences, physical locations, acquaintances, subject matters, everything you can think of: directly experience as much variety as you can.
4) Drill as deeply into 1 specific thing as possible. Again, an academic subject, a culture, a physical place, a talent, anything you choose: learn and experience that subject as deeply and completely as you are able.
5) Be as generous and giving as you can. Cultivate an awareness of needs, and when you come across people or circumstances that you can help, help them in the way that you can.
6) Be self-centered. Know what you require, and take the necessary actions to attain it. This may be food or shelter, or love from another, or freedom to contemplate and search, and the necessary actions to attain them will be activities such as work, social interaction, alone time, and the awareness that you cannot help everyone and everything or do everything that other people think you should do.
7) Think. Read, watch, and listen to everything you can that is deemed by yourself as worthy of your learning capacity and effort. Sense it, concentrate on it, process it, and make new concepts and ideas within your mind from it.
8) Do. Apply what you learn in the ways that you are able. Build something, or calculate something, or write something, or present something, or otherwise share the things that you have created within your mind with your learning and thinking. This can be a long and drawn out effort with a final finished "product", or an ever-evolving/changing/improving work in progress that will never really be "done" in the sense that work on it will cease. But there must be a physical going forth to apply what you know, even if that is as seemingly effortless as discussing the concept with other people face to face or as a blog post.
In a nutshell, no single philosophy or path can be so narrowly interpreted or followed to provide what you seek. You may hear generalizations such as "Eastern traditions look inward, while the West looks outward," or "become an expert in something to make yourself more valuable" or "get a well-rounded education so that you will be familiar with whatever life throws at you." The answer is, of course, all of the above, for all of the old sayings and wisdom have roots in timeless truths. Too challenging to be all things, to do all things, to know all things? Certainly! But the end result of having successfully "done" it all is not the objective here; fulfillment is. And the most fulfilling activities are those which stimulate, those which result in knowing oneself more fully, those which help others, those which keep one occupied, those which sharpen the body and the mind, and those which lead us closer to answering the eternal "why am I here?" So what are you waiting for? And one more thing: the order of Paths 1-8 above are of no importance, as the more you pursue any one of them, the further along you will be in the rest of them
My wife and I had a spousal spat the other night. No big deal. We love each other (a lot), love the kids, consider ourselves very fortunate in this life, blah blah blah, but things happen sometimes, terrible things, things that seem determined to derail our happiness. In this case, the terrible things had to do with straightening up the house the night before the cleaning service came - ALWAYS a highly-charged affair in our household. My theory: we pay people to clean, so why do we need to clean before they come? Her alternate, less-informed, in all ways inferior perspective: wouldn't it be better for them to spend their time on the things we don't like to do, rather than on easy things we don't mind doing ourselves, such as straightening and tidying?
Forgive my digression. Let's get back to the topic at hand, which is world peace. If two people who love and care for each other can come to violent emotional blows over something as trivial is this, what hope is there for a world full of people who genuinely do not care for one another, many of whom do not have the basics of human survival to live on, many of whom would sleep far better at night if as many of their enemies as possible were not only out of sight and out of mind, but actually dead and gone?
Sorry, but I just don't see it. Does that mean we give up, stop trying, close our eyes and plug our ears and yell "lalalalalala" as loud as we can so that we can be as isolated as possible? Probably not. As I told my wife a couple of days after the skirmish, in response to her questions about "why can't we just get along, since we want the same things, have the same goals, share common interests," etc.: we can't "all just get along" because, simply stated, we are human. We are not made to get along. We are made for...something else that I'm not sure of, but I am QUITE certain that it is NOT to "all just get along". The billions of people who have inhabited this planet over the past tens of thousands of years have all wondered and explored the same question in various forms, to no avail. So enjoy the good times, survive the bad, do your best to get along, but know that it's not gonna happen all (or even most of) the time, despite your best and most well-intentioned efforts.
"REALLY? WOW, that's cool!" This is frequently my reaction to someone telling me something I didn't know and that I find interesting. However, tell me something that's going to happen, or what scientists predict will happen, or even what the weather is supposed to be tomorrow, and you will likely receive a response from me along the lines of "whatever," or "they only occasionally get it right out of dumb luck," or "that's what they predicted for last year too, and look what ACTUALLY happened." Yes, I am both a skeptic and true believer, going way overboard with each folly. Much too quick to accept what someone has presented as factual information on something that's transpired or been discovered, and much too dismissive of any predictive effort on the part of humanity. But even though I wish I could tone it down a bit in each case, it is actually a dual state of mind that has served me well, for it represents an open mind as related to the seemingly boundless achievement of man, yet it casts a suspicious eye toward our self-perceived abilities to discern what the future holds. In my opinion, we can achieve virtually anything our minds can conceive, yet we cannot know what will or will not happen transpire at a given time or on a given day or even over a given length of duration: for instance, a North Atlantic Hurricane Season. This is the second summer in a row that a prediction of a particularly destructive and disastrous hurricane season would befall the U.S., and after last summer's hurricane-free status survived intact for the entire season, we are now almost a quarter of the way into this one and have yet to catch so much as a whiff of swirling tropical breezes between Africa and the Caribbean.
Weather galls me in particular, as we have so much data and applicable scientific advancement at our fingertips, but stock market and housing predictions are other perpetual offenders. As for political predictions, those are literally useless, as they are solely based on people, their actions, their states of mind, their opinions, and all of the everyday events and affairs that shape them from minute to minute. It is quite literally impossible to make any reliable predictions or to believe any polls taken in advance of elections, as the entire outcome could be turned upside down a month, week, or even day before the vote takes place.
When it comes to predictions, why bother? Far better to choose a desirable outcome and proceed to cause it (which we have demonstrated ourselves quite capable of doing throughout history) than to guess what might happen and then try to plan and act according to what that outcome is supposedly going to be, though it will likely never actually transpire. What a colossal and utter waste of our talents and efforts.
Buddhism: it took hundreds of years after Siddhartha Gautama died before his orally-transmitted teachings were written down. Homer's epics: hundreds of years, maybe thousands. The Old Testament: definitely thousands of years of survival by word of mouth only, and then finally written down. Once written, the words are available for all to learn and experience, right? No; one must also know how to read, which the vast majority of humanity did not know how to do until fairly recently. And even then, one could only read what was written in a language known by the reader, and the written copies of texts were not plentiful.
How much observation, insight, knowledge, and wisdom was lost over the course of the 1st 10,000 years or more of "civilization" because the observer or holder of the insight/wisdom couldn't write down their thoughts and were not able to successfully pass them on orally? That, to me, is the single most influential differentiator between the "advanced" cultures of the Old World as compared to the New World. Although individual brilliance can and does pop up anywhere, anytime, in any culture, a people can only accomplish so much without a writing system that enables them to refer to and build on existing knowledge. The minuscule number of "geniuses" throughout the ages is almost certainly several orders of magnitude larger than we know, but we have no record of their brilliance which died with them. The explosion of invention, creativity, knowledge, and all else which springs from the mind of humanity that has taken place over the last few hundred years is, I believe, due to nothing more than the widespread ability to read, write, translate, and mass produce copies of writings into languages and onto media that can be consumed by the whole human race, allowing all Mankind to stand on the shoulders of giants.
The first few times it happens cause a burst, or rush, of excitement, pride, even a feeling of accomplishment. The next few times are accompanied by thoughts of "well, now what?" or even "what's the point?", which, if allowed to develop, become philosophical explorations along the lines of "is there even such a thing as an 'original' thought?" and finally, inevitably "do we KNOW ANYTHING? and if so, can it help us predict, or at least adjust for, the future, and if not, then of what use or purpose is that knowledge?"
I'm referring to the phenomenon of having thoughts or insights or ideas, then coming across the same ideas as put forth by others. Two such instances over just the past several days are cases in point: in this blog back in early February, I put forth an idea for an American Idol-like contest for unknown but possible future presidential candidates, conducted via Youtube clips submitted by them, with the "winner" being funded for an actual candidacy if he/she chooses. This is a reality as of last week, with the announcement of the creator of Survivor entering a partnership with Youtube for something called the Independent, a concept exactly as I described it a few months back. I thought to myself, as I usually do with these occurrences, "cool! great! maybe somebody actually reads my stuff and has the means/relationships to realize it and make it happen, unlike myself!" Then again this morning, when on a blog I frequently comment on I saw a post from late last week recommending something on the basis of its idea of a "bubble" in alternative energy - something I put forth as a Comment on that very blog just a month or so ago, with some support of why I though it could happen.
But this time my reaction was different: I thought, ok, anyone could have the same idea, just as with the presidential candidate selection format, because we're all acting with the same pool of information/knowledge available to us. Is there really nothing new under the sun? Surely there must be - look at all of our advancement in the multitude of fields of knowledge! But then, do we "know" things, or have we just developed better means to record and make our observations of what happens around us? We know a lot more of "what" happens in the world and perhaps in the universe, but are we any closer to knowing "why" anything happens? And is knowing "what" very useful in itself, if we are actually striving to determine "why" in the hopes of being able to act on that knowledge by harnessing it for our own purposes?
After all, our entire history is that of "knowing" things, only to later have that knowledge be disproved and replaced by other "knowledge" of how things really happen - until, once again, that knowledge is replaced by still more advanced and accurate observation of what has transpired. We can attempt to cause a certain effect by performing an action that we have observed to cause the desired effect in the past, but we don't know why that action causes the effect. We THINK and BELIEVE we understand why/how, but we do not know. And perhaps we cannot know. How many times have we set off to invent or create something based on what we "know" and then had a completely unpredicted/unforeseen effect produced by our action? We even have names for this activity: trial and error, experimentation, scientific method. In their essences, these activities are truly useful, but not because they further our knowledge of "why" or "how"; rather, they are useful because they are concerted, focused efforts that expand our database of "what". Without this effort, much of our awareness of what specific things appear to be related to specific other things would not exist. But I submit that as vast as this body of observed phenomena is and will grow to be, it may never reveal to us "why" they occur or cause the effects that they do, no matter how certain we feel about our level of understanding of them.
Early last week, I spent lunch one day having a conversation. With myself (click here for my transcript of that dialogue, which I simply wrote with pen and notepad at a table in a courtyard one sunny day a little more than a week ago and then typed in as a blog post this morning; it is not intended to influence or persuade or imply that I have some insight or revelation that I consider important; it is only published here as an example of an attempt at self dialogue). The process seemed somewhat Socratic to me in spite of the fact that I am not a formal student of philosophic methods or specifics. What IS going for me, however, is the fact that I am seeking, and have been doing so for many years. So lots of surfaces have been scratched in this search, some deeper than others, and Socrates is one of those surfaces that has been scratched broadly but not deeply. He is just too influential to those who came after him to be ignored, so one gets frequent exposure to his thoughts, works, and methods without even really trying.
I recommend starting with an open-ended question, with yourself as the questioner. Then, put yourself in the role of the answerer, interpreting the question however you wish. Try to take a "philosophic" tone or stance in your questions and answers in order to make yourself think more effortfully, but don't let yourself slip into "fake deep" queries and replies that you think sound intelligent but aren't really representative of your true thoughts or feelings and really aren't helpful at all in this process of discovery. Remember, this is for you to stumble across thoughts or feelings or knowledge or insight that you aren't even aware that you possess, so be as honest and all-encompassing with your dialogue as you can. Finally, and most importantly, don't view your personal revelations as some kind of "real, true, authentic, unalterable essence of you." Just be more aware of your current state, and try to be mindful of things you come across that challenge or conflict with what your dialogues reveal about you. Scarcely a week after dialogue 1 with myself, which is what I've linked to in this post, I'm already re-evaluating my impressions of the relevance and validity of creativity in man based on recent study of the Buddha (thumbs up on his teachings!) and my first exposure to Gnosticism (still very early days for me here and in regards to Buddhist teachings, but already have mixed impressions of the Gnostics coming up with some great stuff and some wackiness, with definite undertones/overlap of what the Buddha brought to the understanding of the self) and also of free will (not covered in dialogue 1, but maybe I'll publish that one at some point as well). Have fun with yourself, and remember, you don't have to worry about boring your partner or talking about yourself too much in that conversation.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born almost 260 years ago in what would eventually become Germany and became a brilliant philosopher. OK, enough about him, and on with 3 quotes attributed to him as translated into English:
"Let everyone sweep in front of his
own door, and the whole world will be clean."
"Being brilliant is no great feat if you respect nothing."
"Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths."
I just hit the delete key on a long-winded, convoluted, difficult-to-follow post about our responsibilities as people, based on the quotes above. Instead of trying to emotionally argue in either direction, I will rely on your intellect to apply these quotes as you will to your present understanding of the facts as you know them surrounding the global warming debate.
In case you're interested though, my interpretation of the quotes is that I agree with the 1st one, and I believe that industrial society would have developed different solutions for energy provision if they were told beforehand that they had to clean up any messes that they created. Most of the oil from the earth's crust would probably still be sitting there now if that had been the case, and we'd have a whole different set of problems in the world today (maybe less intractable, maybe more, but definitely different).
I also agree with the 2nd one: where's the challenge in overcoming obstacles with no constraints put upon oneself? Were the Pyramids on the Giza Plateau really that impressive when it is taken into consideration that they had unlimited man/slave power at their disposal to brute work the problem into submission? Not to me. Now, get those suckers built with some brilliant technology AND the requisite respect for your fellow man, and I'll be the first to stand and applaud your accomplishment! Same sentiment applies to burning fossil fuels for power: anyone can find something and burn it up and make heat or explosions, which creates all KINDS of pollution of every form and toxicity. Oil and coal just happen to represent the best trade off of abundance, manageability, and power output bang for the effort. Now, get those suckers to develop an energy supply that doesn't pollute the world and is safe, scalable, abundant, and transportable, and I will admiringly acknowledge your accomplishment.
Finally, and not surprisingly, I also agree with quote #3. These innovations/technologies don't happen overnight, and they are not without extraordinary effort, ingenuity, and perseverance. People need to expect to wind around slowly, up and down, switchback/backtrack every now and then, build some retaining walls and guard rails along the way, look ahead and plan for what you see as well as what you don't see but still suspect might be lurking, check with others who have built or are attempting to build similarly-purposed projects, and eventually you'll have yourself a nice, winding pass that will indeed allow anyone to get to the other side of the mountain.
Controversial title, huh? I don't know Don Imus, and I've never listened to his radio show, ever. I have seen him on tv as I walked by a store or something, so I do know what he looks like. I would assume that, based on his appearance, he is not a follower of the Prophet Muhammad. Anyone who saw me would in all likelihood assume that I am not, either. Therefore, I (and these other imagined observers) are racists, as they are harboring a preconceived feeling or opinion, either favorable or unfavorable, based on my race, or what they assume to be my race based on my physical appearance. So we can all agree that we are virtually all racists on some level.
Now Mr. Imus, by his own admission, took his biases and stereotyping too far in his attempt to make his audience laugh, which is the sole stated purpose of his talk show. His remarks were offensive by any measure. Yet even if he truly believes what he said and stereotypes African-American female basketball players, based on their hairstyles, as sexually promiscuous, does that impair his ability to do his job, which is making people laugh as they listen to the radio? It does not. Nor does it promote prejudicial hatred at any level. Should he refrain from making these types of remarks on his radio show in the future, even if he truly believes them? Yes, he should refrain, because it will offend and alienate many of his listeners.
But holding certain personal beliefs should not exclude one from their right to doing a job. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson often call for people to lose the source of their economic livelihood as a result of comments expressed publicly by the offending individuals, even when these comments in no way impair the individuals from effectively performing their jobs, and even in the face of these individuals' expressions of regret and profuse public apologies, far more public and far-reaching than the offending remarks were in the first place. Mistakes are made by people in every walk of life every day of their lives, including Mrs. Sharpton and Jackson; this does not mean that punishment should always and only be in the form of depriving them of their right to their chosen vocations. If these remarks had been made by someone whose job was somehow, even remotely, related to their ability to perform their jobs effectively if and only if their decisions and resulting actions were completely unbiased by their views of different races, then they should no longer be able to hold that position. But a talk show host? I hesitate to admit this, but in my experience/exposure to these frequent and public imbroglios, the ones who consistently come out looking and acting more racially-motivated than any other party are the aforementioned Sharpton and Jackson.
"He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (John 8:7)