Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall
Philosophy, our topic for this series of conversations, is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “Knowledge, learning, scholarship; a body of knowledge; spec. advanced knowledge or learning.” It has been said that all knowledge is either based on what we learn from our senses or what we perceive from reflection. Mankind has always been curious and by reflecting on things, their existence and the reason for their existence, knowledge has been gained.
Later today I will attend a Day of Reflection event. Since today is also a day in which many Earth Day celebrations will be held (although earth Day is not officially until April 22nd), so will many others. Many will engage in activities to celebrate our planet and its fragility; others will host events which will encourage better care of the planet. My event has as its subject “dreams”. Tomorrow I’ll let you know how such a topic fared under the scrutiny of inspection and introspection.
Mankind’s curiosity has not always been seen in the kindest of lights. In the Torah and the Old Testament section of the Bible, man’s curiosity is seen as the beginning of sinful deeds. The earliest of man had the world upon which he/she walked and the world of the sky above him/her. The Latin word for man, “homo”, translated as “of the earth”. Other beings were considered “celestial” in Latin. The “anthropos” in Greek referred to man as being “low-eyed” which contrasted with the divinity of unknown beings.
Ancient Egyptians felt a man/woman’s soul was comprised of five parts – Ren, Ba, Ka, Sheut, and Ib. Belief in an afterlife for the Ka, the life essence of the soul, began to be documented in the third millennium of what is known as the Old Kingdom of Egypt. From the earliest existence of man, the recognition of the frailty of human life has been noted. The book of Genesis promises the dominion of man yet the book of Ecclesiastes speaks of man’s vanity of effort, recognizing that in spite of all efforts, man will ultimately die.
Perhaps the knowledge that life is not forever is what leads us to try to understand it. Introspection and self-reflection are hallmarks of our willingness to learn more about ourselves and our world. Some define reflection as the philosophy of philosophy. It not only defines what we know but how that knowledge will affect us, guide us, encourage us. Although Socrates once defined humans as “featherless bipeds”, Protagoras claimed that “Man is the measure of all things; of what is, that it is; of what is not, that it is not.” Aristotle called man an “animal with sapience”, a communal animal with knowledge.
If I touch a hot stove or fire, my sense will tell me that it is not only hot but also unpleasant. However, I can feel the sting of an insect sting, know it is unpleasant, and yet not know what stung me. Clearly we cannot rely only on our senses. We must engage those senses to delve deeper and then derive knowledge and conclusions.
While this blog will never instruct the reader to adopt a specific belief system, it does encourage one to think about possible beliefs, develop an introspective habit that does not include being close-mindedness. Some would claim religion and science are opposite ends of one pole, the pole of knowledge. Fanatical leaders of cults and other destructive belief systems discourage thinking; they only want minions, not believers. They want to live in their ivory towers without living their supposed tenets.
As we celebrate Earth Day, whether that is today or on April 22nd, we have to make sure we are not doing the same. The resources of our planets are sometimes self-rebuilding; in fact, most replenish with time. However, we cannot construct patterns of living that do not allow for that replenishment. There cannot be one set of rules for us and another for someone else.
The old saying “Our actions speak louder than our words” holds great truth when we consider the planet. I once knew a woman who refused to dine in restaurants that used Styrofoam. It was her protest against wasteful drilling in protected waters and the overuse of products that are not biodegradable. I would have respected her protect had she not driven to another restaurant in her luxury gas-wasteful vehicle that she would later park in front of a lavish home that boasted a great many fossil-fuel consuming devices. Her intentions would buried by her own living.
The quest for knowledge needs a system of weights and balances. We must carefully consider knowledge that appears before accepting it as truth. Because of this, I will confess I am approaching my own Reflection event with some misgiving. Dreams are the series of images that cross our sleeping consciousness. Sometimes I am not even certain of that which I have dreamed. How can someone tell me that truth of such an event? An open-mind, however, is the first step toward knowledge and I will endeavor to keep an open mind as I seek greater knowledge to go “n2 my head”.
“What a piece of work is a man? How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! In form and moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?” With this selection from “Hamlet”, Shakespeare perfectly defined the philosophy of reflection. Perhaps the 1812children’s nursery rhyme penned by the Brothers Grimm would be truthful if it asked: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall; what is our living after all?”