In or Out
By now we have discussed contradictory approaches to learning and even the very definition of knowledge. Some felt it was found by proving its existence while others felt the best way to determine something was to question if it ever existed at all. It even seems like the ancient field of philosophy encouraged its students to doubt everything and then approach their studies from the opposite viewpoint of their mentors and teachers.
Thomas Hobbes connected his thoughts on philosophy with his thoughts on psychology. If you remember, Hobbes saw motion in everything. Thus, it should come as no surprise to learn that he viewed living as a contradictory pair of motions which he called appetite and aversion. Love and hate, joy and grief…Hobbes saw life as a two-sided coin based upon the insatiable needs and desires of man/woman which never end until we reach our death. Death, according to Hobbes, was the reason man formed societies and lived as a social or pack animal.
The fear of death is considered one of the most common and greatest fears. Most of us will do anything we can to avoid death. Yet, many of us indulge in lifestyles and habits that actually beckon the end of our lives. Philosophers sought to make logical the contradictory nature of man/woman – his/her desires versus his/her fears and how they were illustrated in his/her living.
Descartes spoke his famous “Cogito; ergo sum!” but that only proved that he existed. His “I think; therefore I am” might have been true for him but how was one to prove their neighbor thought and therefore existed? Just because someone appeared to be human and have consciousness did not mean they actually did. What about our identity?
I am still my parents’ child but I am no longer the size I was at birth nor do I look like I did then. The Ship of Theseus is a metaphor used to illustrate how we remain the same while also undergoing change. The ship was used for many years and at times underwent repairs and upgrades. Eventually, although the name of the ship remained the same, there was nothing of the original ship left. The human body repairs itself and replaces the cells of the body so that we are new while still being our old self.
As mankind lived through the Renaissance and approached the Industrial Age, the universe received a mechanistic interpretation. Dutch philosopher Benedict Spinoza introduced a duality of body and soul, connecting our finite bodies with our infinite minds. Spinoza proclaimed that man was both physical being and spiritual soul. To know one’s deity was simply to know another side of one’s self, according to Spinoza. Spinoza is also famous for being one of the first advocates for freedom of speech: “The true aim of government is liberty.”
How we determine our identity often determines how we live and learn. It definitely portrays our basic understanding of our place in the world and universe. In an essay titled “The Art of Invisibility”, a young woman wrote: “According to what my science teacher said, my body has mass. According to my bathroom scale, my body has a great deal of mass. According to my fellow classmates, I am invisible. I do not exist. I am not even worth their mocking me. I am nothing. I have no value since I am nothing.” Fortunately, the essay was found and her attempt at suicide prevented. Because she felt she had no social connections, she felt invisible and that her life was worth nothing.
“I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, not to hate them but to understand them.” Spinoza’s words are a good lesson for us all. All too often we pass through our world viewing people and deciding if they are “in” or “out”, one of us or a stranger to be avoided. We all exist and we all have value. The shape of one’s eyes, the color of someone’s skin, or the cost of the clothes someone is wearing have nothing at all to do with a person’s basic existence.
When it comes to learning, we all must decide what truth is for us. When it comes to living, though, we must accept that the living is its own truth. My neighbor may not look like me but in his/her identity of being human, he/she is just like me. We are unique and yet the same. In or out, we are all on this planet together. We all share this adventure called life.