Spirit of Living

Spirit of Living

Pentecost 1

[Easter 50]

It is an often told story in one culture. They were a group united by their beliefs. Living under persecution, they had finally escaped and were fleeing to a new land. Without the organization of their normal lifestyle, though, chaos was beginning to erupt and human wants was overshadowing religious living. In the midst of their journey to find a new home, their unlikely leader says he talked to their deity. Moreover, he claims the deity gave him ten rules for living, answers to remind them of the questions that were threatening their very existence: Who are we? Why are we doing this? Is one better than another? These ten rules were seen as commandments and the day to celebrate their being given from their god was called Shavuot from an ancient word in their dialect meaning “to listen”.

Centuries later from the first story came another often repeated tale, a similar story of culture and beliefs. A group representing all of mankind, different races, genders, ages, and at different levels of believing are gathered together in one place. Suddenly a wind is felt to blow through the gathering. They believe it is the spirit of the one they knew as a teacher, a prophet, a friend, and for one, a son. He had been captured and tortured and then left to die in a public venue. There was danger in their simply being together but they needed each other to move on in their grief. They felt not just the movement of air in their wind but the spirit of love of which their teacher and friend had spoken. It was as if he was still with them, giving them comfort and strength, guiding them in their future walks of life. Moving forward fifty days earlier had seemed impossible as they watched him die but this wind, this spirit gave them strength and courage on this, the fiftieth day, this Pentecost after his death.

If you are Jewish or Christian, the above stories are very familiar to you. If you are not, they are merely historic myths, cultural tales told to children to explain their history, their faith, and their ways of living. Every religion has such tales. Today we think of the twelve god and goddesses of the Greek tales who sat on Mount Olympus as bedtime stories. For the ancient Greeks, they were as real as the news of today.

The writer Joseph Campbell once claimed “Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths.” The mythologies of mankind are the collected stories of groups of people. Their veracity has been the subject of debates for as long as there has been mankind. Campbell explains: “Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.”

During this period of Pentecost we will explore the mythologies of mankind. From the earliest dating back to the Ice Age to more current ones, man/woman is still writing them. For many a myth is a story of someone else’s life and faith. For some, a myth is just a fairy tale but, like most fairy tales, they do have a basis in faith. Philosophy began with asking a simple question. Myths begin with the purpose of answering that and other questions. Joseph Campbell saw mythological stories as one way of exploring the potential of humanity and the human experience of living.

Storytelling began most likely the first time two or more gathered together to explain the day’s events. Throughout time, storytelling has gathered people together and provided them with a sense of unity. The myths of antiquity did much the same thing. We may read them and marvel at their imaginative spirit but to those who heard them, they were a scrapbook of their culture.

We will explore many myths during the next few months, almost two hundred of them. Some will seem amazing and many have been made into books and movies. Others will seem ridiculous and outlandish and may test our ability to show respect for that which we do not believe. Myths are like the flowers that grow uninvited at times. What might be a weed to one person is seen as natural beauty to another. I ask that you join this trip into the stories of our histories, the myths of man, and that you remember that they deserve the same respect we want for our own beliefs and stories of faith.

Some cultures believe their religion is only for a chosen few and most have guidelines for determining who is a “believer” and who is not. Until one hears and believes, all are non-believers. Once believing, though, one must still show respect for others. The beauty of Pentecost and the ancient Hebrew Shavuot is that we are asked to listen and be open to the spirit of living.

It is through storytelling, the sharing of myths, that we preserved the histories of mankind and developed a sense of community. Today we have e-books, television programs, and movies but the purpose is still the same. We tell stories to be connected. The threads of the many cultures of man and woman are like the threads of our own DNA, interwoven and different and yet, very much the same.

Listen to the world today as you go through your living. Look at the many colors of mankind and revel in its diversity. We will find the true meaning of life when we fully live it. I hope you will join me on this journey through time as we vacation among the mythologies of the world. They can serve the same purpose today for us as they did many centuries ago for their first listeners. I agree with Joseph Campbell: ““Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry; it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words, beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told. … We save the world by being alive ourselves.”

Superstition, Supposition, and Sparkle

Superstition, Supposition, and Sparkle

Easter 49

Philosophy has been studied, debated, argued, and discounted then believed for over two and a half thousand years. During the upcoming season of Pentecost we will delve into the earliest stories of man, the mythologies that have shaped the world we know, the world we fear, and the lives we lead.

The twentieth century saw not only world wars but also great advances in science. For years, science had depended upon the discoveries and truths of Isaac Newton. The twentieth century had barely be born when a German Jewish physicist introduced scientific theories that were incompatible with the accepted knowledge based upon Newton’s ideas. Hume and Locke had introduced thinking that mankind had just accepted certain scientific principles as truth without being able to prove them. Einstein challenged scholars in mathematics and the sciences as well as the field of philosophy.

Einstein challenged both the knowledge and how it had been learned. “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.” Accepting Newton’s science as certainty had led the world into the Industrial Revolution. For Einstein to suggest and then prove much of it incorrect asked not only what knowledge had been gained but just exactly what knowledge itself was. Einstein, the genius who had never excelled at school seemed to discount all earlier ways of acquiring knowledge: “Only daring speculation can lead us further, and not accumulation of facts.”

Karl Popper was another Austrian and he spent a great deal of his life as a professor of logic and scientific method in England. Popper realized that, although some theories seemed to work, they were still simply products of the human mind and as such, were subject to being incorrect. “Science is perhaps the only human activity in which errors are systematically criticized and, in time, corrected.” Popper encouraged advancements; they might not could prove everything but some things could be disproven. “All we can do is search for the falsity content of our best theory.”

Benjamin Franklin once said: “I didn’t fail the test; I just found one hundred ways to do it wrong.” The history of philosophy has been a series of advances and failures but it should never be discounted because of those failures. Mahatma Gandhi often spoke of the wisdom found in failure: “My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.”

Perhaps one of the greatest contributions Americans made to twentieth century philosophy was their attitude about failure. After immigrating to the USA, Einstein was quoted as saying “Failure is success in progress.” Other Americans have agreed. American automobile maker and magnate Henry Ford defined failure as “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Ancient philosophers believed that in answering their questions, they would duscover the secrets to success. What we have learned since then is that there is much more that we do not know than was ever imagined. We have also come to the realization that not everything will ever be fully known since much will never be scientifically proven.

The real quest now is not only the continuation of gaining knowledge but is acquiring patience and respect for all as well. We need to continue to strive for success without experiencing a fear of failure that binds our living. We need to realize that true success comes from living in kindness and effort, not in trying to make everything the same. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

In the past forty-nine days we have skimmed the very top of the wave that is philosophy, the wave of the quest for knowledge that has allowed man to advance and enter the twenty-first century with creature comforts here on earth on in space. Philosophy has propelled man forward and, at times, been the basis for governments and nations. Its value, though, remains not in what we know but in what is left to learn.

Tomorrow is Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter. The French Voltaire one said: “Superstition sets the whole world in flames; philosophy quenches them.” We have spent the last forty-nine days learning how we learn. During Pentecost we will delve into our earliest stories of life and see where our questions first arose. The stories of our cultures, the stories woven around the earliest of beliefs of creation are the mythologies of mankind. We will delve into these during the season of Pentecost and connect our past to our present.

Often discounted as the ramblings of heathens, the mythologies of mankind are simply the histories of cultures. The method of deliver, storytelling, had many benefits for early man and continues to provide a path of literacy for us in the modern world. We will revisit some of the earliest myths of man and continue to the more modern ones. A most recent mythological parable is the book entitled “Jabbok” by Kee Sloan. Sloan, an Alabama bishop in the Episcopal Church describes the story he peened: “It’s funny to think about what a book might accomplish. It’s a story, a blend of fact and fiction, about the relationship between an old man who’s lost his faith and a young boy who grows up to answer a call to ordained ministry. It’s a story about hope restored and the struggle of being honest in our faith.”

All mythologies contain elements of faith, whether they are religious faiths, spiritual faiths, or simple basic faiths in living. They tell our story, our dreams, our failures, and our hopes. Like Sloan’s book, they blend truth and fiction, and sometimes fantasy, as we continue to explore the world in which we live. AS writer Brandon Sanderson explains: ““The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”  I hope you will join me as we explore the stories of the world, the myths of man and his being, during the days Pentecost. Who knows what we will learn, what stories might give us renewed life and cause to sparkle in our being?

It’s Only Logical

It’s only logical

Easter 48

One of the most iconic television programs of the twentieth century was “Star Trek”. The franchise was so popular is inspired a movie series and remakes. The main crew of the series was a representation of several of the more prominent ethnicities found on earth in the twentieth century although the movie took place several centuries later in outer space. Without hesitation, I have no problem is saying the most memorable character was Mr. Spock, the half-human, half-alien who often illustrated with one sentence, decades of mankind’s shortcomings and philosophies based upon unerring logic.

Aristotle has proposed a system of logic but by the nineteenth century logic was thought to be laws that governed thought. Aristotle saw learning as one of three things: theoretical, practical, or productive. Logic was the reasoning we used to prove the truth of our learning. One of his more famous examples illustrated this using what he termed a “syllogism”. A syllogism was the assumption derived from two statements, called the extremes and a connecting or unifying statement which linked the two extremes called the middle. Two extreme statements are “All men are mortal.” and “All Athenians are men.” The middle statement would be “Therefore all Athenians are mortal.

In the late nineteenth century, however, a German philosopher challenged this way of defining logic by pointing out that logic itself is objective. Gottlob Frege maintained that logic was independent of human thinking. Logical truths were objective truths and they existed whether or not we believed them. Frege’s thinking proved that mathematics was logical and that we do not prove it so much as we discover it. This led to Bertrand Russell turning to linguistic philosophy and the philosophical analysis of language.

Frege led to the world in learning that truth always existed. Certain facts remained whether we believed them as truth or not. “Insufficient facts always invite danger. Change is the essential process of all existence.” Words spoken by the fictitious purely logical character Mr. Spock summed up the findings of philosophy.

Russell’s analytical philosophy led to the beginnings of Logical Positivism. This field of study proposed that the true meaning of a statement could be determined by asking “What do we have to do to establish the truth or falsehood of this statement?” According to Russell, “the method consists in an attempt to build a bridge between the world of sense and the world of science. The sense of reality is vital in logic.” Ludwig Wittgenstein followed Russell and maintained “the meaning of a word is its use in language.”

Philosophy continued in the twentieth century as a field of disagreements and different avenues followed. It became prominent in its influence upon governments as well as in the everyday living of mankind. At the center, it remained the quest for more knowledge. Soren Kierkegaard, a prominent twentieth century philosopher, explained the difficulties in philosophy. “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. … The supreme paradox of all thought is the attempt to discover something that thought cannot think.”

In the twentieth century philosophy again turned to examining that which could only be experienced. “I exist, and all that is not “I” is mere phenomenon dissolving into phenomenal connections”, stated Edmund Husserl. Husserl developed the field of philosophy known as Phenomenology, a field which concentrated only on that which was personally experienced. Unlike existentialists who sought to discover life through the meaning of their own existence, Husserl asked “What is the meaning of Being?”

Interestingly enough it was a Nazi philosopher, forbidden after World War II to teach for six years, that perhaps gives us the greatest connection back to the ancient philosophers and the reason for philosophy itself. Martin Heidegger, though of some Jewish descent, joined the Nazi party and became the first National Socialist rector of the University of Freiburg. It was this disqualification and punishment after the war ended, based upon his activities in the Nazi party, that led many to discount him as a great thinker. Such action challenged the purpose for the study of philosophy.

Wittgenstein had stated that he felt one shortcoming of philosophy was its dependence on what he called “picture theory of meaning”. He used the analogy of a blank canvas and a landscape scene. Although very different, the blank canvas can be made into an accurate representation of the landscape through the use of paints (and talent). Words derived their meaning from their usage. This has certainly been proven in our modern times. The word “sick” once only referred to illness; not it is a compliment and means very fashionably good.

For me, these advancements in philosophy give heart to the quest of world peace and solving many of the problems of mankind. Mr. Spock once said “Without followers, evil cannot spread.” Certainly we must defend ourselves against annihilation but perhaps our greatest weapons are not those that harm but those that can teach and improve. The German, Jewish Nazi Heidegger banned for a time, said a remarkable summation of the philosophy begun centuries earlier, the first question man sought to answer: “Man alone of all beings, when addressed by the voice of Being, experiences the marvel of all marvels: that what-is is.” After all, it is only logical.

Everything Old…New Again

Everything Old… New Again

Easter 47

At one time Greece had been known for its culture, its arts, its science of which philosophy was a major school. It was also known for democracy. However, democracy became little thought of with the fall of the city states of ancient Greece. It was not until a group of upstart colonists dared to take on a major European nation that a democratic society would once again make news.

The theory of knowledge had been a mostly German field until the middle of the nineteenth century. Few English-speaking people spoke German and so advancements made in philosophy and metaphysics stalled after the fall of the Roman Empire in England. Their contributions were in moral and political philosophy and since during this time England rules over twenty-five percent of the world, the application of these towards public policies had a powerful impact.

The Philosophical Radicals were led by Englishman Jeremy Bentham and they spearheaded reform movements in prisons, education, and laws governing sexual activity as well as corruption in government. These movements continue to be the hallmark of liberal movements today. Bentham advocated the policies of Scots-Irish philosopher Frances Hutcheson: “That action is best which procures the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers.” Known as Utilitarianism, this philosophical movement weighed the usefulness of an action and judged it accordingly. “Everybody is to count for one, and nobody for more than one.”

Another prominent Philosophical Radical was John Stuart Mill. Homeschooled by his father, Mill would become the most well-known of all English-speaking philosophers in the nineteenth century. It was mill who coined the term Utilitarianism and he also advocated for women’s equality. Writing a two-work volume in 1843 entitled “A System of Logic”, Mill combined philosophy as a whole and updated the empiricist philosophy without its skepticism or theology.   In another work “On Liberty”, Mill wrote: “the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. You liberty to swing your arm ends where my nose begins.” Mill was the first since Plato to advocate for female equality. “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” I should add that in writing, the masculine pronoun was used as a formal designation, not as a specific for of gender identification. In stating “his”, Mill referred to both men and women.

Although establishing itself as a nation at the end of the eighteenth century and reaffirming that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was at the end of the nineteenth century that American philosophy came to be recognized. The “American Pragmatists” were three professors that came out of Harvard University – Charles Sanders Pierce, William James, and John Dewey. Considered the most original, Pierce believed that knowledge was activity. “The real, then, is that which, sooner or later. Information and reasoning would finally result in.”   Pierce believed we gained knowledge when we participated in life. Knowledge, he felt, was not the result of being a spectator.

William James offered a similar opinion. “Everything real must be experienceable somewhere, and every kind of thing experienced must be real somewhere.” During the twentieth century the American philosophers led the charge in believing that none of the knowledge we possess is absolute, even science. All known knowledge is infallible, often improvable, and usually replaceable. What is “known” by one generation is questioned by later generations and often disproved or expanded upon to the point where it changes the original knowledge.

IT was the shy, not very studious John Dewey that would become the most influential of the pragmatic American philosophers. Dewey saw efforts to gain knowledge were most successful in the field of science and maintained this was because we learned by doing. Science had, after all, a structure process. The scientist began with a defined, critical form of inquiry, followed an accepted form of study and experimentation, and the drew logical conclusions which resulted in gained knowledge. “The more interactions we ascertain, the more we know the object in question.”

Few of us go through our daily lives thinking about which school of philosophy we are living. Most of us engage in mundane tasks without much though at all. Are we selling ourselves short when we do this? Watch a child taste guacamole for the first time and you will probably have a smile on your face. The soft texture will not give an indication of the taste for the first timer. Indeed. Most children are accustomed to sweet tastes in a similar texture so the taste of the guacamole would not only be tart bu totally unexpected. The puzzlement and then almost certain frown would be obvious.

Less obvious are our own feelings at times. Those are the instances in which we are tempted to follow the crowd and let public opinion be our conscious.  Those are the times that cult leaders are able to sway followers. Not everyone who buys the latest iPhone will become a member of a radical cult but the hallmarks are very similar. When we seek acceptance instead of personal knowledge we open ourselves up to losing ourselves.

John Dewey wrote: “What is sometimes called an act of self-expression might be better termed on of self-exposure; it discloses character – or lack thereof – to others. In itself, it is only a spewing forth.” Dewey was a leader in modern education which, up to that point, had been the imposition of strict knowledge against mostly unenthusiastic students.

How we live shows our character whether we realize it or not. It is the simplest and most complex form of self-expression that we have. We must be certain that it becomes an accurate representation of who we are and what we believe. One cannot claim to believe in religious and/or spiritual charity and be a miser and deny others basic human rights and dignities. How we will spend the next twenty-four hours will illustrate our own personal philosophy of life, our personal philosophy of self. Who will we pass today in our living? What knowledge will we gain?

Me, Myself, and …Who?

Me, Myself, and …Who?

Easter 46

US President Theodore Roosevelt stated: “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” At what seemed to be the height of his career, Roosevelt was stricken with polio. In a position where appearance of strength was paramount, he was reduced to a wheelchair, leg braces, and crutches. Suddenly his challenge was not the legislature, it was not even the battle raging halfway across the globe and the genocide being attempted by Adolf Hitler. His real battle was with his own body. He had become his own worst enemy.

As the German Idealism School of philosophy gained steamed, religion faltered. Philosophers were suddenly declaring God, any god, was dead and maintained along with Nietzsche that “Art raises its head when religions relax their hold.” The very same religion that had brought about such wonderful works of art as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the gorgeous architectural cathedrals of medieval times, and countless works of prose and poetry, was now seen as the enemy of the artist.

Last night in the United States, two arts competitions held their finales. Like similar competitions held in many countries around the world, one singer took home the title in “The Voice”. He was a soft-spoken teenager who played a guitar and lived a simple life with an equally soft-spoken African-American coach from the south. The more flamboyant “Dancing with the Stars” also held their finale and its winner was in direct contrast with the quiet teen singer. The dancing trophy went to the Russian immigrant professional and his partner, the daughter of superstar actor parents. Although it may not seem like winners Sawyer Fredericks and Rumer Willis have much in common, they both met their worst enemy – themselves – and achieved victory.

We all have challenges in life but the greatest challenge by far is the challenge of self. Descartes maintained that our knowledge of our own mental conditions differs greatly from our knowledge of our external world, including what we know about what others are thinking. Philosophy has always encouraged questioning and different opinions and when it comes to defining “self” and “self-knowledge”, it is no different. There is much dissension and lack of agreement about what constitutes the self and how we know it and then its influence on our other knowledge. The philosophy of the mind is very important.

As we conclude our discussion of philosophy we will discuss the philosophy of self and how it interplays with living in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. First, though, I think it important that we take a look at ourselves. How we define ourselves greatly influences how we define and view others. I once had a friend who would say “I see you”. Unfortunately, he did not see the real me – the” me” I know. He saw what he felt I could do for him and his characterization of me was solely based upon his expectations of me. His expectations colored what he saw and resulted in his ignoring who I thought I was.

Spiritualist Rumi stated: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I want to change myself.” All too often we do not want to change ourselves. It is, after all, the hardest thing in the world to accomplish. First we must admit we need changing. That means something about us is not quite right, may be wrong, or we might not be …shudder…perfect. Fact is, none of us are perfect and none of us are right all the time. If we are lucky we are right maybe one of out every one hundred times. That’s okay, though, because our imperfections are our path to greater knowledge.

“We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.” Actress Katherine Hepburn never considered herself a philosopher but she was correct in her statement. No one can change us – no belief system, no philosophy, no government – until we want to change ourselves.

Author Bene Brown explains: “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”

Madeleine L’Engle wrote in her book “A Circle of Quiet”: “A self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel and handed to the child, finished and complete. A self is always becoming.” What will you become today?

The Why and the When

The Why and the When

Easter 45

I really do love your comments and today’s post was is the result of several. “It seems like philosophy is this never ending spiral, a quest with no real prize.” “Why have you dedicated fifty days to such a weird topic?” “How does this relate to my life?” Thank you, as always, for your reading and questions. They not only are great questions, they give us even greater reason to study philosophy. Let me try to explain.

English writer Jonathan Swift once said “May you live every day of your life.” That may seem like a redundancy but some people simply exist, they never really live. They go through their lives blindly following the person in front of them, never asking questions and never seeking anything greater. There is great value in the past but the future will never be realized if we don’t grow. In order to grow we need to evaluate and to evaluate we need to think.

May Sarton explained the need to fully live, to have an authentic life this way: “We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”  A recent book on how to clean out one’s closet advocated asking one simple question when pondering whether to keep an item or not: “Does this bring me joy?” Life is a series of trial and error events but unless we have the courage to examine them, we will never know if they bring us joy, if we should continue to do them or move on to other things. Nothing is perfect every minute and even the best garment cannot give us everlasting joy. However, by learning what works for us and what doesn’t we have the chance to improve and expand our living.

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Albert Einstein recognized the dichotomy of searching for knowledge while possessing a feeling of connectedness to creation.

The son and grandson of Lutheran ministers, Friedrich Nietzsche maintained “There are no facts, only interpretation.” Greatly influenced by composer Richard Wagner, Nietzsche agreed with philosopher Schopenhauer that there was no one central deity or God and rejected the morals based upon religion that were prevalent in his time. Life, he felt, was for living to the fullest. He rejected the concept of an afterlife and believed the reality we knew was the only reality that existed. Nietzsche rejected the morality of the ancient and classical texts and advocated that which was “life asserting” was “good”. In his book “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” he wrote “Man is something to be surpassed.” His tenet of “daring to become what you are” resonated with those in the arts who often had felt the religious institutions stifled their creativity. Nietzsche’s book inspired the tone poem by Richard Strauss, “Also Sprach Zarathustra” which was first performed in 1896 but rocketed into stardom with its being used as the opening for the soundtrack of Kubrick’s film, “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

Through the study of philosophy, new ideas are introduced. Whether you are a student of Plato, Locke, Augustine or Schopenhauer, studying philosophy increases one’s general knowledge and expands the world we both know and can dream will come. Studying philosophy enhances problem solving skills. Everyone encounters challenges and obstacles. We all utilize problem solving in our interaction with these. In short, there is nothing we do without some element of thinking being a part of it. Whether it is by thought, design, or natural response, why we do what we do illustrates our personal philosophy.

We utilize that philosophy in our interactions. Communication with others will, at some point, involve the need to convince them of our beliefs or position on a particular subject. Through the study of philosophy our ideas are formed, organized, and then presented in a persuasive manner. We are able through philosophy to distinguish what we respect and what we discard.

In 1982, Indiana (USA) statesman Lee Hamilton went on record about philosophy: “It seems to me that philosophers have acquired skills which are very valuable to a member of Congress. The ability to analyze a problem carefully and consider it from many points of view is one. Another is the ability to communicate ideas clearly in a logically compelling form. A third is the ability to handle the many different kinds of problems which occupy the congressional agenda at any time.” This is true for any government official in any country or kingdom.

Without philosophy, life loses its challenge, its shine, and its reason for being. Human rights advocate Elie Wiesel once said: ““The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” Philosophy keeps us from becoming indifferent.

We use philosophy every day. Regardless of what your philosophy is, we not only use it, we impact the rest of the world with it. Hopefully, your philosophy is one that does not harm to others but encourages their own personal growth and respects all living things. There is not use in valuing destruction. When we utilize philosophy, amazing things happen. Margaret mead said it best: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Chaos or Contemplation?

Chaos and Contemplation

Easter 44

If philosophy is the science of thinking, then chaos is the science of surprise. Most of us have heard chaos theory explained in the following example: If a butterfly flaps its wings halfway across the world, then a storm will occur a few weeks later. Putting it in perspective, butterflies in Chile were busy around the time of Easter which accounts for the recent storms in the Midwest portion of the United States of America. Six months ago all the butterflies in the Butterfly House in a botanical garden in the USA were disturbed by a tree falling outside and so we had powerful storms in the South Pacific Ocean two months ago. Such a theory has a backside, though. If there had not been a butterfly house housing hundreds of butterflies to be disturbed, there would not have been the monsoons, If Easter tourists in Chile had not disturbed the butterflies, twenty million people in the USA would not have spent this past weekend under tornado and severe storm watches. Is it really all the poor butterfly’s fault? Can something that small have such a large effect?

For most of his life, Karl Marx was not gainfully employed. The man who penned “Das Kapital”, a scathing condemnation of prevailing capitalist ideas and functions, living mostly on the goodwill of his friends, preferring to spend his time thinking and reading at the British Museum instead of earning his own way and living on his own. He was not well-known and yet within seventy years of his death, one third of mankind was under the hand of governments that considered themselves “Marxist”.

Chaos theory is built upon the belief that the smallest of changes in a system can result in very large differences in that system’s behavior. Marx saw many benefits in the capitalism of his time but chiefly he saw it as a stepping stone, a period of history that would bring about greater change. Marx applied science, or so he thought, to his predictions about society and the dependence the owner had on his workers would, Marx believed, ultimately bring them closer together into one society.

Isaac Newton developed thoughts about physics. With his work, one can take information about the present state of an object in motion and, using Newton’s laws of motion, predict where and what that object will be in the future. Marx sought to do this with developing societies. Many of his followers believed they were being optimistic about the future. After all, the philosophies of Locke were given as causes for the American and French revolutions. Perhaps Marxism would be the “planned solution” the world needed to prevent further chaos.

Philosophy cannot be relegated to the walls of academia. It began with man and it follows him today in every aspect of his/her living. The ideas of one impoverished thinker spread like wildfire across the globe from Eastern Europe to Russia and China. Buddhism, Islam, or Christianity has ever had such a swift, effective, and devoted following. The Russian leaders Stalin, Trotsky, and Lenin, the Yugoslavian Tito, Chinese Mao Zedong, Vietnamese Ho Chi-minh, and the Cuban Fidel Castro not only read and believed Karl Marx, they changed the world because of their following his ideas.

The sensitive dependence that Chaos Theory is built upon is not really news. Aristotle mentioned it in his writings: “the least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousand fold”. Scientifically, chaos theory is the study of nonlinear dynamics, making predictions on random events based upon deterministic equations. I would be remiss if I failed to note that even defining the term chaos is up for discussion so defining a theory based upon something that is still being determined or defined is … well, not an exact science. It is generally agreed upon that chaos is the science world does not refer to a state of confusion but rather a state of apparent lack of order, something very much like dynamical instability, a state of being discovered by French physicist Henri Poincare.

In using chaos theory, two general conditions have been established. The first is that systems, all systems, rely upon an underlying order of sorts and that even the smallest of systems can create large, complex behaviors or effects. The second condition or assumption is something known as “sensitive dependence on initial conditions, coined by Edward Lorenz in the mid twentieth century. A meteorologist, Lorenz was using a computer to predict upcoming weather conditions. Having completed one particular sequence, he reentered the numerical data and then left the computer to its own equating. He later returned expecting to see a duplication of the first transcribing and equations but instead discovered results that were very different. Instead of entering the data exactly, he had left off three digits in one number, entering “.506” instead of “.506127”. Such an error was not expected to have made much difference in the results since the primary three digits were what were needed.

Lorenz repeated his efforts, each time only slightly varying the data in ways that were thought to be miniscule and therefore having little or no effect. What he discovered was that the slightest differences, even those beyond our ability to measure, could have significant effect on the outcomes. This meant that predictions of past or future events or outcomes was impossible, a concept that violated the very foundations of physics. Physicist Richard Feynman explained: “Physicists like to think that all you have to do is say, these are the conditions, now what happens next?”

In order to use Newton’s Laws of Motion, one has to be able to assume that precise measurements are possible. Newton held that nearly perfect measurements were possible and would suffice. Poincare discovered that the slightest variation made huge difference in astronomical computations. Since absolutely precise measurements of objects in space is impossible or chaotic, then all predictions based upon assumed orderly measurements were nothing better than random thoughts on the subject. In presenting his theory of the Butterfly Effect at a meeting in Washington, D.C. in 1972, Lorenz illustrated an anonymous meteorologist’s assertion that, based upon chaos theory, a single flap of a seagull’s wings would be enough to change the course of all future weather systems on earth.

The so-called “Butterfly Effect”, first described by Lorenz at the December 1972 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., vividly illustrates the essential idea of chaos theory. In a 1963 paper for the New York Academy of Sciences, Lorenz had quoted an unnamed meteorologist’s assertion that, if chaos theory were true, a single flap of a single seagull’s wings would be enough to change the course of all future weather systems on the earth.  He would later repeat his thoughts in a paper entitled “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?”

Today some of those countries who completely revamped their government in favor of Marxism have loosened the reins. They have discovered that the behavior of mankind is more akin to the apparent randomness of chaos theory than an exact science. Free will may be a tenet of Christianity but people of all belief systems, cultures, and socioeconomic levels are living proof of it every day. We often define chaos as randomness or a lack of order. James Gleick, author of “Chaos : Making a New Science” defines chaos theory as “a revolution not of technology, like the laser revolution or the computer revolution, but a revolution of ideas. This revolution began with a set of ideas having to do with disorder in nature: from turbulence in fluids, to the erratic flows of epidemics, to the arrhythmic writhing of a human heart in the moments before death. It has continued with an even broader set of ideas that might be better classified under the rubric of complexity.”

Whether constrained by government or the idle pondering done on a solitary walk, the power of thought cannot be underestimated. Some thoughts are logical conclusions based upon known data while others are the unexpected surprise of simply living. We can all make order from the chaos of our lives. It doesn’t take being a government leader or someone famous. Maya Angelou once stated: “I’m convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.”