Knowledge: Cause and Effect

Knowledge: Cause and Effect

04.25.2019

Easter 2019

 

Mankind took the leap to discover knowledge at the dawn of man.  In the creation stories of the Torah and the Bible, it was curiosity that led to sin and evil.  For many belief systems, education is still a privilege granted only to a select few or group.  Five years ago   the Nobel peace Prize was awarded to the youngest recipient ever, Malala Yousafzai,  because she dared to follow her dream to learn.

 

In the Christian tradition the fortieth day after Easter is known as Ascension Day.  It is the day Christians celebrate as being the day of Jesus Christ’s bodily ascension into heaven.  In a world with the philosophies of Anaximander, Aristotle, Boethus, Diogenes, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Leucippus, Parmenides, Plato, and Socrates, how, you might be asking, could they believe that a man could be crucified, buried, walk among people for forty days, and then ascend to the afterworld?  After all, Leucippus came up with the theory of atoms and he lived five centuries before the man known as Jesus of Nazareth.  How did people think those atoms could be destroyed, rejuvenate themselves, and then vanish into thin air?

 

As it gained momentum, the Christian Church in the form of the Roman Church became the vessel for all learning.  Scholasticism became the method of teaching and it used strict dialectical reasoning to teach Christian theology and to interpret the ancient classical texts of learning.  Using Aristotle’s approach of determining knowledge through our senses proved too down-to-earth for church leaders who felt it took away from the mystery of faith.

 

Nicholas of Cusa proposed something he termed “learned ignorance”.  According to Nicholas who was also known as Nicolaus von Kues, all knowledge came from “the One”, “the Good’.  God, according to Nicholas came before that so it was impossible for a mere human to truly know God.  Nicholas believed that one should use reason to understand this ignorance and that we only knew of God what we could through the “learned ignorance”.

 

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus took exception with the Roman Catholic doctrine and felt one’s personal relationship with God was much more important that the doctrine of the Roman Church.  The knowledge of philosophy he saw as a hindrance to the basic human traits emphasized in scripture and preached by Jesus.

 

Knowledge had not been seen as evil by all belief systems, however.  Mohammed founded Islam and by the seventh century it had spread from Arabia to Asia and Africa and then to parts of Spain.  Rivaling the empire of Christian Europe, Islam entered into what is known as its “Golden Age” around 750 ACE.  This period lasted for more than five centuries as learning and discovery was encouraged in the field of math, sciences, and scholarship.  Major advances were made in astronomy, alchemy, medicine, and mathematics and Aristotle’s philosophy was smoothly integrated with Islamic tenets of faith.

 

The Islamic philosopher Avicenna proposed a “flying man” theory which married knowledge gained from our senses and reason.  He offered that a man flying blindfolded and floating in the air would still know he had a soul or self, even though his senses were not giving him any information.  According to Avicenna, one’s mind and body coexist but as distinct entities.  He also suggested that if this is true, then the mind or soul existed in a different realm than the body and did not die when the physical body did.

 

Not surprisingly, Avicenna’s theories were not accepted by all.  Al-Ghazali was an Islamic philosopher who felt such beliefs were contrary to the Qur’an.  The Iberian Islamic philosopher Averroes or Ibn Rushd disagreed.  He argued that the Qur’an presented metaphorical truths and that, instead of any incompatibility between religion and philosophy, philosophy could be used to interpret religion.  This way of thinking was similar to the paradoxes of Plato.  They also greatly influence Christian philosophy of the period.

 

The conquests by Christian crusaders in the eleventh century are seen by many as an unjust invasion and their beliefs can be understood.  These invasions unlocked Europe to the knowledge of the Islamic world, though, and soon the influence of such spread throughout Europe, leading to the Renaissance and the losing of control over scholarship and knowledge previously held by the Roman Church.

 

Whether you believe in the ascension of a man who previously presented as a mere mortal or whether you fail to believe in any religion, one cannot deny basic principles of life and our living.  We all need air to breath.  Plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy and then into carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere and creates the air we breathe.  The plants in my garden in one hemisphere are not the same plants I had when living in another.  Yet, they still follow the same basic processes in their growth, their blossoms or fruits, their harvest, their period of dormancy, and their value.

 

For one day a year, the Christian Church celebrates the ascension of the central figure in its teachings.  Yet, do we live every other day in dissension and the descent of knowledge?   What I do or do not do today affects my tomorrow.  The Hindu mystic Swami Vivekananda says “The will is not free; it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect, but there is something behind the will which is free.”  American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect.  Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”

 

Mankind has always been curious and that curiosity has fueled a quest for knowledge that continues today.   Regardless of the period of history or location on the planet or even in space, we are constantly learning as we live.  Living in the northwest part of the USA, young adult author Richelle Goodrich sums up our ascent into living and the subsequent knowledge gained from it this way:  “You are here to make a difference, to either improve the world or worsen it. And whether or not you consciously choose to, you will accomplish one or the other.”

 

I fear the real truth is much simpler and in its simplicity, much more complicated to live.  We cannot spend time on this earth without affecting it.  We occupy space and the air we inhale and exhale affects our environment.  We all have a carbon footprint and that also affects the future.  How we gain in knowledge is really up to us.  That is the simple part.  The complications arise when we live or fail to live our beliefs.  We do make a difference by being on this planet and we will either leave it a better place or worsen it.  The future is the fruit of the seed of our actions today.  What will you decide to do?  How will your curiosity lead to greater knowledge?

 

 

Rocky Road

Rocky Road

Lent 33

 

“If the Creator sends you down a stony path, may He/She give you strong shoes.”  This old Irish blessing has changed throughout the centuries but from the Celtic to the Gaelic to the Romans who invaded, they all believed in something greater than mere mortals.  They also believed in the obstacles of life having solutions.

 

As we think about cause and effect, we need to also consider how we, in our actions and by our thoughts, affect both.  In the ebb and flow of life, one effect not only affects another, it often leads to it.  Cause and effect, a summary of the Beatitudes for which this particular series is based, is the basis for most research.  Inquiry, examination, and study is how we learn, discover, and sometimes predict not only the future but also the past.  Determining and evaluating is not easy, though.  Neither is a true cause and effect relationship, efforts to establish such and to prove such. 

 

Far too often in life we find ourselves feeling the victim, usually of others.  We are seldom able to control the actions of even influence the behavior of others.  What we can do, however, is change what we do.  This can make a difference in our own lives. 

 

Simply put, a cause is why an event happened.  The effect is an event that results from said cuase.  Sounds pretty simple and straight forward, right?  Think again.  It is true that examining cause and effect will allow us to identify patterns and explain life events but we must be objective and that is hard to do.  We also must consider our own actions.  Can they be a cause for our personal misery?  Is it possible to be a victim of ourselves?  Of course, the answer is yes.  We are, many times, our own worst enemy.

 

One of the greatest lessons for me from the Beatitudes is that the effect of each cause is a lesson.  The events in our lives are not a judgement or a life sentence.  They are simply one page ot of the book of our lives, a page that serves as a lesson for tomorrow’s living.  With hope we can create strength from our experiences to help us navigate whatever rocky roads we might encounter.  The story is ours to write as we climb the hills of life

 

 

Boys and Broccolini

Boys and Broccolini

Lent 13

 

The Beatitudes may seems old and out of date but they are an excellent example of cause and effect, the efficacy or causality that believes one thing had a direct result on the outcome.  While the words of the Beatitudes may seem ancient, their basic construct is used all over the world by parents, politicians, cult leaders, and terrorist factions.

 

Before you get all upset because I put parents in the same grouping as politicians and leaders of terrorist cells, please read on.  When it comes to persuasive speech, they all have a great deal in common.  Many of us from several generations ago were admonished not to make faces or else, we were told, our face would freeze that way.  Another less understood adage was that we were to eat all our vegetables because there were starving children in the world.

 

Writing for the website explorable.com, Martyn Shuttleworth explains why such a persuasive argument is often incorrect and misleading.  “The basic principle of causality is determining whether the results and trends seen in an experiment are actually caused by the manipulation or whether some other factor may underlie the process.  Unfortunately, the media and politicians often jump upon scientific results and proclaim that it conveniently fits their beliefs and policies. Some scientists, fixated upon ‘proving’ that their view of the world is correct, leak their results to the press before allowing the peer review process to check and validate their work.”

 

Growing up in the city Maria was completely out of her element when her family moved to a small town of less than one thousand.  She attended a weekend dance shortly after moving to the area which was held at a community center.  Five days later a classmate sat down beside her at lunch and introduced herself.  “Hi, I’m Priscilla.  My older brother is best friends with Jackley who plays ball with Billy.  His younger brother is in our class because he flunked kindergarten.  His brother is named Logan but he sits on the other side of the room so you might not have noticed him.  He’s best friends with Josh who lives next door to me.  Anyway, Logan told Josh he likes you.  He saw you at the dance, you see.  So, do you like him?”  Lost amid all the names and siblings, Maria smiled hesitantly and replied:  “If he likes me, then he and I should talk about it.”  Priscilla tossed her head backed and turned to the other girls standing around.  “She’s a snob.”  They all left and Maria ate lunch by herself for two weeks.

 

While there was really nothing wrong with Maria’s response, it was that of some a few years older and from a completely different environment than those who had grown up knowing each other.  The cause and effect might indicate that perhaps Maria really was acting like a snob or that the other girls just wanted to gossip.  It might also, depending on how the information was evaluated, indicate that the girls were reaching out to Maria the best way they knew.  We really do not know without more information regarding posture, tone and inflection, etc.  What is clear is that the cause – the professed interest of one boy to the new girl in the class – had a less than desirable effect for all involved.

 

We often make assumptions that may or may not hold true.  Take, for instance, the vegetable broccoli.  It is a member of the cabbage family and can be eaten raw or cooked.  Broccoli rabe and broccolini might be considered parts of the broccoli plant but they are actually different plants entirely.  A lobbyist for a vegetable company might try to persuade politicians to consider substituting one for the other in a school lunch program.  A less than informed populous might think that was okay.  There are differences, though.

 

Broccolini is a natural hybrid of broccoli with Chinese chard.  It gets its length from the chard and smaller florets on top from the broccoli.  Broccoli rabe, however, is more closely akin to the turnip than to broccoli.  Nutritionally, there are great differences.  A serving of broccoli rabe has 144 calories while a serving of broccoli has 31.  Both broccoli and broccolini had over 100% of the recommended daily allowance for vitamin C but broccoli rabe has 270% for vitamin C.  The eating of one of these three is not the same as the others so the effect on the body nutritionally would vary greatly.

 

It may seem like the Beatitudes are an ancient cause and effect rambling but really, they are as relevant today as they were almost two thousand years ago.  They offer us causality but also a positive effect.  It really depends on our perspective and how willing we are to see the positive.  Maria did eventually become friend with Logan but that was all.  Once the girls realized Maria had already had the chapters they were currently studying and she could help them pass their world geography class, they befriended her.  It took some time and patience and yes, a few tears were shed, but happiness was the final result. 

 

Eating that serving of broccolini may not instantly taste delicious but your body will really appreciate its positive effects.  It is up to us to determine how we approach the causes and subsequent effects in our own lives.  We ultimately have control of our responses and our willingness to wait out the goodness that life can offer.  By defining accurately the causes in our lives and then evaluating the effects and everything influencing them as well as our own responses, we have a much better chance of improving our living.  Today’s chaos might just turn out to be tomorrow’s blessing.

Here, There, Nowhere, and Everywhere

Here and There, Nowhere and Everywhere
Easter 18

There was an old vaudeville routine that went something like this: Speaker 1: “you are nowhere!” Speaker 2: “What are you talking about? I am here.” Speaker 1: “No. I am here. You are there.” Speaker 2: I can’t be there. You are there.” Speaker 1: “That’s what I mean. If you aren’t here or there, then you are nowhere!” Speaker 2: “Wow! I gotta go find myself!”

We’ve all had those days where we felt lost, like we were neither here or there. It is not a modern-day problem. The philosopher Anaximander proposed the philosophical theory known as infinite regress. At the time he lived, it was believed that the world was supported by a body of water. Anaximander asked: “If the world is supported by water, what supports the water?” In challenging religious and spiritual beliefs, the same question is often asked. “If God (or a group of gods) created the world, what was the origin of God?”

It is a similar argument found in discussions of cause and effect. If an action causes a reaction, what created the initial action? A much more common way of expressing this is the age old question: “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” The chicken lays an egg which in turn hatches to become a chicken which lays another egg which hatches to become another chicken which lays an egg, etc. This unending chain of events which create more events is called infinite regress.

For many, infinite regress was proof of eternity. For others, it posed greater questions. Aristotle was not one who believed in the theory. “Some hold that, owing to the necessity of knowing the primary premises, there is no scientific knowledge. Others think there is, but that all truths are demonstrable. Neither doctrine is either true or a necessary deduction from the premises. The first school, assuming that there is no way of knowing other than by demonstration, maintain that an infinite regress is involved, on the ground that if behind the prior stands no primary, we could not know the posterior through the prior (wherein they are right, for one cannot traverse an infinite series): if on the other hand – they say – the series terminates and there are primary premises, yet these are unknowable because incapable of demonstration, which according to them is the only form of knowledge. And since thus one cannot know the primary premises, knowledge of the conclusions which follow from them is not pure scientific knowledge nor properly knowing at all, but rests on the mere supposition that the premises are true. The other party agrees with them as regards knowing, holding that it is only possible by demonstration, but they see no difficulty in holding that all truths are demonstrated, on the ground that demonstration may be circular and reciprocal. Our own doctrine is that not all knowledge is demonstrative: on the contrary, knowledge of the immediate premises is independent of demonstration. (The necessity of this is obvious; for since we must know the prior premises from which the demonstration is drawn, and since the regress must end in immediate truths, those truths must be indemonstrable.) Such, then, is our doctrine, and in addition we maintain that besides scientific knowledge there is its original source which enables us to recognize the definitions.”

Aristotle believed that some knowledge was acquired without demonstration; therefore, it had no cause and no resulting effect. It would be many centuries before Isaac Newton proclaimed that for every action there was an equal and just reaction but the theory of infinite regress did lead to greater schools of thought. For some it was the beginning of the so-called big bang theory regarding the beginning of the universe. For others, like Thomas Aquinas , it became a cosmological argument defending the existence of God, the one who created the first reason or cause.

Plato asked what knowledge really was. He called it justified true belief but the key word there was ‘justified”. In justifying the reasons given forth as proof or propositions, one would become caught in the infinite regression. This would give rise to the school of skepticism which we will discuss at a no too distant future time. For many, the battle over what knowledge was and how it could be proven or justified has led many to give up on philosophy all together. It is the same with the concept of peace.

For many people, peace is the absence of violence. For others, it is freedom. And for still more, it is simply the opportunity to live. They seek peace here, there, and everywhere, having been the chance to live it anywhere. The skeptics and naysayers often create the difficulties in achieving peace instead of supporting it. What is the point of our living if it is not to support life itself for all that lives?

I offer the words of Vincent Van Gogh regarding this. “If one feels the need of something grand, something infinite, something that makes one feel aware of God, one need not go far to find it. I think that I see something deeper, more infinite, more eternal than the ocean in the expression of the eyes of a little baby when it wakes in the morning and coos or laughs because it sees the sun shining on its cradle.” Life is all around us. It is, perhaps, the supreme example of an infinite regress. The potential life offers, the love and peace and future, is there, ours for the taking and living. We ourselves create the life in the here, the there… for everyone, everywhere.