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?

 

 

Grace in Knowledge

Grace in Knowledge

Advent – 3

 

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.  Grace was also a concept given to only a few.

 

As it gained momentum, the Christian Church, 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 coexisted 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 Crusaders in the eleventh century 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.

 

AS man delved further into knowledge, though, the question of grace had to be answered.  Do we live each day with grace or is it lived in dissension leading to 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.”  How we do that is determined by the grace we show and live to each other and to ourselves.  Grace might very well be the key to a brighter future oif we extend it to each other.

 

 

Do We Really Want to Know?

Do We Really Want to Know?

Pentecost 92

 

Over the weekend I became embroiled in an argument of sorts with one of those “friend of a friend of a friend” things that often occurs on Facebook.  Someone had posted something about the National Anthem and posed a question:  Who knew it had four verses?  AS a musician, I have lost count of the hundreds of times I have played this national treasure.  Its complexity often belies the tune’s origin, supposedly as a drinking song.  I responded that I knew all the verses and that knowledge apparently made me both expert and target.

 

If you’ve been reading any of my blog posts over the almost three years this particular blog has been in existence, then you know that 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.  Last year the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the youngest recipient ever, a young girl who dared to follow her dream to learn.  Education is both the key that unlocks life’s mysteries and also puts a target on one’s back at times.

 

Many things seem to defy basic knowledge.  The Christian tradition tells the story of a loving God, a virgin birth, the crucifixion of the child of that virgin birth, and his 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 anyone believe that a man could be born from a woman and some Creator spirit, live, be crucified, buried, supposedly return from the dead to walk among people for forty days, and then ascend to the afterworld?  After all, Leucippus came up with the theory of atoms.  How did people think those atoms could be destroyed, rejuvenate themselves, and then vanish into thin air?

 

As it gained momentum, the Christian Church, the Roman Church of the time, 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 influenced Christian philosophy of the period.

 

The conquests by Christian crusaders in the eleventh century are seen by many as an unjust invasion, a feeling easily and perhaps understood.  These invasions introduced 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, don’t we all live every other day in dissension and the descent of knowledge?  Certainly my stating a few facts about the National Anthem led to great dissension by one “friend”.   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.  Francis Scott Keys penned the verses to the National Anthem of the U.S.A. while actually a prisoner aboard an enemy ship, a ship he had boarded to broker peace and hopefully, a cessation of the fighting.  “Oh, say; can you see?”  Knowledge is out there for us to discern but only if we are willing to see.  Knowledge takes us out of our comfort zone.  Do we really want to know or are we too willing to stay comfortable in our ignorance?  Is that truly living?

 

 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.”

 

 

Suspicion of Knowledge

Suspicion of Knowledge

Easter 42

With recent events regarding the education of girls that have occurred in the Middle East which are truly terroristic occurrences whose purpose is more about exercising a false sense of power than it is about religion, one might believe that not trusting knowledge or the quest for it is a modern thing. Certainly Islamic extremists would like the world to believe it is the fault of the United States of America. The truth is, however, that mankind has always been suspect of learning new things.

“New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.” John Locke introduced a new concept into the science of thinking – the fact that man’s capacity for learning might have limits. Locke took the concept that we learn through our senses and applied it to the limits of those senses. Locke gave the contents of consciousness the name “ideas” and proposed that unless we also incorporate someone else’s sensory perceptions, then we are limited in understanding the reality external to us: “No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience.”

Locke is also known for encouraging both tolerance and liberal capitalism, a system of voluntary transactions based upon one owning one’s work and then used, independent of government. “Where is the man that has incontestable evidence of the truth of all that he holds, or of the falsehood of all that he condemns, or can say that he has examined to the bottom all his own, or other men’s, opinions? The necessity of believing without knowledge, nay often upon very slight grounds, in this fleeting state of action and blindness we are in, should make us more busy and careful to inform ourselves than constrain others.”

Locke strongly believed in the community as playing a vital role in advancing one’s knowledge. I might see a fuzzy shape but from another’s perceptive, they might see four legs. Someone from yet another perspective might see a tail. Take a fourth perspective that see the front and gradually we can understand whether or not we are looking at a cat or a dog. Through the experiences of each, we combine through and gain greater knowledge than was possible through just one perspective. What about those things we believe exist but cannot prove through our sense, things like time and space?

Many in the German school of philosophy known as German Idealism believed time and space could not exist, in part based upon the teachings of the classical philosopher Spinoza. German Immanuel Kant varied from this and maintained that time and space existed in our intuition. Basically German Idealism believed that the reality we known is based upon ideas or thoughts. It held that only our thoughts are truly knowable and those things that exist or are thought to exist in the outside world can never be truly proven to exist. This basic concept dates back to Plato and was revived with the writings of Englishman and bishop George Berkeley in the early part of the eighteenth century.

Kant attempted to join the philosophical schools of rationalism which believed knowledge was gained only through reason and empiricism which held that we learned only through our senses. Kant proposed that we do know more than basic knowledge and that we know the potential for other things exists, even if we do not have the ability to prove them or perhaps even see them. Kant believed that that which we perceive and know might just be how they appear to us and not perhaps as they really are.

It is important to remember these teachings and where they led because if we don’t, we are in danger of repeating past mistakes and will have learned nothing through time. German philosophers following Kant both embraced and rejected his notions in developing their own, a practice which reflected the beginnings of the study of philosophy. Some reinstated the connection between faith and belief with the basis of all knowledge, a concept that laid the groundwork for the American Transcendalist movement of the nineteenth century. Some like the German Jacobi used Kant’s potential for things to be more than the appeared, something he termed “thing-in-itself”, as a fact of faith. Schulze maintained, however, that an external thing could not produce a mental image. Schulze held these mental images or concepts were the result of our own ego while Schelling felt the ideal and the real were simply manifestations of the entity of God.

“It is precisely in knowing its limits that philosophy exists.” Immanuel Kant’s words might seem strange but most believe that we learn by realizing what we do not know. It is much like having a key ring full of keys, not knowing which key opens the door we want to use. The last key we use will always be the correct key to open the door simply because once it is opened we stop trying the other keys. We never discover is there are duplicate keys on the key ring that would open the door because our goal has been met.

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”  Confucius said this centuries before Kant did and both men were right. The problem comes when we decide what we need to learn and learn it and then stop trying to learn new things. We become comfortable with that which we have. There is nothing wrong with comfort but sometimes it can restrain us from advancements. When we accept that all that is possible is what we know, then we stop living. It is good to scrutinize new knowledge and to question it. To disregard it simply because it is not common or comfortable is useless and a sure road to downfall, stagnation, and decay. In the twentieth century Richard Feynman wrote: “You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing — that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”

In our world today we know the names of many things but do we really know them? There are extremists in every country using the names of supposed enemies but is what they are saying really true? During the political campaigns across the planet, speeches are made, not so much about the candidate’s beliefs but about those of his/her opponents. Do those speeches contain truth or rhetoric best described as propaganda? I once was in a meeting that had yet to start. A discussion of vegetable arose and everyone in the room agreed they hated beets. I always thought I hated them as well and was about to join in when I suddenly realized I had no idea what they tasted like. So I asked the group what beets tasted like. No one could tell me but they all knew they hated them. Did they really hate them or was it just popular to not like beets?

We achieve not only greater knowledge but greater freedom when we open our minds to new knowledge. It must be viewed and not just accepted because it is popular to accept it. We should not fear the stranger but we should proceed with cautious good intent and wise thinking. A person is not evil because they are unknown or different. Some people I like and some I don’t; some people like me and some don’t. After our meeting, we all went out to eat and I ordered beets. Three others discovered that, like me, they did like beets. They were not the evil vegetable we thought they were. I agree with Socrates: “The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.”

Knowing and Doing

Knowing and Doing

Easter 27

The following is an excerpt from an article in the Fort Worth (Texas, USA) newspaper “Star Telegram”, written by Deanna Boyd. Names have been omitted due to the age of the individual at the center of this article.

On Oct. 4, 2012, [X] called 911, telling a dispatcher, “Uh, I just killed my mom and my sister….”I felt like they were just suffocating me, in a way,” he told the dispatcher, according to a recording of the 911 call. “Obviously, you know, I’m pretty, I guess, evil.”

Responding Parker County deputies found [a woman] and her daughter dead of multiple gunshot wounds inside the house on [XX] Lane in [subdivision and town]. The young man was arrested at the scene. In a written statement, he told investigators that he had devised a plan to kill several family members after watching [a] remake of the movie “Halloween,” in which a boy murders relatives.

“While watching it I was amazed at how at ease the boy was during the murders and how little remorse he had afterward,” [X] wrote in his statement. “I was thinking to myself, it would be the same for me when I kill someone.”

Sheriff’s officials have said [X] used a gun stolen from his grandfather, a retired Fort Worth officer, to commit the slayings. [X] told investigators that he had intended to later kill his grandparents and two other sisters.  But after the slayings of his mom and sister, [X] — in a state he described as “very shocked and scared” — instead placed the gun on the kitchen counter and called 911.

“I know now though that I’m done with killing. It’s the most dreadful and terrifying thing I will ever experience. And what happened last night will haunt me forever.”

We think we know so much and especially as young adults and teenagers, we can be intensely certain that we think we know something. Philosophy is about the “knowing” but how do we know? Sadly, many cult leaders never give their followers the chance to reflect upon their actions. These misguided young people searching for knowledge and truth are sacrificed for the greed and egos of others.

Philosophy is about the search for knowledge and it is a search conducted without a great deal of physical action, just mental. For that reason, many disdain it and consider it, to borrow from Shakespeare, “much ado about nothing”. Some say that about spiritual sects and religious denominations and faiths.

We study to prevent knowledge from passing us by, from slipping through the hours of our living. The ancient philosophers saw the world moving on and asked why. We need to question our daily actions in the same way. Did what I do yesterday have value? Did I connect with another, friend or stranger? Was there a purpose for my being?

We will continue to delve into the answers and ways of answering such questions. Who, what, how, why… These are the realm philosophy travels. We will each have our own answers and paths of both learning and exploration. The future is, after all, ours to construct and write.

Hopefully, we will connect with others and thrive. Hopefully, others will look back upon their connections with us and be thankful for them. Mostly, though I hope you never feel what this young man has felt. “It’s the most dreadful and terrifying thing I will ever experience. And what happened last night will haunt me forever.”

Life is not about being haunted. Life is for living and living for the best outcomes for all of mankind. Enjoy today. Live your faith. Exist, believe ,rejoice. Mostly, I hope you smile – at another but also at yourself.

Why We Learn… Or Should Learn

Why We Learn… Or Should Learn

Easter 21

Someone asked me?  Why spend fifty days on philosophy?  Why so much time on the science or art of wisdom?  Let’s set aside for the moment that my entire purpose in writing every day is to get people to think and, hopefully, learn something new.  I do not specify what you should learn, just the genre.  Actually, I just want people to use their brains.

I don’t always write from a Christian viewpoint although I am a Christian.  Specifically, I am an Episcopalian although I think I claim the denomination far more enthusiastically then it claims me.  I have been since birth but I have also attended meetings, services, and events/trainings at other denominations and other religions.  I have read the Koran, albeit in English, and for a couple of years gave my business office willingly to a Muslim Imam to pray two or three times a day.  My friends include Buddhists, Muslims, three types of Jews, Hindus, and even Pagans – yes, witches.  I even have agnostic and atheists as friends.

I mention this, in spite of this blog not being about me personally, because I think we are all connected and all learn from one another.  Alexander Theroux stated:  “Hypocrisy is the essence of snobbery, but all snobbery is about the problem of belonging.”  When we think we know it all, we are really saying we are too scared to learn anything else.

In a recent interview Olympic triathlon gold medalist Bruce Jenner recently stated “My brain is more female than male.”  Is that even possible?  The brain is a complex organ.  It is made up of more than one hundred billion nerves communicating to trillions of connections called synapses.  Dr. Michael Mosely maintains that our brains, like our bodies, are shaped by exposure to hormones in the womb and this may help explain why males tend to do better at some tasks (3D rotation), while women tend to do better at others (empathy skills), although there is, of course, an awful lot of overlap and social pressure involved.  Professor Alice Roberts believes such differences to be “largely spurious” and fears such opinions might very well discourage girls from going into the sciences and/or mathematics.

Recently the British Broadcasting Corporation asked these two experts to discover who was on the right path, which opinion was closer to the truth.  They were also asked to find any common ground between the brains of males and females.  In his report, released in late 2014, Dr. Mosely reported:  “One of the scientists who has most strongly influenced my beliefs is Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University.  He argues that, broadly speaking, there are two different “brain types”. There are empathisers, who are good at identifying how other people are thinking or feeling, and there are systemisers, people who are more interested in trying to take apart and analyse systems i.e. people who are a bit nerdy.  We are all a mix of the two, but most of us are more one than the other. Men tend to sit more along the systemising end of the spectrum, women at the empathising end, though there are plenty of exceptions.  But is this simply the product of social conditioning? Professor Baron-Cohen thinks not.”  Studies done on babies exposed to higher levels of testosterone showed male babies with greater abilities in the commonly-named “male” skills – putting things together, determining how things work, etc.  These same babies, however, also showed delayed verbal skills and had smaller vocabularies.

The BBC report also mentioned a somewhat dubious study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania in which brains of 949 males and females were scanned. Subject participants ranged in age from eight years to twenty-two years.  There were some striking differences.  Researcher Professor Rubin Gurr reported that men showed stronger connections between the front and back of their brains.  “They are better able to connect what they see with what they do, which is what you need to be able to do if you are a hunter. You see something, you need to respond right away.”

The University of PA report indicated that women had “more wiring” between their right and left hemispheres of their brains.  Another researched involved with study, Dr Ragini Verman, explained:  “The fact that you can connect from different regions of the brain means you ought to be good at multi-tasking and you may be better at emotional tasks”.

Every animal you can think, with the exception of sponges, has a brain.  The human brain is not the largest but it is unique.  Whether male or female, it gives us the power to speak, imagine and problem solve.  The brain controls body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, processes all of the information fed to it from our senses, handles all physical movement whether we are sitting, talking, standing, or walking, and even lets us think, dream, reason, and experience emotions.  And all of these things are controlled, coordinated, and regulated by an organ that is about the size of a small head of cauliflower!

I think philosophy is interesting; it is my blog so I get to choose and I chose philosophy.  I have a question for you.  Why ONLY spend fifty days on knowledge?  Recently I delved into two different trains of thought from a friend’s Facebook page.  She always has interesting posts and I confess I envy her ability to be both thought-inspiring and yet relaxingly personal at the same time.

My friend said something about MSG – mono sodium glutamate.  Known as an ingredient in Chinese cooking, MSG has something of a bad reputation and many claim it has detrimental health benefits.  These claims have resulted in many Chinese eateries offering MSG-free foods and those taking advantage walk around something of snobs.  They feel they are a little smarter than the rest of us to avoid this “chemical” in their food.

Another post reposted by my friend concerned the recent launch by a popular retail giant, Target, of a previously exclusive fashion house, Lily Pulitzer.  Fashion mavens on the east coast were downright vilific when they heard the news.  Many claimed the designer had sold out.  They were right, in a manner of speaking, just a few decades late.  Lily Pulitzer, the Florida housewife who sewed her own brightly colored cotton shifts that became resort gold, retired in the 1980’s.  Her company was bought by a larger company and began showing up in retail outlets, not the store fronts Lily had established.

The article my friend reposted was written by someone who thought and did her research.  I will stop for applause here.  The writer also mentioned that Target had partnered with other designers without such an outcry, designers whose clothing lines on the runway sold for three times the highest price ever paid for a Lily Pulitzer.  Apparently, though, those designers were more mainstream and thus did not impact the snobbery of the east coast fashion mavens.

In the interest of honesty I must confess I found the Target ads for Lily Pulitzer disgusting.  The supposed resort party scene had giraffes on the upper patio being used as living lawn ornaments.  Those poolside were served cocktails by monkeys wearing hats that no self-respecting monkey in the wild would ever be seen wearing.  As people dined at the expansive banquet table, flamingos strolled amongst the plates.  I was not made to want to be there; I wanted to cover those plates and rescue those animals.

Lily Pulitzer made a sensible garment for the climate and usage and was widely received.  Kudos to her, in spite of her “female brain”!  Those proudly boasting their MSG-free Chinese cartons need to do some thinking, though.  Their snobbery is based on ignorance.  First of all, MSG is not some laboratory chemical designed to either harm us or make us addicted to food.  It is a natural by-product of the breakdown of certain things.  The name for it was coined by a Japanese chef and scientist who called it “umami”.  First used by a French chef who learned that his dishes had a heightened sense of flavor when he added veal stock,  MSG or umami’s principle is why we add chicken or beef stock to foods when cooking.  MSG is also found in ketchup as well as canned vegetables.  Who goes into a store asking for canned beans without MSG?  Yes, fresh is best, but given the varieties of climates, we need those canned goods.

The fact is that men and women are different.  We do some things differently, like processing pain.  Professor Jeff Mogil of McGill University in Montreal, Canada studies how medications work much better for men than women and notes that most medications are designed for men.  “There’s lots of drug development going on and if any of those drugs ever make it to the market and get approved, my expectation will be that they will work in one sex and simply not work in the other sex”, he says.  Women used far less prescription medication and yet experience more chronic pain, handling that pain much better than men.  Dr. Mogil hopes one day we have medications that work equally for both sexes.

We share so much in common and the ability to think, regardless of how differently we do it, is a necessity for life.  I implore each of you to balance your lives but remember to think and to think thoroughly.  After all, good taste, comfortable and affordable clothing, and good health are not just for the rich.  Whether we have a male or female brain, we can all win the marathon we call life.

How Do I Know?

How Do I Know?
Easter 15

We have established that, while philosophy may have many definitions, it primarily is the study of knowledge, the science of obtaining wisdom. If you are a reader of this blog, you then “know” that it is not a personal journal but a series of articles regarding philosophy, psychology, theology, spirituality, and basic living principles and how we put these into action in our lives, wherever those lives may be lived.

Yesterday we discussed reflection. After all, what we learn has to be taken in, digested, and then reflected upon for it to have meaning or, perhaps, to be rejected. I mentioned I was going to an event that what termed a “reflection” event, using dreams as the avenue for reflection. I also subtly indicated that I was not overly enthusiastic about the topic or its application. Those feelings and expectations or lack thereof bring up an interesting question: How do we know what it is we think we know?

Rene Descartes is often quoted. His “I think, therefore I am” is used both for and against a great many arguments. I found it an undercurrent in the discussion I heard yesterday regarding dreams. Descartes is considered the father of modern philosophy. He considered knowledge not to simply be learned information and he often compared it to what we do not know. Knowledge to Descartes was certain knowledge or “scientia” and lesser grades of conviction or” persuasio”. He explained: “I distinguish the two as follows: there is conviction when there remains some reason which might lead us to doubt, but knowledge is conviction based on a reason so strong that it can never be shaken by any stronger reason.”

Many portray Descartes’ definition of knowledge as being based upon doubt. He himself felt knowledge needed to withstand tests of being absolute truth and so it should withstand any doubts. “First of all, as soon as we think that we correctly perceive something, we are spontaneously convinced that it is true. Now if this conviction is so firm that it is impossible for us ever to have any reason for doubting what we are convinced of, then there are no further questions for us to ask: we have everything that we could reasonably want. … For the supposition which we are making here is of a conviction so firm that it is quite incapable of being destroyed; and such a conviction is clearly the same as the most perfect certainty.” Simply put, Descartes felt knowledge was or should be incapable of being destroyed.

How do we know what we know? Descartes felt relying on sensory information only could prove false. He used dreams as an example. He used this as an example. “How often, asleep at night, am I convinced of just such familiar events—that I am here in my dressing-gown, sitting by the fire—when in fact I am lying undressed in bed! … As I think about this more carefully, I see plainly that there are never any sure signs by means of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep. The result is that I begin to feel dazed, and this very feeling only reinforces the notion that I may be asleep.”

What we learn from our senses is not entirely objective. I often am sitting in a room and feeling cold when my spouse is not cold at all, maybe even feeling a bit warm. Descartes called this his Argument from Error, the thinking that knowledge based upon perception could be flawed or false. The experience of awaking from a dream in which one is running and is actually feeling winded was to Descartes proof that beliefs based upon perception might be the basis of dreams and therefore false.

He did, however, see limits to his own argument regarding dreams. “Suppose then that I am dreaming, and that these particulars—that my eyes are open, that I am moving my head and stretching out my hands—are not true. Perhaps, indeed, I do not even have such hands or such a body at all. Nonetheless, it must surely be admitted that the visions which come in sleep are like paintings, which must have been fashioned in the likeness of things that are real, and, hence, that at least these general kinds of things—eyes, head, hands and the body as a whole—are things which are not imaginary but are real and exist.”

There are those who do indeed feel that dreams can mislead, convince us that what we do or observe is not reality. This, some claim, is proof that dreams can mislead. My experience yesterday in reflecting used dreams as the primary tool. Conducted by a learned and licensed minister and a trained dream group leader who are founders of a nonprofit organization called The Metagem Institute, it employed techniques for dream reflections used by the Hagen Institute.

The event began with a quote from an Anglican bishop, Bishop Appleton: “Give me a candle of the spirit, O God, as I go down into the deep of my inner being.” For me, that quote and the successive hours led me to a new definition of learning, of gained knowledge – whether through my senses or by scientific principles.

My new definition of knowledge is this: going deep into life, exploring our inner living. Some believe in precognition dreams while others see dreams as a replay of their life. Depending on which school of psychology you believe and…spoiler alert… we will discuss all of the various ones during our next series, you might see dreams as a way of interpreting our consciousness as well as our subconsciousness.

In the end we need to integrate reason with sensory perceptions. Just because my spouse is bundled up nicely and not cold does not mean it may not be cold. Said spouse might have a slight fever or might just need to take off a scarf or sweater. We once stopped while on a trip to fuel the car. This very same spouse got out wearing only a light t-shirt and jeans. That attire belied the fact that it was snowing heavily. As the locals sitting outside the gas station remarked: “That gringo is loco!” (I agreed, shivering inside the car wearing both shirt and sweater!)

It is not wrong to check and make sure that what we THINK we know is actually true. The acquiring of knowledge is not easy and often can be misconstrued, misrepresented, and misinterpreted. What we feel is important but we cannot act upon feelings alone. Neither can life be simply a series of science experiments. There are basic truths we must recognize. Descartes said it best: “Whether I am awake or asleep, two and three added together are five, and a square has no more than four sides.”