Uncommon Sense

January 2, 2022

Does Understanding Help Apply Knowledge?

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 10:39 am

The word understand has roots that essentially mean “to stand between or among.” That is being so intimately involved with something as to grok what it is. In each of our cases our knowledge vastly outweighs our understanding. What we know, does not mean we understand. This is nowhere more apparent than in religious discussions. People claim knowledge they do not understand.

In these discussions the difference between correlation and causation often arises. Just because something happens before something else doesn’t mean the earlier action caused the latter. Examples are: the larger a child’s shoe size, the higher their IQ score and 96% of all U.S. prisoners ate carrots and peas as children! Often enough these discussions stop at a couple of examples, but there is a key aspect that doesn’t receive enough attention. To establish causation, you need to provide a mechanism between stimulus and response. To claim that a god is a cause of any action requires that a mechanism for the creation of that action be stipulated. This is almost never the case. Occasionally one is given a mechanism. In the Bible, people are first created out of mud with life being “breathed” into them. This is clearly nonsense as mud doesn’t contain enough of the elements people are made of to do the job, so apparently some of the mud’s elements were transmuted to the needed elements by . . . by what mechanism? Transmutation of elements is bloody difficult and can’t be done willy-nilly. There are patterns of change in nature that are allowed and others forbidden.

So, when one can supply causal chains of events, e.g. sunlight beaming down through droplets of water causing the light to be refracted, as in a prism, and a rainbow occurs (there are many more details involved, but all of them have been worked out and tested), one has some understanding of an event.

But, as I mentioned, our knowledge clearly outweighs our understanding. For example, how many of us clearly understood the biology of reproduction before having children? Was the understanding needed? Clearly not. If it were our species would have died out long ago.

I have been laboring under the belief that understanding does help apply and extend knowledge. I am a scientist after all, but is that true?

I have been reading John Ralston Saul’s “On Equilibrium” and on page 30 he says “As the quantity of understanding has grown, we have made an appalling discovery. Understanding does not necessarily help us use our knowledge in a sensible or shared way. Let’s say in a commonsensical way. The exact opposite seems to happen.

Now Ralston is trying to relate understanding to our society, but I think he is missing the point. He goes on to say “To put it bluntly, understanding often seems to rush on like a blinkered runaway horse. It rushes on and on with a curious combination of determinism and panic, indifferent to the consequences. This sort of disembodied understanding—in which the process of seeking a particular truth is justification in and of itself—actually flees the perceived limitations of shared knowledge.”

This is true but not on point. Scientists are focused, possible too narrowly, on acquiring understanding that doesn’t enter society’s storehouses. Getting a Ph.D. degree studying how the knees of mosquitoes function is clearly not something that will impact society. But in order for understanding to help apply and extend knowledge, the extender must possess the understanding and the knowledge together.

Consider that at one time in our European roots there were craft guilds. Craftsmen were taught certain useful skills by a guild master to become someone who could make furniture, shoe horses, make pottery, whatever. Almost all knowledge was traditional. The operative principle is that “we do that way because we have always done it that way.” Questions were not encouraged and were actively discouraged. European religions, I suspect, prepared apprentices for the needed mindset. These systems weren’t great innovation machines because doing anything differently was an attack on tradition and was also an attack on the masters because what they possessed was knowledge but not understanding. The industrial revolution and the scientific revolution blew these older tradition-based systems out of the water, as it were. Innovation surged ahead, but our society hasn’t kept pace. We have developed very few systems to elevate understanding and knowledge to new levels, compulsory education being the only one I can think of.

A consequence of this is that our current public discourse is barely coherent. Theists attack things like the Big Bang theory and the theory of evolution with statements that clearly show they lack both knowledge and understanding of the topic. Yet, they seem to believe that they are participating in rational discourse.

Yes, knowledge has never been more at our fingertips, you can Google it! But science has expanded knowledge so far beyond what any individual could learn and understand, too, that as a society, we have very little understanding in common and not being in common means that it cannot support a healthy, stable society. For a time we had a tradition of consulting “experts” but that has been undermined by disinformation and, well, by experts selling nonsense for money (I’m speaking to you, economists!). Business “consultants” are notorious for telling their paymasters what they wanted to hear. Even accounting firms with massive reputations have gone acropper by fudging their analyses to make what their paymasters wanted to be true to look as if it were(remember Arthur Anderson, LLP?).

And now, nefarious political actors are muddying our political discourse with outright lies for money. Such politicians have always been there but now they are far more numerous and well paid and have more outlets that don’t have gatekeepers weeding out the idiocies.

So, for the vast majority of the time, people do not need understanding to further their knowledge, which shows up as disdain in some for those who do possess understanding.

But, I think that for those of us who wish to master our crafts, understanding can be an important aspect of achieving something more. Instead of doing things the way we were taught, we can explore new ways of doing things, letting our understanding guide us.

December 19, 2021

The Illusion of Control

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:27 am
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There is a current Medium.com post entitled “Are You in Control of Your Mind? ‘No,’ Says Neuroscientist Sam Harris.” Which stimulated this post on human illusions. That article is part of the ongoing free will discussion . . . of course.

We all have these desires: desires for being sure, for being in control of our lives, for finding the true meaning of our life . . . and those are all illusions. Think about control. What does it mean to you? Think about being in control of your life, or being out of control of your life. What feelings are evoked?

People who have “lost control” of their lives, possibly for no fault of their own, possibly for indulging too much in illicit drugs, whatever are disparaged. They are pitied and often despized. We all tend to think, unlike the despised ones, that we have control over our lives, I suggest considerably more than what we really have. Consider that Stoic philosophy is based upon the claim that “we cannot control what happens to us, we can only control how we respond to it.” And this is a philosophy, currently undergoing a renaissance, that is over 2000 years old.

But we dreamily go through life, making plans, and feeling as if we are in control. How many people do you think, God-fearing Americans, planned on opening a small business and jumped through all of the hoops, had the right advisors, reasonable capitalization, etc. and opened their doors in the Spring of 2020? Boom, whap! The COVID pandemic shutdown crushes their dreams and their business slowly or quickly circles the drain. Were they in control of that? Should they have planned for that? Could they have planned for that?

Being in control of your mind is a fantasy. Nobody, not Newton, not Einstein, not Aristotle was in control of his mind. That is not what minds are for. For example, a common question is “where do thoughts come from?” Thoughts pop into your mind consciously seemingly at random. We do not know how these thoughts are created by why they happen seems evident. One job of your mind is to anticipate the future. Ordinary animals just wait for things to happen. Humans are constantly anticipating. I suggest that is what the power of imagination is for, and why it evolved (it helped us survive). We can anticipate events, at least things that might occur, and prepare to face them ahead of time, rather than simply react to what is happening now. (Those advising you to “live in the present moment” are suggesting that you throw away this valuable tool, rather than learn to harness it.)

So, your brain is taking in sensory information and whipping scenarios out so you can be prepared for what might happen. Do you really want to be in control of that process?

Similarly, someone calculated from the numbers of nerves involved in sensory activities the amount of information, bits if you will, that our senses pull in every minute. The amount is staggering. What happens to most of this information? It is discarded. For example, I am sitting in a chair as I type this. If I focus my attention, I notice the pressure I feel from the seat of the chair. I can feel the fabric of my pants against my skin. A couple of minutes ago, I noticed none of that. What happened to those sensations a couple of minutes ago? They were discarded. We can direct out attention . . . somewhat . . . which determines to some extent what sensory information makes it through the winnowing process but that cannot be an exclusive process. Overrides are built into the system, like when I cut my finger when cooking (I did this a couple of days ago) and boy, my attention got placed on that cut with no effort on my part (ow, ow, ow, ow).

And the flaw in almost all of the free will discussions is that they focus entirely upon conscious free will. But, our lives are dominated by unconscious and autonomic processes. Consciousness is used for a small subset of our activities. Philosophers shy away from addressing the idea of unconscious free will because that smacks of determinism to them. That sensory or other forces cause the unconscious “us” to behave in certain ways, which makes us slaves, robots to those data inputs. Our behavior is determined by whatever inputs come into the system. (“Determinism, determinism! . . . imagine this sung with “Fiddler on the Roof” bravura.)

But we know less of the unconscious functions of our brains than we know of our conscious minds. Why couldn’t our unconscious minds exert our will freely? Why does our will necessarily be conscious?

Consciously we create ideas that just don’t exist. Absolutes don’t exist. Perfect control of anything doesn’t exist (if you think it does, consult NASA, they will disabuse you of any idea of being in control of complex systems). Being sure doesn’t exist. Being sure is dangerous. And free will is not a “yes-no” question.

The Internet and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 8:47 am

“Even though every individual possesses the truth, when he gets together in a crowd, untruth will be present at once, for the crowd is untruth.”—Soren Kierkegaard

With all of the wonderful attributes the Internet possesses and from which we benefit, one that was not anticipated was that it basically is a crowd-forming system: crowds of climate change deniers, Holocaust deniers, anti-vaxxers, COVID skeptics, Flat Earthers, chem trail claimers, all manner of political bullshit spreaders, etc.

December 3, 2021

What Was to Be Said . . .

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:43 am

I was reading the preface to Will Durant’s final book, Fallen Leaves, and the preface writer asked the rhetorical question: “What was to be said for religious faith, after Darwin and science had toppled God from his throne in heaven and put nothing in its place but the gloomy angst of existentialists such as Jean-Paul Sartre?”

This was one of many questions the writer thought Will Durant could have expounded upon but had not, at least until the manuscript of this book was found. That particular question, however, resonated with me for some reason. I mean, how dare Darwin and science take away our warm, fuzzy, reassuring religion and replace it with Gloomy Gus philosophies such as Sartre’s! How dare they!

What struck me is that this betrays a very unbiblical attitude. Where is the righteous anger . . . against those who sold us a false religion? The Bible teaches us that such people are despicable, the worst of the worst. How dare they teach us about a false god. And where is the gratitude that should be shoveled, heaped upon Mr. Darwin and, well, science for showing people the error of their ways. Believing in false gods may be a road to hell, don’t you know?

Instead of gratitude what did we get? Protests like “You Proved Our God False, We Don’t Want Your Stinking Science Taught to Our Children!” and disparaging comments about Darwinism and scientism.

Where is the righteous anger against those who taught the wrong god and threatened us with punishments by a god that doesn’t exists? Isn’t tar and feathers too good a punishment for those charlatans?

And why are these whingings always posited as we were all warm and fuzzy in the comfort of our religion, so why did you take that away, and only replace it with depressing reality? I never expected freed slaves to be whinging about how much they missed their old master. Think about the freedoms you now possess. Instead of tithing 10 percent of your income to a false church, you can donate to charities that actually spend their money on charity. Your church tithes went everywhere but to charity; they went to the preacher’s salary, paying the staff, maintaining the grounds and buildings, paying for utilities, etc. Less than 10% (usually much less) went to actual charity.

You can go do things on Sunday morning without guilt. You can wear whatever clothes you wish without criticism. You can dump your boyfriend of husband if they don’t measure up. You can take classes in evolutionary biology to find out what you missed. You can listen to music that isn’t broadcast on a Christian radio station. You can watch any movie you are inclined to view and discuss them with your friends.

And you don’t have to feel sinful, dirty, and depraved just because you are a human being.

I am not a fan of Sartre, but existing is, to say the least, interesting. Everything in the universe seems to begin, continue, and then stop. All living things are born, age, and then die. Now you fit right in. So, what happens when you die? All kinds of things happen, they just don’t involve you. In fact, for 99.999999+% of the world, things go on just as if you were still there because there or not, you had no effect upon their lives. Isn’t that a relief? You can die without a “to do” list still on your mind. And just so you feel part of the circle of life, when you die, it will be exactly as it was before you were born, remember that? No? Well you won’t remember being dead either.

And, to make things even cheerier, when you die, your atoms get recycled to be used by other living organisms. By dying you make room for others to live. If we all lived forever, we would have wrecked this planet millennia ago. Every continent would be covered with human beings with barely a place to stand. So, not existing is a civic duty you owe to those who died to make room for you to live.

To say otherwise is the equivalent of saying a Merry-Go-Round isn’t worth a ride unless you can ride forever. That is just plain silly. Take a ride, enjoy yourself, and allow others to do the same. It is great fun and you may be one of the lucky ones who lives a good enough life that you can die with a smile on your face, not because of a delusion that you are going to meet Jesus or some other nonsense, but because you had a good ride, had a good time. You enjoyed your time on Earth and helped others to do the same as you. Now that seems a perfectly happy outcome, no?

November 26, 2021


Filed under: Culture,Education,Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 8:07 am
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I subscribe to a newsletter called “The Daily Stoic: Ancient Wisdom for Everyday Life” Written in part by Ryan Holiday, I think, available at dailystoic.com. Stoic philosophy is a very pragmatic philosophy, over 2000 years old, and is quite pertinent today, since academic philosophers seem to have abandoned the public sphere.

Stoicism main concern was and is how to live a good life. Here is an excerpt from today’s newsletter:

“Because, as Marcus Aurelius wrote, those suffering humans are us, and we are them. To allow harm to come to them—through indifference, through callousness—is to allow harm to come to ourselves. It’s why the most magnificent moment of Marcus’s reign was the day he decided to sell off the palace furnishings to keep Rome going—to help those in need. Hierocles was a Roman Stoic who spoke of “circles of concern.” Our first concern, he said, was our mind, but beyond this was our concern for our bodies, for our immediate family, then our extended family. Like concentric rings, these circles were followed by our concern for our community, our city, our country, our empire, our world. The work of philosophy, he said, was to draw this outer concern inward, to learn how to care as much as possible for as many people as possible, to do as much good for them as possible. This is our obligation. It is our duty to help others. To serve others. To illustrate those virtues of courage and justice toward and for and through others.”

Nothing new under the sun, indeed. Obviously, we are slow learners or we have been taught poorly (through lack of recognition of what is really important).

September 19, 2021

The Purpose of Human Existence

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:58 am
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I continue to write about this because I see questions galore on Quora and Medium about “the purpose of our existence at the material/physical level.” For some people just the miracle of our existence is insufficient, there must be a grand scheme behind the scenes that we are helping to fulfill.

Allow me to throw a bucket of cold water on this idea through a favorite tool of Albert Einstein’s: the thought experiment.

Here is how it goes: for a period of 24 hours, human beings disappear and leave no trace. Along with us disappearing, so does all of our superstitious claptrap: souls, ghosts, etc. . . . all gone, but for just 24 hours.

What purpose or purposes do you think would exist once we were gone? I suggest “all gone.” Of course if we left behind written records alien archeologists could decipher them and discern that we believed we had a purpose in the universe. When they stopped laughing, they would recognize that our species hadn’t really been around for long when it fell.

Before the 24 hours elapses and we come back, ask yourself: how would the rest of the universe be affected by our disappearance? I hope you would see that there would be no effect of any note on the rest of the universe.

Purposes are things we invent. We invent them for ourselves, as individuals, and sometimes we band together in groups around a shared purpose. Shared purposes can also be very large, such as winning a total war in your country against an invading force, but it takes a large number of people to shape that purpose and keep it going.

The desire that there be some outside purpose for the existence of humanity as a whole, is the wish for there to be some supernatural agent which will take responsibility, rather than us taking responsibility for ourselves, as it were. Which of these two beliefs is the child-like one? Is it any wonder that so many religions ask you to “become like a child,” because if you do, then you de facto accept a belief in the existence of that deity, all because you didn’t want to take responsibility for yourself and for a few people around you.

The seeking for a grand overall purpose for all this is an egotistical juvenile search. If you just look at your life openly you will see that you have many purposes you have created all by yourself: you have the purpose of being a good parent, for example, or an exemplary worker, or a purpose to make a shitload of money, or a purpose to be the best player at you local poker game, or. . . . If you have a goal and act upon it, you have a purpose. If you want a purpose, establish a goal and start acting upon it. Go around and tell people your purpose(s) and you may even find people who share one of them and will help you meet it.

Should you decide to search out the grand overall purpose of humanity, be sure to wear your diapers.

September 13, 2021

Collective Unconscious . . . or Collected Unconscious?

The philosopher/psychiatrist Carl Jung’s contribution to the “transcendental” aspects of out lives was the “discovery” of the collective unconscious.

What exactly this is is often dependent on who is describing it. One author describes it thusly: “This layer contains the accumulated historical, collective experiences of humanity. It is … the psychology of the instincts of humanity.” When asked what the contents of this collective aspect of the mind are his answer was that they “relate to the common experiences of humanity. They are the mental component of the instincts.”

Uh, okay.

It seems impossible to write about the contents of Jung’s collective unconscious without once mentioning the word archetypes. This word literally means “original types,” and is therefore considered to mean “some kind of plan which organizes causal factors, operating from a metaphysical dimension of the collective unconscious, shaping life at the material level.”

This was considered by many to be Jung’s most significant contribution to the understanding of the unconscious psyche. (I love the fact that the word psyche stems from a word meaning “breath,” likely derived from the “breath of life.” It has also been equated with the word soul, which I find ironic in that therefore a soul is just hot air.)

The reason I labeled Jung as a philosopher/psychiatrist is that he seems to be desirous of resurrection Plato’s forms, including a quasi-transcendent realm in which they exist.

The existence of “unconscious minds” is accepted today with little quarrel. It encompasses all of the mental activities, mental skills, and what have you, that we are unaware of as they operate. The use of “brain scanners” (fMRI, etc.) has brought us the first real data we can use to study these activities. For example, we now know that imagining an image utilizes the same brain regions as seeing an actual image, even when we are dreaming.

But imparting special powers to these “realms” is not at all supported. So, cataloging things that our unconscious minds can do may find that we share certain abilities in common, after all we are using the same hardware, does not imply any connectivity at all. There is a great deal unaccounted for when children are trained first by their parents and then by their teachers. And, of course, people take Jung’s work run off making claims such as “we are all connected,” or “we are all one,” and even “the universe is conscious and we are just motes in that consciousness.”

I would be shocked to not find commonalities in our unconscious mental abilities. And we can collect this information but does that imply a “collective” unconscious? I think not. In Jung’s time he did not have the tools we have now and we may yet discover such a thing, but it will hinge, I am sure, on what mechanism allows one unconscious mind to connect to others to make a collective possible.

I think such conclusions are hugely premature, driven by a strange to me desire on the part of many fellow humans that there be a “transcendent realm,” or collection of things that transcend reality. I can’t think of anything more steeped in superstition and con artistry. The ideas of heavens and hells, after lives of various other sorts, fairy realms, etc. The idea of a “life after life” couldn’t be more contradictory. The idea of reincarnation is also rife with transcendent tomfoolery. Where are souls stored before they are recycled? What the heck is a soul? Who operates the machinery? etc. (As a teacher, I found reincarnation very attractive in that if you didn’t learn your lessons, you had to repeat a grade, or grades(!), until you did!)

The idea of something, anything, transcending reality is so potent an idea that it takes collected unconscious abilities and elides them over to collective unconscious abilities, almost whether that makes any sense at all.

If Jung hadn’t have done it, casual readers surely would.

If these people had a theme song, I suspect it would be this:

Is That All There Is?
I remember when I was a little girl, our house caught on fire
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up
In his arms and raced through the
Burning building out on the pavement

And I stood there shivering in my pajamas
And watched the whole world go up in flames
And when it was all over I said to myself
Is that all there is to a fire?

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And when I was twelve years old
My daddy took me to the circus, the greatest show on Earth
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads

And as I sat there watching
I had the feeling that something was missing
I don’t know what, but when it was over I said to myself
Is that all there is to the circus?

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And then I fell in love
With the most wonderful boy in the world
We’d take long walks by the river or
Just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes
We were so very much in love
Then one day he went away and I thought I’d die, but I didn’t
And when I didn’t I said to myself
Is that all there is to love?

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep

I know what you must be saying to yourselves
If that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?
Oh, no, not me, I’m not ready for that final disappointment
Because I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
That when that final moment comes and I’m
Breathing my last breath, I’ll be saying to myself

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Leiber Jerry / Stoller Mike

September 2, 2021

Instead of Expanding Circles of Concern, Republicans Circle the Wagons

I have been, philosophically in an case, fairly close to the Stoics as long as I can remember. Recently I decided to bone up on Stoicism to see if this were still true (it is). I recently ran across this statement in my studies:

The Roman Stoic Hierocles spoke of our “circles of concern.” Our first concern, he said, was our mind. Beyond this was our concern for our bodies, for our immediate family, then our extended family. Like concentric rings, these circles were followed by our concern for our community, our city, our country, our empire, our world. The work of philosophy, he said, was to draw this outer concern inward, to learn how to care as much as possible for as many people as possible, to do as much good for them as possible.

Clearly Heirocles would never be admitted into the Republican Party. He sounds more like the Democrats of 20 or so years ago, but those Dems are long gone, replaced by Corporate Democrats. The GOP are doing the exact opposite to the stated desire of those Stoic philosophers, they are trying to build politically gated communities in which to live by their own set of twisted rules.

Corporatism is the abject enemy of the sentiment described above and will be the downfall of us all. It seems that all societies/cultures rise and fall, so there will need to be a cause of our fall, to be declared well after the fall is obvious. Our ability to see such things beforehand is zero to less than zero.

The modern Republican Party is ruled by ideologies centered on “I’ve got mine” and “I owe you nothing.” These, of course, contradict the ideals of the founders of the Constitution who felt that individual citizens (and groups of citizens) had to yield up some personal liberty for the greater good of the entire enterprise. They referred to “civic virtue” to describe such actions. So, the FFs would have looked at getting vaccinated in a time of pandemic as a civic virtue and would be all for it. In fact, George Washington required it of his soldiers during the Revolutionary War. (If not, our army would have been wiped out due to smallpox.)

Modern-day Republican professional athletes, who said “I’ll do anything to be able to play professional sports” two years ago are saying “I’ll quit rather than get vaccinated” now.

This surely must be the direct opposite to civic virtue, taking freedoms rather than donating ever so slightly to the commonweal. The opposite of virtue is vice, so I coin a new term “civic vice” to describe this idiotic behavior. These people are unwilling to give an inch to be a member of the group we call citizens of the United States of America. Their only recourse is to leave as we should not extend any of the benefits of citizenship to people who betray the basic foundations of being a citizen of this country. They should not receive the protections of the law and military, they should not be allowed to use public roads and other public facilities (sports stadia, buses, street cars, etc.). They have become one of those they have despised. They have declared themselves to be “illegal aliens” of the most despicable sort. They siphon off the benefits of citizenship without contributing to the common good.

It is time to expel these illegal aliens as they have renounced their citizenship.

August 2, 2021

The Man Behind THE MAN

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:18 am
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Question: Who did the most to shape the concept of the Christian god? You are probably thinking of Paul or even Jesus, but they are not even close . . . it was Plato.

Plato’s philosophy revolved around the idea of “Forms.” Forms were the perfect example behind every real example. So, if we were to draw a triangle, say, on a piece of paper with a straight edge and a sharp pencil, we could only draw an imperfect representation of a perfect triangle. Perfect triangles are beyond our grasp. For Plato, all things had a Form, a perfect state which, of course could not, be found as they exist in an abstract state but independent of minds in their own realm. He could have said, beyond space and time, but I don’t think he did.

Since men were “things” there had to be a perfect Form for humanity, of course, and guess who that was. Plato’s supreme god is unlike the fickle, jealous, quarrelsome gods of the Greek pantheon, his god is distanced from compassion for human tragedy, because compassion is a passion or emotion. For Plato, the character of the true deity is not merely goodness, but also oneness and while he didn’t make the connection himself, it also represents perfection. Being perfect, the supreme god is without passions, since passions involve change from one mood to another, and it is in the nature of perfection that it cannot change. This passionless perfection contrasts with the passion, compassion, and constant intervention of Israel’s God.

It is hard to imagine how Plato’s god could create the sort of changeable, imperfect, messy world in which we live or even have any meaningful contact with it. While the Hebrews had a god who walked around with them, tenting as it were, Plato’s god wouldn’t be caught dead doing such things.

Plato’s philosophy was, of course, bankrupt, but it did frame out a god piece for humanity. Plato took the idea of an absolute, that doesn’t exist because there is no incremental path or set of corrections from being imperfect to being perfect. An absolute might be an imaginary goal that gets us to stretch ever closer to something near perfect, but one has to realize that the absolute of anything is an imaginary thing. Plato not only stated that all absolutes were real, but had a residence where they could receive mail. But Plato’s realm of forms would have to be static as if all things are perfect nothing could change.

I don’t know if Plato worked backward from a concept of a god as a perfect form of man to which we could never measure up and then applied that scheme to everything else or whether the idea grew from the idea of imagined absolutes and just found a natural connection between man and the concept of a god.

If the god of Plato is God, then there could only be one (I heard that from a guy who called himself The Highlander) as anything different had to be less than perfect. And, like the other Forms, this god couldn’t live amongst the hoi polloi, now could he? He had to live “an abstract state but independent of minds in (his) own realm.” But as a special thing, you could go join Plato’s god in his realm when you die, presumable as the perfect form of yourself. Of course, this Form of you would go on forever, because it is static with nothing changing, not your shape, position, behavior, nothing. Maybe this is why there are so few descriptions of what the heaven waiting for us are actually is. (Welcome to Static City, the City That Won’t Change on You!)


July 28, 2021

You Choose Who You Want to Be

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 9:26 am

This phrase is one of the inspiring quotes/tattoos/memes that are bandied about as being a bit of wisdom.

Let’s unpack it, shall we?

When you are born you are provided with a genetic makeup including characteristics such as your potential height, possible intelligence, eye and hair color, etc.  none of which you “chose.” They you are governed by programmed behaviors that all humans tend to have for a while, then you are raised by parents who are brilliant or inept or somewhere in between at their job. They may love you for who you are or not. None of this you chose.

So far, there is not much choice involved in becoming who you are or are to be.

At a certain age we all acquire some control over how our lives go and how adept were you at this point at proactively shaping who you wanted to be? Imagine teenagers who desire is to be rich, or become an influencer, or a rapper, or an NBA basketball star. How often do those plans play out?

Possibly this statement needs a bit of amendment. Possibly they mean “You May Get to Choose Who You Want to Be.” Yeah, that’s the ticket. If you have the will and acquire the personal development skills and get appropriate help along the way, you may be able to shape you own destiny. An example of doing this is the football great Hershel Walker. As a child he was chubby and weak and poorly coordinated. He got tired of being bullied and started improving his body by doing hundreds of sit-ups and pushups daily (yes, he worked up to those levels). He increased his running speed by racing trains that plowed through his town. He became a star athlete in high school, then college , and then the NFL, and has stuck to his regimen and still has a sculpted body though he is over 50 years old. But he didn’t choose this parents, physical stature, etc. he just shaped what he had into something that served him better.

Of course, had he been born into slavery or into a very poor country which didn’t have schools or college sports or professional athletics, then he might not have been so successful. Unbeknownst to Republicans, some luck is involved.

So, this catch phrase might be better put as “If You Are Lucky, You May Get to Choose Somewhat of Who You Want to Be.”

There, that’s better.

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