Monday, September 18, 2017
--- What's "para" about "paranormal" ---
There are so many assumptions that humanity makes from ages past but has yet to test. Our attitude toward the other occupants of this planet are based on untested assumptions. In the distant past, our method was to base our understanding on "what works" and not try to understand why it works. That is why science appeared in the 1500s, as a tool to understand.
But now I'm sliding into a region of the Dewey Decimal System rife with assumptions, where we are still quite satisfied with "what works" without thinking to question where we got our knowledge or even if, in fact, it actually does work or not. Assumptions:
The paranormal is "para". "Para-" means "beside, beyond", certainly "outside". Therapists occasionally encounter cases that include elements that place them in a quandary as to how to proceed and they call those elements "AEs' or "anomalous experiences". I lived in Selma, Alabama for 20 years, one of the most haunted cities in the United States and the majority of people who have lived there for any time have had an experience with ghosts. I have lived in a haunted house (not by choice but by pure chance, whatever that is) and every city I have lived in has had one or more "haunted houses" within their borders. The paranormal is certainly not infrequent. What's "para" about the paranormal?
The supernatural, by etymology and, I would assume, by definition, outside of nature, apart from creation. I guess the common assumption that such things as ghosts, angels, demons, God or gods, transdimensional portals, etc. are the product of overactive imaginations would lend credence to the idea for, if these things do not really exist, then certainly they would be outside of our existence; but the frequency of experiences of people with these unaccountable (and inconvenient) entities and phenomenon lead me to suspect that just saying "it doesn't exist" doesn't nearly cover it. But wholly other? I should think not. Just because we don't understand something (and it looks like we've put woefully inadequate effort into such understanding) does not mean it's outside of the nature we all accept as "our nature". What's "super" about the supernatural?
Everyone knows what a ghost is - it's what's left of a dead person after they've been dispossessed of their body. But I've never seen anything that would move that bit of information from the realm of assumption into the kingdom of founded knowledge. In fact, as many people who have experienced ghosts, I haven't met with a convincing explanation yet. I've run into a few things that could make sense, but without any substantive support.
Let me try to enumerate the official list of entities acknowledged as real in the Christian church, which seems to be the authority in the Western world. Starting at the top:
maybe add devils and their master, Satan.
I think that's all. Biologists added a few more kingdoms of life - slime molds, bacteria, extremophiles, and the like.
But is that all? I've studied the Bible for over 40 years and I can't even see where it supports that. As I have mentioned I many such conversations, the Bible doesn't talk about plumbers, llamas, Chinese, Black folks (well, it might have, but certainly not) Australian Aborigines - all of which existed in Biblical times. Bottom line, just because the Bible doesn't mention it, it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. And, shockingly, just because scientists haven't mentioned it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. E. O. Wilson in his The Future of Life predicts that by 2100, up to half of the species currently on our planet will be gone, many, if not most, without even having been recognized by science.
You can't use Carl Sagan's vaunted "exceptional claim clause" either. There seems to be nothing exceptional about ghosts.
So, without apology, I will soon be exploring the assumed and the maybe not so exceptional about the Denver area and I will be encouraging lifelong learners everywhere to go boldly where no lifelong learner....oh forget the Star Trek thing and go out and enjoy yourselves - and stay safe.
--- Notes on wisdom ---
The habit of viewing life as a whole is an essential part both of wisdom and of true morality, and is one of the things which ought to be encouraged in education. Consistent purpose is not enough to make life happy, but it is an almost indispensable condition of a happy life. And consistent purpose embodies itself mainly in work.
A philosophy of wisdom is touchy. Maybe more than any other philosophical topic, you can answer "What is wisdom?" by "It's a word."
Specifically, the root "wise" is an old English word (actually and Old English word) meaning "a way of proceeding". And, of course, it looks like ancient peoples were more serious about their languages and packed more into their words than we do today. "Way" meant more than a direction. It was a path in life (as, for example, "The Way"). So wisdom is a way of life. Whatever it is, it's not just something you know.
Knowledge can be incidental or trivial - not wisdom, but I believe that there is a relationship between the two. Knowledge is the information you have in your head that seems to work as a reasonable approximation for reality. Wisdom is the skill of using that knowledge to build a "good life" (and I've talked elsewhere about "good life" and I'm sure I will again - I'm looking forward to an article on "moral value").
Russell brought up a few points on what constitutes wisdom, though. It is holistic. It tells you where any particular fact fits into the larger scheme of things, and particular the larger scheme of your life. Is brushing your teeth wise? Well, maybe not, but understanding the consequences of doing so or not doing so in your social life and, further, the effects on your ability to get important concepts across to other and, so, your religious, scientific, or political life - certainly - in that wisdom is the ability to sense the web of causality in which we all sit and to navigate it to benefit ourselves and the world around us.
One debate about wisdom is whether it can be taught or not. Personally, I believe that the ability to develop wisdom is inherent in thinking beings. Our brains, as I have said before, are incredible pattern processors and wisdom is a pattern analysis skill. Wisdom allows us to take the massive body of knowledge in our minds and extract meaningful information that can constitute a "way" of life. Much of it is subconscious, which may be why many think it cannot be taught. But it's more of a habit than a knowing. It's a philosophical pursuit. After all, "philosophy" means "love of wisdom". And I believe that a love of wisdom can be instilled early in growing minds as a habit of curiosity, wonder, and love of life and nature. We learn to hate by being bombarded by the hostilities and unfairness perpetrated on us by, well, mostly by others like ourselves. We could just as easily be shown the beauty and great-heartedness of our fellow creatures as we mature.
And work, far from being the bane of humanity, gives us the laboratory we need to see how our knowledge works in real life - the way to finely hone our ability to see the webs of life and the outcomes of our decisions in a real life environment.
Again, our lives are like a garden. The work we put into them will determine the beauty, joy, and material benefit that we get out of them. And we all profit or none of us do - that is wisdom.
Saturday, September 2, 2017
--- Healths ---
When I was a kid, we had health classes - walk on the side of the street facing traffic, don't eat too much sugar, that kind of stuff. Back then, we could talk to strangers and, of course, people who weren't adult never had sex (oh, of course not).
Sex and drug education came around as I was about half way through high school and, of course, I had already heard all of it (in some version or another) from my peers. And films like Reefer Madness convinced me that the adults had no clue. We had lots of films showing, gruesomely, what would happen if we did not drive responsibly. It was like going to the weekend matinee horror flicks!
But President Kennedy had determined that America would be physically fit so everyone had physical education in high school, which consisted of picking up cigarette butts around the high school and putting up with the jocks bullying. At least back then kids didn't often kill each other or drive people to suicide.
In the 60s, President Kennedy had demonstrated a commitment to the physical fitness of Americans. Due to his programs, by the time I entered college, institutes of higher learning required students to take a certain number of physically demanding physical education courses and a certain number of "leisure" recreation courses. Of the three courses I flunked in college, one, golf, was in the latter category. Regardless, I figure it was a good idea. America was getting flabby.
The problem is that physical fitness isn't the only kind. When I was growing up, when a coach was confronted with bullying, the most common response was, "Boys will be boys." If the coaches' ideas were that bullying was age appropriate, they were not mentally fit. If the bullies' only source of self-satisfaction was to have the power over weaker people so as to make them miserable (and, of course, to get the prime breeding stock), then they were not emotionally fit. And if the people they picked on were not equipped to deal with the bullying, they were not socially fit. And I mean "fit" in the same terms as "physically fit" - having the equipment and strategies to fit into the environment - to survive.
Physical fitness isn't the only health issue. I recognize five domains of health - physical, emotional (which relates to the barriers between mind and body), mental (which deals with problem solving), environmental (which addresses the barrier between self and other), and spiritual (which deals with the ability to "step outside" oneself and get a realistic understanding of how the world works without self-serving biases and agendas).
The famous Robbers Cave experiment of Muzafer Sherif underscored the idea that, once groups were separated by group affiliation, the only way to bring them back together was by presenting them with a common enemy (you should look up the Robbers Cave experiment). Talk about a horror story.... American politicians have always known that. If you want to manipulate a large mass of people, give them something to fear.
So, why is bullying, mass and serial murder, xenophobia, and police brutality such an issue in "the Greatest Country on Earth"? I honestly believe that we don't know how to deal with stress, self-image, relationships, our environment...
We favor completely inappropriate strategies to deal with our problems. Every kid, at leasts in high school, should be required to study Eric Berne's The Games People Play.
We might be physically healthy (and we're slipping at that. JFK, come back!), but we have never been emotionally, mentally, environmentally, or spiritually healthy and nightly news (I guess, now, Internet news) continue to give ample evidence of that.
--- Notes on science ---
The laws formulated by science... possess only a Platonic sort of reality. They are more real, if you will, than the facts themselves, because they are more permanent, trustworthy, and pervasive; but at the same time they are, if you will, not real at all, because they are incompatible with immediacy and alien to brute existence.
Science doesn't provide knowledge of reality; it provides models.
A particular danger to researchers is reification, the confusion of concepts with reality. The word isn't the referent. The concept isn't the reality. No matter how accurate a concept is in representing reality, it can never characterize the whole of a real thing.
And that's not a problem. I have heard that, when a child ask, wonderingly of Abraham Lincoln's height, how long his legs were, he answered, "Long enough to reach the ground." Well, our models are not perfect but they're good enough to help us predict how things will happen and understand how things work. That's what models are for.
Science allows us to construct reliable and valid models of a consistent reality that we all can share. Beyond that we can not go, nor do we need to, as long as we do not confuse what is in our heads with what is in the world.