Wednesday, April 28, 2010

So at the request of a friend, I started writing out why I believe everything I believe. I realized it was quite a helpful exercise and I highly recommend it. :)

I decided to ask myself questions, starting fairly broad, and eventually, hopefully, narrowing it down to specifics. I'm going to post what I've got so far, and then the rest as I continue.

1. Why try to figure out the truth?
Because we are, in the long term, happier if we do so, and so are those around us (I’m not going to argue that we should try to make ourselves and others happy-- this one's also assumed.)
It is clear that we have a drive for understanding. It is also clear that we have a drive to understand what is right and wrong. We have a drive for justice. We have a drive for truth. Now, of course simply possessing a drive does not in turn ensure that one should follow it. We may have the drive to kill someone but it doesn't mean we should follow it. But some drives we know have been driving us for centuries and millenniums. We can see from our own histories and the histories of others that following those certain drives leads to certain outcomes. Following the drive to seek understanding has seemed to fulfill us, if not temporarily, long-term, and if not individually, no question collectively. It is obviously inherent to our human nature, and it brings about more good than bad. It enriches an otherwise bland life. It has brought about literature, poetry, art, music, conversation, cities, philosophies, etc. Most importantly, when we understand we find purpose. We clearly naturally have an affinity for purpose. We like to direct our lives towards something, whether it be another human, or simply our own being. Finding truth leads us to a greater purpose. Purposes make us happy, as we can determine through experience. Purposes which do not fade (i.e. truth) make us even happier.
Now you might say, "that's not a logical argument for why we should seek truth. It's more like a sales pitch for it." Well, I don't really know where else to begin other than with simply experience with being a human. Trying to argue that we should seek logic by using logic is kind of difficult and circular-argument-esque. We have to start somewhere. I start with the most basic clue we have, which is our shared experience. So it is a sales pitch. I think figuring out the truth is so worth it, and I hope you will too.

2. How do we find the Truth?
So we haven’t been given a whole lot, and yet in many ways we have. Depends on how you look at it. But regardless, there’s no use arguing over whether or not we know enough or have enough to find anything. We’ve determined we’ve got to look, so we have to work with what we’ve got. First things first, what have we got?

I would say we have three mechanisms through which we find understanding. Blatant perception, logic, and intuition. I put these in order of how we should most effectively try to approach these problems. If we start with intuition, we are likely to contradict the first two. Intuition is like our most refined sense, and because it is so refined it often misses the most basic elements of life. Perception—the observation and acknowledgement of what we see as existing as it is, is the foundation of the pursuit of Truth. Without this willingness to perceive the world as it is we cannot go anywhere at all. I exist, and you exist. And the things that we see are as we see them. Now, yes, they might not be, but quit reading if you are going to say that. Because it will lead you in a never-ending circle. Here lies, then, our first necessary leap of faith (these will come up because the world has holes in it and as I said before, we haven’t been given a whole lot.) Leaping is going to become a requirement to understanding. Please jump.

So, we have accepted perception. She is going to be our most primal teacher in the pursuit of truth. Next we come to logic. Second leap of faith—that our logic is reliable. This is very difficult step to take because we have seen our own logic fail us so many times, and we watch everyone else fail too. It makes you want to give up sometimes. If I’ve been wrong my whole life about different things, how can I trust that I am any more right than I ever have been or any more right than anyone else?? Well, all I can say, again, is that if you’re going to say that, you won’t go anywhere. Like the world we perceive, our logic has holes. We are fallible and imperfect. But perhaps to make things a bit more optimistic, it isn’t as if we are every second of every day changing our beliefs—realizing everything we believed prior to now was wrong. Most of us have very few, if any complete moral turn-arounds. It is significant to us when we change our beliefs and so we sort of act as if we are more variable than we are. In reality, most of the time our beliefs remain the same. Not only that, but if you think about it, the majority of the world shares most of the same beliefs! What sane adult believes that the ants are going to revolt tomorrow and take over the world and rule us for all eternity? Perhaps one or two, maybe more, but I can assure you most of the world does not believe that. Most of the world believes that flat out murder is wrong, and I could continue. Point being, we agree more than we act like we do. And most great minds really do think alike. If that were not the case all the smartest scientists and philosophers would completely disagree on everything. Often, the disagreements between the great minds are rather nit-picky in comparison with the big picture. And, of course, as with perception, it is worth it to trust logic anyway, so we can continue onwards in pursuit.

Ah, the poet of the three. Intuition. Intuition is hard to defend without using herself as defense. She is, I suppose, the hint we have towards understanding. Not feelings, per se. Not just the knack we get about something. Intuition is what happens when we take perception and logic and jumble them up in the blender of the human psyche. What comes out isn’t really explainable by prior mechanisms. The previously separate ingredients aren’t discernable anymore. But it works. And like a smoothie, intuition really is more satisfying than the ingredients by themselves. It is the one of the three that makes us feel most human, most fulfilled. But, as I said before, we must be careful. Intuition can be tricky. Sometimes what comes out of the blender wasn’t mixed up right. We have to make sure that what we’re accepting doesn’t contradict logic or perception. But intuition can come in handy as both a resource when logic and perception simply will not give, and also as the icing on the cake of understanding. Intuition is by all means a leap. And it is a leap that necessity may eventually require. Happy necessity, at that.

From now on, I’m going to use these three tools, perception, logic, and intuition in explanation. When I don’t tell you what I’m appealing to, I assume you can figure it out for yourself. If you prefer not to listen to anything but logic, or vice versa, just ignore the rest. But I think there is a prevalent tendency to discredit facts and figures, and on the other side of the spectrum, a tendency to discredit symbolism and inclinations. Again, we have been given a world with holes, and it is our job to find the path. We find it through more ways than one.

So, on to my first question of Truth… the big one.

3. Is there a God? Or make the question simpler. Is there a spiritual realm or being?
Well let’s start by looking around us. Look at nature. Look at the nature of humanity. Why do we ask this question? We clearly have a reason for our inquiry. We have, for whatever reason, gotten it in our heads that there is something out there. Now we know that this can’t be some silly fantasy someone made up in a cave one day that just happened to spread all over the world. Perhaps the specifics are silly fantasies. But the idea of a spiritual realm is something inherent to all cultures that we have ever known to be or have been in existence. Something drives us to the idea. Is it biological? I don’t know if we will ever know that. Evolutionary perhaps? Again, we don’t know. But we’ve got to work with what we’ve got. It is obvious that we humans naturally have an inclination towards the spiritual. I would even go on to say that we have a desire for the spiritual. “Well not everybody feels religious,” one might say. Yes, this is true. But every one has considered it. Every one has felt that pull at some point, even if it was just a pull of curiosity. Something pushes us towards it. Now, it could be that we have absolutely no reason for this push. But don’t all of our functions have some sort of purpose? And if they no longer have a purpose or they are not in use, they nevertheless had a purpose at some point. Our desires are rooted in the things we desire. We hunger because we have tasted food and our bodies know we need food. We want sex because our bodies know that they need to reproduce. All of our desires, for companionship, warmth, cleanliness, security—they are all attainable in their essence. Sure, we can’t always get the things we want. But the things we want have existed at some point in time. Otherwise, why in the world would we want them? How would we know of them? How could we know of them if they didn’t exist? There is nothing we want that doesn’t exist somehow, somewhere, sometime. Sure, you could say, “a child wants a unicorn and a unicorn doesn’t exist.” But the unicorn is rooted in things that do exist. The unicorn is in a sense the merging of two real ideas: the horse and the spiritual realm. Point being, yes we imagine things that do not exist. But they come from something that does exist. Just as we cannot imagine a seventh sense, we can’t imagine something truly new. Everything we want, everything we think about, everything we talk about and experience, is rooted in something real. Something that exists. Perhaps we could have imagined the idea of the spiritual. But that would be a first. We haven’t truly invented anything else. Everything else we desire exists. It would be so very unlikely that the spirituality we desire is the one desire that is unattainable. In fact it would be incredibly foolish to believe that it was—a much greater leap of faith indeed, would it be to say that spirituality is a fraud.

Now many will say they believe in God because of the sunsets, or babies, or love. This is a very intuitive-y type of argument and it really isn’t an argument at all. But it is nevertheless still worth looking at. It is not so much that a sunset proves anything. Well, perhaps on an individual basis it does, but not necessarily collectively. But it’s still interesting for us because taken as a whole, this tendency to see God in the world around us is very important. Awe—I would call it. We see the Beauty around us, the Goodness. And we are often filled with awe. That awe then points us to the Truth. Why is that? Why do things move us? Why do we have those moments where everything fits—where we “just know?” Clearly, there are things of this world that transcend the mundanity of simple daily tasks. Perhaps they themselves are irrelevant to the pursuit of Truth. What does a tree really tell me about philosophy? But the point of relevance is the fact that they transcend. Something happens to us when we witness Beauty. Something happens to us when we experience love. And it isn’t just a good feeling, although it often can be simply that. We perceive and our intuition takes that perception and decodes it. We decode for a reason. Again, there are no things without purpose. Why in the world would Beauty and Goodness arouse in us a desire and perhaps insight into the spiritual, if there were no spiritual at all? Animals do not need to worship. Animals do not need to write poetry. They don’t feel that drive for something more. Why not? Because they don’t need that something more. So why in the world would we seek it, if it wasn’t meant for us to find?

Friday, April 23, 2010

held back

“My high school teacher said we can’t have an original idea till at least our masters,” said the listener in her eager smile and notecards…
“Oh goodness! Not even then!”

We go on learning what a thesis is,
As we did ten years ago—
Little children learning to write
—still there—
Learning to follow.

“What are you going to do with a Philosophy major??”

So lecture me, lecture me, medaled god,
Till the womb has nothing to give.
Pride in our rebel push-up bra,
But look at us—
too scared to move.

Too young, until we’re too old
* gasp *
“You’re not going to grad school?!?!”

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

speaking up.

"There are degrees in idealism. We learn first to play with it academically, as the magnet was once a toy. Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments. Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that it must be true. It now shows itself ethical and practical. We learn that God is; that he is in me; and that all things are shadows of him. The idealism of Berkeley is only a crude statement of the idealism of Jesus, and that, again, is a crude statement of the fact that all nature is the rapid efflux of goodness executing and organizing itself."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson


When I was little I was "into everything." If I felt like painting, I was an artist for the day. If I felt like writing, I was a writer for the day. I was a dancer, an actress, a teacher, an explorer, a pirate... we all were, weren't we? In the days when we assumed we'd be taken seriously, and yet were the first to laugh at ourselves? I once had an art show and sold my paintings to my parents' friends. Funny I actually thought they'd want my work, and now, I'm hesitant to pick up a colored pencil. Don't we all know this feeling? Struggling between vanity and self-deprecation, overcome with the obsession over how good or bad we really are-- so obsessed that we bottle everything up, picking and choosing when to be ourselves and when to not? We dance in our rooms alone, and we crumple up that poem we wrote in the middle of class. We're desperate for approval, and yet we're convinced that no one will approve, and so we decide that we might as well just shut up. Previous rejection tells us it's not worth it-- dreams and ideals-- they're not worth it.

Who did this to us?

Yet still, despite our embitterment, through "degrees in idealism" we float-- up and down and all about. It's fairy tales when we're little, and romance in our teens-- we're constantly re-adjusting to our surroundings and experiences and disappointments. The prior ideal fails us and we move on to a new one, yearning for meaning. We know there's got to be meaning. Often, perhaps, this is the only thing we know. But it's enough to move us onward.

So I find myself contemplating, daily, in awe, this "rapid efflux of goodness executing and organizing itself." I grab my computer and type-- searching for where I am today, who I am, what it all means...


There are only like three people I consistently share things I write with. And it pretty much stops there. I've been told I should start a blog but my hesitation has always been that "I don't draw, I don't sing, I don't dance" impulse-- that fear that maybe what I have to say is nonsense. And it very well might be. But who cares then? What's the big deal? The paintings I sold weren't worth a penny my parents' kind friends spent on them. But what harm did it cause? If anything, it did good. I spoke, and even if what I said was useless, the speaking was not. We need expression, and we need to be comfortable with expression, no matter the result. For through expression we participate in the "rapid efflux." Perhaps no one will recognize the beauty in our words, notes, strokes, and this is a scary thought. But how much scarier is it to imagine a world where no one ever expressed out of fear that they would be misunderstood? If not a poet wrote, and not a singer sang, how sad and lonely and confusing a world would this be.

And so I've started a blog, an avenue through which I may express my "degrees in idealism"-- ever-changing and yet all united by the belief that they're worth pursuing, worth sorting through, and worth expressing-- my jump back into childhood, with the silly hope that I might have something to say.

We'll see how it goes.