Tag Archives: Philosophy

The Nature of the Message

We’ve all seen those solitary blades of grass reaching up from the cracks in a sidewalk, or maybe a bit of green clinging to the side of a wall where a bit of wind blown soil and seed found purchase amongst crumbling bricks.

It’s common enough to see these things as a sign of the impermanence of mankind’s imposition upon the natural world. The earth shifts, concrete falters, and the green world which was hiding just below the surface asserts itself with a vengeance.

I’ve shared that same feeling, and found some comfort in it.

Nothing we do, truly lasts forever.

But sometimes, I wonder if we haven’t misinterpreted the nature of the message.

Near my workplace there is a No Parking sign imbedded in the sidewalk, standing no less then seven feet above the roadway, and crowned, amazingly, with a healthy shock of leaves, waving in the breeze.

Upon closer examination, the base of the signpost is imbedded firmly within the pristine pavement. There are no cracks or gaps, no place for the earth beneath to show through. But there is a long thin vine, reaching up through the middle of the post, climbing all the way up into the light at the very top.

Sometimes, when I’m outside taking a break from work, find myself looking at that single, impossible plant, and I wonder about the people who pour the concrete, who build the sidewalks, the buildings, the streets, the systems, and the institutions that surround us.

Sometimes I wonder about myself.

We’ve put so much effort into reshaping the world…, giving it an order and a purpose and forcing it to adhere to some common vision of how we think the world should be, of how it can best serve us.

And we keep getting it wrong.

That sprig of green poking out of the pavement may not be a warning sign at all. It may instead be the sound of a trumpet, rousing us to action, calling us to break through the concrete and the metal that is even now closing over our heads.

Maybe it’s time to serve the world, rather than trying to force it to serve us.

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Filed under Modern Life, Nature, Philosophy, Spiritual Journey

Thirteen Black

LastBattlefield

I’ve been watching these two guys fight each other for as long as I can remember.

You recognize them, right?

Let me introduce you.

On the left is Monotheism.

And on the right is Atheism.

Or….,

…is it the other way around?

It’s pretty hard to tell sometimes, because these fellows are simultaneously identical twins and complete opposites.  Both inhabit a universe which they understand to be entirely monochromatic, a space where very fabric of existence is composed of either “is” or “not without proof it’s not.”

I peek in on them from time to time.  It’s a strange little world they live in but sometimes it can be fun to watch them bicker.

Most of the time, it is simply aggravating.

And if you try to step in, if you take one aside for a moment and explain how he is using the same arguments, based upon the same faulty assumptions as his counterpart…, oh the look he will give you!

It is the perfect synthesis of confusion and contempt.

Then, after a brief mental reboot, he or she will typically ply you with one of the standard arguments from their rhetorical arsenal, the assumption being that since your words made no logical sense, you must therefore play for the other team.

I’m fairly certain that I’ve heard all of these arguments over the years.

Most recently it was an old number from the 1600’s called Pascal’s Wager.

It goes something like this…,

There is God, or there isn’t God.

If there isn’t God and you worship him anyway, you are silly but otherwise unharmed.

If there is God and you don’t worship him you will suffer eternal torments in a lake of fire.

The safe bet, therefore, is to worship God.

And if the universe is truly expressed as a simple heads versus tales coin flip, Pascal’s Wager does make a pretty compelling argument.

But there are problems, and not just the “if gambling is a sin why are Christians encouraging non-believers to “play lots” with their immortal souls?” kind of problems.

Pascal’s Wager may sound like a valid argument to a Monotheist or an Atheist, but the Polytheists in the crowd know a chump bet when we see one.

If a game is being played, does it seem likely, given the vast and wonderful complexity of the universe in which we bide our time, that everything comes down to some lousy coin toss?

Not very likely.

No, if a game is being played, isn’t it more likely to be something a bit more like Roulette?

Imagine that we each walk up to the table with but a single chip in hand.

The Atheist isn’t going to play at all, and that’s okay.  He’ll pocket that chip and maybe keep it as a souvenir.

The Christian, on the other hand, is convinced that there’s only one number on the table upon which to place his bet.

And do you see again, how each takes the most extreme position possible?

Thirteen Black

BAM!

He slaps that chip down on thirteen-black, acting on faith that when the wheel stops spinning the little ball is going to land safely upon his number.

(Yeah, I know, a good Christian would probably pick just about any other number on the table, but this is my metaphor and I’ll do as I please.)

So there we are, one God, one Truth, and just one Number to choose from.

And you’ve got to admit, that’s a pretty bold play for someone with just a single chip in his hands!

The payout is huge: 35 to 1.  Let’s call that the numerical equivalent of eternal life.

But the odds of hitting that number, or any single number on a roulette wheel is less than 3%.

There are smarter bets.  There are LOTS of them.

Roulette Table

You could split your bet between two numbers, or three, or four.  And each time you’d see your probability of a winning spin increase.  It’s a big board folks, and you don’t have to be EXACTLY right to come out a winner.

With a single chip in the game, I myself might like to play one set of twelve numbers.

Sure, the payout is only 2 to 1 (the numerical equivalent of reincarnation, maybe?) but my odds are nearly one in three, which is WAY better than a paltry 3%.

The point is, that Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician and philosopher who gave us the Wager, may have been one of the fathers of modern probability theory, but I seriously doubt the guy ever spent any quality time in an actual gambling den.

If he had, he might have hedged his bets.

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Filed under Culture, Philosophy, Proselytizing, Religion

It’ll have to go.

I took twenty days away from work.

It wasn’t enough.

Or it was too much…, I’m still not sure.

I’d an entire list of things I wanted to get done in that time.

Instead, I found myself working off of someone else’s list.

So the time is gone and I’m back on the job.

But everything there feels uncertain.

***

Spoke to my mother this evening.

Wanted to wish her a happy Mothers Day.

Also, there was rough weather where she lives.

She was irritable, after having driven through the deluge.

She got a speeding ticket and money is growing tight.

Oh, and her favorite show didn’t record.

The whole universe is out to get her.

***

Sometimes the universe throws things at us.

Mostly, though, we just do it to ourselves.

***

When times get tough…,

Some people turn to the Bible for reassurance.

When I’m feeling down, I turn instead, to the word of the late Douglas Adams.

His is a scripture filled with more joy and truth than any holy text I have thus far encountered.

In Chapter 10 of ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’, he describes the people of the planet Krikkit, a world surrounded by a cloud of dust so thick that not a single star has ever shone in their sky.  They have lived lives of quiet tranquility, never wondering about their place in the universe because they had no reason to think anything at all existed beyond their own small world.

Driven, nearly mad by an encounter with something that seems to have fallen inexplicably from beyond their featureless sky, they build a ship and rocket themselves into the heavens.

They flew out of the cloud.

They saw the staggering jewels of the night in their infinite dust and their minds sang with fear.

For a while they flew on, motionless against the starry sweep of the Galaxy, itself motionless against the infinite sweep of the Universe.  And then they turned round.

“It’ll have to go,” the men of Krikkit said as they headed back for home.

On the way back they sang a number of tuneful and reflective songs on the subjects of peace, justice, morality, culture, sport, family life and the obliteration of all other life forms.

—Douglas Adams

***

The universe isn’t out to get us.

More often than not, we seem to be the ones trying to do away with it.

Small wonder we run into so much trouble along the way.

Rage Against The Sky

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Filed under Culture, Family, Literature, Modern Life, Philosophy, Religion

A Matter of Temperament

A Polytheist, a Monotheist and an Atheist walk into a bar…,

Okay, there wasn’t a bar involved; it just sounded more amusing that way.

Sometimes at work, when time and energy allow, we find ourselves debating the big (and even medium sized) questions which have long plagued mens souls.  During one such recent late shift, a trio of us were knocking around that old standby: “What is the Meaning of Life?”.

The time spent on the actual topic was fairly short as both the Polytheist (yours truly) and the Atheist agreed that there really wasn’t a single (capital ‘M’) meaning to life.  Along the way, however, we touched on a number of other topics and I began to notice a funny inconsistency in the beliefs of my fellows which, in retrospect, I should have seen long before.

This is the Wheel of Emotions developed by Dr. Robert Plutchick in the early 1980’s and used to illustrate the relationships between the various emotions and how they all appear to interconnect.

People have some very contradictory beliefs about so called “Human Emotion”.

On the one hand, we like to see emotions, particularly the complex ones, as a handy line that separates us from what we choose to consider lesser creatures.  Love, hate, compassion and grief are seen as the particular provence of human kind.  These things show that we have big complicated brains capable of reasoning beyond our simple hungers for food, sex and shelter.

A swarm of bees may appear to be angered when a bear damages it’s hive in search of honey, but we assume that they do not HATE the bear.  Likewise, the bear, while certainly drawn to the honey by it’s sweet taste, could not be experiencing anything like JOY while lapping it up from within a cloud of FRUSTRATED stinging insects.

We have been warned time and again, against anthropomorphizing the lesser beasts.  Your cat does not LOVE you.  Your dog is not FAITHFUL.  They just want you to give them food and attention and shelter.

Animals, we have been told, are not like us.  They do not experience complex emotions, they do not have language and they don’t make tools.  These are things that only humans do.

Except…,

In recent years the behavioral scientists have had to do a bit of backtracking in the areas of animal language and tool making.  Silly old reality, getting in the way of academic hubris.

Ah well, at least they got one out of the three correct, right?  You can, at the very least, rest assured that your dog does not love you and your cat did not piss on the bed because he was angry that you were gone all day.  Humanity is still safely and securely above the station of the lesser beasts.

But what about deity?

During our debate my co-workers (the Monotheist and the Atheist) both expressed serious doubt when I suggested that the gods were capable of emotion.  Both of them made the suggestion that crude human emotion was beneath the station of such advanced beings (should such beings “hypothetically” exist).

It was even suggested that God, as some all-encompassing force or intelligence, would be emotionless.  Imagine an all powerful being of pure rationality but somehow incapable of either wrath or compassion.  In all honesty, the idea made me shudder.

You want a dispassionate god who runs us through his little mazes until he is done with us? I give you Ridley Scott’s “Engineers” from Prometheus.

I realize now that I’ve heard this theme (in a few variations) repeated many times before.

Sometimes, like in this instance, the divine is said to be above lowly human emotions.  I find it odd that the very thing that is said to show our superiority to the rest of the animal world should be, for some reason, lacking in that which is seen to be above our station?

Often, it’s just the so called “negative” emotions to which God is said to be superior.  Typically, the catchphrase for these believers is: “God is Love”.  I usually hear this argument from New Agers and from those Christians who choose to ignore the first 39 books in their Bible.  I find the deity that these folks imagine far too saccharine for my tastes and an unlikely candidate for ultimate authority in our rather “rough and tumble” universe.

Most often, I hear human emotion trotted out as the reason the gods of myth are either unworthy of worship or were simply made up by men long ago.  “In the stories,” I have been told, “the gods act just like people.  They get angry or jealous or lustful with each other.  They make war with each other and with mankind.  The gods, if they were truly superior, would act better than we do.  They wouldn’t be subject to love or sorrow or fear.  They would be above those things.”

It’s an interesting theory.  We mortals can hate and love because we are above the animals but the gods cannot hate and love because they are above us.

If it is the degree to which we are capable of feeling emotion that indicates our superiority, wouldn’t beings that were superior to us experience emotion to an even greater degree?  Might not some of them exist as living personifications of those emotions – just like the mythology suggests?

I am forced to wonder if the gods are exempt from language skills and tool making as well.  Questions for another day, I suppose.

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Filed under Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, The Gods