Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy’
Seeking solace in these times of insanity.
Not sure what it is about Tuesdays because exactly a week ago I wallowed in introspection with an essay Finding one’s true self and here we are again with another wallow!
The pain came about when good friend, Chris Snuggs, included a picture link that is on Facebook in an email exchange we were having. Here’s that picture.
Here are a couple of comments left on that Facebook page.
Oh Dear God in Heaven. This is just so so so so so wrong. I am so ashamed of my species.
Armina,you have said it right. Animals never sin,they never commit crime, they don’t go to war against each other. Humans do all these and they face the negative results of it. Who will save them? Who will protect them? The very humans that are to protect and save them, are the very heartless wicked people killing them … Sometimes I cry when I see animals being treated badly …. the world is a wicked place and they should not have been here among humans …. I wish there could be a place where there are no humans and no human can be able to go there no matter how hard they may try. So that all animals may go and live there ever safe.
In his email Chris wrote, “Difficult to comprehend. And all in this bizarre quest to improve themselves, increase their sexual potency or some such tosh. Why do many humans not accept themselves for what they are, warts and all, and just try to do the best with what they can bring to the world?“
To which I replied, “That is so disgusting a picture. Sometimes, in fact too often these days, I seem to want to pull up the drawbridge and just forget this mad, insane world so many seem to ‘enjoy’.“
Then yesterday, over on the Wibble blog, there was a post with the title of Schrödinger’s Leopard that generated a comment from Mikestasse, “Yes, we humans think we own everything. Copyright the planet, patent its contents, run amok, screw it all. I’m often ashamed to be human ……. “
So all of this was reinforcing the pain I was feeling.
I then turned to my email and there was a further reply in from Chris.
Yes, it is a terrible photo, but no doubt there are far worse somewhere. One of the worst things about rhinos (and other large creatures) is that they clearly have largish brains and probably a lot more “consciousness” and/or “understanding” than we appreciate. And therefore are very much aware of what is going on, have pain and other “emotional” sufferings we can’t fully comprehend but which undoubtedly exist. I mean, they are not like fish I guess (though some maintain that even fish feel pain) or even more clearly insects.
Was it Voltaire who said in response to the world’s evils: “Il faut cultiver son jardin.“? [We must cultivate our garden.]
He had a point – sometimes one has to shut oneself off, but on the other hand and at other times if we all do that then the bastards can get on with their evil unchecked – or even uncommented. At least you in particular are spreading good vibrations and a moral view of the world. I feel the same about my political rants and blog entries. It may not do much to change the world but it could perhaps confirm to others that they are not alone in their protests about whatever. I would like to get engaged more actively in a particular “charity” or movement. One, since one cannot do everything. I might go for tigers and rhinos, etc. The last three years have been horrendous for me but I hope things will settle down a bit in coming months so I can do something more positive.
I would just say to you that you SHOULD completely detach sometimes and WHEN you do you should relax TOTALLY and clear your mind of negative thoughts in order to return fully charged to the fray at a later stage!!!
NO, you DON’T need a shrink for this but I understand that the US is well-equipped in this department if needs be!!!
Now because of the time difference between here and Europe it was too late for me to check if Chris was comfortable about me sharing his personal email. But I took a gamble that it would be OK because of the power of Chris’ advice; the plain common-sense of that penultimate paragraph.
Because if we end up consumed by the pain then, not to put too finer a point on it, the bastards have won! If we can feel the pain but stay grounded, remaining at peace, then that poor rhino did not die in vain.
So please go now and sign the petition Save the Rhinos!
“A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence.” Richard Dawkins.
Yesterday, I started down the road of determining how one gets to the truth of a complex issue. I called the post Doggedly seeking the truth. My proposition was effectively saying that just because a person believes in argument ‘a’ or argument ‘b’ that doesn’t of itself make ‘a’ or ‘b’ the truth.
Unwittingly, Martin Lack of the blog Lack of Environment reinforced that point in spades. He wrote in a comment to yesterday’s post:
The deliberate spreading of misinformation is a fundamental part of the industry-led movement to deny the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption. Alex Rawls is just part of this campaign and I therefore do wish that you would consult me before deciding to help publicise and/or lend credence to such nonsense.
Now I have every sympathy for Martin’s outpourings of feelings; his blog is based on the conviction of his own beliefs. A position of integrity.
But taken literally, Martin’s words, “consult me before deciding to help publicise” mean that he wishes to influence what I choose to write. Of course he didn’t mean to convey that.
Back to yesterday’s post. With Dan’s permission, I reproduced the personal email that he sent me with those two articles. Dan isn’t on the payroll of the Koch brothers or blindly following an “industry-led movement to deny the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption“, he is a thinking human who is yet to be convinced that AGW is as rational a process as, say, gravity!
Humans are not fundamentally rational; we are emotional beings who even in this 21st century have little real understanding of what a human being is. (Must be honest and say that this last sentence is a tickler for a mind-opening video on the nature of human consciousness coming out on Friday.)
So if Dan is not convinced about the effects that mankind is having on Planet Earth, then spare a moment to ponder about the millions of others around the world who are far less capable, even if they had the time and inclination, to adopt a rational, open-minded view of the complexity of AGW.
It gets even more convoluted. In Professor McPherson’s video that was presented yesterday, this gets said, “If we act as if it’s too late, then we becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy”. On the face of it, that’s obvious. But on Guy McPherson’s blog Nature Bats Last the video has it’s own post and includes a comment left by Daniel, from which I quote:
There are so many insoluble dilemmas concerning industrial civilization, it’s almost impossible for anyone to attempt to propose a “solution”, or attempt to describe the work that now needs to be done, without becoming a hypocrite.
At this stage, hypocrisy is unavoidable. Beyond the point of overshoot, at least in our culture, all that’s required to be a hypocrite, is to be alive.
I have watched your presentation evolve over the last few months, and with this latest one, something struck me as peculiar. You’ve added this line:
“If we act as if it’s too late, then we becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy”.
Basically, implying that we shouldn’t accept that it’s too late. Yes?
The evidence that now exists, has established an immovable catastrophe, which is now, well outside human agency ( aside from the looming boondoggle of geo-engineering). This is what the evidence shows. We have effectively already become a self-fulfilling prophesy. The most dire warnings of the last three decades, have now become prophetic. What are eight non-reversible feedbacks if not a physical manifestation of a self-fulfilling prophesy?
To which Guy replies:
Daniel, you’re asking the same questions many others have been asking lately. I’ll try to respond with my next essay, which I’ll complete and post in a couple days.
(I’m pretty sure that next essay is this one: Playing court jester.)
Seems to reinforce the message. That we really shouldn’t be surprised at the delusions, games and power interplays going on, especially in the corridors of power, so to speak.
Right! Time for me to show my hand!
I am totally convinced that we humans are responsible for the rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and that this accounts for the majority of the abnormal weather events being experienced in so many parts of the planet.
I think I’m right. Therefore I give more weight to the evidence that supports my view that, guess what, reinforces me thinking I’m right.
Is that scientific? Of course not! Science is about producing reproducible outcomes. With, say gravity, that’s a piece of cake.
I’m not a scientist, far from it. Therefore the following statement may be unreliable. That the problem with producing an uncontroversial, hard-wired proof that man is screwing up (you see, I did say that I wasn’t a scientist) our planet is that we don’t have other planets with which to test the thesis. When it surely is an uncontroversial, hard-wired proof it will be too late!
Having said all that, tomorrow I will present the best evidence that I can find to support the notion that Dan’s beliefs are wrong.
Back to Casey and that scent:
We can never be as rational as dogs. But maybe if we learnt to live more in the present, as dogs do so well, the world would be a much simpler and sustainable place.
Last words from Guy McPherson from Playing Court Jester,
On the road, there’s little possibility to develop a lasting relationship. I throw a Molotov cocktail into the conversation, and then I leave the area.
On the road, I describe how we live at the mud hut. I describe the importance of living for today. [my emphasis]
By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.
Thus spoke Confucius, albeit not in the English language! But, nonetheless, those words from so, so long ago (he lived to the age of 73 – from 551 until 479 BCE) resonate very strongly 2,500 years later.
That was the easy bit!
I’m not entirely clear as to why a variety of items that have crossed my ‘in-box’ in recent days seem to offer some sort of cohesive sense. But they do to me and I’m going to draw them together. I will leave you to be the judge as to how well it worked!
Thus over the next three days I am going to reflect on three topics. The challenge of how we humans make sense of the world, how we confuse what we do with what is best for us, surely the essence of wisdom, and the growing gap between the wisdom of millions of citizens and their leaders.
I should quickly add that much of my musings are due to this scribe standing on the shoulders of giants than seeing clearly from his own level.
Today, I shall start with the brain. Your brain, my brain, the brains of humans. The reason this trilogy starts with the brain is that, ultimately, everything we humans think, feel and do comes from this brain of ours. Our brain is who we are.
Let me offer you this video made by Bristol University in England. Just a little over 6 minutes long it sets out the functional story of our brain.
(An animated tour around the human brain commissioned for Brain Awareness Week in 2010)
But there is so much more to this ancient body organ.
The Big Think website has been publishing a series called The 21st Century Brain. The latest episode published on November 6th was called Consciousness: The Black Hole of Neuroscience. It starts thus:
What’s the Big Idea?
“By the word ‘thought’ (‘pensée’) I understand all that of which we are conscious as operating in us.” –Renee Descartes
The simplest description of a black hole is a region of space-time from which no light is reflected and nothing escapes. The simplest description of consciousness is a mind that absorbs many things and attends to a few of them. Neither of these concepts can be captured quantitatively. Together they suggest the appealing possibility that endlessness surrounds us and infinity is within.
But our inability to grasp the immaterial means we’re stuck making inferences, free-associating, if we want any insight into the unknown. Which is why we talk obscurely and metaphorically about “pinning down” perception and “hunting for dark matter” (possibly a sort of primordial black hole). The existence of black holes was first hypothesized a decade after Einstein laid the theoretical groundwork for them in the theory of relativity, and the phrase “black hole” was not coined until 1968.
Likewise, consciousness is still such an elusive concept that, in spite of the recent invention of functional imaging - which has allowed scientists to visualize the different areas of the brain – we may not understand it any better now than we ever have before. “We approach [consciousness] now perhaps differently than we have in the past with our new tools,” says neuroscientist Joy Hirsch.
Later on is this:
So there’s no reason to assume that consciousness is eternally inexplicable. However, it may never be explained through neurobiology, says David Chalmers, the philosopher who originally made the distinction. “In so many other fields physical explanation has been successful… but there seems to be this big gap in the case of consciousness,” he says. “It’s just very hard to see how [neurological] interactions are going to give you subjective experience.”
The fascinating essay concludes:
It’s no different than any other aspect of the brain that we cannot presently explain, she [Hirsch] says:
For example, we don’t understand how the brain creates colors. That’s a perception that is very private – I don’t know that your perception of blue is like my perception of blue, for example. Smells are another one. I don’t know that your perception of the smell of an orange is like mine. These are the hard problems of neuroscience and philosophy that we haven’t made a great deal of progress on.
What do you think? Is the distinction between “hard problems” and “soft problems” useful, or reductive? Does the brain create consciousness? Will we ever empirically understand where it comes from or how it works?
But it was one of the comments to the piece that jumped off the screen at me. From Beatriz Valdes and slightly edited by me, the comment offered:
Human consciousness happens in the human brain. The human brain’s functions are rooted in what the human senses relay to it. Self consciousness, consciousness of what is around us, is the result of thinking. There would be no thoughts if the brain were a tabula rasa (Latin for blank slate), had no input from the senses. Therefore, consciousness is quite local, quite mortal, quite dependent on the gray matter inside our skulls.
Local and mortal. Very profound (I think!).
So, if you like me suffer from time to time from understanding oneself, don’t worry. There are plenty of others – aren’t there? As Professor Dan Dennett makes it all clear below.
Philosopher Dan Dennett makes a compelling argument that not only don’t we understand our own consciousness, but that half the time our brains are actively fooling us.
Philosopher and scientist Dan Dennett argues that human consciousness and free will are the result of physical processes and are not what we traditionally think they are. His 2003 book Freedom Evolves explores the way our brains have evolved to give us — and only us — the kind of freedom that matters.
Good, glad that’s all clear.
Stay with me for ‘page two’ of Essence of wisdom coming out tomorrow.
A most beautiful message from Paul Chefurka This republication of a recent item on The Permaculture Research Institute website comes with the written permission of their editor, for which I am very grateful. Nothing from me will add to this very personal essay, so with no more ado here it is.
Society — by Paul Chefurka December 20, 2012
Whenever I contemplate the spectacular mischief that we humans have wreaked on our world, I am compelled to ask how this could have possibly happened. The despoilment of our planet seems to be the exact opposite of how I would expect a thinking, feeling, caring creature to treat their home. What could have driven us to this, and what perverse qualities could have allowed us to ignore the consequences of our actions for so very long?
At first blush, our problems seem decidedly physical. Dangerous gases drift in the air; acidity rises slowly in the ocean as the fish disappear from its depths; garbage and detritus of all kinds fouls the land where lush forests and grasslands once ruled. All these disturbances point back to human actions.
The proximate causes of this planet-wide distress include economics, politics, and personal and corporate greed – all facilitated by a technological cleverness that rests on a bed of dispassionate science.
I have spent over 50 years of my life trying in vain to understand our environmental problems as purely physical problems. When I viewed them in those terms, the fact that such problems even existed in a rational, scientific culture seemed nonsensical. However, when I recently began to understand them as consequences of a rupture in the human spirit they finally began to make sense to me. Yes, they are compounded by political and economic forces, but in my view even politics and economics are simply consequences of the same qualities of the human psyche.
Since the dawn of consciousness, human societies have been driven by a complex web of factors with their roots embedded deep in our evolved human nature. Power relationships and hierarchies, kinship and xenophobia, selfishness and altruism, competition and cooperation, curiosity and apathy, and countless other polarities mingle together to form the infinite variety of human dynamics.
Underneath it all, though, lurks our self-awareness. Human self-awareness is the root of our sense of separation from the natural world, and from each other for that matter. It’s the crowning paradox of the human condition – at once both our greatest glory and our fatal flaw. It is behind the dualism – the perceptual split into subject and object – that gave us science. It’s the source of our ability to see others as “different yet the same”, giving us the power to act altruistically. It’s also behind the sense of self and other that has allowed us to assume dominion over all we survey, whether animal, vegetable, mineral or human. Our sense of separation is the rupture of the human spirit that has allowed our current predicament to develop.
If this is the case, then no physical, political or economic remediation will heal the wound. The solution to our predicament is not – cannot be – material, political, economic, or simply philosophical. If a “solution” exists at all, it’s orthogonal to all those domains. Only by healing our belief in our separateness will we be able to finally and fully restore our balance with Nature.
When I began to view the situation like this, I was finally able to see that there are in fact solutions, where none had previously been visible. These new solutions don’t attack the predicament directly as a series of material, political, economic or technological problems. Instead, they seek to effect change from the center, by encouraging people to mature into an inter-connected adulthood and assume personal responsibility for their actions.
This approach follows Gandhi’s dictum, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.“
The mischievous idea of science and technology as a post-modern “religion of salvation” with Ray Kurzweil’s transhuman singularity playing the role of the Rapture and an economist making a cameo appearance as the Devil (think infinite growth on a finite planet…) resonates very strongly with me.
But to be a little more precise, it’s not exactly science that has failed us. We have been undone by a toxic stew of classical economics, technological cleverness, love of progress, an attitude of Manifest Destiny and an unwillingness to accept any limits on our growth.
Technology lets us use scientific discoveries to satisfy human desires of all kinds. When we harness scientific knowledge to human ends, the outcomes we choose to implement are based on our wishes. If our wish is dominion over nature, we will use scientific principles to invent technology like mining machinery, continental energy grids, factory farming and the automobile.
Of course, each of those inventions is presented within our cultural narrative as an obvious, irrefutable boon. One of the points of having a cultural narrative is to put a positive spin on human activity. The spin is always in line with the narrative – or more precisely, in line with the wishes of those who create and sustain the narrative. The fact that these inventions, the technological expressions of science, have a subtext of dominion over nature is carefully camouflaged, and the idea that this might possibly be a bad idea is thoroughly discouraged.
None of this would have been so damaging if people didn’t have such a natural ability to delude themselves into believing that whatever they wish for hard enough is possible. It’s kind of like clapping for Tinkerbell. “The future is always going to be better than the past,” and “My kids will have better jobs, bigger houses and faster cars than I did,” are examples of such magical thinking at its finest.
Those two kinds of wishing – the wish to improve the human condition and the wish to see the human milieu keep growing forever – are not inherently different. I see them more as two points on a continuum. On one end is simple desire; on the other end is unreasonable desire. They are distinguished less by any intrinsic difference than by the attitude and realism of the one doing the wishing.
It can be very difficult to tell when the reasonable morphs into the unreasonable.”I wish to own a small piece of land” becomes “I wish to own an entire island” which inflates into “I wish to claim a continent for my King” and eventually becomes “I wish to rule the world.” The underlying desire is the same; it’s just the scale and reasonableness of the wish that changes.
Whether or not a wish is realistic or deluded depends very much on the one doing the wishing. There are people who wish for our (and by extension, their own) material wealth to continue growing forever. There is no shortage of economists who will tell them that such a strange thing is possible. Are the dreamers deluded? Are the economists deluded? What laws of nature would need to be violated for such a delusion to become reality? How is the worship of the Charging Bull of Wall Street materially different from worshiping the Golden Calf of the Bible, when both imply a violation of the laws of nature?
The world changes only when enough people have made a choice to change themselves. At what point will we each say, “Enough!” and choose a different path? Is anything keeping you from making that choice right now?
As you finish reading this article I invite you to say it quietly to yourself.
If you listen closely with your heart, you may be able to hear the life that shares our planet say, “Thank you.”
Finally, let me do two things before closing.
The first is to highlight a sentence towards the end of this beautiful essay. This one. “The world changes only when enough people have made a choice to change themselves.“
The second is to highlight on Paul’s website his Public Domain Notice statement: Any article on this web site may be reproduced by anyone, in whole or in part , in any manner and for any purpose whatsoever, with no restrictions.
Spread the word about you, me and all of us being the change the world needs – and needs now. Thank you.
An opportunity to watch a new video of Rupert Sheldrake talking about his new book The Science Delusion
I have written or referred to Rupert Sheldrake many times previously on Learning from Dogs. I have also read the book by Mr. Sheldrake, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home. (The linked title takes you to something I published about the book and the author on the 9th May, 2011 and also links to other articles about Rupert Sheldrake.)
Previously, I had written about what Rupert Sheldrake calls morphic resonance and morphic fields, see my article here.
Yesterday, I received an email promoting Sheldrake’s new book. This is what it said,
In my last newsletter I said that the UK launch of my new book The Science Delusion would be streamed live from Kings College, London University, on January 17, but unfortunately the internet connection at King College broke down, so this did not happen.
Clearly they were able to film that launch and that video link is available, but only until February 7th, 2012! So if you want to watch the video then please go here. I am not able to embed that into this Post. You will be going to the video of this:
THE SCIENCE DELUSION: FREEING THE SPIRIT OF INQUIRY
January 17, 2012, 7pm – 8:30pm (GMT), 2pm – 3:30pm (EST)
Venue: Great Hall King’s College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS
In addition, that email newsletter carried the link to a review of the new book in the British Guardian newspaper, by Mary Midgley. It starts thus,
The unlucky fact that our current form of mechanistic materialism rests on muddled, outdated notions of matter isn’t often mentioned today. It’s a mess that can be ignored for everyday scientific purposes, but for our wider thinking it is getting very destructive. We can’t approach important mind-body topics such as consciousness or the origins of life while we still treat matter in 17th-century style as if it were dead, inert stuff, incapable of producing life. And we certainly can’t go on pretending to believe that our own experience – the source of all our thought – is just an illusion, which it would have to be if that dead, alien stuff were indeed the only reality.
If you want to read the review in full then it is here. (If you are a follower of Rupert Sheldrake, best not to take the comments to Mary’s article too seriously!)
Also, the Guardian blog carried a piece by Mark Vernon, that opened thus,
Werner Heisenberg, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, once observed that history could be divided into periods according to what people of the time made of matter. In his book Physics and Philosophy, published in the early 60s, he argued that at the beginning of the 20th century we entered a new period. It was then that quantum physics threw off the materialism that dominated the natural sciences of the 19th century.
Of materialism, he wrote:
“[This] frame was so narrow and rigid that it was difficult to find a place in it for many concepts of our language that had always belonged to its very substance, for instance, the concept of mind, of the human soul or of life. Mind could be introduced into the general picture only as a kind of mirror of the material world.”
Today we live in the 21st century, and it seems that we are still stuck with this narrow and rigid view of the things. As Rupert Sheldrake puts it in his new book, published this week, The Science Delusion: “The belief system that governs conventional scientific thinking is an act of faith, grounded in a 19th-century ideology.”
Mark Vernon closes the fascinating piece with these tantalising words.
The analogy has the benefit of naturalising extrasensory perception, Watts notes. But it also raises problems. For example, how would it be possible mentally “to touch” objects that don’t exist, as would happen when contemplating a centaur? Watts concludes: “An adequate account of the mind must encompass both first- and third-person description whereas the idea of a ‘field’, along with the other spatial descriptions that Sheldrake uses, seem to be exclusively third-person type descriptions.” Oddly, this is a strikingly 19th century attitude to have.
Nonetheless, Sheldrake must welcome such serious engagement with his work. He may not be right in the details. But he is surely right, with Heisenberg, in insisting that the materialist world view must go.
Don’t rely on my short excerpts, read the article in full here.
For my money, this will be a book that I won’t miss reading!
Why should such an obvious concept, that of truth, be so very difficult to define?
Who in the world whose native tongue is English isn’t familiar with the words of the oath, “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” often with the phrase, “so help me God.” It is the fundamental foundation of a working justice system. Probably the most famous of oaths is the American Presidential oath upon taking up office, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Then just the other day I was exploring the blog Lack of Environment written by Martin Lack who made himself known to Learning from Dogs from a comment to the post Sceptical voices, part two, published on the 23rd. Martin’s blog carried an article about scientific scepticism (outcome being very little) in global warming being caused by man. There was reference to the book Climate Cover-Up written by James Hoggan and an extract from that book on the Desmogblog website, as follows,
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy. There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.
The sentence highlighted by me is fundamental to this essay. Perhaps the crux of why it feels so difficult to determine the truth is that the vast 24-hour output of news and information, the 24-hour fear machine as John H. calls it, carries no means of distinguishing the reliability of the source, no details of any affiliations that the person offering the information to that particular media outlet may have, and so on and so on. I wrote a piece on the 12th July called What Exactly is the Truth where I concluded that,
Despite my chest-beating on the subject of politicians and leaders deliberately lying in that recent piece about Juncker, there’s something much more fundamental. What defines lying is really not that important. It’s whether or not we trust that our leaders are doing their best for their constituents, to the best of their abilities.
Whether you support left-leaning or right-leaning policies is unimportant; indeed political differences and the ability to vote for one’s beliefs is at the heart of an open democracy.
But if we don’t trust that our leaders are doing their best for our country then that causes the destruction of faith. If we do not have faith in those that lead us then the breakdown of a civilised social order becomes a very real risk.
So examining the essence of the word ‘truth’ creates a conflict, well it does in my mind. A conflict between the idea that truth is a very simple concept and that peeling back the meaning of the word truth reveals many, many layers. Let me quote from the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy,
Truth is one of the central subjects in philosophy. It is also one of the largest. Truth has been a topic of discussion in its own right for thousands of years. Moreover, a huge variety of issues in philosophy relate to truth, either by relying on theses about truth, or implying theses about truth.
It would be impossible to survey all there is to say about truth in any coherent way. Instead, this essay will concentrate on the main themes in the study of truth in the contemporary philosophical literature. It will attempt to survey the key problems and theories of current interest, and show how they relate to one-another. A number of other entries investigate many of these topics in greater depth. Generally, discussion of the principal arguments is left to them. The goal of this essay is only to provide an overview of the current theories.
The problem of truth is in a way easy to state: what truths are, and what (if anything) makes them true. But this simple statement masks a great deal of controversy. Whether there is a metaphysical problem of truth at all, and if there is, what kind of theory might address it, are all standing issues in the theory of truth. We will see a number of distinct ways of answering these questions.
“Truth has been a topic of discussion in its own right for thousands of years.” So I’m not the first and certainly won’t be the last to ponder on how one gets to know the truth.
Do I have any answers? None! Except, perhaps, to muse that if truth can be so difficult to pin down then adopting a rigid stance based on assumptions of truth will carry risk. And, of course, to reflect that dogs don’t lie.
I’ll close with the quote from Oscar Wilde, “Truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Quite so.
Two recent videos highlight the mystery and fascination of determining what, exactly, is consciousness.
Before I get started, it crossed my mind that some readers on Learning from Dogs might struggle finding any link between the the title of the Blog and such esoteric topics as consciousness. Let me try and explain. On the home page of this Blog is written,
But 10,000 years of farming the planet’s plant and mineral resources have brought mankind to the edge of extinction, literally as well as metaphorically.
Dogs know better! Time again for man to learn from dogs!
Here’s a recent comment I made to an article on Naked Capitalism,
In a much broader sense, it feels to me as though we have been partying on the edge of a global volcano for years and years. Greece is surely a metaphor for the craziness of so many countries.
Continuing that broader sense, the period that we are in, from political, economical, societal, environmental and ethical perspectives, seems bust. Good will eventually come out of this transition, of that I have no doubt, but what a fascinating period in which to be alive!
I firmly believe that the period we are presently living through is a transition between the last, say 30 years (in a sense, many more decades than that) and a more aware, sensitive period where mankind embraces a deeper, sustainable, relationship with the planet that is home and life to all of us. Frankly, there is no choice!
Thus the nature of consciousness, our awareness of self, is a crucial element of the future. The greater our self-awareness, the greater our self-understanding and from that better self-understanding comes all hope of recognising our attitudes and knowing that it is our attitudes that drive our behaviours.
So here follow two videos. Settle back and be entranced!
The first is the last episode in a brilliant BBC series broadcast in 2007, probably one of the best TV series on psychology and neuroscience ever produced. The full series is on Top Documentary Films but the last episode called The Final Mystery is all about consciousness. Beware you are going to never see the world in quite the same way!
Here it is, The Final Mystery presented by neuroscientist Susan Greenfield.
The second video is from Season Two of the Through the Wormhole series. It is called Is there Life after Death? and also explores the deeper aspects of consciousness. As the introduction to the video says,
In the premiere episode of the second season of Through the Wormhole, Morgan Freeman dives deep into this provocative question that has mystified humans since the beginning of time.
Modern physics and neuroscience are venturing into this once hallowed ground, and radically changing our ideas of life after death.
Freeman serves as host to this polarized debate, where scientists and spiritualist attempt to define what is consciousness, while cutting edge quantum mechanics could provide the answer to what happens when we die.
Here’s the film; same health warning applies! You are going to see the world differently after watching this!
Finally, do you have a dog at home? If you do, ponder on how their conscious world engages them. If science can’t explain human consciousness then all we have is our own intuition with regard to animals. Not sure about you but when one is feeling a little low and a dog comes up and lays a head across you I feel a very strong conscious connection.
Travelling the 5,200 miles, give or take, between Payson (AZ) and London (UK)
Apologies for a slightly reduced service over the next 10 days but Monday 6th June finds me travelling from Phoenix to Dallas, and then Dallas to London Heathrow. This as a result of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) granting me permanent residence (the Green Card) in April and thus me being able to travel back to England to see my new grandson for the first time.
So just a few thoughts, courtesy of Terry Hershey. I subscribe to his weekly Sabbath Moment and they always contain some beautiful sayings and other gems. Take these for example, from his Sabbath Moment of the 30th May.
Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile. . .initially scared me to death. Betty Bender
Or what about this?
To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself. Soren Kierkegaard
A quick search reveals from the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy that,
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (b. 1813, d. 1855) was a profound and prolific writer in the Danish “golden age” of intellectual and artistic activity. His work crosses the boundaries of philosophy, theology, psychology, literary criticism, devotional literature and fiction. Kierkegaard brought this potent mixture of discourses to bear as social critique and for the purpose of renewing Christian faith within Christendom. At the same time he made many original conceptual contributions to each of the disciplines he employed. He is known as the “father of existentialism”, but at least as important are his critiques of Hegel and of the German romantics, his contributions to the development of modernism, his literary experimentation, his vivid re-presentation of biblical figures to bring out their modern relevance, his invention of key concepts which have been explored and redeployed by thinkers ever since, his interventions in contemporary Danish church politics, and his fervent attempts to analyse and revitalise Christian faith.
OK, dear readers, from somewhere over who knows where!
A presentation by Alain de Botton.
On April 12th, I introduced to you, dear reader, the philosopher, Alain de Botton. I promised that I would soon give you more.
On Top Documentary Films, there are links to all six parts of a series on philosophy presented by this popular British philosopher featuring six thinkers who have influenced history, and their ideas about the pursuit of the happy life.
The first part is about Socrates; Socrates and self-confidence. But before linking to that specific programme, a little about this enigmatic man, Socrates, who lived about 2,500 years ago (469–399 B.C.E). Here’s an extract from the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.
The philosopher Socrates remains, as he was in his lifetime (469–399 B.C.E.), an enigma, an inscrutable individual who, despite having written nothing, is considered one of the handful of philosophers who forever changed how philosophy itself was to be conceived. All our information about him is second-hand and most of it vigorously disputed, but his trial and death at the hands of the Athenian democracy is nevertheless the founding myth of the academic discipline of philosophy, and his influence has been felt far beyond philosophy itself, and in every age. Because his life is widely considered paradigmatic for the philosophic life and, more generally, for how anyone ought to live, Socrates has been encumbered with the admiration and emulation normally reserved for founders of religious sects—Jesus or Buddha—strange for someone who tried so hard to make others do their own thinking, and for someone convicted and executed on the charge of irreverence toward the gods. Certainly he was impressive, so impressive that many others were moved to write about him, all of whom found him strange by the conventions of fifth-century Athens: in his appearance, personality, and behavior, as well as in his views and methods.
Full entry may be read here, and very interesting it is, by the way.
Anyway, back to the programme from Alain de Botton. The part on Socrates is introduced thus,
Why do so many people go along with the crowd and fail to stand up for what they truly believe? Partly because they are too easily swayed by other people’s opinions and partly because they don’t know when to have confidence in their own.
You can either watch the video by clicking here, or view it as three sections from YouTube, as follows.