Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Intellectual Integrity and Meaning

I'm wondering this morning, what the difference is between the idea of intellectual integrity and the idea of what it means to be human? I know Dr. Pete began this thinking exploration with a particular incident. However, the phrase intellectual integrity on that day stood out differently than I normally see it. So even though I'm going beyond the parameter of his initial post, I'm only trying to go further into his own thinking about Mind. And my own. And yours.

What surprises me is how big the idea of intellectual actually is- it carries a lot more than our typical use which usually only signals tones of being erudite, elitist, or just plain stuck up—both in attitude and altitude. To be intellectual, in reality, simply means that we pretty much carry our sense of being in language. And once we are talking about language, we are implicitly talking about meaning. And communicating; so to be an intellectual organism means that the realm of our existence is language, meaning, and the expressing and receiving of meaningful information—to ourselves and each other; in contrast to fish for instance, which has as a primary realm of existence, water. Or bears, which crap in the woods because it doesn't/can't dawn on them to wonder if someone's going to talk about 'em. (If bears only knew what we were saying about them…would they make bathrooms?)

You could say that intellectual life is a life lived in meaning. The problem with that short statement though, is that our sense of meaning isn't very intelligible. Oh- we know when we experience something as meaning-full, as well as when something is meaningless. In a like manner, we also know when we experience gravity, and when we don't. And I would offer that where meaning and gravity are most alike, is in the way they both exist like "fields", are irreducible to anything else, and in the way we don't understand how they come about in the first place. More, without gravity, mass makes no sense and likewise, without meaning, information makes no sense. However, where gravity and meaning differ--in terms of most consequence to us--is how our understanding of Gravity is more intelligible than our understanding of Meaning.

Riddle: What has force but doesn't have mass or acceleration? Meaning.

For human being at least, (I can't speak for bacteria) meaning has real causative affect; when we mean to do something is to equally say we intend to do something. Or the meaning on the look of your face may incite me to action; you show distress and I move to help out: an effect is caused without Newton's logic there to describe and predict that effect.

We in our beautiful ways of science understand nature in ways we don't understand meaning. Yet without Meaning scientists can't exist, and neither can engineers. And without civil engineers, bathrooms can't exist. There's something more profound to the realm of meaning than Hallmark cards can reveal. To understand intellectual integrity, or what it is to be fully human, we have to have an intelligible sense of Meaning that has an existence in the way gravity does.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

About This Blog (under construction)

This blog is about experiencing ourselves as fully alive--and more importantly--fully human

Toward this end, we're about developing a new context to better envision the living of our lives together; a context that doesn't rely on our contraptions, but instead, relies on the very genius which  makes us human in the first place: our Mind and Heart. 

Contraption:  "Originally a western English dialectical word, probably made from the words, contrive and trap."  (Wiktionary.) 

Clocks rely on traps to change mechanical motion into readable time.  And since Newton, we've been contriving our life together in terms of  machines like clocks.  Which isn't all bad, especially when it replaces a world contrived by superstition and unseen spookiness. Yet despite our success in growing beyond a spooky world, how come our time is marked by malaise, frustration, anger, fear, and "ideology-ism"?  Could it be that the very source of our complaint flows from not feeling ourselves truly alive and truly human? And if this is the case, where is our source stopped? How does a life lived in contraption differ from a life lived from mind and heart?

In other words, we can live our lives via contraption, but 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Considering Intellectual Integrity: A Domain as Real as Biology?

Part two in an experimental series with PJ who writes about mind at: 

We're not just biological, we're intellectual.  In fact, I wonder if we're not  more intellectual than biological.  Maybe, we could say that when ever any species  predominately experiences their living through intellect rather than biology, that species,  potentially speaking, is human in its being.

What is it to be human then?  Is our exploration leading us to assert simply, that Human Being is the one who's connection to its environment is primarily intellectual rather than biological?

I think I stalled in discussing Saul's ideas, because as I set out to actually write about them, I began to realize just how much we lack an ability to see this intellectual domain that we are. We somehow can't yet give it the force of reality we attribute to biology- or physicality:  Physics is a hard science; Psychology is a soft one.  And, what's become so strange to me, is how  we'll go all ga ga over the weirdness of quantum domains, but when it comes to the existence of an Intellectual domain, the best we muster, is to say something like "wow"- our brains are like really cool computers...

But intellectual life is not computing life.  It's something a whole lot more-  both in ability and kind isn't it?

Another question:  which is more real, Brain or Mind?

I was reading some Alfred North Whitehead a couple of evenings ago before going to sleep.  The problem however came when I read this thought and the ensuing excitement revived me for another hour.  His thought was timely and pertains to our questions.  Let me show you:

Whitehead talked about physical reality in terms of its primary and secondary attributes.  So,  for instance, take the color "teal".  Teal's primary existence is some kind of energy wave with a particular frequency (imagine stretching out a long cooked spaghetti noodle on a table, and with your finger make it into a series of "s" shapes from left to right; this is a model of a thing's primary existence as an energy wave).  As such, there's nothing about it to suggest "greenish blue".  The greenish-blue occurs as a secondary attribute.  However--and this is what aroused me-- that secondary attribute doesn't exist unless there is some kind of receiver that can interpret that wave into our color teal!  Objective reality, the way we typically construe it as something that exists regardless of human observation, is in reality, a bland colorless tangle of spaghetti noodle-like waves that doesn't take on color unless there's an "interpretive" interaction.  (So now I'm wondering which is indeed primary in the color teal- its underlying wave? or a meaningful interaction?  But that's another post.)

"Reality as Interpretive Interaction".  This is the first time that I've uttered this phrase, so it's still a bit over my head- but I'm liking it;  I think my new phrase points to the idea that brains do more than compute in a physical environment,  which in reality, is something that exists through a process of interpretive interaction, rather than the Standard Objective Model we've been employing for the last few centuries.

Here's an interesting twist I'll use to tie things up here:  I have no idea what it's like to see the color teal from a purely biological perspective.  My interaction with the environment is intellectual- not biological.  This also means, that I don't know how my brain experiences the wave length of teal, but I do know how my Mind does....   I'm beginning to see why and how PJ is all ga ga about Mind. 


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Considering Intellectual Integrity

My favorite part in being involved with blogging has been meeting and engaging with people whom I would never had met otherwise.  In fact, the favorite part of my own blog is reading all the thought provoking things you guys write.  I bring this up because with this post, I want to connect with a writer I've gotten to know from 13.7 who calls himself PJ here.  PJ is degreed in aeronautical engineering, business, medicine and psychology; he cites the gravitational center in all this as Mind.  It was his sense of Mind that drew me to him, and it was something he recently wrote which serves as the diving board into my thinking here.

So I'm gonna try something new  and link to his essay on intellectual integrity for you to read. And then I'm gonna write through the ideas I encountered as I worked with his thinking.  And if any of you get inspired to write a piece beyond commentary on your own blog, we'll link that into the pile and see where all our commenting with each other goes!

(Oh- and I think this discussion will get me closer to actually discussing J.R. Saul's ideas...) here's the link: http://findingthelightindarktimes.blogspot.com/2010/10/honesty-and-intellectual-integrity.html

When I first read PJ's piece, I read it I think with the intentions he meant.  However, something else for me opened up in my encounter: I saw how this thing we call intellectual is the means, or the basis, or the environment, of our being human.  I know we customarily use the word intellectual to denote something like cognitive activity in contrast to emotional activity, but in this moment, I saw the concept intellectual stand for the whole place where we encounter our ability to consider in all its forms- whether they originate from feeling or thinking.  In either case, we ultimately encounter reality through our ideas, and ideas whether simple or complex, red neck or elitist, are things which formulate in something that can't be reduced to brain;  In that moment I saw that domain as our intellect.

Seeing this led me into two other thoughts.  First, being intellectual is not the same as being a brainiac.  I'm saying that any person who has the experience of conversation within themselves--whether that conversation bounces around the ideas of beer preferences, or the ideas of possible sources of gravity--such a being is an intellectual being.

Second, I saw new meaning when my different way of seeing intellectual was coupled with integrity:  Biologically speaking, when our bodies encounter a challenge to their integrity, they communicate through a means we've learned to call symptoms.  What if we learned to see this domain of our existence--which here I'm calling intellectual--with the same force of reality we attribute our biology?  What would the symptoms look like when the integrity of our intellectual domain was challenged?

So there's my diving board.  I don't mean to make this into an argument about definitions;  I'm interested in considering the real human dynamics beneath the language we use to explore them with-- which of course  involves words; we're intellectual being after all.  I'm just saying that I'm not necessarily married to any of them.

Some of my questions include

Can Mind or its subset(?) "intellectual domain" be considered as real as biological bodies?

What would this look like if we did?

What if truth or intellectual integrity was something more than moral? what if it was something structural or ontological to the human life?

Finally, let me add that between our two posts on Intellectual Integrity, the questions and threads might run different courses, which I think would be a great thing.  The point in this is to see where the exploration leads us.  I'm really excited to see where everyone's thinking goes!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

...On the Other Hand, We're Co-Evolutionaries.

I began writing this post as the one to occupy the space of my last post, but it was the last one that came out. Let's see if I can get it to come out here....

A concept as close to my heart as the concept of Co-creating, is the one of Co-Evolving.  Let me riff a bit, and see what you think.

Our Universe, as we've gotten to know it, followed an arrow of time; as it did, it also grew in complexity.  We call this Evolution.  And we've come to typically think of evolution within the framework of surviving, which is to say simply, the stuff that's here today exists because its forebears survived through yesterday. (Or yester-eon....) I think a prime example of what I'm trying to describe is the Grizzly Bear: when it comes to surviving, it's a tank. Only more elegant.

Sure- when it comes to survivability we have to give a nod to bacteria, or the mushroom, (which has the honor of being the largest organism alive on our planet). But along the arrow of time life doesn't just survive, it grows more complex. So when we link complexity with survivability, we have to obviously consider the Grizzly bear don't we?  I'ts an omnivore and is suited to live in all weather conditions; and when food might be scarce, as it often is in winter, it can hibernate.  I'm sure you might have another favorite choice for the pinnacle of survivability, but your choice would never displace the Grizzly, only stand or swim next to it.  However, you might ask, "what about human being?"

This is where I think things get even more interesting.  As life continued its march along time, In human being, life grew even more complex than the Grizzly.  

In the framework of survival, Life reaches a pinnacle in the Grizzly.  Yet Life continues further into complexity, through the evolution of human being, and seems to be accomplishing something else than what it accomplishes in Grizzly Bears- something else besides surviving:  What is this something else?

Co-Evolution!  I would offer, that the species we call Human Being, is the one species who has a real say in how it evolves.  So what can we say about all this?!

Merlin Donald, a neuroscientist who cross pollinates with archeology and anthropology, points out that the biological platform which you and I live with today--specifically our brains--has been in existence for about 180,000 years.  This means, that our evolution since then, hasn't stemmed from processes of an "at-large biology" alone, but from processes of what Dr.Peter Hubbard, another scientist, who in his case cross pollinates physics based, with social based sciences, would here call Mind. (And- collective Mind- which is what we also call culture.)

In other words, we who are human being today, didn't just evolve, we co-evolved: with Life and each other.  We are involved with the Universe in a joint project....

I'll end here for now with this.  I say in my subtitle that I'm out to create a space between Science and Religion; a space from which we can venture further into our Human experience.  What I'm getting at in this post, is that whichever side of this space you originate, we are bound together by this: In human being, life leaps from inevitability to response-ability. We are, at Heart and in Reality, Co-creators and Co-evolutionaries.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Love Affair that Still has Great Affect

While I may be loathing in constraining my thinking within a Christianity context, I find that in a secular context, people are loathe to think of the human life as something richer than animal life. My sense is that such an attitude is hoped to engender a more humble human presence- one that doesn't imperialize every thing in its path. Of course I laud this desire for humility. Still, if we, through this means of humility, blind ourselves to authentic human life, I don't know that such humility will in the end serve us. 

So this is what I'm wondering, "what if our problem of this imperialistic consuming, in actuality, stems from our actions of compensating for not experiencing authentic human life? And what if we don't experience authentic human life, because in reality, we have a hard time seeing it? How would we go about looking for it then?

One way I can think of is through the process of comparing and contrasting.

Now, I didn't grow up with church, nor did I grow up with wine. And yet, here I am: a man who has a love affair with God and wine; and my relationships to both lack their respective conventional approaches. Something I feel very fortunate for. Here, let me trace some of the history to my love affair with wine.

When I got into wine back in the late eighties, around the age of 29, I was  introduced and educated through a group in Minneapolis called the Bacchus Wine Society. Every month or so, they'd rent a hotel banquet room filled with tables set for ten, with each table bearing a big center tray of cheese and crackers, a couple of spit buckets (usually empty KFC chicken pails) and most importantly, two wine glasses per person. Well, maybe more important were the eight bottles of wine; still, the two glasses were as important here, because we would take turns serving wine to each other, two bottles at a time; it was having two glasses each, which enabled us to compare and contrast between two different wines at the same time. Do you want to know what tannins are and how they affect a wine's taste? Pour one glass with a wine that has them, and the other with a wine that doesn't. Here is where tasting speaks more than even pictures can, and just how good comparing and contrasting works.

I feel blessed for those wine tasting evenings way back then. For one reason, the seating was random. Each event I attended, I could have been sat with wine snobs- the ones who relate to wine more as status than experience, and love to wear their wine drinking like a badge. The people I was lucky enough to sit with, the ones who were real lovers, cared about the experience- for themselves as well for me. And while I learned to swirl a glass and get my nose into one as well as any snob, (I got my nose wet a couple of times while starting out) when it came to sharing our personal experience of each of the wine's unique set of elements, I was always in an environment where I felt  free to use any words in my vocabulary; there was never a pressure to pull words from some proper wine lexicon.

Out of all those terrific events, there’s this one night I remember most...one that provided a particular moment of learning about wine; this moment I remember today with absolute fondness. It came about when Mary, a woman about fifteen years older, and with that much more wine experience than me, said something with this gracious gentle exuberance for all things alive, and just tossed out, "I taste eucalyptus..." So I rushed and took another taste of the same wine--it was my left side glass--and there it was! I tasted eucalyptus! It was amazing! How does something that's fruit, make eucalyptus?!

I learned some things that evening, which I keep in my heart today. Not only did Mary teach me to look for eucalyptus, somehow--that moment of learning that eucalyptus was present--made me aware of the nature of ignorance and how we learn of it. Most notable are these thoughts:

-Compared to other animal species, I would cite as a salient difference this fact:  we are the ones who can know of our ignorance. And it is this power that gives rise to one of our abilities which is even more powerful: we can form questions.

-Like the man who learned to fish, I do more than look for eucalyptus, I look for other things that I may not be accustomed to look for. This insight, transcends wine and translates across the board.
-Even though I was drinking the same wine as Mary, when I didn’t have the concept of eucalyptus apart from a cough drop, I wasn’t able to taste it in the wine.  We need more than our eyes to see, we need our ideas.  (Where do we ideas?)

-I learned something more about wine tasting, and when I did, wine’s mystery of alchemy only became more mysterious. (Btw, when something really is a Mystery, and not a puzzle, the more you know of it, the more—not less—mysterious it becomes.

-And finally, when you want to learn wine, comparing and contrasting between two bottles at a time proves very productive--even seductive. It’s in this spirit that I sometimes compare and contrast our human life with other kinds of animal life. I’m not out to determine and define—that is make some version of a “wine snob lexicon”—when I engage in such comparing and contrasting. Rather, I’m trying to create a means to explore our human life with the same kind of grace I experienced with people like Mary and the others, who loved wine, and relished taking turns at pouring new bottles into awaiting glasses.

Maybe, through this kind of tasting of our human life, we will begin to taste things we didn't realize were there. And as we find that there’s so much more to taste in the human life than consuming, we'll no longer feel such a dire need to acquire things the same way an addict gets locked in by his drug.  

Maybe we'll displace our imperialistic compensating, by deeply enjoying a new love affair with our very Human-ness.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Which would God prefer, our worship or our colleague-ship

I loathe the idea of talking about our human experience solely within a Christian context, even though the Christ Event has been a deeply meaningful experience for me, and has significantly shaped my sense of reality. I recently responded in a comment section to a blog entitled "Experimental Theology", written by Dr. Richard Beck who is a professor of psychology. I like his work a lot, though we differ in that he mostly is referencing a Christianity framework. And I'm not.

Still, I'm interested in influencing how we think about GoD and the Christ Event. And I thought this response to David, a man who typifies well, an evangelical pov (I'm not singling him out) might give you a glimpse of some of my own theological thinking. But first a caveat:

I'm using God language here for the sake of communicating with brevity to an evangelical culture. I wince when I use God language. Please allow me some grace as you read my comment- whether you hale from a God culture or don't- and see the spirit or mind behind my writing....

David, in an earlier thread, you challenged my claim that we are called to be adult colleagues with God in the making of Life together. I would like to answer your challenge here, and utilize the style of Jesus' approach to this discussion, by utilizing modern sewer systems as an underlying analogy for my point.

It is argued, that when it comes to the increased longevity and health of human being in the modern era, this increase doesn't stem from modern medicine, but from modern sewer and water systems- simply because they deal with the micro organisms causing illness in the first place.....

If this is the case, how is the making of competent sewer and water systems NOT a "Kingdom of God" activity?

Out of all the animals God creates, we of the Human species are the ones, who on the seventh day, when God rests, are invited to join Him in a picnic- as the story goes. Doesn't this sound like we are truly invited to colleague-ship? In contrast, I Love my dog and the feeling seems mutual; but I have yet to experience an adult human relationship with him.

We like Heaven when its free and we don't have to do the work and create it. In fact, we would rather huddle in worship and pine away for life on a platter. However, I bet when God witnessed our civil engineering to make sewer systems and modern bathrooms, there was a proud tear welling in His eye.

We think that God's essential nature is morality- not Creative Power.

In Reality, morality is easy. Creating is where the hard work is. But we relegate creativity to an afternoon at church camp where everybody gets to make Christian lanyards. At evening services we thunder about morality. The reality of morality though, is that all you have to do is paint the world in black and white and us and them. Then choose a side, puff up your chest and fight away; all the while luxuriating in the bigness of being on God's side: And explain away--that is wax theologically--how every one else is the problem.

Meanwhile, everyone else is maintaining sewer systems, and developing needed energy systems in order to create sustainable thriving for the whole planet. (You know, the thing we're given real creative responsibility for?) Is this the Life that Jesus went to the cross for? That we should take all the genius of God, which we get to embody, and huddle in quivering masses and await that "glorious day"?

In the paradigm of animal sacrifice, God says in Jesus' crucifixion, "look- you guys are still afraid of me. I'll tell you what- if sacrificing your first born child is the most powerful act that you can do to make me be on your side, then I will sacrifice My first born child: no act can be more powerful than this. Let it be settled then; I AM FOR YOU.

The ONLY reason we won't see ourselves as colleagues with God, we who are called to co-create Life together, is because we would rather be afraid, and justify our fear through a theology that God yearns to eradicate in the Life of Jesus.

If Christianity means that I have to dumb down my Human self, dumb down the genius God creates, dumb down Jesus' belief about God, then I would rather give up my Christianity.

But I refuse to give up the Christ: I refuse to back away from my true Humanness, which is a call to co-create real life with our Creator.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Well, I thought I was gonna be rolling down the tracks with my posts about John Ralston Saul's ideas, way back in May, but as you can plainly see, I didn't roll very far.  I can't say that I suffered from some sort of train derailment; still my impedance certainly has something to do  with the fact that train tracks have to be  linear:  while I'm sitting comfortably riding the rail its way, I'm looking out the window and gravitationally pulled into the vistas perpendicular to my inertia!

I haven't felt myself derailed as much as I've felt myself in a stupor.  Feeling the gravitational pulls from so many vistas around me at the same time, makes it hard  to lay out sentences (for me at least), which, if they're to perform their amazing feats of communication,  need to be like railroad tracks. I feel like all I've been able to do for the last few months is stutter....

Part of unwinding my big ball of stutter, entailed my looking at why I'm writing here in the first place: perhaps the only things more abounding in number than String theories, are protestant denominations and blogs!  Certainly opinions.  But I don't want this blog to be, yet another opinion depot. To me, opinion stockpiling, makes little use of blogging's potential strength: that of connecting with people and thinking, we might not otherwise connect with.  For instance, some of you who have signed on as followers and friends I know in person. But some of you, I only know through this blog, or 13.7; cases in point are Peter, Stephen and Alex; I've appreciated your thoughtful writing through the commentary section.

Somehow, I want to make this blog a place where ideas can be forged and annealed; then re-smelted into other alloys and forged again.  At the same time, I want this blog to be a place reminiscent of kindergarten where wonder displaces cleverness, and the only dumb questions or comments, are the ones unwritten or the ones that bully:  All too often, some innocent word you write, starts an avalanche of ideas in me, which till then, were locked out of my reach.

I have to stop right now, and help my son Ben with his house.  I still have more unwinding to do when it comes to my big stutter ball, but I can't do it on my own, and I need your help. I'm so excited for our Human Life though, and I'm excited to explore it with all of you.




Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What Constitutes an Entity? Saul I

I've been surprised by the difficulty I'm encountering in trying to transition to a more formal discussion of Saul's ideas, and I think I just figured out why. John Ralston Saul, to his credit, writes his book in a way that follows his own sense of things: He himself is frustrated by recipeic approaches to living, so doesn't want his ideas to be construed as just another recipe; and he succeeds. Following Saul through the forests of our Humannness is pleasurable as he lets you see things yourself, and lets you develop your own felt sense of things. But I can't reprint the book here, so I think I have to provide some "handles" to better grasp his world view. And hopefully, you'll read the book yourself, because you'll be engaged in a worthwhile dialog with him; it's that kind of book.

To get at a possible handle, let me ask you, "what constitutes an entity"?

Referring back to the grizzly bear of a couple of posts back, and we ask what constitutes one, we would point primarily to biological stuff and habitat stuff. How about an entity like the United States of America, what constitutes this? Why the constitution of course. But wait- the "Constitution" is merely a document made of vellum. On this vellum however, are written a set of Ideas; so it's actually a set of ideas that constitute the USA: change the set of Ideas, and you constitute a different country- right? So now, what constitutes the entity we call Human Being? would we point to biological stuff? ideation stuff? Or is there some other stuff? Yes; yes; and yes. What I'm referring to here as the "other stuff," which we could consider as fundamentally constituting Human Being, Saul calls Qualities. And the quality we are most familiar with in our culture is Reason. In other words, we easily note that the one quality which distinguishes the human animal from all other species, is the quality of Reason.

We don't usually give much thought to this distinction, that's been in place since the Enlightenment: Saul however does. Not so much on whether or not animals can think or not, but on whether or not Reason should be considered as our sole quality that constitutes Human Being. As I asked in my last post for instance, "what about Imagination?" Is Imagination merely a subset of Reason, or is Imagination another Quality that serves a constituting role as much as Reason does? Saul, in answering such a question, doesn't limit his list to two Qualities however. No- he comes up with six! six qualities that constitute our very humanness, and he lists them thusly in alphabetical order: Common Sense, Ethics (Ethicality if this were a word), Imagination, Intuition, Memory, and finally Reason.

If I may paraphrase him, Saul asks, what qualities constitutes the Humanness of Human Being? and answers with his list of six- which exist together equally (as opposed to existing in hierarchy) in a dynamic tension together. Reason is removed from a throne and takes its place with our other qualities which are each just as vital in constituting our Humanness.

Two things He'd want you to know about his list: First, the list is not conclusive; he's not out to make another recipe, another system, another vehicle of sorts that takes us out of living and puts us into a management of forms. Secondly, he derives this particular list of Qualities from all the past attempts by thinkers who sought to consider the qualities that constitute humanness; Saul's list is a distilled representation of them.

A third thing Saul would want us to know about, is his use of the word Quality. And I think this is pretty cool: While we share in things we could call characteristics, or talents, or traits, the distribution of them depend on each individual person existing in their particular time and place. Qualities on the other hand, transcend individuality, and are there to be participated in by any Human Being. We could say that characteristics play a role in constituting an Individual. It is our Qualities though that constitute our very Humanness.

And I'll end here with another part of the question I asked earlier: What does it take for a bear to be more bear? and contrast that with the question, "What does it take for Human Being to become more Human? And of course, ask these in the context of the question, "What constitutes an entity?"

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Finally, John Ralston Saul! well- at least a start...

Living the Human life is innately elusive. For instance, we can know everything there is to know as to how everything about human being works- yet to actually live ourselves into the world requires something else than such knowledge. Knowing about consciousness and brains and the like, helps me understand more of my ability to consider, but when I face the incessant stream of fresh moments that keep marching through me, it is I who have to consider them- not my knowledge of my I. And the same goes for you. What makes this a little more elusive, is that you and I can be standing shoulder to shoulder, and the incessant stream of new moments will be experienced differently and uniquely by each of us.

What I called the Incessant Stream, John Ralston Saul calls the Swirling Uncertainty. Both aptly name the real situation of Human life as well as the true nature of the environment in which we get to experience our powers of consideration. wuhoo!(?) We love considering when we get to consider the flavors of our favorite beverages and such. When we have to lean our selves into the swirling uncertainty though, we reconsider how much of a gift this considering thing is!

The swirling uncertainty is no small thing. I would point out, that at the time of Christ, the Pharisees dealt with it by reducing living to a myriad of codes to follow; for this Jesus confronted them: (notice his confrontations don't center on morality, but on something more like maturity, as the Pharisee's strategy in effect, stunted their considering muscles) .

Though he doesn't say it this explicitly, Saul in our day, looks at our Human situation and notes it as one where we have to consider our way into Swirling Uncertainty. We can try to stop the Swirling, (the Incessant Flow) or, we can develop our ability to consider. Since the Enlightenment project has had as one of its goals, the stopping of the swirling without success, maybe we should switch strategies and become more competent. Towards this, he writes his fantastic book, "On Equilibrium"; a title which will make sense in a bit. (Equilibrium here is used the way economists use it, not the way the rest of science uses it. In economics, equilibrium describes things existing in equalized dynamic movement, where as in science, equilibrium means that change has stopped. Two very different conditions, and as Saul has little respect for a lot of economist thinking, I think he's making use of this to be ironic.)

Some quick biographical back ground. Saul, grew up in a Canadian military family where his dad was an officer, went to McGill University and then Cambridge for his PhD where he studied French History or something like that. But more, he's run a multi-national oil company, and his wife was a Governor in Canada a while ago. He looks to be in his sixties now and through his lifetime, he's had some rather interesting perches from which to do his own considering. Of course, just google John Ralston Saul (note, there is a John Saul who is another novelist.) If you want a more professional bio.

I'll end here with one of Saul's beginning premises. Since the Enlightenment, Reason has been king. But reason is only one of our "tools" with which we can use in our considering. What about Imagination? Is this just a subset of Reason, or is Imagination something that exists with as much autonomy as Reason? Are there other "tools" as well? tools that are also autonomous but have existed under the dictatorship of Reason over the last four centuries? What could be the implications here? Saul raises some interesting ones, and we'll delve more formally into them in the next post.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Alchemy of Toast and Human Being

Really, I am making my way into the ideas of John Ralston Saul. Toward that goal, let me ask you a question to ponder:

Both bears and humans exist as selfs. (For an idea of self see Ursala Goodenough's piece, http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2010/03/the_iself_and_our_symbolic_spe.html

So, for a bear to be more bear, what needs to happen? Likewise, for a human to be more of a human self, what needs to happen?

I just posted this as a comment over at 13.7 and I think it fits our dialog here as well; I hope you like it!

The allure of toasters is the toast they make. What is the allure of toast then? After listing everybody's response we would be able to sort them into two categories: physical/thermodynamic and non-physical/meaning. In a word, I would offer that toast's complex allure, could be understood in the word "alchemy".

To begin, the heart of the engineer behind the toaster, is wed to the heart of the bread maker; and all of us who eat toast become part of the wedding as well... such alchemy happens daily in a gazillion ways!

The question before us in our day, is "how does our shared alchemy result in something closer to gold than to lead?

Our current answer seems to stem from an idea that if we can make the right schematic, and everyone follows it, then we'll be in "working order". If successful alchemy were a matter of Physics alone, then schematics would have worked by now. It seems that alchemy requires a catalyst, and I would argue that for the human life, that catalyst is Meaning.

In terms of thermodynamics, work gets something done that is measurable. If a person feels a deep sense of Meaning behind there working though, something immeasurable emerges; what is that? Certainly something along the lines of alchemy, as well as something closer to gold than lead.

We can weld handles to things like metal pots. But Meaning doesn't lend itself to such easy handling. It squirms away from our grasps that try to bottle it, or make it formulaic.

Thus, in our world of Human Actuality, Technology and Meaning can interact with each other, and ultimately need each other. But neither can replace the other.

Humanness itself is essentially an Alchemy; remove the reality of either the physical or the non-physical, and the Alchemy fails to lead. Which for the human life
is not a fail safe, but a failure.

So when I as a thinker, utilize "religious" insight along with "science" insight, it's because I recognize the reality that has its basis in Alchemy, rather than in technology or spirituality alone.

Ursala, I think this is why I'm so in love with the last line of your post. How can Human Alchemy even begin without insight?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Considering Frameworks, Contexts, and the Naked Hokey-poky

Please forgive my absence from my own blog here. I've been involved with a rather intense season of thinking lately. Some of my thinking has been carried out over at the 13.7 blog's commentary section. While I like that blog as a whole, I especially like the work Stuart Kauffman is doing. Perhaps the one thing I relate most to in his work, is the sense that there's something more to reality than our current frameworks can give voice or vision to. He's sensing this problem of an insufficient framework, predominantly from his context of science, while I'm seeing it predominantly, from a context of religion. For reasons I'll explain later, you could enlarge our respective contexts and describe his as one of Physics, and mine as one of Meaning. In the meantime, I want to address the ideas of frameworks and contexts.

So what am I meaning by frameworks- or contexts? Well, I think we've come to see that reality is not only made of parts, it's also made of wholes that parts make up. Our organs for instance, combine along with other parts to make a whole that is our body: within the context/framework of biology, the heart pumps blood, while in the context/framework of romance, the heart pumps luuuuv.... Simply put, context/frameworks are the overarching "logic" of a whole that organize the meaning of its underlying parts. For instance, seeing someone off in the distance standing and moving their body in random and distorted ways doesn't make sense to us- at least until we get closer and hear the music.... What changed in our ability to make sense of this randomly moving person? Context, right? Because you have a framework about dancing, you were able to involve music in your assessment of the situation and call it normal. (Still, your framework might not allow for our once-randomly -moving-figure-now- dancer, to be naked in public, but at least the dancing part fits:-)

Our Frameworks are important because of this: As human being, we don't see with our eyes, we see with our ideas. What our bio-eyes and brain do, is process the stuff which light illuminates. What our mind's eyes and thinking does on the other hand, is make sense of what is seen by either set of eyes, and to do this, we need ideas. What you're able to see depends on the ideas by which you choose to see with, and- you don't really see something until you experience the sensation of "ah- now I see." Do you see what I'm saying? In other words, your bio-eyes pick up photons illuminating a moving thing on the horizon. Your ideas saw a naked person doing the hokey-poky to a song you remember from your youth when you were roller skating with your friends at the roller rink, and the d.j. got everybody to shift from their personal random boogies to a group event where each in unison dipped their body parts in and out and....

So this is what I'm trying to get at by talking about a context of Physics and one of Meaning: More than a branch of science, Physics is an over-all framework from which to approach the world; Physics at heart is looking at the world in terms of cause and effect. In this sense, even though other branches of science differ from the branch called physics in scope and content and the like, science, I would say is always looking through a primary lens of cause and effect- or Physics. As does our culture at large.

Yet as I'm pointing out here, ideas are central to our seeing; a seeing that doesn't entail from light and optics, but entail from thinking within Meaning: we rely on a different illumination to move about our environments than any other species. Meaning is very different than Physics. So while Physics can make sense of animals acting in their environment, it's an insufficient framework from which to fully understand the human animal living in world. Without a sufficient framework to consider Meaning, we can't sufficiently grasp our Humanness.

And as one who comes from a context we've called religion, I would note that a lot of our religious thinking is at heart Physics based, and lacks a sophisticated vision of Meaning.

Also of note is this: Stuart Kauffman and I, while not knowing one another, each have been dealing with the insufficiency of our beginning frameworks when it comes to their ability to see the reality at large; and as we worked for better solution, we both were drawn into the idea of Creativity: I love his idea that sees the Universe existing as Ceaseless Creativity. I would offer that the GoD Jesus points to is this Ceaseless Creativity; so we're mistaken to think as we typically do, that GoD's ultimate concern is obedience. To me, our mistaken idea is embodied in the parable of The Three Talents where the person Jesus confronts is the one who merely buries his alloted talent; while the ones who create with theirs are admired....

But that's a post for the future.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Considering Dilemma

Are you gaining the sense of considering as something very fundamental to Human experience yet? I'm not trying to build a formal system by the word consider, still, compared to words like conscious, mind, brain and the like, conceiving our salient human feature in terms of consideration, rises above the fray of debates over issues of how can a mind effect a brain and the like. After all, any of us who have pets will testify to their consciousness and personality; and as Matt brought out in his comment from the last post, we can witness their ability to "consider" (in a way- I would say).

My Golden Retriever named Sam for instance, loves these two things: meat, and having something in his mouth. (To this day, he won't drop his tennis ball on command without pained reluctance.) One day he came up to me on the deck with an old work glove in his mouth; he held it as a piece of luxury. I quickly grabbed a piece of salami and draped it over his snout (he does this amazing trick of holding, and on command he snatches the salami out of mid-air). There he was, sitting with his two loves and having to choose between them: the grimy glove in his mouth, and the salami on his snout. He froze. The only thing that did move, was his drool which streamed into a puddle before his feet. Having garnered sufficient entertainment value, I ripped the glove from his mouth. Sam instantly snatched the salami from mid air with his usual precision.

In terms of the conventional ways we've come to use the word consider, we would say that Sam froze in his "consideration" between two of his loves. Our conventional use of the word though, is a weather worn statue of its original stature; Sam weighed the glove and salami equally, but he couldn't truly transcend his literal being and "see from the place of the stars"- which is the experience the word Consider was originally coined to carry. I'm often impressed by the depth beneath common words when I look into their etymology....

Okay. We really don't know how it gets here, but our ability to consider I would argue, is what allows us to transcend our biological literalness. The thing is, for us to experience consideration in its fullness, we need environments that let such a muscle flex itself: we need environments that can exist as uncertain.

Think about it: to consider is to experience perhaps our core human feature; but if there were no uncertainty, how could consideration be experienced? Consideration and uncertainty, together form a system that gives rise to an environment where our very humanness is felt, and flexed, and found. And this is the rub: We love consideration as long as it doesn't get too beyond our comfortable perches, and we love uncertainty as long as we can still touch bottom: we like conversations with colleagues and the anticipation of Christmas mornings.

We can't just live with colleagues though, nor can we compress a real future into a morning. No matter how hard we try.... And try. And try.

So if we can't make society homogeneous, and we can't shrink a future to a depth in which we need only wade, what's our next option? We have to develop the ability to understand one another with the same care we understand our selves, and we have to learn to navigate deeper waters.

And with this context in mind, we can get into the ideas of John Ralston Saul- ideas that let us further into our Human Complexity.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Considering Will

I began taking consideration seriously a few years ago while reading an article in the NYT Magazine a few years back which informed me of the fact, that out of the twelve billion or so cells that are in me, only about five billion of those actually are me; the rest comprise other organisms coming along for the ride. That sparked my imagination.

I diverted my eyes from the magazine and gazed upon the nth myriad of critters who outnumbered me and I noticed something: every one of them were doing what they wanted. Hmm- even bacterias are wanting what they want... and what is want? isn't wanting the same as willing? So if even bacteria have will, and then lions have will, the fact that humans have will, isn't a distinction in and of itself. In fact, while we measure will in terms of its power, is ours any more powerful than a lion's chasing down its meal?... I kept watching in my imagination the alpha lion eating his fill, while the other lions, who's standing reached further down the alphabet, were held at bay-regardless of their need. And that's when it hit me: while lions may have wills even more powerful than the human will, what they don't have, is the power to consider. What distinguishes human will from the will that even bacteria posses, is that ours is connected to our innate ability to consider.

By conceiving will in terms of power, we put it on a continuum that bacteria exist on. And after human being in all its will power, annihilates itself, who will still be around? Bacteria. And they don't have the benefit of a frontal cortex.

By measuring human will in its ability to operate through consideration, we posit our measurement on a different continuum, one that doesn't entail from power and freedom, but one that entails from something uniquely human: the ability to look beyond. Human will, shouldn't be measured in terms of power, but in terms of consideration because consideration, is uniquely human. To continue measuring it- thus conceiving it- in terms of power, belies the level of order, Life itself has evolved toward. Human being is the one where Life evolves an ability for a species to experience the power to consider.

Will exercised through power is common to any living organism. Will exercised through consideration however, is uniquely human: we didn't make this reality- but we are required to live within it; whether we real-ize this power to consider, or not. We are free in our ability to consider.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Considering Power

Out of all the concepts we might employ when pondering human essence in contrast to any other species, we cite concepts like consciousness, language, art, tool use and the like. For me, the concept which has become perhaps my favorite is Consideration.

At first glance, consideration smacks- or rather touches upon- politeness. "One is to be considerate in the presence of their elders" Miss Manners would implore her pupil. Its etymology however, points to a realm of power not of domestication- that of being able to look down from the vantage point of the stars: com (con) is the prefix that denotes with, and sider comes from sidus, meaning heavenly body. I think this capability to shift our perspective to the vantage point of heavenly bodies, is an ability unique to Human Being, and perhaps forms the very basis of our experience of I-self, I-Thou, and broadly put, Subject-Object. Without our innate ability to consider, we couldn't transcend our biology and its singular drive toward biological success on biological terms. A grizzly bear will remain a grizzly bear because it has no way out of its literalness. The only way out of the bonds of literalness is the power of Consideration.

The poets of the Eden story described this ability to consider as being made in the image of GoD; on the seventh day of rest, only those who could consider were able to join GoD for a conversation, while everyone else merrily fulfilled their biological literalness (which is a different kind of satisfaction).

In the context of Evolution, I would put it this way: As Life pushes itself along the arrow of time, it pushes toward more complexity. And in the quest for survivability in nature, it evolves a pinnacle like the grizzly bear which is nature's version of a tank. But Nature continues its march toward complexity and reaches a different level of order that is a -whole something else- than a grizzly bear; a level of order we call Human being. What is this something else we embody that no other species does? I would vote that it's our ability to Consider.

So what shall we do with such power? Argue over how the power arises in the first place, or imagine together how we can put such power to work in the making of our world together?

Through our core ability to poise our looking from heavenly bodies, we can theorize about reality in frameworks of religion or science or any number of ways. But the funny thing about Consideration, what makes it so beguiling, is that after all the theorizing is done, and its dust has settled, we have to consider a fresh moment. All our frameworks can really do, is advise us: they can't consider in our stead. That is unless we abdicate our ability, and ride along like lemmings in a herd of ideologies. But if we surrender our identifying ability of consideration, do we also surrender our very Humanness? And what does such surrender engender?

It's natural to fear heights, and things don't get much higher than the heavenly bodies. What's the difference between thrilling and terrifying? I don't have a ready answer, but I do know that Consideration entails both.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

In the Meantime

My next post here will transition from our thinking of Faith to thinking over John Ralston Saul's ideas. In the meantime, I'm presently writing something to form the basis for a movement to create a voice to contrast the Tea Party. Not on the basis of policy against policy, but on a basis of approach against approach when it comes to making our Society together. I'm calling it the Tavern Party. (America was born in Taverns- not ransacked ships).
Clicking on my profile gets you to the actual blog site. I have the domains secured as well.

Let me know what you think, Mike

A New Common Sense (beginning draft)

America, as history shows, wasn't born in a ransacked ship. America, was born in Taverns. Taverns where people from their walks of life took time to discuss with one another, the idea of giving Democracy another try. The last ones to try it on such a large scale, were the Greeks. They themselves gathered together in "Symposiums" to figure Democracy out; invent it we might say. Think of their Symposiums, as something very akin to our New England Taverns- rather than the dry academic lectures that comprise symposiums today. Maybe the only real difference came from the fact that the climate of Greece favored grapes and wine, while the climate of New England favored grain and beer. In either case, whether from the Greek Symposium, or the American Tavern, Democracy emerged when ordinary people such as you and I, gathered together in a manner that believed in the best of themselves, and of Life- and celebrated the prospect of living into the ultimate form of Society: Democracy.

And who wouldn't get excited at such a prospect? After all, most of human social history is the story of societies forming themselves by a hierarchy of some sort- which most likely funneled most of the flourishing to the top. The top in return, justified their privilege as due them, through some rationale involving God: before Christ it was Caesar; after Christ it was the Church. Democracy was our chance to break up the humanly sculpted irony of some people usurping God for their private gain on the backs of their neighbors.

Democracy (and what Christ really said about neighbors). Democracy's not bound in an ability to vote. It's bound in an ability to make together, a Society that supports diverse Human Life in ways that don't impede Life's innate push toward complexity- the complexity that Life needs in order to flourish. Societies that depend on precise or even vague homogeneity to form themselves, are not Democracies; we call them country clubs. The Tavern Party is formed today with the belief that America is about pursuing real Democracy once again, and that today, we have it backwards when we think ( like the Tea Party) that Democracy is about pursuing America. The America made larger than Democracy, is in reality, a mere ideology- a club of sorts. As for any of us longing for real Democracy know, ideologies exist in minds, and that real Democracy laughs at our puny attempts to domesticate it into some homogeneous geniality that can fit neatly between two ears.

Which is the larger, America or Democracy? When I listen to the war like rhetoric from the Radical Right I could conclude that America is. But I'm not fooled- I'm more intelligent than that; I'm more courageous too- as most of us are on both counts. All it's come to take to be an American it seems, is to do a few simple things: fix a narrow view of the world; wave a flag over it- (or at least wear one on your lapel); reduce complex ideas to taunting rhymes; stand to a side and puff up: things that we first learned to do on our childhood playgrounds, things that our parents and teachers worked so ardently to drive out of our budding characters: for the cause of growing up. Obviously, Democracy is the larger. And as such, is complex and demanding of all our intelligence- and maturity. Not just the kind of intelligence that builds expertise, but the kind that seeks to share in common, the sense of complexity found in Life itself; Life's innate Complexity I would offer, serves as the basis for our new Common Sense.

Basing our new Common Sense on the like of Nature's complexity takes courage though, because Courage faces the large as large; the complex as complex: anger in contrast shrinks things down to size in order to bully it; anger is too easy to come by, and sadly- is often mistaken for Courage. Ideology simplifies reality's innate complexity to bite sized pieces- and sound bites- and reduces Society to a play ground, where ideology bullies all who won't play its game of make believe. Ideology and anger are a natural boy-girl relationship; the kids on such play grounds look for the Alfalfa's and the Darla's for leadership.

meant to continue