Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

If I’m to be honest with myself, and sometimes I feel like I might, I’d have to admit I’m fairly impressive. Really. When I consider the things I can do, I am forced to concede I can do a lot – and if I really think about it, it turns out that the abilities with which the human body has been endowed are awesome… In the original meaning of the term, like, awe-inspiring; though it’s all pretty rad, too.

Before I get into why exactly I am thinking like this, I might as well address the inevitable here: Yes, I’ve been a blogging recluse lately, and no, I am not proud of it. I’d like to reconcile that fact, starting now. My Grand Re-Opening feat will be a series, so I shall be forced to continue whether I like it or not. The topic with which I will attempt to leap back in, reclaim my writing, and try to engage those who have given up on me, is one I believe addresses the core of many of my most-encountered questions… What are we? What are we supposed to do? What am I supposed to be doing? What’s the reason I do all these other things, even when I don’t really want to?

A little background should always come first. One must develop the characters of a story before they become believable; one must create their history and illustrate their environment and the pressures therein. We must begin to understand the world from their perspectives, and in light of both their strengths and limitations. This can be especially hard when one is part of the story, when the teller and the tellee are the same and yet so different, when the body and mind would weave such extraordinarily different tales…

When I get to thinking about what it is all animals have in common, well, I get bored. I’ve noticed my students do too, by the subtle nodding and bobbing of heads and the fog which glazes their eyes as I discuss blastulas and homeobox genes and lack of rigid cell walls. Not that these things aren’t fascinating in their own right, just that I want to know MORE. Because I am human, and I feel special, and I’d like some scientific evidence to the fact. I know I can do things other creatures cannot. Both what makes me unique and what makes me care is that I can actively seek understanding of these things.

So I will start where things become relatable* (incidentally, how is this not a word?? as in, ‘something that can be related to’) and universally – I’m taking a liberty here – thought-provoking. Mammals. We know we are mammals because, in addition to having coined that term to describe ourselves, we have genes for hair, a brain part to regulate homeostasis, bones in our ears, and glands to sweat and produce milk (mammary glands!! ..there’s a discussion in here about nipples on men, but I’ll leave that to you). Other than that, mammals are to all appearances an interestingly varied set of multicellular critters. But we know we belong with them, rather than in some other group of organisms, not just because we can classify and categorize and hypothesize – we know because we just feel it. I guarantee you could squash a toy chihuahua in a way not dissimilar to a ginormous cockroach, but under most circumstances I can also guarantee only one of the aforementioned situations makes you feel morally corrupt. Further, I might also surmise that if you had said cockroach in a tank with a plant, you’d feel poorly about killing one of these two creatures for lack of food and water, but mostly indifferent to the other. So again, we can presume which one is more like us in this subjective way.

And herein lies the trouble in answering questions about ourselves: Articulation, vocabulary, and separation of bottom lines from the tugs of our emotions. How do we, and should we, disengage from ourselves enough to objectively analyze ourselves? During the beginning of class each semester, I can reliably and predictably draw gasps of horror from even the most stoic of self-proclaimed uninterested, texting co-eds present only in body and because of state requirements simply by implying I might place a kitten in a blender. However, even those who might beforehand have declared titles of debating champion, logic king, or witty cynic find themselves in the ultimate conundrum when challenged to convince me why I shouldn’t hit “frappe” even for the tiniest fraction of a second. Tongues become twisted, hands are wrung, faces fraught. It is urgent, and crucial, and yet they cannot convey the point their body feels so strongly. It’s still a cat, I argue calmly, the parts are still all there. Do you know how hard it is to break a cell? With due diligence I could even arrange them back into the pattern from which the pieces came. And so on.

And it becomes apparent; the study of life is no more clear than the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description… and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it” When it comes to purpose, and intent, and the junction between choice and insight and instinct, we have many feelings and few concrete concepts. Many facts, many opinions, and yet the inability to justify one with the other. The best, and only really, place to start is by laying a foundation of historical context and functional understanding and building upon that to create an idea of what might be right. For us, here and now, and in light of the fact we are a fleeting intermediate in some larger picture, the details of which are gloriously unavailable for our scrutiny.

Primates are alike because we are all adapted to climb trees. No joke. But yes, I said “climb.” No mention is made here of descent. Many humans, quite obviously, have somewhat lost the capacity to actually get down from those trees intact. What we lack in physical prowess, however, is the tradeoff we made for increased mental aptitude and the upright stance which made our hands available for things like advanced communication and making clever gadgets. But climbing is important. It is one of the first clues to some of our most innate reflexes and attributes, as we shall see…

Earth Day is approaching – April 22 – And this year it shares the calendar with Good Friday. For some this connection holds significance; for others, less so. Either way, this coincidence has led me to reflect upon the potential to unite unique (and often overlapping) groups of people for one crucial common cause.

I’d like your feedback on Earth Day Celebration ideas for our campus and community. Please share any thoughts, suggestions, or ideas you have to make our day memorable, and to initiate little changes toward making big differences. You can find some starting points here and here. In addition, I owe E.O. Wilson for the ideas below:

The human species has adapted physically and mentally to life on Earth and no place else. Ethics is the code of behavior we share on the basis of reason, law, honor, and an inborn sense of decency, even as some ascribe it to God’s will.

For some, the glory of an unseen divinity; for others, the glory of the universe revealed at last. For some, the belief in God made flesh to save mankind; for others, the belief in conscious free will. Some claim to have found a final truth; I am still searching. I may be wrong, you may be wrong. We may both be partly right.

Do our differences in worldview separate us in all things? They do not. You and I and every other human strive for the same imperatives of security, freedom of choice, personal dignity, and a cause larger than ourselves. Let us see then, if we can work together to solve a great problem. I suggest we set aside our differences to save The Creation. The defense of living Nature is a universal value. It does not rise from, nor does it promote, any ideological dogma. Rather, it serves without discrimination the interests of all humanity.

The Creation – living Nature as we know it – is changing rapidly and appears to be in distress. If the current extinction rate continues unabated, the most conservative estimates still calculate that the cost to humanity, in wealth, security, and quality of life, will be catastrophic. Whatever our background, surely we can agree that each species, however inconspicuous and humble it may seem, is a masterpiece of biology, of divinity. Each species possesses a unique combination of genetic traits that fits it more or less precisely to a particular part of the environment. Prudence alone dictates that we act quickly to prevent loss of biodiversity and, with it, the pauperization of our ecosystems – hence of The Creation.

You may well ask at this point, Why me? Because religion and science are the two most powerful forces in the world today; if they could be united on the common ground of biological conservation, many ecological problems (not to mention social issues!) would efficiently be addressed. If there is any moral precept shared by people of all beliefs, it is that we owe ourselves and future generations a beautiful, rich, and healthful environment.

The great challenge of the twenty-first century is to raise people everywhere to a decent standard of living while preserving as much of The Creation as possible. Science has provided this much: The more we learn about the biosphere, the more complex and beautiful it turns out to be. Knowledge of it is a magic well: the more you draw from it, the more there is to draw. Earth, and especially the razor-thin film of live enveloping it, is our home, our wellspring, our physical and much of our spiritual existence.

I know that environmentalism is linked in the minds of many with evolution, Darwin, and secularism. I don’t know exactly how or when or why this came to be. But I know the story of a young man, newly trained for the ministry, and so fixed in his faith that he referred all questions of morality to readings from scripture. When he first visited the Brazilian rainforests, he saw the manifest hand of God and in his notebook wrote, “It is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion which fill and elevate the mind.”

That was Charles Darwin, as recorded in his personal journal in 1832 (now published as The Voyage of the Beagle).

Genesis 2:15
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Islam is described in the Qur’an as the religion of nature. God declares: “Therefore, orient yourself, with all due sincerity and uprightness toward the natural religion; this is consistent with the nature He has created in humankind…this is the straight way. However, most of humanity realizes it not.” (30:30)


Posted: February 23, 2011 in attitude, education, philosophy

College is a difficult time, a transitional time. This applies to ALL students, regardless of background or experience, age or philosophy. Whether you are fresh out of high school and learning to exist on your own, laid off and creating new opportunities, or just plain tired of the same old thing and forging a new path – the one consistency is change.

The most important thing you can do is: COME TO CLASS. Be there. It doesn’t matter what demons you escaped, it doesn’t matter what happens outside those (crappy) wooden doors – inside our classroom you are nothing but yourself, and you are everything to me. I have never met a failure. I have yet to encounter a single student who could not do it. I have only met students who were too afraid to try. I know what this looks like because I was once that student. My reasons were probably different than yours, and yet the same. I got over it, and so will you.

Consider the amount of time you spend beating yourself up. Feeling regret, shame, embarrassment, or anxiety. I challenge you to now take HALF of that time, be it an hour or ten, and commit to volunteer that number of hours each week. Perhaps you may choose to study instead. Either way, you probably gained a significant amount of freedom during that five-second thought experiment.

Let’s do another experiment, only this one more than just thoughts (this coordinates with the new assignment I’ve posted for you in CampusCruiser…). I want you to really evaluate your daily schedule. Make to-do lists, and actually cross things off. Reward yourself for doing so. Set a consistent and reasonable daily wake-up time, study time, and bed time. Moreover, set a DAILY WORRY TIME. No joke. Maybe set two.

What am I talking about? Well, we all have issues. I remember looking that those “perfect” people when I was in high school and college and wondering, “How the heck can they be so confident, so happy? What is the secret?” And I spent years (and probably knocked years off my life) trying to figure it out. You know what I know now? Those people have problems, too. They’re just better at faking it than me. So what.

Okay. So here’s what I do. This, by the way, is hard. It’s nearly impossible at first, especially for those of us with OCD and perfectionism… I have a ten minutes scheduled at 9:00am and again at 2:00pm in which I’m allowed to worry. So if any anxieties or concerns or paranoias leap out at me during any other time, I make a note of them. Then I say, “I will worry about this at 9 or 2.” I then go about my day productively, and at my next regularly scheduled worry time, I wear myself out with concern. However, when the ten minutes are up, I MUST go back to being a productive, normal, happy self.

As ridiculous as this sounds, IT WORKS. For reals. Try it. In addition to working on its own, it often makes me laugh out loud at myself. By the way, whoever first noted that “laughter is the best medicine” was clearly a genius, for laughter absolutely is the very best anecdote to all ailments. I would hate to pay a doctor who didn’t laugh, or have a lover who couldn’t laugh. Life would be so lame.

Stop taking yourself so seriously; for goodness sakes, stop taking ME so seriously. We’re all in this together. You are so capable, so get yourself into class and study at least nine hours per week and then show me what you’re made of. That first exam was really, really hard. But by and large, you aced it. You deserved those great grades, and I cannot wait to see what you have in store for me in the future. Let yourself be proud.

¡Arriba! ¡Abajo! ¡Al centro! ¡Pa’dentro!