Realities, Truth and Fact

I read the other day that someone claims to have discovered a new shade of blue. I guess that may sound fairly reasonable in some ways but when one realizes that, when white light is separated through a prism the spectrum that results will contain all possible blues; there really can’t be a ‘new’ blue can there?

As I cogitate on this conundrum it has occurred to me that there probably are all sorts of discrepancies with regard to what ‘is’ and what is thought to be. Even if we set aside the obtuse political rhetoric we are fairly constantly bombarded by and contextualize the organization of ‘facts’ with which those in the sales professions wish to convince us……..and even if we eliminate those presentations that precede obvious ulterior motive there are still concepts and perceptions that fall through the cracks in otherwise impermeable rock-hard inescapable truth.

Which, I guess, makes me think that maybe sometimes I need to lighten up a little, maybe not try so hard to clasp onto the definitive answer. The world before my senses, delusional as it may be, is never-the-less pretty satisfying.

Rhythms of Nature

I’ve been thinking about the rejuvenating powers of spring; not exactly a profound realization, I know, but still. In addition to the obvious rebirth of the natural world, plant life rebounding, animals extra motivated to procreate, the psychological effects on humankind are undeniable. The energy of youth is renewed (well, remembered, anyway), people are out and about doing yard work planting gardens running 5 milers, setting off on long hikes, harboring romantic inclinations and optimism abounds.

Historically, vernal renewal has seen humankind shake off the imprisoning shackles of political tyranny: think Cinco de Mayo, Syttende Mai, Canada Day (probably not a lot of testosteronal energy needed here), the 1848 Revolutions in Europe, the Arab spring, the list goes on and on. So, it seems to me, something clearly does happen to the human psyche somewhere around mid-April into early June (after which time we can expect ennui to set in in preparation for the doldrums of fall and the small death of winter).

One would think the realization of our innate ties to the rhythms of nature should be sufficient motivation to maintain the health of the natural world. There are daily indications this may not be the case.

High Comedy

As abrasive, ugly and, I guess, pretty comical  public debate has become these days maybe it’s time to extol the virtues of the high energy levels our contentious philosophical exchanges generate. However distasteful, things are certainly better than the political structures in other parts of the world that are inclined to censor oppositional views of any sort (that couldn’t happen here, could it?).

Still, I have to question motivations sometimes. I’m afraid rather than championing fairness and what’s best for all, it appears, often, folks’ primary concerns center on me and mine, my own situation and how it measures up to what I see around me; seems like arrested development sometimes; a perpetual adolescence.

The 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill reminds us that in any debate, both positions will contain a certain degree of truth; issues are never simply black and white. So, it’s up to us all, I guess, to try to make reasonable sense of the oppositional view rather than mindlessly rely on logical fallacies, strawman simplifications and ad hominem put-downs to bind us with our allies and reinforce what we wish to be the right and only view.

As I contemplate these ideas I’m fully aware of my own complicity, my own inclination to jump on my preferred band wagon, you know, thumb my nose at the opposition. But, at least it gets my blood pumping, raises the old energy level; better than wasting away in lethargy ville I suppose.

ship of fools

 

Primitive Science

I was reading, recently, that science, in the broadest sense is simply the systematic knowledge obtained through observation and experimentation, which means, I guess, that our earliest ancestors were practicing science as they observed and learned the habits of their prey and the locales where edible vegetation could be found. And then, later, our forebears developed a pretty sophisticated understanding of stellar and planetary movements affecting seasonal change and growing seasons: science without question.

There have been, of course, a few observational glitches along the developmental path. Grasping and accepting heliocentricity involved overcoming considerable cognitive dissonance (which might be attributed, to a considerable extent, to the Catholic Church). And, I guess, religion has thrown a monkey wrench into the workings of scientific progress on a somewhat regular basis through the ages. There are still quite a number of folks out there suspicious of ‘science’ when it questions long held beliefs or offers inconvenient truths.

But, it’s hard to argue that our very existence today isn’t due to a significant extent to our embrace of science. And, as we understand more and more about the workings of the natural world and even more questions arise we will trust science to address the questions with the knowledge that a definitive explanation of how it all works will probably never be seen. Progress will continue, nevertheless, new ideas will be presented and peer reviewed until established facts present themselves.

I can only hope education will prevail. Science, after all, is without ulterior motive; the betterment of humankind is its only goal.

 

Gender Identity

I’ve recently become aware of the significance these days of the idea that one’s gender may not be written in stone, exactly. A considerable percentage of millennials, for instance, view gender in terms of a spectrum: that is the male/female composition of most all individuals is probably less than 100% either way; which should, I guess, open the door to an enlightened perspective of gender issues that have been thought about, if at all, in pretty simplistic terms for a very long time.

Unfortunately, deep within the darker reaches of our cultural milieu there exists a mindset unwilling or unable to accept the beauty of free gender expression. Maybe antiquated religious notions or, perhaps, personal confusion over where exactly they, themselves, fall within the gender spectrum has these tortured souls in vehement opposition to any sort of non-traditional gender identity.

All we can do, I suppose, is hope for an awakening. In the mean time we really do need to champion diversity. What could be better, after all, than a population that is able to sustain pride in who they are.

Consumer Appetites

There was a time, not so very long ago, when the powers that be exercised what we all thought to be altruistic tendencies in the selection and dissemination of public information. We folks got to hear and read what was thought to be most important to make us informed and responsible citizens. And, while censorial editing isn’t exactly consistent with first amendment freedoms, most allowed that the narrative presented was basically accurate and, at any rate, in the public’s best interests.

And then but so things began to change: market share became an issue, advertising dollars; profit motive began to compete with program content. Sophisticated analysis of the target consumer determined a bit more ‘colorful’ (as in lurid and debased) programming was needed to draw and keep more viewer/readers. In addition, it was learned that stories eliciting anger and outrage tended to be a lot more compelling than ‘feel-good’ sorts of things; conspiracy theories were also found to be useful in maintaining viewer loyalty.

Well, the next thing you know, we have competing narratives out there designed to appeal to particular constituencies, reinforced daily, convincing folks of the truth of their chosen perspective and the blatant inaccuracy of any other.

As philosophically divided as we are, I guess it would be in everyone’s interests to look inward to our common humanity and seek out, once in a while, the values we share.

A Social Animal

I’ve been reading that despite the nature vs. nurture debate it’s likely that a moral sense is innate in us all, the result of evolutionary selection dictating an inherent need we share to bond with our fellows. According to the late James Q. Wilson, even the most hardened, egregious individual has a modicum of moral sensitivity. Granted, there are other factors affecting a person’s behavior, self-interest leading to greed among them, but in the deepest recesses of our psyches we need positive human relationships; we are social animals and this fact leads us to desire to do right by others.

I know, as we look at those around us and perceive what appears to be a generally accepted moral relativity, an innate moral sense seems somewhat counter-intuitive. But, even tiny infants exhibit sympathy and practice fairness through sharing. Given the divisive nature of the world we live in perhaps we all need to become a little more child-like; offer a friendly smile and pat on the head, maybe even a hug to the next person we meet. What’s the worst that could happen; other than legal action?

 

A Machiavellian Epoch

The political climate these days has got me reading about the 16th century Italian Nicolo Machiavelli. Living, as he did, in tumultuous times and never ending political intrigues which saw him rise to prominence and then fall out of favor with the ruling elites and, being the libertine he was, it’s pretty clear why he maintained a pessimistic assessment of his fellow men.

Machiavelli has earned his reputation as the paradigm of hard-fisted (under-handed?) political maneuvering due, to a great extent, to his book The Prince. In the book Nicolo determines that the Prince, whether secular or religious must learn to do evil and develop the art of deceit. Testosteronal virtu, necessary to tame O Fortuna is an absolute must for anyone wishing to sustain power, he writes. A Prince must exhibit cruelty, kill a few of his people, maybe, in order to instill fear among the populace.

Interestingly, around the same time the Prince was written, Martin Luther, in a pretty disagreeable frame of mind due to hemorrhoidal issues, brought about the beginnings of centuries of religious conflict, breaking as he did from the Catholic Church (not that that body was in anyway an innocent victim).  So, it seems to me, 16th Century Italian power struggles resulting in a blatant disregard for the well-being of the people, although perhaps being a bit more violent than today, still seems pretty familiar.

I suppose an evolving humanity plodding along by fits and starts into the future is about all we can really expect. Still, hope is in my nature; I always look forward to tomorrow.

 

Alternative Realities

I’ve been hearing, lately, about the proliferation of witches in late 17th century New England. Apparently, there were quite a number of people identified as such. A penetrating gaze into the eyes of a young girl suffering adolescent angst could result in an accusation of witchery. Men, women and children were found to be guilty and imprisoned. Two dogs were determined to be witches and executed. Widespread frenzy turned son against parent, husband against wife, child against family pet. Witches were seen flying about on broomsticks, gathering in covens, casting evil spells. The guilty were brought before Judge William Stoughton, who, supported by the likes of Cotton Mather, tried and executed the guilty.

Anyway, this got me thinking about current alternative realities which seem to be proliferating these days. It seems all it takes is for a localized majority or a community of like-minds, egged on by media venues that know a good thing when they see it, to distill the complexities of modern life into a palatable elixir. Upon consumption everything becomes crystal clear. Black and white eliminates those difficult shades of gray, good and evil become clearly defined and it becomes very evident there is no room for compromise.

Well, apparently what happened in Salem was that some astute individual saw the witch hunts as disrupting business as usual; it was bad for the economy and in very short order the issue was dropped. After all is said and done pragmatism rules, I guess.

A Private Life

I’ve been thinking, lately, about how much time I spend thinking. I find contemplation to be a very important part of my daily regimen, to the extent that social interaction is non-existent some days; a lot of days, really.

Of course much of my thinking is about people, wondering about how some folks arrive at the opinions they hold, how groups of like-minds take on a public identity which lifts individuals out of their private worlds and offers a public character which seems to be what a lot of people crave. On a personal level, social networking is pretty easy, social media being what it is, and, I guess, having a large group of ‘friends’ tends to fend off perceived loneliness even if it is delusional (any sort of personal closeness, that is).

If social striving and seeking public identity gets out of hand, if popularity is too high a priority, danger lurks. When you think of individuals in the spot-light these days it’s unlikely anyone’s public persona provides much more than a caricature; which certainly can’t be what anyone wants. Better to spend more time thinking.

brotherabraham