I’ve been finding myself, lately, in these days of social isolation, playing a lot of chess against a computer. As we become increasingly intimate, I find that I tend to assign a gender to him/her, usually him (am I sexist by nature?) as I attempt to counter his increasingly sophisticated attacks. I say increasingly because the program I’m using allows me to choose the level of expertise suited to my skill level and then, if I get competent enough, move up, allow him to use the abilities, and insights he holds back at the lower levels so as not to discourage me.
Well, it’s really algorithms isn’t it? For each of my moves the computer races through possible countermoves at blinding speed settling on the one that will be optimally successful, never getting tired or bored or losing focus. When I occasionally happen on a favorable advantage, he patiently plays it out rather than resign allowing me to realize a rare win. It makes him seem almost likeable.
I’m finding playing the game an intriguing way to pass the time these days but as I think about it it’s also kind of sad that a program on my laptop can almost replace social contact.
I’ve been reading lately about the difficulties purveyors of religious faith have had over the centuries reasoning about the nature of the supernatural. Take early Christianity. The concept of a singular all-mighty deity the early Christians inherited from their Hebrew forebears had to be reconciled with the son as well as the Holy Spirit. How, after all, can three be one. The controversy roiled for centuries, I guess, until Augustine of Hippo settled the issue. God is one, he said, but it exists in three forms and if you find this idea contradictory, if it defies reason, then, as a believer get over it, accept it as a mystery and move on.
I guess there’s something to be said for embracing mystery; the existent unknown, if you think about it, never gets old, keeps one wondering about something that can never be fully grasped; curiosity, without a doubt, can be compelling. Which, I bet, is a significant reason so many people maintain a religious faith, not wanting to deny the existence of something mystical defined as all-powerful.
Of course, in order to be reasonably functional in one’s daily life in the real world the working admonition the devout practitioner pretty much must accept is: Just don’t overthink it.
I’ve been reading, lately, about the extreme self-denial, masochistic behaviors really, some of the early Christians imposed upon themselves believing they could atone for their inherent sinfulness and bring them closer to God. In the third century the apparent suffering of choice was to walk off into the desert without food or water in the hopes that denial of basic human needs would gain them a foot up toward heavenly rewards, which, I suspect, they were looking forward to sooner rather than later. There were other ascetics, the Stylites, who tied themselves atop pillars where some of them would stand for years (really!) while their muscles atrophied, hoping to be swept upward when the rapture happened.
Well, such extremes didn’t work for everyone. There were many men and women who wished to gain spiritual acceptance by denying the needs of the flesh but only up to a point. Monasticism provided opportunity to practice a humble, ascetic life of obedience, gain mutual support from their fellow monks or nuns and engage in service to community as they knew God would want them to do.
Such an organization required a rigid structure, though, rules to help everyone maintain the necessary austerity such a life demanded. There was little room for self-expression or individuality; thinking for oneself was pretty much out of the question. Even those faithful individuals not inclined toward the monastic life understood the sacred duties of denial and following the dictates of the church.
Such behavior, it’s been credibly suggested, can account, at least in part for the Dark Ages lasting for 1000 years.
I’ve been reading that one’s social affiliation is the primary determiner of the position one assumes regarding the hot-button issues of the day. Well, maybe not everyone’s, but the suggestion is that a political stance is determined to a great extent by social relations, how one identifies with those around her: a kind of in-group, tribal association that leads to consumption and regurgitation of the appropriate sound-bites consistent with the ‘correct’ political view.
To support such a perspective my very credible source suggests that, when questioned, most on the political fringes (which now make up around 40% of the electorate) have little knowledge of the nuances of the issues: global warming, health-care for all, world trading agreements, capitalistic regulation, the social safety-net, the plight of immigrants are all seen through the lens of political bias; which accounts, pretty much, for the divisiveness in the contemporary social dialogue: each side demonizing the other aided and abetted by profit-seeking punditry.
So, I guess the question is, how to discourage unreasoned dogmatic belief and encourage critical thinking: thinking carefully about both sides of issues and side-stepping political flashpoints. It may fall to the younger generations to re-find enlightened thinking. Their power is growing after all, funeral by funeral.
I’ve been reading how, early on, Christian thinking gradually undermined and overwhelmed the philosophical tradition of the Greeks and Romans who had made great strides toward understanding the natural world through empirical investigation.
The Early Christians had found something better: a realm not of this world that promised, with certain caveats, eternal bliss. Faith was the key to finding one’s way to God’s good graces and came to supersede reasoned thought, replaced it actually, subordinated it to the extent paradox and contradiction became acceptable. The conjured god was simultaneously terrible and loving, torturing the sinful while embracing the virtuous. Faith came to mean a leap beyond reason into absurdity in the interests of eternal salvation.
I find it amazing how such conceptions remain embedded in so many minds even today. Thoughtlessness, I wonder, or just wishful thinking?
I’ve been reading about how, as the hunter/gatherer of our pre-historic past transformed through domestication of plants and animals into sedentary farmer, became an unwilling host for viruses carried by animals. The enterprising virus found fertile ground to breed and grow and very little resistance to his (or her, who can tell with viruses) incursions into the human blood stream.
The results of this viral attack were massive die-offs of all but a small percentage of people who were fortunate enough to have a natural or cultivated resistance. These survivors passed their genetic wherewithal to their progeny and from there on to future generations, who would over time encounter new and exotic viruses they had never before encountered that would attack the unsuspecting and appetizing innocents and the cycle would begin again.
Civilizations evolved, became more complex and medical science made amazing advances. Hubris and inattention led to the belief we had won the battle with invasive viral infection.
I guess we have to chalk one up for the viruses.
I’ve been wondering, lately, about the public discourse with its multiple narratives, each of which attempting to rationalize and validate perspectives of what was, is and eventually will be.
These conflicting views that are clearly apparent in the political and religious realms are adhered to sometimes vehemently and with little room for compromise, the facts offered in support varying according to the narrative embraced. Support for the facts appears pretty flexible, based on political expediency or scriptural sources that have evolved over the centuries to accommodate changing world views.
So, without any sort of absolute truth I guess one’s preferred philosophical beliefs must derive from some sort of intuition: an intuitive sense of the social milieu and one’s personal stake in it all. In the interests of a sustainable future I can only hope that more than a few of us choose a humanistic perspective in support of our fellow man.
Heading to Arizona as I am, masked, buying gas at the pump, maintaining a safe distance from others, in constant use of antibacterial wipes, eating in my car I feel pretty safe although people in the streets stare, seem suspicious and I speed by them. The recent health scare, the pandemic, has me thinking of ‘The Walking Dead’, you know, the TV series in which a few stalwart survivors find themselves in constant danger, being pursued by the ravenous infected hoards. Civilization has collapsed and our heroes are on constant lookout for temporary safe havens and stores of canned goods on which to survive.
I really don’t think civilization is in danger of imminent collapse, but my journey has taken on an air of excitement (trepidation?) and as someone of advanced age I’m led to believe my very mortality may be at risk. If you don’t hear from me next week you might possibly suspect the worst: I may be quarantined in a senior retirement community.
I was just wondering the other day about the idea of cryogenic freezing, what it’d be like to be thawed in a hundred years or so, whether I’d have any sense at all of the nature of things, how to function in that future time (if indeed mankind survives that long). Given the effort required to keep up with information technologies from year to year, here and now, I’ve a feeling that future century would be pretty mind-blowing.
Our, well, your descendants might even have devised a way to interrupt physical degeneration; immortality might be on the table. An intriguing thought, that, even though the reality of ever-lasting life would take a lot of the excitement away from our current tenuous daily existence, be boring even. I wonder if all those of religious faith out there realize what they’re hoping for.
I’ve been reading about the Roman Church’s extreme influence over the population of medieval Europe. Papal authorities demanded monetary compensations for all sorts of things. The sales of indulgences was particularly lucrative. Parishioners were assured such investment would reduce the purgatorial sentences of one’s departed loved ones.
By the early 16th century people began to realize the scam: that their hard earned money was funding a papal court engaged in extravagant living rather than winning early release from purgatorial Hell, which resulted in a serious collapse of papal influence not to mention the drain on monetary resources. The people though, still as religious as ever and now without an absolute overseer to guide them to the after-life (which had they thought about it wasn’t all that wonderful to look forward to anyway) found that they really didn’t need to be led at all, could interpret scripture for themselves and make their own way into God’s good graces.
The problem was that if anyone and everyone could make up his (or her) own mind about ‘True Faith’ then there would probably end up being a lot of differing opinions about what exactly the ‘True Faith’ was and whose side God was on, which is indeed what happened. As it turned out people discovering their own personal ‘True Faith’ weren’t particularly amenable to being contradicted by someone else’s idea of ‘True Faith’ which led to some pretty nasty and bloody conflicts, wars, beheadings and burnings that continued for over 100 years.
I guess, in the end, the tumult did bring about needed social reform and, you know, re-establish a semblance of authority. The means to achieve it, though was certainly a far cry from the message of the gospels.