Sunday, December 2, 2012

“He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief”

Professor Glenn Loury speaks to his agnostic son on the interplay between his faith and doubt:
“He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief,”
Hawthorne wrote in his journal regarding Herman Melville.
“Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Stars Are Beginning To Go Out…

"So we live at an interesting time, at the cusp between exuberant excess and a long gentle decline. We also happen to live in a galaxy that still produces a few stars a year – the Milky Way is going to end up contributing nicely to that last 5%. And when the Andromeda galaxy comes lumbering into us in 4 or 5 billion years time there may be a sudden burst of new star formation as these two beasts merge, and a final sprinkling of new stellar beacons will – for a time – light the cosmos a little more." Caleb Scharf is the director of Columbia University's multidisciplinary Astrobiology Center.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

All Things Shining (Excerpts/Highlights)

All Things Shining - Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly
Habitual actor vs. Heroic Actor
To experience your surroundings directly
Shakespeare’s Hamlet – “whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune/ Or to take arms against a sea of troubles./ And by opposing, end them?”
The Modern West no longer lives in a culture where the basic questions of existence are already answered for us.
David Foster Wallace – Good writing should help readers to “become less alone inside.” Infinite Jest, is a stylistic emodiment of modern self-consciousness…undermining…question…to eat their own tails…without resolution. The inability of our culture, or certain segments of our culture, to confront the deepest questions of who we are. Society’s increasing devotion to the perfection of distraction. It depicts our world as devoted to the perfection of an entertainment in the face of which we will necessarily annihilate ourselves. DFW – “It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master.”
Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” can be read as a story about the continually unsatisfied hope for God’s return.
“God is dead,” wrote Nietzsche, “but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown.” “We have left the land and have embarked,” Nietzsche writes. “We have burned our bridges behind us-indeed, we have gone farther and destroyed the land behind us… Woe, when you feel homesick for the land…there is no longer any land.”
To survive the breakdown of monotheism while resisting the descent into a nihilistic existence.
The Romans took very seriously the importance of luck in their lives, and they personified this force in the goddess Fortuna. Often represented as blind–indicating that her choices are indifferent to those whom they affect.
Match Point 2005 – “People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It’s scary to think so much is out of one’s control.”
The modern idea that to be a human agent is to be the sole source of one’s actions…almost an axiomatic truth of modern thinking
The nihilistic burden of our secular age undermines the idea of progress. Caught between two conflicting sets of demands…this tragic conflict
David Hume – “Reason is the slave of the passions.”
The most powerful thing a god can bring about –reconfiguring a culture instead of merely articulating it. Hebrew culture and the Classical Greek.(mix) Dante – “that without hope we live on in desire”
Dante looks back toward the earth and reports: “I saw this globe so lost in space that I had to smile at such a sorry show.” He sees that everything earthly, even politics, is trivial.
Herman Melville – Moby Dick The Whale is a mystery…it verges on meaninglessness…facelessness…it is this unrelenting but also unyielding mystery that stands at the center of the universe.
“Call me Ishmael“…different ways of seeing the world…outcast…wandering. Ishmael is the character who is friendly not only with all the niceties but also all the horrors the world has to offer. “Not ignoring what is good, I am quick to perceive a horror, and could still be social with it.” Leaves the certainties of one’s own civilization.
Queequeg tells Ishmael that the practices of whalemen soon convinced him that even Christians could be both miserable and wicked, infinitely more so, than all his father’s heathens…Thought he, it’s a wicked world in all meridians; I’ll die a pagan.
“No hopefulness is in it,” Melville says, “no despair. Content –that is it.” Ahab – “If man will strike, strike through the mask!"
If you tried to listen to all the sounds of the universe at once it would be deafening. All the various meanings would cancel each other out. You would hear the chaos of white noise instead of the single, hidden truth of a rational universe…Because when it is universal it is deafening, it is a chaos; and although this chaos is itself the ultimate nature of the universe, you can only fathom it from one perspective at a time…The multiple meanings of the universe simply don’t add up to a single, universal truth. Our only hope is to engage in each of them fully.
Pip confronts the possibility of becoming a castaway, of losing all connection with human beings, of becoming completely isolated on the infinite sea. “Out from the centre of the sea, Pip turned his black head to the sun, another lonely castaway, though the loftiest and the brightest.” “heartless immensity” looks up and sees the sun as “another lonely castaway”
A sense that even the Sun (the symbol of the Good in Plato and of God in Dante) has lost its place at the center of the universe.
Either we become crazy at the recognition that there is no such truth, or we drive ourselves crazy trying to prove there is.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Change Is the Only Constant

Alan Lightman is a novelist, essayist, and physicist, with a PhD in theoretical physics from Harvard University. He writes:
Oblivious to our human yearnings for permanence, the universe is relentlessly wearing down, falling apart, driving itself toward a condition of maximum disorder.
I don’t know why we long so for permanence, why the fleeting nature of things so disturbs. With futility, we cling to the old wallet long after it has fallen apart. We visit and revisit the old neighborhood where we grew up, searching for the remembered grove of trees and the little fence. We clutch our old photographs. In our churches and synagogues and mosques, we pray to the everlasting and eternal. Yet, in every nook and cranny, nature screams at the top of her lungs that nothing lasts, that it is all passing away. All that we see around us, including our own bodies, is shifting and evaporating and one day will be gone. Where are the one billion people who lived and breathed in the year 1800, only two short centuries ago?
Over its 4.5-billion-year history, our own planet has gone through continuous upheavals and change. The primitive earth had no oxygen in its atmosphere. Huge landmasses splintered and glided about on deep tectonic plates. Then plants and photosynthesis leaked oxygen into the atmosphere. At certain periods, the changing gases in the air caused the planet to cool; ice covered the earth; entire oceans may have frozen. Today, the earth continues to change. Something like 10 billion tons of carbon are cycled through plants and the atmosphere every few years—first absorbed by plants from the air in the form of carbon dioxide, then converted into sugars by photosynthesis, then released again into soil or air when the plant dies or is eaten. Wait around 100 million years or so, and carbon atoms are recycled through rocks, soil, and oceans, as well as plants.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mortality - Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Buckley on the new book Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
“For me,” he writes in “Mortality,” “to remember friendship is to recall those conversations that it seemed a sin to break off: the ones that made the sacrifice of the following day a trivial one.” In support of this, he adduces several staves of William Cory’s translation of the poem by Callimachus about his beloved friend Heraclitus:
They told me, Heraclitus; they told me you were dead. They brought me bitter news to hear, and bitter tears to shed. I wept when I remembered how often you and I Had tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky.
He was a man of abundant gifts, Christopher: erudition, wit, argument, prose style, to say nothing of a titanium constitution that, until it betrayed him in the end, allowed him to write word-perfect essays while the rest of us were groaning from epic hangovers and reaching for the ibuprofen. But his greatest gift of all may have been the gift of friendship. At his memorial service in New York City, 31 people, virtually all of them boldface names, rose to speak in his memory. One selection was from the introduction Christopher wrote for the paperback reissue of “Hitch-22” while gravely ill:
“Another element of my memoir — the stupendous importance of love, friendship and solidarity — has been made immensely more vivid to me by recent experience. I can’t hope to convey the full effect of the embraces and avowals, but I can perhaps offer a crumb of counsel. If there is anybody known to you who might benefit from a letter or a visit, do not on any account postpone the writing or the making of it. The difference made will almost certainly be more than you have calculated.”
One of the “fragmentary jottings” in the last chapter of “Mortality” is a brush stroke on Philip Larkin’s chilling death poem, “Aubade”: “Larkin good on fear in ‘Aubade,’ with implied reproof to Hume and Lucretius for their stoicism. Fair enough in one way: atheists ought not to be offering consolation either.” For a fuller version of that terminal pensée, turn to his essay on Larkin in his collection “Arguably”: “Without that synthesis of gloom and angst we could never have had his ‘Aubade,’ a waking meditation on extinction that unstrenuously contrives a tense, brilliant counterpoise between the stoic philosophy of Lucretius and David Hume, and his own frank terror of oblivion.”

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dover Beach

The sea is calm tonight, The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits; on the French coast the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. Come to the window, sweet is the night air! Only, from the long line of spray Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, At their return, up the high strand, Begin, and cease, and then again begin, With tremulous cadence slow, and bring The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago Heard it on the Agean, and it brought Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow Of human misery; we Find also in the sound a thought, Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true To one another! for the world, which seems To lie before us like a land of dreams, So various, so beautiful, so new, Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night.
DOVER BEACH By Matthew Arnold 1867

Cheetah Robot runs 28.3 mph; a bit faster than Usain Bolt

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Mosaic of Existence

The fluid Mosaic of existence does not fit in a box of dogma. "What are the lessons to be learned from this journey of the mind [through the universe]? That humans are emotionally fragile, perennially gullible, hopelessly ignorant masters of an insignificantly small speck in the cosmos. Have a nice day." Death By Black Hole, Neil deGrasse Tyson

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ashes and Snow

Ashes and Snow Portfolio The project states: "No longer shown as merely a member of the family of man, humans are seen as a member of the family of animals."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Big History

Physicist Murray Gell-Mann: “We live in an age of increasing specialization…Humanity keeps learning more about each field of study; and as every specialty grows, it tends to split into subspecialties. However, there is also a growing need for specialization to be supplemented by integration. The reason is that no complex, nonlinear system can be adequately described by dividing it up into subsystems…In academic life, in bureaucracies, and elsewhere, the task of integration is insufficiently respected.” “Narrative is the chief literary form that tries to find meaning in an overwhelmingly crowded and disordered chronological reality.” -William Cronon

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Conversations with History - Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly

"Whatever my fate, I'll go to it laughing." — Herman Melville

"Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.

Consider all this; and then turn to the green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!"
— Herman Melville (Moby Dick)

"...and Heaven have mercy on us all - Presbyterians and Pagans alike - for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending."
— Herman Melville (Moby Dick)

"With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."

"Possibly, if you do answer it, and direct it to Herman Melville, you will missend it -- for the very fingers that now guide this pen are not precisely the same that just took it up and put it on this paper. Lord, when shall we be done changing? Ah! it's a long stage, and no inn in sight, and night coming, and the body cold. But with you for a passenger, I am content and can be happy. I shall leave the world, I feel, with more satisfaction for having come to know you. Knowing you persuades me more than the Bible of our immortality."

Melville letter to Hawthorne

Saturday, April 7, 2012

To be steeped in natural history

"To be steeped in history is to cease being Protestant."
Cardinal John Henry Newman

The Cardinal stops too early. A Jewish person or a Pagan could say to be steeped in history is to cease being Catholic as well. And the more you research and study history dogma seems rather provincial, tribal and solipsistic.
The gods of the human primate from this little blue planet in the universe seem to be too small, too human and too petty to be the ultimate force in this giant cosmos.
Human gods do not even cover the scale of the earth and its history much less the universe.

"A general problem with much of Western theology in my view is that the god portrayed is too small. It is a god of a tiny world and not a god of a galaxy much less of a universe."
Carl Sagan

"I think that we reject the evidence that our world is changing because we are still, as that wonderfully wise biologist E.O. Wilson reminded us, tribal carnivores. We are programmed by our inheritance to see other living things as mainly something to eat, and we care more about our national tribe than anything else. We will even give our lives for it and are quite ready to kill other humans in the cruelest of ways for the good of our tribe. We still find alien the concept that we and the rest of life, from bacteria to whales, are parts of the much larger and diverse entity, the living Earth."
Dr. Lovelock

"The importance of the Scientific Revolution for philosophy is beyond question. Modern philosophy the work of both rationalists and empiricists would have been impossible without great advances in physics. Analogously, therefore, we could anticipate that the Darwinian Revolution will have important implications for philosophy. Indeed, I would go further and say that we might expect Darwin's work to have even greater implications for philosophy than those of physics. The theory of evolution through natural selection impinges so directly on our own species. It is not just that we are on a speck of dust whirling around in the void but that we ourselves are no more than transformed apes. If such a realization is not to affect our views of epistemology and ethics, I do not know what is. As I said in the Preface, I find it inconceivable that it is irrelevant to the foundations of philosophy whether we are the end result of a slow natural evolutionary process, or made miraculously in Gods own image on a Friday, some 6,000 years ago. "
Dr. Michael Ruse

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Grey - Hoka Hey

Once more into the fray,

into the last good fight I will ever know.

Live and die on this day,

Live and die on this day.

-The Grey(2012)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Quotes Archive

"The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true, by the philosopher as equally false, and by the magistrate as equally useful."
Edward Gibbon

"The first ideas of religion arose not from a contemplation of the works of nature, but from a concern with regard to the events of life, and from the incessant hopes and fears, which actuate the human mind...the anxious concern for happiness, the dread of future misery, the terror of death, the thirst of revenge, the appetite for food and other necessaries. Agitated by hopes and fears of this scrutinize, with a trembling curiosity, the course of future causes, and examine the various and contrary events of human life. And in this disordered scene, with eyes still more disordered and astonished, they see the first obscure traces of divinity."
David Hume

"The black hole teaches us that space can be crumpled like a piece of paper into an infinitesimal dot, That time can be extinguished like a blown out flame, and that the laws of physics that we regard as sacred, as immutable, are anything but."
-John Wheeler

Monday, February 27, 2012

God is the gossip of the living

God is the gossip of the living. Religion and faith are the aims of a short lived mortal animal with a higher awareness. As Freud put it man is the wishing animal. To be dead is to be without faith. The dead require no faith or religion only what is true.

"To exist is equivalent to an act of faith, a protest against the truth, an interminable prayer."
E. M. Cioran

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ernest Becker - Escape from Evil

At its most elemental level the human organism, like crawling life, has a mouth, digestive tract, and anus, a skin to keep it intact, and appendages with which to acquire food. Existence, for all organismic life, is a constant struggle to feed -- a struggle to incorporate whatever other organisms they can fit into their mouths and press down their gullets without choking. Seen in these stark terms, life on this planet is a gory spectacle, a science-fiction nightmare in which digestive tracts fitted with teeth at one end are tearing away at whatever flesh they can reach, and at the other end are piling up the fuming waste excrement as they move along in search of more flesh.

Life cannot go on without the mutual devouring of organisms. If at the end of each person’s life he were to be presented with the living spectacle of all the he had organismically incorporated in order to stay alive, he might well feel horrified by the living energy he had ingested. The horizon of a gourmet, or even the average person, would be taken up with hundreds of chickens, flocks of lambs and sheep, a small herd of steers, sties full of pigs, and rivers of fish. The din alone would be deafening. To paraphrase Elias Canetti, each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good.

Beyond the toothsome joy of consuming other organisms is the warm contentment of simply continuing to exist -- continuing to experience physical stimuli, to sense one’s inner pulsations and musculature, to delight in the pleasures that nerves transmit. Once the organism is satiated, this becomes its frantic all-consuming task, to hold onto life at any cost . . . . this absolute dedication to Eros, to perseverance, is universal among organisms and is the essence of life on this earth.

Man is cursed with a burden no animal has to bear: he is conscious that his own end is inevitable, that his stomach will die. [Herein we have the origins of civilization] As soon as you have symbols you have artificial self-transcendence via culture. Everything cultural is fabricated and given meaning by the mind, a meaning that was not given by physical nature . . . . [but] the terror of death still rumbles underneath the cultural repression. What men have done is to shift the fear of death onto the higher level of cultural perpetuity . . . . men must now hold for dear life onto the self-transcending meanings of the society in which they live . . . a new kind of instability and anxiety are created.

In seeking to avoid evil [(death)], man is responsible for bringing more evil into the world than organisms could ever do merely by exercising their digestive tracts. It is man’s ingenuity, rather than his animal nature, that has given his fellow creatures such a bitter earthly fate.

Ernest Becker from his book Escape from Evil

Monday, January 23, 2012

Newt Gingrich & American Christianity

Newt Gingrich is proving that American christianity is a form of neo-victorianism. In that it finds it more distasteful to talk about adultery than it does to committ adultery. This redemption is a form of relativism. "We are all fallen. We all sin." This sickly relativism is American christianity's long as you speak the language of the tribe. If you are outside the tribe you are judged for your sins. If you are within the tribe you are given a pass.

This provinical and tribal theology allows for corrupt double standards and outright hypocrisy.

What is paramount is that one swears fidelity only to the spoken ideology. Your life and integrity is secondary.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Story of Science vs. the Story of Religion

The narrative of the natural sciences is not only more likely than the supernatural narratives it also possesses greater explanatory power.

The advantage that religious narratives have is their cultural & emotional identity connection usually developed in childhood and in family units. The religious narrative also has the advantage that it directly consoles the existential anxiety due to human consciousness and its propensity to metaphysical meaning and security.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rick Santorum's Political Christianity

Why Rick Santorum Can't Just Say: God Doesn't Want You To Be Gay | Politics | Religion Dispatches

It’s not as though Santorum dispassionately selected Catholicism from a menu of religious ideologies. He believes because he feels. Even before his wife’s miscarriage (in 1996), before his political career, some concatenation of circumstances installed what some have called religious “software” in his brain. Things are good when religion is dominant, bad when it is not. This is the truth of his experience.

I’m reminded of a story told by Tim LaHaye, notorious author of the apocalyptic “Left Behind” series. LaHaye was ten years old when his father died, and obviously devastated by the loss. As LaHaye tells it, it was during a pastor’s eulogy for his father that he truly came to believe. The pastor explained how his father was now in heaven with Jesus, and the young LaHaye knew this to be true, felt it to be true. Indeed, he must have wished it to be true as well. Of course he did; what ten-year-old boy wouldn’t?

That, not evolution or homosexuality or any other point of dogma, is the real issue for people like LaHaye, Santorum, and Chambers: the fundamental comfort that religion provides. If people evolved from apes, according to this logic, Timmy LaHaye’s father is not in heaven with Jesus and Rick Santorum’s son died for no reason.

And this is why we cannot argue with people who subscribe to this framework: there is simply too much at stake for them. They have wedded their fundamental sense of okay-ness to the truthfulness of a set of doctrines. Not only is sociology not at issue for Rick Santorum, Romans isn’t either. What is at stake is his very sense that the world is a good place, that things are basically okay, and that he himself is okay as a result. That may be expressed in a theological framework, but it is a psychological reality. If I marry my partner, therefore, Rick Santorum is not okay.

The rest is window dressing. The fake sociology, the religious doctrines of sin and salvation, all of it. Santorum and Chambers have had powerful religious experiences, and they avail themselves of such doctrines to articulate the inexpressible.

By Jay Michaelson

Thomas Paine Contra the Religious Right in America

Glenn Beck's use of Thomas Paine is quite ironic considering Paine's view of the Judeo-Christian tradition and his distaste for Church and State connection. Either Glenn Beck is woefully ignorant or he is a charlatan who takes advantage of the ignorance of those he fleeces.

The adulterous connection between church and state...
[Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]

Glenn Beck (and many others on the religious right) have been pushing this Judeo-Christian identity as the inspiration of the American Experiment and Founders. But again his history is very selective.
If we are saying that the majority of Americans were and are Christian then that would be fair. But the inspiration and knowledge that framed the American experiment was not the Judeo Kings of the Old Testament or the Kings of Christian Europe but rather it was the example of Ancient Greece (Democracy) and the Roman Republic. It was Pagan Europe not Christian Europe that was the inspiration. The American Founders had a classical education and they were inspired by Ancient Greece and the Republic of Rome. Political Christianity from Europe was not what the American Experiment was about. The Enlightenment and the Classical world were very influential in the philosophy of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

Glenn Beck and David Barton say the separation of Church and State was to keep Government out of Church but not Church out of Government...that is like saying that Jelly should stay out of peanut butter but peanut butter can mix with jelly. If the mix is the problem what party crosses the line is not the fundamental issue. They want Church to run government but not government to run church? Take power from the Government and give it to the Church? Sounds like a theocratic dream. Freedom of Religion requires Freedom from Religion when it comes to the State. Otherwise the confusion of which God and which holy book is problematic. Even Christians who agree somewhat on the same God fight among themselves over the correct interpretation of that God. That is why the founders(important Deists among them) would only acknowledge a vague Creator or Providence. Something the classical pagans would have no problem with. Something as broad as Nature was used as a source of rights as well. When Thomas Paine argued for the rights of man he did not invoke Christian-Judeo heritage but the Age of Reason and the values of the Enlightenment.

What Athens was in miniature America will be in magnitude. The one was the wonder of the ancient world; the other is becoming the admiration of the present.
Thomas Paine, Rights of Man

From the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, the Founding Fathers looked to classical history as a reliable guide to their successful experiment in building a lasting republic.
Dr. Joe Wolverton II

I too am an epicurean.I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us.

Thomas Jefferson,Monticello, October 31, 1819