December 22, 2005
Man, choosing a name for your child is hard work. You want unique, but not freaky; meaningful, but not obvious. The safe bet is the standard biblical or English names, like John or Mary, but they're so common. You can harken back to your cultural heritage, like Celtic or French names, but who wants to be called "Aithne"? You can randomly generate a name, which, if a African-Bulgarian-Icelandic-Irish-Roman Myth name is requested, will give you "Farai Uinseann" and years of conversation material, but anticipate therapy for your angry teenager once she realizes your nominal sense of humor. The name is a statement, a label, a gift or a burden for your child. It's very important to get it right.
But in the end, after hours of discussion and suggestions and communion with the cosmos, the name will find itself, giving just the right moniker to a new human, announcing Bob or Juju or Miraj Hafiz to the world. And we, the parents, will never get tired of saying it, followed by "I love you."
December 21, 2005
Battle for Truth
I think a generation or so from now, our era will be seen as a battle for the Truth--what it is and where it comes from. On one side are those who see Truth in a Platonic way: unchanging, authoritative, divine. On the other are those that see Truth as Aristotelian: empirical, logical, rational. A battle, if you will, between Jerusalem and Athens.
On one hand, the ethos of divine authority has carried us a long way, from the Egyptian pharaonic authority derived from their gods to our current President, who wears his religion on his sleeve and isn't afraid to use it to remain in power. For those who believe him, his authority is beyond question, for to doubt him is to doubt one's faith itself. That's the problem with believing the Truth intertwined with religion--even if the claims are absurd on the surface, the ethos invested in the leader cannot be easily questioned. 2+2=5 because I say so.
On the other hand, the logos of critical thought requires questioning and proof, building in a system of checks and balances and depending upon something we all share: our common sense. From this approach, we get laws, science, and logic. The authority comes from the consensus of critical inquiry and proof, not just because someone pronounces it true. Indeed, great thinkers are supplanted often, as in Newton and Einstein's theories being overtaken by quantum physics. 2+2=4 because we can agree it does.
Your perspective of Truth's origin colors your worldview. To a Platonic thinker, man's systems of education and thinking pale in comparison to righteous revelation. It's easy to dismiss scientific and legal complexities because, after all, you "know" the truth. What's to discuss?
To an Aristotelian thinker, the importance of reason can't be overstated. Our search for knowledge and meaning derives from the concept that what we can know is based in a natural world with predictable laws and structures. To assume anything more, especially when dealing with universalities, leaves the realm of common sense and ceases to be acceptable to all.
A Platonic thinker would say that killing is wrong because a deity says it's wrong. An Aristotelian thinker would say killing is wrong because, as a universal action, it infringes a person's inherent right to life and freewill. We can have a law that agrees with both worldviews, but what happens when the authority of the Platonic thinker changes? What happens when the mouthpieces of a god--politicians, preachers--say it's okay to kill? Can you question their authority? Does morality change according to situation? Or is it always wrong to kill?
Anyone who speaks from authority only cannot be trusted. Eventually, he will fall as the weakness of his argument, through common sense, withers under scrutiny.
December 18, 2005
I'm embarrassed for my country. We are the most powerful, most advanced, most educated civilization ever, but we can't let go of superstition. The fact that we're even "debating" Intelligent Design as "science" is nauseating. I might punch the next person who says scientific theory isn't fact.
The Scientific Method is inductive reasoning. Practically everything you know you learned from inductive reasoning. As a child, you observed the world around you and inductively inferred everything from word meanings to how tall trees get. But you can never be certain that what you hold as "truth" and "fact" will remain static. New observations will change a word's meaning or your idea of what a "tree" is.
That's what Science does; it observes and induces explanations for how the natural world works. The theories of science, like most of our knowledge, sufficiently explain what can be observed, but always must be ready to change, to be falsified. However, once thousands of observations are made, and the theory explaining and predicting what is observed holds true, that theory, like your image of a tree and the meaning of "shirt," is considered fact. Theories do not cause or invent the facts observed; they simply explain them.
To introduce a supernatural explanation for natural phenomena puts us in the same intellectual strata as those who sacrifice virgins to the volcano god and dance for rain. The levels of ignorance on display about what science is and does are offensive and harmful to the sincere faithful who can reconcile science and religion without dragging the nation back to Salem Witch Trial levels of irrationality.
December 17, 2005
The shortcut to enlightenment, at least temporarily, is alcohol. Harder drugs will show you more of what you want to know, but the everyday vacation for the working man is Dionysis. And I am under his beloved tutelage even now.
The magic is the altered perception. Everything becomes clear, or, at least, obvious. One can step back from the bullshit of life and live in the now, as Buddha instructed. Sure, it sacrifices rationality, but that's the point, right? The facade of civilization and its mores drops and the basics of sex, glutton, and self-destruction warms its butt in the driver's seat. Give me a cigarette and a good fart and life's meaning comes closer.
You will die. Accept that. You will never understand anything else, including love, other people, and pain. Accept that. Planes fly. Bullets hurt. Idiots succeed. Accept that.
I am alone. I can only be responsible for myself, but, being responsible, I am accountable for everyone else. I must respond, as best I can, to every need in the world. Accept that. Yes, that child in Eritria is yours, Accept that.
Nothing fails like prayer. Pick up the phone, dial any charity and give money. That will help people. You absolve your humanity by thinking that talking to, at best, a disinterested god, will do anything. Accept that.
Please the people around you. Cook something wonderful. Take out the trash unexpectedly, change the oil in your car, lick something sensitive. That affects the everyday. Accept that.
Think back to the first time you did it. Wasn't it wonderful? Strive for that feeling in everything you do. Fantasize. It's okay.
Relax. Your skin is the best it's going to get. Doesn't it feel good? Touch your friend. Doesn't he feel warm and solid? I thought so. My thighs are solid after twelve months of exercising. I touch myself, and it's good.
Think about the trillions of cells that agglomerate into you. Think about the miracle that is the consciousness that absorbs these words. You are a miracle. Accept that. You are the universe, the stars understanding themselves, and nothing stands in the way of your taking a breath and dwelling on that for an eternity.