Beyond Reason


The Problem of Being Wrong

Posted in Faith,Philosophy by Abigail on May 22, 2008

Giant Warning Upfront: The following is theoretical nonsense and may seem like paranoia, but it makes a point. With that said… read on.

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There’s a real problem if you say you’ve never been wrong. However, there’s a greater problem if you say you have. If you’ve been wrong in the past, why should you believe yourself in the future? If you’ve been wrong once, you can be wrong again. And if are wrong there will be no knowing it because, well, you’re wrong! And it gets better. If you assume this is true of you because you are human, it now applies to everyone: you have created a problem (actually, you are the problem) and then removed all hope of solving it by applying it to everyone.

And an additional twist. The moment you claim to have been wrong is the same moment you claim to be right: you must be right that you were actually wrong. And so in essence you are hoping that you are right – there is no demonstrating it – and you are hoping that you have the ability to locate “wrongness” – there is no demonstrating it.

Ok, so that was the theoretical nonsense part. For the record, I don’t lose any sleep over this; I just find it fascinating. (If such basic things can not be hammered out theoretically, why do we put so much faith in human reason?)

What significance could it possibly have? Both science and theology make great claims to certainty. They tell us the truth. Ostensibly. But, due to the above problem, this is impossible; I always have the capability of being wrong. Conclusion? There’s still room for scientific experimentation and religious faith, but there’s no room for certainty. This is essentially an attitudinal shift, but it will result in new actions.

So here’s my question: is it wrong, or better yet blasphemous, for a Christian to say there’s no room for certainty? And, an additional question: was my reasoning correct? If not, of course my first question no longer applies…

Looking forward to responses!! I actually don’t think all my reasonsing lined up quite right here… but that would be case in point, right? Or wrong? 🙂

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What Not

Posted in Personal,Web by Abigail on May 13, 2008

Everybody should be able to play hours of tennis. I did tonight. And it was too much fun. I’ve missed my calling; should be a pro tennis player. It is too blasted fun to wale on a ball.

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If you haven’t wasted time have watching Rhett and Link, I can help you with that. Here’s another one of their better ones, on making resolutions. It’s quite amusing!

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For web developers, if you have never heard of the Web Developer toolbar from Firefox, you are living a sad existence as I did until recently. I am almost upset at myself for not downloading it earlier. It’s freaking amazing: a free tool that provides some better functionality than Dreamweaver. That’s saying a lot. 🙂

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Last, what philosophical nonsense is coming next? Still deciding. I might write an ode to Roger Federer (who seems to have peaked – it is incredibly sad). Or my Toyota Camry which is still kicking. It’s amazing! Everyone should buy Toyota’s. They’re your friend for life. (My car is almost as old as me.)

Free Will and Your Parents

Posted in Philosophy by Abigail on May 7, 2008

Unfortunately, I don’t have the knowledge to talk on free will very well, but a new thought’s materialized: should parents teach their children anything foundational?

Here’s the source of such a vague question: Dawkins has stated that parents who inculcate religious beliefs within their own children are guilty of a form of child abuse. To an extent I can see what he’s saying (although I have not read his statement in context, so I may not fully understand it). Here’s my question in a more specific form: are you reducing a person’s freedom by “inculcating” that person when he is young?

And, of course, the definition of inculcate:

  • To implant by repeated statement or admonition; teach persistently and earnestly: to inculcate virtue in the young.
  • To cause or influence (someone) to accept an idea or feeling: Socrates inculcated his pupils with the love of truth.
  • To impress (something) upon the mind of another by frequent instruction or repetition; instill: inculcating sound principles.

In sum, to inculcate is “to cause to accept a belief/idea through repetition.”

I suppose, in relation to Dawkin’s comment, he is only concerned about a particular type of belief. In other words, if you inculcate your children to believe that touching a hot stove is bad, then that’s good. But, to inculcate your children with religious beliefs is bad. The problem is clearly the subject being inculcated. And here I differ from many: technically speaking, “religion” does not include a belief in the supernatural, although it may. (Refer to dictionary.com.) Instead what it refers to is something quite broad: addressing, in some manner, the foundational questions of human existence, no matter the conclusion. Using the technical definition, all people are religious for the simple reason that, unless you die before the age of 3, you’ve asked a “big” question and most likely have some theoretical answer.

Using the technically accurate definition, Dawkins is suggesting that parents should teach their children about nothing that matters. I’d have to say that’s child abuse. (However, I also doubt he means the technically accurate meaning of the word “religion.”)

With that aside, back to the original question: are you reducing a person’s freedom by “inculcating” that person when he is young?

I was inculcated as a child. No question about it. Hands down. I am the poster child for this. Was it more likely that I would believe my parents over other people? You bet! All the way. All children are, effectively, brainwashed, whether it’s to believe in God or in no God. They don’t have the mental capacity to process and truly engage such thoughts. And this isn’t the result of parents being cruel; this is the result of children being children. Can we ask children to be otherwise? Again, can we ask children to be otherwise? If no, is there any merit to Dawkins’ implicit idea that parents never teach their children about anything that matters? Is that not an abdication of a prime and central responsibility?

Here’s a question on brainwashing (a cousin of inculcating): is it truly brainwashing if you tell the brainwashee to go check out what you’ve just told him? In other words, is it truly brainwashing if you encourage thinking at all levels, including challenging the very concept you just taught him? I was encouraged to do exactly this, from the very beginning. And I have. I have felt free to leave my parents way of thinking. I know what they think. I have developed my own ability to think. I have strip-searched the concepts they have inculcated me with (and pretty much every other concept I have been given), and feel comfortable that I have not been either brainwashed or abused. (Of course, perhaps the universe or God is controlling my mind, at which point feel free to stop reading my blog ’cause it’s all over. We assume this is not the case; there is no demonstrating it.)

So, has a child’s freedom been reduced because he has been taught one thing at the exclusion of something else? This raises the far larger question of human freedom which I could address because bloggers need no credentials to talk on things they don’t know… so I’ll address it. We assume our own freedom by thinking. Inside of what bounds that thinking exists, I do not know, but it is clear that those bounds exist. (I.e.There are limits to what a human consciousness can process and achieve. This should be clear from simple analogy. If my arm span is only 5’8, and I am therefore physically limited, do I have any cause to assume that my mental capacity is not also limited? You must provide a reason to deviate from a pattern. I see no reason.)

The answer? The child’s freedom has not been affected if, and only if, after (or during) the inculcation he is encouraged to think. Thinking, to me, appears to be the same as free will. It is freedom in its essence. And yet the freedom of every human being exists within bounds. So, the real question is, was there much freedom to reduce to begin with? That is for someone else to address.

So, to my Mom – I love you! Dad, you’re kinda cool too.

Love, your inculcated child.

To everyone else, that feels like a rather academic post. Sorry! Thoughts? Concerns? Confessions? Your best methods at inculcation? How do you manipulate people? Was Dawkins inculcated as a child? Is your brain in a vat? Should I stop asking questions?