Beyond Reason

On Poets and Madmen

Posted in Faith,Philosophy,Writing/Reading by Abigail on February 11, 2011

Now, if we are to glance at the philosophy of sanity, the first thing to do in the matter is to blot out one big and common mistake. There is a notion adrift everywhere that imagination, especially mystical imagination, is dangerous to man’s mental balance. Poets are commonly spoken of as psychologically unreliable; and generally there is a vague association between wreathing laurels in your hair and sticking straws in it. Facts and history utterly contradict this view. Most of the very great poets have been not only sane, but extremely business-like; and if Shakespeare ever really held horses, it was because he was much the safest man to hold them. Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination. Artistic paternity is as wholesome as physical paternity. Moreover, it is worthy of remark that when a poet really was morbid it was commonly because he had some weak spot of rationality on his brain. Poe, for instance, really was morbid; not because he was poetical, but because he was specially analytical. Even chess was too poetical for him; he disliked chess because it was full of knights and castles, like a poem. He avowedly preferred the black discs of draughts, because they were more like the mere black dots on a diagram. Perhaps the strongest case of all is this: that only one great English poet went mad, Cowper. And he was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination. Poetry was not the disease, but the medicine; poetry partly kept him in health. He could sometimes forget the red and thirsty hell to which his hideous necessitarianism dragged him among the wide waters and the white flat lilies of the Ouse. He was damned by John Calvin; he was almost saved by John Gilpin. Everywhere we see that men do not go mad by dreaming. Critics are much madder than poets. Homer is complete and calm enough; it is his critics who tear him into extravagant tatters. Shakespeare is quite himself; it is only some of his critics who have discovered that he was somebody else. And though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators. The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion, like the physical exhaustion of Mr. Holbein. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

G.K. Chesterton, in “Orthodoxy”

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Jig and a Book

Posted in Faith,Philosophy,Writing/Reading by Abigail on August 6, 2008

What do you do when your biggest questions have been answered? Well, dance a jig or something. Since you can’t see my jig I’m currently dancing, I’m just going to post about the book that caused the jig. (Actually, the only time I “jig” is on the tennis court and that’s really more of a victory dance… which isn’t really condoned in tennis… very sad, as it’s the best part of my game.) It is Proper Confidence by Leslie Newbigin. The subtitle is Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship. Many of the questions I’ve posted on this blog I’ve viewed as, essentially, unanswerable. But he answers them! At least to my satisfaction.

So I’ll provide a rundown of the book and hopefully persuade you also to pick up this gem.

1) First it should be noted that this is a Christian book. That means he operates out of a worldview soaked in Christian assumptions and beliefs. For the non-Christian, I still think this book would be beneficial because it is primarily philosophical – and only secondarily theological – and deals with problems that affect the church only because first they affected our culture at large. He is well spoken and thought provoking.

2) The first point of the book: Christian epistemology requires a scrapping of classical Greek epistemology. This has a thousand implications – many of which are disturbing, all of which are interesting – but I’ll leave those inside the book.

3) His next topic is what happens when that scrapping does not occur and instead classical Greek epistemology holds sway, as it does today. As you might imagine, Descartes gets a lot of air time.

4) Nihilism is next.

5) He discusses different kinds of knowledge: intellectual versus personal, in other words, knowing a fact versus knowing a person, and the inherent risks of knowing a person.

6) Fascinatingly, he attacks the dichotomy between objective and subjective knowledge. He bases his thoughts off a 20th century Russian scientist turned philosopher. It is decently convincing and is core to the argument of his whole book. (I’ve never heard anyone challenge this dichotomy. Am I out in left field? Perhaps it is more common than I realize?)

7) But primarily he dismantles some of the core principles of modernity. In its place, he talks of personal knowledge, how a knower must “commit” to what he knows, and the inherent personal risk always involved.

Unfortunately, my above post is not particlarly well written and, conceptually, does this book little justice. Please keep that in mind. I view this post is as a bit of a conclusion to the many conversations occuring previously on this blog: interesting thoughts, but mostly unanswered questions. As he makes his points far better than I would, I am just pointing to this book. At only 100ish pages, it is an easy read! I feel like I could stop blogging now – because he actually answered the questions I thought couldn’t be answered.

And for the record, I’m still jigging.

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.


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? 🙂


Posted in Faith,Philosophy by Abigail on July 6, 2007

This is a beautiful and thought provoking post on the problem of evil: Locating the Problem of Evil


Worldview from a Different Angle

Posted in Blogging,Faith by Abigail on April 15, 2007

While I’ve had no intention of turning my blog into a forum on religion/philosophy, it has essentially been that*. To continue that path, here’s a blog which communicates positions opposite to what I adhere to. I find it fascinating and helpful. (Helpful in the sense that if you want your beliefs truly challenged, it’s best to talk to those who wholeheartedly disagree).

The truly interesting thing about this blog is that it is far less atheistic than it is anti-Christian. They may as well name themselves Anti-Christian instead of atheistic. Either way, the authors are often thought provoking and have excellent points.

Several other interesting things are that 1) you’ll hear more passages of the Bible quoted on their site than mine (I don’t think I’ve quoted any) and 2) many of the questions they raise are deeply theological questions. They are excellent questions! I wonder if the church in general has done a poor job communicating that 1) these difficulties exist and 2) there are good answers.


*Some day, this blog will turn to matters like politics, technology, economics, history, more history, and the like. Just haven’t gotten there yet.

Christening of the Blog

Posted in Blogging,Faith,Philosophy by Abigail on March 23, 2007

So The Unnamable Blog is finally receiving a name: “Beyond Reason”.

The supreme function of reason is to show that some things are beyond reason.
— Blaise Pascal

What more could be added to that?

Unfortunately, a lot. The connection and discord between faith and reason has been confounding for… forever. As I am adept at solving thousand-year old mysteries, I’ve taken this on. I do it in my spare time. 🙂

Having been a Christian for a large portion of my life, I believe all kinds of crazy things. Things a person can’t know. And, being as inquisitive and “rational” as I am, this discord has been apparent to me for a very long time. That was essentially the core of the “Philosophy and Theology” posts, although free will and other things entered the picture.

I realized recently that I’ve been hearing philosophy all my life. Every Sunday. That’s because I go to church every Sunday. They teach you ethics, the meaning of life, and even all kinds of academic things like studying a document appropriately (the Bible). The church is filled with rational people. But Christianity isn’t wholly rational. It has serious levels of mysticism.

After you’ve accepted that some things are beyond you (a concept I have named my entire blog after), you’ve consciously entered the world of faith. Although reason should tell you that, before that point, you were already in the world of faith; it was just unconscious. Here are two conclusions I’ve come to. 1) Faith and reason are two sides of the same coin. They are indispensable to each other and we think too simply when we demand one without the other. They can not be separated. 2) Faith is what allows me to reason and reason tells me I am using faith.

One last thought which should be obvious but may not be. This faith, that I am referring to, is not religious faith. It is the set of assumptions we make daily relative to all human beings. I find Sam Harris’ book, The End of Faith, very, very amusing. It wouldn’t be hard to demonstrate that he has made assumptions. In other words, he acts on faith. Being human means being derivative, living within a framework that was there before you got there. But that’s for another post.


The Flying Spaghetti Monster Flys Again!

Posted in Faith,Philosophy by Abigail on March 16, 2007

For those of you unaware of the close connection between philosophy and imagining your food turning into various imaginary characters, let me elucidate! The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is the subject of a hypothetical situation used to demonstrate the ilogic of one statement. What is the statement? “I believe in God because science can not prove He does not exist.” Enter the flying spaghetti monster. The adversary responds, “Well, science can not prove that flying spaghetti monsters do not exist, so they must exist also!” It is an excellent point. Lack of evidence is not evidence. (Anyone thinking of Iraq at this point?)

Brad suggested I raise this topic; so, I am. Many good posts on other blogs explore the FSM.

Minds, Meaning and Morals
The Alanyzer
Maverick Philosopher

My take on the FSM? (Because of course you came to MY blog for MY opinion.) First, the point of using the FSM argument is perfect. I agree with it and could not agree with it more: lack of evidence is not evidence*. But this raises two other questions: what evidence do Christians/theists/religionists use to support belief in God and how much evidence is needed? This raises the question of the nature of belief. What exactly is it and, considering the finity of all human beings, how much faith is “allowed” or should be expected or is within reason? And then, with that in mind, the question becomes, how do faith and reason interact?

Let me start with “I don’t know.” And let me also add that, while this argument is, in its strictest form, perfectly benign, I believe it also has a malignant element. It is entirely possible that some people will stop thinking, after the first point is made, and assume that there could be no evidence for God. However, this would require a wholly different argument than what the FSM argument makes. Am I going to make an argument for the existence of God or belief in Him? Nope. Maybe another time when I have a spare 10 years. This post is about the FSM and any responses you may have to it.

Thoughts? Conversions? Confessions? Creatures you create with your spaghetti?


*There are solid exceptions to this rule; it depends on the nature of the situation.


Posted in Faith,Philosophy by Abigail on February 23, 2007

Well, naturally the situation was more complex than first supposed. Here’s an article relating to the previous short discussion on science/ID and also on naturalism and reductionism. I’m sure free will gets mixed in there somewhere. Anyway, enjoy!

Why did I name this post Definitions? Because it appears even the very basics – definitions of terms – are up for grabs.

Brad, do you have any opinions yet? I was really hoping to hear what you have to say on a few previous posts. Jai, too busy with Air Force stuff? I guess I can just keep hearing myself talk… 🙂

The Source of Language

Posted in Faith by Abigail on January 15, 2007

The last post briefly touched on “the scientific assault on free will.” This issue appears extremely similar to one I heard on NPR recently (The Infinite Mind – 11:00 on Sundays). They interviewed some scientists attempting to locate the source of language in the brain. And, a substantial group of theologians had trouble with this endeavor. It appears that these theologians believe that if you locate the source of language in the human brain you’ve reduced a human to the mere physical – that you’ve eliminated his soul (since language is so unique to humans). Obviously this would be a problem for Christianity (and most religions). But, the fact is, it’s been believed for years that my “thinking” occurs in that upper part of my body we usually call the “head.” Why has that concept not been a problem? Since I have a head, does that mean I have no mind? I think we could explain everything (physically) and have explained nothing (metaphysically). By definition, the physical and the non-physical are separate (this pretty much goes without saying). So to find a physical cause for something that we’ve always known is at least partly physical – the various aspects of a human – seems to add no new difficulty to the current set of difficulties. It still leaves those who have the faith that a mind and soul exist to continue relying on that faith – science doesn’t address the metaphysical.

But this answer seems too obvious (meaning, why wouldn’t that NPR broadcast have run into theologians who understood this concept?). Am I missing something? Anyway, it’s the argument that I’ve heard for a long time and it currently – to me – seems impervious to assault (I just really wanted to use that overly dramatic phrase). Perhaps I am missing something? Any thoughts?

Good, Good Stuff

Posted in Faith by Abigail on January 12, 2007

This article made me very happy because it is so interesting. I’m still walking around the edge of this issue, just taking a peak. Anyway, excellent article. You should read it.
The Scientific Assault on Free Will

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