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”

Text here:

A Menagerie

Posted in News,Philosophy,Politics,Sports by Abigail on September 5, 2008

I love tennis. It is the only sport in which “thank you” means “shut up”. And – not surprisingly – I have watched too much of the U.S. Open.


So, Sarah Palin. Her choice was a stroke of brilliance. Now both parties have novelty: Obama is black and Palin is female. And she’s substanially more interesting than McCain. Which is probably not too hard to do.


Here’s a question I’ve been kicking around: assuming macro evolution to be true, why should I think evolution is over? The significance of the question should be obvious: if evolution is not over, then I – and, more importantly, my thinking ability – is still evolving. What if I evolve to the point where I realize evolution isn’t true?! So, that’s a nonseical question but I think it makes my point. If my reasoning ability has evolved, and if evolution isn’t actually finished, then I have no grounds for thinking that evolution, or – better yet – anything, is true. I’m sure someone, somewhere has addressed why we can 1) believe the process has ended so that 2) we can believe our own thoughts. But, I’ve never heard this issue addressed and am curious to hear that reason. (For the record, the same difficulty applies to those on the opposite side of the fence – it just has an entirely different twist.)


Random TidBit (to complete my extremely random post above): If you ever need a definition of a term, Google has a nice service. I just looked up the word “menagerie” to make sure it’s what I wanted. In their search field, type define: menagerie AND… tada – you get a whole host of responses, which is really what you want to begin with. That’s better than a dictionary, because here we have greater variety and usage, wider connotation, and – perhaps the best – current results.

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? 🙂

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 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?

Truth and Cornhole

Posted in Personal,Philosophy by Abigail on March 11, 2008

Truth is what stands the test of experience.

This is a very nice thought, but it doesn’t do any good. Can’t I doubt my own experience? Better yet, can’t I doubt everything? While this creates an obvious problem – sheer madness – isn’t this exactly what I’m called to? The educated know better than to take things on first account; but exactly how far do you go? At some point you reach your own mind. Do you challenge that?

Just a few theoretical ramblings…


On a completely different note, the makers of The Facebook Song have now created The Cornhole Song. I think it’s great! Although – one warning – it’s over the top and could be viewed as slightly disturbing. But if you like cornhole (or hate it!) and you like ridiculously absurd humor, this is for you. Do keep in mind, I’m not responsible for this video clip. I just think it’s extremely amusing.


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


Winking at Nonsense

Posted in Philosophy by Abigail on July 1, 2007

“Materialism should no longer wink at such nonsense but insist that the foundations of all human thought and feeling are grossly irrational.”
– Richard Vitzthum, Materialism: An Afiirmative History and Definition.

That’s a quote with some weight. Here’s my source

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.

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