Earthpages.ca

Think Free


Leave a comment

Willard Quine – My unapologetic simplification

Willard Quine (1908-2000) was an influential American mathematician and philosopher who rejected Kant’s analytic-synthetic distinction¹ and advocated a form of holism.

English: The OWNER of this passport picture of...

Passport picture of Willard Van Orman Quine (Photo: Wikipedia)

Quine argues that empiricism contains “two dogmas.” One dogma is the distinction made between intellectual constructs and facts.

The second dogma is reductionism—that is, the belief that naming and meaning are the same.

Quine’s thought has been variously championed and critiqued. It seems that whatever way we look at the issues Quine addresses, we encounter the same problem. Language (and arguably all symbols, to include numbers) has conceptual and descriptive limits. It can never be entirely precise nor complete.²

The relationship between symbols and reality is an age old debate with no definitive answer. The discussion can go along ‘horizontal,’ conceptual lines or veer off into deeper, ‘vertical’ lines (as with Carl Jung‘s view of the archetypal image).

The discussion can also exist in a kind of matrix. That is, one could argue – as I do – that all words carry a potential numinous power. Numinosity isn’t something restricted to religious or mythological symbols.

In sociology, Quine’s thought appears in discussions about reification and also about the relation between scientific truth claims on the one hand, and ideology, the profit motive and social power on the other hand.

Healthcare Costs by Images Money via Flickr

Admittedly this is the briefest of brief sketches about Quine. When it comes to Western philosophy, it seems everyone has their own take on what these complicated thinkers are trying to say.³ My interest in Quine is mostly in trying to get people to think critically about scientific truth claims.

Science is becoming a new kind or medieval-style religion. The initial assumptions, selectivity, biases, interpretations and extrapolations built in to science are so glossed over or taken for granted that the average person tends to see science as “truth” and doesn’t even want to discuss any further.

In other words, science has a pretty firm grip on the minds and actions of many people. Too see this in action, we don’t have to look any further than some of the facile placards in the recent “March for Science.”

Making a religion out of science is misguided, authoritarian and dangerous. I think humanity can do better. So that’s how I justify simplifying Quine. I’m taking a poststructural approach. Something that I think everyone does. Although not everyone might be aware of it (or admit it, if they are).

Image by Becker1999 via Flickr

Need I say more?

¹ Kant devised a distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions. Analytic propositions are said to contain the predicate in the subject. Synthetic propositions do not contain the predicate in the subject. An example of an analytic proposition is, “All squares have four sides.” An example of a synthetic proposition is, “All men are athletic.”

² Along these lines the ancient Greek, Heraclitus, once wrote said that we cannot step into the same river twice. So what is a “river?”

³ Not to imply that Eastern philosophy is necessarily simpler or less open to interpretation. Just look at some of the Buddhist logic schools, for instance.

Related » Science, scientism


Leave a comment

Quiddity – What is?

Quiddity (Latin: quidditas = whatness) is a medieval scholastic term referring a thing’s essence (primary substance) in contrast to its observable form (secondary substance).

This kind of distinction goes back to Plato and plays an important role in understanding the Catholic Sacrament of the Eucharist, said to transform in essence but not in observable form.

Catholics and several other Christian churches believe that Holy Communion is not just a memorial but a sacrament in which one partakes of the living body and blood of Christ. Each Christian Church has subtle variations in trying to explain this mystery. For Catholics, by taking the transformed host one goes further into becoming a part of the mystical body of Christ.

For most Christian believers, partaking in the Eucharist is the opposite of natural eating. With the Eucharistic meal, the eater becomes part of the eaten, whereas in natural eating the reverse is true: the eaten becomes part of the eater.¹

Concerning the Catholic theological distinction between essence and form, essence is not to be taken as mere mattery/energy—that is, the fabric of the observable universe.  For Catholics, essence is a spiritual term that means something qualitatively different from matter/energy.

This important point is often misunderstood or entirely overlooked by New Age / Quantum Physics enthusiasts who recast the old myth of naturalistic pantheism into the latest scientific language, which arguably is just another myth.

David Hume

David Hume (Photo: Wikipedia)

Clearly, not everyone accepts the idea of primary substance. Non-believers tend to think of it as mumbo jumbo. And Catholics are sometimes called derogatory terms like “wafer biters.”

The philosopher David Hume and others who probably never felt the glory of the Eucharist argued that since primary substance cannot be perceived, it should not be assumed to exist.

However, many who do experience tangible effects from the Eucharist would likely see Hume’s perspective as limited, one coming from a mind constrained by worldliness, materialism and an over-reliance on conceptual reasoning.  As Wikipedia notes

The claim that substance cannot be perceived is neither clear nor obvious, and neither is the implication obvious.²

¹ Some New Age and Shamanistic believers might dispute this, saying that when we eat an animal we temporarily merge with its soul, which continues into an afterlife.

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substance_theory

Related » Consubstantiation, Transubstantiation

 Episcopal Cathedral in Springfield celebrates bicentennial year (wwlp.com)

 How to Handle Religious Traditions that Aren’t Yours (weddingbee.com)

 City and state leaders honor ‘different type of gateway’ with church (bostonherald.com)

 Cardinal Tagle on Earth Day: Protect nature from ‘acts of greed’ (rappler.com)

 World Renown Bible Answer Man Hank Hanegraff Realizes That Protestantism Is A False Religion, And Accepts Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Countless Evangelicals Are Now Leaving Protestantism And Accepting Roman Catholicism And Eastern Orthodox Christianity (shoebat.com)

 Anglicans could consecrate anti-gay UK bishop without permission from Archbishop of Canterbury (pinknews.co.uk)


Leave a comment

Pantheism – Is my God bigger than your God?

Benedict de Spinoza: moral problems and our em...

Benedict de Spinoza (Photo: Wikipedia)

Pantheism (Greek: pan [all] + theos [God] = All is God) is the belief that God and creation are one.

Subtle differences and schools can be found within pantheism. Naturalistic pantheism sees nature and the cosmos as God, a cosmology found New Age theories advancing the idea that “We are the Universe.”

Others say that God exists in but is also greater than the universe. That is, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

This view is sometimes called panentheism. Panentheism is evident in Taoism and aspects of Hinduism, as well as the philosophical works of Spinoza¹ and Hegel.

Both pantheism and panentheism differ from Theism and Deism. But these belief systems, themselves, are not the same. Theism and Deism both understand God as transcendent to creation but they differ on the degree to which God interacts with creation—from a great deal to not at all, respectively.

The religion scholar R. C. Zaehner suggests another term, panenhenism, for the belief that the universe is a unified whole without reference to any kind of ‘God.’

Zaehner’s term anticipates semiotic and postmodern agendas that deconstruct words like ‘God’ and the meaning these words connote to different individuals and groups—such as feminists, as well as visible, invisible, outspoken and silent minorities.

Talking about idea of pantheism can be fruitless because terms like “the universe” or “nature” mean different things to different people. For some, these are limiting terms because they do not include heaven and hell, as well as the spiritual powers and beings believed to reside in these places.

Others, however, claim that the words “universe” or “nature” simply point to “All That Is,” which would include heaven, hell and everything else in between.

Wikipedia sums up the general meaning of pantheism as follows:

In the mid-eighteenth century, the English theologian Daniel Waterland defined pantheism this way: “It supposes God and nature, or God and the whole universe, to be one and the same substance—one universal being; insomuch that men’s souls are only modifications of the divine substance.” In the early nineteenth century, the German theologian Julius Wegscheider  defined pantheism as the belief that God and the world established by God are one and the same.²

The Catholic Church has always opposed pantheism as an ultimate worldview.³ For Catholics, the Holy Spirit is incomparably higher and yet more personal than some force (or forces) of the created universe. For those who have experienced the difference, this seems obvious.

For those who haven’t experienced any difference, Catholics (and others) who say God is transcendent yet immanent probably seem brainwashed by their tradition. Reductionism isn’t only about cretins in white lab coats. It’s about anyone who tries to drag others down to their level of experience and understanding.

Image via Wikipedia

Related » Akhenaton, Connotation, Denotation, Monotheism, Polytheism

¹ Wikipedia’s entry on Pantheism seems almost devotional in its praise of Spinoza’s great intellectual achievement. True, he anticipates the enlightenment and Biblical criticism. But in my opinion, he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about when it comes to cosmology. A simple street person could be far wiser but some of us tend to exalt those who craft elaborate intellectual systems, even if they are built, layer by layer, on flawed or limited assumptions about the nature of reality.

² Ibid.

³ This opposition has not always been loving, to say the least. Giordano Bruno, essentially a pantheist, was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1600. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno


Leave a comment

Rona and other myths undercut our cosmological arrogance

In Oceanic mythology Rona is a fierce female cannibal who eats her beautiful daughter’s lover.¹

Another Oceanic myth tells of a male god, Rona, who fights the moon to rescue his abducted wife.² According to this story, when the moon tires from the battle with Rona, it wanes. When the moon regains its strength, it waxes.

This is a good example of what might be called alternative logic, lateral thinking or, for some, anthropomorphism. From his fieldwork, the depth psychiatrist Carl Jung observed that archaic myths are logical and meaningful to so-called primitives, just as scientific explanations appear logical and meaningful to many so-called advanced, thinking persons.

More recently, postmodern critiques of science tend to view theories as working myths or fictions instead of facts. This makes sense if one is willing to admit bias and the limits of human understanding.

English: Karl Popper in 1990.

Karl Popper in 1990 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Take Karl Popper, for instance. He points out that scientific theories are never really proved, per se, but only supported. Also, scientific theories are subject to falsification, modification or radical change through, as T. Kuhn suggests, a paradigm shift. We know that Newton’s Laws of Motion perform well for conventional problems. But Einstein’s work is required for areas that Newton couldn’t observe and probably didn’t imagine.³

Somewhat ahead of his time, Jung says he treated so-called primitives with respect and, when interviewing local elders and tribesmen, didn’t challenge their beliefs or try to convert them to a modern scientific or, for that matter, Protestant Christian perspective.4

A considerate move on Jung’s part. Imagine if advanced extraterrestrials publicly visited Earth. Let’s say the visitors could see beyond our common view of directional time and the (apparent) solidity of matter. These beliefs are important to the functioning and psychological security of 21st century mankind. So if ETs revealed too much knowledge too fast, they’d likely blow our minds as David Bowie put it in the song “Starman.”

Likewise, had Jung tried to convince indigenous peoples that the sun’s rising did not depend on contemplation and sacrifice but, rather, the Earth’s natural rotation, he might have upset their psychological wellness.5

This raises questions about our “developed” cosmological assumptions and how they tie in to the idea of progress. Clearly this topic can go in many directions. I touch on some of these in entries on numinosity, spirituality, mysticismscience, psychiatry and scientism, among others.

¹ See http://www.sacred-texts.com/pac/om/om08.htm for the source of these and also for this Wikipedia retelling:

According to Māori legend, a Ngaio tree can be seen on the moon:

The man in the moon becomes, in Māori legend, a woman, one Rona by name. This lady, it seems, once had occasion to go by night for water to a stream. In her hand she carried an empty calabash. Stumbling in the dark over stones and the roots of trees she hurt her shoeless feet and began to abuse the moon, then hidden behind clouds, hurling at it some such epithet as “You old tattooed face, there!” But the moon-goddess heard, and reaching down caught up the insulting Rona, calabash and all, into the sky. In vain the frightened woman clutched, as she rose, the tops of a ngaio-tree. The roots gave way, and Rona with her calabash and her tree are placed in the front of the moon for ever, an awful warning to all who are tempted to mock at divinities in their haste.

English: Hand-colored photograph of Carl Jung ...

Hand-colored photograph of Carl Jung in USA, published in 1910 (Photo: Wikipedia)

² Ibid.

³ See Reddit – Ask Science.

My PhD thesis suggests that Jung thinks and behaves like a postmodern before the idea of postmodernism becomes fashionable. Jung’s father, Paul, was a Protestant minister who said Carl had to “believe.” Jung later writes that he doesn’t know how he is to find this belief. With access to his father’s theological library, the young Jung took to Latin and religious studies like a dove to water.

Jung interviewed a Hopi elder and other Native Americans who held these beliefs. See cgjungpage.org.


4 Comments

Ragnarok – Old Norse for “Fate of the Gods”

English: Title page of a manuscript of the Pro...

Title page of a manuscript of the Prose Edda, showing Odin, Heimdallr, Sleipnir and other figures from Norse mythology (Photo: Wikipedia)

In Scandinavian myth, Ragnarok is a terrible final battle in which the gods are destroyed, along with most of creation and mankind.

According to the story, Ragnarok is preceded by lawlessness and anarchy. There are only two survivors of the cosmic catastrophe : The descendants of Lif and Lifthrasir.

The tale comes to us from two main sources.

  • The 13C Poetic Edda (a compilation of earlier traditional sources)
  • The 13C Prose Edda by historian, writer and statesman Snorri Sturluson (which makes frequent reference to the Poetic Edda)

The mythographer Stuart Gordon notes similarities among the idea of Ragnorok, the Book of Revelation by St. John, the Hindu yugas, and Plato‘s account of Atlantis.

The story is by no means some lost fable. Marvel comics has reimagined the Ragnarok cycle in The Mighty Thor¹ and other Thor comics. Several blockbuster films have also merged Thor with other more contemporary heroes like Captain America and The Avengers.

I always find it ironic when some Europeans claim that we have a dearth of culture in North America. These backward folks pride themselves on their crumbling old buildings and statues, turning a blind eye to what’s happening in arts and culture today.

The Ragnarok myth continues… very much alive for those with eyes to see.² And with weapons of mass destruction becoming increasingly sophisticated in the 21st century, this myth is even more relevant now than in the past.

German publication about WW-I.

¹ The Mighty Thor

² Two days after writing this I became aware of a new Thor: Ragnarok film slated for release November 2017.

Related » Aesir, Apocalypse, AsgardBible , Fenris, Loki, Thor, Vanir


Leave a comment

The Q – Star Trek’s mythic gods

Q (Star Trek)

Q (Star Trek) – Photo Wikipedia

The Q is a fictional group entity in Star Trek TOS spin-offs and films. Members reside in an eternal field of space-time called the Q-continuum. Like the avatar in Hinduism, the Q appear in specific moments of space-time to apparently regulate the ebb and flow of events in the universe.

The manifestation of Q that usually appears in the Star Trek franchise is male and played by actor John de Lancie. Simply called “Q,” he conforms to the trickster archetype.

Like most mythological deities, the manifest aspect of Q uses supernatural powers to baffle, vex and test human beings to the point of distraction. And like most otherworldly pantheons, there is a faction of rebellion within the Q-continuum. The rebels are tired of being “good” and politically correct at the expense of enjoying their free will and vitality. These dissenters are prohibited and disciplined through punishment by the Q moral majority.

Here’s how I put it in my entry for Star Trek: The Next Generation, the series in which he first appears:

And then there was “Q,” played by actor John de Lancie, who was something akin to a classical Greek god in that he had powers and knowledge extending beyond our normal conception of space and time. Also like the Greek gods, he often abused these powers in childish ways and even challenged the authority of the Q Continuum (the ruling body of the Q, representing its status quo), resulting in his frequent punishment.

More recently Wikipedia notes that:

The similarity between Q and Trelane, the alien encountered in the Star Trek episode “The Squire of Gothos“, inspired writer Peter David to establish in his 1994 novel Q-Squared that Trelane is a member of the Continuum, and that Q is his godfather.¹

Trelane - with harpsichord (under his arm...)

Trelane – via startrek.com

I’m not sure if this interpretation of Trelane (one of my favorite characters in the original Star Trek) is endorsed by those who define the Star Trek canon. But the literary device of retroactive continuity certainly has become a mainstay in the Star Trek universe.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_(Star_Trek)

Related » Dreamtime


1 Comment

Romulus and Remus – The story that won

Lupa di Roma

Lupa di Roma – Wee Sen Goh via Flickr

In Roman myth Romulus (c. 771 BCE – 717 BCE) and Remus (c. 771 BCE – 753 BCE) are twin brothers born of Mars and Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin.

According to legend Romulus and Remus founded Rome. The story says they were thrown into the Tiber river. After floating downstream to the Palatine, they are discovered and nurtured by a she-wolf.

Upon maturation, they erect a city wall at the place where they had been rescued by the she-wolf.

Later, the two argue over who is favored by the gods to name the new city. The upshot of this conflict is that Romulus – or maybe one of his henchmen – murders Remus.

Romulus then becomes the first ruler of Rome and names the city after himself.

The ancient writers Plutarch and Livy treat this tale as if it were actual history. But today, we have a different story:

The origins of the different elements in Rome’s foundation myth are a subject of ongoing debate. they may have come from the Romans’ own indigenous origins, or from Hellenic influences that were included later. Definitively identifying those original elements has so far eluded the classical academic community. Although the tale takes place before the founding of Rome around 750 BC, the earliest known written account of the myth is from the late 3rd century BC.[6] There is an ongoing debate about how and when the “complete” fable came together.¹

Romulus and Remus nursed by the She-wolf by Pe...

Romulus and Remus nursed by the She-wolf by Peter Paul Rubens Rome, Capitoline Museums (Photo: Wikipedia)

As noted elsewhere, the Romulus and Remus myth is not the only story about the founding of Rome:

The founding of Rome is understood in terms of two mythic tales. One about Romulus and Remus. The other about Aeneas. The Romulus and Remus myth seems to have mostly won out. Any popular videos I’ve seen about Rome tell about their being suckled by a she-wolf but ignore the tale of Aeneas. Such is life… and history.

I’m not a Roman historian so, rather than spend days rewriting something I’m only mildly interested in, I have highlighted some main points here. Readers wanting more could also check out the lively podcast at Spotify: The History of Rome (mobile).²

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romulus_and_Remus

² https://earthpages.wordpress.com/2017/02/14/rome/

Related » Gemini

 Giant mausoleum in Rome that held the remains of the emperor Augustus to be restored after decades of neglect (telegraph.co.uk)