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Rupert Sheldrake and Morphogenetic Fields

Rupert Sheldrake, Toward a Science of Consciou...

Rupert Sheldrake, Toward a Science of Consciousness, Tucson, Arizona via Wikipedia

Morphogenetic fields is a biological term adapted by the English biochemist Rupert Sheldrake to suggest that evolution is a transference of past habits to present ones.¹

Sheldrake says morphogenetic fields have “physical effects” but “are not made of matter.” In contrast to the idea of morphic resonance, which deals with chemical and species behavior over a distance, morphogenetic fields are localized and refer to the development of chemical and biological forms.

When I last wrote this entry, the morphic field was described as a larger family of morphogenetic fields. But today the line seems blurred. Sheldrake himself says that morphic fields are hierarchically nested. So it seems that the two terms are, for all intents and purposes, interchangeable.  Most likely he is streamlining his terminology to make his ideas more accessible.

Sheldrake has gathered archival and previously ignored “anomalous” scientific data that he believes supports his theories. He says morphogenetic fields may explain Carl Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious but does not consider the possible influence of the future on the present, as Jung would.² Also, his theory does not consider possible spiritual influences from heavenly and hellish realms.

In Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home he adapts mathematician Rene Thom’s notion of the “attractor” and says habits “come only from the past, not from the future.”³

Ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and A...

Ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle would become highly revered in the medieval Islamic world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we look at Aristotle‘s view of causality within the time frame pertaining to evolutionary theory, Aristotle’s thinking is not entirely unlike Sheldrake’s. Aristotle outlines four interrelated causes: material, formal, efficient and final. However, Aristotle includes a “prime mover” which exists outside of space and time. In Wim Kayzer‘s  A Glorious Accident: Understanding Our Place in the Cosmic Puzzle (1993), it’s clear that Sheldrake is not antagonistic to divine ideas. But he doesn’t seem to fully integrate all that theology has to offer within his scientific theories.

Although Sheldrake’s concepts have caught on within some New Age circles, to some paranormal investigators they seem limiting. Conversely, not a few scientists and skeptics, alike, say his theories are too general or paranormal (connoting “unfounded” or perhaps “speculative”).

To his credit, Sheldrake does advocate a scientific approach to parapsychology. But just what type of science is most appropriate to the study of parapsychology remains debatable. After all, science is variously defined. And those who favor and, perhaps, benefit from a given scientific approach usually champion that approach as if it were the gospel truth. And their own human limits probably prohibit them from seeing things differently.4

¹ Rupert Sheldrake, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, New York: Crown, 1999, p. 305.

² See this » Click Here

³ Sheldrake, Dogs That Know, pp. 304, 306.

4 When I was even more of an unknown than now, I wrote Dr. Sheldrake via snailmail with images of some Indian dogs (taken during my M.A. in India). These dogs  seemed to know when challenger dogs were going to invade their turf, well beyond the range of sight, scent and sound. Dr. Sheldrake replied cordially, which was surprising given his stature. So I can see why he has a considerable youth following. He seems like a decent person who cares about the advancement of knowledge—and not just a paycheck, like some professors I’ve known.

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Related » St. Augustine, Synchronicity


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The Scholastics

St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), the eponym ...

St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), the eponym of Thomism. Picture by Fra Angelico (c. 1395-1455). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The “scholastics” is what we call the leading churchmen-scholars in the Middle Ages.  These religious thinkers used the logical methods of their time to debate complex, often abstract theological issues, many of which were premised on faith. This is also known as Scholasticism.

The scholastics never asked “how many angels can stand on the head of a pin.” But this question is often cited to satirize their approach, which to critics seems arbitrary and metaphysically excessive.

The influential scholastic St. Thomas Aquinas adapted arguments from (the Greek pre-Christian) Aristotle into a Christian network of beliefs. Interestingly, Aristotle’s voluminous works were translated from the Greek into Latin by Arab scholars.

Duns-Scotus

Duns-Scotus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After some kind of direct encounter with God near the end of his life, Aquinas apparently said that his many writings were like a “house of straw.” In other words, worthless compared to direct experience. Nevertheless, his arguments, many of which seem to be couched in ancient and medieval ways of understanding, are often cited to illustrate and (apparently) legitimize Catholic teachings.

Perhaps the abstract intellectualism and intense quibbling of the scholastics lost sight of basic Christian teaching of loving God and one another. And for one person to believe he or she can definitively speak about God, no matter how cleverly, seems quite arrogant from a contemporary standpoint.

Some of the more noteworthy scholastics are St. Anselm, William of Ockham, Henry of Ghent and Duns Scotus

Related » Idealism, Nominalism, Ontological Argument, Universalism

¹ Wikipedia lists several more whom I’ve encountered but not really had the time to study.


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Tabula Rasa

Русский: На фотографии забражена рок-группа Th...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tabula Rasa (Latin: blank slate) is the idea that human beings are born psychologically equal, and that all knowledge comes from experience or perception.

We usually hear that the British empirical philosopher John Locke forwarded this view. This is true, but Locke was by no means the first to advance the idea. It is found as far back as Aristotle, the Stoics and, still before Locke, the Persian thinker Avicenna.¹

Locke believed the human being is born into the world with a blank slate. Accordingly, we inherit nothing more than physical characteristics and a basic sense of goodness. The mind is free and equal among different individuals, sort of like a computer processor rolling down the assembly line. We’re all hardwired just the same.

Tabula Rasa (video game)

Tabula Rasa is also the name of a video game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most contemporary psychologists adhere to the “nature-nurture” paradigm, meaning we’re each the outcome of genetically inherited and socially developed potentials.

More recently, the ideas of epigenetics and brain plasticity have complicated the picture. Basically these two concepts mean that we can not only outgrow our genetic programming but, moreover, in some instances experience and perception can alter that programming.²

Scientific and religious debates continue, but most of us agree that, regardless of our differences, we are all of equal value as human beings.

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabula_rasa

² This development should have a profound influence on psychology and psychiatry, particularly in regard to the professional and public perception of current diagnostic categories. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroplasticity

Related Posts » Lévi-Strauss (Claude)


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Athens

English: Temple of Zeus in Athens, Greece on a...

Temple of Zeus in Athens, Greece on a rainy day from the Acropolis. The Arch of Hadrian is in the foreground. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Athens is the largest city and the capital of modern Greece. It was a city state of Attica around the 7th century BCE.

Athens reached its economic and cultural zenith during the 5th century BCE while ruled by Pericles. Wikipedia nicely sums up just how huge this city was in the ancient world:

A centre for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato‘s Academy and Aristotle‘s Lyceum,[3][4] it is widely referred to as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy,[5][6]

Indeed, Athens is home to much philosophical thought that remains relevant today. The Athenian democracy, for instance, in which women and slaves couldn’t vote, is the first formalized democracy recorded in human history.

In 146 BCE it fell sway to the Romans, later to become a province of Rome. By 1456 the Ottoman Empire engulfed Athens. In 1835 it became the capital of modern Greece and it was occupied by the Nazis during WW-II.

The contemporary city attracts hordes of tourists for its scenic locale and historical marvels of art and architecture like the Parthenon and the temple of Olympian Zeus.

In the summer of 2004, Athens hosted the XXVIII Olympiad, returning the Olympics to their place of origins (there were only foot races for the first 13 Olympics; other events like wrestling and the pentathlon were added later).

A previous modern Olympics was hosted in Athens in 1896, and an unofficial one in 1906.

Related Posts » Aristotle, Plato


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Aristarchus of Samos

English: The Greek astronomer Aristarchus of S...

The Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos (310 BC – 230 BC), in the 17th century atlas of Andreas Cellarius. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus is commonly regarded as the genius who first devised a sun-centered model of the solar system, but this is a modern fable. Way before Copernicus, another science prodigy, Aristarchus of Samos, (310 – 230 BCE) proposed a heliocentric model—that is, that the earth revolves around the sun.¹

Today it seems amazing that this ancient Greek thinker also accurately predicted that the reason we don’t see parallax (the stars moving relative to each other as the Earth travels around the sun) is because the stars are very far away from the Earth. In essence, Aristarchus was imagining great distances that most ancient people could not really conceive of.

Aristarchus's 3rd century BC calculations on t...

Aristarchus’s 3rd century BC calculations on the relative sizes of the Earth, Sun and Moon, from a 10th century AD Greek copy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But as usual, forward thinkers are rarely rewarded in their day. They almost always meet with resistance from ignorant, possibly stupid, and certainly regimented thinkers. His theory was roundly rejected in favor of the geocentric models (where everything rotates around the earth) of Aristotle (384-322 BCE) and, later, of Ptolemy (90-168 CE).²

¹ Aristarchus was influenced by the ideas of Philolaus (circa 470–385 BCE), who spoke of a “central fire.” Not as precise as Aristarchus’ model, Philolaus’ ideas have given him the honor of being the first in recorded history to propose a non-geocentric (Earth-centered) view of the universe. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philolaus

² His only other ancient follower was Seleucus of Seleucia (born circa 190 BC), who demonstrated Aristarchus’ heliocentric model through reasoning.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seleucus_of_Seleucia

Nicolaus Copernicus - Heliocentric Solar System

Nicolaus Copernicus – Heliocentric Solar System (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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St. Thomas Aquinas

aquinas.jpg

“Thomas Aquinas” by Niall McAuley via Flickr

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) was an Italian theologian born in his family’s castle near Aquino. While staying in a Dominican monastery, his family members couldn’t accept his decision to become a monk and abducted him, taking him prisoner for two years. He fled to Germany where he taught in 1248 after studying under Albertus Magnus.

Aquinas’ theological work borrows heavily from the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, recasting his arguments within a Christian framework. This is particularly evident in Aquinas’ treatment of time and eternity, which for him are different. Aquinas adapts Aristotle’s notion of a “prime mover” in saying that God is eternal and knows what will be for all time.

This does not mean, as some maintain, that the future exists in its own right. Rather, for Aquinas the mind of God has perfect knowledge of the future. Aspects of this knowledge may be imparted to individuals in the present through prophecy.¹

Although Aquinas wrote extensively on angels and spiritual powers, his work recognizes the importance of knowledge gained from sense experience and experimentation. His Summa Theologia attempts to provide a comprehensive theology. The Summa outlines Five Ways to prove the existence of God. Like most theological proofs of God, these often seem self-evident to believers but somewhat weak to skeptics.

Much of the contemporary Catholic catechism cites Aquinas to support Catholic teaching and practice. This might be a little ironic if, indeed, legends are true about what Aquinas apparently said after receiving some kind of heavenly vision toward the close of his life:

“All my works seem like straw after what I have seen”, St Thomas told Brother Reginald.²

Meanwhile, another legend claims:

“Aquinas heard a voice from a cross that told him he had written well.”³

Deutsch: Thomas von Aquin

Deutsch: Thomas von Aquin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neither, one, or both of these legends could be true. That both might be true is possible because theoretical discourse is often a necessary precursor to more immediate forms of experience, not just with regard to spirituality but most human endeavors.4

Despite its medieval limitations, the sheer scope and intricacy of Aquinas’ work is impressive. No wonder the popular writer Umberto Eco likened St. Thomas to a “medieval computer.” To modern thinkers, however, it seems unwarranted for one person to set out to definitively explain the workings of God.

While Aquinas may have humbly admitted his intellectual grandiosity after having a direct experience of the godhead, it seems that some contemporary theologians continue to adhere to his kind of medieval analytical framework, with all the strengths and weaknesses that such an approach might provide.

Aquinas was canonized in 1323 and was given the formal title, Doctor Angelicus. His feast day is 28 January.

Related Posts » Adam, Alchemy, Archangel, Anselm (St.), Augustine (St.), Evil, Heaven, Origen, Original Sin, Providence, Reason, Reincarnation, Scotus (Duns), Soul, Suicide

¹ The contemporary idea of time dilation complicates this distinction.

² http://www.ewtn.com/library/mary/tomaquin.htm

³ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Aquinas#Career and http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/when-st-thomas-aquinas-likened-his-work-to-straw-was-that-a-retraction-of-what-he-wro

4 We often study conceptual basics before actually doing. Not to say that theory and practice are mutually exclusive; instead, we can look at theory and practice as a dynamic continuum. For example, one studies the rules of the road before taking a driver’s test. But licensed drivers continue to revise their driving theory as a result of ongoing experience (e.g. how much to slow down in snowy conditions). And the same could apply to some forms of spirituality.


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Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great by Stavros Markopoulos via Flickr

Alexander The Great (356-323 BCE) was the third Macedonian king from 336-323 BCE. Born in Pella as the son of Philip II, he became the undefeated conqueror of one of the largest empires of the ancient world, including Egypt and Greece.

Tutored by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, in Egypt Alexander founded the port city of Alexandria, a bustling place with a university after that of Athens and a library containing 400,000 to 900,000 books and scrolls.

After consulting an oracle of Ammon, Alexander was convinced that his formidable abilities came from divine power—that is, he believed he was chosen. After seizing the capitals of Babylon, Susa, Persepolis and Ecbatana, in the following three years he took the eastern part of the empire and in 327 BCE set his sights on India. He took the Punjab but his overburdened troops mutinied, leaving him no choice but to retreat. Soon after he died in Babylon.

At the height of his fame, Alexander rose in popularity to the point of nearly being deified.