Happy Birthday, Descartes

DESCARTES’ DREAM

from Descartes’ Dream, by Phillip J. Davis and Reuben Hirsh

THE MODERN WORLD, our world of triumphant rationality, began on November 10, 1619, with a revelation and a nightmare. On that day, in a room in the small Bavarian village of Ulm, Rene Descartes, a Frenchman, twenty-three years old, crawled into a wall stove and, when he was well warmed, had a vision. It was not a vision of God, or of the Mother of God, or of celestial chariots, or of the New Jerusalem. It was a vision of the unification of all science.

The vision was preceded by a state of intense concentration and agitation. Descartes overheated mind caught fire and provided answers to tremendous problems that had been taxing him for weeks. He was possessed by a Genius, and the answers were revealed in a dazzling, unendurable light. Later, in a state of exhaustion, he went to bed and dreamed three dreams that had been predicted by this Genius.

In the first dream he was revolved by a whirlwind and terrified by phantoms. He experienced a constant feeling of falling. He imagined he would be presented with a melon that came from a far-off land. The wind abated and he woke up. His second dream was one of thunderclaps and sparks flying around his room. In the third dream, all was quiet and contemplative. An anthology of poetry lay on the table. He opened it at random and read the verse of Ausonius, “Quod vitae sectabor iter” (What path shall I take in life?). A stranger appeared and quoted him the verse “Est et non” (Yes and no). Descartes wanted to show him where in the anthology it could be found, but the book disappeared and reappeared. He told the man he would show him a better verse beginning “Quod vitae sectabor iter.” At this point the man, the book, and the whole dream dissolved.

Descartes was so bewildered by all this that he began to pray. He assumed his dreams had a supernatural origin. He vowed he would put his life under the protection of the Blessed Virgin and go on a pilgrimage from Venice to Notre Dame de Lorette, traveling by foot and wearing the humblest-looking clothes he could find.

What was the idea that Descartes saw in a burning flash? He tells us that his third dream pointed to no less than the unification and the illumination of the whole of science, even the whole of knowledge, by one and the same method: the method of reason.

Eighteen years would pass before the world would have the details of the grandiose vision and of the “mirabilis sientiae fundamenta”— the foundations of a marvelous science. Such as he was able to give them, they are contained in the celebrated “Discourse on the Method of Properly Guiding the Reason in the Search of Truth in the Sciences.” According to Descartes, his “method” should be applied when knowledge is sought in any scientific field. It consists of (a) accepting only what is so clear in one’s own mind as to exclude any doubt, (b) splitting large difficulties into smaller one, (c) arguing from the simple to the complex, and (d) checking, when one is done.

March 31 is Descartes’ birthday! Happy Birthday.

Go here for a slide show review of his Meditations.

Here is an earlier birthday post.

Read the entry from Stanford Encyclopedia.


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Letter from Sayward – 2

Community:  “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”

by Paul Stahnke for Episyllogism

 

Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about ‘community’. For me, ‘community’ is the idea of belonging, feeling at peace with other people, and with where and how I live. This is an odd concept because I often go for days on end without speaking to anyone beyond my wife, Michelle. Every Wednesday morning I drive into town in order to visit my mother who is slowly dying in a care facility. I usually buy a few groceries, woodshop products, or welding supplies. I also meet with a local discussion group for one hour. In addition to following a formal meeting format, about 45 minutes is spent discussing a scheduled topic. Sometimes, a member might talk about a particular family situation or experience that has been bothering them, but by and large the meeting topic organises the flow of ideas into a particular theme. There is no cross talk that might hijack discussion although the thoughts of one member might be taken up by another, and so on. There is no formal order of member participation.  Sometimes, there is silence. For unknown reasons, in this small group simple silence is quite pleasant and allows a time for reflection.  The experience can only be described as ‘intimate’, for we share our most private concerns and thoughts. The size of the group varies between 10-18 people, and usually I am the only male. The ages range from 40 – 80, and group members come from all walks of life.

 

Last Wednesday’s topic was, ‘belonging’. I found it pretty hard to separate the sense of ‘community’ from this theme.

 

Today, while thinking more about this concept, I researched and subsequently read an article from a CS Lewis website. The author is Art Lindsey (senior fellow), and the article title is: “Community – and why we need it….Love is never stimulated apart from community”.  One particular quote caught my eye, “When we live our lives in isolation, what we have is unavailable and what we lack is unprocurable”. (Basil, an early Church Father). It goes on to say, “When we live our lives independently, other people are poorer because they cannot benefit from our gifts”. And, “When we isolate ourselves, we are poorer because the benefits of other’s gifts are lost to us, so what we lack, we cannot get”. [Source]

Why do people often feel isolated and estranged when living in large groups or in today’s western societies?

An excerpt from a Globe and Mail article states it this way:

 

“Chronic loneliness has roots that are both internal and external, a combination of genes and social circumstance, but something is making it worse. Blame the garage-door opener, which keeps neighbours from seeing each other at the end of the day, or our fetish for roads over parks, or the bright forest of condo towers that bloom on our city’s skylines.

Or blame an increasingly self-absorbed society, as John Cacioppo does. Prof. Cacioppo, the leading authority on the health effects of loneliness, is director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience. “One of the things we’ve seen is a movement away from a concern for others,” he says in a phone interview. “Economics basically says you should be concerned about your own short-term interests. There’s more division in society, more segmentation; there’s less identity with a national or global persona, but rather on the family or the individual. People aren’t as loyal to their employers, and employers are certainly not as loyal to their workers.”

Last fall, an old school friend came for a visit. It did not go well. I had really been looking forward to seeing him and made sure we had lots of food and wine. Michelle left to visit her sister and we were planning to fish, cook out on the fire, and generally get caught up. After a day I found myself wishing he would just stop talking. It was incessant, and while it was certainly company, there was absolutely no connection left in our lives. I tried to understand why I felt that way? I was also upset at my attitude. What had changed in the last 15 years? I’m not sure, but I did have a few ideas. One, in that time cell phones came into existence and have since morphed into the ever-present smart phones with camera; being connected, supposedly. Cell phones don’t work at our house but we do have Wi-Fi. He ran around taking picture after picture and continually tried to phone or text his wife. He would interrupt a walk or talk with, “Wait one second, I’ve got to ‘get’ this”. He brought up other people from our past and I had only a vague recollection of what they looked like. Finally, I told him that I hadn’t really thought about school after I had left. I suppose the main reason for our bad visit is that I have changed; I am no longer the same person.

We no longer lived in the same ‘community’.

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Biology? Culture?

World peace is a stretch, since we don’t all choose the same goals, but we can still look for ways to create solidarities – such as by working to agitate authoritarians, to revolt against tyrants, to amplify marginalised voices – to abolish oppression. Persistence is essential since, as de Beauvoir says, ‘One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.’ De Beauvoir is surely right that this is the risk, the anguish, and the beauty of human existence.Aeon counter – do not remove

Read the post here.

US Politics

“How can we bridge the gap between the left and right, to have a wiser, more connected conversation?” asks TED’s curator, Chris Anderson, at left, while speaking with journalist Gretchen Carlson and columnist David Brooks at TED, March 01, 2017, in New York. Photo: Dian Lofton / TED In conversation with TED curator Chris Anderson…

via Can we heal the fractured political conversation? A talk with Gretchen Carlson and David Brooks — TED Blog

SS: Is philosophy good for anything?

What is Philosophy good for?

Illustration of a "duckrabbit", disc...

Illustration of a “duckrabbit”, discussed in the Philosophical Investigations, section XI, part II (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Philosophy is quite unlike any other field. It is unique both in its methods and in the nature and breadth of its subject matter. Philosophy pursues questions in every dimension of human life, and its techniques apply to problems in any field of study or endeavor. No brief definition expresses the richness and variety of philosophy. It may be described in many ways. It is a reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths, a quest for understanding, a study of principles of conduct. It seeks to establish standards of evidence, to provide rational methods of resolving conflicts, and to create techniques for evaluating ideas and arguments. Philosophy develops the capacity to see the world from the perspective of other individuals and other cultures; it enhances one’s ability to perceive the relationships among the various fields of study; and it deepens one’s sense of the meaning and varieties of human experience.

 

Philosophy is the systematic study of ideas and issues, a reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths, a quest for a comprehensive understanding of the world, a study of principles of conduct, and much more. Every domain of human existence raises questions to which its techniques and theories apply, and its methods may be used in the study of any subject or the pursuit of any vocation. Indeed, philosophy is in a sense inescapable: life confronts every thoughtful person with some philosophical questions, and nearly everyone is often guided by philosophical assumptions, even if unconsciously. One need not be unprepared. To a large extent one can choose how reflective one will be in clarifying and developing one’s philosophical assumptions, and how well prepared one is for the philosophical questions life presents. Philosophical training enhances our problem-solving capacities, our abilities to understand and express ideas, and our persuasive powers. It also develops understanding and enjoyment of things whose absence impoverishes many lives: such things as aesthetic experience, communication with many different kinds of people, lively discussion of current issues, the discerning observation of human behavior, and intellectual zest. In these and other ways the study of philosophy contributes immeasurably in both academic and other pursuits.

 

Werner Erhard and Associates v. Christopher Co...

Werner Erhard and Associates v. Christopher Cox for Congress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I would like to engage you in a conversation, a sort of interactive sermon. I’ll begin by asking you to respond to a few quotations. Something like this read from a printed book:

Assertion: Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.

Question: Why?

Answer: The Lord thy God is a jealous God.

No, not like that. That comes from my childhood memories of the Lutheran Church. The catechism had all the answers in a scripted text where even the questions were closed. So, today, unlike the old fashioned readings where the congregation’s responses are written down to be recited in unison, I’ll ask for individual responses, extemporaneous responses. I have every reason to believe that this approach will prove fruitful with a thoughtful group of Unitarians.

 

All men by nature desire to know… It is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize.

-Aristotle

In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

Bertrand Arthur William Russell

 

Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.
– William James

 

Belief means not wanting to know what is true.
Nietzsche

All our dignity lies in thought. Let us strive, then, to think well.

-Blaise Pascal

I am uneasy to think I approve of one object, and disapprove of another; call one thing beautiful, and another deformed; decide concerning truth and falsehood, reason and folly, without knowing upon what principles I proceed.

-David Hume

Philosophic study means the habit of always seeing an alternative.

-William James

Philosophy recovers itself when it ceases to be a device for dealing with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method, cultivated by philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men. -John Dewey

 

What is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., and if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life…?

-Ludwig Wittgenstein

It is absolutely correct and proper to say that ‘You can’t do anything with philosophy.’…granted that we cannot anything with philosophy, might not philosophy, if we concern ourselves with it, do something with us?

-Martin Heidegger

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.

-Albert Camus

Philosophy ought to question the basic assumptions of the age. Thinking through, critically and carefully, what most people take for granted is, I believe, the chief task of philosophy and it is this task that makes philosophy a worthwhile activity.

-Peter Singer

To teach how to live without certainty and yet without being paralysed by hesitation is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can do for those who study it.

-Bertrand Russell

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Review: Buddhist Enlightenment

What Is Buddhist Enlightenment?Review – What Is Buddhist Enlightenment?
by Dale S. Wright
Oxford University Press, 2016
Review by Bob Lane
Jan 24th 2017 (Volume 21, Issue 4)

King Lear is a play as profound as it is puzzling. It seems to be uncompromising in its attitude to the nature of things. Either its last scene is a powerful continuation of the theme of self delusion or it is an intimation of immortality.

Read the review.

 

 

 


18th-century depiction of King Lear mourning o...

18th-century depiction of King Lear mourning over his daughter Cordelia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)