Happy Birthday, Charles!

Understanding Evolution: This is the best introductory site to the study and teaching of evolution that I have found on the web. If you have not studied biology for some time then this site will provide an easy review!

What is evolution and how does it work?
Detailed explanations of the mechanisms of evolution and the history of life on Earth – Includes: Examples of evolution, History of life on Earth, Macroevolution, Microevolution, Natural selection, Speciation …

How does evolution impact my life?
The relevance of evolutionary theory to our everyday lives”

and much more…..

Interview with Bob

Robert D. Lane was interviewed by Laureano Ralón.

Robert D. Lane is an emeritus professor of philosophy from Vancouver Island University in Canada, where he taught literature and philosophy for 31 years. Lane was the founder of the Philosophy department at VIU (then Malaspina College). As the institution grew, he became the founding director of VIU’s Institute of Practical Philosophy, which is still an active player today in community issues and contemporary moral issues. Since retiring in 2000, Lane has served on the Nanaimo Parks, Recreation and CultureBoard. He also authored a book entitled Reading the Bible: Intention, Text, Interpretation, and founded the philosophy blog Episyllogism.

Read the interview here.


The three writers who have most influenced my own take on fiction are Joseph Conrad in his foreword to The Nigger of the Narcissus qouted below; E. M. Forster in his little book Aspects of the Novel; and Kenneth Burke. Here is Forster:

“Let us define a plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. “The king died and then the queen died” is a story. “The king died, and then the queen died of grief” is a plot. The time is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it. Or again: “The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king.” This is a plot with a mystery) in it, a form capable of high development. It suspends the time. It moves as far away from the story as its limitations will allow. Consider the death of the queen. If it is in a story we say “and then?” If it is in a plot we ask “why?” That is the fundamental difference between these two aspects of the novel. A plot cannot be told to a gaping audience of cave-men or to a tyrannical sultan or to their modern descendant the movie-public. They can only be kept awake by “and then—and then—” They can only supply curiosity. But a plot demands intelligence and memory also.
Curiosity is one of the lowest of the human faculties. You will have noticed in daily life that when people are inquisitive they nearly always have bad memories and are usually stupid at bottom. The man who begins by asking you how many brothers and sisters you have is never a sympathetic character and if you meet him in a year’s time he will probably ask you how many brothers and sisters you have, his mouth again sagging open, his eyes still bulging from his head. It is difficult to be friends with such a man, and for two inquisitive people to be friends must be impossible. Curiosity by itself takes us a very little way, nor does it take us far into the novel—only as far as the story. If we would grasp the plot we must add intelligence and memory.
Intelligence first. The intelligent novel-reader, unlike the inquisitive one who just runs his eye over a new fact, mentally picks it up. He sees it from two points of view: isolated, and related to the other facts that he has read on previous pages. Probably he does not understand it, but he does not expect to do so yet awhile. The facts in a highly organized novel (like The Egoist) are often of the nature of cross-correspondences and the ideal spectator cannot expect to view them properly until he is sitting up on a hill at the end. This element of surprise or mystery—the detective element as it is sometimes rather emptily called—is of great importance in a plot. It occurs through a suspension of the time-sequence; a mystery is a pocket in time, and it occurs crudely, as in “Why did the queen die?” and more subtly in half-explained gestures and words, the true meaning of which only dawns pages ahead. Mystery is essential to a plot, and cannot be appreciated without intelligence. To the curious it is just another “and then—” To appreciate a mystery, part of the mind must be left behind, brooding, while the other part goes marching on.” [pages 86-87]

Sunday’s Feast of Quotes

I remember that sermons often begin with a quote, often from scripture, and then the sermonizer proceeds to unpack that quote, to rummage around in the ideas suggested therein, and to offer an interpretation of the material to make a point. Churches also like to have billboards outside with pithy quotes posted on them. In fact, there is a minor industry, akin to the Hallmark card industry, which offers quotes of the week appropriate to the denomination. Here are my suggestions for pithy quotes:

Morality is logically prior to religion. – Bob Lane, uninvited lecturer in religious philosophy class at VIU.

Whenever morality is based on theology, whenever right is made
dependent on divine authority, the most immoral, unjust, infamous things can be justified and established. Ludwig Feuerbach –The Essence of Christianity

Unfortunately, the hope that religion might provide a bedrock, from which our otherwise sand-based morals can be derived, is a forlorn one. In practice, no civilized person uses Scripture as ultimate authority for moral reasoning. Instead, we pick and choose the nice bits of Scripture (like the Sermon on the Mount) and blithely ignore the nasty bits (like the obligation to stone adulteresses, execute apostates, and punish the grandchildren of offenders)…Yes, of course it is unfair to judge the customs of an earlier era by the enlightened standards of our own. But that is precisely my point! Evidently, we have some alternative source of ultimate moral conviction that overrides Scripture when it suits us. – Richard Dawkins: Free Inquiry Spring 1998

I am all in favor of a dialogue between science and religion, but not a constructive dialogue. One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious. We should not retreat from this accomplishment.
Steven Weinberg: A Designer Universe?

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.
– Steven Weinberg

What is boasted of at the present time as the revival of religion, is always, . . . at least as much the revival of bigotry. . .
John Stuart Mill: On Liberty

A woman with a 7-month-old baby knelt on a prayer rug. She said her 20-year-old son, Ali, was killed in April during Mr. Sadr’s first uprising against the Americans. “I’m happy,” she said, her face expressionless. “This is for religion.”

Religion is an illusion of childhood, outgrown under proper education. Auguste Comte

Meaning of Meaning

Meaning of Meaning (Ogden and Richards): “Meaning of Meaning”
C. K Ogden & I. A. Richards

Any discussion of meaning should begin with the classic book by Ogden and Richards. The link above takes you to a page of informative stuff: a slide show intro., links to several papers, and other references. The first task is to try to get clear just what sort of question one is asking when one asks “What does that mean?” E.g., look at these examples:

  1. What do those flashing lights mean? [asked by a driver speeding along the Island highway]
  2. What do these red spots mean? [asked by a patient in the emergency room at NRGH]
  3. What does “retromingent” mean? [asked by a smart-ass student in grade four]
  4. What does it mean to say “Jesus is the Lamb of God”? [asked by a reader of John]
  5. What do those dark clouds mean? [asked by a boater in the channel]
  6. What does Yeats mean when he writes “slouching toward Bethlehem”?

A click on the header should take you to a copy of the book!

Waste Land [poetry not politics!]

Just received a note from a former student who asked about me and T. S. Eliot; she wrote:

I just talked about you on the LBST Forum newsgroup, so I thought I should give you a heads up!

I mentioned your name and that you changed your majors after seeing Eliot read the poem.

I wonder, what was it about the poem or its author, that made you decide to switch your major from math to english?

I thought it was a strange poem and I thought about switching my major back to philosophy!!!!

My answer:

Actually it wasn’t “The Waste Land” that converted me; it was “The Hollow Men“. As it turned out I was a freshman Engineering student taking a required English course at the University of Texas in Arlington, Texas when T. S. Eliot came to SMU for a reading. I had never been to a poetry reading before. I went because we were reading him in my English class.

The event was in a metal Quonset Hut on the campus at SMU. It was packed. Eliot read several poems. As he started on “The Hollow Men” it started to rain. The rain on the metal roof, the monotonous voice of the poet; they seemed together to created a magical moment and my heart and mind opened to the words of that poem. “We are the hallow men…”

The next day I changed from Engineering to English. It was my one conversion experience until later when I went on to study philosophy. As I would write later, “I have studied in many disciplines and will offer a private report of what it is that we are supposed to be teaching: from literature we learn point of view and how to imagine being in another’s shoes, from mathematics we learn order and the beauty of coherence, and from philosophy we learn humility, or the awareness of limits – we do not know everything.”

My history with “The Waste Land” includes no conversion moments, but I do have the variorum edition of the poem with all of Ezra Pound‘s suggestions and criticisms. The one I always remember is Pound’s comment in the margin that “In order to parody Pope you have to write better than him. You can’t; so don’t.”

Good advice!

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English: Jesus feeding a crowd with 5 loaves o...

English: Jesus feeding a crowd with 5 loaves of bread and two fish (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a way of applying what we have been talking about in terms of meaning, please read this text. In the King James version of the bible, in the Gospel Matthew we find this feeding story:

14 And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.

15 And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals.

16 But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.

17 And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes.

18 He said, Bring them hither to me.

19 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.

20 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.

21 And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.

What does this story mean?

[originally published here on March 22, 2006]

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