Tag: Knowledge

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5000 books. That is the approximate number of volumes I own. Stating this fact is not a matter of arrogance but one of humility. Every time I open one of these covers and turn the pages, I discover again how much I do not know. Often as I read, I shake my head not only […]

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QoTD: Tragedy of Modern Man

 

The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less. –Vaclav Havel

We are born with a blank slate of experience, just ready to be filled with wisdom and knowledge. As we grow, we might assume that the world is made up of external experiences; people who think that way are formed by what they see and the things they do. Life can be dull or filled with accomplishments, and they identify themselves with the material world.

But some of us are passionate about learning about ourselves and those people in our lives. We try to “make meaning” of the world, our community, our relationships and our faith. It is that melding of reflections on life that makes our lives colorful and rewarding.

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It’s my understanding that perhaps the worst plague in recorded history was in the 14th century — also known as the Black Death. It originated in rodents in Asia and then via fleas to humans. Trade via the Silk Road brought these rodents and their fleas in ships to southern Italy and started to spread […]

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Quote of the Day: Rage and Realization

 

“There is a story of a great Samurai who comes to visit the Zen master, Hakuin. The Samurai approaches the Zen master and bows dutifully, asking, ‘Sir, I wish to understand the difference between heaven and hell.’ The Zen master looks at the Samurai and, eyeing him from head to toe, says, ‘I would tell you but I doubt that you have the keenness of wit to understand.’ The Samurai pulls back in astonishment. ‘Do you know who you are speaking to?’ he huffs. ‘Not much,” says the Zen master, “I really think you are probably too dull to understand.’ ‘What?’ says the Samurai. ‘How can you talk to me like this?’ ‘Oh, don’t be silly,’ says the Zen master. ‘Who do you think you are? And that thing hanging by your waist. You call that a sword? It’s more like a butter knife.’ The Samurai, becoming enraged draws his sword and raises it over his head to strike the Zen master. ‘Ah,’ says the Zen master. ‘That is hell.’ The Samurai’s eyes shine with recognition as he bows and sheathes his sword. ‘And that,’ says the Zen master, ‘is heaven.’” — Stephen Levine, Who Dies?

Stress is running through America like a restless stream, breaching its boundaries. Unless you live in a cave, you’re not immune. And the stress craves a voice, a way to make itself known. It shows up when we voice our impatience at our spouse, or yell at a child for a minor issue, or rant at a co-worker. Many of our actions may be bloodless, but they are leaving tiny wounds in those we care about. Those of us who normally have long fuses are erupting, surprising ourselves and those around us.

But then we suddenly wake up. We notice a person’s hurt look, experience an unusual push-back, or even a person’s tears. And we realize that our stress, frustration, or fear has decided to strike out. If we own our own behavior, we apologize. But more than apologize, we can vow to be more aware, to take responsibility for the difficulties all around us, to empathize with those who are concerned just as we are. We can vow to be engaged.

Where Can We Find Knowledge?

 

shutterstock_170848478During one of Ricochet’s big Same Sex Marriage debates during the run-up to Obergefell, @jamesofengland said this:

I think I’ve been clear that I don’t share Augustine’s confidence in specific bad outcomes […] I tend to think of Burke and Hayek as telling basically the same story, a story that I’ve been boringly obsessive about for decades now (before law, I took theology up to a Master’s degree, spending quite a lot of that time dealing with Derrida and Pseudodionysus, who I also believe to be in the same epistemically humble tradition). […] It’d be good to shift the conversation in that direction, because if the subject isn’t [Same Sex Marriage], but Hayek, I’ll have [another Ricochet gentleman] on my side, along with [a Ricochet lady] and [a third Ricochet gentleman]. I don’t know how much Augustine really backs that side, but I think [another Ricochet lady] has a higher epistemology (a sense that we can know more about the world than Hayek thought), meaning that we could pretty completely reshuffle the teams.

Ever since then, I’ve wanted to start a conversation on the subject. Initially, I wanted to write a long essay explaining and defending my own views, but, frankly, I don’t want to put much time into it. Maybe it’ll be a better conversation anyway if I keep it short! So short it is.

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“Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” These words of Jesus may suggest that Christianity is about faith and not about knowledge. But it’s not. The separation of belief and seeing, of faith and sight, in the New Testament is only a separation of one […]

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The contract was beautiful. It was a work of art. My Mentor always said that contracts have to have two parts: what you get and what you give. There are other details, such as environmental considerations. For instance, what jurisdiction’s laws will govern the contract? But if you don’t have the exchange well-defined, it’s not […]

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I hold to a very important theory: the theory that we get knowledge from experience. I call this theory empiricism. In doing so I depart (a little) from some common uses of the word “empiricism,” such as this one from Wikipedia, which is more specific than my own; and I admit that none of the uses from the dictionary […]

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Yesterday was the anniversary of Robert Frost’s birthday lo these many years ago in 1874. I wrote about The pasture, the opening poem of his first famous book. For those who care enough about this matter to wish for more thoughts, I would like to explain a few things I think I have learned about […]

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I would define a miracle as a divinely-caused suspension of the laws of physics. I believe in the possibility of miracles and in the historicity of some very important ones. My approach to the question whether the laws of physics are ever suspended is empirical. I think we can let experience tell us what the […]

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Your Esoteric Knowledge, Please!

 
washington_1772

I love the French. With butter.

The world is a weird and fascinating place, filled with surprises and forgotten gems. What information do you have that deserves a little sunlight?

1. As many know, the commander of the English militia unit that started the Seven Years’ War was none other than our beloved George Washington. The most incendiary aspect of the incident concerned the death of Ensign Jumonville at the hands of Tanacharison, Washington’s Iroquois ally and guide. Washington subsequently signed a confession admitting that he had Jumonville “assassinated,” though he later claimed that he was misled by the translator, and that Tanacharison acted without his knowledge or consent. What is not terribly well known is that the incident was the subject of a great deal of anti-English French propaganda including this a lengthy (and very bad) epic poem that depicts Washington (unnamed) as a blood-thirsty backwoods villain.

Knowledge Is Not Ideology

 
IMG_0661

This model is almost as pretty as Ezra Klein. Almost.

There’s a natural human presumption — particularly noticeable among technology and science-loving leftists — that greater knowledge leads to greater consensus. That is, agreement is just one voxsplanation, one chart, or one Neil deGrasse Tyson special away.

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It’s high time I got right down to some of the epistemological basics and explained something important about knowledge: that in order to know anything empirically we have to accept some things on a non-empirical basis. There are certain beliefs that are necessary if we’re going to learn anything about the world from experience, but which are […]

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Knowledge and Faith Can Be the Same Thing

 

F-K VennIt is commonly assumed that an item of knowledge and an article article of faith can never be the same thing. This assumption is mistaken. In this post, I will explain only one point: trust in authority can be a source of knowledge. That’s what faith is: trust. It’s still the first definition of “faith” in the dictionary. Also see the Latin fides and the Greek pistis.

So don’t believe the hype that categorically separates faith from knowledge. This separation ranges from the view William James attributes to a schoolboy (“Faith is when you believe something that you know ain’t true”) to Kant’s more sophisticated idea that “I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith” (in beliefs that might well be true).

We should also reject the hype that says that an argument from authority is necessarily fallacious. The best logic textbook in print will tell you otherwise. It will even tell you that there is such a thing as a valid argument appealing to an infallible authority! (“Valid” is a technical term in logic; be sure to look it up first if you’re inclined to complain that there are no infallible authorities.)

How Can You Not Know This?

 

shutterstock_172810082I have a peculiar area of expertise: I know a lot about death. Well, more precisely, I know more than the average person about bereavement, especially sudden, violent bereavement. I have come by this through my own losses, dedicated study, and, especially, through nearly 15 years of  experience as a law enforcement chaplain. Law enforcement officers often have the sad duty of performing what is known as “death notification,” and it is one they gladly hand off to the chaplain whenever possible. It is one of the subjects I teach at our academy.

A few years ago, I began to receive invitations from members of the medical profession who wished to learn more about death notification. The first time the state’s chapter of the American Academy of Surgeons asked me to address their meeting, I was puzzled. After all, these were doctors: highly educated professionals that must regularly (if reluctantly) come face-to-face with death. “Don’t you know more about this than I do?” I asked.

Apparently not. So I went and spoke about the very early stages of bereavement: the first seconds, minutes, hours after news of a loved one’s decease has been transmitted. And as the assembled surgeons nodded, took notes, and intelligently asked what seemed to me pretty basic questions, I kept thinking how can you not know this? 

Pluto: Terra Cognita (Almost)

 

Pluto_animiert_200pxThe image at your right is currently the best and clearest one we have of the former planet Pluto, now correctly classified as a dwarf planet.* If it looks unimpressive to you, you’re not alone.  Based on a series of observations from the Hubble Space Telescope this fuzzy blur is the best we can do with the technology currently in place.

One of the great things about modern astronomy, however, is that our technology can move at incredible velocity. Literally. In the case of the New Horizons probe, our technology is moving at about 31,500 mph. On July 15, 2015 — one year from yesterday — that will put it within just 17,000 miles of this distant little ice world. For the first time, we’ll see exactly what Pluto looks like, and in HD. You’ll likely never see this picture again outside of a history book.

This will be the first time in my lifetime — all 33 years of it — that we’ve seen something this famous and this unknown up so close. By the time I was born, we had sent probes to Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, and Voyager II swept by Uranus and Neptune before I was old enough to appreciate them; all of them were — to a fair extent — known quantities. This isn’t to say that our discoveries and explorations within our own solar system since then haven’t been amazing: we’ve explored miles of the martian surface, discovered the lakes and rivers of methane on Titan, geysers on Enceladus, orbited major asteroids, and impacted comets head on.

A Little Knowledge is Dangerous . . . But How Little?

 

PikettyShortly after Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind was released, The New Yorker featured a cartoon of a bookseller telling a customer, “No, I haven’t read it. But it’s wonderful!” Point taken, even though it was people who loathed the book who were more likely not to have read it. But hundred of thousands of people purchased it, took it home, leafed through it, discovered it had chapter headings such as From Socrates’ Apology to Heidegger’s Rektorastrede and decided it could be set aside until after they’d read A Different Drum by M. Scott Peck, another bestseller from that year.

Mark Twain had us pegged: A classic is something that everyone wants to have read, but no one wants to read. There are old classics such as The Wealth of Nations and Das Kapital that sit lonely on the bookshelves of the world. I have a copy of each and have dipped into them from time to time, but I’m not ashamed to admit I will never actually read either of them cover to cover. And there are more recent ‘classics’ that induce a twinge of guilt whenever it comes time to dust the coffee table. Gödel, Escher and Bach and A Brief History of Time are handy examples. Impressive titles, pretty book jackets but, excuse me – you didn’t tell me there was going to be math!

Which brings me to Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Picketty. That thrumming sound you hear in the distance is the statist hive undergoing an oceanic mind-meld. Finally, someone has updated Marx and has explained our present predicament. Look, he even has graphs and tables and oodles and oodles of statistics and everything. Try arguing against that, Mr. Neoliberal!