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46
First post. Introduction and invitation.
Posted: 01 January 2009 06:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 676 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 01 January 2009 11:33 PM

I have no idea what you are talking about regarding chopping a baby in half. If you are talking about Solomon, the baby was not chopped in half, and that was 1000 years before Jesus. Where, indeed, does intelligence and wisdom ever kick in with your posts?

It figures. You need everything spelled out. Y-O-U-R F-A-I-T-H. Abraham. Your beliefs and judgment of others all boils down to the miniscule possibility of events and characters that you say no one can possibly know. That’s what you bank on ... what guides your actions.

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Posted: 01 January 2009 07:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 677 ]  
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Bruce,

I do not care what Keith may have been saying; deal with what I’m saying.  If the probability is less than .001 for an event, I’m not going to guide my life based on that chance.  We can argue probability estimatesm but the extent to which I’m going to respond is contingent on my estimate of that probability, and not on someone’s claim based on unquestioned acceptance that it is true.

Dennis

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Truth, especially “moral truth,” is that elusive human creation whose exclusive apprehension is claimed by many, who then sanctimoniously condemn anyone else who does not agree with their particular apprehension, while denying that any question can be posed about their own apprehension.  I will try to avoid that tendency.  DEC

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Posted: 01 January 2009 10:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 678 ]  
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There might be some small probability that these various miracles occurred as reported, but I doubt it.  The basic problem that I see here (and this is true for all religions) the basic myths of a religion cannot be taken in the same sense as the replicable dropping of a brick.  They have to be taken metaphorically, allegorically, as pointing to certain possibilities of human consciousness.  (The medieval sufi Ibn
Arabi said that angels were the hidden powers in the mind of men, for example.)  The story of the virgin birth, for example, might have actually happened (a person born with male and female organs might have self-fertilized, but not likely), but I think it is more likely that the originally intended message was that the state of consciousness represented by the Christ (or, in the earlier Hellenistic philosophical traditions, by the Logos) can only arise within a pure (i.e., virgin) mind that is receptive to certain sorts of impressions.  When this becomes institutionalized, however, people don’t want to be told that they have to do certain sorts of work on themselves to get the goodies when they are not even certain that it will pan out.  So miracles and such get dragged in to help people support the belief necessary to maintain the religion.  Everybody wants wine, but not too many are willing to tend the grapes and do the work necessary to produce it.  The problem keith has is that he is speaking about one sort of knowledge—rational, verifiable knowledge, while religious (and other) mythology is speaking about something else, more of a road map.  There is some comparison with intuitionist mathematicians who consider written proofs as similar to recipes: they tell how to carry out an internal construction that allows a person to “see” the truth of the claim and until they can do this, they won’t accept the proof even though it can be followed and seen to be syntatically correct.

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Posted: 03 January 2009 06:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 679 ]  
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burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

There might be some small probability that these various miracles occurred as reported, but I doubt it.  The basic problem that I see here (and this is true for all religions) the basic myths of a religion cannot be taken in the same sense as the replicable dropping of a brick.  They have to be taken metaphorically, allegorically, as pointing to certain possibilities of human consciousness.

Why do they ‘have to be taken’? And, if you insist on taking one, how will you take any particular one to the exclusion of the others? Through what mental faculty will you make your choice?

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

(The medieval sufi Ibn Arabi said that angels were the hidden powers in the mind of men, for example.)  The story of the virgin birth, for example, might have actually happened (a person born with male and female organs might have self-fertilized, but not likely), but I think it is more likely that the originally intended message was that the state of consciousness represented by the Christ (or, in the earlier Hellenistic philosophical traditions, by the Logos) can only arise within a pure (i.e., virgin) mind that is receptive to certain sorts of impressions.


I’m a little puzzled as to the relevance of this, and am also skeptical as to its historical accuracy. I’d say that Christianity’s first definitive statement (‘original packaging’) was provided by Paul of Tarsus in the couple of decades from AD 40 to AD 60, while incorporation of the ‘Hellenistic philosophical traditions’ only started from around 200 years later with the mixing of Plotinus’ Neoplatonism into Christianity. 

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

When this becomes institutionalized, however, people don’t want to be told that they have to do certain sorts of work on themselves to get the goodies when they are not even certain that it will pan out.  So miracles and such get dragged in to help people support the belief necessary to maintain the religion.  Everybody wants wine, but not too many are willing to tend the grapes and do the work necessary to produce it.  The problem keith has is that he is speaking about one sort of knowledge—rational, verifiable knowledge, while religious (and other) mythology is speaking about something else, more of a road map.

I’m speaking, in ‘Truth?’, about finally making all of our knowledge as internally consistent and coherent as we can. Not perfect in these regards; but merely, and at last, no worse than we can see that it needs to be. Hence my proposed rejection of our assumed independent basis for knowledge (that X, in spite of it’s observably not making any sense [again, we’re back to the NT miracles] can still legitimately be embraced on the basis of its being ‘the truth’). This rejection just doesn’t seem to be a problem from my side. I don’t seem, to myself, to need ‘road map’ proposals that I can see to be logically excluded by my repeatable observation grounded proposals. I don’t, in reference to this thread’s post #32, experience my lack of irrational road map proposals as a deprivation. I must therefore again ask what, from your side, you see yourself to be gaining through your maintenance of such proposals. 

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

There is some comparison with intuitionist mathematicians who consider written proofs as similar to recipes: they tell how to carry out an internal construction that allows a person to “see” the truth of the claim and until they can do this, they won’t accept the proof even though it can be followed and seen to be syntatically correct.

This position seems quite odd to me. Can you name a few of the mathematicians who hold it?

BR,

Keith

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Posted: 03 January 2009 08:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 680 ]  
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burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

There might be some small probability that these various miracles occurred as reported, but I doubt it.

You doubt what, burt? If you doubt the existence of the small probability, then why bring it up? If you accept the small probability and doubt that it’s ever been played out, then your writing clarity is lacking. Also, if the probability is so small that only a con artist would mention it as a possibility, again: why bring it up unless you’re attempting to trick someone?

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

The basic problem that I see here (and this is true for all religions) the basic myths of a religion cannot be taken in the same sense as the replicable dropping of a brick.  They have to be taken metaphorically, allegorically, as pointing to certain possibilities of human consciousness.

Again, language of the con artist, burt. You’re asking people to leave themselves open to trusting all who have a voice that sounds trustworthy. Sure, that’s our history, and I have no doubt people will continue buying into false trust for the time being at least.

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

The story of the virgin birth . . . might have actually happened (a person born with male and female organs might have self-fertilized, but not likely), but I think it is more likely that the originally intended message was that the state of consciousness represented by the Christ (or, in the earlier Hellenistic philosophical traditions, by the Logos) can only arise within a pure (i.e., virgin) mind that is receptive to certain sorts of impressions.

Why would anyone care about some long-gone person’s intention about a teaching method? It doesn’t matter to me because his or her general ignorance about how the world works outweighs that of a modern 6-year-old child’s. Burt, I realize we’ve gone over this stuff before, but you keep bringing up ancient baggage that begs to be addressed.

burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

Everybody wants wine, but not too many are willing to tend the grapes and do the work necessary to produce it.

You need to visit my area more often, burt. Around here, many hardworking people do the difficult work of vine tending for the relative few who can afford $50+ per bottle. Also, some people prefer not to drink wine. Your analogies are struggling.

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Posted: 03 January 2009 08:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 681 ]  
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keith - 03 January 2009 11:33 AM
burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

There might be some small probability that these various miracles occurred as reported, but I doubt it.  The basic problem that I see here (and this is true for all religions) the basic myths of a religion cannot be taken in the same sense as the replicable dropping of a brick.  They have to be taken metaphorically, allegorically, as pointing to certain possibilities of human consciousness.

Why do they ‘have to be taken’? And, if you insist on taking one, how will you take any particular one to the exclusion of the others? Through what mental faculty will you make your choice?

You’re taking this in a wrong way—the rational, logical, excluded middle way.  You don’t take only one, you take them all (or, if you do decide on one on aesthetic grounds, you don’t assume that negates the rest, only that you have made a personal choice).  To toss in a bit of woo woo, you have to take it (by “take” I don’t mean accept, only consider) in a quantum way, i.e., there can be a superposition of seemingly contradictory conditions.  Sorry for that, but it is possible to consider different myths that appear contradictory and look for interpretations in which they are actually pointing to the same thing (analogy: if you stand on a circle and point to the center you might seem to be contradicting somebody on the circle 180 degrees away from you who is also pointing at the center).  When it gets down to “your myth is wrong because mine is right” all the value of both myths has been lost. 

keith - 03 January 2009 11:33 AM
burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

(The medieval sufi Ibn Arabi said that angels were the hidden powers in the mind of men, for example.)  The story of the virgin birth, for example, might have actually happened (a person born with male and female organs might have self-fertilized, but not likely), but I think it is more likely that the originally intended message was that the state of consciousness represented by the Christ (or, in the earlier Hellenistic philosophical traditions, by the Logos) can only arise within a pure (i.e., virgin) mind that is receptive to certain sorts of impressions.

I’m a little puzzled as to the relevance of this, and am also skeptical as to its historical accuracy. I’d say that Christianity’s first definitive statement (‘original packaging’) was provided by Paul of Tarsus in the couple of decades from AD 40 to AD 60, while incorporation of the ‘Hellenistic philosophical traditions’ only started from around 200 years later with the mixing of Plotinus’ Neoplatonism into Christianity.

Actually, it started a bit earlier than that.  If I recall correctly, it was Paul who identified Christ with the Logos (could be wrong on that) but the Hellenization started earlier than Plotinus.  His teacher Ammonius Sacus was also the teacher of some of the early Christian theologians and there is an interesting book, Jesus Christ: Sun of God that shows how much borrowing Christianity took from Hellenistic religion and philosophy.  Just as a guess, I suspect that prior to this formalization of the theology the followers of Paul, etc., were something like the followers of Rajneesh today, more of a cult following than an established religion.  As for virgin births (and gods in general impregnating young women), this was a mythic motif long before Christianity.  I used it as an example of how a particular myth could be interpreted in a way that didn’t contradict our scientific knowledge.

keith - 03 January 2009 11:33 AM
burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

When this becomes institutionalized, however, people don’t want to be told that they have to do certain sorts of work on themselves to get the goodies when they are not even certain that it will pan out.  So miracles and such get dragged in to help people support the belief necessary to maintain the religion.  Everybody wants wine, but not too many are willing to tend the grapes and do the work necessary to produce it.  The problem keith has is that he is speaking about one sort of knowledge—rational, verifiable knowledge, while religious (and other) mythology is speaking about something else, more of a road map.

I’m speaking, in ‘Truth?’, about finally making all of our knowledge as internally consistent and coherent as we can. Not perfect in these regards; but merely, and at last, no worse than we can see that it needs to be. Hence my proposed rejection of our assumed independent basis for knowledge (that X, in spite of it’s observably not making any sense [again, we’re back to the NT miracles] can still legitimately be embraced on the basis of its being ‘the truth’). This rejection just doesn’t seem to be a problem from my side. I don’t seem, to myself, to need ‘road map’ proposals that I can see to be logically excluded by my repeatable observation grounded proposals. I don’t, in reference to this thread’s post #32, experience my lack of irrational road map proposals as a deprivation. I must therefore again ask what, from your side, you see yourself to be gaining through your maintenance of such proposals.

For you, these sorts of mythic “indicators” or “pointers” would be useless since you are looking from the position you describe above and so you are 100% correct in ignoring them.  Other people, however, might have trouble with trying your way of thought and find that metaphorically interpreted myths provide an easier way of developing themselves.  The only problem is all the people who grab onto the myth and take it as literal truth that has to be defended against all those other unbelievers.  It is that attitude of fixated belief grounded in fear arising out of ignorance that, as I see it, has to be opposed and simply trying to get people to abandon their myths and think rationally doesn’t strike me as the most effective way to do this.

keith - 03 January 2009 11:33 AM
burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

There is some comparison with intuitionist mathematicians who consider written proofs as similar to recipes: they tell how to carry out an internal construction that allows a person to “see” the truth of the claim and until they can do this, they won’t accept the proof even though it can be followed and seen to be syntatically correct.

This position seems quite odd to me. Can you name a few of the mathematicians who hold it?

BR,

Keith

The general statistic is that about 5% of all mathematicians are strong intuitionists.  This particular view of math seems to have started with Brower (probably spelled wrong) in the early 1900s as a reaction to paradoxes coming out of Cantor’s set theory.  Other names associated with this are Weyl and Heyting.  One thing the intuitionists reject is universal application of excluded middle, in particular in indirect proofs (proof by contradiction).  That is, they won’t accept that if I prove not-A leads to contradiction this means that A is true.  They will only accept the truth of A if I can provide a constructive proof that allows them to make a mental construction of A.  It’s a very strong adherence to “seeing is believing” although in this case the seeing has to be in the sense of an internal mental construction.  Salt Creek could understand this attitude in terms of something like: “I only understand it if I can construct an experiment that measures it.”  Most mathematicians consider this to be too strong a constraint (it would require abandoning a large chunk of modern mathematics) so consider intuitionists as rather eccentric.

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Posted: 05 January 2009 08:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 682 ]  
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burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

I think it is more likely that the originally intended message was that the state of consciousness represented by the Christ (or, in the earlier Hellenistic philosophical traditions, by the Logos) can only arise within a pure (i.e., virgin) mind that is receptive to certain sorts of impressions.  When this becomes institutionalized, however, people don’t want to be told that they have to do certain sorts of work on themselves to get the goodies when they are not even certain that it will pan out.  So miracles and such get dragged in to help people support the belief necessary to maintain the religion.  Everybody wants wine, but not too many are willing to tend the grapes and do the work necessary to produce it.

Once again, this is about the capacity of people to try to lecture other people on why they are not “getting the goodies”. Bruce is much better at this than Burt is. Typically, the lecture takes the form of implying that one is “getting the goodies” via the miracles of subjective experience. Other people say that it is not the destination, but the journey. The “state of consciousness represented by the Christ” (or the “Buddha nature”, if you will) is only a placeholder. One’s subjective experience cannot be the subject of the lecture.

burt - 03 January 2009 01:50 PM

You’re taking this in a wrong way—the rational, logical, excluded middle way.  You don’t take only one, you take them all (or, if you do decide on one on aesthetic grounds, you don’t assume that negates the rest, only that you have made a personal choice).  To toss in a bit of woo woo, you have to take it (by “take” I don’t mean accept, only consider) in a quantum way, i.e., there can be a superposition of seemingly contradictory conditions.  Sorry for that, but it is possible to consider different myths that appear contradictory and look for interpretations in which they are actually pointing to the same thing (analogy: if you stand on a circle and point to the center you might seem to be contradicting somebody on the circle 180 degrees away from you who is also pointing at the center).  When it gets down to “your myth is wrong because mine is right” all the value of both myths has been lost.

Aha! So now the middle way adopts a discourse of saying not “the wrong way” but “a wrong way”. Though when one abandons the deductive binarism, one is hard pressed to identify what “wrong” means except as a moral prescription.

Prescription, that is, in the sense of burt’s “you have to take it”. Otherwise you don’t get the wholesome oaty goodness of the Cheerios at the bottom of the crackerjack box. Again, for the spiritual adept, it’s the journey (eating the crackerjack, drinking the kool-aid) and not the arrival at the bottom of the crackerjack box, that is actually, erm, “important”. Along the way, you get to strain innumerable metaphors and analogies past the point. How can we engineer better analogies if we do not test them until they fail?

I adopt the discourse of calling such blather “not even wrong”. See how tolerant I’m becoming?

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Posted: 05 January 2009 09:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 683 ]  
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unknown zone - 03 January 2009 01:38 PM
burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

The story of the virgin birth . . . might have actually happened (a person born with male and female organs might have self-fertilized, but not likely), but I think it is more likely that the originally intended message was that the state of consciousness represented by the Christ (or, in the earlier Hellenistic philosophical traditions, by the Logos) can only arise within a pure (i.e., virgin) mind that is receptive to certain sorts of impressions.

Why would anyone care about some long-gone person’s intention about a teaching method? It doesn’t matter to me because his or her general ignorance about how the world works outweighs that of a modern 6-year-old child’s. Burt, I realize we’ve gone over this stuff before, but you keep bringing up ancient baggage that begs to be addressed.

I snipped most of your posting because it is recycled Salt Creek, and he does it much better.  Your comment above, however, commits Vico’s “Error of Scholars”—assuming that the people of the past were ignorant and foolish and hence we have nothing to lean from them.

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Posted: 05 January 2009 10:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 684 ]  
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burt - 06 January 2009 02:41 AM

I snipped most of your posting because it is recycled Salt Creek, and he does it much better.  Your comment above, however, commits Vico’s “Error of Scholars”—assuming that the people of the past were ignorant and foolish and hence we have nothing to lean from them.

Still, it does no good to regard Vico’s pronouncement as some sort of law. Citing the Error of Scholars is, therefore, only “useless information supposed to fire my imagination” because it trivially notes that it is an error to make the assumption without regard to a particular bit of knowledge with respect to which one actually is ignorant. So let me try to fix that:

Citing The Error of Scholars as some sort of inoculation against slandering the ancients is only a feeble prescription. It is more to the point to note that philosophy has made no progress in the interim in making coherent the notion of “Godhead”. I think that UZ’s context was fairly clear in this matter, and that the Error of Scholars is not applicable to incoherent nonsense like the concept of “Godhead” or “The Christ”.

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Posted: 06 January 2009 05:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 685 ]  
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burt - 06 January 2009 02:41 AM

I snipped most of your posting because it is recycled Salt Creek, and he does it much better.  Your comment above, however, commits Vico’s “Error of Scholars”—assuming that the people of the past were ignorant and foolish and hence we have nothing to lean from them.

Salt Creek seemed to be on holiday or something. At least I wasn’t politely patronizing. As for ancient opinion—and even simply distantly-past opinion—I don’t see any reason to consider personal reputation in the way it’s considered with recent and current opinion. Who got insulted when Popper skewered Plato?

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Posted: 06 January 2009 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 686 ]  
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unknown zone - 06 January 2009 10:53 AM
burt - 06 January 2009 02:41 AM

I snipped most of your posting because it is recycled Salt Creek, and he does it much better.  Your comment above, however, commits Vico’s “Error of Scholars”—assuming that the people of the past were ignorant and foolish and hence we have nothing to lean from them.

Salt Creek seemed to be on holiday or something. At least I wasn’t politely patronizing. As for ancient opinion—and even simply distantly-past opinion—I don’t see any reason to consider personal reputation in the way it’s considered with recent and current opinion. Who got insulted when Popper skewered Plato?

Not on holiday, see above—he even beat you to the punch.  The point is that there is a distinction between types of knowledge.  Certainly the ancients (e.g., anybody born before quantum mechanics) lacked much of the physical knowledge we have now so we consider their ideas of the physical world only historically.  To pull out a quote from a history of science text I’m reading at the moment:

“The early philosophers began at the only possible place: the beginning.  They created a conception of nature that has served as the foundation of scientific belief and investigation in the intervening centuries—the conception of nature presupposed, more or less, by modern science.  In the meantime many of the questions they asked have been resolved—often with rough-and-ready solutions, rather than definitive answers, but resolved sufficiently to slip from the forefront of scientific attention.”

...Such questions were interesting and essential precisely because they were part of the effort to create conceptual foundations and vocabulary for investigating the world; and it often the fate of foundational questions to seem pointless to later generations who take the foundations for granted.  Today, for example, we may find the distinction between the natural and supernatural obvious; but until the distinction was carefully drawn, the investigation of nature could not properly begin.”

David Linberg, The Beginnings of Western Science 43 - 44

On the other hand, knowledge of human behavior and of the way that the mind works has been available to direct observation since ever, so what the ancients have to say about this (taking care to understand their vocabulary and recognizing that we may have come to give different meanings to some of the technical terms they use) can be quite educational. 

(A trivial example of the need to understand terms, especially after translation: two of the frequent terms applied in Homer to the goddess Athena are usually translated as: “gray-eyed Athena” and “bright-eyed Athena.”  Can we reconcile bright gray?  Yes, the Greek language had a different color classification than we do, and the colors we call gray, light blue, blue and other related colors were all denoted by the same word.  Likewise, when Homer uses the phrase “wine-dark sea” the color terms for dark colors like dark red, dark blue, violet, and so on were all denoted by the same term.  When it comes to terms used to denote possible states of consciousness, the confusion can get much worse.)

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Posted: 06 January 2009 10:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 687 ]  
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Salt Creek - 06 January 2009 03:03 AM

Citing The Error of Scholars as some sort of inoculation against slandering the ancients is only a feeble prescription. It is more to the point to note that philosophy has made no progress in the interim in making coherent the notion of “Godhead”. I think that UZ’s context was fairly clear in this matter, and that the Error of Scholars is not applicable to incoherent nonsense like the concept of “Godhead” or “The Christ”.

It’s not incoherent nonsense if it turns out to be right in the end. It’s sort of like a coach deciding to go for it on 4th and one in the championship game: if his team gets the first down, he’s a genius and gets a bonus; if not, he’s an idiot and gets fired. Gotta run - the play clock is winding down.

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Posted: 06 January 2009 11:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 688 ]  
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Jefe - 06 January 2009 04:21 PM
burt - 06 January 2009 02:41 AM
unknown zone - 03 January 2009 01:38 PM
burt - 02 January 2009 03:17 AM

The story of the virgin birth . . . might have actually happened (a person born with male and female organs might have self-fertilized, but not likely), but I think it is more likely that the originally intended message was that the state of consciousness represented by the Christ (or, in the earlier Hellenistic philosophical traditions, by the Logos) can only arise within a pure (i.e., virgin) mind that is receptive to certain sorts of impressions.

Why would anyone care about some long-gone person’s intention about a teaching method? It doesn’t matter to me because his or her general ignorance about how the world works outweighs that of a modern 6-year-old child’s. Burt, I realize we’ve gone over this stuff before, but you keep bringing up ancient baggage that begs to be addressed.

I snipped most of your posting because it is recycled Salt Creek, and he does it much better.  Your comment above, however, commits Vico’s “Error of Scholars”—assuming that the people of the past were ignorant and foolish and hence we have nothing to lean from them.

Do you think there is an ‘error of scholars’ in the assumption that 2000 year old mediteraneans knew very little about germ theory, evolution, or advanced cosmology?

Not at all.  But if you use that to assume that they have nothing at all to teach us about things like epistemology, ethics, morality, and human behavior then it would be.  Even the “likely story” that Plato gives in the Timaeus is of some interest because it is the first theory of matter based on mathematical symmetries and numerical conservation laws.  The basic idea was totally modern, he just didn’t have the conceptual and notational tools we have, and we wouldn’t have those without a long historical development.

P.S.  In case you’re thinking of a new home, just a bit of shameless self-promotion: Since you live in Calgary, I know of a great house for sale there (mother-in-laws), a good neighborhood and at a good price.

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Posted: 06 January 2009 12:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 689 ]  
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burt - 06 January 2009 03:13 PM

Certainly the ancients (e.g., anybody born before quantum mechanics) lacked much of the physical knowledge we have now so we consider their ideas of the physical world only historically.  To pull out a quote from a history of science text I’m reading at the moment:

. . .

“Such questions were . . . part of the effort to create conceptual foundations and vocabulary for investigating the world; and it often the fate of foundational questions to seem pointless to later generations who take the foundations for granted.”

Burt, I see the ancients as being every bit as intelligent and perhaps even more so than current people. Their questions made great sense, and so did the answers they devised. But today’s knowledge base is radically more thorough and it seems fairly obvious that ancient answers to the big questions in life can safely be viewed with skepticism. Nothing about ancient questions and answers seems pointless to me.

burt - 06 January 2009 03:13 PM

On the other hand, knowledge of human behavior and of the way that the mind works has been available to direct observation since ever, so what the ancients have to say about this (taking care to understand their vocabulary and recognizing that we may have come to give different meanings to some of the technical terms they use) can be quite educational.

This is where you lose me, burt. The mind is not something that can be studied in the way a brain can be studied, just as a voice cannot be studied in the way that the larynx, sound waves and hearing mechanisms can be studied. The ancients had no access to today’s neurological understanding, which makes for a crucial distinction between their knowledge and our knowledge regarding behaviors, thoughts and feelings.

Someday, assuming humanity lasts a while, we will be the ancients, lacking understanding.

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Posted: 06 January 2009 02:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 690 ]  
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unknown zone - 06 January 2009 05:43 PM
burt - 06 January 2009 03:13 PM

On the other hand, knowledge of human behavior and of the way that the mind works has been available to direct observation since ever, so what the ancients have to say about this (taking care to understand their vocabulary and recognizing that we may have come to give different meanings to some of the technical terms they use) can be quite educational.

This is where you lose me, burt. The mind is not something that can be studied in the way a brain can be studied, just as a voice cannot be studied in the way that the larynx, sound waves and hearing mechanisms can be studied. The ancients had no access to today’s neurological understanding, which makes for a crucial distinction between their knowledge and our knowledge regarding behaviors, thoughts and feelings.

Someday, assuming humanity lasts a while, we will be the ancients, lacking understanding.

Seneca: “Someday our children will laugh at our ignorance.”

The mind can’t be studied the way the brain can, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be studied with rigor.  The Tibetan Buddhists have carried out a very careful analysis of various mental states, for example.  The problem with trying to look at these from a modern science point of view is making the translations from their symbolic language to something that we can better understand without the need for 10,000+ hours of training in their meditation systems.  Your example of the voice is a good one: we can’t study the voice the same way that we study breathing,larynx, sound waves, and hearing but that doesn’t mean that people 3000 years ago couldn’t sing, produce powerful emotional responses with their voice, and teach how to do this (even if only through apprenticeship).  Today, we can say what anatomical and physiological factors contribute to this, but as far as use of the voice is concerned, we’re pretty much in the same place—we can just teach it more effectively (sometimes).  And we’re a lot further from understanding the brain/mind relation than we are the voice/larynx relation.  As we learn more about the brain and how it connects to mind, we can develop better means of training the mind (means that don’t require, for example, thousands of hours of meditation, etc.) but what that does is make the training more publicly available, it doesn’t necessarily make the end result of the training superior.  On the other hand, making that sort of training widely available it seems to me will have a beneficial effect in reducing dogmatism and fundamentalism.  As I see it, among the ancients there were people able to attain “enlightened” states (not a great word, but it will have to do for quick communication), but they were few and living in a general population that was stuck in primitive belief with no way out of this.  Today, with luck, we might be able to change this.

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