Epistemology 101

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Though all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it all arises out of experience.”

Kant

According to Kant, there are two kinds of knowledge.

A priori knowledge — Things known by reason alone, independent of experience.

A posteriori knowledge — Things known by means of experience. This is what we call empirical knowledge.

In our modern world we are somewhat Kantian, often without even knowing it. We make much of experience. We also make much of reason. We tend to think of the mind as that which shapes our sensory experience.

Like Kant, many moderns see the mind as a filter, an organizer, and an enhancer of experience. In Kant’s day, this was revolutionary thinking. Kant turned epistemology inside-out by theorizing that objective reality depends on the mind instead of the other way round.

For me, I see reason and experience as merging, the a priori and the posteriori as enmeshed. I don’t think that they operate independently, ever. Reason shapes experience, experience shapes reason, what is true comes to us out of the entanglement of the two. There is no pure reason and no pure experience — we operate with an enmeshed epistemology.

Yesterday I spent the day rewriting my Cat, a Christian catechism for kids. As I wrote, in answer to the final question of the Cat, ‘How do we know all this is true?” I heard a knock on the office door. There was a man there, who often comes to the church for food, who wanted to volunteer.

He told me, “I want to work. I like to work. Do you have any work I can do?”

I did. It just so happened that the we needed to fill a hole, with dirt, an old driveway, taken out, in our new courtyard construction project, a small piece left over, untouched by the bobcat, needing some shovel and wheel barrow work. I got him started working and went back to my work.

I wrote in the Cat, “We know what is true by our experience, and by the experiences of others, and by our own thinking and judgments and by what we read in the Bible, that is, revelation.”

Kant believed that revelation was possible, but that for any given revelation we couldn’t be sure it is revelation.

I differ. So did Pascal. He saw revelation as a valid way of knowing. So do I, and it can be tested, with reason, and with experience.

In Psalms 104: 27-28 the author writes,

All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. …”

How does this writer know this? By experience, by reason and by revelation — as one process. He sees creatures with good things, he defines what a good thing is by his reason, he hears in his mind God telling him that He provides for his creation, and so he communicates his reason, experience and revelation to us in the Psalm. We compare that with our sense of revelation, our reason, our experience. We compare, and test and determine truth.

A man, at a door, on a day, exactly when help is needed. A scripture, telling me this is what God does. From this and in this all I see, experience, reason and revelation mixed to help me concluded, that God satisfies us “with good things.”

I sit in my office. A man appears at my door and asks to do a good thing for me. Is this coincidence? I remember that I recently asked God to help me with this very thing. I read in scripture that another man, the Psalmist, thinks God provides us with good things. I have myself been often provided with good things in life. The evidence of experience, my reason and what I have read that was revealed to another person — these three combine to cause me to determine, “I am being helped.” I conclude that this isn’t chance, luck or coincidence.

A man has work to do, good; another man needs meaningful work, good; a space is beautified, a barren patch of land is turned into a garden, good; a people trying to represent God to the world are helped, good; connection exists between heaven and earth, very good.

Reason and revelation combine in me to say that if there is a God, and he loves me, and if he created a beautiful world out of love for me, then it would follow that he would continue to love me and to help me bring more beauty and justice and goodness to that world.

Epistemologically, I live in one world, the world of reason and experience and revelation. I live in one house, all the rooms are connected, it is a single thing.

I am confident in how I know what I know.

God on Fire!

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Last Thursday I went out to the Anza Borrego desert.

It was on fire with bright yellow California poppies, flaming red Ocotillo, with the magenta blooms of the beaver tail cactus.

The desert floor was silver cholla, blazing in the sun, golden poppy, burning up the rocks, roaring Ocotillo, rowdy red against bright blue sky.

The fire was from God, the gold was from God, the earth and all the rich, warm, glorious colors that pop out of it after it rains — and suns — from God.

Beauty is from God. Fire, which makes gold shine, which makes it pure — also from God.

In the book of Revelation, God speaks saying, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself …”

God is with us — as refining fire, as beautiful fire!

Do not be afraid. His fire is a warmth, a goodness, a beauty-making thing, a white-robed, holy making thing.

We are deserts. God is rain and sun, to help us bloom, to dress us in the beauty of magenta, of golden yellow, of flaming red.

Our God is a refinery, crafting and refining beautiful lives.

Run to him, give him everything, buy the refiner’s gold, grow rich — in beauty.

Wake Up Me Up To Purple Faces

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I love to wake up.

Do you too?

I woke this morning to a dark room, the fan humming softly, the white moon setting in the west over the house, a bright butterscotch Saturn hanging over the earth, my soft, black cat waiting for me downstairs, the coffee warming the kitchen.

I woke up wanting something.

I want to see a purple face today.

I pray a simple prayer, “God I want everything you have for me in purple and orange.”

I remember catching a bluegill when I was young, it’s etched-on face looking up at me like a sunset, its purple chin looking up at me from my hand, its bright blue lines radiating past its dark eyes, its olive green body, its bright red-orange underside — gorgeous!

I loved him.

I want him.

I want to pull purple faces out of dark waters, I want to hold them, speak to them, love them, put them back, dive in, swim with them.

I want to wake up to purple faces today!

On Saturday my wife and I hiked the Guy Fleming trail at Torrey Pines State Park here in San Diego, high on the red and green cliffs hanging out in the soft Pacific breeze above the lovely glossy blue ocean.

The purple sand verbena, the orange California poppies, the olive green leaves of the lemonade berry bush — the face of the earth, my lovely bluegill, the face of my friend, the face of God, the face of everything I hope to wake up to.

Privacy

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Privacy is now the fixation of modern society.

Why? It’s threatened.

I own the issue, we all should. My bank account was once hacked, my Apple ID has been hacked, and yet I still retain many of the intimate privacies of my own society.

What to do? It’s a balancing act. We want to be known: we don’t. So we allow information about ourselves to get out. I do: I pay for items at the store with my cards and my phone and so I trade a bit of my privacy for convenience.

I keep my personal feelings hidden at times, and so I trade being known for the privilege of personal privacy.

How do we best manage such a game? Carefully.

Here are some of my recent thoughts on this in axiomatic, proverbial and aphoristic form.

These mini-wisdoms balance the extremes, as we should. We all need society; we all need to be alone. Try these on for size.

Hone the edge of your alone; zone your own precious unknown.

Our passwords are fig leaves; they cover our modern modesties.

We fake our smiles and our profiles.

To be let alone takes the power of a throne.

The privilege of privacy savors its society.

Everyone is a privacy we judge by what we do not know.

Protect your soul; hack your mind.

A date is a hack; a marriage is an identity theft.

Convenience does business using the currency of privacy.

The difference between privacy and duplicity is intention.

What does society gain if it privatizes the whole world and loses its collective soul?

Notoriety sells its privacy to buy its own celebrity.

Our deepest privacies are filed under our deepest dishonesties.

Lately, I find myself particularly attracted to proverbial truth. Axioms, epigrams and proverbs get at things — profoundly yet simply. By such short wisdoms we can nicely juxtapose extremes. To find more of my proverbs on various topics you can visit http://www.modernproverbs.net

Control

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We have control; we do not.

Evidence abounds.

On 12 November 2014, ESA’s Rosetta mission — which was launched all the way back in 2004 — soft-landed its Philae probe on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It is the first time in history that such an extraordinary feat has been achieved.

The images and information Rosetta is producing — stunning!

Such control — the math, the calculations concerning speed, distance, gravity, the guiding of the craft for ten years, the landing on a comet traveling up to 135,000 kilometres per hour — extraordinary!

And equally extraordinary — all the things we can’t control — this comet’s destiny, or our own emotions, our family members’ choices, disease, the economy, death.

What to do?

I’m stuck lately with the need to apply wisdom to control.

I’m currently thinking: Control what you can; ride out what you can’t.

It’s common sense, but the trick involves discerning when to push or pull and when to ride the wind, wave or fastly flying comet.

I can’t control the interest rate on mortgages and credit cards; I can control my spending. I can’t control other people’s lack of integrity; I can control my own. I can’t control other people’s thoughts or behaviors; I can control my reactions to them. I can’t control God: I can love him and ask him to guide me.  I can jump on and ride the fast, joyful, flying comet of what he is doing.

 We have not taken control of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by finding it, naming it, and landing on it, but we have taken a giant first step — once thought impossible — toward understanding it and perhaps understanding something about our origins as well. And we have exhibited our vast and amazing power to exercise control.

So, here is the deal the best I can see it.

Calculate life, fly Rosetta missions of your own, ride comets, decipher the past, take charge of stuff, especially yourself — and stay humble.

Sometimes you are in the saddle and have the reins, and sometimes you are just along for the terrifying, joyful, fateful ride!

Birdman

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Birdman, the film that just won an Oscar for best picture is interesting, enigmatic, provocative and discussion-worthy.

Life and death are illusions,” says Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman’s director, “We are in a constant state of transformation.”

Birdman gets at that; it approaches the transformational questions of life, “How do we live so as to matter? How do we come to see ourselves as important? How do we win the affections of others?”

The bird man, like all of us, can’t quite figure that out. The movie presents identity and and success and mental health as elusive, especially for a has-been like the Birdman. Our unique sense of self, existing in our minds, existing in our fantasies of success, in the eyes of our family members, our friends, the press, our fans — vanity, vanity, vanity, says the bird man, except in my fantasy!

For you who are squeamish about the ugliness of the ego’s personal angst, any of you suffering identity bifurcation, for you who hate movies where the ending leaves you going “What the heck just happened?” skip it.

But for you who do not require a movie to have a logical, sequential, expected flow of events, you who like to chew on the cud of the ever-shifting human condition, who have dreamed of flying your way to success, for any of you who love to grapple with our tentative sense of self, for any of you who wrestle over our constantly morphing awareness of self-value, our craving for love and our willingness to do most anything to get it, you might want to check it out.

Birdman is as beautiful as Michael Keaton’s dreamy flight over New York, as terrifyingly gorgeous his career falling like a fireball though heavy clouds, as lovely as a few touching scenes of tenderness with his ex-wife and his daughter, and as ugly as the narrow, concrete underground halls of an aging theatre, a string of angry “f” words, brutal competition for attention, unfulfilled emotional need and mental illness.

For me, I get it. We all wonder, “Do I matter?” and we all grapple with ways to answer, “Yes, maybe, for the moment, I hope.”

Why Brian Williams Lied

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It looks a lot like Brian Williams, popular NBC News anchor has lied — which is not the best thing for someone trusted to report the news — and that then he lied about lying.

Why?

Why would a guy who makes ten million dollars a year and is super well-respected as a celebrity news anchor lie about taking fire in a helicopter in Iraq when it didn’t happen and then lie again by saying he misremembered the incident and accidentally tangled up the facts? It isn’t like he needs to make up accomplishments because he lacks accomplishments or affirmation — or does he?

Actually, perhaps the simplest explanation for Brian’s behavior is that he is needy, that he doesn’t feel complete, that he doesn’t feel good enough, that he is insecure about his reputation and his accomplishments. There is a good chance that wealthy Brian is hungry, for love.

Of course I could be wrong. Brian may just be a spoiled brat and a narcissist. But even if that is so, or a bit so, even such a condition as that may arise out of deprivation, from not really getting or understanding or living a life of real love.

This is so human its painful, and yet not. It is not unusual for a powerful man to be needy. Actually, I think Brian represents most all of us, whatever our status . He is somewhat insecure; he is hungry for love and attention.

In a way it’s helpful seeing him like this. It is enlightening. Fame and fortune don’t fill our tanks, not when we come into celebrity and wealth already on empty or even half-full. It is pretty much the thing with us that we never seem to get enough attention or valor or respect or love. We are all love hungry.

What to do?

What we need to do to avoid falseness, to not have to be the hero who took fire is to be fine with being needy and to make good friends with being non-heroic, at least a good deal of the time.

It’s okay to want valor that you don’t have, and it’s okay to be less accomplished than you are, but its also best to avoid lying to people who put their trust in you. It’s a really sad to lose people’s trust, and it definitely doesn’t do much for your reputation or your self-esteem.

For all or most of us, hunger for valor or simply for love will remain, but we can probably get a perfectly good meal now and again, just by being our selves.

People — The Crêpes of Life!

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It was Friday night after work and we were at Bino’s Bistro and Crêperie in Hillcrest feasting on crêpes, tiredness, love and goofiness — trying to reprise us four years ago in Paris, recovering from too much San Diego this last week and indulging in the elemental and eternal concoction of comfort food and comfort family to stave off mental dysfunction, work ennui and certain death.

Diner came to our table as bacon, tomato, avocado, mozzarella cheese and spicy Chipotle sauce on a fresh, tender slightly chewy crêpe — it was a California Crêpe.

Dessert consisted of orange-Grand Marnier sauce, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream on a tender fluffy crêpe — it was Crêpe Suzette, and we clashed forks over it.

Here is the deal for us humans — food and people, never leaving out the people are necessary to thrive.

At Bino’s the owner came to our table and confabulated with us about his former restaurant in Coronado, his five black cats who take walks with him, his many and varied crêpe recipes and his repository of odd and desultory memories. He was charming.

And that’s it, people are charming, mostly, or not, but we love them, need them and ought to feed them a dose of our attention and warmth and appreciation for being the crêperie inside of the crêperie of the very essential ice cream and whipped creme crêperie of them!

I had lunch last week with a sweet friend who brought fresh veggie sandwiches for us to inhale. “People,” she mused, “teach us stuff, all of them.”

It’s true and beautiful to see life this way. The ones who fail teach us how to fail or remind us not to fail in precisely the gruesome and horrible ways in which they fail. The ones who succeed teach us how to succeed, in precisely the terrible and horrific ways in which they succeed.

Each person is a meal to us, each one a dessert!

So here is my human-restaurant recommendation. Yelp people, find people, visit people, consort with people and consume all of them!

People are the crêpes of life, and life is better if we munch on as many of them as we possible can.

The Spaces To Which We have Grown Accustom

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Life is complicated — my life, your life, the lives of the people we talk to.

What do we do with this?

Fortunately, there is a very simple, useful approach to complications. It’s doing the one next good thing that we can think of to advance health and progress.

We best manage complication by doing the next simple thing we can do.

Today I made a phone call I had been putting off. It got results. Yesterday I bought materials for future project. It’s now a step closer to getting it done. On Monday I fixed something broken at the house. That’s how you keep your stuff from turning into Junk.

I wonder, what keeps us from doing the obvious thing? Fear, anxiety, low self-esteem, past failures, apathy — such things paralyze us and keep us from realizing amazing possibilities.

I wonder how many of us are living lives which ignore our potential and our giftedness. Are we, perhaps, even refusing a future God is offering us.

To explore this concept I wrote a fable about a woman stuck in a small world of her own choosing.

…..

The Spaces To Which We have Grown Accustom

You could move to the larger room,” he suggested.

“Well, I have never really thought much about that,” she said. “I guess I could.

He walked into the smaller of the two bedrooms in her condo. It was crowded, a small bed, desk, book shelves, old books.

There was twice the space in the empty master suite just a few feet down the hall. Years had past since her roommate, living in this master suite, had moved out of the condo.

The larger master bedroom included a dressing room, two walk-in closets and a master bathroom. It was a much bigger and brighter space, with a large window opening out onto the patio.

“I could help you move your stuff,” he said. “It wouldn’t take long, and this smaller room would make a perfect office. He paused. She look stunningly unexcited, so he added. “I think the bigger space would be so much more luxurious for you. You could even have a bigger bed.”

“Well, that is so nice of you,” she replied. “I have been thinking about a new bed.”

They stood in silence for a moment, as if contemplating an insurmountable possibility lying on a divine plateau somewhere between his mind and hers.

“Well, just give me a call,” he said to break the awkwardness.

She didn’t, but instead left things as they were — bricked and mortared within the dim interior of the tiny cubicle to which she had grown accustom.

After he left, she retreated to her small room and muttered to herself, “I never did much believe in heaven.”

More of my fables and antifables may be found at http://www.antifables.com

My proverbs about taking next steps may be found at http://www.modernproverbs.net

places

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The world is a labyrinth of places. Not all of them are hard not all of them easy. This morning families are hungry and cold in refugee camps in the Middle East. Others are basking on the beaches in Southern California.

In one place people hover around monitors and make deals; in another fires, and give up. Some hang off walls, free climbing; some pulled the covers up in warm, safe beds.

I’m given to thinking about places. Think with me. Here are my aphorisms, epigrams, and proverbs about places.

What places will you live in, build up or ruin today? Be mindful. Tread gently.

……

We become where we are.

Places make persons.

We are looking for safe places; we find them in risky places.

Bombs fall; places are ruined; people remain.

Places are handles; by them we carry reality with us.

Disrupt your space; disrupt your face.

We are defined by the spaces we make — and the ones we ruin.

Nature is best left the way we found her.

We eat from places we abhor; we drink in ones which we adore.

High is where we fall, low a place from which we crawl.

The unsafe space we create for ourselves is an adventure; the unsafe space we create for others is a horror.

God gave us nature to help us recover from the place we would turn it into.

From more of my epigrams, aphorisms and proverbs visit http://www.modernproverbs.net

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