Category Archives: Uncategorized

Reading Daniel Dennett

He’s got a new book out.

His philosophical rhetoric has always struck me as a little strange: rather than offering arguments in support of his proposed views, he offers arguments against variant views.

Of course Dennett is aware that no such arguments can, by themselves, support his own proposals.  Supporting arguments are scattered throughout the chapters and paragraphs of his ponderously named From Bacteria to Bach and Back Again.  But they aren’t easy to find.

Commenting on the book, and its arguments, is a bit awkward for me for several mutually incompatible reasons:

  • I hold many of the same views as Dennett does on the nature of minds;
  • I deny the validity of all his arguments against religion.

How are these incompatible with each other?  Well, it would seem, in realms of everyday colloquial intelligence, that if human consciousness is really the sort of activity that Dennett proposes, erected on the biological and memetic foundations he proposes, then no propositions expressing human spiritual awareness, activity, or aspiration, could possibly reflect any scientifically ascertainable facts.

Yes, it would indeed seem like that.

But that’s the seeming that I deny.

In other words, I assert that

propositions expressing human spiritual awareness, activity, or aspiration, can reflect scientifically ascertainable facts.

Stay tuned.

True Speech and Politics and Bernie Sanders

The principle of True Names, and of True Speech, which I picked up years ago from Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea stories, is alive and working in our culture, among the entire population.  In public discourse, our fellow humans are hungry for true speech: for straight talk, expressing articulate sentiments and clear judgments about the public interest.

No one seeking the presidency today is capable of this except two people: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  And the difference between those two is terrifying to contemplate.

Sanders addresses our common interests; Trump expresses only common passions — those of his followers.

None of the other candidates, Republican or Democratic, is capable of even this much.   Endless comment-threads these days exhibit the realms of readers’ frustration with political language that is impenetrably shielded in double-speak, that cannot be decoded into any concrete or even intelligible commitments regarding either our interests or our passions.

We need to address each other in True Speech.

Some Questions

Has the fun really gone out of explaining things?

Did the first-generation evangelists use altar calls?

Can you worship without a theologian nearby?

How would a first-generation gentile convert understand references to “The Law”?

Will the neighborhood atheist ever give up his enlightenment-besotted notions of ‘human reason’?

Do scientists ever use parables or myths?  If they do, who would listen to them, and why?

Why “Uptime”?

  1.  There is a unix/linux command which reports how much time has elapsed since the OS was last booted.  That is, how long it’s been continuously running.  That command is called . . . uptime.
  2.  Sometimes I feel “up” and sometimes I feel “down”.  The former state I sometimes refer to as my . . . uptime.
  3.  In a letter to one of the early Christian churches, Saint Paul described being mystically caught up to heaven.  I wonder whether he might refer to that as his . . . uptime.
  4.  Priapic tumescence = uptime.
  5.  Waking (as opposed to sleeping), by analogy with #1, can quite reasonably be thought of as . . .  uptime.

Have a nice day.

Kickoff

Well, let’s get started then.  These are my interests:

  • philosophy
  • religions
  • music
  • literature
  • go
  • software engineering

In philosophy, I put the highest value on clarity of thinking and writing.  My heroes, in the past century, have been Wittgenstein, J.L.Austin, Charles Taylor, John Macmurray, Roy Rapaport, and George Carlin.   I’m not professionally active.  But I will present some essays in this blog.

Philosophy is a discipline for the mind; it is a joint — and mutually challenging — effort of finding true things.  My deepest conviction is that some experience of this practice is every human being’s native birthright.

My religion is Christianity.  I’ve read in other religions, and absorbed some ideas from them; but I’ve never made any of them the center of my religious practice.  My childhood religious training was in Christianity; converting to some other religion now, sixty years later, would effectively chop my life into two parts, and that would be intolerable.  It’s more straightforward to simply absorb new insights, as they come along, into my spiritual perspective, and abstain from modifying the basic vocabulary in which I express myself.

I worship at a small Episcopal parish nearby.  I’ve been there since 1995; sang in the choir until a couple of years ago, been a lector (scripture reader at services) right up to the present, led discussion forums on interesting topics from the history of our religion.

I have no sympathy for the public utterances of fundamentalist evangelicals on matters of politics, social mores, or the physical and biological sciences.  Their errors, in those domains, are too numerous to list here.

On the other hand, the popular atheism of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and the like, goes right past me; I can’t recognize my own worship, or my own god, or my own religion, in any of their descriptions.
The religion I follow is intensely and irrevocably personal.  It attends to persons and to a personal god; it knows nothing of human institutions, even religious ones such as churches, parishes, denominations, or conventions.  (These may be composed of profoundly holy persons, but that does not endow the institutions themselves with any haloes.  Religious institutions are artifacts in and of human culture; no such organization can have, or represent, or engage in, any sort of spiritual life.)

The religion I follow does not convey, or consist of, impersonal theories about the nature of the world.  It consists primarily of things that I do, and a battery of standards by which I steer myself, and a provocative vision of how persons can best relate to each other, and a deeply ingrained communal memorial to the man this religion is named for.

In music, I have one hero: J.S.Bach overwhelmed my spirit sixty years ago, and no other musician has ever displaced him.  I do accept and honor a few lesser gods: Beethoven, at an entirely opposite spiritual pole from Bach, and Ravi Shankar, for bringing me music from wholly outside my native traditions.

What about literature?   Hm . . . I read nonstop  until I was around forty — taking time off only to become a husband and then a father.  My admiration for the work of Ursula Le Guin is, well, unbounded.

I have a small output of poetry — maybe fifty poems in that many years.  For the past five years I have led a local workshop in poetry: reading it and writing it.

Finally, go.  (This is the board game — black and white stones on a 19×19 grid — that arose in China at least three thousand years ago and came to Europe and the Americas only in the 19th century.)  I’ve played on DGS since 2003, currently at 10kyu.

That’ll have to do for now, I guess.  Future postings will expand on each of these topics.  In the meantime, we will pass the time speculating about some recent advances in neuroscience, the spiritual discipline of playing go, how philosophy and common sense are profoundly interconnected, and the mind of J.S.Bach.