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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dualism is a Natural Beginning

On Monday we talked about why Dualism is such a popular philosophy. Essentially, it's the easiest of the worldviews because it only requires two categories for everything. Even a child can understand the basic tenants of dualism.

And, in a way, that's the point. A child's mind isn't equipped to deal with difficult moral dilemmas. Toddlers need a clear right and wrong in order to develop in a healthy way. Children push boundaries because they want to know what the boundaries are. They crave moral clarity and a dualistic worldview offers that.

As a child develops into adolescence, they should be invited to determine their own standards from a variety of options. This is a relativistic perspective. Adolescents need to practice decision making from a relativistic perspective. The clear boundaries of childhood are dissolving as freedom increases. Adolescents have the mental capacity to engage in relativistic thought.

Adults should move beyond relativism to a principled worldview. It's one where experience, understanding and logic lead to the development of core principles for an individual that can be applied across a wide range of situations. It has the boundaries of the dualistic worldview and the personal responsibility of the relativistic worldview combined.

However, we often will distill our principles into dualism once again, or allow the principles of others to become dualism for us. This is, primarily, because a principled worldview is hard work. It takes rigorous examination, difficult life experience and considerable mental effort to sort through the various options and arrive at a viable principle. We don't want to do the hard work, so we rely on the work of others and trust their experience and examination. Their principles become our dualism.

Though dualism is a natural beginning, it's not a viable end. Extremism relies on dualism, and the best way to combat extremism is to work to move people out of a dualistic perspective and toward a principled worldview.

How have you moved away from dualism?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why is Dualism so Popular?

Among the ways to look at the world, dualism is, perhaps, the most simplistic and most common. I don't believe that correlation is a coincidence.

First, what is dualism? It's a philosophy or belief system with two mutually exclusive parts or ideas. Moral dualism states that there is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. Metaphysical dualism separates matter and spirit into separate realms. Philosophical dualism sees two essences in the world - like Yin and Yang.

Of all the ways to view the world, dualism is the easiest. It requires the least effort on the part of the individual to figure out. Once you've decided the categories, you just lump everything into one or the other. If something doesn't quite fit a category, you enlarge one of them to encompass it. Eventually your two, mutually exclusive groups categorize all things.

But dualism is a forced reduction of complex ideas, often beyond what they can bear. For example, if you are a metaphysical dualist, then things are only matter or only spirit. How can people exist? They are either pretending to be physical (or trapped in the physical form and yearning to be released) or they are pretending to be spiritual and are only physical. This completely ignores the complex interaction between spirit and body that happens in each person and tends to vilify matter (from a spiritual perspective) or to vilify the spirit (from a materialistic perspective). Only one category in a dualistic worldview can be good, so either matter must be bad or spirit must be bad.

Moral dualism is the basis for conflict and hatred in the world. Thought it's a reductio ad absurdum, moral dualism assumes that everyone and everything are either good or bad. I must be good; therefore, if you disagree with me you are bad. If you are bad, then I'm justified in hating you, as I should hate evil. Since I hate evil, I'm justified in fighting you and killing you.

Then why, oh why, do we continue in dualistic worldviews? What do you think?

Friday, September 21, 2012

What you see affects your moral judgement

Moral judgements are affected by mental images, according to an article published by NPR.

"Emotional responses don't just pop out of nowhere," Greene said. "They have to be triggered by something. And one possibility is that you hear the words describing some event, you picture that event in your mind, and then you respond emotionally to that picture."
That's the key: Some dilemmas produce vivid images in our heads. And we're wired to respond emotionally to pictures. Take away the pictures — the brain goes into rational, calculation mode.

So when a verbal description is visually stimulating - that is, it causes the hearer to imagine the situation - the moral judgement becomes emotionally driven rather than rationally driven. The dilemmas used in the study asked participants to choose if one person died or five people died. In one scenario the participant was asked to flip a switch to make the decision. In the other, they were asked to push someone off a bridge.

The physical description and the activity of pushing someone off a bridge evoked a mental image and an emotional moral response, so the participants refused to kill one person to save five. However, when all it would take is the flip of a switch and the people were not vividly described, participants chose to sacrifice one person to save five.

I believe the application can be expanded beyond picture laden words to the quality of images.

Different images provide varying levels of emotional engagement and will evoke different moral responses. Take, for example, the image at the top of this post. It shows the different legal status of human trafficking around the world. From this perspective things don't look so bad in the US. We're nowhere near as bad Asia, Africa and South America.

But look at these next images which show real people dealing with the horror of human trafficking. The first is a mix of an airline baggage tag and bound female hands. It's stark because it shows a person being imported to the US from Mexico.

What's the difference in your emotional response from the map to this picture?

This last picture is a Vietnamese woman immediately after being rescued from human trafficking. She's bruised, bloody and barely clothed. You can't see her eyes, but her demeanor is one of resignation and defeat. She's been so abused and beaten that she doesn't seem happy to be free from slavery.

What's your emotional reaction to this image?

Which image do you think would be more effective in working to stop human trafficking?

Why do you think we are so driven by emotions when a vivid image is involved?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Why I Don't Need to Prove God Exists

I've been challenged to prove that God exists. I won't try. It's not because I believe God doesn't exist. I very much believe that God exists, that the Bible reveals him, that Jesus is his son, and that God, through the Spirit, dwells with me.

But I can't prove it. I have experience, but no evidence.

There are many, many arguments for the existence of God. I've studied most of them. I like some of them. But I don't really want to use any of them.

Here's why:

  • Incontrovertible truth is based on observation. 
  • God cannot be observed, therefore God cannot be proved incontrovertibly. 
  • Therefore any attempt to prove God's existence will be rejected by those who are predisposed to reject the existence of the unobserved. 
  • So, proofs for the existence of God are mental exercise that reinforces beliefs already held by those already predisposed to believe in God. 
To put it another way, I don't need to prove God exists to people who already believe he exists; I can't prove God exists to those who refuse to believe that God exists. 

Working on proofs for the existence of God may help to strengthen the faith of believers, but it doesn't do anything to affect the non-believer. 

Those who flatly deny the existence of God do so (most often) from the perspective of observation. God cannot be observed, therefore God must not exist (or God's existence is meaningless to the observer).

This, however, presupposes the reliability of the observer and the ability of that observer to reason from his or her observation to the reality of the observed world. The existence of synesthetes shows that our observation isn't tied to the reality of the world we observe. 

Synesthesia is the condition where senses are crossed in some way. Synesthetes may see color when they hear a sound or they might perceive numbers as always having the same shape or connect smells with a touch-like feeling. The synesthete's brain crosses signals from the different senses and conflates the information. The letter 'A' isn't actually red, but a synesthete will perceive it that way. 

The existence of synesthesia goes to prove that the human brain doesn't deal with reality, but the filtered version of reality interpreted by the senses. Your observation may or may not relate to reality. 

Because of this, a strictly empirical worldview (one that rejects any a priori assumptions) is functionally impossible since the most basic assumption of Empiricism is that observation provides a reliable window into the world.

So, me proving that God exists is akin to proving that the world exists. I can't do it, but I can live like it's true. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

How Faith and Reason can Coexist

It's not possible to develop a purely rational philosophy (nor is it possible to have a functional worldview based solely on faith).

I've blogged about Faith and Reason in the past. Recently I've been having a conversation with someone regarding those blogs and the viability of faith in the light of reason. His assertion is that faith is useless and reason is the only true basis for life.

This view is problematic for several reasons, not the least of which is the underlying presupposition that individual observation is a stable foundation. Descartes famously said, "Cogito ergo sum." From this (I think therefore I am) he sought to base an entire worldview. The problem is that thoughts are fickle, mutable things.

Take for example, the experiment in which subjects were fitted with glasses that flipped their vision. The special visors used mirrors to present the wearers with a world that was upside-down. After a few days their brains rotated the image. While wearing the visors the light entered their eyes flipped, but their brains changed the perceived image to make sense of it. When the visors were removed, they would look at the world in the same way we do, but see it flipped (their brains hadn't caught up with the change yet). After a few more days, things were back to normal.

Our brains decide whether what we're seeing works within its various schema. If a schema is violated, the brain may just decide to adjust the observation rather than the schema. Your brain thinks that things should be right-side-up so it will change what you observe to make it so.

Not even our senses can provide us a firm foundation for observation from which to reason. We must accept (on faith) that what we're observing bears some approximation to reality. Even if we make no other assumptions about the world or what we observe, we are forced to make the first assumption that our senses are trustworthy and our minds are giving us a valid representation of the world.

Luckily we weren't made to live solely from reason (or solely from faith). They compliment and amplify each other (even as they tear each other apart).

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Hiatus and a Dearth of Words

I took three weeks off from this blog. Some of it was on purpose to finish my Kickstarter (thank you for your generous help) and some of it just happened.

Almost immediately after the Kickstarter campaign ended, I started teaching 9th grade bible at a local Christian school. Now, every morning, I'm talking about Jesus with a room full of 14 year old people. When I get home from that and sit down at my computer to write - I just don't have the words.

I've even sat at the Facebook status box and found I have nothing to say. It's odd for someone who thrives on words to suddenly not have them available to share. I've been reflecting on it and here's what I think.

  • We each have a certain number of words to use per day (this isn't new to me, others have said it before) and I suddenly shifted my words from written to spoken when I started teaching. 
  • But we move words as if they're weights. Our limit is based on our strength and skill. With practice and determination, we can increase our word-limit. 
  • My words are pulled not pushed. That means I have to think about what I say, let the words build up inside me, and then I share them. My words are pulled by my passions and the needs of others. It's not as if I have to say anything. If I don't feel like I have something to contribute, I'm fine being silent. 
I'll have more words soon. I'm working on my word-strength, daily.

What do you do when the words run out?