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Phillip Beaver

Citizen, Humankind


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Individually possessing the truth seems unworthy: understanding seems a nobler personal objective.

I once thought that by mastering the Word of God—studying the truth according to the Bible—my life would become its best. As time passed, the truth seemed unreachable: understanding became attractive.

For a trite example of understanding, everybody knows the sun doesn’t rise: Earth’s axial rotation reveals the sun in the morning and hides it in the evening. Yet, who’d debate Annie’s, “the sun’ll come up . . . tomorrow.”

It seems there are two quests for understanding: humankind’s ultimate quest and the individual’s lifetime quest. Humankind’s evolution involves over 100 billion humans and spans millions of years. Communications evolved—from motions; to grunts; to symbols; to language; to writing; to the world-wide web—perhaps during a million years. Considerations from before seem manifest in us. Yet humankind seems far from psychological maturity.

Society celebrates chronological age, but not psychological maturity. A person can enlist in armed services and vote at age 18; at age 21 legally consume alcohol in some societies; at age 25 enjoy cheaper auto insurance; and at age 63-68, retire. Age is rewarded, but almost no one promotes psychological maturity.

Quoting Professor Orlando Patterson, “Psychologically the ultimate human condition is to be liberated from all internal and external constraints in one's desire to realize one's self." We owe it to ourselves to want psychological maturity—to discover our preferences—to discover ourselves, understanding that the truth seems approachable yet perhaps unattainable.

Since we share uncertainty, we could understand each other, accepting that the truth knows no favorites.

General revision for clarification: 1/24/2012. See original statements, below.


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  • Jan 15 2012: Philip,

    I see you are a poet. Very well. I believe another poet summed up your attitudes quote succinctly when he wrote,

    Between the idea and the reality...
    Falls the shadow.

    -T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men.

    I am actually working on a short story right now that uses the light/shadow, knowledge/doubt metaphor as its underpinning philosophical statement, so I am inclined to agree with you. If you accept the premise that knowledge cannot exist without corresponding doubt, just as light cannot shine without producing a shadow, then the quest for truth necessarilty becomes an adventure to enjoy, not a goal to reach. How can I arrange my thoughts so that, when examined, they produce the least amount of shadow (doubt)?

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      Jan 15 2012: I disagree that you need doubt to believe in the knowledge of existence, as I would define doubt as fear of uncertainty; as a lack of confirmed knowledge. At most I would say that doubt is merely a step we overcome on our way to knowledge, if indeed we are capable of achieving such a thing, not a shadow cast as a result of knowledge gained.
      • Jan 15 2012: Zacharia,

        The argument isn't that we 'need doubt to believe in the knowledge of existence' but that doubt arises within our knowledge of existence. That knowledge and doubt are different parts of the same construct, or different phenomena resulting from the same action (different interpretations if the same action?).

        Doubt is not the fear of uncertainty, just the acknowledgment of it.

        Think of it kind of like a business cycle. Growth leads to inefficiencies, which leads to stagnation and contraction, which compel innovation, which initiates growth. Forming mental constructs leads to excluded data, which leads to doubt, which leads to further study, which leads to reforming mental constructs, etc. Just as 'growth' and 'contraction' are simultaneously occuring phenomena within 'economy' so 'knowledge' and 'doubt' are simultaneously occuring (and reinforcing) phenomena within 'thought'.

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          Jan 15 2012: Doubt only arises because our knowledge is incomplete, though. It does not necessarily come with knowledge, but arises when we lack it. If mental constructs have excluded data, then the construct is faulty and therefore isn't knowledge, but theory.
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        Jan 15 2012: Zach,

        Re "knowledge of existence," beware radical skepticism if you have not encountered it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_skepticism.

        I have a different view of "doubt," more like accepting uncertainty. As a child, I became fascinated with biographies (and in retirment returned to it, just finishing Ron Chernow's Washingtion). My school library had a sky blue shelf of them, and I learned to make my sequential selections by reading the first page and last page of the next candidate.

        As Protestant youth, I read the Bible as required but one day decided to apply my biograhy selection technique. The first page merely counfounded me. However, the last page contained an idea that created what I refer to as "precious doubt." At Revelation 22:18 I thought, "No god would be so weak as to threaten readers." It was not enough to prevent my indoctrination into Christianity, but pehaps that precious doubt empowered my salvation/damnation.

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      Jan 15 2012: SEP, being called a poet may be the finest thing that has happened to my work, so thank you.

      I like your focus on doubt. Your thought "the least amount of shadow (doubt)" prompted one of my favorite endeavors: identifying, admitting, and solving self-contradiction. Perhaps doubt is essential to recognizing contradiction.

      In "knowledge cannot exist without corresponding doubt," I wonder about the word choice "knowledge," meaning "acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition." It seems to me knowledge leads to understanding and "understanding cannot exist without corresponding doubt." Thus, even though the case for the earth shaped like a globe seems iron-clad, there may be room for a smidgen of doubt. However, the case for no-god seems well worth doubt.

      Thus, the person who makes the leap of faith to a belief, for example, there is no god, has relied on knowledge without a doubt and thus is blind to understanding. In other words, if there is a being in control of everything, it seems a being the human mind cannot imagine.

      Some of my all time favorite writings are short stories. Chekhov's Rothschild's Fiddle and Faulkner's Barn Burning come to mind. I'm interest in your short story.

      • Jan 15 2012: Philip,

        Perhaps 'understanding' is a better word choice than 'knowledge', but the premise is essentially the same.

        "..even though the case for the earth being round seems iron-clad.."

        Do not misunderstand me. I am not stating that each and every assertion needs to be qualified with doubt. Like you, I know the earth is round and do not philosophically or scientificaly challenge that. My position arises from the potential for falsification of the world by our senses. Not that a falsification necessarily occurs, but that it might. In short - its the acceptance that I am stuck inside my human head and unable to possess a different perspective.

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          Jan 15 2012: SEP,

          Our thinking may be parallel. In your context, does "accept" relate to "believe." I especially get that impression from "stuck inside my human head and unable to possess a different perspective."

          I have an aversion to "I believe." The phrase translates to me as, "I am impatient to wait for discovery or sufficient evidence and therefore choose to believe." Believing seems counterproductive. For example, choosing to believe the earth was flat delayed Christian explorers for 1000 years, and all the while seafarers perceived a globe. Polytheist Vikings discovered the Americas 500 years before the Christians did.

          I don’t even want to say, “I believe in love,” for fear of encouraging a politician to justify marital infidelity—contradicting his/her vows. (Serious humor.)


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