Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Philosophical Child with Jana Mohr Lone

Lone engages fourth graders in a philosophy discussion and explains why teaching philosophical sensitivity can benefit humanity.

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Theory and Fact

Our facts convince us but do they convince ultimate reality?

There has been some discussion here recently about what a fact is and what it really depends on to get a hold on the world (i.e. our minds understanding it as “fact”).  The problem is our species believes all of these facts–which are abundant–stand on their own.  A person can state something–their belief–and name it “just a fact about the world” and assume his interlocutor (s) will buy into his worldview.  But that’s just it.  There is a worldview there, from which the so-called fact depends upon for its existence.

I’m not trying to use the highly abstracted hand of skepticism to wave reality away from knowing creatures like yourself.  I’ll leave that to Descartes or Berkeley or Putnam.  But my aim is to remind you that “facts” are highly theory-dependent.  There are theoretical presuppositions behind every fact a person can name, and the truth of the fact depends upon the robustness of the theory.  Else it falls into the category of opinion.

We understand that objects fall because of our theory, or mental concepts making sense of patters, of gravity.  Or if you have never had the privilege of studying gravity in a formal way (school), you were (in fact) born with the fear of falling, as experiments on children show given controlled circumstances.  So, biologically, you will understand gravityness as true, that falling objects will not suddenly start misbehaving.  You will not test this embodied truth on yourself by throwing it (your body!) over a cliff.  This is a positive example of a fact which holds some mass in our worldviews.  My assertions utilizing biology and observation of physical objects and common assumptions about instinct or cognition back these asserted “facts.”

However, one must be wary because moral kinds of “facts” (or any using good/bad, better/worse, etc.) masked under the sacrosanct markers of True or False, ought to be realized as idiosyncratic preferences of individuals often arguing for thier opinions of how they would prefer others to see the world.  This can often be self-serving, selfish, and potentially destructive (the opposite might make up the consequence as well, as a matter of opinion). Beliefs also comes from biases, prejudices, and that ilk.  They are not justified until proven so.  It takes a maturer mind to question its own beliefs and opinions, and test them against alternative beliefs–even unpleasant ones– judiciously.

There is a wonderful game to examine the theoryladenness of factual claims, and how much we rely upon them,  often taking them for granted.  We have rich worlds within ourselves coming from our unique experiences, real or imagined. Below are a list of “facts” all linked to a common theory.  It is a puzzle to figure out.  See if you can guess the correct “theory” which links the list of facts below.  Feel free to comment on this blog.  The answer (guiding theory) will be in the categories at the end of this post.  Good luck!

  • Newspapers are better than magazines.
  • The seashore is better than the street.
  • At first it is better to run than to walk.
  • It takes some skill but is easy to learn, even for young children.
  • It’s true that it needs lots of room.
  • Beware of rain; it ruins everything.
  • A rock will serve as an anchor.
  • If things break loose, you won’t get a second chance.

Resuscitation

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What you don’t understand –

because I didn’t tell you –

is that I call “blowing into donkeys’ nostrils”

horse kisses.

The conversation between our feet

as I felt the smallest movement from your calf

brought home the I know, I understand,

you are good for me too.

When I noticed the quiet –

I need you to understand –  my loathe

of your absent presence pained me

when I saw your body missing from its place.

Understand, too, I’m not so sentimental to keep

the symbols of your fingers’ care

put at attention like players appealing

against my instinct to toss them.

What I don’t understand, often,

is what I should do in relation to you

knowing that what I want has the possibility

of not being the whole truth.

I understood too, that later I would

take the blankets – now washed and drying-

into the hug of my arms

and smell you, breathing deeply, reliving.


For an Old Guy

This Old Guy

Skin crackling from cackling laughter.

It is most apparent around the eyes.

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He has been

bumped, bruised,

dinged and donged

Unreservedly used.

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All purpose skin.

Necessarily thick,

but sensitively thin.

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Now listen, he speaks:

Make it clean.

And keep it clean.

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The invention of the wheel was just the beginning.

That kid just got rolling not ever wanting to stop.

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Now this old man waits, remembering,

for the next time his duty is called

A wonderful old friend.

 

 

 

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A model who will last

when the form is gone.

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On Reading Infinite Jest, part I

infinite Jest photo

Dave Eggers, forwarder, egged me on last summer, when I bought Infinite Jest.  He said all kinds of nice things about David Foster Wallace and non-lazy writing and what kinds of readers would like this book and much of it both spoke to my identity and my need for literary climbs to the yet unknown. Inspired to look into it by a friend who said it would be her “summer challenge” I decided thus it would be mine.  Eggers was right, though.  It isn’t to be taken lightly.  I put it down – it’s 2 inch thick, 40.8 ounces – noticing it would be both unwieldy to read in bed and that I definitely needed to restructure my life around its possibilities if I were to succeed in the way Wallace would want me to to.

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I had read chapters “Year of Glad” and “Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment” already, so it was a review-with-pleasure that I indulged again, highlighting snippets of master-crafted energy, what I would have with pencil, greyily in my kindle.  Hal, with his strange noises representing intellectual mammothism, and the Insectdude, too polite to make himself a burden on society, allowed me into, respectively, the frustrated or secretive depths of their thoughts. Hal, in first person, thinks:

“The familiar panic at feeling misperceived is rising, and my chest bumps and thuds.  I expend energy on remaining utterly silent in my chair, empty, my eyes two great pale zeros.  People have promised to get me through this.”

And Insectdude, in third person limited, is shown to think:

“Once the woman who said she’d come had come, he would shut the whole system down.  It occurred to him that he would disappear into a hole in a girder inside him that supported something else inside of him.  He was unsure what the thing inside him was and was unprepared to commit himself to the course of action that would be required to explore the question.  It was now almost three hours past the time when the woman said she would come.” 

The reading of this novel will accompany a book on epistemology and done with a couple of other people.  I hope the pleasurable pressures of literary and intellectual rigor will keep me apace, and the companionship will also if they are not too whelmed by the work as I was last summer.