Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Answers to Prayer-

One of my work associates is a follower of Shamanism. She is an intelligent and articulate person, and did not fall into this pursuit lightly. It is a genuine belief, and one she pursues with diligence.

She shared one of her books with me. It was an interesting book, as it was essentially a book of testimonials by believers in the ways of the Shaman. It had an amazing parallel to Christian testimonials to answered prayers. Indeed, other than a few words now and then that reflected the true roots of the beliefs of those testifying, it could be mistaken for a piece of literature from contemporary Christian culture.

I simply found it curious. I could see how someone inflamed with an anti-Christian bias could argue that it was evidence against the existence of the Christian God. I could see how an insecure Christian could experience doubts about the Christian faith, seeing that such experiences as answered prayer occurred in beliefs quite contrary to what is Christian.

When I examined evolution I saw something similar. Perhaps not a true parallel, but still an example worth considering. The evidence presented in favor of evolution was the significant similarity of human DNA to the DNA of a chimpanzee. How could one not conclude that both humans and chimps were descended from a common ancestor?

Again, the anti-Christian would readily load this bit of evidence into their God-busting cannon. Again, an insecure believer might experience doubts about the Christian faith. How can these things be, in a God created world?

That, however, is precisely the point. Is it unreasonable that God, in His creation, would use similar patterns in the elements of His creation? That is simply good engineering. It is simply good design. So, we should not be surprised to find parallels in DNA patterns. DNA as a building block is obviously part of God's design, given the assumption and belief that God exists and is Creator of all that is.

As to answered prayer? God created this world, and he created people to live in this world. Our interactions with that creation will be similar, whatever we believe. The degree and form of direct intervention by God is an unknown. Though He has the power to interact with His creation in any manner He sees fit, it is quite obvious that His interaction is quite subtle except for a few rare occasions.

He does not move mountains if allowing a pebble to follow its natural course will adequately execute His will. Not only is He an excellent engineer, He is also quite adept at being God.

Much of what people perceive as answers to prayer is simply pebbles following their natural courses. It should therefore be no surprise that a Shamanist would perceive answers to prayer much like the Christian does.

God may execute His designs according to His own wisdom, and extends His grace to whom He chooses. We may attribute what we experience in His creation to whatever and whomever we like. Answers to prayer are not proofs of the existence of God, nor are they the foundation of true faith.

The book my Shamanist friend shared with me was a curiosity, and very interesting. I am glad she shared it with me. It gave me something to think about. It will be interesting to see what others who find this blog might think, as well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Full Belly and Sound Sleep-

I have been on the night shift (again) for only a few days. However, I have spent probably about half of my working life on nights. I don't mind it, and sometimes like it. There are times, though, when I am a bit tired.

Though we can adapt and train ourselves to live in the night, we seem to be more naturally day creatures. I refer to our species. Probably due to our natural equipment. We don't see particularly well, so more light is good. Our sense of smell is not particularly keen, so we often use our eyes to sense danger. Night is something we can do, but not always well.

Tonight I am not much of a philosopher. I am a bit tired.

I have sometimes said that it is easier to be a liberal on a full stomach. I don't recall reading that anywhere, but it probably belongs to someone else. Liberal attitudes seem to rest more easily on the shoulders of those who are comfortable and have the leisure time to feel guilty about it. Others must have noted the same observation. Whether or not they did, I would contend it is true aside from who might have first made the observation.

To be a philosopher may well require at least a fundamental level of comfort, and I would contend that a decent amount of sleep would be a good idea as well.

Oh, maybe a touch of deprivation and some sleepless nights could contribute to a sound philosophy. The belly knows its own philosophy, however. Hunger can dictate some very strong conditions.

A fuzzy head does not produce particularly sharp thoughts, either.

Hopefully future nights will offer richer thinking. Tonight I am hardly here.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Serendipity Scholarship-

In line with my idea of learning often being catalytic, I have a concept of serendipity in learning. It is the form of scholarship I often practice. It is openness to learning, and a willingness to follow untrammeled paths. It is willingness to allow the course of inquiry to be directed by the unfolding of your life, rather than the dictates of a regimen of learning.

The modern era of connectivity is a grand place for the serendipity scholar to live. Connectivity is the set of tool that allows serendipity to become the essence of the scholar’s life. Using these tools the scholar can follow inspiration and curiosity as they occur. If that freedom does not exist, the scholar can make meaningful notes that easily become active study when time and other resources are available.

I practice this serendipity scholarship, using my various tools. A thought comes to mind, and if I am not immediately able to follow that thought I have my phone. I can make a voice recording on my phone, and refer to it later or even send it to myself as an email. If a photo will help, I can take a photo with that same tool and store or forward the image for later use.

The computer connected to the Internet is the central tool. Following a moment of inspiration, or following up on a recorded thought, I can begin researching. I can find photos, articles, organizations and individuals. All are resources. Even busy individuals can be accessed by email. Not everyone, of course, but a surprising number of knowledgeable people will respond to a clear, concise and polite email.

The many Wiki resources provide a fabulous wealth of information. Wikipedia is an essential tool, and many specialized areas of interest have a Wiki site of their own. With most articles containing hypertext, the next leg of the intellectual journey can be just a click away. A wealth of literature and a crowd of individuals are just a finger’s motion away.

Wiki resources should not be relied upon exclusively. These are sources of information provided by and edited by contributors. Accuracy is achieved over time, as others shape the articles in the Wiki resources. Unlike more formally published resources, there are no official checks for accuracy. While fresh and dynamic, Wiki resources are at the same time risky.

As the Serendipity Scholar explores, seemingly random ideas and events take on amazing degrees of connectedness in the online realm. Following a whim can lead to a wealth of knowledge. It may not serve as a course of training in a particular field, but a life of Serendipity can be exciting and adventurous.

Of course a lifetime of following such connections with whatever tools are available can have an impact on your life. My nickname among my work associates is “Doctor Lockridge.” I have been dipping into the pools of knowledge so often and for so long that I have a bit of knowledge about a multitude of things. Where I don’t know, I have a very good idea how to find out.

This was once referred to by a friend as “Doctor Lockridge’s Wading Pool of Knowledge.” broad, but not too deep. I think it was intended as a good hearted insult, but the description is apt and I have adopted it. It is a mental image that begs for a caricature.

If you love learning for the sake of learning, and knowledge as a thing in itself, intentionally adopting Serendipity Scholarship can be quite satisfying. You may already be a Serendipity Scholar. Now what you have been doing has a name.

Catalytic Learning-

I think a lot about learning. I am interested in the acquisition of knowledge. I am also interested in how we know what we know. The mechanics, and what happens beyond the mechanics.

This affects how I think about teaching. I have great respect for teachers. Professional teachers and those who are teachers by accident or nature. Incidental teachers and lifelong teachers.

Educational systems are difficult to manage, but must be managed in some way. This leads to interesting applications, phenomenal successes, and occasional disasters.

I have to reflect on an imaginary scenario that has often come to my mind. A little schoolhouse in the Midwest in the latter part of the 1800's. Children compelled to memorize the capitals of states and nations they would never visit. Places far away that, in their era, would not impact their lives in any way.

The exercises were intended to exercise the mind. They also provided a way of measuring how much learning had taken place. The content and state of another person’s mind is impossible to know without some kind of exchange. These exercises provided ways to measure the success of education as an institution.

These educational institutions have existed in various forms for centuries. They go through changes, of course. They struggle to succeed and remain useful and current. It is a difficult task, and my respect for teachers is extended to good administrators for making it work to some degree. It is not an easy task.

What these institutions fail to provide for is the person who is wired differently. Not all humans have mental systems that absorb and regurgitate information on demand. Unfortunately, it would be a Herculean task for administrators to fund and manage a system that meets the needs of every individual. That ideal is far from reality.

So, these strange individuals get pushed to the edges of the educational system (whatever that happens to be in any given time and place.) Out on these frontiers these people cultivate new cultures. For those who succeed, it is good. Failures, however, get pushed farther and farther out.

I will deal with my idea of frontiers in another entry. For now I will get to my point.

I would contend that the mind exists in conjunction with a biological organ, the brain. The mind is a consequence of the function of the brain. Data passes to the brain from the senses, and affects the brain in various ways. Only one of those ways becomes stored information.

I would also contend that this process is more analogous to catalytic chemical reactions than to physical constructions. Just like the catalyst entering into a chemical solution and causing a reaction and subsequent change in the state of the solution, stimuli enter the brain and can cause similar changes of state.
We now live in a world that has become grossly interconnected. Information flows at up to the speed of light. Our intake and interaction with the stimulus of information is slower, but from a historical perspective it is now very fast. It will grow faster over time.

Not only is there speed, but volume. We are not far from the point where we will be virtually interconnected with everybody else. That is a lot in the way of stimuli.

This is both good news and bad. For those living on the edges, the stimuli they needed to grow will be abundantly available. For those living in the old ways of thinking, of simply storing and regurgitating information, it will be a challenge. The machines will do most of that for us. Such people will be challenged to find a new place for their old skills.

Institutions founded on trying to control the availability of information and the uses to which information is applied will find that control eroding. The institutions will have to adapt or become useless anachronisms.

For those of us who value thought and expression on an individual level, this will be a very exciting time. Stimuli will be everywhere, and the results will be wonderfully unpredictable.

For those who like structure and control, these will be very scary times.

My vision is not Utopian. One of the consequences of these changes will be violence, destruction and death. Not for everyone, but there will be cataclysmic events in various places as a direct result of the shift in how humans interact.

There will also be beauty and wonder beyond our present imagining.

Get ready. These shall be very interesting times.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The American Perspective-

I really have no idea how to view the world other than from the grossly independent American perspective. I exist at the end of a line of genetic and social development that culminates in the strange land called America.

In reality, it is the United States of America. Perhaps it is somehow indicative of the American perspective that we have preempted the titles "America" and "American." Canadians are Americans. Mexicans are Americans. Uruguayans are Americans.

But none are Americans like Americans are Americans. I am an American, and really can see myself as nothing else.

One of my readings in recent years touched on what I think may be the root of the intense independence and individuality that is America. Our nation came into being, a transplant of the British Empire. A strong body of educated people formed this country with a structure that grew out of that empire, but embraced from its very beginning an ideal of independence.

Working with established forms of government and economics, that body built the beginnings of a nation. With a sound foundation, that young nation went forth to encompass a great area of land. We had several things others had not had before us. A mature foundation, and room to expand.

Consequently, the free thinkers always had a place to go. The spirit of independence and self-reliance had a frontier. For those with the necessary temperament, this was freedom with a capital F.

The more significant consequence of this freedom to "move on" was the creation of a robust middle class. Even laborers could simply choose to "move on" if the circumstances made life where they were living intolerable. In lands of developing industry where that freedom to "move on" was restricted, a vast pool of cheap labor (and resulting hoards of poor people) came into being.

Not in America. If things were not to your liking, you could "move on." Starving in a city is not much different than starving on a frontier. What was there to lose?

Consequently, many people had a degree of wealth, a strong sense of independence, and considerable freedom.

It has been like this for generations. Though we now have filled much of the land that made the freedom to "move on" possible, the spirit is still strong. We see the rest of the world from this perspective of individuality and freedom. It is an American Perspective.

Because the world grows ever smaller due to changes in the technologies of travel and communication, this perspective faces challenges. Challenges, and inevitable changes.

I really cannot speculate as to how this will work itself out over time. My thoughts go first one way, then the other. The ever increasing population of humans fill the available spaces and tax the available resources. This indicates a trend toward restrictions on individuality and freedom. Yet the existence of a new space, cyberspace, hints at liberation and expansive creativity.

What shall we do? What shall come of all of this?

I don't know. I do know, however, that even these words shall build what is to come. Words that spring from an American Perspective.

My Libertarian Leanings-

At times I have referred to myself as a Mercenary Anarchist. This is a reference my work in corrections and my personal libertarian leanings. Though I lock people up according to law, I don't always believe in those laws for which they are locked up.

I do, however, believe in law and order. Just not a lot of it.

Many of the people I lock up are incarcerated for drug related crimes. I believe that laws protecting persons and their property are necessary. I do not really think that the elaborate and expensive drug enforcement current in our society is similarly necessary. However, the laws are not difficult to abide by. I do not have a particularly difficult time earning a living locking up people who elect to be stupid.

I would eliminate most of the laws regulating the drugs and their marketing. Simplify the system to protect children from predation and easy access, and eliminate any laws that simply relate to drug possession and sales.

On the other hand, prosecution for behavior related crimes would not be mitigated by drug use. Being under the influence would not provide any form of excuse. The choice to use any drug would encompass any consequences of that choice. Laws protecting persons and property would be firmly enforced.

All other laws would be assessed and simplified, as well. Regulation would be minimal, and freedom maximized.

I realize that this is all a pipe-dream.

It is such because of the various natures of people. Some have a temperament to regulate. Once they have regulated what is minimally necessary to insure free human interaction, they will continue to find things to regulate. It is the fundamental compulsion of who they are.

These people make use of a valuable resource. The people with a temperament to enforce. Unless it is taken to extremes, this is a useful pairing. The regulators regulate, giving the enforcers something to enforce.

It is easy to see how this can cascade out of control. More laws. Laws that are well intended, but become complex and sometimes contradictory. More enforcers to enforce the expanding number of laws. All of this creates a greater overhead for regulation and enforcement. The cost of the system grows ever greater.

At this point in my life, I live and work with the enforcers. Most are dedicated and do a great job. However, most do not think much about the laws they enforce. Since more laws feeds the need to enforce, they are often supportive of the regulators.

Everywhere I have lived the regulators have held power by permission of the people being regulated. Over-regulation is at least slowed and minimized by systems that allow for the removal of regulators that become unpopular. That would include regulators that do not control their enforcers.

Still, I see a continuous expansion of regulation in the world in which I live. This is contrary to my love of freedom, and the consequential aversion to regulation.

I have no real hope of seeing a world of true liberty. Perhaps that is not really possible, given the nature of humans.

I must adapt to ever growing regulation, and seek to exercise such liberties as I can.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

True Agnosticism

At around the age of fourteen I flirted with atheism. I did not hold to that position for very long, probably due to an innate sense of integrity. I knew that I perceived the reality in which I lived from a finite perspective. I simply could not know enough to make the absolute declaration that God did not exist.

It was at that point in my life that I adopted an attitude of agnosticism. I recognized that I did not know if God did or did not exist. I eventually expanded that philosophy to become what I referred to as True Agnosticism. This became the starting point of my spiritual quest.

Keep in mind that I was still a child at this point in my intellectual growth. I had thought through the implications of science. I loved the trappings and language of science. The romance of science. However, the limits of time and space denied me the prospect of answering my deepest questions through science. Science defined the how of things, but did not often touch on the why.

I wanted both.

So, I approached the world in which I lived with as few preconceptions as I could manage. I tried to be a blank slate, awaiting some spontaneous automatic writing to inform my carefully cultivated ignorance. I also tried to eliminate my emotions as much as possible. They appeared to me to be irrational, and inclined to inform my experiences in ways that were not conducive to gaining knowledge.

Of course, I was just making my best guesses as to how to “build a philosophy.” I suspect that such is pretty much the way it is done if you don’t have a master to follow.

As a True Agnostic, I determined the best way to examine systems of thinking and believing was by acting as if I believed the basic tenets of that system. I first attempted to explore Hinduism. Unfortunately, the same limits applied. I was young, and I was finite in time and space. Still, I preceded as best I could in my blindness and ignorance.

During this unguided period of exploration I moved from place to place. While my personal focus was a vague quest for “Truth,” I was also compelled to live a human life. I lacked a guide, and was in many ways floundering in a great and confusing sea of possibilities.

In the midst of this turmoil I made the acquaintance of a follower of Jesus. This happened at a strange confluence of human events that became known as The Jesus Movement. I was ripe for evangelism. Christianity was on my list of systems to explore. As a True Agnostic I adopted the Christian beliefs as they were explained to me.

Over time, as I explored Christianity doctrinally and historically, many of those beliefs became my beliefs. However, I never adopted the evangelical culture as my own. I recognized many rifts in the overall Christian system, and again faced the daunting task of sorting it all out as a finite being.

It is still something I wrestle with.

In retrospect, my greatest error was adopting the preconception that human emotions were bad and to be eliminated. Granted, they are complicating. However, I have come to recognize that we are largely emotional beings, and stunting my own emotional growth was neither healthy nor was it profitable.

True Agnosticism is a valid perspective in that it recognizes the value of ignorance. If we begin with the statement “I don’t know” and move honestly forward from there, we can gain knowledge with perspective. Ignorance establishes a baseline.

True Agnosticism may be adopted at times to assess our own preconceptions. If I drive myself back to ignorance, and move carefully forward, I can more honestly assess what I believed to be true before I began examining my experiences.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of True Agnosticism is that it compels honesty. We really don’t know much, and assessing what we think we know from a baseline of “I don’t know” can show up the weak points in whatever belief structure we are currently living within.

Is True Agnosticism a good way of thinking for everybody?

I don’t know.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Design II-

Engineering is closely related to science. Indeed, as an engineering technician I worked at one point for a man holding the title Scientist. I am aware of a philosophy of science. If there is a philosophy of engineering, I have yet to see it. So, off to Wikipedia I go. Yep, here it is. Amazing.

Design is inherent in the task of the engineer, and so there must be a philosophy of design. Ah, here that is. Aesthetics is an element of design engineering, along with a design that suits a purpose and performs a task or set of tasks correctly. My thought is that the ethical element of social influence should be an element of design.

In particular, making things as comfortable and user servicable as possible. That would be attention toward access of parts and assemblies, and the various ways such assemblies go together. Plumbing, electrical, or simply a matter of structure. The design should also account for adaptability to special needs.

Automobiles seem to be designed foremost with aesthetics and intangibles in mind, with the focus on the sale of the machine. Ease of maintenance and repair is not always foremost in the design. As a result the owner cannot assume a lot of the repair and maintenence tasks without ultimately defering to a specialist. The specialist often faces a daunting and unpleasant series of tasks performing many repairs and upkeep tasks, due to the design not taking their needs into account.

Houses are often the same. Plumbing is hidden away, and so difficult to access. Electical elements are not always easy to access without much effort. The repair and maintenence are not high on the list of design considerations. I would contend that the aesthetic demands that establish these tastes are driven by the upper class in society, where maintenence and repair is religated to a lower class and can be simply paid for. The lower classes are stuck with these sensibilitied they inheret (and perhaps even intentionally adopt) from the higher class.

This is, of course, a speculative contention on my part. I am, in essence, expressing my own values which tend toward easy owner maintenence. My own life philosophy places value on simplicity and designs that empower the owner of an artifact to keep and care for it themselves. I recognize that my own values are often at odds with the society in which I live.

This does reflect the fact that there are social and ethical elements in philosophies such as the philosophy of engineering and the philosophy of design. Aesthetics, economics, marketability, availablility of resources. Many factors that don't necessarily come readily to my own mind.

My own longing is for a philosophy that contributes to autonomy and individual empowerment. I want to be free of the aesthetics of the wealthy. I want to live in a user servicable world.

That is the essence of my philosophy of design.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Design and social strata-

I know by reading that the social divisions in England were quite strong, and even in the early and mid 20th century there were abundant evidences. It reflects even in such works as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Though the relationship between Frodo and Samwise is relatively close through the course of the adventure, there remains the sense that Sam is in a separate class. This, a fantasy in an imaginary world still reflects something of Tolkien's culture.

In the United States we do not have as strong a sense of social class defining us as persons. However, the service jobs tend to still be looked down upon by "professionals." I have done some of this service work, having been a janitor at various times in my life.

I was thinking on how such things as plumbing in our modern houses may well reflect a lack of regard for plumbers. When plumbing was a new thing, it was added to houses on the outside. That, of course, was necessary. Accessible, easy to work on. I have to imagine that the exposed plumbing was a point of pride for the new owners.

Sensibilities changed. It would be more attractive to place the plumbing inside the walls on new houses. It would be less apparent, and look better. However, now the task of plumbing was more difficult. This, however, was a lesser consideration. Plumbers were "working class." They were paid to bend and crawl to do their work.

Or so it seems to me. It is quite possible to design things to be easily serviceable. It is quite possible to respect the professional that must perform the services. After all, they really are

Of course, I have an ulterior motive for such changes in design. User serviceability. I would love to have my plumbing and electrical be modular and accessible. I could then do the work myself. The same with the design of my car, and other elements of my life that can wear out or break down.

In the end, perhaps I have the least respect for professionals. I would rather keep my money, and be able to take care of the things in my life myself.

Young philosophers-

I was poking about a bit in cyberspace, and came upon a question in someones space regarding her son. He was interested in becoming a philosopher, and she was inquiring about the prospects for employment. In philosophy, that generally means an academic career.

Sadly, I could find no way to comment as a guest on that particular forum. It is an exhausting prospect, signing up and logging onto all of the many forums out there just to make one comment. However, her question is one dear to my heart.

So, to answer, I recommend that her son pursue the dream. In the days when I became an adult there was a glut of professors, courtesy of the Viet Nam war and student deferments. Since philosophy is a huge subject, never-ending, it allowed students to ride the deferment train a long, long time. So, I faced a world in which there were a lot of competitors for the few philosophy professorships.

It was not necessarily a mistake on my part to turn from the dream of becoming a philosopher by profession. However, I do think that we pay a very large price in forsaking a dream. Dreams are vital to the soul, to the essence of each of our individual beings. Forsaking a dream is sacrificing a part of oneself. That sacrifice should never be made thoughtlessly. If possible, it should never be made at all.

Pursue the dream, young philosopher. Be flexible, be creative, but do not forsake the dream. Attend to the practical, but never let it overwhelm the dream. There are a thousand little deaths down any other road. Seek life. Follow the dream.

Carbon footprint-

I actually awoke this morning thinking about carbon footprints. What my dream must have been I do not know. The idea was in my head upon waking, and I immediately began writing about it in that very same head.

On the matter of my blog compulsion I wrote a quick blog this morning on blogoholism. That, however, is something else.

Carbon footprint. A really good idea. A way to quantify something that is otherwise rather nebulous. It is a term that paints a picture in the head of the reader.

Already I see changes. Some have come over my lifetime. I still recall the “Don’t be a litterbug” jingles and advertisements of my youth. I remember observing the visible change as the amount of debris along highways diminished in my growing up years. It stuck, at least with me. I would have to make an effort to cast trash on the ground. I WON’T be a litterbug!

I have long believed that changes in cultures come about largely due to economics. Granted, the litterbug campaign was a successful political ploy to alter the culture. However, many government manipulations fail or go astray. No, change will be driven by money.

The cost of gasoline is going up, and will not come down. This is due to other parts of the world finally advancing into modern economies. The demand is up, but the supply is limited. Add the complication of the politics of use of resources and the situation insures higher gas prices.

For nearly a hundred years our culture has grown and been fed (literally and figuratively) on fossil fuels. Now that will change.

Yuppies going green won’t really change it. Composting systems in up-scale New York apartments won’t do anything in itself. People converting fuel burning cars into electric cars, doubling the expense (or more) of the vehicle won’t do anything in itself. However, they will drive changes in technology and the availability of that technology by spending money on green things.

As these new “green things” become more common, the price will drop and they will be integrated into our way of life.

Our big, sloppy carbon footprints will eventually become smaller and cleaner. Will it be enough, soon enough? I don’t know. I do know that the potential for profit will drive people to innovate. When the cost of doing nothing becomes great enough, even the least motivated members of planet Earth will get moving.

You will be able to track them by the ever shrinking carbon footprints they leave behind.