Saturday, February 27, 2010

Temperament-


Periodically in Christian, non-Christian and popular self-help literature a book on temperament surfaces. I have read a couple of these books and have found them at least moderately useful in assessing myself and understanding a bit about my strengths and weaknesses. The essence of temperament is a predilection or innate inclination toward certain attitudes and behaviors due to some inborn quality. Kind of a hard wiring of the human system predetermining personal qualities.

As a self-help tool it at least gives you some boxes into which to place yourself, wholly or in part, for the purpose of self-analysis and self-instruction. The whole thing does seem to have some validity, having a considerable history and having been studied in the field of psychology. That makes it at least a bit more tenable than astrological horoscopes for self-analysis and guidance. They both can be tools of self-analysis, with a "use at your own risk" disclaimer.

The idea of temperament does seem to go along with the idea of hard wired inclinations in humans. In essence, it is at least possible that some of our tastes and inclinations are built-in. They are somehow a part of our being, so much so that the analogy of hard wiring can be applied and understood. Like temperament and even astrology this analogy can best serve as a very generally guideline.

The whole thing also touches on the nature vs nurture debate. The complexity of studying such ideas is daunting, at least to me. How do you isolate nature (temperament) from the great many different influences that impact any given life (nurture)? Even if any authoritative research can be done, how will it be colored by various factions seeking to serve their own purposes?

I recall reading about research that indicated that some criminal behavior might be linked to certain genes. This was simply reported in the news, essentially as information acquired as a by-product of other genetic studies. The mere prospect of such research going forward had civil libertarians reacting. They did not support such research, recognizing that any supporting evidence regarding a genetic predisposition toward criminal behavior could have significant impact on the rights of individuals.

Some of the more scientific bloggers I read hold to a purity in science, that bastion of research. In an unadulterated form science is a wonderful tool for exploring and documenting the nature of the observable universe. Yet considering the previous paragraph, can such purity be maintained? Perhaps. However, it might also be lost in the smoke and mirrors and muddied waters created by factions serving their own agendas.

Addressing the matter of some predilections being built into humans prior to birth, I would present the long lived idea of temperament as informal evidence. Temperament can also serve as an informal guide for aiding children in education, and can be used by adults conducting self-exploration for the purpose of self-improvement.

Food for thought, but hardly a feast.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Slide rules, chamber pots, and buggy whips-

My first time in college was a few years back. For one class a tool was required. It is called a slide rule. It is a calculating device, used much like a calculator is used today. This was way back in 1971. Though electronic calculators existed, they were rare and expensive. The slide rule had been around for some time, and they were affordable to college students.

I learned to use it, after a fashion, but never mastered the tool. Now they are relics of another time, collectible in like fashion to abaci. Just for fun I also learned how to calculate with an abucus. I have considerable respect for the electronic calculator after having learned these more ancient calculating systems. I also have great respect for the people who built the present using such interesting tools.

How do they relate to chamber pots and buggy whips? Well, they were all produced through maufacturing, were once common and sold in sufficient numbers to be relatively inexpensive. They are now less common, rarely used, and more of a curiosity than a common element in modern life.

I can imagine that an owner of stock in a company producing these items would have seen a steady income for a good many years. However, if that owner of stock did not occasionally assess and update their portfolio, reliance on these particular sources of income would eventually have dried up and left the owner destitute.

Few people have a fondness for slide rules. An occasional collector, perhaps. I don't actually know anybody who depended on a buggy whip to accelerate their vehicle, but I can't see it being something that encourages feelings warm enough to want to return to those old ways. Having actually used a chamber pot, I know by experience that more contemporary plumbing improves the experience of eliminating waste by an astronomical degree.

Sure, collecting some anachronistic items can be fun. However, there are reasons people have moved past such things. It is good to retain the concept and some skills with old ways of doing and thinking. Keeping blacksmithing skills and similar arts alive in our culture provide educational perspective. They also insure a fall-back resource in the event of a catastrophic breakdown in culture.

Similarly, keeping alive some sense or flavor of old ways of thinking can serve to provide cultural perspective, and also add some leaven in thinking toward the future. To consider ancient ways of thought and hold the people of ancient times in disdain simply because they were "backwards" is disrespectful and unwise. Those old ways of thinking were steps toward how we think in our own time. A little effort to understand and respect old ways and how they became modern ways can yield a richness and depth of experience in living today.

I have intentionally sat at night on several occasions, writing with a steel nibbed pen (the kind you dip in a pot of ink) by the light of a candle. Giving myself over to the mood I used my imagination and felt an emotional link with the hundreds of generations of humans who sat similarly lighted at a similar task. I have used old methods for performing calculations to get a sense of history to enrich my understanding of applied modern mathematics.

Now is a good time to be alive, because it is the only time we are alive. The past is a resource, a source of information, richness and pleasure. The future is an adventure yet to be set out upon. Here and now is the place where potential becomes real, and where history begins.

The intersection of Here and Now. A great place to be alive.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hard wiring, software, and imagination-

The idea of human hard wiring has come up in a number of blogs I read, and the comments following those blogs. Hard wiring is a term relating to the physical elements of an electronic device (such as a computer) which are connected by wires. Often these wires are soldered together, forming a single physical device. In humans it would be the behaviors built into our physical systems, and by extension the thoughts and ways of thinking that are defined and limited by our physical structures.

I recall a discussion I had many years ago via computer (prior to the Internet modes we are currently using) with a very hard determinist. This individual believed that no thought or action arose from our own decisions, but that our very thoughts were predetermined by the interactions of physical matter right from the Big Bang. I contended that because we experienced apparent freedom in thought and action that some degree of freedom (and in the context responsibility) actually existed.

His argument was that all behavior is determined by a cosmic hard wiring. I am more inclined to believe that a lot of inclinations are hard wired, along with a set of basic instincts which are simply part of our automated systems. We don't learn to breathe or blink our eyes. We don't think about functions like that, we just do them. Beyond that we might find some inclinations (such as a love of books or physical games) so compelling as to indicate a degree of hard wiring.

Perhaps the system has some hard wired sub-components which are receptive to stimulation and very open to  experiences such as soccer or cooking. It might just be that such apparently easy apprehension simply creates the illusion of hard wiring, and so we have adopted a technical term to represent what we think is happening. In the future the human brain and related components may well be mapped out and we shall understand these things better.

I have read a lot of Stephen King. In the course of his works he presents more than once the idea that we evolved consciousness as a by-product of more useful mutations. An interesting idea. In Cell he presents humans reduced to essentially their hard wired selves, and then does things to them only Stephen King can do. King is not a brain scientist, a social scientist, or even a professional philosopher. He is a writer who observes and thinks about people and writes stories. Still, he notes that our conscious selves are not necessarily necessary for our ongoing existence as animals.

That thinking self-awareness is the realm of our software. Software is the part of the computer which is composed of coded instructions. It can be installed, modified, and even removed. Like the hard wire analogy it has a lot of weaknesses if examined too closely. The idea is more of a general illustration than a sound description.

We are able to learn much better than most of the other beings we can observe on our earth. Our brains are programmable and re-programmable. We can not only solve survival related problems with our brains, but recognize a world beyond simple survival. We systematize and record our experiences so that we can share them and learn beyond our immediate experiences.

Beyond the hard wired hardware of our beings and the programmings of our software we have something most astounding. Imagination. Just another consequence of our evolution, useful in living our self-conscious lives but still a by-product of random events? Or, maybe the single most important element in a created being for relating to his transcendent creator? Hmmm.

We are dangerous creatures, we humans. Hard wired well enough to survive just about anywhere. Programmable enough to learn and expand our realms of knowledge. Imaginative enough to overcome the limits of our senses and reach beyond just what is, here and now. Perhaps imaginative enough from time to time to touch the face of God.

Imagination is the essence of being human. It is the core of religious experience no matter what context. It is the heart of exploration and learning. Yes, it can fuel our baser instincts, causing fear and repression and evil in many forms. It can also allow us to see beyond such dark moments, and find the pathways to greater light. It lets us go beyond simple knowing. Imagination allows us to believe.

To believe is to choose. Choose wisely. Choose well.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Everyday faith-


People act on faith every day. They go to bed every night expecting the sun to rise in the morning. They plan for it as if it had already occurred.

They get into cars and hurtle at dangerous velocities on narrow pathways with other humans operating other cars, trusting in the rules of the road and the capacity (and willingness) of those other humans to follow them. As far as I am concerned, that is a huge leap of faith.

They use money. Now there is faith! I go to work, investing my time and effort in somebody else's interests, in exchange for pieces of paper that are no more than a promise. I trust that everyone else with whom I deal will also believe in that promise. These days I don't even get a piece of paper all that often. Sometimes I just get numbers recorded in electronic devices I have probably never even seen.

Faith is a part of life. It is believing a certain outcome will occur from a certain action. It is believing in effect following cause. Even those who know enough to doubt the veracity of cause and effect still live as if it were true. Faith can be a funny thing.

They sit in chairs without even thinking about their beliefs about chairs. Though I would hazard that most people have had at least one chair failure in their life, yet they still tend to sit as if there could be no doubt that the chair will chair and hold them up from the ground.

They choose to believe and act this way because life would be very difficult to manage without fundamental assumptions and beliefs. Such faith, such belief, is practical. It makes life work. We just don't have time to test every chair upon which we might sit. We can't afford the time and expense of seeing every chair certified and regularly tested to insure our safety.

What defines the cut-off? After all, we don't regularly trust ourselves to cars because they are absolutely safe. Accidents happen all of the time, yet we run that risk just to go to the mall, even when we don't really need anything. We get out on the road sometimes just for the experience of driving, even though there is some probability that we won't survive the adventure.

I recall a television program which featured a woman who could make herself drive after an accident, but would only make right turns. She would plot her whole journey to insure that she could make right turns all of the way to her destination and back. This behavior seems psychotic to most of us, and by definition it is. However, is it that much more crazy than the rest of us running the risk just to get a loaf of bread?

Faith, by whatever degree, is still faith. Trust me.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A well reasoned faith-


In my prior post I presented a little video indicating (among other things) that one cannot argue unbelievers into the Kingdom of Heaven. I concluded with the statement that belief is a choice. I hold to that, because I believe it to be true.

If our faith is not based on reasoned arguments, but on something else, what is that "something else?" Ultimately, it is subjective experience. For the individual it is all that came to pass in their life that compelled them to believe in the existence of God, and all other subsequent related beliefs. 

For some it is a culture so entwined with a belief in God that it is a small step from unbelief to belief. It comes so naturally that the very thought of unbelief is itself unbelievable. For others it is a complex amalgam of internal and external compulsions driving toward a dramatic change of core beliefs. I suspect that most believers have an experience somewhere in between these extremes.

Being social creatures, the outworking of such subjective experiences in concert with other human beings leads to faith centered social orders. In other words, churches and like social bodies. Modes of organizing thoughts regarding subjectively acquired beliefs have eventually formed vast libraries of reasonings. These would be the libraries of religious thought, vast bodies of documentation. Reasons for believing, brought together from a vast history of subjective experiences relative to the creator of all things.

I have been very general here, to be inclusive of all religious experience and the whole body of religious literature. I now narrow the focus toward the Christian faith, to which I subscribe. Over time a body of that literature became recognized by authorities in the Church as authoritative and inspired by God. Within that context a well reasoned faith will be based on such literature, and cite that literature to support the faith that was acquired subjectively.

For much of history a convert to a faith has been expected to subject themselves to the religious order into which they had been inducted. Such practice insured the new believer a context in which to grow in knowledge, and provided a lot of emotional support for the individual as well as a context for correction of both behavior and thought.

Such subjugation in family, tribe and culture has been pretty much the norm for many centuries. It had the positive effect of insuring a consistent context for living and the protection of numbers. It was a herd, moving together, but far more complex in dynamics. Religious orders grew up in such contexts, shaping and being shaped by them.

Our modern era has several challenges to a well reasoned faith.

First is the growth of individualism. Where in the past a convert would subject themselves to an order which superseded their individuality to a large degree, and which would impress them with their beliefs and the reasonings behind those beliefs, now a convert is left with a lot of that to do on their own. However, a well reasoned faith still exits within the context of a system of belief.

Secondly, our era has been subjected to a new way of thinking. Prior orders depended a great deal on their authority. You believed what they said because they had authority, which was granted by God. They were the context of knowledge and truth.

In an era of individualism such an idea is distasteful in itself. In an era of scientific thinking, it is unthinkable. Truth exists objectively. I hope to address the idea of objective truth in a future post. Suffice it to say that objectivity is a rather elusive quality, and objective Truth with a capital T not all that easy to find.

The body of religious literature was largely written in ancient forms of argument. They were not designed to be subjected to scientific analysis. The religious experience is largely subjective, and the direction of science is objectivity. Religious history and literature is the context of religious experience, and is purposed to support those subjective experiences.

A well reasoned faith need not stand up to the rigors of scientific analysis. Science can dissect your faith, and some information may be gained, but your faith may well die under that cold scrutiny. Faith is a living thing, and should be nurtured as such.

We don't come by our faith through scientific inquiry and analysis. We come by our faith through living, through our experiences and through the openness of our hearts. In my own case I was driven to it, largely against my will. Yet in the end it is something I chose. 

Faith is choosing to believe, every day. Choose wisely. Choose well.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Faith in Perspective-

I find the video at the end of this post rather intriguing. I have to imaging that my friends of faith will be a bit troubled by it, as it implies that ways of thinking that are not based on faith are somehow superior to faith based ways of thinking. Some might fear that it gives weight to atheism, or some other worldly way of thought.

Perhaps a person of limited or weak faith might be made uncomfortable by this little video. However, the video simply challenges the idea of proving the existence of God or any being or any thing that exists beyond the realm of direct experience or proof. God is such a being. God is far beyond proof or comprehension.

I have been a visitor in a great many sites on the Internet. A number of the interesting places I have found are run by atheist. Like any other group of  humans, atheists are not all the same. They are not monsters, in fact quite the contrary. Some are very good people. For the most part the ones I have bumped into are involved in some realm of science. For some it is the incompatibility of science with faith that defines their particular unbelief. Others are simply not fond of the way religionists think and act. Some are just angry at the God they declare does not exist.

It has not been my purpose to argue these people into the Kingdom of Heaven. I prefer to consider any evangelism that occurs as a consequence of my visits and comments more catalytic. I go, I read, I consider, I comment. As a Christian my comment will reflect and contain something of my belief. Whether or not my comment has an evangelistic impact, it will necessarily be catalytic. I have introduced something into the discussion, hopefully in a loving and respectful manner.

In my own past I walked the path of the atheist, the skeptic, and the agnostic. I have fellowshipped with many forms of Christians, subsequent to my conversion experience. I have held to many ways of thinking, and have some understanding of other ways of thought and belief. Jesus is, indeed, the only way to God, but the pathways to Jesus can be many and varied.

My reason for presenting this little video is to encourage believers to recognize that those with whom you interact may have a very different way of seeing the world, and very different views of concepts such as God and faith. The video warns that a believer who elects to argue the faith must be ready to face some serious challenges.

View with caution. The arguments presented are not without flaws. Even some atheists have challenged the validity of some of the arguments presented in the video. However, it does make clear the challenge of offering testimony regarding the God who is there.

Should you go ahead and have a peak, and find your faith challenged, seek out those who are stronger in the faith. I think that this little video is worth viewing and thinking about. If it gives you pause, it may well indicate that you need to dig more deeply into what you believe.

To believe is to choose. Choose wisely. Choose well.

video

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dueling in 21st Century America, United States-


This is a follow up to my previous post pointing out the emotional insufficiency of contemporary justice systems. More specific, the justice system of the United States. The criticism might apply in other modern nations, but this is my nation and the context of most of my own experiences.

I have served in the corrections end of the justice system, holding prisoners for the State of California and the United States both before sentencing and after sentencing. My observation is that as a system it is probably about as good as we might expect. Sure, it could do with some fine tuning, and should always be under development toward as fine a system as possible. However, it is not a train wreck. In general, the system works.

My point of contention was more in the area of satisfying the emotional needs of victims. Systems of vengeance were generally messy, and probably had little to do with any ideal matching the usage of the term "justice," but there was some degree of emotional satisfaction. I have to assume that a multitude of victims having "faith in the system of justice" find themselves quite unsatisfied in the emotional sense of balance and order.

I have seen drunk drivers who have robbed a family of a member through vehicular manslaughter do as little as a year in minimum custody. These drunk drivers were permitted, under supervision, to continue in their jobs while sleeping in a jail dormitory. There are usually other legal stipulations extending over a number of years, and a financial penalty as well.

Such sentences are well reasoned. To deny the drunk driver's family a source of income is to compound an already enormous tragedy. Additionally, the drunk driver did not get drunk with the intent to take a life. They were foolish, stupid and irresponsible, but not inherently terrible by nature.

That may be true, but the offended family may not be emotionally satisfied by such a sentence. It just is not enough. They lost someone they loved, someone who was part of their very life. This is a terrible tragedy, and it was the direct result of another human being's choices. It hurts, and such hurt demands an emotional satisfaction.

It is for that purpose that I would recommend that an organized system of dueling be brought into being. The offended could issue a challenge, which would be reviewed by a "fair fight" committee. A suitable venue would be provided, and appropriate handicaps established. The offended could exercise physical violence upon the challenged, who would be permitted a degree of self defense.

For example, a woman of advanced years had her purse snatched. The perpetrator is apprehended, tried and found guilty. The offended woman, having received a minor injury and considerable inconvenience and a loss of a sense of personal security, elects to exercise her right to challenge as part of the sentencing process.

A fair fight committee establishes a time and place for the duel. Considering the youth and vitality of the perpetrator, they assign leg shackles and the binding of one hand. After further evaluation, the perpetrator is also chained to the wall of the arena, having a limited arc of movement. He is provided with head protection to prevent damage to his brain and eyes, but is otherwise not protected.

The challenger enters the arena. She has been offered a choice of body armor, but elects to use only a bit of padding over chest, back and shoulders. Within the arena are a number of stick weapons, a paint ball gun with ten rounds, and a short leather lash. Training has been provided and counsel regarding how to approach the battle.

The limits on the battle were established by the committee to end the battle on first blood, any injury requiring medical attention, or the physical exhaustion of the challenger. Should the challenger fail to follow the instructions provided through training and counsel, and she closes with the perpetrator and he gain an advantageous physical hold on her, the battle would be ended and the challenger rescued.

I have to imagine that the battle would be interesting. A woman of advanced years laying down the ten allotted rounds of paint balls to bruise her victimizer from a distance, then selecting a suitable stick weapon or lash to apply a more direct satisfaction. Dancing and striking, avoiding the grasp of her victimizer as she tries to land a few blows. The eventual exhaustion of the challenger as the physicality of the battle overwhelms the emotional need for vengeance.

That is the sort of thing I see serving to provide satisfaction to persons offended. The challenge to building a working system of this sort, under the umbrella of a justice system, is to prevent abuses. Social orders which embraced dueling tended to have to deal with abuses. Expansion of a justified duel into feuds and civil wars. Thugs using the guise of dueling to exercise their passion for violence.

I could also see the potential for exploitation of such a system for entertainment. Videos marketed to purportedly offset the cost of the system itself eventually becoming a motive to expand the system and encourage more and more legally sanctioned battles.

Humans are often emotional and sometimes violent. A system of justice that is too abstract and sterile is not sufficient to meet those drives when confronted by injustice. Could a system that embraced carefully regulated dueling serve to meet the emotional needs of victims?

I really don't know. However, the image of a victim slapping their victimizer silly sure does put a smile on my face!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Justice vs Vengeance-

Some of us have an appetite for vengeance. We feel strongly compelled to see wrongs made right, to see injustice corrected forcefully, directly and decisively. We may be driven by an innate passion for order, or we may be drive by an injustice observed or experienced. It is deeply ingrained, and feels like a compelling need.

I know I have such an appetite, such a compulsion. When I observe on the news someone wronged, I do feel for them and their immediate needs. However, there are many others who have that kind of compassion. My focus turns toward the perpetrator, and I am hungry to pursue the vile creature and inflict a comparable suffering upon them.

I recognize the ultimate impact of following through on such compulsions and refrain. Following through would most probably bring injury and suffering on myself, and may inflict such on innocents caught in the battle. I may err in selecting my target, blinded by my zeal and my ultimate lack of necessary skills in locating and bringing to bay the true perpetrator. I may well trigger a chain of counter assaults by my targets, guilty or not.

Modern societies developed systems of justice to provide for the capture of criminals and miscreants, and to administer punishment deemed consistent with the nature of the crime. Such systems are less messy, more likely to be accurate in selecting targets of justice, and inclined toward being fair.

In a perfect form such a system would be satisfactory, to society and the victim of crimes. Were the perpetrators less criminally self interested, they would also recognize the punishment received as fair and be satisfied. Such a perfect form, of course, does not exist.

Vengeance is driven by emotion, and acting out vengeance has an emotional satisfaction. Most systems of justice are simply bureaucratic machines, devoid of emotion and as a consequence devoid of emotional satisfaction for the victim.

They are also costly, and time consuming. For settling many disputes they are probably fine. Insurance claims, matters of rights, that sort of thing. However, for deeply personal injuries, such as rape, murder, and many forms of theft, they can be far from satisfying.

A number of my short stories deal with vengeance. It is a problem I think on, from time to time. How to provide emotional satisfaction to victims when the matter is not just a technical crime, but an offense against the person. I recognize that a society must maintain a system of justice and to maintain such a system they cannot allow citizens to bypass the system for personal satisfaction.

However, is justice devoid of such satisfaction a true form of justice? A citizen denied such satisfaction will have a grievance against the system that failed them emotionally. Too much of that kind of dissatisfaction can erode a society from within. Yet to maintain order a society cannot be driven by the vacillating emotional states of the citizenry.

I shall propose a solution in a subsequent post, a solution that could exist within the existing system of justice, a solution that could provide more immediate emotional satisfaction to victims. However, I would like to throw this out there for discussion. I look forward to seeing where this may go.