Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Air

Without a while; within a while; we while a worn wind:
Turning out, our tremoring teeth toothweeze a tune
Timed to the tappings of treachery and tessellates,
Tried and tired tilings for torn time, tracts, and trists;
And gorging, inward gulping, gaping: a gathering grin,
Grinning at guiles and games, gusto and guilt, girls and gams
Growing our groaning gaffes, but giving great guffaws.

Truth and Open-mindedness

In this post I want to encourage openness to truth found in experience, any truth; even those that conflict with doctrines and dogmas that are well established in our communities, central to our understanding of our relationships to ourselves, to others, and to God, threatening what we see as our sources of life.

This post is a response to a conversation my friends and I had on a road-trip. My friends are philosophers, and one of the marks of contemporary academic philosophy is careful questioning of all terms we use, seeking precision of thought. The leads to reconsidering what we think about all things, and it can breed a kind of liberalism of mind when it comes to examining one’s beliefs.

Now my friends see this questioning which is instilled into their everyday thinking as a hinderance to productive living. And this is for a natural reason, if you’re questioning your assumptions, you can’t use those assumptions to live your life. In addition, it doesn’t make a man a good leader; for good leaders need to have a firmness that gives their followers direction, and it is hard or impossible to be a good leader while questioning your foundation.

This reasoning lead them to conclude that it is desirable to have a closed mind. So in theology, it would be better for them, they would say, to eventually decide on what is orthodox and firmly stand on that point without budging. No more developments would be made from that point on.

And I believe they make a fundamental and disastrous mistake. The reasoning is faulty for it confuses things. It misunderstands how we come to know truth, and it encourages avoidance of things our conscience may press us to change our minds about.

To avoid confusion, I should speak of a good kind of close mindedness; and it is this I suspect my friends are partly concerned about, and I can commend it. However, I must later speak of another kind of close-mindedness I condemn.

The good kind of close-mindedness is skeptical of charlatanism, of a kind of linguistic magic, where intelligence weaves a spell of argumentation around our heads to move us in a direction we know in our gut is wrong, or at least a direction we do not understand and we feel an inner distrust in moving towards.

An example may be taken from the movie Idiocracy, a future dystopia, where the earth’s population’s IQ has dramatically fallen, and everyone lives according to the most inane commercialization. In the film, a gatorade type product is sold as containing electrolytes. And the citizens of this future love it and always praise it’s having electrolytes. But when asked why this should make the drink a good product, they have no idea. The goodness of the product is a blank concept. They are fooled by sophistry where they ought to have been skeptical.

But on the flip side, we ought not to invent or rely on sophistry to obscure what we intuitively feel to be true. And I cannot see this to be otherwise than exactly what is commended by my friends. Again, their view, and I believe this a charitable summation, is this, “We ought to trust our systems of reasoning that have proved to be true over against our momentary intuitions of what is true, even when the system seems to fail for the intuitions.”

And again, this is true insofar as it avoids intellectual charlatanism and sophistry as I said before. But let me show that it is disastrous when it comes to what we intuitively feel to be true. It is disastrous because my friends’ sentiment is self-contradictory.

They put the cart before the horse. We see this immediately when we suppose the following. Suppose that we have reached a system of belief that is reasonably true and safe. How did we reach this system? By a series of arguments the truth of which never intuitively struck us as true? By no means! No, we come to believe in systems such as mathematics or a political ideology because they strike us as true, good, or beautiful. This is how we accessed what we believed to be true in the first place.

If we then abandon the truth we have heard, and close our hearts to its goodness in favor of old ways of thinking, we actually reject the means by which we came to some truth originally. So if we are to seek consistency, we ought to keep the same method. And the method for finding truth is this, we meditate on our experience of the true, beautiful, and good. We articulate it in a more or less structured manner to show of fellow men what we see; and then we again see how much further our perception may perceive truth.

Further, if we should consider this view from a practical view, we shall find it no hinderance to strength of conviction and fortitude of mind. To outline with very simple examples, I do not have to become close minded when I use the world practically or consider mathematics. It is absurd for me to say that I am closed-minded in my view of how to drink from a cup, if I say that I should drink from a cup by either using a straw or lifting the brim to my lips. It is equally absurd for me to say I should become close-minded about mathematical axioms and theorems lest I be tricked into believing false things by arguments. No! In both these cases I can, must, and do judge what is true for myself. I just know how to use a cup. I just can assess what is true in mathematical phenomena by following a proof carefully. Openness to experience in this way is obviously no hinderance. The same goes for how we use other systems of thought or live in other modes of experience.

There are many applications to our lives this method should bear on our lives. But I have written already long enough for a blog post. In the future I will relate these ideas to other modes of thought such as religion and politics.

Famously, G. K. Chesterton said “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” But “I say to you, Be wise as serpents but innocent as doves. Indeed no one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless he be a little child.” And little children are not ones for convoluted argument, but see what is with wide and unapologetic eyes.