The Continued Influence of Ancient Greece

Belief in the “supernatural ” belongs to a “bygone era” (along with the belief in ghosts or that ideas exist outside of mind.) The very act of entertaining the existence of ghosts reflects the continued influence of pre-scientific, mythological thinking on the present; and despite the privileged position reason, logic and science currently occupy, Western culture appears incapable of entirely shedding its ancient skin, e.g. we still call our galaxy the Milky Way even though no one believes in the existence of the goddess Hera; while continuing to entertain the idea of mind-body dualism despite advances in neuroscience which quite satisfactorily describe consciousness—“ideas” if you will—as an emergent quality born out of the complex physical workings of the human brain. There is still a minority of neuroscientists who entertain the notion consciousness implies that the sum of the brain’s parts alone do not satisfactorily explain consciousness; nevertheless, this is a minority position and the neuroscience community appears to have made peace with the fact a physical explanation agrees with observation. Or to invoke Ockham’s Razor the mechanistic explanation definitely makes far fewer assumptions than the idealist explanation does.

So, no brain? No ideas. Yet, an argument can be made ideas potentially exist, i.e. ‘truth’ and ‘beauty’ do not exist “out there” as in some sort of Platonic form; however, it is quite reasonable to suppose—and I’ve heard various philosophers and scientists seriously consider this hypothesis—that once an appropriate mechanism evolves (like the brain, for example) consciousness and then ideas inevitably follow. So, in a sense, ideas exist independent of mind as something potential rather than actual; they just need a host in the same sense a bow needs an archer to pull the string.

Why do people continue to entertain beliefs in things like soul, spirit, idealism, mind-body dualism though? There are a combination of factors but I would appeal first and foremost to Thomas Paine’s explanation, i.e. the long habit of thinking a thing true gives it the superficial appearance of being right.

People have thought these things exist or are true for so long the culture has literally succumbed to a sort of organic or inherited “argument from antiquity”. The reason you appear to even entertain idealism (and by extension mind-body dualism) is Western culture–to which you belong–was shaped considerably by Hellenistic thought. From the Greeks we inherited some useful ways of looking at the world and some not so useful. For example, from the rationalist Thales we inherit the idea that we can explain what happens in the natural world (like a volcano erupting or lightning striking) by appealing to natural causes (or mechanisms) rather explaining these things by saying Hephaestus or Zeus are angry. We also inherited the assumption that souls, spirit and mind exist independent of the body. Plato, as I mentioned previously, even went so far as to claim, as you’ve entertained, ideas exist “out there” objectively and that the so-called “mind’s eye” perceived them. The problem with idealism, souls, gods, mind-eyes, etc. is there’s no reason (no evidence) to suppose any of it reflects the way the world actually works. Gods, etc. were all constructed from common sense deductions—based on the assumptions of the time—that offered a pseudo-scientific explanation satisfying the ancient Greeks. Nobody told the inheritors of Greeks (us), however, that not only could we drop belief in gods but also assumptions about souls and objective ideas, as well.



The Political Correct Red Guard

In the late 1960s student communist enthusiasts in China called the “Red Guard” scoured the country for symbols, people, books, ideas, monuments, etc. that did not reflect Mao’s values or the stated aim to remove all vestiges of Western influence from his country as part of a greater cultural revolution.

Basically, the Red Guard were self appointed guardians of what constituted appropriate values, beliefs and behaviours practiced by the Chinese public (too bad if you disagreed). History was white-washed and re-written to reflect Mao’s radical leftist vision for the country; ironically, Mao’s influence and vision spread to university campuses in Canada and the United States in the 1960s, eg. My harmless Aunty Judy kept her copy of Mao’s “Little Red Book”. Dissent was punished cruelly and there was no room or intellectual space for public dialogue or consensus building in China.

I get why so many people do not like various monuments, eg. Statues of Lee. These statues represent oppression for a lot of the public (which is understandable). The anti-monument movement has moved from America to Canada with a recent call to strike the name of John A. MacDonald from schools, etc.

The people on the left in Canada, well meaning people to be sure, want to knock down offending symbols; prevent us from wearing certain Halloween costumes; control how we speak and dictate our values; control what can or cannot be said on university campuses or in public generally, etc. remind me of those enthusiastic and well-meaning but ill-considered Red Guard students in the 1960s.

What’s that aphorism, again? Oh, yeah: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions…

I am not anti-politically correct because I do not care about my fellow Canadians: I accept the need and wisdom to be considered, tempered and responsible when I speak because what I say affects others. I am also sensitive to the need for our country to meaningfully address the darkest pages of its history.

I am anti-politically correct because of the inherent authoritarian nature of political correctness; it is an attempt at engineering society just as doomed as Mao’s own attempts; and as a cultural force it is intellectually stultifying because it places arbitrary limits on what I can or cannot say.

So instead of dictating to others what they must believe let’s talk openly and frankly in a genuine desire to understand one another. Let’s have the discussion about controversial personalities and spaces named after them, eg. Place Riel at the University of Saskatchewan or John A. MacDonald High School in Ontario. This is what you do in democracies–you talk, you don’t bully (no matter how justified in doing so you believe yourself to be).

Thinking Critically About History

The study of history is sometimes just a straight-forward re-telling of events; yet, no matter how straight-forward we think a historical narrative is we still have to be willing to think critically about what we are reading, discussing or thinking. In order to think critically about history, we need to make a few assumptions about our knowledge:

  1. Our knowledge is always incomplete. No historical narrative includes every single important or necessary detail.
  2. We often think we know more than we actually do. Frequently we believe we know something but the confidence we have isn’t supported by the available evidence.
  3. We are what we think about. The thoughts we have and the values we hold are a reflection of the experiences we have had and the ones we have not had.

We are going to investigate three important aspects (or problems) related to the study of history: the first is the problem of omission; the second is the problem of anachronism; and the third is the creation and interpretation of historical models.


The Problem of Omission
When we omit (leave out) people or events from history—whether intentional or not—we change the impression people have of what happened. Obviously, just because we leave out an action does not change the fact that action occurred. History, in this sense, is an objective thing.[1] Yet, when history is written down it becomes a subjective[2] thing. Thus, the quality or trustworthiness of a historical narrative depends to a great degree upon the values, assumptions and abilities of the individual historian. The role women played during both the medieval and Renaissance periods is frequently ignored. Historians of either period tended to focus on the accomplishments of men like kings, merchants, bankers, popes and knights. By omitting the actions of women in history the false impression that they did nothing or were unimportant is created. The achievements and contributions of various minorities has definitely been either understated or ignored altogether by most historians until relatively recently.[3]

The Problem of Anachronism
The problem of omission largely creates unintended errors when it comes to historical interpretation. Anachronism, on the other hand, either reflects the historical writer’s ignorance or a particular subject or a deliberate attempt to deceive. An anachronism is a chronological inconsistency where two things, e.g. a technology, an idea, material, plant or animal, etc. from two different time periods are presented as though they existed at the same time. For example, there are some people who believe dinosaurs and human beings lived at the same time. Some people go so far as to say humans actually placed saddles on velociraptors and rode dinosaurs like they were horses. The fact is there is no evidence of either human/dinosaur (they are separated by approximately 65 million years of history). Also, the saddle was not actually invented until around 365 CE by Sarmations. Anachronisms do not typically affect general histories so much as make primary sources or documents untrustworthy that historians use to construct those narratives.

Model Dependent Realism
We are natural born story tellers: we have developed some interesting ways of interpreting what we see and experience. In 1700 BCE the Babylonians saw what they believed to be divine displeasure whenever eclipses occurred. For this reason Babylonian priests conducted elaborate rituals to appease their gods Tiamat and Abzu. Comets have always evoked fear and superstition. Their occasional appearance disturbingly challenged the notion of an unalterable and divinely ordered universe. The ancients deduced comets were there for a reason: they were harbingers of disaster, indications of divine wrath—foretelling the deaths of princes, the fall of kingdoms. We no longer look at eclipses as some sort of sign of divine displeasure. We have a different model or way of understanding cosmic events. Specifically, we are scientific now in our thinking explaining things now not by appealing to the will of the gods but to material forces and causes like gravity.

In terms of history, the model medieval historians came up with was dividing time up into a period of darkness (all the time before Jesus’ birth) and a time of light (all the time after Jesus’ resurrection). Renaissance historians divided time up into three distinct time periods, e.g. the ancient world, the dark ages (or Middle Ages) and the Renaissance (or their present) in the 15th century. Interestingly, the people who lived during the Renaissance period did not actually use this word. Instead, the term Renaissance was applied by French 19th century historians to describe a period of cultural renewal that took place in Europe between the 15th and 18th centuries. Models are not really a problem, only that, it is important to be aware of the role they play in both our interpretation and telling of history. Specifically, we could create, and we have created, many equally valid models to interpret the meaning and significance of history.


[1] If something is objective it is completely independent of belief; it is something that stands on its own merit and cannot be erased through either unbelief or ignorance.

[2] If something is subjective the truth of that thing is at least in part dependent upon belief, assumptions or it is subject to interpretation.

[3] The situation has largely been rectified with the present’s greater emphasis placed upon describing the role of sociological forces as opposed to focusing mainly upon political histories or the deeds of “Great Men”.

Nowhere to Hide

There is some concern about Facebook’s new app apparently. They are well founded. However these privacy violating practices have been in place for several years already.

The National Security Agency (NSA) forced Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft to share server info with them a long time ago. This means:

Facebook: all your chats have already been logged, all notes, pictures, private things harvested by the NSA. My writing this message has been sent to the NSA in real time through Facebook’s re-routing of information. 
Google: NSA has a record of all your websites visited, chats, gmails, google documents. The Canadian equivalent of the NSA is CSEC and they share info and tech with one another. Canada belongs to the so called Five Eyes alliance. We spy on our citizens too.

Yahoo!: email and sites visited.

Microsoft: emails stored, MS Outlook literally has a plugin for the NSA. MS put this in at the NSAs request. You get a copy of your email and the NSA is cc’d. Hotmail completely unsecure.

Apple, Verizon. ATT, etc. are all complicit as well. The NSA can turn your phone in to a listening device already and has been able to do so for years. They can make your camera work too (laptops, pads, phones). In fact your phone can be used as a listening device EVEN with the power OFF. The only way to prevent this is to literally remove the battery.

How do I know all of this? The mainstream media? No. Edward Snowden. CIA/NSA whistle blower. He worked with several journalists to expose the surveillance state created by the American Government. He thought what the NSA is doing was undemocratic and illegal. Yeah think?

Read Glenn Greenwald’s Nowhere to Hide to find out everything. There is no privacy online. NONE.

Man is a Wolf to Man

Homo homini lupus

A FB friend of mine was selling her wares at a fruit stand when a lady came up and asked if any of the cherries were grown by Muslims. The lady didn’t want to support any Muslims.

This is how you destroy the democratic spirit: unlike monarchy or dictatorship which dies when you chop off a single head, democracy dies of 1,000 wounds.

This Muslim cherry episode got me to thinking: Roman emperors from time to time persecuted Christians whenever the economic or political situation wasn’t so good. The race baiting of Jews was official policy in France and Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries for roughly the same reason. Now it’s the turn of Muslims apparently.

What are we playing: discrimination bingo? If so, count me out.

Philsophizing Sheep

He brushes his teeth and then places a glass of water on the night stand beside his bed. He prepares the covers and cracks open Christopher Hitchens’ autobiography. Normally reading puts him to sleep but not tonight. The Japanese might attack (inside joke and long story). Legend says when you can’t sleep at night it’s because you’re awake in someone else’s dream. So he uses his FB ESP and wakes everyone up in the world up (just to make sure). Fundamentalist Christians respond by thinking the Rapture has taken place. His bad.

Sleep continues to elude…

Not one to count sheep he attempts to excoriate the insomnia by engineering a LEGO version of Edoras–contemplating what specialty type of pieces would be needed to construct a retractable roof or a hidden slide away closet for Grima by the throne. Maybe a sparkly, glowy Palantir piece could be incorporated? Oh First World problems you’re so charming: why can’t you be tiring?

So he contemplates resorting to going outside to lie down on the trampoline coddled by the sound of the wind flowing through the leaves above. There’s neither wind nor stars to look at tonight. (Legend says when there’s no stars or wind there’s a low pressure weather system present. Oh wait, that’s science that says that.) 

So he resorts to mindlessly watching television; and rather than turning off the mind it starts to whirl about at a million miles an hour as he watches a documentary on human trafficking which causes him to marvel at how truly wretched humanity is generally (and he wonders ponderously how he has contributed to that misery generally (of course)).

Adults kinda suck, he figures. Kids? Kids are awesome. They say crazy stuff and they’re so insightful and forgiving. But the adults? Not so much awesome there.

Having exhausted BBC news, the Fail Army YouTube Channel, email, and FB news feed for amusement, he heads back to the living room, cracks open his book again, and thinks to himself, “If I’m in someone else’s dream could you dream me asleep now please? Oh, and uhm, I’d like a six pack, my curly hair back (you can keep the ear and chest hair) and a million dollars, and to be 10 again. Let’s do this; and man I am sooooooo screwed for tomorrow.”

Linked in Time and Space

You look at the beautiful and colorful Saskatchewan sunset–with its purples, pinks, oranges, magentas, blues and greens–and feel the same emotional response I do despite our being separated by whatever distance.

There’s an interesting metaphysical implication in this: in the same sense we can be separated from one another by distance (and feel an identical depth of emotion) we can likewise be separated by time and share the same connectedness or emotional response.For example, if someone looked upon Michelangelo’s sculpture entitled “David” in the 1500s and felt awe at the sculptor’s ability to represent the human form, which I am sure happened, and then you yourself looked upon that same marble statue in 2015 and had a similar response you would, in a sense, be united through time with that person living in the 16th century by your shared emotional response. The same affect takes place with listening to a piece of music produced by Beethoven, reading a psalm written by King David, or spending some of the little time you have in this existence experiencing the natural world like a sunset.

So despite the geographical or chronological distance separating us we can share the most deeply held sentiments and experiences in common; kind of a beautiful notion when you think about it.

Hmmm, in a strange sort of way this notion reflects some of the nuances of Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Note: no animals were harmed and nothing was smoked while this status was being crafted.