The Platform of My Philosophy
I undertake the search for an
understanding of life partly out of curiosity and partly out of an interest in
knowing how best to live my life.
Rene Descartes got it right with "Cogito, ergo sum"; I think, therefore I am. He wanted to base his faith on logic and he came to this conclusion as the basis for the rest of his Meditations. The rest of his writing aside, the base is sound. *
* To understand Descartes I recommend Descartes, an Analytical and Historical Introduction by Georges Dicker
I am this thinking thing. I donít know what the thing is. The thing that I am may be a very sophisticated computer--A virtual reality of some sort.
I donít know that I have a body, that there is grass or that it
is green, that you exist, that there is anyone else but me, that there is an
earth, a universe, pain, pleasure, anything. I do know that I perceive all of
I perceive that I feel the keys of my keyboard under my fingers, that I see the words on the computer screen, that I hear the hum of the computer, that I can see several different greens as I look out my window, that when I use the word "green" other people in my perception respond in a way that leads me to believe that they are similar to me in that they perceive a world like the one I perceive.
Within this perception of mine there are many things of which I am not as sure as I am of those mentioned in the preceding paragraph. I have never taken apart the wall in front of me but Iím fairly sure under the paint that I can see and touch there is plaster.
Under the plaster is lath and the lath is nailed to vertical pieces of wood call studs. There is nothing but air between the studs as I have not insulated this wall and the other walls in this house that I have insulated were not insulated when I opened them. There are one inch boards nailed to the outside edge of the studs and clapboard nailed to them. Then more paint and we are outside. I perceive that to be the case. Though I have no sensory knowledge I am guided by experience.
Similarly, when I drive down the street in a town I have never visited before I believe the storefronts I see have stores behind them, full buildings with roofs, back and side walls. I believe this in spite of the fact that I have seen Hollywood sets where whole city streets were fabricated without roofs, back or side walls.
What about my body which is the most intimate part of my perception, the part I know best? My preceptors are imbedded in my body. My eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin and the "wiring" that connects these sensors toÖ? My mind? My soul? My being? Me? The "I" that thinks?
I perceive that I was born in 1938 and that I have
collected many experiences during the intervening years. I have gained
knowledge, insight and skills over those years. I have every reason to believe
that I will die sometime between the next instant and 2058 and that death will
mean the end of the perceptions as I know them now.
To perceive is to gain knowledge through our senses.
It is difficult to imagine that there is not something beyond what it might be possible for me to perceive in this life. The age-old question "How did I come into being" canít be answered within my perception.
To arrive at something beyond our perception, something we can not see, hear, feel, taste, or smell, must be done through the mindís ability to think. Beyond perception is belief, faith, theory, conviction.
If I were to draw a picture of life it would begin
with a circle which represents what I absolutely know, "I am". There would then
be another circle around that one but it would not be drawn with a hard line,
perhaps fuzzy or wavy. The area between the hard line of what I know and the
fuzzy line would be perceptions. This is everything within our lives as we know
them--my own body and mind, mountains and oceans, buildings and superhighways,
sunsets and love, books and words.
There should be no debate by halfway reasonable people about our perceptions. If there is a reasonable debate, it should be put in the gray area.
Go back in history to the time before Copernicus when the earth was thought to be the center of the universe. Poor Copernicus observed the movement of the heavenly bodies and determined that the universe was shaped much as we know it to be today.
Copernicus hesitated for several years before releasing his findings. He was, as he knew he would be, vehemently attacked by the clergy. Years later Galileo was tried by the Inquisition for supporting Copernicusí theory. For 100 years the clergy defended their understanding of the world that the earth didnít move until Kepler was able to prove the general relationships of the sun and planets. During this time the Copernican theory of the universe was hotly debated so I would put it in the gray area for that period. Today it is firmly within our perceptions.
There is universal agreement that grass is green. We could debate whether what you see as green and what I see as green are exactly the same and even if we exchanged eyeballs it would not put the debate to rest. But if we have an assortment of balls of different colors and one of us asks the other to pick up the green ball, the other will pick up the ball that was asked for.
Anytime there is serious debate over agreement on basic perceptions they can be relegated to the gray area. At the turn of the millennium evolution should be placed in the gray area. I would place creationism outside the gray area in belief but if someone wants to argue that, put it in the gray area. The gray area is a handy place to set aside debate that might be distracting to my train of thought.
Should the Bible be put in the gray area? Certainly
not the book. It exists and the words in it exist in our perceptions, our "real
world". What is in question is the origin of the words. Are the words that are
attributed to God actually Godís words? Are the words attributed to Jesus
actually Jesusí words? Many scholarly hours have gone into trying to determine
what words attributed to Jesus were actually his words. Many argue that the
Bible is Godís word. Many others argue it is not. Anything that purports to be
Godís word must be placed in the gray area if not beyond.
Our perceptions can be divided into those that occur naturally, and those that are people-made. My body, mountains and oceans, sunsets and love are examples of what occurs in nature. Buildings, superhighways, books and words are examples of people-made perceptions.
The natural world should be the best indicator of how that world came into being or anything else that might be "outside the box."
Buildings and superhighways, books and words, anything that others create or think do not come directly from creation. We can find their creators within our perceptions.
Words attributed to God have come through man and should be viewed with no more weight or no less skepticism than any other words.
I have read scholarly papers and books on the
historical Jesus and the Cosmic Christ. I have read of Joseph Smithís
revelations upon which the Mormon Church is founded and I have read the Bible.
They are interesting and have certainly stirred thoughts in me but in trying to
understand my life and how I should live it, I feel most comfortable studying
what has not come from humans. That is the natural world.
Within this life sperm fertilized an egg and I was born. Beyond that I donít know.
Since within my perception I find others to be very similar to myself I find it hard to believe that anyone else knows. I donít question anyoneís belief but I have found no one who has given a convincing argument for knowing anything outside of our perception.
If one were born in a big box with no contact with the world outside the box, they could make guesses about what was outside the box but those guesses would have to be limited to their knowledge which means their guesses would be limited to what they knew from inside the box.
Another analogy: When we play Monopoly we may own Boardwalk but we better not go to Atlantic City, New Jersey where the real Boardwalk exists and try to collect rent. Much of philosophical thought focuses on things outside the game (life) like a soul that is assumed to transcend this life. Like Monopoly where we may be able to learn about a world outside the game, this life may give instruction or clues regarding a larger world. Unlike Monopoly, however, we have no knowledge of anything outside this life. We canít go to an Atlantic City in the sky to check what we think we have learned.