CURIOSITY: The desire to enlarge oneself is the desire to embrace
more and more possibilities, to be constantly learning,
to give oneself entirely over to curiosity.



jonathan lear — myth and reality

Philosophy, as it has traditionally been practiced, has been an attempt to step outside our customs and practices in the hope of gaining a nonlocal perspective on how things really are.

Since the young are not able to distinguish myth from reality, the tales they hear at their mother’s knee provide the means by which the appetites can travel up and infect the norms and values of the developing person. In youth, we begin taking in psychological content and structure, before we know how to distinguish truth from falsity.

At a later stage of development, we attempt to take in true beliefs and expel falsehoods. However, if we already have a falsehood inside our psyches, even in mythic form, we will end up taking in more and more falsehood (as though it were true) and getting rid of more and more truth (as though it were false). Introduce this initial virus, and our intake-expulsion machine will start pumping in the wrong direction. The Myth of Legitimation>

c.s. lewis — old books

Lewis — perhaps the most literate defender of the Christian world view — earns a spot on Rumors of Order by pointing out the problem of assumptions and suggesting a great cure: Read old books and realize ... “Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we,” and that “none of us can fully escape (the) blindness” imprinted upon us by time and place, and that, “to be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past.”

It is one of the most powerful attacks on infallibility I have ever seen. It's amazing C.S. Lewis could write it. Did he realize what he was saying? Did the person who sent it to me in defense of fundamentalist religion realize what these passages say about belief?

“Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.

“All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook — even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united — united with each other and against earlier and later ages — by a great mass of common assumptions.

“We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century — the blindness about which posterity will ask, ‘But how could they have thought that?’ — lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill.

“The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us.

“Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.”

abraham lincoln —

"I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice, and that by religious men, who are equally certain that they represent the Divine will. I am sure that either the one or the other is mistaken, and perhaps in some respects both. I hope it will not be irreverent for me to say that if it is probable that God would reveal his will to others, on a point so connected with my duty, it might be supposed he would reveal it directly to me; for, unless I am more deceived in myself than I often am, it is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter. And if I can learn what it is, I will do it! These are not, however, the days of miracles, and I suppose it will be granted that I am not to expect a direct revelation. I must study the plain, physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible and learn what appears to be wise and right." The Lincoln Debate>

lucretius atoms and order

“Don't suppose atoms link in every way.

“You would meet freaks and monsters wherever you turned: Races of half-beast men would spring up, tall branches might sometimes sprout from a living torso, and land-dwelling members link with the life of the sea, and Nature, mothering anything anywhere, would feed Chimeras snorting stench and flame.

“None of this happens, we know, for everything is made of certain seeds, by certain parents, and in their growing they preserve their kinds. Of course they must, a fixed law* makes it so.”

bryan magee
mmmmm— psychology, not logic

14 May 2002

Dear ----,

Last year I got "Philosophy and the Real World: An Introduction to Karl Popper," by Bryan Magee and stuck it on the shelf unread. Today I spotted it — having quite forgotten I ever bought it — and in light of our discussion on absolute truth and objective reality, pulled it off the shelf for inspection.

Magee begins by talking about the scientific method and how it secures its truths. Then he writes:

"Some awkward questions about this were raised by Hume. He pointed out that no number of singular observation statements, however large, could logically entail an unrestrictedly general statement.

"If I observe that event A is attended by event B on one occasion, it does not logically follow that it will be attended by it on another occasion. Nor would it follow from two such observations — nor from twenty, nor from two thousand. If it happens often enough, Hume said, I may come to expect that the next A will be attended by a B, but this is a fact of psychology, not of logic.

"The sun may have risen again after every past day of which we have knowledge, but this does not entail that it will rise tomorrow. If someone says: 'Ah, yes, but we can in fact predict the precise time at which the sun will rise tomorrow from the established laws of physics, as applied to conditions as we have them at this moment,' we can answer him twice over.

"First, the fact that the laws of physics have been found to hold good in the past does not logically entail that they will continue to hold good in the future. Second, the laws of physics are themselves general statements, which are not logically entailed by the observed instances, however numerous, which are adduced in their support. So this attempt to justify induction begs the question by taking the validity of induction for granted.

"The whole of our science assumes the regularity of nature — assumes that the future will be like the past in all those respects in which natural laws are taken to operate — yet there is no way in which this assumption can be secure."

"It cannot be established by observation, since we cannot observe future events. And it cannot be established by logical argument, since from the fact that all past futures have resembled past pasts it does not follow that all future futures will resemble future pasts. The conclusion Hume himself came to was that although there is no way of demonstrating the validity of inductive procedures we are so constituted psychologically that we cannot help thinking in terms of them. And since they seem to work in practice we go along with them. This does mean, however, that scientific laws have no rationally secure foundation — neither in logic, nor in experience, since every scientific law, being unrestricted generally, goes beyond both.

"The problem of induction, which has been called 'Hume's Problem,' has baffled philosophers from his time to our own."
Karl Popper> Magee> The Skeptics>

andre maurois — blue lenses

“A man in a state of emotional disturbance, whether as the result of love or enthusiasm for a cause, is like someone who wears blue spectacles and insists, in perfect good faith, that the world is blue.”

thomas merton — undesired person

People are constantly trying to use you to help them create the particular illusions by which they live.

This is particularly true of the collective illusions which sometimes are accepted as ideologies. You must renounce and sacrifice the approval that is only a bribe enlisting your support of a collective illusion.

You must not allow yourself to be represented as someone in whom a few of the favorite daydreams of the public have come true.

You must be willing, if necessary, to become a disturbing and therefore an undesired person, one who is not wanted because he upsets the general dream.

henry miller — “on writing”

It should be borne in mind, of course, that there is an inevitable discrepancy between the truth of the matter and what one thinks, even about himself.

I talk now about Reality, but I know there is no getting at it.

I eschew all clear cut interpretations: with increasing simplification the mystery heightens. What I know tends to become more and more unstable.

My charts and plans are the slenderest sort of guides.

One can only go forward by going backward and then sideways and then up and then down.

Good and bad dropped out of my vocabulary.

Understanding is not a piercing of the mystery, but an acceptance of it, a living blissfully with it, in it, through it and by it.

I had to learn to think, feel and see in a totally new fashion, in an uneducated way, in my own way, which is the hardest thing in the world.

I find there is plenty of room in the world for everybody.

michel de montaigne — “what do i know?”

He wore a self-designed medal inscribed with his motto, “What Do I Know?” And he said: “There is a plague on man: the opinion that he knows something.” And he said that in his writing, “I am free to give myself up to doubt and uncertainty, and to my predominant quality, which is ignorance.” And added: “These are my humors and opinions; I offer them as what I believe, not what is to be believed.” More on Michel>

iris murdoch — literature, philosophy

Philosophy is a matter of getting hold of a problem and holding on to it and being prepared to go on repeating oneself as one tries different formulations and solutions. This patient, relentless ability to stay with a problem is a mark of a philosopher, whereas a certain desire for novelty usually marks the artist.

When we return home to "tell our day," we are artfully shaping material into story form. … So in a way we all exist in a literary atmosphere, we live and breathe literature, we are all literary artists, we are constantly employing language to make interesting forms of experience, which perhaps originally seemed dull or incoherent. How far reshaping involves offences against truth is a problem any artist must face. A deep motive for making literature or art of any sort is the desire to defeat the formlessness of the world and cheer oneself up by constructing forms out of what might otherwise seem a mass of senseless rubble.

Any artist must be at least half in love with his unconscious mind, which after all provides his motive force and does a great deal of his work. The philosopher must resist the comfort-seeking artist in himself. He must always be undoing his own work in the interests of truth so as to go on gripping his problem. This tends to be incompatible with literary art. Philosophy is repetitive; it comes back over the same ground, and it is continually breaking the forms which it has made.
Magee and Murdoch>

henri nouwen — many lies

“Because the world persists in its efforts to pull us into the darkness of self-doubt, low self-esteem, self-rejection and depression … you have to keep unmasking the world about you for what it is: manipulative, controlling, power-hungry and, in the long run, destructive. The world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this … you have to keep looking for people and places where truth is spoken.”


“Isn't arrogance, in fact, the other side of self-rejection? Isn't arrogance putting yourself on a pedestal to avoid being seen as you see yourself? Isn't arrogance, in the final analysis, just another way of dealing with the feelings of worthlessness? Both self-rejection and arrogance pull us out of the common reality of existence and make a gentle community of people extremely difficult, if not impossible, to attain. I know too well that beneath my arrogance there lies much self-doubt, just as there is a great amount of pride hidden in my self-rejection. Whether I am inflated or deflated, I lose touch with my truth and distort my vision of reality.” Meet Henri Nouwen>



UNCERTAINTY: Living with no supernatural justifications,
no complete explanations, no promise of permanent
stability, with guides of merely probable validity.