Sunday, 27 March 2011

Human or Spiritual?

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

- Teilhard de Chardin

I'm not sure where I stand on this one but it does provide some food for thought.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Last Spanish Class

I guess I've always thought this, though I've never felt compelled enough to write about it until today when my Spanish class came to an end. We spent the last class studying about the festivals in Spain, and our Professor explained to us the significance behind the festivals which are heavily influenced by Catholicism. Finally, we finished off the lesson with a video showing the various festivals celebrated by natives across the country.

As the video went on I couldn't help but marvel at the diversity and the richness of the culture and tradition I was witnessing. It struck me that it is really the small but very embedded things like these - looking forward to your holiday festivals, carrying out the rituals of the tradition (the Spanish eat twelve grapes while counting down to the new year, carrying the "Three Wise Men" (Los Reyes Magos) on platforms while the whole town is gathered on the streets, getting chased by bulls while wearing red in Pamplonas, dancing and making merry in public), visiting friends and family on important dates, always having something to cheer, drink, dance, sing and celebrate about - that make one proud to be part of something and want to perpetuate these things, generation after generation. I almost felt like crying for some reason. I think I feel quite strongly that I'm missing out on something important.

Cultural traditions like these retain the child-like innocence and longing in those who have been captivated by them when they were kids. They grow up, get married, have kids and want their own sons and daughters to experience what they did, because the experience is so significant and personally meaningful, and therefore important. Art, beauty and performance in culturally rich countries like these live on because these festivals allow those forms of expressions to thrive. It does not take some profit-driven economic nonsense to determine if art to them is worth pursuing or not. At least from what I saw, art and performance is important because the tradition and the culture is worth preserving. And boy were those festivals huge. On fiesta day, my Professor says that nobody stays at home. Sometimes, Spanish who are overseas miss it so much that they gather around television sets watching the celebrations back home, because it is inconceivable to forget about the celebrations. What longing and devotion that is. Maybe that's really what it takes to feel like part of something, and how a character that is guided by the heart, so that ideals and beliefs are stood up for, is formed.

I've thought hard about it, and I honestly can't say anything about my own personal culture that I'm particularly very proud of, nor do I even really know what it really is. I just was never brought up adequately that way, and I think my brother is there too (although he's far less aware of how potentially important this can be, which can be bliss seeing how agonized I am about this issue). Chinese New Year isn't half what it was one or two mere decades ago, and most youths I know of aren't proud of it or see it as a chore. I think Christmas fares somewhat better, but it is so terribly commercialized that I think many people are chasing commercially-fabricated dreams rather than celebrating traditions and values. Kudos to those who still genuinely put in the yearly efforts to re-establish kinship ties.

I must go to Spain one day to see for myself what this is like, right in the flesh. I will never truly know what they're experiencing, because I never grew up there and I think that it is in our developmental years that these things capture the heart. But I think it will be more than enough for me to experience it vicariously through the emotions on their faces.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

"But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?"

- Albert Camus

Friday, 11 March 2011

Is Philosophy Dead?

I am reminded of the latest book Stephen Hawking published late last year titled The Grand Design. In it, he proclaims that "philosophy is dead."

I can only hope that he said those words in the spirit of a publicity stunt, because if he really meant it, I must say that I am sorely disappointed. For someone whose enterprise is dedicated the search for knowledge, meaning and truth (and no less someone many people admire for his intellectual brilliance), the statement demonstrates that he has completely and utterly missed the point.

Since the beginning of man's ability to philosophize, thinkers who consider themselves the end-all-be-all of knowledge have been trying to kill philosophy over and over again to no avail. I am reminded of Hegel's belief that philosophy ended with him.

One only needs to return to Albert Einstein for insight on why seekers of knowledge even do what they do:

"The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms - this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religion."

To quote a few useful rejoinders to the statement that "philosophy is dead,"

By Angie Hobbs from Angie Hobbs' Blog:

"It's an extraordinarily ill-informed view of what philosophy is, even if we leave to one side the vital work that philosophers like Zeno did in kicking off mathematics. What of the valuable work in, for example, ethics and political theory and aesthetics and philosophy of mind that philosophers do when they have studied the supposed 'facts' with which scientists present them?"

"... What of the fact that philosophers are often asking different kinds of questions from the ones that Hawking asks? Aristotle says that one can look for four different kinds of 'cause' or 'reason' (aitia) when examining any thing or fact or state of affairs: material, formal, efficient and final. I suspect that if Aristotle were to read The Grand Design he might suggest that Hawking has concentrated on the material and efficient explanations of the cosmos, and simply not fully understood the force of questions about possible formal and final explanations."

"To say that the law of gravity allows the universe to create itself from nothing won't do: is the law of gravity supposed to be 'nothing'? Why is there a law of gravity and not no law of gravity? Appeals to M-theory will not satisfy either. Quite apart from the fact that this theory is by no means polished or finalised [...] appeals to M-theory are only pushing the problem upstairs: even if all the maths eventually works out, we can still ask 'Why M-theory and not nothing?' This does not mean that the answer is necessarily a designer God [...] though again, there is space for such a view. It does not even mean that there has to be any answer at all to the search for a 'final' cause of the cosmos; but humans can and will still ask the question, and some of us will feel that Hawking has not understood what such questioners are asking."

By Wes Alwan from The Partially Examined Life:

"... We should really ask people what Hawking and his ilk think of literature and the humanities in general. “I am only interested in the hard sciences and everything else is squishy and impractical and insufficiently number-ish” is not an argument. It simply reflects an orientation toward activities that are as far away from social concerns as possible. It’s what we associate with being a nerd, and in a sense these sorts of pseudo-philosophical Papal Bulls by the popularizers of science are simply the ultimate revenge of the nerds.

Worse, they are a rejection of interiority, a rejection of the idea that reflection is a worthwhile endeavor. Our own thoughts and feelings cannot be “data”; me [sic] must concentrate only on empirical objects. It’s an attempt to kill off large areas of inquiry, because those areas of inquiry defy easy answers and point to the limits of scientific inquiry."

And personally, as a cheap jibe at "philosophy is dead" (Hawking, 2010), the statement is inherently self-defeating because it is a philosophical statement.

Returning back to Einstein's quote, if philosophy ever dies, so will humanity.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Great Philosophy

Great philosophy is transcendental in the way that it is timeless, universal and requires little context. One can peer into the depths of a philosophy and know it speaks of truth without the cumbersome and lengthy explanations that science has to go through just to get close. Our automatic connection to great philosophy is instantaneous and revelatory because the unifying theme is humanity.
I think existential awareness or consciousness, a term I will loosely use, can be a double-edged sword. A lot of human experience is rich because we just go through them spontaneously, without entirely knowing that we are. Well, maybe we can know we are experiencing such emotions and experiences - that will be far better than if we went through life not knowing anything - but I think the modern tendency to want to scientifically and rationally know everything can be extremely detrimental to savouring life's experiences.

Those who know, just know. It is like how, if I had to explain what love is to you, you will never know love. I think the myriad self-help books capitalizing on science to teach everyone how to do everything from love, relationships, leadership, to immortality, will eventually lead everyone to miss the point.