Monday, February 28, 2011

a perfect pint

Platonic Perfection: always elusive, but sometimes worth chasing.

feeling the heat

Nature's Way ch7-8

1. What is Eagle Man's view of the idea that security can be swapped for freedom? Can we follow Tiger's example and "cover a vast territory" to secure ours?

2. Do most of us actually exercise mental freedom? Is religion inherently contrary to it?

3. Do you agree that Nature teaches us to avoid sacrifice in any form? Does it model all acceptable cultural practices?

4. Is free will a gift?

5. If the only "real truth" is directly observed, what is the "pure reasoning" Eagle Man says we cannot wait for Creator and the Spirit World to provide? ("While we would all like to see Creator intervene...)

6. How does Eagle Man think technology can help us achieve Nature's Way?

7. What do Blue Man and Heat represent?

8. How does the mechanized view of nature misrepresent Mother Earth?

9. How is the greenhouse effect a good thing? What bodily function do the seasons discharge?

10. [What else in these chapters?]
Bjorn Lomborg thinks global warming rhetoric has been over-heated. But has he read James Garvey?

A PHILOSOPHER'S THOUGHTS | Dr James Garvey | Author and Philosopher | Royal Institute of Philosophy from Environmental Justice Foundation on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

polysyllabic humanity

What I think Wade Davis is really saying about cultural diversity:

Each, from his peculiar angle of observation, takes in a certain sphere of fact and trouble, which each must deal with in a unique manner... Each attitude being a syllable in human nature's total message, it takes the whole of us to spell the meaning out completely. 
--William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience

Friday, February 25, 2011


Classroom conversations of recent days remind me that many students are intrigued by the metaphysical possibilities they imagine (or claim) can be found in deliberately-altered states of consciousness. It was ever thus. William James shared the feeling, but finally resisted the lure of his own experiments in psycho-pharmacology and creative dentistry (catalyzed by the "subjective effects" of nitrous oxide, which btw is apparently a leading cause of ozone depletion). 
James: "It is part of the deeper mystery and tragedy of life that whiffs and gleams of something that we immediately recognize as excellent should be vouchsafed to so many of us only in the fleeting earlier phases of what in its totality is so degrading a poisoning." Varieties of Religious Experience 
Eric Weiner has a lighter take on the subject, in his Geography of Bliss. His experience in a Netherlands "hash cafe" is very funny, and this observation seems right to me: least half the fun of engaging in illicit activity is the illicit part and not the activity part. In other words, smoking hash legally in Rotterdam is not nearly as much fun as doing it illicitly in your college dorm room with Rusty Fishkind, knowing that at any moment you might get caught.
Still, though, he wonders: "What if I felt like this all of the time. Wouldn't I be happy all of the time?"

Depends on what "happy" means. I'm teaching Happiness 101 again next Fall, this time exploring the premise that there might be some secret or key to happiness. Is it simply a matter of chemical re-engineering? 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Really enjoyed Willie's report this afternoon on trance, globalization, exopheremones, the doors of perception, animism... There's no question we'd be less apt to blow up mountaintops if we came (as a civilization) to harbor greater respect for life and all its planetary supports and expressions.

I happen not to believe that everything has a separable animal spirit, and I'm pretty sure "Gaia" is more metaphor than actual organism. But if a shift of consciousness will bring us into more respectful relations with the rest of nature, those are good fruits by which to know her-- and finally know ourselves.

Terence McKenna has interesting ideas. I'll bet they, along with this repetitive video wallpaper, seem even more trenchant when consumed under the influence of the right chemical "key" (as Kevin quoted Tim Leary).

(The salvia gardener definitely hasn't found the right key. Miley either. I really hope she isn't buying her Dad's folk wisdom about the temptations of the evil spirits.)

McKenna's surely right when he say we're too often missing "peace of mind in the felt experience of the moment." Maybe "trance" is a place for some to begin. I still just want to see how to connect the dots: how can we transform such exceptional personal experiences into constructive, collective environmental action? How do you turn trance into transformation?

whale & owl

Nature's Way ch.5-6

1. What can we learn from whales?

2. What is a Vision Quest, and what is most important in it? What transformation does it (like other native ceremonies) provoke?

3. Again: mitakuye oyasin means ___________.

4. What is a wotai? What does Eagle Man claim to know about it?

5. What errant attitude do "young white men" often adopt after participating in a Sun Dance ceremony?

6. "Will Creator invervene someday and save our world?" Does Eagle Man take this question seriously? Do you? Do you agree that "modern materialists" do not care about generations unborn?

7. What does Owl represent? When is he most active? Why is that significant? What is the source of his "truth"?

8. Do you agree that failure to honor Great Spirit necessarily results in selfishness?

9. "What you never see does not exist, according to the Sioux." (ch4, p.100) But, being "owl-like" enables us to "connect with what ordinary senses cannot perceive." (130) Do you find anything in these statements problematic?

10. What does Eagle Man mean when he says the Yuwipi ceremony can "bring ancestors of the past in to phenomenal, physical form"? Is he talking about resurrection, or just vividly imaginative memory? Are spirits internal or external to a person's "vision"?

11. Eagle Man says suburban High School seniors, in contrast to young native Sun Dancers, "show very little interest in organized religion." Why? In what way do "white people set themselves up as mini-gods"?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dark Ages

"...send them back into the Dark Ages of ignorance & superstition & fear? No!" J-L Picard 

Philo to Boethius

O 27-39

1. The Greek legacy in philosophy is summarized in what two questions?

2. Who saved Christianity by combining it with Greek philosophy?

3.  What Jewish Platonist equated Plato's "Good" (and other Ideas or Universals) with God?

4. What Christian Platonist noticed that Plato's two worlds (intelligible & 
visible)  resembled Christianity's heaven & earth? How did he interpret the Bible? 

5. Who was Plotinus? His version of God, also known as _____, "emanates" power (as the sun emanates light) down through what stages? What was his view of matter, nature, and the human body?

6. (T/F) Christianity after Plotinus tolerated all forms of free thought.

7. The end of scientific free thinking and the beginning of the Dark Ages are symbolized in the death of what pagan philosopher/scientist/mathematician? By whom is it thought her execution ordered? 

8. (T/F) The Roman Empire fell, according to Gibbon, because (unlike Christianity) it was overly superstitious and austere.

9. The Nicene Creed established whose identity as Christian orthodoxy, completing what "triumph"?  

10. ________ (Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory) was the only "Father" who was also a  philosopher. 
What did he say about reason and truth, and about past and future?

11. What stoic, condemned to death by Emperor Theodoric, found consolation in philosophy (which he personified as a beautiful woman)?

Monday, February 21, 2011

"true cost of coal"

Colin's report on the destructive impact of the coal economy in Appalachia was terrific.

Discover the beehive collective here... explore the mural here...

In 2008, the Beehive Design Collective allied with Appalachian grassroots organizers fighting Mountain Top Removal Coal Mining, a highly destructive practice that blasts ancient mountains into toxic moonscapes to fuel the ever-growing global demand for electricity. This graphic reflects the complexity of the struggles for land, livelihood, and self-determination playing out in Appalachia, while honoring the tremdendous history of organized resistance and the courage of communities living in the shadow of Big Coal. Learn more...

and scroll down to check out the Appalachian Mountaintop Removal & Iron Eyes Cody videos. (We got the sound back in 202, STUDENTS, remind me if you want to see them on Wednesday.)

Lion among many

Nature's Way ch3-4

1. What human virtue does Lion symbolize? To what are male lions predisposed? Is nature, in this and other respects, a reliable moral teacher?

2. What are the "feminine principles"? Are they also human principles? How can young men be educated to value "acceptance" etc.?

3. What was distinctive of "Old Europe"? What did it (and the Celts and Druids) have in common with the indigenous societies of North America?

4. What do you think of Eagle Man's view of natural tragedies? Would you advocate his position to survivors who'd lost loved ones in a volcano, tornado, etc.?

5. "I have always doubted that a mere man could alter what Creator made." Do you agree about the impotence of humanity, considered individually and collectively? Is anthropogenic climate change contrary to your spiritual beliefs? What is the point of reflecting on environmental ethics if Creation is unalterable?

6. What happens to children raised in a society of gender inequality?

7. What do you think of Eagle Man's ghost dream? Does it matter if it was "just a dream"?

8. Do you share Eagle Man's "East Power" & "Sky Power" optimism? Has the Internet begun to enhance communication and knowledge? What does "Blue Man" symbolize?

9. What's the "Mount Rushmore of organized religion"?

10. "Maybe we did come from Wind Cave. But who knows?" Is this agnosticism? Is Eagle Man's attitude towards Darwin agnostic, or affirming?

11. Same opportunity again, STUDENTS: What else do you want to ask (& discuss) about these chapters?

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Does this sentimentalize, mythologize, or patronize? For some of us, back around the time of the first Earth Day, it galvanized and mobilized...

Friday, February 18, 2011

a stoic in full

Tom Wolfe discovered Stoicism a while back, in Atlanta no less. In A Man in Full, a character
receives a copy of Epictetus’ Discourses, reads it, and becomes a Stoic convert.  Hensley dedicates himself to the Stoic life of total moral integrity, self-sufficiency and sturdy acceptance of those things in life he cannot change.  In prison, Hensley refuses to fake insanity to avoid a confrontation with a jailhouse bully because doing so would compromise his character.  The Stoic lesson: Always conduct yourself respectably regardless of your circumstances.  Your moral integrity never eludes scrutiny. "Rebirth of Stoicism"

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Aristotle and beyond

PW 40-49
1. What was Aristotle's view of virtue? How did it differ from Plato's? How many worlds did Aristotle affirm?How did he characterize Plato's Forms?

2. Why have scientists viewed Aristotle ambivalently? What did he mean by "teleology," "prime mover", and "eudaimonia"?

3. Seneca's suicide, at Nero's insistence, illustrates the importance of what Stoic value?

4. Epicurus had an undeserved reputation as what? What did he really believe in? What does "epicurean" mean now?

5. The Stoics regarded emotions as what kind of  judgment? What view did they share with the Buddhists? What was their philosophical ideal?

6. Pyrrho and Sextus Empiricus were skeptics who argued that belief of any kind, ________ (including, excluding) belief in reason, is illusory and unjustifiable.Why did they "believe" this?

7.Who were the tlamatinime? Why don't we know more about them? Why don't we know more about the indigenous philosophies of North America and Africa? 

8. How does "tribalism" differ from the dominant perspective of the contemporary western world? What is a person, in the tribal perspective? How (on that view) do we relate to nature?

9. Why did Mayans and other Meso-Americans practice human sacrifice? 

10. What was the function of the "jokester" in Meso-American philosophy?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Misquoting Jesus"

The Department of Philosophy is happy to announce a lecture by
Professor Bart D. Ehrman
“Misquoting Jesus: Scribes Who Changed the Bible and Readers Who May Never Know”
Friday, February 18 at 3:30
State Farm Room of the Business and Aerospace Building
The lecture is free and open to the public. Professor Ehrman will be signing copies of his books immediately following his lecture.

Bart Ehrman is the James A. Gray Professor with the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Among Professor Ehrman’s fields of scholarly expertise are the historical Jesus, the early Christian apocrypha, the apostolic fathers, and the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.

He is the author of over twenty books.  Among his most recent are a Greek-English edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press), an assessment of the newly discovered Gospel of Judas (Oxford University Press), and three New York Times Bestsellers: Jesus Interrupted (an account of scholarly views of the New Testament), God’s Problem (an assessment of the biblical views of suffering), and Misquoting Jesus (an overview of the changes found in the surviving copies of the New Testament and of the scribes who produced them). His books have been translated into twenty-seven languages.

The lecture is part of the annual Applied Philosophy Lyceum sponsored by the Department of Philosophy with appreciation to the Distinguished Lecture Committee.

Bart Ehrman radio interview w/Gina Logue, WMOT

Richard Ford

Happy birthday to one of my favorite writers, Richard Ford, who has an interesting response to critics who think some of his characters are too thoughtfully complex or "philosophical."
"Some critics have occasionally suggested that I impose on characters certain possibilities of thought or language or emotional experience, which that particular character, or to put it more gruesomely, those kinds of characters wouldn't likely be able to think or talk about. But my attitude is that there are no such things as kinds or types of characters in fiction or in life. Eloquence or penetrating understanding can visit anybody. In fact, it's fiction's business to try to enlarge our understanding of and sympathy for people. If to do that I have to strain your conventional understanding about humans — well that's also art's proper business and my hope is that I'll repay your indulgence."
"The thing about being a writer is that you never have to ask, 'Am I doing something that's worthwhile?' Because even if you fail at it, you know that it's worth doing." Writer's Almanac
 On good days I say the same about teaching.


When solving a design problem, look to nature first. There you'll find inspired designs for making things waterproof, aerodynamic, solar-powered and more. Here she reveals dozens of new products that take their cue from nature with spectacular results. More...

Nature's Way

Nature's Way Intro-ch2

1. How (according to Eagle Man, Ed McGaa) does "Dominant Society" view the natural world? What corrections does he say "Nature-respecting societies" offer? What kind of democracy is likeliest to "save the planet"?

2. Is sacred nature mythic or superstitious? Ideological? Supernatural?

3. What does it mean to become a "hollow bone"?

4. What is Wakan  Tanka, in contrast with the "white man's God"? Is it possible to construe  it and "Beyond World" (or "Spirit World") as parts of a benign, designed nature? Are there natural limits on the human capacity to understand "obvious mysteries"?

5. If "no one knows who God is," isn't "Great Spirit" talk presumptuous? Why does there seem to be no indigenous version of agnosticism? How can knowledge arise as a "revelation from ceremony"?

6. Do you think animals (like "my good friend the turtle") possess a compelling "spirit or force" that relates us to them? Is the variable manifestation or creation of Spirit in nature different from the relatedness of all species through evolution, or simply an alternative way of expressing it? Is the kindness and "tough love" of Creator just a florid way of acknowledging nature's self-sustaining indifference to human well-being? Is death's compassion more than a comforting illusion?

7. "We certainly cannot spin a spider's web..." But can't we, with the emerging science of biomimicry? (See the Michael Pawlyn TED Talk)

8. "Both ancient and modern [healing] wisdom have their place." Do you agree? Do you prefer herbal to synthetic remedies for illness? What's unnatural about western medicine? Is all effective medicine "spiritual" or ecological? Is "healing balance" scientific? Do you regard indigenous healing wisdom as "alternative"?

9. STUDENTS (or interested others): What additional questions would you like to pose from ch2? Use the comments section to share your suggestions.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Stoics, Epicureans, Skeptics

Plato & Aristotle

Aristotle to Aurelius

O 16-26

1. Aristotle's school was called what? Why were its students called "peripatetics"?

2. On what logical form did Aristotle say all arguments are constructed? From what are its conclusions inferred?

3. Aristotle opposed Plato's view that Forms are transcendent, contending instead that forms are in what?. What are some other names for "Forms"?

4. Aristotle's basic causes are material, final, and what? He called the final cause behind everything, the ultimate purpose, goal, or telos, the what? Which cause is still widely invoked in modern scientific explanations?

5. In ethics, Aristotle said, we should always search for what? What should we study before theorizing? 

6. In what ancient cosmopolitan city was a great library established? Who developed the physics of leverage and hydraulics, thought "Eureka" moments could provide sudden, intuitive insight, and made the Philosophy Football Cup highlights reel? Who calculated earth's circumference with surprising accuracy? Who said there's no "royal road to mathematics"? Who was a heliocentrist before Copernicus?

7. Pyrrho was a _______, making systematic doubt central in his philosophy. Diogenes was a ______ who did contemptible things in public to show his contempt for public opinion.

8. One of the Romans' great practical achievements, besides architecture, infrastructure, and aqueducts, was _________. (Hint: a popular major at MTSU.)

9. ________, whose actual philosophy was quite different from the modern meaning of the adjective it inspired, said we must conquer fear, and what else, in order to experience pleasure and be happy? Which Epicurean said nothing comes from nothing?

10. _______, a Stoic, was ordered by the Emperor _____ (his student) to kill himself. Which Stoic raised the problem of free will and determinism to prominence?  __________ said (with a bee analogy) that the interests of individuals are inseparable from those of society and that yhou should approach every act as though it were your last.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Before he was known to the world mainly as a passionate advocate of "real" (local, human-scale) food, Michael Pollan was thinking hard about what Daniel Wildcat calls the "nature-culture nexus" and recognizing the complex co-evolutionary relationship between them. It's a hopeful view, suggesting we have an important   continuing role to play in Mother Earth's preservation and flourishing.
Nature does tend toward dissolution and entropy, yes, yes, but I can't help thinking she contains some countervailing tendency, too, some bent toward forms of ever-increasing complexity. Toward us and our creations, I mean. Second Nature
In A Place of My Own he builds a little house in which to think and dream. Like most of our human enterprises it "stands a little apart" from its natural surroundings.

Red Alert! ch7-conclusion

1. How much did the American bison population decline between the 17th & 19th centuries?

2. What does it mean concretely to "allow places to give us homes" and to live in a "coextensive present with the past and future"?

3. Have you lived in an "unimaginative house"? Has your conceptual/spiritual life been "boxed" by the experience? Does this attitude place too much confidence in architecture? Do we place too little?

4. Is there any way to live "green" in suburbia? Are "buffalo commons" and "earth lodges" realistic?

5. Are you personally fatalistic about "500 year floods"? Would you ever deliberately make your home in a flood plain? Do you expect the Army Corps of Engineers to consult indigenous peoples in the future?

6. Is childhood obesity a public policy issue? Or is it just a matter of "personal virtue"?

7. Are you making different food choices since becoming aware of the nutritional problems associated with fast food? Do you consciously choose local products? Do you see your food choices as ethical? Are you willing to pay more for more responsibly grown & distributed food?

8. What is T3C? Is it helpful or relevant? Is it possible to make a reliable present judgment about the ultimate impact of technologies? How does the will to bequeath "good stories" help us make wise choices?

9. Is it not possible to see the world as full of relatives and resources?

B/V'day poem

A poem, to mark yet another birthday. Happy Valentine's Day.

Ever since that moment
when it first occurred
to me that I would die
(like everyone on earth!)
I struggled against
this eventuality, but
never thought of
how I'd die, exactly,
until around thirty
I made a mental list:
hit by car, shot
in head by random ricochet,
crushed beneath boulder,
victim of gas explosion,
head banged hard
in fall from ladder,
vaporized in plane crash,
dwindling away with cancer,
and so on. I tried to think
of which I'd take
if given the choice,
and came up time
and again with He died
in his sleep.
Now that I'm officially old,
though deep inside not
old officially or otherwise,
I'm oddly almost cheered
by the thought
that I might find out
in the not too distant future.
Now for lunch.

The Death Deal" by Ron Padgett, from How Long. © Coffee House Press, 2011. Writer's Almanac 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

walk on

A new study compares walking and "less aerobic exercises, including yoga and resistance training"...
After a year, brain scans showed that among the walkers, the hippocampus had increased in volume by about 2 percent on average; in the others, it had declined by about 1.4 percent...
Both groups also improved on a test of spatial memory, but the walkers improved more.The researchers were delighted to learn that the hippocampus might expand with exercise. “And not that much exercise.” People don’t even have to join a gym. They just need shoes.
 "the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow... An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day."

and Kierkegaard 
"I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it."

and countless othersRemember?

It's good for body and spirit alike.  It's only "boring" (as I actually overheard an otherwise-sensible colleague say recently) if you do it without imagination.

But don't do it like John Cleese.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"shared governance"

My mentor John Lachs kicked the hornet's nest with a recent Chronicle of Higher Education piece.
When I served as chair of the Vanderbilt University Faculty Senate, the chancellor met once a month with the senate's executive committee. The meetings were cordial, but it was clear that the chancellor used them to inform the senate of what he wanted. When the committee challenged some of his ideas, he summarily terminated the meetings, sending his provost to tell us each month what the chancellor had done. "Shared Governance is a Myth"
In the comments section, angry and blustering administrators from across the land have crawled out of the woodwork to protest Lachs's candor. People who don't know him are quick to deploy ad hominem irrelevance, one even slurring him (of all people) as an "elitist." Comment #7 should shut them all up:
...based on my experience Professor Lachs is one of the most genuine, generous, affable, gregarious, open-minded, inspiring professors I've come across at 8 universities where I've either studied or taught. He's beloved by many students and faculty there. He's just a really cool guy, and not in the slightest way elitist. 
After nearly three years as a Senator I can corroborate Lachs's contention. We gather, we sit, we listen to administrators speak of welcoming our perspectives. And then they do what they were going to do. Challenges were not and are not welcome.

No whine, just fact.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"perfectly" sustainable

Speaking of earthships... and Platonic perfection, Apollonian order, Nietzsche and Sartre...

"This isn't just in housing; it's in clothing and food and transportation and energy... We may have invented excess, but the problem of waste is worldwide.We're in trouble. What we need to do is reconnect with those really primal parts of ourselves, with who we really are." 

Socrates & Plato (2)

PW 33-39
1. The ________, aka "practitioners of wisdom," turned away from questions about the origins of the world and the nature of reality towards living and "fun." They wanted to make philosophy more what?

2. A pragmatic interpretation of Protagoras's statement that "man is the measure" suggests that knowledge is  what? Ultimately it is a statement of ________. (confidence, doubt, sophistry)

3. What was "the proper business of the philosopher," according to Socrates? What did he consider most valuable? What was his view of truth?

4. (T/F) Like his mentor Socrates, Plato had little interest in systematic philosophy or big metaphysical questions about reality.

5. How many worlds does Plato affirm in his cosmology? How does the everyday world relate to Forms? How do we know the latter is real?

6. The Myth of the Cave is an allegory of the relation between Plato's two worlds, as well as a cautionary tale about the fate of who? By what is the escaped slave dazzled?

7. Who should rule, according to Plato? Did Socrates agree?

8. Even if you reject Plato's world of Forms, what Platonic ideal can you retain? Do yo u?

9. (T/F) Socrates and Plato agreed with the pre-Socratics about "soul" being essentially breath, thus needing a body.

10. What is innate, on Plato's (and Socrates'?) view?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Earthships"built to utilize the available local resources, especially energy from the Sun," make a terrific sustainability statement-- in perfect harmony with the native wisdom that we ought to make our container boxes as seamless, green, & light as can be. Harrison told us about them in NW today. 

We need lots more of  'em, including a campus demonstration project. And if you can't own, maybe you can rent...


Red Alert! ch5-6

1. Why is it important to emphasize the collaborative nature of indigenous knowledge?

2. Wildcat renounces "New Age secrets" and romantic tribal mythology (as well as "hard-fact skeptics"). Why do you think native wisdom holds such appeal for New Agers and romantics? What have they misunderstood? (Or, if you're one of them: why does Wildcat renounce your perspective?)

3. What would be the practical utility of "inter-species communication with animals"? What would you tell the wolves? What do you think they'd tell you?

4. In what sense is knowledge a gift? To whom or to what do we owe our gratitude?

5. Indigenous knowledge rejects "linear temporal universal history... progress and civilization." Does that imply a static and possibly stagnant view (& experience) of history? Don't we need collective goals to pursue, in order to advance? Or do we just need Black Elk's "circles"?

6. Do you favor the large-scale development of wind energy? What will it take to bring that about?

7. If there is not a sustainable way for large urban and suburban populations of the future to inhabit the desert southwest, what should be done to address the problem of water scarcity there? What do you think will be?

8. Which creation story (besides evolution) says we were animals before we became human? Are 7 generations enough?

9. Do you agree with Wildcat that emphasis on human design, talk of "the human condition," and affirmations that "man is the measure" are arrogant?

10.[John Dewey on nature-culture... David Quammen on weeds... the "big picture"... James Lovelock... the homeland]

part of nature

From Particles to People:
The Laws of Nature and the Meaning of Life

We've been discussing the native/indigenous perspective on naturalism, in NW. What do you think, class, is this relevant?

HUMAN BEINGS DO NOT STAND OUTSIDE NATURE; we are a part of it. Ultimately we are made of particles, evolving and interacting according to the laws of physics. And we know what those laws are — the progress of modern science has reached a point where the laws underlying everyday life are completely understood. This understanding lets us draw strong conclusions about the milieu in which we live. There is no telekinesis, astrology, or life after death. What does this mean for our understanding of consciousness, free will, and the meaning of life? Taking the laws of nature seriously opens a vista of possibility, freeing us from outmoded ideas about what it means to be human. -Sean Carroll (from a recent lecture at Cal Tech)
Wouldn't the next logical step, if Carroll's right, be to drop all the "Great Spirit" talk?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Socrates & Plato

Osborne 11-15  

(This is funny, but Woody Allen's "My Apology" really nails it. And if that's not silly enough for you...*)

1. Who were the Sophists? Was Socrates one of them? Did he consider philosophy a profession? What is "sophistry"?
2. Protagoras said "man is the measure..." What does this mean?

3. What do you think Socrates meant when he said "the unexamined life is not worth living"? Do you agree?

4. (T/F) Like the pre-Socratics, Socrates was deeply interested in identifying the basic stuff of which everything is made.

5. Why did Socrates see himself as a gadfly? What other descriptive metaphor did he apply to himself?

6. (T/F) Socrates agreed with Protagoras: objective truth, independent of any particular or exclusively-human point of view, is impossible.

7. What did Socrates mean when he said "we owe a cock to Aesculapius," the Greek god of healing and medicine?

8. What was the aim of Plato's Academy? What was the purpose of his myth (simile) of the cave?

9. In Plato's theory of education, knowledge is ___________.

10. For Plato the parts of the soul provide a model for his ideal republic, in which reason is exemplified by an elite governing class headed by ____________.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Red Alert! ch.3-4
1. Do we all really "depend" for our lives on non-human species? How so? What will the disappearance of polar bears, orangutans, and sea turtles mean to humans?

2. Is modern technology too vulnerable to uncontrollable environmental conditions? Is a "lifeway" that is proudly contemptuous of modern technology more sustainable?

3. Conservative projections say the northern ice cap may disappear when? How will it be in 2050?

4. The primary catalyst for our ensuing planetary catastrophe (the first "of human genesis in the history of our cosmos") is what? Do you agree?

5. Is there still a point in encouraging ourselves to "think like a mountain"? Is deep time relevant to attempts to save the planet?

6. Do you believe "changes in our everyday mundane life activities" will matter? What changes are you prepared to make personally?

7. What would it mean for our use of technology to be more attentive "to the life around us"? Can it be part of the biotic community along with land, air, water, and their residents? How about Internet cafes, shopping malls, and gambling casinos?

8.  Does "ecological pluralism" explain religious diversity and prevent religious quarrels? Is mitakua oyasin practicable, and sustainable?

9. What would a "life-enhancing nature-culture nexus" look like, in the foreseeable future?

10. Is native wisdom really experimental and open-ended?

"Lost and Gone Forever"

Thomas Jefferson was quite bright, but he and his contemporaries were quite confused about biodiversity and the fragility of species. 
“Such is the economy of Nature,” he wrote, “that no instance can be produced of her having permitted any one race of her animals to become extinct; of her having formed any link in her great work so weak as to be broken.”
It would be nice to think we'd learned better, by now. But mass extinctions are accelerating in our day, and too many of us continue to be indifferent. We still don't get it.  Richard Coniff: 

Species die. It has become a catastrophic fact of modern life. On our present course, by E.O. Wilson’s estimate, half of all plant and animal species could be extinct by 2100 — that is, within the lifetime of a child born today. Kenya stands to lose its lions within 20 years. India is finishing off its tigers. Deforestation everywhere means that thousands of species too small or obscure to be kept on life support in a zoo simply vanish each year... [more]
Slideshow: "species on the brink"

Saturday, February 5, 2011

meaning (2)

You can google "meaning of life"...
Or, you could just ask Tooley:

I taught a course called "The Meaning of Life" several years ago, and this was our exit note - on an old VHS tape ripped from the original telecast. Then as now I don't insist on this being THE meaning. It's one of the good ones though, no?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

pre-Socratics again, & Buddha

PW Quiz 26-33
1. Who said we should not call something divine just because we don't understand it? Why not?

2. What kind of outlook did Thales adopt? What is "techne"?

3. How does Greek philosophy differ from Chinese philosophy with respect to opposing properties like hot and cold, wet and dry... or yin and yang?

4. What did Anaximander say the basic "stuff" of the world is? What did his student Anaximenes think the essential element is? 

5. Pythagoras differed from the Milesian materialists, saying the universe is composed not of stuff but of what? He believed in reincarnation, philosophized with women, inspired ______, and is thought to have been the first to call himself a _________. He is associated with what famous phrase?

6. What "very Eastern point" was Heraclitus making, with his claim about rivers? Who said this perception is not the true reality? Who presented arguments to show its absurdity?

7. What made Democritus a pluralist? What did he think about soul, meaning, and purpose in a material world? What do you?

8. What did Buddha say we gain by giving up belief in a self? What did he say about Gods, karma, and reincarnation?

9. What does nirvana mean?

And a bonus question, before Groundhog Day gets entirely away:
What did Phil Connors learn about the self, gods, karma,compassion, recurrence & repetition, nirvana, the wonder of every moment, etc.?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Buffalo Calf Woman

Here's a great message, from the legendary Lakota teacher of humility. But, does it really have to be "channeled"?

Red Alert!

Red Alert! Intro-ch1&2
1. Who is the Spiritual Person of the universe? Is the subject of the book's epigraph to be understood as standing outside the universe? In what sense is it a person? Do humans possess spirit, in this sense of the term? Is it a naturalistic concept? How, in general, should we understand "spirit" in native/indigenous contexts?

2. Is there anything wrong with "using" (as well as knowing) reality? Is knowledge a static relation or a verb?

3.Is "cultural genocide" an accurate description of the late-19th century attempts to (re-) educate native Americans?

4. Do you agree that we must renounce any interest in trying to "manage nature," in order to live sustainably with our web of life? Do you see attempts to control nature as "mechanical"?

5. Is it fascination with technology per se that produces "ecological amnesia"? Haven't our "media windows" helped to raise global awareness of the climate crisis and build support for reform through movements like Can we recover lost ecological memory and connect activists worldwide by leveraging technology?

6. Why can't "place-shaped knowledges" expand to include the entire planet and a consciousness of the human tribe as singular and inclusive?

7.Does it require anything beyond the local presence of intelligent and purposive humans, to make the cosmos spiritual? Would it be a spiritual world without us? Is the statement that Mother Earth "is trying to tell us something" merely symbolic?

8. What does it mean to live seven generations (as opposed to five or two or none) into the future?

9. How do you distinguish "faux shaman reveries" from the real thing?

10. Wildcat blames the "self-absorbed individualistic popular culture" for creating a sky-is-falling alarmist backlash. Would it be better if popular film (eg) simply ignored the climate crisis?

11. "Nature exists right outside our doors, beyond the monitors and screens we ironically look at in order to feel 'connected.'" How does being outdoors connect you to other people? How does being online disconnect you?

12. Wildcat deplores "the pseudo-evolutionary idea that tribalism is somehow categorically savage and uncivilized." On the other hand, there are no tribal (or national) boundaries visible from space. We are one planet and one species. Indeed, it is one cosmos. Why shouldn't we consider this way of thinking an evolutionary advance?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

in the beginning

The latest "Symphony of Science"-


PW Quiz 18-26
1. What central tenets of Hindu thought tend to be rejected by Buddhists? What do they, along with Jains, share?
2. The Sanskrit word for "philosophy" means what?
3. What threatens mysticism?
4. What's the first "noble truth"? What's the first step on the Eightfold Path? What's Nirvana, and what must you free yourself from if you want to attain it? What's karma? What's a Bodhisattva? Who is the Dalai Lama?
5. What did Nagarjuna's "Middle Way" School say about essence and identity? Which sect denied the standard Buddhist claim that the world is an illusion?
6. Confucius and Aristotle both emphasized the importance of what? What is the key Confuciuan virtue? Is it a fixed, determinate trait in all humans? Why is physical exercise important?
7. ______'s Art of War  says the precondition of love is what? Should we love everyone equally, on the Confucian view?
8. Lao Tzu's philosophy de-emphasized what in favor of spontaneity and simplicity? What is the greatest Taoist virtue? What do Taoists seek to forget? What's the significance of yin and yang?
9. In contrast to the Christian concept of soul as an individuated, distributed bit of eternity, Taoists think of it as more like what?

My favorite Buddhist: Accelerating Intelligence News