Belief, Communication, Cultural Traits, Deity, God, God(s), Ideas, Language, Mysticism, Quotes, Religion, Transformative Experience

Was the Concept of God an Error in Translation?

“The concept of ‘god’ was originally an error in translation committed when some ancient sage tried to reduce the mystical experience to words.”

Or, alternatively…

“The concept of ‘god’ was originally an error in translation committed when some ancient sage tried to reduce an experience of the weirdness to words.”

Paul Sunstone

Abrahamic Faiths, Allah, Belief, Business, Christ, Christianity, Cultural Traits, Culture, Deity, Education, Fundamentalism, God(s), Humanities, Ideas, Islam, Judaism, Judeo-Christian Tradition, Language, Learning, Life, Management, Memes, Mysticism, Philosophy, Professionals, Religion, Religious Ideologies, Spirituality, Taoism, Work, Yahweh

About Your “God”, Jeff…

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul discusses how the concept of “god” varies from one religion to another with the focus on Christianity, Judaism, and Taoism.

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THE CRITICS EXCLAIM! “It is absolutely certain that Paul Sunstone will someday come to a rich and full understanding of God.  That is sure to be the day Our Altogether Righteous and Just Lord mercifully condemns Paul Sunstone to being eternally chained to Justin Bieber’s buttocks in the hottest regions of hell. Until that day, his opinions and views of deity cannot possibly rise above the ignorant, thoughtless slime that is his post, ‘About Your Gods’.”  —  Merriweather Sterling, Blogs of the Day, “The Daily Burtie”, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, England, UK.

Continue reading “About Your “God”, Jeff…”

Aesthetics, Communication, Ideas, INCOMING!, Language, Learning, Literature, New Idea, Poetry, Quotes, Writing

The Trade-Off

“The fewer the words, the more they punch.

“The fewer the words, the less anyone hears something new.

“Two hundred and eighty-eight characters are for those who would repeat to me what is already in my head.

“Economize when telling me what I already know, but speak whatever volumes you must to show me new worlds.”

— Paul Sunstone (I have spoken, your turn now).

Belief, Cultural Change, Cultural Traits, Culture, Epistemology, Knowledge, Language, Reason, Truth

Why We Should Make Our Politicians Speak in Hopi to Us

(About a 2 minute read)

English is not the best language in the world for discussing what is truth.

Back in the old days, folks thought of truth as a beautiful woman.  Let’s suppose for a moment they were right.  Let’s suppose truth is a woman.  If truth is a woman, then English is an awkward, clumsy 14 year old boy trying to seduce a sophisticated and confident 36 year old woman.  There are better languages than English for discussing the nature of truth.

The Hopi are a nation of native Americans living in the Southwestern United States.  If I can now recall what I was taught about the Hopi language in my linguistic anthropology course 40 years ago, the language is significantly more sophisticated than English when it comes to dealing with the concept of truth.

In Hopi, you cannot get away with only saying something is true. The language won’t allow it.  Hopi forces you to state how you know something is true.

The Hopi language recognizes three different ways of knowing something is (or probably is) true.  It forces you to pick one of those ways.  There is, for instance, no equivalent of the English statement, “I know you are home tonight”.  But here — expressed in English — are what you could say in Hopi:

I see (or directly experience) you are home tonight.

I hear (or have learned from another person) you are home tonight.

I reason (on the basis of what I have myself seen, or what I have heard from another person, or on the basis of both) that you are home tonight.

Just imagine how much fun we would have if our politicians, pundits, and preachers were forced to speak to us in Hopi!

Here’s the English:  My friends, it is a simple fact that my opponent in this race for the Governorship is a know pedophile!”

Here’s Hopi #1: “My friends, I have personally seen that my opponent is a pedophile!  Oh, wait! It’s not as it sounds!  I really wasn’t there myself.  Not really. “

Here’s Hopi #2:  “My friends, you should be alarmed!  I have it on good second-hand hearsay that my….Oh wait!  It’s more than hearsay..  Well, I mean stronger than hearsay.  That is, it’s admittedly hearsay, but it’s also stronger than hearsay.  Um…”

Here’s Hopi #3:  “My friends, I’ve added it all up to the best of my thinking ability and…Why are you all laughing?  Friends!  Why is everyone laughing at me?”

English, for all it’s many strengths, does not even come close to encouraging the sort of just and fair skepticism that Hopi does.  Rather in comparison, English seems to be a language that encourages people to quickly swallow things as true, rather than to think about how and whether they are true.

Education, Honesty, Human Nature, Intellectual Honesty, Language, Learning, Life, Living, Logic, New Idea, Quality of Life, Reason, Skeptical Thinking, Thinking

Three Pillars of a Well-Educated Mind

SUMMARY: There may be several pillars of a well-educated mind, but to me, the three most important are intellectual honesty, open-mindedness, and critical thinking.

(About a 12 minute read)

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”  ― Margaret Mead

Like most people who do not suffer from a crippling over-abundance of sanity, I am a staunch believer in the notion that we could do a much better job than we are doing in teaching people to think.

Saner people might point out the many ways in which American culture discourages teaching people to think.  For instance, there is a deeply rooted strain of anti-intellectualism in our society that has been present ever since the 1820s or 30s, and which most often manifests itself as contempt for anything exceeding a narrowly practical education.

I freely concede that making a living is of periodic importance in life, such as roughly during the period between the ages of twenty and sixty or so.  But to me, that doesn’t mean you should so focus your education on getting a good job that you fail to develop the skills necessary to lead a fulfilling life.

Continue reading “Three Pillars of a Well-Educated Mind”

Art, Language, Poetry

Poetry Critique: “Words” by Jane

(About a 5 minute read)

Dear Readers,

There are many things you could say about words.  You could, for instance, take an insufferably abstract approach to words and say  — as I myself love to do — that  they function much like the symbols on maps function in the sense they are symbols for some reality beyond themselves.  And you could, of course, say much about words besides that delectable mere morsel.

In her poem “Words”, Jane mostly takes a look at word as they are experienced by poets, which is a good thing, because the poetic meaning of words is every bit as important as their semiotic meaning.

Indeed, if you consider how words are routinely used to motivate and direct people, you could make a strong case that understanding their use in poetry is more important to a happy life than anything you could ever know about semiotics.  Not that semiotics isn’t also important.

So what is their use in poetry?  To me, that depends on the poet, but I would argue they can be no more useful than when used to get at a truth and then to present it in an emotional way, and hopefully an emotionally beautiful way.

But what is “emotional beauty”?

The rough test that I myself use for emotional beauty is to ask how something makes me feel and then motivates me.  If the words of a poem make me feel better about living and then motivate me to improve the world, I would say they were emotionally beautiful.

Emotional beauty is something I’ve found so often in Jane’s poems.  The other day, I read someone describing her as “an awesome poet”, but I do not think the word “awesome” does her justice.  It would be closer to the truth, I think, to describe her rhyming and rhythmic verses as “typically vibrant, always creative, and often explosive” — to describe them briefly.

Jane blogs at “Making it Write“.  Her poem, “Words” can be found here.

Best,

Paul


Words which clamber for birth,
eager to cling to the page,
words which would raise to self-worth
modestly seeking a place.
Words which admit, words which deny,
words deftly-chosen, words misapplied.
Dominatrix words which try
to overpower a subtle punchline.

Words which have something to say,
each syllable tuned in its own way,
conciliating or armed for the fray,
screaming surprise or mumbling cliché.

Words that edge to the ideal mate;
working their way towards standing up straight,
shuffling their way into ship-shape phrases
like uneasy conscripts with falsified ages.

Words scrubbed out and aptly replaced,
jackets buttoned and shoes tightly laced,
a tidy battalion of lines and stanzas;
meter supplanting the weapons of battle,
bragging the spit and polish of rhyme
till all is perfect, and all might concur,
that the verse is sublime,
the message inspired.

Words,
for all their courageous claims
of muscle, weight and girth,
often wither and fade
into an insipid blur.


Dear Jane,

As I mentioned to you earlier, this image from your poem especially seized me:

“shuffling their way into ship-shape phrases
like uneasy conscripts with falsified ages.”

It “almost made me want to fall into line behind them”, I said.  I would like to elaborate on that for a brief moment.  Are you curious why such an imagine might draw your readers in, engage them like hungry teens sniffing about the apron of a hamburger chef?

As I mentioned at the top of this post, an ideal for poetry might be to render a truth emotionally beautiful.   If so, a truth here, among so many other truths in your poem, is that picking the right words to describe something and provoke an emotional response to the description is, of course, naturally key to poetry.  And I think that’ s what you have expressed so well.

For instance, works really do “shuffle” into shape for poets, don’t they?  And when poets jot down a few, they so often feel “uneasy” about whether the words really fit.  All of that is quite obviously included in the image you created.

Beyond that, the image inspired me.  Not, of course, to join the Red Cross in order to serve humanity, but it mildly inspired me to have a better day.  “Oh look! Something to feel cheerful about on and off today!”  So I would indeed call your image “emotionally beautiful” — as I would call so many of the images in “Words”.

Now, yesterday, you wrote an edit to replace the final stanza of your poem:

I like writing awesome rhyme
my words are poignant all the time.
so why do people talk so wicked
saying that my work’s insipid?

You scared me when you proposed swapping this out for that:

Words,
for all their courageous claims
of muscle, weight and girth,
often wither and fade
into an insipid blur.

And I wrote back to you explaining why you had scared me:

I like the original better.

Here’s why.

In my opinion — which fully merits the generous consideration anyone of us would naturally accord a jackass — the original poem ends weakly, insipidly on the word “blur”. I find it brilliant that you would conclude a poem about words being insipid with an insipid ending in sharp contrast to all that has gone before.

Really gets you thinking, that one. I mean, how can so much of the poem show words off as vigorous, robust things, then so compellingly declare them insipid? Could it be both views have justice?

But your edit ends strong, and thus negates that delightful contradiction.

So I am glad to see that you have not changed the original poem after all.  What a relief!

The only criticism I have of your poem is ridiculous as a criticism:  You should explore words more.  Write another poem about words, only this time, words not as they are understood and experienced by poets, but, say, words as they are used to propagandize people.  Words use to evil ends.

After that, if you wish, write on words from yet another angle.

Or not.  It’s up to you.

I hope this critique has been thought provoking, perhaps even helpful, although I do not expect helpful.  You are far too accomplished as a poet for me to have helped you.

All the best,

Paul

Evolution, Human Nature, Intelligence, Language, Liars Lies and Lying, Psychology, Reason, Relationships, Science, Scientific Method(s), Thinking, Truth, Values, Wisdom

Are We Humans Better Liars than Thinkers or Sages?

I am all but certain that, somewhere lying around in the minds of certain scientists today, is an hypothesis that accurately describes the origins of language.  That is, I’m nearly sure the origins have already been largely figured out by now.

I am also all but certain that, unless we invent time travel, or the gods both exist and decide to reveal their knowledge of its origins, or a genius quite improbably comes up with a mathematical proof of its origins,  or — most likely these days —  a FOX News personality stumbles across its origins while searching for ancient dirt on Barrack Obama’s alleged War on Adam and Eve,  it will never be much more than an astute guess whether the correct hypothesis of language’s origins is truly correct.

Yet, despite the improbability of actually discovering the origins of language,  various things about the fundamental nature of language and its uses suggest to insightful and very learned guess-a-tators such as myself that language might — or might not — have evolved from mating calls, that it might — or might not — have been preceded by singing, that it might — or might not — have evolved faster in women than in men, that it might — or might not — have had multiple causes for its development from mating calls (such as its use in promoting group cohesion and cooperation), and that it surely, certainly, and absolutely was used almost from “the very moment it was invented” to tell lies.

There are a variety of reasons to tentatively think that particular use for language developed early on.   Of all those various reasons, the only ones that interest me here are these two:  Humans lie with ease and great frequency, and they begin playing around with telling lies at tender ages. If lying didn’t develop early on, then why is it so behaviorally advanced in us?  Why are we so good at it?

It seems obvious to me that our brains are more advanced at lying than they are at many other things — such as doing math or science, for nearly everyone of us lies with ease when he or she wants to, but so many of us struggle with critical, mathematical, or scientific thinking.

It also seems obvious to me that our brains are even less developed for wisdom than they are for critical, mathematical, or scientific thinking.  There are whole, vast areas of life in which, at most, only about one in ten or one in twenty of us frequently behave in ways that consistently show great wisdom.  That is, I’ve observed that even the village idiot now and then acts wisely, but I’ve also observed that the large majority of us have blind spots — whole areas of our lives — in which we are inconsistently wise, or even frequently fools.

Human relationships are usually a person’s most easily noticed blind spot.  Indeed, relationships are an area of life in which even those folks who most consistently behave towards others with great wisdom often stumble or fall, and if someone has learned to dance among us like a sage, you can be sure it took her an age of clumsy mistakes to learn her grace.

It seems likely that many people believe on some level that popularity is a sure sign of wisdom in dealing with others, and — if that were indeed the case — there would be a lot more people in this world who are wise about relationships than there really are, for there are certainly a lot of popular people.  Indeed, I myself can believe there is some small link between wisdom in relationships and popularity, but I cannot believe that link is more than a small one, if only because I’ve known too many fools who were popular, and too many comparably wise people who were not.

So I think the human brain is least of all evolved for wisdom, somewhat more evolved for critical, mathematical, or scientific thinking, and most of all of these evolved for lying.  And, likewise, it seems to me that language is best suited to lying, less suited to the sort of precision and exactness that one so often needs to communicate critical, mathematical, or scientific ideas, and least of all suited to communicate wisdom.  In fact, I’m pretty certain wisdom is not merely difficult, but extraordinarily difficult, to communicate, if it can be communicated at all.

For instance, this morning I came across a meme post to a website that stated, “It’s better to be alone than to be in a bad relationship”.  The first thing I thought was, “That’s true for a number of reasons”, and the second thing I thought was, “Among those reasons, it is better to be alone than to be in a bad relationship because, ironically, we are more likely to suffer from intense loneliness when we are in a bad or abusive relationship than when we are by ourselves and alone.”  But the third thing I thought was, “If one does not already know the truth of these things, then one is unlikely to learn the truth from either the meme or from any other words spoken about it.   How often have I seen people plunge themselves into bad or abusive relationships, or refuse to leave one, primarily out of fear of being lonely?  At least a third or half of the people I’ve known well in life have had at least one story of getting into a bad or abusive relationship and then delaying or even failing to leave it largely out of fear of being lonely.  Yet, nearly everyone who actually left such a relationship has looked back and said to me, ‘I only wish I left sooner, or not gotten into that relationship at all.’ Not a single person has yet told me that being alone has turned out to be lonelier than was being in the relationship.”

Now, I have heard people say that wisdom is “subjective” because there are no objective means for determining what is “right or wrong”.  But I think that might be a half-truth, and perhaps only a quarter-truth.  In many cases, all we need for wisdom to become objective is pick a goal.  Once we have picked a goal, it so often becomes possible to know with a fair amount of assurance which actions will bring us to our goal, which actions will not, and even which actions will be more efficient or effective than others in doing so.

For instance, if our goal is to avoid for ourselves the worst of loneliness, then it is obvious that choosing to get into a bad or abusive relationship is not the wisest decision we can make, while remaining alone or getting into a healthy relationship is a wiser choice.  Of course, this assumes that it is true for us, even if for no one else, that we will feel lonelier in a bad or abusive relationship than we’d otherwise feel.  But that question can be answered objectively.

The choice of goal is ultimately subjective (but that should not distract us from the fact that we can many times objectively determine the wisest means to that goal).  And yet, it is only ultimately subjective, for goals themselves can be arranged in hierarchies so that a higher goal might determine whether or not one expresses or attempts to actualize a lower goal.

In this blog post, I have been using the word “wisdom” as nearly synonymous with the phrase “most effective”.  Which, if I am being logically consistent, means that I harbor the somewhat dismal notion that our species of super-sized chimpanzees relatively excel at lying; perform mediocre at critical, mathematical, or scientific thinking; and suck the big potato at assessing the comparative effectiveness of various relevant behaviors, and then acting in accordance with those assessments, in order to bring about the most desired outcome.  If all of that is substantially true, then it naturally raises the question:  Why is it that we’re better liars than “thinkers” or sages?