We See What We Want to See

The human mind is incredible, capable of amazing feats. But it is not perfect as philosophers have known since before Socrates. The senses can be fooled because of their physical limitations but a much more destructive force is the mind’s ability to be warped by its own desires. We see sometimes what we want to see and will make our selves see, or not see, what suits our prejudices.

I found vivid evidence of this when I ran across a site interesting in how utterly whacked out it is. The site is quite entertaining really. It makes the claim that “Phobos — from this wondrous visual evidence alone — IS unquestionably ‘an ancient, artificial moon’ …. an ET space ship!” Uh… not so much. Look at the photos for yourself. I don’t see anything artificial and I certainly don’t see the spaceship features the author keeps talking about. I strongly suspect you won’t either. Even if we are charitable to the author, his assertion that the evidence is “unquestionable” is quite questionable.

Which leaves us with two possibilities about our author. He is lying in order to sell us something or he is delusional. Admitting the very real possibility of the former, I suspect more the latter. There is a segment of the population that seems to sincerely believe in tall tales because they want to believe them. That’s part of the human condition and everyone–yes everyone, me and you too–sees what they want to see. Hopefully not things as delusional as seeing alien spaceships in moons of other planets. As Francis Bacon once said, when we find ourselves liking an idea we should question ourselves as to whether we are believing it because we like it or if there really is a rational reason to hold that belief.

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On Religion and Ethics

Blame religion? That’s too easy and too wrong. Just as people don’t need religion to be ethical, they don’t need religion to be unethical. Religion never created any saints or monsters – the saints and monsters created themselves.

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The Other and Wisdom

To be able to imagine the other, and the experience of the other, was what wisdom was all about.

– Alexander McCall Smith


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The Meaning of Heresy

The word “heretic” has become synonymous with unorthodox with an insinuation of cult-like behavior. But look at the etymology of the word:

HERESY – “In ancient Greek, the verb ‘hairein,’ meaning ‘to take,’ gave rise to the adjective ‘hairetos’ ‘able to choose’ and the noun ‘hairesis’ ‘the act of choosing.’ In time the noun developed the extended senses of ‘a choice,’ ‘a course of action,’ ‘a school of thought,’ and ‘a philosophical or religious sect.’ Stoicism, for example, was a ‘hairesis.’

So a heretic is someone who makes a choice, and heresy is a belief or action that is chosen. Originally the term was not pejorative though it did become that when wielded by a group that called themselves The Apostolic Church (community). Beginning around the start of the first century CE, the group, claiming to know the pure teaching of the twelve apostles of Jesus, began to use the term ‘hairesis’ for other beliefs about Jesus. The word ‘hairesis’ was appropriate because the Apostolic position was that their doctrines were the original Christian teachings and all who disagreed had chosen a contrary (and thus erroneous) doctrine. The Apostolic Church’s chief opponent was the Marcionite Church (after its founder Marcion) which taught that Jesus was sent by a different god than the god known as Yahweh and believed that they were the true followers of Jesus’s teachings. An intellectual battle between the Marcionite and Apostolic churches lasted for several centuries and the Apostolic Church prevailed. Since history is written by the winners, the Marcionites were declared “heretics” and condemned as not just people who chose a school of thought but people who choose an evil path.

The Apostolic Church was the forerunner of the Catholic Church, which claimed the Apostolic doctrinal authority. The latter inherited the habit of declaring doctrinal opponents “heretics” and the model of dealing with heretics. As the centuries past the methods of dealing with heretics evolved leading to official intolerance, excommunication, and the Inquisition.

It is important to realize that heresy begins with a choice – a choice to think for one’s self. And intellectual freedom is not often accepted by the powers that be – then and now.

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Double Positive

During a lecture the Oxford linguistic philosopher J. L. Austin made the claim that although a double negative in English implies a positive meaning, there is no language in which a double positive implies a negative. To which Columbia University philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser responded in a dismissive tone, “Yeah, …right.”

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