Tag Archives: philosophy

Reviews ~ Learning to Drive

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, available for $9-$20

“The car goes where the eyes go.”


A friend of mine recommended this book. There are a myriad of reasons why she might have, not the least of which it’s a dang good book. The main character is a dog. It is from his viewpoint, thoughts, successes and failures that we see the life of a man who is at heart a champion. A champion race car driver. It takes him a long time to realize his goal and the story of how he finds his path from behind the customer service desk of a high-end automobile service garage and onto the race tracks of Europe, well, that is our tale, you see.

Enzo, our beloved hero, is a mutt with maybe a bit of terrier. He’s a smart dog. Bored to distraction while his pal, Denny, is at work. He finally finds an outlet when the TV is left on one morning and Enzo takes on the job of educating himself. Denny sets limits but makes sure that Enzo is exposed to variety. Soon he spends long hours absorbing human interactions and thought process available on the channels he is permitted to watch. And there are always the videos. Videos of races from around the world that he and his pal watch, always with lessons about what went wrong, what went right and what it takes to be a champion. And how to drive in the rain.

Of all the programs that affect Enzo the most, one is a National Geographic program about the dogs of Mongolia. Here it is believed that if a dog does very well in his life, he may have the opportunity to become a human in the next life. Enzo sets this as his goal. The very thought of acquiring opposing thumbs and a tongue that actually responds to commands—well this change becomes his checkered flag.

Denny suffers a number of setbacks. Money, the loss of his beloved wife and a long and debilitating fight for the custody of his daughter. But he is a champion, and when he wavers on his path, Enzo jumps in with his dog-like persistence and finds a way to get Denny’s eyes back on the track.

Another saying used wisely in these pages is, “No race has ever been won in the first corner; many have been lost there.” The need to keep a goal in sight, no matter what obstacles are in the way, is the only chance of reaching it. Yes, there are things in life that you cannot change, but there are those you can. And for those you must stay the course. Not squeezing the wheel in desperation until your joints ache and you no longer “feel,” but with calm awareness of everything around you so that you can avoid losing control, over correcting, and ending up in a heap at the side of the road.

One more gem from Enzo. “Racers are often called selfish and egotistical. I myself have called race car drivers selfish; I was wrong. To be a champion, you must have no ego at all. You must not exist as a separate entity. You must give yourself over to the race. You are nothing if not for your team, your car, your shoes, your tires. Do not mistake confidence and self-awareness for egotism.” To win you must be aware of everything around you, know the most effective response without really thinking, and keep your eyes where you want the car to go. It takes practice, it takes will, and it takes a sincere love of the race itself.

Ah, yes, our Enzo. You observed much and learned much. I only hope your doggie soul remains so wise when it finds its human shell.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Fiction

The Way We Think ~ Objective vs. Subjective

Courtesy Diane Lynn Gardner

Courtesy Diane Lynn Gardner

This is a new type of post for the Reading Alcove.   It is a corner devoted to talking about the tools we use to think.  The ways in which we determine what we choose to believe, and what we should require to change those beliefs.

Philosophy (love of wisdom) is not some academic exploration of questions that few have time to deal with.  It is a study of how we reason, how we discern, how we sort out what is right or wrong.  Even if we start with the assumption that the reader is open to exploring alternative ways of looking at something, how do you present information so they can make an objective decision regarding the value of your contribution?  What, pray tell, constitutes objective data?  Is an encyclopedic knowledge of a subject necessary in order to arrive at a useful point of view?

This is an important question.  Too often I see a great deal of hullabaloo made over some sound bite that may or may not have any basis in fact.  The source is unknown, the information is sketchy, and it all comes wrapped in an emotion-packed caption or blurb.  And yet people get emotionally committed to the wonder or horror of it all because it fits with their own perception.  Here we have what would be called a subjective opinion.  It is based almost entirely on the reader’s emotions, perceptions, and general desire to see things in a certain way.

Now the other end of the scale: the objective opinion.  This is an opinion that is supposed to be constructed based purely on facts.  No emotions allowed.  It is built on reason and rational thought and knowledge of all, or substantial relevant data.  I am sure there are persons who firmly believe that they are, without exception, objective thinkers.  Philosophers of today tend to differ, quite adamantly.  They do so for this reason:  there is no feasible way that a human person can look at data and see it without the influence of their past, their own knowledge, and their future intentions.  Different philosophers deal with the conundrum differently.  Friedrich Nietzsche described something called perspectivism which is the idea that all knowledge comes from some perspective and, therefore, can’t ever be objective.

Thomas Nagel, author of The View from Nowhere, describes this issue differently.  Rather than viewing the two extremes as opposite “sides” of something (such as a coin) he suggests that we look at the terms as two extremes on a continuum.   In other words, there is no way to view something from nowhere; we all have viewpoints from somewhere.

Does this mean that there are no absolutes?  Absolutely not.   What it does mean is that for each idea, each thought, each motivation whether small or large, we have to decide what part our own peculiar being plays.  If we are going to learn, to grow as a person, we have to be open to new ideas.  But we should not sacrifice who we are at the most fundamental level unless there is a real an unavoidable reason for doing so.

So, how do we decide to decide? Even “facts” can be tainted by the prejudice, or inattention of the provider.  Statistics are wonderful tools, if allowed to speak for themselves.  Sometimes critical information is left out that lumps apples and oranges together and renders the information useless and best and dangerously misleading at worst.  For example, when comparing accidents between truckers and passenger vehicles it is only useful if miles driven, road conditions, experience of the driver and class of each vehicle is taken into consideration.  If you see a picture and it has a caption, do you know the source of the picture?  Is the caption valid?  If you are presented with material that is outside of your experience but which could have an impact on the way you view the world, how do you assess its value?

In my opinion all decisions start at a subjective point.  Somewhere you have to decide that whatever the issue is it is important enough to you to learn, to explore, to understand.  The colors of a rainbow are beautiful and almost always cause us to stop and gaze at what is really a fairly common sight.  However it is interest in such phenomenon that led us to learn about reflection and refraction.  The beauty drove the desire to know the facts, the science that made it all happen.  It all starts with wonder, with imagination, with why.

Always be a seeker.  Always question.  Just keep sight of your own lighthouse.  I hope you enjoy this new exploration.  Philosophy is one of my favorite subjects and I thoroughly enjoy taking apart the ways we think and how we learn.  Join me know and then.


Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Journey with Job

Reflections ~ If you were “there,” it never really goes away.

This week, here in America, many of us are recognizing a moment in history when the course of our history changed.  I know there are many such moments; times when the myriad possibilities that stretch before us solidify into the future path.  However, if you were alive and well in the early 60s; the assassination of President Kennedy was more than a defining moment.  It was a moment when the darker side of American existence pushed and shoved its way into the public eye.  For better or worse, on that day, America did indeed “lose her innocence.”

ST-C420-51-63At the urging of a friend I picked up a copy of Stephen King’s, 11/22/63.   She opened a chat line on Facebook so that we could discuss our interpretations and feelings on the novel and that moment in history.  My answer will be to post a link to this blog.  For me, it was an all-consuming (whenever possible) read.  You see, I was around and old enough to be cognizant all those many years ago.

King’s story is an exquisite adventure into time travel.  I was completely drawn into his mental exercise of what the implications of time travel might be.  How no matter how fervently we wish to change the past that change can cause repercussions we are even less happy with.  No matter how hard we try to make sense of the horror or randomness of life’s pathways; there can be even more horrible consequences should we meddle.

Reading the story sent me on my own nostalgic trip. Using faithful and ever present Google I looked up the home that I lived in with my parents in 1963.  It was in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Interesting, the house is still green and the retaining wall we built is still there – at least it was when the street-level Google photo was taken.  It took a bit more research but I finally found the elementary school I was attending and as soon as I saw the name I had a “George” moment: Whittier Elementary.  A fairly sizable school within suitable walking distance of our home.  No, I only walked uphill one way, but the winds of my youth were very, very cold (dress code demanded that girls wear skirts) and the snow could get rather deep in that part of the country.  I also saw that my “short cut” was still there.

It was during our lunch time recess that there was an announcement on the PA system; we were having an emergency assembly.  I remember filing into the auditorium with everyone else on that day and seeing our principal and most of the teaching staff on stage.  Nearly all of them were in tears.   With a breaking voice our principal informed us that our president had been assassinated.  School was being closed, everyone was being sent home.  If you did not have acceptable arrangements at home, please speak with your teacher.  Thanks, but no thanks.  I’ll be fine.  And I walked home.

I don’t remember when my parents got home, or what their specific responses were.  I think my mother was deeply affected, I’m not really sure about my father. For me the world was suddenly something I heard down some tunnel we like to think of as reality.  My home life was not a pleasant thing.  Better than some, worse than others, but behind our walls some of that “innocence” of the day was most definitely cracked and pealed.

In the 60s child abuse was something that happened most often in the comfort of your own home (or educational institution) with hot chocolate and marshmallows.   It wasn’t talked about.  Any more than the performance of a drunken actress singing happy birthday to her own, very special president was talked about.   America had won the war.  We were healthy economically, on top of the world politically and our borders were secure.  Our president had avoided nuclear war with an intense game of chess (or poker) and we were all breathing easier for the victory.  Suddenly, that all shattered.  For me it was truly personal because I had held a belief that “once I left home” I would be in control of my own life.  The assassination of a controversial, but beloved president blew that vision into a million shards of star dust.  Nowhere was safe.  Absolutely nowhere.

I will, of course, never know what my journey might have been if I could have retained my belief in a safe America.  An America where people somehow believed that rhetoric does not create real events, real impact.  I say this because I firmly believe that at least part of the community guilt that Dallas suffered was due to the hot bed of racial and religious intolerance that was evident not too far below the surface if not quite frankly out in the open.  King does an excellent job of describing our country in that age.  The segregation, treatment of women, the slums, the real hatred that some held for our internationally renowned “leading couple.”  There was a bubbling current of talk about how the man should be shot; he was nothing but a commie and he would surely lead us all into perdition; most assuredly if he made us live side by side with “those others.”  I am sure there are many that thought good riddance; but there were others who felt just as guilty as if they had fired the shot themselves.  The underbelly of America.  Prejudice, poverty, fear for the future in a nuclear world.  It was no longer possible to ignore it.

King, after researching the matter with the zeal of a writer, does not think there was a conspiracy.  What feelings of “conspiracy” I have are limited to the opportunistic use of the event rather than any forethought or planning.  Although I’m sure there was plenty of that going on.  Of all of the work I have read myself on the subject, the best and most believable is Mortal Error: The Shot that Killed Kennedy by Bonar Mennings.  It is the story of 25 years of research by a man named Howard Donahue.  Donahue is a ballistics and gun expert and was involved in one of the many investigations that followed the event.   It is a completely different take on the events of that day.   Anything I say about the book will be a true spoiler.  It was, for me, a bit of closure.

After 50 years, where does this story leave me?  I have to say that it may have influenced my life more than I have previously acknowledged.  I am an avid student of history.  Not just the dates, events, names, and chronologies; I love to sort out the pieces and see if the trail of consequences leads me to some conclusion not obvious in the written record.  What were the pivotal moments in history that caused kingdoms to rise or fall or individuals to become heroes or villains? Do the same circumstances in another place and time change the label of hero or villain; do they change the outcome?

The other part of that repercussion is my intense interest in philosophy and religion.  Is life really random?  Is there anything concrete we can depend on, or is it all a blind act of faith?  Is there some hope that we can navigate our lives in such a way that our journey, and that of others that we touch, is somehow better and not destroyed in some small or great way?

That brings, me then, to my current work in progress.  I think in my exploration of the life of Job and in the various interpretations of his story and his response I am going back to these fundamental questions.  Why do such horrible things happen?  Is there a plan, or only a vague path through the “lesser horror” and a hope for mitigation?  What is the impact of “change,” when and if it is even possible?  Perhaps you’d like to make the journey with me.


Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Fiction, Personal Journeys

Reflections ~ On the Last Word

This piece came together over the last few days due, in part, to several unrelated events and random chance readings.  These events and readings triggered a line of thought that wandered a bit through many years of yet other unrelated events, all of which brought a peaceful end to a very exasperating day.  The details of the exasperation are not really important. The lessons, however, are.  Consequently, I shall take you on a bit of the journey and show you some of my own thought process in the bargain.  It’s all part of getting to know the writer behind my published works.

Let’s start with the triggers.  I spend quite a bit of time on that social media soup known as Facebook.  For one thing it is an inexpensive way to keep in touch with people I have come to know and care about.  It is also a bit of a window on the world beyond my door.  Given the obligations of a 24/7 caregiver, I rarely find myself in social contact with other people, nor do I add to my husband’s confusion by trying to explain news programs or incessant pleas to buy stuff.  And, besides, I do find rather quirky bits of inspiration from time to time.  Like this:


“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Carl Jung

As it happens I am painfully aware of this little quirk of human nature.  Consequently when I get really irritated at someone or something I do try to step back and understand why.  Why is this situation so infuriating?  “They aren’t listening to me!”  I see.  Are you listening to them?  Are you hearing the words, or the emotions?  Is there some point of communication that you can find; or are you talking from two different planets in languages completely foreign to each other?

I don’t know how many of my readers have ever played poker, but there is a high probability that if you have you have run into a player that had no clue of how the game is played.  They would place wild and ridiculous bets chasing everyone out of the hand: and have nothing.  Now it has always been my policy to play chess first, both in life and in business and poker only if need be, but I do know when to “fold them.”  There comes a time when “winning” is no longer the higher goal.  Because there is no winning.    Hence the second “random quote” of my day:


“The strength of a civilization is not measured by its ability to fight wars, but rather by its ability to prevent them.” Gene Roddenberry

These events were tumbling around in my head as I was reaching the point in my day when I had to take care of some chores before the weekend was gone.  Now the interesting thing about the task of cleaning house in my home is that it always generates a series of questions. My husband (who suffers from vascular dementia) gets somewhat disoriented.  “Is someone coming?” “Is someone moving in?”  “Why do we have to clean the house?”  Ordinarily I attempt to answer these questions as best (and repeatedly) as I can.  But when I’m in a hurry that complicates things a great deal.

Suddenly the act of communicating became a very real “in your face” issue.  His perspective on the whole thing was totally alien to the basic function of having a reasonably clean home.  There is no way between now and the day the sun begins to engulf our planet that I will be able to explain it to him in a way he can understand.  There is no “winning.”

Fast forward to supper time and the whole mishmash of events and conversations is still brewing in my head.  I am reminded of a day some 30 years ago when I hopped a plane from Dallas to Houston to sort some things out with my father.  Due to an action on his part I had reached that moment when you break the sound barrier.  No, haven’t been there, but I’ve read a very detailed description.  At least in a jet fighter things can be a pretty rough ride until that moment you breach Mach 1.  Then things become quite stable, quite calm.  Everything going on in my life at that point suddenly rattled free and I “knew” it was time.  It was not important what his response was, I didn’t care what he chose to say or not say, I simply said my piece, hopped back on the plane and went about trying to get the rest of my life in order.  I didn’t have to “win;” I did need to move on.

Then comes the little voice, “but.”  “I’m right.  Any ‘objective’ observer would know that my position is right.”  “Shouldn’t I make sure that the whole world knows what the “real” story is?”  Well, there is one more random piece to my day.  I am currently reading a book entitled The Philosopher’s Toolkit. No plot here, just a group of short essays to introduce the inquiring mind to the art of debating (arguing), building, composing philosophy and how modern philosophers look at terms and basic tools.  My brief moment of reading today was on a section entitled: “Objective/Subjective.”

There seems to be a bit of a problem when we define these terms.  We like to think that subjective opinions are based on emotions and objective opinions are formed based on research and logical, reasonable thought.  In ancient times the two were thought of as two sides of the same coin.  It was never particularly complementary to be thought of as “subjective.”  More modern thoughts, from a philosophical point of view, see the question a bit differently.  The reason is that, as humans it is impossible to view any event, conversation, piece of information, thought, whatever, without the influence of your own past experience.  As humans we learn based on experience, it is a fundamental part of what we are.  Now the whole question of objective/subjective is looked at as more of a continuum; a line along which the amount of objective or subjective interpretation varies based on the circumstance, the subject, and the individual.  We never can reach a “pure” state of the objective because we will always be influenced, by something.

Am I a relativist then?  Believing that there is some sliding scale of right and wrong?  That nothing is certain and only circumstances can determine a valid solution; a winner?  No, I’m not.  I still believe that the ethics, morals, and standards by which I try to conduct my life are a meaningful goal.  A goal worthy of my efforts.  I still believe that others are not permitted to dodge responsibilities or look for ways to change the color of a situation.  I also believe that there are times when people cannot see another point of view because of the tunnel they have wrapped around their mind.  They are incapable of “hearing” what you are saying.  And their responses will always be that off-the-wall, unsupported bet.  When that happens, that person will appreciate your point of view about the time my husband understands why I want to clean the house.

This, then, is the lesson that I carry with me.  Life is not about “winning” the argument.  It is not about beating people down until they agree just to shut you up.  It is not about having the loudest voice.  It is about knowing your own self well enough to know when you have done what you think is right and to step away with confidence and peace.  Sometimes the last word is no word at all.


Filed under Personal Journeys

My Journey with Job ~ Who then, is my Friend?

Courtesy Commons.  Some rights reserved by pingnews.com

Courtesy Commons. Some rights reserved by pingnews.com

My growing network is quite aware that I am working on a second book.  One that is far closer to the writings my husband encouraged for so many years.  The years, that is, before dementia took him away from me.  He has a Ph.D. in philosophy and a Masters or two in math and science.  He devoted much of his life learning how we think so that he could teach machines how to think.  He is also a half-breed of sorts having been raised by a devout Catholic mother and a committed Jewish father.  Honed by both the Jesuits and the rabbis, his quite brilliant mind led him to a life of wonder at the workings of the universe, both great and small, and in an ongoing debate with a God he loved but constantly challenged.  He was, in many ways, my own private Job.

I don’t say this because he experienced anything like what happens in this passage of scripture.  I say this because he sought answers from the source.  He would look at available information.  He would compare the current wisdom.  When it was all said and done he refused to solidify his own opinion until he had pushed his knowledge as close to the source of the query as he could.  He never stopped looking until the disease robbed him of the ability to think logically.

My own journey with Job started many years ago.  Many of the things that I had become convinced of were discussed way into the night as I came to know my husband and as we shared our mutual wonder.  Debating with such a mind was refreshing, intriguing and challenging.  It meant that simple answers, stock answers, were not going to stand up.  It meant that I had to really explore the whys of my thoughts and construct reasonable arguments to support them.  As time went on he insisted I should write.  Now that he no longer knows I am, I do.

I have begun to introduce some of the thoughts contained in my new book on this blog. There is a glimpse into my thoughts in a blog discussing Dr. Erhman’s book, God’s Problem.  In order to write the book, Why Me? Come Let us Reason with Job, I have returned to research mode.  Do my ideas still stand?  Has life changed my mind, given me different perspectives?  Are the quotes and sources I knew from so many years ago accurate in my memory?  So, I am driven back to basic research.  I am finding that my core beliefs have not changed.  I am spending the time necessary to collect historical, religious and philosophical interpretations.  To learn what I can of the writing of the piece, of what supporting evidence there is for the when or who of the passage.  However, those things that speak to me have not changed.  As I develop the manuscript I will invite my readers to see what those treasured thoughts are and why I think they are so very important.  For the full debate, however, you’ll have to buy the book.  For this week’s contribution I thought I would explore who, then, is my friend?

I believe that this is one of the pillars of the lessons from Job.  We, as the audience, are informed at the very beginning that Job is a blameless man.  He is an upright man that avoids evil and watches over his family faithfully.  It is made clear to us, the observers, that the events that are about to take place are not due to any failure on his part to meet the requirements of a demanding or loving God.  Why then, have we spent millennium trying to sort out the arguments of his friends seeking some answer to his questions?  They want to blame him.  The more he questions his situation, the more adamant they become.  They are certain he is filled with unclean thoughts and intentions because there is no other way for them to find a “cause” for the “effect” they see before them.  This debate takes up a great deal of the poem.  God’s response to this tirade?  “Who is this who darkens counsel, Speaking without knowledge?”  (Job 38:2 from Tanakh, a translation by the Jewish Publication Society).  Job’s friends actually get in a lot of hot water and are commanded to go to him in order to have a sacrifice performed for their forgiveness.

Even after millennium of debate over “the purposes of suffering” the answer still rings in my ears:  “Who darkens my council?”  Obviously, my new book would be rather shallow if it didn’t offer some of the substance of this debate, and it does.  I use writings from Jewish and Christian writers who formed the foundation of our modern thought on the matter as well as more modern interpretations.  I also explore the response to human suffering from other cultures and religious practices.  In what I hope is a conversational tone I lead my reader through the history of what we have thought about the book so that I can better show how I arrived at my conclusions.  Occasionally, I find a glimmer of those thoughts.  Or, something I strongly believe hiding in the midst of things that make me shake my head.  Here is a bit of what I take away from “Job’s friends.”

It doesn’t really matter what Job has done or not done to “deserve” his current circumstances.  That is made abundantly clear in the very first scenes.  But Job’s friends, much like our own, out of fear or even arrogance are certain sure they know the cause.  We live in a world where the vagaries of nature, violence, and general human sorrow keep us asking “Why?”  And, just like Job’s friends, there is always someone (or many) who is absolutely certain that the problem at hand is due to some infraction of some universal law.  While such an individual is so terribly busy coming up with reasons why, they are missing a fundamental point.

Deep in my heart I believe that the lesson of Job’s friends is that the question is not just “Why?”  The questions should also be “what” and “where.”  What is happening and where can I help? In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus is asked “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?”  His answer?  Love God and love one another, on these two commandments hang the whole law and the prophets. This is not a new covenant law.  It is a quote of the law found in Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18.   Job’s friends never got beyond the debate.  They never looked at Job as a friend in need.  That was their gravest error and, to me, one of the most important lessons of the whole book.

It is not a thought to take lightly.  In Matthew 25:31-46 a scene is described in a somewhat familiar passage that discusses the separation of the sheep from the goats.  Take note that the test of who is which is not who prayed more, sinned less, or preached more.  It says nothing about how many souls you tried to save from abortion, misguided life styles or the evils of sin, sex and money (or lack thereof).  The defining qualification is this: “For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me. …in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” (New Jerusalem translation)  It’s not about blame.  It’s about doing what is needed when it is needed.

Some years ago in a previous marriage, my husband, our business partner and I were preparing for a number of guests at our home for the 4th of July weekend.  The three of us were developing a place situated on acreage where people could come away for awhile and rest; a place of reflection.  Our partner was an integral part of our little family, living in his own trailer but spending much of his time with us.  Due to a lifetime of alcohol abuse, his too-young body finally gave out and in the middle of the pre-celebration night he died of a massive coronary arrest.  There was no way to change our plans, in fact they grew more complex because now we had a memorial to plan as well.

The following morning, as I was preparing for the guests that were about to arrive, a very dear friend of mine called.  She communicated her condolences and added the usual, “If there’s anything I can do to help.”   With a sigh I said I felt like we had most things under control, I just had to figure out how to get our house cleaned and his trailer prepared for his daughter’s arrival.  Her response?  “When do you want me there?”

What kind of story would we have if Job’s friends had arrived, stayed with him during the seven days of grieving, and then stood up and said, “Where do we start?”  “Job, can we help your wife bury your children?” “Would you like us to find who is left of your household and secure your property?” “Is there something left in the fields we can have harvested in support of your wife?”  Scripture being what it is we often find a record of what we do, rather than what we should do.  But in the telling of those things we are prone to do, there is a point when we can see what we should do.  Who then is your friend, your neighbor, your brother or sister?  Sometimes it is important how an individual gets into a predicament.  More often than not it really doesn’t matter.  What matters is what we do about it.

I would like to add a few links to organizations that have impressed me.  Reaching out and touching a life can be as simple as a donation online, or a smile on the street.  It doesn’t have to involve money, sometimes it is just a bit of time that’s needed.  Learn to become sensitive to those who are around you and you just might catch that incredible moment when what you have to offer is exactly what a fellow being needs.

WHD2013What is Habitat for Humanity International?

  • A nonprofit, Christian housing ministry that believes that every man, woman and child should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live.
  • We build and repair houses all over the world using volunteer labor and donations.
  • Our partner families purchase these houses through no-profit, no-interest mortgage loans or innovative financing methods.

Heifer International

Heifer currently provides over 30 types of animals to families in need in more than 40 countries, including the U.S.

footer_logoThe Rose International Fund for Children

The primary mission of The Rose International Fund for Children (TRIFC.org) is to improve the lives of children in Nepal, particularly those who have a disability.

streetchildren_homeThe Bart D. Ehrman Foundation is a not-for-profit organization whose overarching purpose is to raise money for charities devoted to poverty, hunger, and homelessness. All money collected from membership fees is given over to charities devoted to helping those in need.

And one of my personal favorites:  The Songs of Kiguli project.  This is an effort to publish the works of primary school children in Uganda so that they can fund improvements to the school and build the character necessary to lead their nation into the future.

Vigorous debate is always appreciated; however I will not post flame or outright attacks.


Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Journey with Job, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck

Reviews ~ Loving Science through the Eyes of a Theist

Where the Conflict Really Lies  by Alvin Plantinga, available in hard cover for around $25.00

conflictSome time ago I decided that I would make it a goal to “go back to school.”  This time I intend to study in a subject area that I never had time for while I was building a career in accounting and business management.  I intend to study philosophy.  I find the subject of thinking on how we think wonderfully absorbing.  Part of that wonder is how we view the universe and how much we are only now beginning to understand.  Consequently, when I run across someone who seems to think that the word “lobotomy” and the word “theist” are interchangeable; well, I find it odd. Depending on the circumstances I may even consider it amusing.

Recently I was watching the series, Stephen Hawking’s Universe.  There is a segment in one of the episodes where the work of Monsignor George Lemaitre is discussed.  If you do not recognize the name, Monsignor Lemaitre was the first astronomer and physicist to postulate the “primeval atom.”  (Hoyle’s Big Bang).  Another physicist had a similar idea based on Einstein’s relativity equations, but it was Lemaitre that realized what the actual proof of his theory would be.  He was, basically, looking for Hubble’s results.  He was an avid proponent of the theory of an expanding universe and argued long and hard with such luminaries as Einstein against the steady state universe.  He made sure he was present at the Mount Wilson observatory to discuss Hubble’s new findings about the expanding universe while Einstein was there.  The Catholic official now responsible for caring for Lemaitre’s papers and research said something I found much to my own liking.  There are two ways for science and religion to have a conversation.  One is sitting at the table together and attempt to talk, in which case the conversation usually degenerates.  The other is for the religious to simply do good science.

And they have.  There is much ink spilled on the controversy between Galileo and the church.  The church had accepted the views of an ancient Greek as interpretation of scripture.  You may have heard of Ptolemy.  However, Galileo was a devote Catholic and his faith was not shaken by his great discoveries.  Kepler, Newton, Einstein, and many, many others had no issue being theists of one brand or another and still have the drive to know all they could know about the universe in which we live. Many of the men of science that did so much to build the foundations of what we know today were in pursuit of what they saw as the mind of God.  This tradition is still going on.  There will always be those who choose to be willfully blind, whatever their world view may be.  In Plantinga I found a kindred spirit and a thinker that was perfectly comfortable in a universe where arduous scientific investigation can co-exist with a belief in some form of a “Prime Mover.”  Plantinga writes from the world view of a Christian.

Where the Conflict Realty Lies develops Plantinga’s position that there is only superficial conflict between science and religion, but very deep conflict between science and naturalism.  He has no beef with evolution; only unguided evolution.  His philosophical point of view is that it is very difficult to build a case that purely random, natural selection would select for a reasoning, rational mind.  If the whole focus of evolution is survival and the propagation of the species, then what purpose does the development of mathematics, physics, set theory, and other abstract thoughts serve which are so fundamental to advanced sciences today?  Where does Bach and Mozart come in?  What survival instinct do the arts protect and preserve?  Evolution based purely on natural selection is not forward looking, it does not anticipate need; it reacts to current changes and accidents of mutation.  Even using the proven theories of adaptability (a change in a complex organism becomes permanent because it can be adapted to other uses) does not completely explain the human drive to explore, to build, …to think.

Then there is the question of why we should come to believe that our cognitive faculties are reliable?  Just because we can train an animal to respond in a certain way given certain cues, what gives the sentient human being that extra push to “seek that which is true?”  What helps us sort through what to believe as true?  I know the scientist will say that it is experience and experiment.  We can duplicate circumstances and we KNOW this to be true.  However, sometimes we find out we didn’t have the whole picture.  And sometimes the only proof is what we can deduce and calculate that appears to successfully predict future outcomes.  I believe without hesitation that stars explode and in the process create the elements of which we are made.  I have not seen it happen.  I do not have a nuclear lab in my basement.  I know this to be true because I have seen the work of others (at least that part I understand) and that interpretation appears to fit what I know of the universe.  It does not impair my belief.  My belief makes my knowledge of these things all that more alive and gives the experience of learning a deeper richness.

Although there is a bit of probability mathematics here and there, Pantinga’s book is written for the serious layperson.  The thinker that wants to understand a bit more about what the argument really is.  It provides a basis for the thought process that accepts those things which have strong scientific support, but still looks further to test and stretch that knowledge.  It is the kind of conversation that allows a person to question points that are unresolved without being accused of refuting the whole field of inquiry.  Perhaps, in the end, Lemaitre’s admirer and curator is right.  The best way to have the conversation is for the theist to do good science.

Plantinga presents a strong case that allows the theist to sit down comfortably with the scientist and to mutually discover the wonders of this amazing universe.

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Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Current times, My Journey with Job, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck

Spooky “action at a distance”

Photo provided by Melissa Bowersocks through WANA Commons.

As my knowledge of the world of blogging expands I have found other ways to communicate with my readers and to expand the types of knowledge I can bring to their attention.  I have rearranged a few things on this site to better utilize the category function and to free up “page space” for more static information.  Some of you have noticed the addition of information helpful to writers and authors.  Now we will add another subject line, science.

I am not a scientist.  I am an avid reader of science.  My husband introduced me to the principles of quantum mechanics and physics some years ago and, in the process, the philosophy of science.  Our interaction between his science (and philosophy) and my philosophy shaped the growth of many of my earlier writings.  So, it only makes sense to use this forum to introduce those ideas that most fascinate me and that tickle my philosophical bone.  As my books reach publication, you will, perhaps, recognize some of these thought patterns in the text.

So lets look at some of the concepts that help us understand just what kind of universe is it that we live in.  We will begin with “entanglement,” Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance.”

Wikipedia describes this term thus:  “action at a distance is the idea of direct interaction of two objects that are separated in space with no intermediating agent or mechanism. […]  More generally “action at a distance” describes the break between human intuition, where objects have to touch to interact, and physical theory. The exploration and resolution of this problematic phenomenon led to significant developments in physics, from the concept of a field, to descriptions of quantum entanglement…”

Originally it was thought that entanglement only lasted a brief instant.  In other words, shortly after two pared particles/systems were separated, what happened to one seemed to impact the other.  Evidently, when we measured some defining portion of a state (defined simplistically as position and momenta) of one particle/system,  then that portion of the definition of state would be reflected in the distant particle/system.  The example used in the below referenced article is that if one person tosses a coin the outcome is purely random.  Entanglement is when the results are duplicated exactly by a second person tossing a coin.  Later physicists determined that the phenomenon occurred no matter how far apart the particles or the systems were;  the activity of one impacted the activity of the other.  Now, through the work of a very young physicist, the mathematics are developing that the systems do not even have to be identical to impact each other.  This ability to communicate without any overt interaction is at the root of quantum computing.  It is also the foundation for a hoped-for encryption process that cannot be cracked for use in banking transactions.  It is really amazing stuff.  An article recently published by Wired, “Teen Solves Quantum Entanglement Problem” at least attempts to explain the process to us mere mortals.

Of course what interests me is what this theory could mean on a philosophical level.  Do we really know the impact of our actions on the universe?  Do we understand how the activities in some far distant reach of our home may impact things around us, in us?  The further we probe into the mysteries of our universe and our minds, the more interesting the fabric of our existence becomes.

Brian Greene, author of many books on physics and a narrator of a NOVA program on string theory was interviewed by NPR.  When asked about the philosophical side of the things he was working on it was clear that he was non-committal on his religious position.  He wasn’t pro or con, he just didn’t think about it.  He did, however mention that his brother was a Hindu.  Often, Brian would discuss the new and interesting things he was finding in his field with his brother.  The response?  These things were spoken of millennium ago in the Sanskrit texts.  So, “is it something we’ve left behind?”


Filed under Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck

The Discipline of Choice

Book Review – In Absence of the Sacred, by Jerry Mander, Readily available for $6.00 – $20.00

I acquired this book at one of those delightful moments provided by a friend of mine.  She was attending university at the time and, for my birthday, walked me into the university bookstore and said – pick something, anything.  When these rare moments arrive I like to make sure that my selection is not necessarily something I would purchase browsing the shelves with my own budget.  I will look for something intriguing, new to me, off my usual radar.  I find such treasurers that way!

Written in 1991 the book is an amazing critique of the place technology “owns” in our day to day lives.  Mander discusses just how much it permeates our very existence and homogenizes much of humanity into some large mass of consumerism.  This is not, however, a book about ditching technology.  What Mander does try to do is introduce a bit of thought into the choices we each make whether we, as an individual, are a consumer or a producer of the marvels of our age.

Mander uses the aboriginal societies of a number of continents to show that in the slower paced world, people tend to make decisions based on what the impact will be on future generations.  What will be the cost in resources, sustainability, survival and the opportunity for enjoyment of the world around us?  He does not, to my recollection, try to say we should ditch all technology.  What he does try to say is that more thought should be put into the consequences of our renovations and discoveries before they become common issue and possible problems.

Let’s take a known problem, something that there is not much controversy about: toxic waste.  For decades we have fought in court rooms, on barren fields, hospital rooms and community centers to try to get manufacturing and production companies to take more responsibility for the waste they generate.  The price in human suffering runs deep before someone, somewhere finally decides enough is enough and then the cost of cleanup, litigation, loss of viability and even livelihoods, becomes such a burden that nearly any advantage gained by the original thought process is destroyed.  Yes money is made, perhaps mountains of money.  But money is also lost.  Companies go bankrupt; people lose jobs, health and life.

Mander proposes that we try a different approach.  Instead of dealing with the consequences after that fact; try to anticipate the consequence before hand and weigh the benefits of a particular development or technology against its true costs.  Paper diapers are probably a marvelous convenience, but where do they all go when they are used?  There are some moves to use our volcanoes as rather efficient garbage dumps, but do we know what the impact of that might really be?

Throughout the book Mander addresses some of the beliefs and customs of various aboriginal peoples around the world.  Even pointing out that as efficient and earth friendly as thermal heat may be, in Hawaii it is an offense to the Hawaiian people as an affront to Pele, their main goddess.   The system works well, however, in Iceland.  The point is we should be listening to those who have managed to lead sustainable lifestyles for millennium and combine their wisdom with our ever increasing knowledge.

I did not get the impression that Mander wanted us all to return to loin cloths and some mythological pre-industrial Eden.  Nor did I get the impression that he was recommending that we should shun advances in medicine, science or technology.  What I took away from the book is that as rational beings with the capability of reason, we should take into account the full impact of our activities before we commit to a course of action.  Our point of view should be to treasure our resources, to count our home “sacred” in some form or other and to seek sustainability.   Avoid becoming an automated consumer, buying whatever is the latest and greatest.  Instead, try to build a life around conscientious choices for things which enrich your life; including some of our most advanced technology.  Learn to know the difference and choose.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), My Bookshelf ~ Current times, My Journey with Job, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck

Book Review – Plain and Simple

Plain and Simple, By: Sue Bender
Readily available for less than $15.00

I decided before writing this review I would glance through a few of the reviews on Amazon to get some idea of what other people were saying.  My, my.  Sometimes I wonder if I have read the same book!

Perhaps it’s me, but my viewpoint on the book was 180 degrees from some of the input on the website.  I found the book some years ago when I, too, was looking for a different viewpoint, a different way of seeing things.  Since there is an artist hidden somewhere inside of me, I was drawn to the description on the dust jacket that indicated the author was first drawn to the “idea of the Amish” through their art.  Most markedly their quilts.  Her first introduction to the quilts was in 1967.  Sometime later she was struck by another art form of the Amish; faceless dolls.  She sought out an Amish woman that would make two dolls for her since they are not something on the open market.  By 1982 her personal haunting found an outlet and she arranged to spend some time with an Amish family.  It was sometime later that she was able to arrange a second visit in a different community with slightly different personalities and traditions.

This is not a book about the Amish per se.  It is about a particular person’s search to find whatever quality it is that creates this quiet eye of the storm represented by Amish communities and craftsmanship.  She chose the analogy of the quilts because she was able to “rearrange the pieces” of her mental quilt to find the pattern most fulfilling and intriguing to her.  The faceless dolls also gave her food for thought and a basis of inner reflection regarding the way she looked at life.  Yes, the book is her book, centered on her beliefs, her experiences and her interpretations.  That is the point of a personal journey.  It is the reader’s choice whether or not to join the author on the journey.  Her perspectives of the people she shared her time with bear an honest stamp of, “Could I do that?” And, yet she shows respect for the way they have shaped their lives around a central idea and body of beliefs.  I think her quest was to find some central idea or belief to support her life choices.  As it happens, she does find the tools.  A later book describes her struggle to implement those tools.  Conversion experiences are always uplifting but it is a different thing to take that feeling home and incorporate it in your day to day life.

I found the book special to my own thought processes and recognized the struggle she had between the life we usually lead and the one that lives quietly within us.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), My Bookshelf ~ Current times