Saturday, June 11, 2011

Life, Cilantro, and Philosophy

I must issue a disclaimer.

I am not a philosopher.

I've taken quite a few philosophy courses. For several of those I was fortunate enough to have a professor whose chief concern was making us think, rather than memorizing dates and themes. It is no surprise, then, that the philosophy professor in my novel takes this approach to her basic classes: teach them to think, to understand how to frame an argument, to identify fallacy, and you have given them skills that will enhance their lives.

Life, to me, is about ideas. Glorious, inspiring, thought-provoking ideas. Comfortable or not, ideas spark what is unique in us – our thoughts and dreams.

Human thought and action are shaping the world. I come down fully on the side of naming this the Anthropocene. We are too powerful a force to be ignored, even geologically. And what we do is not always good for the present or the future. But as a species, we seem to be helpless against beliefs. 

Beliefs and ideas are not the same. Some are working-valid. I believe that people should obey the law. The law says you do not allow religion in the schools. I believe that people who pray in school are criminals and should be held accountable as such. These are beliefs, but they are based on facts.

I also believe my cats are the most adorable creatures that ever lived. I know this is false. It is my opinion-belief. I can believe it if I wish, but I cannot, must not expect others to agree with me.

I know the difference between belief that is a personal opinion, and belief that is based on some evidence, and facts.

When I say 'I admire Bertrand Russell', this does not mean wholesale endorsement. Then I would be a Russell-ian, a follower rather than one who reads and thinks based upon what is read.

Following kills the mind. We need to learn to think. To question, analyze, and evaluate based on evidence, not authority.

When someone says, 'It's true. I read it in a book' they are admitting they aren't thinking for themselves. It doesn't matter what book it is – they are accepting dogma.

Now, if they say, 'It might be true. I read a report...' they are more likely to be thinking. First, they have qualified their statement, pending further proof. Second, they are reading reports, or studies, trying to get as close as they can to actual evidence. Third, they are not just reading the headlines, but the substance.

When I write about philosophy and writing, I am not issuing proclamations. I am offering connections I've seen, ideas that I've appreciated. You may, and almost certainly will see them differently.

And that is the beginning of dialogue – rational discussion of ideas. And that, to me, is the greatest joy in life.

Oh, the cilantro? Cilantro is like belief. A little bit can add spice to life. Too much, and it destroys everything else.

My evidence? Mostly anecdotal, I fear. Although I have read that cilantro is one of the love/hate flavors. Few people are neutral. Which makes me wonder why so many restaurants glop it into everything in great hulking handfuls... sorry.

Even a small amount of cilantro and I cannot taste anything else. I could be eating the most exquisite food in the world, and all I'd taste is that chalky, pungent (disgusting) flavor.

New tastes, new impressions, new ideas are too precious to miss.

I try not to be cilantro.

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