Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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You Are What You Know

 

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In order to lay a bit of a foundation for this post, I first want to clarify my beliefs regarding the self and where knowledge resides in a person or Being. After conducting my Metaphysics inquiry, I strongly believe in dualism and the idea that self is made of two components: a physical component and a non-physical component. I also believe that the non-physical component of the self is the most important part and is responsible for identity and making us who we are. Finally, I agree with David Hume when it comes to the Bundle Theory of the self, the idea that the self is a work in progress and constructed by our collection of life experiences. In terms of where knowledge resides, I believe that knowledge is the non-physical component of the self and therefore manifests in the mind as opposed to any part of the physical body. Although the non-physical mind and physical body are separate, I believe that they are connected by the brain. The body allows us to experience reality via our senses and the mind allows us to rationalize these experiences and develop knowledge, the brain acts like an adapter between the two. The body interprets reality and sends information to the brain which translates this information so it can be used by the mind to develop knowledge. Conversely, the mind makes us who we are and holds our knowledge, based on our previous knowledge it sends information to the brain which is then translated to control the way our body interacts with reality.

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My first proposition is that, aside from the small amount of a priori knowledge that we are born with, knowledge is gained through experience.

Premise 1: Knowledge is gained through rationalizing experience

Premise 2: During life one collects experiences

Conclusion: Knowledge is a synthesized collection of one’s life experiences

When it comes to gaining knowledge and the empiricism vs rationalism debate, I have a dualist view. Similar to the idea that the self is both physical and non-physical and cannot be a true self without one of the components, I don’t believe that knowledge can be gained purely through empirical observation or entirely through rational thought. In order to gain knowledge, empirical experiences need to be rationalized by the mind. Through this process connections can be created between new and prior experiences and diverse experiences can build upon each other to create an intricate and ever increasing network of knowledge.

For example, there is often a correlation between a person’s amount of life experiences and level of knowledge, especially higher level knowledge. Older people are considered wise because they have experienced more of the world and have gained a diverse network of knowledge. Likewise, young children are considered blissfully ignorant or innocent because they have experienced less of the world and are not aware of or haven’t developed knowledge of some of the awful things happening. This also is closely related to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, gaining knowledge can be likened to moving further and further out of the cave and striving for enlightenment. While humans may not be able to ever gain enough knowledge to fully achieve enlightenment, I believe it is entirely possible for a society to do so and has been done in the past. When the collective knowledge of a society is synthesized it is possible to overthrow old beliefs and leave the cave to start again in the light, examples of this include the renaissance period and scientific revolution.

My second proposition about knowledge is that knowledge builds one’s identity.

Premise 1: One’s identity is built by a collection of life experiences

Premise 2: Knowledge is a collection of one’s life experiences

Conclusion: Knowledge builds one’s identity

During my Metaphysics project, I came to the conclusion that the self is a collection of life experiences interpreted by a person’s senses or more simply memories. After exploring Epistemology, I now believe that these “memories” or “interpreted life experiences” can be more accurately classified as knowledge. Our experiences, when rationalized, synthesized, and connected to one another become knowledge and this knowledge makes us who we are. Our previous understanding of reality will affect the way that we interact with reality in the future and therefore shape our identity, the way other people perceive us, and even the way we perceive our self.

This also supports the idea of individuality. Even if people arrive at the same understanding or gain the same knowledge they must achieve it in different ways. No two beings can exist in the same space and time; therefore, no two people can experience reality from the same point of view. Additionally, no two people’s senses can be guaranteed to be exactly the same. On the other hand, two people may share the same experience but gain different knowledge from it. Depending on an individual’s senses, pre-existing knowledge, and place in space in time they will experience and rationalize reality differently.

Learning and gaining knowledge of new things can alter a person’s self or identity. I have experienced this in my own life as a result of learning the bagpipes. Prior to learning, I had no understanding of the language of music, now I have a whole new set of knowledge and I’m able to think in a completely different way. I have also had opportunities to travel and compete across Canada, the US, and Scotland as well as gain friends and mentors from around the world. I have expanded my understanding of reality and this has in turn significantly altered my identity, I can’t imagine the person I would be without my understanding of bagpipe music. Similar to a person who has left the cave, it can be frustrating when non-piping people in my life don’t understand me but I wouldn’t go back into the cave and give up my knowledge, it would feel like giving up a piece of myself.

My propositions are supported by the ideas of philosophers including David Hume who introduced the Bundle Theory, Plato and his Allegory of the Cave, as well as by Immanuel Kant. I feel as though I align strongly with Kant’s ideas, especially transcendental realism, which I used as the first premise in my first syllogism, and a priori knowledge.

In conclusion, we gain knowledge through living life and experiencing new things and this knowledge contributes to our identity. For this reason it is important to constantly work to expand your horizons and gain new knowledge through new experiences and sharing knowledge with people different than yourself. This is the only way to strive for understanding and enlightenment and, in my opinion, the way to truly live life.

 

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Beings with Non-Physical Selfs vs Selfs of Non-Physical Beings

During the discussions on Thursday my groups talked about a broad range of topics including astral projection, freewill, the dream-verse, Being, and non-physical existence. Although the topics were very diverse they all connected to the idea of the self and the possibility of non-physical components of the self. Whether it be the ability to disconnect from the physical body and enter the dream-verse/astral plane or trying to determine if there is a predetermined destiny and plan for our lives, it all comes back to the self.  What is the self? What is it made of? Is it static or is it built up throughout the course of our lives?

After taking part in the discussions I was left with more questions and felt slightly overwhelmed by metaphysics. I was having trouble comprehending my own topic let alone other people’s questions and opinions. I had more conversations with my family and friends about my topic of non-physical existence and if it is possible to have a whole self without a substance/physical component. Then I realized that I was actually interested in the non-physical components of the self as opposed to how much of a self a non-physical “Being” can have. In order to begin to comprehend and address big metaphysical questions I believe that I must first develop a strong philosophy and understanding of the self.

Moving forward I want to continue to explore the Bundle Theory, in addition to the idea that the self is a collection and projection of experiences as well as the process through which experiences become memories. Sticking with my original focus on social media I am interested in exploring how social media facilitates the collection and sharing of experiences, the preservation of memories, and the development of the self. I am also interested in the idea of vicarious experiences and how much of an impact other people’s experiences can have on your own self. Additionally, I want to explore the idea of shared experiences. Does sharing an experience with others create identical pieces of the self among a group of people, is this the reason they feel a deeper connection to one another? Can shared experiences be interpreted differently among different people based on their past experiences?

I have a lot of questions and a slightly more focused inquiry topic now and I am excited to explore them further during my Phil’s Day Off project.

 

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The Self, Spirits, and Souls

The portion of metaphysics that has interested me the most is the idea of the self. What are we? As we studied Descartes, we explored the idea that our self is the only thing that we can prove to exist. The fact that I am a “thinking thing” that can perceive or analyze what I experience proves the existence of myself. This does not prove the existence of the physical world, nor does it prove that any other minds exist.

This led me to think about the idea of spirits and souls. What’s the difference between a spirit and a soul? Are they a permanent part of us? Do they even exist? If they do exist, how does it relate to our “self”? My goal for these questions is to see different viewpoints on the topic and see if, like Descartes believes about the self, it could be proven.

From my research, it appears that most references to spirits and souls are in religious contexts. It is a very specific area of metaphysics known as spiritual metaphysics, and this website gives the following definition of it.

Spiritual metaphysics is the study of the nature of human experiences that are still considered “non-physical” or “spiritual” only because our physical senses, research and technology cannot as yet measure or detect them.

The idea of our physical body and who we are being separate from each other is not new. For example, animism is a belief system that was believed by many tribes, stating that everything (whether it be a person, plant, or inanimate object) has a spirit. This belief created a feeling of oneness with the universe for those who believed it.

So how does a spirit differ from a soul? Can we use the two words as synonyms? A soul is generally agreed to be a distinct entity that is separate from a person’s body. In some definitions it will state that the soul is immortal, however proof of this is unattainable. In many definitions, it is stated that spirit is a synonym for soul. With the above points on what a soul is, it is easy to see why we often use the words interchangeably. A spirit is also regarded as being separate from the body. With dictionary definitions, these two terms seem to be the same.

However, in some belief systems the two are used in very different contexts. A person can be described as being spiritually “dead” or “alive”, and yet still be considered to have a soul. In this situation it appears that the soul is being described as more of a permanent thing (similar to the self), while a spirit must be an active thing. Perhaps this ties into the idea of human enlightenment.

Unlike Descartes view of the self, the concepts of spirits and souls cannot be proven. Perhaps this will tie into the idea of afterlives and other worlds later on in my studies. My classmate Ashley knows a lot about the paranormal, so I might discuss with her on different viewpoints of the topic of spirits and souls.

The concepts mentioned in this post are a big part of how each individual person views the world. Whether someone has an animistic view of the world or believes that the non-physical part of them exists only while their physical body exists (or any other worldview in between), their view will affect their actions and emotions.

As I move forward with metaphysical studies, I hope to look deeper into the separation (or lack thereof) of the physical world and the non-physical.

 

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Come Join the Hivemind

(Okay, don’t really.)

So, consciousness and unconsciousness. In theory, we’ve all got one. They’re the defining traits of what makes us who we are, and, in the words of Descartes, “thought exists, it alone cannot be separated from me. I am; I exist,” the idea then, that nothing can be confirmed except ourselves – except the presence of our own thoughts and conscious. That concept then, is that we are alone.

But, we cannot perceive all of our unconscious. For the most part, it’s unknown to us, coming out in the form of passive dreams, hidden desires, and for some, intrusive thoughts that we know we didn’t have. Nobody knows all there is to know about the thoughts they have, no matter how much they may claim they do.

So, if we cannot perceive all of our conscious that lets us Be, then who’s to say that it functions autonomously? What if Descartes was right, that the only thing that can be proven is our own thought. But also, what if our thought was not only ours? Taking a page out of Carl Jung‘s book, what if we shared a collective unconscious?

It’s not a new idea. Archetypes, the concept that the collective unconscious relies on the most heavily, were first mentioned with Plato relating to his Theory of Forms. However, it was Jung who refined the idea the most.

His idea was that we all collectively are aware of archetypes as concepts, and as history and culture move forwards, we experience people and moments that display these archetypes, whether through real or fiction. (In the case of fiction specifically, try The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.)

So, through the collective unconscious and the archetypes within, we see reflections of concepts such as the motherthe devilthe childthe tricksterthe wise old man, and others. While broad terms, they’re seen reflected throughout history and throughout all cultures. These archetypes touch our myths and define the heros of media even today. Play them straight or juxtapose them, but they come out all the same regardless.

A collective unconscious, a shared reality. They’re ideas that have been touched both by Psychologists and Philosophers, due to the very distinct nature of the consciousness and our understanding of ourselves, which makes it a very rewarding topic to broach.

But, how do we prove it?
Can we let it define us?
Are we our own people, let alone capable of originality, if our ideas all come from before?

We might not ever be able to tell, but we might as well ask anyway.

 

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“Pics or it didn’t happen”

Image via MemeCenter

The mantra of the Instagram era:

Think about the pictures of a horde of tourists assembled in front of the Mona Lisa, their cameras clicking away. It is the most photographed work of art in human history. You can see it in full light, low light, close-up, far away, x-rayed; you can find parodies of parodies of parodies; and yet, seeing it in person and walking away does not suffice. The experience must be captured, the painting itself possessed, a poor facsimile of it acquired so that you can call it your own – a photograph which, in the end, says, I was here. I went to Paris and saw the Mona Lisa. The photo shows that you could afford the trip, that you are cultured, and offers an entrée to your story about the other tourists you had to elbow your way through, the security guard who tried to flirt with you, the incredible pastry you had afterwards, the realisation that the painting really is not much to look at and that you have always preferred Rembrandt. The grainy, slightly askew photo signifies all these things. Most important, it is yours. You took it. It got 12 likes.

This is also the unspoken thought process behind every reblog or retweet, every time you pin something that has already been pinned hundreds of times. You need it for yourself. Placing it on your blog or in your Twitter stream acts as a form of identification – a signal of your aesthetics, a reflection of your background, an avatar of your desires. It must be held, however provisionally and insubstantially, in your hand, and so by reposting it, you claim some kind of possession of it.

 

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John Locke

On August 29, 1632, in Wrington, England, the man widely known as the Father of Liberalism was born.  John Locke was an English philosopher and physician who has made a large impact on the United States Declaration of Independence with his contributions to classical republicanism and liberal theory.  His work had made a great difference upon the development of epistemology and political philosophy. His writings influenced Voltaire and Rousseau, many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American revolutionaries. He was also considered one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers.

Locke was born into an influential family, with his father being a country lawyer and military man who had served as a captain during the English civil war.  And through his father’s ties to the government, Locke was able to receive outstanding education.  He was also a distinct student who earned the honorary title “King’s Scholar”.  To sum up his life, John Locke was a rich and smart individual who had a smooth sailing life until he hit a political speed bump in 1679 and declining health problems thereafter.

Locke’s philosophical interests divide roughly into three parts: political, epistemological, and scientific. On the scientific side, his major influence was by his friend, the Irish scientist Robert Boyle, whom he helped with Locke’s experiments.  Lord Ashley’s contributions to John’s political thoughts and career can not be understated, as he was one of the founders of the Whig party.  Ashley imparted an outlook on rule and government that never left Locke.  However, Locke owes his success in Episemology to a 17th century Latin translation Philosophus Autodidactus (published by Edward Pococke) of the Arabic philosophical novel Hayy ibn Yaqzan by the 12th century Andalusian-Islamic philosopher and novelist Ibn Tufail.  This also led to the creation of one of his most famous works – An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Locke’s theory of the mind is often regarded as the origin of modern conceptions of identity and the self.  His main thesis in one of his major works An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, was to explain that humans are not born with innate ideas but with an “empty” mind, a tabula rasa, “which is shaped by experience; sensations and reflections being the two sources of all our ideas”. [Wikipedia]

John Locke’s theory affects all of us, the very being of our human nature.  How we turn out and what we think is a result of our experiences, sensations, and reflections.  However, as understood by Locke, each individual was free to define the content of his or her character – but his or her basic identity as a member of the human species cannot be so altered. And through his theory, I came to reflect on the role that idea plays in perception, how we become who we are through these three qualities.  I agree on this idea of humans being born with a “blank-slate mind”.  As a result, we are shaped as we gain more knowledge because we are nothing to begin with, so humans will be what our experiences shape us to be.  But even so, we cannot completely alter who we were originally.

 

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Jennifer: Tell Your Own Story

Life enters our eyes and then reality blurs. The world around us, even the emotions that flood our brains,  are subject to our interpretation, to our imagination. They distort as we evaluate them, as we work through our experiences.

The metaphysicist Paul Ricoeur focused on this theory, among connected others, revealing his expertise in the area of hermeneutic phenomenology. Hermeneutic, meaning ‘pertaining to the science of interpretation,’  is a way of looking at the essential properties of experience and consciousness that are studied through systematic reflection, or phenomenology. Ricoeur (1913-2005) was interested in identifying what defines “the self,” or as he liked to put it, “selfhood.” His conclusion, built upon the works of Aristotle and Kant, is that the self is composed of the stories we write to explain what we feel and see. In other words, “you are who you think you are.” Therefore, Ricoeur’s main question, “Who am I?,” can’t ever truly be answered, as the seeker is also the sought (Paul Ricoer, IEP).

This theory can be disheartening, the idea that a person never really understand themselves and that history can never be objective, or it can be satisfying. When I first read about the narrative description of self, something clicked. I’m one to quite obviously, at least to myself, dissect experiences and my reactions to them, trying to make sense of the world and answer Ricoeur’s second main question: “How should I live?” In my view, the narrative theory means that I don’t need to pour energy into discovering my “true” self, as such a thing can never be obtained. Instead, I  should work on unifying my narrative, bringing together my thoughts and actions.

Ricoeur was famed “For his capacity in bringing together all the most important themes and indications of 20th century philosophy, and re-elaborating them into an original synthesis” (Paul Ricoeur, Wikipedia).  An expert in weaving together different thoughts and fields of study, he was very interested in the paradoxical element of humans; that is, we have a place in the cause and effect world of nature while possessing the amazing quality of freedom of will. Ricoeur recognized the tensions, or fault lines, that pervade the complex human existence, and strived to map them out and identify different sources of instability. He realized that our lives are unstable, ready to shift under us when our story takes a turn, spurred on by external or internal factors.

Poetics, he believed, is the best way for humans to fulfil their need to understand their life.

Or at least that’s what I’ve garnered.

Wikipedia: Paul Ricoeur

 
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