30 December 2015

A Good Intention

Every year about this time I choose a theme for a New Year's resolution that I can put a one word label on and just concentrate on that one thing for a whole year until it becomes an ingrained habit. I am pleased to report that this system has worked for me very well, especially since I can place this label unobtrusively on many everyday objects as a positive and constant reminder. Here is a partial list from years past:

2011 "Ideate" ("to form an idea of", "think of", "imagine", "conceive of","envision", "visualize")

2012 "Update" ("improve", "correct", "renew", "revise", "upgrade", "amend", "overhaul", "modernize", "contemporize")

2013 "Motivate" ("prompt", "drive", "move", "inspire", "stimulate", "influence", "activate", "impel", "push", "propel"

2014 "Ataraxia" ("Tranquillity", a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety)

2015 "Contemplate" (Know Thyself, "examine", "inspect", "observe", "survey", "study", "scrutinize")

My theme for 2016 is a bit more complex than the previous themes which are fairly straightforward. My decision was influenced by the fact that 2016 is an election year in the U.S. and the political situation is becoming quite bewildering. This is due in part to worldwide concerns of extremist terrorism, global warming, racial prejudice, human rights, economic hardship, food and water shortages, new diseases, epidemics, etc. It is becoming more clear than ever that the whole world is in the same "boat"  as we are, as it were.

My resolution theme word for 2016 is "Intentionality" and so what do I mean by that? Intentionality is a key word that I borrowed from the realm of Philosophy and in particular the Philosophy of "Phenomenology" which is the study of experience and consciousness. All of the information that comes to us from the outside world from birth onward, we receive through our five senses; sound, sight, touch, smell, and taste. However, in actuality there is really only one sense, the sense of touch. Whenever we touch an object with our fingers, in many cases we are acting deliberately and directly on the object. With sound, sight, smell, and taste, however the object is acting indirectly on us through electro-magnetic vibrations. In fact we are constantly being bombarded by electro-magnetic signals from the space that surrounds us. Every signal that we perceive must first pass through the filter of our intellect before we are conscious of it. We call this "experience".

Once we experience an object we use our intellect to process it. There are several tools for this at our disposal such as instinct, memory, intuition, imagination, and logic plus "a priori" metaphysics. I won't go into metaphysics here other than to say that I believe wholeheartedly in the existence of the immortal soul and the Holy Spirit. The "intentionality" is the connection between our conscious mind and the object we are thinking about. It is the quality of our thoughts and beliefs that consists in their being directed toward some object or state of affairs.

Let me give an example. For an object we have a rock sitting on a bare patch of ground. One person is sitting at a distance from the rock and he sees the rock at eye level with the sun behind the rock and he pictures the object as dark grey in color and rectangular. There is another person who is sitting on the opposite side of the rock with the sun behind her. She pictures the object as a pinkish shade of grey and thinks it might be oval. There is another person sitting off to the side up in a tree and he sees the object as light grey but to him it is definitely round in shape and it has a whole in the middle like a donut. Now, the only thing that connects these people so far is the "intentionality" that they are looking at the same object but each has a different perception and conception. It is obvious that in order to form a true consensus about the real nature of the object there needs to be some further investigation and discussion to bring the three perceptions in line to form a conceptual agreement as to its nature. However, this all too often never happens or doesn't happen soon enough.

Intentionality without consensus is like encountering an elephant in the dark. The 13th century Persian Sufi mystic poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi ("Rumi" for short) talks about "An Elephant in the Dark":

Some Hindus have an elephant to show.
No one here has ever seen an elephant.
They bring it at night to a dark room.

One by one we go into the dark and come out
Saying how we experienced the animal.
One happens to touch the trunk.
A water pipe kind of creature.

Another, the ear. A very strong, always moving
Back and forth, fan animal.
Another, the leg.
I find it still, like a column on a temple.

Another touches the curved back.
A leathery throne. Another, the cleverest,
Feels the tusk. A rounded sword made of porcelain.
He is proud of his description.

Each of us touches one place
And understands the whole in that way.
The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark
Are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.

If each of us held a candle there,
And if we went in together, we could see it.

The people who went in to see the elephant had the same intentionality in that they were all focused on the elephant but in the end their conception of the animal was different for each person. Why? Because they had no way to shine a light on the subject. By the way, if this doesn't remind you of the GOP presidential nominating process, raise your hand.

There are two points to be made about intentionality in regard to discussing things with others. The first is to make sure that at least there is a consensus about the intentionality of the subject and that you are all talking about the same thing. The second thing is to make sure that each party has access to more than one view before they entrench themselves in dogma. Whenever I go to a meeting I intend to carry the stub of a candle with me that I will place on the table in front of me. When someone asks me what it is for (and there will always be someone), I intend to tell them that it is for examining the elephant, because there is an elephant in the room at every meeting.

05 December 2015

Oh we got trouble!

"Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in River City!
With a capital "T"
That rhymes with "P"
And that stands for Pool!"

In Robert Meredith Willson's "The Music Man", "T" meant "Trouble" and "T" rhymes with "P" that stands for "Pool". In my generation "P" stood for "Pinball" and caused the same trouble, "young men (and women) fritterin' away their noontime, suppertime, choretime too! Boo hoo!

This generation has a their own supposedly harmless vice to deal with and it starts with "V" which sill rhymes with "T" and also means trouble. A friend of mine knows a young man, actually several young men who have acquired both the knack and the compulsion to play Video games to the exclusion of some of their responsibilities and their studies and asked me if I had any suggestions. Since my friend had already tried the direct approach I decided that some stealth might work and so I disguised my approach by making a reference and comparison with video games themselves. Here is what I suggest:

Dear young man or young lady,

Let’s play a video game in our head. In this game there is a world full of people and eighty percent of them are Zombies. They function only by the necessities of pure basic instincts and also through habits formed by taking the bait that is offered to them by the Manipulators of the world. These Manipulators of the world consist of another fifteen percent of the world population and their well-being depends upon their ability to enslave the Zombies and use them to gain wealth, power and prestige over each other individually as well as all the other non-Zombies of the world. There remains another five percent of the population who are non-Zombies and non-Manipulators, and although they are not actual enemies of the Manipulators, they are a constant headache because the five percent are humble and patient Christian humanist intellectuals (like Pope Francis) who are clothed in virtue to the extent that even if “sticks and stones break their bones, they will just keep on going and going, slowly teaching the Zombies how to think for themselves.

Oh, the Manipulators aren’t stupid, they can think for themselves, but it is in the form of vice, not virtue, in what we call “street smarts” or negative wit from which comes their manipulative powers. The difference between a Zombie and a non-Zombie is the difference between “0” and “1”, or in other words, a decision.  With instinct and habit (and video games) there is no decision. Everything is pure reflex action and it is strengthened by adding muscle memory through mindless repetition. A decision, however, requires thinking. So then why do people do things only by reflex or habit? They do it for the same reason that they eat potato chips. They just can’t stop! Each time they shoot the other guy or blow up something or chop off the monster’s head they get a little shot of a chemical called L-Dopa (L-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine) in their brain’s pleasure center and this is an addictive drug. Believe me, the devil knows all about it.

And so in the end, who do you think is going to win the game? Will the Zombies overwhelm the Manipulators? I doubt it. Will the Manipulators once and for all get rid of the Christian Humanists? I don’t know but I’d be willing to bet that God is not about to abandon His friends. Doing what God would like us to do is the key to a joyous and triumphant eternal life. The question boils down to what a person wants to be in life, a Zombie, a Manipulator, or a child of God who is truly free from anxiety and fear, and does not need material things to keep them “doped up”.

So, where does that leave us? Hopefully it leaves us walking with Jesus on the path to eternal life. Whenever we make a decision to do something virtuous we take a step toward God. Whenever we choose a vice we turn our back on God and go in the opposite direction. Be careful which direction you are headed in when the music stops. You can always choose your direction. That is what free will is all about. God speaks to us though our conscience. We should always make it a a point to decide what we want to do whenever possible and then listen. Do not do anything, either alone or with others, that is opposed to your conscience. Good luck and God bless you!

Sincerely and Amen,

Your friend.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.