Dynamic Coherence

Human beings have so many dimensions and yet we don’t use them all.  We fragment and compartmentalize and split –

This part for work. 

This part for play.

This part for thinking.

This part for feeling.

Sometimes we’re spiritual.

Sometimes we’re material.

Surely the outcomes would be better if we tried to function as coherent units?

Firing on all cylinders, so to speak.

This is a brilliant video.  Dance versus Powerpoint – A Modest Proposal.

Well worth watching.

Humility and Learning

The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates - 1787 - Jacques Louis David

I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing. Socrates – in Plato’s Apology.

It is important that we constantly try to gain all the knowledge we can about the world. Ironically, though, we can only do this if we are open to the fact that we will never reach a place where we know everything.

Any knowledge we have – no matter how good – is not all the knowledge that exists – even about the obviously ‘real’ objects.

Less than a hundred years ago we had no concept of the behaviour of physical matter at a quantum (i.e. very, very, very microscopic) level and yet we now know about it and realise that even before we discovered it, there was still a quantum level of reality.

The most useful model of the acquisition of knowledge is to see it as a never ending ladder reaching towards truth of all types.  This model acknowledges that each rung on the ladder is a necessary step as we climb and also, that above us there are further rungs waiting to be reached.

So hand in hand with our excitement at whatever it is that we learn or discover, we must train ourselves in a real humility before all that we don’t yet understand.  If we don’t do this we will comfortably take up residence on a rung of the ladder and stop making progress.  On the other hand, if we do combine humility and learning, we will constantly try to ascend the ladder to reach greater and greater heights.

Why We All Need Science and Religion to Work Together (even if we think we don’t)

Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source. Albert Einstein (1)

Everyone would agree that we are material beings but we also know that much of our experience of life is not material.  We love, hate, imagine, dream, think, guess, wish, hypothesize – and there is no one way to explain it all. Along with our material reality we have another reality – a transcendent reality. Which is why we need as many paths to knowledge as we can get.

Because, as Albert Einstein also famously said –

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. (2)


Photograph – A glowing emerald nebula seen by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

(1) This article appears in Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions, pp.41 – 49. It is taken from an address at Princeton Theological Seminary, May 19, 1939. It was published in Out of My Later Years, New York: Philosophical Library, 1950.

(2) Albert Einstein“Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium”, 1941

Related articles

The Laughter of the Gods

Plato's Symposium (Anselm Feuerbach, 1873)

Plato's Symposium (Anselm Feuerbach, 1873)

Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods. (1)

Knowledge is a slippery customer.  History has shown us that progress requires us not only to investigate the world but also to approach this investigation with humility.  This humility is born of the realisation that knowledge is like a ladder and while we may be definitely resting on a real rung of that ladder, there are still countless rungs above us and out of our view.

Not Visible versus Non Existent

Even the physical universe can be difficult to truly ‘know’.  Sometimes we are unable to see a phenomenon itself – even with instruments – but we can see its effects. For example,

Electrons and other sub-atomic particles are too small to be observed directly, but physicists are able to infer their properties from the tracks they leave on photographic plates. (2)

If we have such difficulty with physical phenomena that can be relatively easily proven to exist at the very least, then what about human realities such as love and hope and sadness and courage and fear and faith?

We can now ‘prove’ the existence of emotions using sophisticated machinery but even so, we cannot, truly examine their reality with machinery. A brain-image of an emotion – let’s say fear – can show the parts of the brain involved but it cannot describe in any detail the exact nature of the individual’s fear or say what is causing it or why.

But everybody who has ever experienced a strong emotion like love or fear or anger or joy knows these emotions really do exist. So, what exactly is reality? Are the objects that we can see and feel and weigh and measure the only reality? If so, what about other objects that we haven’t discovered yet but will discover in the future – such as far away planets – are they not real? Do they only become real when we discover them?

It really does seem to be the case that – He, O men, is the wisest who, like Socrates, knows his wisdom is in truth worth nothing. (3)

TomorrowUnique Reality and the Unique Self

(1) Attributed to Albert Einstein

(2) Andre Kukla and Joel Walmsley, Mind – A Historical and Philosophical Introduction to the Major Theories, p.31

(3) PlatoThe Apology, (22d-e), The Last Days of SocratesPenguin Classics.