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I cannot imagine anything harder than the suffering I see too many parents go through when their child has a fatal, progressive  neurodegenerative disease.  With the diagnosis they lose their child’s future just as suddenly and unexpectedly as if they were hit by a Mack Truck.  However,  instead of the process being over in any brief period of time, it is often drawn out over many years.

Leukodystrophies, Mitochondrial disorders, Inborn errors of metabolism,  Rett Syndrome, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and a host of other heartbreaking diseases are a death sentence, only one that is indefinitely prolonged.   In all these examples the child gradually loses abilities he or she once had.   Read the rest of this entry »

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ps- Thanks Isabella Mori for the idea, I hope you don’t mind if my Wednesdays are wordless as well.

     It is a strange thing to sit at the end of a very long, very intense road that is training to be a physician and take a look back on the winding, arduous road I took to get here.  I am now endeavoring to prove I have done all of it by gathering documentation of the past 15 years of my life in excruciating detail.  With just one final test to go, my neurology boards,  I have become an absolute master at the ubiquitous modern knowledge measuring tool, namely I can fill bubbles on a scan sheet in completely, inside the lines with a no. 2 pencil, choosing only one answer and always guessing if I don’t know.

   It is amazing how standardized tests have become the mainstay of education these days.  Colleges and medical schools use them to differentiate students, nations use them to compare their system to other nations, and No Child Left Behind uses them to set minimum standards for funding our schools.   We use them to prove we can drive in most states.  We use them to measure IQ’s all over the internet.  We use them to poll current public opinion.  We use them to test marketing for the latest breakfast sandwich.  Mensa and the triple nine society determine your eligibility for geniushood by these tests.  Everyone can be boiled down to how they fill out these neat little bubbles.  Read the rest of this entry »

 

   Way back in the 1940s Jerome Kagan performed a classic study on personality in which he formed a core concept that rooted at least part of the mind in biology.  This was an incredible breakthrough in understanding that certain perceptions and reactions can be rooted in inherited traits.  What Dr. Kagan did was observe a bunch of children as eight month old infants. Read the rest of this entry »

First Published May 21, 2008

If there is one thing that can make religion unpopular in today’s pluralistic society, It is the idea of claiming access to exclusive truth.  On my mission I learned firsthand how the act of sending someone to your door is felt deeply offensive for so many people.  It is one reason religion is just something you are not supposed to talk about, in the interest of keeping peace.  Religion is simultaneously deeply personal and deeply divisive. 

     When you feel a strong spiritual bond of community, spirituality and faith, the proselyting of others is seen as an assault on everything you stand for.  At the same time, helping others see what you have and sharing it also becomes important the more invested you become and the more joy you find in your faith.  Calm assurance that you are “right” has been used to justify coercion, violence and even genocide against outsiders through history.  This in spite of the fact that such actions are almost always roundly condemned in the holy writings of all the faiths involved. Read the rest of this entry »

First Published May 1, 2008

6 He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;

7 Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.

32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free
John 8:32

We are emerging from an age that put value above all else upon the ideal of truth. But what exactly is truth? Is it absolute? beauty? freedom? enlightenment? facts? data? reason? principles? unchanging? Is something that is true for one person necessarily true for another? Is truth for ourselves at one point in time necessarily true to ourselves at another point? The terms modernism and post-modernism are used and abused in these kinds of arguments all the time. I am not sure what these terms mean exactly. To a certain type of person post-modernism is moral relativism and the devil, while to another type, modernism is rigid, unyielding, black and white thinking in absolutes. In the end I think both sides are largely talking past one another and caricaturing the other side. This is not my desire. I just want the truth.

What’s that you say Jack, “The truth!? You can’t handle the truth!” Perhaps.

For me, the problem with perceiving truth lies with the mind.  If certain neuroscientists are to be believed, consciousness itself is an illusion. Our will is a delusion and trick of natural forces. While this is all quite controversial and will have people arguing for a long, long time, the limits of our thinking are less controversial. We will fill in missing articles to make sense of things whether it is sounds or vision, we fill in missing detail in an attempt to make cohesive sense of what we see or hear, even if it isn’t there. The simplest example of this is our blind spot, the hole in the retina where the optic nerve leaves the eye. We don’t see that we can’t see it because our mind fills in the space.

But it doesn’t end there. It turns out that memory is the same way. Studies have shown that eye-witnesses are unreliable. An astute reader (Thanks, Glenn) pointed me to the one of many authors involved in 30 years of memory research that shows being fed misinformation clearly and reliably distorts our memory. Additionally, certainty itself has proven to be an emotion. We like to think of emotion or feelings and cognition and logic as separate but in reality they are intricately intertwined. If our own senses, memory, emotions, and logic are untrustworthy what does that leave us with?

Well I guess there is data, measurement, and Science. The problem here is that data and testing hypotheses requires interpretation of data. Data and measurements mean nothing in and of themselves. They require interpretation. Designing experiments involves something even more mysterious, imagination. Furthermore, it turns out we are learning there are limits to what science can know.

Newton’s laws of motion were long thought infallible until Einstein proved there are instances where they fall apart. However, to our experience Newton’s laws are good enough to at least get us to the moon. For all Einstein’s and modern physics work we still haven’t figured out what gravity actually is and what causes it. The fact remains, we can make little sense of physics without it.

Believing the Earth is flat works for what we need until we can fly around the globe or become so economically linked as a planet that we need time zones. The sun revolving around the Earth seems common sense to direct observation. However the assumptions mankind made based upon this were shattered by Copernicus, bad behavior ensued.

Heisenberg learned by equations that it is impossible to predict where a particle is and what it’s momentum or speed and direction of movement is at the same time, developing what is known as the uncertainty principle. It is somewhat esoteric but basically it means mass and momentum of the super small subatomic particles is apparently random.

It also turns out that understanding the universe itself has hit a brick wall, as there is a moment in time in Big Bang theory that all of our physics mathematically breaks down. It also turns out that we are just receiving light from the edges of the perceptible universe from so long ago that we truly have not the slightest idea if these conditions still hold now. If the power of a theory comes from ability to predict, I am afraid there comes a point where we are unable to predict anything.

Which brings me to God. Yes, I know it is a matter of controversy to his existence and there is limited evidence, but for me, like gravity to physics, nothing makes sense without Him. To the critic, religion and myth is just a defense mechanism we use to make sense of the world, true or not, much like the tricks of the senses I linked above. This may be. I cannot prove otherwise conclusively, but it also appears to me that the need to do this is an inseparable part of our makeup as human beings. If I am to ever abandon this part of my humanity, I will need one whopper of a reason to do so.

If we take it on faith that God exists, clearly, it is undeniable that we, as humankind, cannot comprehend all that God can comprehend. This being self evident, why even bother trying to learn of God?

I come from a faith that teaches clearly that God reveals truth to us as we are able to bear it. This is where spirit, intuition, zen, and all kinds of religious, mystical, or new agey concepts come in. In Mormonism, God wants us to know and understand him, so he comes down to our level and opens truth to our mind as we are prepared, as we seek it, as we will let him, and as we exercise faith.

This communication is described as concepts that enlarge the soul, burn within us, bring inner peace, open our understanding, or ring true. It is subjective, but more than emotion in my experience. I don’t believe we yet have any way to throw out the subjective and inner workings of the mind out as invalid. It seems plausible that, like Newtonian physics, this is good enough for God’s purposes. This method of obtaining truth is messy to be sure. It leads different people in seemingly different directions. Religion has historically led many to conflict, violence, abuse, and tyranny all done in God’s name.

In spite of all of this, I still feel that revelation is central to how we obtain the intangible truths of our existence. There is a way to avoid the hazards. The key is humility. We have faith and hope in what we have learned, but we also realize that our picture is imperfect, as Paul wrote, we see through a “glass darkly”. We do not force our understanding upon or denigrate the ideas others who disagree. Instead we share what we believe and listen as others do the same.

When we find something that enlarges our soul, stretches our mind, and enriches our life, I believe we have to hold onto it. To refuse to do so is to betray ourselves. I believe we have to remain humble, ready to accept there may be many particulars in which we are mistaken, but I also maintain faith that core truths will remain. We can learn much from diversity. Different cultures, different faiths, different perspectives are a strength when it comes to learning truth, if we can just allow ourselves to glean from them. It is a tricky balance. Too often people act out of the fear that to acknowledge the other is to deny yourself. If there is one observation I have made in life it is that fear can make Man one ugly animal.

I believe that spiritual truth is not linear or absolute. We are all on a journey to somewhere. Like any good Mormon I have faith that we are in the process becoming something greater. Some principles, though formative and helpful initially in the journey, we may outgrow as our understanding increases. Shedding them can be very frightening or painful. I cannot believe that this makes such principles untrue. They are a necessary step to greater understanding.

Among Christian religions, Mormonism is unique, in that, while affirming that Christ is the way, the Truth, and the life, and that no one can return to the Father but by him, we also believe in a mechanism for all mankind to receive that gift eventually if they desire it, even if they do not reach that point in this life. Joseph Smith taught that we embrace all truth, wherever it may be found. There is a wonderful universalist, humanist streak in Mormonism that rings very true to me. As I study truth, I find it everywhere and yet I know I have much yet to learn. For the few who are still reading this lengthy, wordy beast of a post, best wishes to you in your own spiritual journey.

    Now that I am out of the closet as a Christmas Junkie, I thought I would go ahead and share my 5 most favorite Christmas movies, in an exercise in Narcissism and self indulgence, and perhaps start a little lively debate. Read the rest of this entry »

I posted before about how I see a clear difference between brain and mind. Today I want to explore the difference between mind and spirit. There are those in the Scientific field who would disagree and are endeavoring to explain away consciousness, and spirituality as a pure brain physical phenomenon. Read the rest of this entry »

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