It took me a moment to get this one. Since I did, I haven’t stopped laughing.
We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means. Why bad stuff happens. Whether or not a malevolent deity has it in for us. It’s normal to wonder if the reason you are sick, broke or miserable is the result of something you did or failed to do. To accept the total randomness of events is rough.
Like you, I’ve put a good bit of thought into how come my life has fallen apart not once, but a several times. I know I’m not perfect, but come on! It’s not like I ripped off everyone’s retirement money or slaughtered thousands of people because I think they are ethnically inferior. Whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things.
I was pondering this stuff when I was a teenager, which is why I studied it in college and kept exploring it through the decades since. One day, I woke up and knew the truth. All was revealed.
I Don’t Know Anything. Neither Do You.
Suddenly random happenstance is as meaningful as anything else. What a relief to realize I don’t need an explanation. Stuff happens. I spent years — decades — thinking in circles, but now I am perfectly content displaying my lack of knowledge for all the world to see (and admire).
Just like when I was 12. I’ve been considering founding a church. I could enlist a lot of followers. My church would require no beliefs. It would need no contributions of time or money. It wouldn’t even require that you show up, unless you happened to feel like it. There would be no rules to follow, no standards to live up to. No angry deity to get pissed off if you behave badly. It would ideally suit the modern lifestyle, don’t you think?
Faith and Proof
Faith is not proof; it’s opinion in fancy clothing.
You can believe what you want, but you can’t know any more than I do. You take the same leap of faith believing in God or declaring yourself an atheist. Both positions require you take as absolute something for which you have no proof and for which you can never have proof. If believing in a loving God makes your world feel rational, that’s good. It could be true. If it turns out you’re right, you’ll have backed a winner. If believing there is no God, and science is the path to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.
As for me, I don’t know; I stand firmly behind my refusal to take a stand.
Accepting you know nothing is a big step, so the next issue to tackle is how can you can cash in on your new understanding. What’s the point in knowing the meaning of life unless you can awe people with your brilliance? But no one is going to be dazzled unless you know the right words. Terminology is important.
Learn Big Words
Big words (4 or more syllables) if used in an appropriate setting, can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds indicating their admiration. This will help you get lucky. Employing big words enhances your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books.Have a blog like me. Big words can take you a long way if you are skilled at deploying them.
Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.
Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:
Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits?
I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything. Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, concepts, and appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical. (Remember infinite sets from college math? It’s like that.)
On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. Except the same reasoning can prove there is no God. This is the joy of phenomenology.
Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:
Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.
In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.
Become a Fount of Wisdom
You can now explain anything. Everything. You can prove things based on something a couple of friends said years ago while under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Although others may fault your logic, in the world of academics, everyone disbelieves everyone else unless they are citing them as a source, so you might as well stick your oar in the water.
There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself making it hard to dispute. Not to worry. The only one who is ever fully convinced by faith is the one who holds it. Nor does it really matter how many people believe or disbelieve it. Having more believers doesn’t transform faith into fact. If it did, we could achieve some really nifty things. Like, say we all believe in magic and therefore, it exists. Cool.
Thanks for reading. I hope I’ve clarified everything. If not, feel free to have your people call my people. We’ll talk.
“Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances.”
– Dr. Lee DeForest, “Father of Radio & Grandfather of Television.”
“The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives.”
– Admiral William Leahy , US Atomic Bomb Project
“There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom.”
– Robert Millikan, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1923
“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”
– Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
– Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.”
–The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957
“But what is it good for?”
– Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.
“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”
– Bill Gates, 1981
This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us,”
– Western Union internal memo, 1876.
“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
– David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
“The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible,”
– A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)
“I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper,”
– Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone With The Wind.”
“A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make,”
– Response to Debbi Fields’ idea of starting Mrs. Fields’ Cookies.
“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out,”
– Decca Recording Co. Rejecting the Beatles, 1962.
“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible,”
– Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.
“If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this,”
– Spencer Silver on the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3-M “Post-It” Notepads.
“Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy,”
– Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.
“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”
– Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University , 1929.
“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value,”
“Everything that can be invented has been invented,”
– Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Office of Patents, 1899.
“The super computer is technologically impossible. It would take all of the water that flows over Niagara Falls to cool the heat generated by the number of vacuum tubes required.”
– Professor of Electrical Engineering, New York University
“I don’t know what use any one could find for a machine that would make copies of documents. It certainly couldn’t be a feasible business by itself.”
– Head of IBM, refusing to back the idea, forcing the inventor to found Xerox.
“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”
– Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse , 1872
“The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon,”
– Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria 1873.
“Who would want a F*****G Computer to sit on their Desk?”
– President of Warner-Swayze, 1977
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
– Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977
This is the first Earth Day poster (1971) from Walt Kelly and the gang down in the Okefenokee. Although Walt Kelly took ecology as his personal cause, he was highly political in other ways. Many of his cartoons are subtle references to McCarthy and the HUAAC thugs.
He died in 1973 after a long battle with diabetes and his grave is unmarked and unknown. He would hate the world today. Sometimes, I think I hear the little voices of Pogo and gang looking sadly at our world and wondering what will become of their beloved swamp … and the rest of the wild places.
How long were we apart? How long. An eternity? Or so it seems. Sometimes it feels like a strange dream I had as it fades in memory and so few people remember the places we lived or the language we spoke.
From the end of 1978 until August, 1987, I lived in Jerusalem, Israel. It is where I wanted to be and I was there by my own choice. I had wanted travel. I didn’t want to only travel. I wasn’t looking for a long vacation. I wanted to become part of another culture, another world, as different I could manage from the world I knew where I felt I was being swallowed by blandness.
Never did I have great yearnings for fame and fortune, though I wouldn’t have turned either away had they come knocking on my virtual door. But there are those of us who need to not only dream of other places, but experience them directly and apparently, I am one of them. My friends warned me I would suffer from culture shock. “Yes!” I said. I wanted culture shock. I wanted to be smacked in the face by a different lifestyle.
“You’ll be poor.”
My mother stepped in. “Marilyn’s never cared about things very much … she’ll be fine.” I didn’t know she knew that about me.
My friends sang three choruses of “What about me?” and I said “Buy a ticket. Visit.” Only Garry and one other friend … and my ex-husband (yes, we stayed friends until he died in 1993) took me up on the offer.
Garry, now my husband for 22 years (heading to 23) took me to the Four Seasons in New York and told me he’d really miss me and he would write. In all the years since we’ve been married, I’ve never seen him write a letter to anyone, but he wrote me twice a week, sometimes more, for 9 years. Those letters became a lifeline. I used to call them my fan letters, but when everything seemed to be falling apart around my ears and the life I’d built shattered, there was Garry. No surprise that we hooked up as soon as I got back and were married a few months after my divorce came through. Life take its own time.
And then there was Cherrie, my friend. When I said I was leaving, she said she was too. If I was going to quit Doubleday, she wasn’t going to quit too. We have this parallel life thing going. She wanted Hawaii, wound up in Austin. We completely lost track of each other for all the years I was away.
Now, we get to the good parts of the story. When I came back from Israel, I had nothing. A suitcase full of ratty tee shirts … a couple of hundred dollars … and my résumé. It was 1987 and the economy was beginning to move, especially in the Boston area where — coincidentally — Garry lived. Meanwhile, though, I got a job working for Grumman in Bethpage where among other strange and wonderful top-secret and not so secret jobs, I got to work with a bunch of NASA scientists on the design of the satellite catcher. We concluded that an effective satellite catcher had to have no fewer than 3 arms. Ignoring all recommendation, the U.S. government went cheap and made a catcher with 2 arms. It didn’t work. Mainly, as we had said, it wouldn’t catch satellites that were not rotating along a single axis. So, proving why humans have risen to the top of the food chain, our astronauts reached out and grabbed the spinning satellites with their dextrous hands and convenient opposable thumbs and easily caught them. Everything is weightless in space. We didn’t need a machine at all. Oops.
I also discovered we are hunting for anti-matter. Here’s a quoted interchange between Marilyn the Blogger in her incarnation as atomic editor anda highly place NASA physicist:
Me: “I thought anti-matter was a science fiction thing.”
He: “Oh, no, it’s very real. We want it.”
Me: “And you are sending probes to the ends of the universe to try to collect it?” (Unspoken: “Isn’t that a little bit dangerous? Like, to the world which you might eradicate?”)
He: “Yes. We have several probes seeking it and hopefully they will be able to collect some and bring it back.”
This ranks high in the weird conversations of my lifetime department.
Meanwhile, I had met a couple of people at Grumman and one of them published his own jazz newsletter, telling people what groups were playing where on the Island. He asked me to write some stuff for it. I said “How about an astrology column?” I actually can do astrology, though I don’t anymore for a whole bunch of reasons, but astrology columns are so totally bogus that it’s effectively straight fiction-writing, but people actually believe you (how cool is that?).
Ed, the guy with the newsletter, left them in pile free in the lobbies of buildings, local delis, and so on. And one day, my friend Cherrie who had returned from Austin and was living with her Mom while I was temporarily abiding in my ex-husband‘s guest room, was walking through the lobby of the building in which she worked and she saw there “The Jazz Ragg” and picked up a couple of copies.
There was a column by Marilyn Tripp. She read it and she said “That has GOT to be Marilyn, whatever her last name is now.” She knew my writing (we had worked together, after all), so she called my ex-husband and it turned out we were living a couple of blocks apart. Yay team. We have never been parted by more than a couple of hundred miles since … and after the Atlantic Ocean, that’s nothing.
As for Garry, we got together, married, bought a house, had our lives fall apart, put our lives back together and now live in the middle of nowhere in an oak woods with many dogs, my son and his family, way more bills than money to pay them, and a legion of aches and pains. In compensation, we also have a really huge television and many computers — 6 on this level and 5 or 6 more downstairs. It’s compensation for destitution.
So although we were apart,Garry and Cherrie and me, we found each other and are busy getting old together. How strange and wonderful to get old with the same people with whom you were first young.
Let me start by saying that I thank God and Lyndon Johnson that we have Medicare because without it, I would not be sitting here and writing this. I would be long since dead and buried. For the most part, Medicare is surprisingly well-administered. You can call them any time of the day or night, 24/7 and someone will try to help you. Medicare works better than any other part of the government I’ve ever dealt with. It is easier to work with than any of the expensive private insurers I had while I was working. Moreover, the people at Medicare who answer the phones are accessible, pleasant, patient, and well-informed which is a lot more than I can say for any private insurer I had. When they say they are going to call you back, they actually do call you back. Amazing.
I spoke to them last week and they couldn’t help me with this because it’s a local thing. Supplemental and Medicare Advantage programs are available from specific vendors in designated areas. So they had to pass me on to local representatives.
You have heard it said, I am sure, that there’s no such thing as a stupid question.
That is not true.
I was trying to see if there is a less expensive alternative to my current Medicare supplement, aka Medigap policy. My goal was to reduce my monthly medical insurance costs without compromising the quality of my medical care.
I could have found what I wanted if I lived almost anywhere else. But we live out in the country and there’s not much available. The plans would be good enough if you don’t get sick, or whatever is wrong with you is common and can be managed your PCP or a very inexperienced specialist. Definitely not a description of me.
To make things more complicated, we live close to Rhode Island, so most of the doctors that come up using all these plans’ search engines are in Rhode Island, not Massachusetts. The law governing medical care and prescription coverage varies hugely between the states. These search engines don’t know about state lines and just search within a designated radius you specify. Which makes the searches useless. Someone needs to do something about this. I can’t be the only person living near a state border who is on Medicare, can I?
Now, for the stupid questions.
Marilyn is sitting in front of the big monitor in her office. A cup of coffee is on the right, partially blocking the screen, and a glass of electrolyte rich zero calorie sports drink is on the other side. I have been roaming from provider site to provider site in the hopes of finding something that might work for me. Finally, unable to obtain any meaningful results, I fill out the form asking for more information. The phone rings. It is a digital phone, so really, it yodels.
Yodel yodel eeee. Yodel yodel ooooo.
Me, picking up phone: “Hello?”
Her: “May I speak with Marilyn Arstrong?
Me: “You got her”
Her: “I believe you inquired about Health Care options with ….?”
Me: “You’re fast. I’m still on your site.”
Her: “We have a variety of programs. How can I help you?”
Me: “I have a Medigap program, but I’m hoping to find a something less expensive, preferably a Medicare Advantage program, but there doesn’t seem to be much choice in this area.”
Her: “Do you have a computer?”
(Pause.) I just filled out a computer inquiry and said I was still on her website. It was dumb, but in the name of charity, I let it pass and moved on.
…. back and forth … back and forth …
Me: “So, in short, you don’t have a Medicare Advantage program that would work for me. It wouldn’t cost less and it wouldn’t let me keep any of my doctors or hospitals. It would be a Medicare Disadvantage plan. Why are we having this conversation?”
… back and forth … back and forth …
Me: “So, you don’t have anything that meets my needs. Have I got that right?
Her: “Do you live in a rural area?”
Me: (Pause) “You could say that.”
Her: “You might be okay with a more basic Medigap policy. Do you think you are going to be sick? Do you expect to need hospitalization?”
(Very long pause.)
Her: “Are you still there?”
I did not say that I was thinking. Wit and irony need to be used selectively. There are people on whom it is lost.
I wanted to say that I was considering a mild stroke in time for Christmas, but if they were having any specials on particular non-lethal diseases, I’d be willing to consider something heart-related, perhaps a minor infarction. I thought of saying that I was not planning any major medical incidents for at least a year, but I might, just for excitement have a medium-to-serious auto accident … but I doubted she’d see the humor. She was trying to help me. Ineffectually, but asking me if I was going to be sick? Really?
Does someone own a medical crystal ball. If they do, they should patent it because it is worth billions.
I still don’t know what I’m going to do, but I signed up with a different prescription carrier who I hope will save me a few bucks next year. Meanwhile, tomorrow is another day. Maybe I’ll think of something else. I hope that none of these options require that I know if I’m going to get sick. Because I haven’t a clue.
I originally wrote this when I had more or less no readers. So, I figure it deserves another go round. It was fun to write and maybe you’ll find it fun to read.
I’m the kind of person who will talk about history, philosophy, religion and the meaning of life until the eyes of my friends and family glaze over. Despite all this encouragement, I have continued to pursue knowledge.
What wisdom have I gained?
After more than 50 years, I now hold the same opinions I held when I was 12. In essence, I don’t know a damned thing … and neither do you.
In the spirit of caring and sharing, I offer you the distillation of the fruits of my laborious research to help you to understand the really important stuff, such as civilization. I’d hate to think I wasted all these years.
You can believe what you want, but you don’t know a single thing more than I do. What is more, you have to make the same leap of faith to believe in God or declare yourself an atheist. Either position requires you to believe something for which you have no proof.
You can’t prove that something is true is by believing it, even if a lot of other people also believe it. Or, contrarily, you can’t disprove something because a lot of people don’t believe it.
Here are a pair definitions, with links. They are the tip of the philosophical iceberg, so feel free to dive deeper.
From Wikipedia comes this straightforward explanation:
Epistemology i/ɨˌpɪstɨˈmɒlədʒi/ (from Greek ἐπιστήμη (epistēmē), meaning “knowledge, understanding”, and λόγος (logos), meaning “study of”) is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge. It addresses the questions:
- What is knowledge?
- How is knowledge acquired?
- To what extent is it possible for a given subject or entity to be known?
Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to connected notions such as truth, belief, and justification. One view is the objection that there is very little or no knowledge at all — skepticism. The field is sometimes referred to as the theory of knowledge.
From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything, comes this enlightening explanation. As you can imagine, it is incomplete, so feel free to click the link to see the rest of the story.
First published Wed Dec 14, 2005
Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? As the study of justified belief, epistemology aims to answer questions such as: How we are to understand the concept of justification? What makes justified beliefs justified? Is justification internal or external to one’s own mind? Understood more broadly, epistemology is about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry.
So what is an epistemological study? What is epistemology?
No need to worry. I figured it out and here it is, in three parts, two parts philosophy, one part caveat emptor:
Experience, AKA Phenomenology
In the same spirit, allow me to introduce you to phenomenology.
When I was studying religious philosophy in college, this was one of several ways to prove the existence of God, because phenomenologically speaking, all human experience throughout history is proof of God.
Except for the minor detail that you can use exactly the same reasoning to prove that there is no God, but I digress.
But that’s not all of it, not by any means. Phenomenology can prove that all things are one thing, that all things are part of a single totality, that all things are God and that you are God. Me too and my little dog Bonnie. We are all God. Properly skewed, you could probably prove that I am a cup of warm tea and you are a daffodil. Nice, huh?
But if that doesn’t clear it up for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, offers this clarification:
First published Sun Nov 16, 2003; substantive revision Mon Jul 28, 2008
Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object. An experience is directed toward an object by virtue of its content or meaning (which represents the object) together with appropriate enabling conditions.
Phenomenology as a discipline is distinct from but related to other key disciplines in philosophy, such as ontology, epistemology, logic, and ethics.
Although this is different from what I learned in school — that was part of the a study of comparative religion — it says the same thing. Experience can prove stuff about other stuff.
My interpretation is easier to understand and it works. Here are the rules:
In other words, armed with these concepts, you have everything you need to prove anything you want. Anything or anyone can be a source for you, no matter how flimsy or undependable. You can make your case based on something a couple of friends said a long time ago while they were under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs.
Again, you may discover that others find your proof less than fully convincing, but hey, no system is perfect. In the world of academia, no one believes anything anyone else says anyhow, so you might just as well stick your oar in the water.
Faith as Proof: It Doesn’t Work
Belief is not proof. Sometimes, even proof is not proof, but that’s another conversation. If you believe in God, reject God, or think Aliens walk among us, believing doesn’t make it so, even if you say it loudly and often.
I don’t care what the minister in your church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or the leader of your weird cult says. If God or an alien is speaking to you directly, please ask Him or it to come chat with me personally. Otherwise, I will probably not believe you.
I spent so half a century to get to the place I began, except that today I have a great title for my life’s work:
An Epistemological Analysis of Life Based on Half a Century of Phenomenological Research
by Marilyn Armstrong
I’ll let you know when it comes out in hard-copy. In the meantime, feel free to imagine the contents as whatever you want. That’s the joy of this approach: total freedom, untethered by the stringent requirements of research or reality.
Don’t miss the sequel.
Film at 11.
Robert Sawyer, the avowed and usually stridently atheistic author, reverses his previous position and writes a book proving that a theory of “intelligent creation” is not incompatible with a belief in evolution and science … a position I have always held.
I know that today’s political climate demands you take one side or the other, but I have never felt that the two positions were inherently antithetical. And so, reversing his position 180 degrees, Sawyer puts forth a fine case for intelligent creation.
I would have given it five stars, but the end of the book seemed to come out of left field and didn’t feel like it “fit” with the rest of the story. I’m picky, so maybe it won’t bother you.
Regardless, I really enjoyed this book. It’s more of a personal essay than science fiction story, much more so than any of Sawyer’s other books, but I enjoyed his logic, reasoning, they way he built his case, and his characters — human and alien.
Make sure to listen to the author’s introduction. It explains a lot about the book. Sawyer is very good about explaining his process. If you are a writer, it is illuminating.
No matter which side of the God-Versus-Science you are on, this is a thought-provoking and well-written book. Agree or disagree, it’s worth your time!
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