Good Vibrations?


Yet another spring has passed and I haven’t been invited to give a commencement address. Not even to a high school graduating class, much less a university.

So here are a few words of wisdom that I would have offered new graduates if I’d been asked: The poop might be phony!

French philosopher Rene Descartes is known as the first “modern” philosopher—as if that gives him some special credibility.  

He likened the body to a machine.

By the time the chemists and biologists and physicists got through with the idea, they had reduced us to nothing but vibrations.

It’s known as ontological reductionism—the idea that an organism is composed of nothing but molecules and their interactions. Vibrations.

As Seyyed Nasr writes, “It could be described as the reduction of the spirit to the psyche, the psyche to biological activity, life to lifeless matter and lifeless matter to purely quantitative particles or bundles of energy whose movements can be measured and quantified.”

Reductionism is now the default position of higher education. They think that most “ordinary” people, especially in past eras and cultures, believe “too much.” Their primary role as teachers is to debunk myth, superstition and naiveté.

Are they correct in their “modern” thinking?

Well, the historic definition of education is a "leading-out," from the Latin e-ducare—leading the student out of a narrow belief system into a larger world.

The irony is that the modern tendency to reduce rather than to enlarge our worldview is considered leading edge and very modern.

So, graduates, take a breath before you accept as gospel every idea perceived as modern. This counsel is especially offered to my three grandsons, now in the throes of higher education. 

Always remember William of Ockham's philosophy of Nominalism—which dismissed the idea that there are objective, real and universal truths. It was called the via moderna, the “modern way” of thinking. That was in the 14th century. Six hundred years ago. 


Vaucanson’s Duck.

Also remember Jacques de Vaucanson. In 1739 he created a mechanical duck, which he presented to King Louis XV. Vaucanson called his creation "moving anatomy.” His duck moved, quacked, flapped its wings and even seemed to eat and digest food. More than 400 parts were in each wing alone. It was akin to what Descartes had in mind a hundred years before. But there was no technology in Descartes’ time to fabricate a model.

Alas, what had been celebrated as a scientific marvel turned out to be a complete fraud. Inside was discovered a mechanical chamber that produced predigested pellets to make it look like the duck had eaten and digested the food it was given. 

The poop was phony!

In my next blog, “The Next Larger Context”

Read my newest book, Fat Guy in a Fat Boat, in print or Kindle from Amazon:

Also available is my e-book, A Light from Within, about the small moments of our lives that seem commonplace until they are examined under a creative lens.

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