Tag Archives: Philosophy & Religion

Navigating the Sea of Belief

The Sea of Belief

This sketch illustrates how I often envision our beliefs, our philosophies and our ways of thinking.  My intent here is not to argue about the terms [“usefulness” or “accuracy”, for I toyed with other words too], but to hope you feel what I am trying to say and use this metaphor for useful dialogue.

Questions for readers:  Imagine you see the folks (the boats) in the diagram (a, b and c) trying to navigate their lives (the sea).  Which boat is doing best?  Which direction should each boat point her bow?



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What is your Greek-Philosophy Type?

Throughout this site I contend that we often form our philosophies and theologies to reinforce our niches in life. Our niches are largely determined by our personalities, our social settings and historical accidents. Thus, our philosophies are often mere clothing we put on to comfort our personalities and social situation. If misread, this could sound like an overgeneralization but hopefully I cushioned it appropriately.

Now, on a fun note, I ran into this fun site by Mark Vernon that helps you find the Greek philosophical system that matches your personality.  So why go through the work of pretending you have thought everything out and ‘choosing’ your own personality?  Mark’s site does all the work for you! 🙂

Much like in Astrology or other divination systems (please see my post here), in order for this philosophy-choosing algorithm to work for you, you have to ignore the points that you feel don’t describe you and you must get really excited about the parts you agree with.

In the comments tell us your result and share one point your strongly agree and one point that is completely wrong about you. Below are my results with my comments.

Your recommended philosophy-guru is:


Key fact: He taught in a stoa, the Athenian supermarket, and hence founded the school of philosophy called Stoicism.  [I do find Stoicism interesting]

Must have: An interest in everyday life, for it is there that you learn life’s big lessons.
[Wow, yep. — but wouldn’t everyone say that?]

Key promise: An ability to face anything, no matter how disastrous.
[I’d like to think that is true, but wouldn’t everyone?]

Key peril: To be “stoical” is to turn your back on passion.
[I am not that way]

Most likely to say: “If you have integrity, no-one can harm you.”
[Wow, how wrong is that!]

Least likely to say: “Forget prudence! It won’t help you anyway.”
[I love that one.  Ooops, must not be me.]


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The Reification Fallacy

I have written a few posts about the logical problem of making an abstract concept concrete:

This rhetorical trick is called “The Reification Fallacy” and goes by several other names:

  • Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness (Whitehead)
  • Concretism
  • Concretizing the Abstract
  • Hypostatisation: [Gk. hypostatos: substantially existing] attributing real identity to (a concept).  See Hypostasis in theology (wiki)
  • Ontological Fallacy

Reification Fallacy is the error of treating an invented idea as a concrete thing.  For example if someone, “I fought with my boss today”, “boss” is a concrete thing.  But if someone says, “During the war, I fought for justice”,  “justice” is abstract.  “Justice”, in this case is only an amalgam of ideas particular to that speaker.  Everyone has a different idea of “justice”, but if we start to think that “justice” is a real thing which we must search for the truth about, and we forget that we created the idea, then we would be reifying “justice”. The trouble comes when we start to think of abstractions as if they were concrete realities themselves.  These abstractions are only useful if people use them to talk about ideas they agree about, it only works for in-house echo-chamber conversations.  But they can be used very deceptively too.  Thus, abstractions can be used as quick heuristics for useful communication or tools to deceive ourselves and others.  So it is important to remember the difference between abstractions and real things.

The Reification Fallacy is a type of Ambiguity Fallacy (see: Fallacy Files) and I have illustrated its place on the Fallacy Taxonomy above. Interestingly, I can’t find the “Reification Fallacy” discussed in the “Fallacy Files”. But here are some sources that do discuss it:


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Logical Fallacies & Rhetorical Tricks

We intuitively know when an argument sounds wrong or tricky. Philosophers have for centuries labelled and classified these errors in argument. Embarrassingly, I have only learned many of these names for fallacies since I started blogging. But heck, it is never too late to learn.  Knowing these convenient names for fallacies can save us from long-winded explanations as we try to see through our own manipulative, tricky, deceptive arguments (and those of others).

This is an index post where I will slowly list my writings on fallacies.  The above taxonomy for fallacies is from my favorite source: http://www.fallacyfiles.org . I will use it (and may change it) to illustrate future posts.  If you have other resources for fallacy education or suggestions, please let me know in the comments.

Fallacy Posts:


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Ephemeral Morphs: our posts and our lives

How do you write?  I am always pleasantly surprised that my posts morph unpredictably.  I start writing with some hint of purpose but the post quickly seems to take on its own life — leaping forward as my earlier words wisp away.  I will often jot down several paragraphs of ideas, impressions and conclusions, and then rewrite them several times.  I won’t open them again until a day or more later:  cut, paste, rewrite that material until it is indistinguishable from the original.  I may repeat that process several times over several days. It is never the same post or the same me writing it — I love it.

The continual changing makes it see odd to stop and hit the “publish” button — for if I thought my last version was better than the first, then perhaps I should just keep coming back to it day after day.

But is it really “better”?  Sometimes I actually have past copies to compare to the new-and-better versions.  And when I compare them, I sometimes lament the loss of the unpolished, simple original.  Sometimes I wish I could at least snip out some of the flavor of my raw jottings and add them to the latest version.  But usually, it is too late to go back.  My older fun tones don’t mix with the new fun tones — damn, why can’t writing be all of us at once.

So it seems blogging very much reflects my mental life in general.  Though I am continually “me”, of course, this dumbing hallucination is belied by reading past writings.  And though I may be tempted to identify with my present thoughts, I am humbled to know they may not be mine tomorrow.  And though now feels better, I savor the past and always wish she’d come back to enliven my now.

OK, today’s post is a bit out of style — but hell, we should allow that, no?

Question to Visitors:  How does your writing evolve?  Have you sensed anything like I tried to sketch here of the parallel between your ephemeral-self and your writing?

HT to photo artist.


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Choosing Your Favorite Shit Pile

1. Sim City

Many years ago SimCity “Classic” taught me a very important principle of life: the 10-15% rule.

SimCity is a computer simulation game where the player is the Mayor of a city and as the mayor, the player’s goals are to:

  • keep his job
  • make his city grow (or at least keep stable)

The Mayor must make choices like: expenses used for public utilities (power and water supplies), salaries of city employees (police, firemen …), tax rates, repair projects, school sites and much more. If his choices result in too much spending or bad planning, the city runs out of money, crime multiplies, housing declines and he is voted out of office. If he spends too little on key services, unrest can develop and again he can also be voted out of office.  Being a Mayor is a precarious thing. To aid his survival, not only can he monitor the statistics for costs-in and cost-out, the Mayor also has constant access to his approval rating — and that is the secret!

SimCity appeared to have an implicit rule built in: If the Mayor’s approval rating dropped under 85%, he was kicked out of office. But usually if the Mayor’s rating was much over 90% it was due to short-sighted over-spending and the city ran out of money and quickly collapsed into chaos — with the Mayor again loosing his job. Thus a successful mayor must be comfortable not only with being unpopular to some degree,  but he must actually strive to keep his unpopularity between 10-15% of the population.

2. The Idealism Assumption

One of the greatest philosophical mistakes I see ourselves often making is the “Idealism Assumption“:  it is the assumption that there is always a perfect answer which will have no faults — we search for perfect systems.  And SimCity illustrates this by showing that a Mayor looking for a zero percent disapproval rating will fail. Instead, a deep principle of reality seems to be that, from a human perspective, all systems have unwanted outcomes. A vulgar way of stating this principle is: “Every system has its shit pile”.

3. The Shit Pile Principle

This Shit Pile Principle is why idealism fails and how “pragmatism” got a name. Admitting to your own system’s shit pile can not only improve your thinking but greatly facilitate debates and conversations. Without understanding the 10-15% rule, we are often deluded and lack real insight. Shit piles exist in philosophical systems, economic systems, political systems, religious systems and all organizations.  Every personality type has its own shit piles also — there is no perfect personality type.

I am not writing anything insightful — this is obvious stuff. We have phrases for this obvious fact of life. In medical therapy, undesired but unavoidable consequences are called “side effects”. In economics, undesired, untoward bi-products of a system are called “negative externalities“.   In our daily lives, when unexpected outcomes result from our choices (or from natural causes), some people say “shit happens”. People respond to this “shit” in many different ways (here is that classic humorous list of religious/philosophical responses). There are certainly some ways that are better than others in dealing with shit, but the most important take-home point is to understand that you won’t find a perfect system. We all must learn that our system choices always entail choosing our favorite shit pile.

Question for readers:  Please tell us an embarrassing story where YOU were tricked by the “idealism assumption”.



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Losing Friends

This post was inspired by David Hayward’s lament of lost friends after leaving his church and his joy in new found friends outside his faith. Like David, I too lost almost all of my friends on leaving Christianity. But I lost friends many times in my life — perhaps you have too.  People who keep friends tend to be people who don’t change their locations, beliefs or activities or have a loose definition of “friend”.

So, do some fake armchair philosophy and reflect on the whole phenomena of “Loosing Friends“?

I can think of a three main (overlapping) reasons humans form “friendships”:

  1. survival, competition & safety: cooperation, support
  2. reproduction & family: partners, children, …
  3. pleasure or avoidance of pain: shared activity, distraction, comfort, acceptance

Depending on how you value these conditions at any given time or in any given situation, what you call “friend” may change.

When you leave situations, those who continue to be friends change.

Loss of friends seems so simple to me. Friendships are difficult to maintain because our lives are in flux — this is natural.  Or if  your life is not in flux then perhaps you lost friends because you were not aware of these basic drives and thus did not nurture the particular aspect of a “friendship” appropriately.  Or perhaps the other person was a jerk — but I would save that explanation for last.

People desire “true friends” but on deep inspection, I think this term may be found to be self-deceptive. Such thinking reveals something crucial about our desperate condition. I can understand the ideal of “true relating” much better — it does not come wrapped in profit and investment.

Here are a few natural times to lose friends:

  • on leaving a church, synagogue, temple
  • on leaving a club, school, activities
  • on leaving a town, country
  • on leaving a period of life

If we understand the benefits of friends, we can understand why they often dissolve in these situations. Lastly, we only have so much time in a day — friends take time.

And when you lose friends, you have an opportunity to see behind your real motivations or behind the motivations of others. The loss may be natural and healthy, and so start nurturing new relationships. Or, it may reveal your lack of understanding of friendships and you need to change either your expectations or your actions.

So, if you want more friends:

  1. Invest time with those who you share common purpose, nurture your friendship
  2. Change your definition of “friend” (as they do on FaceBook or Google +)

So, what is your philosophy of friendship? What do you think of my view?


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Loner or Party Animal

Understanding the variety of human temperaments can help you understand yourself and others. Sociability is one such temperament trait. Where do you lay on the spectrum between Party Animal and Loner?  Take the poll.

It is known that the orbital prefrontal cortex (OPC) is associated with emotion and reward. University of Oxford anthropologist Robin Dunbar showed that:

  1. People with a larger social networks had larger OPCs
  2. People with larger OPCs were more capable at envisioning another person’s thoughts (“empathy”, “theory of mind”)

So, some questions:

  • Does enlarging your social network grow your brain or is the brain size what determines your social reach? Maybe both. We don’t know yet.
  • Does blogging count as socializing?
  • Does the size of a person’s orbital pre-frontal cortex predispose them to certain types of worldviews?


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Arguing for a Tiny God

I hope this time my design choices for “size” and “direction” become usefully obvious in my diagram below. The bottom part of the diagram now illustrates why it is important to keep god-definitions clear. When arguing about ‘god’, spelling out the qualities of the god being debated will save lots of time.

Some Theists feel they have good philosophical arguments that support their god. Here are the big ones:

But these arguments, at their best, would only support a stripped-down, tiny god like the deist creator god. At their worse, they fail miserably. Nonetheless, these arguments don’t work as proof from their big god. Yet these theists, consciously or unconsciously, use these tiny-god arguments to sneak in their big god.  They do this because the word “God” carries the connotations of the bigger, falsely puffed-out gods: the Judge, the Miracle Worker or The Divine Presence.

So when debating a theist, be sure to ask them more about their god. Ask them which god they are trying to prove. Don’t let them fool you into thinking they have argued for their big, miraculous, tribal, anthropomorphic god.  Keep them focused on how tiny the god of their “proofs” actually is.

For an excellent short post on this same issue see Luke Muehlhauser’s: “I Don’t Care if God Exists“.


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A Day of All-Ones

This morning I put up signs like this around our house.  I bought a special sweet treat for the kids.  And then tonight we will go out for Oriental food to celebrate A Day of All-Ones!  After dinner, I will announce to my kids that I expect them, in return, to take Mom and Dad out on A Day of All-Twos –>  2/22/22 .  I hope they remember.  Ah the joy of making our own specialness.  How will you celebrate today?

Hey, it is also a FULL MOON today.  The Gods are talking to us — numerology and astrology confirm each other.  And I suspect that at 11:11 am and 1:11 pm great things will happen in your day today.  Mark my words!

BTW, I am spending a lot of time working on another blog.  I actually posted something there today that I could not decide if I should post here or there.  Go take a look — “What should we do with Miracles?”  I think you will see why I have two blogs and I think you will see why sometimes it is hard to decide where to post.  Ah what fun!


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