What we half perceive and half create

Following up on last week’s post and video of the The McGurk Effect, it would seem that we have in this demonstration of how the mind alters what we hear some empirical evidence to support the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.  Which is ironic because Kant’s philosophy  is questions empirical evidence!  To be more precise, he critiques what philosophers call “naive empiricism,” the assumption that what we take in with our senses is the only kind of reliable truth.

Kant says that we do indeed take in sense perceptions from the outside world.  But then our minds actively shape those perceptions.  What we experience is  sensory data as organized by our minds.  As Wordsworth puts it, “what we half perceive and half create” (“Lines Composed above Tintern Abbey”).

The McGurk video gives an example of that.  An even more common and accessible example would be the way we perceive distance.  If we were naive empiricists, believing just in what we see, we would have to believe that objects get smaller the farther away they are from us.  In reality, of course, the objects remain the same size.   We know this intuitively but not from our senses alone.  This is how our minds process, organize, and present the sense data.

There are other examples.  Colors don’t seem to be essential properties of objects, but rather manifestations of how our eyes and our minds process light frequencies.  Dogs are thought to see in black and white but to smell in some olfactory version of 3-D and Technicolor.  Insects whose multi-faceted eyes are raised above their heads apparently see 360 degrees at once, forward and backward and above and below at the same time, something unimaginable to us humans who look at things framed in one plane.  And yet dogs, insects, and people–despite their different sense perceptions– share the same reality.  (Can you think of other examples?)

Kantian philosophy started us down the slippery slope that has led us to existentialism, subjectivism, and postmodernism.  But those take his points too far.  That we half perceive and half create does NOT mean that we construct our own truth, much less that truth is relative or that truth is whatever we want it to be.  In the McGurk Effect video we hear “ba’s” and “fa’s,” not the Gettysburg Address.  We do receive sensory data from outside ourselves; we do not just make it up.  Naive empiricism sometimes is mistaken for science, but actual scientists know they have to employ the empirical method with many checks and balances–formal experiments with  controls and repeatability requirements–to get reliable findings.  They don’t just base science on what they see.

How does all of this relate to a Christian worldview?

The American religion

“I am a proud member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior. He redeemed me fully and completely. He is the only reason that I am able to stand here today. I am a proud member of that faith, but more importantly, I am a proud member of the American religion.”

–Glenn Beck, addressing controversies over Mormonism

via At values summit, Romney keeps focus on Obama – The Washington Post.

Exegete THAT.

What would you say are the tenets of “the American religion”?

Where do we see the American religion as being treated as ‘”more important” than the Christian faith?

The Christian right’s candidate: Ron Paul?

The Values Voters Summit is a convention of Christian political activists that takes place in Washington, D. C., each year.  This weekend the various Republican presidential candidates came hat in hand.  After their presentations, a straw poll was conducted.  The winner with 37% of the vote?  Ron Paul.

Such a large percentage of Christian conservatives are favoring the libertarian who wants to legalize drugs and prostitution?  Some are saying the poll was skewed by Paul supporters who crashed the party.  And yet, I can see this.  I know quite a few Christian political activists and a lot of them, including some on this blog, favor Paul.

What I am seeing is that the Christian right, political ideology, and politics itself are all getting more complicated than they used to be.  And that’s a good thing.

Values Voter straw poll organizers suggest a fix in Ron Paul’s win – Political Hotsheet – CBS News.

Romney’s Mormonism – Washington Post

Weekend sports

Watching baseballl playoff games is intense, especially if you have a horse in the race. I was following every pitch and, due to time zones and having to record games, staying up until 1:00 a.m. But what games they were! The Milwaukee Brewers, whose games I used to attend faithfully when we lived in Wisconsin, beat the Arizona Diamondbacks to get into the championship series and then beat the St. Louis Cardinals–who themselves heroically defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, ostensibly the best team in baseball.

And the Sooners, from one of my alma maters, just demolished our arch-rivals the Texas Longhorns, beating up on the #11 team in the country as easily as they beat Ball State the previous week.

The Sooners were rated #1 in the AP pre-season poll, as they still are in the Coaches’ poll. But now they have slipped to #3, getting based by LSU (#1) and Alabama (#2). Why? Oklahoma defeated two nationally-ranked teams. What did LSU and Alabama do that is more impressive than what Oklahoma has done?

The virtue that is laziness

A week or so ago I posted “The Faith to be Idle,” something Dan Kempin wrote about our need to stop working so much.  It provoked some good discussion also.  I want to call your attention to something Larry Hughes wrote in a comment, since I suspect hardly any of you are still following that thread:

Thanks Dan. I loved what you wrote. I read it to my wife because we’ve been on and off discussing this issue. It was so encouraging. I think, no rather, I know you’ve nailed it. That last sentence was golden, “do you have the faith to be idle”. It rings of Luther’s similar statements recognizing unbelief hidden inside “virtues”. Few between Paul and Luther, and damn few after Luther recognize the devil’s real tricks. Even a pagan recognizes the “black” devil as Luther put it, few recognize the “white” devil (the angel of light) as he also put it.

E.g. when Luther was once asked what he’d do if he found out Christ was coming today his reply was “plant a tree”. He recognized the unbelieving trap behind the question of Christ’s sufficiency. Similarly Luther points out numerous times the good works, that false piety or unbelief guised as faith would never in a thousand years allow as good works as being when the believer eats, drinks, sleeps, etc… Luther in kind commented on he and Phillip drinking beer while the Word delivered the blow to the pope.

An analogy might be a child completely secure in his/her home who simply eats an apple or play in the mud with great joy. They do not toil and spin in anxiety over satisfying their parents as if to “merit” their love, they believe their parents love them, so in this earthly faith over earthly parents they play and laugh in perfect secure faith in their parents supplying all they need. They believe their parents. They know supper is coming because they are children and not slaves or rejected whereby they must merit their meals, bed, clothes, shelter, etc…

The scriptures are pregnant with this. Christ Himself says the lilies of the field and birds of the air do not toil and spin but in perfect created placement know their heavenly father knows their need and gives to them. Jesus sleeping on a cushion as the storm waves rage about the boat in PERFECT faith, yet the disciples start to become anxious and then toil in their unbelief. It apexes at the cross where Christ on one hand cries out “why hast Thou forsaken me”, then “into Thy hands I commend my spirit”.

But we don’t do that, and America has become the nation now that is most unbelieving as a whole. Not so much by its immoral issues, but because of its virtues.  Iit thus toils and spins in rank unbelief. It eschews, in reality, its holidays, it’s restful weekends. Oh we give it “lip service” but we don’t really enjoy these gifts of God. Israel as the nation of God had entire feast months, seasons and years, forgave debts, etc…” This is unheard of in America. Decades ago the old Soviet Union early on attempted in its anti-christic state to shift to 10 day work week in order to grow the nation powerfully and be “more productive”. At length it found that diminishing returns increased as it exhausted itself. God has ordained 7 days with at least one day of rest, man in vain usurps this. Now America has never “officially” ordained a 10 day work week, but we all well know it de facto has gone there for the most.

This is no legalism on “you can’t do anything on the Sabbath” but recognizing the creature gift of God of rest and leisure. Luther comments in his LC on the third commandment for example: “But to grasp a Christian meaning for the simple as to what God requires in this commandment, note that we keep holy days not for the sake of intelligent and learned Christians (for they have no need of it [holy days]), but first of all for bodily causes and necessities, which nature teaches and requires; for the common people, man-servants and maid-servants, who have been attending to their work and trade the whole week, that for a day they may retire in order to rest and be refreshed.” . . .

Carl Trueman, I believe he is Reformed, writes well on this: “Indeed, we have surely lost the virtue that is laziness. As Kierkegaard once said, ‘Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good’ — a truly amazing theological insight. Some may think that that maybe going a bit far, but compared to the idea that the essence of humanity is busy-ness, it is much to be preferred.”

“… laughter in the face of adversity and hardship not only being vital in this regard but also, of course, an almost exclusively social phenomenon that requires company; drinking beer with friends is perhaps the most underestimated of all Reformation insights and essential to ongoing reform; and wasting time with a choice friend or two on a regular basis might be the best investment of time you ever make.”

Who of us unbelieving workaholics among us exhausted by the incessant work we think is a virtue does not secretly feel deeply the need for this and laments its loss!

I love that line, “Indeed, we have surely lost the virtue that is laziness”, i’ts just like “do you have faith enough to be idle.”

via The faith to be idle | Cranach: The Blog of Veith#comment-128736.

The genius of Steve Jobs

I was asked to write up something about the death of Steve Jobs for the Lutheran Witness website.  I’ll link to that when it goes up.  In the meantime, here is something in today’s Washington Post that I think is very telling about the man’s  genius.

It seems the public was disappointed about the unveiling of the iPhone4S.  Apparently, it didn’t look much different from the old iPhones.  People were looking for matters of appearance.  But look at the reality of what this new device can do:

The launch wasn’t really about the phone at all. It was about the software inside and possibly the kick-start of the next big revolution in how we interact with our gadgets.

That software is called Siri, but Apple would like for you to think of it as your “intelligent assistant.” And what Siri does is nothing short of amazing.

Siri can listen to your “natural language” (that is, words spoken as you would to another human, not a computer) questions or requests and respond like a digital secretary. It’s not just that Siri listens, either. The software is capable of understanding the context of what you’re talking about, so if you ask it to set an alarm on your phone, it will ask you for what time. And again, you don’t. Have. To. Talk. Really. Slowly.

If you ask Siri to schedule an appointment, it will not only check to see if it conflicts with any of your other meetings but will help you juggle the time slot until you have your day’s events mapped out. Siri will find movie theaters close to you or tell you how to get home from your current location. It can identify family members, spouses and co-workers you’re always talking to, and it knows when people’s birthdays, anniversaries or other big events are coming up.

Here’s an example of a chat I had with Siri:

Me: “Schedule an appointment with Jack for 3:30 p.m.”

Siri: “Okay, here’s your meeting. Note that you already have a meeting that overlaps with this. Should I schedule it anyway?”

Me: “Change the time.”

Siri: “Okay, Joshua, what’s the new time and date for this meeting?”

After I learned that my new time overlapped again, I asked Siri to cancel the meeting, and it asked me if I wanted it removed from my calendar. All this happened in the span of a minute or so, and all of it felt strangely normal.

More interestingly, Siri is plugged into Yelp and Wolfram Alpha (a search engine dedicated to finding facts instead of Web pages). If you ask Siri how much $45 is in British pounds, it can tell you the answer. Or how many cups are in a gallon (16, for the measurement challenged). But again, the best part of this is that you don’t have to tone down or over compensate for computer hearing. Siri listens like a person, and often responds that way, too.

via Apple Siri: the next big revolution in how we interact with gadgets? – The Washington Post.

It seems to me that Jobs and his company did not just give people what they want, following the dictates of the marketplace.  Certainly, someone who does that is likely to have great success.  Rather, he came up with things no one knew they wanted, things they never even dreamed of.  He led the marketplace.

There is a lesson here for churches that want to engage the culture and Christians who want to make an impact.   Just conforming to cultural trends and following fashions is not going to do very much.  Try addressing what the culture does NOT already have, finding something that it needs or that it doesn’t know that it needs.  Don’t just imitate the dominant styles.  Invent new styles that other people might imitate, to the point that your style might become dominant.  Don’t follow the culture.  Lead it.

This applies also to technology, business, and the arts.


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