A Well-Rounded Education

A Well-Rounded Education

An M.P.S. member posted recently about a new museum and organization in Amsterdam called “Embassy of the Free Mind.” It is a fascinating place, very much in synergy with the goals and aspirations of the Masonic Philosophical Society. There is a hunger in the world right now, a deep need to find meaning in what we as humans are participating in, whether you believe it’s a great divine experiment, a quirk of evolutionary fate, or some pre-planned game of Destiny Chess. The thought of the popularity of such an organization got thoughts flowing about the period of time we call “The Enlightenment” or roughly 1650 C.E. through much of the 1700s, across nearly every country or city-state in Europe. This period of time emphasized the intellect and reason, where it picked up the additional moniker of “The Age of Reason.” Gone were the shackles of tradition, superstition, and fear-mongering of the Church’s influence; in its place, the individual man was brought to the fore, and the abilities of his mind were flexed right out in the open.

maxresdefault-2The interesting thing about the Age of Enlightenment is that it was really heralded in by the 17th Century Philosophers Descartes, Locke, and Bacon. There was a scientific revolution underway at the same time, whereupon these forces converged into a new way of thinking – the individual path to higher knowledge. Poets, writers, and thinkers of all types descended on the middle of Europe, Paris in particular, to challenge traditional ways and mores, fight against the moral control and dogma they had listened to for nearly 1200 years, and create a new world. Indeed, the American and French Revolutions and the establishment of new governments are outcomes of this revolution of thought.

Sound familiar? The world is searching for our modern philosophers. A simple Google search for “need for philosophers,” one will find a hunger for philosophers in finance, manufacturing, public life, and the Pentagon. Yes, really. Interestingly enough, there is also a need for a public that wants to engage with said philosophers, at least according to an opinion piece at National Public Radio.

In the past 100 years, since the real height of the industrial revolution, we have begun to devalue the free thinkers and dilettantes. The world has lost many of its tinkerers and dabblers because they are frowned upon. If you were a philosopher and an engineer, you weren’t and aren’t taken seriously by either group. Specialization has become the source of what we value. This is evident in the small amount of liberal arts degrees being granted to college students who are serious about the humanities.

According to numbers from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, less than 10% of the undergraduate degrees awarded are in Humanities without majors. While 92% of college students must take some humanities courses, the amount of students who choose to delve into a general education is fairly low. The focus for more than a decade has been on STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, with a high emphasis on women joining these disciplines. Today, approximately 2.5% of the college graduate population hold a Humanities degree. Yet, employers overwhelming state that the most important aspects they look for in college candidates is the ability think clearly, reason logically, and articulate their findings.

You can’t find that at the bottom of a test tube.

EDUCATION--1280x640I don’t find the STEM system to be out of line with what the United States and most countries in the world need. The human race is in need of scientists and mathematicians, even if we struggle to believe them. And, perhaps that is the point. Our college students, no, our populations, need balance. We don’t encourage, in general, a well rounded exploration of what intrigues and excites children if we are so focused on how they are going to feed themselves in the years to come. Parents and educators worry far more about these things and block much potential exploration in youth. While the parents of the 1950s were gender-biased in tailoring their children’s education, parents of the 1990s and 2000s have swing in an opposite direction. The pendulum swings one way and with the next generation, it will swing back again.

Partisanship, bias, and concrete paradigms stem from a lack of balanced education. Without the ability to debate and find logic, to think critically and clearly, we cut off the ability to learn and adapt from new experiences. This breeds intolerance, an inadequate workforce, and an inability to meet the needs of society. Think that’s a far jump? In a blistering article on the effects of a too-focused curriculum and testing, the National Education Association, agreed.

Today, more than a decade later, the law (No Child Left Behind)  is uniformly blamed for stripping curriculum opportunities, including art, music, physical education and more, and imposing a brutal testing regime that has forced educators to focus their time and energy on preparing for tests in a narrow range of subjects:  namely, English/language arts and math.  For students in low-income communities, the impact has been devastating.

The phenomenon isn’t restricted to the United States, either. Great Britain is also struggling to find its own education system remaining top-notch, for much if not all of the same reasons. One student explains his own resentment to the lack of quality education now being provided by the British school system, in the following take on the Minister of Education’s plans:

His obsession with grade inflation, abolition of modular exams and plan to phase out coursework, all form a smokescreen for his failure to address the real problems within the system: that too many exams and targets are turning students into robots who leave school with no real enthusiasm for a subject.

butterflyIt used to be that home education was looked down upon as being inadequate, low-quality, and incomplete. Yet, if we look into what goes into home-schooled systems and environments, we find a far-reaching curriculum, with specialization in special interests, creativity, and exploration. Children find a sense of wonder and a joy in what they learn because the entire world is open to them. While it is true that home-schooling has a lesser emphasis on socialization skills, these are not completely lacking. Yet, with the state of our current school systems, and the inherent dangers we are finding there, it certainly seems safer to educate at home.

Education is such an important part of our ability to reach as a species. We need to go back to the studies of Nature and Science to be able to grasp the concepts that go with not only math and engineering but also language and sociology, music, color, art, and dance. These things are important to ensure we don’t find ourselves out of whack with each other, and thereby create our own demise.

It’s interesting to note that out of the Age of Enlightenment, Freemasonry was revealed to all men, organized, and popularized. That is, it came out of the shadows. Is it a coincidence that they, too, were free thinkers, pushing the world to understand the value of the whole and not just the individual parts? Freemasons of that age explored new ways of thinking and propelled those philosophers, some of whom were also Freemasons, into the consciousness of other movers and shakers of their day. We may be on the brink of another “Age of Enlightenment,” although perhaps we cannot yet conceive of all its trappings. Perhaps that is what the consciousness of Freemasons today will help us discover.

How Do You Know?

How Do You Know?

Our modern times have brought us many great advancements. We find ourselves living longer, becoming more globally connected, and enjoying medical ingenuities, such as antibiotics, blood transfusions, and artificial organs. There are many amazing necessities and niceties that are enjoyed by the human race in varying degrees because of Science. Science has given us a lot to be thankful for. Or has it?

In recent years, there have been debates, and at times heated arguments, over the likes of genetically modified foods, vaccinations, and global warming. Even the effectivenessFlat Earth of Western medicine has cropped up in many personal conversations over the years. Ideas such as Flat Earth have come back to the scene in modern discussions and often with contention.

Once thought for certain by the general populace, many scientific concepts are met with skepticism. But before you believe this blog is about winning you over to one side or the other, I ask you read on, because it not. There is something greater underneath these debates, and it has everything to do with you.

When researching the Philosophy of Science the other day, I came upon a very intriguing
question: How do you know your knowledge is authentic?

What a wonderful question, and it has given me more than a pause. Now before we reduce this question to reducto adsurdum, and say how can we really ever know anything, let’s try to accept the question for what it is: an invitation to know ourselves a little bit better.

Knowledge. It is a formidable due to its ubiquitous nature. It is an invading species that finds life in the uninhabitable regions of our brain. It plants its roots and digs deep so it cannot be easily removed, often without our realizing it.

Thus, when we allow “knowledge” to pass our acceptance filters and impregnate itself in our world view, it becomes almost impossible to remove. Especially if it comes from an authority – like science, religion, or a person of a particular importance. But are these sources enough to make an idea become an organism of knowledge?

One of the greatest lessons science has taught me is that it is only at its best when it is being challenged, and I find that this true of human knowledge in general. Authenticity cannot exist if challenge is not present. Growth is a product of conflict, not peace. Knowledge that is real will survive and become stronger; the ideas that do not deserve to be uprooted and replaced with a more genuine concept.

How do you know your knowledge is real? We listen and we give the other side their due. This is a very Masonic and scientific principle. In doing so, the only danger we will face is the danger of becoming more authentic in what we know. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?


Is Death Necessary? Or Inevitable?

Is Death Necessary? Or Inevitable?

Death. A foregone conclusion to this life. Maybe. What does science say?

“Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me, Albert Einstein wrote in a condolence letter, upon the death of his close friend Michele Besso in 1955, “that signifies nothing. For those of us who believe in physics, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Einstein was on to something, according to a contemporary scientist.

A theory… a philosophy, really, called “Biocentrism,” explores this question and many other fundamental reality-based questions. Introduced in 2010 by Robert Lanza, a scientist, doctor, and “influential thinker” who felt that consciousness is a problem for not only biologists, but physicists as well. Nothing, according to Lanza, can explain the “molecules of consciousness bouncing around in our brain.”

Biocentrism is sometimes the view or belief that the rights and needs of humans are not more important than those of other living things. This is not that theory of philosophy; it is something entirely different.

The theory postulated by Lanza is that nothing exists outside of consciousness and life. Biology is the great creator. In Lanza’s view, we humans have become very good at understanding the mechanics of our universe. We look at the rotations of planets, and we know chemical properties and can explain how apples fall from trees.

What we can’t explain is why. Why does the universe work as it does? Why can we not explain yet why we have consciousness, or what we should be doing with it? Biocentrism explains the why.

“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.” Said Max Planck, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, “We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

Lanza, with biocentrism, seeks to explain the difference between what we all perceive to be an objective reality versus a life-centric reality.

“If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?”

Objective reality says, why yes, of course it does. Biocentrism reality says, not unless brainthere is an ear nearby. The science is lengthy but makes a point – without the ear to hear, the sound does not really exist. The tree falling creates puffs of air which stimulate aneardrum that translates the shift of air into a sort of sound. The sound is entirely held within our brains. The sound requires life and consciousness to comprehend it. The human must remove themselves from the equation to see the validity of the argument, and put themselves back in to understand the human place in creating the universe.

  • The First Principle of Biocentrism is that “what we perceive as reality is a process that requires our consciousness.” Or, said slightly differently, requires “any” consciousness. If I ask you, where is the universe, most might answer, “out there.” What many struggle with is that we are part of the same universe; what is out there is what is in here.                                                                                                                                                                     
  • The Second Principle of Biocentrism is that “internal and external perceptions are intertwined; they are different sides of the same coin and cannot be separated.”

In a complex explanation, Lanza says the general idea is that our brains create the reality we see. In this book, “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe,” Lanza explains all of this in an answer to the question: “Where is the Universe?”

In total, there are seven principles to Biocentrism, according to Lanza.

  • The most interesting one, in relation to death, is the Fourth Principle of Biocentrismwithout consciousness, “matter” dwells in an undetermined state of probability.

Any universe that could have preceded consciousness only existed in a probability state. This seems to state that we, as are in that undetermined state of probability, and that our matter never really “goes away” but is folded into and part of the ongoing reality of the universe. Our consciousness separates from matter but doesn’t cease to exist because it’s all part of the same consciousness. This reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s story, “American Gods.” Gods exist and thrive because of our consciousness of them.

Life creates the Universe. The Universe (Darwinism, the Big Bang, etc) did not create life. We’ve got it backwards.

Mind. Blown.

It seems like such a simple turn of phrase, one which everyone can identify with. Lanza brings to bear all the science and experiential anecdotes to back it up. He picks us up, biocentrism-turning-the-universe-outside-inkicking and screaming, from seeing the universe one way and to standing on our heads, viewing it another. These theories harken back to the ideals of Eastern Philosophies and Freemasonry.

Freemasons, Buddhists, and Taoists seek balance and unification, we see an understanding of nature and science, and a middle path. For the Buddhist, our consciousness allows us to connect with the One – the whole. For the Taoist, the focus is a seamless flow of life – where there are no individuals but a single existence. For the Freemason, we seek unity and harmony, and the idea that as a unit, we are also creators. None of this is incompatible with Lanza’s scientific and philosophical approach to how the universe, physics, works.

So, to the original questions: “Do we die?” and Is it inevitable?” 

According to Lanza, we are already dead, alive, past, future, and creators right now. The limitations are in our own perceptions and ideas of reality. All of it is right now because we, and all matter, are conscious. Lanza himself addressed this question in a Psychology Today article, located here.

Perhaps if more people could look at the universe from this new paradigm, we would become the creators we already are; we create and destroy together, whether we believe it or not.

  1. For a really good read, try out Lanza’s book on Biocentrism and his follow-on book, “Beyond Biocentrism.”
  2. For an interesting Buddhist view of Biocentrism, look to “The Endless Further,” a Buddhist’s blog.

When Did We Stop?

When Did We Stop?

It is easy for life to sweep us away on the current of self-importance. I don’t think we mean to; it just happens to be the way our culture works. Fast and busy and “me” centered. This way of life isn’t just an adult thing. We have shown our children how to do it. They, too, are pounded with the every day commitments we give them and allow. This way of living is like a fierce version of the Tango but at a pace it was never intended to be danced at.

This is my life as well; I made the same choice you did, to be a part of this me-speed machine.

Two events recently occurred that has made me slow my dance steps down and see those around me better: the launch of Falcon Heavy and a philosophical discussion on whether we should migrate to Mars.

The only word that I can give to the launching of Falcon Heavy is wonder. Watching the launch left my mouth open but with no words. There was something eerie when the sideFalcon Heavy boosters landed on Earth again. This shouldn’t be happening, I told myself. Side boosters don’t come back, they just don’t. Again, the wonderment had me re-watching several times over until the busy day I had, had dragged my eye lids closed.

Two weeks later the philosophical debate on whether humans should migrate to Mars coincidently dove-tailed with the SpaceX’s launch. The discussion was an interesting juxtaposition to my earlier experience of watching the Falcon Heavy launch. I entered the discussion, as I do monthly, with great enthusiasm about the topic. How could I not with this particular idea? We were going to talk about the possible expansion of our kind. To me, the feeling I had could be analogous to what people must have felt when travel to the New World seemed impossibly possible. The feeling was akin to infectious hope sprinkled with reservation. The New World, that is Mars, seems so alien, so inhospitable, could we ever truly make a life there?

It was after this debate that I have felt my mouth go dry with disappointment and my inner Tango stumble with the memory of a statement made earlier in the discussion, “What did schlepping to the Moon ever get us?” I shouldn’t judge I know… but I did. This question has forced me to understand the alternative purpose that Elon Musk had when he sent his Tesla roadster into space. He didn’t use his car solely as payload… he used it to get our attention.

I have to ask; I have to know. When did we stop looking up? When did we stop finding continual inspiration in the stars and unimaginable possibilities in worlds that seem saturns_shadowunreachable? I cannot help but to understand Elon Musk’s strategy. He needed to pull our eyes off the ground by wowing us with his fancy car whizzing around Earth’s orbit because a rocket that brings us one step literally closer to Mars, wasn’t and isn’t enough.

My hope has been temporarily dampened, but it still remains because it is possible to change the rhythm by which we live to include the stars. Space exploration isn’t about man schlepping through the cosmos; it is about us making a bigger place for ourselves in that inky black sky. And the possibility that we are closer than ever to doing just this gives oxygen to that small flicker of hope.