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We humans have no direct knowledge of God. For knowing a truth or a good is to know what is concrete, not abstract. All communities of knowers share language, information, questions about that data, hypotheses as to their meanings, judgments of validity, and responsibility for what they know. And while what is true or good is always what is true or good about this or that thing or event, knowers only know the real abstractly. This is to say that human knowledge is at best, conditioned, that is to say, virtual: there are always more questions raised by answers.

Beyond the limit that intelligence runs up against is the fact that we can only know this universe, what we theists call creation. When a person asks about the meaning not of something specific, but rather the “meaning of meaningfulness (and apparent meaninglessness)”, the “sense of the sacred” makes itself felt. …


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Neuroscience is making great progress understanding the human brain, and there is no reason to think that it will not continue to do so. However, it will always have to deal with a blind spot that limits its results. What is a neuroscientist studying the brain but a brain studying? Such a study can only understand the functioning of the organ, and those functions vital to the life of the whole person: respiration, heartbeat, etc. Experiments will continue to verify or discard hypotheses concerning memory, language, the acquisition of habits and addictions, accumulating knowledge — there is no end to neuroscience as such. …


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Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

One way to dismiss an idea is to insist that it “is just a theory.” However, the point of calling something a theory is that it is a proven explanation. This doesn’t mean it cannot be changed, improved upon, surpassed by another theory that explains more and in better ways. When a concept is a theory, however, it sets the terms and relations necessary to improve or even overturn it.

Three examples of theories changing

The first is phlogiston. First introduced in the 17th century, this theory attempted to explain how things burn, and why they stop burning as well. Things which are liable to burn have a substance, the theory went, that escapes during the burning that it causes, until the air around it becomes full of this “phlogiston” (meaning “burning up”), thus stopping the fire. When this process happened slowly, it explained how rust formed. As a theoretical explanation, however, it got people thinking about how to prove it, or improve it. One fact that it could not explain was that, for instance, magnesium when burned weighs more than it did before being burned. Eventually Antoine Lavoisier proved that fire (and rust) are actually caused by oxygen, a substance not in the object being burned or rusting, but in the air. …


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Much of what we know is called “common sense.” Either we have learned its precepts and perspective from others, or we have asked questions and come up with answers that are usually satisfactory. Proverbs are examples of common sense codified in easily-remembered phrases: “a stitch in time saves nine”, “early to bed, early to rise, makes one healthy, wealthy and wise”, “red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailor take warning”, and so on. The trouble is, proverbs often contradict one another. “Lightning never strikes the same place twice” is (usually!) true, but the French say, “never two without three” (jamais deux sans trois). …


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Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

Let’s start with things that we investigate and wonder whether they have meaning. For instance, if you look at this word

Смысл

and if you cannot read Cyrillic, never mind Russian, you would conclude that it has no meaning to you (the word is the translation of “meaning”). But at the same time, you might well surmise that these signs have meaning for someone other than yourself, because you know how to read.

Then there are emojis:

😊

😅

😂

🤪

The meanings here seem pretty obvious. In fact, these little symbols are universally understood: they start with a smile, breaking into laughter, laughing to tears, and then mugging a lunatic smile. …


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Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Pontius Pilate made a seemingly contemporary statement almost 2,000 years ago, according to the Gospel of John. “What is truth?” is his retort to Jesus’ claim that he came as a witness to the truth. It is a world-weary, cynical reply, from a man who had been assigned the worst posting in the Roman Empire. Whereas it is not clear why Pilate was not in the good graces of the emperor, Tiberius, it would not be very long after that he ordered Pilate to go either into exile or commit suicide. The Roman Empire did not give pensions to failures.

Today the notion of truth is itself mocked. You have your truth, and I have mine, and it doesn’t matter if these “truths” contradict each other. Only those facts that can be empirically proven are allowed to be called truth, and even scientific truth has come under attack as being as much a “social construct” as other truth claims. …


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Photo by Hannah Wright on Unsplash

First, what it’s not. In his last book, the late author Tom Wolfe, known for his iconoclastic journalism in works such as The Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff, took on language. In The Kingdom of Speech,[1] Wolfe skewered Charles Darwin for plagiarizing the theory of evolution from Alfred Wallace. He also pointed out that Darwin never showed that human language evolved from anything else — birdsongs, mother’s coos, animal grunts, and so on — though he desperately wanted to. No one has credibly argued for an evolutionary origin, since, as well.

Having done in Darwin, Wolfe then trained his sights on Noah Chomsky, who almost single-handedly invented the discipline of linguistics with theories of a “ language organ” somewhere in the brain that picks up on a “universal grammar” enabling us all to learn to speak a particular language. Using sources including a personal interview, he showed that Chomsky himself no longer believed in the ideas that made him famous. The great linguist now admits ignorance as to the evolutionary origin of language.[2] …


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Photo by Gene Gallin on Unsplash

OK, I am assuming now that Joe Biden will on January 20 be sworn in as the next President of the United States of America. If it is Donald Trump, then what I say here will still be necessary to save the world’s oldest democracy.

Biden received the most votes in US history. But he did not do better than Hillary Clinton in 2016. She was ahead of Trump by 3 million votes, which means that Trump did much better in 2020 than in 2016. Those who hoped for a “blue wave” are disappointed, but they should have been more realistic: the country is deeply divided. People tend to only talk to other like-minded folks, which isn’t unusual, of course. …


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photo Pierre Whalon

Part The Last:

This series started with the fact of huge income inequality, with only 28 people holding the same amount of wealth as half of humanity, each of these wealthiest of the wealthy owning as much wealth as some 119,642 857 people. Furthermore, the processes that enabled such outrageous fortunes to develop are closely tied to the rapidly-degrading climate of planet Earth. Besides that, this inequality stokes wild political instabilities. Finally, the financial system that promotes profits from rents over production is destined to crash.

Humans are amazingly adaptable creatures, but you wouldn’t want to live in a world after both climate and economic disasters. …


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thanks to Phil McShane

Part 4: the rise of Spud Island

If you have read this far, thank you, Gentle Reader! If not, Part 1 outlined income inequality as a huge danger to the human species; Part 2 focused upon the inadequacy of current economic theories to address this reality, or even to predict booms and busts; Part 3 introduced the “new political economy” of Bernard Lonergan as a truly scientific approach.

Specifically, he paid attention to a fundamental aspect of every human economy, whether hunter-gatherers or our own: there are always two economies, not one, in play. The one we all participate in is the basic economy of selling and buying goods and services. The second distinct economy is the producing of those goods and services; Lonergan calls this one the “surplus economy”. Since mainstream economists rarely pay attention to this fact — so obvious as to go unnoticed? — they usually cannot account for the total reality of any economy. …

About

Pierre Whalon

Bishop in charge, Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, 2001–2019. French-American. Musician, composer, author, happily married. www.pierrewhalon.info

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