Thursday, September 18, 2014

Philosophy - What's It Good For?

In my last year at the University of California at Irvine, I switched majors from biology to philosophy. Friends asked me, "What good is philosophy?" What they really meant was, "Can you make any money at it?" I knew people with lots of money, but little meaning in their lives. They seemed to be lost in games and pastimes. They worked without questioning the purpose or value of their work. I was interested in meaning, not money, but the people around me didn't share my feeling. Most of them believed that only money was real.

In my search for meaning, I first turned to the study of logic, mathematics, and science. In my teenage years I encountered logical positivism. Logical positivism was an early 20th Century school of philosophy that claimed all the grand questions of traditional philosophy were meaningless. Questions like "What is the meaning of life?" or "Is there a God?" were meaningless, logical positivists asserted, because the answers cannot be verified. But questions like "Does the moon have an opposite side?" are meaningful because we can construct tests to prove or disprove any answer. We can build a rocket to the moon. But how can we verify the meaning of life, or the existence of God? The logical positivists saw no true/false test for these matters.

Of course, just because we can't prove or disprove God's existence doesn't mean he doesn't exist! Logical positivism lost its hold on me while I was a graduate student at San Francisco State University in 1970. I was moving toward 'meaningless' questions like: Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the purpose of life? Why is there evil in the world? Then I discovered Buddhism and other ancient spiritual traditions that addressed such questions. I was beginning to find real philosophy. 

Philosophy is not a word game. It is, as Plato explained, the "love of wisdom". Few students get to study real philosophy at college. Philosophizing is an extraordinary act. It requires re-thinking issues at the most fundamental level -- right down to questions of being. One winds up asking simple-sounding, childlike questions like "What is real?"

The world is adrift, without meaning. That is why so many become victims of political ideologies and extreme religious viewpoints that offer a sense of meaning at the expense of compassion, truth, and justice.

"Does philosophy help you make money?" My answer is personal. All the really amazing jobs I've held came from my grounding in philosophy. I became a computer programmer because my boss assumed that philosophy made one logical. I got promotions to higher levels of responsibility because I saw the "big picture" in the organizations I worked for. One day I found myself the acting CEO of several small technology companies in trouble. Why? Because my philosophical perspective gave me a high tolerance for ambiguity, which allowed me to go into unknown and almost unknowable situations again and again. So yes -- philosophy can help you make money. But meaning, understanding, and wisdom are the real payoffs.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Enough is enough


Frank Azevedo
August 28, 1923 to September 22, 2010
He passed over on the Autumnal equinox

My father was a Portuguese dairy milker in Southern California. My mother always worried when he was late coming home after work. She feared he would have an accident on the farm (cows are not always passive). She could be left destitute, with her only child—me. After all, my father's father had died in Massachusetts when my father was one year old, and my grandmother had no financial support. Grandmother returned to the Azores with my father when she ran out of money. Twenty years later my father returned to the U.S., and worked till he had enough money to send for us.

My father worked seven days a week; sometimes two shifts a day. At that time—the 50's and early 60's—one dairy farm laborer's income could support his family. Mother was the homemaker. My father earned a modest salary, but he saved enough money to buy a house with a 50% down payment. He even arranged to pay off the house early with a couple of large lump sum payments. He bought the family car with cash. He did not believe in credit or debt.

Later he took a modest job at Lever Brothers in Los Angeles. He felt he was in heaven because he only had to work one shift (plus occasional overtime) to feed the family.

When my father was an old man, he told me one day in simple Portuguese, "I don't have a big house, I don't have a fancy car, but what I have is clean and good. I like what I've earned. Some people look down on me for not having more. Still, I am happy with what I have. It's good to be satisfied. Enough is enough."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Glimpsing the Universe

One of the greatest miracles - the emerging maps and images of the structure of the whole universe. All this knowledge is tentative. We will never get to the bottom of it all. Among the greatest human-cosmic adventures. 
Filaments represent strings of galaxies across the universe. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nothing Permanent In The Mind, Except Consciousness

There's nothing permanent in the mind, 
except consciousness.
Almost impossible to talk or think 
our way into this realization.
An easier way is through 
meditation or silent prayer.
Some say that 
nature is emptiness;
others say that it is God.

It’s up to you 
to realize mind's true nature.
Or, perhaps, you are granted grace 
and it just happens!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Go Deeper


Today, go deeper into your meditation. 
Look for the quiet zones between your thoughts. Expand these moments of quiet.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Riding the bus into work this morning

We recently received this letter in the email. Worth sharing. Writer gave permission for republishing in the Philosopher-at-Large blog.

Americ,

Riding the bus into work this morning I looked around at all my fellow patrons. Wondering, my eyes meet with the only other person not looking down at an electronic device. We share a moment in a smile. As I scan around at everyone else, they are only shadows of people. Physically near but consciously lost in other universes. It made me want to break down and cry in the middle of the bus. I wanted to grieve for something modern humanity seems to have lost.

Not that I don't love technology and it's awesomeness. But I can just imagine the raw power that would exist within this bus if all these people were present to one another - the ideas that would spread like wildfire, the shared experience of one another. It seems almost revolutionary almost radical.

I looked back at the woman, she smiled again, knowingly.

Anyway, I wanted to share.


Liliana Caughman