The Meaning(s) of Life: A Human’s Guide to the Biology of Souls
When you get right down to it, humans are incredibly complicated creatures. And yet, compared to the complex biosphere we inhabit, we’re relatively simple. How did we come to be? What does it mean to be alive?
The Meaning(s) of Life starts off with lots of rambling about biology, partially to prove the author’s scientific merit, and partially to isolate all of the aspects of how life developed on Earth – DNA, single cell vs. multicelled creatures, evolution, social development, the role of empathy in human interaction, etc. – before going after the soul itself.
It’s an impressive journey to undertake, but it made me question the author’s intended audience. He uses so much unnecessarily technical scientific terminology that he could easily lose a less savvy reader, but he couches it in a less scholarly style that would sound amateurish from a scientific standpoint.
Although it never really answers the promise of the subtitle as I interpret it – either tying the soul to human biology or describing a biological layout for the soul – The Meaning(s) of Life does provide plenty of food for thought when considering our place as cogs in the machine that is Earth.
Would You Kill the Fat Man?: The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong
Who, other than philosophy majors knew about trolleyology and its variations including x-phi (experimental philosophy)? This is a fascinating and fun read complete with the ethics questions that endlessly entertain undergraduates. If one will not consider a sacrificial murder under any circumstances, new details are added to test the boundaries of one’s core beliefs. So, if you could save five people by killing one (he is fat in order to effectively stop the train) would you do it? Enhancements can be added – suppose one could act with remote tools instead of a more personal engagement? The author, David Edmonds, is a senior research associate at the University of Oxford’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, so he is eminently qualified to review the brain teasing and moral quandaries that these types of scenarios evoke. Practical ethics deals in deep thought about the choices we make and the underpinnings of those choices whether it is race, religion, bias, nationalism, etc. People make choices based on their ethics so it is practical in the sense that society must understand the ramifications of these choices and what may lie beneath them. A very relevant and interesting look at this topic and in spite of the serious subject; it is a light hearted approach. Fun diagrams, good bibliography, notes to chapters and comprehensive index.
The Ultimate Walking Dead and Philosophy
Moral dilemmas are rich fodder for philosophical discussion, and boy, if you’re looking for moral dilemmas, The Walking Dead is the place to go. Whether we’re talking about the comic book series or the much-lauded television adaptation, hard choices abound and the plotlines are rife with moments worthy of debate and examination.
The Ultimate Walking Dead and Philosophy puts the adventures of Rick, Michonne, The Governor, Negan, Carol, Daryl, and more under the microscope, analyzing them not only through the lens of all the greatest minds in philosophy, but through the modern window of morality. Whether we’re discussing Rick imprisoning Negan in the comics or Carol’s transformation in the show, Daryl’s time with the Claimers or the Governor’s dubious sense of right and wrong, this is a smorgasbord of deep thinking.
Arguably the most interesting topic was the subject of Lizzie, the disturbed young lady with a walker fascination and a devastating impact on Carol, Tyreese, and her own sister. You could write a book alone on the topics discussed there, and this is only a drop in the bucket of The Walking Dead‘s morally complex universe.
There is much that is mystifying in Daniel M. Harrison’s Butterflies: The Strange Metamorphosis of Fact and Fiction in Today’s World. Mystifying, but far from edifying. For instance, why is Butterflies classified under “Philosophy?” To characterize the book as such implies that thought-provoking analyses bolstered by the promise of plausibility might be contained within its pages. Not so. With its concatenation of logical fallacies, factual inaccuracies and cheap, drugstore mysticism doubling as ersatz vatic insight, Butterflies is an insult, rather than a contribution to that discipline. Moreover, it is difficult to decide which is more unsettling, that Butterflies has enjoyed commercial success or that this sham of a book was published—and not by a vanity press? Butterflies has been called “ambitious” and “challenging.” Those adjectives apply, but not on account of staggering insight, complexity, or originality—what makes the Harrison’s work challenging is its conceptual aimlessness.
The author often muddles recklessly through concepts and fields he does not fully grasp, from hard sciences to the humanities feigning a knowledge that his claims and blatant absence of legitimately cited research bely. In its prologue, Butterflies promises readers access to “hyper-reality,” defined as a “zone of hard-core truth.” This slighting treatment of a concept supposedly foundational for the narrative is symptomatic of the diseased superficiality that pervades Butterflies. Harrison’s definition of “hyper-reality,” elides the term’s place in intellectual history, overlooking how “hyper-reality” was a contested term of semiotics that surfaced most visibly in French Structuralism of the 1960s, a movement that would influence fields from musicology to history for decades to come. It still does. Harrison’s shameful oversimplification is either an intentional erasure, a sign of unpardonable ignorance, or tacit assumptions about the audience’s ignorance.
Butterflies has its virtues, however. Harrison brings 20th century geopolitics, globalization, and recent economic trends together with skill and in approachable, conversational prose. Also, the structure of Harrison’s work is creative. Each chapter oscillates, forming a braid between chapters on non-fiction and fiction. This interlacing of the two gradually becomes a chiasmus — fact comes to seem as improbable as fiction, while fiction adopts a degree of unrelenting brutality generally reserved for reality. Moreover, this structure harmonizes with a key theme in the book about the notional separation of those two categories.
Still, creative structure cannot forgive the lack of intellectual rigor, coupled with counterfeit certitude that pervades Harrison’s roughly non-fictional chapters. In one non-fiction passage, Harrison challenges the theory of relativity. Sadly, his obvious ignorance of basic physics makes his posturing as a Wunderkind- juggernaut ready to crush basic precepts of the field ridiculous. Elsewhere, Harrison alludes to historical moments and figures with varying degrees of inaccuracy, at one point presenting what is little more than a simplistic, unconvincing inversion of the Platonic Theory of Forms, as if it were a revelation. Is the author indulging in parody at his own expense or is Harrison merely delusional? The fiction chapters, which often glamorize a dissipated elite, high on ephemeral pleasures and hollow successes, are nearly unbearable. The reason for discomfort is not related to explicit sexual content, but because it is written so poorly (and exhibits a peculiar obsession with grounding description of girls [eerily] and women by their breasts, cup size, and all). Perhaps Harrison believes that what is provocative is, a posteriori, compelling. If the author had demonstrated the ability to use, rather than abuse, language (errors are not merely stylistic, but grammatical), these chapters might have been less agonizing to read. Though one might object that Harrison is transcending the conventions of the English language, that defense would only be valid if he had first demonstrated mastery of it. One press release advertised Butterflies as a “manifesto of the millennial age.” If so, Harrison’s work is little more than an inadvertent, likely unearned, condemnation of a generation and an epoch.
This reviewer fervently hopes that Harrison has not captured a new Zeitgeist–one where charlatans are sages and ‘wisdom’ is spouted by the ignorant or, worse, by those who prefer to pander to ignorance, rather than erase it. Perhaps he is merely constructing a vast cautionary tale. At least the Lost Generation, poised at the start of the 20th century, produced some writing that one hopes is as lasting as Butterflies is ephemeral.
The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion
Here’s a challenge for you- combine a lengthy discussion of philosophy, naturalism, and religion and come up with a means to effectively explain the basic tenets of historiographical research to those who are unfamiliar with any of these topics. No, wait- James Stroud has already done all of the work for us. Our mission, (should we decide to accept it)is to develop a better understanding of the interplay of these subjects by reading the book, The Philosphy of History: Naturalism and Religion: A Historiographical Approach to Origins.
Author James Stroud explains the differences between naturalism and science, and how the concept of miracles as referred to within the religious arena cannot be measured using scientific methodology, and also cannot be logically explained using traditional scientific methodology. Stroud observes that it is pre-suppositional beliefs that form the basis for many traditional scientific conclusions regarding human origins, rather than empirical evidence. Science rejects supernatural concepts and explanations yet cannot objectively disprove phenomena via the laws of science, Stroud maintains that “…any closed- philosophical paradigm that does not allow the inference to the best explanation should be abandoned or at least challenged…”
In discussing the philosophy of history, Stroud encourages the reader to consider the nature of historical evidence, in light of the fact that history cannot be repeated. The reader is encouraged to question the degree, to which objectivity is possible, the challenges to correctly determining the accuracy of past historical reports and current inability to verify the absolute truth, due to human philosophical bias.
Stroud contends that the theory of naturalism is untenable and confines one to “… a strict pre-suppositional interpretation of the data.” Ultimately, Stroud supports an “open philosophy of history” as a science, rejects the current “closed philosophies”, and believes that the theories of deism and theism are plausible explanations to be considered and supported as viable alternatives to philosophical naturalism.
In support of his argument, Stroud submits four historic events for consideration: Historic Event number one: Origins of the Universe and Cosmological Constants; Historic Event number two: Origin of Life- Cambrian Explosion and Human Origins; Historic Event number three: Origin of Civilization before the Common Era; Historic Event number four: The Common Era of the Historical Jesus.
Stroud also invites readers to consider such profound questions as the place of religion in history, the objective meaning of history and what drives that meaning, the proper unit of study of the human past, broad historic patterns, cycles and irregularities to be discerned and objective measures of historic progress. There is also a consideration of many of the ways in which western thought’s linear path opposes the mythical conception of history and time.
Those who seek a deeper understanding of the basis of theories of human origin will very much enjoy the insights provided within this book. The theories of great philosophers such as Hegel, Nietzsche, and Focault may not be the usual fare for novice philosophers, and one must certainly put a “thinking cap” on before settling into this most provocative read.
Medium7: Evidence of the Afterlife and Predictions
Mediumship: the very word evokes an immediate, gut-level response. Those who believe in the ability to communicate with the dead may proceed to shudder- or sigh. Those who do not believe may either grimace or laugh. Either way, the supernatural world plays its own role in our lives, and we can choose to embrace, ignore, or give the subject no credence at all. But kudos go to Donna Smith-Moncrieffe for her choice to investigate the subject matter in as close to a scientific manner as possible. Medium7 is a great book for the novice who has no real knowledge of the subject of life after death. Smith-Moncrieffe, in simple, easy to understand language, provides basic definitions, easy explanations and reasonable analogies as she explains difficult concepts.
Chapter One provides an overview of five key concepts that are prerequisites to understanding the afterlife. Those ideas validated by current scientific evidence are compared with those which are not. Are humans vibrational beings, made of energy, with a soul that can survive physical death? Is the physical world merely an illusion? Scientific research yields answers to these questions via such tools as quantum physics and mathematical equations, and many of us may be surprised by the facts.
Smith-Moncrieffe goes into great detail, explaining the differences between mental and physical mediumship. Would you like to know what mediumistic phenomena are? Perhaps you would like to be introduced to clairvoyance and her sisters, clairaudience, clairempathy, and clairsentience? Would you like to experience involuntary or automatic writing and drawing, and to hear prophetic utterances of spirit? This introduction to the field of mediumship may be just the right step toward that long journey of self-knowledge.
Here, in the more than three hundred pages of Medium7, is a great starting point, filled with brief histories of the subject including references to important names in the field, such as Edgar Cayce, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Deepak Chropa, Lisa Williams, and Elizabeth Kubler Ross.
Smith-Moncrieffe goes into detail regarding perceptions of the afterlife and the Christian Faith. Important questions may be posed, such as “If mediumship is considered by some a tool of the devil, then are all supernatural phenomena inherently evil? Do Satan and his angels impersonate dead loved ones in order to deceive the living? At death, do Christians “sleep until Jesus comes,” or when the body dies, are Christians immediately “at home with the Lord?”
There is the discussion in the ninth chapter entitled “So what?” Why should we care about the afterlife if it can’t make a difference in the here and now? That is a question that might be answered if we allow ourselves the time to read, think, and consider a point of view that may be foreign to us, but which may open the door to a dimension we’ve been unaware of for far too long.
Medium7 is written in favor of mediumship, and because such a fair (though very biased) argument is presented, even the harshest skeptic is encouraged to read this book– if they aren’t afraid…