Please argue here.  Respond to each other.  I’ll check in every once in a while to see what’s happening and maybe add a thought or two.  Think of this like a medieval university disputation or something of that nature.  Feel free to role-play if you want.  Take on a position even if you don’t agree with it.  Say something a bit strange if you need to.  This will be up and available until the end of Week 14 (Friday the 14th).

Please address a question.  Either respond to one from the suggested questions below, or make up a question and respond to it.  Then, everybody get in there and reply and debate and argue.  Try to get something going.  Be provocative if you think it will help.  Feel free to create an alternate personality… say Artimus Aristotle, or Peggy Plato, or Gertrude Galen, or Timmy Tufayl.

Feel free to propose your own questions if something strikes you.

Please try to spice up your own ideas with things from class.

Back to Syllabus 



37 thoughts on “BONUS BLOG

    • Although a soul must exist in a physical “vessel,” it seems to me, though our readings, that souls are inherent in physical things but transcend the physicality by being everywhere and nowhere, reaching up and down. it is an energy that moves us, much like gravity moves the tides. In saying that, I’m totally freaked out. Maybe, as Jane’s mother pointed out, we are completely influenced by some force from the stars, projected down into our bodies.

        • I agree that through our readings it seems that the soul must transcend the physical world, however, their theory to me falls apart when the argument goes into how we sense, perceive, and understand. If the soul is necessary for life and intelligence, and IN the presence of that physical being that is living and intelligent, then one could argue it is a physical substance (using Platonic and Aristotelean terms and ideas). If something must be contained in something than it itself is something (air in a jar). I think the soul is not material in the sense as we (modern-ites) know it. From Aristotle, if soul is material (matter) then putting matter in matter would give you matter, not form and intelligence within matter. The old, numerous, and complex theories surrounding the soul (how does it work, why we need it, where does it go when we die, etc) all include the connection to the physical. To me the soul in Aristotelean terms is analogous to how we can see. We need the physical eyeballs, optic nerve, brain, etc to see, but really makes us see? The whole process of sight is physical, but we can not explain (how do we really know what we see?) is I believe, what the soul is supposed to stand in for, and to me it would be physical.

          • We describe a physical thing through our senses: we can see it, feel it. The table exist physically because I can see it and touch it. The sun is physical in our knowledge that we see it. I understand the issue: gravity, although a non-tanglible force, comes from a physical thing, for example, the sun to the earth. But this is where my thoughts went, the physical body of the sun exerts force on the planet without touching it. Our souls could be a physical thing (maybe a galaxy or the universe or something else (God?)) exerting a force from a distance on our physical bodies.

          • To Ruthea:
            I like your putting matter in matter argument. That has a medieval ring to it.
            To Chloe:
            I like your modification of a theory of soul to use gravity, action at a distance, as a metaphor. That would be an interesting topic to pursue. I imagine other post-Newton people had a similar idea. If so, that would be yet another great example of science affecting religion affecting science, etc.

    • I very strongly believe that there is no way that the soul can be of physical substance. I am thinking immediately back to the Ibn Tufayl reading when Hayy watches his mother die and realizes that it was not the body of the goat that was his mother or gave it its ‘motherness’ but it was the soul that left her body. To me the soul is something that gives material and physical substances meaning. The soul is like the power and harmony of the cosmos some type of essence or motion that has greater influences but is not actually a physical being or thing. How is it possible to locate a soul without physicality? I think that the ‘effects’ of the soul are what gives it location. For example the essence of the mother is because of the soul – but after death that ‘spirit’ (i probably shouldn’t throw such big terms around so loosely…) is gone which makes the body just a body. Basically what i am trying to say is that we know the soul is there due to the effects it has on physical things as an essence or but the soul itself is not a physical thing.

    • This is a difficult questions. Seeing as the old studiers of astrology could only study what they themselves could observe (with or without the use of a telescope), the idea that the universe and thus astrology has bounds is difficult to answer. From a Platonic point of view, what they couldn’t see, if there “was” more out there, it should be considered ether, the realm of the creator, not of our observable universe. Alternatively, during the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth centuries, with the use of the telescope and reliance on the divine to explain the cosmos, the ability to see more of the universe increased, however no one (that we’ve read) expressed the universe in terms of boundaries. If they made a mention of it, it was pawned off to the creation of god to determine the bounds to which we, humans, could see.

      Going back to astrology, the bounds of astrology could mean, what we as humans are able to observe and then interpret (past, present, and in some cases, the future). That being said, the study of astrology as we have studied in class, is to look at the stars, their arrangements, and produce theories as to their importance and influences in Earthly life. Now, for modern astrologers, the vastness of space, as we from earth can see it has grown exponentially, so the ability to interpret the stars, their alignments, and significance is still there, however it becomes tricky to use these new sources that we can observe. For example, a modern astrologer could try and say what Pluto means in your birth chart (Thanks Jane’s Mom!), but how can we interpret this in a modern sense since the history of astrology doesn’t really include Pluto since it couldn’t be seen without a powerful telescope. Or how can astrologers interpret now interpret the placement of a star that is thousands of lightyears away, when the light that we are getting from it now is from ten thousand years ago (there is a lag as to where the star is now and how fast light travels across vast distances, so we see where the star was located).

      So, to actually answer the question, are their bounds to astrology. Yes, and no. Yes, because modern astrology could be a lagged interpretation because what we can observe (and then possibly interpret) is so vast. And no because there is not the history behind modern astrology. The interpretations of the old days of the stars and the zodiac signs had traditions associated with them that gave rise to their meanings when there was no other form of technology that could give answers to the deep questions of the day. That is not true now.

      • The question of time-lag (speed of light issues) is really interesting in terms of astrology. Perhaps stars/planets so far away don’t have enough power to be factored in??? I wonder of any astrologer attempted to rate powers by proximity and/or mass. I.e. the moon is the strongest, then the closer planets and/or sun, then Jupiter, then Saturn… etc.

    • Cy Old:
      No. I can throw a curveball without knowing the math behind it. I just do it.

      Albert Zweistein: You are a foolish man. There is a mathematical formula, yet undiscovered, that will explain your beloved curve ball.

      Cy Old:
      Fat lot of good that will do ya, when you are staring down the Babe. Maybe my curveball describes your beloved mathematics, and not the other way around? Did you ever think of that?

      Albert Zweistein: Yes, I have. You are changing the subject….

    • I like this question a lot. I think in a lot of ways it is arranged mathematically. As far as I can tell through my own perspective, math does not have a perspective. In that sense it is very divine. 2+2=4 necessarily. Math can describe itself. it is what it it describes. When I type what I am trying to say here, my words are trying to describe something other than the words. Conceptually, I can think of a metaphysical 1 being added to another metaphysical 1 to equal a metaphysical 2 (whatever that means). maybe it’s “oneness” and “twoness”. In terms of understanding the universe who’s enigmas seem infinite, I am not sure if our math can do so. “our math” does imply some sort of perspective. I know that is contradictory to what I have already said, but I think it is impossible to give have a completely cohesive discussion with questions like this one. Our math makes sense to us. It especially makes sense to us in our dimension. When trying to consider higher dimensions of reality numbers as we know them might not make as much sense. However, the numbers and mathematics of that dimension might would describe the itself much like our conception of math seems to. Is there an all encompassing mathematic system that can describe itself through the dimensions of the universe? describe quantum mechanics? general relativity? whatever else there is that we don’t even know that don’t know about?
      This is a very tough question, and I’m not sure if I made any sense at all. I guess my short answer is yes. I think there is some sort of mathematical essence that exists behind, within, beyond the universe. A sort of universal coding.

      One of the things that I have liked most about this class has been learning about how we as humans try and describe what we see until we think of something that describes it better. Are we getting closer to describing the universe through math? will students taking this class 1000 years from now laugh at our ignorance?

      • So you see math as a direct link to reality, whereas language is always one step away??? Do you think that other dimensions of reality exist or are they artifacts from our way of doing math?
        I too have often wondered if there might be another way of mathematics that could easily incorporate the eccentricities of quantum and relativity and all that other weird stuff. Have we been barking up the wrong tree? Maybe we need a base-pi system or a base-umma-gumma system?
        So you thing that there is a universal coding, as you call it… a universal law… rule book… So did all the dudes from the Scientific Revolution, only they always [or almost always] explicitly called the author of the code, God. Is God the universal code-giver? Is this the new religion of Josh? I’ve put words into your mouth, but, hey… I’m annoying that way.

        I’m sure that people just 10 years from now will laugh at my ignorance. I’m quite certain that people do right now. But “our ignorance?” I suspect they will laugh, but whenever I think about “our” and “we” I realize how stupid I am. I didn’t put a man on the moon. I didn’t invent the microwave oven. I can barely use the subway system correctly. Reminds me of the Islamic vs. Western medieval education distinctions.

        • I know you said that you would stop mediating this on Friday. I have been incredibly busy with finals but I have wanted to respond to this. So, on the off chance you see this post…
          Firstly, I would like to acknowledge (as you mentioned) that everything i have said and am about to say is with a tremendous amount of ignorance and lack of specificity. I think the difference between math as a language and english as a language is math seems to exist on its own. separately from our construction. (it is easy for me to say this because from an early age, I inherited a mathematical system that makes sense to me, and I cannot even conceive of another mathematical system). In terms of other dimensions and mathematics, the discovery of the Higgs Boson (at least from what I know about it- which is VERY LITTLE) seems relevant. A mathematician/scientist predicted the existence of another particle/force through mathematics. Years later, “we” (yay for me! I’m a genius!) seem to have discovered it in its “actual” form. Its physical present form as opposed to its mathematic form. What is the real form?Did he describe a curveball before anyone had the strength or dexterity to throw one? Are we making sense of our mathematical theories by drawing premature conclusions about our physical observations? (I almost feel bad asking a question like that, considering how little I know about the Higgs Boson, but ehh).
          Now to really go “out there” (as if we are not already). As far as a universal code giver, I feel that there is not something that creates the code. It just is. kind of like math just is (or seems to be). Who coded god? Maybe the code is just the eternal?
          The word coding brings up another interesting idea about the computer simulation. (I’m not sure if you have heard of this, but when a friend told me about it a couple of years ago it blew my mind). The idea is has two assumptions.
          1. That all of everything in the universe comes down to some sort of laws (no randomness, no freewill). Meaning everything that is happening now could be coded in some way to describe a perspective free “hyper-reality (my thoughts, my computer, my decisions, gravity, etc…).
          2. At some point in time (whatever that means) a being that has ultimate knowledge of information and laws will have the ability to and will create a mega computer that can simulate the universe (backwards and forwards).
          This would mean that we are essentially living in a computer simulation. If a computer could simulate everything as it is, was, and will be, then we are living in a computer simulation. Where does the reality of our lives take place? Is the code reality? is whatever I am experiencing now reality? Even if nobody ever has the capacity to make such a computer, but such a computer is theoretically possible, then aren’t we living in a computer simulation now?
          If we are nothing but “coded beings” are our lives any more real than a character in a video game? Can free will be mathematically coded after the fact?
          I find this subject extremely fascinating. I think there are a lot of ties to old scientific and philosophical thinking. Platonic forms as a mathematical truth for example, and our world as an imperfect manifestation/translation of forms. Maybe math is our only connection with true reality. The truth of the universe outside of our computer simulation…
          I hope I didn’t make zero sense.

      • Ha! That is great. There are many interpretations that we could bring into this question such as what is consciousness, morality, language, cognition, intelligence, etc. If we want to go back and look at this question through a Platonic lens, rather than a modern one with all the fancy words I listed above, this question could be broadened. What distinguishes men from women, men from animals, animals from servants, etc? Our notion and ability of how to classify beings has increased since the time of Plato with the help of technology and advancements in social behaviors. That being said, the distinction between animals and humans may have to come from how each species survives in the wild. If we modern humans didn’t have computers, math, coffee, libraries, skyscrapers, and lots of other things, we would still be trying to satisfy the same objectives as a wolf. To eat, to procreate, to survive. Now, add in intelligence (how we made our skyscrapers, iphones, libraries etc) then we have something different. I believe, it is the capacity to learn abstract things, like the number five or god, that distinguishes us from the animals. We can teach a dog tricks, to jump and shake hands, but we can’t teach him math. Here, the argument is that there are apes, chimps and other like animals that can learn basic concepts such as pattern recognition, how do we explain that? Well, just like in the human race, some are more intellectually capable than others. So, the same goes in the animal kingdom. As scientists say, our closest living relative from the evolutionary family tree are the chimps, apes, and gorillas. Thus, by deduction, we can assume that perhaps they have and still are acquiring intelligence, just as we continually are, but at a different rate.

        • Love your response to this…
          You wrote: “I believe, it is the capacity to learn abstract things, like the number five or god, that distinguishes us from the animals.” Wow! St. Ruthea d’Texas! How Aristotelian!
          Learning abstract things…. abstracting the universal from the particular…

          Would you go so far as to say that our spiritus animalis (psychic pneuma) is the source of this faculty? I’m guessing not, but all the same, your response to this question brings up intelligence. What is it? Do we define it by looking in the mirror, or can we find intelligence of a different species?
          What have we, human beings, put our intelligence up to? Does these things seem intelligent? If a Martian looked at us, would it say?

    • I was watching Through the Wormhole, which is a rather disappointing series in which Morgan Freeman continues to live out his role of God from Bruce Almighty by narrating this rather overly simplified set of hypothetical questions posed about the universe. The particular episode that I happened to watch was about the universe a living being. Could it be that the universe, on a macroscopic level, is a living organism, with information traveling vast distances in the same way that information travels through our mind? Yea, totally. If this is the case, though, there is the issue of infinity. Our minds are finite. The universe, seems to be without bounds. However, if it were a giant brain, we would be atoms flying around in a seemingly endless dark space. I think it is infinite in both directions, micro and macroscopically, because you cant find an end in either direction, a zero, a nothing – you cannot have everything made out of smaller nothings (this goes back to my problem with “points” and the 0, 1st, 2nd, 3rd dimensions).
      A suggested theory explains that black holes may be the solution to infinity, creating new space on the “other side.” When I was 7, I completed my science project on black holes, and they have fascinated me ever since. I think that this is absolutely the right topic to look into when we are considering infinity.

      • If one allows for the infinitely small, then our minds also are neurons and such in an infinitely large sensorium/space.
        In regards to the 0th, 1st, 2nd, etc dimensions-Definitely read Flatland by Abbott.
        Explain how black holes explain infinity? Don’t they sort of compound the problem with infinity?

        • Well, one idea is that black holes condense all mater into one point (I HATE POINTS) and I find this to not be a sensible solution. If a black hole functions in the way that Einstein sets up for us, then it condenses matter and proceeds to spit it out into another area of our universe, or perhaps another universe. There has to be some force that gives matter motion in the universe (sort-of like the rubber-band theory) and I think black holes create that motion. For some things to get momentum, it is pulled into a black hole and spat out the other side with a given velocity. the center of our universe could, perhaps be a black hole that then, after expanding out, retracts and flips inside-out in the opposite direction.

          • I wonder if something is condensed into a point, like Alhazen’s issue with focus… if space can be reconstituted on the other side of a black hole, as you are imagining it?
            I love your argument that something must put motion into the universe. It stands to reason. Aristotle has his Prime Mover, later Aristotelians made that Prime Mover the monotheistic God. You give this motive power to a rubber band… [This theory gives new meaning to the Spinners song from the 70s, "Rubber Band Man."]… or to a black hole. The imagery of your theory is evocative. I like the mechanical bouncing inside-outside-inside-out mechanism. I also imagine electromagnetic waves in a vacuum… self-propagating, acting as a medium for itself… pulling itself along by its own bootstraps.

    • Pessimistic guy #2:
      God is clearly evil. Look at all the awful things that happen in the world. We wait and wait for a messiah and what do we get? More misery and famine and rape and evil of every variety. More people die from violence today than they ever have. What good is a messiah when it just adds to the general din of self-righteousness?

      Devout guy #4:
      We just don’t understand God… and how could we. We don’t see the big picture. He sees the big picture. He is omniscient. He is omnipotent.

      Pessimistic guy #2:
      If “He” is omniscient, then why am I here at all. My free will means diddly squat. And “He” is omnipotent? If “He” is, then I must say it again, “‘He’ is evil.” Why does he not put an end to misery, etc.

      • I’m feeling Devout guy #4 on this question. I think that the concept of whether God is good or evil is something we cannot even ask. We don’t understand God well enough – or at all for that matter to be able to make such judgements. I believe when it comes to God there is no such thing as good or evil because whatever he does it just sort of is.. its too big of a picture. One could argue that the fact that there is evil in the world and God creates everything therefore God created evil and God is evil. However if God was evil then why would good exist? If he created everyone to be Good then would the concept of evil even exist? So would that make no one good? I think both need to exist just for there to be motion in this world. The existence of good and evil however are not a good enough basis to judge whether God is good or evil because it is just something we as humans cannot conceptualize.

  1. In my comment on tonight’s readings about Islamic Madrasas versus Western Universities, I argue that although the western system led us to universities as we know them today, I think it would have been better for the education system as a whole if the Islamic system had been the one to be legitimized and succeed. However, is it difficult to grant power of authority to an organization without defining corporations as people? In other words, how could western universities found legitimacy before the kings and the pope wanted to give it to them and there was not yet a standard to hold universities to? Or, would it have been better for the islamic madrasas to just keep getting bigger so there would be different schools of thought, each finding legitimacy in the size of their student bodies?

    • Perhaps if the madrasa system had incorporated [pun intended] some of the guild/corporation ideas of the Latin West, it could have become what you suggest. Why do you think the madrasa system is preferable? What about it appeals to you? Makdisi pointed out that authorization from a master of a madrasa could potentially be arbitrary… given out to a child or as a favor instead of being earned from long study. How might such flagrant abuses be avoided? What is the ideal education?

      • I think the madrasa system is preferable because other intellectuals are the judges, rather than priests or the like who may never have studied what they are assessing. While authorization from a master could certainly be arbitrary, it is likely that masters doing so would gather a bad reputation pretty quickly. I think that the top masters should have somehow gotten together and standardized their principles on what is a valid education and what is not.

        • Good point on the self-policing idea. The idea of standardization sounds like the western model. Do you think excessive standardization is part of the problem with public primary and secondary education in America? What was your experience?

  2. Stemming from our conversation yesterday about university systems, why is it that apprenticeships are not more common now-a-days? If one is able to really learn by practice-practice-practice, why is homework stigmatized and working (paid to practice and produce results daily) isn’t? Could there exist a system of schooling that potential and motivation to learn rather than exact cold results (like a final)?

    The idea that the university system hasn’t changed since it began is a very interesting thought. Is book learning the best way? In current day, we can’t have the person at the forefront of their field come in and teach every class (on the subject) about what they know, but how else can we try to achieve the knowledge they know without having them provide it for us?

    • Indeed. I too wonder about the apprentice system.
      I’ve lately been wondering if all this book learning that we do now-a-days is not repeating some of the mistakes of the past… in medieval education for example. The Renaissance is sometimes described as an injection of the crafts into the smarty-pants world. All of the sudden craftspeople were listened to. They wrote books on their crafts. People stopped using Latin exclusively… using it like a private club that excluded people who got dirty for a living. More people could participate in the book culture, not just the educated ones.

      Having the greatest experts teach is, of course, a wonderful idea, but it is possible? Would internet based education work? In theory you could get the Cricks and Einsteins and Franklins and the Bronte Sisters to be the teachers, but is watching them on a computer screen like interacting with them in class?

      In my own experience, I have found that reinventing the wheel is as important as learning about cutting edge stuff. I simply don’t understand something very well unless I’ve done it. I can read and read about the physiology of a heart, but cutting one open engages different parts of the brain/mind. It engages my psychic pneuma much more effectively. With that in mind, I also like the books. I doubt I’ll ever do a vivisection… I’ll take Harvey’s word for it, that holding a beating heart in your hand, you realize just how strong the heart muscle really is.

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