Category Archives: Reason

Migrating followers


I have moved to a self-hosted website and will migrate any followers of this blog to that one. It’s supposed to be seamless and not noticed by anyone, so I don’t know why I’m telling you, but there you have it.


Frater Bovious


Knowledge v Information

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “We Can Be Taught!.”



“There is a book that gives the answers to 281 zen koans.”
“What good is that?”

(CARROLLTON, TX – Cradle of Civilization) You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him think.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him to think and he will always be hungry.

Give a man a book of zen koans with answers if you hate him.

Data is data, not knowledge. If you just give someone the answers, you specifically teach them not to think. But, we have rational souls, and the best teachers teach you to think. And why should we think? To know truth.

onehandclappingThe value of a zen koan consists in the relationship between the master and the student. It’s not a test, per se. It is a challenge to one’s mind. The right challenge at the right time is the genius of the master. One may never be asked if they can describe the sound of one hand clapping because the master may not find that particular koan useful for this particular student. That a book exists with the “answers” is both funny and sad.

In some traditions, a student is given one thought to ponder for the rest of his life. It makes sense, if everything is in fact interrelated. So, what does he do for the rest of his life if he finds the answer one day in the stacks at a library?

Not all koans are questions. One koan goes something like this: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” Such a statement may yield the desired results with one student, and not another.

I will wager that some of the best and most productive koans have been lost to history because they were developed on the spot by the master for a specific student, and then were set aside.

And probably many glimpses of truth simply go unrecognized, or are just ignored. Here is a koan:

“I am to be crucified. Follow me.”

Black and White Mary

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Just a Dream.”


"I need to peer into your mind." "Why?" "To see if you want milk in your tea." "Why don't you just ask me?"

“I need to peer into your mind.”
“To see if you want milk in your tea.”
“Why don’t you just ask me?”
“How will I know that what you say is what I hear?”
“Just pour the milk.”

So, I was having this nightmare, and there were these three doors, and I picked the door in the middle and found… BLACK AND WHITE MARY! AIIIEEEEEEeeee…

There is an area of philosophy called “philosophy of mind” and which, basically, has to do with the nature of reality and what we can or cannot perceive or know about any alleged reality. I am not a philosopher in any official or accredited sense, but then neither was Socrates. I am not comparing myself to Socrates, but what I am saying is all you need to study, or better, to do philosophy is a mind, a body, and reality. The mind assesses the information received from the body. The body receives information from reality. That is, unless you are just a body interacting with reality in pretty much the same way a thermometer reacts to changes in temperature. When the mercury falls, does the thermometer feel cold? Do we really feel cold. Or is that just something we say?

Philosophy of mind basically attempts to arrive at whether or not minds, bodies, and reality even “are”, and if they are, how are they “are”? Or maybe, how are are they? Sound ridiculous?

I have this image of two guys in Colorado smokin’ a fatty, and saying “Duuude” knowingly to each other, smiling and nodding.

What keeps the philosophy of mind discussion from devolving into a haze of legally prescribed medicinal herb induced oneness with reality where all boundaries are revealed to be illusory, I think, is that any serious discussion of the topic at least presumes that something exists in some manner, and that somehow it can be experienced and explained by some other something.

Probably most of us have had the question posed, “how do we know that when I look at something and see green, and you look at something and see green, and we both call it green, how do we know that my green is the same as your green? What if my green is your red?” This is a kind of thought experiment and has to do with objective vs subjective experience.

The phenomenon of the blue and black dress is an interesting addendum to this. However, it would appear that has more to do with computer monitors and differences in how our eyes perceive the computerized image and “fill in the gaps” based on a starting referent color. I haven’t seen anywhere that this happens when people are all looking at the same actual photograph in their hands; that would be more interesting. I was able to change the picture from white and gold to blue and black by tilting my laptop monitor.

While it adds something to the discussion, not in any immediate way is it relevant to the question. Why? Because, the question isn’t why do we see different colors, it is how do we know that things we all agree are the same color are being experienced as the same color. And does it matter? We know that color is a specific range of wave lengths of the electro-magnetic spectrum. Our eyes are sensitive enough to differentiate between these bands of the spectrum. But, what, really, is color?

Enter Black and White Mary.

Black and White Mary is about “qualia” and is an argument against physicalism, a type of materialism or monism, that claims everything, including thinking, is simply a function of materiality or physicality and can be completely explained without any appeal to the immaterial. There is nothing over and above the physical, which of course also means there is no God, unless of course God is physical and not immaterial.

We may know where the activity takes place but until the person speaks, we don't know what the thought is.

We may know where the activity takes place
but until the person speaks,
we don’t know what the thought is.

The argument that there is the immaterial has often pointed to mental phenomena as being immaterial. This position was more easily defended before we had MRI, CT and PET scans. These tools, mapping the physical brain and able to ‘see’ activity in the different parts of the brain lent credence to the idea that mental function is in fact just physical.

Yeah, but, only the person that has that brain in their head knows what their thought is. Or how they feel. Is “red” merely physical? Or is there something over and above that? Black And White Mary is a very prominent example of one side of this debate.

Here is the argument in Frank Jackson’s own words:

Mary is a brilliant scientist who is, for whatever reason, forced to investigate the world from a black and white room via a black and white television monitor. She specializes in the neurophysiology of vision and acquires, let us suppose, all the physical information there is to obtain about what goes on when we see ripe tomatoes, or the sky, and use terms like ‘red’, ‘blue’, and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal chords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence ‘The sky is blue’.… What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given a color television monitor? Will she learn anything or not? It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then is it inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism is false.

One add to this that I’ve read is that when Mary sees a red rose, she says, “So, that’s what ‘red’ looks like.” One could imagine a similar thought experiment with texture, etc., with the final outcome being, “So that’s what a cheese grater ‘feels’ like.”

So, are there really such things as ‘qualia’? Things immaterial? What does it all mean?

I never found out because I woke up from the nightmare.

Or, did I?

5 people mashup

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Circle of Five.”

I really don’t like this prompt. On the one hand there is the temptation to go big or go home. Jesus, Mary, GK Chesterton, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Cindy Crawford, etc. Wait, that’s six…

On the other hand there is the issue of my wife and child and son-in-law and grandchildren, which adds up to more than five and one on the way, so which one do I leave out?

Then there is cutesy, Me, myself, I, a mirror and a selfie. Ok, those last two aren’t people, but if at some level your friends are a reflection of who you are, then…

There is a circle of friends but, depending how you count it, it’s only four. Rosie (aka The Puppycat and my spousal unit), Tiffany and Nathan (they count as one, along with their three kids and one on the way, so I cheated from the above), Steve, my imaginary friend (so, some would say he doesn’t count), Gary and Don make four. Oh, and my brother Erik. So that’s five. Sort of.

Of my corporeal associates, they currently have the most impact on who I am today. And, I’m pretty OK with who I am today, so I will stick with them.

Ok, I’m good.

A Hard Question?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Plead the Fifth.”


What is Truth?

What is Truth?

Is Jesus God?

I used to think this was a hard question, and I used to have a lot of different answers to that question, depending on who I thought my target audience was.

Sometimes I would plead the Fifth, but my motives for that had more to do with personal weakness and lack of conviction than whomever I was talking with.

Once I admitted to myself to actually having a conviction, I then determined to have the courage of that conviction. And then, once I began to engage the issue, I noticed a few categories of people who ask that question:

  1. Never have I been asked that question by a Catholic.
  2. Protestants ask a variant of “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior?”
  3. Agnostics pretty much just ask the question in terms of belief, “Do you really believe Jesus is God?”
  4. Atheists, the one or two that I have actually run into, don’t ask a question, they simply make a statement, “There is no God,” making the question of Jesus irrelevant.

I used to try to engage and reason, but most people, even the faithful, seem to lack the interest in reasons or explanations. If the answer was longer than about five words, the attention span was used up and the moment lost.

I now simply answer, “Yes,” to categories 2 and 3 above, and “Yes there is,” to category 4. I haven’t really thought about why Catholics don’t ask this question (until just now) but I think “Yes” is the right answer for that category as well.

But, I have found in the case of believers and atheists that a simple “Yes” sometimes ends the conversation. Believers are generally glad to hear it, but uninterested in Catholic thought on the matter, and non-believers are incredulous.

Agnostics want to know why I believe such a curious thing, and those are the interesting conversations.

But I have learned to always start with “Yes” to remove any ambiguity about where I stand. In matters like this, I have taken to heart Jesus’ admonition,

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.'” Apoc 3:15-16

Now, I just say, “Yes.” The ball is now in their court. If they ask a question, or make a statement, it is almost always, at its core, “What is Truth?” Even when they don’t know that is their root question, we then have lots to talk about.

Ignorance as the Pinnacle of Thought

How, exactly, did we get here?


I was talking with my son-in-law Nathan the other day and he told me about a conversation he had with a fellow student in his Continental Philosophy class. I can best describe the consequence of Continental Philosophy as received by today’s gullible youth through the exchange Nathan had with his fellow student (we’ll call him Barry.)

Barry held up some object, I think a coffee cup, and the conversation went like this:

Barry: “Prove to me this is real.”

Nathan: “What?”

Barry: “Prove to me this is real.”

Nathan: “What?”

Barry, insistent: “This! Prove to me this (shaking it) is real!”

Nathan, insistent: “What?!”

His interlocutor never got it. In many many ways.

When I recounted this episode to Frater Cowculus, holding up my cell phone instead of a coffee cup, he said that while he guessed he really wouldn’t do this, probably the only appropriate response would be to ask to see the cell phone, then drop it on the floor and smash it under his hobnailed boot. When the person freaked out, he’d say, “What? Is it real now?”

A fun variant would be to have this conversation in a parking lot at night under a street lamp, and ask to see the phone and then heave it into the darkness, out of sight. When the person said, “What the…” one could respond, “Now? Now, when you can’t even see or touch it, you think it’s real? How stupid is that?”

Such is the world of intellectual thuggery.

But, of course, the question being asked is not the question that was originally posed by Descartes. It is the mutated version of the original question, and an example of how, when you miss the mark by as little as one degree, it matters a lot when the target is a thousand miles or a thousand years away.

“Prove to me this is real” is the illegitimate child of “How do I know this is real?”

But to faux intellectuals, who don’t want to struggle with that question, it has metastasized into an odd sort of boast-as-challenge: “Prove to me this is real,” becomes, “See, I’m smarter than you,” in some weird sort of baseless self-affirmation.

Chesterton had something to say about this:

“It is ludicrous to suppose that the more sceptical we are the more we see good in everything. It is clear that the more we are certain what good is, the more we shall see good in everything.” – Heretics

The Frater Bovious corollary is: “Don’t say stupid things and think thereby you are smart. Otherwise don’t get upset at me for your inability to find your non-existent cell phone.” Another corollary would be, “Continental Philosophy is an opiate, with all that implies about its impact on your actual ability to reason vs your perceived ability to reason.



“A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”

–Bertrand Russell