Honing Our Axiology of Homo lumens — Recommended Readings

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. New York: Penguin Books, 2004. 1689.

Kant, Immanuel. The Metaphysics of Morals. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 1797.

Lewin, Kurt. Principles of Topological Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1936.

Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Modernity. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2000.

Bartow, Jef. Resolving the Mysteries of Human Consciousness: Volume II God, Man and the Dancing Universe. Sarasota, FL: New Paradigm Publishing, 2016.

What is a human being?  What does it mean to be a human being?  How do we know?  How do we know when human actions are good, beautiful, or true?  Big questions.  Questions the answers to which guide what human beings do–everyone, everywhere, everyday–whether they are aware of this guidance or not.  If these questions so deeply and continuously impact everything, maybe it would be good to be aware of what they are, who is asking then, what answers people are coming up with, and how those answers impact each of us.  Maybe.

The above books, in chronological order, provided a highly recommended excursion through the development of a way of looking at these big questions.  In his political philosophy, Locke provides an early view, in the 1600s, of human beings capable of making healthy decisions on their own, without divine guidance from the king or church.  Locke’s Essay provides the moral-philosophical foundations of this view of the human being–what a human is, how humans understand the world, and how this knowledge influences what humans are capable of deciding.

Kant provides a very logical structure, in the 1700s, for understanding what a human being should do, based on reason, an expression at the end of the age of enlightenment, furthering the idea that human beings are completely capable of developing their own moral philosophy.  Kant explores, through reason, the emerging terms of freedom, the rights and duties of people and of the state, and their relationship to the law.

Lewin applies the emerging concepts of energy fields and topology in the early 1900s to the behavior of human beings, finding that there is both the inner experience and an outer structure or environment, which mutually influence each other, and, to a great part, influence the behavior of the human being.  The human being has its own internal processes and is influenced by and influences its external environment, a region around it, and this interplay influences the human’s behavior.  This takes the purely rational human or the purely influenced human and blends them.

Bauman in the new millennium brings the fluid nature of reality into the question of what humans are and what they are capable of, finding that both the descriptions of humans and the structures that support them are based on static, stable frameworks, whereas reality is fluid, and so should be the understanding of humanity and structures of the individual, work and the community.

Bartow brings back the questions of long ago to today, developing a picture of the human as the natural manifestation of spirit, conscious and unconscious of the reality the human being interacts with and as part of.   This framework blends what is known from modern science and the wisdom traditions about what makes up reality and the role of human beings in it.

Building on the foundations placed by the lines of this evolution of thought about human beings, we are developing today a picture of the human being, of Homo lumensas a being full of potential, a potential that the human being can choose to manifest.  Homo lumens experiences value in life through the vibrancy of five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit).  We know this from our own experience.  We can also see, from our own experience, which we can validate with external evidence, how well our agreements support the experience and outcomes we want from our efforts together.   We see that most of these choices are unconsciously accepted, and they can be more consciously chosen.  The start of a moral philosophy based on the abundance of potential in humans and nature, towards a more vibrant experience in more harmonic interactions that lead to far more interesting experiences and far more impactful and resilient social forms.  

While these are challenging reads, they are well worth the effort, to see where we have come from in our understanding of being human, where we are now, and where we might be heading.  Honing our axiology of what we are, and how we can live the life available to us.

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Delighting in Hard Ideas — Recommended Readings

Strogatz, Steven H. The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity. 2012, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Randall, Lisa. Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions.  2006, New York: Harper Perennial.

Kant, Immanuel.  The Metaphysics of Morals.  ed, Mary Gregor, 2007, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Some ideas are really hard to grasp.  Advanced math.  Particle physics.  Moral philosophy.  Or at least the ideas seem to be hard to grasp.  Most of the time, I seem to buy into the idea that only highly trained experts can even begin to have a clue about some of these ideas.  I no longer believe this to be true.  I find that it is more a matter of storytelling.  I do not need to understand all of the nuances of something to find it interesting and to be able to relate to it.

I find that there are a few ways to tell stories.  Three of them make it almost impossible to engage with the hard ideas.

  1. Some writers water down the ideas.  Just the bullet points, in 140 characters or less.  I think of this as the “American coffee” story.  Not much there.
  2. Some make the ideas hard to swallow.  Let me show you how smart I am.  This is the “cod liver oil” story.  Not much fun to take in.
  3. Some overwhelm the senses.  The 18 secrets to success.  Everything that I randomly can think  of to tell you about what I know.  This is the “half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon” story or the “notice the aged cinnamon in the roasted jalapeño Oaxacan chili mole” story.  Too many details I cannot connect, so it is also off-putting.

Then there are storytellers that engage me, awaken my interest, and help me make connections that I did not have before.  They do not water down the ideas; they dig in quite a bit.  They do not make the ideas hard to swallow; they sweeten them up with anecdotes, with context for why this is meaningful to know in my life, and even a few little insider secrets.  They do not overwhelm the senses, rather building up my understanding through a scaffolding of insights.  At the end, I see something I did not see before, and I have an engagement with the ideas that I did not have before.  While I could be upset that years of formal education did not give me the insights gleaned from a few hours of reading, I decided to be grateful that I have them now.

I have just finished reading the three books listed above.  They all do a great job at this.  Cornell University professor of math Steven Strogatz gave me an overview of the world of basic math principles, from grade school through graduate school, and an appreciation for how I can use it for my own understanding of the world and in my research that I did not have.  I had the tools, which I now grok at a whole new level.

Harvard University professor of theoretical physics Lisa Randall gave me a deeper understanding of particle physics, string theory, and multi-dimensional realities than I had gained after reading dozens of books on the subject.  What I had as a bunch of somewhat disconnected ideas, now fit together into a clean, clear picture.

I had never tried to read the great philosophers until recently.  While some are very hard to read, Immanuel Kant’s very structured logic and careful building of a frame works very well for me.  Not only was I able to see farther into the world of Kant’s philosophy and its repercussions through the years, I also benefitted from his structuring of a very challenging idea, of a moral philosophy for humanity.

It is a joy to explore the often-hidden depths of what it is to be alive, and it is even more fun to follow those warped passages when guided by great storytellers.