SPidge Tales

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Open Mind or Doubt Everything?

You remember that there were two tourists present: that one called (the waterfall) 'sublime' and that the other 'pretty': and that Coleridge mentally endorsed the first judgement and rejected the second with disgust. Gaius and Titius comment as follows: 'When the man said That is sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall...Actually...he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word "Sublime," or shortly, I have sublime feelings." (Lewis, C.S. The Abolition of Man (MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc: New York, 1947)

The two most popular educational philosophies among young people (mainly because it has been drummed into our minds by the intellectual “elite” since we were drinking our mothers’s milk) are “be open minded” and “doubt everything.” We are taught to always have an open mind, to never close ourselves off to possibilities, to keep your options open. Yet, we also constantly are being told to doubt everything, to always ask questions, and to question authority, reality, etc, blah blah blah.

What do make of this seeming contradiction? It is our Cartesian dichotomy. Descartes is responsible for this shift in mind, and shift in thinking about mind. His “I think, therefore I am” has radically reshaped the way we think about ourselves and our relation to the world. We used to believe in an objective reality. Our task to was to conform our minds to reality, to the way things actually are. For Descartes, we can know nothing of reality, let alone whether there be anything objective. All that we know is that we have a mind since we are the ones who are thinking. All a person can know is his own existence. Anything and anyone else, he cannot be sure of. Gauis and Titius, above, are in a Cartesian framework. For, when the man makes a comment about the waterfall, he can't possibly be saying something that can be considered 'true' about the waterfall. The man looking at the waterfall can only know himself, therefore, the 'sublime' that he speaks of waterfall is really a sublime feeling inside himself. The conclusion from the Cartesian perspective is that a person cannot make objective statements about anything outside of himself, and that he is the only one that truly knows himself, meaning that whatever he believes is absolutely true for himself, but only for himself.

When we are told to have an open mind, yet doubt everything, there is no contradiction. We are to doubt everything, since, according to Descartes and modern thinkers, there is nothing we can be sure of. Since there is nothing we can be sure of, we must have an open mind to all possibilities. Generally, when people say we should doubt everything, they mean we should doubt “authority”, or religious belief and religious truths, such as truths about Jesus and God and morality. When people say to keep an open-mind, what they mean is to not condemn debauchery or fornication or “alternative” lifestyles.

So much of our lives have been shaped by this Cartesian revolution. Sadly, despite this modern claim to open us up to possibilities, the Cartesian framework limits us. We are told that we are trapped in our own minds, and we can only make inferences about the state of another person, that each individual is hidden from every other. Is this the state of our reality? Are we really trapped in our little realities? No, Descartes was wrong. I would argue that we are interconnected, that our minds are not closed of from one another, that we can truly know others and touch their hearts. But, that is a column for a later blog. Bye for now!!


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