Dream together: seeing and thinking (learn it!) and acting and becoming (live it!).

As one student wrote recently: “Hopefully, after this course we are ‘dragged out of our cave’ (Plato) and have a better toolkit for framing the world around us. Truth would then not be something adopted out of convenience or molded for us by someone else, rather it would be a quest to see the world around us with more open eyes.”

While this student is pursuing a particular program, she realizes the importance of being exposed to general studies courses (being dragged out of the cave), and also developing soft skills which complement her program skills. Einstein says it well:

“The school should always have as its aim that the young leave it as a harmonious personality, not as a specialist…The development of general ability for independent thinking and judgment should always be placed foremost, not the acquisition of special knowledge.”

This student challenges us to inclusively search for the Dream together: seeing and thinking (learn it!) and acting and becoming (live it!). Let us turn to select philosophers, educators, scientists, and psychologists for their wisdom and guidance in searching for the Dream and pursuing the Truth.

Seeing – Learn It!   “Everyone looks at what I look at, but no one sees what I see.” – Beaudelaire

In a book I read entitled, The Biology of Belief Dr. Bruce Lipton ( 2006, best book award in science ) our search for truth is further complicated. Dr. Lipton demonstrates that we as individuals are not programmed to discover the truth because we are victims of outside forces that prevent us from finding the truth or reaching our goals for that matter. He writes, “The conscious mind runs the show, at best, only about 5 percent of the time. It turns out that the programs acquired by the subconscious mind shape 95 percent of our life experiences…..our lives are essentially a printout of our subconscious programs, behaviors and patterns of thinking that were fundamentally acquired from others before we were six years old…these programs are limiting and disempowering….once we accept the perceptions of others as “truths,” their perceptions become hardwired into our own brains, becoming our truths…in such cases, our brains are then down-loaded with misperceptions.” Thus, we are living out myths we have grown to live by as true and certain. Consequently we enter grade school preprogrammed, and we become students of the walking dead which is reinforced generally by an educational system that produces passive learners.

   However, our updated beliefs can control our biology and those subconscious beliefs we learned by age 6. Henry Ford perhaps was on to something when he said, “If you believe you can or if you believe you can’t…you are right.” Our beliefs and our truths act like a filter on a camera, says Dr. Lipton, changing how we see the world. And our biology adapts to those beliefs. When we recognize that our beliefs are that powerful, we then hold the key to our freedom as lived in our conscious mind. While we cannot change the codes of our genetic blueprints, we can change our minds, and in the process, switch the blueprints used to express our genetic potential. Therefore, we need to be active, interactive, and questioning learners. We need to unlearn and relearn.

Thinking – Learn It! – “I am thinking, therefore I am.” – Descartes

Descartes went to some extent to show how easily the mind could be misled by data from the senses, and from this wondered how anything could be said truly to exist. Even if we are constantly deceived about what we perceive to be fact it cannot be doubted that we perceive. We are conscious ( 5% of the time) and unconscious ( 95%) of the time of what we are thinking, doing, and what we will do next. Descartes did say, “I think, therefore I am.” Beyond that, he probably operated more often than not in the unconscious modality.

Dave Hume and John Locke believe we are more a bundle of experiences and perceptions, while certainty and knowledge remain elusive. As Marcus Aurelius writes: “Everything we hear is more opinion than fact, and everything we see is more perception than truth.”

In his essays, Michael de Montaigne concluded the following: “The self is a mystery and human knowledge is limited to such an extent that we barely know anything about ourselves, let alone the world at large. We are continually thinking, but rather than the rational beings we suppose ourselves to be, we are a mass of prejudices, quirks, and vanities.”

Daniel Kahnerman won a Nobel Prize for his work into biases and mistakes we make in everyday thinking. In “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, he argues that we are a “machine for jumping to conclusions,” wired more to keep alive and respond to threats than to perceive accurately.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb notes that we understand more of what’s going on in the world than we actually do; we often ascribe meaning to events after they have happened, creating a story; and we overvalue facts, statistics, and categories which make us feel comfortable that we can predict the future.   Despite our mental fumblings, paradoxically, our defects can become our glory and our ability to think in a vaguely logical way which makes us unique in the animal world.

(50 Philosophy Classics, Tom Butler-Bowdon, 2013), pp. 4 – 5.

Acting – Live It! – “It is impossible to live the pleasant life without also living sensibly, nobly, and justly.” – Epicurus

Immanuel Kant said it well in his categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” Before I throw cigarette butt on the ground I should ask myself, “What would happen if everyone would do what I am about to do?”

Cicero believed that every individual is a spark of a greater reality, and so treating another human being badly is like doing the same to ourselves. This is a simple fact of a universal law and as Cicero says: “to contribute to the general good by an interchange of acts of kindness, by giving and receiving, and thus by our skill, our industry, and our talents to cement human society more closely together, ’human being to human being.’”

Plato believed that doing the right behavior has its own rewards, since it brings the three parts of our soul (reason, spirit, and desire) into harmony. Confucius noted that although we are born human, we become human through fulfilling responsible roles in society in a selfless way. Iris Murdoch argued that if we seek good first, everything else worthwhile will come to us naturally.

(50 Philosophy Classics, Tom Butler-Bowdon, 2013), pp. 8-10.

Being and Becoming – Live It! “We are condemned to be free, because once thrown into the world, we are responsible for everything we do.” Sartre

Being is becoming. We are human beings rather than human doings – don’t just do something, sit there – or is it don’t just sit there, do something? Are we becoming good or evil? Epicurus believed that when we live a virtuous life, this makes for a pleasant and happy life, because doing the right thing naturally puts our mind at rest. Instead of being anguished about the consequences of our bad actions, we are liberated to enjoy a simple life of friends, philosophy, nature, and small comforts. It was Emerson who commented that “if I always tell the truth, I will not have to remember anything.”

Aristotle promoted “virtue ethics”, that is, to live a good life, live a virtuous life. Happiness comes from expressing what we have rationally decided is good for us over time and for service to the community. Aristotle believed that “Activities in accord with virtue control happiness.” Bertrand Russell in his “Conquest of Happiness” states that a focus on the self is a cause of unhappiness, while joy comes from directing our interests outward, throwing ourselves into life.

On the other hand, how free are we because philosophers such as Spinoza, Schopenhauer and Montaigne argued that we are the subject of causes and larger forces of which we can only dimly be aware. How discouraging is that? On a more positive note Hannah Arendt argues that our deeds are never quite predictable, and every birth carries with it the possibility of a changed world; thus, in short, we matter.

(50 Philosophy Classics, Tom Butler-Bowdon, 2013), pp. 6-7.

           As Dreamers: (Seeing and Thinking) – Learn It! (Acting and Becoming) – Live It! the search for truth is never-ending, boundless, elusive, and evasive yet, omnipresent in all the various facets of our human nature.

   It is imperative that general studies courses co-mingle with program courses so as to push back the horizons of truth; to enhance one’s understanding of the self, society, and the world; and as expressed in the words of one student who had the following to say about one of the general studies courses:

“I feel this class has revealed to me my cognitive flaws and opened my mind to a clearer way of thinking, which I intend to focus on from here on out. I may have graded myself a little low on the first assessment, not really understanding that I was already a critical thinker.

Now however, I feel poised to take on any issue with an understanding mind and thoughtful consideration of others’ views that I may have discounted more readily in the past. I am cognizant that I need to take the time to come to thoughtful conclusions, to not leap to incorrect conclusions based on little evidence, and to remain open-minded to what I may disagree with on first consideration.

This class definitely will help me the rest of the way in my schooling and life. I no longer feel that I may not be smart enough to finish what I started when I took the chance at returning to school. In fact, I feel that I will surely accomplish my goals and have the mindset that any problem that arises, I will utilize the correct processes to determine the proper course of action. I truly enjoyed this class. Thank you.”

Roger J. Vanden Busch

2 thoughts on “Dream together: seeing and thinking (learn it!) and acting and becoming (live it!).

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