The Shadows of Images

One of my favorite ideas about learning is the idea Frank Smith suggests in his book, Understanding Reading. When I first read it, I had not been exposed to the idea of schema. In fact, it is an idea that I did not do any further research on from that moment. That failure to do more research is a cause for reflection.

Image Source: Comic Sandwiches

Aside: What a delight to write these words. May you find them as I found the instruction of my teachers in school, confounding words and no clear direction, a maze to navigate.

Further Research

You're probably wondering, why am I reflecting on the failure to follow up on something I learned in school? It may be because much of what I learned in school, I didn't follow-up on. I accepted it, whole cloth, without change or question. As I look back and ask why that is, I can come up with several reasons:
  • I was raised to obey what my parents, authority figures like teachers and cops said. My father was a police officer, and I marveled at his uniform, his black, Sam Browne gun belt that held his .357 Magnum service revolver. He impressed me (I was scared of him when I was 5, and no doubt that impacted my respect for his authority). My mother was a teacher, quite authoritarian and not afraid to chase me around the house with a "chancleta" to make sure I adhered to her strictures.
  • Catholic School encouraged, for the most part, acceptance of what I was taught from early on.
  • No critical thinking heuristic or suggestion was made to ever be a critical thinker. Rebellion was strongly discouraged, and I grew up quite passive, more subversive.
Now, you may be thinking, "He's blaming his parents. How did that endure so long into adulthood when he knew better? Why didn't he kick up his heels in college?" Living at home during college, I managed to avoid the deep reflection and exposure to diverse ideas. 

The most diverse ideas I had were at the Baptist Student Union when I attended college in Wichita Falls, Tx, but then, when I came home for my Sophmore year to study English (a clear move away from pre-med), I found that I wasn't quite ready to relinquish my Catholicism, joining the Catholic Student Association, going on a cursillo.

Given that I dropped Philosophy class, a dry affair with a boring professor, a few days into the semester of my sophmore year (I had written earlier it was Freshman year but that can't be accurate), I am not surprised to not having been exposed to critical thinking except what one needs to survive.

We need more of that at young ages with accurate teaching of history and science.

A Shield Against Bewilderment

Frank Smith writes the following, and please allow me to quote him entirely:
Everything that we know and believe is organized into a personal theory of what the world is like, a theory that is the basis of all our perceptions and understanding of the world, the root of all learning, the source of hopes and fears, motives and expectancies, reasoning and creativity. And this theory is all we have. 
If we can make sense of the world at all, it is by interpreting our experience with the world in the light of our theory. The theory is our shield against bewilderment. 

As I look around my world, I distinguish a multiplicity of meaningful objects that have all kinds of complicated relationships with each other and with me. But neither these objects nor their interrelations are self-evident. 
A chair does not announce itself to me as a chair; I have to recognize it as such. Chairs are a part of my theory. I recognize a chair when I decide that a chair is what I am looking at.  
A chair does not tell me that I can sit on it, or put my coat or books or feet on it, or stand on it to reach a high shelf, or wedge it against a door that I do not wish to be opened. All this is also part of my theory. I can only make sense of the world in terms of what I know already. 
All of the order and complexity that I perceive in the world around me must reflect an order and complexity in my own mind.  
Anything I can’t relate to my theory of the world will not make sense to me. I am bewildered. The fact that bewilderment is an unusual condition for most of us despite the complexity of our lives is a clear indication that our theory of the world is very efficient. 
The reason we are usually not aware of the theory is that it works so well. Just as we take the air we breathe for granted until deprived of it, so we become aware of our dependence on our theory only when it proves inadequate, and the world fails to make sense. 
As we grow up, our parents and culture prep us with theories of the world that try to explain everything we might encounter. The goal? Keep us from "being bewildered." If the world makes sense, we don't spend time trying to figure it out. 

And we can be productive, make money, have happy lives content in our security. Add to that a holy defender and advocate you can call upon to light your path in the dark.

The Unfailing Paraclete

One of the stories we tell is religion. That there is an Almighty Being, that through some mystical method we can commune with that Being, and obtain blessings and have a paraclete working on our behalf. That we live in hope of a resurrection

What comfort I had, at the start of a social studies test in high school. "Holy Spirit, help me do my best on this exam. Help me remember everything I studied so that I can do well on the exam." 

It was a prayer made holy in my mind, my fervor and commitment. It was the same prayer I followed when dealing with life pressures (not a formula but a specific appeal), not unlike one of my favorite story songs, where the protagonist hits his knees to invoke the power of the Almighty to save his wife. 

Understanding a little better now, I see how my fervent prayers to the Holy Spirit might give me a sense of comfort now when I'm older. I remember a strong blessing at one time when I was trying to decide whether one young lady was the one or not (the latter). Time and again, I have enjoyed the comfort of a paraclete, grounding my life. I was told that was God's presence in my life. 

Nothing made me doubt that for years, every story supported it...a profound sense of peace and love. And, as a result, I didn't feel the necessity to legislate my beliefs or tell people they were wrong because they wanted to be LGBTQ+ or have an abortion. 

The path between neural pathways is worn and smooth, easy to slip into. Who would toss away comfortable ways of being simply because their perspective has shifted? As a result, I have a different take on faith and religion, God's presence and absence. . .don't we all?

Diane Duane in Spock's World describes it in a way I hadn't encountered before, a Vulcan's awareness or sense of the Creator. 
"seeing things the way they really are, instead of the way we would like to see them"
In the book, the author (Duane) uses fiction to describe the unshakeable sense of the immanence of God. Whether that was intended or not (of course it was), it was powerful. But the sense of being disconnected to a powerful presence, that must cause endless bewilderment, especially when you've been told to expect it. 

For those, the comfort of nothingness, non-belief, may be a comfort. And, for those who were not told to expect it, it may be an unnecessary bit of drama that complicates rather than simplifies.

Without a visible presence, an active paraclete, a dove framed in fire, some believers resort to violence, to conform the world to their imperfect sense.

A Shield Against Bewilderment

This why I find the idea of a shield against bewilderment so powerful. The stories that we are raised up protect us against bewilderment, but perhaps, also, the truth. For me, the story of God is so powerful I draw unending, ever-present comfort from it when I find religion so less than what it could be. Even the angst is done in a comforting cocoon of protection.

David writes:
Why would a benevolent, all-knowing, and un-interfering God want His/Her worshippers to impose their beliefs on others? When two people of differing faiths squabble, no finger of God comes waving down upon one of them. 
When that squabble leads to the use of swords or guns, no hand of God shields the supposed Righteous One. Instead, Man’s evil against Man is shed, and the God they love is no longer represented in their actions. 
(Source: David Truss' comment on The Paradox of Religion)
My response is inadequate. It may be that they do it because the stories they grew up with failed to bind deep to who they are, that the unbelief of others may tear at the frayed edges of their own belief. It must be maddening. When God's hand doesn't shield them, their actions are insufficient to provoke a reaction from the Divine, only continued indifference. All that is speculation and worthless.

Can human beings even grasp and appreciate absolute truth?

The Shadows of Images

"To them, I say, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images," says Socrates of the prisoners in the cave (source).

It may be that the only way to counteract the desire to impose one's beliefs on another is to take a vow of silence, to do good works that aid others. To realize what we see is nothing but shadows that appear truer than the truth. That wars with the need to share everything on social media.

Prayers like acts of kindness only count when done in private and without public recognition. Politicians, don't tell me you are praying. Tell me you are acting.

Seeking Wisdom

This is my last blog entry on this topic. From this point, my focus is on encouraging more critical thinking and evidence-based learning. I surrender absolutely to my ignorance and await correction.

I stretched forth my hands on high, and I bewailed my ignorance
My entrails were troubled in seeking
Why am I slow and why do I say these things?

Thou hast delivered me, according to the multitude of the mercy of thy name, 
from them that did roar, prepared to devour. 
Out of the hands of them that sought my life, and 
from the gates of afflictions, which compassed me about.

From the oppression of the flame which surrounded me, and
in the midst of the fire 
I was not burnt. (Adapted from Sirach, seeker after Wisdom)


Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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