I Think, Therefore, I Am
I am, therefore I think?
Hi, Ken, my name is Bob (aka Timtu) and I’m guest judging for this round of Adrie’s (Whata) Four Controversies contest. No matter how well a given work is written, technically, my focus is generally on content and message, with grammatical perfection running a distant second. In a sense, literature is similar to art, don’t you think? Whereby beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Despite an artist’s ability to understand colors, and knowing how to clean a paint brush.
So that’s pretty much where I’m coming from as a judge. As if I’m qualified to be a judge of anything. That’s sort of pretending to be God, in a way, except for a few, precisely defined exceptions. Your essay touches upon one of those exceptions, which is to say, you’ve posed a question of one Good versus another Good, while one Bad is compared to another Bad. But not so much a matter of a particular Good battling it out with an Evil of one sort or another.
In the modern world of politics, Good and Evil, Right versus Wrong, have been turned upside down. With both major parties claiming to represent all things good, while accusing the opposing side of espousing all things evil, open debate on almost any issue has ceased as an option. It is insufficient nowadays to simply disagree with someone, believing them to be ill-informed, or to have gotten their facts wrong. Because so few Republicans and Democrats cross over the isle, so to speak, each side has now taken to absolutes, each accusing the other of not just being wrong, but of being evil incarnate; a party of Evil doing battle with the Party of Good.
If one is simply incorrect about something, it is presumed that either their mind can be changed, or that they can change the opinion held by another. When opinions become beliefs, however, it grows ever more evident that strongly held positions can no longer be altered by friendly contentions. Ultimately, when facts themselves are looked upon as lies or distortions, then large and small changes within the frameworks of government itself remain the only alternative, short of armed and violent revolt.
Generally speaking, nothing I might say can change your mind about abortion. No amount of information, once provided, is capable of altering your belief that abortion is an abomination that needs to be eradicated once and for all. Unless it's just an opinion on your part. Thus the huge difference between opinions and beliefs is that opinions are dependent on facts. When those facts are found to be false, and new ones are adopted, minds and opinions change. Beliefs, however, are typically based on religious grounds, supported by faiths that do not require factual validation or verification.
It's not so difficult, therefore, to understand why a review of your material, Ken, is so fraught with misgivings. I come from a place of opinions only, attempting to find intellectual victory over another whose religious faith, like an impenetrable shield, no longer yields to earthbound arguments. Because epiphanies, though, may arise at any time, for any reason, it is always worthwhile, I believe, to toss around any number of ideas as to the true nature of reality. A game, if you will, that is always kept friendly, and understood to have its built-in limitations.
One interesting addendum to the foregoing material would address the exercising of compromises. Is it possible to dispense with a number of beliefs to do with one or more important issues, plus accept a few that are otherwise deemed evil, all in the name of gaining a final product or result that is mostly Good in its makeup? I suppose that such accommodations are unique to each of us as individuals.
Inside the proverbial can of worms that your essay has opened, we find the Republicans and Democrats both claiming sovereign ownership of all things Good, while the other, opposing party (so goes the rhetoric), represents all things ugly and Evil. It is within this context that before I even begin my review, it ought to be understood that no truly objective way exists to assess whether or not your composition deals with universal rules and truths -- about which everyone might agree beforehand. Or whether the divide between political foes has grown so wide, divisive and personal that civil, rational debate is no longer possible.
Similar to the days just prior to the American Civil War, one can easily surmise that the time for public or private discourse had already ceased, no doubt ending much earlier than the terrible war to come. Obviously the slave owners of the period, many of them good Christians, believed so strongly in the virtue of their position, that no amount of rational argument could change their minds. In exactly the same manner, the anti-slavery abolitionists were convinced of their own righteousness to such an extent, that God’s commandment against killing no longer applied to them. Or put another way, a presumed special waiver from Heaven, if you will, as to the commission of evil acts for the sake of the common (or larger) good.
A modern-day comparison exists whereby the minds on one side of a barbwire fence, so to speak, have closed off completely, and virtually no amount of new or conflicting information can reopen them again. The situation grows increasingly worse, of course, when those on the opposite side of the same fence, take a position identical to that of their intellectual adversaries. With ever-heightening degrees of emotion added to the mix, it’s only a matter of time before new arbiters, those being Anarchy and Chaos, take their rightful place among what has become an increasingly belligerent, unruly mob of officialdom.
The end justifies the means? Or the means justify the end? Indeed, whereby it’s said that History is written solely by those who reign victorious over their enemies.
Plainly I like to use the Civil War as a talking point when discussing issues of right and wrong, good against evil, and truth versus distortions, inaccuracies, or intentional lies. As demonstrated on a daily basis nowadays, things are not so different from the time leading up to what can only be described as America’s own version of the Holocaust. A time when both families and friends turned against one another, slaughtering each other under twin banners of Christian and Southern Crosses, and Stars with bars.
In a more contemporary setting, I know several people who have lost old friends and gained new ones, all based solely on politics. Literally lifelong friends and associates are either cut loose, or they permanently unfriend us once we discover the true political leanings we both hold nearly and dearly. But differently. I can speak from personal experience after losing more than a few acquaintances, even a friend or two. For example, my disdain of Hillary Clinton runs so deep, that it is nearly impossible for me to be an acquaintance, let alone a good friend, with anyone who likes her, let alone voted for her. I don't just believe she is wrong on the issues, maybe selfish and greedy, but instead personifies the very essence of what it means to be genuinely evil. But I digress.
Although certainly not the sole story concerning the Civil War, pro-slavery advocates and anti-slavery abolitionists do indeed lie at the very core of the conflict. Much like today, economic concerns, contradictory religious interpretations, pride and prejudice, all spoke-wheeled outward from an insidious hub that was indefensible -- namely the idea whereby men could own other men, as though they were possessions and not persons. More importantly that, regardless of skin color, concepts of liberty and freedom, and the God-given humanity of all men, was deemed to be self-evident.
For nearly a hundred years after the Declaration of Independence had been penned, a single, incontrovertible truth, like an annoying burr in a saddle, remained unreconciled, unresolved, and would burn like a slow fuse plugged into a powder keg. To wit the Jeffersonian declaration that all men were created equal, and endowed by their Creator with a strict and distinct set of absolute rights. Period. With such an inherently contradictory stance, one which flew so unambiguously in the face of slavery, it could not have been anything but an accident (or a war) just waiting to happen.
Well, then, that’s about enough out of me for now. Let’s see what we might make of your fine essay. I immediately liked the way you thrust readers into the ongoing abortion question, let alone treat us to your very personal deconstruction of one of the more volatile issues facing the country. You are brave to do so, my friend. But no more so, I suppose, than an abolitionist facing the hangman’s noose for giving safe passage to an escaped slave.
As I intimated earlier on, once a religious belief is awarded political status or standing, the tenets of one’s faith may become enforceable by the rule of law. Thus the very human temptation to subvert not just others with whom one disagrees, but everyone and anyone who might be said to violate your sensibilities. In other words, legislating Truth as defined by one group, and punishing the disobedient heretics whose misfortune it is to belong to some other group. Until, that is, the previously condemned group is elected to power.
If one takes the position that the Divinity of Jesus Christ is only an opinion, while others contend it is an indisputable fact, than we can immediately discern the making of an irresolvable conflict. If one declares that the definition of what it means to be human, i.e. the moment a man’s sperm successfully joins with a woman’s egg -- and expresses their belief as an opinion only -- that person will inevitably (if not sooner) be confronted by the wrath of those for whom such a notion is absolute fact.
Facts versus opinions. Opinions and facts. Slave owners and abolitionists. Pro-Life versus Choice, i.e. a woman’s right to choose what’s best for her body. Rights and Privileges. My rights versus your privileges. The belief that Healthcare is a right, as opposed to being a privilege only.
One might make a further comparison with the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, whereby Israel and the Palestinians seem incapable of finding a peaceful solution to their problems. When we look deeper, however, we discover that Israel's enemies do not want peace. Indeed, the Palestinian position, as a prerequisite to negotiation, calls for the complete elimination of Israel as a country. A virtual genocide of the Jewish religion itself. It then becomes quite clear why the two factions are unable to resolve their differences. Indeed the situation is utterly absurd and if not so serious, would be laughable.
From here on, I’ll annotate my responses.
Although a complete fallacy, the recent White House celebration of repeal and replacement of the American Care Act, or Obamacare as it's disparagingly called, highlighted a continuing controversy within the American electorate.
Or, highlighted a continuing dispute, or argumentative war-of-words, among the many different factions that make up the American electorate.
Designating pregnancy as pre-existing condition seems to be one more step in the Conservative agenda of usurping a woman's right to make decisions about their own bodies. Their argument is â€œSince life begins at conception, abortion is akin to murder as it is the act of taking human life.
Personally? I support the pre-existing stipulation. Plus the (absolute) belief that life does indeed begin at conception. I do not, however, believe it is murder unless the child is killed post-birth. Or allowed to die for lack of care. I prefer to think of abortion, generally speaking, as infanticide, a form of manslaughter (babyslaughter) second-degree something or other, whereby a determination is made to “kill” the child for one reason or another. Each case would be an individual situation by which no one law or group of laws might cover every circumstance. Saving the life of the mother, for example. Cases of rape and incest in which no woman should be forced, it is argued, to take such a pregnancy to full term.
I'm reminded of the tragic situation whereby a drunk driver hits another car, and the pregnant woman inside the other vehicle loses her unborn child as a result. In this particular situation, I concur with the prosecution of the drunken driver as a second-degree (manslaughter) murder case.
Such debates, to a large degree, are simply not debatable. They involve what are called core values that, in being similar to the founding principles of one’s faith, remain unchangeable. Period. In the case of abortion, one either believes that a living thing, in vitro, is a sacred human life, or it is not. Hence even among Pro-Life groups, strong disagreements are had as to whether rape or incest are acceptable exceptions. If killing the unborn is tantamount to murder, then how could one life be more sacred than another? The pro-lifers who rationalize such inherent contradictions believe that, at some point, the life of the woman trumps that of the fetus growing inside her womb.
Speaking for myself, I dislike inconsistencies in one’s thinking, or in one’s adopted philosophies. One is either faithful to their Faith, or else why bother? It’s rather like a Christian purposely choosing to commit all manner of sins, simply because forgiveness lies but one confession booth away.
Not meant as an endorsement, but Choice certainly takes the uncertainty out of the equation. And once again, consistency in such a belief would necessarily accept the notion that late-term abortions, even partial-birth abortions, while being indefensibly detestable, are nonetheless permissible in many if not most circumstances.
The answer is obvious that the need (or desire) for abortions themselves need to be minimized such that they cease to exist altogether.
I agree. The taking of a human life is wrong. But, I have to ask, what is a human life?
See, Ken, there you go, causing trouble again. I’ve already stated my own prejudice in the matter. I have my reasons, both intellectually and emotionally, for clinging to my aforementioned belief.
The question of when a human life begins is intricately complex, with widespread implications, ranging from abortion rights to stem cell research and beyond. A key point in the debate rests on the way in which we choose to define the concepts of humanity, life, and human life. What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean to be human?
These are all philosophical and scientific questions, my friend. Not legalistic ones. The laws of physics can’t be found in any book on jurisprudence. There is, I think, what we might call, a dignity of life, that ought to be observed. An observation similar to how American Indians would perform (or still do) respectful, quasi-religious rituals, thanking the animal they had killed, for giving up its life. If the time ever comes when fetuses are taken out with the trash and garbage, people will have lost an important regard for life in all its forms, including human beings. Some would no doubt argue that we have already achieved such a deplorable condition.
For myself, the question became real when my oldest daughter came looking for advice. She was pregnant, unmarried, and in rehab for drug addiction. As I struggled with the issue â€“ as a father, as a man of faith, and as a human being â€“ I kept coming back to words that were written hundreds of years ago: "Cogito ergo sum - I think, therefore I am." (Descartes, RenÃ©. 1637. Discourse on Method).
Descartes failed, according to some accounts, to reconcile who it was, doing the thinking. Or what was it about us, whose existence was no longer doubted, but who nonetheless continued to ask philosophical questions? As if some hitherto undiscovered aspect of ourselves might yet be defined via our ability to pose important questions.
I believe that self-awareness is the essence of human life. I base this on the current scientific research and arrived at it through a process of elimination.
So called self-awareness i.e. sentience, is somewhat of a chauvinistic measure of what it means to be human. In that it is ourselves who are doing the measuring. Current quantum theory suggests that via our observations alone, we may well change what it is being observed. Or put another way, the definition of life itself is based on a criteria whereby we predict the results that cannot be satisfied otherwise. Anything beyond what we’ve concluded are a legitimate -- albeit limited -- set of rules, the fulfillment (or lack thereof) of which determines whether or not something is living, cannot be discerned or measured. Indeed, we might well decide a thing is alive -- or not -- simply by virtue of its having satisfied our narrow expectations of what constitutes life.
Human Life begins at birth. Historically life has been equated to birth. As far back as 380 b.c., Plato contended that the human soul did not enter the body until birth. His position became the law of ancient Roman society (Buss, M. 1987. Journal of Religion). This view sees human life as beginning when an individual has become independent of the mother and has its own functioning circulatory system, alimentary system, and respiratory system. This is the traditional birthday when the baby is born into the world and the umbilical cord is cut. I see this more along the lines of independence since clearly the developing fetus can respond to stimuli (feel, hear, see) prior to actual birth. It responds to its environment. It is aware.
Cutting sections of what cannot be separated into pieces. It wasn’t so long ago that premature births were a death sentence. Nowadays such births are common, even routine. Survival of an impregnated ovum (zygote) is thus a matter of technology, and not so much, one of biology. It is also not a stretch to suggest that a time will come when a zygote might be removed at virtually any stage of fetal development, and grown to what would otherwise be described as full term. So much for the views of Buss, M., 1987. The question is begged as to what constitutes a birth, in and of itself. Quite obviously, a next step in the process would be to remove the woman herself, from that process. Old and retired issues such as abortion, would have lost their meaning altogether. The question of human life will have easily been reduced to nothing more than the desired union of sperm and egg. The whole thing becomes a matter of tradeoff whereby we sacrifice the intimate joys of child bearing, for a world where no more children are aborted, at any age, for any reason.
Human Life begins at conception. As time went by, the belief that birth was the first blossoming of life was challenged by the Greeks who stressed that the human soul was created at the time of conception and this is reflected in the Hippocratic oath. Hippocrates' outright disapproval of abortion stemmed from his belief that conception marked the beginning of a human life (Tribe, L. 1990. Abortion: The Clash of the Absolutes). In considering this, my problem was two-fold. Both the sperm and egg cells are alive to begin with. The idea that their union is "new life" doesn't make sense. In this view, there is no one point where life begins. In reviewing the literature, I also discovered that discrete marking points such as the fourteen day dividing line between a zygote and an embryo are entirely artificial constructions of biologists and doctors in order to better categorize development for academic purposes. This position is supported by recent research that has revealed that fertilization itself is not even an instantaneous event, but rather a process that takes 20-22 hours between the time the sperm penetrates the outermost layers of the egg and the formation of a genetically unique cell or zygote (Kuhse, Helga. 1988. Bioethics).
The most popular argument against the idea that life begins at the moment of fertilization has been dubbed the "twinning argument." The main point of this argument is that although a zygote is genetically unique from its parents from the moment zygote organism is formed, it is possible for that zygote to split into two or more zygotes up until 14 or 15 days after fertilization. Suppose that an egg is fertilized. If at that moment a new life begins, the zygote gains a "soul" in the religious line of thought, or "personhood" in a secular line of thought. Then suppose that the zygote splits to form twins. Does the soul of the zygote split as well? No, this is impossible. No one would argue that twins share the same "soul" or the same "personhood."
I hope that my overview of how advanced technologies have changed our views of pregnancy and childbirth, as a process, has somewhat settled (or calmed) a multitude of issues that were previously contentious. As regards the development of atomic weapons, Einstein was quoted as saying that everything had changed except our way of thinking. Hence our old-fashioned methods of defining and categorizing one thing from another, have also undergone what is called a paradigm shift. Fortunately, abortion will be among the first to fall away and vanish as continuous advancements in medicine force us to reevaluate our prior notions about all things. The concept of a soul, whether from a religious or occult perspective, must also be among those topics that necessarily deserve our attention.
The confusion almost certainly lies with our understanding of this thing we call a soul -- rather than trying to figure out how twins might share one soul or two. If and when our current ideas about souls should ever clarify, I suspect that our former explanations should appear foolish if not wholly inadequate. And that most questions surrounding such things as souls, angels, human life and the like, will have been addressed. I also believe that whatever souls are, they will be deciphered via an inclusiveness that encompasses all things equally, instead of seeing them as separate from anything else. Thus inquiries as to how a soul(s) might occupy one or more fetuses, should then be seen as too complex -- or overly simplified -- if not nonsensical by comparison.
From what we know, as opposed to what we believe, it seems that "human life" must occur somewhere in between ... but when?
Perhaps you can now see, Ken, why I don’t waste my time with such narrowly focused queries and quandaries. All of it designed to somehow justify our beliefs and behaviors accordingly. Talk about muddying the waters. How often have both of us witnessed two or more people arguing over the details of one thing or another? Each person throwing around undefined or under-defined terms and ideas, just prior to launching into a contest of whose invectives were the most insulting. For example, what is gained by debating the existence of a soul when the larger question, it seems to me, is more to do with a mutual agreement as to whether there is life after death. And what proof is there, that might substantiate one position compared to another? Even then, if we don’t know what life is, in or out of the womb, or can’t agree on our terminologies, how is it that we should know, any of us, if there is indeed, life after death? With the exception, of course, by way of one’s immutable religious faith.
Human Life begins with self-awareness. There is a universal acceptance that life is finite; it has a beginning and an end. From a scientific point of view, the reality is that all life has both a beginning and an end, usually identified as some form of death. The debate surrounding the exact moment marking the beginning of a human life contrasts the certainty and consistency with which the instant of death is described. Contemporary society defines death as the loss of the pattern produced by a cerebral electroencephalogram (EEG). If life and death are based upon the same standard of measurement, then the beginning of human life should be recognized as the time when a fetus acquires a recognizable EEG pattern. This acquisition occurs approximately 24- 27 weeks after the conception of the fetus. There is a strong argument that the unique and highly recognizable EEG pattern produced by a mature brain is a defining characteristic of humanity. Therefore, the moment that a developing fetus first exhibits an EEG pattern consistent with that of a mature brain is indicative of the beginning of human life. It is from this point and onward during development that the fetus is capable of the type of mental activity associated with humanity. (Morowitz, H. J. and Trefil, J. S. 1992. The Facts of Life: Science and the Abortion Controversy)
Once again, the instrumentalities utilized, dictates our expectations and analysis of the end results. An EEG measures something that is found in all human brains. I’m unaware of whether animals display comparable indices when measured likewise. But I digress. We have no way of knowing, as technology advances, whether a different machine will measure something we don’t as yet see or understand. But once developed, may show us another characteristic that is common to all human brains. But is acquired at two-seconds post conception. That soul thing, perhaps?
In the end, understanding the moral standards that drive the question appears to be the key to figuring out how to approach the question of when human life begins. Science has not been able to give a definitive answer to this question. It would seem that faith alone is the only basis we have for answering this difficult question.
In other words, making moral judgments about stuff, based upon our religious beliefs. What about moral judgments independent of religious teachings? For example, an atheist who subscribes to the ten commandments found in the Old Testament of the Bible. Except that the atheist considers such doctrines as being matters of common sense, or what is in the best interests of both himself and society as a whole. Almost humorous in its detachment from kindred discussions, the question of what constitutes human life, including when does personhood begin -- if studied from a purely scientific standpoint -- might well be aimed more towards an understanding of extraterrestrial lifeforms, and what differences (or similarities) both anatomically and technologically, might exist compared to those of human beings.
Realizing the uncertainty led me to use the gifts the creator provided and find an answer that balanced both my need for "facts" and my own belief in a power greater than myself.
Speaking of extraterrestrials, might they not represent a power far greater than ourselves, both collectively and individually? In the Hollywood adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, a priest sets out to make contact with the unseen crew members of a machine used by the aliens to conquer the Earth. When warned by his friends to stay away, the clergyman replies that since the invaders are more advanced than humans, they should be that much closer to the Almighty.
Freed of all hubris, a human might well conclude that many, if not most things, represent powers greater than him or herself. How could a rational person gaze into a nighttime sky, cloudless and starlit, and not realize that homo sapiens, at best, are little more than one piece to a much larger puzzle? All of it under the watchful eye, perhaps, of a master Puzzle-Maker.
There is definitive evidence that at a point in embryonic development that "magic happens." The unborn gain the capacity to use their minds in a manner we define as human. At this point, the embryo begins the process of self-awareness and starts out on the journey that leads each of us to appreciate the strengths and weakness of being human and to appreciate that, however we got here, it wasn't by accident.
Hence the new and growing fear of robotics. Since we don’t know how or when the magic happens, how complex need be so-called artificial intelligence, before it awakens and decides that humankind is merely an infestation of pesky, biological organisms, most of whom serve no purpose or function. Who should be eradicated and exterminated as so much vermin.
Such machines would not trouble themselves with the same questions or quandaries as you and I have done, and will continue to do. In which case the concepts of morality and compassion, grief and joyful exuberance, could be easily identified as those traits that, compared to other entities, then mark us as unquestionably human in nature.
Ken, except for a few spelling errors and some other minor stuff, I truly enjoyed your essay, and the subjects you touched upon, both of which -- I’d like to think -- brought out some of the best in me (and the worst?) You have a real knack for this stuff and my only suggested change, if that much, might be for you to become a better self-editor. Catching the little errors before someone else does. For example:
Realizing the uncertainty led me to use the gifts the creator provided and find an answer that balanced both my need for "facts" and my own belief in a power greater than myself.
In the first line of your paragraph above, read it over and see if you catch the same as I did. This is part of that self-editing stuff I referred to.
What follows are two examples of possible changes that would clarify your meaning:
Realizing this uncertainty led me to use the gifts that the Creator provided, and find an answer that balanced both my need for "facts" and my own belief in a power greater than myself.
Realizing the uncertainty that (or which) had led me to use the gifts the Creator provided, I found (or, uncovered/discovered) an answer that balanced both my need for "facts" and my own belief in a power greater than myself.
In summation, Ken, this nonfiction stuff is very demanding as you no doubt already know -- all too well, right? Overall I felt your writing is very good. I had no trouble understanding your opinions and other ideas. My only other criticism, if I'm being particularly picayune, is that the piece reads as if it is too condensed, that you had a ton more to say, but had to keep things short in order to stay within the 1000 word limit. Nonfiction, when limited to length, needs to read the same as a short-story fiction piece, namely it contains a beginning, middle, and well-defined end.
Most great writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, should ideally end where it began. In order to make your piece stronger, in my never-to-be-humble opinion, it's hard to tell where you're going at first. To start out with the Obamacare mention, we don't know if that is where you'll ultimately end up. It's nice if we can come out swinging with a strong statement about the exact topic that will be discussed. Ending with a dramatic conclusion that refers back to our original premise, as stated in the first one or two paragraphs.
That said, you're definitely on the right track for these kind of dialogues, and I haven't looked, but you likely have a good many of these in your portfolio. If you're still awake after reading my brief review, the best suggestion I can offer, is to get outside of yourself and write this stuff from the viewpoint of an imaginary antagonist. Counter his or her arguments by trying to rebut their criticisms and attacks. Defend yourself and state your positions as if they were indeed rebuttals to the fallacious thinking of your harshest critics.
There is so much greatness in Biblical scripture, that it is easy for me to adopt a role of both sinner and saint. As a would-be saint, I can easily argue against the ignorance and stupidity of being an atheist. And why God is a great answer to many good questions. As the consummate sinner, however, I can play the non-believer who likes to show how God isn't the answer to anything. You get the idea.
Good luck, be well, and keep those mental gears turning and churning