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The Difference between Truth and Fact

In False Dichotomies - the lines between on April 28, 2014 at 12:29 am

I’ve been listening to conversations about “what the Bible says” and have been having a hard time articulating why I’m disturbed by the position taken by some Bible defenders.  I agree with them that the Bible is true, but I get the sense that they are using the term differently than I am.  Their “true” is much more concrete than mine.

Rothfuss2I am reading Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicles: Day Two). It’s a fantasy series that occupies a region between Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.

Rothfuss writes intelligent fantasy.

Below is a passage from the book that, I think, gets at how truth is more relational than informational. And that it has to be communicated in stories full of poetic language and metaphor that transcend explanation.

“TODAY,” ELODIN SAID BRIGHTLY, “we will talk about things that cannot be talked about. Specifically, we will discuss why some things cannot be discussed.”

I sighed and set down my pencil. Every day I hoped this class would be the one where Elodin actually taught us something. Every day I brought a hardback and one of my few precious pieces of paper, ready to take advantage of the moment of clarity. Every day some part of me expected Elodin to laugh and admit he’d just been testing our resolve with his endless nonsense.

And every day I was disappointed.

“The majority of important things cannot be said outright,” Elodin said. “They cannot be made explicit. They can only be implied.” He looked out at his handful of students in the otherwise empty lecture hall. “Name something that cannot be explained.” He pointed at Uresh. “Go.”

Uresh considered for a moment. “Humor. If you explain a joke, it isn’t a joke.”

Elodin nodded, then pointed at Fenton.

“Naming?” Fenton asked.

“That is a cheap answer, Re’lar,” Elodin said with a hint of reproach. “But you correctly anticipate the theme of my lecture, so we will let it slide.” He pointed at me.

“There isn’t anything that can’t be explained,” I said firmly. “If something can be understood, it can be explained. A person might not be able to do a good job of explaining it. But that just means it’s hard, not that it’s impossible.”

Elodin held up a finger. “Not hard or impossible. Merely pointless. Some things can only be inferred.” He gave me an infuriating smile. “By the way, your answer should have been ‘music.’”

“Music explains itself,” I said. “It is the road, and it is the map that shows the road. It is both together.”

“But can you explain how music works?” Elodin asked.

“Of course,” I said. Though I wasn’t sure of any such thing.

“Can you explain how music works without using music?”

That brought me up short. While I was trying to think of a response, Elodin turned to Fela.

“Love?” she asked.

Elodin raised an eyebrow as if mildly scandalized by this, then nodded approvingly.

“Hold on a moment,” I said. “We’re not done. I don’t know if I could explain music without using it, but that’s beside the point. That’s not explanation, it’s translation.”

Elodin’s face lit up. “That’s it exactly!” he said. “Translation. All explicit knowledge is translated knowledge, and all translation is imperfect.”

“So all explicit knowledge is imperfect?” I asked. “Tell Master Brandeur geometry is subjective. I’d love to watch that discussion.”

“Not all knowledge,” Elodin admitted. “But most.”

“Prove it,” I said.

“You can’t prove nonexistence,” Uresh interjected in a matter-of-fact way. He sounded exasperated. “Flawed logic.”

I ground my teeth at that. It was flawed logic. I never would have made that mistake if I’d been better rested. “Demonstrate it then,” I said.

“Fine, fine.” Elodin walked over to where Fela sat. “We’ll use Fela’s example.” He took her hand and pulled her to her feet, motioning me to follow.

I came reluctantly to my feet as well and Elodin arranged the two of us so we stood facing each other in profile to the class. “Here we have two lovely young people,” he said. “Their eyes meet across the room.”

Elodin pushed my shoulder and I stumbled forward half a step. “He says hello. She says hello. She smiles. He shifts uneasily from foot to foot.” I stopped doing just that and there was a faint murmur of laughter from the others.

“There is something ephemeral in the air,” Elodin said, moving to stand behind Fela. He put his hands on her shoulders, leaning close to her ear. “She loves the lines of him,” he said softly. “She is curious about the shape of his mouth. She wonders if this could be the one, if she could unclasp the secret pieces of her heart to him.” Fela looked down, her cheeks flushing a bright scarlet.

Elodin stalked around to stand behind me. “Kvothe looks at her, and for the first time he understands the impulse that first drove men to paint. To sculpt. To sing.”

He circled us again, eventually standing between us like a priest about to perform a wedding. “There exists between them something tenuous and delicate. They can both feel it. Like static in the air. Faint as frost.”

He looked me full in the face. His dark eyes serious. “Now. What do you do?”

I looked back at him, utterly lost. If there was one thing I knew less about than naming, it was courting women.

“There are three paths here,” Elodin said to the class. He held up one finger. “First. Our young lovers can try to express what they feel. They can try to play the half-heard song their hearts are singing.”

Elodin paused for effect. “This is the path of the honest fool, and it will go badly. This thing between you is too tremulous for talk. It is a spark so faint that even the most careful breath might snuff it out.”

Master Namer shook his head. “Even if you are clever and have a way with words, you are doomed in this. Because while your mouths might speak the same language, your hearts do not.” He looked at me intently. “This is an issue of translation.”

Elodin held up two fingers. “The second path is more careful. You talk of small things. The weather. A familiar play. You spend time in company. You hold hands. In doing so you slowly learn the secret meanings of each other’s words. This way, when the time comes you can speak with subtle meaning underneath your words, so there is understanding on both sides.”

Elodin made a sweeping gesture toward me. “Then there is the third path. The path of Kvothe.” He strode to stand shoulder to shoulder with me, facing Fela. “You sense something between you. Something wonderful and delicate.”

He gave a romantic, lovelorn sigh. “And, because you desire certainty in all things, you decide to force the issue. You take the shortest route. Simplest is best, you think.” Elodin extended his own hands and made wild grasping motions in Fela’s direction. “So you reach out and you grab this young woman’s breasts.”

There was a burst of startled laughter from everyone except Fela and myself. I scowled. She crossed her arms in front of her chest and her flush spread down her neck until it was hidden by her shirt.

Elodin turned his back to her and looked me in the eye.

“Re’lar Kvothe,” he said seriously. “I am trying to wake your sleeping mind to the subtle language the world is whispering. I am trying to seduce you into understanding. I am trying to teach you.” He leaned forward until his face was almost touching mine. “Quit grabbing at my ****” (253-255).

What’s wrong with this picture?

In Rants on April 21, 2014 at 2:41 am

Stairway to heaven_jpgI lifted this picture off my Twitter feed and posted it on Facebook to solicit some reaction.

Dylan, true to form, pointed out the very practical problem of certain suffocation.

My first question was, Who made these stairs that will supposedly take us to heaven?  Although longer, they look like the sort of stairs that one would find in an airport or a mall.  The way to heaven is man-made?  This goes contrary to the one thing that distinguishes Christianity from most (every?) other religions.

In Christianity, you don’t get to heaven because of your prayers, church attendance, putting money into the collection plate, by what you do or by what you don’t do.  You get to heaven because of what God does.  God makes it possible for us to go to heaven by the death and resurrection of his son.  All we need to do is accept this free gift.  This picture shows the way to heaven as much harder than it really is.  But Daniel is also right, this staircase is too easy–if you hang onto Jesus it will cost you your life.

Then there’s the caption.  I was trying to figure out what it meant.  Then I concluded that if you “share” this picture and/or “follow” it on Twitter, you can get to heaven.  This is consistent with the works-based, man-made stairs problem discussed above.

Dean noted a further problem, “Following “Us” is only going to get you as far as “we” can carry ourselves. It’s a dead end.”  For those who end up in heaven, I think the general consensus is that one would have followed Jesus is some manner, not people who post mindless, and unfortunately not meaningless, pictures on Twitter.

Is there a cure for the disease of hatred?

In Rants, Worldview on April 6, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Poison treeHatred, a disease?

We haven’t been able to eliminate the scourge of hatred, so perhaps we’ve been looking at it all wrong.

In “Finding A Cure for Hate” Jennifer Yang reports on a University of Toronto initiative that looks at understanding and preventing hatred by “treating it as a public health issue.”

Experts from a variety of fields discussed the problem of hate, “touching on everything from Hitler to 9/11 to the Rwandan genocide.”

The meeting was initiated by U of T associate professor Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who “likes to think of hatred as a disease or mental disorder.”  His idea is that people “are not born with hatred, [rather] they acquire it from the environment, just as people are exposed to bacteria or second-hand smoke.”

Not everyone is on board.  Although not at the conference had he attended, British neuroscientist Semir Zeki, a professor at University College London would have disagreed with Abuelaish.  He believes hatred is a part of our biology–put there by evolution:  “We would not have had this capacity to hate to the degree that we have — and all humans have it — if it had been a negative evolutionary force. It would have petered out.”

I find it interesting that both of these approaches to hatred completely remove the responsibility for hatred from humanity.  If it’s a product of Nature, then we can blame it on evolution.  If it is a result of Nurture, then we can blame it on the environment.  The scariest part of all this is the next bit–where the logical solution to hate is the controlling of the environment; my question is, “Who will have the control?”

Both these perspectives take the responsibility for hate away from the one who hates.

William Blake does not:

A Poison Tree.

I was angry with my friend:

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:

I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears

Night and morning with my tears,

And I sunned it with smiles

And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,

Till it bore an apple bright,

And my foe beheld it shine,

And he knew that it was mine –

And into my garden stole

When the night had veiled the pole;

In the morning, glad, I see

My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

I’m sure folks over at the U of T have honorable intentions, but by removing responsibility for hating from the human agent, I fear that they will do a lot more more harm than good.