The BIG questions about consciousness and the universe remain unanswered despite a continuous search for truth since the dawn of civilization. Those questions are asked at every level of human intelligence and intuition. At a formal level, they are distinguished by the category of study in which they are asked. For example, at the scientific level, cosmology asks, “How did the universe come into being?” At the intuitive level, the question is, “Why did the universe come into being?” The former seeks the “God Particle,” the latter seeks “God.” A myriad of studies have developed over the centuries, giving us various disciplines of sciences and religions, each of which is defined by its scope. Philosophy is unique in that its scope is the study of everything.
When I was in my early twenties, I had the ambition to be omniscient as soon as possible. My plan included extensive reading of the works of celebrated philosophers. Most of what I read was shocking. For example, revered philosophers not only condoned slavery but actually believed that slavery was in the natural order of human society. Many of them invented fantastic theories of reality without a shred of evidence. Through the centuries, they heatedly quibbled with each other over every ibid, op cite, vide, and passim.
I soon realized that my research was not entirely in vain, but in a totally unexpected way. I didn’t become omniscient as I had hoped, but to my amazement I realized that I had a better handle on reality than they had! No wonder they weren’t even close to a reasonable answer for any of the big questions. Yet, their voices are still heard, primarily at universities, much to the misfortune of students under the tutelage of professors who at best preserve dusty thoughts as though they are museum pieces.
If you are tired of memorizing tenets of master philosophers and writing papers about their papers, or if you are weary of convoluted arguments held by some of your colleagues, the following tips might be of use to you.
1) Reason is a prerequisite for philosophic discourse. To ‘reason’ that reason is an illusion, is the ultimate contradiction in terms. If you are engaged in a philosophic discussion, and your adversary posits a notion that disavows reason, consider further discourse automatically aborted by the disavowal itself. I mention this axiom only to urge you not to waste your time reading, discussing, or debating that popular non-issue. No matter how tempted you might be to bring the discussion back to reason, don’t waste your time. If reality is defined as some sort of dream, it’s time to wake up.
2) If you find the thoughts of a philosopher convoluted, the chances are that they are convoluted. If you find that his arguments are intrinsically not clear, the chances are that they are unclear. If you are captive to a philosophy instructor that requires you to create labored papers that our memories shred very soon after they have been graded, remember that this too shall pass.
3) Academic debates are often designed to sharpen argumentation skills. If you are required to argue on the side of your convictions, remember that you may lose the debate only because of your opponent’s rhetorical skills. Conversely, you may win a debate on either side of an issue only because of your superior rhetoric. In either case, superior rhetoric is not a substitute for truth. When someone is required to suspend his convictions in order to win a debate, he is forced to be dishonest even though that kind of ‘debate’ is just an exercise. There is an unequivocal standard when opposing views are debated: both sides may be wrong, but they cannot both be correct. A debater must be free to express what she believes is the correct side in an authentic debate.
Losing a debate does not invalidate your conviction unless you change your mind as a direct result of the debate. Even so, think beyond the debate so that you may be sure that your change of mind is not the result of persuasion, but of conviction.
4) Whenever you are confronted by a conflict between a newly learned fact and your overall philosophy, troubleshoot your mind as you would a home appliance. The analogy differs in only one respect. When troubleshooting an appliance, we check the plug first as a possible source of the problem (deductive reasoning). When faced with a philosophic conflict, we should trace its source to our fundamental philosophic tenets (inductive reasoning). Trust your judgment.
Simultaneous analysis and synthesis has always worked for me. Every new fact, concept, or experience I encounter is run through a mental process of ‘checks and balances’ that guarantees an integral philosophy at all times. I follow a simple discipline. If an irrefutable fact conflicts with any part of my philosophy, I don’t hesitate to carefully make fundamental adjustments in order to maintain the overall integrity of my philosophy.
5) Contemplating big questions and a myriad of answers to them has always been a source of pleasure for me as far back as I can remember. I’ve never understood the need for esoteric exercises, body positions, chanting, or the need for the right atmosphere to meditate. Meditation is an on-going experience. It’s always there for me: while at dinner, riding the subway, or watching a sunset.
If you are currently force-fed philosophy at college and expected to regurgitate it via meaningless papers, be comforted by the fact that there are lots of sunsets ahead for you. All you have to do is open your eyes to them and let the rays fill you with wisdom. Aging has a way of surprising us with a clarity about life we never dreamed was possible in our youth. If you develop and maintain an integrated philosophy, you’ll find that your later years are at least as vibrant as those of your youth.