Thursday, January 26, 2017

Ways of Knowing, Or "How Can I Tell Whether Something is True?"

Let me start off by posting a couple of images.

First, we have this:


The combination of photo and caption suggests that Trump is a cold-hearted slimeball of a man because he left his wife to walk through the door of the Whitehouse all by herself.

Next, we have this:


The combination of photo and caption suggests that Obama is just as much of a slimeball––if not more––than Trump.

Both images are meant to indict these men––to paint them as awful human beings––and the thing about these images is that they both look real. But guess what? Neither of them give a complete picture. Here's what really happened:



But even then, we don't know what really happened because we weren't there ourselves.

People go on and on about how seeing is believing, and observing with our senses means that something is real. Empiricism is THE way to knowing in this day and time, and quite frankly, I'm tired of it.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge, justification, and belief. It allows us to examine how people know, and according to epistemologists, there are several ways of knowing. Here are some:
  • Rationalism–the theory that reason is the foundation for certainty in knowledge. Recall Rene Descartes, who said, "I think therefore I am." He didn't say, "I see myself and my surroundings, so I know I exist." He based reality on thought. In other words, "the mind comes pre-stocked with innate ideas." (Nagel 41)
  • Empiricism–the theory that sensory experience is the foundation for certainty in knowledge. Our minds are blank until "sensation begins to mark it." (Nagel 41)
  • Testimony–the theory that knowledge can come to us second-hand. While testimony involves both rationalism and empiricism in that past experience and reasoning (about a person's reliability) informs the validity of second-hand knowledge, it is seen by some philosophers as a distinct way of knowing because for example, "the way you think when you understand what someone says is different from the way you think when you see something with your own eyes, and different again from the way you think when you are engaged in reasoning or puzzle-solving." (Nagel 80)
I could go on and on about this, and truth be told, I don't understand all of it. (Most of my knowledge about the study of knowledge comes from my Intro. to Philosophy course in college.) I do know this, though: Seeing is not believing. Seeing is seeing, and believing is believing. And it's becoming more and more critical to use lots of different epistemological approaches to truth-finding. Those images at the beginning of this post––those look real. I can see with my eyes that Trump ignored his wife and Obama put his hand on Mrs. Trump's butt. But reason tells me that these images cannot be true!

Conversely, reason tells me that it's daytime right now because I'm wide awake and ready with energy to do something fun. But my senses tell me that it is 8:00pm!

Truth-finding is confusing these days. News is often misleading (from liberal and conservative sources), people are sometimes unreliable, our memories are imperfect, and Photoshop allows people to change what we see. It's critical to use lots of different ways of knowing. Some people pray, and some people read as much as they can. Some people keep updated with social media, and some people listen to podcasts. None of those, though, in my opinion are enough in and of themselves. We've got to work hard to synthesize all of these sources and ways of knowing in order to figure out what is true. To be sure, it's exhausting, but I think it's an obligation.


(Source: Nagel, Jennifer. Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, 2014.)


Thing I'm thankful for: modern medicine

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Shoveling Snow


I shoveled snow for the first time in my life today. I loved it.

I was a little bothered that a neighbor came to help me get the driveway cleared because I wanted to say I'd done it all by myself, but I think when someone offers to help shovel snow, you're supposed to accept. I mean, I haven't read any etiquette books lately, but I'm sure that's in there.

At any rate, I had fun. Snow in Utah is drier and lighter than snow in any other part of the country, so I imagine I'm sort of living a life of snow luxury. I'll enjoy it while I can.


Thing I'm thankful for: hugs and kisses from nieces and nephews

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Snow

When it snows in Utah, I like to go for late-night walks. My neighborhood is largely composed of childless adults and elderly couples, so there is plenty of untouched snow to mess up. Tonight, I wandered through a couple of nearby parks and up to the state capitol, where the glow of street lamps made me feel like time had stopped. By the time I walked down to Temple Square, it was midnight, and it felt like only an hour had passed.

Snow is a funny thing. It makes me feel a range of emotions: excitement, loneliness, gratitude, romance, nostalgia, thoughtfulness, mindlessness, pride, and sadness. I think it's good, though. I think it's good to feel all of those feelings and examine them. I learn so much about myself during those quiet walks in the snow, and I sort of wish they would never end. I also recognize that Utah––a state that gives me so much grief––affords this opportunity of stillness and introspection. Utah is not without its wonders, not the least of which is the arrival of snow each Winter. It is my second favorite part about this place.











Thing I'm thankful for: snow boots and long johns

Monday, November 28, 2016

Post-Thanksgiving Confession

So this is the time of year when I'm supposed to say what I'm thankful for. To list all of the things that make me happy to be alive. And yet. It hasn't been an easy thing to do. Those of you who have kept up with my blog over the years have no doubt noticed two big things about it:
  1. I list something I'm thankful for at the end of each post.
  2. I blog regularly, rarely skipping whole months at a time.
This year has been different. Let me tell you why.

In June, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. It wasn't a surprise. I had been feeling worthless and hopeless and lonely for several months leading up to that point, and . . . What can I say, really, but the truth? There were plenty of times when I didn't want to be alive. When I daydreamed of scenarios in which I was rushed to the hospital, though everyone knew it was too late.

There's no way to describe the utter sadness that is depression. I thought I had an idea because I tend to be somewhat melancholy, but I didn't truly know how dark the world could seem under a cloud of depression. The darkness seems to come out of nowhere, too, and you think you're going crazy because one day you find yourself kneeling on the floor and sobbing your eyes out because again, you feel worthless and hopeless and lonely. Normally, you would "buck up" and go out with friends, pick up a forgotten hobby, or fill your life with busy-ness. Normally, you would have a strategy for finding a solution to the problem at hand. But this time––this time you don't want to see anyone, you lose interest in the parts of life you used to find joy in, and the most difficult part of the day is getting out of bed in the morning. This time, you find it nearly impossible to think clearly. For me, that meant no writing on my blog and no "Thing I am thankful for." It was hard enough just to be thankful for life.

Why am I saying all of this? Why am I admitting to this . . . awful thing? Because I've thought a lot about gratitude lately and what, exactly, I'm grateful for. Well, more than anything else––more than desserts and a home and a job and a car and clothes and family and religion––I'm grateful for people's attention. I'm grateful when someone asks me how I am and listens to the answer. I'm grateful when someone says, "How was your day?" I'm grateful when someone remembers something I mentioned a few weeks ago and follows up. I'm grateful when people take an interest.

Sometimes I tell people about my depression, and they say, "What can I do to help?" Here's what you can do––with me and with everyone, depressed or not:

Take an interest.

Take an interest in the lives of the people around you. Ask them questions and listen to the answers. Don't spend valuable listening time thinking of the next thing you can say. Just listen. Ask about people's hobbies and work. Ask them what they've been thinking about lately. Ask them if they've got any exciting vacation plans coming up. Ask them about their families and their lives.

The world is full of people who don't realize that the most important things in life aren't actually things––they're people. People who are closely connected to you, as well as people who are not.

I am grateful for people who take an interest in me and who make me feel like I am an important part of their lives. That if I vanished, they would notice.


Addendum: The point of this post was not to subtly request praise or words of love––though I do enjoy both of those things. ;) It was, however, a request that you pay attention to the people around you and take an interest in their lives. If a friend tells you he had a bad day, ask him about it. Pay attention to the people in your life, and make them feel loved by showing interest.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Doing Happy Things


I don't want to get into the details here, except to say that I've had to work really hard at being happy and engaged with life lately. Mostly, I feel like I'm not doing a very good job of it, but in the last few weeks, one thing in particular has helped: rowing. That's right; I've picked up rowing again. It's so nice to be on a boat in the water.* I had forgotten how rowing made me feel. I had forgotten that it makes me feel strong and confident and focused on nothing but the rhythm of my oars.

I had forgotten that doing things that make us happy . . . Make us happy. Or at least suspend sadness for a little while. I think that as we get older, we forget what makes us happy. Or we remember, but we overlook those things because we have boring-but-necessary adult things to do. And I think what we don't realize––what I didn't realize––was that by making happy activities a priority, we fill our souls with lightness, so that we are better able to handle the boring-but-necessary adult things. The stressful things. The scary things and the sad things.

Once I remembered that rowing makes me happy, I remembered other things that make me happy:

  • Being outside
  • Being near a body of water
  • Baking
  • Spending time with family, especially my nieces and nephews
  • Making people laugh
  • Having conversations with David
  • Eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Taking evening walks
  • Going to concerts
  • Appreciating art

My challenge to you, dear readers, is to remember what makes you happy and spend some time doing those things!


*The Great Salt Lake, to be exact.



Thing I'm thankful for: finding my Nalgene water bottle

Friday, July 01, 2016

Open Letter to Single Women

Dear Single Women,

If you are in your late twenties or beyond and you are interested in a male who is in his late twenties or beyond, call him what he is: a man. He is not a boy.* He may sometimes act childish (as we all do), but "boy" is a word reserved for males under age 18 and really––more precisely––for a male who is a baby to somewhere around 11 or 12. After that, he is a "young man" or "guy."

You can continue to use "guy" until a male is in his late twenties and maybe even into his 30s, but once he hits 35, you should start calling him a man. Especially if he has facial hair.

"But Sara," you may ask, "What if he acts like a boy?" Who cares? As I mentioned earlier––yes, he may act childish, but so do you. So does everyone. But maybe if you call him a man, he will act like one more often.

And let's get real, here: Calling a man a "boy" is not cute. I don't care how many times you've seen "Notting Hill." You are not the star in a movie, and you are not getting paid enough to say such silly things such as "I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her." It's not romantic; it's embarrassing.


Sincerely,
Sara



*Yes, I have heard women call men "boys" countless times. Here are some real-life examples: "Did you see any boys you like?" "She met this boy in the library." "I went on a date with this boy."

Friday, May 27, 2016

In the Quiet Heart

After talking to a friend tonight for a long time about a lot of things, this hymn came to mind: Lord, I Would Follow Thee. I especially love the second and third verses of this hymn:

Who am I to judge another,
When I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden
Sorrow that the eye can't see.
Who am I to judge another?
Lord, I would follow thee.

I would be my brother's keeper;
I would learn the healer's art.
To the wounded and the weary
I would show a gentle heart.
I would be my brother's keeper––
Lord, I would follow thee.


"In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can't see." Those lines. Those lines express so much of what I'm feeling right now, and I'm in awe of the people who get close to seeing that sorrow and offer a gentle heart to the quiet one.

Thank you, Nick, for a gentle heart.