Archives For Long

Logic wins out over passion. This historical narrative usually begins in ancient Greece. Plato believed the soul was divided into three parts: reason, spirit, and appetite. Reason seeks truth and wants the best for the whole person. Spirit seeks recognition and glory. Appetite seeks base pleasures. For Plato, reason is like a charioteer who must master his two wild and ill-matched horses. “If the better elements of the mind which lead to order and philosophy prevail,” Plato wrote, “then we can lead a life here in happiness and harmony, masters of ourselves.”

Eventually, rationalism produced its own form of extremism. The scientific revolution led to scientism. Irving Kristol defined scientism as the “elephantiasis of reason.” Scientism is taking the principles of rational inquiry, stretching them without limit, and excluding any factor that doesn’t fit the formulas.

In short, the rationalism method has yielded many great discoveries, but when it is used to explain or organize the human world, it does have one core limitation. It highly values conscious cognition—what you might call Level 2 cognition—which it can see, quantify, formalize, and understand. But it is blind to the influence of unconscious—what you might call Level 1 cognition—which is cloudlike, nonlinear, hard to see, and impossible to formalize. Rationalists have a tendency to lop off or diminish all information that is not calculable according to their methodologies.

This scientism has expressed itself most powerfully, over the last fifty years, in the field of economics. Economics did not start out as a purely rationalist enterprise. Adam Smith believed that human beings are driven by moral sentiments and their desire to seek and be worthy of the admiration of others.

Leaders of the British Enlightenment acknowledged the importance of reason. They were not irrationalists. But they believed that individual reason is limited and of secondary importance. “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them,” David Hume wrote. “We are generally men of untaught feelings,” Edmund Burke asserted. “We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason, because we suspect that this stock in each man is small.” Whereas the leaders of the French Enlightenment spoke the language of logic, science, and universal rules, the leaders of the British Enlightenment emphasized the power of the sentiments and the affections.

And in truth, this debate between pure reason on one side and intuition and affection on the other is one of the oldest. Intellectual history has oscillated between rationalist and romantic periods, or as Alfred North Whitehead put it, between eras that are simpleminded and those that are muddleheaded. During simpleminded periods, rationalist thinkers reduced human behavior to austere mathematical models. During muddleheaded eras, intuitive leaders and artists guide the way. Sometimes imagination grows too luxuriant. Sometimes reason grows too austere.

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (David Brooks)

Men of Untaught Feelings

Here is more advice to any students or learners. As Dr. Wills said one class, “There are very few geniuses, most people who come off as geniuses have simply worked hard.

In 1997 Gary McPherson studied 157 randomly selected children as they picked out and learned a musical instrument. Some went on to become fine musicians and some faltered. McPherson searched for the traits that separated those who progressed from those who did not. IQ was not a good predictor. Neither were aural sensitivity, math skills, income, or a sense of rhythm. The best single predictor was a question McPherson had asked the students before they had even selected their instruments: How long do you think you will play? The students who planned to play for a short time did not become very proficient. The children who planned to play for a few years had modest success. But there were some children who said, in effect: “I want to be a musician. I’m going to play my whole life.” Those children soared. The sense of identity that children brought to the first lesson was the spark that would set off all the improvement that would subsequently happen. It was a vision of their future self.

The prevailing view is that geniuses are largely built, not born.

What Mozart had, it’s maintained, was the same thing many extraordinarily precocious performers have—a lot of innate ability, the ability to focus for long periods of time, and an adult intent on improving one’s skills.

The latest research suggests a prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of how fantastic success is achieved. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. Instead, what really matters is the ability to get better and better gradually over time. As K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University has demonstrated, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously honing their craft. As Ericsson has noted, top performers devote five times more hours to become great than the average performers devote to become competent.

It’s not just the hours, it’s the kind of work done in those hours. Mediocre performers practice in the most pleasant way possible. Great achievers practice in the most deliberate and self-critical way. Often they break their craft down to its smallest constituent parts, and then they work on one tiny piece of the activity over and over again.

As Daniel Coyle notes in his book The Talent Code, “Every skill is a form of memory.” It takes hard work and struggle to lay down those internal structures. In this way, brain research reinforces the old-fashioned work ethic.

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (David Brooks)

Hard Work…Now That’s Genius

From Blaise Pascal:

If you “bet” on the existence of God and find at death he does not exist, you have lost very little. But if you “bet” instead on God’s nonexistence and discover at death that God does exist, then you have lost everything eternally.

Graham Tomlin comments:

The wager is designed to blow the myth of neutrality out of the water… Pascal has brought his interlocuter to realize that he is an unbeliever not because Christianity is inherently implausible, but because he simply does not want to believe. It is not lack of proofs, but a deeply irrational distaste for the foolishness of Christianity which prevents his conversion… “your inability to believe derives from your passions,” rather than from any intellectual difficulty. The real origin of this decision not to believe is not solid intellectual objection, or the inherent irrationality of Christianity, but an irrational and unfounded prejudice, based on an inability to see the truth of Christian faith. The problem is not lack of evidence but sin.

Taken from Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church, 168.

Pascal’s Wager

In the first place preach, and in the second place preach, and in the third place preach.

Believe in preaching the love of Christ, believe in preaching the atoning sacrifice, believe in preaching the new birth, believe in preaching the whole council of God. The old hammer of the gospel will still break the rock in pieces; the ancient fire of Pentecost will still burn among the multitude. Try nothing new, but go on with preaching, and if we all preach with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, the results of preaching will astound us.

[…]

Have great hope yet, brothers, have great hope yet, despite yon shameless midnight streets, despite yon flaming gin-palaces at the corner of every street, despite the wickedness of the rich, despite the ignorance of the poor. Go on; go on; go on; in God’s name go on, for if the preaching of the gospel does not save men, nothing will. If the Lord’s own way of mercy fails, then hang the skies in mourning, and blot out the sun in everlasting midnight, for there remaineth nothing before our race but the blackness of darkness. Salvation by the sacrifice of Jesus is the ultimatum of God. Rejoice that it cannot fail. Let us believe without reserve, and then go straight ahead with the preaching of the Word.

The Soul Winner, Charles Spurgeon, p 179

HT: Reformissionary

Preach, Preach, Preach

I have posted some of this before, and it is probably overstated. However, I still think the following statements are a good offset to what is in vogue today.

Jesus “projected no socio-political programs, he did not demonize the structure of society . . . and he did not call for revolution. This is not to say that he was for a moment blind to the repressiveness of his day” (403-404).

Locating evil in social structures “conflicts with Jesus’ proclamation which so uncompromisingly located evil in man’s heart” (415). It is not the transformation of social structures but the message of the gospel which “puts an end to man’s self-idolatry and frees him for a new obedience” (416).

This is not to give the false impression that the condition of the world is unimportant. To the contrary ‘the conversion of the individual as such brings about changes within the world.’” (417).

Revolutionary ideology “leads to that fatal misunderstanding which says that Christ is gathering ‘the dispossessed so they together might overthrow the mighty.’ What here is laced with Christian terms and so unashamedly ideologized is the very opposite of love and would only succeed in perpetuating human conflict”  (pp. 417-418).

Günter Klein

Jesus Projected No Socio-Political Programs

he was a great man, and at every moment a complete man, whether he was caring for the children suffering form scarlet fever in his rural parish, or occupying himself with the translation of Plato, or discovering and describing some new plant, or recovering some forgotten utterance of a Father of the Church, or sitting in his study wrestling with some problem of the transmission of a text, or standing on the summit of the Matterhorn and concerned to identify the surrounding mountains…He was a student of the things and the people whom God has created; and in this study he forgot one thing only–himself.

Speaking of Fenton John Anthony Hort (aka Westcott and Hort)

Caspar Rene Gregory

A Complete Man