Sunday, November 30, 2014

Individual Autonomy via Non-Conciliation of Propositional Tensions: Lessons from Kierkegaard

Individual Autonomy via Non-Conciliation of Propositional Tensions: Lessons from Kierkegaard


An approach to personal authenticity for today comes from Kierkegaard who appropriated from Socrates that individual truth can only be obtained negatively via an internalized acceptance of unresolved tensions of dialectic propositions.



Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher of the 19th century, besides being credited by many following branches of philosophy as a founding thinker, including Existentialism, Post-modernism and various Deconstructionism, should best be interpreted from his own context and his own writings. His admiration and even obsession with Socrates became his personal model for how one can best bring enlightenment, albeit in a negative fashion, to ailments of modern society.
Kierkegaard lifts the Socratic Method from being simply a mode of interacting with students to a fundamental paradigm in how truth itself can only be approached at a personal level. This is in direct reaction to Hegel's views at the time of truth being derived from the reconciliation of Thesis + Anti-Thesis -> Synthesis.

An approach to personal authenticity for today comes from Kierkegaard who appropriated from Socrates that knowledge can only be obtained negatively via an internalized acceptance of unresolved tensions of dialectic propositions.


One ailment of modern society is the overwhelming influx of too much knowledge. 

Kierkegaard's answer to this derives from Socrates approach of taking away presumed knowledge. As Socrates, in his dialogues, would initially concede to the expert knowledge of his interlocutor, and then question them bit by bit to whittle away, via the interlocutor’s own statements, the expert solidarity of the person's claims, so does Kierkegaard claim for example in "The Concept of Anxiety", "Concluding Unscientific Postscript" and in "Philosophical Fragments" that the tension of Hegel's dialectical resolutions only creates continued tensions that need in themselves resolved. Resolution is best left "non-resolved" in the state of tension. He also applies this criticism to the church itself in Denmark and criticizes them claiming they stray from the essential Christianity by constantly adding knowledge to try and resolve propositional conflict. Kierkegaard opens the door directly for internal Christianity outside of authoritarian propositional and doctrinally-driven Christianity.

Another societal ailment unique to modern society is endless cultural and technological fragmentation creating specialists and experts. 

Endless expertise now is similar to Socrates’ times in ancient Greek where trades and professions were sanctified by society and granted sanctioned authority. Today, skills, professions, and expertise is so extreme, deep and specific to individual branches of knowledge with recursively stemming branches, it leaves every common man feeling lost with no recourse to offer individual autonomy in the face of such bona fide experts. The answer that Kierkegaard offers which he learns for Socrates is to respond with Socratic irony. In this form, he doesn't attempt to compete or counter "the expert" on his own grounds and in his own terms, but instead offers a dialogue of continuation and even deconstruction with such experts to allow them to undermine themselves via their own isolation. This possibly even helps one realize their own expertise may be on shaky ground. This tactic for modern man allows avoidance of direct confrontation, while maintaining face and possibly adding enlightenment to locked in expertise.

A third societal set of ailments of alienation and despair stem from modern society's deep trends to democratization and ironically the elevation of individualism itself. 

With today's vast social media and hyper-communication technologies, people find themselves inundated with over exposure via online profiles like Facebook and on-the-minute availability with cell phones, such that ironically, the more connected we are, the more isolated we feel. This is due to a shallowness and need for immediacy that such technology inevitably grows. Kierkegaard addresses these aliments ironically, not with solutions per say. That has been tried in modern times with longer work hours, more and more communication, endless opinion offerings (Amazon, Product reviews, etc.) such that every opinion and anything spoken is of value in such a politically correct, hyper-democratic culture. Instead, Kierkegaard allows and even encourages these ailments by recognizing them and offering no solution. The very fact they can be recognized without an alternative solution is what prevents the oscillation into other ailments that offer no peace for modern man. Naming and awareness of these ailments ironically, while not resolving, provides paths for individual recovery of authenticity.


Kierkegaard offers us today not only realization and the offer of autonomy to face societal ailments brought upon modern man, but options and even techniques, literary and tactically for dealing with the embedded pressures these ailments bring. Modern man, ironically has hope of finding individual personal authenticity, by in fact embracing and even accepting the very dialectical propositions we are inundated with by society.

[This essay was a final submission I wrote for a class I took "Søren Kierkegaard - Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity" ending 11/30/2014 from Professor Jon Stewart on Coursera with the University of Copenhagen. A big thank you for this excellent MOOC on a philosopher deserving such quality exposure.]

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Hiking to the Narrows From My Backdoor

A Crazy Idea

My wife and I hiked to "the Narrows" yesterday.
This is a grueling hike of five miles each way from my house up the Blanco River.

The Narrows from inside... a little bit past the main pools below falls.

When I say hike, I don't mean hike like walking with a stick over a trail. I mean hiking like crawling/hacking through brush with a machete, climbing up and down steep ravines, boulder jumping, and free swimming while holding your pack up with one hand - yeah, that kind of hiking.

Flood levels carry big trees

The River

The Blanco River is one of the last truly wild rivers in Texas. It does not have dams controlling the flow and making lakes for people to build houses on and go fishing from off their backyard dock. It is a wild river. It goes underground in places during drought seasons and carries large trees and brush when it floods during heavy rains.

From my house on the Blanco river you can get into the valley. From what I can tell it's maybe the closest inlet access on the east side of the Narrows. We started our 5 mile journey from here at 7:30 AM on Wednesday, August 30th. Temperature was expected to hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

My plan was to wear my heavy hiking boots most the way and carry my lighter weight river shoes - switching when needed. My wife only had river shoes.

Stuff - Do I really need all this?

The Gear

I carried a machete and a small .22 pistol along with a Leatherman, 4 bottles of water, and a gallon jug of water. Wife carried all the food, 3 bottles of water, and first aid. The plan was to drink from the jug on the way up and stash it half empty about half way for the return trip. I had a compass, my phone (with GPS if needed - it was), and a piece of map gotten from a Google satellite photo.

We covered the first 2 miles in just over an hour. It took us 4 hours to cover the next 3 miles. (Do the math.)

The Skills it Takes

I had hiked this valley during dry spells several times. A couple times with a friend mapping the springs for his Master's Thesis. We maybe only covered the first 2 miles. Give or take.

I'd also hiked this with 2 determined healthy friends several years ago. We turned around at about the 4 mile point, unbeknownst at the time how much further we had to go. We were less than prepared and one guy had twisted his ankle already. I think we were out of water and just about to get to the hardest parts. It's good we turned around. That trip took about 10 hour’s total.

A mermaid enjoy her triumph
I say that to say I had some experience and knowledge of the land layout. I knew certain trails already and markers and what to avoid. That knowledge is what made this trip's first 2 miles go a lot quicker. After that I had to constantly figure things out.

The main skill on successfully pulling off a hike like this - I'm convinced (besides pure endurance and preparation) - is the navigation. Navigation - it must be what Lewis and Clark geniuses were made of. My eyes were constantly looking up and down, both sides of the valley, trying to determine if that slope was getting higher and turning into a sheer cliff in a half mile, or was it fading away? Do I go UP this side, outside the valley, and try to follow along keeping it in sight, while hacking through brush and woods? Or do I stay in the middle of the hot river bed, crunching through mixtures of deep gravel, boulder jumping and wading through water? You don't want to have to back-track. We only had to a few times.

That sort of navigational instinct need is what pulls at you constantly. And you HAVE to keep walking at fast a pace as doable. No space in time to sit and ponder in the hot sun over a map. Remember; whatever you hike TO you also have to hike back FROM. Time is limited unless you're prepared to camp all night.

We made it. Wow it's hot!

Hog Trails

The country from here to there changes somewhat. I finally started seeing what the animals that live there see. We noticed hog wallows and trails. Muddy swampy areas they were. The trails of a hog aren't much good. They walk UNDER brush. And your back gets sore bending over too many times. They are not good animals to follow and you really don't want to come upon one either - especially without a nearby tree to climb. I have seen hogs weighing well over 200 pounds in this area. They are not your friends.

Deer Trails

Deer trails are everywhere. You have to use them when you can but don't depend on them. More times than not, they get through some tight area but then they network into several veins eventually petering out to nothing. You can watch deer do this. They rarely follow single file except through tough areas sometimes.

Cattle Trails

If you're lucky, you'll be in cattle country for a while. Of course you are trespassing throughout this whole hike and could be shot at I suppose if some owner just happens to be out there. Most of this is ranch land, and ranchers don’t particularly want their cattle disturbed. Cows are big beasts that will generally move away from you. You just hope there's no bulls. In an open field though don't ever run. I've had a herd chase-follow me one time when I was running. I wasn't able to make it to the fence line before they did. Almost stampeded over me. That's another story though.

Eating Wild Grapes Along the Way
Cow trails are guiding signs hiking through their country. We considered it a prize to see cow chips. Cows are tall enough they break up the brush. And if you are hiking down middle of the river bed and see where cattle have made a solid trail up the bank at some point, you might as well follow that trail. They're doing that for a reason. They've already been up ahead and you can't get through. Use your instinct and think like a cow or else you'll be back-tracking.

It looks like you are somewhere, but you are really nowhere

It is Illegal

There are a few other events that occurred that I won't elaborate on. Remember you are trespassing on private land. That is illegal. You are there by the grace of the land-owner. Enough said.

You Will Get Lost

At one point, I did feel lost a bit but not panic stricken. We were trying to cut off maybe a mile or less of hard brushy/rocky hiking. We went high and using just a compass trekked through the best country we could find. At one point I finally broke out my phone and tried for the GPS. I had never actually used the mapping before or GPS and wasn't sure it'd work. It picked us up on the map instantly and did show where we were in relation to the river. Now the trick was just to find a way down that wasn't falling - off the cliff we were navigating around. Not easy, but the GPS did help confirm at least we were where we hoped to be.

When we finally got there, we found a warning sign. It was weird. It was like this was a park or something. We know it's not. It's private land that Texans to some degree in these parts have known about for a century or more. No one is really welcomed there.

This is a safer picture... prettier ones I didn't take

You Are There, But You Are Not

Now the trouble was, how do we get IN to the Narrows. If you've seen pictures or been there you know it’s just a giant narrow gorge, where the Blanco River flows over 3 levels down and into a basin of magic swimming holes. When water is running significantly, these are raging waterfalls that only an Olympian kayak-er would dare to try. Kayaks-ers coming down river will just "port" around this section.

My wife bravely declared we should hike to the start and just slide down the falls. "Okay," I said, smiling from exhaustion and lack of a better idea.

It worked out, but she was scared and leery of jumping into these dark dark water holes that look like they go forever. For all I know they are aquifer deep.

God's Swimming Hole

The water felt totally refreshing though. We swam and ate. I tried to take pictures and take a nap. Any more romantic notions of lingering and bathing in God's swimming hole where over-shadowed by the looming burden of the hike back. I've been here before, coming down the river in kayaks. I was scared for my life then and can't say I had good feelings about the place still.

You Made it to Nowhere

Face it. There is a level of lonesomeness and isolation from civilization by sheer distance and rugged terrain that is scary. I've been lost in the woods and in foreign cities once or twice before. It never feels good. But sitting in the middle of the Narrows on a hot summer day in Texas isn't lost. You know where you are. And you know it's the center of nowhere. (At least in Texas.)

We made it back after 5 hours of trudging work. I was delirious a few times. You know, getting to the point where you thought you saw something move or heard something. You stop, look and listen. It's gone. You’re confused and testy. Drink water. Keep walking. Keep watching.

We got lost a little bit once, but was lucky in our choice, going to high country till finally it smoothed out.

Memories of a Distant Swimming Hole Where Angles Swim
The final hike up my hill, up my back porch steps, and into my back door was the hardest but most satisfying of course.

When You Make Your Own Path - It's Maybe Better to Stay Home

My advice for anyone thinking about doing this hike, (and I've been asked by several people) is simply this - "don't." You really don't want to do it. It is dangerous. There are no real routes. Every step is of your own choosing. No pre-configured way of "that's how experts do it" to get you though. It's not there. It requires good knowledge of this country, some wilderness instinct, good gear and grit. All these plus some luck and good sense when to turn back if needed.

I am but a Chigger on the Ass of Great Men Before

One final note:  I'm left awestruck and can only nod with embarrassing humility to the giant explorers of old - such as Lewis & Clark, Joliet and Marquette, Daniel Boone and the mountain men of the old West - perhaps even Pocahontas, my wife's 13th great-grandmother, who traveled to England to die.

These people lived life on the adventurous edge to an extent I can only maybe vaguely glimpse at. It leaves me feeling like I've lost some major part of my humanity by being born in civilization where large territories have already been explored.

To the point where a little 10 mile turn-around hike out my back door seems like a big deal.

Whew! I'm 5 Years Older but Wiser - Well, Older at Least

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I lived in my own shell, till I was taught otherwise


While working construction during this period, I did get to meet the only person I ever openly called my best friend. When I first saw Doug (again, hanging around the shop in the early morning hours hoping to get to work that day) I remember him shuffling papers and interacting with some of the bosses. 

Doug had severe acne problems as a child and was left was some severe facial scarring. He also was born with a cleft palette as a child, and even though he went through several painful surgeries during his life, as an adult, he still has a bit of what is unkindly called a "harelip". Little did I know at the moment, this person, who was less than the perfect model of handsomeness, would teach me more about life and love than any man I'd ever meet.

Turns out, he was the most beautiful person I would ever meet.

Doug taught me what it meant to face the world with a smile. We had several jobs working together after we first met. I would pick him up often in the morning to carpool to the job. We'd stop at a local convenience store for morning coffee (he'd always pay for mine) and never once would Doug not strike up a hearty conversation with any and every clerk. He never met a stranger, never was shy, and never passed a child that he wouldn't bend over and smile at playfully in some manner or another.

He was also one of the hardest working men I'd ever known. He could stay up late nights 'til two in the morning, get up by five, and work hard all day and then do it all over again. He was relentless. Many people accused Doug of rudeness, since he never hesitated speaking up on any subject and never was one to beat around the bush. I never found him rude, only refreshingly honest. He always smiled, always greeted strangers and made them feel welcome, and he tried real hard to be patient and tolerant of others.

Doug worked in a puppet ministry with children at church when I first met him. He always said he felt it was his calling from God to work with children. Once Doug said, "You know Mitch, I hope we're friends several years from now."

I said, "Well of course, why not?" He said, "Ah, come on Mitch. How many people that you knew ten years ago can you honestly say you are still friends with? Probably none."

He had a point. And I made it a point to be mindful of passing years as his family and my family grew closer together. We went on vacations together. His kids grew up with my kids. We'd spend nearly every Thanksgiving Dinner at either their house or mine. We worked together and argued all the big questions of life over and back again on way too many occasions. We used to play a game while painting or hanging vinyl at the job sites: What would you do if you had a million dollars? It was Doug's favorite game. He loved to dream and believed dreams came true. When ten years came around, I pointed out to him, "Hey, knucklehead (my favorite endearing term for him)... it's been ten years now. What do you think of that?" He instantly knew what I was saying and just smiled and said, "Yeah, you're right. I guess you got me on that one."

Doug is my best friend still, and I believe we will always be able strike a cord of instant rapport. We just know each other too well, from years and years of rambunctious talking. It's been close to twenty years now since I first met Doug. Our friendship lasted longer than his marriage did. I got to be his best man at the next wedding though. We've gotten to watch each other's kids grow up. My children have a special place in their hearts for him. They love him as much as I do. I don't see him as often as I used to, but we both know we'd do about anything for the other. He called me a while back and asked if I'd drive with him out to West Texas for a few days to bury his brother. "Do you have to ask?" I said. "Not really, I just wanted to let you know when we're leaving," he said.

It's good to have a best friend. Since knowing Doug, I've learned to strike up a conversation with a child, a clerk or a passing stranger. I never could do that before. I wasn't brave enough, friendly enough, and, for no apparent reason, I lived in my own shell. I guess I just never really cared about people either. Doug cares for everyone he passes. Reminds me of the scripture where Jesus says, "When you do anything to the least of the people that you meet, you do it also to me." That's how Doug treats people. When I get to see Doug, I get to see a lot of Jesus, also.


[Excerpted from chapter: "Fight the Good Fight" of "WHITEBOY BLUES" by Mitch Sanders, 2003; Out-of-print.] 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Is Knowledge Transferable?

Is Knowledge Transferable?

I study, there I am - transferable? 

The Greeks Knew Knowledge

The key to answering this question lies in the use of the word "knowledge" itself. In English it has various meanings across the spectrum of BOTH what can and cannot be transferred. To get a better handle on this we have to go to the ancient language of the Greeks where these original ideas were first birthed before morphing into the condensed language of English.

Greek has at least 10 words that can get translated into English as the noun "knowledge". Most all these have the basis of "(k)no" from which our word derives.

  • Gnosis - primarily a seeking to know, an inquiry, investigation, denotes knowledge, especially of spiritual truth
  • Epignosis - denotes exact or full knowledge, discernment, recognition, and  is a strengthened form of "gnosis", expressing a fuller or a full knowledge, a greater participation by the knower in the object known, thus more powerfully influencing him
  • Nous - mind, denotes, speaking generally, the seat of reflective consciousness, comprising the faculties of perception and understand, and those of feeling, judging and determining
  • Dianoia - a thinking through, or over, a mediation, reflecting, signifies the faculty of knowing, understanding or moral reflection, 
  • Ennoia - an idea, notion, intent, is rendered "mind" 
  • Noema - thought, design, is rendered "minds" 
  • Gnome - thought, design, is rendered "minds" 
  • Sunesis - to set together, to understand, denotes understanding, reflective thought
  • Phronema - denotes what one has in the mind, the thought or an object of thought
  • Agnosia - the negative of "gnosis", ignorance, is rendered "no knowledge"

Greeks Specialized in Knowledge
So asking if each of the above Greek depictions of "knowledge" are transferable, we are given a broader understanding of the question. For starters, just asking the question implies that knowledge is something that exists as an object—exists even outside the human realm! That in itself could be debated (and rightfully so) but being in the age of mass media with the computer, modern man assumes at some point knowledge can be gathered on disk or written down in books; if all humanity died out on the planet, knowledge itself would somehow still exist. This is knowledge as information.

Network and Context of Knowledge
With this definition of knowledge, it would seem quite logical that knowledge indeed is transferable. It can be written down, spoken into a microphone, recorded into a computer and at some point, read, listened, or decoded into transferred knowledge. (Wah-Lah!)

Network and Context of Knowledge

Now at the other end of the spectrum we have knowledge as understanding. Or, knowledge that can be applied and added to other knowledge to gain intelligence, possibly even insight and wisdom - giving direction or paths of pursuance for individual or group goals. This is the type of knowledge one must ask is transferable or not. Can I put this into a computer? Can I record it and expect others to take it in?

God creates man, man create himself?
This is where the temptation is to say, "No, knowledge is not transferable." This is true partly out of pride in thinking that certain insights and wisdom and accumulated knowledge are special to me and my life's efforts. It is innate to me the subject and not simply an object.

Only objects are literally transferable

If knowledge is an object it is transferable. If it is some unique quality residing within myself that has been birthed out of my own thinking and experiences that are unique to me, then when I die - it dies also. It can only be generated in real time from within me.

I can write it down.
I can try to express it.
I can tell you all about it.
But I can never transfer the whole network of context that resides around and networks to it. That is unique to me and my living self.

"Hi! I am you trans-placed!"

Self as Object

This is where the issue hits home. In this age of information where "smartness" is the quintessential virtue worthy of praise (think about it... what do you praise your child for mostly?), then this is the version of knowledge that is most worthy of asking if simply an object that can be replaced, moved, replicated, handed off, transferred or is it something else?

Self as Object
If this kind of knowledge is simply an object, then that makes you and your "self" - the very core of the accumulation of all you have sought, gathered and valued in your life - a thing that neither is unique nor even worthy of solitary existence. We can just transfer all of "you"... your "self" into some other container - (containers hold objects) - and give it movability and arms and “Wah-Lah!”, you and all your value has been transferred. You have been replaced. Transferred to a CPU with memory and algorithms into machinery that walks and talks - yes, of course - a robot, with "you" trans-placed into it.

So, how special are you? How replaceable are you? Is all that you are and have and become ultimately... transferable?

I study, therefore I am - transferable?


As for me, I like to think, the knowledge that the Greeks called Epignosis, Dianoia, or Sunesis is unique to the context generated by and generated from decades of experience, thinking, and gathering of my own insights -  of life, science and humanity - into a living breathing human process.

A process that, although, not transferable, can be experienced and delighted in -  by other living, breathing human processes seeking also to define themselves and define what they offer as value greater than that which can be transferred as an object.

A process I'd call - me.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How to Help Others - A Parable of Two Brothers

Two brothers grew up and went there separate ways. One became a scientist at the University of Tokyo. The other became a businessman in Mexico City, Mexico. They were each very successful and one day while talking on the phone they decided they wanted to contribute back to the world some of their own great fortune.

The two brothers decided they would start by using their talents to help people locally. The scientist in Japan had an elder widow neighbor whose yard and hedges were overgrown as she wasn't able to do the work. The businessman in Mexico also had an elder widow neighbor that had trouble keeping her property groomed.

The scientist decided he would build a mobile robot with scissor-like extensions to do yard work. He solicited charity funds and accumulated a team of scientists. They worked night and day for weeks and weeks designing their robot.

The businessman looked around the neighborhood and found a boy from a poor family with no means to earn money. He made a deal to buy him a lawnmower if he would mow his yard once a month for one summer and mow the widow's yard for a reasonable fee that the widow could afford whenever she needed it. The boy accepted the deal. The business man bought him a lawnmower.

Eventually the scientist and his team spent a million dollars building the scissor-hands robot over the next year. It never really walked right, kept falling down, and sometimes cut up the wrong things. The team of scientists eventually got bored and determined this was going to be an ongoing project and went their separate ways finding more interesting things to build and do.

The boy that the businessman made a deal with eventually bought a another lawn mower and other equipment like rakes, clippers and a trailer to haul them. He mowed the widow lady's lawn when needed and also many of the other people's lawns in the neighborhood. He eventually had a sizable business and hired other young men to work for him.

The two brothers eventually talked again and related their efforts. The businessman told how he eventually started other young men who worked and developed skills in the neighborhood. One boy became a house painter after he had bought a sprayer, ladder and brushes. Another became a carpenter who fixed roofs and repaired houses once he bought and learned to use a saw and a hammer. The area thrived and grew into a lovely neighborhood to live in.

The scientist brother told how he was still working on his robot, and though it was not working very well yet, declared proudly that once it was completed, it would be able to do the work of 10 young men. His neighborhood eventually deteriorated and many people moved away. The widow eventually died with her lawn and hedges looking poor and overgrown.

The End

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bulldog Warns Me About Stray Bulls - Good Dog! Bad Cattle!

I thought she was barking at the deer. As I stood at the back window watching the herd of deer down below, and a few of them taking notice of my American bulldog's deep-throat warning, she kept barking from the side porch off more to the North. The deer slowly started feeling spooked and eventually split off into two packs and trotted--one back to the woods, the other south down the river. My dog came in eventually but was hankering soon to go back outside. I let her out again and she just sat on the east porch giving a continual stream of warning barks.

I finally figured I better check what it was she was barking as and my wife peered through the trees and said, "That's not deer. I think those are horses."

So I got dressed, left my breakfast and grabbed the camera to check it out. Taking my dog, I discovered four steer in front of the cabin enjoying the wife's flower-bed. My bulldog was happy to see them meander on down the hill toward the river. I don't know whose cattle they are and I'm not a cowboy with a horse that can go round them up. I guess I'll just wait till next time I hear my dog's bark--and try to respond a little sooner.