When I was an undergraduate at Marietta College, I was fortunate to take several philosophy courses with Elizabeth Steiner Maccia. Her classrooms were overflowing with students eager to learn this esoteric subject from her, and her reputation was well-established when my fellow classmate and mathematics student, Jim Murtha, said “You ought to get a course from Liz Maccia; she’s good.” I think it is fair to say that Elizabeth Maccia’s course on Ethics changed my life.
Determination and faith as the ship of state steams toward peril.
It’s been a tough 18 months. I’ve been alternatively filled with dread, furious, determined to do something, hiding in Facebook, talking to dispondent friends, reflecting, scanning the news, avoiding the news. It’s been 19 months since Barack Obama left office. Nothing has inspired me to write much about his absence from the presidency or the current state of the presidency. I usually have something useful to say about politics. My useful intellectual or moral contributions in the past year and a half have been restricted to posting interesting articles from various online newspapers on Facebook and Twitter.
Now it’s not that I’ve felt powerless. One of the things I’m very grateful for is my professed Christian faith, lived out for the last 33 years at Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Louis with my spouse, Stephen Nichols. Even though I want this post to speak to a broader audience than my fellow Christians, I think a moment’s reflection on how my faith has impacted my life in the Trump era might be instructive. One thing I like about my faith is that I can practice it without being assured that I can alter the political situation in what I consider to be a positive direction. My Christian life is simple: I have to love God, and I have to love my neighbor as myself. So, a paragraph or two on each of these rules.
I recently finished reading the book Out of our Heads by Alva Noë. In my lifetime I have read many books on the nature of consciousness. Noë’s book is very thought-provoking, and his critique of much of current cognitive science is cogent. One thing he tells us is that neuroscientists who hope to find consciousness inside the brain are actually looking in the wrong place. There is a joke about the guy who was looking for his car keys on the pavement under the street light even though he had lost them in the grass, because there was more light under the street light. With all the brain imaging equipment that has been recently developed, scientists are looking at brain scans for traces of consciousness. What Noë tells us is that we will more likely find consciousness by looking at the relationship between us and our environment. That is because consciousness only develops through our interaction with the environment. He says that consciousness is something that we do, rather than a thing in someone’s brain. That is why I have made the title of this little essay, “Sensing and understanding consciousness”—sensing and understanding are things that we do, and in fact, they are good candidates for being forms of consciousness.
TigerCity got me to thinking last night. I started out by thinking I disagreed with him, but now I’m not sure how much to disagree. So a good way to clear my thoughts is to write about it. He tells us that he isn’t really impressed by most of the life goals that turn other people’s cranks. Money? No. Influence? No. Ambition? Nope. Doing what you love doing? He doesn’t think so. He thinks the only logical measure of success in life is augmenting the gene pool; making babies. To be sure, and to fair, he does mention “prolonging the life of the species.” But right now, he says, he’s a failure, because he hasn’t yet “managed one sprog.”