Posted in book review

‘Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress’ by Steven Pinker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gods may be crazy, as the tribal men thought when they picked up a bottle of coke dropped from an airplane. But the world is not crazy and will not be crazier unless you wish it. So you’d better lose faith in the doomsday industry that prompts you to think so because our faculty is intuitive rather than reasoning, rather physical than metaphysical. Steven Pinker points out in this book that we need rationality or a habit of rational thinking to aspire to objective understanding lest we should fall back on the doomsday scenario of a dystopian world.

To begin with, the enlighten movement is not a product of the west but rooted in human nature as the universal feature. The spirit of the enlightenment movement is “Dare to Understand,” which means applying knowledge to understanding our world to enhance our human welfare to the full effect and force. Enlightenment is comprised of Reason, progress, science, and humanism. However, the currents of modernity flow into global populist tractions that champion totalitarian relativism from individual modes of thinking to social and political policy-making in the name of progressive liberalism or conservatism, when it is not with the absence of Reason and humanism. The proponents of the ideologies described above take precedence of faith over Reason, nation, or culture over individualism and metaphysical over real because they couldn’t care less about it.

The most impressive finding that I have described from this book is Pinker’s perceptive analysis of the counter-enlightenment movements run by both conservatives and liberals, especially in the States. As many people might conjecture, Pinker is not an ultra-right-wing intellectual because his view on former President Trump and his cult is logically solid and intellectually revoking. He explains that the philosophical roots of Trumpism are a synthesis of a militant derivative of Nietzchean school of philosophy and anti-enlightenment humanism. It’s not conservatism but racism lite, shading into authoritarian populism and romantic nationalism, harping on the good ole days, which weren’t good in respects of the quality of living conditions and level of human rights.

Amid the bipartisan world of ideologies, the heightened pessimistic opinions of our planet from the environment to social services, Pinker’s education on what Enlightenment means on human progress shines like a beacon of light on Slough Despond. This book gives the world a sense of self-confidence in our cultural progress this far as a collective human enterprise. The history of the world is not cyclical or linear, but progressive and in progress as long as humanity continues. It is this humanity that Pinker emphasizes in the truest sense of Enlightenment that the thinkers such as Voltaire and Kant also professed to be an inseparable element of human progress. Progress without humanism is not progress. Humanism is not a sign of shallow intellectual culture akin to pastoral romanticism or unproductive ideals. Humanism represents the sense, as science reason, which are universal human traits common to all. That is what this book wants to teach us.

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Posted in Miscellany

On Aristotle and Philosopher’s Stone 💫⭐️✨

Edgar Allan Poe expressed his contempt for readers who habitually flocked to books by famous authors on the sheer merit of their popularity without an individual appreciation of the contents. Likewise, I have a handful of the famous, the great people whose celebrity I hold no regard as I am going to unveil now. I have never liked Isaac Newton, albeit his genius is doubtlessly uncontested. Cantankerous, bellicose Newton was horrible to deal with, especially when you were his servant or maid or whoever he thought insignificant in his Elysium of high intelligence. He was also a closet occultist masquerading with the face of Rational Man with long-faced gravitas adorned in a long wavy wig. So how come Newton became a votary of Aristotle, who took the virtues to be central to a well-lived life? Since I tend to disassociate any such persona non grata (Newton, obviously) from one in my high regard (that is, Aristotle), I wanted to find out the incompatibility of the sullen scientist and the benign thinker.

Aristotle’s ethics, or study of character, is constituted around the premise that people should achieve an excellent character as a prerequisite for living a meaningful life. It is an essence of metaphysics in which Aristotle holds that there must be a separate and unchanging being that is the source of other beings. Only by becoming excellent could one achieve eudaimonia, happiness/blessedness that constitutes the best kind of human life. This philosophical perspective also applies to the ideas of self-sufficiency by Ralph Waldo Emerson and of Amore fati, the intellectual love of life by Friedreich Nietzsche.

Emerson regarded two separate elements as being united to create the world inside of you for the former. They are raw experiences gained from somatic sensory stimulation transformed into ideas and thoughts in the realm of reason, a process akin to a caterpillar transforming mulberry leaves into gorgeous silk. Nietzsche’s Amore fati is theologically conceived in an attempt to manifest the presence of Providence or God’s will with his infallible existence through Immanence by which an adequate idea of simple attributes of formal essence of God is applied to an adequate knowledge of the simple truth of things. It might be akin to the Eureka moment when Archimedes started running naked around the town in the enthusiasm of knowing the weight of the gold in the king’s crown from his water-filled bathtub. Or it could be the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa captured by Bernini as a cherub was mischievously thrusting the arrow back and forth into the heart of the virgin. In sum, Aristotle was right in saying that knowledge isn’t innate or guaranteed prima facie but gained from the reports of the senses and logical inference from self-evident truth.

I still believe that someone like Newton had no regard for moral excellence any more than gaining the knowledge of the universe because studying humanity was anathema to his lofty vision of the world and beyond, such as the alchemical realm. Newton was keen on Aristotle’s theory of the 5th element on top of the earth, air, fire, and water – that is, space of aether. Methinks, Newton was trying to get Rosetta’s stone in manipulating the 5th element proposed by Aristotle. He had not known that it would have become such a magical element to turn stone to gold. Notwithstanding Newton’s beguiled ambition to be a perfect Gargamel with the help of Aristotle, so to speak, my appreciation of Aristotle’s metaphysical school of thought decides that his brilliance is brighter than Plato and on par with Socrate in the constellation of philosophers’ stars.

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Why I will read the Sentence by Louise Erdrich

People usually don’t want to hear your problems, pains, and premonitions unless they know you or relate to you. In the case of Tookie’s existential distress that seems to be an inexplicable sentence on her life, I will say it’s the latter case for me to be piqued with a kind of sisterhood attached to it.

Malcolm Jones’s review of The Sentence by Louise Erdrich from the Nov. 14th issue of the New York Times Book Review was the most brilliant. I found it so straightforwardly moving and personally related to my own narratives of life, both existential and philosophical, that I felt like finding a friend in the protagonist Tookie. Jones’s interpretation of Fiona’s ghost as one of Tookie’s many as though the ghost itself were a mock to her pitiable wish to have a sense of security in the normalcy of life was particularly impressive. It created unfathomable pathos for Tookie, who seemed to believe that she was kept away from anything happy happening to her.

So thanks to the review, I will get to read more about the kindred Tookie and look forward to seeing if there is indeed plenty of light in the book that sheds upon life’s predicaments.

Posted in book review, Miscellany

what if it all just happened at once? – book essay on the Denisovans by Charles River Editions

The Denisovans: The History of the Extinct Archaic Humans Who Spread Across Asia during the Paleolithic Era by Charles River Editors

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The case of Adam v. Ape in search of where humans came from seems to have waned since Charles Darwin’s seismic theory of the Origin of Species, by which we have become distant relatives of primates, whether we like it or not. The biblical Adam as the first man of Mankind is pitchforked to the first chapter of the Old Testament. The first human ancestor is now obdurately held to come from Africa, making Africans our universal ancestors. But how are we so sure about what we are as we are told to believe? What if the modern humanoid just came into existence as in the case of the Big Bang? How do you prove that the races of Caucasoid and Mongoloid originated in Africa, on the prima facie evidence of their present physical characteristics, pace the evolutionary scale of time in such a short biological time?

The Sentinels

The theory that all humans come from Africa has become infallible in the 21st century. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, peoples of nations have begun to worship ideology politics under the pretext of rewriting history, which in reality means upending the contemporary status quo of all social and cultural systems, even if some of them intended to remain valid. Then, for example, how would they explain the existence of the Sentinelese, the most primitive and dangerous tribe living on North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean? If all non-black races came from Africa and changed to what they look like today, why do these uncivilized people preserve the most representative features of Negroid in the most shockingly prominent way?

Then scholars will retort with the theory that we all come from Homo Erectus that branched into humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. The missing link between the root of Homo Erectus and the branches would solve the key to what exactly our direct ancestral medium was. Would it be just another kind of primate that looked closer to humans? On the other hand, some scholars believe that modern-day humans have more Denisovan DNA than Neanderthal DNA. The latter migrated from Asia to Europe between the land bridge, just as ancient Asians crossed the Sea of Bering from Asia to North America, becoming Native Americans. Then a thesis of Africa as the cradle of Mankind requires a preponderance of onus to prove it a fact. As a matter of fact, Eurasian faces will exemplify how the ancestors of Europe would very much look like. The physical characteristics of East Asians attest to a hypothesis that the Neanderthals from the Asian continent migrated to Europe before prehistoric ears, breeding with what the population that had already existed there be it ever Denisovans or other tribes of Neanderthals.

My view on the evolutionist theory also includes Adam as the first man after prehistoric times, the dawn of civilization. Hesiod’s Golden Age is equivalent to the archeological Paleolithic age. In the period described above, humans looked like us and produced handy tools and weapons essential for developing civilizations. If we think that Adam’s progeny dispersed all over the world a myriad of times ago, then it makes sense why we look like what we do. The gist of my argument is that race is not something that can be altered by itself. Neither a climate change nor a duration of time can change racial characteristics in themselves.

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‘Leonardo and the Last Supper’ by Ross King

Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I still remember an excellent replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” in a tapestry form decorated on the wall of our family living room when I was in elementary school. It was vast and expansive, nonetheless magnificent with the profoundness of the scene and the expressions on the faces in it – all wondrous and curious. Now a stream of time has flown, but the first impression of the art still has become one of the stars in my heart’s constellation. “Leonardo and the Last Supper” by Ross King has added to the star the brilliance with telling stories resurrecting the atmosphere of the time and vividness of the people surrounding the creation and the creator of the art.

The book is an alluring admixture of the biography of Leonardo da Vinci and the history of religion, politics, society, and culture; all skillfully swirled in Ross’s skillful narrative account of the person of da Vinci and his work of the Last Supper. The narrative becomes more intriguing as the chapters replete with entertainingly informative tidbits about personal accounts of people related to da Vinci and involved in creating the Last Supper are ascending. The story’s construction follows how Samuel Johnson, the 18th-century English essayist and cultural critic, narrated the lives of poets in The Lives of the Poets, composed of a brief biography of a poet, personal accounts of the poet, and professional criticism of the works. The reader will first be acquainted with da Vinci’s biographic backgrounds: parents, a well-to-do lawyer father, and a middle eastern slave mother owned by his father’s household. Da Vinci’s struggle with spelling and even harder Latin education, his fabrication of engineering work experience in his curriculum vitae to obtain a military commissioned engineer post when coming to Milan from Tuscany, and so forth. All the information is a telltale factor contributing to da Vinci’s rise to celebrity in his and our times, which is refreshingly informative to learn that the perennial polymath also had feet of clay with colors of contrast.

Ross is a scholar with a novelist’s magic wand to wield his writing power, casting a spell on facts and knowledge with the beauty of language and ease of words, captivating readers of all life paths with gripping narrative skills. Another book of his “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling,” which I enjoyed with great pleasure, is a helpful companion to this book because both Michelangelo and da Vinci were contemporaries, working under their aristocratic patronage the recalcitrant spirits of creative souls in reins of livelihood. It would also be an excellent reference to the social statuses of artists at that time. Contrary to our images of free-spirited artists, artists worked for their royal, ecclesiastical, and wealthy employers. Therefore, they were not free to choose subject matters for their works because their bosses wanted their power and fame to become works of art, as it were.

Upon closing the last page of Leonardo and the Last Supper, I reminded myself of Plato’s aesthetic definition. Art is a copy of Form, the perfect, pristine Beauty. It exists only in Idea because da Vinci was also a scientist and an engineer who found perfect beauty in perfect numerical and astronomical elements of nature. However, da Vinci’s Last Supper is filled with pathos, contrasts of human emotions, paradoxes of light and dark, good and evil, constantly changing, never-ending. Da Vinci was a humanist, finding beauty in nature as it is, regardless of perfect Form, the unattainable ideal that is out of touch. One thing right about Plato’s Aesthetics is that art is at best entertainment and at worst a dangerous illusion. That says it. Leonardo’s Last Supper is a soul’s entertainment, and so is Ross’s “Leonardo and the Last Supper.”

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