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.

Posted in Poetry

cathedral of forest

She, with her wings clipped in shackles
Sees the light above the high altar
Through the dusk of leaves and boughs
Beneath the dome of boundless skies
Without spires and stained glass within.


But why else when nature has it all
Sermons in trees, brooks, and skies?
From the haunt of life’s vicissitudes
rests herself under the pillars of trees
As the choristers of hummingbirds begin
The hymns of hope in nature’s cathedral.

Posted in book review, Miscellany

On Philip Pullman’s Republic of Heaven

A great writer of our time is Phillip Pullman in his moment of pleasure.

Great writers are great because they know how to tell entertaining and enduring stories without religious and didactic overtones. Moreover, they are unafraid of speaking their minds without a qualm of conventional belief or sectarian principles. Yesterday, I read an essay called “The Republic of Heaven” from Demon Voices by Philip Pullman, a renowned British best-selling writer whose intelligently tongue in cheek styled narrative raises the dander of the Catholic Church for his acerbic view of the orthodox teaching. With my reading of Candide by Voltaire still fresh in mind, I find Pullman and his philosophy of free thought familiar with that of Voltaire and realize that true intellectuals think among people and live in social companions of public spirits for the good of humanity. Thus, here is my discursive impression of Pullman’s “The Republic of Heaven.”

Pullman urges us to step aside from habit, a banal molded frame of life, to see the world outside the box, which will lead to an immense world of delight, the Republic of Heaven, for we are worthier than we think we know because we are such stuff made of wonder. Pullman’s heroine is Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, who has resisted against the magistrate of grim and gray puritanical ethos that decries an expression of feelings and emotions under religious disciplines. She remonstrates against the cold-hearted Mrs. Reed thus: “You think I have no feelings and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness, but I cannot live so.” Her demand for love stems from her need for it, which is an essential food for the soul that serves a purpose and pique for life. This sense of love so wanting in Jane cannot be quelled by false optimism that such distress is the best for the best of all possible world. On the contrary, it is an outcry of the soul desirous of warm and soft human touch that thrills the heart and invigorates the mind. Human beings cannot live by Reason alone, forced to utilize when the right of five senses is forfeited and bound by misconceived religious concepts and false moral measures.

The founder of Logotherapy, the third Viennese school of psychotherapy, Viktor E. Frankl, witnessed a learned Jewish woman in his concentration camp killing herself despite daily recitation of wise sayings of the Torah supposedly being a consolation. Frankl affirms that we humans cannot live without the joy of life, that is, an appreciation of pleasure to the senses because otherwise, we will degenerate to a provisional being living day to day like prisoners of dreary dungeons in the darkness of hopelessness. Pullman agrees with Franklin the creative and experiential values of pleasure that keep a journey to live a purposeful and meaningful life.

The creation and experience of art spark the joy of moments that can be synonymous with a meaning of happiness in life. Some find consolation in religion, but it does not give them whys to live for, nor kindness to show hows. Pullman’s concept of the Republic of Heaven comes to a head prominently when we are stranded in the chaos of existential vacuum, the kind of which the loyal and conscientious butler Stevens felt when he lost his faith in his idealized employer in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. However, if Stevens pursued his love for Miss Kenton and appreciated the pleasure of love he consciously denied, he would not have felt the sudden void in his life. The sense of delight in the physical world is the essence of the Republic of Heaven that he and we are conditioned to ignore. The point of Pullman’s philosophy is that we are too serious about the pleasure our physical world provides. And it’s not a chemical-induced euphoria for escape from the world but a new attitude toward our perspectives of it. Elenore Roosevelt also knew how to become a citizen of the Republic, thus: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I should try that.