Tag Archives: Aristotle

Can We Believe Anything We Read?

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In a piece for the Huffington Post titled “Why Does Goodreads Tout Fake Quotes?” Lev Raphael takes aim at the most popular George Eliot quotation on the site:

It is never too late to be what you might have been.

According to Mr. Raphael, and apparently verified (or not, as seems to be the fact in this case) by more rigorously fact-checking people/sites, George Eliot never said or wrote this statement. Per the article:

“I poked around the Internet, and though it’s inescapable, there’s no attribution whatsoever. Nobody who knew her records it as a comment she made; it’s not something she wrote in her diary; and it doesn’t appear anywhere in her published work or letters.”

Now, I’m not personally blaming Goodreads – the site must have more than a million quotes listed on its site, if even a cursory glance is anything to go on – but in an age of “alternative facts,” it certainly does raise an interesting question: If educators have been scouring Wikipedia since the site’s launch in 2001 to check for glaring cases of plagiarism on the part of students, do we as readers/Internet users need to be equally as vigilant when referring to well-established (and generally trustworthy) books/websites?

I suppose the easy answer is yes. Of course you should. But that’s when things get murky and discombobulated and confusing and weirdly weird. If Penguin Classics publishes Aristotle’s Poetics, am I supposed to email the director of the non-existent Museum of Aristotle in Athens and have him or her confirm the authenticity of said statements?

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It’s all Greek to me?

That might prove futile, because as our good friends at Wikipedia point out:

The extant works of Aristotle are broken down according to the five categories in the Corpus Aristotelicum. Not all of these works are considered genuine, but differ with respect to their connection to Aristotle, his associates and his views. Some are regarded by most scholars as products of Aristotle’s “school” and compiled under his direction or supervision.

Hmm. Now we’re really in a jar of pickled pickle brine. Really, if we can’t trust Penguin to be quoting Aristotle, who on earth is safe to be quoting? Perhaps the answer is not as easy as we once thought, and at the very least we can thank Kellyanne Conway for one thing: putting this debate square in the cross hairs of public debate.


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Relationships Confirmed by the Big Bang Theory

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As many of my readers will undoubtedly know, I am a polymath of the highest degree. Like, way past the Ph.D. degree level. In fact, some have gone so far as to say that I put the “2+2” into “polymath.” Boom! Er…bang!

While thinking about the origins of the universe this morning (yes, I think about random things at random times of the day), I hearkened back to the discovery of Cosmic Microwave Background in 1964 by Arno Penzias and Bob Wilson, what astrophysicist Ethan Siegel (@StartsWithABang) described as “a breathtaking confirmation of the Big Bang” in his piece “The Big Bang Wasn’t The Beginning After All: Why you can’t extrapolate back to a singularity.”

How does this relate to human relationships on planet Earth, you ask? That’s a fair, fair, fair! question. I myself only realized how fair a question earlier this morning while simultaneously whittling a canoe from basswood and sipping away on my rocket fuel (i.e. Starbutts coffee).

Let me provide the reasoning behind Cosmic Microwave Background, only I’m going to substitute the word “Universe” with “Relationship,” “wavelength” with “distance,” “light” with “radiance” (as defined by Joyce), “energy” with “intensity,” and the ‘forming of atoms’ with ‘the ability to think.’

Ready for love explained in one easy scientific go of it? Per the 1964 theory that changed the way the world thinks about our origins:

An expanding Relationship doesn’t just mean that things get farther apart as time goes on, it also means that the radiance existing in the Relationship stretches in distance as we travel forward in time. Since distance determines intensity (less distance is more energetic), that means the Relationship cools as we age, and hence things were hotter in the past. Extrapolate this back far enough, and you’ll come to a time where everything was so hot that we couldn’t think straight.

Using Mr. Siegel’s title of his above-mentioned piece to conclude this post, a Relationship does not begin with a Big Bang, and what constitutes its inception cannot be inferred from a single event or moment. Put another way, and to be slightly more romantic, A Relationship, like the Universe, is just what Aristotle described more than two millennia ago: The whole is greater the sum of its parts; a couple – just like everything around us – is better together than separated into its individual units, no matter how much the radiance stretches in distance over time.

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Quote of the Day

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Those of old who were competent

in ruling according to the Tao

did not do it by enlightening the people

but by keeping the people unknowing.

The difficulty in leading the people

comes from their knowing too much.

(Lao, LXV)

Today’s quote comes from one of the most famous extant texts from ancient China, Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. Although many people have heard of something call Taoism (pronounced “Daoism”), few of us have read this immensely important book or even know what Taoism is at its core.

The word “Tao” (,) refers to “the way,” and for Lao Tzu the critical challenge in life was to live a life according to the Tao, to be in harmony with nature, energy/life force, effortless action, and spiritual power. People sometimes confuse Taoism with Confucianism, but as all Koreans and foreigners who have lived/live in Korea can attest to, Confucianism distinguishes itself by its strict adherence to social order and rituals.

For centuries – in fact, even today – Westerners have a difficult time grasping the notions of Taoism and Confucianism (China), shamanism (Korea) and Shintoism (Japan), partly because we don’t take the time to educate ourselves and partly because we (mainly) come from a monotheistic faith background that dictates you are either with us or against us; you’re either a Catholic or a Jew, a Muslim or a Christian. Not so in East Asia.

As over a billion people will tell you from the old Silk Road of Central Asia all the way to the Ryukyu Islands of Japan, “religion” for them does not have to be mutually exclusive. There are Shinto Buddhists in Tokyo, Christian Confucianists in Seoul and Taoist Catholics in China. And really, why shouldn’t you take the best of both worlds? Who ever wrote in the rulebook of life that it’s an all-or-nothing decision when maturing as an adult and trying to find your way spiritually in this great big wide world?

Regardless, I chose today’s quote because, frighteningly enough, this seems to be right out of the Donnie T. playbook (not that he’s actually read any books).  It was also the precursor to the Bread and Circuses metonymic (the unofficial political policy of the Roman Empire) attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal, and which would later become the cornerstone of communist policy in 20th-century states such as the Soviet Union, China, North Korea and Cuba.

As a final point of interest, we may have had Gandhi, Mandela, Mother Theresa, Einstein, Hawking and Picasso as some of the greatest and most influential figures of the last century, but it’s astounding to think that Lao Tzu, Confucius, the Buddha, Socrates, Plato,  Aristotle and Pythagoras were all relative contemporaries as well. Yikes! That’s some serious brain power laying a philosophical, educational, religious and social foundation all at one time.

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Quote of the Day

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Who needs a digital camera, iPhone, or Adobe Photoshop when you’ve got slick painters like they did for Blaise Pascal (1623-62) and his I-just-stepped-out-of-a-salon hairdo? Although people tend to groan when you drop names like Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, and Pascal, there’s a reason these guys are still read today. For me, Pascal’s Pensées is truly one of the most profound books I’ve ever read – and easy to read because it’s essentially a bunch of one- and two-sentence philosophical/religious “thoughts.”

There are many excerpts I could pick for today, but in light of the current political climate in the U.S., I felt this one was especially apropos.

“Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.”

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Is It Impolite to Be Introverted?

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In his political philosophy work entitled Politics, Aristotle wrote, “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”

However, in a piece by K.J. Dell’Antonia in The New York Times entitled “Am I introverted, or Just Rude?“, the NYT columnist and contributing editor examines the whole social animal question in a somewhat different light. Apparently impacted by the critically acclaimed book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Ms. Dell’Antonia muses:

“Suddenly, a resistance to social intercourse became, not just acceptable, but cool.”

Ms. Dell’Antonia goes on to pose the following question: “Life is largely lived among acquaintances and strangers. So many fall into problematic categories: some appear different or unapproachable, some we actively dislike, some we’ve failed to connect with in the past. What do we have to gain from even trying?”

She goes on to answer her own question, stating that there is a lot to be gained from social interaction: “Extending ourselves can actually be good for us. We forget that we don’t always know what makes us happy. We predict that we prefer solitude on our commute, for example, but consistently report a more positive experience when we connect with a stranger.”

Like my last post on mental health with freelancers, artists and entrepreneurs, these same vocations necessarily call for spending long stretches of time on your own if you’re to be successful. There’s also a tendency to become more isolated – and by extension more introverted – the longer you are involved in one of these fields of work. As you grow older, this only makes it more difficult to branch out and socialize, either with old friends and family members or with strangers. The onus, therefore, falls on us to maintain our “social animal” status.

Just like the famed Greek philosopher, Ms. Dell’Antonia ends her piece by concluding that being unsocial (the words “antisocial” and “loner” just seem so much more negative) is not a good thing (unless you’re a god, of course), and essentially uses the same comparison to Aristotle’s beast, if in a more  politically correct way, saying:

“There are many excuses for failing to conduct ourselves with courtesy, for avoiding gatherings and conversations we don’t think we will enjoy, or for just putting on our pajamas and staying home. Too many of them boil down to just that one thing: We care more about ourselves than about the needs of others. That’s not about introversion. It’s just an ordinary version of selfishness.”

P.S. Click on the following link to watch Susan Cain’s TED Talk.



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