Book Review: A Brief History of Thought

Luc Ferry’s A Brief History of Thought recently caught my eye as I wandered through the library. The book promised a brief summary of human thought and its evolution across significant historical epochs within a meager volume of pages. Who wouldn’t wish to entertain such a prospect?

A-Brief-History-of-Thought-Ferry-Luc-97800620742491

The book’s strength is in Ferry’s ability to summarize various complicated worldviews with such simplicity, and conciseness. While I can’t call upon an extensive knowledge of philosophy to critique Ferry’s work, I certainly identified my share of agreements and disagreements with the opinions and perspectives proposed in the book. In this review, I will summarize Ferry’s claims and arguments, which while insightful and highly educational, personally, fell short of convincing by the final pages.

Ferry begins by addressing the question at the heart of human existence, a quest for salvation (an answer to the mystery that is death), which he identifies to be the vital aspect of every philosophical system. Characterizing philosophy as more than an act of reasoning and logic, Ferry asserts that philosophy is also a measure of human thought that “claims to save us – if not from death itself, then from the anxiety it causes, and to do so by the exercise of our own resources and our innate faculty of reason.”

From there on, Ferry uses this argument as a guide to expound his views and perspectives on the various philosophical movements that have spanned the history of human thought: Stoicism, Christianity, Humanism, Postmodernism (Nietzsche), and Contemporary philosophy (post-Nietzsche). The book flows smoothly from one time period to another while providing an effective summary of the relevant aspects of each philosophical movement. By the end of each chapter, the reader is able to identify the questions and answers that serve as the foundation for the consecutive movement.

We are first acquainted with the Greeks and their establishment of Stoicism, the representation of the world as a perfect cosmos, an ordered logos where transcendence and immanence are united; a cause that the human strives to be a reflection of.

boorstin.jpg
Cosmos refers to the explicit complexity, and perfection of the external universe. Logos defines the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, providing it order and meaning.

The impersonal  approach towards death and salvation in Stoicism is rectified by Christianity where the human is the focal point of the argument. Unlike in Stoic reflections, salvation is personalized through the evocative belief  in a Son of God, a motion towards “love in God,” promising fulfillment and an immortality where we maintain our personal identities.

The foundations upon which both Stoicism and Christianity rested soon come crashing down with the advent of science. Modern physics reveals “an infinite chaos devoid of sense; a field of forces and objects jostling for place without harmony.”

ccf5d64d5dabfdc224fd4166aad076d7

Thus, mankind is once again alone in a cosmos void of a logos or god of any kind. Reality is marked by chaos. The Stoic measure for study or contemplation and the Christian revelation fall flat against the ensuing chaos.

The human is once again the focal point of the argument, but this time, “it was going to require man himself…to introduce some order into a universe which seemed no longer to offer any of its own.” Man’s ability to devise a personal history distinguishes him from his animal brethren resulting in a Humanism that takes the reigns in a movement where humans forge the history of the world through the ideals and laws we invent to judge our actions and their consequences. Nevertheless, humanism stumbles in offering a solution to our quest for salvation, leading to a well-defined struggle that lasts to this day between the various pantheons of human thought.

The cycle doesn’t end here as we alight upon the arrival of Nietzsche and Postmodernism. Nietzsche dismissed both science and religion. His critical deconstruction of the conventional philosophies of the time focused on their inseparable similarity that adhered to a disregarding of the essence of life, and instead building metaphysical constructs/ideals to allow the human to find “salvation” or a purpose.

220px-Nietzsche1882
“People don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

All of which Nietzsche believed was nothing more than a lie, a negation of life from what it essentially is by supplanting it with transcendental ideas of god, and the ideal human being. Nietzsche’s nihilism would fuel his famous ideas for the “will to power,” an attempt for control in a deconstructed universe by the self physically, emotionally, and also morally.

Ferry concludes his work by providing an assessment of modern day Contemporary philosophy in the wake of the revolutionary movements summarized above. This concerns a world where there is no longer a universal meaning towards human existence, but rather an incessant and a seemingly directionless promotion of progress for the sake of progress, a morose form of materialism.

In conclusion, Ferry provides a wonderful and enlightening primer on the various philosophical attitudes that span the history of human thought. I would certainly recommend this book for any philosophy enthusiast. The reader gets a taste of the major aspects of Western philosophy over the vast vista of time. Nevertheless, the  fact that the book is a philosophical overview for a mass audience makes it a tough prospect in accurately capturing the more subtle facets of the various philosophies discussed. While this can be seen as a weakness, it is also a strength, as it will drive the interested reader to learn more about the topics involved (it did for me). Though Ferry himself stumbles in deriving a clear answer to the human quest for “salvation,” his work succeeds in emphasizing the significance of said journey in that it is defining of our very humanity, and individual spirit. In that vein, A Brief History of Thought is a wonderful journey in itself.

 

Advertisements

Getting Fired Up!!

Hi everyone, here’s a quick update!

The last few weeks have been intense, and I’ve been quite busy. Having finally completed the proofreading for my second book, I’m now all set to move into the production phase, beginning with some illustrations.

9b93514a555ac9fd0f92383454e9fe0a--studying-noragami

All art begins with imitation, and as such I have spent the last week pouring over a compendium of images, and ideas I had contemplated for this stage. While progress has been slow (thanks to my perfectionist ideals), I look forward to getting the book out by this fall.

In the meantime,  I also recently finished the three-part series covering various facets on the phenomenon of climate change. The first entry was posted almost a month back on June 25, 2017. Little did I know then that in the days to follow I would successfully secure a research topic for my PhD addressing the very issue I was writing about on my blog. As of now, I have begun my “doctoral” adventures focusing on interdisciplinary research involving “semiconductor mediated artificial photosynthesis…”

tumblr_m94iyfAbyu1rdkqt2o4_r1_250.gif

In simple terms, my research will involve studying, and creating technologies to assist in the mitigation of steadily increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, a major global scientific challenge of the 21st century. Carbon capture is an important issue in the context of climate change as well as the looming global energy crisis; my research, will take inspiration from nature, namely the process of natural photosynthesis (the chemical reaction at the basis of life), and mimic the same behavior through electro-mechanical systems of higher efficiency, or “artificial photosynthesis.” If I were to exaggerate slightly, it would be the same as planting artificial trees that are consistently more efficient in helping recycle the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Having spent the last few days reading an assortment of research papers on this topic, and looking like this for the most part of it,

fb3236b91d47dfa5be843834b5afae92--grey-man-otaku-mode

I’m hoping to put my brain to good use, and to a certain measure, come up with something awesome during my degree, so that one day I could celebrate like this,

tumblr_static_10i3c49kf0xcsk8sswc48g84w.gif

Beyond all this research business, I still intend to keep up to date with my blog despite my busy schedule. In that vein, my next post will be a book review on Luc Ferry’s,

A-Brief-History-of-Thought-Ferry-Luc-97800620742491

I’ve also decided to move along from my extensive summaries on Carl Sagan’s “Dragons of Eden.” Instead, I will provide a rich synopsis of the remainder of the book, while skipping on the gory details. This way I can encourage you, my readers, to read the book itself while not giving away the majority of its contents.

So when all is said and done,  I’m fired up for what’s to come in the next few months.

Carlos+you+unforgiveable+piece+of+if+you+don+t+shut+_5ecc4d3f9f03c6bdd7888f6fa1fc460e

The Pensive Reverie will also continually evolve as I intend to implement a few minor, but significant changes in its content organization. Once again, I thank you all for your patience. The next post should be up very soon!

 

 

It is done!

Great news everyone! As of yesterday, I have successfully completed the first draft of my second book (Agent X, as we decided to call it on my last post).

tumblr_mzxc6fmyqq1tqktoro1_500

It took a few hours…Well, actually, an entire day of exhaustive writing, and by around 10 p.m., I was typing the last words of the epilogue. The rush of emotions that accompanied the completion of my second work was exhilarating, and in a way, bittersweet. I spent the rest of the night reminiscing about the two year journey over the course of which I had written the book.

Of course, there is still much that remains to be done. I will now proceed with the most arduous task of content editing my work. On the other hand, the end of this project brings up the excitement of various future prospects. Apart from the accompanying art work I intend to do for Agent X, I will now slowly make my transition into Manga school, while brainstorming my next three writing projects.

I will also be making a few changes to the content presentation on this blog. The purpose of this blog is to provide a free space where I can express my thoughts, as well as share my knowledge with all of you. To further help facilitate these discussions in an interesting manner, I intend to go about categorizing my daily posts. I’m hoping that a few months from now, I will have set up several categories of posts in subjects ranging from:

(1) Critical thinking

This will primarily involve weekly discussions on an interesting article of my choice in science, politics, philosophy, and just about anything that can wrack my brain.

dorktowe_wallbang_1191

(2) Teaching & Problem-solving

This will be a two-fold approach that would help complement my current duties as a student tutor at the university, where I typically face the following scenarios:

road-to-mathtumblr_mz91ajzx4m1sc1kfto1_500

 and which I try to resolve in due fashion, with ample flair,

a7628d04-154a-40cc-a8b9-7d71cf5c089a
Let’s get this over with.

 I have yet to decide on how to organize this part of the blog, but it may predominantly involve discussions or solutions to the most interesting questions I encounter with my students on a weekly basis, or any other cool puzzles that catch my eye!

(3) Book reviews/Read-along

This is something I have always wanted to do. So far, I have done one book review (Star Wars, The Old Republic: Revan), but I would also like to try something new where I would provide a summarized read-along discussion of sorts of the books I read. An immediate choice that I will provide posts about in the near future is Carl Sagan’s Dragons of Eden, which I’m currently parsing through.

51labuxdeal-_sx299_bo1204203200_

(4) My daily adventures & lots of writing!

This is fairly simple. It is what I’ve been doing so far, and will be the primary form of my communication with everyone. There is a lot to life, and everyday proves to be a grand adventure!

And that’s basically it for my update. The purpose of this post was to keep you all informed. The changes will be gradual, but I hope that you will all come to enjoy the myriad selection of posts this blog will host in the coming days!

On the Nature of Knowledge

Introduction

So, after a week of thoughtful contemplation amid myriad deadlines, I’m excited to finally post my discussion “On the Nature of Knowledge.” I contested two methods of approach in presenting this topic: one that is grounded in philosophy, and the other that is inspired from my personal experience as a student. Ultimately, I’ve decided to stick with the latter as it would be consistent with how I’ve addressed most of the topics posted on this blog. For anyone wishing to tackle the same topic from a philosophical perspective, check out epistemology (the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides an awesome introduction on the subject).

Our discussion will be divided into three separate parts dealing with the following questions:

(1) What is knowledge?
(2) What is knowledge from a student’s perspective?
(3) What is the purpose of knowledge?

tumblr_n2uamjciss1ssbae2o1_500
Seems simple enough!

My objective today will be to share my personal experience and growth over the last seven years of my undergraduate and graduate studies, during which I actively and repeatedly engaged these questions. I’m well aware of the various generalizations that can be made in answering these questions, but my opinions will converge and revolve around the viewpoints I’ve accepted in my personal journey to discover those same answers as a student. Let’s begin!

What is knowledge?

I believe knowledge can be defined via three categories: personal, factual, and action-based knowledge.

Personal knowledge revolves about the knowledge gained by acquaintance with the objects, the events, and the people in one’s environment. Having just arrived in Canada for my undergraduate studies, the foundation of my life was built around the expectations and experiences I had with my family living in India, Egypt, and Sudan. Commencing my studies at the University of Alberta while living in student residence, working part-time and volunteering in various activities, my personal growth as an individual continued as I mingled and became familiar with an alien environment. My new-found freedom allowed me to fully experience and question my individuality, a process that would culminate in my identity crisis several years down the road (one that I have thankfully resolved). Knowledge, in this sense, is acquainted with my familiarity toward objects in my environment as well as the delegation of my recognition to said objects, and was highly influential in defining my identity and my decisions. Altogether, personal knowledge is very much a book in progress in our individual lives. Its measures and ends are dictated by our environments, personal motivations, and growth while actively influencing all three of those aspects.

Action-based knowledge is the knowledge of how to do something. This would involve one’s abilities to do something, like driving a car or starting a campfire.

tumblr_n0t67kvwnq1s1a2b1o1_500

On the other hand, factual knowledge, as is obvious, is the knowledge of facts. Action-based knowledge is different from factual knowledge. One may know the theory behind driving a car, while not actually knowing how to drive a car. Factual knowledge is evident in both action-based, and personal knowledge. With personal knowledge, in order to speak with others, one must  know how to communicate. One doesn’t necessarily know a person just by meeting them, one must also know a few things about them. Similarly, with action-based knowledge, one must know certain facts about driving, like the motion of the car with respect to actions on the steering wheel, to assist and help them actually drive the car.

Despite this, factual knowledge is alone not enough. Personal knowledge involves the need for action-based knowledge that helps an individual acquire the necessary skills to interact with his/her environment, and action-based knowledge may require some factual knowledge, but that same factual knowledge cannot amount towards action-based knowledge. In fact, one could say that there is no definitive standard of connection between these three categories of knowledge, seeing how much they intermesh. For the philosophy lovers, epistemology deals largely with the views of factual knowledge.

What is knowledge from a student’s perspective? 

How does this all come together for a student? Well, one of the main reasons we go to school is to cultivate our knowledge and understanding of the world. At university, this may largely be oriented by our aspirations on a field that would preferably model our future careers. I say “may” as I believe the purpose of higher studies does not have to primarily revolve about one’s career or prospective choice of employment (this in itself, leads to the crucial discussion on the structures of education or educational systems).

tumblr_nxl4ow3qdc1ux2dlwo1_500
Have…To…Keep…Going….

As a student, much of our time at university involves absorbing the factual knowledge before actually implementing them in the real world. Our action-based knowledge is attested to our success with such implementations. It is pretty similar to the notion of the scientific method, where theory precedes experiment in a repetitive cycle. This is where we also learn the difference between the static process of remembering knowledge versus the dynamic process of applying said knowledge. This is at the core of our ability to learn and interact with our environment, and is a social behavior whose roots are sown in our evolution as a species.

Factoring on to this is the personal knowledge that every individual inhibits. Being a student, you’re part of a community, one that we may or may not socialize with (each with its own share of circumstances). Putting aside the knowledge we gain from our courses, the personal knowledge we exhibit provides for the competitive play of our social lives from networking, to the establishment of our status, while satiating our thirst and drive for recognition.

All of which now leads us to ask, what is the purpose of knowledge in general?

What is the purpose of knowledge? 

Personally, to this day, I believe an individual’s knowledge is characterized not only by their ideas, but also how they act upon them. The question on the purpose of knowledge derives greatly from the means of education an individual may seek, which by itself, is an even bigger discussion.

I’ve come to recognize how influential the methods utilized to propagate knowledge at an academic institution can be on its community (teachers and students alike). After my four years of undergraduate studies, I was spent, and in many ways had to rediscover my personal creativity and motivation. Following a gap year, I pursued graduate studies, which I just recently completed. Looking back at my experience, I must say that a large part of my journey also had its run of the mill circumstances surrounding my identity crisis, but I cannot deny that it came with its share of new and enlightening perspectives involving my personal opinions on the educational systems of modern-day academic institutions.

What is the purpose of knowledge? I believe it is what it is, for every one of us, however we wish to see it.

e866ca4712e838e3798f2cdc4861f84d

 If there is one attribute to my personality that I have always been proud of, it would be my undying curiosity, and endless thirst for knowledge. In my life, this has changed from a wish to understand the world, to sharing said knowledge, and to contributing my own by enhancing the source of said knowledge. The Pensive Reverie is in fact a personification of my desire to share my knowledge, as an individual, to the world. Ultimately, as Francis Bacon put it, “Knowledge is power” but I also believe what we do with said power defines the object for each and every individual.

Next up: On the Nature of Knowledge

Hi everyone,

Just wanted to send out a brief update on the topic I have decided to discuss for my next post. It took a few days of deliberation and careful thought, and given my recent completion of graduate studies, I felt it would be ideal to discuss On the nature of knowledge. 

I’m well aware of the various intricacies and the large volume of literature dedicated to this subject (it is in fact a field called epistemology.) As usual, my treatment of the topic will revolve around my personal experiences albeit with some casual references to quotations and critical analyses provided by professional savants.

I wish to focus, in particular, on the role of knowledge, and how it is integrated and implemented in current educational trends at schools and universities. As an aspiring PhD student, and as an autodidact, my views on education vary from the classroom to my personal work-space at home. I have often questioned the purpose of the knowledge that I have accumulated throughout my life, both in social and academic contexts, and how to appropriately and selectively apply said knowledge in my daily adventures as a foundation towards a healthy lifestyle. Such a thought has also widely influenced my methods of finding means to an end when it comes to my dreams to be a multi-talented and well-rounded individual.

Having successfully completed another major phase of education in my Masters degree, I felt it would be entertaining to discuss a question that has been quite significant in my daily life, and is pretty much a common occurrence in almost everyone’s daily lives and careers.

I should have the post up by the end of this weekend. Until then, toodles!

 

Next up: Constructing an Identity

As promised, look forward to the first critical article that I intend to post on this blog this weekend! The discussion will focus on addressing, and scrutinizing the psychology, and dynamics involved in the construction of an individual’s identity, as well as the various parameters that play an influence in the process.

50fc0c91dd9b83958727a3c63a450e8e
Nosce te ipsum … Know thyself…