Showing posts with label Philosophy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philosophy. Show all posts

Interview of Elon Musk at Code Conference 2016

When I wrote my post about my New Year Resolution, I mentioned that I had just listened to the audiobook of Elon Musk's biography.  Before reading the biography, I was vaguely familiar with this CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, but didn't really know very much outside of that.  But having read the book, Musk has become my inspiration.  What he's doing for humanity is certainly no fact, I would argue he has made a bigger impact in transitioning humanity from burning fossil fuels to using sustainable energy than any other one person.  However, that is not really why he inspires me so much.

How he truly inspires me is how he approaches life.  In the interview above (if you have the time, watch the whole thing!), about 13 minutes into it, he says, "Life can't be just about solving problems; there have to be things that are inspiring and exciting that make you glad to be alive."  I believe I'm the first person on the web to point out this quote specifically and hopefully, it'll be more widely circulated, because I think it's great.  Although I would have to say life is actually even more than just having inspiring and exciting things, I don't think it's too shabby from a secular perspective.  It's really about finding passion in the things that you do.

Ask yourself this, "In my work, am I just solving problems?  Or does my job inspire and excite me, and makes me glad to be alive?"  If the answer is "just solving problems", then maybe it's time to re-evaluate your career choices.  Throughout my not so long/short life, I've flip-flopped between the two ends of the spectrum.  On one end, work and career is really just a means to making a living; life is much more than that.  On the other end, work and career is a big part of my life and I should be doing what I'm passionate about.  I think I'm closer to the latter right now in my life.  It is true that without my faith, family, friends, etc., it wouldn't matter much what I'm doing, but at the same time, if I were stuck in a job I hated, that would be a fairly bad way to spend a quarter of my life.

Perhaps as I age and as my kids are starting to understand things of the world, I want them to be able to learn from me the value of hard work, to not be satisfied with status quo, and to know that they can do great things.  I'm still finding my way there and I pray that God grants me this wish.  I end with a quote from Pope Benedict XVI, "The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness."
Since the 1960s and arguably earlier, there has been a slow, but relentless deconstruction of traditional marriage in the West.  First, divorce went from a topic to be shunned to common place in our society.  Then, premarital sex became not only accepted, but pretty much encouraged, especially in pop culture.  Now, we're seeing the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions across the board amongst developed nations.  As most of you know, I am what you can call a traditional Catholic.  I agree with pretty much all Catholic doctrine/teachings.  However, I do not blindly subscribe to them.  Today, I will try to explain in layman's terms why the Church teaches what it teaches on the topic of sex and marriage (note that these are tightly linked together, as opposed to the contemporary understanding).  I understand this can be a touchy topic, but I feel that the media paints the Church as an archaic institution, which is set in its conservative views and is unyielding.  Yes, it is unyielding, but it is unyielding because of what it believes in.  And I will attempt to explain that here.

The Model of Catholic Marriage

Before we delve into the marriage itself, we have to see how the Church understands God and our relationship with Him.  First and foremost, Catholics believe that God is Love (1 John 4:8).  This is an abstract yet important concept. If there is any human concept that comes most closely to the concept of God, this is it.

To begin, let's talk about the Holy Trinity.  For those of you who don't know what the Trinity really means, it's essentially saying that there's only one God, but three different persons in that one God (yes, very trippy).  We know that the Christian God is a Trinity, but how many of us know why?  At least I didn't until well into my late 20s.  God is a Trinity precisely because He is love.  Without going too philosophical, I'll try to explain this.  Our understanding of God is that He is all-loving, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, has no beginning or end, and also that he is not "contingent" (or put simply, not dependent) on anything else.

If He is not contingent on humans or any creature, then how can He be love?  There is no one else to love and loving oneself can't really be love, right?  That is why God revealed to us that He is a Trinity.  God can only truly be love if He can love someone.  That someone is God the Son.  In fact, out of love between God the Father and God the Son proceeds God the Holy Spirit, such that the Holy Trinity is a family of love.  Further to that, God's love is so overflowing that He created the universe and intelligent beings (us) to be loved by Him.  We were created to be loved...Wow!

Now, back to marriage.  By now, I think you might be anticipating the next point, that the Church believes that marriage is modeled on God's love, or maybe more precisely, on God Himself, the Holy Trinity (CCC 2331 - By understanding this simple belief, we can answer all questions sex and marriage related.

Marriage as an Indissoluble Institution

Catholicism is one of the few Christian denominations that do not allow divorce.  It is not so much that the Church does not "allow" divorce as much as that it claims to have no authority to dissolve a marriage.  Looking at God as our model for marriage, this is a simple one to explain.  God's love is everlasting (Jeremiah 3:13). In fact, His nature IS love.  If human marriage is to be modeled on God, how can it not be indissoluble?  Moreover, it boggles my mind when I think about marriage vows.  Isn't a vow supposed to be a promise that is not to be broken?  I don't quite get a "vow" that only applies as long as both parties feel like it.  It'd be kind of funny (and sad) to say "till death or whenever we feel appropriate do us part".  The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony creates an indissoluble bond between the man and the woman that only ends at death.  Therefore, the Church has remained humble not to claim a power which it does not have.

Why Not Condoms?

The Catholic Church teaches against the use of artificial contraception.  The only forms of contraception that are acceptable are abstinence based methods, the most popular of which is Natural Family Planning.  In short, if you don't want to get pregnant, don't do it (at least not at the right/wrong time)!

This has been a difficult one for Catholics.  Depending on what sources you use, it is safe to say that a majority or large minority of Catholics use some form of artificial contraception.  I believe Catholics generally don't know of this teaching or believe it's generally a small enough sin that they can overlook it.

Regardless, let's see why the use of artificial contraception is incompatible with the model of love that God sets for us.  As we see in the Trinity and also in the very existence of ourselves, God's love is life-giving and overflowing.  It is so overflowing that God created us.  God has no need for creating the universe, much less for our existence. So why did He create us?  Let's look at it in another way.  Why does an artist paint? Why does a singer sing? Why does a writer write?  It is because there's something inside of each of them that wants to share their gift with others, to make the lives of others a little better.  That is the same reason for God's creative love.  He wants us to be loved!  The love for the Trinity is not enough for Him; He wants to share it with other beings as well.

And so, that is the same understanding of marital love.  A man and woman loves each other so much that this love is boundless.  They want this love to be extended beyond themselves to others.  The love is meant to be overflowing; it's meant to be life giving.  For us parents, that is easy to understand.  We look at our kids each day and know that there is a greater good that offsets the sleepless nights, the pee, the poop, the vomit, the heartaches, and not forgetting to mention, the money that goes into parenting.  Why on earth would we sign ourselves up to such lopsided relationships?  It is because we love and our love overflows to the point that we're willing to sacrifice our comfort and freedom, just so someone other than ourselves can experience our love for each other.  If we can understand marriage and parenthood, we can catch a glimpse of God's love for us.

So there, if you ever wonder why there are so many crazy Catholics (like us) who have such large families, this is the reason.  It is not because we need to multiply to rule the earth, though that would certainly be good ;) , it is because we try to love like God does.

Same Sex Marriage

Often times, the Church is seen as an archaic institution not willing to adapt to the times.  Why does the Catholic Church not embrace homosexuality?  Why can't 2 women or 2 men love each other just like a man and a woman do?  Why is it considered sinful to love?  They are not hurting anyone; so why is it bad?

Here, I will try to explain the Catholic view of hetero and homosexuality.  I understand this can be a deeply personal and touchy subject, but my goal is to show that the Church's view is not based on stubborn arrogance, but rather, is a logical conclusion that are drawn from basic assumptions of the Catholic faith.

Here again, we look to that God's love for an explanation.  The Catholic Church sees itself as the bride of Christ (CCC 789 -  It's never described as the groom even though half of the Church consists of men, and way more than half were the ones who developed Catholic doctrine over the centuries.  Why is that?

In the bible, Jesus is described as the bridegroom in several places (John 3:29, Mark 2:19, etc.).  Meanwhile, the Church is the bride.  What does that really mean?  Let's go back to the basics.  What role does the male play in a relationship?  For the most part, the man is the one who takes the initiative.  Although I would like to describe myself as a charming individual, it would be a huge stretch of the truth if I were to tell you that before I got married, Renee and my ex-girlfriends were the ones who threw themselves at me...I was primarily the one doing the courting.  Certainly, you don't need to be an anthropologist to know that in most cultures, men are the ones who have to pursue women and not vice versa.

God's love, also, takes on a male role.  He is the one who takes the initiative.  Out of nothing, he created the universe and us in it; He is the one who pursues us with His love.  He is the one who gives of Himself.  Humanity, on the other hand, is the receiver of this love.  Even in the very sexual act itself, the male is the one who gives (sorry for the graphic description).

Therefore, as the Church understands marriage as the reflection of God's love for us, it is then impossible for it to see homosexuality as compatible with this vision of marriage.  There is one person  in the relationship (the man) who, from his role right down to his very physical nature, reflects God's role.  Then, there is the woman, whose role and also right down to her very physical nature, reflects the role of the Church or humanity.  Due to this unifying understanding of God, His love for His people and its relationship with marital love, it is not difficult to see why the Catholic Church has not embraced homosexuality.  (And by the way, this is also partly why the Catholic Church only allows men to be ordained as priests).


Part of the reason I wanted to write this post was because of the numerous conversations I've had with my secular friends on love and marriage.  In most instances, I either don't fully remember all of the points I'd to make or I just don't have the time to make them.   Perhaps I can just forward this link to my friends in the future.

I'd like to think that post has helped some of you in understanding the Church, or at least how its doctrines on marriage were developed, a bit better.  The Church is really not that archaic in its thinking; it's just unwavering in its doctrine that is drawn logically from the basic assumptions of our faith (that God is love). It's been a long post and I congratulate and thank you for reading this far!  I will end with something Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, "There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be."
Euro Grad Trip 2002 with Archie and Kelvin

Technology is a wonderful thing.  Ever since I found out that I could borrow audiobooks from the Mississauga Library on my phone, I knew my 1 hour plus long commute (one way) would be more bearable.  The latest book I've read was The Angel Effect by John Geiger.  I picked it randomly from a list books that were not on hold at the moment.  It turned out to be a fairly good read (er...listen).  It talks about experiences of a "sensed presence" that many refer to as angels.  They typically occur during times of danger, stress, or sadness, and often results in miraculous survival or escape from danger.

I'm not going to be doing a book review here, but I did want to talk about 2 things.  First, in the last chapter of his book, Geiger gives a summary of the topic and there was one section which I found especially interesting.  It talks about the brain versus the mind.  Second, I'd like to share an encounter I had during my grad trip to Europe.

The Brain vs. the Mind
Geiger talked about one of the scientific studies that was done in relation to this sensed presence experience.  In the study, a scientist was able to reproduce this sensation of a sensed presence by stimulating a particular location in the left brain.  This correlates well with the data from most sensed presence occurrences, because a majority of people with these experiences claim to see the "angel" at the right side of their peripheral vision or have a feeling that someone is present just behind the right side of their backs.

At this point, some of us may stop here and dismiss these experiences as purely physical phenomena, where our brains trick us into thinking we're seeing an angel.  If we can isolate the part of the brain that causes this experience, does that not prove it to be something physical, and not spiritual?

In Catholic theology, we believe that the human person is both physical and spiritual. That is, we have a body and a soul.  This is precisely why we believe that at the end of time, our bodies will be resurrected and perfected.  Angels, on the other hand, are purely spiritual. Animals are purely physical.

The intersection between our immaterial soul/mind and our body is the brain.  Geiger sees the brain as a lens into our mind, rather than as being the mind itself.  Our consciousness and mind, through the brain, experiences the physical world.  And so, because there is an inseparable link between the mind and the body, any experience in either realm is manifested in both realms.  For example, when one trips and scrapes his knee, the physical experience is translated, via electrical signals in the brain, into a painful feeling within our consciousness.  Likewise, a purely spiritual experience can manifest itself into physical brain activity.  Therefore, just because this sensed presence phenomenon can be traced to a particular physical activity in the brain, it does not automatically mean the experience was solely a physical one or that the source of this experience was physical. 

I'm quite sure I did a poor job of explaining this, but the point really is this: God created the world in such a manner that He is able to manifest Himself to us, without breaking the laws of this universe.  For example, just because evolution is a product of probability and chance, it does not mean God did not have a hand in shaping the evolution of apes into humans.  In fact, I think this is the beauty in and also the definition of faith.  That is, faith cannot be proven.  God created the world such that He can never be proven to exist.  Otherwise, what merit would we have in believing in something that is true in plain sight?

Encounter with an Angel?
Enough with the philosophical discussion...I  will now tell of the experience I had, which to this day is vivid and also inexplicable.  It definitely does not fall into the same category of experience as the "angel effects", but there is a mystery that surrounds it. 

It happened during my grad trip in 2002.  +Archie Wong and +Kelvin Lai, and I did a whirlwind backpacking trip across Western Europe in 2 weeks.  We spent a few days in Paris, which was one of our last stops.  

Since we were poor university grads back then (I'm now a poor employed professional now), we utilized public transit as much as possible.  One day, while we were at a subway station, heading towards the platform, we heard our subway train approaching it.  There was a flight of stairs between us and the train.  Afraid of missing the subway (don't really remember why we were in such a rush during vacation...), I started running up the stairs.  Since I was still relatively fit in those days, I got to the top of the stairs first, with Archie close behind and Kelvin much farther back (lol... He still smoked at that time).  

That was when I saw a young lady who was standing inside the train, beside the door, looking at us.  The door had been open for some time now and we felt that it was going to close any second.  To my surprise, the young lady stepped out between the doors, as if she was going to keep the door from closing on us.  I got on the train quickly, and as I passed by the lady, I looked at her and said a quick, "Merci".  As I got on the train, I saw Archie do pretty much the same thing as I did.  Kelvin was still taking his sweet time, but eventually, he made it onto the train as well. 

The car that we got on was the first car of the train, and we got on through the door closest to the front.  Therefore, the only place we could go was towards the back of the train. And that was exactly what we did. We walked a few steps towards the back of the train, being still pretty close to the door which we had just gone through.  After we got settled, the train started moving.  At this point in time, we hadn't even had a chance to talk about what just happened, nor was I really thinking about doing that.  What my mind was thinking about was what a nice thing that lady did for us.  In fact, I wanted to get a good look at her.  I looked toward the spot where she was standing (next to the door), but funny, she wasn't there.   She also wouldn't have walked to the back of the car because that's where the three of us were standing.

So, I looked at Archie, and Archie looked at me.  Without even describing what was going through my head, I said to him, "Where did she go?" He looked at me and replied, "I don't know."  It was apparent to the both of us that we were both trying to find the lady who had just helped us.  So, we both turned to Kelvin and asked him if he knew where the lady was.  He said, "What lady?"  "The lady who held the door open for us," I replied.  "I didn't see anyone at the door," was his response.  "How could you not have seen her?  She kept the door open for us," my voice getting a little more excited.

In the end, we couldn't figure out where she had gone.  The only other possibility was that she got off the train after she kept the door open.  But yet, before she had stepped in front of the door, she had no intention of getting off the train; the door had been open for several seconds already.  It just didn't make sense.

But yet, it could make sense.  What if she was an angel, sent by God to protect us from whatever could have happened had she not stood in the way of the door?  But there was no imminent danger.  Worst case scenario is we missed the train or maybe got separated.  It certainly didn't seem like a situation where an angel needed to interject in our daily lives. And why was Kelvin not able to see her, while only Archie and I did?  

I cannot explain the events of that day.  The lady could have been just a really nice Parisian who Kelvin just didn't notice.  But I keep the possibility of her being an angel an open one.  I certainly wouldn't mind having such an experience, but I guess we will never know what really happened... 
© Felix Wong. Powered by Blogger.