By Natural Philosopher Mike Prestwood
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The Ideas Timeline: Rational Edition

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Indirect descriptions of reality.

Philosophy Series: 1. Big Picture | 2. Ideas | 3. Philosophers | 4. Publications
Filter To: 2a. All Ideas | 2b. Empirical | 2c. Rational | 2d. Irrational | 2e. Mind Blowing

Rational Ideas: Ideas that are not historical stories nor empirical observations. Things like algebra and logic which help us indirectly describe the empirical. Also, things like the rational idea that dinosaurs once existed which is based on empirical evidence like fossils. From 30 Philosophers: “Alongside Empirical Ideas, our minds can conjure very reasonable indirect descriptions of the material world. Our minds are adept at crafting entities that, while not having a direct presence in the Material World, are inherently rational. Think of concepts like money, ownership, and honor. These Rational Ideas indirectly describe the Material World.”

The Ideas Timeline: Rational

Free Will
Free Will

30 Phil, Chapter 1 Touchstone 2: Free Will.

There are two basic types of Free Will. Determinism says everything that happens is set in stone and can’t be changed; in contrast, indeterminism says people and animals make choices. There are four basic types: scientific determinism, scientific indeterminism, fatalism, and providence.

Cultural Transmission
Cultural Transmission

30 Phil, Chapter 1 Touchstone 4: Cultural Transmission.

Cultural transmission, perhaps more than any other trait, sets humans apart from other animals. It’s the ability to pass behaviors, traditions, and knowledge to the next generation. Cultural transmission has likely been a feature of our direct-line hominin mind for millions of years. Returning to what we have in common with chimps, both species possess this ability.

Knowledge Framework
Knowledge Framework

30 Phil, Chapter 2 Touchstone 5: Knowledge Framework.

In philosophy, the study of knowledge is called epistemology. It’s important because knowledge describes reality, and understanding how we craft knowledge brings philosophical clarity. Each of us maintains a personal knowledge framework that arranges the knowledge we accumulate. You can think of it as a personalized dictionary. But unlike a dictionary, the definitions are far from sterile. Each entry is imbued with your unique perspective including a tapestry of direct and indirect experiences, retained memories and emotions.

Philosophy
Philosophy

30 Phil, Chapter 2 Touchstone 6: Philosophy.

Philosophy is the systematic study of fundamental questions concerning existence, knowledge, values, and meaning. It’s a discipline guided by reason and the evaluation of evidence. A central question is “How should we live?” While there is a general agreement on overarching principles, as always, the devil is in the details. In general, philosophy encourages you to continually refine your mental, emotional, and physical self—a task that involves not just understanding words but grappling with the experiences and emotions they represent. It also urges you to be content with who you are now, while fostering a genuine desire to help others. Philosophy doesn’t just address the “what” of our lives; it also delves into the “why” and the “how should we proceed.” It’s good advice, a possible explanation for the unknown, or an exploration of the unknowable.

Ontology
Ontology

30 Phil, Chapter 3 Touchstone 7: Ontology.

Ontology: The Nature of Being: When we’re alive, life feels endless, stretching beyond the horizon of our imagination. The realization that it must end is not easily accepted. We’re not just sentient beings; we are self-aware. For many, the notion that we cease to exist after death is unbearable. We can’t help but wonder if we’re special; if something inside us continues even when our bodies stop. It’s about the human instinct for self-preservation extending beyond life. We lean into beliefs that promise we might continue in some form. This sphere of thought is called Ontology.

Holism
Holism

30 Phil, Chapter 3 Touchstone 8: Holism.

Holism views things as a whole, emphasizing interconnectedness and interdependence, and values unity and synthesis. It is essential for fully understanding complex systems like living organisms and ecosystems. This notion of an underlying, unifying essence mirrors the intricacies of the natural world, where each element, though distinct, harmoniously contributes to the grander mosaic of existence.

The Birth of Logic
The Birth of Logic
624 BCE
Circa 624-546 BCE

In the vibrant intellectual climate of Ancient Greece, the 6th century BCE marks the embryonic stage of formal logic, attributed to the philosopher Thales of Miletus (around 624-546 BCE). Thales, recognized as the first of the Seven Sages of Greece, embarked on a quest that laid the foundational stones of logical thought. He shifted the explanation of natural phenomena away from mythological interpretations towards rational principles.

Wu-wei or “non-action”
Wu-wei or “non-action”

30 Phil, Chapter 4, Laozi, Touchstone 9: Wu-wei or “non-action”

The term wu-wei is often translated as “non-action.” It is a general concept. It is the idea that the universe has a flow, and it is better to ride that flow than to fight it. Wu-wei is non-action, effortless action, or inaction, but does not mean laziness or passive behavior. It refers to the practice of avoiding conflict or competition, but it does not mean you do not engage. Instead, you accept the natural order of things rather than trying to force your will or desire upon the world.

 

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Ziran, Authenticity, or Authentic Self
Ziran, Authenticity, or Authentic Self

30 Phil, Chapter 4, Laozi, Touchstone 10: Authenticity.

Ziran is often translates to “of its own.” Living in accordance with Ziran means you embrace naturalness. You welcome the spontaneous aspects of existence. With Ziran, you flow with nature while embracing your true self and innate tendencies, your authentic self. Living in accordance with Ziran is you attaining a state of inner peace, balance, and harmony. By cultivating a deep connection with the natural world and allowing things to unfold organically, you can experience the intrinsic flow of the Dao. For example, a conversation that unfolds without order and a musician improvising both exemplify Ziran.

Unknowable Dao
Unknowable Dao

30 Phil, Chapter 4, Laozi, Touchstone 12: Unknowable Dao.

The “unknowable Dao” is the skeptical belief that the true nature of reality is unknowable. The Unknowable Dao is a mysterious universal reality that transcends both language and thought; it encapsulates the ultimate reality and its inherent natural order. It’s the idea that the Dao cannot be fully comprehended nor expressed in words. It resonates in modern times. What we perceive as reality is merely a shadow of the full scope of what reality actually is. Consider, for instance, the concept of visible and non-visible light. You perceive visible light and may think it’s the whole spectrum, but science tells us it’s not.

Normalcy, Normal, and Abnormal
Normalcy, Normal, and Abnormal

30 Phil, Chapter 5, Confucius, Touchstone 13: Normalcy.

Normalcy refers to the standards or patterns established through repeated experiences and societal norms, serving as a baseline for judging deviations. Our concept of “normal” influences how we label and react to the world, shaping our perceptions of what is good, bad, or different. These norms are formed from personal and collective experiences, and they can evolve as we challenge ingrained prejudices and expand our acceptance of diversity. Understanding normalcy helps us recognize how our labels impact our interactions and views of the world.

Schemas
Schemas

30 Phil, Chapter 5, Confucius, Touchstone 14: Schemas.

A schema is a mental structure we employ to organize and interpret information. We classify things into schemas, which we can then modify by adding or removing elements. Schemas help us simplify life. Once things are categorized as normal or abnormal, we utilize our cognitive processes, such as memory and association, to attach emotional or value judgments like good, bad, great, horrible, delicious, gross, and so on, to these “normal” or “abnormal” classifications.

Non-Self or Anatman and Self or Atman
Non-Self or Anatman and Self or Atman

30 Phil, Chapter 6, Buddhism, Touchstone 15: Illusion: Self and Non-self.

The Buddhist terms of Atman and Anatman relate to the idea of “Self,” or “Atman,” your eternal soul and the Buddhist doctrine of “Non-Self,” or “Anātman.” To understand non-self, you have to understand the concept of “emptiness,” which refers to the idea that nothing lasts forever. “Non-self” says what we consider our “self” does not exist. What we perceive as an unchanging “self” or “soul,” is actually a collection of ever-changing physical and mental components, such as form, sensations, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. There is no enduring “I,” existing independently of these aggregates.

Nondualism and Dualism
Nondualism and Dualism

30 Phil, Chapter 6, Buddhism, Touchstone 16: Nondualism-Dualism.

Nondualism and dualism help to explore the many variations and nuances within the overarching discussion of our nature, whether we have a soul, what happens to it, etc. Dualism says the mind and the body are distinct entities from each other and from the universe. How they interact with the universe is a separate question. Nondualism says reality is a singular, indivisible, and all-encompassing entity, and any apparent divisions, such as the separation between the mind and body, are merely illusory. These schemas are used in many frameworks across various disciplines, including philosophy, science, and psychology to explore topics such as consciousness, the self, and reality, as well as the basis of personal identity and interconnectedness. 

Impermanence and Flux
Impermanence and Flux

30 Phil, Chapter 7, Heraclitus, Touchstone 17: Impermanence and Flux.

Impermanence as Flux is the idea of an ever-changing nature of life and the interconnectedness of all things. It is summed up as:

“Everything is in flux.”

Like the idea a “river,” everything flows. The only constant is change, and to resist it is to resist the natural order of things.

Worldview
Worldview

30 Phil, Chapter 7, Heraclitus, Touchstone 17: Worldview.

A worldview is your current knowledge, perspectives, beliefs, and values, which evolves with experience and influences your interpretation of reality and self. Your worldview is comprised of all the frameworks you’ve embraced, and a good place to start your exploration is with the three major ones: language, religion, and philosophy. They give it structure, and your schemas thread through them, acting as filters for how you perceive reality.

Identity
Identity

30 Phil, Chapter 7, Heraclitus, Touchstone 17: Identity.

Identity is the personal mosaic of attributes that set you apart as an individual. Your identity is shaped by the worldview you embrace and mold. It encompasses the world you were born into — encompassing aspects like gender, ethnicity, and nationality — and extends to your personal choices, including affiliations, accumulated knowledge, and even your preferences in entertainment. It also includes aspects that evolve and change on your journey including such things as your current age, where you choose to live, and how you make a living. It’s a complex interplay of internal and external factors. You are born without a predetermined essence or nature. It’s only through our experiences—through the act of living—that we define our essence, our identity.

The Invention of Calculus
geometry, mathematics, volume

Invented by Newton in the 1660s (pub. 1687) and independently by Leibniz in the 1680s (pub. 1684). Both built on Galileo’s popularizing the idea of the infinitesimal.

Calculus, the mathematical study of continuous change, introduced the concepts of differentiation and integration, providing tools to model and analyze motion, growth, and the infinitesimal. Newton, working primarily in England, utilized calculus to formulate his laws of motion and gravitation, fundamentally altering our understanding of the physical universe. Simultaneously, Leibniz developed a similar set of mathematical tools, contributing a notation system that remains in use to this day. He introduced the integral sign (∫) and the differential operator (d), foundational in calculus for representing integration and infinitesimal changes, respectively. His “dy/dx” notation for derivatives elegantly describes rates of change, all of which remain central to calculus today.

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Filter To: 2a. All Ideas | 2b. Empirical | 2c. Rational | 2d. Irrational | 2e. Mind Blowing
Philosophy Series: 1. Big Picture | 2. Ideas | 3. Philosophers | 4. Publications

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May 26, 2024 Edition
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Wisdom emerges from the consistent exploration of the intersections of philosophy, science, critical thinking, and history.

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