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12 November 2007

How do I know I'm not lonely?

This morning in philosophy class, we listened to “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles and discussed the worldview that is presented in that song -- one of existential loneliness that posits the impossibility of meaningful interpersonal relationships. Now, it is possible to argue (and some members of the class did suggest) that the Beatles were actually teaching that there is a solution to loneliness, or that the song insists that no one needs to be lonely, or that people are created as social beings and only live meaningless lives when they are all alone -- that “love is all you need” and so on.

But a tangential conversation developed. We discussed the proposition that each person is totally and completely isolated in his or her consciousness, inaccessible to anyone else. I referred to the following passage from Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities:
A Wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life's end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?
Some ladies in the class insisted that they know for a fact that not everyone needs to be lonely, and not everyone is isolated. To prove this fact, they cited personal experience, in which they had enjoyed personal connection with one another in which “the masks came off” and they were able to be perfectly honest with their friends, sharing everything and feeling totally connected. So then we had to ask what proof they had that such experiences were real and not subjective, deceptive, emotional realities. “Z” suggested that we could apply sensors to the subject’s head and measure her responses to various human interactions, thus proving a real physiological response to the honesty of friendship. But then, how do we know that the biochemical counterparts to emotional realities are any more “real” in an objective sense? Then “hmmm” asked the very good question: Why should emotional or experiential claims be subject to “objective” scientific [evidentialist] tests to prove their validity? So I am converting that question in this week’s post questions:
How do we know that someone’s subjective experience is a true reflection of reality? and By what means can we verify truth-claims that are based on personal experience or emotional states?

You may object that we do not need to test such claims. But consider the following situations:
1. How do you know whether or not you are really in love? Isn’t that just a subjective emotional state?
2. Someone claims to have seen an angel. How do you know he or she is right or wrong?
3. Someone claims to have personal knowledge that God cannot exist, due to occurrences in his own life that prove there cannot be a loving God. He knows for a fact that if there were a good God, He would not have allowed such suffering as this person has experienced.
4. Someone claims to have been emotionally abused by a spouse or a parent. What constitutes emotional abuse, and who determines that someone has been a victim of such abuse?

Perhaps you can think of other examples. Please respond to the questions in bold above and to the situations here if you like. I’ll add one more question, for the artists in the group:

How do you know when a work of art (painting, sculpture, poem, novel, play, song, movie) is good? Is artistic value based simply on how you feel about the work?

Thanks! Enjoy!

27 comments:

~Z~ said...

I think we do not know whether the emotional claims of other people are true, but I also believe that such claims can be given more evidence through our personal experience.

In answer to your second question I believe that art IS largely a matter of taste, but rue alent and origionality must also be recognized.

Thanks.

Rosie Perera said...

Ah, this is the classic question of solipsism or the "problem of other minds" in philosophy.

How can you and I tell which one of us is experiencing a worse headache? We can't, because our experiences are subjective. Even if we could measure physiologically what is going on in our brains, some people appear to have higher tolerances for discomfort than others, so one might experience more pain in the headache than the other, even if at the chemical level everything was identical.

When I was a young kid, I first became aware of this problem, when it dawned on me one day that I was inside my own head and nobody else was so nobody else could know exactly how I was experiencing the world. And then I had the alarming thought: what if I'm the only one who really experiences things this way, and everyone else is just in my field of vision but isn't really a center point from which to view the universe the way I am? That thought made me feel lonely, but also special/unique. I was becoming a little solipsist at about age 9. I've moved beyond that, but I still find the whole question of other minds very fascinating.

Iambic Admonit said...

Wow, Rosie, you were quite the little philosopher! I remember some more vague versions of those thoughts, along with the overwhelming pressure, akin to fear, that came with realizing that there were billions of consciounesses just as detailed and active as (and probably more than) my own. I'm not sure I have moved beyond it; how did you?

Don said...

The easiest answer to the question is the oh-so common "reality is shaped by experience", which does indeed lead right into solipsism, and of course into the question "is this person in their right mind?" In the end, we each have to use our own judgement. The old system of "Lord, liar or lunatic" can be modified to fit the situation. Is the person lying, crazy, or telling the truth? Sorry if this is a bit weak, I just can't seem to quite get my head around the issue. I'll post again if I have a revelation.

~Z~ said...

I believe that the answer To this question is purely subjective, and that only you can know whether you're lonely or not.
Loneliness may be purely a state of mind.
To some people, lomliness happpens whenever they are alone for a short period of time, and yet others may go for extremely long stretches alone without really experiencing any wish for human contact.
But are we ever truly alone? Since God is there should we really experience loneliness?
Many people have attempted to answer these questions,but how do we know if they are rightor wrong?

Rosie Perera said...

What I moved beyond was not the puzzlement of the whole problem, but the arrogant thinking that I was the only one who was at the center of the universe. I soon realized that everyone else feels that way to a certain extent (though not everyone thinks much about it), so I am not unique. Well, I am unique in that I'm the only one who is me, but other people also have the feeling that they are the only one who is them (horrible grammar, I know, but how else do you say that?). But I can never know what that feels like to them; I can only take their word for it that they feel that way. This is all quite mind-boggling and fun to ponder.

Yeah, I was quite the little philosopher. I remember in about fourth grade thinking some of these thoughts, trying to wrap my head around the concepts of infinity and eternity (particularly the notion that God had always existed and that he could be paying attention to every one of our lives simultaneously). I also remember thinking about my then childish life from the imagined vantage point of the future. I figured that my best friend of the time would probably not end up being a significant part of my life when I looked back on it from later adulthood, since I knew the years of childhood would come to an end, and that life is (usually) very long in comparison. I was right about that, but how wrong I was about that friend! She's turned out to be my only life-long best friend. So much for child philosophers... ;-)

AVA said...

"How do you know whether or not you are really in love? Isn’t that just a subjective emotional state?"

I'd say that love is both an emotion and a promise. This is of course presuming that love actually exist, which i've met people who would say that true love doesn't. The emotion is what prompts you to make the promise, and the promise is what makes you keep trying in those times when the emotion isn't there. And when the other person sees you trying to love them, they tend to respond by loving you, which in turn makes you feel the emotion love all over. It's a cycle, just like hate or depression

"Someone claims to have seen an angel. How do you know he or she is right or wrong? "

you can't. It's a trust thing. You could compare it against how truthful they've been in the past, but it still comes down to trust. Being the cynic/pessimist i am, i would tend to discount things like that and ask them what they were smoking…

"3. Someone claims to have personal knowledge that God cannot exist, due to occurrences in his own life that prove there cannot be a loving God. He knows for a fact that if there were a good God, He would not have allowed such suffering as this person has experienced. "

The person here is saying that there is only one possibility logically. If Person A loves Person B, Person A will never allow Person B to expierience any pain.

I don't agree with that statement. I've seen what seemed to be loving parents discipline their kids, yet they still love the kids. Could God be like that? Or how about with dating? A parent is older and wiser, but if she sees her son or daughter dating someone who she doesn't think is right for that person, she will allow the child to make the mistake anyway, because we learn best from our own mistakes, it drives the point home in a way that is unlike any other. And if the child realizes what the parent knew all along, the parent is right there to comfort the hurt child.

I also think that love is meaningless without pain. Their opposites, really. You don't know how good love is until you know how bad pain is. Do you appreciate the air conditioner more on a day where it's 90 or 100 degrees outside? the same with love. Or, for another example. Which do you appreciate more, which are you more protective about, the car your parents bought you, or the car you slaved away all of 2 whole summers at a dead end boring job for, the one where it cost you out of your own pocket. I believe something is only worth as much as it cost you, and so if a really emotionally crippled person comes to God, God means so much more to that person than to someone who was never really experienced emotional pain beyond the occasional dropping of an ice cream cone on the ground.

Switchfoot puts it best here for me

“The shadows prove the sunshine”
i have no clue on # 4...

also, with this
"Some ladies in the class insisted that they know for a fact that not everyone needs to be lonely, and not everyone is isolated. To prove this fact, they cited personal experience, in which they had enjoyed personal connection with one another in which “the masks came off” and they were able to be perfectly honest with their friends, sharing everything and feeling totally connected"

i would say you could never really know for sure wether someone actually takes off the mask. They may take off A MASK, but who is to say that there isn't a second beneath that, and so one. It's like with a ball, you always thought it was red until one day the paint came off and reve4aled it was actually blue beneath. So know the ball was really blue. Until one day that layer pealed off to reveal a layer underneath that was yellow. and so on it can go with masks. The point i'm trying to make with that illustration is that it comes down to trust. I can't prove you're taking down that mask, but i will believe you are anyway. Without trust there is no love, if you think they're always lying to you about who they really are, you will naturally not love them. And if there is no love, there is only pain and frustration.

That brings up a question i've always had. How do you teach someone to trust who has been hurt by everyone else in his or her life that pretended to care? How can you show him/her that you're different? and can you ever really prove you want to help/love someone else? or can that other person eventually be lost behind the masks and lose hope that anyone will love him/her for real?

Anonymous said...

Dear Admonit,

I've just got your message on Livejournal; I've no idea how you sent it to me, because it's not showing up in comments and I didn't get an email notification about it, so I found it only by accident. It's nice to hear from you again.

I'll write a proper reply in a day or two. In the meantime, do please quote as much of our conversation as you like over here. What a lovely compliment!

Oh, and my email, if you need it, is orphan_ann at hotmail dot co dot uk.

Orphan_Ann on LJ

Rosie Perera said...

AVA writes:

"'Someone claims to have seen an angel. How do you know he or she is right or wrong?'

you can't. It's a trust thing. You could compare it against how truthful they've been in the past, but it still comes down to trust. Being the cynic/pessimist i am, i would tend to discount things like that and ask them what they were smoking…"

I think it's part trust, but there's more to it. A person could be very trustworthy and be truthfully reporting what they experienced, but since their experiences are only their own perception of reality, it might be that they didn't actually see an angel, but something else which their mind told them was an angel. Did anyone see the video clip on the news recently about the "ghost" that was captured on camera at a gas station? What do you think? Ever seen "American Beauty" -- that oft-quoted scene of the plastic bag? I think that blue "ghost" was just a plastic bag, or maybe one of those blue gas station paper towels (ever wonder why those are always blue?), floating around in the wind. It was out of focus and looked like a ghostly blob because it was much closer to the camera than the cars and pumps. But some people saw a ghost in it. Are they being disingenuous? Not necessarily, perhaps just gullible. My explanation might not be accurate, but given my experience with and beliefs about the world and our senses, I think my explanation (or some other optical illusion) is more likely than that it was a ghost.

My beliefs about angels are a bit broader: I believe they exist, and I would entertain the possibility that they might actually sometimes make themselves visible. But I have no proof of this, nor any personal experience to back it up. However I have trustworthy friends who have "seen" angels in the form of other visible beings, and I do believe them. In one case a german shepherd dog mysteriously showed up and accompanied a friend home to her dorm late at night several nights in a row at a dangerous time when there was a rapist on campus; that dog had never been seen before nor did it show up again after the rapist was caught. Makes one wonder... (maybe it was just the rapist's dog and that's why it was around campus only on those nights, but it sounds like an angel to me).

hmmm said...

"How do we know that someone’s subjective experience is a true reflection of reality?"
Well, we don't. I mean, I don't think so. You can't measure feelings against reality if you're not the one feeling the feelings, I don't think. Sure, we use sort of general terms like "happy" and "sad" but...Let's say Person A says he is sad, and Person B says he is sad, there is no way to prove who is feeling the greater sadness, or if all sadness is equal, or if Person A does not even have the capacity to be as sad as Person B, etc. Am I making any sense?

For me, measuring emotions/feelings using scientific experiments is ridiculous. I'm not a scientist, but I do know science does not prove anything. It can make theories that no scientists have ever proven false, (which are probable to be true) but there is no real way (correct me, anybody, if I am wrong) to take something and prove that it is true. I guess, then, you could say you shouldn't measure ANYTHING against science because it can't prove anything to be true. For me, at least, it seems especially wrong to try to prove emotions to be right because somewhere along the line, you have to
(1) trust someone that they are feeling what they say they are feeling
(2) trust that the definition of an emotion (say, anger) is the same to everybody.
(3) trust that people generally show their emotions the same way (cry when sad, smile when happy)
As for the "stick sensors on brain" to test loneliness, I mean, sure, that's a good idea, but how can someone do that? Again, there's no way to prove the results true, but no way to prove them false either, and my guess is most people would just jump to conclusions and trust the scientists. Loneliness is a feeling, so it must be felt. If you ask if someone's lonely, they can lie, exaggerate, etc. So, unfortunately, I think there is no way to measure emotions. I'm not sure if I used faulty logic, so please forgive me if I did.

As for the question about art, I think it is purely subjective. I don't think it would be correct to tell someone that his creation isn't art. Our tastes are very varied across the board, I think. Now, some art seems to be considered art by most people (I know, weird wording. Best I could do.) Say, the Mona Lisa. Most people would look at that and agree that it is art. Not everyone would agree that, for example, a apple juice cap is art. But, if one person says an apple juice cap is art, than it is art to him. You cannot argue someone's taste away. Taste is purely opinion, I think. It just happens that some people's taste is the same as others...explaining why most agree the Mona Lisa is art.

jo said...

I would say that it is impossible to truly know how another person is feeling and so we must choose whether or not we believe them and whether their word is reliable. But if you do trust that person, then you can get pretty close to knowing and that’s enough for me, at least most of the time.
A thought just came to me regarding the first question. It’s true that what we say we feel and what actually is are often very different. You can say that you feel like you’ve been waiting forever when in fact you’ve only been waiting for ten minutes. In that case feelings and realities do not match up. I’m not exactly sure how this relates, or where it gets me, but it was just a thought I had.
Sorry if this is confusing, I confused myself when I wrote it…:] the question is a good one though and hopefully I'll come up with a better answer later.

little sarah said...

Wow, I love these questions! They really make me think...
I think a lot is personal opinion and experiences. But I'm not nearly satisfied with that answer...it's far too simple : )

I remember when I was 7, and my Grandpa died very suddenly. I was pretty upset, but my cousin seemed alright even at the funeral. I didn't understand... my grandpa was his grandpa too. Around two months after he died, a friend asked me how I got "over it" so fast. He thought that if he was in my situation he would still be down.

We were all 7 years old, we were all raised in the city, we all had both our parents living with us, and we all were the oldest of our families...and so on. We all shared many opinions and we were all very opinionated. But we saw things differently in this situation. Very confusing for a person of any age...

How do you know whether or not you are really in love? Isn’t that just a subjective emotional state?
*Sigh* Oh why must we pull falling in love into philosophy! : ) As a teen, I have had many friends (plus myself) say that they were in love. Needless to say, most realized eventually that "Mr. Right" wasn't as right as perfect as he seemed. So much for being in love, haha. I'm not at all saying that it is impossible to be truly in love with someone. I do think that "love at first sight", when we are talking about romantic love, is impossible though. The whole first sight thing is based on emotions. In many cases, love at first week or at first month(s) seems very emotionally based as well.

Someone claims to have seen an angel. How do you know he or she is right or wrong?
If someone said they saw an angel I don't think I would believe them. That is probably because when I think of angel I immediately think winged shining girl floating in the air...Very hard to imagine in our dining room. But what Rosie said about the german shepherd is an amazing example of God protecting us by sending His “angels”. I don’t believe in ghosts or angels that are floating in front of me to see though. That seems mostly like the work of acid or trick photography/lighting. It was a blue bag at that gas station, I’m sure. Not a ghost. The media loves to get everyone staring at there televisions and waiting for outrageous stories of aliens and ghosts. So my answer: it depends on the person and his/her description of the “super-natural being”.

3- Someone claims to have personal knowledge that God cannot exist, due to occurrences in his own life that prove there cannot be a loving God. He knows for a fact that if there were a good God, He would not have allowed such suffering as this person has experienced.

If we didn’t experience suffering, we couldn’t experience joy. We learn from our mistakes and deserve every bit of the suffering we are given. That is, at least for me, a very hard thing to accept. Often, situations seem very unfair. But our definition of fair is skewed and very different then our God’s true “definition”.

This makes me think how wonderful it is that when we are in heaven we will be told the answers to every philosophy question ever asked (or to be asked)! Very exciting : )


4. Someone claims to have been emotionally abused by a spouse or a parent. What constitutes emotional abuse, and who determines that someone has been a victim of such abuse?

This is a rough one... The word “abuse” is such a strong word I have trouble putting it beside a vague word like “emotional”. The doctors and juries “determine” who the victims are. But they are humans too, of course. They have misdiagnosed/judged before.
The thing is, emotions are basically feelings and everyone’s feelings are different. Just like physical pain, some people can handle (or pretend to handle) their troubles “better”. What I consider abuse, might not be what Joe considers abuse, which is still different then what Mary considers it. I think that if someone has been abused it will show up in their actions. So if someone even claims to have been abused then something isn’t right. We say everything for a reason.
In light of that, I try to be very considerate of everyone when listening to their trials. As insignificant as some problems might seem to me, they obviously matter to the person who is sharing his/her feelings.

Art is based on personal opinion. It does follow a pattern though...art that was popular in the 1600’s was accepted as beautiful then. Abstract art is the thing now...maybe because the majority of this generation wants to be different and think outside the box of rules. The thing is though, so many people are “different” in the same way. I kind of respect that song that is just silence though. It seems to be a different that will always be different.

I don’t think that one must lose their “mask” in order to not be lonely. A year ago, I had to stay at a place that before they let me go home they had to make sure I had revealed every feeling, thought, and wrong that was ever done to me. Of course, psychologists have no way of finding out if their patients told them everything, but I can tell you I let out more of my past in that stay then I had ever told anyone before. But I was so lonely. Here I was, with people, acting like the real me with basically no shame or secrets. I was much happier when I could hold 3 month old Luke, and much less lonely with him. He didn’t know who I was yet, he was so little. There are a lot of people I feel I have a connection with, they don’t all know every detail about me. I don’t just go up to someone and tell them my life story when I tell them my name. I don’t feel lonely when I am with them.

Darlin said...

Well Something I thought I might just add to this....

This year, I have learned something, and I myself am completely convinced of its truth. That is that:

We so easily deceive ourselves!!!

The mind is a powerful thing, and I believe that more easily and commonly than we may know… we convince ourselves of certain “truths.”
E.G: such as when we produce excuses or reasons that may justify actions we take.

Which, if what I just said is true… as I believe it to be, that means that: possibly, much of what we “know” about ourselves personally, or from personal experiences, could in fact: be fake or even non-existent, such as in psychosomatic cases.

But then there is a question of subjectivity. If pain [or whatever else] changes from one person to the next… does it exist at all??
I believe so, because as people, we all share a general definition by which we can identify this pain [or whatever else]. However as to the degree of said thing… no one can decide which is worst/ least, because we cannot experience anything but our own personal experiences. And if we could… I am convinced it would still be unsettled, because of differences in tolerance and taste!

As for love, and nearly everything else, debate depends upon what your beliefs root from. As a Christian I believe that to love some one is a choice. But to go farther… there is the question of predestination. Where we predestined to “love” someone in particular?
And if so…can there be more than one…?
How do we even decide on what love is? Asking many people, I have found that, love has one of the rockiest definitions. Again, as a Christian, I base my beliefs on the Bible. And as for my definition of love, I think to what I believe the ultimate example of love to be is: Christ dieing for us.
Which, even if you are not a Christian, I know most of you would agree that, that expression has become almost the billboard for loving someone.

Basically, I think, it is impossible to know anything for sure, unless you have fact from which to build off of. Which is impossible to reach, because we are finite creatures, and cannot access infinite conclusions. Therefore, there must be a jump of faith. Philosophy always leads you to an ultimate creator.

Now, I have a headache, and I am not positive I have made a point on anything….so here is my rambling for the afternoon!!!

P.S. Mrs. H, now I remember the vicious circles of the class!! Oh how I miss it!
Ha-ha, I am not even going to bother on getting to the topic of good art here……again!
Have a great Thanksgiving!

Iambic Admonit said...

Thanks to Rosie and hmmm for clearly restating and interacting with the problems set forth in this post. I’m quite pleased with how the discussion developed. I have a few questions in response to what each of you wrote.

Z: you propose that no one need ever feel lonely, because God exists and hold communion with His people. Does that suggest that loneliness is a subjective feeling that can and ought to be counteracted by contemplating objective reality? But we all know that feelings don’t work that way, unfortunately!

Sarah: Thank you for sharing so much of yourself here! I agree that there is no simply formula for overcoming loneliness. The system one set of therapists might want to use, such as pouring out your whole past or telling every single feeling, might be a very good system, or it might not work with some people. I love your account of holding your baby brother and feeling such a joyful connection with him even though he can’t respond and say he loves you or anything. Many people experience a similar connection to their pets. I have a friend visiting me right now who just lost her cat. She was totally devastated, and is going through some kind of grief. So she got two adorable kittens to keep her company in her apartment so she won’t be alone. When a friend came and took the kittens away to baby-sit them while she visits me, she had to leave the apartment right away; she couldn’t stand to be there totally alone. But the kittens can’t talk to her! Yet there’s a connection all the same.

All that said, experience does suggest that sharing our past with people who care can be an extremely healing process. I hope that you had some sense of catharsis by sharing your past, and hope that you can continue to find and make all those different levels of connection to overcome loneliness!

Don: How does the “liar, lunatic, lord” triad work in reference to the experiences of human beings? Aren’t there any number of other possibilities in between? In other words, if an acquaintance told me she saw an angel, she might not be lying or crazy or telling the truth; she might have been deceived by a trick or by a misinterpretation of sensory evidence. If someone says he’s in love, he might not be any of the above three; he might just be misled by physical attraction or by deep companionship into thinking he must be in love. And so on. Do you see? And how does this apply to art? If I’m standing in an art museum looking at an abstract painting, can I apply that triad to it to determine if it’s a great work?

AVA: Thanks for your excellent definition of love as both a feeling and a promise. And thanks to Gem for adding the element that “love is a choice.” Yes, that’s right, and well said. Now, on the angel topic: AVA, where did you get your cynicism/pessimism? Is it based on lots of other experiences in which angelic appearances (so to speak) turned out to be purely naturalistic, and so therefore in this particular angel-claim situation you assume that it is also purely naturalistic? Or is your cynicism/pessimism a sheer presupposition or assumption, not based upon personal experiences? If so, is it rational? Thanks for your good response to the third question: well done. However, I do not agree that “love is meaningless without pain” simply because they are opposites, or with Little Sarah’s statement that “If we didn’t experience suffering, we couldn’t experience joy.” I have heard many Christians try to solve the problem of evil by saying that we would not know good unless we knew bad. I would like to submit that this is not a Christian’s worldview, but a Dualist’s. This point of view makes Good and Evil eternally equal and coexistent. Yet we know from the Bible that Good once existed before Evil, and that one day Good will conquer, triumph over, and annihilate Evil. In Heaven we will know Good without Evil. Therefore I do not believe that it is necessary to know pain in order to know pleasure, or to know suffering in order to know love, etc. In this life, sure, we feel more appreciation for something good when we have had to experience its opposite in some cases. But I do not believe, for example, that a young person necessarily needs to experience a broken heart before being able to appreciate true love. True love stands on its own without reference to other emotions for its power and pleasure and stability.

I wonder if this premise of mine can suggest an answer to your excellent question: “How do you teach someone to trust who has been hurt by everyone else in his or her life that pretended to care? How can you show him/her that you're different? and can you ever really prove you want to help/love someone else? or can that other person eventually be lost behind the masks and lose hope that anyone will love him/her for real?” I believe that if you are truly living in Christ’s love, without reference to false worldly ideas of love (= romance, = sex, = selfish satisfaction, and so on), then that hurt person will gradually learn to love again. I know; I was once that hurt person and am slowly learning to love.

Gem asked the fantastic and infuriating question: Were we predestined to “love” someone in particular? And if so…can there be more than one…? Yikes! That is such a delightfully frustrating question. Here’s my attempt at an answer:
1. Yes, God has chosen out the one person for us to marry and knows who that will be. In that sense, there is “only one.”
2. However, as long as we exist inside time, we will have to make choices as we travel along that timeline. From that point of view, we are allowed to choose our spouse from among all the available Christians of the opposite gender that we ever meet.
3. Therefore, from a pragmatic point of view, inside time there are many possible spouses, and we have to use wisdom to determine how well we could live with someone for our entire lives, how well we would serve God together, etc. From this perspective, really any two Christians who got married ought to be able to work it out, however little they may be suited in temperament or tastes.
4. But then after you have married someone, that is the only person you ever could have married, because God knew you would marry just that person, and God had him/her picked out for you!
This question is rendered bewildering, I believe, simply because we exist inside time and God exits outside of time. That is the case, I believe, with all discussions of predestination.

And now a few remarks on the “art” part of the question.

Z: How do you define “True talent” and “Originality”? And how do you recognize them in a work of art?
Hmmm: Do you think then, that the true measure of great art is sheer majority opinion? How do you account for the enormous shifts of majority opinion throughout time? For example, during J. S. Bach’s life, his music was not considered that great, and was certainly not considered popular. His son wrote pieces that were more appreciated in his time. Then after J. S. Bach’s death, his music was pretty much forgotten and ignored (by everybody except our Bethlehem neighbors, the Moravians). But 85 years or so after Bach’s death, Mendelssohn revived Bach’s music and now it is considered the greatest music ever written, while his son’s music is considered rather mediocre. And what about artists whose work is considered great by a few specialists, but never becomes popular? Do we have an absolute standard by which we can measure those works?

ava said...

"In Heaven we will know Good without Evil. Therefore I do not believe that it is necessary to know pain in order to know pleasure, or to know suffering in order to know love,"

i think i didn't convey what i meant really well...what i meant to say was that we appreciate love and don't take it for granted because we don't expierience it all that often. My theory is God allowed pain because it lets us fully appreciate all He is, which i would say is love. Which color makes white stand out more, yellow or black? THe contrast between black and white is so much more obvious because they're opposites. To fully appreciate the whiteness and notice the whiteness of white, you have to have seen it alongside black at one time in your life.

Iambic Admonit said...

AVA: you're right, at least as far as our earthly experience testifies. Jesus talked about this in Luke chatper 7, in the context of the woman who washed his feet.

"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said. Luke 7:41-43

Similarly, we experience some emotions more strongly in contrast to others, but I do not believe that this means love and hate, good and evil will eternally co-exist.

AVA said...

"Now, on the angel topic: AVA, where did you get your cynicism/pessimism? Is it based on lots of other experiences in which angelic appearances (so to speak) turned out to be purely naturalistic, and so therefore in this particular angel-claim situation you assume that it is also purely naturalistic? Or is your cynicism/pessimism a sheer presupposition or assumption, not based upon personal experiences? If so, is it rational?"

I would say i was born a pessimistic person. Of course, the other option is life taught me to be negative, but i think that i was born with a tendency to see negatively, and thus interpret this world as cold, rather than i was neutral and the cold world made me like it.

The reason for thinking i was born that way is because i subscribe to the four temperaments theory. People are born with one of four different temperaments that define how we interpret the world, and life in general. A lot of time s a person can have a dominating temperament and a lesser one. This temperament is like computer code, written into our d.n.a. that tells us how to view this world. This is not to say we are locked forever into one of these four temperaments with no hope for change, but rather that it is the ground for determining who we are. We can still change how we view things, but it is hard because of how ingrained it is in us.

the four basic temperaments are defined here:

1. Sanguine

-a person like this can genuinely feel the joys and sorrows of the persons he meets and has the capacity to make him feel important, as though he were a very special friend-and he is, as long as he is looking at you, or until he fixes his eyes with equal intensity on the next person he meets.

-A person of this temperament is never at a loss for words, though he often speaks without thinking. His open sincerity, however, has a disarming effect, causing others to respond to his mood.

-people of this temperament are highly emotional, and tend to be insecure.

-people like this enjoy people and detest solitude. Almost everyone loves them. They appear more confidant than they are, are genuinely compassionate, and their main contribution to life is to make others happy.

2. Choleric

-people of this temperament are practical and strong willed, determined. They are also self sufficient and very independent. They don’t sympathize easily with others, and naturally don’t show or express compassion.

-People of this temperament are also quick to recognize opportunities, have a well-organized mind, but details bore them. They aren’t given to analysis, and don’t hesitate to use people to accomplish their ends. People like this rarely like to change themselves for anyone or anything.

-people of this temperament are given to anger, and can’t hide their feelings very well. They can purposely cause pain and enjoy it, and are never neutral. They can both love and hate beyond the normal.

3. Melancholy

-People of this temperament are analytical, self-sacrificing, gifted, perfectionists with a very sensitive emotional side.

-People of this temperament are by nature, prone to be introverts, but since their feelings predominate, they are given to a variety of moods. Sometimes they will lift him to heights of ecstasy that cause him to act more extroverted. However, at other times he will be gloomy and depressed, and during those periods he becomes withdrawn and can be quite antagonistic.

-People of this temperament don’t make friends easily, they seldom push themselves forward to meet people, but rather let them come to them. Their natural reticence to put themselves forward is not an indication that they don’t enjoy people, like the rest of people, they not only like others, but have a strong desire to be loved by them.

-Disappointing experiences make people of this temperament reluctant to take people at face value: thus they are prone to be suspicious when others seek them out or shower them with attention. They’re usual thinking process makes them realistically pessimistic. People of this temperament are also usually eccentric, and common examples of people of this temperament can be found in House, Jack Sparrow, and Sherlock Holmes.

-People of this temperament are negative, pessimistic, and overly critical of others and themselves. They tend to place self-imposed limitations on their potential by underestimating themselves and exaggerating obstacles. The same high standards melancholies uses on others is usually turned inward, making them very dissatisfied with even themselves. Melancholies are also moody, depressive, and anti-social. They are usually intolerant and impatient with those who do not see things their way. They are also brutally honest and never speak in exaggeration, and often correct themselves in the middle of a statement to be scrupulously honest.

-melancholies have a fear of knowing what to say at social gatherings, and so usually say nothing. This makes others tend to think they’re mad, or depressed, when in reality they just are not the most socially adapt people, their strengths residing in their abilities to think and create a form of art, whether it is music, drawing, painting, pottery, etc. Interestingly enough, it says that they also make the best philosophers and are good at using math and logic.

4.Phlegmatic

-People of this temperament are calm, easy going, and never get upset with an individual. They also almost never become angry, are consistent, capable of being fine imitators, and tend to see something humorous in others and the things they do. They are natural peacemakers, and maintain a positive approach to life.

-people of this temperament also work well under pressure and are dependable, but struggle with personal insecurity, like the sanguine. They usually have practical contributions to make, but tend to keep them bottled inside. They are also extremely unmotivated.


The reason I subscribe to this idea is because everyone I know or have seen can be placed into one of those categories exactly, or be a blend of them. The definitions of the four temperaments, when given in more detail just served to further my belief in them because it nailed my friends and i exactly, down to things in them that was freaky to be reading about. Like how Sanguine’s tend to not like reading, or how melancholies because of their analytical minds can anticipate problems ahead of time, and thus prepare for them. Those definitions describe my best friends so well it is creepy. My one friend is so outgoing and fun loving that people practically have to line up to talk to him, and he hardly ever reads at all. My other friends is so good at analyzing things and being able to tell what’s really going on and predict what will happen if I do something that I would swear he was a mind reader and prophet at times, and he is always reading something to keep the gears cranking away in his head.

ava said...

just a little something i forgot to tack onto the last post...where does psychology fall under philosophy? Does it? I always thought it did because it tries to answer why humans act the way they do, but now i'm starting to wonder if it really does fall into a category of philosophy.

Rosie Perera said...

Wow, I think this is shaping up to be one of the longest running discussions we've ever had on this blog! Great post that got it started, Admonit!

"How do you know whether or not you are really in love? Isn’t that just a subjective emotional state?"

What does "in love" mean? Different people might mean different things by it. So if someone thinks they are "in love" by their own definition, then they are. When they fall "out of love" with that person, they are indeed no longer "in love." I believe that the emotional feelings of love come and go, and the commitment to love a person (love as a verb) can survive beyond the feeling of being "in love." For that reason, I feel that one can be "in love" with someone who is not "the one" and then be "in love" again with someone else. I don't recommend it, because it messes with your ability to make a commitment. But it happens all the time, and is a valid experience that some people have.

As to the predestination issue, of whether God has picked out just one person for us, I think that is the most harmful teaching the Calvinists ever passed down to us. Sure, in some sense God knows who we are going to marry in advance so we could say there is only one "Mr./Ms. Right," but I wish Christians would stop wasting time trying to figure out who that one is that God picked for them, and worrying about whether they might make a drastic mistake if they married the wrong one. That only keeps us tied up in knots and doubting our every inclination towards loving someone, as it might be the wrong one. If you truly love someone, then commit to loving him or her, and that person will become the right one. God might have known it all along, but you have to discover it in doing the loving.

There's a great book called Decision Making and the Will of God by Gary Friesen, which discusses "whom to marry" among various other questions that Christians become paralyzed about when it comes to decision making. His point is that we've grown up with an incorrect understanding of what the will of God is for our lives. It's not some secret blueprint that only God knows and which we are meant to guess at and get leading from him towards so that we can try to follow it. We are given clear guidance in Scripture about what is and is not in the will of God, and beyond that we are free to make our own decisions about where to go to college, what to be when we grow up, where to live, whom to marry, etc. God will surely speak to us and guide us through circumstances, our desires and giftings, etc. But it's not like we are either "in his will" or out of it when it comes to personal life path choices (with the exception of some obvious ones that are never in his will for anyone). From a human perspective this sounds upside-down, but I believe it is actually more important to God how we live our lives each day in loving him and our neighbor than what major forks we take in the road of our life's journey. We can love God and neighbor just as well whether we are single or married, whether we're a housewife in Alewife, serving a parish in Paris, teaching in Bejing, or writing software anywhere.

ava said...

"If you truly love someone, then commit to loving him or her, and that person will become the right one. God might have known it all along, but you have to discover it in doing the loving."

exactly what i was thinking. You have to do the best with what you got. If you have this idea in your head that 'maybe this wasn't THE ONE', then that will prevent you from giving all of yourself to the person you married. It seems to me that this concept of 'the one' is used as an excuse to stop trying to love one's spouse when things get hard. I get the feeling that people think just because the marriage is getting tough, and problems are being discovered, they think it's okay to bail because 'maybe she wasn't the one God wanted me to marry'. You married her, you stick it out, work through the problems, and go from there. If you made a promise to always be there, i don't think you have any right to break that promise just because at the time it may be inconvenient to keep it, and to use God to justify your bailing really gets on my nerves.

there is no "one" if by it you mean flashing lights and bells from heaven indicating who you should marry, and that you'll always be head over heels in love with them, no problems at all. God gave you brains, i think he did that so we could work out who we will marry for ourselves. When i use 'the one' i mean the one i will CHOOSE to marry.

Iambic Admonit said...

OK, I have to reply at some length to Rosie's comment about Gary Friesen's book Decision Making and the Will of God. Yikes! I had an entire course on that book at Bible school years ago. The course was very intense and designed specifically to drag us students through several phases. First, the course strengthened our belief in God's sovereignty and the idea that God picks out everything in advance -- the "Mr. Right" concept that there's only one right spouse, college, job, place of residence, etc. for each Christian. Then the next phase of the course, through readings from the book, lectures, and class discussions, served to swing entirely the other way and undermine all of our sense of security in God's will. This left us feeling doubtful whether there's any right way at all, whether God is really in control, and so on. Then the purpose of the class was (obviously) to lead us into a third phase, which was supposed to teach us the "new," comforting, freeing doctrine that God is totally in control and we have complete freedom and there are lots of right choices within God’s revealed, moral will. This is basically the view Rosie was expounding, I believe. The author of the book uses visual diagrams to illustrate the “traditional view”—a dot, indicating that you have to hit the one exact mark of the one life that is right for you and all else is sin or “less than best”—and the “new view”—a circle, indicating that anything outside the circle is sin, but all the many various options inside the circle are perfectly legitimate and godly. So, marriage, for example. God’s revealed will is not to marry a non-Christian, and to be wise in choosing someone whose character indicates that he/she is likely to be a good spouse, parent, church member, citizen, and so on. Other than that, feel free to choose anybody you like who meets those standards.

So at the end of the class, after a rather intense and sometimes troubling semester, we had a big debate. Those who thought that the “traditional view” of the dot sat on one side of the room, and those who subscribed to the “new view” of the circle sat on the other. I forget which side I took at first, but about half way through the debate I jumped up and sat on the floor directly in the middle of the room. Because neither view makes sense! Of course God knows ahead of time that I would marry G, and God had G picked out for me. So from that point of view, G was “the dot” that I had to hit exactly to be in God’s will. And the Lord brought me through many very particular experiences to change and mold and shape me so that when the time came, I would choose to marry G and we would be suited for one another. But from the other point of view, I dated someone else and if I had married him, since we were both Christians I’m sure we would have worked it out. Now, maybe there would have been some sin involved in marrying that person, because my parents did not approve of him, and he had some serious sin in his own life that would have rendered him an unsuitable spouse until he overcame those sins. But before I was married, there were probably lots of other men I could have married if I had met them in the right circumstances, etc. So from that point of view, there was a whole “circle” of suitable marriage choices.

I believe that what’s important is trusting to God’s absolute sovereignty and making wise choices with the revelation, common sense, and community of Christians He has given us.

Iambic Admonit said...

I agree whole-heartedly with AVA’s description of true love, that “You have to do the best with what you got. If you have this idea in your head that 'maybe this wasn't THE ONE', then that will prevent you from giving all of yourself to the person you married. It seems to me that this concept of 'the one' is used as an excuse to stop trying to love one's spouse when things get hard.” Yes. I am painfully observing this process with one of my very good friends, who has chosen to leave God and Scripture out of her life. She hasn’t been “happy” with her husband, so she just recently kicked him out. Since she doesn’t feel the feelings of love anymore, it’s difficult to be with him, and she doesn’t believe she has an absolute commitment to God to stick with this guy no matter what, she’s moving on. She doesn’t have the same conviction that you do, which I strongly commend: “If you made a promise to always be there, i don't think you have any right to break that promise just because at the time it may be inconvenient to keep it.” Amen, brother.

Rosie Perera said...

Hmm, a whole class on Decision Making and the Will of God. That seems excessive and pretty narrowly focused. I should have pointed out that I have moved somewhat beyond that book in my whole understanding of discernment of God's direction in our lives (I've learned about the Spiritual Excercises of St. Ignatius which have shaped my thinking further). I can see why you might have found yourself in the middle between the two groups on that in-class discussion! But at a particular time in my life that book was very helpful, and I still think it offers a corrective to a view of God's will which makes him out to be some great puzzle-master who holds the secret answer to a dilemma we've got to figure out.

Sorina, the only thing I disagree with in your reply is "G was 'the dot' that I had to hit exactly to be in God’s will." I fully agree that G was the husband God was preparing for you (and you for him), even before you had met each other. So in that sense he was "the dot." But it wasn't as if you had to shoot your arrow and hit a bull's-eye, and if you missed you were outside of God's will. You couldn't have done other than choose G, because he is who God knew you would choose, and thus he was preparing G to be the most appropriate husband for you to choose, so that when the time came, when your paths crossed, and you did in fact choose him, he would be "the right one." It's a very subtle difference, I know. But that difference is precisely the thing that helps people relax when they are in that quandary of not sensing any leading from God one way or another. The fear that they might make a mistake and choose the wrong option and thus be outside of God's will (and thus living in sin) can paralyze Christians and keep them from making any decision at all. They are often unwilling to believe that God really does leave the choice up to us and sometimes doesn't reveal the path he wants us to go down in order to be "in his will." I think he gives us the dignity of sensing that it's what we wanted to do, too, that we are not just a puppet on a string doing whatever our Creator directs us to do. I believe God's specific will is a gift to us which is revealed in the very living out of our finite choice-bound lives, rather than a test of perfect discernment and obedience, which is how so many Christians view God's will for their lives.

Iambic Admonit said...

AVA: just a reply to your list of certainties. I commend you for your intense empathy and compassion for hurting people. I am moved by the fact that most of your list has to do with the hurts, needs, and sorrows of others, rather than with dogmas or assertions of self-identity. Your list reveals a big heart, and insight into the secrets all of us hold inside our hearts. Thank you for that!

And thanks for your long explanation of temperaments, especially the discussion of the dominant and subdominant temperaments. They seem more mixed than clear to me, but you seem to seem them operating pretty clearly in people. Where did you get those definitions?

ava said...

I got the definitions from

"Understand Your Man: Secrets of the Male Temperament" by Tim Lahaye, not the most manly book to admit to reading i guess, but whatever works...

I've seen them explained better elsewhere, but i didn't have them at hand to quote from...and i think that only partly explains what we do...it's more of a base ground than the whole, a foundation that is built upon rather than the whole building itself...

just out of curiousity, what do you mean by

"They seem more mixed than clear to me,"?

Iambic Admonit said...

AVA:

You're right, I didn't make that comment clear. When I said "They seem more mixed than clear to me" I meant that in actual practice, in my observations of people, each of my friends and family seem to contain a mixture of the temperaments. For example, I'm totally a melancholy; that description was written about me, I'm sure! Except that my career puts my in lots of social situations, which I actually enjoy as long as there's a purpose to them. I hate parties where everyone just hangs around and tries to think of stupid, superficial things to say. But I don't mind being with people who are gathered for a common cause--such as a lecture or workshop or discussion. And this part of the "choleric" would also apply to me: "people of this temperament are practical and strong willed, determined. They are also self sufficient and very independent. They don’t sympathize easily with others, and naturally don’t show or express compassion." So I'm just saying that everybody seems to have a mixture.

Say, would you print these out and bring them to class on Jan 5th? I think it would be worthwhile for us to analyze ourselves and each other. Or if you can find a really good questionaire that helps you determine your temperament, that would be interesting, too. Thanks!

AVA said...

"You're right, I didn't make that comment clear. When I said "They seem more mixed than clear to me" I meant that in actual practice, in my observations of people, each of my friends and family seem to contain a mixture of the temperaments."

yeah, i think most people have a mix of two, one that is more definitive and then one that is less obvious. And depending on the percentages of which and how they're mixed, it makes for a wide range of variety in people.

i found a website that has a lot of usefull stuff on it about the temperaments, including many factors that make it hard to correctly diagnose people...

"MIXED TEMPERAMENTS

Most people have a mixed temperament. Some persons, however, have one predominant temperament, for instance, the choleric; but the fundamental characteristics, the light and dark sides of this principal temperament are extenuated or accentuated by the influence of the other temperaments. In general a person is happier if his temperament is not a pure one. The combination smoothes the rough edges of the main temperament."

Temperament, then, is a fundamental disposition of the soul, which manifests itself whenever an impression is made upon the mind, be that impression caused by thought - by thinking about something or by representation through the imagination - or by external stimuli. Knowledge of the temperament of any person supplies the answer to the questions: How does this person deport himself? How does he feel moved to action whenever something impresses him strongly? For instance, how docs he react, when he is praised or rebuked, when he is offended, when he feels sympathy for or aversion against somebody? Or, to use another example, how does he act if in a storm, or in a dark forest, or on a dark night the thought of imminent danger comes to him?

On such occasions one may ask the following questions:

1. Is the person under the influence of such impressions, thoughts, or facts, quickly and vehemently excited, or only slowly and superficially?

2. Does the person under such influences feel inclined to act at once, quickly, in order to oppose the impression; or does he feel more inclined to remain calm and to wait?

3. Does the excitement of the soul last for a long time or only for a moment? Does the impression continue, so that at the recollection of such impression the excitement is renewed? Or does he conquer such excitement speedily and easily, so that the remembrance of it does not produce a new excitement?

The replies to these questions direct us to the four temperaments and furnish the key for the understanding of the temperament of each individual."

i gotta go now, so i'm not sure if i made any sense or not...i printed out a bunch of papers that defined the temperament and a questionaire that should help identify at least a part of what temperaments people have...