What the BLEEP do we know?

To me, one of the most interesting philosophical conversations we can have as human beings is about knowledge. Does “knowledge” come only from our logical minds? Or can it also come from learned experience? Or, is knowledge limited to appearances and experiences (is there such thing as “absolute truth”)? (Kant).

I find most the acceptable explanation of “knowledge” to be that it comes from what we are able to work out in our logical minds. An outlook I find most engaging and plausible is the idea of rationalism, especially the thoughts put forth by Plato. In the mathematical world, facts can almost always be worked out in terms of absolutes. That means things can be proven or dis-proven as factual; true facts are not just theoretical. This certainty cancels out theory in many respects. But does theory have a value in our lives? Is it worth our time to speculate about things that are probable or possible, even if we can’t prove or dis-prove them, 100%?

I believe that within human knowledge, there are different ways of knowing. And I accept that for each individual, “knowing” something often is based on a combination of solid facts and evidence, plus perception, plus lived experience. While I like the rationalist argument about knowledge, and I think it supports my working definition of “knowledge” in the strongest way when it comes to absolute truth, I also give credit to those “known” things which are gathered from lived experiences (empiricism). To me, this “knowledge” is just as valid (and valuable!).

Another important topic in philosophy today is to examine the different ways to sum up the nature of the mind and the self, and to figure out how to define what makes an individual an individual. For many centuries, philosophers have asked this question: what makes me unique? What makes me separate and special from other human beings? I believe a fine line exists between mind and body which part has more control. As rational human beings, I’d say that most of us are mostly guided by our minds. But for some people, the strongest guide is their spirituality.

However, I see that most people recognize another individual by associating that person–the essence of that person–by what is tied to his/her body. When it comes to identity, I mostly accept the Body Theory (we are most connected and defined by our own physical, human vessel). However, there is a romantic, spiritual part of me that believes that all people might have a soul that lives on, even after our human body dies away, and for that reason, I appreciate the Soul Theory, as well.

I’d say most people accept the Body Theory because, culturally, we are used to identifying an individual by what they look like physically. In our minds, we tie actions, ideas, and achievements to a person’s form. The Illusion Theory I find to be hard to accept because while people do grow and change, this growth or change doesn’t mean we start all over again being an entirely different physical identity. It just means a shift or an evolution. The Memory Theory, too, has flaws. Mainly because just because a person could, again, change or grow simply because he/she loses his/her memory, it doesn’t mean other, outside persons wouldn’t consider them the same person essentially because he/she still has the same physical body. Characteristics of that person would still physically be the same, even if the person’s memory was wiped completely clean. For this reason, I think the Body Theory is the most applicable to human experience; as the book says, “same body, same person.”

A third important conversation in philosophy that was covered this semester is the debate over the existence of God. After an early life of religious instruction, much self-reflection and critical thinking on this topic, and after considerations raised by our book and readings from the class website, I still find that there is no definitive proof one way or the other whether God exists or not, and that embracing or rejecting the idea of a higher power is purely a personal process that is largely dependent on one’s upbringing, culture, life experiences and world view.

Personally, I believe in the possibility of an existence of a higher power because I believe that I have witnessed and experienced certain moments in life so great, or so otherwise inexplicable, that, to me, this must be the answer to how or why they occurred. However, I don’t really believe in what thinkers like William Paley (argument from design or intelligent design) or St. Thomas Aquinas (governance and order to the natural world by divinity) have put forth as “proof” that there must be a God, because in both of these cases I see the men’s arguments as inherently too simplistic. They don’t PROVE anything, they just offer a quick and easy observed explanation for the ways of nature. Without any single, solitary, physical, or observable proof, it’s impossible to quantifiably prove the existence of God. Even if you have a good theory. It’s simply impossible to prove this to another person. Period.

When considering the meaning of life, I think its interesting to see how various different cultures, and even people of different eras, have organized their times around their activities to show what was important to them or what were the major factors in their lives at different times and in different places. The big question of What is it all about? Can have a multitude of answers, depending on the individual. Personally, in my talks with friends, colleagues, students, and acquaintances, I have heard all kinds of different ideas for Why we are here. Some people believe that humans, as a part of nature, were solely designed just to procreate; to keep advancing our race and to assure perpetuation of our species. Other people, especially in our modern Capitalistic society, believe that the meaning of life is to accrue as much capital and as much power as is necessary to be termed “successful.” Still others in our society are on a quest for “happiness;” and other people yet believe that the essence of existence is to serve other people—to make others happy and comfortable.

On this question, again, I can accept the things that other people would define as their own, personal, meaning of life and life motivation. However, I agree with the book and the online reading, especially the reading “Feminist Philosophy and Visions of the Future,” that if we want to become a more ethically responsible, civil, advanced society, we need to, collectively shift our values and our thinking to a set of ideas and practices that are more humane, egalitarian, eco-conscious, nurturing and supportive. This will mean putting an end to tyranny and oppression, and potentially even war and competitiveness. I am not sure exactly how we will come to do this, but I think that it is the right direction for humans to embrace in order to work towards advancement and growth of our race. It only holds us back when any people of the world are suffering, scared, abused, neglected or have to go without their basic needs being fulfilled.

When I think about philosophy and the “meaning of life,” my personal values center around humanism. I like to think of myself as an accepting person. I really think our culture needs to value more flexibility in ways of knowing and relating to the physical world, and allowing openness to outlooks of spirituality. In general, I see a lot of open-mindedness and Socratic considerations going on, and I think that’s a good thing.

While I stated that I do embrace rationalism, and accept as absolute truth those things which can be mathematically and physically proven on earth, I also think it is important to embrace abstract theories of explaining phenomenon, and also to recognize different “ways of knowing.” The human mind and experience is just so interesting and so varied. I believe that no two people—even identical twins—can possibly have EXACTLY the same life experience here on earth. For that reason, it is important to make accommodations to hear EVERYONE’s viewpoint and to consider all the different perspectives and opinions that might exist on a given topic. This is what I teach my students when we discuss rhetoric and research-writing; to give equal thought and consideration, and oftentimes support, to all sides of the argument. This might seem daunting, or even at times, impossible, but I believe that recognizing all the players and all the different, diverse lived experiences that make up the human condition will help us become more advanced, consideration, sympathetic and humane as a race.

On an outside note, I have recently been following the thoughts of Arizona State University professor and atheist Lawrence M. Krauss who has been active in the discussions about the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, a discovery made by researchers of physics of what could be one of the “original” particles that led to the creation and formation of our universe. Many are calling this little particle the “God particle,” and claiming that its mere existence must solidly, scientifically prove that God in fact does NOT exist, because the finding of this particle very strongly helps support the Big Bang theory. But the flaw with this reasoning is this: sure, if Big Bang is correct, then our Biblical explanation of the start of the world found in the Book of Genesis (Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve) must not be correct. Fine and sure, plenty of scholars have already argued the story’s implausibility all over the place in the past. But how can scientists really think that the mere existence of the particle really disproves the existence of a greater power? In support of the idea of God, couldn’t someone else just come along with this statement: “Sure, the Higgs Boson particle supports the theory of the Big Bang. But let’s go one step even further: Who created that particle?”

The Pedagogical Theory and Contributions of Moholy-Nagy and the Bauhaus School

Muche | Bauhaus
Photograph by Georg Muche

by Jenna Duncan

January 14, 2011

One of the great contributions of the Bauhaus art movement in Germany in the early 20th century was an attitude fostering experimentation in design and hands-on learning, under the guidance of Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and his colleagues Josef Albers, Lyonel Feininger, Vasily Kandinsky, Adolf Meyer, Georg Muche and Oskar Schlemmer, students were encouraged to create, construct and dream (Weber, 171; New Vision). The big picture of the Bauhaus School was to train young designers in drawing, painting, sculpture and design in order to apply these skills to architecture (New Vision 17).

The teachers of the Bauhaus and New Bauhaus schools assigned objectives such as to manipulate the surface structure of a medium (creating different physical effects), study space and volume through experimentation with sculpture, play with the refraction of light on or through different surfaces, or simply to create tactile tests that they could give subjects to study their aesthetic preferences (Vision in Motion 65-69). The students would design a chart, wheel or multi-level table containing different textures such as soft fur, rough sandpaper, smooth plastic, etc. They would then invite a subject to run his or her hands over the chart or table and describe each tactile sensation (74-77). They often conducted these experiments with blind volunteer subjects. From these volunteers they often collected the most interesting, impartial physical descriptions of the items the subjects felt with their hands (65-73).

Oftentimes, from the experiments there resulted very practical results. For example, from his students’ experiments in design for the form and contour of the human hand, some crafted more ergonomically comfortable telephone handsets from wood and plastic (Vision in Motion 66-73). Other hand form experiments yielded new designs in everything from fountain pens to screwdriver handles (73). Moholy-Nagy saw the future in “tactilism” and believed the movement towards practicality, which he was helping to teach and spread, would help foster a new movement in art, which he termed Futurism (New Vision 27).

Though not all of their products were wholly utilitarian, the designs that came out of the Bauhaus School commanded the general public take notice. The new thinking born from this movement in design begged the public make closer examinations of the use of public spaces and the devices and contraptions that filled their lives, and to take stock of the purposeless and purely ornamental. In fact, Moholy-Nagy advocated a move away from the purely ornamental and encouraged a move in design towards the organic, functional and most aesthetically appealing (40-67).

Moholy-Nagy advocated a system of organic building reliant on fluidity, where all parts added up to the whole (New Vision 22). He saw function and utility as the main goals of product and architectural design, and even believed that moving towards the model of Constructivism could help fight the spread of Nazi-ism and fascist ideals (20). He believed in the usefulness of the workshop, and encouraged collaboration and constructive criticism amongst students and faculty at the Bauhaus School (21).

Moholy-Nagy was also interested in motion and kinetics, and the way that movement and gravity had roles in figures coming together or moving apart. He also liked to experiment with the use of light in art and design (89). He suggested that the future of art would be dependent on inventing new ways to refract and bend light; painting with light. “We must ‘paint’ colors with flowing, oscillating, prismatic light instead of with pigments,” he write (89). His experiments led him to to try new effects by manipulation refractions, bouncing light off of or through new surfaces or in new and unusual ways. In some cases, he might be credited with advances in optical illusions, or research which led to the creation of holograms and even 3-dimensional photographic and film technologies.

His experiments with photography, photograms and painting with light naturally led him to become interested in film. He was mostly fascinated with new experiments using multiple projections of movement, which he dubbed simultaneous, or poly-cinema (Painting, Photography, Film 41-45, 122-126). “Cubism advanced the work of photography by the study of problems more particularly of its province—especially that of the treatment of surface values… Photography awoke to the possibilities of its own methods only after a decade of Cubist experimentation. The same applies to the use of simultaneous views in motion pictures, also foreshadowed in Cubism (as juxtaposition, in contrast to the post position of cinema projection). Simultaneous action was was attained in Cubism by presenting at the same time a view from above, from the side, from a cross-section, etc.—a kind of spatial superimposition of parts.”

He worked in film in London after leaving the Bauhaus School in the mid-1930s, producing several short films and writing one screenplay, a vision of the busy metropolis, not unlike Walter Ruttmann’s or “Berlin: Symphony of a Great City” (1927).

Moholy-Nagy’s ideas about Constructivism, practicality in art and his theories on teaching and hands-on learning in art, sculpture and architecture were deeply embraced in America, and the legacy of the Bauhaus School lived on through he and his international colleagues who spread out beyond Europe (Weber 304). Moholy-Nagy will be remembered as one of the fathers of a highly influential art movement that has changed the face of advertising, architecture, and practical design forever.

Works Cited
Haus, Andreas. Moholy-Nagy: Photography & Photograms. London: Thames & Hudson.; New York: Pantheon Books. 1980.

Moholy-Nagy, László. Painting Photography Film. 1925. Trans. Janet Seligman. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1973.

Moholy-Nagy, László. The New Vision: Fundamentals of Bauhaus Design, Painting,
Sculpture, and Architecture. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc. (1938) 2005.

Moholy-Nagy, László. Vision in Motion. Chicago: Hillison and Etten Company. 1947.

The Moholy-Nagy Foundation. 2004. Web. <http://www.moholy-nagy.org/Biography.html&gt;. 27 Dec. 2010.