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Cats & Dogs
It's raining cats and dogs!
What's the difference between a cat and a dog? It reminds me of the joke "What's the difference between an elephant and half a dozen eggs?" to which the jokee (that's a good invention of a word) says "I don't know. What is the difference between an elephant and half a dozen eggs?" The joker says "Well I wouldn't ask you to do the grocery shopping!" Ho ho ho.
And as for fighting like cats and dogs I must say I have rarely encountered them fighting the way they are portrayed in cartoons and the like. But the subject of this page is really about arguments people have about God not dogs or cats. They can even end up fighting like the proverbial pets. And why? Why do people get so heated in some arguments?
An interesting experiment was performed by Rheta DeVries in 1969 where she presented some children with a cat and then placed a mask of a dog on the cat's head. Three year old children believed the cat had become a dog whilst children of six years old were clear that it was still a cat and it was simply wearing a dogs mask.
This experiment illustrates a process in cognitive development. That is a big subject and there are lots of opinions out there. But this experiment raises an interesting question. What is the difference between a cat and a dog? Obviously they are different species. They have different genes and most people simply assume that they know the difference and a cat is a cat and a dog is a dog. But somewhere along the line here we make assumptions. One assumption is that there are things which are cats out there. But actually there are things that we can identify as belonging to a similar group that is identifiably different from other groups of things which we name as cats.
The issue is that we group phenomena together and give it a name. We create the metaphor. We generate an idea of something which fits a set of phenomenon. It is something we do. But in a way there is no such thing as a cat. There may be Maynard the cat and there may be my cat and there may be that big cat in the African Serengeti that was sitting on that particular piece of ground at a particular time. There is Schrödinger's cat too. But Schrödinger's cat is an imaginary cat. There is also Tom the cartoon cat! But what exactly is a "cat"? It is a Platonic thing. Plato is credited with identifying the "idea" of the thing rather than the "thing" itself. His idea was that in heaven there is a perfect chair. Here in the temporal and imperfect world there are things that are "like" the perfect chair. There are things that are more like a chair than a stool or a table and so we call them chairs. Hence Platonic love. Love which is perfect and not sullied by carnal desire. The love of God. But Plato was influenced by an earlier philosopher called Pythagoras. Pythagoras was more interested in what we would call the abstract. Pythagoras thought that the real issue was the determining forces and not the resultant stuff. It was Pythagoras who realised in his experiments with balancing things that although you could set up a balance on a fulcrum (like a see-saw) and you can determine that equal weights placed at equal distances from the fulcrum would balance. He also found that half the weight placed at twice the distance would balance. He understood that there was a general rule here even though you could never actually create a precise example of it in the real world. Taken to an extreme we now know that the actual atoms are furiously moving about and so the idea of a finite exact occurrence of balance is not an obtainable reality. The really important thing is that we are the ones who detect the underlying conceptual idea of the state of things. I must just briefly mention Rupert Sheldrake. Sheldrake is a modern scientist who has come up with a theory he calls morphic resonance. The broad suggestion is that there are patterns of things in the universe and that real things resonate into those shapes. For example a rabbit is a rabbit because it got closer to being like the "rabbit pattern" and harmonised with it. Although his ideas are not accepted by mainstream science he does have an interesting take on things and his ideas are worth considering.
The very important issue is that we do the conceptualising. We "resonate" similar phenomena and identify them as having something in common. There is little doubt in our experience that the "material" world does contain sequences of things that are like the things before them. There are continuums in patterns. Cats exist. There are lots of them. But on a day to day basis we are not concerned with the abstract. We deal in the practical use of this conceptualisation. If we want water we get a container and fill it up and drink the water. It is what we do. We are not generally concerned with the metaphysical issues. So in a way we are the ones that create "cats". That is, the "idea" of the cat. Those things out there that we refer to as cats are just things out there. The catness of the cat is our construct.
So does a cat exist? Well it is reasonable to say yes to that. Does Tom (of Tom and Jerry fame) exist. Well it depends what you mean by exist. Does he have a physical form and roam around independently and autonomously with his own sense of self and free will? Er... No? Is that correct? Um. Well yes he does exist as a cartoon character. One of my reasons for rating the film Toy Story so highly is that Buzz Lightyear is a brilliant multi-layered example of this conundrum. First of all we conceptualise Buzz Lightyear as existing. There he is in the film as a viable character. One could say he doesn't exist in reality but he does exist in the fiction of the story. But it turns out that of course he is a toy of the "real" Buzz Lightyear. So on the one hand the "toy" exists but on the other hand he doesn't. But the "real" Buzz Lightyear exists. The Buzz Lightyear that the toy represents. Except, of course, the "real" Buzz Lightyear is a fictional character in the fictional film. And there is the other side of things that the "toy" was constructed as a description on a computer and the "appearance" of Buzz Lightyear in the animation is the result of a whole host of mathematical equations and unlike a real film the "model" of Buzz Lightyear never existed. Poetically the toy that I have which is made of plastic is a representation of the virtual fictional character in the film. But I would be quite correct to say that Buzz Lightyear exists. If I asked my friend to go and get Buzz Lightyear from the box in my room and they asked "Does he exist?" it would be reasonable for me to say "Yes. He's in the box."
Then we go and invent God. Why did we do that? Or did we discover God? Did we discover God like Newton discovered the laws of motion. Do the laws of motion exist? Well it all depends what you think you mean in the first place. Of course the laws of motion exist. But not like physical object exists. So we really need different words for different types of "existence". Some people would suggest that thoughts are imaginary things and not "real" things. Some people would suggest that the psyche is a construct and is in some way not "real". But as Carl Jung pointed out a non-real thing cannot affect the "real" world and yet there are thousands of nuclear weapons on this planet. On the question as to whether God exists or not we have to recognise that historically there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of Gods. We also have to recognise that when opinions are expressed as to what God "is" they rarely agree. So God seems to be the attempt to understand something and I suggest it is the attempt to understand everything (including God) and in that respect is an idea a bit like Buzz Lightyear. If the overall conception of everything can exist within everything then the concept is incomplete by definition. When people refer to God in general day to day situations it is usually to confirm or assert some value or to express a desire for some legitimate state of affairs. It is assumed that this entity that is being referenced is universal and correct. But rarely do collections of folk agree on the details of this item called God. And in Christianity this item is apparently described and mostly defined by the Bible. But the actual content of the Bible is evidently and hugely contradictory. What people do is use parts of the Bible to illustrate or assert that a particular issue is defined as such by ... God I guess. Jesus pointed out that there is one God and he apparently claimed he was God. Christians believe that there is only one "way" and that is through Jesus. Christianity asserts that we all know what is right and wrong. We have a conscience. So when we read the Bible we interpret it through our own existence and understand what is right and wrong about it for ourselves. I suggest that what people do that they don't realise they are doing is they use their own authentic being to interpret the world and they express and legitimise it by a common externalised reference called God. So in some real sense Jesus was perhaps right that there is only one way and it is through him and he is God. He could say that. So must everybody else. I think it was not that he was stating he was special and everybody else (absolutely every single person in all time and space) was different but that it is true of all of us. In fact I will go a stage further and say that that is how things are. We are all entirely what we are and we are genuine and authentic and as close to the idea of God as you can get. The trouble with externalising the authentic and genuine reality of being human is that you create a Platonic idea of the perfect human that no instantiation in the material world can match. Before you know it you have attributed your perception of reality to a fiction and base your life on an unreality. This is no way to deal with reality successfully. And what happens then is that between members of the same group they can agree on aspects of the definition of God and they can use that concept to justify their differentiation from other groups. Cats are cats and dogs are dogs. Cats have tails and go meow. Dogs bark. But dogs have tails. Well having a tail doesn't make you a cat. But all cat's don't have tails. Yes but there are exceptions. The Manx cat is still a cat. But the dogs call themselves cats and the cats dogs. The name "cat" is only an identifier of the conceptualisation of a thing. Then the cats and the dogs are reasonably arguing over the definition of a cat and the dogs invariably get it wrong. Significantly people in the same group will agree to the definition of the group as a submissive act of compliance. The definition of the "self" or the "identifier" is accurate enough that it is a close match for all humans. So it is acceptable to agree in the main with the definition provided it is perceived as an external object and not a definition of one's actual "self". And strangely it is easy to agree on the definition of the "other" group. If I claim I am God someone else might argue that they are God. You can just imagine the argument; "I am God.", "No you're not. I am God.", "No. I am God", "You're not God. I am." But change the word God to "me" and you get "I am me.", "No you're not. I am me.", "No. I am me", "You're not me. I am." And part of the problem is revealed. The issue of what we mean by God is not defined. It has a different meaning depending upon the context in which it is used. But not only do we not understand what we are talking about but we don't stop to think about it either. Basically because we are not talking about a thing out there but a different type of thing inside ourselves that we are thinking of as being out there. It is little wonder that we keep arguing about it. But the time has come to stop. [see: God won't save stupid people]