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My Ongoing Philosophical Thoughts

Brie Stark's picture

Living Life

This is something I've never understood, throughout my entire life. I just needed to write it somewhere. It will indefinitely be continued.

Why do people constantly say, "I'm going to be spontaneous and live life," or, "I'm going to do what I want in life"? Let's be analytical here.

1) We are physically living all of the time, so I'm not sure how saying 'living life' makes much sense. Why do we have to be spontaneous to live life? Why is calculating a future and having a schedule not 'living life'? Why do we have to just 'go with the flow' to live life? Is a person who has a measured life plan really experiencing less 'life'? I highly doubt it. I'm not sure where society got on this kick of living with no plan, but it seems highly illogical and perhaps explains, for example, the high rate of divorce in this country. Sure, let's be spontaneous and marry each other because we're 'living life' and playing it out by emotions. Works great for a few years until logic hits you in the face. I mean, honestly, you're standing on a bridge, hundreds of feet above raging water and rocks. Your feelings say, 'let's be spontaneous, live life, feel lucky' and your mind says, 'let's be logical -- there is certain death here.' Do we 'live life' by feelings or mind?

Side note on why I differentiate between emotions and mind: Yes, emotions are manufactured in the brain -- the primordial brain, to be exact. However, there are two parts to the brain (bi-partite): the unconscious and the conscious. Emotions are, as you say, chemicals in the unconscious that make distinctive patterns like fear, hurt, etc. However, they become 'feelings,' for lack of a better term, when your conscious mind chooses to acknowledge them. For that reason, mind vs. emotion is not contradictory. What we "think" and what we "do" are not actually the same thing -- we "think" in the unconscious, and the thoughts that we choose to acknowledge and bring into the open are chosen by the "conscious" part of our brain. Therefore, I see them as two different things.

2) Why can't we live life with measured equalness -- some spontaneity, some schedule? Is that a lesser way to experience life? Our brain is constantly thinking, even if we're spontaneous or scheduled, and therefore we're having experiences in both cases. These experiences, while different, all hold subjective meaning. An object may mean something great to me and be insufficient to another person. Therefore, isn't it true that a scheduled life can be equal to a spontaneous life in two different people? Neurobiologically speaking, very much so. So why is there a concept of superiority of life experience?  It seems to me that most people in the world would tend to agree with us, too. It's not a hard thing to prove that meaning is subjective. Take a garden-path sentence (or an ambiguous figure), for instance. I bet that you interpret "put the box on the table in the kitchen" differently than me -- is the box already on the table and to be put in the kitchen? or is the box to be put on the table in the kitchen? Another example is association -- you associate 'meaning' to certain songs, and perhaps I would find that meaning to be irrelevant. Therefore, it's easy to prove that we all have subjective meaning. Why, then, is there such a hierarchical superiority structure? Where did it come from? Why does it still exist?


We recently brought up a metaphor for teaching in our summer institute: a student is a house. This student learns by opening a door or window to that house (think visually, auditorally, etc). The teacher, therefore, must be willing to try many methods to open the various windows and doors to the house until they find a successful option. However, while this seems ideal, I find two possible problems lying therein:

1. I see the teacher not possessing the correct key to open a door or window (thanks, Deb). Perhaps the teacher’s genetics or environmental upbringing have not allotted her with the appropriate key to unlock the door or window of this particular student.

2. Where do the teacher’s own value-sets come into play? To use a personal example, I am a very logical individual who often uses rational to find my way into a good situation. Perhaps my student is particularly emotional and, as I stated before, I have very little founding (value-wise) in emotions. In other words, I base very little prominence on using my emotions when making a judgment. How might this affect my teaching abilities to this particular student? Must I change who I am (and who I am happy to be, noted) in order to accommodate for this student’s learning style? Or do I merely adapt to find a ‘hybridizing’ point (not compromising point, as that leaves much undecided and unsaid)? Do I try and grapple for the logical reasoning in the student and forego my attempts at connecting with the student emotionally? Do I forego my own values and attempt to be emotional in order to connect on the student’s level?

I think these questions are apt questions in real life, as well as in the classroom. I find myself struggling with them nearly every day, trying to decide: what is it that is necessary? That is desired?


The above thoughts bring me to another concept that the media dwells on today: make-overs. I was reading, recently, about the famous Susan Boyle. I really admired her unique style when she auditioned on Britain’s Got Talent—and, as the world soon understood, she really is an incredible singer. However, the media instantly began its mission to give her a ‘makeover.’ I saw new pictures of her the other day, looking distinctly less frumpy in designer clothes and with a more sophisticated hair cut. But, I thought to myself, what exactly did they ‘make over’? They certainly didn’t ‘make over’ her personality, because she sounds in the media just as she did the day she stepped onto Britain’s Got Talent. It’s sad, to me, that the media felt this desire to ‘better’ this person—as if Susan was an inferior being for dressing ‘frumpier’ than normal. They felt that she had a better chance at being accepted and being a success if she had a physical ‘make over’ to show the world that she was worthy of their attention. This, to me, is devastating. I don’t want to be considered ‘less admirable’ or ‘less respected’ if I choose to put more time into my thoughts than into my appearance. I also don’t want to be judged as ‘less educated’ or ‘more educated’ by the way I dress, for example. I once heard a couple discussing the female physicist Lisa Randall (she is brilliant) and how they thought that she couldn’t possibly win a Nobel because she was ‘too ladylike and sophisticated to really be intelligent.’ Do women have to dress like men to be considered intelligent? Honestly, how much more of a hierarchy of superiority do we need in this world? 

It is ironic that we live in a world so focused on this hierarchical structure, even a structure that has become subconscious for many of us.  How many of us have that notion, when passing a homeless person on the street, that we're somehow better off (in some way, shape or form) than them?  Ironically, as we have begun to uncover, the brain isn't actually run in a hierarchical system.  The brain has an architecture that uses many feedback channels to create, from simple neuron interactions, complex interactions that we know as thoughts and movements.  It is distinctly interesting, therefore, that somehow our race created this concept of superiority -- where did it come from?  What triggered it?  If our brain doesn't work in such a hierarchy, it's very interesting that we should concoct such a hierarchy and stay with it for the many years we've been on earth.  However, perhaps the architecture of the brain doesn't have anything to do with our social reality.

My friend brought up an interesting thought about this: Darwin's theory, 'survival of the fittest,' seems to argue that there is some superiority of one race/organism over another of the same kind.  Now, I would agree that Darwin's theory has scientific founding; I won't argue with that. I do question, though, if the "fittest" act superior to their counterparts? Do those who continue to evolve also evolve with a superiority complex over those less-fit? There seems to be a modern probable connection between those we consider able-bodied and those with disabilities; because we are more 'evolved' for our particular world, as we have created it, must we think ourselves superior to these other people?  Is it ethical to say that, because able-bodied people have created an able-bodied world, people with disabilities can therefore be correctly exluded and theorized as inferior? 

Being Wrong

Everytime I try to engage in a discussion/conflict, like one of those spurred by the above discussed topics, my friends will usually back down and either say they are sorry or that they don't want to get in a fight.  Where did this notion of the necessity that one of the two of us is wrong come from?  Where did conflict and discussion get such a negative connotation?  Why is that we are focused on receiving a conclusion and compromising in order to get that conclusion?  Why do we simply disregard the path that we take to get to that conclusion?  It seems a very powerful quality to be able to acknowledge that "one can never be wrong," but it is also not an easy notion to take into one's lifestyle.  I was raised discussing and 'conflicting' about various subjects with my parents, and not in the negative fashion (most of the time!).  For that reason, I really thrive on hearing other peoples' opinions, comparing them to mine and then stepping forward with another thought that has arrived.  It seems like a logical turn of events for this to occur, and yet, most of our world revolves around the notion that only one person in a discussion can be correct.  Not only does this notion seem counterproductive, it also seems counter-intuitive.  How is it possible that only that person can be right?  That person has specific genes and environmental factors that has influenced his or her personality and opinions.  So, it would seem intuitive that everything is subjective to each individual -- and seems even more intuitive that there can be no 'right' answer, because we are so diverse.


Does the assessment (test, SAT, ACT) really match what we want to teach our kids?  If we don't want to foster regurgitation, it seems that we need to change our assessments.  However, though an ideal assessment is probably creating a portfolio or open-ended project, we come to a roadblock: some teachers, in some districts, have to assess up to 75 students.  Deb suggested: should teachers be teaching 75 students if they cannot assess, without regurgitation, those 75 students?  Our traditional school system seems to preach that they 'ready students for real life' and yet I question: if education is not real life, than what, exactly, is education?  On the other hand, a career is often not going to test one's knowledge of regurgitation as a part of the job-description--so why is education focused on regurgitation if, indeed, it is not at all applicable to what our traditional education preaches about readying for a career?  Doctors do not sit down in a room, analyze the patient and immediately give a diagnosis; they use their references and other doctors to discuss possible options and find the best diagnosis for the symptoms.  They do not work on regurgitation of every disease they learned in medical school.

There seems to be a necessity of 'labeling' children in education.  I think the concept of 'labeling' a child should come with some serious considerations.  Moira brought up that the label could be used to assess strengths and weaknesses; I see this.  However, from a standpoint that I've experienced more often from working with children with physical and developmental disabilities for eight years, that box is a closed case.  You may not leave the box without fear of repercussion, without fear of fostering failure of that child.  What is so wrong with failure?  Isn't a box just set up to prevent failure?  It creates a label with which there is a 'safe' place to use in order to 'learn.'  However, personally, I learn from failure.  Why are 'special education' children not allowed to also fail?  They, too, have a brain capable of learning from failure. [Kathy did a bit of research on this topic.]

I find the "preparing students for the world" to be a very interesting concept -- and, to me, it has many facets.  Personally, I was prepared by the "listen to your superiors" or "never question authority."  That was the way my high school basically, if even unconsciously, prepared its students.  My parents, though, prepared me by telling me to question everything that I don't understand or that I think can be done better.  So, is there a right way to prepare students for the "real world"?  What is the "real world" that we want to prepare them for: tangible success, desire to learn more, desire to please, etc?  Perhaps if we are preparing them for life-long learning as "reality", as this institute has suggested, we should be encouraging the questioning aspect rather than the obeying aspect.  As a sidenote, I don't believe that 'disobeying' necessarily means 'disrespectful.'  I think this is particularly important to encourage in school: questioning respectfully, disagreeing respectfully, arguing with the intention of learning more rather than instigating anger.

It seems to be a well-accepted concept that the job of teachers is to prepare their students for college 'lectures.'  Are we okay with saying "that's the way it is?"  Do we learn by doing this?  Has society ever created anything new by just saying "that's the way it is?"  Invention doesn't come about from saying that phrase, and neither does innovation.  It seems that, while that is the majority of how it is, that majority is changeable.  We change everyday.  Should we be encouraging students to accept "that's the way it is" or to question and say.. "that's not the only way it can be?"


Thoughts of Brie Stark, 2009