No Hay Camino, se hace camino al andar
The purpose of the blog is simply to advance on philosophical themes covered in Jack’s Path. I am sure however that this will take us well beyond those key topics considered there. Philosophy, has famously been described as a journey, the journey being more important than the arrival. I’ve often found the Camino itself to be exactly the same. Nonetheless, philosophy is about trying to find answers, the final answers may well put an end to philosophical exploration. Yet those answers are far from having an answer today.
My own experience of walking caminos, is that there were no shortage of people asking the great philosophical questions. The Camino is one of the best places to ponder these questions, and therefore the perfect setting for a book that considers the great questions of philosophy.
Jack’s Path explores many of the current themes in Philosophy, from Ethics, to the place of religion, from epistemology to existentialism.
Jack falls again into a discussion with Ivana Fokov, on the road to Calzadilla. The text gives a very truncated, rough, overview of the original discussion, but the topic is far larger in scope and therefore not enough space to include in the book itself. Yet this theme has been central in philosophy over the last few years. This is largely due to the rise of the theory of Scientism, a theme which is close to Ivana’s own views which were expressed in their earlier meeting. The discussion follows on from this earlier topic of ‘Nothing but Atoms’, where Jack conversed with both Vladimir and Ivana about the constraints of freedom. This debate has significant overlap with that discussion, and is therefore no less important.
The view of ‘Scientism’, (being the idea that there is no field of knowledge worthwhile outside of the Scientific Method) is one which is, unfortunately, all too pervasive. One of the key thinkers in this debate is Richard Dawkins, yet the ideas that are presented with this line of thinking are very much grounded in the debates of the latter half of the 19th Century. The debate has a counterpart in the 20th Century focus on Logical Postivism and Logical Functionalism. Their proposal was that the limits of our language should be rooted in what we can observe, as Wittgenstein puts it, the limits of the world are the limits of language.
However, other philosophers see this is patently absurd, and in the text Midgie again brings Jack back out of his philosophical doldrums to show that not only is there a plausible way out of this line of thinking, Scientism and its siblings is problematic as a way of understanding the world.
This chapter in the book, and the ensuing discussion are vitally important. This is an area where there is an impact between the philosophical theories and the inherent beliefs that are well established in the general intellectual milieu. An example: If you were to ask any school child in western societies, ‘Could a religious person, a priest for example, be a scientist?’, the answer is almost invariably ‘no’. Inherent within their belief system, is that Religion and Science are opposed. And yet this is not obvious, hence there is a dogmatism to this, a bias, a blind-spot in the way this view has crept into our default thinking.
Alongside this, they will also argue that religion has been superseded by Science. It is a tempting view, given how successful the scientific method has been for the last few hundred years. August Comte, argued in the first half of the 19th Century, that history has shown a development of thinking that can be outlined in three stages, theological, metaphysical followed by our own more advanced age, the scientific. However, the view that Science and Religion are opposed, is not a view which is in any way obvious. Then where are the routes of this idea that Science is naturally opposed to Religion?
Before we can look at this perhaps I might summarise here a more detailed layout of this general view of the relationship between Religion and Science:
So this I think is the usual picture many of us have, and it is surprising how all-pervasive this view is in the mind-set of writers:
The above is a persistent and pervasive understanding of the relationship between the two.
The above schematic, however, is almost entirely false!
A more detailed discussion of why this is the case is set out in the Resources Section, however let us look at some key areas:
The erroneous schematic as outlined above, can be traced back to a warring mind set established by two authors of the 19th Century, Andrew Dickson White, and William Draper:
Andrew Dickson White’s, A History of the Warfare between Science with Theology in Christendom (1896) enforces a confrontation on the debate where none had hitherto existed. White declared that it was a mistake to think that the Religion and Science were enemies, but his book gave exactly the opposite impressions.
White argued that Galileo had been tortured. And that Bruno was a martyr to his Scientific beliefs. Bruno in fact was killed because he argued that Christ had no human body and his death on his cross was an illusion. Galileo was never physically tortured. Galileo during his trial was housed in a three room suite and had his meals prepared by the chef of the Italian embassy.
White stated that the heroic Christopher Columbus enlightened the world in that it was round and not flat, but at least as far back as Aristotle – the world was known and thought to be round. (Also note that in 1988 a survey in Britain found that only a third of people knew that the earth goes round the sun once a year!).
William Draper’s book Conflict between Religion and Science (1874) was a vehement attack on the Roman Catholic church.
Draper argued that natural science should be viewed as the liberator against religion, particular Roman Catholicism:
‘The History of Science is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other’
The relationship between Religion and Science may currently be a troubled one, but this is a recent invention, and I hope to have shown by the above that generally, our understanding of it is at the very least skewed. They are not naturally at odds. John Polkinghorne, Arthur Peacocke and Alistair McGrath have shown in recent years how these Science, Theology and Philosophy can be complementary. (Much of this depends on one’s view of the place of Faith and the Bible which is tackled by ‘The Little Priest’ in an earlier chapter of the book).
And so this leaves Midgie, who Jack meets again later at Terradillos de los Templario, to explain an alternative view on the relationship between the Science and Religion debate, and relate it back to the Free-Will debate.
Religion cannot dismiss Science, yet Science in its turn is neutral. It does not lead someone to belief or unbelief, it is merely observation. Equally, for a true understanding of how God truly interacts with the universe, natural theology is a must, not an add on. Therefore Religion and Science are not sworn enemies, they can be complementary. Whether Science will lead to belief is still entirely up to you, the Design Argument and the Cosmological argument are well-known arguments in this field. Intelligent Design being a further advance on this, (though in some guises where it rejects evolutionary theory it has the hallmark of neither being by Design or Intelligent). However, in other guises, such as the ideas of the fine-tuning of the universe, or that a world with our physical laws and parameters where chaos and order interplay, there is a far more fruitful debate.
Jack’s meeting with the Fokov’s, just before Ciruena on the Camino, initiates one of the most important philosophical questions, ever, the answer to which will determine so much else of one’s own philosophical views. And still, it is not a question that can remain solely in the realms of philosophy for long, as it will inevitably underpin the way we choose to live our lives. It will determine our ethical choices, whether we believe in life after death, whether we have free will, whether we believe we have a soul, whether we are ultimately enhanced machines, there are few philosophical ideas that escape it.
What is this question? Are we, and the world, anything more than physical? Are we ‘Nothing but Atoms’?
It is such an important question, that Jack encounters it in its various guises throughout the Camino, and it is Midgie who tries to balance the argument for him, so that Jack can continue to find meaning in his journey. Without Midgie’s intervention, Jack may well be led back into a path of despair again, and to engage again with Mara’s nihilism:
“I have come to a standstill, both in terms of resolving my past, and finding a purpose to my future. It is not helping me to Silva again, this is pointless.“
In its first guise, the Fokovs outline the view from both biological determinism and pyschological conditioning. It is a compelling argument and one which is attractive to many. I wonder however, that at first sight, the instinct is simply to assert our freedom, to say to ourselves, I feel free, my decision are mine, I know when I don’t want to do something and react accordingly. I sense that freedom. Well in fact you would have good company, this is exactly what Kant says:
“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.“
“The concept of freedom is the stone of stumbling for all empiricists, but at the same time the key to the loftiest practical principles for critical moralists, who perceive by its means that they must necessarily proceed by a rational method.“
Kant from this, simply asserts that there is free will to address that moral law within. Like the moral law, it is there, it is a fact.
Kant picks up an important point however, when he states that empiricists will find the idea of freedom a problem, for where does that freedom originate if not outside of the empirical arena?
Yet increasingly, philosophers have argued for this more deterministic view, that in fact there is nothing outside of the empirical arena, a crude oversimplification of this view would be simply to say that since everything is physical, and we are not in control of our own physical make-up, then we are neither in control of our brain, which is ultimately our mind. So the chain of causality, from the atoms that we are composed of that leads in the end to our actions, is one complete unbroken chain, nothing within that chain is determined by you. You are a product, if you like, of your genes.
Voltaire puts it:
“Pear trees cannot bear pineapples”
That then, in a nutshell is that, but Ivana Fokov takes it a step further, her argument is not only that we are biological determined, but that we are conditioned as well by our own environment. There are any number of variants of this view, Operant Conditioning, (Skinner, early Fromm), Evolutive Psychology (Freud, Piaget), Soft Behaviourism (Ryle), Hard Behavioiurism (Hempel, Spinoza) and so on….
Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett are perhaps two of the most famous proponents currently, of this line of argument. You may think you are free, they decree, but you are ignorant of the causes of that freedom, and so are not, it is an illusion. There is a similar line of argument in the mind/body question, your consciousness is an illusion.
Yet determinism has a long history, from the fatalism of the Ancient Greeks whose lives were so determined by the gods, to Calvin’s theological determinism – a natural extension of St. Augustine’s thought from the 4th/5th Century:
“The potter has authority over the clay from the same lump to make one vessel for honour and another for contempt.” (Divine Election – quoting Rom 9:21)
Theological Determinism, argued that God was absolute sovereign, and Jesus’ sacrifice had the total efficacy to save all. Therefore you could not save yourself, you had the stain of original sin, only God could save you, and Calvin argued for Double Pre-destination, God will decide if you go to heaven or if you go to hell.
“The eternal decree of God, by which God determined what God wished to make of every man. For God does not create everyone in the same condition, but ordains eternal life for some and eternal damnation for others’ (Institutes of the Christian Religion 1559)”
For my part, this has to be wrong, and how Calvin ended up down this path is due to a monumentally wrong turn made by Augustine earlier, in his views that seem to derive from his rejection of Manicheism and his dalliance and siding with neo-Platonism. Pelagius, the British opponent of Augustine, had and still has a more compelling argument, that the existence of morality means that we are in some part responsible, for our own actions, and in theological terms, for our own salvation.
But, back to Jack, he is confounded by the modern formulation of this argument, unable to see a way out.
Midgie, who Jack first meets at the Church in the Cotswolds, is waiting.
One could I suspect go to Sartre, as a counter argument, however he is very much at the other end of the spectrum to Determinism, arguing that to deny one’s freedom would count you as scum! It is hard to see that position, however brave, as we do appear to have constraints on what we can do, and that is all well and good. Camus’ character Meursault in L’etranger is not the most endearing, the idea of the Absurd in Camus’ writing is not the most inviting. Why? Because most of us feel a moral abhorrence to random acts of destruction. We feel moral outrage at certain actions.
So a more balanced counter-view, arguably, is that given by Midgie. Her argument is simply this, your will is an important, possibly the most important factor of your humanity. Describing a cool stream on a hot day, purely in physical terms as H20, does not tell you what that stream is really, not to you the experiencer. Neither does a blue line in a map. They are ways of representing that stream, they are not the stream. Equally, describing you in terms of your genes, your atoms or your Biology, does not tell me much about you. What is Einstein or Edison if you take away their will, their perseverance, their hopes and dreams? Your humanity, our human nature, is far more than that.
And who is Midgie? The answer is Mary Midgley. one of the most important philosophers I believe, of the last hundred years.
I should have been returning today from completing the Camino Primitivo. It had taken months of planning and not a little training to get ready. Like so many of us, my plans were thwarted. However, I can still get out for some local walks with my family, in that time in the day when we are allowed to break out of our houses and stroll out into the woods to take our prescribed exercise. Today my twelve year daughter and I had started talking about the idea of time.
It takes a while for her to get into her conversational stride on these walks, but when she has taken off her headphones, and then petered out on her discussion about friendships and school, she tends to throw in something quite profound. It is such a wonderful time in life for her I often feel, to start questioning how things are, to have the first glimpses of wonder. I was not sure however, if I could explain what I thought about this topic to a twelve year old.
Time, for many of us, will have taken on a new perspective over the course of the lock-down. For some, time will be going very slowly indeed. If you are in an apartment in a city centre with three young children, it probably can’t go quick enough. But the introverts amongst you, being isolated for a few weeks is simply heaven.
Time, then, appears to us to be subjective. It is.
Time appears to be a mental construct. It is.
Time is not a duration, not a continuation of events, not past, present and future, as we have traditionally thought.
The first thing we need to note about time is that is is ‘localised’. There is no universal time ‘T’ that we can measure our own time against to check if my time is correct over someone else’s time. We cannot compare both our times. I cannot say that me writing now has a corresponding time ‘now’ in Alpha Centuri (over 4 light years away). There is no ‘now’ that we can both say is the ‘Actual Time’. Time is only relevant to a localised space around us. ‘Now’ has no meaning outside of our own ‘locality’ and is confined to the the speed of light. That is to say, it makes sense if I am talking to you face to face as the distance of space and time is so small, but not if you are on the moon. Equally, time is not the same for someone who is even living just a few metres above us. The time difference is less obvious, indeed negligible to our perception, but it is different nonetheless. We can measure that time difference over mere centimetres. We have known this since Einstein wrote his theory of General Relativity.
The second thing that we should note about time, is that it isn’t real! That is to say that the in the world itself, Time is not there in the way that we normally understand it. The fact that we have various ways of capturing the passing of time, is a red-herring. As above, it is only localised time we are capturing, but also it is misleading to think that we are capturing the passing of time itself. Essentially, time is our perspective of the ‘entropy’. Entropy is the fact that everything in the universe moves towards disorder. Entropy means that our bodies start breaking down, it means that the energy in stars will fizzle out, and that the fate of the universe will be dark place with no life. Entropy is irreversible, that is what we perceive as history. As with so many things, our mind is constructing a reality for us so that we can comprehend our world. It is not a perfect system of course (evident by the fact that we have blind spots). We are simply observing that phenomenon of entropy, and our minds are constructing that as time, as the passing of events.
Time then is real enough for us, our mind makes sense of the world itself. Our memories, our context, produces meaning for us, from what strangeness is the physics of time.
Time is subjective, and time is a mental construct. Interestingly, Immanuel Kant had a very similar view in his idea of time being a construct but that the world is really there, a sort of compromise between the 17th Century views on Rationalism and Empiricism.
We are important as part of the equations, and this is significant. In the book Jack’s Path, Jack is pulled between these two ideas, can we have a purely reductionist view of the universe, or can we just ignore the science. For a satisfactory understanding of life, we have to aim at a synthesis of the two.
All of this might be little consolation to you in what is for many a difficult time. But the lock-down has given us a chance to take a deep breath, and ponder things away from the usual concerns that take up our time. To go for a walk, and ponder the nature of reality itself. I can’t think of a better way to use that time.
My twelve year old daughter said that she understood, and that we had walked for too long. I did not think we had walked for that long and told her so. She protested, that is only your perspective. ‘Can we go home now’.
The Little Priest, the catalyst for Jack’s enquiry about sacred texts, along with the discussion further along the Way with Mariam and Fatimah, form the basis for an understanding together of Sacred Texts. The dialogue illustrates that though both are Sacred Texts, they are of a very different composition and often, for most adherents to the corresponding faiths, the texts are understood quite differently as well. Too often they are discussed in the same breath, yet this is too radically misrepresent them.
Without going into a full analysis of either, there are a few observations that might be made.
The first is that the idea of Sacred Texts are part of a wider discussion, in Philosophy it might come under an epistemological concern, ‘Can we believe anything that is not given directly to the senses’. Sacred Texts have both an historical context, and a faith claim. Both are important to the validity of a text.
Theologically speaking, the question will come under the Faith vs Reason debate, is one entitled to believe something entirely on the basis of faith.
The Faith and Reason question has a counterpart: The debate as to how people can come to know God. This is either through Revealed Theology, from Sacred Scripture, or through Natural Theology, observation of the world around us.
This draws us in turn into the question of the relationship between Religion and Science, an area that I will turn to when we look at later chapters in the book.
The debate between Faith and Reason has a long history, it includes theologians and philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, Moltmann, Barth, in fact in some way or another they all addressed this question, including St. Paul himself.
For now however, returning to the question of the place of scripture and how it is dealt with in the text, it is sufficient to say that Jack’s conclusion is that the texts must be given a context, they must be cited in their history, and in this regard the approaches to the Bible and the Qur’an are quite different.
It is not really rationally possible to see the Bible as the direct, unmediated word of God. We know too much about its construction, and we know that the Bible is at the very least mediated through a human prism. It is constructed by the hand of humans. That is not to say that it is not inspired, that is a belief of course, but it is not unmediated, it is not given to us directly from God. A quick comparison between Luke and Matthew’s Gospel soon shows that they are edited and have a bias.
Equally, as with the discussion with Mariam and Fatimah, a text has to be understood and to be open to being analysed in a historical setting. If a text has changed, has been edited, or if a text has historical claims, it has to be open to being challenged about those claims. If it is not, it’s faith claims have to be equally be questioned. This is true of all sacred texts.
Thus Jack, Fr. Tom, Mariam and Fatimah all fall into the Reason side of that debate, and seek historical evidence for the setting of those texts.
However, as Fr. Tom explains, there are still truths to be found in the Bible, both for those who still see the text as inspired, and those that do not.
And as evident with the discussion with David, we have to be careful too not to hold up Reason as the ultimate tool for truth……
The Camino’s essence: It is a walk through Nature. It is a dialogue with Nature. Such a beautiful landscape, and the divine is seen more clearly through these paths than with anything else that I know. Some have the fortune, it would seem, to encounter the divine immediately, most do not. Some find the divine in others and in ourselves, rarely. Though the spark of the divine is meant to hold us closer to divinity in the Genesis story, we are more often bound to the Fall.
I find the sublime most easily in such tranquil scenes as this, scenes that ascend thoughts:
‘In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened:—that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,—
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.’
As so it lifts the weight of the world from us, elevating our thoughts.
And so what better inspiration for Jack to start his journey, than with the paean of the great Lake Poet, Wordsworth, urging us to find the sublime there.
The figure of Tzu, a spirit enfleshed as a guru from the South East Asian tradition, manifests as such, since the idea of the divine in nature is most marked, perhaps, in the religious expressions from those regions. In Hinduism for example, the concept of the divine nature is inherent to its understanding of Brahman, the Cosmic Principle. In Buddhism equally, there is a moral call to respect all life, and hence the ahimsa symbol is the first mark for Jack : Do no harm.
The parallel position in Western philosophy is something like Panentheism, and over recent years this has pushed itself more to the forefront of Christian ideas about God’s interaction with the universe. In place of a God, sub specie aeternitatis we have the God of Meister Eckhart , an imminent God, infused in nature, yet still transcendent.
The Ashimsa mark, and Tzu’s guidance, consciously mark Jack’s Path at the beginning of his journey, as an expression of the Primacy of Nature in the story, that the Camino allows one to transcend through nature.
The later discussion with Tzu in Triacastela continues on the same theme. Triacastela similarly pulls one back in to nature, this was the last great scenic day, as from Sarria onwards, one becomes awake again to civilization. On this day’s walk, the route is breathtaking throughout.
The natural back-drop to a contemplation of the pressing need to protect the earth, and a pressing need for a clear philosophy on which to find it. Tzu’s message, that humans are at the central to the planets needs, and that our children, and generation of children have a right to be able to enjoy the Earth. No better place on the Camino, to press home the need for a sustainable future.
The Tattoo serves as a mnemonic, as a testimony and reminder to Jack of his journey. For the reader, it is a summary of the ideas that are encountered and addressed in the story, though as is always the case with philosophy, it may well be that the reader does not find their own answers in the various solutions given to these problems in the story. The responses in the story are those that I thought were worthy of appraisal, and so it is the reader’s task to refine their own views as they encounter the philosophical conundrums in the story.’
It should be reasonably obvious, particularly for anyone who has studied some philosophy, that the some of the people Jack encounters are well known philosophers from History, and they are naturally propounding their own views. David Hume, who Jack meets, expands on his own view of empiricism and its repercussions. Such a view, whilst precise, logical and attractive, seems to fall well short of a complete understanding of the human condition, and Jack intuitively grasps this in his conversations. Hence the meeting with these historical philosophers is to explain to the reader where the crux discussions in philosophy have been over the years. In some cases, I am aware, that these discussions are lengthy, however cutting the philosophy down to its bare bones would run the risk of ‘infantilising’ the philosophy itself, and therefore it is too easy to misconstrue the argument or put them up as a ‘straw man’ argument – too easy to refute and therefore the point missed.
The completion of the tattoo, whereby Jack had learned all the lessons he needed to learn to overcome the challenge of Mara’s philosophy, opens up a further insight to him that would appear to answer all his questions, and more importantly, allow Jack to live a good and meaningful life, something which he was unable to do after Mara had explained his own nihilism to Jack.
It is my understanding, that the philosophical and theological questions that are key today are very much issues that have been well addressed in the past. There is little new under the sun in philosophy. The ideas however are expressed again anew in each era. And so, the paintings Jack’s room in San Jean Pied de Port, the challenges of Mara and Jack’s own life set up those key philosophical questions that we face, and the tattoos keep a record of those whilst in time becoming a key to further insight and meaning.
The book ‘Jack’s Path’ is set on the Camino Frances, starting in San Jean Pied de Port at the foot of the Pyrenees. Jack accomplishes the journey in about 20 days, and the places where Jack stops were the same places where I had the pleasure of stopping on the route as well. Hence the journey is broken down into these sections. I am not at all sure that I would recommend trying to do the walk in 20 stages, though some will do this since that will accord with their own spirituality and their schedule and fitness levels. I prefer doing my Caminos in one event, and my time was limited to three weeks.
Like Jack, I was compelled to take the Valcarlos route, where Jack discovers the history of the route of Charlemagne’s army. This part of the journey is probably the toughest of the days on a Camino that I had done given the distance to Viskaretta, and given the inclement weather on that day along with the steep climbs. The snow came down very suddenly and with force, so that it was impossible to find one’s direction. In the story, Jack learns of a couple of pilgrims who had not returned, and as I myself came into Roncesvalles, there was a general panic amidst the conversations that I had that day. Two pilgrims had not arrived at Roncesvalles.