Just like school daze

“In true liberal education … the essential activity of the student is to relate the facts learned into a unified, organic whole, to assimilate them as … the rose assimilates food from the soil and increases in size, vitality and beauty.” (Sister Miriam Joseph, The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar and Rhetoric)

That is a quote I took from the opening pages of the book which just came two days ago. It is recommended by Jan and others at Gnostic Media, whom I have come to like most of the time. I cannot wait to dig into it, as it has stood on its own for eighty years.

I had an interesting exchange over the weekend, and want to bring the gist of it here without naming names or demeaning anyone. It has to do with the nature of education. The contention tossed at me is that in my writing and research I am hiding my sources. No one, after all, reaches the same conclusions I do. (Add just two more notes and he is playing the full “conspiracy theory” chord.) But he does not seem to believe that it is possible to use our own brain and resources for research, that the essence of research is reliance on authority figures.

Another blogger who, like the man in this one is a high school teacher, harps on this subject. If his critics do not read the New York Times or the New Yorker or something similar, they are committing scholarly error by using non-trustworthy sources.  Got that? We do not think for ourselves. We trust others to do that for us.

I said my method of research is to look for contradictions and try to resolve them. John Denver, for instance, being worth $21 million, having two ex-wives and three children, a private foundation and a large catalogue of (supposedly) self-written music, AND having no will, does not compute. It is a contradiction. Something else was afoot.

But of course, he said, I will always choose the side of the contradiction that favors me. I do not know what that means. Ayn Rand may have been a bad writer and philosopher, but she got it right in Atlas when she repeatedly said there are no contradictions, only faulty premises. When we see one, we need to examine it closely to see if one or the other, both or neither side is where the truth lay.

Schools teach rote memorization, and reward those with good memories. At the same time, they embed reliance on authority sources, as all questions asked have a correct answer. If the question asked is “When did John Denver die?”, it is actually complex as part of the answer is embedded in the question, the assumption that he died. I think he is still alive and still beats his wife. The correct question is “John Denver is said to have died. On what date did that supposedly happen?” But then, asking it that way invites thought.

“News” is heavily reliant on authoritative sources, “experts,” “sources close to the White House” (the gardener?) . They do that to add punch, to be more believable. They don’t want their followers using their own brains, just like in school.

12 thoughts on “Just like school daze

  1. I have this notion that being in Catholic schools on and off sharpened my skepticism in a way secular schooling and a Protestant or non-religious upbringing wouldn’t have. The blood and guts of the Catholic guilt trip opened my eyes to regular, inconsistent (contradictory?) behavior in my moral elders; and they weren’t being smote for it!
    Once I flushed the Xtian dirt from my system, the banal realities of the “world of the flesh” were more easily discarded along the path to enlightenment. Sure, I bought in to false premises from time to time, and trust me, it was for expedience sake because knowing something was wrong without a good counter argument will cost a huge amount of social capital. But once finally on my own, man, oh Manischewitz , I started digging for truth and I’m glad I did right from the get go.

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    1. Someday I would like to exchange Catholic School stories with you over a Manischewitz, or a beer, or cheap white wine, my specialty. I have to say in all sincerity that my teachers were wonderful woman and that I was not harmed by the experience. I was able to shed the less useful information.

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    2. For me, the Socialist/Communist ideology replaced your Catholic schools. But the stark contrast between claims and reality had the same effect. But for a long time, I only wondered why most others played along …

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  2. I don’t have this book but I want to buy it. A few months ago I looked for some trivium books on amazon and this book seemed to be one of the best. I didn’t buy it because other books were on my priority list (like Euclid’s Elements). There is also a Trivium book from the Wooden Books series. I have the Quadrivium from the Wooden Books series so the Trivium from Wooden Books is on my actual amazon list. The book by Miriam is probably more serious. The book was also written in the 30’s and the style was probably different when compared to modern books/textbooks.
    Mark, do you recommend the book?

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  3. Well that sucks that we can’t do any research; I hate it when that happens. And I was just finishing up on the details of the 7 Cities of Cibola being the town of Lupton Az. If you’ve ever been on I-40, you might remember the little red hill, as described by Marco de Niza in his journals. I believe the Coronado thing was faked, and the new found success of Pope Paul 111 was due to the loot from demolishing these well, actually 7 connected villages. Myth my ass. More to follow…….PS…tell that so called professor or whatever he calls himself to take a long walk on a short pier. out.

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  4. that’s very interesting proposal. I just ordered the trivium and quadrivium books for our vacation. From similar area I can recommend the only English book from the German scientist Peter Plichta “God’s Secret Formula: Deciphering the Riddle of the Universe and the Prime Number Code”. The title sounds a bit esoteric but it is not. It’s a good read for fakeologists and such. As example of the content: do you know that 1/81 produces all natural numbers in the format 0.0123456789(10)(11)…We have 81 stable chemical elements, etc.

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    1. People that talk about trivium, usually don’t talk that much about quadrivium. I was a STEM major so I am good with arithmetic, geometry (math in general) and astronomy. I suck when it comes to music. I still have to finish the Quadrivium book (Wooden Books), so maybe I will learn something about music.
      I can also mention cymatics, which is about studying visual patterns made by vibrations depending on frequency and shape of the membrane. There are some cool videos on youtube.

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  5. Most people go through life forming their understanding of subjects by taking the weighted average of the opinions of those around them. This seems like a useful shortcut, since who really has the time to get into the details of everything? It is also a ‘safe’ approach since it is usually socially expensive to hold opinions that differ from the group that surrounds you. The problem is that the perception of the opinions of a group is manufacturable through certain techniques. Bernays’ ‘Propaganda’ and many other books by people in positions of authority lay out the specific techniques that can be used to form this perceived common knowledge. I think this is an important point to make before engaging the types of people you describe in any meaningful discussion.

    Often when I’ve tried to engage a person on a topic I can see that they first thing they are doing is looking for my conclusion, then checking it against their existing world view. At that point a choice is made: either it is possible to fit my conclusion with that world view “I’d buy that” and they entertain the specific points I make, or it does not fit, eyes glaze over and all evidence is thrown out by any means necessary. If it does not fit then none of the evidence presented to reach the conclusion matters, it can all be explained away with excuses such as “not authoritative source”. From these experiences I have decided that the first thing that needs to be done is find a way to make a person’s world view malleable.

    Recently I convinced a friend of mine, who considers herself a feminist, that Gloria Steinam was/is a CIA agent. This convincing was only possible because there is video available of her admitting to it “when it was revealed that I was a CIA agent…” as part of her damage control after she was outed by fellow feminists. I saved this video for the end of my presentation. Before that, each and every point I attempted to make was excused away by some method, a frustrating experience. I opened with a copy of the CIA memo to media instructing on the use of the term ‘conspiracy theorist’ and got “I don’t know where that came from”, “Anyone could have made a document like that”, etc. Of course that was released by FOIA and is available on the CIA’s own website.

    How to break the initial world view? I think the approach is to give them enough information from sources which they will accept as authoritative that contradicts their world view. Lay out the credentials of the author, then hit them with the important quotes from their work. Quigley, Bernays, Brezinski are good sources for this, there are many others. When you see the new light dawn in their eyes you can probably engage on an actual topic you want to discuss.

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  6. People are aware of logical fallacies. But a even greater problem is the problem of cognitive biases (some are probably related to the logical fallacies). This wiki page has a nice list https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases . It is good to familiarize yourself with a few cognitive biases. A human will always have some some cognitive biases, but if you are aware of them you can decrease the damage.

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