Thoughtful Quotes of the day, 12/22/2009

Quotes I found thought provoking

“Every fear is an unconfronted weakness.” – Kurt Saxon in the essay “Survival and the Paranoid” 1977

“Intellectual understanding in the strict sense is found at the highest pinnacle of human selfhood, what the philosophers call the “actual intellect.” When such understanding leaves the realm of pure intelligence and descends to the level of thought and language, we are dealing with its expression, which will always be inadequate. To begin with, expression is simply transmitted knowledge, not actual understanding. Nonetheless, we can still appreciate that a distinction has always been drawn between these two sorts of knowledge in Islam and other traditions. It is this distinction that I need to clarify at the outset..  ignorance of the foundational importance of intellectual understanding has contributed to the crises faced not only by Muslims, but also by the human community in general.” – William Chittick, Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul

“ objection will undoubtedly be raised here: Is it possible  to go beyond nature? We do not hesitate to answer plainly: Not only is it possible, but it is a fact. Again it might be said, is this not merely an assertion; what proofs thereof can be adduced? It is truly strange that proof is demanded concerning the possibility of a kind of knowledge instead of searching for it and verifying it for one’s self by undertaking the work necessary for its acquisition.  For those who possess this knowledge, what interest can there be in all this discussion? Substituting a “theory of knowledge” for knowledge itself is perhaps the greatest admission of impotence in modern philosophy..

..all certitude contains something incommunicable. Nobody can truly attain to any knowledge other than by a strictly personal effort; all that one can do for another is to offer him the opportunity and indicate the means by which to attain the same knowledge. That is why it would be vain to attempt to impose any belief in the purely intellectual realm; the best argument in the world could not in this respect replace direct and effective knowledge..” -Rene Guenon, in his essay “Oriental Metaphysics”

“In the light of what we have recently learned about animal behavior in general, and human behavior in particular, it has become clear that control through the punishment of undesirable behavior is less effective, in the long run, than control through the reinforcement of desirable behavior by rewards, and that government through terror works on the whole less well than government through the non-violent manipulation of the environment and of the thoughts and feelings of individual men, women and children. Punishment temporarily puts a stop to undesirable behavior, but does not permanently reduce the victim’s tendency to indulge in it. Moreover, the psycho-physical by-products of punishment may be just as undesirable…

..impersonal forces over which we have almost no control seem to be pushing us all in the direction of the Brave
New Worldian nightmare; and this impersonal pushing is being consciously accelerated by representatives of commercial and political organizations who have developed a number of new techniques for manipulating, in the interest of some minority, the thoughts and feelings of the masses..” -Aldous Huxley, in his “Brave New World Revisited’, 1958

“the more allies you have, the better your chances. But if all you see now are enemies, that’s all you’ll see when you need friends the most.” – Kurt Saxon in the essay “Survival and the Paranoid” 1977

To relax in strength

Tension generated as the coil is pressed down. It quivers and is sprung. Released in a direction it exerts force. The coiled spring, the tensed muscle, the panther on its haunches waiting to leap.

With the tension unleashed, the energy is transferred. The spring is sprung. The fist, it flies forth. The cat leaps through the air. The dagger descends with increasing speed. The stone is pushed, and gives way

Shortly before he died, my dad offered a piece of advice – that a man’s life, the entirety of it, is a pecking order.You are pecked up, or down, the order. At the right time your moment arrives, how you react, or act, determines much, When opportunity’s door opens do you even recognize it for what it is? Are you patient enough to wait, to prepare, and then to see things for what they are and do what you must do?

Man’s life is often conditioned by tension and stress. Inwardly we are coiled up by society’s demands. We un-tense and do what we must, or what we are told. Some tensions remain, some coils remain un-sprung, no mode of release is found, and constantly the toll is taken.

The coil’s metal fatigues and cracks. The stress fractures spread.

Our society winds us up like springs. We are fed, from childhood on, a diet of fears and anxieties. We are told contradictions and lies, as to our roles, obligations and duties. The carrot dangled before our noses, we are promised love, and promised friendship, promised shelter, if we but conform, buckle under, and plough on through. The reward is the relaxation, the release promised to be forthcoming.

Tension is managed, the stress sublimated.

In a muscle strength is tension. Each muscle motor unit is told by our minds how tightly to tense itself. Microscopic units in our muscle tissue attenuate the signals our mind sends to tell our muscles to contract. Our muscles can contract with greater force than our sinews and connective tissues can withstand. We can literally rip our own muscles off our bones.

Strength is will. Strength is power, power is the ability to use force to accomplish a task.

Strength can be as mental as it seems physical. And by exerting constant and increasing tension against heavy objects, or against our own muscles, or against immobile objects, we can condition the link between our minds and our muscles, making them more efficient, even causing our bodies to create more neural connections.

Our muscles with work and time grow denser, our tendons grow tougher, and better able to handle loads we place on them. Our muscle fibers themselves grow more mitochondria, more furnaces to stoke and provide energy.

Constant and progressive effort makes us stronger. In all things.

Any faculty of man can be strengthened. Our overly materialistic minds only focus on the symbol of coiled striated muscles, the proportional rippled figure of an Adonis statue. We then loose sight of a bigger picture.

What of our minds? What of our reason, our eyesight, our hearing, our more subtle modes of perception. Do we know what they are? A man can exercise his eyes, his ears, his reason, his intellect. A man can exercise his sex, his touch, his feelings and emotions. A man can and should exercise his will, because the will is where strength truly lies.

To exercise tension and strength is one thing, but what of relaxation and release? The coil, too tightly wound, can break or spring in an unfocused direction. To practice precision and form is essential. To practice relaxation on demand, and tension on demand, is essential. When a man wills overmuch, and undertakes to do that which is greater than him, two things can happen. He can man up to the task, grow stronger, and accomplish his aims.

Or he can break.

If we only know how to tense up, and not how to release, where does this leave us?

The key in strengthening muscles is progressive overload, just a little bit outside your range. You add extra reps, extra sets, extra weight, but with common sense never outstripping your capacity by too far.

You constantly place tasks to accomplish, directions into which you can grow, goals ahead of your nose. They must be realistically close enough at first to accomplish with some effort, because you will be learning to use long dormant faculties. With time you can make the goals more remote, as the confidence of achieving simple tasks just slightly out of reach grows.

When you know that you own your strength, you no longer need to remain constantly wound up and tense. The small dog quivering in rage becomes the larger wolf, relaxed and watchful.

What we were told to fear, we can accept, and swallow, and thus conquering it relaxed.

Pay attention to what others tell you to fear, do not fear these things, but pay attention to them. Some advice is golden and well meant, but some advice is distraction. By understanding what is presented to you, you can glimpse at what it is that you are being distracted from.

It is possible to trap a wary man in just this way. If you are on the look out for a trap then a truth may be presented to you in the knowledge that you will reflexively simply do or seek the opposite. In this way your healthy paranoia can be subverted.

Discretion in all things matters. Listen to all, and weight it. Take the best, leave the rest. Many an ostensible friend is actually an enemy, many a present enemy can become a useful friend and ally. Iago appears honorable and a sincere well wisher. By man a Desdemona is innocent, if you but have the eyes to see, and the mind to perceive.

A man must learn to relax before judgment, before striking, before action. To perceive, and weigh, before he acts.

Haste is not a sign of strength, it is a sign of weakness. The wolf stalks and measures his prey. You must learn to do the same. To do otherwise is stupidity and potentially can shorten your life and prevent you from accomplishing what you ought to.

Relax, sniff the wind, perceive all things before you, and strike at your moment, and no one else’s. IF they tighten the spring, and increase the tension, relax yourself accordingly. Never let them dictate the terms of your engagement. Move at your time, and your pace, having prepared yourself accordingly.

Society tells you what you must do. Allow this to flow by, decide when to fight your battles, against whom, and for what reasons.


Wisdom, intellect, and authority: Aqli vs. Naqli knowledge

What is knowledge, and how do we know? How do we come to know what we know.

Each civilization has arrived to conclusions on these matters, some give weight to certain answers over others.

To understand the intellectual atmosphere in the world of Classical Old Islam you should understand a basic distinction between two modes of knowledge recognized in the Islamic world. Otherwise it will be difficult to grasp much about the intellectual past and history of Islamic civilization.

Why should I bother writing this? Not for intellectual masturbation or self aggrandizement. How we know what we know is important. Islam plays a certain role in the world today and its conflicts, and has helped mold the world today, so to better understand the world today, its conflicts and tensions, you have to understand where and how Islam has conditioned, and been conditioned by, history.

Not only is a basic grasp of Islam’s intellectual history, and its intellectual interaction with the West, important and fascinating, but the questions and tensions raised in this intellectual history echo in Western Civilization’s intellectual-scape. The unique conclusions of the former, may be interesting to look at from the later. Without such understanding one can hardly be taken seriously if one tries to speak on connected topics. By our looking at a distinction defining Islamic intellectuality, we see things that are reflected in Western Civilization (Christian and post-Christian) and Eastern Civilizations. Epistemology is universal because knowledge is universal.

Classical Islam saw two types of knowledge and sciences (ulum) – “transmitted” and “intellectual” – in Arabic “naqli” and “aqli“. This distinction is based on their modes of acquisition.

In arguments there are two types of proofs, “adilat naqli” and “adilat aqli“. A dalil naqli derives from a textual source, taught and transmitted to the one making the argument, a dalil aqli derives from formal or informal logic, inductive reasoning, deductive reasoning, or other modes of intellection.

Aqli theorems ultimately rest on basic assumptions and premises that may have been transmitted in a naqli way, however what distinguishes the two is the locus of authority.. for a naqli theorem the source is the authority itself, for an aqli theorem the process of induction or deduction from the basic assumption, and the soundness of the logic used, is the source of authority.

Some branches of knowledge displayed both naqli and aqli sides. For example, poetry, or the arts of love-making. The martial arts, and physical culture are mixed arts, partial transmission and partial intellectual and physical self-cultivation

Most, however, fit into one or the other category.

A Naqli science or knowledge is thus known because it needs to be transmitted from one generation of scholar to student. The only possible way to learn it is to receive it from someone else, or as the phrase goes “from heart to heart, from breast to breast”.

In actual practice it is possible to receive a naqli branch of knowledge through self-study and erudition, however it is very difficult to do so because, at the lowest levels the complexity of the subject matter and the subtle nuances involved require an experienced master to impart the finer subtleties of this knowledge. The self-studying student will always be deficient unless he or she be possessed of a monstrously strong intellect and a sort of willpower that tends to be rare.

History, grammar, verbal morphology, general language, Sharia and law were all examples of transmitted knowledge. Also knowledge of Scripture – Quran and Hadith (traditional narrations) is naqli since the subtleties in their interpretation were taught by the Prophet and passed down in an unbroken chain to fit recipients who were rigorously examined and tested. This chain of narration and transmission (sanad) is a guarantee of authoritative mastery of the material.

More Secular branches of knowledge were regarded as somewhat exempt to this.

You could, bysupreme act of will master a language with access to enough dictionaries and textbooks on grammar, morphology, and rhetoric. It would take years but self study is possible. being taught is easier. History as well, though a mastery of the sources and knowing which sources to weigh and accept, which to reject, and being able to discern between propaganda presented as historical fact and actual fact in narrations, knowing where subtle contradictions lay in source material, etc., really required several good instructors.

Sure, you could sit around and read books all day long but at the end of the day, put a decade of self-study into it and you will still be deficient in many ways to a student who spent a couple years of intense study with a competent instructor. Less secular materials, such as Quran and hadith, were a different matter. Anyone can read the Quran, but your interpretation of its verses would not remotely be accepted unless you had been well schooled directly.

“I read the Quran” is not a valid base upon which to use it in an argument.

In religion, too much monkey business is possible by wily nily interpreting scripture left and right. Since education and literacy were more widespread in the Islamic middle ages than in the Christian middle ages and generally anyone moderately schooled had enough Arabic to be able to read the Quran for her own private devotions, the necessity to put a damper on multitudes of wily nily self-interpretations was dire.

Intellectual knowledge cannot, by contrast, be fully passed on by an instructor. it requires the active use of the intellect, at the lowest levels by rigorous employment of conventional logic and reason, by induction and deduction, reflection, and rigorous contemplation, and at the highest levels a degree of intellection that is best described as “enlightenment” or “illumination

In other words, only by rigorous training of the mind can one discover the subtleties of these types of knowledge by self-discovery and intellection. Scholars and instructors can at best point the way to such knowledge, or their books could serve as mnemonic devices, helping the student remember important points. The bulk of the intellectual work, however, has to be done by the seeker. If this is not done, then your mind will remain permanently crippled and dependent on others and their formulations.

Aqli knowledge is, essentially, “DIY” – Do It Yourself, after of course, a suitable basic foundation in the brief outline of the sciences and knowledge had been obtained.

Mathematics is a prime example of an Aqli knowledge, the classical Muslims believed that you could not competently be taught mathematics, you must work out a comprehensive understanding of higher mathematics yourself, through rigorous exercises, deduction, and logic – the entirety of one’s intellect had to be honed and trained. Since the intellect is able to recognize truth, by God’s justice and will, the ability to understand math must be innate to the human mind and only need rigorous exercise. You cannot depend on authority, rather authority can teach basic postulates and premises but the mind must develop the ability to work out its own proofs as guided and shepherded by scholars.

Logic is another example, related to mathematics. I separate logic “mantiq” from philosophy “hikmah” or “falasifa” because formal logic as a methodology is part of philosophy, but ultimately derives from mathematics and language itself. Philosophy is built on top of logic and reasoning, they are, however, two distinct sciences.

Philosophy is another, related, example. They are related through logic. You cannot be taught philosophy, philosophy is an exercise of the mind. The teacher points the direction, teaches you the past masters (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) and teaches you the contemporary understandings of their teachings and methods, but then you were expected to intellect, to quite literally think. Hard. Often while walking. And to discourse, to argue, to defend, and to arrive to your own conclusions. With some of the philosophers forms of mental and physical exercises – types of acesis – were used to hone and develop the discipline and mind.

Purification of the Mind and “Heart” and cleansing both of their diseases, acquiring praiseworthy attributes and virtues, and ridding oneself of blameworthy and despicable habits and attributes, is the “science” known as “tassawuf” or “sufism“, or with the Shia, “irfan” (gnosis). A master can teach the basics of these sciences but it is up to the student to apply and exercise and the unfolding of subtle knowledge and awareness of an inner nature, “illumination” or “enlightenment” cannot be taught, it must be acquired by the exercise of your own intellect. The basic foundations of this knowledge, however, MUST be taught and transmitted for if not you have no real basis to proceed forward. After all if you knew where to go, would your life be the shambles of unhappiness, discontent, and disappointments that it is?

The teacher points the direction to the way and teaches you basic tools, usually formulations and meditations upon the Quran or Hadith, and specific exercises designed to develop intellectual and spiritual discipline. Memorizations, recitals, fasts, forms of acesis. Then the rest is up to you

In Mathematics, Philosophy, and Spiritual wayfaring, and other similar disciplines, the mind was expected to be used rigorously after a small foundation of basic knowledge and practices were acquired. The observation of the world and its phenomena were the props upon which observation and cultivation of the inner properties of the intellect (aql) proceeded. The study of the external world and its phenomena was done to understand the world as a method of understanding the self, and then through the self arriving at a deeper understanding of the world again.

Phenomena are signs (ayat) behind which meaning (mana) resides. All are regarded as props, meanings set up in images and forms, one who could understand the abstract behind the formal and concrete was regarded as a man of discernment, one who could only understand the concrete and not the abstract as well is a half educated one, and half simpleton. Perfection (Kamaliyat) comes in understanding both the abstract and concrete, and in the wedding of the two.

This attitude is concisely and tersely articulated by William Chittick: “all phenomena point to noumena .. noumena can only be accessed at the root of the knowing self.” (from Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul)

Those studying naqli knowledge were not taken seriously and were generally ignored or derided if they had not put in the work to acquire the knowledge from teachers of known competence.

Those claiming aqli knowledge were not taken seriously unless it was known that they had undertaken rigorous development of the mind and self and – in the case of mathematics – could bloody well demonstrate that they knew how to add 2 plus 2, and then some.

Both naqli and aqli knowledge, proofs, and theorems, have their places. Knowing where and when to employ one or the other is regarded as a part of intellectual maturity and discernment one who realizes this and acts accordingly is regarded as “Hakim” – wise. In other words.

To each tool its place and role.


Quote of the day, Friday 4, Dec. 2009

“…In utilitarian societies, where what most people consider to be good for themselves is the rule of law, there are two vectors of control: institutions and economies. Both reward producing results that people want to consume in exchange for money, and now that we’ve got many different groups with enough people in them to be profitable, there are rewards for spinning facts to appear to confirm the opinions of those groups.

In other words, if you want to tell a truth, you need to find someone who wants to pay for it already. Preferably before you find that truth. Which means you’re not going to look for it in unpopular places.

It may be the most effective method of censorship in history. Instead of directly banning what you don’t like, indirectly reward everything else and so make it even better than taboo, make it unprofitable.

Sure, there will be a network of diehards who labor in poverty insisting on truth, but they’ll get treated like UFO researchers. The remaining 98% of society will ignore it and thanks to their superior numbers, outvote it not most but all times…”

Brett Stevens, writing , over at

George Orwell on Background Music

“..I have no doubt that, all over the world, hundreds of pleasure resorts similar to the one described above are now being planned, and perhaps are even being built. It is unlikely that they will be finished-world events will see to that-but they represent faithfully enough the modern civilised man’s idea of pleasure. Something of the kind is already partially attained in the more magnificent dance halls, movie palaces, hotels, restaurants and luxury liners. On a pleasure cruise or in a Lyons Corner House one already gets something more than a glimpse of this future paradise. Analysed, its main characteristics are these:

  1. One is never alone.
  2. One never does anything for oneself.
  3. One is never within sight of wild vegetation or natural objects of any kind.
  4. Light and temperature are always artificially regulated.
  5. One is never out of the sound of music…

The music-and if possible it should be the same music for everybody-is the most important ingredient. Its function is to prevent thought and conversation, and to shut out any natural sound, such as the song of birds or the whistling of the wind, that might otherwise intrude. The radio is already consciously used for this purpose by innumerable people. In very many English homes the radio is literally never turned off, though it is manipulated from time to time so as to make sure that only light music will come out of it. I know people who will keep the radio playing all through a meal and at the same time continue talking just loudly enough for the voices and the music to cancel out. This is done with a definite purpose. The music prevents the conversation from becoming serious or even coherent, while the chatter of voices stops one from listening attentively to the music and thus prevents the onset of that dreaded thing, thought

…It is difficult not to feel that the unconscious aim in the most typical modern pleasure resorts is a return to the womb. For there, too, one was never alone, one never saw daylight, the temperature was always regulated, one did not have to worry about work or food, and one’s thoughts, if any, were drowned by a continuous rhythmic throbbing….”

Source, George Orwell, in his essay Pleasure Spots