Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Butterflies, Buddha, and Brain Cells

Forget Neanderthal... I am the original early man. While I go about doing my drive-by teaching (I teach Continuing Education courses at various Midwestern universities) I usually arrive an hour to so early. One day I came to the classroom I was assigned to find that a class was already there. The room was full -- well over a hundred students, but there were a few seats left. I decided to sit in and see what was going on. It became obvious that this was a philosophy class because the professor had on a tweed jacket with black patches and there IS a dress code for these things. While he blathered and blethered up front I tried to be a good boy and listen quietly... but then he told the stupid Buddha story.

That isn't it's official title, by the way. It probably has some deeply spiritual eastern name, but it is a story about the Buddha and it is stupid so I'm sticking with my name for it. Here is it: one day the Buddha was meditating and he fell asleep. He dreamed he was a butterfly. When he woke up he wondered "Am I am man who dreamed I was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I am a man?"

If you don't get the point of the story, it is designed to get young minds to question reality. In some ways, that is the whole point of the first few years of State universities, too! If the students can be convinced that there is no absolute truth, no right and wrong, and no higher moral authority then they can be more easily shaped into what passes for enlightened citizens in our trendier urban salons.

Well... there is only so much I can take. My hand went up. The professor, not knowing me and assuming I was some mid-life crisis returnee, called on me. I said, "It requires approximately 100,000 brain connections to form a picture -- not to mention the millions of support synapses -- and if you want that picture to move or be in color you have to multiply the number of connections exponentially. Butterflies, depending on which species you are discussing, have no more than 5,000 synapses. Therefore, butterflies can't dream. Therefore you are a man dreaming you are a butterfly." I sat back down. The professor stood there -- stunned like a man just kissed by the front bumper of a Mac Truck. I shrugged and said, "Happy to help."

He went on, then, at length about how the POINT of the story was more important than the facts. "In fact", he said (no irony intended, I assume), "everything is but a figment of our individual and collective imaginations."

My hand went up.

"Are you a figment of my imagination?" I asked. He hemmed and hawwed and then said, "Yes."
"Is that table in front of you a figment of my imagination?" I asked. He nodded that it was. "Then what would happen if I picked it up and hit you with it? Would it hurt?" He was baffled, speechless, so I added, "I imagine it would."

Finding his voice he then flung marker on white board drawing graphs and equations and listing Important People's Names who agreed that we cannot, really, ever, KNOW anything.

My hand went up.

"How do you know?"

He dismissed the class. I got to talk to about twenty of the kids for the next half hour as we discussed absolutes. It reminded me of the time that my professor leaned over my desk once many years ago, face red, voice raised, spittle flying, screaming "There are no absolutes!" I merely shrugged and asked, "Does that include that statement?"

No wonder I managed to cram eight years of college into twelve.... but facts are facts, real is real, and God is God. Absolutely.


At 4/12/2005 01:48:00 PM , Blogger David U said...

I know one absolute........this is a great Blog! :) Keep em coming, bro!


At 4/12/2005 03:22:00 PM , Blogger DJG said...

What David said...

At 4/13/2005 10:13:00 AM , Blogger TCS said...

I am imagining a great blog.

I am imagining meeting you someday.

I am imagining your as great a guy as the guy I am imagining writing this blog.

I can only imagine

At 4/13/2005 04:03:00 PM , Blogger Jared Cramer said...

I'm reminded of a scene from The Silver Chair by CS Lewis where a witch is trying to convince the children that the only reality is the cave they are in and that they've made up everything about the outside world:

The Witch shook her head. "I see," she said, "that we should do no better with your lion, as you call it, than we did with your sun. You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You've seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it's to be called a lion. Well, 'tis a pretty make-believe, though, to say the truth, it would suit you all better if you were younger. And look how you can put nothing into your make-believe without copying it from the real world (i.e. the cave), this world of mine, which is the only world. But even you children are too old for such play. As for you, my lord Prince, that art a man full grown, fie upon you! Are you not ashamed of such toys? Come, all of you. Put away these childish tricks. I have work for you all in the real world. There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan . . ."

The Prince and the two children were standing with their heads hung down, their cheeks flushed, their eyes half closed; the strength all gone from them; the enchantment almost complete. But Puddleglum, desperately gathering all his strength, walked over to the fire. Then he did a very brave thing . . . with his bare foot he stamped on the fire, grinding a large part of it into ashes on the flat hearth . . . The pain itself made Puddleglum's head for a moment perfectly clear and he knew exactly what he really thought. There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.

"One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's the funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

At 4/14/2005 02:53:00 PM , Blogger Cheetah, the cheetah said...

Good for you for speaking up in your humorous-Patrick way and showing that the professors views were foolish. I laughed the whole time I read what you wrote! Sue Yanaros

At 4/14/2005 04:39:00 PM , Blogger Keith said...

Its kinda eerie to think of how many college students each year, will sit at the feet of professors just like the one you described, and simply soak up everything the instructor says simply because he is "the potter" and they are the "clay."Thanks for being bold and challenging this guy. This experience and this blog is always an encouragement to me. Keep posting.

At 4/14/2005 08:01:00 PM , Blogger Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

Patrick -

After reading your post for the third or fourth time, it occurs to me that I often feel like I possess the "butterfly brain" compared to those of you who are such talented writers and story tellers.

Although, I still remember to this day, even though it was long years ago, a day in a small high school American History class when the young professor, who was a grad student at Texas Tech, broached the issue of relative truth, while scoffing at absolute truth. Some of us refuted that notion, and to his dismay, had the final word.

He was trying to tell us that if we had lived in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s we would most likely have been atheists, or agnostic, as he claimed to be. Truth is relative. But, I pointed out to him that just because you don't know what "the" truth is doesn't mean that there is no absolute truth. I have no idea where that thought came from, except that I had deep faith even then and, for once, used my very human brain! He had no good response.

I just hope the "butterfly" brain is momentary, and not a permanent condition! I guess time will tell.

Keep writing! Love it!

At 4/15/2005 01:09:00 PM , Blogger Amigo said...

You really smacked that guy and assualted his world view. He doesn't want facts to spoil anything.

At 4/15/2005 03:21:00 PM , Blogger Paula said...

My blogging friend Amigo sent me to your site and I'm glad he did! I love it!

At 4/15/2005 11:37:00 PM , Blogger Wes said...

Great job!

At 4/16/2005 02:17:00 AM , Blogger Matildah said...

I was linked to here by Nate, and am glad he did. I'm in college right now and you had me cracking up. I have to take a philosophy class next quarter *can't wait. great blog!

At 4/16/2005 04:52:00 PM , Blogger Arielle said...

Found your blog via Bane. Wit and wisdom combined - make sure to thank Father for those gifts. =)

At 4/16/2005 08:50:00 PM , Blogger Bane said...

Thanks, Arielle, but once again, I am forced to issue a disclaimer: People here should not go to my blog.


At 4/20/2005 11:23:00 PM , Blogger Serena said...

I loved it!
My husband is one of those mid-life returnees and is attending a "Christ-centered and spirit-led" university. What is sad is that what you are saying about State Universities is true there, too. He is being given a lot of Marxism/Socialism and is not receiving much of a biblical world view except in a few classes where the professor is truly redeemed. He is having fun and I can tell you they will be glad when he graduates and moves on. Keep up the good work, brother.

At 4/22/2005 05:01:00 PM , Blogger Elena said...

Nice quote, Mr. Cramer!

Have you seen the Wonderworks TV production of The Silver Chair? (You get extra points for knowing to italicize the book title.) In it Puddleglum has a great line in that scene: something along the lines of "We can imagine a fake world to lick your 'real' one hollow."

I love me some C. S. Lewis!

Glad I finally made it to this blog. Welcome to the blogosphere, Patrick!


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