Smith: To Plato’s Cave and Back, Part 1

Huston Smith. 2001. Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. New York: Harper Collins.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Often the toughest part of any controversy is to ask the right question. Asking good questions requires deep knowledge of the subject, proper timing, and good intuition. In the scientific method,[1]the most challenging step is the first one where a felt need is converted into an hypothesis. Everyone can complain about needs, but it takes knowledge, timing, and intuition to form a working hypothesis.

Introduction

In Why Religion Matters, Huston Smith writes:

“In different ways, the East and the West are go

ing through a single common crisis whose cause is the spiritual condition of the modern world. That condition is characterized by loss—the loss of religious certainties and of transcendence with its larger horizons…The world lost its human dimension…” (1)

We are in a spiritual crisis characterized by a lost sense of God’s transcendence. The culprit? Smith writes:

“modern Westerners who, forsaking clear thinking have allowed ourselves to become so obsessed with life’s material underpinnings that we have written science a blank check…This is cause of our spiritual crisis.”(4)

While Western civilization could have accepted the benefits of scientific inquiry, but retained its traditions; it did not. Instead, it accepted materialism and shunned metaphysics that strives to explain everything not explainable through empirical observation and testing.

Three Philosophical Periods

Smith (11-22) outlines three philosophical periods—traditional, modern, and postmodern—focused primarily on their metaphysical assumptions and the principal problems that they addressed. The traditional period focused on the religious problem—how do we related to the cosmos? The modern period focused on problem of nature—providing food and shelter. The postmodern period has focused on the social problem—how we get along with one another. 

Smith chief issue with the modern and postmodern periods is that they are metaphysically handicapped. Focusing only on looking down, they have left us unable to find meaning in life and deprived the living of their humanity. Here we discover Smith’s reason for writing:

“I am convinced that whatever transpires in other domains of life—politics, living standards, environmental conditions, interpersonal relationships, the arts—we will be better off if we extricate ourselves from the world view we have unwittingly slipped into and replace it with a more generous and accurate one. That, and that only, is the concern of this book.”(24)

Smith is, of course, commending a traditional worldview with God at the center of our universe. (21-22).

Background and Organization 

Huston Cummings Smith (1919 – 2016)was born in China in a missionary family. He attended Central Methodist University and the University of Chicago. He taught religious studies at a number of schools, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Smith writes in sixteen chapters in two parts:

PART ONE: MODERNITY’s TUNNEL

  1. Who’s Right about Reality: Traditionalists, Modernists, or the Postmoderns?
  2. The Great Outdoors and the Tunnel within It
  3. The Tunnel as Such
  4. The Tunnel’s Floor: Scientism
  5. The Tunnel’s Left Wall: Higher Education
  6. The Tunnel’s Roof: The Media
  7. The Tunnel’s Right Wall: The Law

PART TWO: THE LIGHT AT THE TUNNEL’S END

  • Light
  • Is Light Increasing: Two Scenarios
  • Discerning the Signs of the Times
  • Three Sciences and the Road Ahead
  • Terms for the Détente
  • This Ambiguous World
  • The Big Picture
  • Spiritual Personality Types
  • Spirit

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments, preface, and introduction and followed by an epilogue and Indices.

The tunnel is an analogy to Plato’s cave where prisoners are chained to a wall so that the light at the end of the tunnel casts shadows in front of them that they mistake for reality. After a prisoner escapes, learns that reality does not consist of the shadows as believed and returns to inform his fellow prisoners, they refuse to believe him and murder him, a reference to Socrates.

Assessment

Huston Smith’s Why Religions Matteris a captivating book. Smith is a master story teller with an encyclopedic grasp of world religions, philosophy, and potpourri. My first reading influenced my thinking profoundly; my second reading after seminary proved equally interesting.

In part one of this review I have outlined Smith arguments and the structure of the book. In part two, I will look at his arguments in more detail.



[1]The scientific method consists of a number of steps in problem solving: felt need, hypothesis, data gathering, analysis, decision, implementation responsibility bearing.

Smith: To Plato’s Cave and Back, Part 1

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Ryan Explores Unintended Consequences

Andrew Ryan's Labbitt Halsey Protocol

Ryan Explores Unintended Consequences

Andrew Ryan. 2011. The Labbitt Halsey Protocol. Leesburg: Gadfly LLC.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The law of unintended consequences, first articulated by sociologist Robert K. Merton,  states that “outcomes that are not the ones foreseen and intended by a purposeful action.” [1] The more complex the system in view, the more likely it will behave in ways unexpected when subjected to a shock. The law of unintended consequences may seem like nothing more than common sense. Presidents forced to make decisions under uncertain conditions might, however, disagree. The future is seldom known or influenced with absolute certainty.

Overview

In his novel, The Labbitt Halsey Protocol, Andrew Ryan explores the consequences of genetic engineering to improve human intelligence that has gone horribly wrong. Consider participating in a program that would raise the intelligence level of your children to genius level and has no known side effects. Would you participate? What if you refuse—how could you retire in a world where all the children, except yours, were geniuses? Now, fast forward 15 years and almost all the children participating in the program end up committing suicide—so much so that local police and hospitals are reluctant to intervene. How would you, as a parent who participated, respond to the prospects facing your only child?

Plot Summary

This is the setting where we meet Ann Franklin, a very talented, attractive, and upwardly mobile defense contractor living and working in Northern Virginia for Steady State Technologies (SST), a small defense contractor. Ann is a graduate of the University of Virginia business school, she is the daughter of Dr. Henry Franklin, a retired philosophy professor, and her only son, Jeremy, participated in the Labbit Halsey Genomics company protocol, known as the X-chromosome embryogenic neuroenhancement (XEN). Participating in the protocol makes Jeremy an Xen kid whose average intelligence tests out at about 150. Jeremy’s father is missing in action leaving Ann a single mom raising an Xen kid while scaling the heights of the government contracting world (1-12).

Conflict in this scenario arises as Ann simultaneously succeeds in promoting a large defense contract, while quietly beginning an affair with one of contracting officers, and in launching a personal campaign to save Jeremy. SST beats the odds to win the contract and establish Ann’s career; Ann is able to save Jeremy, but at a terrible cost to her own mental and physical health. The story of how this all came about makes The Labbitt Halsey Protocol a true page-turner.

Andrew Ryan Background

Andrew Ryan is a U.S. Army veteran of Operation Desert Storm who earned his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from Louisiana State University. He continues to study physics, cosmology, and neuroscience. His newest book, The Substance of Spacetime: Infinity, Nothingness, and the Nature of Matter, was released in 2016 and it is a nonfiction work “in theoretical physics that reimagines spacetime, not as a two-dimensional coordinate system, but as a real three-dimensional substance.” [2]

Ryan and I met at the library in Leesburg, Virginia while we were attending Indie Author Day (October 8, 2016)[3] where we exchanged books and conversation between book sales to the general public.

Assessment

I am not typically a novel reader. The Labbitt Halsey Protocol caught my attention as a psychological drama. It touched me both as a parent and as a defense contractor. Having a bipolar child, I volunteered at one point to work in a psychiatric ward just like Ann’s quest to enter the Xen underground. (Psychiatric patients are typically above-average intelligence, just like the Xen). Having worked as a consultant in and around Tyson’s Corner, I had a send-off from one job in Clyde’s Restaurant. This was one of the restaurants where Ann had a dangerous liaison. At least for me, reading The Labbitt Halsey Protocol included a lot of déjà vu moments. Surreal, it kept my attention and kept me up sleepless a couple nights. Great read.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unintended_consequences.

[2] http://www.gadflyllc.com.

[3] http://IndieAuthorDay.com.

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