Wednesday, February 19, 2014


The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

A reader wrote in a comment to a 2009 blog, “I do think we run a risk when we generalize from personal experiences.” I have given considerable thought to her assertion and still find myself wondering if it is as true as it sounds. I have to ask myself how much of our entire belief system actual comes from our experiences. I am aware that there is suppose to be something we call hard science. Knowledge developed from pure research that produces facts. Could those facts be tainted by the very method used to produce them?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the scientific method as: "a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses."  So the research starts out with a hypothesis which means it starts out with “a proposition, or set of propositions, set forth as an explanation for the occurrence of some specified group of phenomena, either asserted merely as a provisional conjecture to guide investigation (working hypothesis)  or accepted as highly probable in the light of established facts.”

It is important where the proposition or set of propositions come from. For example, a drug company may do research only to prove their drug works.  A behaviorist might design a study to show that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning.

I am also aware of folks who believe the Bible to be without error and the inspired Word of God. Therefore, there are sources that people believe facts can come from. However, we know that scientific facts are a moving target because almost no one still believes the earth is flat yet at one time that was the science of its day. We also know not everyone agrees the Bible is infallible and there is great disagreement on what it says. So I ask, what knowledge can we count on not to be tainted by opinion and personal experiences?

For example, looking at the question of how to define mind one runs into more curves and dead ends than almost any subject science tries to define. When researchers are studying mice, they are looking at less complex creatures than themselves, but when they are trying to define mind with their own mind a problem arises. Ask yourself a simple question, can they really objectively study a mind with a mind?

Let me back up. If you agree that a mind is merely a brain to be studied as we study any biological part of the human body, then you will not agree there is a problem. However, if you think the mind is more than a mere mechanical machine then we can go on. If you believe in God, pray to God, and believe humans have a soul, where is that connection made? Is it made in a mechanical machine or a mind which is more than a biological brain?

We think of ourselves as individuals to such a degree that we don’t recognize how much those around us have shaped us and how much we have influenced them.  We are not an island.

It is true that I cannot say how someone else experienced Hurricane Andrew, but I can make the generalization that many people were traumatized by it and still today suffer from having gone through it. 

Taking personal experiences and drawing generalizations or conclusions is one way we build community and empathy.  If we decide one human can never understand another human, then we might as well say community is just a word.

I believe that one of the major points made in the Gospels is that Jesus is trying to show that all people ought to be welcome into the community of the faithful.  The body of Christ should respond with compassion to those whose only crime are shattered minds and to all the other Outsiders.  The Christian community should be inclusive rather than exclusive.  If you want to belong to something that excludes the “undesirables”, then join a private club.  The Good Shepherd has open arms to embrace the “least among us”.

©Ed Cooper, February 19, 2014, Stoney Creek, Tennessee

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