Monday, April 30, 2012

Come, Let Us Reason

A facebook friend recently alerted me to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times reporting a scientific study showing that analytical thinking tends to undermine faith. I’m glad that I read about half of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink a few months ago; his account of recent studies of intuitive thinking and snap judgments helped me think analytically about the Times article.

The article (search “los angeles times analytical thinking faith”) tells about several experiments. In the first one, subjects were given three tricky questions for which the first, gut-instinct answer is usually wrong, questions that usually demand a little careful thinking to answer correctly. A boy buys a bat and a ball for a total cost of $1.10. (What store is this boy shopping at?) The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? Depending on the answers to questions such as this one, subjects were labeled as either analytical or intuitive thinkers. They then answered questions about faith, and the analytical group tended “to score lower on the belief scales.”

In another experiment, subjects were given words to rearrange into a sentence. One group dealt with trigger words such as “think,” “reason,” and “analyze.” Others were given “neutral” words. The group dealing with the “analytical” words described themselves on average as less religious.

In a third experiment, a control group read a passage in a clear font, while the test group read the same passage in a format that made them squint, an action that supposedly brings out analytical thinking. The test group then rated lower than the control group in their belief in “supernatural agents.”

Before I critique the article, let me say that I haven’t read the actual study, so I don’t know if the Times reported its methods and findings faithfully. But I’m all for research, and applaud these researchers for their contribution to an important and neglected problem. And I readily concede several of the study's findings. I admit that in many believers the strength of faith fluctuates. I admit that most Christians I have known don’t think very analytically about their faith and that some believe that thinking hurts faith. I admit that some evidence for religious beliefs is intangible and that some people believe in a given religion for emotional reasons or from peer pressure. Finally, I admit that analytical thinking can diminish faith; since faith is belief in an intellectual proposition, analytical thinking can either begin, increase, decrease, or demolish that belief, depending on what one thinks about. But I still have some concerns with the study:

• The first experiment included only tasks in which first-instinct answers were wrong. Gladwell’s Blink discusses several studies showing the accuracy of intuitive snap judgments in some contexts.

• Gladwell also discusses experiments showing the power of priming human subjects with trigger words, a process that works through subliminal, intuitive thought processes. So the second experiment, designed to bring out analytical thinking, did so by calling on intuitive thinking.

• Gladwell makes the case that we base even “intuitive” thinking on experience and reason but relegate the process to automated, subconscious levels of our system.

• The first experiment may well show that analytical thinkers in contemporary America tend to have less faith, but to claim that analytical thinking causes the lower level of faith is to commit the primary fallacy of statistics: assuming that correlation implies causation. And the study (probably) says nothing about people in India, Korea, or a New York Torah school. It certainly doesn’t say anything about seventeenth-century Americans.

• If the survey statements dealing with faith were all as vague as the samples provided in the article (“I feel the presence of the Divine,” “I just don’t understand religion”), then the study may not have shown anything about faith at all, since faith is a belief in a specific proposition. Perhaps analytical thinking prompted some subjects to realize more clearly that they don’t understand “religion” as a whole. I know I don’t understand Shinto. Maybe getting a subject into a pattern of analytical thinking causes him to analyze broad statements like “I believe in supernatural agents”; a devout Jew, for instance, thinking in an intuitive mode might answer “yes” to indicate her belief in God, where an analytical mental streak in the same person might cause her to answer “no,” reasoning that a positive answer would technically commit her to a belief in vampires and leprechauns.

• Aristotle, Augustine, al-Khwarizmi, Avicenna, Maimonides, Aquinas, Descartes, Newton, and Einstein form a tiny sample of famously analytical thinkers who believed in a God.

By the way, the ball costs 5 cents.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

More on Aquinas and Sin

A few years ago, I disappointed a Christian friend with my answer to his query: Are humans basically good or basically bad? I answered that it depends on what “basically” means. If the question refers to our species in its first created state, we’re basically good. He considered my answer contrary to Scriptural passages such as the prophet Jeremiah’s statement that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt.” It didn’t seem to help when I reminded him that I had said the answer depended on what “basically” means and that Genesis says the results of six days of creation – including Man – were very good.

Aquinas analyzes the issue helpfully by pointing out that Man was good in three ways at the moment of creation: (1) he was good as all things are in that they exist and have good formal properties, (2) he had a natural inclination to good actions, and (3) he had an “original justice,” a state of grace. Sin entirely erased the third good and diminished the second, but it did nothing to the first. We still demand wonder and awe in that we exist at all, in that our bodies reward researchers with marvelous discoveries and yet still hold mysteries, and in that we produce Hamlet, the pyramids, shadow puppets, proofs of the Pythagorean theorem, and sailing ships, to name just five random samples of our productivity and ingenuity.

My recent reading in St. Thomas’s Summa Theologica concentrated on the theology of sin. It included that analysis of the ways in which sin did and didn’t destroy Man’s goodness, and it covered the comforting doctrine of venial sin. Any sin represents a disorder in our nature (the sensitive appetite overruling reason, for instance) and in the right arrangement of goods (pleasure above health, for instance). Any sin involves an inordinate enjoyment of an inferior good; as Thomas puts it, when we sin we “turn to” a good and enjoy it for itself, a good that should direct us to God. Turning to the inferior good means turning our attention away from God, but some sins also involve rejecting God as the ultimate good. Venial sins, on the other hand, invert some goods without upsetting God’s place as the end of life. We sin this way sometimes, for instance, by simply ignoring God. No one, Aquinas points out, can constantly refer every action and thought consciously to godly service. the question is, do I have a habit of turning to God? Mortal sin destroys that habit and venial sin doesn’t.

These consoling ideas suggest that I add a nonrandom example of human achievement. Surely Aquinas’s Summa demands our admiration. Just don’t admire it inordinately.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Anthony Trollope and the Spread of Civilization

I consider myself an Anglophile. I love English history, English accents, English tea, English novels, English churches, English humor, English villages, English television, English puzzles, English pubs, English music, English architecture, and English movies. I even love English cooking. There. That proves it if nothing else does. I’m an Anglophile.

Now, being an Anglophile doesn’t mean that I think the English can do no wrong, that their faces are the most beautiful on the planet, or that their garbage smells sweet. The Angles are no angels, as Pope Gregory misunderstood it. They have their faults. Big faults. But I understand their faults. I read about their Civil War, and I understand how both sides could have seen the issues as important enough to fight over. I read about how they treated the natives in America, how they treated the Africans they captured and sold as slaves, how they treated the Indians, and how they treat(ed) the Irish, and I see the same dark shadows in myself.

By contrast, I read about the French Revolution and scratch my head. None of the six or eight sides in that tragedy make any sense to me. In Les Miserables, Cosette hisses at her father. Hisses?! I’ve never seen a girl hiss at her father. I can’t imagine why she would.

One consistent thread in the tapestry of English foolishness is their belief that they must bring civilization to the rest of the world. That India had its own valuable civilization seems not to have occurred to them. India’s civilization had its bad points (the rigid caste system, for instance) and its good points (cotton underwear, for instance). But it was civilization with cities, social structure, religion, law, commerce, education, philosophy, art, music, and poetry. England certainly saw the value in cotton clothing and did its best to reap all the profits from Indian manufactures. But the rest they just tried to contain with their supposedly superior governmental system.

One of the merrier airs in this pageant of foolishness comes from Cecil Rhodes and his scholarship. Bring the English-speaking world to Oxford, said Rhodes, and let them learn true civilization. Then the English way will spread even more fully around the English globe, and the English sun will truly never set on it. My university’s president was a Rhodes scholar. Whether that makes the program seem more sensible I leave to the reader. Kris Kristofferson was also a Rhodes scholar.

At this point, I don’t have much left of either space, time, or the reader’s patience to connect the spread of English civilization to my current reading. So I’ll just say briefly that I read with great pleasure a passage in Trollope’s Framley Parsonage the other day that indicated his healthy suspicion of the whole project of Anglicizing the world. He showed through a clash between the civilizers and the Churchmen that the civilizers had modeled their project on Christian missions, with the difference that instead of literacy, morality, and hope of Heaven, they offered mostly only English suits and long dresses. But Trollope doesn’t let the Christians off either, noting that the most vocal among them care mostly that the heathens learn to act solemnly on the first day of the week.

By the way, at a more generic level, I consider myself a Britophile. I get it honestly, I suppose. My grandparents were named Stephenson, Allen, Kelley, and Jones, and I think that those names fairly represent the four nations of the British Isles.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Aquinas and Flip Wilson

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about the internal causes of sin according to Aquinas: ignorance, weakness, and malice. This year I picked up the thread in the Second Part of the Summa Theologica and read about the external causes of sin. Reading this section brought to mind comedian Flip Wilson’s character Geraldine and her famous line, “The Devil made me do it!” What would Aquinas think about Geraldine’s statement?

Just as Aquinas identifies three internal causes of sin, he points to three possible external causes as well: God, the Devil, and Man. On the first of the three, God, I agree with Aquinas’s conclusions, although his reasoning sometimes seems lacking. God does not create evil and does not cause sin directly. As Sustainer of the world, He is the cause of the act of sin as an action, but this still does not make Him responsible for the sin. God also withdraws his grace from each person, but as a punishment, not as a cause of sin.

St. Thomas has to talk over the possibility of God causing sin, because he has established earlier that only God or the will itself can move the human will. The Devil has no power directly to move the human will. (Whew!) So in this way, Geraldine was definitely wrong. The Devil, though, does have the power of persuasion, and he can directly affect our sensitive appetites and our imaginations. So if Geraldine meant that the Devil induced her to sin in one of these ways, Aquinas would agree. In an ominous passage, the Dominican theologian notes that the Devil can and does sometimes completely overwhelm a person’s reason in possession and cause evil acts; but in these cases the human bears no culpability for sin since he has no means of control or resistance.

If God doesn’t cause sin, and the Devil can only suggest sin, we have only one other external source to blame for our sins: another human being. Thomas acknowledges that a man can lead another to sin through suggestion, just as the Devil does. But then he spends the bulk of this section on the doctrine of original sin. As I read it, the sin of Adam, in which we all participated by proxy, gets passed down only through men (“Sin came into the world through one man,” says Paul, excluding Eve, the first to sin, from the explanation); original sin comes to every human being who has a human father; a person formed miraculously would not inherit sin merely from having human flesh; no sin but original sin is passed down from parent to child; and the Holy Spirit purified Mary when He came upon her only because holiness befits the house of God. This section puzzles me, because it seems opposed to Catholic doctrine as I understand it. I hesitate to say anything about it more directly, especially while I still live in Italy.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Flash of Lightning

The tenets of Kung Fu Tzu (Latinized as Confucius) formed the basis for official ideology of China for 2400 years. By contrast, I have only one week’s experience reading the Analects. So I can say about as much about Confucius as someone trying to solve a midnight murder when all he knows is what he saw during one flash of lightning. But here are a few disconnected observations.

(1) Concerning The Golden Legend, the medieval classic on the lives of the saints, I read recently that while each story is interesting on its own, “in the mass” the book becomes tedious and repetitive. Some books are meant to be read a little at a time, and I think the Analects of Confucius is one of those books. Not that it’s tedious! But it is deceptively deep. After the first three sentences, I wanted to put the book down and ponder them for a week. Here’s where a ten-year reading plan doesn’t work so well.

(2) I can see why the Jesuits in China admired Confucianism and tried to incorporate it into their Christian lives. Confucius says little about Heaven or God, thus avoiding doctrinal conflicts for the most part, and he says a lot about healthy ways to think about morality, ways that to a good extent are compatible with Christian teaching. He says, for instance, that good people aren’t faultless. They’re just the ones who recognize their faults and their weakness and wish to be better.

(3) Confucius has a lot in common with Aristotle. Both talk about virtuous acts coming from a virtuous person. (In at least one place, though, Confucius seems to turn pragmatic and say that we commit virtuous acts in order to lead a tranquil life.) And they both seek a happy mean between defect and excess.

(4) Confucius taught a Silver Rule: Don’t do to others what you would not have them do to you. This negative formula is similar to Kant’s categorical imperative (reached in a totally different way, granted). And in pondering Kant’s ethics, it has occurred to me that the problem with the negative formulation is that it can lead to inaction.

(5) I wish Christianity had more of a history of training in discipline outside the monastery. Confucius talks about developing a steadiness in the face of insult or startling news, and I wish I had that discipline.

(6) Confucius emphasizes learning – not just gaining knowledge, but learning life. And learning life is hard. If you’re studying to be a carpenter and you mess up your first chair, you can learn from your mistakes and start a new one. But we each have only one life to experiment on. If we get to the end of that one and find that we’ve messed it up, we don’t get a second chance. So we have to learn as we go on our first, last, and only go around. Having only one chance is why we need the experience of those who have gone before us. I’m not ready to start sacrificing to my ancestors as Confucius did, but I do try to learn from them.

As for the murder mystery and the flash of lightning, wouldn’t that make a great story? Who would be better at solving it: Holmes, Poirot, or Father Brown?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Othello! Othello! What Othello?

Like the old plate spinners I used to watch on Ed Sullivan, many of Shakespeare’s plays run back and forth between several plotlines to keep them all moving. The Merchant of Venice, for instance, shows us the adventures of three young couples in love, a puzzle involving suitors who must choose correctly among three metal chests, and the story of the contract between Shylock and Antonio with its famous clause involving a pound of flesh. To mention just one more example, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has the marriage of Oberon and Titania, Puck’s impish pranks, and the craftsmen preparing their play-within-a-play. Unlike most of the other plays, though, Othello starts out with Iago expressing his anger at Othello, and the rest of the play pursues his scheme of revenge as relentlessly as Iago does himself.

The plot moves so steadily perhaps because Othello so readily starts to listen to Iago’s accusations and insinuations. The standard explanation for Othello’s deathly course is his possession of a tragic flaw: green-eyed jealousy. And that explanation clearly lies in the text of the play: jealousy is mentioned several times, and characters twice mention that it has green eyes. But I think Othello’s problem goes back even farther, to an improper view of Desdemona. I’m tempted to say that he thinks of her only as a beautiful body, except that his soliloquy at the climax shows that he recognizes the divine spark of life that animates her. So it’s better to say that Othello thinks of Desdemona primarily as a physical body with a removable mechanism of life rather than as a person consisting of soul and body intertwined.

Just before Othello smothers Desdemona, he speaks the soliloquy beginning, “It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul.” In these lines he admires the color and texture of Desdemona’s skin, the sweet smell of her breath, and the pleasure of kissing her lips – only qualities that he can perceive with the senses. He mentions the light within her and compares it to the flame of the candle nearby. But while he ponders snuffing both lights, he calls the candle a “flaming minister,” a biblical reference that gives the candle heavenly connotations, where he calls Desdemona only a “pattern of excelling nature,” a compliment indeed, although a very earthy one. He even talks about kissing her (or more – yuck) after killing her. What is this “her” that he would be kissing? Not a living soul, to be sure.

Often, as Joni Mitchell sang, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, and Othello certainly fits the pattern. After he kills Desdemona, he suddenly realizes that Desdemona herself, no longer just a mechanism with a magic battery, is no more. When Emilia knocks on the door, Othello ponders aloud what to do:
If she come in, she'll sure speak to my wife.
My wife! my wife! what wife? I have no wife.
O insupportable! O heavy hour!
He doesn’t say his wife is dead, which he might say if he still thinks of her only as a body. He says he has no wife. And only then does he acknowledge the “insupportable” burden he has taken on.

But Shakespeare (brilliant!) doesn’t stop Othello there and just have him commit suicide out of a sense of guilt. Othello has one more realization to make. In doing what he thought of at first as merely snuffing a light, he has put an end not just to one person, but to two. Rushing in with other characters who come to see what’s happened, Lodovico asks, “Where is this rash and most unfortunate man?” Othello answers, “That's he that was Othello: here I am.” He that was Othello. By giving himself over to his passions and committing the heinous sin, Othello has brought death upon himself. And that’s the story of the world.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Beauty Is in the Eye – and the Context – of the Beholder

A mention of The Merchant of Venice makes everyone think immediately of Shylock and the pound of flesh. I like that part of the story as well as the next geek, but I enjoy other aspects even more.

For instance, I love the story told in the first half of the play about the three casks. The set-up is as contrived as it could possibly be. Portia’s father has died and left it in his will that she must marry the man who chooses correctly between three metal chests: one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead. Those who try must swear never to woo any woman again if they fail nor to reveal which box they chose, and Portia has sworn herself never to reveal the solution and to abide by the outcome of the challenge. Of course the lead cask is the correct one, and of course the only suitor that Portia cares for chooses the right one. But I still like the story. It’s memorable, it reveals a lot about how the different suitors see Portia, and it demonstrates the mind of the father who could raise a sixteenth-century girl capable of entering a courtroom in disguise and winning a case without having gone to law school.

This play also contains what might be Shakepeare’s longest discourse on music. The character Lorenzo begins the passage by showing his beloved Jessica the stars and explaining to her that the spheres all contribute to a celestial harmony. Some medieval music theorists who discuss this music of the worlds explain that humans don’t hear it because we are inured to its constant sound. But Lorenzo offers a better theory when he says that we cannot hear heavenly music while our immortal souls are enclosed in “this muddy vesture of decay.” He goes on to note the power of music over wild animals and claims that
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils.
Portia, too, has several things to say about music. Where Lorenzo concentrates on music of the spheres and of the soul, however, Portia wants to talk about the music we hear every day. She is definitely not fit for treasons, and sure enough, she is greatly moved by the concord of sweet sounds. Portia notices, though, that music sounds even sweeter during the night. Her maid Nerissa theorizes that the nighttime silence that surrounds the music is the cause. What a beautiful and subtle thought, not only that the same person hears the same music differently depending on context, but also that the silence of the dark hours, which technically disappears when music fills the air, still has a presence in our minds as the frame for the musical picture.

Finally, this time through the play, I found special joy in its mention of the Rialto, since I was just in Venice two weeks ago and spent a lot of time around the Rialto bridge.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Top 100 -- II

You have before your eyes, gentle reader, the 200th post of my blog about the ten-year reading plan I made for myself. Last June, for the 100th post, I thought first about listing my hundred favorite books, but decided that compiling the list was too daunting a task. In the end I opted for writing a short paragraph on seven of the books I think about the most. Today, I want to write about seven more. The list includes some that are usually considered among the Great Books and some that aren’t, but I love them all and think about them often.

• Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth. This wonderful children’s book has a message: that learning is rewarding because words and numbers carry treasures. I agree with the message, but I love the book most when it demonstrates its message with creative wordplay rather than preaching its message. I rarely hear the phrases “jump to conclusions” or “see things from my point of view” without thinking of Juster’s literal interpretations.

• David McCullough, John Adams. I’ve read this book twice and watched the miniseries, and Adams’s intelligence, courage, and political savvy still astound me. It’s dangerous for me to think about John Adams too much, because he makes me want to fight for the sake of principle and forget the last phrase of the Serenity Prayer. Nevertheless, I do often think about Adams taking John Quincy with him to Europe for several years and homeschooling him in Latin, history, and mathematics. The Adams kids that didn’t get to go with their dad all led tragic lives, while Quincy rose to the Presidency, recognized as perhaps the most educated man in the United States.

• Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist. The best sequence in this classic deals with the phantom of guilt that hovers behind Bill Sikes's head after he kills poor Nancy. Sikes constantly senses someone staring at the back of his head, but can’t see the phantom because it turns along with his head and stays ever behind him. Sikes rolls on the ground on his back in an attempt to smash the looming presence, but to no avail. Brilliant! No matter what anyone says, guilt is not just a feeling.

• François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel. This series of novels is crude, crazy, cracked, crabby, crafty, cringeworthy, creepy, crooked, cryptic, creaky, and crusty. But it got me attuned to the power of creative, crebrous lists.

• Doris Kearns Goodwin, Wait Till Next Year. This loving memoir of a Brooklyn girl who grew up a Dodgers fan tells some deeply touching stories: Doris becoming an historian because of her love of keeping score and recreating games for her father, her girlfriend who became depressive because she grew tall, and of course the glorious 1955 World Series, when “next year” finally came to pass. But the most amazing story involves young Doris hearing of a nearby train crash and sneaking out of her bedroom to baptize the dying victims.

• Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy. One of the funniest books I’ve ever read, Sterne’s classic offers the first-person attempt of the title character to recount every detail of his life. Naturally the attempt fails, but what with all his explanations and sidetracks, Tristram barely even gets to his birth. He tells us that his Uncle Toby often whistles “Lillibullero” when he gets frustrated, so three-fourths of the way through the book, where Tristram himself gets frustrated by his failures to make his autobiography progress, he presents, as a full “chapter,” the score to “Lillibullero.”

• James Michener, Alaska. I’ve known a few teachers who have gone to Alaska for a while because the state pays teachers so well. (They spend a lot of their oil money on education. Imagine.) I’ve been tempted to try it myself a time or two. The last story in Michener’s Michenerian saga tells of a young woman who responds to a job opening in a small Alaskan town above the Arctic Circle, a town that boasts of a new, seven-million-dollar school building (in the 1970s). She moves to her new home and finds everyone kind and helpful and grateful, but when they show her a small two-room schoolhouse made of concrete blocks, she asks about the new, seven-million-dollar facility. Her guide responds, “Do you have any idea how much it costs to ship concrete blocks above the Arctic Circle?”

Monday, April 2, 2012

Nelly and Descartes

During the first season of the US version of X Factor last fall, I went a little embarrassingly crazy over Drew Ryniewicz. I love the sound of yodeling in a pop song, and the young singer astounded me by using it with great control and beautiful effect on “It Must Have Been Love,” which I’ve listened to many, many times since. Her cover of Nelly’s “Just a Dream” has less yodeling, but its number of plays on my iPod is still high. I laugh at the silly redundancy in the lyrics every time I sing along: “I realize it was only just a dream.” But today I’m thinking about that line in response to Descartes.

I just read this morning in his (Descartes, not Nelly) Meditations that we must mistrust our senses because, as hard as it is to doubt the existence of the chair I am sitting in now, I know that during a dream I am just as convinced of the reality of a chair I dream I am sitting on. Descartes goes on to say, as many philosophers of his time did, that since we think we are awake when we dream, we can’t ever be sure we aren’t dreaming. But I don’t agree. I know I’m awake now, and I can tell you several reasons for my certainty.

(1) When I’m awake, I can think about other times I’ve been awake. I recognize the periods of sleep between them, yet I draw connections between the wakeful times and trace continuous plans and events and trains of thought over the course of the days and years. I remember yesterday, for instance, and I remember thinking about my blog and admitting to myself that I wouldn’t get around to writing a post. Today, I’m writing a post partly because I know it’s been a couple of days since the last one. When I’m dreaming, on the other hand, I usually can’t think of earlier dreams. On the rare occasions that I do seem to remember past dream times in a dream, the memories are simple, usually nothing more than a recognition that I’ve been in the location before. And I can’t trace stories from one dream time to the next; there’s never a thought, for instance, that I should do something this time that I wanted to do last time.

(2) In general, my memories in wakeful times are much more detailed than they are in my dreams. I can recall many people and events from junior high school, for instance, but when I’m dreaming, I don’t have conscious memories about things in either dreamworld or reality. Obviously I remember how to speak English, and I remember that monsters are scary and that standing in public in my underwear is embarrassing. But these are the ingrained memories that automate our normal actions and responses. In my dreams, I don’t explicitly remember anything like where I was the last time a monster chased me or what the monster looked like.

(3) I clearly remember dreams during my waking moments, but I don’t remember waking moments during my dreams. In other words, while I may assume that I’m awake when I’m really dreaming, I never think that my actual waking moments are the dreams within my dream existence.

(4) I can wonder whether I’m dreaming while I’m awake, but if I ever wonder within my dream whether I’m awake, I almost always start to see that I’m dreaming (usually with great relief), and I sometimes actually wake up because of the thought. And this is where Nelly comes in: I can realize, both as I wake up from a dream and sometimes while I’m still dreaming, that it’s only just a dream.

Are my experiences unusual? Were Descartes’ dreams different from mine? I have no trouble wondering with Descartes whether some spirit is deceiving me with everything that reaches my senses; in fact, I remember wondering that very thing when I was seven years old, long before I’d ever heard of Descartes. (Yeah, it’s no wonder public school disappointed me.) But the clear memory of my philosophical conundrum forty-five years ago shows me that, deceived or not, I’m definitely awake.