Philosopher’s Corner – September 21, 2008

Have you ever seen the Monty Python segments – where they start out – and now for something completely different? Well, I belong to 50 groups in, and like hanging out with the philosophy network. Today I will share some of my philosophical answers, in Q & A format.

Free Will or Determinism?

In Hoi Polloi, the Three Stooges are subject to the professor’s bet of $10,000 – that he can make them into gentlemen. Of course, this is the classical debate of heredity vs. environment. We see different positions in fields like psychology, where we might find extreme determinism exponents, like BF Skinner. We read all the classical arguments – found in the history of theology and philosophy – and are blown away by wordplay. It all depends on which brilliant philosopher crafts the best arguments. If we inject a Deity into the equation – like I do, along with the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions – any answer raises many issues about the nature and characteristics of the Deity. Now when modern science enters the arena, with its disciplines like astrophysics, and quantum mechanics, its puzzles and contradictions raises many issues, which throw a monkey wrench into the old free will vs. determinism question. And if you ever pondered the ramifications of “String Theory”, it is more difficult to phantom String Theory, then the problems encountered if I injected Deity into the mix. In simplicity, I think it is a combination of free will and determinism, but crafting it into arguments that win the minds over, will continue until the end of time (if such a thing exists).

Is Existentialism Relevant Today?

This century is the quest for meaning. Existentialism, phenomenology, and Zen were my three favorite schools of philosophy, when I was in school. And they still are today. To answer your question, just look at the literary side of existentialism. Authors like Fyodor Dostoevsky, Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, and Franz Kafka are still very popular today. Just go to the website, and read the reader reviews, of their works.

What Question Would You Ask the Ultimate Being?

I would ask nothing. We would both look at each other – in complete silence – then burst out laughing, as I would then understand everything. My answer would be consistent with the spirit and direction of Zen.

Can you Address the Previous Question, in Light of Suffering?

I think I mentioned before, that I belong to the Christian tradition. But Insight Meditation, Yoga, and Zen are compatible with that tradition, despite what some evangelicals and Eastern Orthodox might say. In the Eastern Orthodox case, they have their own equivalent, mystical traditions.

The Journal

Anyway, in the case of suffering, I have found a solution, in the Online Journal of Christian Theology and Philosophy, at, a few months back. This journal has some fascinating articles in the hybrid theology/philosophy sector. Anyway, the person presenting the article said that suffering is limited by our perception. Once we reach the transcendent self (as found in Plato’s Cave, whether that be in the afterlife, or somewhere else), we would see things in a different perspective. The specific article from the journal is entitled “Eternal Selves and The Problem of Evil”, which you can find by searching the journal. Perhaps this is akin to St. Paul’s seeing “through a glass darkly”. An evangelical named Larry Ollison talked about a dream he had. He saw God in the dream, and God answered all his questions about various topics – the answers were very simple, even for the most complex topic.  But once he awoke, he didn’t remember any of the answers. And another person named Tiffany Snow at, had answers to questions via a Near Death Experience, and relates them to the Christian framework.

Is it real or is it memorex?

Now it’s interesting in the freewill/determinism discussions that we have both an Islamic and Christian theological response, to the question, rather than a philosophical one. But John Calvin, who was a brilliant theologian, said that some people were predestined to go to a particular place, in theafterlife. Contrast that with an equally brilliant woman, named Mary Baker Eddy, who sees suffering here as an illusion – however real it appears – we just don’t have the “right perception”.  Perhaps it is a simple matter, like that of the poet William Blake – “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite…”  Similarly, in the Eastern world, Advaita and Zen see suffering in a different light, once they have experienced enlightenment.

Could We Feel Like Another Person?

It’s interesting that this brought up in the philosophy network, rather than the psychology network. Sometimes you can’t feel like another person, unless you jump into that culture. For example, in anthropology, there is a writer called Carlos Castaneda. And I did read many of his books. Now there is a bit of a controversy, over whether he is fictionalizing the work, or is really writing about magical men. But he did convince the University of California to issue a PhD to him, based upon his research. And he did make millions off his books. So if these magical men exist – how could you experience them – unless you immersed yourself into their culture? For the record, one of the most interesting topics of modern philosophers is Zombies. Let me refer you to an article by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at and a Wiki article at There’s even books devoted to this stuff, like “The Undead and Philosophy: Chicken Soup for the Soulless.” So how would you feel like a Zombie? Just don’t ask me to join them, in order to find out.

What is Your Philosophy of Life?

It’s actually said by someone else. “Life is a mystery to be lived, and not a problem to be solved.”

What First Interested You in Philosophy?

I had a professor of psychology, who was also in private practice as a psychiatrist. He was also into Existentialism, Phenomenology, and Zen. We used to have long and involved chats (and no – I wasn’t a patient – like the TV detective Monk).  This is why I studied Existentialism, Phenomenology, and Zen. This is why I obtained a graduate degree in psychology.  But philosophy and theology kept tracking me down. When I was a peace corp volunteer in Liberia, West Africa, I taught at a Catholic mission school. So I had access to their wonderful collection of philosophy books, and had a chance to learn about Catholic theology. However, there were also ivory craftsmen there, and I learned about Islam from them.

Randy Kemp



1 thought on “Philosopher’s Corner – September 21, 2008

  1. Studying, reading and intelectualizing are not really subsitutes for experience. Too many people are looking for someone to explain the meaning of life. Actual practice of self-reflection, mediation, zen…and yoga seem to be left out. We live too much in our brains and need to focus on the energetic expression that arises from our heart center.

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