Curiosity Column: Could All Religions be Intertwined?

Religious tolerance illustrationWhat if all religions are parts of a larger puzzle? Now, I’m not claiming this as an absolute truth. You have to be honest, there is not much to substantiate religion in most of our humanly observation. You cannot justify philosophy with philosophy without making assumptions (quite unsubstantiated at the least, as per my intrigue with philosophy). Ok, so now that we established that, let’s establish an assumption, for curiosity’s sake if not anything else. Let’s assume that there is a hierarchy of supernatural, unobservable power as claimed in religious texts.

Recently, I have spent quite a bit of time researching the fundamentals of religions (I voiced a minute part of what I found here). I was coerced by some of my peers and by my own curiosity to discuss the interrelations of religion for a public speech class. I spent my once free time perusing peer-reviewed journals, claimed holy works, and the fundamentals of major organized religions. I read through ancient mythology and folk-lore alongside historical information to get a cultural context. To my disbelief, all religions seemed to share many more aspects than I thought possible.

Oddly enough, most of the religions I looked at were formed within a span of a few hundred years, merely a snapshot in the overall of human civilization. Also to note, is that these religions were founded in isolated regions yet still share these commonalities. I will leave an enumeration of commonalities to another post so as to not have a book.

These factors present a bit of a curious case to me. Even then, there are many factors that must be considered for possibly accounting for some of these shared traits, from trade to the evolution of human thought throughout the ages. Any factors that can morph a religion must be examined as well, which I have not yet had sufficient time to do.

I traced some of the evolution of the individual religions, the spin-offs that led to the modern forms today. Rather than diverging into highly specialized regional sects as one might expect, they actually seemed to converge a little more. Small nuances from one to the next were incorporated, which I would attribute to the inter-connectivity brought about by growing Internet communications.

religious_diversity5Yet, I want to draw attention not only to the similarities, but also the dissimilarities—the gaps, so to speak.

Take, for instance, how Buddhism approaches the human need to strive for perfection and enlightenment in relation to the reincarnation cycle of Hinduism. One could draw a direct connection between the two, with the Buddhist enlightenment being the top tier of Hindu reincarnation. On the other hand, take a look at Shintoism, an ancient Japanese religion similar to that of Shamanism. In Shinto mythology there is no mention of the creation of man and other forms of life. The creation myth found in the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki/Nihongi only talk about the creation of  land and the natural world in relation to it. It seems to be a strange account to leave out in respects to all the stories and relations of the nature deities. This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list so I will leave of at this point. There are many more strange accounts and holes than just these, as this is just a snapshot.

This can obviously be interpreted in many ways. One way that struck me is that it could be filled with another creation “myth.” What if another religion—for example Christianity, Judaism, or Islam—could have it right on how humans were created/evolved/etc? Could it be possible that these three pick up where Shintoism leaves off? Food for thought.

Another thing I find quite interesting follows along the lines of afterlife. Remarkably, many religions do not put a large emphasis on afterlife as per the belief of impermanence. Meaning that the afterlife is not necessarily eternal. One could be punished or rewarded based on their life on Earth, but time will tome to pass both in “heaven” as in “hell” and then the cycle begins anew. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism all follow this route where as Christianity and Islam vary on the other side of the spectrum. All of these there eventually do have an ending point, whether to a cycle or a linear path of life. Yet, this also seems strange to me, particularly in the cycle beliefs because it seems to abruptly cut off. Simply put, it leaves me wanting of an explanation of “what’s next?” This leads me then to wonder if another religion has the “end game” covered.

I just wanted to lay bare what my curiosities have led me to and in no way are these to be considered truths as even I am dubious. I am young and naïve and have done no where close to enough investigation to defend such claims. That I do recognize. So I offer this more as a hypothesis; a rambling of a young character who is search of and not yet close to a satisfactory answer.

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Face the Facts: Language Classes are Underrated

LanguageHow many stories have you heard of people taking language classes for three or four years and still not having a handle on the language in question? Or is it the case that the person has taken three years and have all but forgotten everything the have learn?

Too many times I have heard the allegory of the faulty language class. Usually it flows something similar to this:

Jane is interested in learning Spanish, so she decides to take a year long language class in high school each year for her entire four-year high school career. After the fourth year, she feels she can read and write it decently, but lacks the vocabulary and knowledge to write an artistic piece as she can in her native tongue. Her speaking ability is shoddy, with broken sentences and long pauses. Now, ten years later, she only remembers a few phrases and some of the basic grammar structures.

And the common verdict of this story: language classes do not provide and enhance the background nor the skills that are needed to communicate in the target language. My assertion, this is a fallacy.

The average language class does lack in many aspects, but does not alter it as useless as you may think. Language classes help to lay a foundation and serve as an introduction to the language. The time that you spend in the classroom can be used to ask questions, practice formulating sentences, and learn to work around words that you do not know with other phrases. But there are two key points that must sink in before one can make the most of their classroom opportunities: (1) there is no such thing as simply “picking up” a language and (2) languages are an art; not an exact science.

I took the full four years of high school Spanish before I graduated, even though the school required a minimum of two years of the same language. I even petitioned my Spanish department to allow me to skip the designated fourth year class and instead attend the fifth/sixth year. What does that have to do with anything? I have only one word: initiative. Language learning does not just happen. It takes a high degree of effort to improve and enhance lingual skills.

language-learning-1A lot of people, with little if not zero experience with second languages, come into class thinking that they simply have to attend and hear the language to learn it. Unfortunately, this does not work as we wish as our minds are set to filter out both individual and strings of sounds that are not present in our native tongue. This idea is often known as “databasing” where certain sounds present in the native alphabet are kept while others are filtered out. When we are little, about a year to two-years old, we begin to build our database. Sounds that we hear and try to mimic stay with us, as others begin to fade away. This, however, does not mean that we cannot later use the sounds in speech, but that we must pay careful attention, relearn them, and then assign meaning to these sounds.

This means that languages, especially those much more different than the first, require a bit of work before individual words can be picked out. However, this does not indicate that higher exposure to the languages does not improve the rate at which lingual skill is acquired. It is quite on the contrary, but the problem is that only exposure does not equal learning.

The second idea to keep in mind is that language is a communicative art. It is not exact, as there are often multiple words and phrases that have similar meanings, which allows people to work around with what vocabulary that have at their disposal. This can be a huge issue with language classes, as a lot of them try to approach languages as a science with direct formulas. The main benefit of a class is that you do receive grammar instruction which can sometimes be hard to get or confusing in an out-of-classroom setting.

Now, language classes may not be the most effective mode to learn by nor are they designed to be the only method with which to learn the target language. In class you get about an hour’s worth of instruction and exposure and then it is up to the learner to continue. Another hit on the class is that it is likely not tailored to meet the learner’s style. Some people need instruction in the language to give them a chance to take note of pronunciation and ask questions back in the language to practice construction and entertain curiosity while others may not be able to puzzle out the meaning of the instruction, but could use more grammatical teaching. Some need writing and reading practice as they have already had experience in conversation and others vice versa.

All in all, language learning consists of many components which different teaching methods are more effective at teaching. Many people frown on languages classes even though they have their advantages. These advantages are overshadowed by advertisements of learning software and the movement towards online self-teaching creating a massive underestimation of the classroom value.

language learning is messy

For more reading material on the science of language learning:

National Science Foundation: Nature or Nurture, the Science of Language Learning

For more videos on the science of language learning and tips:

Tips to Make Language Learning Easier
Linguistic Genius of Babies
Linguistic Genius of Adults
Learning Another Language (Tips)

Curiosity Column: What is Education to You?

EducationTraining_Landing_Image_0Education. The one word that is often our best tool and biggest nightmare. To young children, it can be where curiosity meets learning. To high school students, the step that leads to yet another step. To college students, it is both a clear balance of opportunity cost. But what is education to you?

Is it the acquisition of new skills? An intermediate step to a better job or career? Is it the pursuit of answers?

The truth is, education is different to almost everyone. That is why technical and trade schools exist alongside colleges across the globe. There is no right answer to this question, but to find your answer it requires some meditation.

For many children who are seemingly shoved through school by the droves, life is a dull, endless, day-in-day-out scenario. It is a requirement-perhaps by the government or simply by society’s standards-that must be completed for us to “move on” to the true substance. We are thrown into a mass of other colleagues to be drilled and trained in a set of basic skills that we are told we cannot live without. Reading, writing, arithmetic; the list runs on and on.

We are taught to read, only to enhance our ability to look at information and regurgitate it on tests. We are taught to write so we can fill out paperwork mindlessly. We are taught arithmetic so that we can pay our dues correctly. Without thought. Without question. Is this definition truly education?

I guarantee that at this point you are shaking your head, but how often do you find yourself going through day after day after yet another day with this process. Even the most exciting careers have these instances of overwrought boredom. Here is where I want to pose two interesting points to you: This is Water and Education is the Pursuit of Ignorance.

Wait. What? I thought education was to involve ourselves with the answers, not make us ignorant. And water? What does that have to do with education? Well, let me first show you what water is from David Foster Wallace’s viewpoint:

Take a moment to absorb that. Real education is not about what we know or how we define the things around us. The power of real education is choice. It is awareness. It is the reasoning to do everything we can with what exists around us in all its simplicity. Education is a mindset.

Why, then, do I conjecture that education is also the pursuit of ignorance? Ignorance has long fostered a negative connotation and is all too freely associated with uneducated and unaware. Yet it truly means the “lack of knowledge or information” (- Meriam-Webster Dictionary). What we do not know.

Take a step back for a second and examine the history of the world for a moment. People did not originally know the radius of the Earth or find it in a book of divine nature. It was calculated and derived. Columbus did not know the Americas existed before he ran smack dab into them when searching for a trade route to India. Physicists did not know for sure that the Higg’s Boson existed until searching for it extensively. All of these were unknowns. We were utterly ignorant. Even all knowledge, “verifiable facts” that is, of all humans alive today does not explain or cover everything in the universe.

Thus we, as curious creatures by nature, pursue ignorance. We pursue that which we do not know and understand. The universe and all its mysterious complexities are no where close to being uncovered. Education, in my mind, is the pursuit of that which we do not comprehend. It is the pursuit of what can be done with what we know, what we can uncover about the mysterious, and how we choose to think of our day to day lives. Pursue ignorance but do not live in it. That is the task of education.

Now ask yourself, what is education to you?

“I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
– Mark Twain

Here are two other fantastic videos with views on curiosity and the pursuit of ignorance. Please leave us your opinions in the comment section below! What is your take on education? How does it function in to your life? How is current public/private education around the world dysfunctional?