« Philosophize This!

Episode #036 ... John Locke pt. 2 - The Blank Slate

2014-09-15 | 🔗

On this episode of the podcast, we continue our discussion of John Locke. We first admire how brave Locke was to share his ideas during a time when dissent earned you the privilege of being drawn and quartered (literally… quartered). Next, we discuss Locke’s views on the Nature vs. Nurture debate and how they differed from those of the Continental Rationalists. Finally, we find out what kind of changes Locke would make if he were the Secretary of Education (e.g., more dancing and less required reading). All this and more on the latest episode of Philosophize This!

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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When most people think back to the most revolutionary moments in history, when they think about the moments that changed things the most there, usually thinking of pictures of war and destruction right, you know images of soldiers, goose, stepping down the streets of a town that they just conquered when most people think about conquering entire populations of people. Are they think about overthrowing a kingdom. They see images of of Genghis Khan sieging Baghdad or they think of the great Calefax from the Middle EAST from over the centuries, but just think about the power of ideas. How many kingdoms have been brought to their
Ease over the years, simply because of ideas, these ideas that were planted in the heads of their population and then made into a reality by them. It's very easy to think of the most critical shifts in history is being connected to one of these bloody conflicts, but make no mistake: Gangus Khan could never dream of overthrowing as many kingdoms of the ideas of John Locke, but look. This is far from a secret. I mean even the monarchies of the time of John Locke New this and just like any organism, that's built for survival, that's backed into a corner. These monarchies were fighting for their lives. John Locke was born in one thousand six hundred and thirty two and he went to the Westminster School at London before he went on to Oxford, and one of the most interesting things about John Locke is to
how much his thoughts transformed over the course of his life. I mean you read some of his writing from when he was at Oxford and it's practically indistinguishable from later on in his life when he had these radical political views. Like I said last time when John Locke was in his early, twenties, he's actually a huge proponent of a monarchy at that time, and it's not until after his formal education, it's not until when he continues trying to learn about the subjects talking the influential people listening to new viewpoints, it's not until then that he arrives at these radical government positions that would eventually change the world. And what impressed to me what's most impressive to me, I should say, is that he didn't really need to do any of this. I feel like something happens with most people run when they graduate high school there's this feeling, like they already gone through their education, and now they got the world pretty much figured out, and it's such a contrast from what it's like before I mean as babies, we come into the world
with nothing. I mean you just look into the eyes of a baby and watch it look around the room, just starry eyed, it's it's so bring up everything there's a reason why the common expression is that a baby's brain is like a sponge. There constantly thinking about the world around them, and then they have their first to school, and then they go to first grade and second grade, and they learn a little bit more about what it's like to be a human and then they go on to high school. They graduate if they're lucky they go to college and they learn some more. But then something happens with most people right around here. Right learning about new things, for whatever reason just is not as much of a priority anymore and it makes sense they spent the last decade and a half of their life going to school. Learning. They've cleaned this lens that they view the world through that works for them and their life is going really good. So now life becomes more about using what they've already learned, as opposed to remaining a perpetual student of the game,
and it's funny 'cause. If you ask ninety nine percent of these people, if they think that they know everything in the world or if they think they got it all figured out, all of them would say no, of course, I don't, they realize it should be a priority to learn, but there's a difference between common knowledge and common practice and John talk with somebody that never stopped learning and adapting throughout his life? Let's just imagine if he did alright. Let's imagine that John Locke grew complacent about his political beliefs, Picture. What if John Locke was seventy years old and he felt the exact same way politically that he did when he was in college? Where would the world be today. It's kind of inspiring, I mean this audience is filled with people that understand the value of learning day by day of continuing that process of education. All about your life? What if one of you guys come up with an idea like John Locke? What if you change the world? You know just something to think of,
maybe another really interesting thing about John Locke. Is that this decision that he made to continue his education, wasn't all good form. I mean it actually complicated his life. Quite a bit see these monarchies for like we're like a giant octopus right and they got they got only slimy tentacles, it's going around everywhere, feeling for anything that's trying to threaten it or question its existence and they find one there just like they slurp it up and they wrap around it and they don't let it go and it won't move and then and then it dies and they let it go to understand the fear. John Locke must have felt during his lifetime. We kind of got to put ourselves in his shoes. So let's talk about what he would have expected to happen to him. If he got caught plotting against the king during his time. In the 1680s there was a conspiracy and an attempt by a couple, different groups to overthrow King James, the second who was the monarch of England at the time.
This whole situation comes to a climax at what we now know as the battle of Sedgemoor, when the rebellion against the king got absolutely demolished, and afterwards King James imprisoned over a thousand of these rebels to stand trial questioning the crown- and this is how serious it was. Alright, just the retaliation from the monarchy has a name in the annals of history, the methods that they use to show people what would happen to you you dare cross, the monarchy are remembered by their own title. The trials and subsequent punishment of these rebels is what's now known as the bloody assizes, and it wasn't all at once. There's all sorts of examples of what they did to these people. They are they sentenced an elderly woman to
burned at the stake, but you should take solace in the fact, knowing that at the very last second, they downgraded or sentence from being burned at the stake to just a mere public beheading. She got off easy. Several hundred of these men were taken to the West Indies and forcefully and slave for the rest of their life, but to be fair to a monarchy. Most of them died along the way of typhus, so it was actually a death sentence, just a prolong death sentence, but the most powerful message that was sent during this particular fiasco was: they took around a hundred and fifty of these lucky rebels and they were hung and then, after they were hung, they were drawn and quartered and then pieces of bodies were hung around the entire kingdom to serve as a constant, bloody reminder to anybody. Thinking of causing trouble of just what happens to you. If you act out against the king.
We just put yourself in the shoes of the average person at the time. How terrifying would have have been to see these bodies hanging around everywhere? I mean no matter how unjust things got. Would you ever question the status quo? Would you ever question the people in charge of that's what could happen to you, their accounts of the great great grandchildren of these people? You know One hundred and fifty years after these bodies were hung around people still weren't going around the area where they hung the bodies. That's a traumatizing. All this was to them must have been terrifying and what's important about this one understanding, John Locke, is that there's something to be said for the sort of hardship he had to win throughout his life. Just to hold these radical opinions. Today's world, you can hold radical opinions and it doesn't really need to affect your life that much you know, they're. All sorts of radical opinions around there are people that actually think that there are reptilian shapeshifters that are the puppet masters of our planet and that
infiltrated all the top governments of the world and that now they're directing the species the way that they want it to be now that's some pretty radical stuff. But All they got to do is start a Youtube channel. John Locke had to put everything on the line. It's so hard to find a frame of reference for this you know, imagine yourself being forced into exile for an opinion that you hold imagine being forced to move away from your home right now. Lock not only had to move to Amsterdam to have his opinions, but he had to live and work under a false name there, so that nobody could find him once he got there once the english government knew about his thoughts and they knew how destructive they could be to what they got going. They kept him under list surveillance spies following them around asking people about him all the time you can read the first hand accounts of the spies that were assigned to watch John Locke pretty crazy and on the other hand he got John Locke plotting against the king in secret.
You know there letters you can read of him talking about something seemingly benign, like child care. You know it looks like he's just writing a letter to somebody about how to properly a child when in reality, it's one giant extended metaphor, it's it's cold for what's going to happen in the revolution like the child represents the the actual revolution, the bad nanny, that's making all the bad parenting decisions. She represents the king of England. It's crazy! You should read those letters if you have a chance by the way. Now, if I caught you on the street and if I asked you the question of who were the three great continental rationalist, how many of you guys would know the answer to that? I hope, mostly by now, because I mentioned that several times Day- cart, Spinoza and likeness. Well, the thing is that they were competing against, recalled the British
empiricists, and they were known as Locke Berkeley and Hugh the first one of those being who we're talking about today and last week, John Locke, John Locke, was known as a british empiricist. That's the point of this last paragraph that I rambled on. So if we have these two groups of people that are in competition with. Each other and the differences in their views are what separates him from each other. Then that kind of implies that at least some of the time there's going to be issues that the two groups hold opposite opinions on, and that's true, so it should be said that the true relationship between the two groups isn't as cut and dry, is just rationalist person Pierce's, but historians of philosophy really like it, because it separates them into a nice clean, organized three versus three and for our purposes today it works pretty well.
That said, if we're looking for one of these issues, were the two groups fundamentally disagreed on one pretty good place to start would be the question of what is the contents of our brain? The moment that were born are we born with a personality? Are we born with certain curiosities or interest based? What are genes held? The overarching question there is: are we born with certain pieces of innate knowledge and when you about this question long enough. It starts to resemble the modern day question that a lot of us have already thought about of nature versus nurture. You know how much of your personality can be attributed to nature and how much is nurture, so it might help if, before we begin talking about this, if we pause the podcast and think about what we feel in that regard, how much of your personality is nature and how much is nurture?
now the two ways, people typically think about this question in modern times, are well on one, and we have this person that thinks our brains are empty, that birthright right cells communicate with each other and they make biological things happen, but our brains are essentially computers that are sitting on that DAS screen. You know the all black screen, with the blinking light line, just waiting for us to put something in there's nothing on the hard drive to these people. The brain is the hardware, and we have drivers in place always ready to help the brain process. The information coming in into something that's useful to it, and you can see where they're coming from. I mean it's honestly, pretty pragmatic, the thinking behind
This is that we are evolutionary beings that, throughout different points in history, we've needed to be able to survive and drastically different climates, just think about it. There are tribes of humans that have survived in the Amazon jungle that face very unique threats to their existence. You know they have snakes, they have jaguars, they have famine all the problems that they face and, at the very same time, that their existing there were humans in Siberia, the face a completely different set up threats to their survival, not the least of which are temperatures that can reach as low as negative forty at times now consider the fact that, while both those things are going on, humans are also having to survive to a unique set of threats to their survival in a place like New York City. The underlying point is this:
the software that was programmed into our heads has one goal survival that software hasn't the faintest idea what sort of world we're going to be born into you know what sort of climate or living conditions or culture that we're going to be born into so group of people today think that were born with very little in the Nature Department and that, from the the moment we're born. We start soaking up all of this information around us and learning how to survive in this particular environment. This idea goes long before you're actually born by the way there studies of people who were babe he's in their mother's belly during world war. Two during the siege of Leningrad Broad, was this russian city that was surrounded for a long period of time and people essentially just sat there and starved for months. Some of these people that were in their mother's womb. During that long period of starvation, they adapted some ability to MIT analyze calories super efficiently, even when
they were inside of their mother's womb. They were still pulling in permission from the outside world that they don't even exist in yet and adapting to it. So this represents one side of the modern day argument and the other side has a little more variance to it. On one we have people like Descartes who say that humans are born with little pieces of innate knowledge For example, he said that we are all born with the innate knowledge of a nun standing of God as being an infinite being, but then there are people to go even further than that, and if there's somebody that went to the furthest of all the philosophers, it has to be somebody that we've already talked about Plato. And if you remember back to the plate episode, then I you're a genius by the way of the law. Long time ago, if you honestly remember Plato's theory of innate knowledge treat yourself to something alright go out and buy yourself, some fro yo on me, but for everybody else. I gotta recount his theory of innate knowledge just so that we can understand,
walks use. Plato believed in the idea of any knowledge, more specifically that total knowledge of everything in the universe is actually inside of us, but because we die, and then our souls are put into new bodies that hold messy process, makes us forget it all at birth. An play doh reasons that the process of learning is not building connections in someone's mind. It's not connecting one schema of information to another learning. What's the process of remembering this total knowledge of the universe, one bit at a time, and if you remember he tells that great story of Socrates teaching the slave boy, how to do geometry, slavery, reincarnation! Everybody was having a great time back then, but the important part to take from this is that the rationalist view. Throughout the years since Plato and during the time of John Locke, they held that we are born with
an inmate ideas and through those innate ideas and our ability to reason we can arrive at further knowledge. The example that they use is just as an artist paints, a painting and when he paints that painting he leaves a little signature at the bottom of the painting. You know he makes his mark on his work. Rationalist believe that we as being created as pieces of art by something that they called God had a little mark on each one of us and that Mark came in the form of certain innate knowledge at birth. They conclude that these innate ideas, coupled with our ability to reason about things, can at least in theory, lead us to certain knowledge about the world around us now lock and the british empiricist didn't exactly agree with that see when lock was at Oxford. He met a guy named Robert Boyle Robert Boyle. We
No in today's world, as one of the godfathers of modern chemistry but the John Locke. He was just this really interesting dude at Oxford. What Boyle told lock about the makeup of the world around us? It would shape the way that lock viewed how we gather knowledge for the rest of his life. Boyle told lock about a theory pretty popular at the time that the world is made up of tiny little subatomic things known as corpuscles, and it's from this worldview. That boil lays out that lock has a couple of questions for this rationalist position. Most notably, he doesn't know why. There's any intelligible reason to even entertain the idea that were born with any sort of innate knowledge. After all, where is the evidence for it? Rational? It's can't really show anything, but that's not all block attacks the notion entirely and he asked how can anybody actually believe this
talk, argue, sent, look. These people say that we have an innate ideas at birth, but in order for something be considered an idea? It has to be present in someone's mind, and that's kind of the definition of an idea right, but if that's true and these id those are actually in eight and not just something that seems innate. How is it possible that these ideas are present? But or the infants are even born, Lock says that there's a big difference between something feeling, intuitive and uh, just not knowing or remembering where we receive that intuition even further than that. It's a bigger logical leap to say that something magically is present in something before it even exists:
access quote. It seems to me an ear contradiction to say that there are truths imprinted on the soul which it perceives and understands not imprinting, if it signifying anything being nothing else, but the making of certain truths to be perceived for to imprint anything on the mind without the minds perceiving it seems to me hardly intelligible if there for children and idiots have souls have minds with those impressions upon them. They must unavoidably perceive them and necessarily know and assent to these truths, which, since they do not, it is evident that there are no such impressions in John what goes on to use critical thinking here. He wonders, if human being, this truly have these innate ideas that you guys were talking about. You know concepts already loaded into their hard drive at birth. What sort of affects would that have on the world? He makes the argument. Look if we really had this collection of ideas that was in a
at birth, regardless of where those humans are born or when they were born or who their parents were. Then it stands to read and that we would see at least some similarities across all the cultures of the world throughout history right because they would be based on those innate ideas. John Locke points out that we don't see those so celebrities, especially when it comes to the notion of God who, if the rational, position was true? He would be the guy leaving his signature at the bottom of the painting right. We should see it there at least. So when the argument of nature versus nurture it's safe to say that John Locke False strongly on the side of nurture, he writes here in one of his most famous passages quote: let us then,
suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper void of all characters without any ideas. How comes it to be furnished whence comes it by that vast store which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety wince. Has it all the materials of reason and knowledge to this? I answer in one word from experience in that all our knowledge is founded. And from that it will ultimately derive itself. In quote, John Locke believes that the human mind at birth is a tabular rasa or blank tablet, or blank slate. Whatever you want to call We're born with no knowledge of the outside world or of the self or of God or anything for that matter
the processes of reason abstractions abstraction in eight. You know the method the mind uses to process input is an eight, but that input the ideas that the mind is processing that comes from the outside world for lock back or computer analogy. The hardware and drivers are in eight but those hard. And drivers are completely useless without a hard drive full of information for them to process right, John Locke's, so that information on the hard drive that comes from experience sense perceptions from the outside world. You know I was thinking earlier today about whether I should leave this part in the podcast, and I was also thinking about the fact if somebody asked me to come up with a way to make thousands of people instantly tune out and turn off the podcast and never listen again. I think I'd probably start explaining a 17th century version of how the brain processes information. You know, because this is interesting as it is.
Tell me who really cares? You know all that's cute John Locke thought that the brain did something that it didn't actually do. He thought it was made out of cheese. Potest. Real quick I want to describe a small piece of this process because it has huge implications and I promise I won't ramble for too long, so lock things that there are multiple different types of ideas and multiple different steps to get to each of those ideas respectively. The critical first step to arriving in any sort of idea the stimulation of your sense organs, either through saying something or hearing something, except for we take this very rock perception and then the mind processes it and produces what lot call simple ideas, an example of a simple light. Here would be that lawn mower outside is making a lot of noise. It's ruining the podcast right now and those simple ideas become the ingredients that we have to make complex ideas, because the brain processes them and reasons and makes connections between them and that creates.
Complex ideas. Now the awesome part about all this lock concedes to the point. That reason is a very important part of arriving and ideas, but his overall point is that all of it would be impossible. The mind would have nothing to use its reason to process if it wasn't for that first crucial step, the senses perceiving something in the first place. So John Mark thinks that the mind is a blank slate at birth and that who we are in the ideas that we possess comfy. The sum total of all the experiences we've had since birth. Now, if you believe something like that, then you also kind of have to believe that that really annoying person at work. That's always bothering you. They too are just the sum total of their set of experiences and that set of experiences might not be as reasonable as yours. His view kind of breeds compassion in a way, and then, if you believe that, then how about for a second, we considered this g.
Giant institution that we've created as a society that we all pay lots of tax dollars into and the sole purpose of it is to cultivate experiences for people. What am I talking about? I'm talking about the public school system, because that's what it does it cultivates experiences for our young people trying to turn them into productive taxpaying citizens. That's the function of it. Well, John Locke, being somebody that believes that we are shaped by our experiences, it snow surprise that he had a lot of ideas about education and how to improve it. I mean he said quote. I thought they may say that of all the men we meet with nine parts of tin are what they are good or evil useful or not by their education. In quote, he thinks that nine, parts out of ten of what makes somebody who they are useful or not good or evil, is derived from the nature of their education.
Now he has all sorts of interesting ideas that were incredibly revolutionary for his time period and for the record there still revolutionary for our time period. So, let's talk about these ideas that he had to improve the education system. So if John Locke were the superintendent of your school, when you were a kid, he is also parts of seemingly bizarre things that he's going to add to your everyday curriculum but bear with them. He is a good reason for every single one of them, one of the first things that he thinks we should teach people as soon. As they can walk as soon as they're able to learn. It is dancing. Now this isn't about finding your inner spirit. John Locke was not a 17th century free spirit. He actually has a pretty good reason. He says that when you dance you're forced to do certain things right, you're forced to stand up straight. You know you gotta, keep good posture you're supposed to move in a directed manner accurately and with per
Yes, John Locke thought that if you teach kids to move and stand and act in this manner that they would naturally be able to bring those skills into other aspects of their personal life, they would stand up straight in their personal life. They would move with purpose and do things accurately and there, normal life. Now, maybe you disagree with him on this point, but one great point that he's referencing here is but he's endorsing activities that build skills. That necessarily on the surface of the lesson right, I mean we've all heard this before I've heard tons of people talk about how the biggest lessons that they learn from high school. They learn from organized sports. It wasn't even in the classroom. You know the teamwork, the discipline, the camaraderie, the long term, gratification, the feeling
of doing something small that sets the stage for somebody else to step in and do something big. These are all lessons that kids take from these sports programs when, on the surface they just appear to be playing a game of basketball. Lock gives a few examples of this. He talks about teaching. Kids. French French was a very useful language. In the time of John Locke, he says that they should learn French, because it's going to open up a lot of business opportunities that wouldn't be available to them in their adult life. Otherwise he says that it will make them more informed voters, 'cause they're, going to understand french politics, all sorts of benefits, from learning for
Ouch the modern day equivalent to this would be like learning Mandarin right or spanish, but by far my favorite insight that John Locke gives into his vision of proper education is, this quote. Great care is to be taken that it never be made as a business to him, nor he look on it as a task. We naturally, as I said, even from our cradles, love liberty and have therefore, an aversion to many things. For no other reason, but because they are in joined us, I have always had affair and see that learning might be made a play and recreation to children that they might be brought to desire to be taught, maybe if it were proposed to them as a thing of honor credit does height and recreation, maybe as a reward for doing something else, and if they were never child or corrected for the neglect of it. In quote what he's saying is something that I believe in a lot. He saying that the task of education is incredibly important when it comes to create
from the type of people we want to. Yet more often than not, education is crammed down these kids throats. They are forced to learn about stuff that they don't even care about. Lock, says: look it's not that they don't want to learn. We have a natural predisposition to learn stuff from birth, but we also have a natural predisposition to liberty. We don't want to be forced to do stuff. Let's allow these kids to learn about stuff that they're interested in. Let's not make education boring. Let's find a more effective way where it's its inner tie coming to them or honorable to do it. What he's saying is when we force feed people stuff that they aren't interested in, they don't seem to learn very well. It's funny how that works. Thank you for listening I'll talk to you guys soon
Transcript generated on 2019-10-16.