Miracles Every Day, Every Minute, Every Second

This is going to be a comparatively short post, but thought I’d pen this down for the benefit of myself and for those who struggle to give thanks. Recently, Brandon shared with me his reflection that what often precedes sin is a heart that fails to give thanks. I think that’s often true. For example, when I grumble or enter a state of resentment, I fail to see the many blessings from God. Beyond that, I fail even more to see the goodness of our creator God.

This week, God opened my eyes to see the many things that I have, to give thanks for. Things so mundane that I don’t even think about, or typically care about. Just last week as I returned home from the states, I fell so ill with a stomach virus. Anything ingested, whether solid or liquid, literally became expelled within less than an hour. It was impossible to consume anything. I was so thirsty but I couldn’t drink, and I was so tired but I couldn’t sleep. The only way to ensure that I stayed reasonably hydrated was through a drip in the hospital. The day that I got entirely well (2 days ago) I was ecstatic at the fact that I could drink, eat, and sleep. So ecstatic I was literally rejoicing at the fact that I COULD do those things, and not even the content of what I was drinking or eating. Then I thought to myself, “Wait a moment, isn’t it even more amazing that I ALWAYS have been able to do these things without fail daily?” And the thought continued on, “Wow, how radically would it change my heart to learn to give thanks like that daily.”

We really should be giving thanks like that daily. The problem with our hearts (or my heart) is that we often presume a position of privilege. Things SHOULD go right; it’s only natural for things to go right. But should we? Just the past semester,  I took Introduction to Neuroscience which by the way, I can’t say I really enjoyed, but it never failed to make me in awe at how things actually don’t fail. In class, we learnt that we have approximately 100, 000, 000, 000 neurons, and to pass messages to the brain, many action potentials are fired along a neuron. The numbers are huge; huge numbers also mean that the probability for error increases proportionately. But if you think about your life on a daily basis, most of the time, things DON’T go wrong…if not, you wouldn’t be doing anything at all (being alive, for that matter).

I guess, my long-story-short-point, is just that we need to question our assumptions that things ought to go right. Maybe, if we learnt to open our eyes to all the things that could go wrong, we would learn to marvel at all the miracles that go on every day, every minute, and every second, and be thankful for a God who so graciously sustains and provides.

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The Commensurability of Incommensurable Sensations

[This is a fun post because I want to write down something I found philosophically interesting]

In this essay, I want to show that time is the reason why certain sensations which are incommensurable appear commensurable in some way to us.

I started thinking about this when my girlfriend mentioned to me that the tea which she got tasted sharper than usual. Wait a minute, sharp is a term referring to a physical quality corresponding to our sense of touch. Whereas the quality she was picking up was a quality of taste. The two sensations are clearly incommensurable – yet, something didn’t feel right. It is possible that the word ‘sharp’ might just be used incidentally to describe these two qualities which had nothing to do with each other, but intuitively the two ‘sharp’ sensations had something in common, they appeared commensurable in some sense. One possible linguistic program that could be undertaken to strengthen this is to do a survey to see if the word ‘sharp’ in various other languages are used to describe both the taste of sharpness as well as the touch sensation of sharpness — this seems to be the case for mandarin, we describe certain foods as 尖. (at least I think we do, my mandarin is quite bad and this could just be a singaporean thing where we use a literal translation of another language in our vocabulary to stand for the thing in the original language)

How do we make sense of this apparent commensurability? There is another sensory realm where such physical or ‘touch’ descriptions also frequently apply. This is when we describe auditory sensations, or sounds. I just pick one example which I think will illuminate how a relationship with time connects two sensations that are incommensurable. Sometimes music can be described as broad, the Italian term Allargando is often used for this direction. Broadness, however, is clearly a physical conception and has nothing to do with sound at all. The reason the two are connected is because we usually have a spatial conception of time. We conceive of the music as stretched out across temporal space (note the spatial metaphor already) and we imagine rhythm as a series of patterns in that stretched out space. The rhythm is broad when the interval between each imagined pattern becomes larger. This allows us to connect and use the term ‘broad’ for both the auditory and spatial sensation. This usage is not incidental, but there is a real connection between the two.

Applying this to the case of ‘sharp’ we see that something similar is going on as well. The touch sensation ‘sharp’ is usually a burst of (painful) sensation i.e. a substantial quantity of sensation over a short time. Similarly the tastes that we describe as sharp are also the result of a burst of taste, again a substantial quantity of sensation over a short time. It is the connection to time that connects these two qualities in our head and allows as to call them by the same name ‘sharp’. My guess is that when we consider other qualities that appear incommensurable but have some kind of connection that is revealed by our linguistic usage, some sort of temporal connection is also present. As Kant noted, time is one of the forms of our sensibility and structures all of our experience including phenomenologically diverse and incommensurable ones, and yet by being the one form that binds them all, it also links them all and allows us to compare them. As indeed we do through our linguistic usage of certain words for multiple sense modalities.