October 25, 2010

Relentless empiricism

I recently finished reading (really, listening to) Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The book was a bit grim but eye opening about the plight of women in many parts of the developing world.

One phrase that stuck in my mind from the book was "relentless empiricism." In context, the authors believed that people interested in development should be driven by reality rather than ideology or rhetoric. That phrase also reminded me of another useful aspect of Buddhist thought.

The Buddha may have been the original relentless empiricist, for he counseled his followers to accept nothing on the basis of faith, tradition or scriptures but rather to test all in the light of their own experience. This saying is attributed to him:

Believe nothing on the faith of traditions,
even though they have been held in honor
for many generations and in diverse places.
Do not believe a thing because many people speak of it.
Do not believe on the faith of the sages of the past.
Do not believe what you yourself have imagined,
persuading yourself that a God inspires you.
Believe nothing on the sole authority of your masters and priests.
After examination, believe what you yourself have tested
and found to be reasonable, and conform your conduct thereto.

He even encouraged non-attachment to his own teachings, comparing them merely to a raft to get from the bad side of a river to the good side. Once across, he taught, there is no need to carry the raft around.

FALLING. Here are some musings by Paul Krugman on the economy, the elections, and missed opportunities.

ASTROTURF. This item looks at the big money behind a "grassroots" movement.


A MORE IDEALISTIC TIME. A first generation member of the Peace Corps (and a friend of mine) looks back on his tour of duty here.


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