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Tutor profile: John M.

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John M.
Author, Pastor, Teacher
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Questions

Subject: Writing

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Question:

See examples I provided in previous answers. What is the most important component of excellent persuasive writing?

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John M.
Answer:

The most important component of excellent persuasive writing is carefully identifying and articulating your main idea or, thesis, you then define, clarify, and defend throughout your article, paper, or book. If you do this well early in your piece, you will hook your reader with intrigue and compel him/her to read further. By continually returning to and reinforcing your thesis with persuasive argumentation, you will keep your reader engaged and increase the likelihood of persuading his/her thinking.

Subject: Religious Studies

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Question:

What is the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism?

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John M.
Answer:

Hinduism and Buddhism are closely related in origin and foundational beliefs. Hinduism came first, appearing on the Indian subcontinent around 2000 B.C., perhaps earlier. Hinduism does not have a found- er, per se, but the oldest of the sacred Hindu texts, known as the Vedas, date to approximately 1400 B.C. The Upanishads came next, between 700 and 300 B.C., followed by the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita.* While other sacred Hindu texts exist, these are among the most read and revered. Buddhism was founded by a Hindu named Sid- dhartha Gautama, a wealthy prince from the Brahmin (priestly) caste, in what is known today as Nepal, in sixth-century B.C. Much of his life is shrouded in myth and legend, but it seems that in his late 20s, Siddhar- tha became acutely aware of and deeply disturbed by suffering and death in the world. Dissatisfied with the Hindu explanation for evil, he left his wealth and power to seek an end to suffering and death. In the process of rigid asceticism and meditation, he believed he came to a new realization or enlight- enment regarding how to end the cycle of suffering and death that dominates our world. Thus, he became known as “Buddha,” which means “awake one” or “en- lightened one.” His new philosophy was deeply rooted in the basic tenets of Hinduism, but with some import- ant differences. The complexities of these belief systems cannot be explained fully here. However, for those who are inter- ested, I encourage you to investigate Hindu and Buddhist texts and resources to get a handle on the details. For now, let me expand upon and clarify some of the main points I discuss in this chapter. I will elucidate similarities and important differences between these two systems, as they speak to the issues of God, the soul and salvation. God Hinduism is thoroughly monistic, insisting that only one thing ultimately exists—Brahman (God). But Brahman is not a personal being. Nor does he create others who are separate from his essential being. Brahman is impersonal, or beyond personal, and every- thing that exists is merely an expression or emanation of Brahman, who is all things. Some have mistakenly called Hindu theology pan- theistic. It is more accurate to call it panentheistic. Even though all “things” (individual existents) are em- anations of God, and He exists in, through and as all things, God is somehow more than His potentially in- finite emanations. Hindu monism and panentheistic theology provide the foundation for Hinduism. For example, since only God exists, individual souls (persons) are an illusion. Because we are all just part of Brahman, no true indi- viduals exist. Hindu theology insists that we and everything in the universe is/are Brahman. Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) held firmly to the monism of Hinduism, but rejected its theology. Thus, in Buddhism, there is no God, only the “One.” And the One is completely beyond comprehension, analysis, being or nonbeing. The One neither exists nor doesn’t exist. This is very difficult to understand. But this “middle way” between being and non-being is foundational to Buddhism. As with Hindu theology, Buddhist non-theology has profound ramifications for human beings. Specif- ically, as we will see, because the One has no category of being, and since “we” are all “part” of the One, we have no category of being either. We neither exist nor don’t exist. Thus, holding to the self as absolute in any way must be rejected. Our non-existence lays the groundwork for the Buddhist belief that “nirvana” means ceasing to exist as a thinking, feeling, pursuing individual. More accu- rately, nirvana is not a state-of-being at all, because it involves the recognition that one never exists as an in- dividual person. The Soul Hinduism affirms the existence of human souls. More specifically, Brahman emanates the divine es- sence into illusory individual souls called Atman. Since only Brahman exists, Hinduism boldly declares that Atman is Brahman. In other words, souls exist, but souls are not independent existents or persons. They are merely modes or expressions of Brahman, who alone exists. Thus, according to Hinduism, our perception that our soul (personal identity) is absolute or independent from Brahman is merely an illusion. The illusory self plays a key role in the Hindu version of salvation, which calls us to recognize and admit that we are not individuals after all. We are less than drops in the ocean of Brahman, who alone exists. Buddhism rejects the existence of the soul altogether. No God exists. No souls (individual people) exist. Only the One exists, but not really. Siddhartha Gauta- ma (Buddha) used the word “anatta,” which means, “no Atman” to describe this view. Together with the rejection of God, the rejection of the soul (individual) plays a key role in the Buddhist view of salvation, since the nonexistence of the soul makes it truly possible to stop the cycle of life, death and rebirth by finally “entering” the realm of not existing as a person. Salvation Hindu and Buddhist salvation include the ideas of karma, samsara, and nirvana (Buddhism) or moksha (Hinduism). Karma is essentially cause-and-effect as- sociated with good or bad deeds that bring positive or negative consequences into the salvation journey of the “individual.” Samsara refers to the transmigration (reincarnation) of the soul as part of the ongoing cycle of redemptive birth, death, and rebirth, as individuals work out the bad karma and store up enough good karma to reach nirvana or moksha. Moksha (Hindu salvation) is defined as breaking free from the hierarchical caste system and losing one- self (literally) in the ocean of Brahman’s being. This takes place for the Hindu as he reincarnates from the lower to higher social castes, until he finally enters the Brahmin (priestly) caste and, when he has enough good karma, is able to leave the process and un-differentiate into the being of Brahman. Though the individual no longer “exists” in moksha, there is perfection in the being of Brahman, of which the emanation that was “you” was a part. Not surprisingly, Hindus differ on how moksha works and what this “experience” is like for the non-existent individual in this state. In Buddhism, nirvana, which means “to extinguish” or “blow out,” is much like moksha, except nirvana is available to all people in every caste. Once achieved, nirvana ultimately means ceasing to exist altogether. Though similar to Hindu moksha in this regard, Buddhism is even stronger in insisting that the soul, which never existed in any sense, certainly does not exist in nirvana. This is how the cycle of suffering and death is finally and truly broken—by removing all sentience (passion, feeling, desire, etc.) from the universe.

Subject: Philosophy

TutorMe
Question:

What does the Star Trek transporter teach us about the nature of personal identity and/or the existence of the soul?

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John M.
Answer:

The theory behind the fictional, Star Trek transporter is simple. First, a computer maps every cell in the body of the traveler who is to be beamed up or down. Next, the transporter mechanism disassembles the body of the traveler by breaking it into billions of tiny pieces of matter. Finally, these particles are reassembled in the new location, according to the detailed map of the traveler’s body that was stored in the computer’s memory. The new body is reconstructed using matter from the original body, in addition to matter it mixes with in the process. This, of course, leads us to an important question; namely, "Where does the traveler go during his or her transport?” Wouldn't the person would cease to exist when his or her body was broken into billions of pieces? Isn't this the case, even though an exact replica of that person is reassembled in the new location, complete with an identical body and brain, containing the identical memories of the person who had been disassembled by the transporter? After all, an exact replica of something isn’t the same as the thing replicated, in the same way that a clone of a thing isn’t the thing itself. Therefore, it seems to me, the person who ceases to exist at the beginning of ‘transport’ is not the same person who is assembled from a map of that person’s body stored in a computer. A thought experiment confirms this conclusion. Specifically, what if the transporter took the information about the person’s body and brain and, instead of assembling only one replica of the original person, it produced three identical replicas of the traveler from surrounding matter. Suppose each of these replicas was constructed simultaneously, from precisely the same amount of matter from the original body, mixed in with additional matter from the surrounding area. Finally, assume each replica of the traveler was assembled and experienced consciousness simultaneously in the new location. Who would count as the original traveler who was transported, and how would you know?” This question is impossible to answer the criterion for the personal identity of the traveler was is traveler’s body/brain map saved in a computer. But this, obviously, is not enough to identify the traveler, because this map could have multiple, identical people embodying it. Our thought experiment with the transporter reveals at least two things. First, the only way for a person to actually travel through space and time is for that person to endure the journey as a single entity, with a single, uninterrupted stream of mental, emotional and volitional capacity (personhood) through every stage of the journey. Because the traveler’s personhood would be destroyed when his body and brain were obliterated by the machine, he would cease to exist at the beginning of the journey. The one who replaced him would not be him—just one who perfectly resembled him. This means the original traveler would not, in any sense, be transported to another place by the machine. Second, to say a person maintains his or her absolute identity through physical change assumes he/she is more than just physical parts. For if a person is identical to the set of physical parts that make up his or her body and brain, then no actual person would endure through body/brain change, only “person-stages” that sequentially replace one another. Think about it. Our bodies and brains change radically over time, gaining and losing billions of cells or other components almost daily. But if I am identical to a certain set of body and brain parts, when that set of parts is replaced by a different set (i.e., when my body and brain change), then “I,” by definition, would cease to exist in that moment, and a similar “person-stage” would replace “me.” No literal self would make the journey through these physical changes, unless the self is more than physical parts. This matches my intuitions perfectly. I know that I am a single entity who’s gone through radical changes while remaining identical to myself. What about you? My guess is you know without a doubt that you are literally the same person who enrolled in kindergarten and made an imprint of your hand in plaster. You are the same, single entity, who has grown and changed through time. Your body and brain have gained and lost billions of cells throughout your lifetime. And yet, you, an enduring entity with a single stream of uninterrupted mental, emotional, and volitional capacity have remained the same person throughout these changes. But for this to be true, you must be more than your physical parts. "You" must be a non-physical soul that exists in and through a physical body. Your “soulishness” is what makes you a person.

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