Saturday, 27 June 2015


Its been quite a tough week here at blog central and I have felt unwell. This has been, and remains, an on-going thing prey, as we all are, to both our genetics and our environment. Put the two together and who knows where it leads? In my case it has not necessarily lead to anywhere very good and I suffer from a number of existential challenges thanks to both where I have come from physically and experientially. But whatever your life has given you to deal with and however you continue to experience it, and the world you experience can be, for you, the only "real" world there is, there is always opportunity to think and learn further whilst you can. Ultimately, perhaps, this goes nowhere. All the things you learn will pass away even as you do. But there is always the here and now to consider and human beings just can't help trying to make sense of things. This, indeed, may be part of the problem.

And so it was that I found myself lying on the bed during the middle of the afternoon one day this week simultaneously aware of any number of physical, bodily processes going on with me. I felt fluid moving around my stomach, aches and pains appearing and disappearing around my joints, a sensation of warmth more in one arm than the other, tingling sensations in other parts, muscle spasms, fearful moods arising in my head and making the back of it ache - and any number of other things. I was, for a while, transfixed by what a horror it would be if every process of our existence was conscious. That life would be unlivable.

But the sensation of lying there just experiencing all this attenuated my mind as well. It brought home to me the inevitable, brutal, constancy of change. Our minds work in many ways as do our cultures and societies. One thing they often make use of is the idea of fixity, of solidity, of things basically being the same. Advertisers may try to spin you a line about something being the same for a long time, for example. But in the fine detail, when you actually concentrate and get down to it, fixity and constancy are a lie, a useful fiction. Nothing ever stays the same because things are always moving and always changing. Of course, you may not notice this just as you don't notice the vast majority of the things even your own body is doing all the time. But, to use the old riddle, you don't have to be in the forest for there to be a sound. Something is always happening. Things are always changing. You just need to look closely enough to see it.

This change is related to time and to our perception of time. Watch a kettle, or, better, a pan full of water, boil and in about 5 minutes you will see change in action. But watch a mountain for 5 minutes and you will see no noticeable difference - at least not with the mountain. Change takes place at different speeds relative to our viewing but this doesn't mean change isn't taking place because you cannot see it. On the contrary, it means it is always taking place but that you need to make the right accommodations to see it. Watch the mountain for 5 million years and then say that it has not changed. So, although change is a constant, change also takes place at different times and in different ways. The trick is to not allow yourself to be fooled into thinking that things haven't or won't change. Not only will they but you are observing the process right now even if you don't realise it.

Nature has not been kind to us in this respect. Our world is based on the way our minds perceive it and the mind plays a trick on us to give us a stable world we can make use of. As I mentioned above of me lying there on the bed, if we were constantly aware of the flux and change of the universe in all its actuality we would go mad instantly. No one could survive that awareness of everything constantly changing, never being the same. And so our form of life, a thing which did not have to be as it is and has been molded by existence itself, does not look so closely in general. It elides things by not looking so closely and speaks of identity and similarity. It ignores the change so that we can live. The German philosopher Nietzsche noticed this too and wrote of the "proud, illusory consciousness" that we humans have. He speaks of our drive for truth, something which "becomes fixed" and of every concept coming "into being by making equivalent that which is non-equivalent". He goes on to say that

a concept is produced by overlooking what is individual and real, whereas nature knows neither forms nor concepts.... but only an X which is inaccessible to us and indefinable by us

The thought is clear that human beings make the same what is not, brushing over their precise and inaccessible individuality and change from one thing to another or from one example of the same thing to another. Nietzsche's anthropology is very much one of the human being as an animal that has developed the ability to instrumentalise and make use of things and that this has become their evolutionary advantage. But this instrumentality is not to get reality right. This is merely to make it useful. I find it relevant to note here that Nietzsche himself suffered perhaps three decades of tormenting illness in his life and that he must have lain in bed many times just thinking about and experiencing the constant change, not least in his own mind. Such seems to be part of his biography anyway.

But what does all this change mean to us? It could have a number of consequences. It is a worthwhile lesson of experience to constantly keep in mind that things do not stay the same. And you will find that you do have to keep reminding yourself of the fact. This is useful to do if times are good for you or bad. It means that the good will not last but also that the bad will go away too. It means that you should take nothing for granted and that you should plan for, or factor in, change. I, I expect like everyone else, am granted a certain sense of fixity in my own existence. I get the feeling that my life is not in doubt and that my current situation will go on. But, of course, this is wrong. I am going to die. I will not go on. Things will change. My circumstances will become different, are becoming different even as I write these words. As already mentioned, this perception of fixity is an effect of being human, to believe that things are set. It helps us live, enables us to live. But we must live in a universe where things are always changing, where change is the constant and not fixity. It's useful to remember that.

No comments:

Post a Comment