This week I'm running a series of blogs entitled "commentary". They take the form of a series of personal reflections on life - a bit like if someone were looking in the mirror and reflecting. Each acts as a self-contained thought but some may be linked together. It is for the reader, of course, to decide if any of the comments offer insight of any sort.
I don’t understand the sense of ungratefulness some people feel (or accuse you of) when you say that you wish you had never been born. Life, for these people, is regarded as some kind of sacred gift and you are meant to feel, first of all, profoundly thankful for it. Is this the overflow of some religious sentimentality? I honestly don’t understand it at all. Life is random, an accident. It might never have happened, as I mused in one of my musical pieces called “Point Zero”. Point Zero, I considered, was that moment at which you were conceived. But what if it had never happened? What if mum had been washing her hair that night? What if dad had been tired and turned over and went to sleep? It’s not as if any of us are fated to exist, much less willed by a higher power. Nothing chose you. We just are, a cosmic accident, the work of a moment that might never have been and yet, right in one moment, was.
Life is a large pool of clear, refreshing water. But it only takes a little piss (or one conspicuous turd) to contaminate the whole pool.
We all have drives and sometimes the desire to satiate them can be overwhelming. Experience is one means by which to counter them. Providing we can learn from it!
I suppose I do not really regret the things that have happened to me. It’s natural to wish things had turned out differently but, then again, each situation is an opportunity for many things and not just one. There is always the opportunity to learn, whatever happens. Things are never uniformly good or bad.
“Travel broadens the mind” is a truism. And true. It should be compulsory. Isolation breeds only mistrust and easy lack of empathy.
I have an inkling that the most important of philosophical subjects is our human relationship with time. Temporality is a subject that towers over us, much as space puts us in our true place in the physical realm. Even thinking that all our sense perceptions, intuitions and thought processes are time-bound and time affected is a huge subject. We are defined as beings and as Being by our relationship to time. It makes sense why Heidegger would write a book called “Being and Time” and why it would be a pre-eminent philosophical topic of discussion. And yet…… it’s all relative. What is the meaning of time in the context of infinity? (Irony: my song “Stream of Consciousness” plays as I write this.)
I still have great moments of ego. I should keep working on it. The Ego is nature’s gift to us for survival but the way it operates is most strange and completely selfish. It’s literally there to ensure your survival…. and that’s it. I would like to think, in my more cerebral moments, that I am learning to countermand and control it. But maybe this is yet more self-deception. I would like to think I can rise above it but then I ask myself why I would even want to do this. Is conscious thought somehow more pure or noble than the unconscious prods of Ego? What version of me is it trying to save? In every sense "I" is a fiction.
The human being is a random beast. In public they prefer order, considered thought and coherence of thought with action. In reality, they are vain creatures of habit, drive and inconsistency. It’s a consistent phenomena we see through the history of human thought to find an ideal of their own making which human beings do not live up to.
“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” - Jean-Paul Sartre
Humans have a will to meaning that mere beasts, perhaps, do not have. This throws them into a game they have no choice about - to make things mean something. Where meaning gaps or deficits appear this can only manifest itself as a crisis.
Beware the lures of knowing
Imagine, if you will, 100 country mansions. In these country mansions are 100 libraries.
Every room in these country mansions is a library and each one of the mansions has 100 of them. In this great space you spend your life storing up all the things you learn, all your knowledge collected together. But what you don't have, in this fable, is any inkling as to what any of it means. What, then, I ask you, is the point of all this collected knowledge? Have you not simply spent your life collecting useless facts? Is it not just so much jumble? Is knowing an end in itself?
We switch focus. Consider the biblical tale of Eden, a place of innocence and freedom from the burden of knowing. But its carefree inhabitants lose their innocence and become burdened with knowledge. And now, as knowers, they are burdened with what to do about what they know. Their crime, if crime there was, was in wanting to know too much and our intrepid gatherers of knowledge and eaters of fruit did not realize the consequences of knowing. Human beings have a need to act when they know. And this knowing will lead to acting and, if they do not have other necessary qualities, their knowing will lead to bad and negatively consequential actions. Perhaps now we understand why the biblical innocence was to be preferred?
There is a traditional dichotomy between knowledge and wisdom. Some people (and, indeed, communities) prefer one over the other - and there are various intellectual and/or religious shrines to both in various places. Some people venerate knowing, and the need to know, above all else. (Examples could be those who wear scientism heavy on their brow or certain essentialist and foundationalist philosophers.) And I take issue with this. For knowing is not, and cannot, be an end in itself.
There is, of course, no end to knowing. We cannot imagine that there would ever be an end to all the facts. But the situation is more dire than simply letting a drive to know have its head. (I ask myself here what the outcome of letting a drive to eat have its head would result in - by way of analogy.) There is what we may call a crisis of knowledge - and a crisis of knowing - in that knowing is simply not enough. Knowing, of course, does not realize this itself because in its knowing it does not have the wisdom to know that knowing is not enough. (In the same way, Reason often doesn't realize that reason is not very reasonable, rationality doesn’t realize that it is not very rational, etc., ad infinitum.) And it’s not a case of the amount of knowing but of what simply knowing is able to achieve. A collection of facts, as I hope my parables illustrate, is actually a pretty useless (but also burdensome) thing. Knowing, by itself, is in the end both impotent and potentially dangerous. Other things, perhaps we may describe them collectively as wisdom, are needed to enable us to appropriately deal with the things we know. I can immediately think of 3 strands here:
1. You need to know what knowledge means (the question of meaning).
2. You need to know how to appropriately use the knowledge (experience).
3. You need to know how things fit together, or can fit together (understanding).
An issue with knowledge will always be that the knowing and the collecting of knowledge will never be enough. Knowledge leads inevitably to action and people almost always feel the need to do something about the things they know. And it’s precisely here where knowing, by itself, is impotent because knowledge does not tell you what to do with it. Its not part of the package but, instead, a separate skill and not one anyone is forced to have - regardless of how many of their 100 houses with 100 libraries is full of knowledge. The second issue is that that need to do something about the knowing is experienced as a burden for, in reality, people do not simply store what they know in libraries. This leads to the spectre of doing the wrong thing or using the knowledge badly. Knowledge is dynamite, it’s a dangerous thing with consequences.
In the light of these twin issues (and the at least three other separate requirements I mentioned above) it seems to me that wisdom dictates we can know too much. The drive to knowledge, if given its head, is a bad thing with a negative impact. It produces more data than a person (or community) can handle. The appropriate response is to curb the drive to know and, instead, have a sober and reflective innocence. Without the extra tools that wisdom provides knowledge becomes but a blunt instrument of possible self-harm. What those who wrote the story of Eden saw was the dangers of an inappropriate lust for knowledge, a lust which raised up knowledge and knowing above its station and made it the god at whose temple we all now had to worship. In those circumstances, knowledge and knowing were always going to be capricious gods who abused their power and destroyed us by virtue of attenuating our all too corruptible egos. In the end, the moral of the story of Eden is both that you can know too much and that knowing is not without burdensome consequences. It's a message we need to hear again and again.
PS Who amongst us knows things they wish they didn't know?
“What is the point of my life?” update! There is not, nor can there be, any antecedent point, of course. I’m currently drawing breath on the basis it is at least an opportunity to try and understand something, anything. Maybe myself or the world of my experience? Once all the metanarratives and metaphysics have been burned away by an innocent honesty what’s left is an empty space to fill. So rock on as much as the world of experience allows. You may end up trapped within a bubble of your own making (and without really knowing it) but what’s the alternative? Or the harm?
Two people share the same belief but have completely different behaviour as a result. Would this not show that beliefs do not determine behaviour? Would it further show that beliefs and behaviour, theory and practice, are simply different and not necessarily related things? If you cannot determine someone’s practice from their beliefs then, with that, the idea of a one-to-one correlation is put in doubt. Where that leaves the idea of a coherence of beliefs with behaviour is then also a matter for discussion.
I have mellowed (in my own way). I have grown more appreciative and reflective with age. Maybe this is natural and what happens to all human beings as they get older. I wouldn’t know about that though as I’ve never done it before.
I am reminded on just how few crumbs a dream can actually feed. There is something to be said for the human spirit. Or is it a (sometimes necessary) blind stupidity?
“Philosophy as music” is my motto for my musical output. It’s thought in sounds. Alternatively, think of my music as my opening a conduit to my insides and what is there flows out in chunks. “Its not necessarily good but it’s honest” is another way I have described it. Such naivety is my authentic signature. I’m like some dumb, fluffy creature unaware there are so many bad things that can happen to me in the world.
Contradiction corner. - Is my musical practice a result of my anti-foundational, anti-essentialist beliefs? Is my focus on its directness and honesty, at the cost of professionalism or “doing it right” according to antecedent standards, because of what I value and what I don’t? Have I created an existential form of music or, as my friend on Twitter says, a “toe-tapping nihilism”?
Suffer is what human beings do. Its the downside of feeling and thinking. Anyone who thinks for long enough will meet a crisis. Evolutionary fate has dealt us the cards and we must play our hand and suffer the consequences.