Pure Reason

Quarter of three in the morning.

I can remember the first times when I experienced transcendence of mundane reality, or getting my landing gear off the ground. It was when I heard lectures on Kantian idealism in a philosophy survey course. I somehow escaped my temporal existence and sort of floated around as a severed rational head. But this mental state was not really rational, although it was very cerebral. I haven’t looked through Kant’s books in quite a while, but the effect would be intoxicating for me, and that’s the whole point of some philosophy; therefore is it really true? It joins you with the Ideal, or a certain state of mind suggesting an otherworld of perfect bliss, but I was told by a coworker that it was irresponsible and I should grow out of it. I was only 21 at the time. Now I think I can judge for myself how irresponsible I was to indulge in castles in the air. And would anybody else judge me for having found the secret to Eldorado? 

Written with a Gut Ache

Nine twenty five.

My book of Plotinus arrived this evening while I was napping. So, after checking the order status with Amazon, I went out to the end of my driveway to get it out of my mailbox. I wasn’t bothered by Aesop’s barking as I was going through the front door. A few minutes later I examined the book: it’s a little gem of scholarship with an austere black cover, and published by Hackett. I started scanning the Introduction, which goes into pretty dense exposition of The One; and I thought, This little book may be the same edition as the one used by Yes, if the band indeed was familiar with Plotinus. Then again, the concept of The One is also Indian, from the Rig Veda, and far more ancient than Neoplatonism. Now I need to learn what is meant by this idea. So far I only know that The One is unknowable to the senses, and is available solely to the intelligence; basically a Platonic notion from Republic and Symposium. The difficulty of the concept for me is that it multiplies entities, making ontology more complex than necessary to explain the things that exist and the events that happen. I guess that makes me a nominalist rather than an essentialist… so all the spiritual arguments are lost on me. The principle of parsimony has always persuaded me because of its simplicity, even though materialism rouses hostility in many people. And the reason for that is that human beings are vain…

Anyway, I will read further in Plotinus to see where it goes, but I think it’s kind of predictable. Funny but while I was writing the above, I had a gut ache, which now is relieved as I reach my conclusion. Or is there really something to mind over matter, so that people like Plotinus have a good point? 

The Yellow Signal

Nine fifty five.

I had a nap for about four hours with some strange dreams, quite nonsensical and random… In real life, it tires me to watch people conform to trends like herd animals. After a while it makes us look impersonal and mechanical, as if no one had a heart or a thinking brain, nothing they could call human. Or maybe superhuman. Green means go, red means stop, but what about yellow intersections where there’s some ambiguity and the call is up to you? And there’s a lot more yellow than we admit to ourselves. Everybody wants an almanac to give them cut and dried answers because they prefer to place authority outside of themselves, which is really a recipe for unhappiness. I still don’t have much respect for sociology as a field of study when instead we can opt for ethics. The almanac you seek is your own heart. Don’t read the book. Be the book. 

Sartre Says—

Ten o’clock. I can think of little else to say right now. This is Monday. I think I might call a taxi to get to the pharmacy today. It’ll be expensive but worth it to me. Lately I’ve been forgetting how important it is to enjoy life’s pleasures, and not let other things interfere with that experience. It is hard when I forecast disaster around every corner, the slings and arrows and the thousand natural shocks.

Noon hour. Now I’m back from Bi Mart, where I bought a new furnace filter and picked up my medications. I took a taxi both ways because it’s a low energy day for me. Meanwhile the sun has come out as the garbage trucks do their jobs. I feel kind of tired…

Three o’clock. I ordered the new English translation of Being and Nothingness because Sartre’s freedom and responsibility philosophy works for me better than anything else, and I’ve never read the entire book. Philosophy in general is more useful to me than religion or psychology, I guess because it’s founded on the principles of freedom and critical thinking and discussion. It’s an open ended inquiry with no limits, and everyone can participate. I hope to see a revival of philosophy someday soon since it is needed now more than ever… I don’t care for theories that bifurcate the self into conscious and subconscious components that fight each other for supremacy. Sartre rejects both “human nature” and the “unconscious mind,” eliminating all such primitive stuff that a lot of psychology thrives on. For him, there’s only the conscious perceiver, who thinks and acts freely within a certain facticity… For many years I gave in to the Freudian point of view, when it would’ve been more beneficial to use Sartre to steer by. 

Defeating the Myth

Four twenty five.

I just ordered the Hackett one volume of Plato from Amazon. Free one day shipping. It ought to be a thing of beauty when it arrives in the mail tomorrow night. Around the time I left my job I used my work earnings to buy the Princeton edition of Plato, which I later sold to Tsunami Books— and kicked myself. I had still another copy of it, but the one I bought with my own labor was special, and I sacrificed it to my addiction to alcohol. Plato said that the three most characteristic results of tyranny in the individual are drunkenness, lust, and madness. Therefore it’s significant that I overturned the self discipline of Plato for the tyranny of addiction. I was 41 years old the last time I purchased a one volume Plato, so much younger and more foolish than today. 

How does addiction take hold of a person, and how does it go away? It could be a matter of claiming freedom and responsibility in your life; first realizing that you are free, and then taking action. And this revolution happens by dissolving your misconception of determinism, the idea that you are in bondage to nature and natural laws. It actually is to defeat the myth of Freud’s unconscious mind, this thing that drives behavior in spite of your conscious will. Overcome this myth and liberate yourself to endless potential.

It additionally is to overrule the paradigm of Plato’s psychology in the Republic. Maybe there is no “many headed beast” in the human soul. As long as you believe it, you will be a slave to it. Realize your freedom by making the beast unreal. Simply deny it reality and it goes away… 

Inside Out

Ten o’clock. Church will have started a half hour ago. I’m not missing anything. After a little while I’ll read some Emerson. I just donated to PBK and subscribed to The American Scholar. It may be a dying cause, but I’ll die fighting for humanity and free thought.

Quarter of three. I’ve finished writing my second blank book and feel I arrived somewhere. And yet psychology and philosophy only take you inward, when the reality is your body somewhere in space, doing something or doing nothing but think, if even that. The human condition is stuck inside of human skulls; alas, poor Yorik! Which reminds me that the early Japanese people would punch a hole in the top of the skulls of their dead before burying them. They did this to allow the soul to escape the body. Was that practice merely superstitious or were they right about immortality? Darwin thought natural selection could account for human consciousness in all its complexity and beauty. There’s a book by Richard E. Leakey all about our evolution from dwelling in trees to being forced out on the plains, and how we were saved by binocular vision and opposable thumbs… People are the only animals that wear clothes. A joke has it that the consummate human is the one who wears the most clothes…

Though I started reading the Leakey book some 25 years ago, I never finished it, since my impulse towards the humanities kind of took over. Around the same time, I read a lot of Dickinson and Keats, Mallarme and Cummings, and got hooked on the poetic endeavor to unmask the truth of existence. Somehow, language came to be logically prior to facts, and then the fossil record became just an idea on paper, even a misleading hoax. And for a while, the Bible presented itself as the primal Word, the alpha and omega. Religion was older and more venerable than science, and on the printed page, everything had equal weight. It was a very odd transformation. 

Free Agency

Quarter of nine.

I’m stuck with having to go see my hematologist tomorrow. I feel a little nervous about it because I don’t know what to expect. But they did tell me that I don’t need a phlebotomy this time… It’s almost time for Aesop’s breakfast, and he’s letting me know he’s hungry.

Quarter of ten. Sometimes I recall what it was like to be on a soaring drunk. During 2013 and 2014 I was a mile high every day, but now I don’t understand why, or how I could justify doing that. Maybe I just didn’t feel equal to my responsibility for myself, or strong enough to tackle it sober. It could have been just a guilty conscience, something instilled by my working class family that believed there was nothing wrong with me; the schizophrenia was a phony excuse to be lazy and selfish, etc etc. I think most of my family still believes that. When I decided to stop drinking, I was prepared to give up my family and take care of myself in spite of the guilt and shame they imposed on me. My brother gave me the hardest time for being unemployed, and he begrudged me every service I took advantage of as a disabled person. He tried to argue that I didn’t have schizophrenia once when he was drunk on the phone. He behaved like a complete jerk to me, but I say he can screw himself.

I don’t deny that I made my own decision to quit the office job I had 15 years ago. The CEO of the agency wrote that she knew I’d given it a lot of thought. I deliberated it for a whole year, in fact. I concluded that the poverty was worth the free time I would have to think and read whatever I wanted.

Eleven o’clock. I’m not a Nietzsche nut, but in Zarathustra he says it’s desirable to say you willed your past, that everything was an intentional decision. This is part of his idea of the will to power, and I think it’s a good idea. Feeling empowered is a way to abolish addiction. Leaving it up to a Higher Power, a power greater than yourself, didn’t work for me. Nor did the injunction of self abnegation really help me to overcome alcoholism. What works best for me is taking responsibility, the flip side of freedom. It’s a great thing to be an autonomous agent, and such a pity to be a pawn in someone else’s game. Even if free will is an illusion, it makes you feel better and gets good results. 

Ironies

Eleven thirty. I’m very anti Carl Jung and his idea of the collective unconscious, which is founded on something spiritual, sort of like the Hindu Brahman. I guess I’m getting farther away from Eastern thinking, for better or for worse. Carnap reduces a word like “essence” to absurdity because it has no referent in physical reality. I’d forgotten how much Eastern thinking depends on intuition. Jung and Campbell both were steeped in Indian philosophy, and this is a fact I have to respect. I recall the first time I read a sampling of The Upanishads, how it made me feel. The concept of the One was a beautiful thing. “That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature.” This statement in the Rig Veda is entirely intuitive and introspective, but for this reason should we reject it? A whole culture was based on this style of reasoning, so how can it be ruled out as fallacious by a small group of people?

Noon hour. The weather is lightening, with a breakthrough of sunshine. Usually I feel pretty lousy, but my mood today is better than average thanks to the band. We’re going to have fun… There was a dramatic irony in my last post. A point came across that I didn’t intend, yet it stands there in spite of myself, and without my knowledge. Abruptly a shower appears in the sunlight, followed by the newsflash that Trump was acquitted… Wordsworth writes how nature and the mind of man are somehow fitted to each other as part of a divine design. It’s a thrust I can’t rightly parry as the sunshine grows and intensifies. 

Cloudburst

Eight ten.

The rain has stopped outside, but internally there’s often a desire to drown my sorrows, to escape the banality and get a foretaste of heaven. “Watch the monkey get hurt, monkey. Shock the monkey to life.” My age bothers me every day, and I can’t deny the fact of it. But would I exchange my current state of wisdom for youth? You can’t have it both ways. Band practice today. I might get some funny looks from people as I walk by with my instrument, but music is important to me. I imagine many people would call us foolish for playing in a pandemic. It’s okay for them, but they’re missing out on the fun. Later on, they may acknowledge that we had a good idea… Almost time to feed Aesop.

Nine thirty five. I got rained on a little, but I had my umbrella to shield me. I feel pretty good. The raspberry tea hit the spot. During the night I digested a few pages of Carnap, surprised to find how accessible it was. Basically he says that expressions are meaningless that refer to nothing tangible and concrete. His analyses reminded me of an observation by Emerson: words tend to grow more abstract with use over time. He uses the example of “spirit,” which originally referred to a literal wind or breath, and now points to something invisible. It’s an invisible that Carnap would say doesn’t exist. It is easy to detect a bias in his arguments, a preconception that drives him to deny metaphysics categorically… Before I read this, I scanned the beginning of Faust, Part Two: very strange stuff. A person can shut her eyes and accept the spooks at face value, but logically it doesn’t add up. If you look for consistent evidence of such things, you’ll be disappointed. Suddenly it’s grown very dark out and the rain is persistent. Just a matter of cause and effect. Now it’s a cloudburst, and nothing to do with my thoughts. The same Peter Gabriel song drones away in my head. Only another day in the life… 

Amateur Inquirer

Ten o’clock. The thinking I do is more logical now, though still scatterbrained and pellmell. Joseph Campbell didn’t come to conclusions at all because his arguments were not logical in the first place. As for metaphysics, this is rooted in the structure of language, and that’s what misguides people. Just because a statement seems to be true by subsisting in language, is it true in reality? This is the problem that people like Carnap sought to solve.

Eleven o’clock. The goal of it all is to reveal the truth, but I’m not a very good philosopher; not systematic enough, and I lack the credentials for it. But in my amateur way I keep trying. Even if I stumbled upon a great epiphany, there would still be the chores to do, though I avoid these as much as possible. Probably I’m better off to just play my bass and leave the intellectual stuff alone, yet I’m hooked on inquiry into life’s mysteries. Whatever I say will say more about me than about the truth. Oscar Wilde wrote that all art is useless, and Sartre said that man is a useless passion. Life may be absurd; perhaps this is the starting point, so Camus was always right, and our job is to create a meaningful existence. Faulkner was there ahead of him, pointing out how we’re lost without stories, the activity of imagination. Thus it’s already a given that life is pointless. It remains for people to make life worth living. A year ago I started rereading The Sound and the Fury; that’s another book I ought to finish, but the plot is quite outrageous and unpleasant. If I can get through the Jason section, the rest should go a bit easier. In my random rambling way I’ll get it done.