I feel good today for a couple of reasons. The first is that Gloria is coming to work this morning and I’ll have some company. The second is my birthday tomorrow, which I hadn’t really thought about until now. Usually around my birthday I consider the zodiac and my identity according to this old structure. But this time may be different somehow. Perhaps my birthday is not so significant, except for the fact that it’s when I came into existence. Another thing is the idea of willing your own existence as opposed to being born from your mother. The memories of my mother keep fading with the passing of time, so I feel that much more independent and like a free agent in the world. Thus the zodiac is one more piece of clutter to discard and be rid of: one more determining factor I don’t need in my life. I’d much rather be the one to determine my essence than be passively assigned my qualities by the planets and their corresponding myths. This will be a philosophical year for me, and I don’t care if philosophy is unpopular or misunderstood. It might be the year that I leave WordPress and find something new to do with my time. The only fate is what proceeds from my choices from moment to moment. Everything is up to me.
Thanks for feeding back on what I wrote yesterday. I think it was the influence of Coca-Cola! But today I had two Snapples and afterwards I felt pretty lousy, so I took a gabapentin and went to bed for a few hours. The old proverb is true that you are what you eat— simply because the brain is a physical thing and every thought proceeds from brain activity. This is what I believe, anyway; there are some who will deny it, saying the mind is unrelated to the body, arguing for a sort of dualism of spirit and flesh. I think their position would be very difficult to prove. It’s a throwback to Cartesian thinking four hundred years ago. Descartes identified the pineal gland as the location where the soul interacts with the body— since proven false.
I’m thinking specifically of Pastor. He is quite paranoid about the facts of biological psychology, the physiology of the nervous system. Perhaps his belief system could fall if my point about materialism were proved to him. So it’s best not to discuss it with him. In biblical language, the personality is carnal and spiritual, but what I’m saying is the whole thing is carnal and the spirit likely doesn’t exist.
Culturally, people generally accept the soul or spirit. In ancient Japanese history, people would drive a hole in the skulls of their dead before burial to let the soul escape. I guess to most people the phenomenon of consciousness is a divine mystery, something imponderable and sacred for the reason that they don’t understand it. A lot of philosophy has been written about it. Sartre actually turned perception around to make the mind logically prior to what it perceives, in the same vein as “I think therefore I am.”
Mind over matter and matter over mind. Idealistic philosophers often eliminate the existence of matter totally, so only the mind is real. Maybe I’m getting a little tired of philosophy. The evidence points to nothing but the physical state of existence, and this is realistic and probably the truth. Philosophy is the most useful when it approximates science, in my opinion.
But then again, you wonder about the ramifications of materialism for freedom of the will…
I had a very brief dream that I had a book in my hands, open to a chapter titled in big bold letters, “FREEDOM.” Somewhere I might have seen this in reality.
Outside, the wind is howling like crazy. I’ve just awoken from a lot of wild dreams, though my conscious thoughts are on David Hume and the logic of Aristotle, about which my knowledge is rather sketchy. In my journal I wrote a few notes on the definition of “reason.” I figured that it’s not so much an ideal entity as a mental activity; a function rather than a form. Some thinkers wax mystical on reason, as if it were an essence, a spiritual thing or object of thought. I guess I can’t prove that it’s not an ideal, a transcendent thing. To meditate on it tends to elevate your mind to higher levels of thought, almost like intoxication or a religious experience. The speakers in Plato’s Symposium get tanked on wine after they get dinner out of the way and then expound the nature of love. But this isn’t very sober. For me, sobriety is still an experiment, and even the definition of sobriety is quite uncertain. All the while, the wind keeps gusting like fury outside my house. Is this to say that philosophy is hot air? I knew a counselor who said so. But she didn’t acknowledge that psychology had its origins in philosophy.
Nine twenty five.
A gentle wave of nostalgia. Music from 1987, a long long time ago, though it feels like right now. I’ve got sparrows at my back door, same species, different individuals every year, like the swans in the Yeats poem. I should call my sister pretty soon because time is slipping away. Both of my siblings are over seventy now.
When I was young, I strongly wanted to believe that humans are divine and free rather than animal and determined. I started taking a class in physical anthropology but wound up dropping out of the term totally. I still have the textbook we used. One of the first lessons was the Voyage of the Beagle and Darwin’s revelation of natural selection. A year later, I took psychology and came to be able to accept science, though it was very difficult for me because I still had the gnawing desire for freedom.
Is there any way that the ideal and the real can coexist and intersect? Descartes struggled with this problem, but there’s no philosophical hocus pocus that can permanently solve it. Sartre was the last thinker who tried to save freedom. Who’ll be the next?
Six thirty PM.
It was a blah kind of day for me. I felt tired from the restless night, and nothing seems to be going on around here; people are busy doing other things. So I scribbled stuff in my little diary today. It was better for my health to put poetry reading aside and shift my focus to analytic philosophy, whatever others feel about that. I want to be done with Christianity, just let it go and be left alone. It was especially harmful when Pastor preached about the devil and so many things that are not verifiable by observation. Just stupid stuff to scare us and control us. “A host of holy horrors to direct our aimless dance.” At some point my poor brain went tilt and I had a minor nervous collapse; but since the start of the month I’ve done better with my mind. I can remember when I still read Dostoevsky to harmonize with what the church was saying, though now I’ve given up on that completely. A dead horse can’t run anymore. I retraced the history of philosophy to the place where existentialism and the analytic tradition separated from each other. The first is basically reactions for or against religion: saying, where do we go from here? The second allied itself with science and used logic for its epistemic tool and touchstone. One is very concerned with ethics and the other not so much: it wants to know the truth mostly in an ontological way. It deals with common sense realism and totally dispenses with metaphysics. But any Christian will immediately point out that ethics depends upon a metaphysical plane of existence and an absolute like a god to be the lawgiver for humankind.
I don’t have an answer to that objection yet. Is everything truly allowed if God doesn’t exist? Was it atheism that made Smerdyakov murder the old father in The Brothers Karamazov? These questions reopen the whole can of worms; so I agree that we can’t dispose of ethics, hence maybe metaphysics either.
Ten o’clock PM.
I’ve awoken to the sound of the rain pelting the house and patio cover, like the rhythm of very cause and effect. I can remember as a child in the back car seat watching the droplets trickle down, one joining another and rolling down to gel with yet another, while more kept hitting the window from the sky. It was the same as observing necessity, the chain reaction we call determinism, and seriously analyzed by David Hume, in turn firing the imagination of Charles Darwin until biology is what it is today. Into this domino effect it’s difficult to conceive a free will being introduced, so Immanuel Kant tried to save it with a revamped dualism of the noumena and phenomena, holding that free will and determinism were both true at once. But this model would be awfully hard to prove. You can watch it operating in an old Greek play like Oedipus the King, thus what the old professor wrote on my exam was true: “Fate and free will are not opposites.” His words in pencil always puzzled me for years to come, but if he supposed the existence of the nous, the dwelling place of the gods, then I can see his meaning. We are free to choose what we do, yet what we choose to do is also pre decided and happens by necessity.
Still, David Hume was saying something different. Determinism and fate are not the same thing. Fate is teleological; it acts for an end purpose brainstormed by a god or some intelligence. But determinism is simply the string of causes and effects, a linear progression or sequence; again like the rain trickling down the car window, bead after bead of water attracted to each other, merging and running ever down. It seems to have no beginning or end. It just is.
Eight thirty five at night.
If all the language in the world were to come to an end, then what would happen to our notions of metaphysics: would there still be a heaven or a place where the Forms exist? I once had a friend whose anti poetry was her philosophy. She didn’t register figurative language of poetry, things like metaphors and symbols. During the last few months I knew her, she said she felt more comfortable with silence. She liked a song by The Beatles titled “I’m Only Sleeping” (written by John Lennon), and this made her mysterious to me like the muteness of the Sphinx… But if all the words fell away, and if heavenly angels fell to earth like a shower of meteors, then what would we do for rules of conduct with no Absolute? Would there be any law at all? This is a problem with analytic philosophy; with thinkers like Wittgenstein denying the spiritual and moral any reality. But the truth itself is another issue. Perhaps we ought to live our lives as if the fictions we create were absolutely true rather than letting the language lapse.
Three thirty AM.
I can hear turbulent passages from The Miraculous Mandarin, but behind a network of words like a mesh or weave, warp and woof. I don’t feel like sleeping right now. It’s a strange thing to surrender to alpha waves, where the neurons all fire together in unison. I am kind of tired but not drowsy. There are things I need to sort out consciously and rationally; but now I’m subscribing to psychodynamic theory and I really don’t want to do that.
What if you could abolish every kind of dualism in experience: would it be like zen? It’s like rubbing out the distinction between subject and object, making reality a continuous thing, and the apprehension of it is intuitive and not sensory. In other words, it’s immediate. Mind and matter would be one thing. But temporal experience is hard to disregard: I know it was ten years ago this month that I read about Zen Buddhism from a book.
Around the same time I also read Nausea. In that story, the reality we understand depends entirely upon the use of language. It is totally verbal, and there are allusions to Descartes with his cogito ergo sum. But when the stream of words melts down, reality is just a flexible blob, a nothingness with nothing to describe it. I forget what Roquentin calls his little discovery.
What always amazes me are the layers of memory and how sensitive they are. They come up unbidden and can wreck your day and your peace of mind.
Quarter of seven.
The sky grows light and clear through the window behind me, the horizon like grenadine. Life is tiresome but in some ways it hasn’t even begun. Gloria is coming to work for me this morning after taking Tuesday off. I haven’t figured out what we’re going to do today. I spent a very long night and hardly slept. The life of literalness comes back to reinstate itself: time dominates once again, and this feels right.
I’m not planning on going to church tomorrow, and we’ll just see what they say later. I hope no one calls me or drops by to give me a hard time. In Sartre’s ethics, I am free to make this choice but I’m responsible for the consequences because they follow from my action.
I’m okay with that.
I had a good time this morning when Gloria and I went to Bi Mart and I spent $28 on dog food, cleaning agents, and a rubber plunger 🪠 with wooden handle. This last was five dollars. And then later, at two thirty or so, I heard some bad news about Kim from the salon. Karen told me that Kim fell and hit her head, plus she had a cyst on her spinal cord and something else going on. Kim used to have neuropathy in her feet. She had fallen down four times in the past month. There was talk of giving her a walker, but if she needs it all the time, then she won’t be able to work. It was Kim who also had rotary cuff surgery a little ways back. It seems she’s had many health issues. She had the divorce with a jealous and stalking husband, and he had a lot of problems: bipolar, hearing impaired, and alcoholism.
The story of Karen’s salon is very Charles Dickens, very sad, with these characters who are underprivileged and disadvantaged. One of her past employees, Lisa, got herself out of that kind of situation. Now she has a job at a salon on Gateway Street. Her attitude is a bit different from the Dickens thing. She is proud and somewhat arrogant, and also she is quite beautiful personally. But morally, it makes you stop and scratch your head. Is it better to be a Dickens or a Darwin? Maybe the best solution is a medium between both attitudes. If I were a woman like Lisa, I wouldn’t want to work in Karen’s salon either.
From humility to hubris. It’s hard to know which way to turn, or when to use one or the other. Some people who fear God believe you should always be humble or else bad things will happen to you. On the other hand, a little pride can pull you out of the gutter.
As I was thumbing through my journal, I came upon a little passage that I could use right now. To paraphrase, it said that the world is full of people with conflicting opinions, so that it’s impossible to please everybody. Therefore, you would do best to please yourself. Is this attitude Machiavellian? Perhaps there’s a flaw in my logic.
I was just dreaming that I went back to college for an advanced degree and I’d written a thesis or dissertation on atheism. My mother was alive and asked to read it. But when she saw the quote from Nietzsche that God was dead, she turned to my dad and said with a grimace, “That’s just awful!” So then she tried to impale the typescript on some sharp object before she came after me. I fled out the door into the street where, ironically, I was rescued by two girls from church driving a van.
I suppose that I’m responsible for the dream I had, plus for reporting it in a post. But it’s like what D.H. Lawrence said of literature. Never trust the dreamer, trust the dream. Meanwhile I should review The Prince to make sure of how I’m using the term Machiavellian. I wish there was a calculus of morals so that ethics would be an exact science. Does AI have a concept of right and wrong conduct? Can it give us the categorical imperative as in Kantian philosophy?
Or is morality simply going out of style?