Headhunters

Six o’clock AM.

Doing some reading in Russell’s history of philosophy serves to iconoclasm. It reminds us that philosophers such as Plato had predecessors, and every thinker gets a shot at a theory of the world and reality. But ultimately, the reality is always bigger than any human intellectual giant alone can grasp. What do we need icons for, anyway? I just wheeled my garbage and recycling to the curbside for today’s trash pickup. I suppose the garbage man has an opinion of the truth like everyone else. “Footprints in the sands of time…” This is what philosophers really are. Not one of them stands as a solitary luminary, a phenomenon out of nowhere, and yet we refer to them so casually. Every book on my shelf is a dead person’s head embalmed for posterity. Do we really need them for a point of reference? Whitman didn’t think so— but he was yet another icon. Where does it stop, and you come to grips with things as they are all by yourself?

East and West

Ten thirty at night.

It finally started raining late this afternoon. Some nights, like this one, are serene and calming to the nervous disposition. Before the rain, a Baptist pastor who was new to Eugene came to my door to promote his church on Irving Road. He asked me what Lutherans believe on how you get eternal life, so I told him what I knew from my experience. I took his postcard from his hand and he moved on with his young son to other houses on my street… Early today I read a chapter on Pythagorus in Russell’s History. Russell takes that opportunity to praise pure mathematics and the pleasure it gives people, but also it is used in music and metaphysics. But the geometric quality of Western metaphysics is different from Eastern mysticism, he says. I suppose the difference is like Descartes versus Joseph Campbell… When I practiced my bass guitar afterwards, I thought the geometry of the fingerboard had become subconscious.

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter…

The loud and visceral tones of my electric bass are physical things, yet the conceptual notes are incorporeal and perfect, just as an ideal circle differs from a circle you draw with a compass. But I’m not sure that Russell’s treatment of Eastern philosophy is fair. I feel a counter impulse to read Campbell’s commentaries on Brahman— maybe tomorrow. 

Prudence

Noon hour.

Feeling pretty tired after Gloria was here for two and a half hours. But it looks like we got something done today. There’s actually some free floor space in my family room again, and most of my CDs are shelved and off the ground. I don’t know what causes the disorder of schizophrenia or why my functioning went downhill after I left my job 14 years ago. It’s a thing you can see objectively, just something that happens. I seriously doubt that psychotherapy can do much good for a case of severe mental illness. You take the medication and hope for the best.

Today it’s raining lightly at intervals from a white sky. Sometimes I want to really milk the pleasure out of my life; go on a spree of bohemian activities like drinking and making music, and I wish for a world where it’s okay to be a fool in a Queen song. The only dangers of decadence are that it shortens your lifespan and does damage to others who care about being responsible, like Odysseus trying to go home to Penelope in the iconic old story. It’s the old conflict of passion versus prudence, as ancient as the Greeks and still pertinent today. It’s the substance of civilization, with the mainstream and the counterculture. I wonder which one I’m more partial to now. To straddle both is difficult, like Henry IV before he finally rebuffs Falstaff to be a proper king. “I know you not.” Life is hard for everyone the same way… 

Night Thoughts

Midnight.

Psychology is slow to catch up with modern philosophy, which started with Descartes in the seventeenth century with his cogito ergo sum, or “I think therefore I am.” Freud modeled his theories on ancient philosophy and drama, mostly Plato and Sophocles, and the psychological tradition followed his lead. Psychology is just now beginning to admit the contributions of more recent philosophy such as existentialism. Sartre was essentially a Cartesian in the way he started from the point of view of subjectivity, of individual consciousness. The ramifications of his thinking were the condition of freedom for all individual human beings. He denied the determinism of nature in the case of humanity: humankind was an end in itself, determining its own meaning and essence. Humanity is something special, according to his beliefs. 

Existentialism is basically very unscientific and non rational, a theory that grows purely out of arts and letters and standing independently of religion and science. It belongs to the no man’s land of philosophy, as Russell called it, though he avoided existentialism totally in his History of Western Philosophy. Perhaps he was wise to do so? His analytic tradition in philosophy is a completely different animal from the speculative tradition: more aligned with science and realism, which leads you back to determinism again. Maybe this perspective is more sane than the hyperbole of freedom and responsibility: more logical and consistent. The most convincing point of view will be consistent. And maybe the Cartesian approach was wrongheaded from the beginning? So that the absurdists didn’t know what they were talking about. Life is not absurd to a logical person, someone grounded in reality and in the laws of physics: in nature.