All the Answers

Eight at night.

After nearly thirty years, my absolutism with my knowledge is finally breaking down, replaced by a kind of skepticism and maybe relativism as well. In a way, Phi Beta Kappa was the worst thing that could’ve happened to me, though others in my family have been equally opinionated and authoritarian. I’m changing attitudes from knowing everything to knowing nothing with certainty. Life is more interesting when you don’t have all the answers, and you see things in new lights, as reality keeps shifting shapes and colors from moment to moment. For me, it’s an end to dogmatism in the philosophical sense.

Today’s weather was quite unusual. On the way home from the store, I was caught in a shower so I ducked into Karen’s salon, where she gave me a half hour to talk with me. I sat in a chair and listened to her as much as I spoke while the March rain drove down outside like a new thing, or an old thing rediscovered and recreated. On the wall, I watched the big clock slowly advance over thirty minutes, then at one twenty she said, “My next client is here” and got up. So I took my Snapple tea and the doggie treat and braved the cold and wet towards my home.

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Knowledge

Midnight hour.

I was thinking of how shallow people are, like the characters in Fitzgerald fiction, with voices like money. I think I’ll give up music forever because it’s no use. I’ve met so many creeps in the music business. I don’t even know how I got directed into music to start with, but it’s no place for honest people. Experience has taught me that you have nothing if you don’t have a rational love with someone, or the marriage of true minds. No other kind of relationship lasts. “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.”

Eight ten.

There’s a light dusting of snow on the ground and the rooftops. Currently it’s 30 degrees out, so I’ll wait until ten o’clock to make my run…

Nine thirty.

A closer look revealed that there was no ice on the roads, and all the hype about the weather was for nothing. Yesterday afternoon I got an email from Pastor saying Ash Wednesday worship was postponed to Sunday “in the interest of safety.” People expected a huge avalanche of snow last night and into Thursday that didn’t materialize. The weather app on my iPad said it was snowing during the night, but there wasn’t much. It’s odd how people take things on faith rather than firsthand judgment. So I walked off to the store to get a few items, thoroughly puzzled by the social behavior I’d seen since yesterday. Right now, the sun is even shining.

Blindness and Sight

Noon hour.

I went too long without eating anything, so the caffeine went right to my head and knocked out my logic. When Gloria left for the day, I had lunch immediately. It’s been stormy and sunny by turns today, like a temperamental old man in charge of the weather. Now I feel kind of tired and a little disappointed about the rest of my day. Maybe I’ll stroll over to the market again. Or pick a book to read and learn something new. I’m curious about skepticism, this whole thing of doubting the hard work of logicians and other organizers of knowledge. Did the skeptics have an agenda? What was the conclusion of their arguments?

Quarter of eleven.

The aim of skepticism, from my understanding of Sextus Empiricus, was liberation from mental disturbance as a result of suspending judgment of the truth of anything. Thus, skepticism is more like a religious practice than a philosophical endeavor to discover truth. In its original form, Epicureanism was rather similar: the goal was to minimize pain by eliminating fear of death and the gods. Also by keeping life simple. As one translator put it, Hellenistic philosophy was a discipline of the heart instead of the head.

But I still need to learn how Montaigne might have distorted skepticism to a despair of the facts and a regression to primitive faith.

In my opinion, life without the light of reason is not worth living. My motive for saying this is my personal experience with madness, which is like mental blindness. Do we really want to stumble through life blindfolded?

The Unfinished Guitar

Wee hours.

The day yesterday went by lonely and boring. I racked my brains for things to kill time. At around noon I plugged in my diy jazz bass and played it for an hour. I thought it sounded good, though the neck on it needs finishing, maybe with a varnish, and the headstock should be trimmed down. Since I’ve got someone for transportation, I ought to take it to Guitar Center, show it to the tech, and ask for advice. While I’m there, I can put feelers out for musicians to jam with… It’s hard to believe the severity of the adversities that have hit the world since 2020. Life as drama is nothing like Shakespeare, but instead like Ionesco and the absurdists. It is a play written by a chaotician or an idiot, or not written at all. Paints are spattered randomly on the wall by a brainless machine. The effects were here before the causes, and the meaning is only secondary. It subverts reason and human knowledge, the patient efforts of an Aristotle to create system from disorder. Still it seems that way sometimes. That’s why we need to make music and inventions like radio and the phonograph. Without the stamp of humanity on the world, it remains a stubborn jungle.

Do We Need Stories?

Bite the Apple of Knowledge

This is the advice I would give to my neighbors and everyone cheated by biblical scaremongering on the issue of science, especially in the Old Testament. I knew one old guy from Minnesota who said it’s not okay for people to “know as much as God.” It’s one interpretation of Bible stories from Genesis and Job particularly; as if an individual would go to hell for daring to learn anything about nature; as if curiosity were a thing to be punished. Aside from scriptural authority, there’s no evidence for such a claim. Indeed, since antiquity it’s a tool used by people in power to control the masses, playing upon superstitious fear to intimidate and subjugate everyone.

What do you suppose would happen if you ate from the apple of the Tree of Knowledge, as Eve was tempted to do by the snake in the Garden of Eden? Is it possible for humankind to rewrite Milton’s epic of Paradise Lost, turning “man’s first disobedience” to a virtuous act, something more like Prometheus Bound? The juice of the apple is the same as the firelight of reason stolen from the gods in Aeschylus; or was reason native to human beings from the dim beginnings of time? What do we need stories for? The deeper the analysis, the more complex it becomes…

Look and See

Eight twenty five.

I keep making the same mistake of trying to read people and situations, only to be proven way wrong as the evidence is available. As a tool for knowledge, imagination doesn’t work. If you want to know something, just look and see. To learn what a person is thinking, ask them to their face. Intuition and imagination are useless for gathering information.

It’s a cloudy morning. I’m committed to going to church today. Things are rather wobbly for me in a few ways, but I’ll persevere and come out stronger. It seems that my worst enemy is myself. When it’s sink or swim, I choose to keep swimming.

Urschleim

Ten thirty five at night.

I had a good day in spite of the heat. I got some reading done in Native Son, so now only 55 pages to go. It’s hard to put a finger on what I think tonight or how I feel. At a deeper level, the different threads of my thought must be unified somehow. One idea I’ve had is that the truth is a mirage: the closer you get to it, the more it fades away. Is the life force a miracle or just a godless accident? I’m still fascinated with the notion of Urschleim, the primordial mud of life discovered by Thomas Huxley, which he then admitted was a mistake. Some people believe that life exists apart from lifeless matter, sort of like a ghost in the machine of nature. But it’s this kind of inquiry that is fruitless and a mirage, a protean shapeshifter impossible to get your hands on. I suppose that true knowledge is having no knowledge in a rational way. And this is like something I read about Zen a long time ago, and even that is elusive to me. What I do know is that I saw the sun go down and the full moon rise in the east this evening, orchestrated like the music of the spheres.

On the Horns

Eight forty.

Having a lousy day so far. I called up D— and canceled my dental appointment for next Tuesday, kind of wincing when I did it. I feel badly about it but I didn’t want to get sick again, just in case it came from the cleaning. The phone call was very awkward but I got it done. Gloria is coming in about 15 minutes. My finances look pretty shaky right now and I hope I can pull through long enough for something good to happen. Poor Aesop knows something is wrong at home. I’d feel a lot better with a little money in my account so I’m not living above my means.

Ten o’clock at night.

A while ago I wrote down my feelings in my journal, particularly about what happened early this morning on the phone with D—. Now I simply chalk it up to doing the prudent thing, never mind that it’s in my own best interest. Any normal and smart person would do what I did by dropping out of that dental service. Maybe the charitable thing to do is to suffer at the hands of incompetence, and maybe this agrees with the Golden Rule also; but the clever person avoids trouble. My brother used to say that if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. I’m less cynical than he is, yet sometimes a little skepticism is healthy. And then again, I ponder my need to justify my behavior today. I broke the Golden Rule! Another way of seeing it is to call it a teleological suspension of the ethical… Will the ends justify the means? Perhaps I’m Machiavellian for doing my deed. Still I doubt if the stars in the night sky would communicate the answer. No absolute is forthcoming.

What would you have done?

“Something”

Seven thirty.

I guess I’m bound for church this Sunday morning, though my motive for this is obscure to me. Logic tells me there’s nothing before or after the physics, and yet my imagination can conceive a nameless something. Maybe it’s a meaningless thing, but doesn’t imagination have an evolutionary purpose? And when all efforts at philosophy fail, look at the practical consequences of belief or unbelief. Not just practical but ethical, as when the bastard brother in Karamazov kills the old man, reasoning that everything is allowed if there’s no God… People have the power to grant or deny God existence. Now you see him, now you don’t, according to our whim, and whatever’s convenient for us. I just miss those days in the autumn a few years ago when I’d go to worship service. There was no shame or disgrace in doing this. Perhaps I wasn’t so self conscious at the time, and maybe I wanted to believe… I gave Aesop an oversized cookie before his breakfast; he’s still chipping away at it as the sun illuminates my magnolia in back, and I contemplate giving my sister a call today.