Empty Days

Thursday, January 01, 2004



Hola. Here's some mighty drunken outburst against organized religion I accidentally found in Google newsgroup archives. This one is directed against Catholics, but I guess it's an accident of this man's time-and-place, and this sort of raw vox clamantis sounds much more universal to my ears:
What a hierarcy of burecratic confederacy
of dunces is my catholic church. how can i get excommunicated. i think
the catholics are not sp;iritual an are all headed for hell. eternal
damnation for allowing the church to take over their minds. and yet
these are good people good if ya let the gp think become the i think.
yes i know many good sincere people who are religious and i get angry
with a god that would allow theses good peop;le to have such distorted
and wrong beliefs. B.ut like all cults heaven help ya if you question
or bring up all the bad things of the past. They want sheep for sure.
Robots rats in a maze. the catholics would not make a p;imple on a
philosophers ass. i see why people become athiests in watching this
circus they call religion. To haave wisdom, morality, justice,
compassion, empathy, an seek truth an reality it is best you are not a
catholic cause their is little wisdom in believing what they tell you
out of fear an guilt without seeking out the facts of history.
This is just a short excerpt and perhaps not the best one. The best parts are those when he forgets theorizing and goes directly from his personal experience which is kinda pittoresque, to say the least.
If it's a hoax - it's simply masterful, style-wise :-0


The if clause - I can

There is this huge misconception out there, best expressed in the popular wondering: what would you change if you could go back in time?

The implications of this question are obvious - "my" life is a maze of "errors" I wish I could correct but can't; if I had made different (right) choices my life would have gone differently (better); I am the maker of my destiny (a fool); I am my own maker (a god).

Reason and morals. Free will. I know what I am doing - I don't know what I am doing. Know thyself. I know - therefore I can. I think - therefore I exist.

Who, how, what - when.

Isn't it entirely clear here that a fool wishes to be god? Why can't a fool be content with his foolishness? Do I need to be god if I am a fool?

Or is it - "be good" and not "be god"? And where is the difference?

[a mini-series on a religion channel called "Twice in a lifetime"]


What?

I just realized it's actually year 2004 - something that can't be changed.

Dates can't change - numbers can't change - it's so final I almost want to scream. This is not my idea of time - time changes endlessly, it is full of variation, not at all like a series of numbers where 5 can *never* directly follow 3, because there is *always* 4 in between... How can I say it?

I know! - to get through to Time-as-part-of-Nature-and-Nature-as-Life we should supress counting: dates, numbers, the serial 123 horror.

I don't care "what" year it is and I don't care what "date" it is. Year 2004 doesn't exist. Winter is, spring is, life is, death is. Death-by-numbers is not.

Do mathematics represent Nature in any way? Absolutely not. Most definitely and most emphatically - not. Nature is profoundly finite and therefore profoundly changeable. Mathematics are eternal - but their eternity is entirely and deeply fake. Un-alive.

Do we live in year 2004 now? No, we certainly do not. There is simply no such thing out there. If you don't know this yet, I know it for you.

Wednesday, December 31, 2003



While I was komputerloss things have changed at Blogger (in the backstage somewhere) so that it appears no longer possible to use wbloggar, the Windows app which is so very kind to bloggers with limited internet connectivity (no wonder it is made-in-Brasil).

Previously, you could write a few posts in the wbloggar app, taking whatever time etc, and then upload it to the blog once you're connected for your 20 minutes (frugal university servers, spartan, "there are more important things to life than internet - like exams, for instance!"; it's my brother's uni, btw). Now you can still upload but Blogger refuses to publish those posts automatically. So you then need to go through Blogger's web interface to republish your blog - not a huge hassle, but kinda... well, why make things worse than they were?

***

So it's the New Year Eve thing. I won't be getting drunk on fine champagne - I am still stuffing myself with medication to make the last remnants of that flu go away forever, and also I don't really appreciate champain all that much: the more expensive the brand, the less I enjoy it for some reason (too sour for my taste, that's why).

But basically I could just as well stay home and do some reading - no festive vibes in my veins these days. Perhaps some day I should try some hard drug like cocain or crack maybe to see how this changes one's feel of things. Even pot, the poor weed, does something to change your mind from clear and bored to confused and imaginative - so I gather something stronger might produce really exalting sensations.

Sensations, or states of the mind, are part of human experience - some get more experience than others. While those others keep whimpering that their sorry sober boredom is the only viable thing out there. People are afraid, always afraid and scared shitless of everything unexplored, unfamiliar - I would know, I am like that in quite many ways. But I also can step over my fears and prejudices, I don't know why - maybe I am open-minded *despite* my narrow ideas? I am not sure here. I do know myself to be sufficiently prejudiced in a great many ways - but I don't live by principles, and I don't make laws out of my preconceptions.

So, as a result, I have this adventurous streak bugging me in various ways. I first tried pot when I turned 30 and never regretted it; on a visit to London I got so bored with museums I went to a certain square late at night to watch the demure ballet called "fags and hustlers" (free entrance and no bobbies); on a visit to Venice I made my friend sleep right on the steps of a canal for want of affordable accomodations (all those cats in empty room-like streets and nooks, plus the rare stink from rotten water at dawn); as a child I left my ski-party to follow a mysterious trail and got lost in the winter woods, to be searched by dogs and a whole police detachment, and was brought back to civilisation by a forest-guard on a one-horse sleigh (jingle bells... not really, he was a pleasantly taciturn drunk); there were other things I did now and then, which mostly involved breaking the Law in various inoffensive but bothersome ways - like smashing the window of that suicidal neighbour in the middle of the night, with a hammer, and two policemen trying to prevent me from breaking in (as a matter of fact the doctors at the hospital asked me to retrieve the medication packages so as to know how to revive that woman).

It takes a peculiar kind of courage to disregard human conventions - I wouldn't call it Courage (or bravery, as in war etc) but it's like a chilling of the will to act according to your own idea and not worry about possible dangers or "what people might say". And with all that I am absolutely the opposite of the extreme-sports types - but if you put me in a group and hope that I will never stick my head out, it probably won't work that way. I am not a good "mixer", as they say, but I am also not a follower - and that is certainly something genetic. My father's always been a trouble maker in that way. He can yell though - I can't, but then again I can do my own thing without any yelling and just as implacably.

And with all that I am still a big whimp.




Wittgenstein's idea of things and I share it::
The whole modern conception of the world is founded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena.
Thus people today stop at the laws of nature, treating them as something inviolable, just as God and Fate were treated in past ages.
And in fact both are right and both wrong: though the view of the ancients is clearer in so far as they have a clear and acknowledged terminus, while the modern system tries to make it look as if *everything* were explained.
I already quoted this previously but somehow couldn't resist quoting it again with this latest group of posts. This sort of statement requires a peculiar attitude to life and when you hear this you pretty much know beforehand where you are *not* going to end up with this thinker. For instance, you are not going to end up in some close-minded system where everything is clear and well-understood and which has absolutely nothing to do with anything that life is or may turn out to be. Also, you are not going to believe everything this person says as some holy word - because this person has warned you he doesn't know zilch. And so on. It's really a very fundamental quote here.


On friendship

I've had a long online chat (haven't done that in ages, kind of exhausting with all the typing-while-thinking effort) with a Russian penpal whom I've never seen in the flesh but been in touch with for over 4 years now. By my standards this is a very long-term remote relationship. He's about 10 years younger and I basically watched him grow up online. Since our chats mostly revolve around philosophy-as-applied-or-not-in-life this maturing was mostly manifested in a changing attitude towards the merits of an intellectual grasp of the world - and thus a changing understanding of philosophical thinking.
Russia nowdays is saturated with neo new-age mentality, everybody is reading Castaneda, Gourjieff, people learn sanscrit to read the Vedas in the original; mediation techniques, alternative medicine and spiritualized pop psychology are so in vogue it's basically frightening. If you're a 70's buff, you should really emigrate and settle in some Russian town - you'd never know we've passed the y2k mark.
But I am not big on this stuff. In fact I am not big on any ready-made explanations of the world and in this we found a common ground - despite the cultural gap, so to speak. Not being too closed-minded I willingly read some Castaneda but couldn't go very far with it. On his side, my friend finally read some bona fide philosophers I've told him about. To my great delight he concluded that though they were very exciting to read, such philosophy had little to teach him. Meanwhile, and though he wouldn't directly admit it, he's gradually coming around to think that Castaneda and company are perhaps not really any good either.
If anything this is what intellectual interaction comes down to - to an evolution in thought, through something like an oblique influence and exchange of ideas, which is neither lecturing nor pushing another's mind into submission. I think respect plays a major role - it is a form of love (Plato was damn right), and thus creates a trusting attitude essential for new ideas to visit your mind. It is a trite conception that thinking cannot do without authority - but authority transpires through trust. How do you discover things? You've heard of something from trusted sources and when enough such references accumulate you are ready to discover and appreciate. I don't think I would ever have tackled Castaneda if it were not for my friend - so I could learn the language of his mind. Same thing goes for him, though his youth initially made him perhaps too eager to proclaim his predilections as the last word. He has grown out of it, and I never minded anyway - wasn't I myself that way once upon a time? Being cocksure etc.

It's also true however that there is rarely any actual equality in friendship (and penpalship is really no different). This might not seem obvious at first sight, but when you look below the surface you find that one is looking up to the other - this got nothing to do with intellect, it's all psychology. I have yet to find friendships which are free form this - I don't think you would call it friendship if there wasn't this element of inequality (strange as it may sound). For instance, I can honestly say that my friend is smarter than I am - and yet my will is stronger, and while he obviously knows I can't match his smarts, he still looks up to me and not I to him. That I am older probably plays a role - in the sense that the older you get the stronger your will gets? I am not sure here.
What does my authority with him rests upon, come to think of it? I don't really know. If Wittgenstein is right and thinking is predicated on will rather than intellect, then I am perhaps the more intelligent one (or wiser?) - and he senses it somehow. Coming from myself this probably sounds a bit rich, but maybe it's true after all. If it were any different, I would certainly be looking up to him - knowing myself. On the other hand, like I said, he ostensibly believes himself to be the smarter one and I ostensibly agree with this assesment. So I am not sure how to define this - it's paradoxical, and it's the very thing that balances out the superficial equality of friendship, which after all allows both trust and respect.
Perhaps non-intellectual friendships are structured differently, but I can't really conceive of such relationships as friendship - I would rather call them companionship or something like that. To complicate things, in the Russian language (and culture) "friendship" implies a level of intimacy that is only partly present in its English equivalent. To call somebody a friend is a grave act - something like bestowing a honor. Thus, I can say from my multicultural perspective that I had many more friends than I had friends :-0
End of paradoxical statements.


Uber Gewissheit

I have no idea what I am doing. Or should I say - what I am to do. Part of "dropping out of society" is the inevitable loss of measure to things, of the world's rythm. The fact that it's so very difficult for me to "notice" the holiday season (I hear some lonely people get depressed around this time - not me, I just don't know it's even there) is only a small indication of my general condition. I suppose the only thing that would get me to look for a job would be a complete and absolute absence of any financial resources whatever - the sheer necessity of not sleeping in the street. At the same time I absolutely understand those to whom even this "incentive" seems like too vague an idea - and who do in fact live in the street. You do get used to suffering, humiliation and what not - to the point that you almost stop noticing it. Life-long migrain-sufferers acquire that ability to deal with acute pain, vomiting on a regular basis etc - to anybody else it would seem like torture, to them it's just part of life as they know it.

Standards, a measure to things, that's what it's all about. This can fall or rise dramatically, beyond imagination for those who have not lived through such fluctuations. Wittgenstein asks somewhere whether one can imagine any kind of pain - he thinks he can. I think he's wrong. You can't imagine what a wound from a bullet feels like unless you've been shot - or how it feels to give birth to a baby - and by extrapollation, how it feels to have a vagina. Or what it means to live through a mystical experience if you've never been through anything remotely close. Sorry - but experience is beyond imagination. Then again some people (and not many) have a strong ability to "put themselves in another's shoes" so to speak. That would be imitation - masterfully inacted, profoundly felt, and yet nothing but a pale shadow of the "real thing". I do not know what it's like to live in the street - when I say I can understand it, I only mean I can imagine the *possibility* of it for myself. Neither can I know what it really means to attempt suicide until I've gone through with an attempt.
[Saw a documentary about a guy who shot himself in the chest and missed the heart: he says - the pain is excrutiating and unusual, it's like a crab gnawing at your torn flesh from inside. And still - what is it like?]

There is this continuous illusion that we know things about which we actually know very nearly *nothing*. Human speech is saturated with this kind of illusionary "knowledge". Our thought is based on very tenuous approximations - and yet we are certain of so many things. So very many things we know nothing about - and yet claim as part of our system of understanding. Perhaps this is the real gap that separates mind from reality, a fundamental lack of honesty.

Wise men are those with the widest range of experience. I think Wittgenstein came to this conclusion for a reason: after probing the limits of thought in all directions, after declaring philosophy useless, after failing at system-building, after letting life bear on the intellect. [Wise men: I am alluding to what L.W. said about staretz Zossima of Dostoevsky's "Brothers Karamazov": this man became so wise because he had looked into the heart of so very many people who bared their soul to him over the years; such men do exist etc.]

On Certainty is a wonderfully simple book. Simple because it deals directly with things that affect your every waking hour - and that would be thinking. L.W. doesn't tell you how to think - he tells you how *he* thinks. Not just *what* but how. That's damn rare in philosophy - which is all the more surprising since philosophy supposedly wants to do just that, *show* us how to think. The problem with most philosophers though is that they want to be impersonal - and forget to specify that their way of seeing things may *not* be universally true. This is a problem because universal truths (or be it ideas) have the strange peculiarity of never really applying in any specific case - and that specific case would be any one of us, readers and non-readers.

Tolstoy summed it up best in his Death of Ivan Illych:
Ivan Illych recognized that his death was approaching, and he felt nothing but despair, day and night.
In the deepest part of himself, in his heart's core, he knew that he was dying. He refused, however, to give admittance to the thought. He would not - could not, in fact - entertain such a simple but somehow absurd concept. Death, that unwelcome guest, was simply unacceptable in the parlor of his consciousness.
In his schooldays he had read in Kiesewetter's Outline of Logic this straightforward argument:

Caius is a man.
All men are mortal.
Therefore, Caius is mortal.

The argument certainly made sense when applied to Caius, but Ivan Illych could not believe it true, as well, of himself. Caius was an abstraction, and people in the abstract were, of course, mortal. Death came to them all, no doubt about it. It was a matter of logic, as any schoolboy could tell you. But Ivan Illych was not some logical abstraction. He was flesh-and-blood. He was unique, different. He had been a child, delighting in his toys, he had been called Vanya, he had had a mamma and a papa and a nurse. He had had joys and delights, griefs and sorrows. It was no abstract Vanya who had played with a ball, kissed his mother, complained about the food at school. It was no abstract young man who had fallen in love, who had risen to become a respectable man, a public prosecutor. Abstract men like Caius could die, but surely not Ivan Illych, that universe of thoughts and emotions and experiences. How could all those thoughts and emotions and experiences, all that he was, all that he had been or would be, simply disappear? Impossible! It could not be the case. The very thought filled Ivan Illych with horror and disgust.
"Surely," he said to himself, "If I were going to die, I would have *known* about it. I would have felt death creeping upon me like a highwayman or a thief in a dark alleyway. I am told that I am going to die, but this cannot be so! It makes no sense. No sense at all."
Ivan Illych tried not to think of it, but the effort, and his illness, tired him. It was like trying not to think of a toothache when one has, in fact, a toothache. As soon as he slammed the door in the face of the unwelcome guest, he heard again the ghastly knocking at the door of his consciousness, as if some terrible person, a bill collector - or worse, a murderer - were outside and demanding entrance.


Monday, December 29, 2003

In praise of wilderness

So far all I am learning from most christian blogs (at which I am reasonably assiduous) is what I've known all along - that it's a world of its own, with a language of its own ("blessed", "glory" are among the basic 3000 words), very much like any other world out there - academia, business, military... Lost in Christianity would be roughly equivalent to "Lost in America" (the movie).

I distinctly remember having fled from that world for its language - too restrictive, with holy words untouchable all over the place. I couldn't understand why it was not permitted to talk outside a certain set of ideas - I was so very frowned upon I wanted to laugh. Sure enough, this is a perfectly banal characteristic - I am sure I would have fled the Army (were I ever enlisted) just for the mere inconvenience of having to talk the robocop-speak.

In the end, it is sort of clear to me that quite a number of people leave The Church (or whatever it is they belong to) not through bad relations with God but simply to get away from a mental and social cage - and others want to join for the same reasons (to find a firm setting, so to speak).

That religious outlook should be exclusively associated with community and institutional worship is historically justified - which doesn't mean that this is the only possible way to look at it. I don't see any ontological opposition between secular and religious thinking - unless we're talking "atheists" and "believers", and this is a very old social game (and I am not going to defy history here, not my purpose), but by Jove I'd rather not play by the rules in this particular case.

It is always refreshing to read the Gospels. And it becomes positively thrilling whenever you are able to pull yourself free of the dogmatic glue spead all over these writings from times immemorial. And of course this glue also includes the social-atheist dogmas tagged to the old dogmata religiosa - the grandiose and often hollow debates that were and still are fought over the Scriptures.

Of course, one would have to stand on one's head so as to avoid the crux of the matter - whether Jesus was God or just a major mystic. And in fact, standing on one's head is not enough - or perhaps not even required, as long as you keep it for yourself and talk about peaches and oranges all the while meaning something else entirely (which should be left unspoken, unless you desire to lose your head one way or another).

It is a rare historical privilege that I may afford to do just that and not suffer any legal consequences. Socially, a secular State is clearly much preferable to the religious - which invariably turns into your fundamentalist variety, being as it is unaccountable to anyone but God - and it is never clear what God really thinks of this - "Gott mit uns", "In God we trust"... Curiously enough, communist States are actually religious in everything except for the fact that their object of worship is not God but a certain Ideal - embodied in the ruling party, which is the priesthood par excellence of this particular Idol. Incidentally, this says a lot about the social structure of religion - that it should so easily translate to such perfectly outlandish inventions as communism was and is.

The obvious conclusion is that perhaps one should leave this structure behind to hopefully find out that God is not the exact equivalent of some Shining Ideal.


Robert Bruce, the Hermit of the Bruce Caves




[ Robert Bruce, the Hermit of the Bruce Caves. While working in a local mine, the shaft collapsed and trapped Bruce. Outraged when he overheard the foreman decide to leave him for dead, his reaction once freed was to retreat from society. The caves he lived in during the early 1900s bear his name.]


Yesterday I happened on a PBS documentary about the Red Sea, which of course included a lot of stuff on the biblical history of that region. Among other things they showed thousand-year old caves where hermits tried to reach God without any help from the community. And that is essentially what prompted this particular piece of blogging - it suddenly and vividly occurred to me that those hermits were precisely the kind of "heretics" who left the structure without slamming the door, so to speak. No need to stand on your head - unless it's required for better meditation.

Another question - why is it necessary to get away from human society to get closer to God? Isn't this the same as when one flees into the woods to achieve communion with Nature? When you pray in wilderness, aren't you addressing the God of all Life - and is Nature only a world created and perishable or also the "body" of God - and of Life?

But talk is pointless here. Hermits were mute, and who could understand them if they spoke? [L.W. - If a lion could talk, we would not understand him.]

P.S. Please be advise that the word "God" as used here should not be reduced to any of its many meanings - it is a value (just as I say "Life" and never quite know how to define it).




Getting over that flu after all. And it wasn't no actual flu (for which you get shots etc), just a head cold, as they say - "cold in the head" :-0

***

Another uplifting development is that I finally got a reply from that suicidal penpal. He's usually cryptic about his states of mind, so I should infer a really bad spell from about two words he said of it.
Also, he sounds displeased with my lacunae of understanding - I wonder how that could be different, given the exclusively virtual space we're reduced to in penpalship. It is still better to be openly wrong than evasively "understanding", though there is a fine line here between bluntness and kindness. Then again, it really doesn't bother me that much when he's not "getting" something about me - apparently not an attitude shared on his side. Maybe I tend to "judge by myself" all too often.

***

That flu thing reminded me of the tremendously horrendous flu I got in Paris when I was a student there (old shit, oh my), living in something like a cupboard they call "mansarde" there. It was a cupboard alright - with a "lucarne" for a window and no bathroom.

This was a really funny flu: I heated the tiny space to the maximum (with a portable little heater), spent all day inhaling hot steam with Vicks, made lethal little runs to the outrageously cold toilet down the corridor clad in all my warmest clothes, ate 3-day old baguette with bland spaghetti, never went outside for about a week or so, and sweated out all the water there ever was in my body. It was a monastic experience in a way - I had no telephone and no other means of communication with the outside world.

When I finally emerged from this medicated seclusion I must have lost about 10 pounds and badly needed a shower. I felt very light - almost floating an inch above the ground (perhaps it was still a slightly cloudy head). Everything looked very strange and new. My first expresso (and a first cigarette) practically knocked me off my feet. A newborn, really, unsuited for the bohemian roughness of parisian cafes. The influenza experience - so very European.

Sunday, December 28, 2003



What is difficult about expressing (formulating, actually) uncanny insights is the obviousness of this insight to one's own mind - which depends on the totality of your thoughts that had lead to the insight. But this environment does not exist "outside" - what exists outside is the familiar (conventional) body of ideas that form an environment in which everything is interpreted according to certain lines of thought that actually make this environment familiar.

So if you hope to twick another's mind to see peculiar implications of your insight and how this actually rearranges this familiar body of ideas - familiar to both of you; if you want to cast a new light on some old things, what you need to do is be able to express both your understanding of this familiar state of ideas *and* the way you have come to see it differenty - not just *how* you see it differently, but also the whole train of thought that led to this new insight.

And that's exceptionally difficult, especially for those who have gone a long way into inner strangeness. To express it, means to come back from it to the common ground, without losing those strange goods on the way.
But coming back to the common ground is essential. If you just hurdle your strange stuff into speech, it will remain thoroughly un-understood, or worse still - will be interpreted along the familiar lines (which is what happens most of the time).

So what you have to do is tear yourself away from the very obviousness of your insight - pre-interpret your own thought against the familiar environment and make sure you are able to offset it accordingly.

Some people write whole books just to express one single uncanny idea they have - because it's too upsetting for the familiar environment and needs pushing up to the surface despite the mighty waves of the familiar constantly trying to engulf it and make it seem "already known".

I watch Wittgenstein do it awkwardly, laboriously - pushing the familiar out of position.


Adsense nonsense

That's what they advertise on my blog, and I can't believe the stupidity. In particular, I can't believe that this should be taken seriously (and it obviously is, somewhere, by some):
A REVOLUTION IN LOGIC

Kent Worthington creates a revolution in logic. His original theory of ideas establishes the principles by which all ideas are formed and used. This is logic as it should be clear and concrete, enjoyable and useful as opposed to the nonsense that masquerades as logic today.
How Ideas Work lays a sturdy foundation for ideas. Those who take their minds seriously will no longer be undercut by a shaky foundation. They can hold their ideas with conviction, act on them with confidence because now they can know exactly how ideas work.
Indeed, nonsense that masquerades as logic - or better still - logic that masquerades as nonsense. In that latter case, this book might even prove interesting :-0


Genealogy revisited

This family line shall not continue - I will see to it that it doesn't. My brother will not have children and neither will I.

My father's sisters had children, and their children (my cousins) had children. That line will continue. The one cousin I am praticularly close with is a tortured soul and her son will be a tortured soul (all set to go, all screwed up already, but youth is full of hope).

My father is the worst of them all, and us, his children, are the worst of them all. I shall see to it that this rotten line would not continue.

There is something to be said for the inexorable curse of blood - genetics. No man can defy his own blood, it will defy him every time. All you can do is refuse to pass it on. Small service to the unborn.

Two years before my arrival my mother had a still born baby. The little bastard escaped, set me up to carry the burden. What's more they gave me the same name as was prepared for the little bastard who slipped away. When I think that I might not have existed, if only.... He was smarter already as a foetus.

Such a bad move, my Lord.





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