My life is marked by persistent phase shifts.
One day, I can write, the next I can not, then at another time I can read, or not. I have many books left unfinished because I couldn’t tolerate the work required to finish them, they offended my sense of truth, or research, or said nothing new, or I was just too tired to sustain or feign interest. I cannot just will to do what I want without a price being exacted from me. And, I don’t want to leave behind the traces of, and carefully configured annunciated truths that have sustained me since before I can remember, you know, the innate sensibilities that I have always relied on. I know that some of them are not worth retaining. They need an overhaul, but I can only sustain so much change at one time. But then I can’t will to change some of this either without breaking much that I value.
There is a certain gracefulness in life bought with patience, paid by me or others, God, or the universe. I can’t live well without that, and I can’t trace any freedom to its source. That’s frustrating. The quandary I am in forces a certain disappointment I can’t overcome merely by willing its resolution, or striking out in a promising direction. Complicating that are the promises I have made to people I respect in full expectation of fulfilling those promises, yet I am subject to a world where I cannot will to accomplish those same promises by willing their completion.
There is some guidance brought by beauty, by truth, by the Spirit of God, by awe at the majesty of the created universe. Otherwise I’m left alone, and not willing to let others take over the job of getting me in gear for whatever purposes they think I am suitable for. I become frustrated when I have to fend off either the ghosts of my own expectations of myself or the real expectations of myself or others. I do not wish for others to experience with me the disappointment I have in my own predicament.
I have moments of fruitful productivity, but like moments of my genius, they are too few and far between. Like glimpses of heaven we all have in a dream or a vision of perfection, they ruin the hope of actually getting there from here. They perform the task of creating emptiness where a fog resided before; a tension and anxiety exist now where ignorance and the soporific laziness of summer once was. Revelation is a curse in that it promises then takes away, sucking me into the future, a phase change from a simple childhood to a complex and effortful project/process/praxis.
I would not trade what I now see for the ignorance of my predecessor self, and since I am a different person than what I was, I cannot return the greater galaxy of my thoughts into the smaller structure of its progenitor’s container. I therefore plod forward, hoping that my stupid mistakes (inevitable) do not stop the onrush of determinate action, action guided by, in cooperation with, all the realities I am associated with. I take some comfort in the Analects of Kongzi (Confucius) Book 2, Ch 4:
- The Master Said, ‘At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning.
- ‘At thirty, I stood firm.
- ‘At forty, I had no doubts.
- ‘At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven.
- ‘At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth.
- ‘At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.’
and the oft-(mis)quoted aphorism of Augustine, “Love God and do what you please.”
Some ideas are not yet ready to expose themselves.
In a discussion with my friend Mark McLean, we talked about the effect of reading on one’s thoughts, ideas, the creation of new possibilities where none existed before. We are both SF nerds with a voracious appetite for interesting new worlds and worlds that are different enough from our own to make us challenge and reconsider the world we live in. I like talking with Mark because he provides an interesting mix of experience and insight. He helps me to gel some nascent ideas.
One idea I had last night was that some ideas are so entrenched in human rationality that creating new scenarios for common ways of thinking is exceptionally difficult. Take the problem of the soul, or consciousness. Still, after thousands of years of mucking around with early science and religion, we have only begun to unearth anything like a useful metaphor for talking about this. For age upon age, we treat the problem like a flat file filled with information that is supposed to solve the riddle. But we are always surprised when the data is incomplete, either by bad theory, or bad science and religion. Since we only unhappily tolerate the tension of unresolved issues, and with our ordinary impulse to cap off a theory, it is difficult to keep exploring the issues. It’s almost like cutting oneself with the resulting shame and self loathing.
Theories are often multidimensional, and we like to reduce those theories to a single dimension because a single dimension can be encapsulated in logic. I am not the opponent of logic, but since Gödel, we must leave an object like that incomplete if we are to admit that it is larger than our system can comprehend. The systems are incomplete by nature of their proposers, either fixed in language or experience. Promoting the ethos of anxiety where resolution is not at hand seems like the promise of unhappiness to those who like a neat little package. Which of us can tolerate for long the promise of unhappiness in such a way?
Why is new knowledge so hard? Because it costs so much personally and socially, we spend most of our time figuring out whether we can pay the price or not, or whether the possible gain is worth launching out without the effort spent to know whether we can pay, living desperate lives at the edge of survival. But the trail of knowledge is strewn with the dead bodies of those whose dying breaths announced the next step, the minimalist clue to advance the discussion, a treasure map scrawled in their own blood. Not many of us can afford to live like that. Not many of us have the chutzpah to make that decision. I am one who mistrusts the engine of my rationality enough to hold back from that sacrifice. Anyway, I’m not sure it is required of me.
I will plod along.