“Philosopher down. Is there a reductionist in the crowd?”
THE JOURNALS OF A MAN WHO THINKS ABOUT THINKING
Life is inexpressibly beautiful, staggeringly wondrous and strange, sublimely open to our probes, and wantonly veiled to all but instantaneous witness. We are formed of metempirical glories that ably masquerade as boring and familiar routine stuff. The moods and raveled paths of this style of philosophy—philosophy that talks about such matters—resist my descriptive powers. Even if I spend the remainder of my life time working on these texts, my terms will remain too imprecise, and drive some of you crazy, while others may find the language too punctilious to bear.
Nothing here will address or resolve any scholarly debates. This is a journal of personal musing on philosophy, the wisdom traditions, and transpersonal affairs, in a pseudo-literary style, from someone addicted to thinking. There are no analytical propositions. I've set no traps for category errors. I've plunged in here, fully aware that no sentence can survive the inspection of professional philosophers. I confess at the start to generating all sorts of broken language that will not survive the analytic Q&A. No harm is meant, and I do not write to confuse. This writing is full of symbols, and the symbols are tied to my experience. No free-floating marbles for Sophistical games.
If you wander around, taste and test things, you may find something useful. This is just another quest, this one utterly dependent upon a body that can type and gamely reflect upon the utterly unspeakable nature of our presence in a Place. I've been on many quests, all of which now seem (from my current temporal outpost) quite similar, so quests themselves—even though their steps and stages may be foolish—are respected here. Because I race along in some places, re-reading may be helpful. The representation of thinking is often highly condensed; interstitial explication has been jettisoned to get things written down. This seems to fit the style of my thought. Years of slow and silent internal consideration and observation, immersed in life’s daily rhythms, the exotic seasons of mood, inveterate reading punctuated by infrequent philosophical conversations, enthusiastic rants as well as utter inner stillness, seem to generate a line or two for keeping.
What it all comes down to is impossible to say. Why do we do these things? For the most part, I guess I don’t want these trains of thought to scatter and be lost, if someone else can use them. It’s hard to explain what's going on Here, whether in the world at large or in this small and rarefied corner. Explanations are exceedingly hard to come by in this Place, and most of us have learned to settle for the counterfeit variety that meet the needs of social sparring. The notion of an explanation promises much, but I find that explanations do not bear up well under the fire of reality. Could it be true that, at bottom, all our mental works and all our selves are "epistemically circular," to misuse William Alston's phrase? This may be getting too cute for words. If I were able to sing, and I did not think so much, I might have tried a song. Music is at least immediately attractive, even as it remains unreservedly inexplicable.
A DIALOGUE ON PURPOSE
Who do you write for?
Other philosophers who may come by this way.
Why should they read you? Surely there are others who have knowledge to share, and who are better educated, and are better writers than you. Shouldn't other philosophers be reading them?
Of course they should.
Then why do you put forth this particular, limited effort?
More travelers will be coming, and some may come by here. They may need a place to rest, and have a conversation before they push on. Life is hard, and most people need refuge.
So you're not advertising your particular version of the metier?
I don't know how to do that. Some of those who come by may have a taste for it. It may cause them to smile, and sit down easier. The road of philosophy is very very wide, and everyone comes along eventually.
This sounds very folksy. You did not start out that way, as I recall.
In my case it was a natural function of age. The older I get, the more I become just one of the folks. When a philosopher gets older and folksier, it's a special case of "Awe, shucks…" And I grow depressed if, unknowingly, I withdraw into stories.
But isn't what you do as a philosopher a kind of storytelling?
Remarkably, yes. At its root, storytelling, like Brown's logic, begins with making a distinction. So that is how I must begin, in spite of feeling revulsion at how close that may come to the horrible popular moralism of "making a difference." By giving storytelling a "root" I can set all kinds of new and useful things in motion.
So this philosophical miscellany is all about your penchant, nay, your obsession, for making observations about involuntary storytelling?
Yep. Pretty much.
I'm guessing you have a corn-cob pipe somewhere nearby. You seem to think this automated sub-personal storytelling notion is a big deal. What do you expect your visitors to take away, after reading this stuff?
In general, probably not much at first. Inner work and time are necessary to make good use of the ideas. What will visitors take away? Those are individual stories I would not be privy to. But for my part, I'd like to imagine that some would find they've stepped into a whole new room of their house—a hidden one they did not know was there—from whose windows everything appeared new, and afterwards they were ever alert for more of their own hidden architecture. Not everyone is interested in architecture. Some people are more interested in furnishing the rooms.
HOW TO READ A FISH
Much of the time I know what I mean to say, so it’s easy for me. It may be harder for you to read. To reduce any frustration, dear reader, feel free to assume that each time I use a given term, it means something new. I say this not to be cute; it's an attempt to get at some of the complexity involved in describing the unfolding of non-conceptual experience as well as the backside of conceptual states of mind. So please take note: when I say that each time I speak, my words mean something new, I’m indicating the scale or resolution of attention that will best reward the reader of this site. I’m suggesting that you read in such a way to notice how this might be true. If you can do this, the way will open and there will be more to see. For my part, actually seeing this for the first time led me to change my life.
So, my approach in these pages is grounded in the knowledge that concepts don't stand still. Or rather, at each outing we use them afresh, even within the same sentence, as we sharpen our bearings through the ping-pong of speaking vs. internal referrals. We are alive, and life does not stand still. As Eugene Gendlin has noted in different words, the concepts allow us to be together, while the felt stuff which they are intended to corral keeps on wiggling. All in all, this seems to me a very important aspect of our lives in this place—that our concepts are alive, like newly caught fish thrashing on a deck, and will not be still—partly because we take so little notice of it, even behave as if it were not so.
In part, the popular conceit of having a self, along with all the concepts we employ to maintain that self, depends upon finely-scaled sequential acts, both physical and mental, of capturing and killing life while sleepwalking through microscopic streams of memories. Taking full, body-deep notice of this can be a radical shock to our entire human frame of reference—at least, if you're already someone with a philosophical bent.
We're distracted from what actually happens in our awareness from moment to moment, as we try to think. But there's more to it than that. The "we" that reads and thinks supposes a stability that is not there. The wild body of the universe is alive here and now, but our language and our voices are designed for a stable self—but one that, paradoxically, is freshly minted as each new clod of speech is turned open to the sun. In fact we are nothing that can be spoken, but we try like hell. This is what interests me.
There's more. If we learn to watch closely the supposedly smooth unfolding of our thoughts and movements here, we discover lacunae, gaps, intervals, in the flow of action. Because this is not very obvious, we pay it little mind, and our enculturation spares no time for it. Nonetheless, these gaps make up a large portion of our everyday "self." Yet the self we tend to notice has no gaps. To put this another way, our everyday self is like a tip of the proverbial iceberg. Is there a "who" in the gaps? There is much more to this than meets the eye.
In the less visited back rooms of our minds, we may have concluded that some of our concepts have reached stability, but daily life in the sunlight, closely observed, kicks the pins out of that assumption. Heraclitus was the first to go on record about this: You cannot talk to the same Heraclitus twice. To refine this notion even further, we could say you cannot talk to the same Heraclitus, ever. When we call something "unchanging," it is often because we have routed it into a concept with a standard label, and barred it—for the moment—from the category of "changed." The second "it" in the previous sentence performs a similar service. Hold up for a moment. Have you noticed how many amazing things have just happened, in what you have just read? For example, the way the phrase "for the moment" works back there? If you look closely at its functions within the sentence, can you see how its meaning changes as you think about it?
Philosophers are typically casual about dealing with the "unchanging" in fixed ways. In a sense, our body and its language services perform a continuous magical effect of producing the unchanging. In the domains of speech and writing, sentences that exclusively refer to sentences can generate the effect of changelessness with aplomb. These operations should be looked at more closely, in pages yet to be written. It's a curiosity that we seem perfectly at home when we use the process of continuous change in our mental operations as a medium for representing the unchanging. What is meant here is “unchanging" in both its capitalized, Presocratic sense, as well as its lower-case more familiar and daily-conversational sense. Great teachers have noticed, in their troubling way, that "by nature" we are the unchanging, and that we have a thirst to locate what does not change. Trying to figure out the meaning of this instructive trope always turns one's head around. This immense thought can be recast as a lovely liquid-centered paradox: the instant of now can be found only as an endless change, and this now is what never changes.
Turning back to one of the subjects at hand, the limitations in these pages: even that cornerstone of stability, physics, is always being conducted by a perceiving and changing human body immersed in a world. This description would include, for example, the reading of an equation that defines the transmission of light through curved space. There is no objective realm independent of observation (none that any of us have seen), and observation is a bodily process, ever changing. In fact, the world is a wonder in that we can safely say, nothing here remains unchanged. This is a hallmark of our condition. The self that peels an apple, reads an equation, or does philosophy depends upon this foundation of change. But that, indeed, may be another story.
Okay, test it yourself: close inspection will show that there are no fixed meanings for any of us immersed in the body/language/world. Really now, do the experiment. Don't let yourself off with mere memories of past conceptualizing. Check it out now, in real time. Is the idea that you have just now, the very same as the shape of the “same" idea you will have 30 seconds later? On a broader scale, this irreducible newness of our ideation is mirrored in the way every science changes its clothes every few years.
Where is all this leading? From this point we could take an excursion down the rabbit hole to investigate what it means to “have an idea," and why that might matter. Before we do that, an explicit excuse is in order: when you come across the gaps in my thinking and writing, please keep in mind that even the most diligent and exceptional of scientific explainers, as well as the great mathematicians, have been exposed to strong criticism for lack of precision in language. As a small town thinker, I lack their capabilities, and I've witlessly chosen a more uncharted expanse for my probes. Nevertheless, compelled to share my delight in the works of thinking, I beg your indulgence. None of us lives long enough to get the language right with each other, so we must make do with skillful imprecision, grateful for the patches of thinking and writing we may borrow from the living and the dead, blessed be their names.
All praise to the four directions, the ten thousand proverbial worlds, the n^x post-Einsteinian topologies, all the divinities, siddhas, all my teachers, the goddess Mentor, holy beings everywhere and the teachers yet to come, my friends, my loves, the walk-on players, plus that big zany, the Nameless Void. Thank you, all.