Archive for May, 2007

Knowledge Means Systematically Ordered Structures Originating In Social Or Mathematical Milieus

May 26, 2007
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As The Black Clientele Heads Turned In My Direction Silence Fell
Beer Garden Pool Hall

Beaufort, North Carolina

That night I camped in a pine forest just off the highway. The rays of the setting sun on the fallen pine needles created a mellow atmosphere, but in the middle of the night the rains came. With water dripping from my tent seams, I was faced with the stomach-churning dilemma– put my rain suit on and pull up camp, or, lie in my tent as it slowly fills up with water. Past experience had taught me that the latter alternative was a drag, but while I was pondering my decision, my tent fell in on me. The ground was soft to begin with, and with the rain, it was not a surprising outcome. After I packed up my soaked equipment and made my way back to the highway in the dark, I buckled down for what would be a long, lonely, wet, hike until dawn. At first, I walked my bike, but a fear of snakes and gators making their way across the two to three inches of water on the road convinced me to mount up and ride.

I came to a small town. On the edge of it was shelter–a coin-operated car wash. I got out of my wet clothes and spread out all my wet gear. I even managed a couple hours of uncomfortable sleep (well maybe an hour). 7 a.m. found me packing up my still wet gear (but not as wet), and heading north. 9 a.m. found me sitting under an abandoned fruit stand, waiting out the downpour. 1 p.m. found me in Beaufort, North Carolina, miserable, wet, and hungry. I had had it. I was only a half days ride from where I would board the ferry for the outer banks. The forecast was 70% chance of rain for the next two days, and on the outer banks I wouldn’t find much shelter, so I checked myself into Mike’s– Beaufort’s hotel– the best $10. ever spent.

Inside my room I spread out my wet gear, and then jumped in the shower—the best shower of my life. Beaufort was a small coastal town. It had no laundromat, and, since it was Sunday, there was no place to buy beer. As I was discovering that fact, however, I happened upon a small pool hall that, through the window at least, appeared to be serving liquid refreshment. When I walked inside, the heads of the all black clientele turned in my direction, and the place got very quiet. I looked at the black bartender and ordered a draft. The atmosphere was uptight until the guy on the adjacent barstool turned to me and said, “What’s happening brother!” Everything seemed to return to normal after that. I stayed for a couple of beers and then went back to my hotel and ate a dinner of fresh caught flounder in the downstairs restaurant.

Back in my hotel room, the TV weatherman told me that 3.4 inches of rain had fallen in the last twenty-four hours and more was expected. Another disheartening piece of news was the bug bites that covered my arms, hands, and legs. I was beginning to feel as if this whole trip was a bad idea. I was not out to martyr myself. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I decided to enjoy myself while I could. With my bag of potato chips by my side, let it rain; who cares!

I settled in for a night of TV in my warm comfortable room.

Richard Nixon Was From Another Planet

My Room Beaufort Hotel

May 25, ‘77

Morning coffee, and I didn’t have to bicycle to get it. Great! It was a good movie last night, too, but the highlight of the evening was David Frost’s interview with Richard Nixon. I was glad I at least caught one of his interviews. I couldn’t believe Nixon was our President, or maybe I should say that I did believe the office of the presidency concealed the man. Unless the President wanted to reveal himself, he could remain completely obscured by the pomp and circumstance of the office. Nixon was a rheumatoid. He lived in a make-believe world. He told Frost the reporters on the news program Sixty-minutes were out to get him. He said most of their reporting was fabricated, but he also said that he had only watched the program once in his life. What a jerk. He lived in the dark ages. He probably kept Machiavelli’s book, The Prince, at his bedside. I once told my Philosophy professor, jokingly of course, that I thought Nixon was from another planet. After listening to him last night, that joke was not so obvious. But, then again, as I remembered it, I thought that that old professor of mine was from another planet, also. He talked as if he was, anyway.

My professor didn’t believe in the practice of “common sense,” or at least that was what he told the class. Maybe he was right! If Nixon could get elected to the most powerful office in the world, and in the process, rain terror down upon all those he labeled un-American, then maybe we didn’t live in a world that practiced common sense after all. To be fair, though, I think I understand better now what Dr. Gill was aiming at when he told the class he didn’t believe in common sense. Back then, however, I didn’t understand him at all. To me, back then, he even sounded like a space alien. What he was trying to get into our heads was that a large part of what was being taught in school was wrong. In particular, the “common sense” notion that John Locke popularized was wrong.

Locke, who was a member of Sir Isaac Newton’s inner circle of friends, popularized the work of astronomers and physicists of his day. Newton’s discoveries showed that the planets moved by mechanical principles. And, since mechanics characterized the objective world at the time, Locke was able to make the distinction between the “real empirical world of objective reality” and that much more individualistic world of our
subjective impressions. Locke turned this empirical worldview into his theory of knowledge. Not only did Locke’s theory account for the celestial mechanics of his time, it also produced enlightened ideas on religion and politics—the same ideas that later served as the foundation for the
American Republic.

Locke could not be faulted for his conclusions, especially the ones that followed directly from his conception of a deterministic universe. After all, he was only drawing conclusions from the science of his time. Religion, for Locke, became a personal, individual, subjective matter, while science dealt with objective fact. The science of mechanical determinism weeded out all teleological explanations of purpose in nature. Any explanation that had anything to do with purpose became bad science. Following up on this reasoning, Locke developed his theory of knowledge.

All knowledge, according to Locke, came from sensation; consequently, according to Dr. Gill’s interpretation of Locke: “In order to produce science, three different kinds of reality were involved. A fact consisted in 1) the material object as it sent out rays of light that 2) struck the sensory organs that communicated with the brain that in turn, 3) created an idea corresponding to the original object. Truth consisted in a point-for-point correspondence between the mental idea and the original scientific fact.” With that set of conditions in place, Locke gave us our empirical understanding of the “real world.” The difficulty with that view, however, was that (as we now know from today’s physics) the first step in that process has been eliminated. The real object–the material out of which objects are made– as well as the space in which they are located, are all constructs. In this new reality, facts are known only in terms of the highly developed theories of which they are part. What that meant for Dr. Gill, (as far as I can tell so far), was that when things were seen correctly, they were seen scientifically, but seeing things correctly did not necessary mean seeing things the way they actually were. It simply meant seeing things in the most informed way possible. Dr. Gill believed objectivity was itself “an internal, subjective, developmental discovery, as was the real world out there.” In other words, Lock’s “common sense” notion of science and scientific discovery, according to Dr. Gill, “had blurred, on a significant level, our lived interior and exterior boundaries.”

Gill’s Answer To Locke-Science Is About Method And Logical Structure Not Objectivity

Dr. Gill told the class that that method of seeing—scientific seeing, was first discovered by the Greeks, most notably by Pythagoras and Plato, and then reached its fruition in the geometry of Euclid of Alexandria. Later, Archimedes of Syracuse also made some important contributions. And, when Medieval artisans and craftsmen, in the pursuit of artistic growth, combined geometry (theorems and axioms) with their own experimental methods, the scientific method as we know it began to take shape. That method matured in the work of Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler.

In order to see how scientific results were produced through the application of method and analytical thought, “one only had to look at how Kepler” according to Gill, “cast his solution to the problem of Mars in geometric form, or how Galileo extended the methods of Archimedes (his work in hydraulics and mechanics) to the dynamics dealing with momentum and gravity.” Newton’s Principia was also written like a geometry text, and that also was an instructive example of how method and analytical thought worked together to produce scientific results. According to Gill, knowledge meant structure; “systematically ordered structures originating in social or mathematical milieus.” The formal sciences with their axiomatic deductive arrangements demonstrated that idea. But, so too did human behavior.

According to Dr. Gill, action and knowledge shared a natural unity. Actions expressed knowledge, not as the “sum of accumulated facts,” but more as a form of developed action. “Education,” Gill was fond of saying, “totally over estimated the importance of gathering facts.” The empirical disciplines were based on the mistaken assumption that their methods were scientific. Because of that assumption, the “hard sciences” became separated from the humanities by bottomless abyss. By throwing out the worldview of “common sense,” Dr. Gill was reestablishing science and the humanities on same “playing field.” Once all was on equal footing, he was free to pursue his pet project—applying analytical tools to ethical behavior. His mission, academically speaking, was to take ethics and morality out of “the circus sideshow antics of the moral relativists,” and put them squarely back where they belonged—in the rarified air of logical necessity.

Well I’m not going to settle that debate here. Whose morality are we talking about anyhow– the guy’s with the “biggest stick,” or the guy promising eternal life? Most likely our ex-President, Mr. Nixon, would say, “Hit first, and be ethical latter!” Dr. Gill would say that doesn’t make sense, and would jot down a few theorems to prove it. The debate goes on!

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Biking Over The Cooper River On The Charleston Bridge—A Three Humper

May 19, 2007

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Charleston, South Carolina

Atlantic Coast Bicycle Trip

May 21 ‘77

Hustling, stop and go traffic, as the shimmering heat lines rise off the trunk of the car stopped in front of me. Exhaust fumes choke; as I turn and watch the sweat pour off the faces of the black city folk walking on the sidewalk. Ahead of me are minor concrete rises, and then the monstrous steel colossus. Steep, not just an incline–the highway rises straight into the sky. I’m picking up speed now, trying to make every inch of free ground count before the drudgery of the incline.

On hot pavement, I’m in 10th gear, 8th gear, slower, switching to low range, pump, pump, and finally 2nd gear. Get a comfortable grip because you aren’t going anywhere for a while. Zoom, Swwissh, GrrrrroooooM, one after the other, the cars and trucks pass on my left. Beads of sweat group and fall off my forehead. The sun bakes my already well-baked body. It’s getting congested now. Rra, Rra-u, Rrauuuw, the trucks are inching past me, but I’m still going up and I’m almost there.

Wa-la, from the top of the first incline, 3rd gear, 5th gear, still going up, but it doesn’t seem like it. The bridge is large, high, and I wish I had time to look around, but the traffic is frightening. Here goes high range. 10th gear and I’m bent over the handlebars, picking up speed. Move over fellows. I have just declared equal rights. Faster, faster, hot air hitting my face, shirt billowing in the wind–the now eye-squinting wind. Wobble, wobble, stay true front wheel; this is your first test—Hell—this is your first test! Down, leveling off, and a new incline to begin.

Pump, pump, pump, pump, 8th gear, pump, pump, low range, 3rd gear, pump, pump, and 2nd gear; it’s steady as she goes, with burning, sweaty eyes for company. It’s up and over for a second time. High range, 8th gear, 10th gear, and its not over till its over. No excuses; I’m on my way down again. Make room for daddy! Coast, red rocket, coast; I need some rest time. Up ahead, more metal giant, and more burning eyes–one last time.

Pump, pump, pump, 8th gear, pump, 3rd gear, pump, pump, pump; arrived and waiting for the downhill, move over cars, I’m about to be reborn again. 10th gear, pump, pump, and its all down and away from here. Fast and getting faster, hot air, wobbling tire, and more glaring, hot pavement; if I had wings I could fly. Oh God, no traffic jams please! I will not brake.

Down, faster, faster—oh no—Highway 17 left lane. Nanoseconds look over my shoulder and thank God there’s no traffic; merge, merge—all the way to the left lane. Honk yourself you asshole; at 50 mph I’m as much a car as you’ll ever see. Honk, honk; go fuck yourself. You can pass on the right, left, or stay where you are. I don’t give a damn! I’m coming through. Move now oh lightening fast ten-speed. Let the chips fall where they may.

Shoo—ah, on Highway 17, and I’m still alive! Okay, pee-brains, the road is yours again; you can have it, just give me my six inches, and get out of the way. Swisssh, Zoooom, GrrrrrroooooM, I’m on the other side of the Cooper River and heading north.

Dave And George Told Me I Probably Mistook Sharks For Dolphins

Inter-Coastal Waterway, South Carolina

For the past three days I’ve been doing about 90 miles per day. All in all, things haven’t been overly good. The highway has been cracked and potholed (and likewise with the maniac drivers). Nobody in their right mind would plan to ride their bicycle here. I have seen the ocean once since I began this trip, and I had to pedal twenty-five miles out of my way to do it. Anyway, at my last store stop, the lady told me about this free park, so I have been camped here, on the inter-coastal waterway, since yesterday. The place is really beautiful. Large South Carolina pines surround me, the bustling waterway is in front of me, and best of all, there’s not a whole lot of people camping here. It’s hard to believe that I’m in a state park, and the camping is free.

Last night, I saw a pair of dolphins swimming down the waterway. Dave and George (my closest neighbors) told me I probably mistook sharks for dolphins. If they were sharks they had to be 12 to 16 feet long–not a pleasant thought since earlier in the day I had been swimming almost in the same spot. I shared some dinner and some good smoke dope with Dave and George before going back to my own tent. It was a very pleasant evening.

In the morning I went fishing with the guys in their canoe and caught the only fish, a catfish. After I said goodbye (they left for another park), I washed my clothes and body with well water and started preparing dinner. Boy, this R & R was just what the doctor ordered. I think my skin and the sun have stopped fighting. I’m pretty brown now. The memory of being sun burnt while biking in 90 to 100 degree weather, bogged down in heavy blue jean wear, makes me want to puke. I’m sure the edge on that memory will stay for a long, long, time.

George and Dave decided they didn’t want to leave after all. When they returned in the evening, we partied one last time. Early morning however, found me on the highway traveling hard. I camped in the welcome to South Carolina roadside picnic area, a stone’s throw from North Carolina, and met a nice retired couple from Victoria, Canada. We talked for a long time, and then they got back in their motor home and took off down the highway. They confirmed what I had already suspected. The carefree and courageous way old people have taken to the open road is reminiscent of the ‘60’s young people. It could be the beginning of a new rebellious movement. As one knowledgeable old fellow said to me, “I’m just a high class bum.” Anyway, the Victoria couple had been all over the U.S.A., Canada, Mexico, and Australia. They said they would send me information on how to fly to Australia for half price.

Camping in the rest area wasn’t bad. I worried a bit about the local authorities, and I had to tell a gay desperado to find another trick, but other than that it was okay. I had been traveling in overcast weather for the last couple of days, and this morning it was particularly gloomy. When I pulled into a restaurant for morning coffee, and this fellow eating breakfast asked me if I wanted to throw my bike in the back of his truck, I quickly agreed. The next 40 miles were a breeze. When I got dropped off in Wilmington, North Carolina, I went to a bike shop to get some advice. The bike guy told me, “You’ve got some baring problems, but its not bad. You probably should have a steel hubed wheel.”

After Wilmington, I rode all day, and had a rather difficult time finding a campsite. I also stopped in Jacksonville for a beer break. One footnote worth mentioning—every time I get close to a military base, I encounter one or more assholes who go out of there way to make my bicycling as difficult as possible.

The Beer Bottle Whizzed Past My Head As It Passed Through My Front Bicycle Wheel

May 12, 2007

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Atlantic Coast Bicycle Trip

Outside Jacksonville, Florida

May 14, 1977

The ride from Mt. Pleasant to Florida was in a slow, temperamental car. After thirty-four hours of driving, Tom and I arrived in Lake City, Florida. I met Tom after he read the note I left on the ride board at school. My note read: “Hi. I need a ride to Florida at end of the semester. Will share gas.” I got a phone call a couple weeks before the end of the semester and after that my Atlantic Coast bicycle trip was really on. The ride down came to an end at a KOA campground in Lake City, Florida. After Tom had already paid the fee, the guy wanted an additional $5. from me. I told KOA, “No thanks,” and took my bike and sleeping bag over to where the mowed grass of a nearby Exxon gas station met the wide open field, and there I laid out my sleeping bag and called it a day—a long one. In the morning, I started bicycling north.

It was a beautiful morning that turned hot in the afternoon. I took every precaution to keep from getting sun burnt, but that wasn’t enough, so here I am drinking this cold root beer under a shade tree, writing in my journal, wondering just how burnt am I. No sense worrying about it. I’ll find out in due time.

“Hi journal,” I guess were back together again. Which book is this anyway? I’m free again; biking down some road, my only destination some other road, until I put the entire Atlantic Coast behind me. Not only am I back on the highway, I’m back on the highway as a bicycling Castalian–a seven-year dream come true! CMU finally made me a full time custodian. Well, maybe not a custodian, but at least I’m accumulating seniority (one year already) so eventually I will become a custodian. I was hired into the least desirable job on campus, washing pots and pans. I don’t mind. Working in the kitchen lets me take summers off, and if it weren’t for that perk I wouldn’t be here now.

As a Castalian, life was not all work. For the first time (because I had the time), I was attending music performances, lectures, sitting in on classes, engaging people in “good conversations,” and, thanks to Mike and Val, even partaking in some “leftist activities.” At their courthouse wedding, I was their best man (the only man) and after the wedding the three of us moved out of our trailer and into an apartment. Things were really looking up. I did what I wanted when I wanted, and got paid for it too—what a luxury! Castalia wasn’t for everybody, but that’s okay. It made me happy. I chose it, and I will continue to choose it. I was in Florida because of it, and I will be returning to Michigan because of it. I had spent so much of my past anticipating this future and anything less than jubilation right now would be unimaginable. Things couldn’t get any better! It was sixteen miles to Jacksonville, and here I come.

7:15 p.m., and here I am, five miles farther down the road, and lucky to be in one piece. I guess a paragraph back I should have looked a little farther into the future because a little foreknowledge would have come in real handy. I probably would have avoided the thrown beer bottle that just missed my head as it damaged my front bicycle wheel. My last three hours were spent repairing two broken spokes and drinking beer from the six-pack I bought. That joint a curious stranger shared with me wasn’t bad either. I feel somewhat better now, but I’m still not over my disgust concerning the beer bottle incident. At least I found this picnic area to do my repairs in. I’m going to camp here tonight. Shit! I forgot what I was going to say. After that joint and the three beers, I’m not surprised. Oh well, I at least want to mention the family that just left the picnic table closest to me. I watched the little boy snag the biggest bass I’ve ever seen—a six-pounder or better. The kid caught it with a hook through the dorsal fin and pulled it to shore. He was so excited, and so were his parents. As I write this there are some other people who are taking their place at the picnic table. I hope they don’t come over. I’m going to pee.

May 16

Oh, by the way, I remembered what I forgot last night. It was that I started smoking again. One night’s sleep, and morning cigarette mouth was enough to put the kibosh to that bad habit. I threw away the half-a-pack of cigarettes that I still had in my shirt pocket. Unfortunately, when I looked down at my red, raw, skin I realized that I didn’t put enough lotion on my body yesterday. No wonder last night it felt like I was sleeping on a bed of hot nails. I decided not to go anywhere, at least not anywhere far. I pointed my bike toward the ocean and twelve miles later (and $3.65 poorer) I entered a Florida State Park.

I’m presently sitting on a shaded picnic table, camped just down from Steve. He’s also in the middle of the first week of his two-week bicycle trip. He’s good company.

When My Pet 200 lb Boa Constrictor Gets Mad I Stay Away-Said My Friend

Georgia Bottomland Swimming Hole

May 17

Yesterday, Darryl, Patty, Frank and I went fishing. It was my first time fishing from the beach, and I managed to catch my first ocean fish, a small Whiting. Today, when I was getting ready to leave, I noticed a noise in my sprocket. It sounded like a bearing problem. After getting some information on the whereabouts of a bike shop, the lawnmower repair guy who gave me that information said, “I’ll fix ‘er if ya let me.” I wasn’t sure, but I finally said, “What the hell; go for it!” He used thick axel grease, but when he finished the noise was gone. I was happy to pay him the $2, as I hit the highway heading to where I would turn north once again.

In the Florida-Georgia area, I saw lots of poverty. For a long time, I didn’t see one white person. I felt like I was the guy in the Cadillac. I mean, I was on a bicycle, but it was a super bicycle compared to what the black kids were riding. It wasn’t a good feeling. I ignored the insults and innuendos, but I couldn’t ignore the sun. Out west, rain demanded cover; down south, sun demanded cover. When I biked into Rawls, a one gas station town, I had had it. While drinking a juice, I told the black attendant that I was looking for a place to put up my tent. He (Shelly) asked the lady owner if I could pitch my tent behind the station. It was okay with her, so I bought a six-pack of beer, put up my tent, and am presently inside my tent, drinking the lady’s gift of coffee and eating a carrot—next the beer. I hope to stay untouched by Georgia’s black-white animosities. I plan on traveling hard tomorrow.

I have a four-inch blister on my foot; the surprise gift I got while walking on the hot pavement back at Fernandina Beach, Florida. That lesson won’t have to be relearned. The sun is setting. I got a couple things jotted down back at the state park. I guess Carole Sue still haunts me.

Untitled

Everything whole retreats,

untold stories forever behind me,

lights that do not arise,

leaving gray.

Howling night visions, oblique shadows,

unannounced, unforgiving.

Turns the mystery,

reveals the clock…Behold,

the days few

in uneven darkness.

The storm undertaken,

or survival is not.

Getting By

Together in highs

and lows

made it easy, and so

we tried, but failed

and all we knew

was that we fell

together.

May 19

This was bottomland, all the way to Savannah. It was hot, even for here. I biked more than ninety miles, and my ass was (is) sore. At the end of that day I happened upon a free park. I was sweaty and tired, so it was no surprise when I jumped into the river as soon as I got off my bike. The posted sign said, “Swim at your own risk,” but it would’ve had to say much more than that to keep me out of the water, which by the way was fine. When I jumped in the river, a couple of young kids were just leaving. I stayed in the water for quite awhile. I even washed my hair (It needed it). I was still swimming when I met this guy who told me why the sign was posted. Not because of currents or things like that, but rather because of the snakes and gators. This was the place my friend came to catch the snakes that he would then turn around and sell to Savannah’s Reptile Gardens. He had caught a cottonmouth and a water rattler that very same day.

He certainly was an interesting fellow. He kept a 17-foot boa constrictor for a pet. According to him, that was some kind of record. Four years ago when he bought the snake for $70., it was only four feet long. At that time, the snake ate two white mice a week. Now, he eats five to seven rabbits a week, depending on how many my friend can shoot for him. The rabbits are shoved down the snake’s mouth with a coat hanger. The big guy is kept in the closet and gets out once in awhile. But, as might be expec
ted, when my friend shuts the closet door, the snake gets mad. “I don’t like to be around him when he gets mad,” said my friend, “but after about five hours of ‘cooling off time,’ it’s safe to open the door again.” The 200 lb snake, according to my friend, was capable of eating a man whole—some pet.

After Hitting My Ass His Hand Probably Broke

North Of Savannah, Georgia

May 20, ‘77

Morning found me ready to mount up and ride—a full day of riding in the blistering sun. Afternoon found me sore and spent. When I reached Savannah, I walked my bike up and over the Savannah River Bridge—a long hike. The highway on the other side of the bridge that separated Georgia from South Carolina was suicide. Highways 95 and 17 merged into a northbound two-lane road. The semis were so thick that one would be coming from the front while another was passing me on the side. Any kind of structure sticking out from one of the trucks would have been enough to decapitate me. My four inches of highway were always a challenge. The shoulder of the road dropped off four to six inches into loosely packed gravel. That would have been a disastrous transition for a ten-speed bike moving at 20 to 25 mph to make. Fortunately, I did not fall off the highway, but my nerves were shot after an hour’s ride.

When three or four semis in a row passed me, I would get propelled down the highway. The initial push was always towards the shoulder, but the secondary suction pulled me back onto the highway and forward behind the exhaust reeking semi. At one point I almost lost it. All I could do was hold on tight and let the suction have its way. Just when I was beginning to get the hang of things and I thought I would survive– smack, something hit me from behind. My whole body shook from the vibrations, and then the pain started. I was waiting for the blood, but it never came, as I miraculously kept my bike on the highway. Some asshole in a pick-up truck hit me on the ass with his hand. I took the blow with my hip, but I bet the asshole broke his hand. I made pretty good time, but it was amazing I survived to tell this story.

I got off that highway as fast as I could, and the rest of the day went pretty well (if you call pedaling another 80 miles in 115 degree heat– while wearing a blue jean jacket– well). South Carolina was pretty (if you call swampy, desolate, pretty), but it was a little scary because of all the poisonous snakes. I haven’t seen any live gators (one dead), but biking along the highway I did see the largest non-zoo snake ever. It was 4 or 5 inches around and about 6 feet long. It was moving just off the highway at about the same speed I was biking. I switched gears and left the snake behind.

The whole snake thing, to say the least, made camping along the highway a bit precarious, which brings me to the point: I’m sitting here in my tent, fifty or so miles out of Charleston, writing in my journal, I feel like a little kid hiding his head under his blanket for protection. This was the best spot I could find to put up my tent– in the middle of bottomland, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of snake country. I know the critters are not far off. When I think of a snake slithering under my tent, I get the heebe jeebies. Oh well, such is life! Last night for dinner, I had a quart of beer, a can of cold spaghetti and bread. Tonight I’m having carrots, bread, and water. I wonder if I could interest Good Housekeeping with a few diet tips?

P.S. Snapping Chiggers off my tent screen with my fingers. Goodnight for now. See you tomorrow, I hope.

This Philosophy Is Organic, Even Spiritual

May 5, 2007

Working Castalia

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Martin Heidegger

May 1977

I was happy to be a kitchen cleaner. I worked 6:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and attended a class on Cassirer after work. My class was good, but we weren’t really studying mythology—the title of the class. Instead, three days a week, we studied Cassirer’s investigations into the meaning and origin of mythology. I guess the short answer here, concerning Cassirer’s message, was that somehow the creation of mythology helped us to better understand the “real world.” In fact, according to Cassirer, even though myth didn’t begin with much of a connection to the real world, without it, science probably wouldn’t exist today. Science, like myth, depends on constructs that make reality visible. Cassirer’s take on mythology was that its creation (along with art and language) helped develop the metal skills that eventually would lead to scientific thinking. I’m not “a believer” in this guy’s philosophy yet. (The class was half over when I started.) All I can say for sure right now is that I have never read anything like it before. I guess that’s a good sign.

CMU hired a new person to teach Existentialism. As soon as I finished sitting in on Dr. Gill’s class I made arrangements to do an independent study on Martin Heidegger with Dr. Ausbaugh. Heidegger was the same guy another one of my professors (now long departed from CMU) called “the most important philosopher of our time.” What follows is a sample of my directed study with Dr. Ausbaugh. Heidegger was difficult, so I was happy with my B grade. From a personal standpoint, I found reading Heidegger much more rewarding than reading Sartre.

Martin Heidegger

“For manifestly you have long been aware of what you mean when you use the expression “being.” We, however, who used to think we understood it, have now become perplexed.” –so begins the book Being And Time. Heidegger goes on to tell us that we have lost sight of the meaning of being, and uncovering that meaning is what he tries to do in his book. His investigation starts with immediate experience, which he calls Dasein. Dasein gets translated as “being there,” and second, as “understanding.” Dasein represents “being” with a capital B, but that’s only after it achieves authenticity, after it realizes its own Being-in-the-world.

Dasein runs deep for Heidegger, but it is discovered in what Heidegger calls the They part of itself. In whatever particular Dasein is there, so is the world in its thrownness. The subject, for Heidegger, can no longer be described as worldless entity ala Descartes’ cogito ergo sum; rather, it becomes “a knowing Being-in-the-world.” Because Being-in-the-world knows only through some particular Dasein, whatever gets known is never enough. Dasein, always desperate for more, experiences what is in the world in the most desolate sense. Heidegger describes this desolate sense as falling through the “here and yonder of the They.” Dasein continues to fall until it encounters turbulence, but before I describe turbulence, I need to describe Dasein’s other characteristics, the characteristics that comprise Dasein as Being-in-the-world.

Heidegger tells us, “The structure of that to which Dasein assigns itself is what makes up the world. The worldhood of the world is thus the comporting of Dasein to its possibilities which I myself am.” He then goes on to explain that we discover things in the world ready-to-hand for their use-value, and they, in turn, are incorporated into Dasein’s possibilities as an assignment of a something in-order-to. Being present-at-hand, the other way we discover things in the world, is tied up with being-ready-to-hand because it comes into view only in the relation of a “with which” that obstructs the “something-in-order-to” of the ready-to-hand, in other words, an obstacle interferes with the use value of a thing. Heidegger describes this present-to-hand awareness as a disturbance that reveals itself through conspicuousness (broken equipment), absence (as something necessary before it can become an in-order-to), and obstinacy of obstacles (as something that gets in the way of an in-order-to preventing it from becoming an in-order-to). When being-ready-to-hand is not sufficient, when Dasein’s goals become blocked, the pure presence-at-hand steps in to exhibit itself. Thus, Dasein’s circumspective concern lights up the worldly character of entities present-at-hand and ready-to-hand, but, in addition to being with these entities, Dasein is also being there with others, discourse (communication and understanding), and state of mind.

By making Dasein’s being with others a given, Heidegger avoids solipsistic arguments, arguments that deny the possibility of knowing the other. Dasein exists through its communication with others. Dasein existentially encounters others as being for, without, or against, and is with others in its solicitude and considerateness. Thus, for Heidegger, discoursing becomes just another one of Dasein’s (Being-in-the-world’s) equiprimordial structures. Understanding one’s Being-in-the-world (depth of meaning) depends on how far one’s own Dasein has understood itself at the time. Depth of meaning is made possible because Dasein exists–ontologically–as both an “issue for itself,” and as a whole, and, according to Heidegger, the significance of Dasein-the ontological whole of Dasein-must be understood within the light of authenticity.

Dasein lights up the worldhood of the world in understanding, state of mind, being-with-others, and falling (thrownness). There is another way, though, one where understanding, state of mind, being-with-others, and falling light up not just the world of our everydayness, but rather our ownmost being possible.

For the most part, concern–our concerns, originate in what Heidegger calls inauthentic Dasein. People exist in thrownness and are none the worse for it. Indeed, most people are happy in throwness, but for those who need or want more, the possibility of existing apart from thrownness starts when that person becomes aware of thrownness. Setting a goal and attaining it is not the way one goes about existing apart from thrownness. Rather, this possibility is first enc
ountered as an oddity, an extreme, and finally gets understood only after the experience of an intensely felt aloneness—hence the turbulence.

In authenticity, when Dasein comes back to its own most having been, it becomes free from all externality. But, in order to succeed in this, Dasein must partake in a relationship where there is no further involvement. In everydayness, Dasein goes about its business unaware of that kind of relationship. In inauthenticity Dasein temporalizes temporality; that leaves Dasein with its past and future, but never with itself. Desiring wealth, power, fame, lust–worldly desires as such, Dasein always involves itself further, but when Dasein honestly faces the possibility of its own death, only then does it encounter a relationship with no further involvement, only then does it encounter the one possibility that cannot be outstripped by any other Dasein. In everydayness, Dasein does not choose to recognize this not to be out stripped possibility of itself. Instead, it passes over that possibility as an unfortunate calamity of life–people die. Occasionally, though, the thought of one’s death does get experienced with anxiety, but the cause of that anxiety is always left unrecognized (if I knew what I was anxious about I wouldn’t be anxious). If, however, one lingers in anxiety’s uncanniness, worldly meaning starts to fall away, and the sound of Heidegger’s “call of conscience” starts to be heard.

When anxiety slips between Dasein’s many faces the “call of conscience,” however faint, can be heard. If Dasein listens carefully, then the discourse of the “They” fades into the background and the “call” summons Dasein to its non-relational, not to be outstripped anticipation of death. Resolute Dasein, by answering the call, moves within one moment of existing authentically, but that moment, however small, is still formidable enough to block Dasein from holding on to the truth of existence in authenticity. “Being-towards-death,” says Heidegger, “is the process of Dasein coming back to its ownmost primordial having been as Being-in-the-world.” Coming back to its ownmost having been is not the problem. Staying there is.

The way we exist temporality in everydayness is the time of inauthentic Dasein, but the more one communicates with the call of conscience, the less one speaks, and the less one speaks, the more reticence runs through state of mind, understanding, and being-with-others. In “the moment of vision” a totally reticent Dasein is brought back before its concern in the rapture that precedes all possibilities, in the rapture that only Being-in-the-world can produce. In a manner of speaking, in the “moment of vision” an enabled Dasein “treads water” above inauthenticity and thrownness for the sake of its own authenticity and resoluteness.

Well that’s about it for Heidegger. You can agree him or not agree; either way he leaves you with something to “chew on.” Heidegger’s philosophy, for me, seems organic, even spiritual. Unlike Sartre, Heidegger at least leaves the possibility open for a pure, positive, Being. With the concepts of present-at-hand and ready-to-hand, Heidegger’s approach to Being is much earthier than Sartre’s comparable concepts of being in-itself and being for-itself. For the most part, by limiting his analysis to being-for-itself, Sartre turns the idea of a pure, positive, Being into its opposite—Being’s nothingness.

I have to admit, though, if it weren’t for the time I spent with Sartre’s philosophy, I probably wouldn’t have got much from Heidegger’s Being And Time. It was almost as if Sartre looked at Heidegger’s work and said, “Let’s cut to the chase. Dasein is a mental case, so lets get rid of him!” He then squeezed everything out of Being And Time that didn’t pertain specifically to conscious belief and came up with Being And Nothingness. Sartre secularized Heidegger’s work; he stripped Being-in-the-world of its meaningful content, and put in its place his machine-like idea of being-for-itself. If it weren’t for Heidegger, Sartre would not have had anything to write about. In Sartre and Heidegger’s respective notions of freedom that dependence is made very clear.

In both philosophies, freedom is referred to as a kind of disclosure, but for Sartre, that disclosure is the result of the negation of being. Dasein, by futureally making present, affirms rather than negates. In Heidegger, we are free for something, while in Sartre we are condemned to not be something. Ultimately, for Heidegger, we become totally free in Dasein’s resoluteness, but there is a strange twist here because Being-in-the-world is already chosen. Thrown Dasein is free to choose among its many possibilities, but–what gets chosen, how things are chosen, and why things are chosen– limits Dasein’s freedom. When Dasein understands Being-in-the-world as already chosen, it becomes free not to choose, and by not choosing, everything gets chosen. Freedom, for Sartre, on the other hand, replaces Heidegger’s “being free for authenticity” with pure negation. Sartre’s freedom becomes nihilation–being’s nothingness. It separates our past from our present as two distinct realities, forcing us to be free every instant. Being free, where every moment is separated by nothingness, leaves us, according to Sartre, anguished. Anguish then, for Sartre, becomes the thread that runs through freedom.

Does that sound familiar? It should, because without the state of mind of anguish, (plus a few other equiprimordial requirements) Dasein could not become free for Being-in-the-world. The difference between Sartre and Heidegger here is that, for Sartre, the consequence of being free for mere belief is a cause for anguish; while in Heidegger, anguish becomes the cause for the “call of conscience,” which in turn, calls us back to our own most potential being—Being-in-the-world. Put in slightly different terms, in Heidegger, temporality, riding the cusp of care, makes possible the fullest expression of Being-in-the-world, while, for Sartre, nothingness, as the condition of Being-for-itself, tortures forth the past, present, and future as a nihilating surpassing of my very being—being-what-is-not-while-not-being-what-is. No wonder I found Sartre so depressing!