Archive for August, 2007

5 Questions With My Answers

August 27, 2007

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This blog is in response to Doc’s blog, which I visit from time to time (probably more often now). Doc can be found in the instant messages section of my page. He’s the mailman. He sent me these five questions.

1. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

I would live on Vancouver Island, Canada, but I would probably need a time machine because I’ve been back a couple of times and it has changed. What follows is an abbreviated description of a past experience I had while visiting the island.

Vancouver Island—1969

Qualicum Falls was the first stop for this solitary hitch hiker—yours truly, and Jerry and Sherri.

The park, a masterpiece of Mother Nature, had two waterfalls, one large, one small, with crystalline pools of blue water at the bottom of each. The river cut large climbing steps into the bedrock that contained the churning whitewaters. Climbing down the rock steps that followed one after the other down the river, we passed through an enchanted forest where I half expected to see an elf or a fairy princess dart from behind one of the large pine trees. I wanted to spend more time in this place, but, alas, it was time to get back on the road again.

The next park we pulled into was also beautiful. It was a stand of 800-year-old Redwood trees called Cathedral Grove. Leaning against a tree so large that it felt like a wall instead of a curving tree trunk, we ate our lunch of wild blueberries and crusts of bread. Looking up into trees so tall the tops couldn’t be seen and then down at us, an elderly couple asked if our berries were fresh picked park berries. “They sure are,” replied Sherri. This couple had been touring the island and just returned from a place called Long Beach, a wilderness beach on the Pacific Ocean side of the island. The beach, according to the couple, was definitely worth seeing; the problem was getting there. The logging road to the beach cut across the mountainous center of the island and, according to the couple, was washed out in some places. I guess that’s why the beach was pretty much deserted. After a few more swigs of wine we were ready to go for it — Long Beach or bust.

The couple didn’t exaggerate about the road; it was in shambles, with large potholes approximately twenty feet apart and small potholes everywhere else. Our fastest speed was 25 mph. The challenge was just to keep moving. We had sixty miles or so of this highway in front of us, so patience became the word of the day. The slow pace gave me plenty of time to burn images of the breathtaking scenery into my memory. Our view of mountain vistas more than compensated for any abuse our bodies had to endure. I can’t speak for the van however.

As we circled, switchback like, through the mountains, sometimes looking down upon virgin stands of timber, sometimes looking up at snow capped peaks, I was filled with whatever fills your body and mind when you find yourself in beauty like this. I didn’t know what that something was, but I sure felt its power. We drove through a super thick cedar forest and over a mountain pass that opened up into a gorgeous vista view of the mountains. We passed many mountain streams, sometimes trickling, sometimes raining down the sides of mountains. The summer runoffs formed small, emerald green lakes in the high alpine valleys just below the peaks.

When we stopped to stretch our legs, I walked over to where water was cascading down from a large stone outcropping on the mountain face. The water was ice cold and crystal clear. Off to the side, I saw another stream trickling down from a more manageable overhang. This stream was flowing at drinking fountain velocity. Clinging to a boulder, my head cocked in full view of beautiful passing clouds, I became enlivened as mountain water poured into my mouth. Rock, sun, sky, forest, and snow filled my senses; this heightened sensitivity crystallized with each cool swallow of water. The whole experience left me with an overwhelming sense of being part of nature, a feeling I will not soon forget and hopefully, someday, be able to repeat. Getting back in the dusty van brought me down a bit, but the bump and grind of the road definitely put me back in touch with the fact that God’s gifts do not come cheap.

2. You’ve gotten a hold of some ‘bad liquor’ and wake up to find yourself in an old movie. What movie is it and which character are you? (and no, I’m not looking for Jimmy Stewart in ‘It’s a wonderful life’ – use your imagination).

Richard Nixon—A Quaker Of Distinction

This documentary would visit our 37 President’s Quaker upbringing while paying particular attention to Mr. Nixon’s “sharing” at the conclusion of the unprogrammed meetings that I am sure he must have attended. (I’m one of the attendees in the meeting not believing the hypocrisy I’m hearing.)

3. Our government has decided to lock up any one who’s name is Dave – just because they can do it now. The good thing is, you’re allowed to choose someone else to share your pen. Who would it be?

“The buck stops here guy” –most likely that would be the Commander in Chief, you know, the top honcho responsible for the injustice—he would be sharing the pen with me.

4. While browsing through a bookstore containing old editions of classic works, you stumble upon a very early version of H.G. Wells, “The Time Machine”. Upon opening it, you find yourself in a room with the machine. After admiring it for a moment, you sit in the seat and reach for the controls. Where do you set the date before setting your journey in motion?

Approximately 33 A.D., more specifically, I would set my Garden of Gethsemane arrival time at just after the apostles went to sleep and before Judas and the Roman Guard came for Jesus of Nazareth. I would give almost anything to talk to Jesus. I’m sure our discussion would be inspirational, informative, and devotional.

5. Many people feel that today’s schools do an inadequate job of teaching US and world history. Do you concur, and if so, what measures would you take to address this issue?

Please forgive my long-windedness (my answers), but I see the problem with education to be more encompassing than that. I believe today’s schools teach the continuation of the status quo and, for me, that is unacceptable. What follows is a quick account of the problem, and then I let Ken Wilber have the last word because I believe he is (from my reading at least) way ahead of the pack in moving toward a solution to the problem.

Science And Technology—The New Materialistic Faith

Thus The Guiding Principles Of Science And Commerce Came To Be Dictated By Entirely “Pragmatic” Concerns: Empiricism On The One Hand And “Improving The Bottom Line” On The Other, A Financial Dictum That Gave Rise To The Modern Economic Ethos Of “Unlimited Growth”

Excerpts From: Stranded In Flatland—A Critique of Education in Modern America Concluded [By David Fideler, Gnosis Magazine/Summer 1994]

{“Education” In A Two-Dimensional World

Intimately associated with the hierarchical view of traditional cosmology is the notion that Nature is a theophany, an emanation of the divine, the best possible image of divine reality within the confines of time and space. With the so-called Enlightenment, however, a linear, reductionistic, and materialistic view of the universe arose. For most people, this eclipsed the perennial vision of a multidimensional, hierarchical cosmos, in which the various levels of being are linked together by universal harmony and sympathy. All of a sudden, we were left stranded in Flatland. And within

[The term “Flatland” is taken from the title of the book by Edwin A. Abbott, first published in 1884. In Flatland he describes the existence of a two-dimensional world and the beings who live there. The book deals with the multiple dimensions of space and how three-dimensional objects appear to the limited perceptions of the two-dimensional beings. See E. A. Abbot, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (New York: Penguin, 1987]

the new, two-dimensional cosmos, Nature came to be seen not as an already perfect theophany, but as a “natural resource,” ready to be developed by human technology. Traditional cosmology had always approached the transformation of nature through art and consciousness in an alchemical sense, which implied a corresponding transformation of both individual and culture; the new approach, on the other hand, was dictated by exploitative, commercial motives.

The Enlightenment can be seen as a backlash against centuries of Christian repression of free intellectual inquiry. The Christian Church appropriated the hierarchical universe of traditional cosmology, but it did so with a political agenda, proclaiming itself the sole custodian of universal truth. Under the Church’s auspices, the path of philosophical inquiry was replaced with theological dogmatism, and politically enforced belief triumphed over reason and knowledge.

The modern era began when European intellectuals rebelled and demolished the dogmatic stranglehold of “theological certainty,” but one evil was replaced with another. Fueled by centuries of pent-up potential, science and technology broke loose from ecclesiastical constraint. But because the view of a multidimensional cosmos was lost, there was little left to guide the hand of science and technology, which became subservient to the interests of business and commerce and established itself as a new, materialistic faith.

This two-dimensional philosophy of materialism had little use for the vertical dimension of value and meaning, and limited its sights to the Promethean manipulation of the natural world through technology. Thus the guiding principles of science and commerce came to be dictated by entirely “pragmatic” concerns: empiricism on the one hand and “improving the bottom line” on the other, a financial dictum that gave rise to the modern economic ethos of “unlimited growth.”

Only against this historical backdrop is it possible to diagnose the ills of the modern educational system, which we can now see as synonymous with those of the modern world itself. The fact that education is in trouble should not surprise us, for if true education is rooted in the old hierarchical view of reality, it simply cannot flourish—or perhaps even survive—in the current cosmological climate. Our culture, while often proclaiming high ideals, is essentially indifferent to beauty, art, education, and the spiritual dimensions of life. For example, politicians claim that we need to “raise the level of education so that we can remain globally competitive in a world economy,” but what they are really saying has nothing to do with true education, or the expansion of awareness, and everything to do with expanding economic interests. If we lived in a world that really did value education, the world itself would look and feel like a different place than it does today.

The most telling symptom of the breakdown of the educational system is the ever-accelerating transformation of our colleges and universities into trade and business schools. Most students don’t go to college to expand their horizons or to get an education; they go to college to get a job. The anthropological assumption of our consumer culture is not that the individual is a spiritual entity with a unique relationship to multiple levels of being, but that the individual is a potential cog in the economic machine of production and consumption. Students attend universities to be exposed to the latest techniques and technologies, but they are rarely encouraged to question their own lives or cultural assumptions. Rather than presenting alternative models to the philosophy of materialism, universities regularly sell out to economic interests and thereby grant tacit approval to the two-dimensional cosmology of Flatland. Universities thus forsake their credibility as the custodians of education and, rather than questioning the integrity of the world we have created, become silent instruments of indoctrination and socialization for the economic machine.

In the modern age, the myth of the celestial ascent is replaced by the favorite myth of American culture: climbing the corporate ladder. The pursuit of excellence, which formed the basis of Greek civilization, is replaced by (or equated with) the pursuit of higher sales or a higher salary. And the realization of an individual’s intrinsic humanity through art, creativity, and learning is replaced by yet another end: acquiring the trapping of social status.}

An integral vision, addressing the above deficiencies, has been described in many of Ken Wilber’s books. This is not the time or place to start that discussion, but Wilber gets the last words here:

“The various developmental lines or streams (morality, religion, learning, art, etc.) move through the developmental levels or waves (egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric), and the higher the level of development in the various lines, the greater the chance for the emergence of a World Civilization.” (Wilber, A Theory Of Everything, 2000, p. 126)

Wilber reminds us with his analysis that the bulk of the world’s population is ethnocentric in their worldview, so the huge amount of unfinished work to do must take that into account if it wants to actually reach a worldcentric anything.

Take care,



As Gandhi Once Said–You Must Become The Change That You Want

August 25, 2007

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Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance Book Discussion Concluded

Ottawa Pub

“Did you ever consider that you might yourself be split,” Riley responded. “I’m sure you’re familiar with the dualisms spirit/matter, myth/rationality, mind/body, logic/emotion, —the list goes on and on. Those dualities affected Phaedrus. He understood them, and he was afraid because what they meant to him was that science and technology, runaway technology, was dehumanizing the humanities, dehumanizing humans. For him, the separation between feeling and reason was not just a mind-body thing; it was the ‘stake in the heart’ of understanding itself. In the end, his struggle with the classic/romantic dichotomy, his failure to merge formal thought processes with immediate intuition put his mind in freefall.”

“If you ask me, Phaedrus spent way too much of his time analyzing the Greeks,” Jim replied. “No wonder he lost it. It’s a cruel world out there. Accept it, and get on with your business. That’s the way to stay sane. Dualisms are a product of antiquated thinking, but I don’t expect them to disappear. ‘Dust to dust, ashes to ashes,’ isn’t that what the Bible says. Maybe we should take a lesson from the Good Book. That’s all there is you know, just dirt. If only people would wake up and smell them roses then maybe everybody would get out of the way and let science and technology do what it does best, create better living for everybody.”

“And what about goodness, love, and beauty,” Riley interjected.

“Oh, they’ll still be around,” Jim replied, “Its just that they will take their rightful place behind the real stuff. After all, you can’t feed people with goodness. Sometimes it’s hard to understand that, right!”

“No wonder Phaedrus was so distraught over the state of Western values,” replied Riley, “With people like you around, we’ll never get past the thinking that made Phaedrus so fanatical about values in the first place. The intolerable schism between fact and value, between ‘out there’ and ‘in here,’ turns people into strangers in their own minds, and Phaedrus knew that. Replacing goodness, love, and beauty, with stimulus/response mechanisms was never an option for him. His passionate combativeness pushed him over the edge, and, unfortunately, we are left with an unfinished account of Phaedrus’ journey, a journey that claimed quality to be the source of rationality.”

“What book did you read,” exclaimed Jim, “certainly not the one I read. Where did Pirsig say that the subjective ‘better, best, stuff of the world’ was the source of rationality? That’s irrational! Get real why don’t you!”

“Maybe you’re right. Maybe I did read a different book,” replied Riley. “The book I read made a strong case for quality first and reason second. ‘Quality perceptions’ take in all of it; take in beauty, love, goodness, and reason. Pirsig’s quality precedes anything that can be known about it, but from it everything else follows, and that includes rationality. When understood in this light, quality closes the gap between fact and value, between ‘in here’ and ‘out there.’ Reason, –quality reasoning, — is merely an extension of the ‘good’ that gets produced by quality.”

“If you ask me,” I said to Riley, “I bet that’s what Phaedrus was getting at when he chose care as the expression of quality. If one cares enough about what he or she is doing, then the duality between self and object disappears–because that’s what caring is all about, merging one’s identity with ‘one’s doing.’ It’s kind of like what Gandhi once said, ‘You must become the change that you want.’”

“That’s exactly right,” Riley responded, “In caring, quality is discovered. The tree is quality; the roots are care. But the flow goes both ways. The more one cares about knowing and doing, the more one sees and intuits. The more one sees and intuits, the more one cares about things. Caring puts you in front of dualisms, not in between them. Intuition comes first, though. You intuit wholes and then reason breaks them down into parts and subparts. Intuition then reassembles the parts and subparts back into wholes, new and different wholes. It’s all an unconscious drive on the part of intuition to move the whole caring process into new realms of integration and harmony.”

“And ‘knowing?’ I said.

“And ‘knowing,’” Riley replied, “and ‘knowing’ for sure.”

“Excuse me,” Jim exclaimed, “I forgot to let you fellows know that I suffer from vertigo. If you don’t want to see upchuck all over this table, you’d better bring this conversation back down to earth. Pity me, if you will. Let’s try and keep our feet on the ground, okay!”

“We haven’t left the ground,” Riley replied. “Far from it! According to the narrator, Phaedrus was searching for a kind of preconscious moment of knowing. I’m sure you would agree that at the dawning of rational analysis a quality moment was discovered. Even if a ‘preconscious moment of knowing’ does not exist, the idea that ‘it might exist’ cannot be dismissed, and, if it does exist,
as Phaedrus believed it did, then in that ‘quality moment of knowing’ we will also find the bridge linking reason and feeling, whole and part, and ‘personhood’ and ‘self.’ In fact that’s exactly what happened at the end of the book when the narrator’s personality merged back into Phaedrus. That’s pretty grounded stuff if you ask me!”

“Are you suggesting,” Jim replied, “that quality, as it was described in the book, is the real McCoy? Are you suggesting that this book is somehow a siren call for a new kind of savior– the second coming perhaps? Well, if you are, I suggest you go back to your 7th grade science class. Maybe the next time you’ll get it right– its not the claim, it’s the evidence!”

“Well, at the end of the book Phaedrus did manage to cure himself,” Riley responded. “The narrator and Phaedrus did merge back into one personality.”

“Wishing and hoping won’t pay the rent,” Jim replied, “unless of course it’s the title of a song and the song sells. I rest my case.”

“Well, before you send the case to the jury, or to the bar,” Riley quipped, “I have one last thing to say. Consider this–‘stuckness.’ What happens when we get stuck? Our mind moves toward a solution, doesn’t it? If we think hard enough, long enough, don’t we miraculously solve problems; no matter how deep-rooted they seem to be? At the very least, don’t we discover how to make problems less problematic? I want to suggest, like many have before me, that a harmony in the cosmos lures us to those solutions. The mind is a problem solver a/natural, and ‘quality’ is our guide. Quality, or whatever you want to call it, gets us unstuck. If the problem is a difficult one, it is ‘quality,’ not the facts, that lures us to the answer. In fact, some would say that without an elegant solution, the problem remains only half-solved. That’s the way the scientist goes about his business, and that same science tells us that reality is not static; it’s dynamic. It doesn’t just exist ‘out there,’ in opposition to us; we are an extension of the process that science calls ‘reality.’ Our changing views of science and history have taught us that facts are relative anyway. A fact’s validity is determined by the context it is embedded in, and that context, in turn, is embedded in our sense of the cosmos’ harmony and beauty. Quality is the continuing stimulus that our environment puts upon us to create the world in which we live. Phaedrus believed, or wanted to believe, that mind, nature, and technology are the products of a single prior reality. Value, for him, was not a derivative of self conscious thinking; rather, it was the antecedent of self conscious thinking.”

“You really believe all that crap, don’t you,” Jim said.

“What’s not to believe?” responded Riley. “The real question, if you ask me, is how can you persist in believing in a value free world of dirt and grim?”

“I can’t help myself,” Jim shot back, “it’s the natural way.”

“Well maybe for you it’s the natural way,” said Riley, “but all nature is telling me right now is that I’ve got to pee!”

“Right on!” said Jim, “Do you mind if I tag along? After all, it’s a long way to the bathroom and I wouldn’t want you to forget your purpose. Remember Phaedrus; he wasn’t so lucky. He was so overwhelmed with the ‘quality of his own thoughts’ that he plumb forgot where the bathroom was. I wouldn’t want that to happen to you.”

“Very funny,” replied Riley. “Let’s have another round.”

“Good idea,” I replied, “The night is still young.”

Lost In Its Own Fragmentation Modern Culture Has Become Spiritually Confused

August 18, 2007

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Non-Quebec Canadians Were Kind Of At War With Quebec

Ottawa Jail Youth Hostel

July 6, 1977

Well, it finally happened! The other day (after my milk shake) the rain stopped. When I walked outside it started clearing, and, in another two hours, sunshine. The wind remained, however. I spent last night in a nice wooded area, close to houses, but hidden from view. Today has been beautiful, wind about 5-15 mph, not head on, and warm– almost hot. This was one of my 90-100 mile days, and I wanted to keep right on going. I stopped because I sent for money that would probably arrive in Ottawa in two more days. I’ll spend tomorrow cruising into town (60 or 70 miles) and try to find a youth hostel. It’s past time for a shower and washed clothes. My last shower was back in New Brunswick; washed clothes go all the way back to Nova Scotia. Why can’t everyday be like today (without the wind, though)! See, I’m never satisfied.

For supper, after stopping at a fruit growers gathering, I had two peaches and a quart of strawberries. Oh yeah, I also picked up an English-speaking radio station. That was an exciting event. It was the only time I ever wanted the music to stop just so I could listen to the disc jockey. Also, I’m getting $100. from my credit union. They’re sending it to a bank in Ottawa. I’m not going to punish myself anymore. I need my five to seven stops a day. That’s what keeps me happy.

July 7

Yesterday was okay biking–a little rain, and cloudy. Just before Ottawa, I met another bicycler, who welcomed me back to civilization. Apparently, the non-Quebec Canadians were kind of at war with Quebec. Quebec wanted to go it alone as they were seeking to become independent of Canada. My friend told me that on this side of river people were just regular people. So far, he’s been right. The animosity I encountered back in Quebec became more understandable after talking with that friendly Canadian biker.

In Ottawa I found a youth hostel that was a converted jail. According to the brochure, the gray stone structure had a capacity for 150 prisoners, many of whom were kept in cramped and dingy cells that measured only four by nine feet. That’s about right. I had my own cell, just two beds down from the hanging gallery. The last hanging was in 1945, a cop killer I guess. The jail itself was condemned back in ’72 and, after restoration, reopened as a youth hostel. I walked into the hanging gallery, a small windowless room with a very high ceiling only once. Except for the hanging gallery, the jail was a pretty neat place. Actually, Ottawa was (as cities go) pretty neat itself. It had beautiful architecture, was clean, and every night at the Parliament building there was a free outdoor concert. On my first night in town, I went with another hosteller, Riley, to a concert. He was staying a couple jail cells down from me. On the way to the concert, we picked up a friend of his, Jim.

The concert was nice. It featured a French singing female guitar player, but after the concert I enjoyed our visit at the pub a whole lot more. The place reminded me of home. We drank drafts, and ate free peanuts. I had almost forgotten what it was like to be around good people. In fact, it was a double your pleasure night because both of my drinking buddies had read Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance; everyone had their own opinion of the book. When Jim turned the conversation to the book, I looked at him and said, “What exactly was Pirsig saying anyway?”

“Well, in a nutshell,” said Jim; “the book was about a motorcycle trip. The guy doing the narration, the father, was taking Chris, his son, cross-country on the back of his motorcycle. They were traveling with two friends, John and Sylvia, who were also riding a motorcycle. Most of the drama took place in the head of the narrator. He was trying to put the pieces of his traumatic past back together. Because of a nervous breakdown, the narrator’s old personality was institutionalized, and given electric shock treatment. After his hospitalization, his original personality—Phaedrus, the English Professor, was replaced with the personality of the narrator of the story. Remembering the ‘how’s,’ ‘what’s,’ ‘where’s,’ and ‘why’s’ of the world-shaking truth that the old personality, Phaedrus, felt compelled to communicate to the world was what most of the story was about. A good deal of the tension, however, came from Chris’s relationship with his father because, according to the narrator, Chris was probably in the first stages of insanity himself. At the end of the book, the narrator and Chris confront each other and Phaedrus, the old personality, merged with the narrator’s personality. Since Chris was more than happy to get his old dad back, the book ended on a happy note. Well, that’s a sketch of the book, but as you know, there was a whole lot more to it.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said, “that’s what I’m interested in, the philosophy stuff—the ‘big revelation’ Phaedrus was trying to communicate. What was it?”

Ottawa Pub

Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance Book Discussion

“All that philosophy stuff was the Zen book’s sub plot,” Jim responded. “All through the book the narrator was trying to figure out what drove Pha
edrus. He remembered that Phaedrus was into Classic Greek literature, particularly Plato’s dialogues, but he didn’t remember why. Plato’s dialogues–dialectical question and answer retorts–dealt with subjects like ‘character,’ ‘excellence,’ and ‘virtue.’ The narrator continually tried to figure out why Phaedrus was so obsessed with issues that related to quality. The narrator also harbored some of that obsession. He was very nit-picky about his motorcycle upkeep and repair. Actually, that obsession was a pretty good trade off. Bike upkeep may be demanding, but it won’t drive you insane.”

“Don’t forget about “goodness,” “love,” and “beauty,” Riley said from across the table. “Phaedrus, like Plato before him, was trying to get a handle on the real meaning of those terms. He was, after all, looking for some kind of formula for improving people and society.”

“Yeah, that’s the way I read it, too.” I said, “I thought all that talk about quality was an attempt to understand how reason was related to mysticism, and how objective truth was related to feelings and values.”

“Aw, come on guys,” replied Jim, “Are you saying that the book was more about idle speculation and less about paying attention to detail? What, you’ve never owned a motorcycle before? Say it ain’t so!”

“Jim’s right,” said Riley, “motorcycle maintenance was the narrator’s main concern, but so too was the deplorable state of values. Lost in its own fragmentation, modern culture has become spiritually confused.”

“Watch out,” Jim replied, “I see the beginnings of a ‘soap box’ taking shape. Batten down the hatches.”

“The narrator’s alter ego, Phaedrus,” Riley continued, “traced the origin of the disintegration of Western values back to the split between Aristotle’s fact-based studies in classification and differentiation, and Plato’s more speculative approach to philosophy. In ancient Greece, that separation between facts and subjective qualities was not harmful, but in today’s society, where Western values are worshiped as God, that widening abyss has thrown everything out of kilter.

“According to Phaedrus, Plato’s dialectical method was supposed to get at the essence of—‘goodness,’ ‘love,’ and ‘beauty.’ But that didn’t happen. Instead, we celebrate the dialectic itself as the ‘highest truth.’ The very qualities it was trying to reveal, it now subverts as reason and value, truth and goodness, split apart, giving rise to the destructive dualisms that are at the heart of the disintegrating values in today’s world. The same rational discourse that was supposed to disclose goodness, love, and beauty as the ‘highest truth’ usurped the highest truth by becoming the highest truth. Because Phaedrus was searching for wholeness in a culture intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally fragmented, he drove himself mad. And, to my way of thinking, the narrator’s schizophrenic personality was simply a metaphor for all these “feelings of isolation” that are so pervasive in today’s society.

“Society today, is caught in a conflict between—feeling/intuition, and, sense perception/ reason. The gulf between these contrary ways of understanding has cut the ‘self’ off from any hope of unity. The abyss separating these contrary ways of knowing may in fact swallow more, much more, than mere values. But, hey, that’s just my reading of the story. Right Jim?”

“Shit Riley, with an imagination like that maybe you should write your own book,” Jim replied. “What’s all that stuff about feeling isolated anyway? If I’m being forced into some kind of ‘isolation cave’ then why don’t I feel isolated? What do you mean, split? What split? I’m not split! There’s the real world and an imaginary one–always has been, always will be. I choose to live in the real one, which is more than I can say for some of my closest friends. Plato lived in an imaginary one! It’s a choice period–real or imaginary. But be careful, if you make the wrong choice, you might go mad!”

To be continued…

Everybody Wants What’s Good Even If The Good For Them Is Distorted And Confused

August 11, 2007

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Professor Gill’s Answer To My Question—Pope or Pragmatist

(Dr. Gill’s comments paraphrased from his 1971 article,

The Definition Of Freedom published in the journal Ethics)

Dream Continued

“You’ve missed the point,” my old Professor said, “To my way of thinking, ‘knowing,’ even knowing about material objects, is less about the discovery than it is about the ‘doing.’ You have to look before you discover. Astronomers look to the sky because they ‘know where to look,’ and, what to look for. Science, like other forms of knowledge, is a value. Its what you do with it that counts. The formal sciences with their axiomatic deductive arrangements illustrate knowledge, but so to do other ordered and consistent conceptual schemes. Of course, there is always a direct relationship between knowledge and the social milieu that a person finds himself in. But, the oh so important structure of that knowledge, the systematic ordered whole built by each person for himself, is what determines the intensity of the level of commitment to act responsibly. If you want to call that authority, go ahead. It doesn’t change a thing. Every decision we make is made in accordance with some existing rule or law. Every valid law or valid code of behavior connects with other valid laws. That’s what validity is—‘right thinking.’”

“If that’s true, then what laws do bigots, crooks, and rapists follow?” “How much ‘theory’ is required before they—the criminals, excel?” I said.

“That’s my point,” replied Dr. Gill. “Everybody wants what’s good—even if the good for them is distorted and confused. Getting what you want comes at a price. ‘Knowing’ what you ought to want pays that price. That’s too high a price to pay for a lot of people. It requires hard choices, tough decisions, and intelligent plans of action. Rules must be followed, laws paid attention to. In our own personal worlds we obey the rules to which we owe allegiance; else it would be impossible to decide anything at all. But, far too often what we want is inconsistent with what we need. In fact, far too often what we want today is inconsistent with what we wanted yesterday, or will want tomorrow. There is an inescapable requirement between action and thought. Consequences exist if rules are not followed. Self-control is necessary if a responsible individual, or a society for that matter, can act as a unit, and be counted on not to break valid laws, or in the case of the rapist, not to commit acts of violence. I am neurotic as an individual, or we are corrupt as a society when we become fractured by conflicting obligations. Contradictory obligations, or unreconciled legitimate demands break down an individual’s ability to function responsibly as a citizen. Each fragment of shattered personality appears to the rest of the personality as enemy, as death drive. Violence is slavery. Tyranny is a nation enslaved. If an individual is radically fractured, sanity becomes the issue. Self-contradictory behavior, obeying rules that say everything and nothing at all, is nothing less than insanity.”

“Okay. I’m confused. What exactly is a valid rule?” I said.

“Good question!” responded Dr. Gill. “In mathematics and logic, what is even more basic than the law of contradiction, is the requirement that any entity be equal to itself. Symbolically, that idea is expressed as A=A. To deny it involves absurdity. It is the simplest of all equations. Without it, science and mathematics would be impossible, and mind, as we know it, would cease! Heraclitus was right! You can’t step into the same river twice. A=A does not exist in the empirical world, but in no way does that make it unimportant, or unreal.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I said.

“If you want me to answer your question, you’re going to have to let me finish my thought,” came the reply. “The key discoveries that made civilization possible were the taming of fire, the discovery of agriculture, and the idea of abstract identity. In fact, the backbone of civilization, self disciplined behavior, wouldn’t even be possible without the identification of the norms that permit and encourage self-disciplined behavior. Norms, at first, are selected on the basis of utility, but after that the norms themselves get selected in accordance with further norms until, on a fundamental level, the definition of a norm is acquired by use. At that level, norms function the same way primitive terms do in geometry. A line is defined as any continuous pathway through space. A straight line is defined as lying evenly with the points on itself. In the same way the activity that constitutes reciprocity– the Golden Rule, categorical imperative, life-affirmation, reverence for life– gets defined as a norm. The norm validates itself through its use-value and universal applicability.

“But science,” I replied, “ultimately, is based on observation. I get to see, feel, hear, taste, or smell the results. No matter how conflated a theory, eventually, it touches base with reality. What you’re suggesting, it seems to me, is that imagination rules. All we have to do is agree to an ‘imagined first principle’ and that makes us ‘right,’ or am I missing something?”

“That’s not how mathematics works,” Dr. Gill replied. “In math ‘the elimination of contradiction’ is the overriding principle that keeps the mathematician on track. And besides you have to keep in mind that in the empirical world change is ubiquitous. Stepping in the same river
twice is impossible—old water always gets replaced by new. Even Galileo downplayed the significance of the ‘real world.’ ‘We cannot understand the universe,’ he said, ‘unless we can understand the language it is written in.’ From primitive terms–from primitive norms–consistent arguments can be built. Consistency is to an argument what structure is to a bridge. In analytical thinking, symbols get repeated without change. In ethics, normative commands range into disparate areas of application without contradiction.

“In the empirical world points, lines, figures, and rules of inference do not exist. The North Pole does not exist in the empirical world, but it exists nevertheless. In nature’s world of constant flux, we use fixed concepts to describe change. Science is permitted because of the use of concepts like ridged motion, perfect circles, frictionless falls, and pure oxygen. Contradictions have pretty much been eliminated from the basic theories of mathematics and physics. That is most certainly a measure of their success. Whatever stands in a definite relation to an existing thing exists.

“Existence, in addition to being ‘out there,’ is ‘in here,’ too. We discover what’s ‘out there;’ we also discover what’s ‘in here.’ Related to identity and perhaps derivable from it, is the rule of contradiction. Whatever does not agree with itself cannot exist. According to law, contradictory testimony is false. Logic, mathematics, and science rest on the principle that the absurd is impossible. Bertrand Russell made it very clear–from a contradiction, everything follows; in the midst of contradictions, talking sense is thrown right out the window. In other words, without ‘consistent fixed concepts’ there wouldn’t be an ‘in here’ to discover. Without an ‘in here,’ identity, self-control, independence, and personal liberty would be impossible. Judgments, scientific or otherwise, would be impossible.”

Truth Is Derivative-The “Ought” Is There In The Theory’s First Principles

Dream Concluded

“You’re beginning to sound like you’re back in the classroom,” I responded, “If I remember correctly, the problem back then was getting from the ‘is’ to the ‘ought.’ The ‘is’ can always be made to sound like it should be an ‘ought,’ but the problem has always been ‘how do we really know?’ Help me here! When does the ‘is’ become the ‘ought?’”

“That’s a problem,” said Dr. Gill, “a problem that’s gone unsolved for far too long. Many attempts have been make to get from the ‘is’ to the ‘ought,’ but every attempt has ended in failure. The reason is that it can’t be done. The relationship moves in the other direction. You can’t go from the ‘is’ to the ‘ought,’ but you can go from the ‘ought’ to the ‘is.’ Implications always follow from valid conceptual schemes (operationally defined concepts structured according to established rules). These implications, when extended, produce necessary and self-consistent results. In other words, first you set up the rules that you are going to use. Then, by experiment, or by reasoning, you explore the logical implications of those rules. Truth is derivative. In the use of the scientific method, it is not unusual for the ‘ought,’ the implications of a theory, to turn into the ‘is,’ the scientifically confirmed results of the theory. In ethical theory it should be the same way. The ‘ought’ is there, in the theory’s first principles. Turning the ‘ought’ into the ‘is,’ however, will always take work.

“When the self-contradictory is used to keep a person honest, self-consistent behavior follows naturally, like water running downstream. Mark my words; the day is coming when arbitrary ethical decisions will be no more. Just like in mathematics where it is impossible to both be consistent and not follow the rules of consistency, so too future ethical decisions will both inform and lead. Make no mistake about it; the men who braved the unchartered territory in mathematics on their way to discovering the tools underlying the scientific revolution—differentials, sets, groups, and topological spaces, were all courageous individuals. When you are moved to do otherwise, ‘doing what’s right’ is always hard. However, it becomes a whole lot easier when reason, conviction, and consistency are there to back you up. Upon his return from performing the experiment that confirmed Einstein’s General Relativity predictions, Sir Author Eddington greeted Albert Einstein and was surprised to find him unmoved by the news of the successful experiment. When he asked, ‘Why so unconcerned?’ Einstein replied, ‘Measurements sometimes lie, numbers do not.’ A sensitive human being winces at the ‘global norms’ presented on the nightly news, but I believe putting an end to ethical disputes will one day be greeted with Einstein-like self-assurance. On that day ‘wrong headedness’ will turn into ‘right action.’ On that day there will be jubilation in the streets. And, on that day, you will no longer feel compelled to run away from my lectures.”

As a thunder boom shook me awake, I found myself in a cold sweat. I picked up my sleeping bag and went out on the porch. It wasn’t raining, and I was scared to fall back to sleep. I felt a lot better out in the fresh air and after watching the bats fly above my head for a while, I finally dozed off, but shortly after I woke up with rain in my face. I went back inside and somehow salvaged a couple hours of sleep. At first light, I was out of there!

The Universe Is Not Something That Consciousness Defines

August 5, 2007

supernovaThe Sectarian Nature Of Brahman Is Not The Ultimate Expression Of Religion

Future Time Nine Continued

(see comments on “his eyes were open but the man looked dead” blog for the context of this blog)

“We must shift gears here,” said MV, “and think of the universe as not something that consciousness defines, but, rather, as something that defines consciousness, and yes, I think Whitehead would agree with this premise, as would a whole host of others. Taking a structural approach to this idea, however, is a bit of a stretch, hence your inability to communicate it.”

“You don’t have to tell me what I already know,” I replied. “But, when you look closely at the aesthetic religions, Buddhism, Upanishad philosophy in Hinduism, or the Chinese Tao Te Ching, similar concepts are easily found, especially when it comes to the principle of ‘divine necessary opposites.’”

“How so,” responded MV.

“Take, for instance, the atman/Brahman distinction in the Upanishads, the ancient sages of India perceived no chasm between nature, humanity, and divinity. For the wise among them, all existence was the manifestation of the universal principle-Brahman, the source of all being, — the producer and sustainer of all reality. For the sage, the claim that Brahman and atman are one is an identity claim, but, at the same time, Brahman remains the ground of being while being transcendent to being. Well, in my synchronic description of the universe, double negation, ~~b, after appropriate transformations, turns into the ‘self-content’ of self-consciousness or, as it is called in India, atman. In double negation, we not only find the ‘purest form of unity,’ as it was called by the Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, we also find the atman of the Upanishad tradition. This is not to say that the sectarian nature of Brahman is the ultimate expression of religion. As I just pointed out, it is expressed in Christian mysticism also. Here’s how one of my old Professors expressed divinity to me from a Buddhist perspective:

“There is a cloud here in this piece of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either.

The cloud and the paper inter-are. Perhaps the word ‘interbeing’ should be in the dictionary.

If we look deeply, we see that in the paper there is also the sun; nothing can grow without sunshine. The paper and the sun inter-are.

We can see the logger. The mill (and its effluent). We see the wheat from fields that fed the logger. For there is no paper without the logger, and the logger cannot log without daily bread. Likewise, the logger’s father and mother are also in this paper.

Looking deeply, we see ourselves in the paper. When we look at the paper, it is our perception; your mind and my mind meet in this paper, and we are both there.

What is NOT here in the sheet of paper? Time, space, the earth, rain, minerals, the sun, cloud, river, heat—everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains the universe in it. How can it fit?

The paper entirely depends upon non-paper elements, things that are not in themselves paper, such as carbon, and the sun, and the logger’s mother. And yet without them, there is no paper.

To be is to inter-be with every things, non—us things. Like the paper, we are inevitably vast; we include all that is other than ourselves.

As one Civil War nurse (Walt Whitman) said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” When we pay close attention to who we really are, there is no one else, no one who is left out.

Acting from this understanding, service is not a strained sacrifice, but a natural activity. Within this mind, helpful care is not exactly compassion for another, but more like a reflex, a spontaneous gesture.

The right hand does not congratulate the left hand on having given to the poor.

No credit, no blame. No Trace. This is Buddha.

[Adapted by Guy Newland from “Interbeing” in Peace is Every Step (Bantam, 1992) by Thich Nhat Hanh]

His Eyes Were Open But The Man Looked Dead

August 4, 2007
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I Think I’m Getting Sick Of Traveling With Myself

Railroad Bridge Outside Quebec City

July 3, ‘77

It felt like somebody had grabbed my feet and tossed them. It was a rude awakening at 5:30 a.m.! When I was traveling yesterday, I wondered if the St. Lawrence had tides. The surrounding area appeared as though it did, but I didn’t pay close enough attention because I was now scrambling to get out of the water that had just spilled over into the spot where I was sleeping. I threw my sleeping bag farther up the bank, and I got my bike to high ground before the flood. That was the quickest incoming tide I had ever experienced. Yes, the St. Lawrence Seaway is just that, a seaway. The tide swooped in on me, and I did not escape dry. I now have my tarp and sleeping bag drying in the sun, and I just put a couple more sticks on the fire. If the tide comes in any further, it will flow over the three-foot bank that separates me from the seaway. Last night was a full moon. Maybe that had something to do with this high, high tide.

It was a half and half day, yesterday. When the rain stopped the wind started. As I look over my shoulder right now, I see a cloudbank moving in and the sun being blotted out. This has happened three days in a row now, and two of those days I had to face rain. I wonder if old Mother Nature is going for a three-peat. I’m beginning to think westward biking is going to take some time.

Around 6 p.m. last night, I entered St. Jean Port Joli. There was live music being played in the town square, so I decided to hang out, catch up on some reading, and enjoy the music. This was a big year for Canada. It was their one-hundredth-birthday celebration. There were art exhibits and special pavilions set up. Many of the celebrants were dressed in traditional costume, and, after paying special attention to the folk dancing; I decided to find a place to crash. That’s how I came to be here now, on the shores of the St. Lawrence. And, except for the high tides, its been a delightful trip.

I don’t believe this weather. All last night it was clear. I slept out under a beautiful moon. This morning the sun was shining and everything looked great. Then all of a sudden this—I have to stop writing and prepare for rain. The sky is completely covered in clouds now, and I’m starting to battle strong winds. Looks like another good day!

Evening: Well, about half hour ago, I was ready to ride into Quebec City, get on board a train, and not get off until Michigan. In fact, I still might!

The wind blew hard this morning; I couldn’t even pack up my bike. I had to carry everything behind a near-by house to secure it. At least I didn’t have to walk very far to get back to the square–thank God. I managed to take shelter under a gazebo until the rain stopped. All day I peddled in 3rd, 4th, and 7th gears. That meant for ten hours I had to push through 30–40 mph winds. It was similar to when I had food poisoning only this time I wasn’t sick. That wasn’t all, though, Ma Nature threw her torrents of rain at me, too. If somebody would have given me a dime for every time I put my rain gear on, I could have bought a train ticket back to Michigan. At the end of the day—my third day of riding wet— that idea sounded like a keeper.

Out of fairness to myself, though, I decided to wait a night before making that decision. I bought a quart of beer and some cheese twists at a party store. (The only good thing about Quebec was that every grocery store sold beer–just like in the states.) Just before sunset, and a ways off the highway, I camped under an old railroad bridge. From on top of the cement supports, I could see Quebec City rising above the horizon. It was a very pretty sight. Drinking my first beer since Nova Scotia, and eating really good cheese twists, I was beginning to feel like a human being again.

Right now things are pretty good, but for how long? After a good night’s sleep, I will seriously consider calling it quits. For a trip that was planned as a scrapbook event to begin with, a train ride home, it seems to me, would be a fitting ending. I just witnessed a beautiful sunset, but it didn’t affect me like in the past. I think I’m getting sick of traveling with myself. What more can I say

Spooky Deserted Farmhouse

July 4, ‘77

It was the sunset that did it, I’m sure. Come morning, I decided to keep biking. I was up around 7 a.m., and after campfire coffee and toast, and, in the midst of the solitude of my railroad sanctuary, I was ready to greet the day—good or bad. It helped that the sun was out, too.

Back on the highway, I spent a lot of time trying to piece my way around Quebec City. Coming down a steep grade somewhere in the city, I heard a ping. There went a rear wheel spoke. I continued riding until I found an air compressor. While fixing my bike, I met an old lady in the yard next to the gas station, doing her gardening. She invited me in for dinner.

She introduced me to her husband and son. English was not their preferred language. In fact, they really couldn’t speak much. We managed, though. They were special people, very nice. We had sirloin steaks for dinner. There were leftovers, so I ate two. They were delicious. I stayed a while, but conversation was limited. It was the “good vibes” that kept me there. They understood my “getting out of town problem,” so they told me to follow them. As I followed on my bike behind their car, they drove slowly until we reached the road sign that read, “Montreal.” Thank-you very much nice people!

I needed that. It was a surefire attitude lift. I rode away from Quebec City feeling a lot better than when I arrived. Out on the highway, I still had the wind to contend with, and the sun disappeared behind the clouds around 4 p.m., but I felt really, really, good. When the rain clouds
rolled in, though, I started to look for shelter.

After a couple hours more biking, I saw what looked to be an abandoned farmhouse setting back in a field. I felt the risk was minimum, so I got off my bike and hiked up to the house. Standing on the rickety front porch, I could see a room full of newspapers. Upon entering the half opened door, I found the papers stacked a couple feet high. They gave off an unpleasant odor, but the clouds had darkened, so I figured I could live with the smell. After going back for my bike, I made myself at home. I was feeling pretty good when, through the broken windowpane, I saw a car pull up and three people get out. They didn’t look like owners. They were young. I figured what the hell, getting kicked out of this place wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. The girl entered first, and upon seeing me sitting on a stack of newspapers, screamed. The situation was pretty awkward. I couldn’t speak French and they couldn’t speak English. As it turned out, I figured out that they were making a movie and were looking for a place to film. They were making a Dracula movie. In broken English the girl said, “A good place to film, no!” I replied, “Yes,” but what I was really thinking was “Go away before you blow my cover!” After they finally did leave, I waited to see if the farmer down the road was going to show up, but after thirty minutes, I began to feel more secure.

Actually, in another way, I began to feel less secure. The place really was spooky. It was definitely suited for a Dracula movie; it had multiple rooms and an eerie over all atmosphere. There were old bottles and other oddities strewn about the place. It took me 15 minutes just to make room for my bike and sleeping bag. Also there were noises. Most of the squeaks and creeks came from the next room. When I went in to look for a cause, I found only a room with a metal bed frame in it. I have to admit, the place made me uncomfortable, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Bugs, the kind you couldn’t see, were biting me. I would have left, but outside the rain had finally started to come down. Instead, I climbed in my sleeping bag, and covered my head.

I put in a really shitty night. It was hot, and I had nightmares. In one of the nightmares, I woke up to find a light coming from behind the door in the other room. On my way to investigate I stumbled over a pile of newspapers. The door wouldn’t open until I forced it. Upon entering, I found myself standing in an immaculate room. In opposite corners were antique lamps giving off an ultra soft light. The light brought out the redwood floor’s rich tones. A canopy bed stood in the middle of the room. Lying in the bed was an old man who looked to be more than a hundred years old. We remained fixed in each other’s gaze until I looked away in fear. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t. And then came the voice that said, “If you have come for a visit you are welcome. Visitors are rare!” The voice sounded strangely familiar. Was this guy really my old college professor?

His eyes were open, but the old man looked dead; then came the voice again, “Well,” he said. I didn’t respond. I just stood there, silently looking into his eyes, watching his breathing become more labored with each passing moment. Finally, the silence was broken when he again said, “What are you doing here?”

I looked back at him hard. How could this be? My Professor wasn’t that old, but that was certainly his voice. “What are you doing here?” I shot back to him.

“Are you blind, I’m sleeping,” came the response.

“I mean, you’re not supposed to be here,” I said, “you’re supposed to be back in Michigan teaching classes.”

“Not anymore,” he replied. “That was a long time ago. If you have come for a visit, that’s okay. I don’t get visitors anymore.”

“Well, not exactly,” I said. “Actually I don’t know why I’m here. I mean, I don’t know if I’m really here, or why you’re here. I was hoping you could tell me. It’s all screwed up.”

“Get on with it,” he tersely replied, “You’re either here, or you’re not, which is it?”

His face began to contort. The last place I wanted to be was in front of an upset college professor and, as was common in dreams, at that moment I lost dream consciousness. The next thing I knew, the dream switched to a bar. I was drinking a beer, and into the empty barroom walked Dr. Gill. This time he was his right age—60 something. He came over to where I was sitting and asked, “Would you like some company?”

“Why not,” I replied. And then after he ordered two beers, one for him and me, he said, “Why did you get up and leave my lecture?”

I looked at him curiously, and then said, “I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to leave or scream. Which would you have preferred?”

“That’s what I figured,” he said. “Well, you’ve got my full attention now; so why did you get so upset? Was it the lecture? Sometimes I get carried away, you know.”

“No. When I left you weren’t even lecturing,” I said. “You were in the middle of one of your famous digressions. You went from ‘why mechanical principles don’t apply in social and psychological situations’ to describing a hike you once took in Washington State’s Olympic Mountains.”

“Oh yeah, I remember that,” he said. “I was talking about the natural beauty of the place, and how I loved to get away from it all by going there. But, why did that upset you?”

“There was more,” I said. “You were describing how impossible it was for a person to be
sensitive in a selfish society. Where people cared only for themselves, where greed, killing, and war were the norm, where love and hypocrisy were joined at the hip, in a society like that you said, ‘hearts turn to stone.’ ‘In the darkest hours,’ you said, ‘thoughts of life turn into thoughts of death.’ After that I left.”

“I remember,” came the reply, “but I didn’t mean to sound like we actually lived in that place. I was talking more hypothetically.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “You said it, and you meant it, every word of it, I could tell. I didn’t just get up and leave because of that. I left because most of the time you talked as if ‘right and wrong’ were inviolable absolutes, yet other times you would go on and on about how life was one big massive confusion. I can take only so much of that. Which is it anyway? Who exactly should I believe–the Pope or the pragmatist?”

“It’s not as if a professor has to think for his class you know,” Dr. Gill responded, “It’s a professor’s job to make the class think. Some students like that method; it even excites them, while others do not. I always thought you were in the group that enjoyed independent thinking?”

“I do,” I said, “that’s the problem. I totally disagree with you. When you start talking about how logical inferences will one day set humanity free, my stomach starts to churn. That’s bullshit. Logical calculations are what nuclear bombs are made of–not human kindness and compassion. The only reason I go to class is to see what disagreements will arise. In fact, you seem to encourage them. It blows my mind. I don’t know how you can go on teaching when the whole class doesn’t know what the hell you’re talking about. You’re an enigma! So, I say it again, which is it, the Pope or the pragmatist? There’s no time like the present. I really want to know. I need to know!”

“I doubt very much if behind Papal decrees you’ll find much deductive reasoning,” Dr. Gill responded.

“What’s the difference,” I said, “its all about ‘authority,’ isn’t it? Your paper scratching isn’t science. Astronomers predict events. What can you predict–headaches?”

To be continued…