motto lotto

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

the change in language

Watch the full episode. See more The Open Mind.

We watched this short interview with Martin Luther King, Jr. last night. I love listening to MLK.

What I find especially noteworthy about MLK is that he used a social movement and tactics to put pressure on political figures. It seems to me that the social method allows for greater personal integrity and less compromise than a more direct political method. Something about the difference in the nature of the two arenas.

Monday, November 29, 2010

lacking words

We no longer have a sufficiently high estimate of ourselves when we communicate. Our true experiences are not garrulous. They could not communicate themselves if they wanted to: they lack words. We have already grown beyond whatever we have words for. In all talking there lies a grain of contempt. Speech, it seems, was devised only for the average, medium, communicable. The speaker has already vulgarized himself by speaking. -From a moral code for deaf-mutes and other philosophers.

Nietzsche Expeditions of an Untimely Man §26

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


leonid meteor shower tonight

NASA has a little applet to show expected activity in your area. The international dark sky association lets you know the best places to check it out. I'm guessing it's going to be overcast here but maybe you'll have better luck.

Monday, November 8, 2010

to the fates

To The Fates

Grant me a single summer, you lords of all,
A single autumn, for the fullgrown song,
So that, with such sweet playing sated,
Then my heart may die more willing.

The soul, in life robbed of its godly right,
Rests not, even in Orcus down below;
Yet should I once achieve my heart's
First holy concern, the poem,

Welcome then, O stillness of the shadow world !
Even if down I go without my
Music, I shall be satisfied; once
Like gods I shall have lived, more I need not.

Hölderlin (trans Christopher Middleton)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


   Ask not ('tis forbidden knowledge), what our destined term of years,
Mine and yours; nor scan the tables of your Babylonish seers.
Better far to bear the future, my Leuconoe, like the past,
Whether Jove has many winters yet to give, or this our last;
THIS, that makes the Tyrrhene billows spend their strength against
the shore.
Strain your wine and prove your wisdom; life is short; should hope
be more?
In the moment of our talking, envious time has ebb'd away.
Seize the present; trust to-morrow e'en as little as you may.

-Horace Odes

Monday, October 18, 2010


We've been watching the PBS documentary "God in America" and it was interesting to hear their description of how Lincoln's attitude toward religion changed as the civil war progressed. Initially it sounds like his thoughts were roughly the same as Dylan's With God on Our Side. As the war progressed though, and casualties increased, he felt compelled to the belief that this was all God's plan, that God wanted the civil war and wanted the north to win.

I suppose it was the only way he could think to justify all that pain. I wonder what sorts of beliefs about the afterlife Lincoln held that could foster anything but disdain for the Christian God. Initially Lincoln was more of a deist but his later belief, according to the film, was in a more personal (and rather horrifying) God.

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

Friday, October 15, 2010

help design a new site dedicated to philosophical discussion

If you're familiar with StackOverflow then you likely know how valuable it is for programmers. Its great advantage seems to be how it handles reputation and how that impacts the quality of Q&A.

Anyhow, this is a proposal to create a similar site for philosophy. If you commit to it, it's more likely to happen and you can have some impact on how the community is formed.

Friday, October 8, 2010

atheism, liberalism and...

wait for it... monogamy. Didn't see that coming.
intelligent people are more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history. Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence, a new study finds.

via ScienceDaily

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hölderlin’s "Hyperion"‎

Hyperion alongside a Yet Another Testament
Hyperion, my first encounter with Hölderlin, was astonishing and rewarding. Picked up this used 1959 translation from Powell's for $3.
The Child (p. 41)

To be happy means to be sleepy, in the language of slaves. (p. 42)

We speak of our hearts, of our plans, as if they were ours; yet there is a power outside of us that tosses us hither and thither as it pleases until it lays us in the grave, and of which we know not whence it comes nor whither it is bound. (p. 51)

I grudged no one his opinions or his improprieties. I was converted, I no longer wished to convert others; it only saddened me when I saw that people believed I did not interfere with thier clownish behavior because I esteemed it as highly as they did. I was not willing actually to subject myself to their nonsense, but I tried to let it pass wherever I could. “It is all the pleasure they have,” I thought, “it is their life!”

Often I was even pleased to join in with them; yet, however apathetically and unspontaneously I made the effort, not one of them ever noticed, not one of them was aware of any lack in me, and had I asked them to excuse me, they would have stood there wondering and asked: “But what have you done to us?” What forbearance they showed! (p. 53)

There is a forgetting of all existence, a hush of our being, in which we feel as if we had found all.

There is a hush, a forgetting of all existence, in which we feel as if we had lost all, a night of our soul, in which no glimmer of any star nor even the fox fire from a rotting log gives us light.

I had become quiet. No longer did anything drive me from bed at midnight. No longer did I singe myself in my own flame.

Now I looked straight before me, alone and impassive, nor did my eyes roam over the past and the future. No longer now did far and near jostle together in my mind. Unless men forced me to see them, I saw them not.

Once this century lay before my mind’s eye like the eternally empty cask of the Danaïdes, and my soul poured itself out with prodigal love, to fill the void; now I saw no more void, now the ennui of life no longer oppressed me.

Never now did I say to the flower, “Thou art my sister,” and to the springs, “We are of one race.” Now, like an echo, I faithfully gave each thing its name.

Like a river past arid banks, where no willow leaf mirrors itself in the water, the world flowed past me untouched by beauty. (p. 54, 55)

What is all that men have done and thought over thousands of years, compared with one moment of love? But in all Nature, too, it is what is nearest to perfection, what is most divinely beautiful! Thither all stairs lead from the threshold of life. Thence we come, thither we go. (p. 68)

Her heart was at home among flowers (p. 69)

She was my Lethe, her soul my sacred Lethe, from which I drank forgetfulness of existence, so that I stood before her like an immortal and joyously rebuked myself and, as if after oppressive dreams, could not but smile at all the chains that had hung heavy on me.

Oh, I could have become a happy man, an admirable man with her!

With her! But that went wrong; and now I wander about in what is before me and in me, and on beyond, and know not what to make of myself and other things.

My soul is like a fish cast up out of its element on the sand of the beach, and it writhes and flings itself about until it dries up in the heat of the day.

Ah! were there but something left in the world for me to do! were there work for me, a war for me--that would refresh me!

Boys torn from their mother’s breasts and cast out into the wilderness were once, so they say, suckled by a she-wolf.

My heart is not so fortunate.

[new letter]

I can speak of her only fragmentarily--a word here, a word there. I have to forget what she is in her completeness if I am to speak of her at all. I have to trick myself into believing that she lived long, long ago, that I know only a little about her from hearsay, if her living image is not so to overwhelm me that I perish in rapture and woe, if I am not to die of delight in her and die of grief for her. (p. 72)

Oh, it is a strange mixture of bliss and melancholy when it becomes apparent to us that we are forever outside of ordinary existence. (p. 82)

Yes, man is a sun, all-seeing and all-illuminating, when he loves; loving not, he is a dark house in which a smoking lamp burns. (p. 87)

“what has the cold sublimity of philosophical knowledge, to do with poetry?” (p. 92,93)

“I have said it to you before: I need gods and men no longer. I know that Heaven is desolate, depopulated, and that Earth, which once overflowed with beautiful human life, is become almost like an anthill. But there is still a place where the old Heaven and the old Earth smile for me. For the gods of Heaven and the godlike men of the Earth--I forget them all in you.” (p. 99)

[S]peech is a great superfluity. The best is ever for itself, and rests in its own depth[.] (p. 130)

“But every human act finds its punishment at last; only gods and children are not smitten by Nemesis.” (p. 150)

“I shall be; I ask not what I shall be. To be, to live-- that is enough, that is the honor of the gods; and therefore all things that but have life are equal in the divine world, and in it there are no masters and servants. Natures live together, like lovers; they hold all in common, spirit, joy, and eternal youth.” (p. 159)

"To chase away flies is our work in the future; and to gnaw on the things of the world as children gnaw on the hard iris-root--that, in the end, is our pleasure. To grow old among young peoples seems to me a delight, but to grow old where all is old seems to me worse than anything." (p. 160)

“But it is not to the world as it was that I return. I am a stranger, like the unburied when they come up from Acheron, and if I were on my native island, in the gardens of my youth, which my father bars to me, ah! even then, even then I should be a stranger on earth, and no god would join me to the past again.”
“God! that I myself am nothing, and that the meanest workman can say he has done more than I! that they are free to solace themselves, the shallow of mind, and smile and mockingly call me dreamer, because my deeds did not ripen for me, because my arms are not free, be cause the time in which I live is like the raging Procrustes who, capturing me, put them in a child’s cradle and, to make them fit into that little bed, hacked off their limbs!” (p. 161)

[A]s I am now I have no names for things and all before me is uncertainty. (p. 162)
It is a hard saying, and yet I speak it because it is the truth: I can think of no people more at odds with themselves than the Germans. You see artisans, but no men, thinkers, but no men, priests but no men, masters ans servants, but no men, minors and adults, but no men--is this not like a battlefield on which hacked-off hands and arms and every other member lie pell-mell, while the life-blood flows from them to vanish in the sand?

Everyone follows his own trade, you will tell me, and I must say the same. Only, he must follow it with his whole soul, must not stifle every power in him that does not precisely accord with his official designation, must not, with this niggardly anxiety, literally and hypocritically be only what he is called; let him be what he is, earnestly, lovingly, then a spirit lives in all that he does; and if he is forced into an occupation in which the spirit may not live, let him cast it off with scorn and learn to plow! But your Germans choose not to go beyond the barest necessities, which is the reason why there is so much botched work among them and so little that is free, that gives any genuine pleasure. Yet that could be overlooked, were not such men of necessity insensitive to all comely living, did not the curse of godforsaken unnature everywhere line upon such a people.

“The virtues of the Ancients were but glittering vices,” was once said by some malicious tongue (I forget whose); and yet their vices themselves are virtues, for a childlike, beautiful spirit still lived in them, and of all that they did nothing was done without soul. But the virtues of the Germans are glittering vices and nothing more; for they are but forced labor, wrung from the sterile heart in craven fear, with the toil of slaves, and they impart no comfort to any pure soul that fain would draw its sustenance from Beauty, that, ah! made fastidious by the sacred harmony in noble natures, cannot bear the discord that cries out in all the dead order of these men.” (p. 164)

“Everything on earth is imperfect,” is the Germans’ old refrain. If only someone would once tell these people whom God has forsaken that everything is so imperfect among them only because they leave nothing pure uncorrupted, nothing sacred untouched, nothing sacred untouched by their course hands, that nothing thrives among them because they do not respect the root of all thriving, divine Nature, that life with them is stale and burdened with cares and too-too full of cold, silent discord, because they scorn the Genius, which brings power and nobility into human endeavor, and serenity into suffering, and love and brotherhood to towns and houses.

And that too is why they are so afraid of death and, for the sake of their molluscan existence, bear every indignity, for they know nothing higher than the bungling job that they have made of things.

O Bellarmin, where a people loves Beauty, where it honors the Genius in its own artists, there a common spirit is astir like the breath of life, there the shy mind opens, self-conceit melts away, and all hearts are reverent and great and enthusiasm brings forth heros. The home of all men is with such a people and gladly can the stranger linger there. But where divine Nature and her artists so insulted, ah! there life’s greatest joy is gone, and any other star is better than earth. There men grow ever more sterile, ever more empty, who yet were all born beautiful; servility increases and with its insolence, intoxication grows with troubles and, with luxury, hunger and dread of starvation; the blessing of each year becomes a curse, and all gods flee.

And alas for the stranger who journeys in love and comes to such a people, and alas and alas and alas again for him who comes to such a people as I cam, driven by great grief, a beggar as I was a beggar!-- (p. 166, 167)

what has the cold sublimity of philosophical knowledge, to do with poetry?

“Well and good!” someone interrupted me; “I understand this, but I do not see how this poetic and religious people also comes to be a philosophical people.”

“The fact is,” I answered, “that without poetry they would never have been a philosophical people!”

“What has philosophy,” he answered, “what has the cold sublimity of philosophical knowledge, to do with poetry?”

“Poetry,” I answered, confident of my argument, “is the beginning and the end of philosophical knowledge. Like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, philosophy springs from the poetry of an eternal, divine state of being. And so in philosophy too, the irreconcilable finally converges again in the mysterious spring of poetry.”

“What a man of paradoxes!” cried Diotima; “yet I divine him. But you two digress. We are talking of Athens.”

“The man,” I resumed, “who has not at least once in his life felt full, pure beauty in himself, when the powers of his being merged like the colors in the rainbow, who has never felt the profound harmony that arises among all things only in hours of exaltation--that man will not even be a philosophical skeptic, his mind is not even capable of tearing down, let alone building up. For, believe me, the sceptic finds contradiction and imperfection in all that is thought, because he knows the harmony of perfect beauty, which is never thought. The dry bread that human reason well-meaningly offers him, he disdains only because he is secretly feasting at the table of the gods.”

“I am close upon them,” I said, “The great saying, the [greek phrase] (the one differentiated in itself) of Heraclitus, could be found only by a Greek, for it is the very being of Beauty, and before that was found there was no philosophy.

“Now classification became possible, for the whole was there. The flower had ripened; now it could be dissected.

“The moment of beauty was now well known to men, it was there in life and thought, the infinitely one existed.

“It could be analyzed, taken apart in men’s minds, it could be reconstituted from its components, and so the being of the highest and the best could be increasingly known, and the knowledge of it be set up as the law in all the multifarious realms of the spirit."

from Hölderlin's Hyperion (p. 92,93)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

her heart was at home among flowers

Her heart was at home among flowers, as if itself were a flower.

She named them all by their names, or out of her love for them gave them new and more beautiful ones, she knew exactly which was the happiest season for each of them.

Like a sister when a dear brother or sister comes running to her from every corner, and each would be greeted first, so was her quiet being busy with hand and eye, blissfully distracted, when we walked to the meadows or the woods.

And all this was so utterly unaffected and uncalculated in her, it was so much a part of her own growth.

It is eternally true, it is visible everywhere: the more innocent, the more beautiful a soul is, the more familiarly will it live with those other happy beings to which men deny souls.

from Hyperion by Hölderlin
Perfect for my wife, a horticulturist.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pessoa the Epicurean

the sun's reflection in a puddle of water
Each day you didn't enjoy wasn't yours:
You just got through it. Whatever you live
Without enjoying, you don't live.
You don't have to love or drink or smile.
The sun's reflection in a puddle of water
Is enough, if it pleases you.
Happy those who, placing their delight
In slight things, are never deprived
Of each day's natural fortune!

14 March 1933

Since we do nothing in this confused world
That lasts or that, lasting, is of any worth,
And even what's useful for us we lose
So soon, with our own lives,
Let us prefer the pleasure of the moment
To an absurd concern with the future,
Whose only certainty is the harm we suffer now
To pay for its prosperity.
Tomorrow doesn't exist. This moment
Alone is mine, and I am only who
Exists in this instant, which might be the last
Of the self I pretend to be.

16 March 1933

Pessoa (Ricardo Reis)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

the child

As the laborer into refreshing sleep, so my beleaguered being often sinks into the arms of the innocent past.

Peace of childhood! heavenly peace! how often do I pause before thee in loving contemplation, and fain would conceive thee! But our concepts are only of what has degenerated and been repaired; of childhood, of innocence we have no concept.

When I was still a child and in quietude, knowing nothing of all that is about us, was I not then more than now I am, after all my trouble of heart and all my thinking and struggling?

Yes, divine is the being of the child, so long as it has not been dipped in the chameleon colors of men.

The child is wholly what it is, and that is why it is so beautiful.

The pressure of Law and Fate touches it not; only in the child is freedom.

In the child is peace; it has not yet come to be at odds with itself. Wealth is in the child; it knows not its heart nor the inadequacy of life. It is immortal, for it has not heard of death.

But this men cannot bear. The divine must become like one of them, must learn that they, too, are there; and before Nature drives it out of its paradise, men entice and draw it out into the field of the curse, so that, like them, it shall drudge its life away in the sweat of its brow.

from Hyperion by Hölderlin

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Myth is the nothing that is everything.


Myth is the nothing that is everything.
The very sun that breaks through the skies
Is a bright and speechless myth--
God's dead body,
Naked and alive.

This hero who cast anchor here,
Because he never was, slowly came to exist.
Without ever being, he sufficed us.
Having never come here,
He came to be our founder.

Thus the legend, little by little,
Seeps into reality,
Spreading and enriching it.
Life down below, half
Of nothing, perishes.

Fernando Pessoa

Monday, August 16, 2010

Raymond Carver - The Cobweb

A few minutes ago, I stepped onto the deck
of the house. From there I could see and hear the water,
and everything that's happened to me all these years.
It was hot and still. The tide was out.
No birds sang. As I leaned against the railing
a cobweb touched my forehead.
It caught in my hair. No one can blame me that I turned
and went inside. There was no wind. The sea
was dead calm. I hung the cobweb from the lampshade.
Where I watch it shudder now and then when my breath
touches it. A fine thread. Intricate.
Before long, before anyone realizes,
I'll be gone from here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

our own unique culture is also being lost

With our headlong plunge into globalization and "progress", we sometimes forget that here too is a culture that faces challenges (and losses). Carl Johnson does a good job highlighting this utilizing some recent prop 8 chatter.
[T]he idea of mourning cultural change is something we should try to understand not just when the cultural change is happening to funkily clothed (or unclothed) indigenous peoples but also when it happens in our own society. A shift has occurred. We are watching the ramifications of the shift play out. Maybe in the end, it’s all for the greater good, but it’s still sad to see the old world burn to the ground.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

truth and some aspirin

from the beach today, feeling well
I have a bad cold,
And everyone knows how bad colds
Throw the whole universe out of kilter.
They turn us against life
And make us sneeze even metaphysically.
I've wasted the whole day blowing my nose.
My head hurts all over.
A sorry state for a minor poet!
Today I'm truly a minor poet.
What I used to be was a wish: it snapped.

Good-bye forever, Fairy Queen!
You had wings of sunlight, and here I am plodding along.
I won't get well unless I lie down in bed.
I've never been well except when lying down in the universe.
Excusez du peu... What a terrible physical cold!
I need truth and some aspirin.

Fernando Pessoa (Campos), 14 March 1931

Thursday, August 5, 2010

George Packer reporting on the senate

George Packer's recent article and follow-up are worth noting. A glimpse:
It was, on the whole, an interesting and, surprise to say, enjoyable few months—a kind of adventure through a looking glass in which rooms are misnamed and the “Ohio clock” was made in Philadelphia. Of course, the institution is in a deep decline, but when you’re reporting a story like this, you don’t depress yourself, because the inquiry is bracing. It’s the poor reader who ends up depressed.

The main criticisms of the piece have come from Republicans, and their argument (for example, David Frum’s—still doing the hard work of keeping both sides honest) is that what looks to the left like obstruction is really only the minority party reflecting the public’s reservations about Obama’s agenda, and, beyond that, fulfilling the Senate’s constitutional mandate. I would answer that, on health care, for example, where the public was truly divided and, by some polls, increasingly skeptical, the Senate Republicans should have tried to negotiate a less sweeping bill. Instead (as Frum himself famously pointed out), they shut down negotiations altogether, leaving Olympia Snowe as the lone party holdout, and not for long. They weren’t trying to legislate better; they were trying to prevent any legislation at all. The same with the stimulus bill and financial reform. As Michael Bennet told me, the Senate isn’t on the level: the amount of bad faith is staggering (and yes, there’s plenty on the Democratic side as well). And the daily toll of legislative blockage is also staggering. The filibuster has become the everyday norm in this Senate—which has nothing to do with the constitution, moderation, the saucer that cools the coffee, or anything else written and said two hundred twenty years ago.

against narrativity

I argue against two popular claims. The first is a descriptive, empirical thesis about the nature of ordinary human experience: ‘each of us constructs and lives a “narrative” . . . this narrative is us, our identities’ (Oliver Sacks); ‘self is a perpetually rewritten story . . . in the end, we become the autobiographical narratives by which we “tell about” our lives’ (Jerry Bruner); ‘we are all virtuoso novelists. . . . We try to make all of our material cohere into a single good story. And that story is our autobiography. The chief fictional character . . . of that autobiography is one’s self’ (Dan Dennett). The second is a normative, ethical claim: we ought to live our lives narratively, or as a story; a ‘basic condition of making sense of ourselves is that we grasp our lives in a narrative’ and have an understanding of our lives ‘as an unfolding story’ (Charles Taylor). A person ‘creates his identity [only] by forming an autobiographical narrative – a story of his life’, and must be in possession of a full and ‘explicit narrative [of his life] to develop fully as a person’ (Marya Schechtman).

Galen Strawson, Against Narrativity (pdf)
h/t Rob Sica

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

more complications

the sun
A follow-up to my previous post.

So "the world" plays to our selfish default settings. But religions also often promote values that keep us surrounding ourselves with others who are self-same. The shared alternate values provide a balance of powers that may be a step forward for the individual who is hoping to escape a desire fulfillment prison but to be truly other centered or just to be able to understand and relate to diverse people, you have to spend time with them, and focus your energies on it. And know thyself.

To an extent this is what Jesus did, headed out and spent time with tax collectors, sinners, Samaritan women, loved his enemies, etc. But then we get phrases like “do not be yoked with unbelievers” coupled with (species preserving?) protective thinking which makes Christianity resemble just another in-group. To my mind, a properly Christian view of the world does seek to understand and relate to others but it has its limits. For instance, it lacks the resources to advocate a thorough existential exploration of opposing viewpoints.

Along with spending time with communities with divergent values there’s practicing regress-- assuming the truth of a perspective or belief in order to understand it. For all of us I assume the exercise is a pretense but there’s nothing in the perspective I operate from that would keep me from participating in explorations as thoroughly as possible. The kooky consilience is that these attempts to love and understand one another can coincide with a pursuit of objectivity akin to Nz’s perspectivism.

This synthesis makes sense to me, well, coupled with a willingness to play outside the lines. And a willingness just to be. And Listen. And Epochè. And Silence.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I simply JOURNEY

What I am essentially--behind the involuntary masks of poet, logical reasoner and so forth--is a dramatist. My spontaneous tendency to depersonalization, which I mentioned in my last letter to explain the existence of my heteronyms, naturally leads to this definition. And so I do not evolve, I simply JOURNEY. (...) I continuously change personality, I keep enlarging (and here there is a kind of evolution) my capacity to create new characters, new forms of pretending that I understand the world or, more accurately, that the world can be understood.

from a letter of Pessoa dated 20 January 1935 (A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe)

the doubly difficult startup life

Alexis Ohanian shares his reflections on the personal tragedies he faced during the first few years of Reddit. Running your own company can be overwhelming by itself, when it's coupled with family problems ... oy vey.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

a gray but not cold day

that's a bridge, yep
A gray but not cold day ...
A day with
Seemingly no patience for being day
And which only on an impulse,
Out of an empty fit
Of duty, tempered with irony,
Finally gives light to a day
Just like me
Or else
Like my heart,
A heart that's empty
Not of emotion
But of pursuing a goal--
A gray but not cold heart.

Fernando Pessoa (18 March 1935)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

seek and ye shan't find

This thread on atheism/agnosticism produced this gem (from the commenter's thesis).
In Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain poignantly describes the dilemma that occurs when we defer to rational, utilitarian thinking alone. In doing so he simultaneously lends credibility to other ways of learning, experiencing, and knowing. Ways which he apparently comes to esteem as equal, if not superior.

“Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry, had gone out of the majestic river…All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat. [Speaking of his pity for doctors in this regard he continues,]…doesn’t he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade?”

When Joshu asks Nansen, “What is the Way?” Nansen replies “Ordinary mind is the Way.” “Shall I seek after it?” Joshu inquires. To this Nansen responds, “If you try for it, you will become separated from it.” Confused, Joshu persists, “How can I know the Way unless I try for it?” Nansen’s response is full of intrigue. He says, “The Way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. Knowing is a delusion, not knowing is confusion.” He concludes by explaining that the Way is vast and boundless as space itself and that it cannot be talked about in terms of right and wrong; that the Way is an experience rather than a conceptual understanding—an understanding that somehow lies beyond right and wrong.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

she barely knew me yet had the audacity to call me eccentrically abstemious

The world is more addictive than it was 40 years ago. And unless the forms of technological progress that produced these things are subject to different laws than technological progress in general, the world will get more addictive in the next 40 years than it did in the last 40.

The next 40 years will bring us some wonderful things. I don't mean to imply they're all to be avoided. Alcohol is a dangerous drug, but I'd rather live in a world with wine than one without. Most people can coexist with alcohol; but you have to be careful. More things we like will mean more things we have to be careful about.

Most people won't, unfortunately. Which means that as the world becomes more addictive, the two senses in which one can live a normal life will be driven ever further apart. One sense of "normal" is statistically normal: what everyone else does. The other is the sense we mean when we talk about the normal operating range of a piece of machinery: what works best.

These two senses are already quite far apart. Already someone trying to live well would seem eccentrically abstemious in most of the US. That phenomenon is only going to become more pronounced. You can probably take it as a rule of thumb from now on that if people don't think you're weird, you're living badly.

The Acceleration of Addiction Paul Graham

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

complicated relationship with religion

"growth path"
These thoughts are pretty incomplete but if I wait until I find them satisfying I'll probably never post them. I'll start with a few snippets from that David Foster Wallace article I posted a bit ago:
The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship...

Because here's something else that's true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things -- if they are where you tap real meaning in life -- then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already -- it's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power -- you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart -- you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation.
By denying religion I don't thereby embrace the "values of this world". I often find the "values of this world" as annoying as religion's values and I generally think of religion's values as also the values of "the crowd". The values of the crowd need the values of other crowds. Balance of powers and all that.

It used to be that all education was dictated by or associated with the church. Some Oxford dons led me to believe the first separation of Church and state in regard to education came with Henry VIII (something about funding coming directly from the monarchy, they had a lot of positive things to say about ol' Henry). But we're still in danger of homogeny in regard to education. The state is also an agent of homogeny. Homogeny is at odds with freedom (and imagination -- viva Orwell/Huxley).

I'm a believer in external reinforcers and religions are what exists.

I'm more of a fan of the imitation of Christ (minus the bloody end) than following Christ. Why does the latter often preclude the former? The fear-driven life?

We were involved with religion because we are on a growth path and it was part of that path. The path went through religion but I don't deny that religion took us further along that path. If we remained in religion we would stagnate.

Monday, July 26, 2010

interesting short critique of Kierkegaard


Ladies and Gentlemen of A.D. 2088:

i don't think that guy is gonna make it
Our century hasn't been as free with words of wisdom as some others, I think, because we were the first to get reliable information about the human situation: how many of us there were, how much food we could raise or gather, how fast we were reproducing, what made us sick, what made us die, how much damage we were doing to the air and water and topsoil on which most life forms depended, how violent and heartless nature can be, and on and on. Who could wax wise with so much bad news pouring in?

For me, the most paralyzing news was that Nature was no conservationist. It needed no help from us in taking the planet apart and putting it back together some different way, not necessarily improving it from the viewpoint of living things. It set fire to forests with lightning bolts. It paved vast tracts of arable land with lava, which could no more support life than big-city parking lots. It had in the past sent glaciers down from the North Pole to grind up major portions of Asia, Europe, and North America. Nor was there any reason to think that it wouldn't do that again someday. At this very moment it is turning African farms to deserts, and can be expected to heave up tidal waves or shower down white-hot boulders from outer space at any time. It has not only exterminated exquisitely evolved species in a twinkling, but drained oceans and drowned continents as well. If people think Nature is their friend, then they sure don't need an enemy.

And here is a crazy idea I would like to try on you: Is it possible that we aimed rockets with hydrogen bomb warheads at each other, all set to go, in order to take our minds off the deeper problem--how cruelly Nature can be expected to treat us, Nature being Nature, in the by-and-by?

Now that we can discuss the mess we are in with some precision, I hope you have stopped choosing abysmally ignorant optimists for positions of leadership. They were useful only so long as nobody had a clue as to what was really going on--during the past seven million years or so. In my time they have been catastrophic as heads of sophisticated institutions with real work to do.

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature's stern but reasonable surrender terms:
  1. Reduce and stabilize your population.
  2. Stop poisoning the air, the water and the topsoil.
  3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems
  4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you're at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
  5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
  6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
  7. And so on. Or else.
Am I too pessimistic about life a hundred years from now? Maybe I have spent too much time with scientists and not enough time with speechwriters for politicians.

Kurt Vonnegut Fates Worse Than Death

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dave Chappelle

Dave Chappelle on Inside the Actor's Studio is worth watching. The google video version I linked to is low quality; I watched it on DVD. He discusses the "Season three turbulence" (as wikipedia calls it) which takes him on an extended discussion of fame, money, happiness and so on.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

the nursing home

I might have mentioned earlier on this blog that my grandma is suffering from dementia. Recently her condition has been deteriorating quickly and my family has decided to move her into an assisted care facility. My parents have been going the extra mile taking care of her in their home (my mom's a nurse) but she frequently wakes up at night and stays up for hours, tries to wander off. Often they'll take her somewhere and she'll refuse to get out of the car (also for hours). She'll say she wants to go to mass and that she needs to get home to take care of her mother. She seems to change the time period she's living in (mentally) frequently.

Anyhow, when I was a kid, my mom and I lived with an old lady for a while. Her name was Adelaide Bartlett. Once she got a bit older she also had to move into a nursing home. We used to give her rides to church quite a bit during that time. What I mainly remember is her wanting to die and asking why God hadn't taken her. Her conversation was singularly focused on that theme. When she died, I inherited a few of her things, mostly antique trinkets. Among the things was this poem. Adelaide, unlike my grandma, remained lucid until the end. She probably wrote this not long after she first entered the nursing home (since it doesn't overly emphasize the "I want to die" theme).
The Nursing Home

The nursing home is a
place to retreat
And all our lives
are in defeat

So often we just sit and wait
Wondering what will be our fate

The workers there are
too few, the best they can
we hope they do.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

wake the sleepers?

Imagine an iron house without windows, absolutely indestructible, with many people fast asleep inside who will soon die of suffocation. But you know since they will die in their sleep, they will not feel the pain of death. Now if you cry aloud to waken a few of the lighter sleepers, making those unfortunate few suffer the agony of irrevocable death, do you think you are doing them a good turn?

Lu Xun
via Alexis Ohanian

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I suppose it's only natural for us to be more lenient towards our ingroup than outgroups but I still find this phenomena frustrating.

For philosophers or rationals (or whatever you want to call crazy people like me) we tend to expect others to be similarly rational. But since so many are ignorant or irrational, those within our ingroup often get a free pass.

So, to be consistent we could be equally hard on those within our ingroup but this move isn't very human because we are the anomaly here and it's a move toward isolation and consequent loneliness.

The alternate move is to lend your sympathies to irrationality in outgroups in the same way you lend them to your ingroup. This is the move I attempt to make as it seems most fit for this more heterogeneous world and it matches my Whitmanesque desires for world travelling.

Note that this meditation doesn't speak at all to lenience toward other rationals. I prefer a bit of contention in that ingroup.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

july 4, 2010

Spent a bit of time walking Sophie and writing.

Watched the fireworks with friends on the bayfront.

Ran into a random commie at the end of the night at the bar. He didn't know much about communism. He said he bought the shirt from urban outfitters in 2003 or so.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

some say the opposite of love is not hate but indifference

Of the gods I ask only to be ignored.
Without good or bad luck, I'll be free,
Like the wind that's the life
Of the air, which is nothing.
Hatred and love both seek us out;
Both oppress us, each in its own way.
Those to whom the gods
Grant nothing are free.

Ricardo Reis (Fernando Pessoa)

Ricardo Reis begs to differ.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sophie returns to Oregon

Sophie, Sarah and I just returned from an extended (work related) trip to Utah where I had the chance to hang out with my cousin Chris, Charlie and a number of other friends. I also had a birthday party, decommissioned a server (RIP ip0), and helped my little brother move out of my parents house (he's 18).

On the way back we got to do a mini brewery tour, stopping at Deschutes in Bend, The Brewers Union Local 180 in Oakridge, and Ninkasi in Eugene. Of those I'm most of a fan of the Brewers Union where we drank "Real Ale", met Ted, the brewer (former software engineer who learned his brewing technique in England). Ninkasi also makes awesome beer but I love that English style ale.

Recently Noted:

Huenemann's review of Julian Young's Nietzsche biography in ndpr.

JT is blogging about Aris-tote-lay's Nichomachean Ethics.

Carl Johnson has been weaving Confucius in with his recent posts. I especially liked this one on software design and "convention".

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


"One is twice as glad to leap after a man who has fallen into the water where there are people present who dare not do so." -Nietzsche*

"What is it that makes a complete stranger dive into an icy river to save a solid gold baby? Mankind may never know." -Jack Handey

*HH I 325 (via Julian Young's bio p. 256)

"merely a plaster cast of a living man"

Whatever may be the original source of a cognition, it is, in relation to the person who possesses it, merely historical, if he knows only what has been given him from another quarter, whether that knowledge was communicated by direct experience or by instruction. Thus the Person who has learned a system of philosophy- say the Wolfian- although he has a perfect knowledge of all principles, definitions, and arguments in that philosophy, as well as of the divisions that have been made of the system, possesses really no more than a historical knowledge of the Wolfian system; he knows only what has been told him, his judgments are only those which he has received from his teachers. Dispute the validity of a definition, and he is completely at a loss to find another. He has formed his mind on another's; but the imitative faculty is not the productive. His knowledge has not been drawn from reason; and although, objectively considered, it is rational knowledge, subjectively, it is merely historical. He has learned this or that philosophy and is merely a plaster cast of a living man.

Immanuel Kant
We haven't thrown this quote around for a while, thought I'd post it here for posterity.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

from Julian Young's Nietzsche biography

I picked up Young's new philosophical biography of Nietzsche recently (review in the nytimes) and I've been jumping around in it, picking different topics as they grab my interest. I'm trying to read it sequentially as well but the evolution of a thought grabs hold of me and then there I go, pillaging. So here's some plunder related to Nietzsche's view of religion:
Given, however, Nietzsche's enthusiasm for Plato's Republic, this picture of the philosopher as 'using' religion to social ends might seem to conjure up the idea of religion as a 'noble lie' and of the ruler as a cynical outsider who is himself not for a moment taken in by the 'pious fraud': a picture of the philosopher king as, like Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor, all too aware that religion is the opium needed to control the masses while regarding it, himself, as nothing but superstition.
Actually, though, this cannot be Nietzsche's account of the philosophical leader, since, if it were, he would become indistinguishable from the 'free thinker': the man of 'modern ideas' who looks down upon religion 'with an air of superior, almost gracious amusement...mixed with slight contempt for what he assumes to be "uncleanliness" of spirit that exists when anyone supports a church'.
He will obey communal ethos, that 'morality' which is a function of the unique character, history, and current circumstances of his community.
[H]e will know that they are not the worse for that, that being fictions (or fictionalized versions of real people) impairs in no way their functioning as 'touchstones' of human excellence.

Nietzsche grasps here, I think, an important point about religious discourse: 'Jesus would never do that' can have just as much ethical force for someone who believes Jesus never existed as for someone who believes he did. As The Jane Austen Book Club illustrates, "This is what (Jane Austen's) Emma would do in this situation" can have ethical force. What this shows is that though religion might be a 'noble lie' told to the masses, this does not at all confine the enlightened ruler to cynical detachment. Rather, in reverencing the gods, he knows he is reverencing the best in his community. The situation is like that between mother and child: both can agree that 'Santa wouldn't like that' even though one knows Santa to be a fiction while the other believes him to be real.
[A] good religion must serve human well-being rather than, as with Christianity, subordinating human life to religious prescriptions damaging to human health. 'The gods' should serve man, not man the gods.

p. 430-431
So Young's Nietzsche is pro-religion though not pro-Christianity.

recently noted

Not sure how this works but it looks like Che Guervera is now a "folk saint".

Elsewhere, Carl Johnson considers art and technology. He's soliciting feedback here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

some Kierkegaard

There is a view of life which conceives that where the crowd is, there also is the truth, and that in truth itself there is need of having the crowd on its side. There is another view of life which conceives that wherever there is a crowd there is untruth, so that (to consider for a moment the extreme case), even if every individual, each for himself in private, were to be in possession of the truth, yet in case they were all to get together in a crowd–a crowd to which any sort of decisive significance is attributed, a voting, noisy, audible crowd–untruth would at once be in evidence.

If one who lives in the midst of Christendom goes up to the house of God, the house of the true God, with the true conception of God in his knowledge, and prays , but prays in a false spirit; and one who lives in an idolatrous community prays with the entire passion of the infinite, although his eyes rest upon the image of an idol: where is the most truth? The one prays in truth to God though he worships an idol; the other prays falsely to the true God, and hence worships in fact an idol.

The objective accent falls on WHAT is said, the subjective accent on HOW it is said.
Aesthetically the contradiction that truth becomes untruth in this or that person’s mouth, is best construed comically: In the ethico-religious sphere, accent is again on the “how”. But this is not to be understood as referring to demeanor, expression, or the like; rather it refers to the relationship sustained by the existing individual, in his own existence, to the content of his utterance.
from selections in Kaufmann's Existentialism.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

agents of positive change

modified from 10/10/2009

When I was younger and more Christiany I thought evangelical Christianity was the end all be all, that once someone "gave their life to Christ" they'd be all set. With experience came the realization that most the people who "gave their life to Christ" would live an existence that only varied slightly from the American norm. Studying the history of Christianity too showed me that though some were able to do incredible things with Christianity (e.g. Methodists in England pushing to stop slavery, MLK, Jr.), that Christianity itself was often impotent in the face of power or worse, used by the powerful to sedate and confuse the masses. Where I did see substantive positive differences they came mainly, I thought, from temperament and education (especially philosophical education).

After that, I went through a phase where it was hard for me to imagine someone who had studied epistemology and the history of philosophy yet remained content in his dogmatic slumbers reinforcing the status quo and still looking to repetition for answers. I didn't really expect all philosophers to be shining lights but at the least I expected them to understand how precarious and absurd our situation truly is. I was thoroughly disabused of that notion as I read and heard from philosopher after philosopher who clearly understood the material yet seemed to have plenty of psychological and rhetorical resources to keep them from any need to appropriate their knowledge.

At this point I assume as I pick other agents of positive change I'll just be corrected again and again; this must be my Sisyphus task. Imagining Sisyphus happy, I look for another. So what are the agents of positive change we can rely on?

I don't know. Different strokes for different folks? I do think some aspects of religion are the answer for some people at some times and the same for philosophy. They both teach types of discipline that can help us achieve goals and reorient ourselves in ways we require. The best answer, at this point, seems to be to put yourself in the place where there are the most external reinforces to move you in the direction you're trying to go.

And of course love, love is an agent of positive change. Gotta love love.

ancient written Scottish language found

Unfortunately the new findings fail to shed light on why the no true Scotsman fallacy (related video) is still so prevalent.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

story of a good Brahmin

by Voltaire

Travelling through India, I met an old gentleman of the highest caste, a Brahmin, a very wise man, witty and learned. On top of that, he was rich, and consequently even wiser; for, lacking nothing, he had no need to deceive anyone. His family was well governed by three gorgeous wives who religiously studied the art of pleasing him. When he was not busy amusing himself with his wives, he philosophized.

His house had charm and beauty, was well decorated, and was surrounded by colorful and fruitful gardens. Nearby lived an old Indian woman, bigoted, stupid, and quite poor.

The Brahmin jolted me one day with this: “I wish I had never been born.” I asked him why, and he answered me:

“I have been studying for forty years...and that is forty years wasted. I teach others, but actually I know nothing. This situation makes me feel so much humiliation and disgust with myself that life is unbearable to me.

“I was born, I live in time, and I do not know what time is. I find myself at a point between two eternities, as our sages say, and I have no idea of what eternity means. I am made of matter, and I am able to think, yet I have never been able to find out how thought is caused. I do not know...Is my ability to think a simple faculty in me like that of walking, or digesting food? Do I think with my head, as I take with my hands? Not only is the explanation of my thinking unknown to me, but how I am able to move my body is also a great mystery.

“I don't know why I exist. Every day people ask me questions on all these points. I have to answer, but I have nothing worthwhile to say. I talk, talk, talk, and then I am bewildered and ashamed of myself after all that hot air.

“It is even worse when they ask me whether Brahma was produced by Vishnu or whether they are both eternal. Well, I don’t know a thing about it, and that's obvious in my pathetic answers. ‘Reverend Father,’ they say to me, ‘explain to us why evil floods the whole world.’

“I am in as much of a fog as those who ask the question. Sometimes I tell them that everything happens for the best, but those who have been destroyed and mutilated by war don't believe that for a second, and neither do I.

“So I retreat to my house overwhelmed with my curiosity and my ignorance. I read our ancient books, and they make the darkness even darker. I talk with my friends. Some tell me that we should just enjoy life and laugh at mankind. Others think they know a little something, and promptly get lost in ridiculous, pompous, empty ideas. Everything increases my feelings of doubt and misery. I am sometimes ready to fall into despair, when I think that after all my dedication and seeking I know neither where I come from, nor what I am, nor where I am going, nor what shall become of me when this life is over.”

I was greatly distressed by the mental condition of this good man. It seemed that no one was any more reasonable or honest than he. I could see that the more he came to understand, the more he came to feel, and consequently the more unhappy he was.

That same day I saw the old woman who lived near him. I asked her if she had ever been confused and upset not to know how her soul was created. She didn't even understand my question! She had never pondered for a single moment of her life over a single one of the points that tormented the Brahmin. She believed with all her heart in the changing forms of the Lord Vishnu, and, provided she could occasionally have some water from the Ganges to wash in, she considered herself the happiest of all women.

I was so amazed by the happiness and contentment of this impoverished creature, that I returned to my Brahmin philosopher and said to him:

“Aren't you ashamed to be unhappy when right at your door there is an old puppet who never bothers with thinking and who lives quite happily?”

“You are right,” he said; “I have told myself a hundred times that I would be happy if I were as stupid as my neighbor, and yet I would want no part of that kind of happiness.”

These words of the Brahmin made a greater impression on me than all the rest. I questioned myself and saw that certainly I would not want to be happy on condition of being ignorant.

I put the question to some other philosophers, and they were of the same opinion. “There is, however,” I added, “an enormous contradiction in this way of thinking.”

For after all, what is at issue here? Being happy. What does it really matter if you are intelligent or stupid? And what's more, those who are stupidly content with their being are quite sure of being content; those who philosophize and scrutizine and ponder and reason are never so sure of reasoning well.

“Clearly,” I said, “we should choose not to have good sense, if that good sense contributes to our misery.”

Everyone agreed with me, and yet I found no one who wanted to accept the bargain of becoming ignorant in order to become content. From this I concluded that though we greatly value happiness, we place even greater value on reason.

But yet, upon reflection, it seems that to prefer reason to happiness is to be quite insane. How can this contradiction be explained? Like all the is matter for much talk.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Why do they strive to force everything into that one fixed perimeter?"

"[T]he usual manner of presenting philosophical work puzzles me. Works of philosophy are written as though their authors believe them to be the absolutely final word on their subject. But it’s not, surely, that each philosopher thinks that he finally, thank God, has found the truth and built an impregnable fortress around it. We are all actually much more modest than that. For good reason. Having thought long and hard about the view he proposes, a philosopher has a reasonably good idea about its weak points; the places where great intellectual weight is placed upon something perhaps too fragile to bear it, the places where the unravelling of the view might begin, the unprobed assumptions he feels uneasy about...

No philosopher says: There’s where I started, here’s where I ended up; the major weakness in my work is that I went from there to here; in particular, here are the most notable distortions, pushings, shovings, maulings, gougings, stretchings, and chippings that I committed during the trip; not to mention the things thrown away and ignored, and all those avertings of the gaze.

The reticence of philosophers about the weaknesses they perceive in their own views is not, I think, simply a question of philosophical honesty and integrity, though it is that or at least becomes that when brought to consciousness. The reticence is connected with philosophers’ purposes in formulating views. Why do they strive to force everything into that one fixed perimeter? Why not another perimeter, or, more radically, why not leave things where they are? What does having everything within a perimeter do for us? Why do we want it so? (What does it shield us from?) From these deep (and frightening) questions, I hope not to be able to manage to avert my gaze in future work."

Robert Nozick Anarchy State and Utopia

h/t Andrew Sullivan

Saturday, April 3, 2010

and a couple disparate Nietzsche quotes

working with what can and can't be changed
To "give style" to one's character—a great and rare art! It is practiced by those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and then fit them into an artistic plan until every one of them appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye. Here a large mass of second nature has been added; there a piece of original nature has been removed—both times through long practice and daily work at it. Here the ugly that could not be removed is concealed; there it has been reinterpreted and made sublime. Much that is vague and resisted shaping has been saved and exploited for distant views; it is meant to beckon toward the far and immeasurable. In the end, when the work is finished, it becomes evident how the constraint of a single taste governed and formed everything large and small. Whether this taste was good or bad is less important than one might suppose, if only it was a single taste!

from GS §290
the perils of success
Human nature finds it harder to endure a victory than a defeat; indeed, it seems to be easier to achieve a victory than to endure it in such a way that it does not in fact turn into a defeat.

from Nz's David Strauss, the confessor and the writer

Friday, April 2, 2010

recently relevant Kant (well, relevant to me)

Many historians of philosophy with all their intended praise, let the philosophers speak mere nonsense. They do not guess the purpose of the philosophers... They cannot see beyond what the philosophers actually said, to what they really meant to say.
If we take single passages torn from their context and compare them with one another, contradictions are not likely to be lacking, especially in a work that is written with any freedom of expression. But they are easily resolved by those who have mastered the idea of the whole.

Immanuel Kant (via Galen Strawson)
If you fill in the gaps of any other person's thought to your own satisfaction that makes their thought more valuable to you and others who share your prejudices. I don't think it thereby lends itself to accurate reading.

And If "the whole" is the sort of consistency found in the person (the sentiment Emerson articulates), that doesn't mean it will be free of logical contradictions.

the whole in regard to the person (honesty) is different than the whole in regard to a pristine system. And never the twain shall meet.

Also Relevant - Four (Nietzsche) Aphorisms for Readers

"it is what it is"

I keep hearing this expression from different friends and coworkers and I don't know if it's a sign of a creeping societal desperation or fatalism or what. To me it just means they've given up on something and they're accepting it instead of changing the thing they know needs changing. It also means they're willing to perceive something as negative and then just live with it (and the associated negative perception). A hearty no-saying to life.

Instead of conceding "it is what it is", the no-sayers could either: one, change the thing that needs changing or two, if it can't be changed, change the way they perceive it. "it is what it is" is lazy.

We participate in what it is. It is what we make of it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"purity of heart is to will one thing" -Kierkegaard

"How's this for one thing?" -Heidegger
Only where leader and led together bind each other in one destiny, and fight for the realization of one idea, does true order grow. Then spiritual superiority and freedom respond in the form of deep dedication of all powers to the people, to the state, in the form of the most rigid training, as commitment, resistance, solitude, and love. Then the existence and the superiority of the Führer sink down into being, into the soul of the people and thus bind it authentically and passionately to the task. And when the people feel this dedication, they will let themselves be led into struggle, and they will want and love the struggle. They will develop and persist in their strength, be true and sacrifice themselves. With each new moment the Führer and the people will be bound more closely, in order to realize the essence of their state, that is their Being; growing together, they will oppose the two threatening forces, death and the devil, that is, impermanence and the falling away from one's own essence, with their meaningful, historical Being and Will. (Quoted in Faye, 140)

from a review of Emmanuel Faye's recent book on Heidegger via Rob Sica (rss)

Jack Handey FTW

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

i'm guilty

I find myself making arguments I don't sleep with. I don't do it for the sake of the argument but rather with the intent to break others out of preset modes of thinking.

The problem is I often fail to have that subsequent conversation where I articulate the argument I do sleep with.

With that in mind, viva sincerity.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Yes, it is possible.

Is it possible that, in spite of inventions and progress, in spite of culture, religion, and wisdom, one has remained at the surface of life? Is it possible that even this surface, which would at least have been something, has been covered with an incredibly dull material till it looks like salon furniture during a summer vacation? . . .

Is it possible that there are people who say "God" and suppose that this is something one can have in common?-- Just look at two school children: one of them buys a knife and his neighbor buys one just like it, on the very same day. And a week later they compare their two knives, and by now they are barely similar: so differently have they developed in different hands. (Sure, says the mother of one boy, if you always get everything to look used right away!) I see: Is it possible to believe that one can have a god without using him?

Here's the larger context; the above is the part Kaufmann pulled into his book Existentialism.

Monday, March 8, 2010

hard words, contradictions, consistency, misunderstandings

The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loth to disappoint them.

But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then? It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day. In your metaphysics you have denied personality to the Deity; yet when the devout motions of the soul come, yield to them heart and life, though they should clothe God with shape and color. Leave your theory, as Joseph his coat in the hand of the harlot, and flee.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with the shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said to-day.—"Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood."—Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

I suppose no man can violate his nature. All the sallies of his will are rounded in by the law of his being, as the inequalities of Andes and Himmaleh are insignificant in the curve of the sphere. Nor does it matter how you gauge and try him. A character is like an acrostic or Alexandrian stanza;—read it forward, backward, or across, it still spells the same thing. In this pleasing, contrite wood-life which God allows me, let me record day by day my honest thought without prospect or retrospect, and, I cannot doubt, it will be found symmetrical, though I mean it not, and see it not. My book should smell of pines and resound with the hum of insects. The swallow over my window should interweave that thread or straw he carries in his bill into my web also. We pass for what we are. Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.

from Emerson's Self Reliance

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

the soul dissatisfied, curious, unconvinced at last


Ever the undiscouraged, resolute, struggling soul of man;
(Have former armies fail'd? then we send fresh armies--and fresh again;)
Ever the grappled mystery of all earth's ages old or new;
Ever the eager eyes, hurrahs, the welcome-clapping hands, the loud
Ever the soul dissatisfied, curious, unconvinced at last;
Struggling to-day the same--battling the same.

Walt Whitman*

Friday, February 26, 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

recently noted

Nice short essay on addiction (and homelessness) at Griffen Writes.

Also, I recently created a new blog about building web apps - Lack of Elegance.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In the Children's Hospital



Our doctor had called another, I never had seen him before,
but he sent a chill to my heart when I saw him come in at the door,
fresh from the surgery schools of France and of other lands -
harsh red hair, big voice, big chest, big merciless hands!
Wonderful cures he had done, oh yes, but they said too of him
he was happier using the knife than in trying to save the limb,
and that I can well believe, for he looked so coarse and so red,
I could think he was one of those who would break their jests on the dead,
and mangle the living dog that had loved him and fawned at his knee -
drench'd with the hellish oorali – that ever, such things could be!


Here was a boy – I am sure that some of our children would die
but for the voice of love, and the smile, and the comforting eye -
here was a boy in the ward, every bone seemed out of its place
caught in a mill and crushed – it was all but a hopeless case :
and he handled him gently enough; but his voice and his face were not kind,
and it was but a hopeless case, he had seen it and made up his mind,
and he said to me roughly 'The lad will need little more of your care.'
'All the more need I told him, 'to seek the Lord Jesus in prayer;
they are all his children here, and I pray for them all as my own :'
but he turned to me, 'Ay, good woman, can prayer set a broken bone?'
Then he muttered half to himself, but I know what I heard him say
'All very well – but the good Lord Jesus has had his day.'


Had? Has it come? It has only dawn'd. It will come by and by.
O how could I serve in the wards if the hope of the world were a lie?
How could I bear with the sights and the loathsome smells of disease
but that He said Ye do it to me when ye do it to these' ?


So he went. And we past to this ward where the younger children are laid :
Here is the cot of our orphan, our darling, our meek little maid;
Empty you see just now! We have lost her who loved her so much -
patient of pain tho' as quick as a sensitive plant to the touch;
hers was the prettiest prattle, it often moved me to tears,
hers was the gratefullest heart I have found in a child of her years -
nay you remember our Emmie; you used to send her the flowers;
how she would smile at 'em, play with 'em, talk to 'em hour after hours!
They that can wander at will where the works of the Lord are reveal'd
little guess what joy can be got from a cowslip out of the field;
flowers to these 'spirits in prison' are all they can know of the spring,
they freshen and sweeten the wards like the waft of an angel's wing;
and she lay with a flower in one hand and her thin hands crost on her breast -
wan, but as pretty as heart can desire, and we thought her at rest,
quietly sleeping – so quiet, our doctor said 'Poor little dear,
nurse I must do it tomorrow; she'll never live through it, I fear.'


I walked with our kindly old doctor as far as the head of the stair,
then I returned to the ward; the child didn't see I was there.


Never since I was a nurse, had I been so grieved and so vext!
Emmie had heard him. Softly she called from her cot to the next,
'He says I shall never live thro' it, O Annie, what shall I do?'
Annie consider'd. 'If I,' said the wise little Annie 'was you,
I should cry to the dear Lord Jesus to help me, for, Emmie, you see,
it's all in the picture there: Little children should come to me. '
(Meaning the print that you gave us, I find that it always can please
our children, the dear Lord Jesus with children about his knees.)
Yes, and I will,' said Emmie, 'but then if I call to the Lord,
how should he know that it's me? Such a lot of beds in the ward!'
That was a puzzle for Annie. Again she considered and said:
'Emmie, you put out your arms, and you leave 'em outside the bed -
the lord has so much to see to! But, Emmie, you tell it him plain,
it's the little girl with her arms lying out on the counterpane.'


I had sat three nights by the child – I could not watch her for four -
My brain had begun to reel – I felt I could do it no more.
That was my sleeping night, but I thought that it would never pass.
There was a thunderclap once, and a clatter of hail on the glass,
and there was a phantom cry that I heard as I tost about,
the motherless bleat of a lamb in the storm and the darkness without;
my sleep was broken besides with dreams of the dreadful knife
and fears for our delicate Emmie who scarce would escape with her life;
then in the gray of the morning it seemed she stood by me and smiled,
and the doctor came at his hour, and we went to see to the child.


He had brought his ghastly tools: we believed her asleep again -
her dear, long, lean, little arms lying out on the counterpane;
Say that his day is done! Ah why should we care what they say?
The Lord of the children had heard her, and Emmie had passed away.

In the Children's Hospital (1879) -Alfred Lord Tennyson

h/t Orwell How the Poor Die

Sunday, February 21, 2010

if only

fishmarket Source: wikimedia commons
If only, I feel now, if only I could be someone able to see all this as if he had no other relation with it than that of seeing it, someone able to observe everything as if he were an adult traveler newly arrived today on the surface of life! If only one had not learned, from birth onwards, to give certain accepted meanings to everything, but instead was able to see the meaning inherent in each thing rather than that imposed on it from without. If only one could know the human reality of the woman selling fish and go beyond just labeling her a fishwife and the known fact that she exists and sells fish. If only one could see the policeman as God sees him. If only one could notice everything for the first time, not apocalyptically, as if they were revelations of the Mystery, but directly as the flowerings of Reality.

Bernardo Soares The Book of Disquiet

Thursday, February 18, 2010

disquiet for the day

The wise man makes his life monotonous, for then even the tiniest incident becomes imbued with great significance. After his third lion the lion hunter loses interest in the adventure of the hunt. For my monotonous cook there is something modestly apocalyptic about every street fight he witnesses. To someone who has never been out of Lisbon the tram ride to Benfica is like a trip to the infinite and if one day he were to visit Sintra, he would feel as if he journeyed to Mars. On the other hand, the traveler who has covered the globe can find nothing new for 5,000 miles around, because he’s always seeing new things; there’s novelty and there’s the boredom of the eternally new and the latter brings about the death of the former.

The truly wise man could enjoy the whole spectacle of the work from his armchair; he wouldn’t need to talk to anyone or to know how to read, just how to make use of his five senses and a soul innocent of sadness.

One must monotonize existence in order to rid it of monotony. One must make the everyday so anodyne that the slightest incident proves entertaining. In the midst of my day-to-day work, dull, repetitive and pointless, visions of escape surface in me, vestiges of dreams of far-off islands, parties held in the avenues of gardens in some other age, different landscapes, different feelings, a different me. But, between balance sheets, I realize that if I had all that, none of it would be mine. The truth is that Senhor Vasques is worth more than any Dream Kings; the office in Rua dos Douradores is worth more than all those broad avenues in impossible gardens. Because I have Senhor Vasques I can enjoy the dreams of the Dream Kings; because I have the office in Rua Dos Douradores I can enjoy my inner visions of non-existent landscapes. But if the Dream Kings were mine, what would I have to dream about? If I possessed the impossible landscapes, what would remain of the impossible?

May I always be blessed with the monotony, the dull sameness of identical days, my indistinguishable todays and yesterdays, so that I may enjoy with an open heart the fly that distracts me, drifting randomly past my eyes, the gust of laughter that wafts volubly up from the street somewhere down below, the sense of vast freedom when the office closes for the night, and the infinite rest of my days off.

Because I am nothing, I can imagine myself to be anything. If I were somebody, I wouldn’t be able to. An assistant book-keeper can imagine himself to be a Roman emperor; the King of England can’t do that, because the King of England has lost the ability in his dreams to be any other king than the one he is. His reality limits what he can feel.

Fernando Pessoa The Book of Disquiet

This goes along well with these quotes from Dumas and Nietzsche.