It seems like it’s been a long time since I’ve had a fresh idea, or even happened upon a fresh idea someone else may have recently had. I’m a pretty firm believer that without fresh ideas stagnation occurs and the choice to stagnate or progress is no choice at all, it seems to me.
I’ve been thinking, lately, about what happens during those adolescent years when the instinctual urge to break away leads to fundamental questioning of values and experimentation with ideas and actions that push the boundaries of the familiar and expected, which may, at times, result in behaviors that are risky and maybe border on the irresponsible and may even be thought of as questionable on a moral level. But, what such a stance does provide, given a reasonable helping of basic human needs, is a sense of freedom from convention that, well directed, has a potential to realize fresh ideas.
If we allow that creative thought is likely to be nurtured most effectively when there is freedom from the immutability of established ideas, allowing it (creative thought, that is) to run its course will likely be the preferable avenue to take. I think we should champion youth, relish their energies, tolerate their impiety, impetuousness and contempt, and tolerate their ambivalence toward established truths. By encouraging their pursuit of they know not what, we all might realize new ways to tackle the problems of our complex existence.
I’ve been reading about this sense that we all have, beneath our logical instinctual understanding, a ground that sustains our very existence; a faith in the existence of something without which survival would be impossible. This something may be, I think necessarily is, of a very nebulous character and in fact, if and when it takes on too specific an identification may very well lose much of its potency. Naming it is losing it. Our rational selves are inclined to try to grasp this something, identify it, get intimate with it, worship it, maybe, but any such action only diminishes it. All we can and must do is acknowledge its existence.
We might think to construct symbols for and procedures by which we can more easily gain access, to keep it close to our waking consciousness, but any such activity must be of an abstract nature, no more than a parallel reference acknowledging only the existence of this something that defies labeling of any kind because this ground of being is essential to our very nature.
Ok, so I kind of get this, you know, because I can sense hopefulness on even the dreariest and most depressing of days. I guess, though, I maybe should pay a bit more attention, work a bit harder to sustain this essence because my very being may depend on it and as difficult as it is to think about something so ineffable and adverse to description I will dedicate contemplative time to reaching deep.
Some twentieth century thinkers spent considerable time trying to understand what, exactly, one can know about the world. They thought that the fundamental basis upon which our knowledge of the world rests is suspect, based, as it is, on imagined truths originating from cultural orientations that define reality in terms of conceptual dualisms. Human inclination was to seek a secure ground of being in God or, perhaps, science that could provide reliable answers in dark times of stress and desperation. Such grounding led to unverifiable premises that produced false assumptions about the nature of the world.
A number of these deep thinkers dismissed the reliance on the eternal and infinite as being outside the realm of finite human understanding. All that can be known for certain, they thought, are the facts that exist in this world. These guys thought a primordial ground of being as disclosed through conventional world views was not to be found. An honest search would instead reveal an abyss, a nothingness beneath the cultural veneer. To live an authentic life, they believed, one must man-up, face uncertainty, tempt fate and step away from the safety of familiarity.
Other philosophers of the time thought a subjective ground of being could be found. Realizing the freedom to do what one chose depended upon a spiritual component to lift such a person beyond causal necessity. This ground of being will be personal and dependent on a belief in an existence beyond factual knowledge.
I have to say I admire these great thinkers living as they did through difficult times, unstable finances and psychological angst, who spend so much time and energy pursing ideas that provide us all the opportunity to at least contemplate how we can live our lives authentically.
I’ve been reading about some of the deep thinkers of the early 20th century, how they struggled to come to grips with the tumultuous uncertainty of the time. Clearly, the 1920’s must have been difficult: the western world had just endured a devastating world war that put question to the very value of human life. The dissolution of long held beliefs brought about by Darwin’s theories of evolution 20 years earlier had serious religious implications for many and Einstein’s relativity theory upset the belief that time and space were fixed entities.
So, the philosophical search was on to find a grounded reality. Questions abounded: What lies within the bounds of knowable truth? How does language determine what can be thought? How do social norms repress spirit? In various ways a common thought occurred to these brilliant thinkers: In order for man to rise above the moral and spiritual ennui of the times he must muster the courage to intellectually move beyond, to take the leap into the freedom of personal choice without any assumption of reward, earthly or heavenly, expecting nothing and assuming total responsibility for one’s existence. Setting aside the false assumptions brought about by the mythical thinking embedded in language will lead one to realize a truly authentic life: to being one’s true self.
How exciting it must have been for those who dared take the leap beyond conventional foundations, accepting one’s existence fully in place and time, realizing the freedom of personal responsibility. The headiness of absolute personal freedom, I suspect, was eventually tempered by the need for close relationships and the giving they require.
I’ve been reading about the idea of man as a perpetual adolescent, forever youthful (in mind anyway), playfully making and thereby discovering and inventing. Given time to play without the pressure to produce, the theory goes, valuable discoveries and innovations may very well result.
History informs us that, indeed, such a process has been the impetus for quite a number of important innovations. Brilliant people engaged in playful thinking (Isaac Newton, Leonardo DaVinci among them) have produced profound concepts that have contributed to our collective knowledge. Sometimes invented toys become practical machines: the wheel may have first appeared on a child’s toy in Pre-Columbian America.
I guess it’s the unique nature of humankind to have a prolonged childhood unlike many of our animal relatives who must be ready to hide or fight, defend or flee almost immediately after birth. As annoying as the perpetual adolescent may be to our adult pragmatic selves, with a bit of encouragement perhaps the slacker living in the basement might conceive an idea that will improve life for us all. At the very least it might get her into her own apartment.
In the winter of his eighteenth year this young man fell madly in love (well, it was a serious crush anyway). The object of his unrequited affection was a demure sweet young lady who turned the young man, usually easygoing and affable, into a tongue-tied moron (or so he thought and was in fact true).
The episode was simply reflective of the young man’s nature. He conjured imaginings of romantic scenarios; of heroic stances he might take. He lived in a world of fictional narratives reinforced by the heroic storylines he regularly indulged: good triumphs, tragedy is overcome.
It would seem in retrospect such an imaginative reality would soon be repressed but it was maintained far longer than it might have been by avoiding unpleasant confrontation, keeping a distance from uncertain challenges and living in an (overly) protective home environment. As a college student our young dreamer immersed himself in studies of an impersonal nature, solitary endeavors not requiring excessive personal connections. He had friends of course. College life teems with unassuming young people of an accepting nature, all thriving in an essentially responsibility free environment.
Eventually, over time, even an impractical dreamer will have to face harsh realities. The awakening for our young man came with the threat posed by the draft lottery and the likelihood of involuntary military service. Basic training was eye opening. The young man found himself verbally assaulted. Name calling the likes of which he had never previously encountered (but guessed often referred to perverse sexual acts) was common.
Military service didn’t cure the young man, didn’t redirect him toward a more functional pragmatism. Even now as he passes middle age the man finds himself playfully toying with ideas and entertaining flights of fantasy. He has somehow been able to navigate through life being sufficiently useful as not to be a particular burden on society, you know, has basically paid his own way.
It’s good to know, I guess, that sometimes life provides a path for those who need to live an alternative reality.
I’ve been reading about knowledge boundaries and the idea of island as metaphor. Within the island, our body of knowledge, we pursue lines of thought, traverse the island, and eventually reach the shore beyond which lies the unknowable. The island grows as the breadth of our knowledge increases, the shoreline expands, and we are confronted with more mysteries and incomprehensive considerations that, when the island was smaller, were beyond our wildest imaginings. I guess the idea is, the more we know the more we don’t know.
For those of us who are not inclined to add dilemmas to the one’s we already struggle with, perhaps limiting knowledge is a preferable strategy. We gain the peace of unquestioning acceptance of things simply being the way they are as opposed to living the uncertainty of constantly seeking answers; the problem the chronically curious must deal with.
Maybe it doesn’t have to be either/or. I can appreciate peaceful contemplation and still entertain intermittent bouts of curiosity. I think, these days, my island is still slowly growing. I’m just not venturing to the beach as often as I used to.
There are certain theoretical physicists contemplating, as I understand it, the idea that perhaps we are not living a base reality but are in a simulation, an artificial reality. We may be, they surmise, virtual beings created by a higher intelligence with infinite computational facility. These cyber-gods’ superior intellect along with our limited capacity to fully understand our world renders it impossible for us to grasp the closed system provided by our overseers.
The overseers, acting as game players, pit us against each other, create inventive situations for us to deal with and suffer through and then play favorites, much as the ancient Greek gods did. The idea is, I guess, our overseers are using us as pawns in the ultimate virtual Game of Life.
Well, if I am existing in a virtual closed system, I really can’t complain too much, reclining, as I am, in my lounger in front of a warming fireplace. I do, of course, face difficulties from time to time: existential psychological eruptions I must deal with, but all in all life is pretty good. If I am a virtual being in a created world it would seem my cyber-gods are fairly benevolent.
While doing fall chores the other day the ladder I was on gave way. Apparently, my weight was above the fulcrum which was the roof edge causing the foot of the ladder to begin sliding backward. I found myself on an accelerating descent. The ladder slid off the edge of the deck propelling me backwards into a reverse summer sault, my body eventually coming to rest on the ground. As I lay there on my back, I was taken with a feeling I can only describe as euphoria. Other than a few minor aches and pains, a few bruises, I found myself in a better place mentally, more upbeat, than at any time in recent memory. Given that I did not intentionally seek this sense of exaggerated well-being, I nevertheless got to thinking that the experience must be something akin to the adventures sought by adrenalin junkies, those who regularly defy fate, put themselves in situations of potentially serious danger.
The exhilaration was great to experience though it faded fairly quickly, was gone in a couple of hours, but I have no intention of re-creating the emotional high through intentional risky behavior. I’m too much of a realist and kind of old (brittle bones, you know). But If it should happen I make a bad decision while at the mercy of gravity in the future I’ll hope for a similarly favorable outcome.
A few years ago, I made a hike into the Burgess Shale in British Columbia. The site contains fossils of pre-Cambrian life forms, many of which barely saw the light of day before fading into extinction. The most unusual of these early animals were asymmetrical, having three and sometimes five appendages, which, I suppose, might explain why these animals didn’t make it to the Cambrian era and beyond. It seems unlikely they’d have been able to compete well in a gravitational environment and it appears they were naturally de-selected in favor of the mobile superiority of bi- and quadrupedal life. I guess it will always be the case that some life forms will be naturally de-selected for an inability to adapt in a hostile and competitive world.
Given our difficulties dealing with our current dilemmas (i.e. dreaded virus, nuclear arms proliferation, political alienation, et. al.) I’m just wondering how close humanity may be getting to the top of the de-selection list.