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.
After following the political conventions these past days (recaps being the extent of my capacity to stomach the partisan drivel) it has occurred to me, once again, that our deep philosophical divisiveness has morphed into alternate realities. The spin has turned into, at least in some cases, ‘alternative facts’. The information we receive has become not simply differing versions or interpretations of events but actual counter-facts, egregious distortions that the fact checkers, who I tend to trust, have, I suspect, been working overtime to decipher truth from fiction. There are no excuses for those who deliberately misinform to suit their own agendas but I suspect many of us simply experience differently, which has me thinking about what exactly Truth is.
Even life versus death will have nuanced meaning for some I suppose (at least those of a spiritual bent), and like the half empty/ half full glass of water interpretation must be accounted for. As I sit here writing this, I can’t know the truth, when I finish, of where exactly I will be physically, the world turning as it is. I peer out the window at a beautiful blue sky and realize there are those whose truth upon viewing same will be something other.
So, I guess it’s only fair to assume that what I know to be truly the case will not necessarily be truth for others. I guess we’ll all just have to learn to co-exist in our alternative realities..
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.
While on a bike ride the other day, I got to thinking about an unpleasant event that occurred a couple of years ago while riding the same circuit I was currently on. The past event involved hitting a dog that bounded out of a ditch, crashing, getting back on my bike and proceeding along. The bump on my helmeted head was disorienting enough for me to forget where exactly I was going.
As I continued along what I then perceived to be my current ride I got to wondering whether, in fact, I didn’t make it home at all after the crash years ago: that everything I have supposedly experienced since the dire event is imagined, the product of my active brain within my comatose body. Suppose I then thought, that, in fact, I’m lying in a hospital bed intubated, attached to a feeding tube, my loved ones by my side debating when to pull the plug.
After I supposedly got home and supposedly took a shower, wondering how I could know for certain the nature of my existence, truth revealed itself. My imagination, I realized, is insufficient to conjure the occurrences reported in the nightly news.
I’ve learned from the ancient Stoics that one must pick one’s battles: there are certain things that will occur in one’s life that one simply has to accept and live with. I get the idea, you know, that screaming and hitting one’s head against a wall in impotent exasperation is never a useful procedure.
But now I read that Friedrich Nietzsche not only advocated the acceptance of one’s fate, but he said it should be embraced, loved even. Granted, F. was a bit crazy toward the end of his life and not particularly upbeat before that, still, the idea deserves contemplation, I suppose. As I wait around to see what happens next, what fate has in store for me, embedded as I am in the real world, I’m not sure all conceivable possibilities will necessarily be loveable. In fact, there are several scenarios I can imagine so dire, that, if they were to happen, may lead me to the precipice, threaten my very sanity, be so totally incapacitating as to render me catatonic and irretrievably mentally lost.
Such a realized occurrence may, I guess, have been what happened to F.
Upon reflection it’s become apparent to me that the idea of fear can be thought about in different ways: there’s practical fear related to immediate concerns for family, friends and personal survival and then there’s the existential fear of one’s life ending, the inevitable extinction we all face. Well, at least those of us not expecting the heavenly reward of immortality. For those whose strong beliefs and strong faith lead them to the second scenario I guess there’s not much to think about other than to stay on the straight and narrow. Even these folks, I suspect, have an occasional doubt in between Sunday reassurances.
The question, then, becomes, for pretty much all of us, how best to deal with the inevitable end to our earthly existence. The fear, of course, isn’t death itself since once dead fear isn’t an issue. The fear is the anticipation, the preliminaries; potential debilitating illness, loss of control over your life, possibly the inability to be of support any longer to those who depend on you. All one can hope to do, I guess, as one nears death is to realize the inevitability of such events and approach them with dignity and the knowledge that a good life has been led (which hopefully is within the realm of reasonable truth).
Anyway, I haven’t time to dwell on it all: I’ve got people to see, errands to run and projects to complete. I have a life to live in the eternity of now.