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Friday, October 10, 2008

Conversations With Myself

R1: It’s good to be here.
R2: It’s good to be anywhere. And at any time. It’s good to 'be'.
R1: But I digress.
R2: I’m with you.
R1: The funny thing about life is that we have nothing to compare it to. It is what it is. Things are so obvious to us that we can’t wrap our minds around them. Everything is a reflection of itself.
R2: It’s as if we’re on some eternal quest for an objective reference point.
R1: And is secularism like chasing our tails? Are we just going to be disappointed through that process?
R2: Well said. I’ve wondered what good is a certificate of authenticity if there’s nothing to authenticate the authenticity of the certificate itself.
R1: Yeah, the certificate could be fake.
R2: And that’s the whole point. So I would then ask you: do you think of yourself as happy?
R1: But that’s a loaded question. As opposed to what? Do we really know what happy is? I’m reluctant to attempt a definitive response. Can that be better rephrased somehow?
R2: Are you pleased with your existence?
R1: I suppose that’s a little better, but it still exposes the inherent flaw in the inquiry. Isn’t this ultimately a cyclical thought? What do I have to compare my existence with? It’s like when people ask someone who’s recently been married how they like being married. How can they answer that? They have only one spouse to measure it by, so how would they know if they like marriage or not when there’s no control group? What’s really being asked is whether they like being married to the person they’re married to. When parsed that way, it becomes a specific question instead of a general one as originally posed.
R2: And a dangerous one to answer.
R1: Quite so.
R2: At any rate, you’re boggling our mind here.
R1: I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. Thanks for reining me in.
R2: It’s my job.
R1: And you do it very well, I might add.
R2: You’re all too kind. I sound like that guy who Underdog gives a shoeshine to.
R1: Hey, if I don’t say it, who will?
R2: This is true. So are you happy?
R1: You don’t give up, do you? Hmm… If I’m alive, I suppose that’s a good indication that I’m fairly pleased with the whole situation.
R2: But there are sad people who are still alive.
R1: Yes, but they’re at least satisfied enough to want to go on living.
R2: It would seem that’s too complex an idea to not break down. I’m not so sure we can be that simplistic about it. People can give up in various ways instead of just cashing it all in. They may turn into zombies for all intents and purposes.
R1: I suppose you’re right. I’d say I’m happy in most states. I’m happy when I’m not thinking about whether I’m happy or not. I’m happy dreaming.
R2: While asleep or awake?
R1: Both, actually. I’ve heard a dream is the mind’s way of answering questions it hasn’t yet figured out how to ask.
R2: I like that. I need to write that down. So many things we think we know about ourselves, but language is so inadequate to bring it all into focus. And yet so many of us lean on clinical terms as if they could or should define existence.
R1: So the answer to your question is “I don’t know how to answer that question.” I’m sure I must be happy, but I can’t prove it. I’m divested of all culpability here.
R2: What does divest mean?
R1: You don’t know? Didn’t you read the same books as me, and get the same education?
R2: I can’t be responsible for all of that. We’re in different hemispheres, you know. I honestly don’t know where I was at the time. Probably saving your behind while you were cogitating over the expanse the universe. So then what does divest mean? I think you’re just trying to use big words to be impressive.
R1: It’s the kind of word that’s hard to put into words.
R2: You’re making even more sense now. Here, do you need some more rope? Would you like to buy a vowel?
R1: I know what it means, but I can’t really convey to somebody else what it means. It’s like that stromboli we had in Pasadena back in ’93. We can’t describe it. You have to experience stromboli.
R2: Ah, so true.
R1: Isn’t it amazing how a simple culinary incident can stay with you all these years?
R2: What gets me is how we’re weaving memories right now, yet not cognizant of the relative significance of each of the moments in our life as they’re occurring. Something might happen this week that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Or what happens this month may just fade from your memory. It’s hard to predict.
R1: Do you think that might be why people take long trips, in an effort to force a lasting memory and thereby render their life more significant? If they feel they’re not sowing memories, their life seems worthless to them.
R2: That’s an interesting theory. It could have wings, I don’t know. I always thought that vacations were an otherwise futile attempt to escape reality.
R1: That could be too. Although they can rejuvenate the mind and soul. Maybe we’re both right.
R2: What if everybody in the world is simultaneously right about everything?
R1: I think that would be the most wonderful joke ever played on mankind. And here we all are trying to one up each other.
R2: Right, it could all be relative, so what does it prove? I can’t compare myself to someone else. There are too many unknown variables to have any degree of accuracy at all.
R1: Good point.
R2: But it also makes me wonder, when is it not possible for two ideas to be true?
R1: When they contradict.
R2: What is a contradiction, though?
R1: It’s a mutually exclusive condition that cancels out one or the other.
R2: In theory, I can see what you’re saying, though I’m having a difficult time applying that to our situation.
R1: I think when it comes to absolute truths, competing ideas can’t be simultaneously true. The only problem is that, as a civilization, we’re not objective judges on such conditions. But in the natural world, two seemingly competing ideas could often both be correct.
R2: Maybe there’s that distinction. I think you’re probably on the right track. It’s at least a good recognition.
R1: This also raises the question: how well can we know anyone?
R2: How well do we even know ourselves? We experience our own consciousness, but does that entail some right to familiarity?
R1: It’s kind of ironic that the most we can learn about human thought processes is through self-observation. No amount of external experimentation can provide us with more vital data.
R2: One of the many poetic paradoxes of life.
R1: But when talking about truths cancelling other possibilities out, I’ve often wondered if opposites even exist at all in the natural world. It could just be an illusion we’ve constructed to try to make sense of our existence. Are black and white really opposites? Even dark and light. They seem instead to be variations along the same scale. And darkness is merely the absence of light, but that doesn’t make it the opposite. If I’m absent from a meeting, that doesn’t make me opposite from that meeting.
R2: But would your presence be the opposite of your absence?
R1: Not really. My absence is the state of not being there. However, I could be anywhere else. If I’m on the subway instead of at the meeting, that has an entirely different set of connotations than if I were on the surface of Jupiter and not at the meeting.
R2: How about up and down?
R1: Up is based on reference to a plane, so there is no definitive 'up'. There is no such thing in the real world as a precisely level plane, nor any perfectly perpendicular projectile, which is what 'up' would be. As a result, up can't be a property, and so there also isn't an actual down either. And before you ask about dry and wet, those are degrees of moisture, so they’re not diametrically opposed. And I reject any purely mathematical attempts, because that’s a tautology. Whether positives and negatives exist at all is something we’re trying to determine, so we can’t use that as part of the premise. The interesting thing about the natural world is that there are no negative values of anything.
R2: And this all leads into perfection. Baseball announcers say that a guy who’s singled every time up in that game is having a perfect night, but a perfect night would be all home runs, wouldn’t it? And a real perfect game would be a pitcher striking out all 27 batters on three straight strikes each.
R1: Exactly. Perfection is a just a buzzword to mean whatever we want it to. In most everything in life, it’s a misnomer. Perfection is an ideal, not a finite state we can encompass.
R2: Not in this life, anyway.
R1: Precisely. I’m glad you see it my way. The distinction between finiteness and infiniteness must be made. Otherwise, people are just speaking in circles. It all depends on the context.
R2: And so this would be why it’s so hard to imagine the properties of a perfect being outside of the religious context. Perfect beings never do and never would do anything imperfect. That’s the whole essence of being perfect in the first place.
R1: Yeah, the supposed philosophical conundrums are just mental calisthenics that demonstrate nothing substantive.
R2: Ah, the entanglements we weave for ourselves!
R1: We’re our own worst enemy in many respects.
R2: I have a question for you: What are some of the inconsequential things that puzzle you most?
R1: I look at the body structure of children, with their proportionally larger heads and shorter arms and legs, and I wonder at what point can you finally tell if they’re not going to be a midget? Because when they’re all young, you can’t tell.
R2: That’s a good one. What gets me is how much effort goes into ensuring that toothbrushes don’t slip out of someone’s hands and scrub our teeth just the right way. The expended technology is astounding. We give more attention to designing toothbrushes than we do to protecting society from harmful entities. Our priorities seem a little skewed. Is there really a concern that people are going to not be able to properly grip a toothbrush? Is there an epidemic of toothbrushes falling out of people’s hands?
R1: All right, here’s one. If we have a responsibility to tolerate others, then what responsibility do others have to us?
R2: Hmm… I guess the kneejerk response to that would be that those of us who have more of a grasp on life and have figured things out have a duty to wait for others to catch up and reach out a hand to them.
R1: But what defines who is who? What if I want to go over and join the crowd that hasn’t figured it out yet — does that thereby absolve me of all responsibility? Can a person self-inflict into another state?
R2: And would that be out of pure convenience?
R1: Yeah, a sort of moral welfare state. Just don’t try enough, and you won’t be expected to contribute any longer.
R2: Paint yourself as a victim, meaning the world must therefore come to you.
R1: Wow, that’s a little dangerous, isn’t it?
R2: I wonder if that could be the underlying factor in the breakdown of society throughout human history. Wanting to pretend like you’re someone who should be attended to when you’re capable of attending to others. It also makes it harder for us to find those who really do need help in various areas.
R1: Kind of like how people park in the handicapped spots without a permit or a need to do so.
R2: Yeah, that’s the general idea.
R1: And we might be able to tie this back on the relativists during the awakening who couldn’t decide if we’re even responsible for anything we do.
R2: I think their free will rebuffs are pointless. The vicissitudes of life can’t be quantified with any precision. We can no more identify a point of fate than to say why someone rolled all sixes in Yahtzee.
R1: Or that it necessarily had to be all sixes.
R2: Yeah, especially when I still need my large straight.
R1: A person’s actual existence is a testament to free will, so if anything, the skeptic is going against the very notion he or she is trying to dispute.
R2: Philosophers are a strange lot.
R1: But we need them for entertainment, I suppose.
R2: I’ve had problems with the whole apples and oranges debate.
R1: In what way?
R2: It’s like a license someone carries if they don’t want to substantiate their point. They just say that it’s like trying to compare apples and oranges. But apples and oranges can be easily compared. One’s red, and the other’s orange.
R1: Maybe they’re referring to the constitution of them.
R2: Doesn’t matter. They have more in common than they do in things that are unshared. They are similar in size. They’re both fruits. You can juice both of them. They contain fructose. Besides, what’s the utility in comparing oranges with themselves anyway? They’re the same thing. We’re supposed to compare things that are at least somewhat different. That’s what comparisons are for. Next time I’m just going to say “That’s like comparing oranges to oranges.”
R2: You make a lot of sense. So, what should we do for lunch?
R1: How about a simple nothing sandwich. I’m not picky.
R2: While hearkening back to the days of the stromboli.
R1: Right you are.


Renee said...

I have to comment mid-post in case I forget my thoughts by the end of your post. I love "interesting theory. It could have wings" :)

Also, your point about remembering one thing this week, but not many others -- what makes them significant or lasting. I was just talking with someone last night about having a rock thrown through your window (someone told her she shouldn't put up a certain political sign for fear of having a rock thrown through the window) -- anyway, I told her there were worse things and reminisced about the night someone threw a rock through our window on Magnolia Street. We were celebrating Grandma Southwick's birthday and maybe dad's too (since his is the day before). We got a phone call that Edward was born, and someone threw a rock through the window to add to all the excitement. As I told the woman this story last night, I stopped and said, "You know, if someone hadn't thrown that rock, I don't even know if I would have remembered that night." It would have washed into the blur of many other birthday celebrations. But on this one, I can picture the gathering in the kitchen and living room. Pretty cool.

Renee said...

Oh, another comment -- I thought Stromboli was just a character on Pinocchio!

Renee said...

I don't know how on earth you think of all that! Yet, I guess I've pondered similar things at times. You just opened the window for you thoughts and let us peek inside.

Apples & oranges -- maybe next time say "that's like comparing apples to horses" -- they're not nearly as similar as apples and oranges (yet "horses" has that same poetic rhythm and sound as "oranges" so it makes for a good phrase -- not I'M comparing oranges to horses! Kind of like on The Incredibles -- "You sly dog -- You got me monologuing!")

Anonymous said...

Rusty and Renee: I've had the same thoughts about the memories that sick and the ones that don't. I've been thinking about that a lot this week, actually. It's strange the things I remember from childhood and the things my son remembers from when he was 3. Elmo's World was on, leftover from another show that had been playing and my son said, "I remember I used to love this when I was little." [Love it when kids say that.] "I also remember that I found a piece of a raw hot dog weiner on the floor and I ate it." ?? WHY would he remember THAT? And I find myself wondering, "Is THIS a moment I'll remember? What about THIS one?" And I wish I could pick and choose.

The apples and oranges thing. The same thought has occurred to me, Rusty. They're totally comparable. Everything is. That's why there's a GAME called Apples to Apples.

I've also had the same thought about opposites. Then, as I stopped to ponder it again, I asked myself "What about up and down?" Then I scrolled "down" and saw that you'd written the same thing.

So many of these questions will be answered in the day we understand everything at its spiritual level. Everything will be pure and what it is. We will feel it as well as see and hear it. We choose words and definitions to make sense of all this random floating matter but one day it will all come together and we won't need the fancy definitions any longer. When we want to talk to someone about that tree down by that bend in the road, they will feel and see our thoughts and intuitively know.

That's what I believe anyway.

I'm going to post my own stream of consciousness just for you. I don't think about all the same things as you and my thoughts won't cause anyone to crack open (tautology? Still not sure I understand its meaning but "divest" is easy to explain).

You'd like some of Leonard Cohen's writings.

The funny thing is that you talk of "relativists" and you're one of them. You MUST have been raised in the church because I don't see you joining in adulthood. I think you lucked out, Rusty.

Anonymous said...

Oops. That was "stick" not "sick".

SZQS said...

Opposites. Supposing that the material model of the universe refers to something that actually exists rather than just a construction of our own minds attained through mathematical translation of raw sense data, I don't think that opposites exist in the natural world wither. Or any classifications for that matter.

To say that something is moving "up" or "down" requires that we impose a coordinate system upon it's environment, and then assign the words "up" and "down" to points along the y axis.

It also requires that we assign a t axis and assign one end as the "future" and the other end as the "past" so that we can say that it is moving up and moving away from down, rather than the opposite (which we would get from assigning "future" to -t and "past" to +t).

Furthermore, in order to say that the something is moving, we must first invent the concept of thinghood and impose that subjective concept upon the natural order, for indeed rubber and oxygen and nitrogen swirling about within the x,y,z,t system that we've projected does not mean that a basketball is flying through the air. We must first impose upon nature the concept that the body of rubber is a basketball and that the air around it is not. And there again, what is rubber? What is oxygen or nitrogen? Are they not collections of electrons, protons, and neutrons, in which case all of them are simply different arrangements of the same substance?

And what is an arrangement but a particular set of coordinates in the x,y,z,t system, which system we made up in our imagination? And is every particle not then composed of a smaller particle until we get to the point where we just don't know anymore? In which case none of the particles are actually anything, but are only arrangements of that which we have not yet discovered.

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