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Friday, November 13, 2009

Lateral Unthinking

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We all think to some degree. We all cogito a little bit. Ergo, we are the sum total of our thoughts, albeit over different things. When one of us talks, it compels those in proximity to refocus on someone else’s thinking. We like when it aligns with ours. We can also be motivated when hearing differences of opinion, challenging our existing notions and stirring up the pot. Other times, we’re threatened by the counterpoint. Many are surprised there’s a variety of opinions and not more that fit their own template. This expectation is unrealistic considering the untamed human condition.

Our thoughts come from many places, though often we presume they just pop out of nowhere, having no connection to anything ensconced in our memory, as if we could have any type of command over the trillions of synapses launches. If you think you’ve got an original thought, there’s also a good chance you’ve already thought it before, but it just hadn’t developed enough to be recognizable, or you were too distracted before to pay it any attention. You can plagiarize yourself, maybe inadvertently or unintentionally, but it still comes back to plagiarism. And if you’re lucky, you’ll drop the charges. Or maybe you’re in just the right mood where you want to teach yourself a lesson. This is why autobiographies are so risky.

The more I learn, the greater realization I have that I know even less. It’s the grand paradox of acquiring knowledge. By pursuing it, it gets farther away. As knowledge expands, unknowledge expands even more. This would suggest that knowledge is not the key to discovery, but rather more of a necessary and persistent diversion. While having its merits, relying on knowledge for ultimate answers is putting eggs in a basket unequipped to handle the weightiness. Why or how would something in the material world tell us what we need to know about meaning? The clues are telling us that solutions down this particular path are ever more elusive. Yet we like to repeat the pattern in hopes that errors will somehow be self-correcting, which is like digging to try to get out of a hole. We can easily become intoxicated by the trivial nature of our perception of facts, as well as the fact that we perceive the abstract. Though self-evident for its own purposes, what passes for factual information perpetuates subjectively. Ever learning…

We compare the human race’s current brand of knowledge with that of the past and pat ourselves on the back for being born later than our predecessors. We ought to likewise compare our knowledge with that of the future to keep us from being arrogantly egocentric. The present doesn’t represent the pinnacle, even though all generations have convinced themselves to believe this. Every era thinks it’s the one that has finally arrived. We never learn, in the midst of learning.

In every non-fiction book I read, the author outlines a master plan for humanity, prescribing what we should do to make it take that big step upward to where we’re coexisting in utopian harmony and fulfillment. They are nice sentiments for those segments who read them and have the discipline to follow them, but are generally too lofty to enact on any grand scale within anyone’s lifetime. There aren’t enough readers for one book to give its innards proper impetus to impact society in the way the author wishes, and even if one-tenth of the industrivialized world found itself motivated in a similar direction, after the book is done everybody would start branching out and the focus would dissipate. The author would need to be able to guide the readers interactively, so something powerful would have to accompany the book. I wonder if this is what the Glenn Becks of the world are doing (is there more than one?). They can attract a considerable audience in spite of being cynical toward both major camps. One need not have matching political leanings to appreciate the social aspects of their crusades. Such stories could play out parallel to our culture’s tendencies, and then historians would agonize over which phenomenon precipitated which.

Parenthetically, what should we make of determinists who choose? While clinging to their claim, they curiously won’t relinquish complete control of their lives over to something or someone else. If you really thought that nothing you did was a choice, why hang onto it? There’s an in-practice reality for some, and then a hypothetical reality that they prefer spending the bulk of their time in. They come back to in-practice reality when it’s time to refuel or shop. Otherwise, they’re subterranean existentialists. You can’t trust their opinions because they can’t either.

As we approach the 23rd century (only 69,445 shopping days left), we find ourselves at another crossroads, just like we do every half generation and in leap years that end with an 8 as well as non-prime numbered years. We have to determine as a society if what benefits us is the path of least resistance or if we want to challenge ourselves to rise above our existence. But it’s not going to develop the way we would hope it would. For one, it’s problematic trying to generate a collective conscience. No one can rally the world by coercion. We’ll have to wait for most of the people to catch the vision in their own way and on their own time. We can facilitate it to some extent, but we probably give ourselves too much credit for globally affecting a moral pulse. Also, we don’t predict so well things that haven’t happened yet, and most of the future is that way.

Alas, Coke and Pepsi can’t even share the same vending machine due to overinflated self-interest. So then how do we ever expect to be a non-territorial society and find common ground? We’ll give an inch, but little more. The inch is barely an empty gesture to fool ourselves into thinking that we’re juiced up on philanthropy. If you go through the emotions enough, you start to convince yourself that they define you.

Have you ever stopped to analyze how a zipper works? Unless you’re a zipper engineer, chances are you haven’t. Something so rudimentary, yet so rarely explored. If we can’t wrap our minds around the simple, everything else is merely simplistic target shooting. Our imaginations are so charged that while we’re letting them go wild, we’re lending a measure of undeserved credence to them on the basis of their fascinating qualities. Just our luck aspects of truth would be found in unassuming corners away from all the glitz, that it would be anticlimactic. We’re wont to spice things with drama for fear that we’ll lose interest and wither into vestiges of ourselves, and therein lies our bias. We have a dog in the fight, and subconsciously we work toward letting that dog win. And yet willing something into being probably doesn’t help the situation — rather allowing it to take its course and find you seems only pragmatic.

As an optimistic skeptic, I have faith in humanity, but even if I didn’t it would behoove me to act as though I did. My optimism isn’t going to cause humankind to turn anything around, just like the universe isn’t waiting for me to discover its truths before it can proceed. People get all caught up in whether they believe in God or not — as if they carried the sway vote — but God’s existence has precious little to do with how well we perceive Him. It’s not like if you decide ‘no’ it’s going to change the nature of how things are. While there is merit to the process of testing beliefs, I think we overdramatize it. We want to find our identity to be in touch with it, and this is laudable. But don’t attach universal importance to your decision, because we’re all spectators as much as we are participants. What we think we have control over laughs in our face and spells control back to us in sixty-eight different languages.

Watching a sporting event, it’s compelling how we think that our mental energies can have an influence on what occurs in the game. We telepathically transport ourselves onto the field and try to will things to happen. The harder we concentrate on a desired outcome, the greater chance it will eventuate. Sounds silly even saying it. Such a thing is outside our realm of influence, even though we strangely get the sense that we guided something to happen. This is probably partly due to the illusion of prediction and the illusion of the law of averages. We sense that things will return back to the norm, and they usually do. And we sense that the faulty knowledge we have about the abilities of a team will be borne out, which they usually don’t. And we mistake our surroundings as catering to us. And we just generally have problems separating our allegiances from our rational thinking. Which all produces one glorious eventful happening in the sports arena, drawing us in and in again. (The female sector, having largely progressed past the need for this type of identity validation, has yet to pass this trait along to the remaining bohemians)

We’re pursuing this thing called knowledge, not knowing why we’re doing it other than it hurts not to. It’s just what people do, in between breathing. The knowledge itself doesn’t bring us the Holy Grail, but instead tides us over in the meantime. We have to know. Do gerbils have to know? We already know a boatload of practical things to enrich our lives, but it’s never good enough for us. With the more we’ve learned, the hungrier we’ve become to increase our learning. Those who at least aren’t lazy are furiously soaking in what’s available to them. We won’t reach a point as a civilization where we’ve discovered everything we want to and will just be happy enjoying the spoils of our accomplishments. That would make us unhuman and put us on a developmental treadmill.

I guess I’m smart enough to know that I’m not that smart. And finding a place in that awareness, I recognize something that reaches beyond knowledge.

There’s something in us that makes the better part of us want to continually strive to answer and uncover whatever’s out there (or in there), and we always need to know more tomorrow than whatever we know today. I doubt we can understand to any significance why we do this. We just take it for granted that that’s the way things are. But if we were honest, we’d say it’s something both powerful and that we can’t see. And that’s always worth pursuing more.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Trilogy of Me

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My life is an open book. Except pages 473 and 474, which got ripped out somehow. They were lost on the train ride to Nantucket, and may never be recovered. I’ve been looking to see if they’re being pawned on the black market. Not having them there messes up the general flow, with some key information about espionage and reconnaissance getting missed. By page 482, you’re scratching your head, having no idea how each piece of furniture fits into the equation. It's really confusing not knowing what their nicknames are too. Sure, I could rewrite that section, but at what price? It wouldn’t be the original. The mind is funny that way. Trying to reconstruct becomes a contrivance, turning the process into a synthetic gesture, which is something nobody wants and will thank me for avoiding later.

And then chapters 6 through 8 have been listed confidential pending legal action, which was a big fiasco. I could tell you why, of course, except for the fact that it would violate the alleged phantom court order I need to abide by, and then I might sue somebody for breach of author-publisher privilege. So I can’t even tell you why I can’t tell you. (I could nod a little if coaxed enough) Ostensibly, international treaties are dependent on the outcome, so I tend to be partial to them if only for sentimental reasons. I gave my heart to the Russian mafia, and eventually I’d like to have it back. In chapter 9, I make a good case for that factor, so it will make more sense.

Furthermore, my character development overall is admittedly quite sketchy. The protagonist sadly isn’t all that believable, nor very easy to empathize with. By the second chapter, you’ll be rooting for the antagonist to be triumphant. In chapter 4, I take a nap and keep the dialog rolling. I don’t even let you know what I’m dreaming, it’s more like “Breathing in, pause, breathing out... lather, rinse, repeat...” That goes on for 28 pages, as a literary device to lull the reader into a sense of utter stunned bewilderment, which then sets up chapter 7 quite nicely. But I guess you’ll have to wait till later before that one is released to the public.

And then I originally left out important details in scattered critical chapters, which will require rewriting at some point. I forgot to say in a strange twist of serendipity my favorite milk curiously went from 2% to 1%, and then back to 2% again without any apparent cause. I can be unpredictable that way. Consequently, you never know what the hero in the story is going to do. It may alienate some reading faithful, while causing yet others to question why they even bothered getting up that day.

I likewise didn’t mention that at age 26 I spent three days in the Himalayas, where I gained enlightenment and ran up a $4000 debt on my MasterCard. I still think it was worth it, even at 16.9% interest. I probably didn’t mention it because it was blocked out of my mind due to the resulting confrontation on my return trip that I had with a beekeeper in Botswana, and I don’t even remember being in Botswana. Some of these pieces may tend to confuse the reader, but the hope is that they’ll hang on for the ride.

Starting on page 217, I ponder over whether penguins ever lie down or if they’re like Weebles. I bring in a panel of world-renowned experts to pontificate. It turns out to be the core theme of the first book, recurring in several places. I won’t give it away, but I’ll just say you’ll like how it all comes together, and things are not as they seem (wink, wink).

With page 382, I start into a series of philosophical meanderings, such as how any city could really have a population when people are being born and dying all the time, and people moving out and others moving in, and then many of those who live there are gone and many of those who live elsewhere are visiting there. It’s all arbitrary, which then leads right into a discussion of why it’s not safe to estimate anything which could potentially be above the number 4, and how this lends us answers about the nature of the cosmos. This is going to be groundbreaking, at least somewhere.

Right now I’m on page 644, which is probably a good time to bring in the mysterious swami who specializes in the art of lip-syncing to Richard Nixon’s speeches. He comes in very handy when my caravan runs into a troupe in the middle of the Mojave Desert which still thinks it’s the ‘70s. This is where the story really takes off, and works as a great segue to get the reader excited about the second installment.

Otherwise, my life is certainly an open book. I don’t see what the big deal is anyway. Even a closed book isn’t that hard to read. You just pick it up and turn the page. It’s not like books are locked. And they all use the same letters. The only difference is how they’re rearranged. If you can scramble letters good, you can write. I give this secret away in the epilogue. Well, I guess it’s not a secret anymore... but you should be able to still read the book without losing too much of your life in the process. There's your ringing endorsement, boy.

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