Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lyrics to Diamond Eyes by Shinedown

(A thought before you read: I certainly do not feel this way all the time-much of the time I see the world with eyes of coal rather than diamonds. However, I like the idea of new beginnings as well as the celebration of those periods when we rise above the clouds and see the world with new eyes.)

I am the shadow, and the smoke in your eyes
I am the ghost, that hides in the night

Wait, wait a minute take a step back,
Gotta think twice before you react.
So stay, stay a little while cause a promise
Not kept is the road to exile
Hey, what's the circumstance
You'll never be great without taking a chance
So, wait you waited too long
Had your hands in your anekatips pocket
When you should've been gone.

One push is all you need
A fist-first philosophy
We watch with wounded eyes.
So I hope you recognize.

Out on the front line, don't worry I'll be fine
The story is just beginning
I say goodbye to my weakness, so long to the regrets
And now I see the world through diamond eyes

Damn, damn it all down
Took one to the chest without even a sound
anekatips so, what, what do you want
The things you love or the people you hurt
Hey, it’s like deja vu suicidal maniac with nothing to lose
So wait, it's the exception to the rule
Everyone of us is expendable

Out on the front line, don't worry I'll be fine
The story is just beginning
I say goodbye to my weakness,
So long to the regrets
And now I know that I'm alive

Out on the front line, don't worry I'll be fine
The story is just beginning
I say goodbye to my weakness so long to the regrets
And now I see the world through
Diamond Eyes

Every night of my life I watch angels fall from the sky
Every time that the sun still sets
I pray they don't take mine

I'm on the front line, don't worry I'll be fine
The story is just beginning
I say goodbye to my weakness so long to regrets
And now I see the world through diamond eyes

Out on the front line, don't worry I'll be fine
The story is just beginning
I say goodbye to my weakness,
So long to the regrets
And now i see the world through
Diamond eyes anekatips

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: Day by Elie Wiesel Part Two

Quite frankly, there is not much of a story in Day. Mostly it is the portrait of a haunted man. Again, it seems written for the sake of catharsis-for the sheer release of removing thoughts from one's head and putting them on paper. It comes across as a journal in the guise of a story. The story does come to something of a conclusion, but mostly it just ends. In proper existentialist fashion, a path away from suffering is suggested without in any way negating the bleak vision of existence. However, there is little indication that Eliezer will take this path-exorcising his ghosts (the memories that haunt him) and opening himself up to others: "Maybe God is dead, but man is alive. The proof: he is capable of friendship" Instead it appears that he will remain in a closed-off state of suffering (self-pity and resentment)
   While the narrative falters and the ending is unsatisfying, Day is not without merit. Not only are there elements of Wiesel's writing that help redeem the shortcomings, we are reminded what traumatic suffering can do to a person. We should leave this book behind with a renewed sympathy for victims of cruelty.

Book Review :: Day by Elie Wiesel Part One

Day is a powerful, haunting book. It is NOT, to say the least, a light read. Life is presented, at times, in its ugliest form-no sugar coating here. This bleak tale is full of poetic, descriptive language. Here are two examples: "I closed my eyes. Suddenly I became conscious of the pain that was torturing me. I had not realized it before. And yet the suffering was there. It was the air I was breathing, the words forming in my brain, the cast that covered my body like a flaming skin." "I still had a desire to leave. But why run away? And where to? The desert is the same everywhere. Souls die in it. And sometimes they play at killing the souls that are not yet dead."
   Day appears to be a thinly-veiled autobiography, like an addendum to his explicitly autobiographical Night. He admits in the preface that the main character and he share similar life circumstances. They even share a name. Eliezer (the character) is a sick man, full of disgust and rage directed toward existence itself. He is unable to forgive. The question arises, Is this Wiesel, or does he put forward the darkest aspects of himself as a form of catharsis?
   Here is a quote from Night: "But now, I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy. I was nothing but ashes now, but I felt myself to be stronger than this Almighty to whom my life had been bound for so long." This haughtiness is echoed in Day: "I felt very calm, completely controlled. If I had searched further I might have discovered that my calm also hid the satisfaction, the strange joy-or was it simply humor?-that comes from the knowledge of one's own strength, at one's own solitude." He continues the theme of condemning God as well: "Suddenly she turned her darkened eyes toward me: God was still in them. The God of chaos and impotence. The God who tortures twelve-year old children." "Why should God be allied with death? Why7 should He want to kill a man who succeeded in seeing Him? Now, everything became clear. God was ashamed." These last quote are taken from a portion of the book that is particularly hard to read, the story of Sarah, a prostitute who was violated as a 12-year old in a concentration camp. She repeatedly makes reference to men's affinities for 12-year olds. One can almost picture this hollow, tortured creature as she states simply and emphatically: "Men like to make love to women who are twelve" Why does he include this anecdote about Sarah when it adds nothing to the story? Perhaps only to shore up his case against God (against Life).

Monday, May 30, 2011

Just A Story? (Some Brief Thoughts on the Significance of Fiction)

   I asked a man the other day if he had read any good fiction. He told me that he couldn't stand to read anything that wasn't true. A bit surprised at his answer, I responded that while fiction is not "true" in the sense of presenting facts, it is true in a different sense because it truly gives an account of human experience.  What I was trying to express was that, while it uses imaginary setting and characters, fiction describes what people really experience-not only life events but the inner world of man: emotions, thoughts, impressions.
   Through fiction, we learn about ourselves. While the characters are derived from eh psyche of the author, we can learn from writers who made the effort of going inward and describing what they found. "Good literature is an education in self-understanding" (Aldous Huxley, "Literature and Modern Life")
   Through stories, we broaden our perspective and learn about other cultures, time periods, and types of people. Case in point: while I obviously can never know what it's like to be a mother, I can-as much as it is possible-enter into that mindset through a well-developed character. I'm thinking specifically of Jodi Picoult's The Pact: she presents in depth the thoughts and reactions of a mother whose son is convicted of a very serious crime and sent to trial. My interior landscape has been enriched and enlarged by this ability to peek into different viewpoints via the experiences of fictional characters.
   Stories can also be used to teach or to present a worldview. We are taught life lessons and forced to consider ethical issues-from the simple morals of Aesop's Fables to the prophetic warnings of 1984 and Brave New World to the complex moral question raised by such great writers as Tolstoy and Steinbeck. In ancient times, stories were used to express the beliefs of a people. Myths and allegories were the primary medium used when attempting to explain the world and suggest how we should live in it. In modern times, thinkers have used fiction to expound their philosophies. Conspicuous examples are the existential novels of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. The ways in which fiction can be utilized to instruct or to express ideas are endless.
   There is a time for Non-Fiction (History, Journalism, Essay, etc.), but the "truth" is limiting. Coming from a different angle and using its own (wider) set of rules, fiction is just as true, if not more so, than "the facts"

Book Review: Elie Wiesel's Dawn

   Like similar stories from Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Andre Malraux, Dawn examines, in fictional form, the time preceding and following a murder. These murders are not just random killings, but ones done in the name of revolution-killings ordered by one's superiors. Dawn is written like Night-stark and straightforward. It has the feel of non-fiction, of autobiography. In fact, Wiesel mentions in his preface that the story was written as his own alternate history: What if he had been "drafted" from Pairs to fight in his homeland? What if he had been forced to face such a situation as the main character, Elisha"
   The only detour from the simple, realistic style of storytelling is Elisha's interaction with his "ghosts." The remembered dead in his own mind come to life, like the dead at midnight in the Jewish folktale mentioned in the story, to "talk" to him. This element of the book was a bit confusing to me; I don't know if it added anything to the story. However, I will not criticize this inclusion-others may consider that it bolsters the narrative.
   The final scene, where killer and condemned come fact to face, is powerful, and it emphasizes the blurry ethical lines involved in the revolutionary struggle, in war. The concluding words echo the haunted feeling from the final line of Night. But what is haunting to the reader, what remains with us, are the words of pity that the killer repeatedly hears, including the "Poor Boy! Poor Boy!" of his dead mother that echo in his head. These words reveal to us that, while Elisha is not the one dying, he is truly the one condemned.

This Is What I Think of as "Postmodernism" in Literature

   The following is found in Aldous Huxley's Literature and Science (from Aldous Huxley: Complete Essays Volume VI 1956-1963, Ed. Robert S. Baker and James Sexton. Chicago:Ivan R, Dec, 2002) the description of "Dadaism" closely corresponds to the idea I have in my head of "Postmodernism" If any one has a clearer definition of postmodernism (i.e. where Modernism ends and Postmodernism begins), please e-mail it to me and/or link to it in the comments section. I am thinking of the worlds of James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, et al-writings which are virtually unreadable but are notable for their attempt to convey words in a whole new way . . . As for me, I believe it is perfectly fine to convey words in the "old way" as long as we understand and accept the limitations of language and reason (i.e. we do not "absolutize that which is relative"-Dr. Glenn Martin) There is still plenty to be said, in fiction and non-fiction, without abandoning logic and clarity.
   An ultimate and total verbal recklessness was advocated by the founding fathers of Dada. In an essay published in 1920, Andre Gide lucidly summarized the Dadaist philosophy "Every from has become a formula and distills an unspeakable boredom. Every common syntax is disgustingly insipid. The best attitude to the art of yesterday and in the face of accomplished masterpieces is not attempting to imitate them. The Perfect is what does not need re-doing . . . Already the edifice of our language is too undetermined for anyone to recommend that thought should continue to take refuge in it. And before rebuilding it is essential to cast down what still seems solid, what makes a show of still standing. The words that the artifice of logic still lumps together must be separated, isolated . . . Each vocable-island on the page must present steep contours. It will be placed here (or there, just as well) like a pure tune; and not far away will vibrate other pure tunes, but without any inter-relationships. So as to authorize no association of thoughts. Thus the world will be liberated from all its preceding meaning, at least, and from all evocations of the past" Needless to say it was psychologically and even physiologically impossible for the Dadists to practice consistently what they preached. Do what they might, some kind of sense, some logical, syntactical, associational form of coherence kept breaking in. By the mere fact of being animals biologically committed to survival, of being a human being living in a certain place at a particular moment in history, they were compelled to be more consistent in though and feeling, more grammatical and even more rational than, on their own principals, they ought to have been.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Addendum to "Why Do We Believe What We Believe?

"Much of what we do as adults is based on this imitative absorption during our childhood years. Frequently we imagine that we are behaving in a particular way because such behaviour accords with some abstract, lofty code of moral principles, when in reality all we are doing is obeying a deeply ingrained and long 'forgotten' set of purely imitative impressions. It is the unmodifiable obedience to these impressions (along with our carefully concealed instinctive urges) that makes it so hard for societies to change their customs and their 'beliefs' Even when faced with exciting, brilliantly rational new ideas, based on the application of pure, objective intelligence, the community will still cling to its old home-based habits and prejudices. This is the cross we have to bear if we are going to sail through our vital juvenile 'blotting-paper' phase of rapidly mopping up the accumulated experiences of previous generations. We are forced to take the biased opinions along with the valuable facts."
--Desmond Morris: The Naked Ape; McGraw-Hill: New York, 1967

My response to the quote: So the unfortunate by-product of the process of absorbing essential knowledge in our youth is that we imbibe the attitudes and prejudices of those in our environment (especially our parents) This would mean that to meet the ideal of objectivity (freedom from bias), we would then be stupid and helpless...Another dilemma of being human.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Note On Essays

Robert M. Adams, in his commentary on "Prose of the Seventeenth Century," state that Michel de Montaigne was the first essayist. What is an Essay? "Montaigne, in titling his writings Essais, emphasized the tentative and explorative nature of his though? (The Norton Anthology of English Literature. pg 1562) Adams writes, more generally, "that men were now trying out their selves in 'essays' (the world implies something tentative)" (Pg. 1556) Let us turn to the Oxford American Dictionary:
    1) A composition, usually short and in prose, on any subject
    2) An attempt
So in the meaning of the word, including in its use by the creator of the form, the notion of Final Truth is absent.

Why Do We Beleive What We Believe?

V.   Conclusion
   Just about anything that anybody says, ever, needs to be taken with a grain of salt-especially when it comes to the "Big Questions" Even this discussion of belief and truth is a reflection of my assumptions and prejudices, including my tendency to question and analyze. That being said, I am not advocating an extreme skepticism or suggesting that no assurance of any kind can ever be found. This is a call for humility and tolerance, though., as well as self-reflection. There is a healthy skepticism wherein we examine even our own convictions. So when we disagree, let us do so amicably, remembering that others see things from within their contexts and that their "truths" are as true to them as ours are to ourselves.

Why Do We Believe What We Believe?

IV   Tying It Together
   "If we are what we are and live where we live [and believe what we believe] it is not exclusively because of our upbringing nor exclusively because of our biological inheritance. It is because we were born into a certain position in the complex pattern of human variability, and have lived in the environment of a particular culture, a specific community and family" (Huxley, Where Do You Live?) With my particular mix of nature and nurture, there is simply not much room for variation in how I see the world. My though  life comes in the context of my individual "framework" Others have their own frameworks. With our unique selves, we see "truth" in a particular way.
   A strongly held belief may depend on a cultural or personal whim. Albert Camus went so far as to say, "All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning." (The Myth of Sisyphus) It is rare that we look into what -deep down- causes us to be attached to certain propositions. Things seem so clear, so obvious. In reality, thought, "Of course it's right" just means "It makes perfect sense to me"

Why Do We Believe What We Believe?

III. Environment and Upbringing
   Our experiences happen in a given environment. Aldous Huxley writes of "social heredity-the sum of cultural and linguistic influences, to which an individual has been predestined by the mere fact of having been born here rather than there, at this time rather than that." (Where Do You Live?) Most people simply believe what they are taught to believe, but everybody is deeply influenced by "social heredity." For example, I was born into a middle class family in the American Midwest in the late 20th Century. That fact alone determines how I view the world in such a significant manner that I doubt I could ever get to the bottom of it (How am I a product of my social heredity? Let me count the ways...) I have only the slightest resemblance (psychologically) to, say, an ancient Indian or a 10th Century Aztec.
   The time and place of our birth only accounts for so much. The way we are raised contributes strongly to how we see the world. As I mentioned above, the probability is very high that an individual will believe very similarly to those who raised him or her. While this is less true in our changing culture, the fact remains that we derive our beliefs from what we are taught-it's just that there are a wider array of influences and more tolerance for "dissent"
   Beside what we are taught, or what we imbibe, there are the things we experience. An untold number of events influence what we become and how we believe. Looking back, we see that changes in how our lives played out could've affected us deeply and changed our whole perspective. As extreme examples, consider the possibility of a car accident that severely impairs one's mental or physical capabilities, or think of how a product of abuse could've been different given a loving, safe environment. Returning to myself as an example, I was raised in a safe, secure home with relative wealth where education was highly valued. I was encouraged to read; I attended quality schools and was supported in attending college. Perhaps my parents got more than they bargained for when they embroiled me in the world of scholarship and literature; nevertheless, these factors-and a multitude of others that we don't have time to consider-contributed to how I see the world, as manifested in the very blog.

Why Do We Believe What We Believe?

II. Heredity
No matter how you slice it, your genetic makeup plays a significant determining role in how you view the world. Your given personality, even your body type, contribute to how you see things, to what beliefs you will latch onto. For instance, if someone is muscular and athletic with an inborn competitive drive and an extroverted personality, it is unlikely that this person will become a Buddhist monk (i.e. contemplative). Personally, I have a naturally thin frame (almost frail), with little propensity for athletics. I am introverted and analytical, prone to spend a lot of time alone inside my head. It is not surprising-just looking at me would be an indication-that I have an "intellectual" view of the world and that I appreciate contemplative writings (i.e. that I am drawn to perspectives that highlight the inner life of man).

The way our brain works, how we put thoughts together, derives from our particular brain chemistry. The material we are born with is the clay that is shaped by our unique experiences to make us who we are-specifically, how we believe.

Why Do We Believe What We Believe?

Introduction: It is tempting to believe that we accept our convictions based on cold, hard reasoning, weighing the factors intelligently and choosing the correct proposition. HA! I don't know if anyone actually thinks this way, but neither do I think many are properly aware of the non-rational factors that underlie even our most cherished beliefs. Let us examine the manifold contributors to what we consider true.

Quote from The Myth of Sisyphus

" One of the coherent philosophical positions is thus revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his own obscurity. It is an insistence upon an impossible transparency. It challenges the world anew every second . . . It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it." --Albert Camus

Opening lines to KMFDM's "Anarchy"

"you break my back; you won't break me. All is Black, but I still see."

Quote from Dark Maze

"Forget what you might have heard-there's never been an age of reason. Life in the human race is pretty much spent in a dark maze, where we keep getting surprised by the same old things." --Thomas Adcock

Quote from the Iliad

"The generations of men are like the leaves of the forest. Leaves fall when the breezes blow, in the sprintime others grow; as they go and come again so upon earth do men." --Homer

Quote from Three Sisters

"Yes, they will forget us. Such is our fate, there is no help for it. What seems to us serious, significant, very important, will one day be forgotten. And it is curious that we can't possibly tell what exactly will be considered great and important, and what will seem paltry and ridiculous. Did the discoveries of Copernicus or Columbus, let us say, seem useless and ridiculous at first, whilst the nonsensical writing of some wiseacre seemed true?"
--Anton Chekhov

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Quote from Cadillac Beach

"Life makes no sense! The world is a madhouse! Once you accept that, you can start being happy. Expect logic and fairness, and it's nothing but a heartbreak."  --Tim Dorsey

Quote from Freedomland by Richard Price

"The world don't owe you nothin' but hard times and bubblegum...And it's fresh out of bubblegum."


"Yeah, well, it's lonely at the bottom too."  --Author Unknown

An Greensboro Jail Inmate's advice

"There's always someone smarter and with a little more power than you." --Brian Taylor

Quotes from Life Expectancy

"Comedy and tragedy, the very tools of a clown's art-that is the essence of life."

"There are days when it seems to me that in literature the most convincing depiction of the world in which we live is to be found in the phantasmagorical kingdom through which Lewis Carrol took Alice on a tour."             --Dean Koontz


"Life is a comedy for those who think, a tragedy for those who feel."  --Author Unknown

Quote from Bad Boy

"Sometimes there are landmarks along the way to doom and destruction, seemingly innocent paths along which we merrily tread, smiling as we go into the pits of Deepest Hell."  --Walter Dean Myers

Monday, May 9, 2011


"Life is an unrelenting comedy. Therein lies the tragedy of it." --Martin Stillwater

Prison is Interesting

"Prison need not be the end of the road, but the beginning of an interesting and productive live"
--Dr. Karl Menninger

The Ultimate Measure of a Man

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." --Martin Luther King Junior

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Thomas the Obscure by Maurice Blanchot, Part II

"Mysticism"  "Mysticism" is another loaded word. I am not referring to metaphysics (a conception of the world) but simply to a journey inward. Georges Bataille, a contemporary of Blanchot's with similar concerns, used the term "Inner Experience." However, in the context of Thomas the Obscure, I believe a slightly better description would be inner exploration. Blanchot's characters, Thomas and Anne, go deep within, to the very limits of the "self." And what do they find? Nothing:

   "It seemed to him that the waves were invading the sort of abyss which was himself"
   "He saw, he heard the core of an infinity where he was bound by the very absence of limits."
   "She passed through strange dead cities where, rather than petrified shapes, mummified circumstances, she found a necropolis of movements, silences, voids; she hurled herself against the extraordinary sonority of nothingness which is made of the reverse of sound."

In this inner state, the borders of the self begin to blur:
   "And yet, sure as he was that there was no one in the room and even in the world, he was just as sure that someone was there, occupying his slumber, approaching him intimately, all around him and within him."

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, "If you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss may stare back at you." This is a theme of Thomas the Obscure:
   "He was locked in combat with something inaccessible, foreign, something of which he could say: That doesn't exist...."
   "He felt ever closer to an ever more monstrous absence which took an infinite time to meet."

   The word "Obscure" in the title is apropos. At the conclusion of the "story" we know nothing about Thomas, and Thomas knows nothing about himself.  After all his "explorations" he remains adrift in a sea of empty experience, with a "feeling which has to be give a name and which I call anguish. Here is the night."

   With all that explanation, are we any close to understanding Thomas the Obscure?

Aldous Huxley On Human Nature

Note: This is my blog, but occasionally I will let others do the speaking for me. Here Huxley writes about the mannishness of man (to borrow a phrase from Francis Schaeffer), and he does so much better than I could. Excerpts are from Aldous Huxley-The Complete Essays, Volume VI 1956-1963, Ed. Robert S. Baker and James Sexton. Ivan R. Dee:Chicago 2002

"The scientific theory of human nature that is now emerging is a good deal closer to the Homeric notion of a debating society of somato-psychic factors than to the more "spiritual" hypothesis of an autonomous, unitary, detachable soul imprisoned in a body, or the deceptively commonsensical Cartesian notion of a soul attached, somehow or other, to an automaton."  --from Literature and Science

"Man is a multiple amphibian and exists at one and the same time in a number of universes, dissimilar to the point very nearly, of complete incompatibility. He is at once an animal and a rational intellect; a product of evolution closely related to the apes and a spirit capable of self-transcendence; a sentient being in contact with the brute data of his own nervous system and the physical environment and at the same time the creator of a home-made universe of words and other symbols, in which he lives and moves and has anything from thirty to eighty percent of his being. He is a self-conscious and self-centered ego who is also a member of a moderately gregarious species, an individualist compelled by the population explosion to live at ever closer quarters, and in ever tighter organizations, with millions of other egos as self-centered and poorly socialized as himself. Neurologically, he is lately evolved Jekyll-cortex associated with an immensely ancient brain-stem Hyde. Physiologically, he is a creature whose endocrine system is perfectly and adapted to the conditions prevailing in the lower Paleolithic, but living in a metropolis and spending eight hours a day sitting at a desk in an air-conditioned office. Psychologically, he is a highly educated product of twentieth-century civilization, chained, in a state of hostile and uneasy symbiosis, to a disturbingly dynamic unconscious, a wild fantasy and an unpredictable id-and yet capable of falling in love, writing string quartets, and having mystical experiences." --from Education on the Nonverbal Level

Afterthought: Even if you don't agree with everything Huxley says, you can't accuse him of over-simplification? Man is a complex creature, and the human condition exceeds our linguistic capacity. However, I believe Huxley's words-especially the concept of the "multiple amphibian"- are helpful...Remember that what I include in this blog-my words or others'-is NOT meant to give the Final Answer or to be a declaration of absolute truth. Rather, it is simply what I deem to be interesting and worthy of consideration.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Does Science Suck the Meaning Out of Life? III continued

  Now it has to be admitted that science, in its application (technology), has been used for destructive purposes. Surely, though, that is not the fault of science. In Literature and Science, Aidous Huxley wrote: "Science, it seems hardly necessary to remark, provides no justification for slaughter and oppressions. Hand in hand with progressive technology, it merely provides the means for implementing the old insanities in a novel and more effective way." Science, of course, is not a being that can make decisions-it can be used for good or ill. The problem is with man. But look at the many beneficial uses of technology. Our lives have become much easier and more comfortable. Of course, the comforts and conveniences of the modern age are not ultimately able to resolve our psychological dilemmas (e.g. give life meaning), but I don't see the critics of science giving up technology (the Unabomber being a rare exception) The ancients may have had their beliefs, but they didn't have air conditioners, airplanes, or iPods.
   The stereotype of Science is that it is cold and mechanistic. However, the developments in 20th century science (namely, Quantum Physics and Relativity) have opened the door for a science that is more dynamic and mysterious. For another thing, one does not have to go to the logical extreme (as in section II of this essay) in order to appreciate and accept science. See, for instance, the Dalai Lama's book The Universe in a Singe Atom (see my book review). And, of course, there is no sure way to know whether any scientific concept is entirely true. A good scientist has a healthy doubt and skepticism. However, dogmatic scientific thinkers seem to be, there is room for criticism and change (though it may take some time).
   Finally, however cold or empty the world may be, what I consider much more significant is the Inner Experience of man. Whether it's just brain matter or a "soul" doesn't seem that important; no outside reality or set of facts can touch this "spiritual" realm.

Book Review: The Universe in a Single Atom-The Dalai Lama

   While it is not mentioned by the Dalai Lama (I don't know how he missed it), the obvious reference point for this book is Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics. The primary concept is the correspondence between post-Newtonian science and the ancient Eastern teachings. While he touches on a number of topics in science and spirituality, the core of the issue is the dynamic nature of reality. Instead of the static, mechanistic model of classical physics, modern science presents a universe in flux. To use casual language, it's wide open. This is exactly what the eastern thinkers taught milena ago. From Najarjuna's doctrine of emptiness--that there is no center or stability-to the cosmologies of the Kalacharkra and Abhidharma which tell of multiple universes popping in and out of existence, we are reaching similar conclusions with modern tools. These ideas, I'm sure, don't sit so well with scientists of a standard, dogmatic stripe, but they will resonate for more adventurous thinkers in the tradition of scientists like Werner Heisenberg. Even the most unorthodox of Western, scientific minds, however, might be suspect when the Dalai delves into the Buddhist teachings of Karma and reincarnation. This should not, though, keep anyone from reading this book. It is a fascinating read, bound to spark deep thought and serious discussion.
   Science and religion are often considered to be enemies, but this prejudice arises from its confrontation with dogmatic, theist religions. Buddhism is neither. But what the Dalai Lama attempts to convey is that science does not have to come in conflict with any spiritual tradition. After all, what is more "religious" than contemplating the mysteries at the fringe of the scientific endeavor or the feeling of awe while gazing at the night sky? He emphasizes that science is not the only valid way of looking oat the world--it has its limitations. Therefore there is room for both science and spirituality in our examinations of life. To close, here are words taken from the concluding chapter: "In essence science and spirituality, though differing in their approaches, share the same end, which is the betterment of humanity."

Does Science Suck the Meaning Out of Life? Conclusion

"The problem with most people is that they think with their hopes or fears or wishes rather than with their minds."
--Walter Duranty

I have tackled this issue in an admittedly cursory fashion. Much more has been, and could be, said about it. However, I believe it to be a reasonable conclusion that it is not fair to reject the scientific perspective simply because it appears bleak. Even in a world stripped of hope and purpose, man could overcome. So, in considering the validity of science-whether individual ideas or as a worldview-let us not be guided by our feelings but look at the issue as clearly as possible.

Does Science Suck the Meantin Out of Life? III

Give Science a Break!
   To state it bluntly, life sucked long before the Scientific Revolution. In other words: to the extent that life is empty or unsatisfying, the growth of modern science was not a requirement. If one finds life to be meaningless, it probably has more to do with a melancholy temperament (or "mental illness") than to one's beliefs about the world.  Some religious believers are miserable, while many of the scientifically-minded (even those, who accept everything in section II of this ongoing essay) do just fine. Regardless of one's beliefs, life is largely made up of temporal meaning (as opposed to eternal Meaning or Divine purpose): work, play, altruistic endeavors, relationships; whether we are descendants of apes or children of God doesn't change that.
   Consider this: Does music sound less beautiful if we understand the nature of sound waves and how they affect the brain? Does a loving caress give us any less pleasure if we understand that our response boils down to physical operations in the brain? Of course not. Even if the human being is a mechanism subject to natural law and not "free" in any real sense, does that reality affect how we live? Not really: we continue to act volitionally even if we understand that all our actions derive from a set of antecedents. Looking in reverse, we may even gain a new tolerance from the awareness of how genes and environmental stimuli condition our actions.
   What about the damage done to the ego that may be caused by the developments of science? Well, perhaps a little humility is in order. Consider the arrogance and hostility of "God's Chosen" or the hubris of humanism ("Man is the measure of all things"). And what if existence ends in death? That may seem depressing, but the idea of another life isn't so wonderful either-after all some, according to most perspectives, would be punished. Maybe it's better for everybody to have Zero (non-existence) than for some to have a Negative (damnation).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Does Science Suck the Meaning Out of Life? II

The Scientific Worldview Presented in its Bleakest Form:
   "We wished to awaken the feeling of man's sovereignty by showing his divine birth; this path is now forbidden, since a monkey stands at the entrance (Friedrich Nietzsche)." Perhaps the most controversial idea in science is the theory of evolution. Man, according to Darwin, has ascended from lower lifeforms including, yes, an ape-like creature. Our origins go back to the simplest of organisms. I remember one man being utterly bewildered and disgusted at the idea that we came from a "tadpole." Evolution just does not sit well with many people. It doesn't help that the time line contrasts with certain creation stories and that-while not eliminating the possibility of a God-it certainly redefines the role of a Creator.
    Evolution posits that the universe is very old, and that mankind is very young-just a speck in time.  The medieval church was willing to kill over the belief that the earth is the center of the universe. However, the discoveries in astronomy demonstrate that the earth (and man) is just a speck in space as well. This littleness is not exactly good for the ego.
   What's more, science seems to discredit the notion of a "soul." Man, along with everything else, is but a conglomeration of molecultes. Our thoughts and feelings appear to be nothing more than chemical reactions in the brain. What makes you "you" is simply the material contents of your brain. Returning to Sarte's quote, man is "a set of pre-determined reactions, in no way different from the patterns of qualities and phenomena which constitute a table, or a chair, or a stone." This does not leave much room for the notion of human freedom. Considering that man is not inherently different from animals-or all other matter-damage is once again done to the ego.
   If all that isn't enough, science has also stormed the gates of heaven, i.e. taken from us the hope of another life. Once the brain stops, existence ends. This is it, science seems to indicate.
   The list could go on, I'm sure. I've just hit the highlights. And I didn't even touch the nefarious ways in which science has been put to use: certain technologies have resulted in the destruction of man and nature. Is there anything good about science? How could we possibly defend it? Let us consider an opposing perspective.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Does Science Suck the Meaning Out of Life? Introduction

   "All kinds of materialism lead one to treat every man including ones self as an object-that is, as a set of pre-determined reactions, in no way different from the patterns of qualities and phenomena which constitute a table, or a chair, or a stone. Our aim is precisely to establish the human kingdom as a pattern of values in distinction from the material world." Here, in his piece "Existentialism is a Humanism," Jean-Paul Sartre defends the dignity of man against the objectification of science. Science is often considered the enemy of religion, but the avowed atheist Sartre sees it also as the enemy of humanism. Is the scientific perspective really so bad?
   What I will not be doing here is defending the validity of the scientific worldview. That is an interesting and important question, but the topic at hand is peripheral to that question. Before such debate could commence, we would need to deal with the prejudices that cloud the issue. One of these is the perception that science is "depressing" i.e. the destroyer of cherished beliefs (about both the divine and human), the death of purpose and hope. I will tackle this perception head-on to see if it has any merit.
    Now science, in the broadest sense, just means "knowledge" and technology is the application of knowledge to meet our needs. These are inescapably part of our lives. But science, as in the use of the scientific method, is a particular way of understanding the world. More to the point, the scientific worldview (sometimes called naturalism or materialism) considers science the best method for understanding the world. At times, the scientific worldview spills over into metaphysics. Here is where it clashes with religion. In reality, the conflict between the two is not that serious. Limits can be set on the scientific perspective without depreciating the validity of science. Religion and spirituality can still exist in their own, separate space. Science is agnostic and cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. However, for the sake of our immediate discussion, I will set aside-for now the possibility of a moderate, nuanced position and consider the scientific worldview at its logical extreme

Monday, April 11, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Thomas the Obscure by Maurice Blanchot, Part I

Upon completing Thomas the Obscure, all I could do was ask myself, "What did I just read?!" This book is just plain weird--odd, unnerving, and almost entirely devoid of conventional narrative.  It doesn't make much sense, and I don't think it's supposed to.  This is a different kind of reading experience, one recommended only to the most adventurous readers.  I'm  sure Blanchot would laugh at any attempt to explain or analyze his work, but one desires some framework for comprehending what has been read. In this regard, some background is helpful.Attempting to wrap my mind around it a bit, I though in terms of "postmodernism" and "mysticism."

"Postmodernism"  I use quotation marks because this is a loaded word, to say the least.  All I meant to get across is that Blanchot largely eschews logical clarity and a coherent, linear plot line in favor of something more akin to poetry. But to explain a bit more, let us recall that, while the "modern" in "postmodern" refers to Enlightenment rationalism, the roots stretch back to Greek philosophy. Blanchot rejects, or attempts to move beyond, the entire framework of Western thought. The simplest explanation of this worldview is in Aristotelian logic developed through a long series of developments (which go beyond the scope of this review).  Albert Camus sums it well, "A whole family of minds...have persisted in blocking the royal road to reason...Whatever may be or have been their ambitions, all started out from that indescribable universe where contradiction, anguish, or impotence reigns."  He writes of "those waterless deserts where thought reaches its confines."  He exhorts, "the real effort is to stay there, rather, in so far as that is possible, and to examine closely the odd vegetation of those distant regions." If ever there was a book that examines this "odd vegetation," Thomas the Obscure is it.

  In "those distant regions" even our language fails us, built as it is upon a dualistic foundation. How does one express a "post-rational" viewpoint using language, when-apart from nosensical babbling-language is inherently rational? This is a problem Blanchot tackles head-on by stretching language to its limits--his writing is as nosensical as it can be and still make some sense, if that makes sense. Let me give some examples of the autonomics that fill the pages of Thomas the Obscure, in order to illustrate "postmodernism" in action:

   "I would like to see you when you are alone. If ever I could be before you and completely absent from you, I would have a chance to meet you."
   "All that which Anne still loved, silence and solitude, were called night. All that which Anne hated, silence and solitude, were also called night."
   "A sort of integral ventriloquist, wherever I cried out, that is where I was not, and also just where I was, being in every way the equivalent of silence."
   "Drab birds, designated to be the conservatory of music without notes, sang the absence of song."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Are Human Beings Stupid? II

The mockery of, and disgust toward, mankind is so tempting that it can become a chiche'  The pride of the humanist, culminating in the rosy optimism of the 19th century, now seems like childish nonsense.  It seems to be the case, especially for those of us prone to cynicism, that we must force ourselves to see what is noble and praiseworthy in man.  Remember the beauty of our art-the achievements in music, literature, and the visual arts, and the developments in science and technology are staggering.  Considering our short-sightedness and the way emotions/instincts/drives can cloud our reasoning, we have done fairly well for our species.  Progress through cooperation and determination to be civilized often falls short of a utopia; however, it is the remarkable evidence of what sets us at the top of nature's order. 

Perhaps we do expect too much of humanity; finite creatures bound by subjectivity still screw with progress. The answer to whether human beings are stupid ultimately lies somewhere int a vast lush land between the "yes" and the "no."  The favored response to our bent toward folly; therefore, is to advance with humility-and a healthy ability to laugh at ourselves.

Are Human Beings Stupid? I

The simple, easy, and cynical answer to the question is, "Yes, of course.  People are ridiculous, pitiful,and silly." Perhaps a better response though is the fuzzy, non-committal "yes and no."  Let's consider another, similar question: Are dogs stupid?  Well, of course dogs are stupid. But dogs are just dogs; why would we expect more of them? Maybe the problem in considering man is our expectations. There are two angles from which to consider whether homo sapiens are stupid creatures; our expectations color our understanding.

A positive perspective of man would defend the mental powers of homo sapiens.  We can see how far above the animal kingdom man is--reasoning, self-awareness, power of speech.  Our brains are such complex machines: the pinnacle of nature's wonders!  We form technologies, we create through the arts, develop societies, and civilize our world; no other animal than the human animal sets about the environment in such a way.

Now the folly of man is a much more interesting perspective to take.  The tomes of anthropology cannot account for man's misadventures.  Wars, economic disasters, fallen civilizations, et al. scream out the inherent buffoonery of the homo sapien. Pull back to observe the quotidian, then marvel at the absurdity of it.  Life is full of mis-steps and poor decision to bring despair to the most ardent of humanists. In many ways, we are not that much further up the natural order from the animals.  Our primal urges to feed, mate, and survive have little to do with reason and more to do with survival.

Objectivity eludes us, we are trapped inside our subjectivity, limited to our own perspective, and never fully understand other viewpoints--we are masters at deceiving ourselves!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Life begins on the other side of despair.--Jean-Paul Sartre


Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.--Author Unknown


"Better to leave your mouth shut, and have people assume you're a fool, then to open it and leave them no doubt." --Mark Twain


Silence is Golden--Author Unknown 
"The first thing I ask myself with every piece: Is it preferable to silence?"--Nico Muhly

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Language can only deal meaningfully with a special, restricted segment of reality.  The rest, and it is presumably the much larger part, is silence.--Author Unknown