Purpose

Late summer flowers awaiting late summer insects

Some claim a purpose in life is essential. I disagree. It is fine to have goals. But a purpose is blinding, obsessive, limiting, and often destructive. It is easy to change goals, very difficult and shattering to change purpose.

My candidate for a valid purpose in life is simply to remain enchanted with existence. To be as happy as possible, I suppose, but much more than pure hedonism. Not always possible, but a worthy thing for which to strive, in all levels of engagement and at all times.

Money, fame, power (the grand tautology) are adequate goals for a few. Being or, better, doing good serves all of us well. Family, society, history – we all slip in and out of how we evaluate our lives. All of these are slippery and transient, easily corrupted, often malignant to others.

Enchantment on the other hand, is a state of mind which will always bring happiness and harms no one. It is life as a child encounters it, full of possibility, mystery, and wonder. There is never enough time to fully appreciate the miracle of being.

So when I am told I must have a purpose in life, I rarely argue but secretly smile. Perhaps I can never change anyone’s mind, it is their loss that they so belittle their possibilities.

Whimper

Dahlia garden in full bloom a sign of summer’s end

Things can begin, as well as end, not with a bang but a whimper. After much consideration of great and epic-making efforts, I have instead decided to merely slide back into writing an almost daily blog as I did for a few years a decade ago.

I find that writing is a useful tool for my own life, even though it has no external impact. A daily one-page journal that I have kept for twenty five years has helped me remember many fine things _ even if I never reread it. The very act of focusing each day made me better able to appreciate the magnificence of existence. 

My daily thoughts are almost always only concerned with what I have come to call my “personal bubble.” No apologies. That is, after all, my “real life.” I work at making that as enchanted as possible.

Nevertheless, I am entertained constantly by news and events beyond my sphere. Some of it encourages an internal reaction, and I seek to comment on it.

But there is no room nor reason for such in my personal diary, so I will once again attempt to focus and ease the aggravation with brief quasi–essays on whatever fine and grand topics I may consider interesting at the moment.

Evolution

An overabundance of inedible fruit

Philosophy and religion usually seem concerned with a static universe. Absolute truth, eternal gods, ideal forms, rigorous logic. People as transient players on the fixed stage of unchanging existence. That was the one constant in all those ideological logical systems for thousands of years, self-evident to any deeply thinking person.

Evolution destroyed that concept. Everything is in flux, there is no permanence, accidents occur.

Species fit well into a current ecology, change and specialize, are wiped out by other species or sheer bad luck. Individuals only win by surviving. Maybe individuals don’t even matter and it is simply a game of genetic continuance.

Any modern philosophy, then, must begin with a treatment of evolution. Traditional religions do so by calling evolution an illusory evil. Traditional philosophies do so by pretending it is irrelevant. But if there are no permanent rules, no purpose, no grand universal design – what then?

One answer is solipsism – I am the only reality and the only purpose. That hardly describes who we are in normal social life. 

Trying to discover exactly what evolution means to our relation to society is the genuine philosophic necessity of our age.

Certainty

Nothing special, special enough

There are moments when a very intelligent person has carefully considered all the evidence and forms a conclusion on almost any matter large or small. Then, somehow, in order to preserve sanity and have room for the rest of life, this opinion is frozen forever. Not only frozen, but fiercely defended as truth, no matter what additional evidence may come to light.

Sometimes this fanaticism is apparent in the very young, overwhelmed by infinite choice. It can, of course, afflict anyone at any age, but such rigidity becomes a tragic mark of aging for a lot of us.

History is full of examples. The grand gestures are in science, war, and politics. But within families are frequent intergenerational conflicts. Old people know the right way; the young find it useless to their own lives.

Why people tend to become this way probably has a lot to do with simply trying to cope with everything. And one way to do this – especially with the bigger issues we can neither influence nor change – is to buttonhole all such into tiny rigid boxes with static response.

That in itself is fine. The terrible happens only when one of those imprisoned truths becomes a core principle of a fanatic’s life.

Duality

Rain on patio, a multiplicity of perspectives

Individual proteins float in a vast soup where only certain three dimensional patterns fit together. It may be a metaphor for our tendency to see the universe as a duality. The basic division is whether something is interesting or irrelevant. In animals it escalates into “fight or flight,” and numerous other either/or decisions.

We carry that in our makeup. We usually think of things as exclusively this or that. If something is red it cannot be green. We try to acknowledge that there may be in-between states _ black, gray, white _ but we truly believe that if something is gray it cannot also be white black green nor red.

Of course that is all wrong as an absolute. Something can be big and small at one and the same moment depending on perspective. This leads to a lot of confusion when trying to communicate even with ourself.

Duality remains so useful in our daily life that we can never give it up. But it looms dangerously as we wander the abstractions of larger issues such as philosophy.

Unfortunately the more we try to clarify ideas the more likely we tend to fall into false duality and arrive at a crystalline, glimmering, irrelevant mistake.

I, Animal

There is a bee hidden in this picture

All life is imbued with a “divine spark,” some intangible essence that keeps chemical reactions continuing in anti-entropic modality. Being alive, being an animal, is at the base of who we are. Senses, emotions, all the functions (heartbeat, breathing, eating, digesting, circulation, excreting,etc) go on in each one of us, often unnoticed. Hormones slosh through us, causing emotions and flavoring actions and thoughts. 

Yet, when we consider intelligence, most people consider only the brain. And in fact consider it only as thought, language, applied logic, dry reasoning.

That is a huge mistake. Some fanatics think a person can be poured into a machine. After all, computers use language almost as well as we do. Just a few more pieces of hardware and we can achieve the singularity or a multiverse more real than reality, a dream in mechanical construct.

No. When you or I exit being an animal, even with all our language intact, we are no longer alive, no longer real, no longer our self. The dead can be made to appear alive, but they remain dead. That “singularity” is the modern equivalent of the medieval Philosopher’s Stone which was never found and can never exist.

Irrelevant Butterfly

End of the line

There was a time in my youth when _ mostly ignorant of quantum physics and immersed in history, science, and Horatio Alger economics _ I believed firmly in determinism. Know the exact place and direction of everything in the universe at any given time and all could be predicted. In fact, time could rerun exactly so all would be the same.

Even learning concepts like fractals and chaos hardly changed that. I read A Sound of Thunder and agreed that killing one butterfly in the deep past might change everything now. Another butterfly flapping wings in China could affect hurricanes on the US East Coast.

But, alas, no. The effects of that ancient butterfly were completely erased by the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. Air puffs in China have about as much effect as the ripples created by throwing a pebble in the ocean. Smaller effects do not culminate in large effects _ they are swamped by them.

So I guess that is a kind of free will, but a tragic sort of free will. It does not much matter that the ant is free to choose to go left or right or stay in one place or turn around. An anteater or rising flood waters will negate most possible outcomes.

Poor butterfly.

Properties

Late summer view

A scientific age tries to rely on concept management. We can think of most concepts as defined by properties. An object is heavy, red, contains silica, for example. A force has so much inertia or strength. Even emotions are strong or weak. And so on. Furthermore almost all concepts can be broken down into components each  with their own properties.

And all properties in the scientific world are exclusive, although quantum physics have changed some of that.  Generally, a piece of gold is not tin.  Something that weighs 10 oz does not weigh 30 ounces..

But none of that works with philosophical concepts. Good or hate cannot be subdivided _ something can easily be good in some ways and not good in others. More than that, those very properties and their relative importance change constantly as our perception of them changes. In philosophy, it seems, no concept truly has intrinsic definitions.

So we must wonder can we even share a language here? Can my hazy definition be understood by you? If we reach agreement now will we still agree tomorrow?

Much easier to reach long-term consensus on a lump of lead.

Isoverse

Everything in our universe is infinitely amazing

Much has been made of the multiverse _ the idea that there are entire universes which differ from one another. But we have always been aware of that _ we each inhabit a unique universe of our own and only partly intersect in a supposed commonality.

There may always be disagreements on whether or not there are any or many, or the nature of “objective realities.” Even when we seem to agree on crude values and concepts _ “it is day” _ we may never accept each other’s evaluation as to whether it is “a nice day.”

Our perspectives change dramatically. In my universe I am the only really important certainty. In a general agreement of the “real objective universe,” I am irrelevant and insignificant. In your universe I may very well be missing altogether.

So let me propose the concept of an “isoverse” which is the common path where you, I, and objective reality share the same existence. Only in and about our isoverse can we agree, argue, act, and communicate.

Our isoverse can be exclusive, or it can contain others, forming a cult of those who see life the same way.

In effect a group of philosophers.

Stupid Trolley

Joan’s Italian patio

The ethical trolley problem has interested me for some time. No doubt you know of it in some guise. You are at a railroad switch and an out-of-control train is rolling down the track. The switch is set to send the car into a siding with three people standing on the tracks, while only one person is on the other. Should you throw the switch to save three and kill just one?

Oh the hours I have wasted on the various stupidities of this scenario. But I will mention only a few. 

  • Why are you constrained? Can’t you just shout?
  • How about imperfect knowledge? The three people may have a better chance of noticing the danger and getting out of the way.
  • People are not equivalent apples. What if it is three drunken bums and one beautiful young woman? Or three old geezers and a best friend, or a baby?
  • There is a cost to involvement.  If I throw that switch, I can be sued, jailed, or hung. 
  • And one more _ although I could list hundreds _ in a real situation there is no time to think. The more you puzzle out what is right the less you can do.

And yet _ this is a standard problem often presented as profound. What is truly profound about it is how well it does demonstrate our philosophic helplessness in the face of complex reality. Unfortunately it is typical of such examples.  You might as well ponder things like “what color would you make the sky if you could make it any color.”

We need a philosophy that works when we get up in the morning, face a problem during the day, or worry at night.  Unless you inhabit a totally different reality than I do, trolleys never enter the picture.