Once upon a time there was a grasshopper that just sat around and breathed in the thick summer air all day and night. He would eat green leaves that were everywhere, more than anyone could eat. He sat and sat, until the ant, who was sweating and carrying heavy food to his anthill, got angry. He said “Grasshopper! you fool, you are not going to have anything when winter comes” The grasshopper looked at the ant and smiled. “Come here friend, I have things to tell about breathing air and eating grass.” but the ant wasn’t listening, he kept working and working all summer long. Finally the fall came, and the air was cold, and the grasshopper ran out of food. He didn’t move much, except to hop gently when the whim came to him. He didn’t cry for the cold, and he had the same smile he had in the summer. Finally the snow and icy winds came. The ant sat in his anthill with his wife and children. Sometimes he thought about that foolish grasshopper, but most of the time he was working to raise his kids. The winters and summer went by, and other grasshoppers came and went. Those grasshoppers were different, but sometimes there was one grasshopper that acted like the first foolish grasshopper. Once his son began to listen to a grasshopper and never returned to the anthill. Finally one winter, the ant was old and he began to fear death. He thought about all his work, and wondered how he could bring his food or his children or wife with him after death. These were evil thoughts, but eventually he remembered that foolish grasshopper. He thought about how the grasshopper smiled even in the cold of the fall, and it made the ant smile a little too. He did nothing and sat just breathing and eating the food he had stored over the years. In the end, he wished he had had a whole summer to breathe and eat and learn to smile, but his time was over, and he died.
The idea that thoughts are hypothetical is partially true. You can have a thought and have it not be real in one sense, but in another the thought has physical causes and physical effects. Certainly, atom-splitting wouldn’t happen much on the Earth’s crust without humans having the idea of it first. That is one physical effect of an idea. The cause of the idea of splitting the atom came from other physical things, such as the physical reality of Word War II. The other cause of this idea was other thoughts that had come before. Where did those ideas come from? Certainly not from just one mind. The ideas were hanging in the funk between scientists in sweaty stressed out bodies. Bodies that wanted respect, dignity, sex, food and so many other things that brought out their thinking work. After the physical causes, when a thought happens, it effects the brain and usually other parts of the body immediately.
The quote about thinking I like most is “The trick [to thinking hard], Berty boy, is not minding that it hurts”. Thinking hurts. It taxes the body. Even pleasurable thinking hurts, much like other pleasurable bodily things hurt. When you eat, the body has a lot of work to do. Same with sex, playing sports, or any recognizable activity, pleasurable or not. The belief that thinking all the time will make you happy, either through positive thinking, or by the idea that life is a game of strategy that we could win by becoming rich or famous, does not have much truth in it. Even though the scientists that built the atom bomb “won” and got rewards for their bodies, the effect was generally a loss to society. Maybe there is less discomfort for many people as a result of winning the war, but the result of atom-splitting becoming a serviceable thought is mainly a whole lot of stress and worry about subsequent applications of the idea of the atom bomb. It is possible to think your way out of thinking, but it is the hardest thing to do with thinking. The most successful works of language do just that, like the song of a Tibetan singing bowl, they are sounds that cause silence.
The idea that we should think a lot in education is a large drain on everyone in the form of stress and worry. Believing this stress and worry is just a fantasy is not a respectable position. Worry is a negative feedback loop, though. Stressful thoughts conceive more stressful (often unnecessary) thinking. It can be counteracted with mental effort, but none of this is fantasy. Stressful thinking has immediate physical presence in the body, and long term physical causes and effects. We have this stress anyway, because when there are other forms of suffering and hardship, we feel the need to think it through. There is nothing bad about the kind of thinking that takes you through hardship. One of the bad effects of other unnecessary stressful thinking is that the stressful thinking that is good for handling hardship of humans gets pushed to the side. People in America tend to think listening to the life stories of other people is a favor we do for them. It is true it is stressful thinking, but this is the kind of thinking that really helps everyone. Learning algebra is stressful thinking that is rarely applied by most of the individual minds that do the learning. For some reason we believe the human being next to us and their life story is less important than algebra, or less important than the political narrative pushed with oppressive sameness on 100 different news channels. This is a loss to society.
Some people just don’t think that much, and there is something bad about that. Thinking through the things that make us unhappy is very effective, as any therapist will tell you. Once we’re happy though, the goal is to leave thinking behind for as long as possible.
Sometimes you need the tumor in turmeric.
There is something that cures us when we enter an altered state
Brought on by the moon,
Or a little vodka.
Tumor cells grow all the same.
They spread like fields of grain
Until you’ve moved in on the mountain cat’s hunting ground;
Then you need a laser or a scalpel
Because if you don’t leave home and hunt,
You will be hunted.
Maybe it is stupid to say the world is “One–
To the word One, others will react–
Some stay, the mind at home.
If you react, the mind leaves home in search of news,
Hunting for experience,
And if you seek by turning on your screen,
you are caught in a maze of perfectly unfolding flowers
Where paper tigers hurt
Everyone’s feelings the same.
It is a new year, 2022, the year of the Fool. It is the first card of the tarot, and when the 22 cards of the Major Arcana have played their hand, the cycle begins again. I am interested in the Fool personally, because the Fool is often associated with mental illness, something that has shaped my own life. These are both stories I tell my daughters.
The first story is about a girl who loses her family to illness and cannot keep her house because of debt. She leaves her house with only her winter clothes and a loaf of bread, and begins walking down the road with no-where to go. As she walks the day goes by, and a beggar comes and asks for some food. The girl gives half her loaf of bread and keeps walking. But then she meets another beggar on the road who asks for food, so she gives her other half of the loaf. Again she meets a beggar on the road who says he is cold, and she gives him her coat. And again, a beggar with bare feet asks for her shoes, and she gives. Finally it is night on the road, and she has only a little cloth to wear. As the stars come out, they fall down to her feet. She picks them up and realizes they are gold. So many stars fall that night, that she lives the rest of her live without a worry for food or things.
The second story is about a man who works for his employer five years and after completing his work is paid a lump of gold as big as his head. The man takes his wages, the lump of gold, and begins making the day-long trip down the road to his mothers house. As he is walking he meets a man on a horse. The man on the horse explains that a horse can make a lot of money because it can do a lot of work on a farm, and can carry him home to his mother as well. So the Fool agrees to give his 5 years wages to the man with the horse, in exchange for the horse. As the Fool rides down the road on his new horse, he meets a man with a goat. The man with the goat explains that a goat can give milk, and can be shorn for its coat of hair to make clothes. The Fool agrees to exchange his horse and takes the goat, walking on down the road. The Fool meets another man, who is standing next two millstones. This man explains that millstones can do great work grinding the wheat for bread, and so the Fool agrees to exchange his goat for the millstones. Now the Fool is heavily burdened by the stones and grows tired. He finds a well, and thanks God that he can drop the millstones into the well to make water come up so he can have a drink. Finally he reaches his mother with nothing for his 5 years of work.
These two stories at first seem to have two very different ideas about what a Fool is. In one, the girl is not at fault, but continues to give everything away. The idea being that there is an accountancy in an invisible world of magic that repays her for her selflessness. It is rather easy to see that the second Fool is not being selfless, because he is being duped into making bad exchanges for his wealth. The second Fool makes no gain in any invisible world, or so the story goes. There is a strange part of the second story, taken from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, where he thanks God for easily being able to give up his millstones at a well in exchange for a drink of water. Here the logic of the story admits that there is an invisible world, and even though he has failed in this world, as well as the material world, God cares for him anyway, and relieves him of the burden of the stones out of mercy. The girl getting gold coins from magic is not mercy, I think, but the universe paying the debt incurred in the invisible world in the form of gold coins.
We can see clearly here that the world of the invisible and the material world is getting confused. If the girl knew the universe would repay her, she would not be repaid, of course. And if the Fool in the second story knew his exchanges were not savvy in the material world, he would have gained some repayment from the invisible world, beyond mercy. So we see a complex interplay between the material world, the invisible world, as well of not only the less insightful requirement of good intention, but also the more interesting role of knowledge and ignorance. Ignorance (perhaps faith, but maybe not) is repaid by the invisible world if it is ignorance of yourself. If you use knowledge, you had better get it right, because even though the trades for the second Fool were done with knowledge of the merits of millstones, etc, the loss incurred from this knowledge was complete. There is a reverse notion of trade and exchange: it is basically a bad thing in the invisible world. The Fool who plays the game of exchange to lose, wins; and the Fool who plays the game of exchange to win, loses. It is clear that if you know you are a Fool, you should play to lose. And, well, it is rather easier to be a Fool and play to lose than to be wise and play to win… isn’t it?
Speaking as a diagnosed Fool, I have to attest that the game of losing is a lot harder than it seems. Eventually you will find that you are wise in spite of yourself, because if you do things for people expecting to gain in the invisible world, you and gain nothing. Eventually you have to learn to control your mind and do things without expectation, and what do you end up doing then? Forest-wandering I suppose, which is practiced by fools, and as an ascetic practice of the wise.
I will end with Whitehead’s quote in his masterwork on process philosophy. “God is the Fool of the World.” The World card is the end of the Tarot (last year), and the Fool is the beginning.
There is a time and a place for word soup. Maybe it happened in the beginning, but I believe it is most needed at the end, when we have eaten enough to arouse an appetite. Say there were some words spoken by some god or fool to start out with. Nobody really knew what it meant, probably not even the fool knew. In all likelihood, the first words were spoken out of an almost totally ignorant source. So, a process was begun where people created more words to understand what was already spoken. You could call it a dialogue, or progress. Maybe refinement? What really happened was the original problem of what was uttered was exacerbated. So many words were created that we all began needing a box that spewed uninspired word-streams at us. If the words were enjoyed and mulled over long enough, the ambient broth of the word-stream became legendary. It was the savoring of what was said before that gave us the idea of new innocence, an idea that is older than maturity. We invented a process of devouring our past, thinking we were producing a future. The truth, of course, is the present is the origin and result of our ideas of past and future. The child’s innocence is the wisdom of the first goddess who uttered the original words, creating the problem from which we imagine our maturity, and our children’s innocence, in the present moment. We think of the advantages our children have, having access to so much word soup at their fingertips. Unfortunately our children can’t be a part of the conversation, really. They can say things that have been said before, but without the ignorance of the original thinker, nor the wisdom of the same. The whole idea, it seems, of creating a great central pool for ingredients of the soup– So that all that roam will find their paths converging to Rome–precludes that the roamers were just roaming, they were never in Rome. And none of their descendants roam they way they did. The soup we are preparing has already been eaten.
As a child I was interested in the word few. I was not interested in figuring out exactly what it meant; instead I was interested in understanding its potential. What could it mean? I enjoyed playing with modifiers such as “quite a few” which seems to mean the opposite of its intended meaning: the word few supposedly comes from the PIE pau- and from there the word paucity derives. It means a small but numerous number. It means “many, yet not many” to put it without delicacy. “Quite a few” seems to increase the “numerousness” of the number involved in few, but maybe it only emphasizes the importance that it is not only one or two…?
I remember thinking about this, and smiling. This word made me happy. When I came to college, however, I learned from my friends that the word few meant exactly “three.” I did try to argue that the word was meant to not be exact, but there was a certain force in the precise claim, and no-one listened to me. Interestingly, the word few is related to puerile. (the etymology is coming from etymonline.com) My arguments might have sounded immature to the ears of my friends. What use is a word if we don’t know exactly what it means? And if I don’t know exactly what it means, and this other person says he does, why should they listen to me?
My reaction was suppressed anger. By the time I was in college I was used to this sort of thing. I had a certain joy when people used a turn of phrase or said things that had a lot of possibility (especially when the speaker was a mathematician), and it seemed everyone else frowned on this joy. Maybe my feeling was stupid, or immature, or even evil, but I buried the determination to make the argument for a less determined definition of few, and many other things, in the face of everyone who thought they knew so much. It felt like such a small, trivial thing. But it was one of the last things I enjoyed about language at Earlham, where writing was paramount. Why couldn’t we have at least one vague word, a word about not knowing the exact number of things, but still being able to to communicate the information that it was more than two, yet not very many. Wasn’t that something we ran into all the time? Or were we supposed to count everything before we spoke? My reaction was far from laziness. I perceived this difference in my ideas, really in my temperament—what made me happy, as something I was going to struggle with my whole life, and correctly so.
Of course the word few does not at all mean “three.” Even though I did look it up at the time, (and the dictionary I consulted did say the word few meant exactly three, much to my dismay), I have been to several other sources years later. And written a book defending vague language, to a mathematical audience. The struggle continues… but at least I’ve got my finger on the problem now.
Astronomers believe the universe is 14 billion years old. There are over 7 billion people in the world. That means it takes two years for the human race to have as much time being conscious as the entire span of time for the universe to be born and age until now. The idea that our minds can’t have an effect on reality is confirmably false. Just think what we might be capable of as a human family if we trained everyone at least to believe in the power of their consciousness. Maybe the earth is not the center of the universe, but what we are capable of can reach the farthest corners of space. These two days of kindness and joy, just think how much it would mean if it reached everyone on Earth. Peace.
words are footsteps
we are mistaken to believe they happen first in the head
words happen in our feet
what made us put our foot there?
If there were a way to walk up to the heart or head with words
It would have already been invented
by the people stepping on our heads,
telling us our words are there.
“Even in our most intellectual conceptions,” Peirce wrote, “the more we strive to be precise, the more unattainable precision seems.”
(PW 295) as quoted in Chiasson, P. (2001). Peirce’s Logic of Vagueness. In M. Bergman & J. Queiroz (Eds.), The Commens Encyclopedia: The Digital Encyclopedia of Peirce Studies. New Edition.
“our knowledge is never absolute but always swims, as it were, in a continuum of uncertainty and indeterminacy.” (Peirce, PW 356)
Science (which has become too general and ambitious a word) is usually regarded with directly conveying the facts of the world. An interesting cross-section of scientific facts is the belief that “growth” of the brain is always good. (a belief that is strangely shared with corporate models of economics)
The NGF or “Nerve Growth Factor” is a chemical found in the brain. It was isolated and recognized as important for the brain to “develop” and survive almost 70 years ago. In 2006, NGF levels were found to be heightened at the beginning of a romantic relationship.
Emanuele, Enzo; Politi, Pierluigi; Bianchi, Marika; Minoretti, Piercarlo; Bertona, Marco; Geroldi, Diego (2006-04-01). “Raised plasma nerve growth factor levels associated with early-stage romantic love”. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 31 (3): 288–94. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2005.09.002. ISSN0306-4530. PMID16289361. S2CID18497668.
The communication with people interested in science is usually that brain development is caused by the birth of neurons, or nerve cells. This birth is called Neurogenesis. Along with Neurogenesis, brain development is associated with the development of connections between neurons that can carry messages that are found to be both chemical and electrical. The more cells and the more connections between cells, the more brain development. And brain development is good.
Unfortunately, for example, you could develop certain neural pathways that cause you to behave in “bad” ways, such as those neurons and connections involved in becoming an alcoholic or a kleptomaniac. When this happens, the “good” thing to do is to lose cells and connections, so that your brain does not compel you to behave in these bad ways. In other words, you need to destroy some of what is normally termed “brain development”. This means that some kinds of brain development are good and some kinds of brain development are not good.
The point is that “Science” (once again, an overly ambitious word for anyone really interested in science) is written rather indirectly when the writers suggest we should regard brain development as good. How indirect is this suggestion? Well, seeing as how all good and bad behaviors could conceivably be brain development, the suggestion that brain development is “good” is completely unhelpful. Brain development has no bearing on what is good or bad, because all good and bad behaviors are brain developments.
Of course, we could say that all good people invariably have well-developed brains, and all generally bad people invariably have ill-developed brains. Unfortunately, we are left to figure out what a good person or a bad person is before we can figure out if their brains are well developed or not. This makes the study of brain development secondary to ethics, and is certainly not something a brain scientist would want to suggest.
There are growing groups of people who prefer to speak and think magically because they think it is more “direct”. The arguments for why this is not the case are already widely repeated, often in shameful and shaming ways.
The way that these magical-minded groups may be defended is to look at whether the phenomenon of “love” is more directly referred to with magical kinds of terms, rather than referred to as something that stimulates brain development (since brain development was found to be lacking in directness).
“Some say love, it is a river
That drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
That leaves the soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
An endless, aching need.
I say love, it is a flower,
And you, its only seed.
It’s the heart afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance.
It’s the dream afraid of waking
That never takes the chance.
It’s the one who won’t be taken
Who cannot seem to give,
And the soul afraid of dying
That never learns to live.
When the night has been too lonely,
And the road has been too long,
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong,
Just remember, in the winter,
Far beneath the bitter snow,
Lies the seed that with the sun’s love,
In the spring, becomes the rose.”
きみは その種子挫けるのを 恐れて
生きることが 出来ない長い夜 ただひとり
Tycho Brahe used mathematical and scientific instruments, some of them newly invented, to correct ancient astronomical measurements. But his main tool was an aura of faithful observation. He thought he could explain the movements of the stars in an objective way, and that was his rhetorical position from which he made his observations. It is a rhetorical position, because there is no scientific basis for believing our observations are objective, no matter how mathematical they are, unless the earth is an immovable point in the center of the universe. If the earth is spinning and in motion, until we completely understand how it is moving, we wont understand our own observations. I am merely referring to Einstein’s theory of relativity: there are no unmoving points of observation, and so all of our observations are relative. If we understand the movement of the Earth (or a satellite like the moon) completely, then we can mathematically compensate for that motion to obtain objective measurements. How are we going to completely understand the movement of the Earth? By recording its movement from the point of view of the stars, of course. And how to we know what the point of view of the stars is? by recording their movements from the vantage points available to us: the Earth. You can see the circularity here. We can’t record the movement of the Earth without understanding the movement of the stars, and we can’t record the movement of the stars without understanding the movement of the Earth. Unfortunately, without records of either the Earth or the stars to begin with, we can only make guesses of understanding, and see how they match up with our faulty observations and records.
Where does that leave the shift from an Earth-centered universe a solar-system that moves in a universe with no center? It leaves us knowing less than we knew in Aristotle’s time. We can fly into space and make some impromptu observations of the earth spinning, but how do we know it isn’t us that is spinning so that the stars are more still, making the earth appear to spin? We would have to know how to be perfectly still in space to know how things are moving, but we can only know that relative to other things like stars or planets, so we don’t even know if one day we will shift back to an earth-centered model of the universe.
The usual argument scientists make against this type of reasoning is to make things more complex, as though that will wash away these doubts. It doesn’t really do that except rhetorically. It must be admitted, at least until we have found a point in the universe that doesn’t move, that the modern scientific models of the universe are based ultimately on rhetoric, whether it is a rhetorical air of faithfully measuring things, the rhetorical air of using mathematical symbols and formulas instead of words, or the rhetorical air of claiming that to know more is to have a more important opinion than others, so that a simple-minded analysis like mine is unimportant.
All these postures are rhetorical in foundation and nature, and so there is not much reason to draw a stark line between people who believe this or that thing, and use this as a cause of belittling, hating and shaming people (this runs the spectrum of issues such as anti-vax, flat-earthers, or whatever else). Scientific ideas are just ideas, including the our geometric or numerical ideas of space and time, and our ideas of logical reasoning, which are also fundamentally rhetorical. When Bernie Sanders says something in the order of poverty being a contradiction in the richest country in the world, he is mainly referring to a failure of Americans to think rhetorically. Instead the way to persuade people is to make logical claims, or so we believe nowadays, and this is a deep and purposefully fostered flaw in the political process in the USA. In this, the scientific community and their rhetorical posturing does us a disservice.
I am extremely fond of Borges talking about the attitude of Argentinians on literature, and his comparison with the corresponding attitudes in the USA. According to Borges, Argentinians tend to think a book that won a literature award might still be a good book, in spite of the award. Of course, this attitude is quite out of the question in the USA, where everything needs official publication, awards and certifications, and certifications of certifications, that let other people tell us who to trust and who to listen to. This Argentinian attitude towards books (and ideas) is basic to a society that is not thought-controlled.