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Showing posts with the label philosophy

My First Experience at Appreciating Metaphysics

"The great uncertainty I found in metaphysical reasonings disgusted me, and I quitted that kind of reading and study for others more satisfactory."Good old Ben Franklin.  Thus he dismissed metaphysics from his life, and went on to accomplish real things. I reached the same conclusion years ago. So it is ironic that, relatively late in life, I've actually enjoyed a book about metaphysics.

Hardly a day goes by when there isn't news about Islamist terrorism. I am actually sick of the whole topic. Consider how much of your short life can be wasted on following the news on this subject, and yet, you end up understanding nothing! But being buried under trivial and repetitive news makes a person suspicious that something fundamentally important has been overlooked.

This put me in the mood to go back to the early days of Islamic thought. Where and when was the fork in the road for Islamic thinkers? Why did they take a different fork than Christian ones?

After reading Robert Rei…

How Real World Experience Affects Political Theories

Although I am not one of them, there are people who enjoy reading political science or 'theory of government' books. It would be interesting to see what a person of that type would go through if exiled from their reading lamp to the right place in the real world.

Let them take a campground hosting job for awhile. Quite aware that my suzerainty is much better than the average gig, or rather, that its clientele is much above average, I am still affected by the experience. It gives me a chance to see how people behave when they act as they really want to act.
Many people immediately turn to generating noise, destruction, or filth. Unmindfulness of the consequences of their own behavior on their neighbors, who have an equal right to enjoy their public land.Using a construction site generator to power a microwave oven to make a cup of tea or coffee. Are they really unable to understand that they can heat a pan of water on the propane stove in 3 minutes?Do they need high power applian…

The Apotheosis of the American Dream

What a pleasure it has been to learn how to use my Android smartphone! Granted, everybody else on planet Earth went through this seven years ago. I even took a couple photos, just so I would know how. But I think I'll continue to carry a regular digital camera, with its 18X optical zoom.

Perhaps I should reconsider that. After all, the smartphone is always with you. For instance, yesterday I missed a potentially great photograph. Long-suffering readers know that that means a photograph that tells a story, or is a visual metaphor of an important part of the human condition. They also know what it doesn't mean: a purdy picher.

I had just finished the appointment with an attorney who made my last will and testament, then went to knock off other errands before the migration north begins. I got rid of an annoying aluminum extension ladder that I have carried in my van, after replacing it with a collapsible telescoping ladder.

As I rolled into the landfill to dispose of the ladder, it …

Nature Lovers and Long Dead Philosophers

If there ever were a time to invoke the old adage that 'practical men are just the slaves of some long-dead philosopher,' the time is now, after I've just read one of the most important (and juicy) books in years. The book is "Rousseau and Romanticism," by Irving Babbitt.

Only a chapter or two is about Rousseau's effect on how his followers perceived nature. But it is the chance in front of my face, especially during summer camping holidays. It seemed that my neighbors belonged to three tribes of "nature lovers."

Tribe #1. A couple women were car camping close to me. I complimented them on the sunniness of the campsite they chose. The car was a Subaru. (eyes rolling.) One of them had flown down from Oregon for the holiday.

Unfortunately many of the nearby spruce trees were dead, a la Colorado. I probably shouldn't have pointed that out. She ignored my un-compliment of the forest, and said that the trees were "beautiful." Really? Do yo…

The Value of Poetry

In rhapsodizing about the RV dump in Quartzsite recently, I finally decided that it affected me so strongly because the metaphor of a shadowy netherworld symbolized the importance of how much truth is omitted or hidden, in the normal day-to-day world. I doubt that the internet has changed this fact of human existence all that much.

Reading Addison & Steele again, I found this quote from Dryden:
Errors, like Straws, upon the Surface flow;
He who would search for Pearls must dive below.Shame on the readers of the post for not disinterring this for me.

This is an example of the real value of poetry. It lies not in prettiness or entertainment, but in poets' skill as metaphor-smithies.

The Other World Under the Glistening Winter Desert

Just about everybody has had a powerful, subjective experience -- say, an automobile accident or illness -- and then been crushed by the indifference of their listeners. Usually the listener starts squirming away in just a few seconds, even if they know you quite well.

And yet I persist in using odd, and rather subjective, experiences as the starting points of personal essays. It still seems like a good idea, as long as I move briskly away from the anecdote to seek out the more General.

The oddest such experience of recent days was getting a glimpse into the world underneath a Quartzsite RV dump. The winter sun is low in the desert. It almost glistens off the desert pavement. The air is chilly. The desert seems so clean: no bugs or creepie-crawlies. Perhaps that is what made the experience memorable: first, surprise; and thirdly, the contrast with the world above ground. And 'secondly'? Ahh yes...

It took several seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. You think you see so…

The Yukkie Reality Under the World of Appearances

The other day I went to "Poop Central" in Quartzsite, that famous modern equivalent of Cloaca Maxima of ancient Rome.  I expected to pay 80% as much to dump a 5 gallon porta-pottie as you would pay to dump a 75 gallon tank in a Class A motorhome. That's how things work in this country. Much to my relief (bad pun), the cost was entirely reasonable.

I brought a flexible sheet of plastic along, to make a funnel out of, in order to dump the porta-pottie into the 4" hole without spillage. It was strange the way they brushed me off, just as a busy auto mechanic dismisses the emotional anecdotes of a female motorist who is describing her car problems. The worker at Poop Central pulled up a manhole cover, and told me to just hurl it in.

What? Hurl it in? What was going on down there, anyway? After a couple seconds my eyes adjusted to the shadowy netherworld under the superficial world of appearances, and I saw a milk crate a couple feet below. Why would a milk crate be there?

Doing Serious Things In an Un-Serious Way

Wasn't there a best-selling book of the 'self help' type, several years ago, with a title like "Everything I needed to know, I learned in kindergarten?" I never read it. Perhaps it referred to the fact that most people agree with many of the general principles and proverbs that are supposed to guide you in living your life. But the trouble is in the applications...

...or rather, putting the moral platitudes into practice. I don't think the main problem is intellectual; rather, it is the inability of a cliché to engage our imaginations and to motivate us to alter our behavior. That is why I was excited about the consequences of failing at reading Dostoevsky for the umpteenth time: for the first time in my life I became wildly appreciative of the principle of doing serious things in a not-so-serious way.

This is not a new idea of course. Essentially it is equivalent to Walt Disney's "whistle while you work" song in one of his animated classics. But …

Pascal's Winter Cabin

Winter is not just a season of climate, but is also a phase in a person's mind. In 18th and 19th century novels, the rural gentry conventionally retired to London in winter. Can you blame them? It wasn't just the darkness and weather, it was the muddy roads. People living in "normal" places in the modern world forget how frustrating muddy roads can be.

Every now and then I run into an Alaskan in the Arizona desert in the winter. They usually curse the darkness in the North more than the cold. Easy to believe.

I suppose there is a correlation between northern latitudes and alcoholism. Some of that might be the lack of grapes, and the northern grains lending themselves to hard alcohol. But surely some of it is due to the darkness and isolation.

There is something about sinking into the reality of winter-camping that brings a piquancy to a famous quote from Blaise Pascal in his Pensées, probably the only work of his still read today:
When I have occasionally set myself to c…

The Benefits of Enjoying a Not-So-Great Movie

Last episode I went boldly into the present by buying my first Blu-Ray disc. Disappointed as I was by the technology itself, I at least had the pleasure of seeing a pretty good movie, "Rio Bravo" (1959), directed by Howard Hawks, and starring Dean Martin, John Wayne, Walter Brennan, and Angie Dickinson.

As usual John Wayne did not interest me. The Dmitri Tiomkin score was a disappointment. But Dean Martin's acting was surprisingly good! Then of course, there was the wonderful Walter Brennan. I think he is my role model as a cranky tough old goat. Give me a couple more years.

Male sexist pigs will be able to tolerate Angie Dickinson, then in her twenties. Next to Brennan, she was my favorite character. Here is a photo as she appeared in character, at the end of the movie:

It was so refreshing to see a beautiful female character who doesn't take herself so seriously. She was no fool; she knew the effect she had on men. But she had a nonchalant senseofhumor about it. Norma…

Nibbling Away at Moral 'Perfection'

I have an ON again/OFF again involvement with achieving moral perfection. Mostly off. Even though I am getting started 40 years later than Benjamin Franklin, it still 'counts'.

And it isn't as silly as it sounds. What should a person work on as they get older? Sleeping 8 hours per night, without waking once? Growing lush dark hair on their head? Running a 4 minute mile? Living the dissolute life of an international playboy? Good luck with all that.

The fact is that wisdom about the conduct of life, self-control over our own behavior, and having a broader perspective on the human condition are just about the only things that we can improve at, with age. And that is good news! These are the things we should have been emphasizing our whole lives, instead of running around, taking care of frantic busywork.

So how does one proceed on this noble quest? There is something to be said for a 'bottom up' approach, quite the opposite of the approach of long-winded philosophers. I…

The "Awakening" When Coming Back to a City

I have written before of how thought-provoking it can be to come into a city after a lengthy spell in the backcountry. The greatest difficulty in doing a good job at this is to belittle it right from the beginning: "Oh this is just some kind of thought experiment. It isn't practical. I don't want to waste time by acting like a kook, in his own little mental playground..."

Recently I experienced a special version of this. I was visiting a small metropolis that was big enough for a tumescent growth of big box retail stores on the edge of town. The Republican party's debate was in the news. As tempting as it might be to throw mud-pies at each specific runt in the debate, it is more important to ask something more fundamental: if Democracy were so great, and if Americans were so suited for it, how could a country as large as the USA and with all its achievements and deep pool of talent, produce such a pitiful list of candidates?

Something is fundamentally wrong with ou…

A Tree Island in a Sagebrush Sea

It doesn't seem like such a great idea to camp on a bare ridge of sagebrush during the monsoon season. Lightning can be pretty scary. It seems better to have some trees nearby. But I don't want to go into a thick and gloomy forest.

That is the value of a tree island near the higher end of the sagebrush, and just below the lower tree-line. It is pleasantly surprising how attached you can become to a tree island. By luck there was a two-track road ascending the ridge-line behind my dispersed camp in this photo. It looks like such easy pedaling in the photo, but I had to push the mountain bike in a couple places:

There is an entrapment pond on the far side of the tree island. But it is so close that it provides an entertainment show for me. I saw my first weasel. Disgusting little creature: a snake on wheels. 

Something strange happened when camped near this tree island. The wildlife became individuals, with quirks that identified them as the same individuals, day after day. A rapto…

A Snowbird Searches for the Right Myth

My bio-rhythms have been so screwed up with the 90 degree heat in Yuma -- in February! Soon I was in Patagonia AZ at over 4000 feet of elevation. It felt so good to sleep in a chilly bed again; to get out of bed in the morning and walk while trying to keep my toes from touching the 40 F floor; to put on a jacket and walk downtown Patagonia. Ahh, cool air and warm sun.

Over the winter in Yuma, things that seemed like luxuries at the beginning began to bore me. Even my dog got bored: we walked in a beautiful desert at sunrise and sunset, but there was no game there. Just rubble. Eventually a snowbird can't or won't apply the mental discipline needed to ignore the overcrowding.   

The tipping point came when my attitude changed about my road cycling club, the main reason why I was there in the first place. The high speed riding by 70-year-olds seemed so admirable at the beginning of winter. By the end, my loyalty to living at the point-of-diminishing-returns reasserted itsel…

What Keeps Bloggers Tied Down?

Surely most internet readers have learned from experience to temper their expectations about websites that are new to them. How many times have you gotten excited about a newly-found website, only to learn that your first half-dozen visits have shown everything that you are evergoing to see there? Then, when the sting of disappointment sets in, you just want to grab the blogger by the throat and scream, "Come on! You can do it. Take a step upward." But they seldom do. [*]

What is stopping them? Are they just dummies? Or completely static? Maybe they are afraid of something.

Lately I have been fixating on a simile from Arnold Toynbee's abridged "A Study of History," Vol 1, Chapter IV. Maybe it will mean something to readers:
Primitive societies...may be likened to people lying torpid upon a ledge on a mountain-side, with a precipice below and a precipice above; civilizations may be likened to companions of these sleepers who have just risen to their feet and have …

Dealing with Disappointment on the Trail

Can eyeballs 'smack' in anticipation, like lips? I think they can. At least that's what mine were doing the other day on a mountain bike ride on the Unc, as one commenter calls the Uncompahgre Plateau in western Colorado. I have a special fondness for wild roses, especially when I notice them for the first time, usually in mid-June. I am fond of the seasonal ritual.

But the first sighting of this June disappointed me. The roses were waning and withering. Too late.

Oh certainly, this is just a minor disappointment along the trail, but it seems valuable as a simple and quintessential representative of an entire class of disappointments.  It is important to decide what attitude we should have about these disappointments.

It caused me to recall something said by a bicycle tourer. It was one of those statements that sticks with you because it stands out from commonplace chatter.

He said that he only remembered the little disasters and misadventures that occurred on his tours. The …

Do You Feel Useless When a Friend is Sick?

The short answer is 'probably.' If we look at it in a typical modern utilitarian way, that pretty much ends the discussion.

But is this just one more case when a "failure" really isn't a failure if you adjust your expectations realistically? Perhaps once again the true enemy of the Good is not the Bad, but rather, the Ideal.

I returned to Ouray CO hoping to have a small beneficial effect on an outdoorsy RV friend. We did have a good visit. But medical complications got in the way of doing what I really wanted to do: go on recovery walks with him, and make the point that he didn't have to be athletic superman and indestructible super-Mark to be fun to be with; and to help him focus on the improvement rather than what he normally was capable of doing.

Seen objectively, he has a lot to be pleased with in his life. A zillion hours in the Colorado Rockies, hiking with a wife who loves it as much as he does. Then there is the little matter of two seriously nice houses…

A Chance to Work Productively

Around the New Year I argued that 'I am not getting older, I am getting better,' need not be an empty cliche. There really are things we naturally get better at, with age. So why not pound the crap out of these things, and put aside the things we must lose on?

Such qualities include:
1. Self-mastery and self-restraint.
2. Patience.
3. Perspicuity.
4. Setting more realistic (i.e., lower) expectations on new projects or people.
5. Understanding the consequences of our actions.
6. Thinking more independently.
7. Better juggling of trade-offs when making decisions.

This project of converting a cargo trailer into a travel trailer has offered me an impressive and perverse example of how difficult it is to achieve #1 on the list.

If you were to step back from the thousand-and-one machinations of the day, and ask yourself why you can't work faster, you wouldn't have any trouble coming up with a list. But it was fun to identify the top problem on the list. 

For me it is the laying-down-…