Sunday, March 5, 2017

An Enigma on Man - Prologue

And so our journey begins.

Previous            Next


Big Myk said...

As a small aid to the Prologue I offer a few brief comments on the text and its allusions. Of course, I cannot guarantee either the accuracy or value of these comments.

“Someone Goes on a Journey”

This is probably a reference to the line, "All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town." It’s usually attributed to Leo Tolstoy, but I’ve read that this is probably incorrect, and the person who should get the credit is John Gardner.

“Leave child illusions, ere there’re sealed in time,”

The author has a long-standing complaint about how we tend to teach most profound things in life to children. Generally, the teaching is so oversimplified that it misses the whole point. The author is particularly annoyed about how religion is taught to children – essentially as “harmless lies.” Indeed, he has suggested that, in order to avoid the distortions, children should receive no religious education at all until they are, say 18.

The real problem in teaching this infantilized version is that it is all most people ever learn about foundational matters, and, consequently, they think that that’s all there is to know. Hence, these childhood notions are “sealed in time.” See Should you teach children about God?

George Santayana's comment may be worthy of note here: "Experience has repeatedly confirmed that well-known maxim of Bacon's that 'a little philosophy inclineth a man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion.' At the same time, when Bacon penned that sage epigram... he forgot to add that the God to whom depth in philosophy brings back men's minds is far from being the same from whom a little philosophy estranges them."

“Yet feel how real appears so queerly wrought-“

This is a possible reference to the line by geneticist J.B.S. Haldane: “My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

“Still lost, though we disclose what’s being-there.”

Here, I think the author is making a clever play on words. He seems to say we disclose – that is, uncover or bring to light – what is happening or what object is there in a certain place. In other words, we give intelligibility to things and events around us.

But, here’s the twist: why did the author hyphenate being-there? My guess is that he’s invoking Heidegger. Heidegger used the word German word, Dasein -- literally translated as “being-there” -- to mean “that being through whom the question of Being comes into being.” It just so happens that in our world, the only beings who fit this description are people.

Another way of translating Dasein is to call it “presence.” Dasein is present to being in that Being is intelligible to it.

So, what exactly is the author saying here: is it that “we” – that is Dasein – disclose being-there, namely Dasein? Or, put another way, we disclose ourselves. Or he is saying that in bringing the world to light, we reveal ourselves?

“Adventure past point particles and fields”

Here, the author tips his hat to modern physics. We currently have two views of the basic building blocks of the universe. One, quantum mechanics, looks these smallest units of reality as particles. The other, called quantum field theory, sees the universe as full of fields, and what we think of as particles are just excitations of those fields, like waves in an ocean. I’m not sure how we might venture past these most fundamental concepts, but we no doubt shall see.

Big Myk said...

I continue my brief comments, which weren't brief enough to fit in one comment window.

“Why anything?! Pray, Pray why this tangled mess”

Some say that this question lies at the heart of philosophy. Heidegger says in his Introduction to Metaphysics, “To philosophize is to ask ‘Why are there essents [entities] rather than nothing?’ Really to ask this question signifies: a daring attempt to fathom this unfathomable question ... to push our questioning to the very end. Where such an attempt occurs there is philosophy.”

“When Occam’s blade suggests null nothingness.”

Occam's razor or the "law of parsimony" is a problem-solving principle attributed to William of Ockham (1287–1347). The principle is this: among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Here, the author suggests that non-being is simpler to explain and requires fewer assumptions than Being. Therefore, under Occam's razor, we should select non-being as the most probable truth.

“Till curbstone sage next celebrates his glass.”

A curbstone philosopher (or sage) is a self-appointed dispenser of knowledge or wisdom, often delivered from a street corner or in front of a store. "Curbstone" also suggests unqualified or amateur.

The 1997 case of California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement v. Dillingham Construction presented the question of what Congress meant in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) when it said that all state laws are pre-empted (forbidden) "insofar as they . . . relate to any employee benefit plan." Justice Scalia opined that applying this provision "according to its terms was a project doomed to failure, since, as many a curbstone philosopher has observed, everything is related to everything else."

James R said...

Wow! All I heard were crickets from Sunday until now. You have turned my deepest despair into the heights of euphoria. You pretty much nailed it! Of course, as I have said before, many ideas in the poem are from discussion between myself and Big Myk, so why wouldn't he nail it? Of course, I could add more exposition, but that is why I wrote the poem—to hopefully create more than exposition, or exposition with some emotional or intangible feeling or nuance. I could not have analyzed these lines any better. Myk knows better than I do, what this means. (Thanks to Richardson)

I do hope people caught some sense of that (if anyone is reading). (Remember, all your perceived time in Purgatory will undoubtably be washed away.) For Myk, well done! and you will find more references to things that you are familiar with as we travel on our journey. To others, yes, as in all poetry or any literature, or life itself, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. I don't suggest you read "Being and Time", but where there is something, like "being-there" or Augustan verse, just look it up. With the internet, it's painless. Thanks Myk and all for reading. I hope there was also some fun with the words.