Not a whole lot of productivity today either. I’ve become hooked on Stranger Things and I just can’t seem to function. Though, to be fair, I spent a lot of time waiting in the auto shop to try and get my car fixed today.
Turns out it’s going to cost more than I expected. Take longer, too, which isn’t such a big deal because I don’t need to drive anywhere any time soon, but it’s a bad turn all ways ‘round.
Our repentance is not so much sorrow for the ill we have done as fear of the ill that may happen to us. (Maxim 180)
François de La Rochefoucauld
One of the things that’s been on my mind recently is horror fiction, and what makes things scary.
It’s not necessarily the unknown; we actually have a part of us that relishes novel experiences and that which we cannot predict. The unknown is often scary, but it’s not that bad by itself.
Uncertainty is much worse.
We can deal with the unknown because we have a schema for it; we are either in charge of our world or we are not, and we respond accordingly.
On the other hand, when we have uncertainty, it puts us in a dilemma.
It’s not the unknown that scares us, it’s the unknown that we don’t have an answer for that poses a threat.
And this isn’t necessarily to say that it’s the only threat we can face; people can take a fearful and anxious approach to the unknown. However, uncertainty strikes everyone equally.
Of course, the strength of conviction and belief can be stronger in some than in others (for instance, it’s possible to accept uncertain things if the uncertainty is low in emotional and psychological value), and not everyone will be crippled by uncertainty or find it odious.
I’m in a stage of my life where I’ve embraced a lot of uncertainty in exchange for the promise of a potential future.
The question I have to ask myself is whether I can maintain my value in the face of potential disaster, if I can keep going when I am opening myself to potentially losing more than I ever have.
Of course, the great practical reminder here is that everyone else still seems to be making it in the world, even if they’re not living their dreams. The number of people who are abjectly miserable is probably fairly low, and even then a lot of people who are really struggling are living in a way that leads them toward that path and could change it if they were conscious of the interactions between things in their life and psyche that create those conditions.
Pursue value, not certainty.
Make decisions based on the future, not the present.
Been getting a lot done recently. If I had been worried whether or not I was on the right track, I could at least claim to be more certain now.
Of course, what can any of us truly know?
At the very least, I can hope to be on the right track, and devote myself to noble pursuits.
Neither the sun nor death can be looked at without winking.
François de La Rochefoucauld
The sublime Empyrean resides above us, the depths of Hell below.
We have the potential to work toward either, but both are metaphysical. They cannot be expressed or contemplated strictly within our mortal framework.
What Rouchefoucauld gets at here is the notion that there are things that we cannot bear directly, both in terms of our comprehension and our psychological ability to handle things.
The sun–metaphorically understood as God–and death–the negative counterpart of life–are both things that we cannot directly confront, but so is the axiomatic and ultimate nature of good and evil itself.
The greatest things in life are blessings that we cannot hope to comprehend. This is true across time and cultures. A faithful child, a loyal spouse, and a noble leader all embody the closest thing one can have to a movement toward the divine in worldly affairs.
The worst things in life are are set in direct opposition to the good: the faithless, the disloyal, the corrupt.
But, of course, in reality there is always nuance. There is none who can claim to be purely good, none who can be condemned as wholly evil.
Even the worst butcher is driven by something extrinsic, while even the saints are held down by the intrinsic flaws of their nature.
This conflict between the external and the internal is why we fear both good and evil, and why we cannot come to a balance between both. It is not that one or the other is purely good or evil, but the balance between all things is constantly in flux.
The only permanence is the divine, and to our perceptions even that seems inconstant. Of course, this is due to our inability to develop a perfectly accurate picture of reality (which is not a good reason not to try) and appreciate the full consequences and merits of our actions.
So we blink, voluntarily closing our eyes to the things around us before they transfigure us. The words of Nietzsche ring true. One who gazes too long into the abyss is met with a return.
Got carried away because I got to writing about consciousness. It’s a fascinating subject, and I don’t think I’ve ever fully written about some of my philosophical curiosities about what consciousness is in any serious form, though I might have jotted down a couple quick sketches of ideas a while back.
In any case, Oscar Wilde obliged.
The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
I believe in the immensity of the unknown.
What exists is orders of magnitude greater than what we perceive to exist. This remains true if we cut down the sheer volume of the cosmos by focusing only on the things which have value to us (i.e. those that impact our lives).
I am often fascinated by the amount of unknown information that exists in the world. I’m not sure if this is something that is regular, or if there’s something in me that pushes me toward this. A large part of it is probably down to the fact that I grew up playing video games all the time, and while the games I played were quite complex they were still only knowable.
It terrifies me to think that I do not know what is in other peoples’ heads. That’s a bit of a strong wording, since it falsely implies that I form some distrust of others or have a phobia.
Rather, I think it’s a form of encounter with the sublime. I realize that those around me have things going on internally that are inscrutable to me, even with conversation. I’m not the most socially aware, though I’m not particularly bad at it (I like to describe myself as average in this way, as I am in many things), and while I can catch on-to things when they’re obvious I don’t have any Sherlock-esque mind-reading or subconscious body language mastery.
However, while this will sometimes consume my thoughts, I find it more interesting to see what we know.
I’ve read a few interesting things about consciousness, and all that I really know about it is that it’s quite an incredible thing.
One of two things in particular that I’ve thought a lot about is the classical philosophical question of similarity in perception: that is to say, the question of whether everyone perceives in universally similar ways.
For instance, if the sky is blue to you and blue to me, is the sensation that we get in our eyes the same essential blue, or does each person’s particular perception of it form based on a different conscious structure? It may seem self-evident that all people perceive similarly (since, after all, we can universally represent these concepts barring some barriers in communication), but on the other hand it may simply be that everyone has fundamentally similar responses to the same stimuli but the actual conscious representation of that stimulus is different.
The other is the accuracy of consciousness. How well do we actually perceive our world?
If I see a snake, is my perception shaped by something biological, or is it a strictly absolute perception? The same caveats as above apply (e.g. we can represent a snake in pictures), but again the nature of consciousness itself may play tricks upon us.
I also get to thinking about physics. What are the odds that there are whole phenomenological structures that underlie the fabric of reality that we simply cannot attune ourselves to? Things like time, for instance, are nearly there (since we perceive time only from a particular point at any moment) , but what is to say that there aren’t other systems and rules that we simply will never know because we aren’t the sort of being to interact with them?
We know that the brain is full of cheap hacks and tricks; this is why I see flickers of my cat, who has been deceased for over a month now, in the corner of my eye when I begin to move around. My brain is reminding me to look for the cat lest I trip over her (she was quite fond of causing such accidents, though she usually came out on the worse end of such exchanges), and still expects to see her despite her absence (and the conscious permanence of it, since I held her cold body in my hands). Years of life with her are not easily overwritten by the conscious over-mind.
Another thing that I have questions about is dreams.
There’s a phenomenon with dreams where the dreamer sees the future, or things that they will only see in the future.
There are three possible responses to this:
These people are credible, and they have seen through time.
These people are frauds, and they are delusional or trying out a con.
These people are experiencing a phenomenon from the intersection of the conscious and unconscious mind.
Of these three, I am predisposed to the third option, at least in the majority of cases.
My skepticism prevents me from fully ruling out the first. Just as it does not prescribe me to believe such accounts, I cannot reject them without examination. The only absolutes I hold faith in are moral absolutes, and since I believe in an omnipotent God there’s no reason why one couldn’t get a vision of the future (assuming God chooses to grant it), though I haven’t necessarily believed in any particular case I’ve seen.
The second is the cynical view. It may be true that some people who believe themselves to see the future are delusional, and that some are charlatans claiming to be true believers. However, the knowledge that this is a possibility should not be transferred into an absolute, and delusions are only delusional if evidence exists to the contrary; it is possible that someone believes themselves to have seen the future but has no evidence to the contrary and therefore is perfectly logical in their beliefs, which doesn’t meet the standards for a delusion. In our enlightenment we would frown on this, but I still think that it’s possible.
Carl Jung recounts an event where he was waiting for a book on alchemy and he saw symbols from the book in his dreams before it arrived. He claims to have had no prior exposure to these symbols, and that on multiple occasions similar events occurred.
Now, I’m not a believer in the paranormal (see my skeptical position above), and I don’t think that Jung is necessarily much of one either (though he certainly is a little New-Agey at times), but I think that this is perhaps an example of an intersection of psychological elements.
If we go on the theory that consciousness is a black box; it takes stimuli that are not necessarily known and produces results that may not actually resemble the original stimuli, things that are perceived in dreams may actually be capable of coming true in real life. The memory and perception of the dream will then switch over to match the phenomena as it is observed in consciousness (altered memory being irreversible and effectively as good as the stimulus being altered), or the stimulus will be altered to match the subconscious perceptions from dreams.
This could be disproven by a number of tests, like the transfer of one of these dream stimuli to a concrete form before the actual event that the dreamer claims occurred in their dreams before it happened in reality, but I have never seen a credible example of this in my readings or studies. Esoteric accounts, like those cited by the people who claim that Nostradamus had prophetic visions, are unconvincing to me because they do not withstand Occam’s razor.
The problem with this is that the accurate representation of something within a dream that would be satisfactory as a proper proof of precognition would be too difficult for most people to execute. If we could actually see into dreams it would become a trivial thing to prove, but this is subject to the other issues with consciousness.
Another issue is that the brain is a prediction engine. Dreams can predict something without having absolute foreknowledge of the future; if you know that someone is sick, you may dream of their death without being certain of it, but having enough evidence for an unconscious anxiety to become concrete and break into your psyche.
There’s also a chance that something that someone thinks they don’t know and have never been exposed to has actually crossed their path before; Jung had possibly witnessed some of the symbols of alchemy in art or literature before he had actually received the book, and had dreamed of unfamiliar symbols that he subconsciously knew to be related to alchemy, which just so happened to also be within the contents of the book.
In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter in practice (this is the answer to most philosophical questions), but it sure is a fascinating point of study.
In any case, I think that Oscar Wilde is making a point about consciousness being a great mystery, I agree with him entirely, and I can certainly ramble and lose track of my point quite a bit.
Don’t take observations for granted.
Don’t worry about what lies behind the veil, take in what I see and understand that.
Stay curious, but don’t let it get in the way of my life.