Reflections on Aphorisms #51

It feels weird to think that I’m already more than half-way to a hundred of these. That’s enough time to start making it a habit, but it’s also an example of a little thing done daily that I think is making me a better person.

I don’t know how to quantify the improvement I’ve felt in my happiness and practical ability to work, but it’s there, and it’s enough to matter.

Aphorism 82

Prayer does not change God, but it changes he who prays.

Kierkegaard

Interpretation

It’s worth noting before we get into things that Kierkegaard is not trying to diminish the power of prayer.

Think of it this way: Kierkegaard isn’t necessarily saying that God is deaf to intercession, but rather that intercession is not always acceptable.

The act of prayer, even in the most secular interpretation, has merit in the admission that the object of one’s desire is outside the perceived limit of one’s agency.

Of course, if you’re religious you may believe that prayer is a way to meet an end, and I personally fall in that camp (although I don’t believe that there’s a guarantee that prayer will be answered for faith alone).

But one of the things that would logically follow at least the Christian concept of God is that there should be constant divine intervention against all evils.

I think Jordan Peterson describes this Abrahamic concept best in one of his sections in his book 12 Rules for Life (my analysis of the chapter) where he talks about vulnerability and weakness.

Part of us being free and having value, within the framework of a universe in which there is an omnipotent God, is that God must let us work within our own limitations and limit intervention in our world. Peterson uses the analogy of a child who is made to be perfect and invincible. By transforming the child from a vulnerable living thing to an invulnerable icon, one destroys the child.

I personally believe this is the reason why God permits evil to exist. To remove it entirely would be to remove the spirit of the hero from the world, to annihilate our ability not only for wickedness but also for good, for sacrifice, for transcendence.

Prayer is humbling oneself before God. Praise is also humbling oneself before God. Whether or not you can expect divine intervention, it has a way of grounding one in a mindset that accepts the wicked and the good as parts of being.

Resolution

Pray constantly.

For every evil there is a chance to do good. Do that good.

Never curse, never pass sentence on that which is not of your self. That is the domain of God.

Aphorism 83

Nature hath no goal though she hath law.

John Donne

Interpretation

One of the things that I frequently see people talking about is a particular notion that there’s an end-point to history or the universe.

Often these people talk about teleological reasons for being, or some universal trend of progress that defies what we know the objective rules of progress to be.

I’m also not talking about a defined end here; there may well be an end (some apocalypse, the heat death of the universe, our whole world being a projection of our consciousness that ends with physical death, and so forth: take your pick), but the problem is that it’s treated as something which every process works toward.

I mean, if you look at entropy in a broad sense, I guess you could go that way, though that’s kind of a morbid way to view it, and it’s the opposite of how the people I’m referring to talk.

The world around us is chaotic and disordered by default, at least by any perceptible human qualifier. All the archetypal stories tell us this: that the unknown is going to be unexpected. There would be no reason to fear the dark if it always contained merely the absence of light.

People set goals. The rest of reality generally doesn’t (a possible exception being animals, though their goals are not as complicated as ours), and that’s one of the key things that makes people different. We can contemplate a future endpoint which is more desirable than the current state, and we can do so in quite an abstract capacity. We know, for instance, that we can plan for the future by saving money.

Of course, such things are always flawed by the complexity of the system we’re in and our own limitations, but it’s possible to pin things down relatively close to reality. Precision is where things get tricky, but broad generalizations are often correct (see what I did there?).

Nature, on the other hand, is not a conscious entity. It is not even an entity, though we’ve created an abstraction that looks like one because we have a problem with conceptual null spaces.

If nature is anything, it’s a network of independent agents.

All of these, of course, have laws that are in operation around them. The discovery of Newton’s natural laws marked a shift from alchemical and mystical notions of the world and natural philosophy to modern science, and part of the reason for that is that it marked a shift from goals to laws.

Previously, people thought that nature worked in predictable ways because it wanted to.

Now, we know that it moves in predictable ways because the very nature of the motion of the universe is patterned in those ways.

That’s a very important, even revolutionary, idea.

Resolution

Don’t attribute to design what belongs to chance.

Remember: Brains make patterns, often incorrectly.

Don’t forget: Newton didn’t find what he found on purpose.

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