To engage in philosophy is to attempt to wake up from a dream. I had one once where I dreamt of these men’s thoughts:
I believe one of the things Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless. That you have to change your life. (Or the direction of your life.) It says that wisdom is all cold; and that you can no more use it for setting your life to rights than you can forge iron when it is cold. The point is that a sound doctrine need not take hold of you; you can follow it as you would a doctor’s prescription. –But here you need something to move you and turn you in a new direction. Once you have been turned round, you must stay turned round. Wisdom is passionless. But faith by contrast is what Kierkegaard calls a passion.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein (Culture and Value, p. 53)
The truly apocalyptic view of the world is that things do not repeat themselves. It isn’t absurd to believe that the age of science and technology is the beginning of the end for humanity; that the idea of great progress is a delusion, along with the idea that the truth will ultimately be known; that there is something good or desirable about scientific knowledge and that mankind, in seeking it, is falling into a trap. It is by no means obvious that this is not how things are.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein (Culture and Value, p. 55)
The miracles of nature. One might say: art shows us the miracle of nature. It is based on the concept of the miracle of nature. (The blossom, just opening out. What is marvelous about it?) We say: “Just look at it opening out!”
-Ludwig Wittgenstein (Culture and Value, p. 55)
The philosophical I is not the human being, nor the human body or the human soul with its psychological properties, but the metaphysical subject, the boundary (not a part) of the world. The human body, however, my body in particular, is a part of the world among others, among animals, plants, stones etc., etc. Whoever realizes this will not want to procure a pre-eminent place for his own body or for the human body. He will regard humans and animals quite naively as objects which are similar and which belong together.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein (On Certainty, p. 84)
It is certain that this I (that is to say, my soul by which I am what I am) is entirely and absolutely distinct from my body and can exist without it.
-Rene Descartes (Meditations, p. 190)
The dreams are subsiding, the ocean is breathing in and revealing the light. I’m straining to open my eyes and remember…
Reality is no longer self-evident. As a result, only fiction is real. Even a book about the death of philosophy must itself be presented as fiction, as a story told by an author who can’t be sure what has happened until it has been written. This story is mostly about words. But words are mere senseless scratches on a page without a world to give them meaning. And so this story of words is also the story of the world, of its creation and its destruction. But the world, too, is a meaningless concept until words have been mastered. Without a language, what about the world can be known? Indeed, what world could exist without the word?
Surely, nature exists. But to say that nature is contained by the world, that nature is a part of the world, is to suppose that what can be known trumps what cannot. We often speak of the mysteries of nature, as though any such thing could exist in the known world of man. We say that the nature of death remains a mystery, but even to phrase it in such a way supposes that life were not also mysterious. We suppose we know the meaning of the word “world” and from this follows all our claims to knowledge.
…I see the clock, I see the calendar, I see my desk and the world outside my window.
In the following pages, we proclaim the end of the word, and by proxy, the world. All will go on as before, though our idea of it will have changed completely.
What is the world? The world is the place where I am. But where am I? I am here, as my body. So what is the world I live with as my body?
Before we can answer that question, we must find our way toward the beginnings of a technique of inquiry. To discover the body’s relationship with the world, we should first look at its parent’s with their worlds. The mother is overwhelmed. She works to mend the sick day and night, but her children are too busy to notice. She supplies the bread, the water, the oil, the paper. But we pay her no attention even as her heart begins to skip. The father is regretful. He loves his children, but he cannot express it because his mind is overwhelmed. He knows nothing about their lives; he has lost himself in his own. The children are confused; they cannot understand their futures.
See through the lens of the family and focus your view of the world. The mother is earth, her resources exploited and her ecosystem destroyed. The father is culture, his conscience on Prozac, unable to feel, distracted by gadgetry. The children are the ones without a future, the ones with no time.
The world is on fire; my heart burns silently through the night as my mind stares blankly into darkness. I cannot think, cannot feel, can only lay and learn to die. Unable to communicate, we wage war to defend our dictionaries. Bible vs. Science, Spirit vs. Matter, America vs. The World. It ends when the pages begin to burn and the fire cannot be stopped.
For a moment, I am afraid to comprehend it all. I chase after the receding sea, calling for the surf to return. But darkness leaves too soon. The brightness of the light burns my face. I manage to squint and steal a few more drops of water…
What is going to happen, language? Speak. Reveal your secret plan.
Let it be known: You will not be able to understand each other. Everyone will become blind and forget their own names and no one will be able to sleep. The plants and animals will die. The air will run out. The volcanoes will erupt and the sky will blacken. The waves will roll over the land. Winter will turn water into ice. Everything will end, everything will be dead. The Sun will explode and nothing will remain.
I open my eyes, and they begin to speak to one another:
The Cartographer (right eye): What, would you say, is the essential difference between humanity and nature?
The Sailor (left eye): The essential difference seems to me to amount to mere words.
The Cartographer (right eye): Do you mean that we ought not to ask such a question? That it is a meaningless proposition?
The Sailor (left eye): I may mean that, but really I mean that the difference seems to be that we speak and nature does not. We have words, and while the stars may shine serenely, the rivers rumble romantically, the birds chirp cheerfully, and the dolphins echo excitedly, all have contained in their gestures an immediately present and available meaning, a self-evident truth. Only humans can delay their meaning; only they have the ability (or desire) to exchange mere symbols in place of reality.
The Cartographer (right eye): Surely there are times when a human gesture expresses an immediate meaning, such as when a hand is waved goodbye or a middle finger is cocked in disgust. But I take it you do not mean to discount this possibility?
The Sailor (left eye): Certainly, I do not discount it. I seek to promote it! Such immediately meaningful gestures are the only remaining life in man. All else has been covered over with culture, with a fear of death. Humanity today is an aging, possibly near dead author who long ago finished its encyclopedia explaining everything and who has now fallen asleep atop its pages to dream merrily of the conceptual conquest of nature compiled therein. Humanity inherits a world created by the imaginations of an original and elite few that long ago carved theoretical paths through the dark forests of the mind, paths we continue to follow up until this day. Indeed, most humans do so with great pride and with a sense of sacred duty. Seldom has anyone mustered up the faith to think otherwise, but the few who have seen outside the cave are confronted with a new and unexpected challenge.
The Cartographer (right eye): Is the challenge one of convincing those chained within the cave that there is an outside that they have never seen?
The Sailor (left eye): On the surface, it is exactly that. But it is also more than that. It is also that the few who have seen immediately realize that they are incapable of accurately conveying the truth, beauty, and goodness of what they have been privy to experiencing on the outside in the language of the cave dwellers trapped on the inside. In order to be understood, they must speak the language of the ignorant, but to do so is already to falter.
The Cartographer (right eye): Why does the language falter in itself? It would seem at first glance that the English language were dynamic enough that it could be manipulated to convey almost every possible meaning that could be understood.
The Sailor (left eye): The problem is not so much with the language itself, but with the way it is used. The cave dwellers treat their words poorly, and they therefore derive from their use a dualistic view of what exists. It is thought that there are two kinds of propositions: true and false. All statements are examined under the assumption of this fundamental dichotomy. This separation between the real and the unreal is a by-product of the aforementioned ability and desire of humanity to make a symbol of reality so that it can exchange the former and ignore the latter. Only after this abstraction has occurred can there ever be a distinction between a true statement and a false one. When one attempts to speak about the outside of the cave, however, there are no longer true and false statements. Any talk of the outside must be heard for what it is, for its self-evident meaning.
The Cartographer (right eye): Are you suggesting that we typically use our language only in order to get something else, i.e., to prove a thing correct or incorrect? Further, are you then meaning to say that in order for the few who have seen the light to be properly understood, those in the darkness need just open up and let the light in?
The Sailor (left eye): This seems to be exactly what I would want to say. The everyday use of language is rigged from the beginning to provide only a perpetual pointing toward something more, toward what is always and inevitably absent. It is never satisfying and we could go on talking about everything and nothing for ten thousand years and never once would a worthwhile thought be uttered. When everyone speaks in order to be right, to be correct and true as opposed to false, then no one can ever agree because each person desires to go on arguing until they themselves are declared the winner and sole possessor of the truth. Such declarations, if they ever occur, are usually short lived. A new and more inclusive truth will always be discovered, and if not then some inconsistency will be pointed out in the reigning idea and its claims will be torn down, for it is better to have no truth than have my own truth be in the wrong. If the ignorant could simply open up and let the light in, I am sure that they would understand. But such an opening is made to seem laughable by caveman standards. Taking anyone’s mere words for granted is a cardinal sin.
The Cartographer (right eye): In what lies the great power you here seem to be attributing to words?
The Sailor (left eye): The secret power of words is that it is they and they alone that make humans conscious. Cave dwellers have a dual relationship with the influence of words. On the one hand, they enact a strange kind of worship toward them by viewing nature always through their lenses. Hurricanes become something we hear the meteorologist talk about on TV, a digital swirl superimposed atop a cartoonish map of the world, not something we actually experience first hand. The flooding, the lightning, the devastating wind; all of the actual event’s terrible reality becomes simply “hurricane.” When actual hurricanes really do hit, people are at a loss and feel as though reality has come crashing down all around them. What has really come crashing down is their ordered and conceptualized dictionary-like understanding of the world. The other, seemingly contradictory view of language taken by the ignorant is that it should never be mistaken for the reality. In other words, one should always be on the look out for liars, cheats, and propagandists. Humanity is therefore under the unconscious spell of its words while at the same time pretending with all its conscious might not to be.
The Cartographer (right eye): “Language alone makes humans conscious.” Might you say more about this?
The Sailor (left eye): The way a person speaks is not necessarily the way they think, but it is the only way they can be conscious of what they think. Human consciousness is generally thought to exist ontologically in each individual as some separate substance or quality, however what we call “consciousness” is actually nothing more than a continual dialogue that goes on throughout the entire speaking/listening/reading/writing community. The words that humans use to communicate form the vessels of conscious thought. Without the right vessel, no thought can be conveyed. The vessels themselves are not owned by any one, but are shared by all. I must, in a sense, ask permission to use each word in whatever context I wish to employ it. If my request is denied, the statement I was trying to make will not have been understood. The unconscious thoughts that occur within each individual that cannot be communicated are still present for the one experiencing them; however, for the community they amount to nothing whatsoever and are totally absent.
My conscious mind awakens finally and unifies the duality of the eyes into a single I. My vision becomes my voice, the world becomes the word. The ocean is but an echo, the darkness but a dream. It is time to go to work, time to be me.
It is going to be quite difficult for me to write this book. I have felt the need to for some time, but the reason I have never written one yet is that I find it difficult to systematize my ideas. That is because they are not my ideas. I don’t understand what most of the things I say mean. I only write them down in fits of passion and inspiration where they seem to pass through me, rather then origination within me. I cannot write intentionally. I cannot intend to be correct. I am too aware of my left hand to trust entirely my right. So don’t expect this book to make sense or follow an outline. There is no table of contents or list of characters. I don’t know what I am going to write, who it will be for, or who it will be about. I may never know. I am writing only because the words need to be heard, if not by you, then by me.
Every highway leads to Babylon. A simple midnight drive home turns into a tour of the apocalypse.
I am a philosopher in hell, a mind trapped inside a body that doesn’t belong to me. See, Descartes didn’t just create a new philosophical outlook, he invented the modern self. YOU are an invention of Rene Descartes! Welcome to Copernicus’ New World Order!
But of course, Descartes believed in God. God was one of his beliefs, one of his assumptions, an archetype still too unconscious for him to understand. Nietzsche went crazy giving birth to the beast, to the idea that man could possibly ever murder God. Most of us haven’t yet realized that God is dead. Or maybe we have, but we are afraid to admit that assuming we can know is already to give God the finger. Descartes assumed that man could have knowledge of himself, that all of the mind was conscious because God had decided to give man a soul, a complete soul!, with every outfit, ability, function, and tool to get the job of life done. He assumed that God had commanded nature to obey the mind of man, to conform to his ideas and his wishes and his beliefs. But Nietzsche saw that man was alone to face nature, and that nature would not look kindly upon our increasing stupidity and morality. We were alone to face the chaos and terror of the wild, not to mention the void nothingness of meaningless black space. But of course Descartes knew this all along. He just checked out, so to speak. He died before his body died by irreversibly amputating himself from the existing world of flesh and bone. He declared himself already a ghost, already a dead man walking. His only way of reaching the outside world was through his symbols. Through the ideas of his own mind, his letters and his words and his sentences. If he cannot be heard or read, he is silent, because his body cannot say a word. His body is worthless and unintelligent, an assembly of gears and oil that sometimes the mind can reason into intentional motion, but that usually follows the predetermined patterns of its form and nature. But Nietzsche could not commit suicide, he was determined to live, to discover what it meant to be a man without God, a superman. He could still feel his body, he was connected to the sensation of the decay of his own existence…. and yet, and yet… what did he do but write about it? And what can I do but write about it? How can either of us return to nature if all we can do is make more symbols that point towards it?
But back to the drive… I started thinking, i.e., existing, about how all the signs on the highway were written specifically for me. For my eyes, for me to read. But then I started thinking about what all those symbols meant, about what they were referring to. An idea? But what is that? Is it the memory of my prior experiences of following those particular arrows? But forget all this talk of signs, the point of this book is that the signs don’t point anywhere! There are no destinations, there are only directions. So I was driving down the highway, east, towards the ocean. My heart began to burn, and I mean that quite literally. A police motorcycle with blue LED lights on the back end spend by in the far left lane. Then it hit me. I looked at all the other cars on the road.
I said out loud, “There are so many people here…”
“So many people are going to die.”
I started to cry, but don’t take this like a prophecy. I just felt it, every other car out there had a person in it, and that person’s heart was beating right then, because they were alive (just like me). But just like me, they were all going to die one day, maybe tomorrow, maybe 50 years from now. But none of them were aware of it. And there are SO MANY PEOPLE… I loved each and every one of them and I had no idea what they looked like, or sounded like (or smelt like, or tasted like). It was as though my heart was opening up and with it, each of my senses. I could feel again, with more than just my eyes. It was as though I could know with my ears, with my nose, and with my tongue! Not only that, I could know with my heart. The heart’s knowledge was that I was not alone, that there were billions of others just like me! I couldn’t sense them with my face, but I could feel them with my heart.
Others just like me! As the Mayans say: “In La’ kech,” or I am another yourself. There is only reflection, there is no separation. Your have no representations of the world in your mind, you have only reflections of it. The inside of your head is much like the outside of the world, both are full of stuff and nonsense. Sometimes some stuff pairs up with nonsense and a symbol is born. Form is assigned to substance, just like the moment of creation when God made Adam from the dust of the earth. The mind of man claims knowledge of nature by replacing it with a sign.
Duality is a dizzying game to play. For most of history, man has compared himself to God in order to understand his place. A few men along the way saw they had only themselves to judge, and fewer understood that no judge existed at all.
We are all here together. The ego in your gut does not need to die, it just needs a new master. The heart is our connection to each other, it keeps us all in rhythm. You cannot identify with your heart because all identities are ideas and all ideas are for you and you alone. You can share an idea, but you must put it into words to pass it on. And there is no telling what will happen to your words once you send them out to sea to be read by the stormy minds of others. The weather will erase random letters and a new story will be revealed. Your intention was drown the moment you set it afloat.
To understand the heart, we must see our reflection. Your eyes are the eye of God. God is a single I. God sees through your dual eyes. You see everything on the screen of a TV while God beams it out from heaven. So wake up and say hello to your fellow selves, shake their hands, and say:
“Hello God. Hello friend. Hello heart. I love you.”
Look into the eyes of God and see the world reflected back. That is you, that is God, welcome home (to where the heart is).
I exited under the familiar sign, “Hollywood Blvd.” Home sweet home. The traffic light shined red. I stopped. A shirtless old man walked the curb beside my car and held another sign, one he’d made himself. It said, “Hungry, Homeless, Need Beer.”
I felt for the quarter in my ash tray, but thought that wasn’t quite enough. The light turned green. My heart jumped as it remembered the $100 bill in my back pocket. My gut responded that that was quite too much. I drove on home. So many people are going to die…
What do you think?