I can never get to the bottom of things, but some things seem clear to me -- always maybe but, I think, not likely not, but again, provisionally....
I can say, along, apparently, with Niels Bohr: Everything I say should be taken as a question not as an assertion. But that won't work if I sense you might hurt me because you intend evil, sincerely believe what I think is bad is good, or you don't know what you are doing.... If there is a God, God cannot be both omnipotent and also good, or else nothing would ever hurt me and I would always be in a condition of lucid, ekstatic joy in the company of good friends, world without end, amen.
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good (1 Thess 5:21)? No question about that, but I don't see how I can test everything all at once because it does not seem to me likely that the test equipment can completely test itself along with everything else all at the same time (the snake eating its own tail). I can never get to the bottom of everything because there has to be something under that or else it's just floating away above something else. But you already know all that, my reader, right? Unless, I think, "you" are not who I hope you are. To once again repeat Robbie's dictum:
Why reinvent the past with the assets of the future? The times are rotten, the culture sick. Fools rule. Capacity weakens. Let's turn our imagination to nobler possibilities.
I (BMcC) am not sure about the first sentence there. I wonder if, apart from folks like nuclear physicists and epidemiologists, "we" humanists might be better off copying manuscripts in beautiful lettering on vellum than hacking hypertext encoded in always too soon to be unsupported Cyberian product releases in the clouds (The Cloud?). Perhaps we need to reinvent the future with the assets of the past?
Limits need to be drawn and people prevented from crossing them
People with power need to learn what is their their proper place and not transgress beyond it, If they cannot or will not be part of the solution, at least they should have the basic human decency to not worsen Everyman's problems (refs.: Elsa Morante's "History: A novel"; "The Summoning of Everyman"; "The Prisoner" TV series).
Apart from its first sentence, however, Robbie's quote (above) seems clear enough and all too applicable. Please, my reader, refer to picture of what at least looks and acts to be a fool, above, and I am not referring to the picture at center, there, but to Mme. Just say no aka: First Lady of The United States Nancy Reagan and all her avatars and all their fellow travellers. As Senator Joseph R. McCarthy said in a slightly different context: One of them is already one too many. Alfred E. Neuman is an inline clarifying elucidating footnote.
Can my living be better than just being depleted until I die?
Why, my reader, you may ask, is my image of Matisse's so small? In real [painting] life, of course, she is "in your face" and, I think, rightly should be, especially in the faces of prigs who should never have been born....
But I wanted a picture from "the source": The Baltimore Museum of Art (where, when I worked there, I saw the painting most every day, although I did not really appreciate it at the time, 1969-72). And that's the only picture of it I could find on the BMA website [Note: The image has blank white white-space at top and bottom which is why the vertical spacing here: This lady tells it like it is (albeit with discretion, unlike, say, lower-bow Modigliani paintings). so I am showing the image like it is to honor her]. It is what it is (Es gibt).
I note that on its website, The Baltimore Museum of Art distinguishes "Modern" from "Contemporary" art. I much like this distinction, for I feel much that is contemporary is degeneration from what is authentically modern (clock time v. lived time). I do not tire of repeating I think Anselm Kiefer is the artist of our time (2020), because his art takes garbage and says it is garbage.
Have an artwork (immediately above). title: "Watch the birdie, Ronnie!" No decoration; just the dreck, the whole dreck and nothing but the dreck, so help me rot.
"At a press conference in Sacramento on Feb. 28, 1967, Reagan told a crowd that the taxpayers shouldn't be subsidizing intellectual curiosity. He told colleges to shift their focus by teaching workforce entry skills. It was a view 180 degrees opposed to the idea that college is a place for intellectual development and took a longer-term view about which skills are actually useful." (Wisconsin Public Radio, Scottie Lee Meyers, Air Date: Tuesday, February 3, 2015, 2:00pm)
There you have it, my reader. The
Communist Reaganist Manifesto. Sing, O brad!
"...I'm dreaming of a white Christmas Just like the ones I used to know Where the treetops glisten and children listen To hear sleigh bells in the snow.... (Irving not-the-airlift Berlin, August 1942)
How about smearing some dead GIs' and German soldiers' eviscerated guts on those sleighs' runners to grease the skids, Irvy? "Incoming!" Just say no, Irvy?
" You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?" (Joseph Welch, June 9, 1954, United States Senate "McCarthy Hearings")
What was the insurance age 8 years child I (BMcC) was doing on 9 June 1954? Apparently nothing memorable. Time passes. Possibilities of living lost. I maybe ate some Sealtest Ice Cream? "Get the best, get Sealtest", which was esthetically tasteless and close to that gustatorially? What was the day when a medical personnel stuck a long steel needle in the middle of my lower arm to traumatize the sensitive child I was, probably for no good reason? (that still makes me shiver in fear to think about it, 64 years later.) That date I do not remember, either, but I do vaguely remember the place where it happened and my parents, like Pontius Pilate, were in another room, having handed me over to a small-time crucifier but it would not likely have helped much if they had been in the room because they probably did not know what they were doing and, in general, I was repelled by my parents' touching my what "they", including a certain medical doctor, had left me of my birth flesh (I (BMcC) am still at age 74 trying to overcome their toxic introjects making ashamed to call them out for circumcising me at birth without my consent! If they could not tell the difference between something and nothing, their social surround should not have abetted them to pass their insensitivity on to me, not just then and there, but also subsequently in many other ways and at many other places and times!).
Any wonder I find watching the reminiscences of Joseph Stalin's bodyguard soothing?
If some philosophers want to talk about meaningless of life, I think meaning that is baleful is also worth consideration. Sophocles: "O fate of man working both good and evil". JAMA "It's over, Debbie" does not find life meaningless. She finds it so negatively meaningful that her only words at the time were "Let's get it over with." What do you have to say, Professor Marvel? I have not wanted to wake up in the morning (not due to physical pain but white-collar work that was worse than meaningless because I was expected to produce something out of nothing, and have a good attitude about it).
I now think the whole problematic of "the meaning of life" is largely a red herring. I study my cats. I do not see they have any "meaning" to their lives. They just want to enjoy enjoying: I give my cat a can of Purina Fancy Feast or some Iams Healthy Senior kibbles and she looks happy to me. I softly pet her little head and she yawns in contented repose. Give her a new catnip mouse toy and she just rolls around and playfully tries to destroy the litttle piece of stuffed fuzzy cloth with her little claws.
Who needs "meaning"? I think it is mostly if not altogether a code word for: sacrificing. Some person(s) wanting other person(s) who may have little to give to give the little they have away. U.S. President John F Kennedy did not say: "I ask not what my country can do for me, for it has already given me everything; I ask what I can do for my country because I have too much ever to use it all myself and some of it is perishable and it would be a shame for all that to just go to waste." Did JFK do things for his country? Probably. Did he phrase the situation most accurately (he went to Harvard; he presumably knew a bit about crafting accurate words)? I think not.
Just like I think U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, on 8 December 1941, should have spoken of: "A day when the chickens came home to roost." Was it world historically wrong for FDR to declare on Imperial Japan on 7 December 1941? Perhaps not, since Japan had been brutalizing China (etc.) for years. But was the attack unexpected? Do you impose an oil embargo on any nation state, especially one with no natural resources of its own, no matter how evil that nation state may be, and expect them to not retaliate? ("Get real!")
So what do we have if not a meaning of life? How about meanings in life? That can of Fancy Feast, my petting her gently, that catnip mouse means somethinig to my cat, else why would she bother about them? This meaningfulness is immediately, gratifyingly relational, not remotely, and we-don't-give-a-shit-how-you-feel-about-it teleological.
Just imagine what professional footballer Tom Dempsey must have been feeling when, with 2 seconds left in the game, he kicked a 63 yard field goal -- the longest in NFL history at the time -- to beat the Detroit Lions 19 to 17 in 1970. What on earth could "the meaning of fife:" or lack thereof have meant/mattered to him then, whether otherwise he was a King or Sisyphus on a day pass?
Mr. Immanuel Kant, go tell the Marquis de Sade to follow your categorical imperative, and he might just explain to you: "Sir, I already am doing that." Do you believe in God? Why is God meaningful to you? Why is meaning meaningful to you? If "meaningless of life" does not mean anything to a person, be they an Archie Bunker or a connoisseur of Hellenistic erotica, or whatever, what does it matter to said person? What makes being exercised about whether life has meaning meaningful to a person? That person already has a meaning in life, namely, to be exercised about "whether or not life has a meaning".
Every intentional object has some meaning, if only to judge "what I have in view isn't doing a damned thing for me". Radical meaninglessness would have to be an intention without an object. What would that be? Some kind of paradoxical unconsciousness? If I tell some kid playing a video game that what he (she, other) is doing is "meaningless", that is not accurate loccution: I mean that what the kid is doing is something that may, at best, leave him as ignorant at the end of the day as he was at the start of the day (of course this is not true if he is one of those video gamers who makes US$100,000+ per year doing it!). At worst, he is distracting himself from real physical pain, which, had he turned his attention to his living body instead of pixels on a screen, might lead him to a better future than "It's over, Debbie."
My take on the matter
Unless you are a professional philosopher,. in which case this subject can go deeper and deeper, I think the answer is fairly straightforward: Relate to persons, animals, ideas and things and so forth that relate to you → persons, animals, ideas and things and so forth hat appeal to you to want to engage with them.
They will keep you engaged with them and enjoyably so. The more you can cultivate your sense of appreciation, the more you wlll be rewarded. Or maybe you won't? Try it and if you like it buy it. If you don't, think about it, and maybe playing with the meta-levels of reflection will convince you that what seems obvious may just be superficial, i.e., that the search for meaning itself is already a meaningful endeavor, so reflecting on the process of searching (the metalevel) may prove more rewarding than searching per se (the first-order level), and then you can come back to see that seeking is often reward enough in itself. Martin Heidegger wrote: What endures in thinking is the process of thinking. Whatever you think today will likely pass away before thinking itself. Orthodoxies are always orthodoxies du jour, or aren't they?
Of course, if the building is on fire and you are in it, you either need to get out in time or pay the price. But, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn begrudgedly admitted (until proven otherwise, I think he wanted to make everybody miserable), so long as we wake under a peaceful sun we must live an everyday life. And I say: Thank God for that! May I be saved from living in interesting times! May I not be ethically challenged! I paid at the office (childrearing, perp schooling, etc.). Again, to paraphrae Senator Joseph R. McCarthy: One of them is already one too many, for me! I have also recently thought about myself:
I am both humble and arrogant.
What's despicable about honesty? Frank Lloyd Wright said: Early in his life he had to make a choice between honest arrogance and false modesty; he chose the former and never regretted it. Wright must have had a more salubrious childrearing than myself. I didn't get to vote: I was not even cued in that there was any election. I was just meat. Was Frank Lloyd Wright childreared and schooled by cannibals?
Of course Wright was a genius and I am not. But let's try this on for size: There is a cliche of flowers sprouting up in concrete sidewalks and such. That does happen sometimes (and so too do weeds sprout up there!). What depth of impervious concrete can those flowers break through? Might there be ice so thick that even the U.S.S.R. dual reactor nuclear powered ice breaker Lenin could not penetrate it? My progress in living has more than a little been blocked by "people" whose respect I could have gained by nothing short of cutting off their paychecks, which I unfortunately lacked the power to do.
"But they did not understand what he was saying to them." (Luke 2:50)
Let's try to get down to the bottom of the problem of the bottom. I think Immanuel Kant, in his Paralogisms of Pure Reason, established that philosophy cannot get "underneath" experience to The RealReal (no, that's a fashion reseller...), i.e., we cannot know anything "beyond" the phenomenal world. M.C. Escher is, of course, about as "low brow" art as you can get (sci-fi kids like it), but I think philosophy is something like an Escher painting: If a person thinks they have got underneath the phenomenology of everyday life ("appearances"), they have only found more everyday life but miscategorized what they have found as something other than what it is, namely, more everyday life ("appearances").
The First Cause is just another link in the causal chain. The Creator of the Universe is just a part the created universe, or maybe a bigger universe? Where did He come from? (Ex nihilo nihil fit.) How much of its tail can a snake eat and still think: "I am eating my tail"? Isn't metaphysics like an Escher painting (Penrose staircase): If you are on the ground floor and you go down into the basement you have only succeeded in climbing back up to the ground floor; if you go up to the second story, you have only succeeded in coming back down to the ground floor (see: above left)? It's "IBM" in the noetic world: Idiots Become Managers.
Here's my two really hard questions: (1) Where do new ideas come from? They cannot come from anywhere or else we might be able to go there and fetch them for cache before we "have" them (my impression is that this is the Holy Grail of AI VR Ph.D. computer scientists).
If that's tough, try this one: (2) Where do old ideas that are not straightforwardly algorithmically generateable come from? If I say" One, Two, Three", maybe it's likely I can will to say: "four". I open my mouth and emit words that I have not thought out beforehand, e.g.: I think to see if my always inattentive-to-me daughter adopted from Communist China is receiving acoustic signals, and say at her: "The East is Red". (She actually notices; she has no idea what I am talking about, but the words are apparently strange enough to her to get her attention.) That is not a new idea, but where did it come from? Even writing the present sentence is happening without me running it thru a proof reader before typing. (That's another recursion problem!) Why did I write what I wrote and not: "Dogs bark", or "God is good" or whatever. How do I trust "myself" when I open my mouth not to put my foot in it? If experience is retrospective, where does anything come from, since I apparently am not unconscious? Don't tell me about sense data. I am not convinced that consciousness can synthesize a pair of scissors from the sense data of observing the scissors from various perspectives.
Here's something I find intersting: Bob Dylan's song "I contain multitudes" (available free on YouTube). Today, at age 74 yearss, I think I understand that song quite well. As a young person, I would probably have less-than-fully-thought he was talking about people even more exalted than my prig teaches in the celebrity starlet Empyrean, or maybe just nonsense. Why? Because I am not a genius and my social surround taught me basically that I was a slab of meat to be graded daily and the rest of the world except for their Noumenal Exaltednesses (how did they have effects in the merely empirical universe?) was just more of the same.
Today, I even criticize Dylan's song as I listen to it and think up some of my own words. How dare I be anything other than raw material? That, my reader, is philosophy. How the philosopher earns his daily bread and pays his rent or mortgage is also part of his philosophizing and philosophy. As psychoanalysts say even if they don't really mean it: "Everything is grist for the mill." Or isn't it? How about the philosopher's sex life? I am subject to false mamories, but I seem to have read somewhere that Immanuel Kant was a vociferous critic of masturbation, and also that he did it each morning to keep his head clear for philosophical thoughts for the rest of the day. Talk about a categorical imperative!
Back to thinking (I myself for all my life have been distracted far more by OCD fear of dying of melanoma or debilitating annoyance at miniscule bumps in my oral cavity than by unsatisfied sexual arousal, alas!) . I am generally anti-religion. Can anything that is not universally human universally matter? Can knowledge that some jewish kid whom we call Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, or that some India Indian dude sat under a Bodhi tree really matter? What I think really can matter is to cultivate self-reflection and critical evaluation of whatever contents are in a person's consciousness. That should be a universal a priori human faculty (or whatever one wishes to call it). Apparently it is not always activated, since a teenager can sever the head of a Parisian school teacher who never hurt him from the man's torso (Samuel Paty), and that does not not seem to me to be something unique to a particular parochiality like Jesus Christ of The Buddha.
I am not, however, anti-mysticism. Whatever a persons experiences they experience. If so-called "normal people" don't experience it, that may just mean they are defective in the relevant regard. How the experiencer interprets their experience is, of course, a different question. An illiterate Medieval European Christian serf will interpret it differently from the contemporaneous author of "The Tale of Genji" in the Heian Japan capital court. The European serf has no idea of knotted letters inscribed with timeless Haikus; The author of Genji has no idea about the competitive sport of Kill-a-cat-bound-to-a-post in one's town square. Is salvation a function of GPS coordinated of birth? I seem to have read that Dante assigned righteous non-Christians to a Sharashka in Purgatory.
Accidentality is accidentally overcome
I (BMcC) like to say that self-reflection is the accident that overcomes accidentality. No preflective social custom tags itself: "Don't be sure you can trust me!" The believer is in the custom's thrall. There is no [allgorithmically generatable] escape. Escape will require an acvent from elsewhere: another accidentality. The accident required here is not yet another first-order, naive social custom, but the novel social custom of distructing social customs and investigating and maybe abrogating them. Self-critical self-reflection is the accidental accidentality killer. Demythologizing is a true miracle!
All prerelective social customs, beliefs etc. are only accidentally salubrious and not destructive of individual persons. Of course, it is for each individual, after careful reflection to decide whether he, she or other wants to have anything good in their life or if they would rather suffer, etc., so "salubrious" is a value judgment. Maybe some women would choose to have their genitals mutilated and some men to be circumcised for religious not medical reasons. But I would say, least advanced civilization should force social configurations to give each individual a choices, which is itself also a crime in some social configurations' value systems: "¿How are you gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?" The answer is obvious to every dogmatizing person with power: You don't let them know Paree is even a possibility, much less than one may actually exists and may even exist for them. You can't go some place you don't know exists.
A girl who comes out of one birth canal gets part of her genitals ripped out and the rest almost completely sewn shut because her parents love her and are perfecting nature. One who comes out of a different birth canal may grow up in a social surround where erotic pleasure is nurtured. One child is born into a social surround in which choice about anything is not an idea at all (BMcC, for one), another is born in as social surround where self-reflective thought and feeling is a given and the classic texts of Europe, Japan, China or some other high civilization (if there be any) are as ambient as O2. I would prefer to have been born a philosopher in nuce, but someone else may prefer to have been born mentally challenged. It is what it is → until self-reflective, self-accountable self-consciousness comes along.
Philosophical thinking, like consciousness as such, is just there. If you aint got any, you don't know you don't got none. Sad but true. If you do have it, get your gift horse to a veterinarian before you look it in the mouth, and then examine it scrupulously in case the vet missed something. I abominate the prigs and other people who should be ashamed of themselves and who have hurt me in my living, and now I have words to think and say it. If what I am describing here does not ring a bell with you, my reader, please, say thank you to whatever you attribute your good fortune to, because I, for one, envy you, and think that you might not have been so lucky and, even now, you can lose it. Zillionaires get Alzheimer's and Covid-19.
A clichéd image with a lot of truth in it
Of course not all muses are real life fluffy cats (right). More likely the muse is the goddess Athena on Homer's shoulder, or maybe in the air above?
The point, however, needs to be taken: The writer does not create his or her or other's words. The words come to the writer "from some place else". My reader, try this right now: put aside this web page and really observe your present thinking for a couple hours and see if you have pre-determined every word you think. If you did not pre-determine the word, where did it come from?
This, is where the image fails. The muse does not get its words from a backing super-muse, etc. in an infinite regression. The muse's voice is a portal from the unknowable onto the knowable. Nobody can enter inside the muse's mouth or brain or whatever, because those things are nowhere and consequently, in a radically literal sense, even though the muse is the source of the text: the muse is non-existent (everything that exists is somewhere, isn't it?). The muse is just a metaphor, so, call it what you like, you ain't gonna catch it with any scientific instruments, in part because no scientific instrument can observe the future, or can it? If it can't, then the when scientist tries to catch the muse on the scientist's own shoulder (no! no! no! not some other poor bloke's or even the computer scientist's own manager's shoulder!!! it has to be the scientist's very own shoulder, the one that is part of the scientist's own living body!!!), when the scientist reads off the data: verbatim, the scientist's own future thoughts before the scientist themself has thought said thoughts → Well, what will the scientist have then?
Nobody yet knows, but I personally can't wait for some computer scientist to really do this dispositive experiment, and maybe qua scientist do enough material damage on their own brain qua object of scientific investigation, to take themself out of action. A physician or EMT technician or coworker may note the time of death; the experimenter even if not the experiment as an object in other persons' living experience, will be finished. Publish it "stat", as a warning to all who may be ignorant enough to try to reinvent this wheel or foolish enough to try to rerepeat the experiment, to verify its results!
I think the so what is simple: If we cannot get behind experience, what is experience? It is peer discourse, even if only with oneself in the self-talk which a person sometimes says is "in my head" with good introjects [do persons absolutely blind from before birth think their thoughts are in their heads?]. If we cannot get behind experience, we can explore into it, and reflect on it and cultivate it (or throw it in the trash, if that turns you on, my reader, but, in that case, keep your pleasure to yourself and don't volunteer me to share it!).
Some persons would probably say Boccaccio's Decameron clique are despicable. I'd like to join them. But, then again, if they're all into playing fantasy football, maybe I'd just have to fake being less than who I am to not get thrown out if I did get in? What would I like them to be doing? Since it's pandemic and The Grim Reaper is probably hiring "temps" (fringe benefit: employee discounts) to get all his work done, how about reading Hermann Broch's novel "The Death of Virgil"? Political problems? How about watching "The Prisoner" on the tele? Got more capitalization then we need? By all means, let's keep wearing old clothes and give to the poor what other people are spending on fashion. Xmas? Wouldn't we be our own best gifts? So give to the poor what other people spend on merely material Xmas gift products. Let's show decency and not build a big new Annex we don't really need. Fix the roof, buy a couple generators, and give the rest to the poor. Have time on our hands? Open a [probably remote] school for poor kids, too. Need maids and scecurity guards? Pay them well and give them living accommodations similar to our own. If I was not very intelligent, would I feel humiliated to be a well paid servant to a Niels Bohr or Anthony Falci? I would in that way be indirectly contributing to the advance of civilization and so forth.