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What’s in a name – ‘Oxford’, ‘Cambridge’, ‘Harvard’? Quite a bit one might say if these are the names under consideration. 

The names of famous universities lay down tracks in front a person so that all he need do is follow the rails to predetermined success and achievement. That might be a conception answering our question. Yet, a student of a famous school still needs to sit down and do the required work. And the success of this task is not given by a mere name.  Someone once said: ‘Destiny must be achieved’. I am inclined to agree.


An overfull cup will spill its water when knocked or jarred. A person regularly given to some thought or other over time becomes saturated with it, and in it. He may even behave as though he is indistinguishable from his thought-patterns. When life tosses this individual about, as it does to all of us, he finds no place to which he may turn for solace. For all available niches have been accorded to his private obsession. Such a person may then spill over onto us and through others in a most negative and terrifying manner. Every person has a ‘saturation-point’. But, we all boil at different temperatures.

For a person to see light moving enchantlingly over a grass hill is to be drawn into a quality of intimacy to the perception such that the person is inclined to automatically imitate it. To see the hill as ‘enchanted’ is to take it as an interaction partner we mimic in speech, facial expressions, emotions, postures, gestures and mannerisms. Our reaction conveys rapport and understanding and leads to a desire to affiliate.

There are those of us who long for a superhuman intellect and to be as smart as the great thinkers. We tend to forget that ideas cost too. Genius that is the fruit of great industry may be too high a price to pay, especially when a demand is made for unremitting isolation from others.

The attraction of conspiracy theories is that they offer to explain what we fear may be only an act of random violence by an obscure malcontent.  They suggest a reason where there may be none. We are inclined to embrace fanciful lies rather than the tragedy of the ordinary. Just ask yourself: who was Lee Harvey Oswald?

Wittgenstein said that the path to truth can be traced through an investigation of error. Taken liberally, he encourages us to take note of differences and similarities in a concept by considering a diverse range of cases.

If the meaning of adult facial expression is to be understood, it may therefore be benefical to consider the experiences of adults with facial disfigurement. And if you want to understand pain facial expression, it may be worthwhile to consider the case of adults and children with congenital facial paralysis.

Comparing radically different cases may serve to highlight forgotten niches of concepts.

It is usually nice to arrive some place new, but equally important to acknowledge when the experience has run its course and that it is time to move on. For some reason, this tends to be rather difficult to do. 

Those who do stay behind typically share a common fate: they offer their whole being over to comfort and being comfortable, and eventually, they stop thinking and creating. Nothing saps the larger desires more than the desire for comfort.

The following example (not of philosophical interest) illustrates Wittgenstein’s idea: people say that cell-phones are harmful because they emit heat which increases the temperature of the brain. That one is mislead by this picture is shown in the act of showering one’s body under heated water: the water pours over my head, increasing the temparture of the contents inside my skull. Is this harmful to humans? Should people opt instead for cold showers? Clearly, not.

So, what is the picture that held us captive? It is the picture of cooking flesh. An effect of it is fear and disquiet, which doubtless hastens the unconscious application, and our lack of acknowledgement thereof.

‘We talk, we utter words, and only later do we get a picture of their life’ (PI p. 209)

Recent works by the like of Sam Harris which challenge religion seem to me to belong to this way of seeing things. It is not clear presently what is to be done, how the atheist criticism of religion is to be used or taken by religious believers. It is much too soon to say. Both parties each have a ‘battlecry’, and there is a lot of talk. And this is how it is, because we do not learn everything at once, and our grasp of each part is complete only once we have mastered the whole.

Sam Harris claims to understand the ‘whole’ that comprises the more pernicious or dogmatic aspects of monotheistic religion – do we say the same of religious believers? Carl Sagan once said: ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. Harris directs this challenge to the religious believer. What is his expectation? He talks, certainly – but, to believers, he utters mere words. They do not have any whit of their life, or so it seems to me.

By the way, the disturbing irony of the zoo is this: human desire for intimate contact with nature in the zoo robs it of its natural fitness and strength. The result of animal containment in cages is emaciation and muscle-wasting; is this the intended picture of human contact with wildlife?

Nothing shames me more than the spectacle of a zoo animal robbed of its strength. It is troubling to feel shame for those creatures who have no capacity for it. We use them.

When I am in deep sleep, I often dream, and in this altered state I usually experience sensory-images, visions, sensations and feelings of various sorts. Sometimes, I occupy my dream as I do the visual field in wakefulness, and the experience is wholly subjective, in other dreams I occupy the periphery of some event I stand to observe. In any event, these experiences also occur in the waking-state, except that we don’t call them ‘dream phenomena’. Wakefulness has a fair share of images, sensations and feelings which parade before my mind’s eye, and which, like dreams, are not amenable to explanation: I ‘dream’ in sleep; why shouldn’t it happen in wakefulness?

In the waking-state, I am completely conscious, and mentally perceptive. Communication, ingestion, ambulation and procreation are activities typical of this state. But, I often experience images and sensations seemingly unconnected with these activities. They materialize on a wing not of my own making.  Like dream phenomena, they sometimes tell or narrate something, as though they are fragments of a story which I cannot fully explain.

We define ‘being awake’ as the opposite of ‘sleep’, and unwittingly make of each a discrete realm of consciounsess (wakefulness and sleep) to be contrasted with the other. This polarization of the two states of consciousness may yet conceal the more ‘dream-like’ features of waking existence.

One danger of ‘false difficulty’ in the humanities lies in the constant ballooning upwards and outwards of ideas and theories brought on by every surge of academic commentary. The origin or source of the problems that occupy us are lost as we gleefully alight here and there onto the latest ‘interpretation’ or ‘jargon’ and go with it where we will.

Well, every tree has roots. As a tree grows upwards and outwards, and becomes a mighty specimen to hold up in awe and rapt observation, its roots dig deeper into the earth, deeper into the dark. Every theory or interpretation that contributes a new word to the industry of ‘false difficulty’ also contributes a deepening of the roots – a deepening into the dark – and we are in danger of becoming lost to the interminable ‘chatter’ of half-baked scholarship. The roots are almost inaccessible to us now, so what hope do we have of recovering the problem itself?

May 2018
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