Doug Bruns

The Ultimate Destination

In The Examined Life on March 29, 2013 at 6:00 am

I’ve said this before, but (I think) it’s important so I will say it again. (The older I get, the more inclined to repeating myself I become.) We think from left to right. That is, we think in terms of a lineal progression, we think in terms of becoming. In reading, the eye moves across the page, as, to our way of thinking, the life progresses along the line. I think this has not served us well. Like a ship in sight of the harbor, the process of becoming delivers us from open water and secures us to the dock. It is safe and we can relax. But security is a lie….

Wait, let me start over. Let’s consider the shop-worn adage, Life is about the journey, not the destination. Since the ultimate destination is–duh–death, we should take this advice to heart. To say that¬†life is about the journey is another way of recognizing that life is to be realized in the present tense. That’s good. However…

Returning to what I said at the outset, this business of “becoming.” Something about becoming suggests destination. I am suspect of destination thinking. Stay out of the harbor. Sail on.

Let’s leave it there for now.

* * *

I have no grudge with technology. However, I believe our nature is fundamentally simple and consequently I more appreciate artifacts of our simplicity than products of our science. I have an unattributed quote in my Moleskine that speaks to this: “The only possessions we feel good about are our books.” It is, of course, hyperbole, but hyperbole has its place.

* * *

I mentioned previously the book I’m reading, the John Cage biography, Where the Heart Beats. Two hundred pages in, the young composer finds himself misunderstood, his avant guard music scorned. He grows close to despair, questioning the very motive of writing music. Then Cage tells the following story:

“Two monks came to a stream. One was Hindu, the other Zen. The Indian began to cross the stream by walking on the surface of the water. The Japanese became excited and called to him to come back. ‘What’s the matter,’ said the Indian said. The Zen monk said, ‘That’s not the way to cross the stream. Follow me.’ He led him to a place where the water was shallow and they waded across.”

In other words, you have to do the work.

* * *

The Encyclopedia of Philosphy

The Encyclopedia of Philosophy

I noted in a past post that my landlord was putting a new roof on the building, that my five-floor walk-up studio-office was subject to pounding and dust, disturbing both Lucy and me. Last week, while finishing the roof–slate, lots of it–we had rain and a wee bit trickled through the roof-top work and leaked into my place. It fell directly onto a stack of topographical maps collected on a crossbeam. The Little Bigelow Mtn. 7.5′ Quadrangle map took the brunt of it. What I today discovered, however, is that volume 1 and 2 of my eight volume Encyclopedia of Philosophy, also got wet. This is a pity.

Opened to the page of most damage we find the entry for “Culture and Civilization.” Despite the now warped pages, the entry begins:

“The word ‘civilization’ was derived from an actual social condition, that of the citizen (Latin, civis). The word ‘culture’ in its social, intellectual, and artistic senses is a metaphorical term derived from the act of cultivating the soil (Latin, cultura)….The cultivation of the mind was seen as a process comparable to the cultivation of the soil; hence, the early meanings of ‘culture,’ in this metaphorical sense, centered on a process; the culture of the mind,’ rather than an achieved state.”

To circle back to the beginning: cultivation is the journey, no matter the quality of the soil. Just do the work.

* * *

Two quotes, coming to my attention within two days of each other:

“I do not believe in God. But I am not an atheist.” ~ Albert Camus

and

“All is God and there is no God.” ~ D.T. Suzuki

* * *

I leave you with that. Make of it what you can.¬†Have a nice weekend and thanks for visiting “…the house…”

d

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  1. I wonder if Camus would have agreed to have been included in the group named and described by Christopher Hitchens as “Einsteinian Agnostics”? Seems to follow the same theme.

    • This just in: From “Living Philosophies: The Reflections of Some Eminent Men and Women of Our Time” (1990). Einstein says, “To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms–this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly religious men.” This comes from the current New York Review of Books, an excerpt from Ronald Dworkin’s new book, Religion Without God.

  2. I’ll have to get up to speed with Hitchens and his merry band of agnostics. I can’t really comment on that. I know from reading late Einstein that he was, what we’d today call, deeply spiritual, but without religion. (I wouldn’t call Hitchens spiritual.) I think he would have (perhaps did (my Einstein books are in Maryland. Time to bring them home and refresh)) believed in the God of Spinoza, which is pretty close to a healthy agnosticism short of crossing that line. I do think Camus is to be found somewhere along this progression–I admit that upon finding that comment (and I can’t remember now where) I felt an strong urge to pin down the philosopher, but where to start? What does that mean,Camus’s comment? I suspect it is a matter of definition, of words–again proving Wittgenstein correct and his logic that it is only language as cause for the problems of philosophy. Or not, more likely I’m missing the point entirely. I do like the direction you’re headed, however. Any further insights are welcome.

    “God does not play dice with the universe…” Einstein famously quipped against the growing evidence otherwise.

  3. Dworkin’s Religion Without God sounds like another book to add to the list. That quote from AE is one of my favorites. If one refutes the “He” and “Him” and the “God” beliefs, does that make one an atheist?

    I agree with you that definitions frequently require placing false boundaries on ideas. if I don’t believe in any sort of personalized God or Him, I can still contemplate the possibility of some force beyond my ability to perceive. Is that agnostic or atheist? Einsteinian Agnostic?

    BTW, Hitchens referred to a rabbi who performed one of his wedding ceremonies as an Einsteinian Agnostic, rather than himself.

    One final note: thank you for the suggestion of brainpickings.com Always interesting ideas going on there.

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

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