THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING – REDUX REDUX

Everybody blogger has a post or two that he or she considers special. This is mine. Why? Because it is a virtual summary of years of thought. Of all night discussion in college, philosophy courses and term papers, endless volumes of philosophy by obscure thinkers, theologians, philosophers, and authors from Douglas Adams to Friedrich Nietzsche.

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them!”
Friedrich Nietzsche

I’ve run various versions of this post a bunch of times. If you know me — like, you’ve hung out with me in person — you will understand how very “me” this post is. I spent much of my life pondering the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. One day, I realized it didn’t matter. All that pondering had landed me where I began. I know nothing, will never know anything.

You don’t know anything either, because the answers we pursue are unknowable. We can believe, posit, speculate, theorize. We can not know.

So here I go (again), explaining the meaning of everything. This is a long post, 3 times longer than my usual stuff. It might be worth sticking with me, but I’ll understand if you don’t.


We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means and too little time doing the stuff we enjoy. I suppose it’s normal to wonder if the reason you are sick, broke, or miserable is the result of something you did or failed to do. Normal, but a waste of time and energy because I’m going to explain everything and you’ll never have to wonder again.

Meaning of life

Learning to accept the total randomness of stuff that happens is difficult. We want it to make sense. We want order. We want this mess we call life to mean something important.

I’ve put a good bit of thought into why my life keeps falling apart. I know I’m not perfect, but whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things. It’s hard for me to believe, even in my darkest moments I’m so wicked that The Big Guy has in for me.

One day, I had an epiphany. I knew The Truth.

I considered founding a church to spread my word. A church with no faith in anything. No deity to get pissed off if you disobey some arbitrary rule. Contributions would be welcome since we all need to pay the rent.

This would suit our modern lifestyle, don’t you think?

Faith is opinion in fancy clothing.

You can believe what you want, but you can’t know any more than I do. You take the same leap of faith by believing in God or if you declare yourself an atheist. Both positions require you take as absolute something for which you have no direct proof and for which you will never have proof.

If believing in a loving God makes you feel good, believe it. It could be true. If it turns out you’re right, you’ll have backed a winner. If believing there is no God, and science is the only path (and is antithetical to God — a position with which I disagree) to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re  making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.

As for me, I don’t know. Really. I don’t know and what makes me smarter than you is I know I don’t know.

 I know nothing. Neither do you.

Accepting you know nothing is a big step, so take a deep breath. Your next challenge will be how you can cash in on this new knowledge. What’s the point unless you can awe people with your brilliance — and make a few bucks?

It’s all in the wording.

You need the right lingo to dazzle your audience. Big words (4 or more syllables) used in the right context can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds to show their admiration.

meaning-of-life3

Big words enhance your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books. Have a blog like me and I know you want to be just like me. Big words can take you a long way, if you are skilled at deploying them.

Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.

Epistemology

Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about, but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? 

I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything.

Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical.

Phenomenology

On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology   was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. The same reasoning proves there is no God. Ah, the joy of phenomenology.

Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:

Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.

In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.

Fount of Wisdom

You can now explain anything. Everything. You can prove things based on something a couple of friends said years ago while under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Although others may fault your logic, in the world of academics, everyone disbelieves everyone else unless they are citing them as a source, so you might as well stick your oar in the water.

meanin-of-life-snoopy

There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself which makes it hard to dispute. The only person who is ever convinced by faith is the he/she who holds it. Nor does it really matter how many people believe or disbelieve it.

Having more believers or followers doesn’t transform faith into fact.

If it did, we could achieve some really nifty things. Like, say we all believe in magic and therefore, it exists. Cool.

THE END OF ANGER, THE REST OF LIFE

I was asked how come I’m not bitter at direction which our world, our country are taking. Before anyone says anything, left-wing liberal at your service. And proud of it.

I believe in human rights. Equal rights, equal pay, women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, animal rights. A fair distribution of wealth. Kindness. Generosity. Honor. Honesty.

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In my opinion, recent elections proved most of our citizens — at least those few who vote — are clueless. They have no idea on which side their toast is buttered. No moral sense. No social responsibility. They have allegiance only to themselves. They are so ignorant they are, for all practical purposes illiterate.

So how come I’m not bitter?

I’m discouraged and cynical, but bitter would mean angry. I’ve got little energy and less strength. Who knows how much time? I not going to waste whatever I’ve got on anger.

I believe we are heading down a wickedly destructive road. We’re ruining education. Voting for the worst, most ignorant politicians. Destroying our physical world.

We’re environmentally so evil if any species has earned annihilation, humans have. I doubt our great-grandchildren will have much of a world to worry about, or any remaining freedoms to lose.

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It’s not my problem. I’ll be dead by then and past worrying. So yes, I’m cynical. But I’m also disengaged. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I’m not marching any more.

I’ve fought the good fight my whole life. I lost. We all lost. The current generation has handed over the world to the very people we battled and turned our victories into defeats. If they have their way, they’ll undo everything we accomplished. It’s appalling, but I won’t spend what time is left me embroiled in one more futile fight.

Moreover, the torch has passed. Future generations will have to do their own fighting, if they care enough to bother. If they don’t care, it won’t matter to me because I’ll be gone.

It will be their world, not mine.

IMMORTALITY AND THE DAILY PROMPT

Finite Creatures – At what age did you realize you were not immortal? How did you react to that discovery?


I am not sure I ever thought I was immortal — probably because I didn’t think about it at all. Until sometime in college, I did not ponder the nature of life and death.

College was a peak time for that kind of mental muck-raking. Was it the drugs? No, I’m inclined to think it was going to classes. You see, college presents no danger unless you actually attend lectures and stuff. If you just hang out on the quad, it’ll be okay. But I took courses like  “The Philosophy of Religion” and went to lectures on Phenomenology. And, I had a steady assignment of existential novels to read by Sartre, Camus, et al. Deep stuff. The kind of books I totally won’t look at any more.

96-Me Young in Maine

That this hyper-intellectual phase of my life coincided nicely with my first actual near-death experience was pure chance. It didn’t improve my personality, that’s for sure. There is nothing more aggravating than a teenage college student contemplating the philosophical meaning of life. And death. Had I not already been me, I would have had to expel myself as a punishment for being so annoying.

I’m pretty sure all of us thought we were very smart and had a solid grip on the life and death stuff. Even adding on my botched spine surgery — which nearly killed me for real and all — I was still an obnoxious wise-ass with an inflated sense of my intellectual prowess.

Things have really improved. Now I’m an aging senior citizen wise-ass. Oh, and I am pretty sure — not 100%, but maybe 90% — I am not immortal. Eventually, I’ll know for 100% certain.

I’ll get back to you on that.

SKIP THE $20 WORDS

Dictionary, Shmictionary

Time to confess: tell us about a time when you used a word whose meaning you didn’t actually know (or were very wrong about, in retrospect).


The last time I used a word that I didn’t know how to pronounce, but whose meaning I understood just fine, was “epitome.”I had read it in context many time and understood its meaning. But how to say it out loud? I got it wrong.

Everyone laughed. I never forgot. I was 9-years-old.

I don’t now and never have used words when I don’t know what they mean. I look them up. That one little moment of humiliation was sufficient for a lifetime. I always wince with pain when I hear people misusing words. It used to require one find a dictionary to look it up — or at least ask someone “What does “phenomenology” mean?

These days, you just Google it. Some words, like “epistemology” and “cosmology” (as opposed to “cosmetology”) require a little more than a single sentence explanation. I avoid using them unless that’s what the post is about. Unless you are trying to lose your audience, find more easily recognized words.

It doesn’t make anyone look smarter to misuse 20 dollar words when a 5 dollar word will do the job nicely.

Meaning of life

From “The Meaning of Life” Serendipity, June 30, 2014

Revelation #3: It’s all in the wording.

You need the right lingo to dazzle your audience. Big words (4 or more syllables) used in the right context can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds to show their admiration.

Big words enhance your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books. Have a blog like me (and I know you want to be just like me). Big words can take you a long way if you are skilled at deploying them.

Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.

Epistemology

Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? 

I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything.

Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical. (Remember infinite sets from college math? It’s like that.)

Phenomenology

On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. Except the same reasoning can prove there is no God. This is the joy of phenomenology.

Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:

Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.

In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.

WHEN SO MANY HAVE NOTHING

No Excess – “Perhaps too much of everything is as bad as too little.” – Edna Ferber


What is this supposed to mean? Like too much money? I have no idea what it would be like to have too much money. I’ve rarely had enough and now I have way too little. Too much power? I’m sure people who have it don’t think it’s too much. It’s the people who don’t have any who think others have too much — because they have too little.

Too much good health? Is there such a thing?

Too much luck? Too much fun? Too much laughter? Too much love? Too much joy? Too much learning? Too much tolerance, freedom, democracy?

I’d love to see the context from which this quote was taken. Because it’s out of context and doesn’t make sense to me.

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As far as I’m concerned, you cannot have too much good in your life or in the world. But too much evil, pain, suffering, want, and misery? Easily done. There never seems to be a shortage of bad anywhere, any time.

Right now, the popular whipping child — the thing everyone says is “too much” is political correctness. Too much political correctness is cramping our style, making us into a nation of wusses. Call me a knee-jerk liberal (I’m okay with that) because this sounds to me like a lot of folks want to get back to the good old days — when you could call a spade a nigger, call a Jew a kike.

If these words shock you, remember — this is the stuff political correctness takes out of your daily life. It makes it a social and legal no-no to use these words and many others like them. Political correctnesss equals social restraint. Not spewing hatred and insults publicly or privately.

At the foundation of political correctness is civility. Not treating people as inferiors. Not insulting others because of how they look or what they believe. Or where they come from. Not laughing at them because they limp or don’t talk properly. Or don’t speak English.

It’s not merely tolerance. It’s acceptance, equality, and democracy. It’s what we supposedly stand for in America.

Too much of everything? I’ll worry about that when everyone has enough food, shelter, medical care, water, and freedom. There can never be too much when so many have nothing.

I’M GOING TO KILL YOU

An episode of Law and Order got me thinking (again) about something I’ve thought about off and on for a while. The subject is “Under what circumstances might I commit murder — or kill someone — for any reason?”

We all say stuff. “I’m going to kill you,” doesn’t mean you are actually planning a murder. You are blowing off steam, saying “I’m so angry, I’ve run out of words to express it.” Garry pointed out that television and movies would be pretty dull if everyone behaved sensibly.

blood evidenceWe yell at each other. Sometimes there’s a slammed door and I occasionally rattle the pots and pans, but we don’t throw things. Don’t break things. Don’t kick the dogs or get in the car and drive like crazy people. We don’t binge drink or comfort ourselves with drugs.

We get angry with each other, though. We think about breaking a window. Throwing a piece of crockery. Then reconsider. Having that picture window replaced would cost a bundle. Never mind.

Under no circumstances do you hurt your pets.

In short, we are rational. We are never so angry we can’t see the consequences of our behavior.

I think most people have a hard-wired inhibition against killing people. If we didn’t, the world would be a much worse place than it already is. You have to train soldiers to kill. Young men won’t (normally) kill other young men unless you break down their inhibitions against killing. That’s what boot camp is about, right? Right. You knew that.

Garry said something perceptive, smart, reminding me of one of many reasons we’re together. He said “That’s why it’s good we have things like Facebook. People can go there to rant, rage, carry on. No knives, guns, bats. No corpses. Angry people vent. No one really gets hurt. Like the guys on the sports radio stations who call in screaming about the Red Sox. They’re just letting off steam. It’s just as well there are safe places for them to do it.” (Note: That explains Facebook. Nothing explains Twitter.)

Maybe it’s because Garry has seen so much violence and the results of violence. It was part of his job. Not the part he liked, but something he had to accept to be a reporter. I couldn’t have done it.

As to my original question, what would it take to make me kill another person? I don’t know.

Would I kill to protect my life style or for money — even a great deal of money? No.

Would I kill to protect someone? I’d want to, but could I? I’m not sure I could kill to protect myself. Many people can’t and lose their own lives because they hesitate. Television, fiction, and mythology notwithstanding, most people’s instinct is to not kill.

Inconvenient, but it may be the saving grace of the human race.


Kill Your Darlings – In this multi-day writing and editing challenge, we’re putting your red pen to the test. Each day, 10% of your post gets the axe.

POSTSCRIPT This was written a few days ago. I’ve been editing it since. Beginning at just under 750 words, it’s now 560. I’m not sure how that works out by percentage of cutting per day, but it’s in the ballpark. I do this with all my posts, except the daily prompt. Everything else sits as a draft for at least 3 days, often more.

ON THE ADVICE OF MY SPIRITUAL GUIDE …

Warning: This is a rerun — with editing — but it so precisely fits the requirements of today’s Daily Prompt: Discussion Enders, I could not resists doing a little revision and posting it. I quite like this little post. It makes me laugh every time I read it so maybe you will laugh too. We all need a laugh.


As the years have crept by, I have given up a lot of stuff, most of which (it turns out), I didn’t need in the first place. I gave up worrying. I gave up working. I gave up on the lottery, even though I still occasionally buy a ticket (just in case).

I gave up wanting a new car, expecting old friends to call (some of them don’t remember me any more — some don’t remember themselves). I’ve stopped hoping Hollywood will make movies I like, though occasionally they release something I love (like “Quartet,” a movie Dustin Hoffman directed in 2012). I’ve stopped trying to adopt new music and most new television shows.

I’ve renounced trying to figure out what’s going on with the Red Sox.

Some stuff gave me up. Some people gave up on me Other things, I gave up more or less voluntarily. In the end it works out to the same result.

When anyone asked me how or why I have given up whatever it was, I tell them it was for religious reasons.

UU Steeple 4

No one ever asks me what I mean by that. But just so you know, here’s my secret … obviously a secret no more …

I don’t mean anything at all by it. It’s just a way to end a conversation. No one wants to offend me by asking for the details of my religious beliefs. Who knows? They might turn out to be embarrassing or merely bizarre. Thus my all-purpose answer to everyone is “on religious grounds,” “for religious reasons,” or “my spiritual adviser required it.”

What power these words hold. They can make pretty much any conversation vanish without having to tell someone to shut up. It works on everyone except those who really know me. They will raise one or more eyebrows, and fall over laughing.

It’s very similar to (but different than) my all-purpose answer to “How are you?” With the biggest, broadest, fake smile I can muster and with heartfelt enthusiasm, I say: “I’m FINE!” 99.9% of the time, this does the job. Give it a test drive yourself. If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

Because I’m fine. For religious reasons.