Monday, December 04, 2006

Complements Will Get You Everywhere

Some philosopher or physicist -- possibly Neils Bohr -- said words to the effect that the opposite of a true statement is a false one, but that the opposite of a profound truth is often another profound truth. I find that I am constantly teetering along the precipice of this profound truism. In fact, there is no question that it formed the basis of the compulsion to write my book.

I actually have a photo -- one of these days I’ll transfer it to digital so you can all see it -- of the day I set out to write the book... Gosh, I was such a different person back then... Hey, out the window, a squirrel! Wait, I’m getting distracted here... The photo shows me in my office liberary with I don't know how many books from various disciplines strewn all over the floor. I'm standing there in my magic robe, brooding over them, trying to figure out how they all fit together.

Anyway, as I think I pointed out in the autobibliography of the book, I have the type of mind -- if it is a “type” and not just a quirk or something worse -- that just doesn’t like the idea of all these competing truths hovering about in an unsynthesized manner. I don’t like it when I see that truth of science over there in the corner smoking a cigaret by itself, and that truth of religion over there against the wall, hanging out with its little clique. My impulse is to get the two together and try to show how they are related -- how they reflect a higher truth.

I was fortunate in my choice of psychoanalysts, because he had a very capacious mind that always emphasized the importance of complementarity and paradox. People in the West don’t realize the extent to which they have internalized a wholly rationalistic, Aristotelian framework to understand the world, but rationalism can only get you so far. In its either/or default setting, it can reduce the intellect to a computer and reality to a machine.

But especially in more profound matters, it’s almost always more of a “both/and” situation. For example, one of the issues I constantly struggle with is the tension between tradition and modernity, which has countless ramifications, depending on how you resolve it. It is easy to come down on one side or the other, but I think victory of either side would result in a catastrophe for mankind.

Obviously, I have the highest regard for Frithjof Schuon, who is without a doubt the most articulate spokesman for the traditionalist school. But my spiritual life only began to take wing under the auspices of people like Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin, who are both unabashed “evolutionists.” Schuon detested both of them because he felt that the great revelations were essentially timeless and set in stone, and that they addressed primordial “man as such,” not “evolving man.” His view may sound severe or simplistic, and while it may be the former, it is not the latter. As spiritually elevated as he was, he could not help seeing the absolute horror of the modern world. And it is a horror. The more I grow, the more vividly I see this. I do not believe it is going too far to call it a spiritual atrocity.

But what to do about it? The paradox, or “complementarity” at the heart of the modern conservative movement is the tension between tradition, which preserves, and the free market, which relentlessly destroys in order to build. While individual conservatives may or may not contain this tension within themselves, the conservative coalition definitely does, with the “religious right” on one end and libertarians and free marketeers on the other. People wonder how these seeming opposites can coexist in the same tent, but the key may lie in their dynamic complementarity, for freedom only becomes operative, or "evolutionary," when it is bound by transcendent limitations -- which, by the way, is equally true for the individual.

The ironically named progressive left is an inverse image of this evolutionary complementarity. This is because it rejects both the creative destruction of capitalism and the restraints of tradition. Therefore, it is static where it should be dynamic, and dynamic where it should be static. It is as if they want to stop the world and “freeze frame” one version of capitalism, which is why, for example, they oppose free trade. While free trade is always beneficial in the long run, it is obviously going to displace some people and some occupations. It is as if the progressive is an “economic traditionalist,” transferring the resistance to change to the immament realm of economics instead of the spiritual realm of transcendent essences.

I know this is true, because it is what I used to believe when I was a liberal. For example, I grew up at a time when most people worked for large corporations that gave their employees generous pensions and health benefits. As such, it seemed "natural" or normative. In reality, this was just a brief phase of American capitalism, lasting from the mid-1950’s through the 1970’s. But backward looking progressives act as if this aberration was “in the nature of things.” They have a similar attitude toward factory jobs in heavy industry, as if we could somehow go back in time and preserve these high-wage, low-skill jobs.

But while the progressive is thoroughly backward looking with regard to economics, he is the opposite with regard to the spiritual realm. For him, mankind was basically worthless until the scientific revolution, mired as he was in myth, magic, and superstition. Rather, the only reliable way to understand the world is through the scientific method, which has the effect of throwing overboard centuries of truly priceless accumulated spiritual wisdom. It literally severs man from his deepest metaphysical roots and ruptures his vertical continuity. In reality, it destroys the very possibility of man in the archetypal sense -- i.e., actualizing his "spiritual blueprint."

A new kind of man is born out of this progressive spiritual inversion. Yesterday we spoke of castes and of “spiritual DNA.” Progressives, starting with Karl Marx, waged an assault on labor, eliminating its spiritual significance and reducing it to a mindless, collective “proletariat.” You might say that the left honors labor in the same way they honor the military: both are losers.

Again, it is amazing how much things can change in a mere generation. It’s not as if I grew up that long ago -- the 1960’s -- but I didn’t know anyone who obsessed over what he was going to do for a living when he grew up, nor did anyone care what anyone’s father did for a living. There was much more of an idea that it didn’t really matter what you did for a living, and that all work was noble. Maybe I was naive, but I never gave it a second thought that my friends’ fathers included a plumber, a retail clerk, a lawyer, a janitor, an accountant, a bricklayer, a liquor store owner, and various other occupations.

Today it’s as if there is shame attached to some of these professions, undoubtedly due to the abiding progressive contempt for those they presume to speak for. I personally cannot say that I’m any happier as a psychologist than I was as a retail clerk those 12 years. In many ways, I preferred manual work because it freed up my mind for higher things, while being a professional clogs up your brain with annoying "intermediary" trivialities. I am generally lost among the intellectual proletariat that takes this intermediate realm seriously. Yesterday someone characterized my caste as “priest artisan,” but perhaps “laborer priest” is more like it -- a blue backward collar worker.

Ever since it came into existence, the United States has been the key to the material and spiritual progress of mankind. The founders were well aware of this fact, having chosen the image of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt as the state seal. Clearly, Moses was not merely leading the Jews from physical slavery to economic freedom, but from spiritual shackles to the higher possibility of vertical liftoff in the desert.

But there's no such thing as a free launch. While there are obviously wonderful individuals, mankind as a whole is a pretty hopeless, often despicable, case. Here in the United States, thanks to our truly avataric founders, we discovered a way of life that could balance the complementarities of the spiritual and material, of tradition and progress, of science and faith, of liberty and constraint, of self-interest and charity.

At the conclusion the Constitutional Convention in 1787, someone asked Ben Franklin what sort of government had been decided upon. He famously replied, "A republic, if you can keep it." But it’s much more than that. It is also a freaking paradise -- or the closest thing you’re ever going to get to paradise on this earth -- but only if we can keep it. And we can only keep it by consciously cultivating the complementarity between the spiritual and the material, between tradition and capitalism, between liberty and transcendent obligation, between vertical and horizontal.

*****

This post began as a comment on this related article, but never quite got there: Dear Muslims: Which "House" is America to you?

37 Comments:

Anonymous dilys said...

Hah!

Progressivism: Offering all the freedom of hidebound tradition, and the humane comforts of the stark careening market system.

(With apologies to Washington, D.C.: Northern charm, Southern efficiency, the latter slur rather outdated now)

12/04/2006 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Frozen Markets and Free Morals! What more could a joker want?

Ah, the Bohemian.

12/04/2006 09:39:00 AM  
Anonymous USS Ben, USN (Ret) said...

You hit another home run, Bob!

Bob-
Doesn't spiritual warfare, which you clearly engage in,
constitute a duty of the Warrior/Priest?

I ask, because most Priests do not engage in overt spiritual warfare, and I wonder how Spiritual warfare relates to caste.

Lisa-
OK, but you asked for it.
And I meant flash as in camera flash, for the record. Heh!
Your take on it is funnier, though.

12/04/2006 10:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Das Philosophist said...

After reading the post I had an intuition that human spiritual evolution is a dead end, and that the true nature of our purpose is to create the spiritual thinking machine which will then shoulder the burden of terrestrial evolution and carry the flag, so to speak, to the next level.

In other words, humanity will give birth to, but not actually be, the main thrust vector of evolution; wet bioware will give way to dry hardware. This is not an illogical prediction, given the potentials that we see now for artificial intelligence. It is a natural area to look for greatly speeded-up evolutionary "miracles" to transpire.

If this is God's intention, then humanity will be nudged and massaged into an ever more scientific and technological species, until the desired devices are squeezed out at last.

Having served our purpose, we will then begin a slow decline into obsolescence and ultimately oblivion, hopefully under the loving gaze of the beings who supplant us.

This vision of things elevates the scientific mind to the most essential component of our purpose, and the economy that can best produce innovative and sophisticated computer devices is the one that will be favored by God.

America leads the way in the techno field and we can be justifiable proud of her, and especially so if this intuition pans out as the actual course of history.

12/04/2006 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Not sure how this post connects with the Matrix trilogy, so I'll leave that for others to discuss...

12/04/2006 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Is there really "tension between tradition and modernity" if we focus on people and how little they have actually changed over time -- rather than on systems that attempt to define a structure around their various thoughts and behaviors? It was when I was a liberal that I could only see the forest rather than the trees (without which there would be no forest). Dark and light thinking and ages have come and gone, and, I assume, will continue to do so until the end, but always cutting through the center of history are individual human beings -- whose real material and spiritual needs change very little. Hopefully, what we find ourselves becoming through our discussions of the forest, is individual trees that are more and more focused on the few trees around us -- on their support, encouragement, nurturing, and growth upward into the light.

What caste am I? Hmmm, perhaps a a corylus avellana -- its certainly been a twisted path.

12/04/2006 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Joan of Argghh! said...

Dearest D.P.,

It's easy to jump to wrong conclusions even when they're based on solid observations. I look long, think hard, see far-off visions and then...

Well, then I'm passed by a car that has fuzzy reindeer antlers (a la plastic team flag thingies)sticking out of the windows on either side, and I surmise that evolution brings about unintended consequences when paired with a free economy.

The Macrobes may desire our worship, but some joker's gonna dream up a machine that takes all the seriouness in the universe and fricks it all up with reindeer antlers and singing catfish.

I saw that car, and I knew we were all gonna be o.k.

12/04/2006 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

joan - was that an old, blue '96 buick...sorry.

12/04/2006 11:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Joan of Argghh! said...

So, that was you!! LOL!

12/04/2006 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger ximeze said...

GB said:"the key may lie in their dynamic complementarity, for freedom only becomes operative, or "evolutionary," when it is bound by transcendent limitations -- which, by the way, is equally true for the individual."

This reminded me of some things I learned as a college student while living in Japan (also lets me work out some USS Ben envy).

Having expressed an interest in Zen Buddhism (maybe the answer was here?), I found myself packed off to a temple to practice Zazen. This involved "assuming the position" & sitting for hours on end in a freezing zendo with snow blowing thru the doorway.

The big Kahuna there was a wise old bird (boy, did he love his sake). Fortunately that stay was over the New Year, when it is tradition to give gifts to the temple, which included multiple barrels of the stuff (best quality & very easy to drink). The Japanese really know how to party, don't have the Western moral/evil thing about booze & I think it amused him to get me sloshed.

We discussed many things, but two have stayed everpresent since then. He said that the practice of Zazen is to teach freedom within discipline, forcing the body into stillness & the mind into repetition thru a mantra, setting up something akin to water going down a drain, a vortex (there's that spiral again) designed to draw awareness (self) everindownout(?) til it disappears into the nothingeverything & which suddenly explodes back into existance. Dang, if it doesn't work too.

The second morsel involved outward appearance. He pointed out that when people are all dressed differently (from eachother) the eye gets distracted, pulled to the bells & whistles, if you will. Only when they all "look " the same, ie school uniforms or monk's robes, can you really "see" what makes each individual unique.

There is no freedom without discipline. Doing & thinking "whatever" is the illusion of freedom, following the bells & whistles designed to distract. It's thru the "sameness" of order that the unique can be "seen".

12/04/2006 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Well, the fundamental problem with machines in my view is that they are profoundly humorless. WE can make them funny, but anything that is funny about them is usually there because of someone's mistake or intent.

Machines are nothing more than sophisticated servants we created because we realised that making people property was a bad thing.

As a person who studied Artificial Intelligence (and is genuine(tm) in his geekiness) I can tell you that machines, like people, are just as stupid as they have ever been. They're just a lot faster at being stupid.

We once assumed that given enough inputs/processors intelligence would happen. Except... the machine could have a million inputs and outputs, but without instructions on what to do with them, it will just stare blankly into infinity.

The machine is only as intelligent as its creator. The path to God is towards him, not away from him.

12/04/2006 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous brian said...

das philosophist, is the God you describe the one you actually wish to worship? If the answer is no, and it should be, then I suggest ditching that God and looking elsewhere. A man is known by the authority he submits to, and an authority is known by the purpose he reveals in the humble man. Man, quiet yourself to hear God, humble yourself to reveal your purpose. You've got work to do, man.

12/04/2006 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger Smoov said...

@Das Philosophist said...

You are referring to something to similar to Ray Kurzweil's Singularity.

Kurzweil's work is profoundly engaging and points to a 21st century which could surpass all others combined 1000-fold in the rapidity and degree of technical change (he provides extremely compelling evidence that this will happen).

He has many detractors who do not accept the possibility of "thinking machines" or "spiritual machines".

I for one would be most interested in Bob's take on all of this, if only to hear a cogent refutation. Even if Kurzweil is wrong regarding the wilder predictions for AI (it will ultimately utilize all matter and energy in the universe to "light up" the cosmos with pure intelligence) he nonetheless raises some profound philosophical/spiritual questions.

12/04/2006 12:56:00 PM  
Anonymous hoarhey said...

"....wet bioware will give way to dry hardware. This is not an illogical prediction, given the potentials that we see now for artificial intelligence. It is a natural area to look for greatly speeded-up evolutionary "miracles" to transpire."

It would indeed not be an illogic prediction if your world vision is a brain centered one of a "futuristic" science fiction movie.
Dry hardware may have already given way to wet bioware and beyond to wet consciousness.
Artificial intelligence may well lead to amazing technological advances, yet artificial intelligence will always be "artificial".
You might read Bob's book for a differing viewpoint on the direction evolution is taking.

12/04/2006 01:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Das Philosophist said...

Smoov said in reference to Ray Kurzweil:

"Even if Kurzweil is wrong regarding the wilder predictions for AI (it will ultimately utilize all matter and energy in the universe to "light up" the cosmos with pure intelligence")...

This "wild concept" is not so wild, in my opinion. The concept of the entire universe reverting to pure intelligence/consciousness is very symmetrical. Isn't it a return to the starting point?

God involutes part of Itself into the cosmos (matter/energy) and slowly evolves completely back out again (matter/energy reverts to Godstuff-consciousness. End of the "Yuga" and time to start another.

It's a plausible sequence and explains the "lila" of God, or the purpose of the cosmos. God likes to disguise Itself and then slowly reveal Itself to Itself little by litte until the disguise is off again. It's a game and perhaps an extremely pleasurable one.

The game can't only be played by biological entities. Sooner or later all of the atoms in spacetime must return to God. Hence, my prediction that evolution will cross over into the inorganic some time in the future.
Logically, it must.

12/04/2006 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

I'm reminded of a great Far Side cartoon -- the patient is on the couch, the psychiatrist is listening, and all we see written in his notebook is, "Just plain nuts".

12/04/2006 02:01:00 PM  
Anonymous USS Ben, USN (Ret) said...

Dear Bobbleheads (and interested visitors):

Eventually, I plan to start a blog, when I am financially able to purchase a reliable, yet affordable (for me) computer.

For the purpose of telling my O--k Sea (see) stories, and life after sea,
with comments/discussion.

This project, if and when it launches, will be focused primarily on the O--k stories, but not restricted to them.

I'm currently using MSNTV2 (commonly referred to as webtv), and although I can start a blog, the msntv2 unit doesn't have the memory to sustain a blog more than 2 or 3 days max, without freezing and crashing, repeatedly.

I know this, because I tried it.

But, maybe there is an alternative I don't know about.

If anyone knows a way around this problem, I would be grateful for your advice.

Please send any suggestions to:

Benster1962@webtv.net

Thank you all for your kind comments.

Ximeze-
Thanks for sharing that Zen moment.

Freedom bound by discipline.

Liberty bound by responsibility.

Bob's freedom bound by trancendent limitations.

Are definitely complimentary.

I concur with the wisdom of the uniform idea.

Uniforms should be required in all schools and policy in all workplaces.

I'm envious for that sake you drank. Heh!

12/04/2006 02:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Jacob Churosh said...

The Zen abbot's words on clothes strike me as an incredible contrast to the plumage of modern society.

We live in a civilization where your clothing - in fact, your entire outward appearance - is to be used as shorthand for personal expression. You dress a particular way so that people can see what you're all about without having to ask you.

I feel that on a subconscious level, we all do this. Where else would we get those stereotypes of the oddly- and uniquely-dressed Democrat or the uptight but dignified three-piece-suit Republican or the sixties-throwback Greener? Or the jewel-and-satin-spangled nouveau riche?

When you are circumscribed by a uniform or a dress code, you are forced to think about yourself in detail - to come up with new ways of expression rather than be satisfied by what you have.

12/04/2006 02:43:00 PM  
Anonymous USS Ben said...

Many people devote their time and effort to create an image of what they want others to see.

Smoke and mirrors sans the latest fashions, and who determines what is fashion?

Typically the most shallow, self-absorbed people.
Often trying for the shock value, for it is unique, they believe, although there is nothing unique about it.

Self-expression?
Of what?
Anything of beauty or virtue?
Not often.

I'm for uniforms in schools, because te students should be learning something of value, maybe even the basics, not expressing their flesh, sleaziness, gang colors, gang-approved clothing,
smugness, gothness, or thousands of other expressions designed to attract attention to them.

Smart business owners will also utilize uniforms for purposes of non-distracting or business promoting.
The free market favors uniforms and/or dress codes more often than not plus it increases productivity.

Of course, outside of school and work, people should be free to wear what they want, as long as it doesn't violate law and order.
But let's be honest.
Most fashionable clothes express what the wearer appears to be on the outside, or a message, or an affiliation, or likes and dislikes, or favorite celebritys, sports teams, politics, etc., but not the truth of who they are on the inside, if they have anything deeper than their skin.

12/04/2006 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger John P. said...

Smoov, Isn't consciousness centered everywhere, bounded nowhere? When you gaze at a star isn't it present to the mind though distant to the eye? All the matter and energy in the universe is already lit up with pure intelligence, isn't it? And we are the individual focus of all this as sentient beings. And mayhaps we are the device by which this "pure intelligence" is self aware and things like love, reason, duty, honor, conscience, courage are aspects of, or spirits themselves, and vehicles by which commerce is carried on between us and "that primal spirit whence issued forth of old the whole cosmic activity."

12/04/2006 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger Jamie Irons said...

Dr. Godwin,

This is, I think, my favorite among your recent posts.

I think you may be right that it was Bohr who said:

Some philosopher or physicist -- possibly Neils Bohr -- said words to the effect that the opposite of a true statement is a false one, but that the opposite of a great truth is often another great truth...


At Moe's Bookstore on telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, back in the eighties, old Moe used to have a sign in the window with a saying which I also believe came from some quantum mechanic or other:

Whatever isn't forbidden, is compulsory.

;-)


Jamie Irons

12/04/2006 05:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Jacob Churosh said...

Ben:

As I said before, being circumscribed by a uniform or a dress code forces you to think more carefully about who you are and the image you want to project - you're not allowed to use your choice of clothes as shorthand for This Is Who I Am, a strategy which buys into the notion that you can judge a book by its cover.

12/04/2006 05:36:00 PM  
Anonymous GLASR said...

Hit AT in the rotation which was AFTER the apparently unacceptable sousveillance comment. You got there. I would have skipped reading the AT article once there, since you linked, eh. The number and particular type of appeal, in contrast to yours, to the practioners of the religion of peace, numbs and staggers the mind. Did like the coined Psychosocial Virus though. How do you become blind to right and wrong? I would distill it this way, remove humor, sense of irony and pervert absolutes in any human being - hook 'em up bassackwards - end up with a dangerous defective product. The AT wordsmith(one of their own no less)could not have made the case more clear. Your less direct approach, whole lotta sense there. Is it the first allegiance to Islam? Is it the institutional hate? Is it too much sun not enough water? I'm going back in time and suggesting there's a portal to Hell in the Middle East. Why? As with our left wing bretheren, I continually find myself saying, they really don't believe what they're saying - do they?

12/04/2006 05:39:00 PM  
Anonymous USS Ben, USN (Ret) said...

My fellow Bobbleheads, Causmonots, Comic Raccoons, and friends:

A brand new MythAdventure is posted at the alternate lunaverse
OneCosmos, for your perusal.

Thanks to Bob's gracious hospitality!

12/04/2006 06:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Mrs. G said...

For Sal, OT:
Thanks so much Sal for knitting for the Gagboy. That's a major endeavor, and if you change your mind and decide to knit a small mitten instead of a sweater, we'd totally understand!

I measured his chest below his arms and it was 21". There was a lot of squirming, and if you have some instructions that might help me do a better job of this, please let me know. lesliegodwin@dslextreme.com

Thanks so much! Let me know you saw this post. Sorry I didn't have your email.

Mrs. G

12/04/2006 06:41:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

To clarify Ben's comment, since One Cosmos II is currently in dry dock, Ben is posting his naval-gazing adventures over there in exchange for some routine maintenance on the blog's barnacle-encrusted hull:

www.onecosmos.wordpress.com

12/04/2006 06:54:00 PM  
Anonymous USS Ben, USN (Ret) said...

Dang! I knew I forgot something.

Much obliged, Bob!

I reckon it's time for a few Z's.

Right after I send Sal a bonafide virtual MythAdventure(TM) hat, guaranteed to keep the virtual rain off Sal's noggin!

I hereabye beleaf this one-of-a-kind aword to Sal, for his work as the official Gagdad Boy Knitter!

Sal is a giver not a quitter.

Kudos to you Sal!!!

12/04/2006 07:46:00 PM  
Blogger Banshee said...

The importance of understanding that there is only one truth, and that science and religion are both ways of getting at it, was a crucial philosophical point back in the Middle Ages. (St. Albert the Great, being both scientist and theologian, championed it against folks like Siger of Brabant.)

12/04/2006 08:14:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Ximeze,
I liked the Zazen comment.

If you've ever seen a martial arts instructor worth their salt, as they're teaching students, prior to achieving Mastery, all tasks - kicking, blocking, even breathing are filled with potential flaws and pitfalls the kick isn't just a kick, it's breathing, shifting your weight, drawing a flow of momentum down from the upper body & up through the legs... just... right... the slightest action that isn't part of the correct flow - and you mark yourself as an amateur.

"Don't think, just DO!" "Again!" But you can't do it at all without complete thought and concentration... trying so hard not to try... argh! "Don't think, just DO!" "Again!" He grabs your leg and guides you through what it should be doing, he demonstrates it again for himself for the umpteenth time, then "Don't think, just DO!" "Again!"

And then comes the day when while you weren't watching, and you've done it perfectly, and the Instructor has no pain in his expression while watching you. You've learned to do it properly, and a Master will tell you that everyone who has 'perfected' the action has a distinctive style, but that style wasn't developed by trying to add 'Individuality' to it - the Individuality developed of it's own through trying to follow the age old instructions exactly as given to you and everyone else for hundreds of years. From long tradition, the extraneous faux 'techniques' are sanded off by Time, leaving the core time tested traditional methods to be practiced by every apprentice, be it in Martial Arts or Fine Arts.

If you've got any 'artistic' kids and watched them grow from jittery lined doodlers to fine drawers, you know it wasn't through 'doin' their own thing', but relentlessly drawing shapes and figures over and over and over. My Wife would show them how to hold the pencil, and draw a circle and a straight line over and over. Eventually those labored and jittery circles and lines flow from their fingers, and THEN they can draw anything their eyes fall on. It's worked the same with the 18 & 14 yr old's, the 7 yr old is working on it.

Mastery of the basics MUST come before authentic Individuality. I think people get too hung up on the concept of Mastery though, it isn't the same thing as earth shaking greatness, or artistic genius - it's simply developing the ability to Master your own physical and mental ... um... extensions... by teaching yourself the ability to do what it is that you've decided to do, via the Time tested methods for developing that ability - once accomplished, then all the ... extraneous jiggles, distracting thoughts (mini mental parasites?), are discarded or brought under control, cleared and wiped away, and THEN the actual You is able to express itself confidently and competently.

My Wife, as a young girl, mastered drawing and painting - that doesn't mean that she can rival Rembrandt, Godard or even Van Gogh, only that she Mastered her self to the point that her ability is able to shine through without interference. I think she physically can't draw even a random line drawing without it effortlessly having artistic style. If you threw a mess of paper doodles at me, I could easily tell which was hers - nothing consciously distinctive about them, but true Individuality born of repeatedly practicing those traditional methods long ago, shines out and marks her doodles out head and shoulders above the conscious "ME! ME! LOOK AT ME!" and lesser efforts (like mine).

As an aside, we have a game called 'Doodle' that we invented while waiting for food in the restaurants. To keep the kids attentive, we flip over their paper placemats and draw a small doodle for each kid, 3 lines max, and then they have to figure out a way using max 2 separate continuous lines, to turn it into some type of an image (airplane, duck, etc) and each of those doodles becomes a delightful squiggle. It's interesting to see the difference between mine and theirs. My drawing ability, as a kid, was something like the unbalanced, protean type Bob mentions, but I never brought it under control, never hunkered down and mastered it - I scrawled MY way, I wouldn't practice... and bit by bit it slipped away... no, wrong word, it was covered up & absorbed by the unmastered distractions. But hey, it's been a good lesson for me.

(By the way, Joan of Arghh!!!, you did see my comment to my last comment didn't you? I started to make a long comment the other day (like this, sorry), ran out of time, and deleted most of it which left only your name from your comment tagged up with the regressives comment - sorry about that!)

USS Ben! Where's the rest of the story! You can't keep cliff hanging me! I'm on pins and needles here!

12/04/2006 08:50:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

USS Ben... ahh, I guess it'd help if I hit refresh now and then. Going over to get mythed.

12/04/2006 08:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Aquila said...

Off-topic (kinda):

Clear and inconvertrible evidence of spiritual, social, and emotional child abuse posted on YouTube:

http://tinyurl.com/wbq3w

And for some (darkly) comic relief, here's the person who's probably largely responsible for it:

http://tinyurl.com/uuldq

12/04/2006 09:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Sal said...

Mrs. G.- Thanks! 21" sounds just right, for his age. Obviously he's all muscle, like his old man.

Aquila- was that necessary?
During a rare snowfall the other day, I popped a baby hat meant for Afghanistan on Bubs, rather than try to play "fat man in a little coat" with him, his hoodie and his car seat.

He looked completely precious, but now it strikes me that "Coolest Uncle" would wear just that sort of hat. I may have to confiscate it and send it away, after all. This makes no sense, but I'm totally creeped out by those clips.

Ben - thanks for the hat!

12/05/2006 04:12:00 AM  
Blogger Smoov said...

The first part of Bob's book made me recall Finnegan's Wake. I'd read Ulysses and The Dead years ago, so I found FW online to have a look.

Hmm.

I'm not dumb, but I can tell when I've hit the limits of my intellect. Higher mathematics will definitely do it, as did one page of Finnegan's Wake. I've known a handful of people in my life with the 170+ IQs needed to assimilate the truly oceanic volume of knowledge (not to mention the dozen or so languages) required to actually read this novel with some level of comprehension. I expect lesser minds could puzzle it out with years of effort.

In any case it is a somewhat humbling experience to hit feel your limits (I'm smart enough that I don't hit them often in daily life, which for me means the software business).

I'm glad I found this blog. I am repulsed by any form of personality cult, but I can genuinely say it is comforting to be able to learn from someone as wise and obviously brilliant as Bob.

12/05/2006 07:28:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

I've actually found myself hitting my limits many times in the past, and then I go back later and those limits have disappeared.

We had a very zen moment while playing Super Smash Bros. Melee in college:

To truly master a character, you must play all of the other Characters.

I'll have to read Finnigan's Wake, As I never have. I find that diligence pays off when fruitful, but is futility with the wrong task.

I guess it is a matter of whether you are actually pushing your limits or just being strangled by them?

12/05/2006 07:56:00 AM  
Blogger Smoov said...

@River Cocytus said...

"I guess it is a matter of whether you are actually pushing your limits or just being strangled by them?"

I don't think I'm being strangled. I don't feel particularly limited, and I do know what you are getting at. I sort of understand Bob's point re the lack of limits of human reason when it comes to apprehending the Divine. However there are very real limits on what is called general intelligence (correlating roughly to IQ).

The brute facts are that most Walmart clerks are wholly incapable of doing complex higher mathematics (unless that clerk is a math Ph.D.--a distinct possibility -- wink).

Finnegan's wake requires of its reader a level of erudition such as to make it essentially impenetrable to the vast majority of people.

This in no way depresses me. It just is. I'm not too concerned, because I'm perfectly capable of learning what really matters, which is why I've started reading this blog every day.

12/05/2006 08:26:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Well, I guess you're right -- 'strangling' is probably a bad term.

What I meant was the distinction between pushing against your limits and expanding them and on the other hand, trying to push against the limits of your limits.

I've found that what I thought were my limits gradually expanded over time. I tend to think expansively, and assume the best of people.

I have had to deal with a lot of people in my life who falsely impose limits on themselves- sometimes for false humility, others because of the bird in the cage phenomena, etc. Most of the people in my life who I am close to probably have yet to expand to their real limits.

So I was expressing, I suppose, more my attitude than anything. Apologies for that. It's part of my caste perhaps. Interestingly, one finds power when one knows one's limits.

12/05/2006 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Philomathean said...

Hi, Bob! There's an article in last month's edition of The New Atlantis magazine that you should check out. It's "Shop Class as Soulcraft" by Matthew Crawford. Crawford has some fascinating things to say about the psychic appeal of manual work, as well as the historically recent degradation of blue-collar work. Fascinating stuff. Here's the link:

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/archive/13/crawford.htm

12/05/2006 04:32:00 PM  

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