You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘philosophy’ tag.

Despite the persistent ticking of clocks and our almost constant attention to time, quantum physics says it doesn’t even exist. Theoretical physicist  Carlo Rovelli writes that “There is no time variable in the fundamental equations that describe the world.” At the quantum level, durations are so short that they can’t be divided and there is no such thing as time.

And yet, he has spent most of his life studying time.

Rovelli’s book, The Order of Time, is about the way we experience the passage of time.

One of his premises is that chronology and continuity are stories we tell ourselves. We need these stories to make sense of our existence.

He asks tough – or maybe crazy – questions, such as “Why do we remember the past and not the future?”

These are questions for physicists and philosophers, but not ones most of us consider as we move through a time story from past to future that we think is uniform and universal.

His view is hard to grasp. His universe is made up of countless events. Things that happen and even physical “things” are in a continual state of transformation. No space nor time—only processes that transform physical quantities from one to another.

Time is our measure of change.

Rovelli’s short collection of essays, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, was a bestseller and one of the fastest-selling science books ever.

If all this seems out there, remember that Einstein said that our clock time is an illusion. Time zones – a 20th Century invention – was a business decision, not a fact of the universe. Einstein said that time passes at different rates from place to place. It passes faster at the top of a mountain than at sea level. Perhaps imperceptibly to us, a clock on the floor will move ever so slightly slower than a clock on top of the fireplace mantle.

Time’s passage is a mental process, a story we tell ourselves in the present tense. It’s your own story. It’s our collective story.

But I have trouble accepting all this when explanations keep saying things like “Time runs slower wherever gravity is strongest, and this is because gravity warps or curves spacetime.”  I guess Rovelli has to use the term “time” to explain that there is no time in the way that atheists need to talk about god in order to explain why there is no God.

Benedict Cumberbatch reading the opening of The Order of Time

“I stop and do nothing. Nothing happens. I am thinking about nothing. I listen to the passing of time. This is time, familiar and intimate. We are taken by it.
The rush of seconds, hours, years that hurls us towards life then drags us towards nothingness …
We inhabit time as fish live in water. Our being is being in time.
Its solemn music nurtures us, opens the world to us, troubles us, frightens and lulls us.
The universe unfolds into the future, dragged by time, and exists according to the order of time.”

I never thought of myself as a stoic, but I might be wrong. If you have heard of Stoicism, it might be because you learned about it briefly in some high school or college course. It is philosophy. You might say that Stoics are calm and almost without  emotion. They don’t show what they are feeling. Stoics can endure pain and hardship without showing their feelings or complaining. They accept what is happening.

But all that isn’t really accurate to the origin of Stoicism. For example, another misconception is that Stoicism is a religion. Although the Stoics made references to the gods in their writing, this was a philosophical, rather than religious, doctrine.

The Stoics were a group of philosophers who first began teaching their ideas in the Hellenistic period. Stoicism was founded by a man named Zeno, who lived from 335-263 BC.

Stoics were not opposed to emotions entirely. They were opposed to negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, jealousy, and fear.

I don’t think many people today would label themselves as stoic, but some of the principles of Stoicism can probably make you happier and a better person.

Zeno put death in the forefront of things to consider. But what that means is that you should cherish each day of life. Stoicism is certainly not the only philosophy that encourages living in the present. (Buddhism is another.) It seems quite modern to be “mindful” of the present moment and to make that a practice. That might involve meditation, or solo walks in nature.

It also means you are more conscious of being thankful for things that we do have. Zeno wouldn’t have kept a gratitude journal as some people do these days, but he would probably approve of the practice. This little act of mindfulness does have value, like keeping a food journal when you’re on a diet so that you consciously spend some time considering what is happening to you.

In writing about what Stoicism is not, William Irvine says:

Although Stoicism is not itself a religion, it is compatible with many religions. It is particularly compatible, I think, with Christianity. Thus, consider the so-called “Serenity Prayer,” commonly attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

It echoes Epictetus’s observation that some things are under our control and some things are not, and that if we have any sense at all, we will spend our time dealing with the former group of things.

Stoicism was modified by the Romans, most prominently Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus, and you can still read their words, even on an e-reader.

Stoicism has evolved and a kind of modern stoicism exists. How would the Stoics of old cope in our times? Seneca said, “Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own.” People are still finding reasons Stoicism matters today.

Maybe more of us are Stoics than we thought.

 

Mr. g is God, but small g god. Probably not the one you were taught about. He is the protagonist of a novel carrying his name written by Alan Lightman.

Right off, I’ll say that Mr. g, the book, worked for me because he is the god I have come to believe exists. If I had to explain him to you or hang a label on this god, I would say look up “Deism.”

Deism is something I have so far only touched lightly on here in the past. It is the belief in a supreme being,  a creator, who could but chooses not to intervene in the universe.

It is not a new belief. It was an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that took in a number of the founding fathers of the United States. They accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind.

This “fictional God” (we could have a discussion about that term) exists in a Void before any creation along with his Aunt Penelope and Uncle Deva. I cannot explain who they represent or even why they exist. I understand why the Creator couldn’t have creator parents but…

Mr g is omnipotent but not omniscient. He creates universes. He put creatures into one. And then he lets it go on its own. (I was going to say he lets it evolve but that is a troublesome word.) It is trial and error. Though he has created rules/laws for these universes, he is surprised by what occurs.

There is also Belhor and his toadies living in the Void. Is B the Devil or just a way to question and challenge him and allow him to explain things.

The book actually avoids outright talk of religion, though the idea of a soul or something that lives on beyond the mortal life is brought up by Uncle Deva. But, like Deism, if a religion, it is one whose followers believe in a God who “created the universe, established its rules of behavior, set it going, left, and
hasn’t been seen since.”

I depart from that description in that I believe that his God can and may occasionally interfere with the course of human events, as Mr. g does once in the book.

A creator God as all-powerful but not all-knowing is probably not a comfortable fit for most readers.

Lightman also wrote Einstein’s Dreams, a collection of stories that are dreamed by Albert Einstein in 1905 as he ponders in his waking life time, relativity and physics.

Each dream/story explores another possibility. In one dream, time is circular and we are fated to repeat the good and bad over and over. But in another one, time stands still and people cling desperately to what they have in fear of it going away.

Lightman teaches in the humanities at MIT and his books span science, theology, and philosophy. Sometimes, as with Mr. g,  he both ignores and observes the questions that arise when those three things cross paths.

Albert Einstein once said “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”

http://www.deism.com/

http://www.religioustolerance.org/deism.htm

https://cmsw.mit.edu/alan-lightman/

 

“All grown-ups were once children — although few of them remember it.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This past week was the birthday of French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. He was born in Lyon, France in 1900. Saint-Exupéry was a renowned pilot, but is best known now for his classic “children’s” novella, Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) published in 1943.

Though it is usually labeled as children’s literature, many adults cherish this little book too. I had not read the book until I was an adult. My wife as a teacher of French used the book in her classes.

I took out her copy of the book and paged through it with my cup of matcha tea this morning.

The Little Prince is about a little boy, a prince, who lives on a planet so small he can watch the sun set 44 times a day. He falls to Earth and befriends a stranded pilot.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry grew up being fascinated by airplanes. He was conscripted at 21 into the French air force and qualified as military pilot a year later.

By 1926, he’d helped establish airmail routes over Northwest Africa, the South Atlantic, and South America, which made him a pioneer in postal aviation.

In 1935, while trying to win a competition by breaking the speed record in an air race from Paris to Saigon, he and his mechanic crashed in the Sahara desert.

They wandered for four days with little food or water. A Bedouin found them and administered a native remedy to rehydrate them. Saint-Exupéry used some of this experience when writing The Little Prince.

The Little Prince is considered a classic of literature. It is about loneliness, friendship, and philosophy.

In 1944, Saint-Exupéry flew a reconnaissance mission over France and never returned. It was assumed his plane had crashed in the Alps, but more than 60 years later, the wreckage was recovered from the Mediterranean seabed, not far from Provence.

When he was asked how he would like to die, Saint-Exupéry chose water. He said: “You don’t feel yourself dying. You simply feel as if you’re falling asleep and beginning to dream.”

The Little Prince was published after his death and has been translated into over 250 languages and dialects, including Braille, and sells 2 million copies annually.

The artwork in the book is Saint-Exupéry’s original watercolors.  He wrote two other books about flying, the non-fiction Wind, Sand and Stars and a novel, Night Flight.

There is a live-action film and an animated film version of the story. There is a museum for the Little Prince in Japan.

But the book is the thing.  As the sun was setting today – it only happens once a day on our home planet, which makes it more precious – I looked back into the book again and had another cup of tea.

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

www.thelittleprince.com

Musé du petit prince, Hakone, Japan (Wikimedia)

 

 

When I taught in a secondary school, I always had a rotating series of quotations on my classroom walls. Many were quite serious: “Some of us think that holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” – Herman Hesse
Some were humorous: “Every place is within walking distance if you have the time.” – Steven Wright
Some quotes were somewhere in between: “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain
I even quoted myself: “Bladder control is a sign of maturity” and “When the mothership lands, know who your true friends are.”

Students would sometimes ask about a quote, and I would use them in lessons. On some rare and happy occasions, a student would connect a quote to something we were doing in class.

One quote that students usually thought was “stupid” was:

“Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.”

It is a quote from Blaise Pascal who can be described as both a mathematician and a mystic. He was born in Clermont, France in 1623. I told students that Blaise was homeschooled because his father, a mathematician, believed that children should absorb knowledge naturally rather than by studying. My students found this to be sound thinking.

They were in lesser agreement on that approach when they learned that his home life was less fun and games and more geometric problems which he was told to work out using lengths of sticks in his backyard.

The method seemed to work. At 12, he showed his father that he had discovered that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles. His father invited him to join in his discussions with other mathematicians. He published an article on the geometric properties of cones at 16, and a few years later, he invented the first mechanical calculator.

TaylorBut what about Cleopatra’s nose? I always assumed that Cleopatra was a great beauty, but there are very few images or descriptions of her.

In my mind, she looked like Elizabeth Taylor in the film Cleopatra (1963). That nose looks, like the rest of Liz, quite beautiful.

But it seems that power rather than beauty was the real appeal of Cleopatra.

coin

“The Lover’s Coin” a bronze showing Cleopatra (left) and Marc Antony.

She is described as being quite thin and quite small (about four feet tall). Julius Caesar was accused of pedophilia when she at around age 18 visited him in Rome. She was also depicted as having quite a big nose. But Cleo was  proud of her large nose because it demonstrated her pure Macedonia blood (she was not Egyptian) as a descendant of Alexander the Great.

Pascal had a good-sized nose himself, so maybe he identified with Cleo. But what did that odd quote mean?

I college, I was assigned to read some of Pascal’s writings in a philosophy course. The idea that stuck with me was that if you change one thing, you change everything. If you decide to go to a different college, or marry a different person, everything after changes. But even if you change something that seems less significant – whether to skip work today, the route you take driving, your nose or Cleopatra’s nose – other things will change. Every choice changes the consequences.

That kind of thinking moves easily into discussions of fate, destiny, free will and religion. Pascal’s family was not religious and he was not raised with religious teachings. By chance (if you believe in that concept), he met two Christian mystics who cared for his father during an illness. They converted Pascal.

The newly converted Pascal had no problem with these new beliefs and science. He continued working on scientific experiments. He showed that a vacuum could exist in nature. He invented the mathematics of probability.

He had his religious beliefs, but he wasn’t a blindly devoted believer.

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when
they do it from religious conviction.”

But then, in 1654, he experienced a “night of fire.” He had a divine vision. It changed his life and he decided to forget the world and everything except for God.

He left Paris the following year and went to live in a convent. While living there, his niece was miraculously cured of an eye disease by touching a thorn from the crown of Jesus.

He started to write a book to convert skeptics to Christianity. He never completed the book. The notes he had made were posthumously published as Pensées (Thoughts).

What I recall most clearly from that book is his “wager.”

“God is or He is not. But to which side shall we incline? Let us weigh the gain and the lose in wagering that God is. Let us estimate the two changes. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, lose nothing. Wager then without any hesitation that He is”

If God does not exist, the skeptic loses nothing by believing in him. But if God does exist, the skeptic gains eternal life by believing in him.It is logical to believe.

In his writing, the “heart” is what experiences God, and not reason. The famous quote of his on that:

“The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of…
We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.”

These are far larger questions than my quotations on the wall ever answered. Then again, they were meant to provoke questions more than provide answers. Pascal said that “Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.”

“And what is good Phaedrus, and what is not good.  Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”  –  Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Pirsig

Pirsig

Robert M. Pirsig, who I wrote about here earlier, died this week at the age of 88 at his home in South Berwick, Maine after a period of failing health.

He will be remembered for his two books: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values and Lila: An Inquiry into Morals.

Zen is a novelistic autobiography that inspired readers in many ways, including those who did their own road trip across America with or without a motorcycle.

Published in 1974, I read it as I was finishing college and the mix of road story, philosophy, Zen and some actual motorcycle maintenance tips inspired me to take a small road trip after graduation of my own.

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

I would say the book is a classic, and not of the “underground” type, as it sold well then and seems to continues to find new readers.

Though published in 1974, it echoes a lot of the philosophies and issues that the earlier decade brought forward in America and also the “on the road” vibes of the 1950s. Pirsig used as inspiration a motorcycle trip across the West he took with his son Christopher in 1968.

“When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a Religion.”

While serving as a soldier in South Korea after WWII, Pirsig encountered the Asian philosophies and he went on to study Hindu philosophy in India. He started a philosophy Ph.D. at the University of Chicago but didn’t continue with it.

He went through a period of hospitalization for mental illness, but after his release he lived in Minneapolis, worked as a technical writer and began writing Zen.

The Zen was real for him. He helped found the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center.

“The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.”

He worked on and off on his second book for 17 years. Lila, his look at morals, came out in 1991 and  tells of a journey down the Hudson River in a sailboat by his philosopher-narrator, Phaedrus. He encounters Lila, a troubled woman who is nearing a mental breakdown. This book feels like an attempt to complete the “metaphysics of Quality” system introduced in his first book.

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

 

All quotations here from  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Visitors to Paradelle

  • 386,531

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,297 other followers

Follow Weekends in Paradelle on WordPress.com

Archives

I Recently Tweeted…

Tweets from Poets Online

Recent Photos on Flickr

%d bloggers like this: