What’s the Best Part of Your Eye?

“I think the best part of my eye is the hole in it, master, for  it lets in the light.”

“I maintain the finest part is the retina, as it is that which uses that light to see.”

“I feel strongly the most marvelous part is the binocular cells, because they form the two eyes into one allowing me to see the depth of the world.”

“I can’t help but assert that the best part of my eye is my whole body, since it uses my eye to do something.”

“Your answers are all good, noble sons of good family. But the best part of your eye is my eye, because with it I can look at yours.”

–al Phlatbushani, The Garden of Hints


The Most Important Question

The logician Raymond Smullyan tells the following story. The Buddha was around in Northern India and he was going on his world tour. The way it would work was he would walk into town and everybody who wanted to could come and ask him a single question and then he would move on. If you think about that’s a huge deal — he was so wise that we still have posters and jewelry with him on it around 2500 years later. And the people in this little village are going to have a chance to ask him something.

One guy gets really worreid. He doesn’t want to blow his chance to ask the Buddha a question. And he’s worrying. What should he ask. Should I ask the Buddha how to get rich? Should I ask him how to get a girlfriend? Should I ask him if there’s life after death? Should I ask him what we should do when fossil fuel runs out? Should I ask him how to make a really good hamburger? It’s really hard! He only gets one question!

So finally the guy he’s up all night. The Buddha has answered everybody’s question. He’s put on his sandals, grabbed his begging bowl, and he’s walking out of the village. And the guy gets a brain storm. He runs after the Buddha and says “Oh Buddha! What is the single best question for me to ask you and what is the answer to it?” And the Buddha says “That. That is the single best question for you to ask me and that is the answer.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson said strictly speaking we cannot acquire instruction from another person but only provocation, which is Latin for calling forth what is already inside. The best thing I can offer you is to provoke you to ask a really good question.

The question you really care about. The question you want to know.

Philosophy and science are full of questions other people asked. Is man good or evil? Does the external world really exist? What is time? Why are there so many different kinds of animals? How can we stop war?

But what’s your question?

I can’t tell you what your questions are, and I would suggest you be very suspicious of anyone who tells you that you can.

And that’s for an interesting reason.

You might have learned in school or on wikipedia about another famous riddle asked by a monster. If you play Dungeons and Dragons it was a gynosphinx. She asked Oedipus — and he actually didn’t turn out so great but at htis point in the story he was doing good — what is that monster that walks on four feet in the morning two feet int he afternoon and three feet at night. All the other heroes were like I don’t know shape-shifting leg-monster? And she ate them.

Do you know?

Yes. Oedipus answered the question. Me. Human. I am the monster who has four legs inthe morning as a child, two legs in the afternoon as a man, and three legs in the evening as a man leaning on a cane.

The answer to the riddle was him.

Who you are — what bothers you, what your family was like, what happened to you that you hated, what happened to you that you love, the people you allow to matter to you — is what made you ask the question.

And since who you are is what made the question — when you answer them they teach you who you are. Which is pretty cool.

Any questions?


Things That Are Only What They Are Cause They are Part of Something Else

At least some things only are what they are because they are part of something else. So a heart is just a heart because it is part of a circulatory system, a moon is just a moon because it orbits a planet, a Mommy is just a Mommy because she has one or more children. So too with more personal items — lust is only lust because it impels us to copulation, the thought of cherries is only the thought of cherries because it is in interaction with cherries, your memory of Charleston in the spring is only a memory of Charleston in the spring if you acquired it in Charleston in the spring.

Your power to control your fate is therefore more and less than you might think. Less because whether you are a genius or a madman, a brave soldier or a murderer, may depend upon the future reception of your actions. More because you may create the future context in which your current life is what it is.

A prophet creates his own people.



If I’m Julius Caesar’s Dad and I am attracted to a girl, my attraction is the future Roman Dictator stirring to existence. If I’m Marcel Proust and I notice that the taste of a cookie brings my past rushing back into my consciousness, that mental event is my future book “In Search of Lost Time” groping towards existence. In both of these cases we have reverse causality — a future event is causing something in the present. It’s weird, but that’s the way it is.


Religious People Commit a Lot of Murders Therefore Let’s Stop Being Religious

This is a fallacious argument. The reason religious people kill people is because they care deeply about their religion, or more often, they care deeply about the things their religion encourages them to care about. Anybody who cares deeply enough about something is willing to take strong steps to defend it, and in a pinch, they will kill people. Look at people who care deeply about their country. Look at people who care deeply about their sweetheart. You could definitely lower the numbers of deliberate killings if you got rid of romantic love — there would be no more killing due to jealousy. But would it be worth it?

The world would be a safe place if nobody cared passionately about anything. But would it be better?

It’s a serious question, but I’m not sure how to decide it. You could definitely tally up all the bad things that result from caring passionately about things, but if nobody cared strongly about that list, then it would not convince them.


Existential Boot Camp

In discussions to start an existential boot camp, that prepares people to tackle the rigors of a purposeful meaningful existence with the focussed intensity that boot camp prepares soldiers for killing.

Some say that life is already such a boot camp. To them my response is “DROP AND GIVE ME TWENTY!”


Can You Harm the Dead? Can You Help the Dead?

“When I die let the world be destroyed by fire — I do not care, I will be safe.”

versus the desire to have our wishes enacted by the execution of a “Last Will and Testament”.

CHESTERTON writes that conservatism is the widest form of democracy as it gives a vote to the dead as well as the living.

Yet I have heard that the law deliberately trammels the hands of the dead.

“I leave my fortune to my heirs on the condition that my daughters-in-laws, grand-daughters-in-laws, great-grand-daughters-in-laws and so on to perpetuity be required to squat naked above a camera and place the resulting photograph of their hind parts upon my GRAVE; if this requirement is not followed in minute particulars as instructed in these codicils then my entire fortune I leave to the establishment and maintaining of a discotheque for cats.” says the dead man.

“Tough luck, pervert.” says The Law.