Two Kinds of People

My old friend, an Australian philosopher, child of holocaust survivors who had gone to Esarn in Ne Thailand to study Buddha Dhamma under Luang Por Kom Kian (Venerable father Golden Writing) told me there are two kinds of people

Those who think something exists (or hope there does)


those who think nothing exists (or hope so)

And the chief discovery of the Buddha is they’re both wrong

I used to think he was absolutely right but now I think no; it just seems that way because “exist” is vague.  Maybe in a language in which there were more words for “exist” it would seem to us that there are more kinds of people.

But whether either of us is right

Or we are both right

Or both wrong

I wish him well!


17 thoughts on “Two Kinds of People

  1. Tim Colohan says:

    Both views described are extremes. When we use the lens of the Middle Way, it takes away all opposites. The truth is “Just like this.” ( Keys clicking, cursor moving on the screen.)

  2. N.S. Palmer says:

    I don’t know about the two kinds of people, but both beliefs are wrong in the sense that they are nonsense, at least to us. We cannot define existence within our system of reality, since to define something is to set it apart from other things, and everything within our system exists, actually or possibly. Therefore, we cannot isolate a quality of existence common to all such things. What we mean when we talk about existence is actually occurrence within the system. We can give an operational definition of existence, but that’s a different thing.

    On the other hand, you were right about the most important point: It doesn’t matter if we can define existence or believe in it. You said, “I wish him well.” Only love is real in any way that matters. Love and justice are the forces that create our world. IMHO.

    • N.S. Palmer says:

      Ah. I didn’t get that earlier. Sounds like some Buddhist background knowledge that I lack. Thanks.

  3. jeff says:

    Hey there Mr. Kaplan! I tried to find a more personal route, but couldn’t- and so this’ll have to suffice. I just wanted to reach out to you somehow to tell you how very very much I liked (and needed) your book, Does Santa Exist. As I’m sure you know, some books come along in your life at just the right time, written by just the right person. Someone who’s (oftentimes) been in your exact situation or state, and is smarter than you, as well as generous enough to take your hand and show you a/the way out. too much? too compliment-y? for a sarcastic tv writer in a modern age? Hope not.
    So thank you Eric Kaplan. I wish you the very best of luck in everything you do. You seem like good people. Love, jeff

      • jeff says:

        Ha! I’m both humored and mighty mighty touched that you’d ask my dumbass for advice. Thank you- truly. It both bolsters my opinion of you as good people while knocking my estimate of you as perceptive. But, since you helped me see the forest for the tree (as it were), it’s only fitting i try to return the favor. I’ve tried to think it about it all day, so as to not waste this opportunity. But I also realize, at the end of the day, I can only really tell you about the stuff I obsess over. I must confess- so much of your book and your mental orbit is just flat-out over my head. So with that huge caveat…
        – Write a cookbook. The world is in desperate (fucking) need of a new cookbook, preferably one that deals with LOW CARB stuff.
        – The gross literalization of the world frequently bothers me. I heard a quote the other day I really liked, “literalism is the lowest level of meaning”. And I believe that. Judging by the Ari chapters of your book, I would imagine you might agree. I think of how no one reads poetry/literature anymore, how few can stand the thought of not having the full answer, or of living in those liminal states. The most beautiful moments I know of are the moments of living on the cusp of an idea. And yet, Even so, I often abstain from it myself. Just as I’ll oftentimes find myself watching a rerun of Seinfeld rather than starting that award-winning movie on my netflix queue.
        But I sense that this lack of nuance and depth play huge roles in our politics and, of course, religion. You must know how frustrating, near-pointless, it can sometimes be to talk to someone without a shred of humor; i think this’s similar to the condition i’m talking about. (How could you talk about all this? Esp without being pedantic? I don’t bloody know Eric! You didn’t hire me to write the table of contents, just the outline!) A John Patrick Shanley quote: “a metaphor is never alone, and you are a metaphor”. I think that that’s somehow key.

        – One of my fave authors talks a great deal about Lightness. What he means oftentimes is obliqueness, or maybe the opposite of ponderousness. “light like a bird, not light like a feather”. I notice that so many of tv shows today seem to conflate heaviness with profundity. There are no ideas, no interplay- just monochromatic dark. I’m thinking of season 2 of true detective, of the Amazon show Bosch. Such darkness, all minor chords, to me are the exact same thing (or a perfect inversion) as Christian music- all major chords, all fluff. I think it’s one thing to mistake our confectionary stuff, but it’s somehow more dangerous to get our darknesses wrong. I don’t know if this makes sense! I’m sorry- you’re talking to a very impressionistic person; not very good with words (am a wannabe songwriter; always put off the words till the very bloody end). But i think of Leonard Cohen here- someone who earns his darknesses in every song. “ring the bells that still can ring. forget your perfect offering. there is a crack, a crack, in everything. that’s how the light gets in”. Beautiful! Anotehr one, from same song: “Everyone, everyone to Love will come, But like a refugee”. (also, if you haven’t read his biography, “I’m Your Man”, you might dig it).

        – A book of philosophers that greatly widens the net, and idea, of philosophers. That allows for songwriters (cohen, dylan, tin pan alley) as well as critics (camille paglia, harold bloom), as well as tv writers and others. Granted you have a much diff perspective than me, but to me and many others, recognized philosophy fell off a great many years ago; it’s consigned to freshman college compilations. What has filled the void for most people? Just like classical music, people haven’t stopped listening, they’ve merely (for better or worse) found other substitutes. It seems like some write narrow books that kinda address this, “the philosophy of simpsons”, but it might be interesting to be more ecumenical. You could even do it as a cookbook (we both know you were KEEN on that first idea). “So we see that all a Bowie is, is really just a flambeed Kant with a dash of Emil Cioran”. If it sounds like i’m talking out of my ass, it’s cause i am Eric. I bloody am.

        – I’ve recently wondered a lot if nations go through stages of belief, rebellion, tolerance the same way (many) humans do. Do you know the phrase “no zealot like a recent convert”? I’ve found that to be true, regardless of which side. I sense the U.S. is on the cusp of such a convulsion, the way Britain seems to be in the midst of one now. (and France, the original hipster-nation, probably went through a century ago). But it seems like, in the midst of such a shift, the pendulum never compensates- it always swings wildly to the other side. In France (from my experience), religion/belief aren’t as heated as they are in Britain right now. (course, this could be cultural, but that would defeat my point). Granted, in the past, this was always in the service of religion; now, it’s in the service of non-belief. Though the results aren’t nearly as violent, I still think we will look back on this time (just as an older man looks back on his surly teenage self), and think “why were we so overheated? why did we need to re-relearn tolerance?”.
        Do you think this is true? Don’t you get the sense the U.S. is about to follow Britain with this wave of non-belief that’s (not always, but) oftentimes disguised condescension and self-abnegation. If my literalism point is true, then we’re in bad shape to adopt new ideas, to incorporate aspects of what we believed with new information. we’ll instead merely replace one literalism with another.
        This somehow reminds me of what you said in an interview (i read up before i wrote all this!), “hate is oftentimes just misplaced love”.

        – Thank you again for the kindness of asking for my words and thoughts. How lovely. Assuming all the above points fail (or, more likely, they’re all gobbley-gook), I wanted to tell you my two fave and most reread non-fiction books. I’d like to mail them to you, to repay you for the kindness of giving me (as it were) your book. If you don’t want me to mail them to your agency or whatnot, here’s the titles (and, heck, you might’ve read one already), “six memos for the next millennium” by italo calvino, and “the conversations” by walter murch. I love them both so much, and have found them both so fruitful. Also, in case you were asking me about book ideas b/c you were somewhat blocked, i wanted to refer you to really the only twitter i can stomach, John Patrick Shanley. He’s a playwright (wrote ‘Doubt’), and his tweets are often Rumi-esque. I’ll attach some of the ones I’ve culled in a separate post so you can see if you like them (and if you do, i could mail you my whole list of his greatest hits). The other thing I wonder if you might like is the british psychologist Adam Phillips. I don’t know why I thought of him in relation to you, but his ideas are often very intriguing. He’s written a couple books, but the best way to get a read on him is to watch these two interviews

        As to why I loved your book- can i just say one of the main reasons is the line (though i’m gonna get it somewhat wrong) “however, we can’t exempt the possibility that he does it just cause it feels so right”. I can’t remember what it was in relation to (something very wrong, maybe hitler-esque even), but i remember laughing out loud, and to this day, that line plays out in my head.
        But your book- it gave me a new frame to see things. I realized what a big deal frames, or just A frame, were/was. Now that i think about it, i suppose that’s the unmentioned backdrop to every philosopher’s book- finding a unique lens to see the world. Your book offered that to me. It turned God into literature, and back into God again. I grew up in mississippi, catholic (far as it goes); something had to break, and when it did- well, there wasn’t much in my immediate surroundings that would suffice as a liferaft. Survival’s one thing, but i also wanted some flight, and your book helped with that. Like most folks, I want to be rational, understood; however, i also love william blake, yeats. i love madness, and believe in it (as far as it goes). Your book of course had the logic/rationality aspect, but i found a lovely Blake corollary in the Ari, as well as other Jewish mystics you brought up. My main relation to judaism was Leonard Cohen (to be fair, it could be a lot worse), and so I didn’t know a whole bunch coming in. As to Kabbalah, to me it was a celebrity byword; if not for your book, it probably still would be. I’m now reading David Gelernter’s book “Judaism”. It’s much in line with your book; i love it. I’ll send it to you when i’m done if you want (i know they don’t pay tv writers much these days).

    • Thanks Jeff! I was trying to respond to your later comment but could not figure out how. (It’s kinda late here — are you in Britain?) I think I’m going to try to build up something from just real life and not appeal to anybody called a “philosopher” or any big ideas like God or light or darkness or belief or non-belief; just build it up from ground floor things people go through — confusion, fear, love, getting lost, liking a t.v. show or hating a t.v. show, finding another person confusing but caring about that person anyway, being ashamed, waking up in the middle of the night, cracking your elbows , missing people, missing yourself, getting drunk, learning, forgetting, being sick, being well. I feel like with the internet these days every poliitcal belief and religiosu belief and philosophical belief is being espoused by somebody, everybody wants to somehow get in my head, and I just want to pretend the world was created this morning and figure out how to live the moment — listen to the voice of the moment.
      etc. I like that doubt guy’s twitter feed a lot, and I will check out the other authors you mentioned — thank you! Blake was sort of a Christian kabbalist I think — very influenced by Bohme. He was the best as you know and his approach to death and to his wife are both inspiring.
      What are you working on?

      • I like it. Building up from ground floor is always better than coming down from space. ‘give me a place to stand and i shall move the earth!’ And i agree that every belief and speaker seem to want to get in our head- and what you didn’t say, but’s implied, is that they’re (the speaker) often unaware of this dominating and unnatural desire. I think Calvino would say that’s the result of living many decades into the advertising age.
        Not in Britain, but in Mississippi. Which is exactly like Britain fwiw. except racist-ier, a tad fatter, and there’s fuck-all to do. But the peat! ah, the peat.
        Hey, thanks for asking what i’m working on. My main goal with all the newer batches of songs, is to make them “be way more Motown-y and suck way less”. That’s the mantra. I’m also working on a song for our parents 50th anniversary coming up in June, to sing with my little niece.

        I’m going to start spreading the word around here in mississippi (big reading population) about your new book on cracked elbows and religion, so there’ll be no way you can back out of it. We all still own pitchforks too. Good luck to you Eric. You got this. one more quote (can’t help it!): “the task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted”. have a feeling you know the author.

  4. John Patrick Shanley quotes:

    The inexpressible can be expressed by admitting defeat eloquently.

    Do you know how to be excellent? No one does. Find an interesting problem and ride it like a chariot. Problems create excellence.

    Beware the big and empty words: love, genius, amazing, perfect. They are white paint obscuring all detail. Real communication is hard work.

    The bee comes to the flower for the bright colors and wonderful perfume, but lingers for her dark center, where life resides.

    That middle part of a song is called “the bridge”. The music changes in an unexpected but inevitable way. Every life needs a bridge.

    You are many things, and only parts of you speak. The parts of you that speak must find a way to represent the silent forest you contain.

    When looking for a subject to explore, seek out the quiet girl at the dance.

    What to write? Even the question is thrilling. For writing is a magic action. It transforms its subject and its practitioner.

    I danced to a song that wasn’t playing, so I wrote the song to justify the dance.

    Nothing is casual. All actions are momentous. And yet it is wrong to live that truth. We must live lightly or we will live less.

    The infinite I understand. It’s the finite that seems strange. What definitely ends? Nothing that I’ve seen.

    Cynicism is an amusement invented by Despair.

    All the answers are dead. Only the questions survive.

    Some say you cannot rescue anyone. I think everyone is drowning and everyone is being rescued all the time.

    There is a moment in the struggle to unpuzzle a puzzle where, though the pieces have yet to fall into place, the solution swims into view.

    A metaphor is never alone, and you are a metaphor.

    If there were no obstacle to getting what you want, life would be five minutes long. Satisfaction and Oblivion are sisters.

    The struggle is to find a single point of view that unifies all you have so far learned. This struggle is worth the pain.

    We hide so carefully it is only in the moment that we stumble that we are revealed.

    We’ve all had a moment of clarity. But in the years leading up to that epiphany, there were many whispers. Listen to the soft voices.

    No one’s watching. Let go. Walk away. Don’t waste one more breath explaining. There’s no need. Live the way you want. It’s okay. Really.

    I’m a romantic not because my thinking is muddy, but because my heart is strong.

    A powerful story is like a light in the wilderness. Everything alive is drawn to it.

    If you were to report, like a breathless newscaster, from the sanctum of your inner life, that would be my favorite show.

    • Cool! my father was a big collector of pre-war acoustic blues in the 1940s — he travelled to black neighborhoods in the south (he had been working for the quartermaster’s office in DC during the war operating a primitive computer and became friends with the first black page int he Supreme Court, a Duke Ellington colelctor (he later committed suicide). Anyway my Dad was a very weird, emotionally closed-off brilliant man and the blues really was his main way of connecting with his emotional side and he amassed quite a collection — he had every original Bessie Smith recording for example. But he never went to MS, so I convinced him to take a trip with me. He was quite physically infirm and weak at the time but he agreed. Unfortunately we never made it to Meridian but we did go to the Delta and to the John Hurt museum. So I owe to your state one of the most memorable meaningful times I had with my father before he died.

      • Wow, what a cool and heavy memory. Thanks for sharing it with me. I seem to remember you talking about your father in the book, but don’t remember you mentioning that. Couple things you list (about him) I really relate to. Next time I’m in the Delta, or playing along to a blues song, I’ll think of the elder Kaplan. zikhrono livrakha

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