Are There Different Ways of Thinking?

On the one hand, obviously.  On the other hand, not so fast.

Take the first hand, that there are obviously different ways of thinking.   Look at how a Renaissance wizard thinks — everything is correspondences.  A mystic chord connects his jealousy to the waning moon to the cry of a peacock — consequently when he feels his beloved’s affections are being captured by another, he burns a peacock to ashes except for the heart which he eats under the glow of the waning moon; and behind it all he hopes to hollow himself out like a lantern so through the translucencies of his own thought and feeling he can glimpse the Unknown and Ineffable God.  Contrast that to the modern cognitive behavioral therapist who views himself as cultural software running as a evolutionarily-designed biological machine.  If he worries his girlfriend loves someone else he reflects upon how his paleolithic drives are out of step with modern culture and a way of thinking that will cause less pain.  Pretty different!

And yet, not so fast!  Maybe the wizard and the therapist are thinking the same way but have different beliefs or different ways of expressing it.  What the wizard calls the Ineffable All, the therapist calls the Universe, what the wizard calls being out of harmony with the music of his life, the therapist calls Stress and so on, and how they differ is in some beliefs about how to fix what goes wrong — the therapist thinks talking and exercise, the wizard thinks eating the heart of a bird.  And if that’s not so, why call what they are doing thinking?  Depending upon who I am closer to, I could call what the wizard does mental illness, barbarous superstition, not thinking, or perhaps I could call what the therapist does an ostrich-like fleeing from the truth, but not thinking.

I have to be the fulcrum.  If it doesn’t make sense to me, it’s not thinking.  There’s what I can think, and what other people do, which may be thought or may be madness.   But there are not many ways of thinking inaccessible to me, because the idea of a “way” presupposes a shared territory we need a way through.  There are not fundamentally different “views of reality” for the same reason, because, if we are to make sense of views on a thing, there must be a thing in common, upon which one may take different vantage points, and peek at or glimpse from different perspectives.  For us to make sense of the blind men and the elephant, we have to believe in the elephant.  Otherwise they are just blind men having a series of dreams.

Two viewpoints on the big question — are there fundamentally different ways of viewing life, so fundamentally different that some will forever be inaccessible, or is there one?

What do you think?

I can’t help but think both are true.


The Errors of the Fathers

The fathers — the passed and passing generations who created the software of our minds — did as well as they could, but they also made a lot of errors.  How should we deal with that?  Trust, but verify.

Here’s an example.  When I was a teenager I liked the Yeats poem “Long-Legged Fly”.  Here’s a taste of it:

THAT civilisation may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand under his head.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

Great poem, but Yeats’ politics is cruel and idiotic.   The great man theory of history, the idea that Julius Caesar, political infighter of the late Roman Republic was involved in saving civilization, all bad ideas.  Great poem, but Yeats used rhythm and cool images to make it stick in our minds.  It’s stuck in mine!

How do I unstick it?

My friend is fact, or in particular, the world of entomology.  Yeats is comparing the relationship between the creative human being and the  Absolute to the relationship of a water-strider to water.  His “long-legged fly” is of the family Gerridae, a species of insect that has evolved to walk without breaking through the surface tension of the water.  Here’s wikipedia on surface tension and water striders:

water striders use surface tension to walk on the surface of a pond in the following way. The nonwettability of the water strider’s leg means there is no attraction between molecules of the leg and molecules of the water, so when the leg pushes down on the water, the surface tension of the water only tries to recover its flatness from its deformation due to the leg. This behavior of the water pushes the water strider upward so it can stand on the surface of the water as long as its mass is small enough that the water can support it. The surface of the water behaves like an elastic film: the insect’s feet cause indentations in the water’s surface, increasing its surface area[4] and tendency of minimization of surface curvature (so area) of the water pushes the insect’s feet upward.

Yeats is telling us that the way the effective human being relates to God — the Parmatman –the Storehouse Consciousness (Alaya Vijnana)– what Gene Wolfe calls “The Increate” — is like how the water strider relates to the pond.  He skates on the surface without disturbing the silence with thought, but this in turn allows him to thought and react.

True?  False?  Half-true?  True in some circumstances rather than others?

Assignment for home.  Take Yeats’ Long-Legged Fly (which I keep in my mind calling Long-Leggedy Fly) and re-tell it for other pond creatures.  The frog.  The dragonfly.  The whirligig beetle.

And most importantly, the Diving Bell Spider!

What if Caesar’s mind is not like the water-strider that skates on the surface of God, but like the spider who also live in ponds but take the water, weave a diving bell out of it, and go beneath the surface to mate and lay their eggs.  A very different picture, less fascist, and less misogynistic, but more importantly, more accurate!

When we look in our minds and emotional repertoires (what I called our software above) we discover a lot of items deliberately stowed away there by the fathers, many of them like Yeats’s “Long-Legged Fly” were deliberately tricked up to be hard to forget because of the motives of the fathers, some admirable, some less so.  (Yeats wanted the grandchildren of his enemies to take his side.)    As Otto Neurath (the inventor of the universal hieroglyphic language used to let us know for example that a bathroom is wheelchair accessible) it’s an incoherent project to try to broom it all.  But we can check these items one-by-one and consider for example whether the relationship of the individual to God is more like the relationship of a water strider to the water, or the relationship of a diving bell spider to the water.

Obviously, the diving bell spider.

What about “the silence”?  Should we think of God as silence rather than activity?  Should we even use the word “God” at all?

Who knows?  We need to leave some errors for the next generation to take care of!


study in alternating fancy and plain

Ghoul Henry ate rocks and beans

the intimacy of weird and mundane disturbs my soul

a lawyer cried — his wife was dead

the transitory nature of thought tracks the evanescence of reality

Mom caught the baby hurting a cat and yelled at him

there is a barrier behind which the future hides, teasing me

they broke my teeth now I think of ways to hurt them

repetition smooths away the character of man


News about the concept “All Things Do Not Arise”

This is one of those things that is just true, like “everything is bullshit” is pure bullshit.  “don’t trust anything” is the kind of shallow statement that you shouldn’t trust, “language is a pretty mediocre way of expressing oneself” is expressed quite mediocrely and so on.

Some things are just true.  So I have to ask — if it’s just true, why do you need to say it?  Who is the conceivable audience for something that’s just true?  Obviously not somebody else, because it’s quite obnoxious to go around telling people things that are just true, obviously.  So some part of myself that needs to be told this?

Yes.  No question, but there is a side of oneself that needs to be told “Some things are just true” and a side of oneself that needs to be told “there isn’t anything that’s just true.”

Why is there two sides to the self?  Because if there’s one side to the self, then you need to force somebody else to play the other part, and that is honestly, a waste of both of your times!


A Message from the Arhat

When the Arhat contacted me he would always look different.   Once he was an old man on the bus with hairy ears whose long overcoat smelled like mildew, once very briefly while she was in her sickbed he was my Mom, a couple times people working behind the counter at businesses, auto supply stores and stuff, and so on.  So in my thirties when I was working hard and didn’t have much time for taking long hikes through the carunculations of my own keppeleh I, understandably, gave up on the idea of the Arhat, and thought that these people were just different people whom I had connected through my own desires for some sort of enobling wisdom.  This was completely wrong. The arhat was real.  The enobling wisdom was legit.

The arhat whispered to me when I as in an elevator on the USS Arleigh Burke a guided missile destroyer. He took the form of a Petty Officer 3rd Class named Salton.  The ship had taken a hit from an underground mine — this was during one of the undeclared wars that took so many lives and continue to take them at the chaotic margins of US influence.

The lights had gone off.  The alarms were blaring.  I felt my stomach remain in weightlessness as the elevator failed.  Maybe this moment was my last I thought.

“It all means something.  There is no coincidence. Everything you think is right. You just need to be courageous and take risks so you can learn exactly how.  There is always more to your why than you know, and if you think about it, you are your why.”

“But will I meet my dog in heaven?” I asked the Arhat.

“Of course you will.” he said. Plunging. Darkness. Darkness Darkness.  Sweat on my collar.  Ringing in my ear.  The conjunctivas of his eyes red in the red light.

“But in heaven he won’t be your dog.”

“Because he will be able to talk?”


“But why can’t there be talking dogs?”

Plunging plunging shuddering, the sound of feet running down the metal hallways of the ship, then the alarms stop, the lights come on.  Salton looks at me and smiles.

“Read your Aristotle. Once a dog can talk he is a human being.”