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What’s Your Problem?

I heard a story about a rabbi in New York once.  A minister asked him “Rabbi, are you saved?”  The rabbi said “That’s not my problem.”  The priest said “What’s your problem, then?”   The rabbi said : “What is my next mitzvah going to be?”

The rabbi was suggesting that Christianity is the problem to which it is its own solution. But that’s true of all the good problems.  Or, to speak less riskily, the first problem for each of us is “what’s my problem?”  Once you know what your problem is the rest is just luck, or hard work, or technique.

 

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New Year’s Eve Eve

The night before the night before the new year is a beautiful holiday.

Three hundred and sixty four days ago we were given an entire new year.  A field of fresh snow to walk on.  We laid on paths in it with our minds and hearts and then we walked them.

Tonight we look back on those three hundred and sixty four days of paths through the new snow and we ask our heart the question “Good or no good?  Or less good than we hoped?  Or less good than we could?”

We ask that question because we have one thing waiting for us which we will never get again — a fresh day of 2017.

This day of 2017 can be a microcosm for our entire year of 2017.  It is an entirely fresh field of snow, creamy and patient!  How will we walk on it right now with our minds?  How will we walk on it tomorrow with our feet?

It’s a special day because it ends by turning into a special eve– new year’s eve.   But it’s not that special because yesterday turned into a special day too — it began as the eve of the eve of the eve of the new year and then became the eve of the eve of the new year at the stroke of midnight!

Happy eve of the eve of the new year!

 

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Jarett in the King’s Canopy

When Jarett landed on the Cinnamon Island he lost his power.  Nobody knows why.  One person who told me this story thought it was because he had been cursed by the Vermillion Magician when they had fought over the Dextrous Princess, but I don’t think that’s right.  From my point of view Jarrett’s power at this stage of his life came and went unpredictably, depending upon season and locale, and Cinnamon Island was very far from Jarrett’s heart, because of the way they did things there.

In the King’s Canopy high above the forest floor was a menagerie and in a cage was a remarkable monkey who was capable of human speech and reasoning and was able to play Shoji.  Jarrett had lost his power but he could still play Shoji.  He asked to play Shoji with this Remarkable Beast.  If he won they would give him his canoe back, if he lost they would feast on his flesh, because the inhabitants of the Cinnamon Island were anthropophagi.

Looking in the eyes of the sagacious monkey, Jarrett saw the gleam of mutual comprehension.  “Look, fellow!” he hissed.  “They lied to you.  You are not a remarkable Monkey.  You are a man who they have lied to and told him he is a beast.  Your remarkable abilities are not a sign of freakish precocity but are what you are born to.”

“I see.” whispered the monkey, or as we realize now, Man.

They played to stalemate and Jarrett’s power returned to him; it was at this stage in his career that he composed The Little Rowing Song.

He and the monkey sang the song, which added strength to their arms and terorized their pursuers. In a moment they seized the canoe and were gone across the waves.

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Dialetheism and What Sorts of Things are True?

I recently listened to a bunch of podcasts by the logician Graham Priest who is an important contemporary advocate of dialetheism, the view that a sentence can be true and not true.   I find it convincing, but it raises a question.  How are we supposed to relate to something that is true and not true?

How do I relate to “p and not p”?

Well, if you think about it, we relate to the marks above “p and not p” by contextualizing them in a human relationship.  Looking at the marks on the screen above you know that they are a step in a discussion of logic, that another person (me, hi!) is putting out there to foster a dialogue.

In general we are trained to think that the things that are true and false are sentences.  But sentences are only true or false really if they are being used to express a speech act of assertion.   And a speech act of assertion is true or false in a particular context — Bob asserting to me “it is raining outside” is true if it is in fact raining outside where the two of us are.

“True” is cognate to “trust” and to say that Bob’s assertion “It’s raining outside” is true is really to say that I trust it, which is to say, I trust Bob in this context.  (Sometimes people try to say “true” means “corresponds to the facts” but this is just a circular move, since to state the facts we need some speech acts of assertion, so to say that “p is true” means “p corresponds to the facts” explains nothing.)

So to say that sometimes things are true and not true are to say that some people we trust and do not trust.  And this is something not mysterious at all.

Let’s not take an emotionally charged example like love, where I trust someone to turn me into a new human being or to go on a self-transforming journey together in which we lose ourselves.  Let’s take a very simple request for attention.

“Hey” says my friend or teacher or older brother “This is worth thinking about.   This is worth looking at.”

Do I trust this or not?  I do and I don’t.  I don’t just give up what I am currently paying attention to, but I do trust the person enough (if I do) to commit myself to the stream of his or her attention and see where it takes us.

The statement “Hey pay attention to this” in the context of most relationships is true and not true, meaning I trust it and I don’t.

And this far from being weird or impossible to make sense of, happens all the time.

 

 

 

 

 

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I Think You’re Aware

I think you’re aware that certain things challenge us even though we’re not aware of them.

I think we’re both aware that certain things challenge us even though only one of us is aware of them.

I know we’re both aware that when it comes to certain things, what challenges us is that only one of us is aware of them.

We’re both aware, that we both know, that we are aware of certain things that challenge us as we become aware of them.

We’re both aware that for certain things the challenge is that it is difficult for us both to be aware of them.

We’re painfully aware of the challenge to become aware of how each of us knows certain things about the other, although we have never had the courage to say it.

I am afraid to let you know that I know, and you are afraid to let me know that you know.

BUT

I am aware that you are challenged by certain things and because I am aware of that I will make sure that I become aware of them, and I want you to know that that is true of me as well, that I trust you to take up the challenge of knowing whatever it is I need you to know.

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4 Short SF Stories

An alien virus makes Meade “Lux” Lewis becomes so smart that simulating an entire human life becomes as simple to him as playing a melody, and while playing the piano he encodes the life of everyone who will ever live in bliss, and it turns out that is the basis of heaven.

A cat lady deliberately wants to offer her body to her cats when she dies in order to re-create the Tibetan ritual of Chod and transcend her ego.  She struggles with how to explain this to to the emergency crews who bust through the door and writes a song.

Scientists revivify an ancient Aztec who explains that they figured out a way to make dying in agony pleasurable, since they believed it was unavoidable given their understanding of anthropology.

Two aging Satanists in the California desert discover a remarkable mollusc.

 

 

 

 

 

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Man,Mandrake,Manticore

When my father got towards the end of his life, he spent most of his time asleep.  There was an exercise bike in the room that I had gotten him from California to help keep him alive through exercise, but he never used it and it functioned as a clothes rack.  The radiator was piled high with books but on top of the books was a layer of health-related impedimenta — pill bottles, a folded-up walker — so he never got to the books.  The television was on all the time to a channel that showed violent movies and documentaries about con-men and criminals, but he didn’t pay attention.  He was too tired.

I would fly in when I had a weekend to spend time with him while I still could, but sometimes this felt a bit comically futile — just to stand in the room or perch on the bench by the window while he slept.  My Dad had been very tall — six foot four — and when he came home from work would throw me in the air so I thought I would get beaned on the hanging lamp, so when he was stretched out in bed he was large, although his skin had become pale and yellowish and he had a wound in his leg (he got it I think either falling down in the ruins of Pompeii or barking his shin on a boulder in Santa Monica) that year after year did not heal.  I used to, whenever I left after these trips, count up the hours I would be able to spend with my Dad during his remaining life — figure four visits a year at three days a visit, two hours of waking time per day — four times three times two is 12 — maybe three to five years — 36 to sixty remaining hours — and cry inconsolably, uncontrollably — a big guy like me wracked with sobs like a four year old left alone in the fair.

So as we are wise to do when we have a limited amount of something — candy bars or hours with Dad — I tried to make each one count.

An interesting thing about my Dad is every night before I went to sleep I would have reading time and he would read me usually one or if I insisted two hours of a book.  Mostly the Oz books.  Also Tarzan and the less known sequels — Tarzan and the Ant Men — Tarzan and the City of Gold.  In one Tarzan Tarzan fought the Boche by dropping a lion in the trench.   The huge cat ran amok eating Germans!  No wonder I was afraid to learn to read, because I thought my Dad would stop reading time.  But I was assured by my father and Mady the social worker who lived across Rugby Road that this wasn’t true.

So I asked my father at a moment when he was awake to tell me a story.

“In the future everybody keeps their bodies safe in underground crypts.  They live their lives — go to work, meet people, go to parties and so on using robots.  The robots are controlled by the people who are in the underground crypts.   The robots never let anybody know who is controlling them, because somebody could find the person in the underground crypt and kill him.  So you’d meet somebody — this is Bob Jones, this is Mary Smith — and you wouldn’t know who is Bob Jones really?  You could meet him your whole life and not know who he was.  Or Mary Smith.  You could marry her.  And not know who she was.  But if she kept the same robot all the time it wouldn’t matter.  The real body would almost be like the brain and the robot body would be like the body.”

“Not everybody would make a robot that looked like  a man.  Sometimes somebody would be a monster.  Like a mandrake.  Or a manticore.”

“They had a guy once who was wondering through mazes.  There was a labyrinth.  They had a minotaur there for him.  But it wasn’t really a minotaur. ”

My Dad closed his eyes.  “Dad?”

“What?”

“The minotaur wasn’t really a minotaur.”

“What?”

“What do you mean the minotaur wasn’t really a minotaur?  Do you mean it was a robot controlled by somebody in an underground crypt?”

“What are you talking about?”

“An underground crypt.  You said in the story that all the people were in underground crypts controlling robots.”

“Yes they were.  They were in underground crypts.  Controlling robots for ages.   Sometimes they would have to take an elevator.  Sometimes they would take the stairs.  You had to do that back there.  I think it was on Orchard Street.  That was before they did the things which you understand they do now.”

“But what about the minotaur?  Was it a robot.”

“There were many minotaurs and many robots and I’m pretty sure many people living in underground crypts.  And you couldn’t know, ahead of time, you understand, which was which.  One of the minotaurs could have lots and lots of…”

“Lots and lots of different people controlling it.”

“What?”

“Lots and lots of people controlling the minotaur!  And lots of minotaurs controlled by one person.  But you wouldn’t know?”

His eyes were closed and his breathing was very faint but regular.

“Dad!   Wake up!”

“What?”

“What about the maze?”

“Well needless to say there was a maze.  And an underground crypt.  And lots of people controlling one minotaur.  Two people controlling one minotaur.  Mary Jones and Bob Smith.  But also…”

“What?”

“What?”

“Also what, Dad?”

“Also there was a minotaur.  There was a minotaur who was controlled by several people.”

“Dad, you said that.”

“I did?  Sorry.  If you don’t want to hear the story we can watch t.v.”

“I want to hear the story.”

“There were also many many minotaurs a whole lot of minotaurs that were controlled by different people at different times.  Like there was a schedule.  Monday Tuesday and Friday you would control one minotaur.  Tuesday Thursday and Wednesday I would control that minotaur.  The minotaurs would wander through mazes.  They only looked like mazes because of the capacities of the various minotaurs.  The minotaurs lived in the mazes and every maze had to contain one or more minotaurs.  Needless to say the actual people controlling the minotaurs and the mazes were not in the mazes.  They were in underground crypts.”

My Dad closed his eyes again.  Was he dead?  No he was breathing.

“Dad!  Wake up!  What happened?”

“What?”

“What happened with Bob and Mary and the minotaur?”

“They told each other who they really were and they came out of their underground crypts and went…”

“Where did they go?”

“They went up the stairs and up the elevator and they met on the avenue and they had vanilla ice cream.”

“Dad?”

“Yes?”

“Would you like vanilla icecream?”

He opened his eyes, looked at me, and took my hand.

“You know, I think I would.”

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