Divine Neutrality, Blog. Science, Philosophy


July 8th, 2014

The Worrisome Business Of Logical Consistency


Sunshine Every Day

The year was perhaps 1938. I was 7 years old then, living in a New York City apartment with my mother, my father and my baby sister. The location was a plebian building with the august address of 35 Hamilton Place in Washington Heights. The upper west side of  Manhattan. Bordering Harlem. We lived on the third floor – apartment 303, I think.

The apartment was small. I shared a bedroom with my three year old sister. Her name was Faith but, because I called her Sistie, so did the world.

In this room I would go into a reverie with my toys. Building blocks. Model cars. My favorites were small, caste metal airplane replicas. The airplane body was perhaps three inches long. Pinned between my fingers, and held aloft at eye level above the apartment floor, wings outspread, it moved majestically through the air. A purring engine sound passed my lips as I guided the airplane on its path. But my eyes saw no guiding fingers. The fingers were invisible to me. For me the airplane was soaring unaided through clouds, miles above the ground. And as I watched it from outside, I was also inside the airplane experiencing the thrill of flying. The plenipotency of God is in the mind of a child.

My mother came into the room. “Why are you playing inside on such a beautiful day? It’s a sunny day. Why don’t you play outside in the sunshine?” she said.

Hearing this, I saw no element of reason in her words. Isn’t there sunshine most days? There would be sunshine days aplenty for going outside. That was my opinion.

I hadn’t taken much notice of the quality of days. If it rained, that too was a sunshine day – and especially if it snowed.

But my mother well knew the quality of days.

The Worrisome Business of Logical Consistency

One day at the age of four I was home with my mother. She was doing chores.

I complained that she should play with me. She explained that washing our clothes, cooking our food, shopping for our needs – the things that had to be done so that I could play all day – did not just happen by themselves; they needed her to do them. She wasn’t able to play with me all the time. She couldn’t be in two places at once.

I saw the logic. But I preferred not to know it. I turned away – angry that she should burden me with the worrisome business of rational consistency, angry that she should place such a burden on my shoulders as the logic of reality.

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June 18th, 2014

Adagia Set In Stone

stepping stones

The image shows cement stepping stones pathing an unmuddied walk along the forest floor to shelter. The stones are all inscribed with text. Leaving them blank seemed a waste. So began the quest.

What words merit being set in stone?

I wanted no moral strictures. No “thou shalt nots”. No words about what people ought to do; what other people ought to do is usually their import. No instructions on how to live. No complaints, no visions of how the world ought to be, no fantasies, no prayers or incantations.

Just laconic surmise from observation. Observations about the mechanics of being. Notes on how the world is. Words that tell how it works. Immutable truths. Like the laws of physics. Statements about nature; inviolable because they describe nature. We can’t do anything about these laws. We can’t change them. We can rejoice in knowing them.

Some examples, from physics, of immutable laws are these:

• That every pair of bodies in the universe attract each other according to their masses; the law of gravity. Nothing is exempt from this law. The discovery of dark matter in the universe issued from accepting it.

• That, for every closed system, there exists an ethereal quantity called its energy, which is indestructible. It is conserved. Meaning that it doesn’t change no matter what inner turmoil the system suffers.

These laws are used to engineer things – like bridges, engines, computers, space flight. Not by being circumvented or repealed. But by being understood.

Such abiding statements are what I wanted for my stepping stones.

worry love

It sounds like a complaint. A joke, perhaps. A reason to avoid affection. We perceive the word worry as something negative. To be eschewed. And the word love as positive. To be embraced. But the adage is not meant as a rule to live by. To take that personal guidance view of it is to miss its import. Love is precious, worry notwithstanding. There is a symbiosis between the two. From love comes the sweet worry of selfless caring.

You worry about your loved one’s welfare. You cannot help it when it is love that possesses you. The mother is helpless before worry in her love for her child. The devoted lover must succumb to concern for his wife’s well being.

With the blessing of love comes the penalty; the loss of being carefree. The relationship between the two is not something you can fix. It’s embedded in the deliciously perverse nature of things.

The young man objects. “I love people and I don’t worry.” Thus announcing to all his hearers, in cocky innocence, that he doesn’t know love. He stands naked, undressed by his own words.

The great humanist, Erasmus of Rotterdam, called by the name, Adagia, his collection of proverbs published in 1500. Here are pieces, already posted, on my stone-inscribed adagia.






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May 11th, 2014

To cope with knowing.

tamsnMagGlasThe words, “free will,” as commonly understood, are without meaning. (Explanation) They are words that describe an illusion about reality. Like the word, sunset, describes the illusion that the sun is moving whereas, in fact, it’s depicting the earth spinning.

But this news is not welcome. People don’t want to hear that they have no free will. Being introduced to the idea generates resentment. It desecrates something sacred. It offends one’s notion of self worth. “Who’s responsible for my efforts if not I, myself,” is the unspoken indignant objection. Worse, if there’s no free will, then the thief is not to blame for his thievery.

We spend the whole of our childhood acquiring our right to decide. The little boy wants ‘to do things by himself’. The little girl wants it her way. Our struggle in adolescence is to get control of our destinies; to finally decide for ourselves; to exercise our own free will instead of conforming to our parents’ constraints. Is it any wonder that we don’t want to lose, to philosophy, this hard won gain.

There is a strong emotional attachment to the idea of having free will. And that attachment is connected to its function in evolutionary success. So we end up with this remarkable fact: although the commonly held notion of free will is an illusion we cannot function without embracing the illusion – without treating it as real.

Wherein lies the illusion? It’s embedded in this portrayal of the popular conception of free will:

Free will is choice from nowhere. But inspired from within. Inspired by the individual entity that defines one as a being distinguishable from all other beings. Free will presumes an essential you that is expressed by your behavior, behavior for which the elemental you is responsible. For which you must accept blame or praise. There is a kernel of you-ness that governs your behavior. What some might call your soul.

The illusion is that there is an elemental you apart from the workings of nature.

There is no elemental you. The experience of you-ness is a natural phenomenon. The experience is something within nature, not outside of it.

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