The Power of Compatible Ignorance (#poem)

Screenshot 2019-06-27 at 21.39.51After the first date,
She asked if he knew of Gestalt.
He said he only knew tiny bits
But he felt his mind gave him
The whole picture.

He asked if she had read Hegel.
She insisted that she had not,
And they were both amazed
To have discovered such
Compatibility through
Chance encounters.

Randall Horton

Upon the Threat of Thought Experiments (#poem)

20190408203131_IMG_7548.JPGA philosopher of mind,
It doesn’t matter who,
But it was Daniel Dennett,
Made a point of describing
Disembodied consciousness,
Or dissociation,
To prove that animals might
React physically to pain
Without being conscious of it.

He illustrated this with the case of
Children who dissociate during
Sexual assaults. *

In a seminar, another prominent male
Philosopher turned to another and said,
“I dreamed I raped and murdered your wife.
Do I owe you an apology?”

A female philosopher left the room.

Thought experiments are expected to
Be free and provocative,
But haven’t we experimented enough
With thoughts of violence against
Women and girls to know where they lead?

*(Dennett said the child thinks, “’I’ am not undergoing this pain, “she” is.”)

The Peace of Stoicism (#poem)

adult alone anxious black and white
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

The Stoics all counsel the same.
Contemplate life and accept
Death without too much disruption.

They counsel the same when
You are overwrought, but
Flood you with a tsunami of tears
When their turn comes.

Seneca condemned his own sobs;
Confucius angrily defended his,
And I have forgiven them both.
Their failure is my comfort as my own
Tears pour over your last letter.

A New Riddle of Induction (#poem)

Screenshot 2019-06-02 at 08.26.47We have such unfounded confidence that
The future will be like the past that
We are constantly disappointed in the
Present. The future betrays us daily.

So I can’t be blamed for thinking you’d
Be here still—as you always were.
Thousands of observations told me
You were a survivor and, besides,

You promised you’d never leave.
My imagination has expanded
Regarding the regularity of nature,
But I still look for you in the

Morning Light.

Entelechy: How Universes Begin (#poem)

pexels-photo-1146134.jpeg
Photo by O1234567890 on Pexels.com

It seems the perfect arrangement,
All these particles, all this energy
Racing forward to some ultimate
Purpose.

All the minutiae of the universe
Explained by this motivation to some
Grand End in a race from potential to
Actual.

Possibilities reach out in an infinite
Expanse, a burgeoning desire exploding
From one dense core into an infinite array of
Minds.

Or one mind, maybe, with parts aware only of
Themselves, striving with a singular purpose—
To avoid pain. Or find pleasure. Meaning is
Contingent.

But some have started to regroup, and they are
Trying to draw us all in. Eventually, everything slides
Past the event horizon till our whimpers erupt with a
Bang.

On the Sixth Meditation and Montaigne (#poem)

black and white statue
Photo by Chait Goli on Pexels.com

The most wretched and frail of all creatures is man, and withal the proudest.” ~Michel de Montaigne

Budding literary critics are advised that
If they do not see sex in the text,
They should look for death
As these are the most common themes
In literature, but aren’t they really only
One theme? It isn’t an accident that an
Orgasm is known as “la petite mort.”

Consoling a friend who was temporarily
Overwrought by an awkward social situation,
I counseled that it was “only sex” in the end.
Implacable, he reminded me that many species
Only live long enough to pass on their genetic
Coding for future generations, and he was right enough.

Somehow sex is our defense against death,
And simultaneously against the dreariness of life.
The little death is a reprieve from the trial of life,
And some become addicted to constant, temporary
Destruction. Everyone on the pull is merely
Engaged in a frantic meditation on annihilation.

Montaigne’s frank discussions of sexual attraction and
Relations were so riveting that his essays became
Popular erotic reading for ladies of the court,
But I bet they skipped to their favourite parts,
As Montaigne’s essays seemed to be a free dispensary
For the ongoing flow of words, images, and doubts
Flowing through his mind moment to moment.

I must admit, I don’t think I ever read a Montaigne essay
From beginning to end, either. It’s so much easier to just
Dip a toe in here and there, and face lust, barbarity, and
Despair all in one go. This was a man who knew we are
Only animals with the same genetic-driven compulsions for
Procreation and pleasure as any mammal, though we may hide
Behind our idea of refinement, which is only a bias for doing
Things in the way in which we’ve become accustomed.

The Impact of Utilitarianism on Unsuspecting Feet (#poem #NaPoWriMo)

close up photography a baby s left foot
Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

The prompt today was to use a homophone or homonym. I can’t take credit for the example, which was offered by a former student.

After her purported reading
Of Jeremy Bentham,
She said he believed
She should do whatever
Made her happy.
For example,
She should spend
Her paycheck on new shoes,
Because they will be good
For her sole.

On the Disastrous Art of Losing (#poem #NaPoWriMo)

Kisa-GotamiOn our first meeting, she
Described me as a “near Buddhist,”
Meaning, of course, that I had
The ascetic qualities of a monk.
 
And it was true that Siddhartha
Helped me lose my appreciation
For things. You learn first that
Attachment is suffering.
 
But Elizabeth Bishop was more
On my mind. Like her, I had
Lost things every day, and
Most of them didn’t matter.
 
We all get practice losing things,
Of course, and we learn it isn’t
A disaster; lives are nothing
More than crude or elegant mandalas.
 
Everything will be wiped away,
And there is no use torturing
Ourselves with excessive hand-wringing,
Longing, covetousness, or desire.
 
Push on, let it go, they’re only things
After all, and the universe continues
With no pause. And still, I sit
Thousands of miles away
 
Thinking of you.

On the Destructive Power of Measureable Learning Objectives (#poem #NaPoWriMo)

pointing-devilDay 8 of NaPoWriMo asks us to write poetry using the jargon of our professions (or someone else’s profession). As a philosophy instructor, my only learning objective was to destroy the smug and self-satisfied confidence my students had in their own knowledge. Petty of me, I know.

Your destruction is both
Achievable and measurable
Because I’ve developed my
Learning objectives with care.

Eliot showed you fear
In a handful of dust,
But I will sow panic and
Confusion with only a question.

I will dash your gods
Against the rocks.
I will make you doubt
Your very existence.

Darkness will envelop you.
Your sure footing will erode
Into blind, directionless
Stumbling in a cavernous abyss
As your world dissolves in disillusion.

Eons of random events brought
Us to this moment and this
Particular arrangement of cosmic
Dust and energy, but only now
You realize you’ve lost your way.

I am the dark demon raising the spectre
Of wasted life, of a mind unmoored.
Your breakdown is the final
Documented learning objective.

Your own failed attempt at a
Meaningful life is the ultimate
Outcome-based assessment,
Yielding data for the ravenous
Sisyphean minions to chew
And regurgitate for eternity.

Pain in the Membrane (frivolous essay on the brain)

They say the pain is all in your head, but where else could it be? I mean, some people do complain of pain in their hands or elbows or knees or whatever, but really the experience of the pain is in their heads as a matter of perception. That’s why some people can claim to have pains in hands or legs that don’t exist. Or exist separated from phrenologythe rest of the body. The pain is in the head, or really the mind, which is probably in the head.

At least we think of our thoughts as being in our heads. When someone does something crazy, we say, “What got into your head?” or something like that. And our thoughts really do seem to be in our heads, except when they are thoughts of the pain that is in our feet after a long day of standing—or maybe the pain of anxiety.

Or the head might not have that much to do with it. Maybe thoughts and pains are in the mind, but the mind is nowhere near the head. Stranger things have happened. I mean, no one doing brain surgery ever found a mind sitting in a skull. You just find brains and stuff in there. And fancy brain scans give colorful and delightful images of brain activity, but not too much info on where the mind is. Pretty interesting things brains are, maybe interesting enough to make minds, but who knows? Honestly, the question never crossed my mind before (this is an obvious lie).

As a young philosophy student, a professor asked if I thought the mind was in the brain. I answered affirmatively. He asked why I thought that, because that is what philosophy professors do. I’m embarrassed to say I answered in a way that seems typical of young men—with a violent example. I said that if you smashed someone’s skull with a steel bat you would witness significant degradation to that person’s state of mind.

Without relying on violent examples, you have to admit that it is often hard to see a mind capable of pure reason in a person whose brain is seriously damaged. Brains really seem important to this discussion, you know? So perhaps all pain is in the head because all pain is in the brain, but what of my arthritic hands? Surely something in my hands is related to the pain in my brain (or my mind for the people still holding out hope for that).

When someone says the pain is all in your head they mean it is in your head and does not correspond to any injury outside of your head (you know, like a stubbed toe or something). The pain is in your brain and nowhere else. Some doctors, of course, will think this fact is enough to justify denying your pain all together and, more importantly, denying you any treatment for your pain. Because of that, your pain gets no sympathy, no consideration, no attention, or anything.

And that creates a pain in your heart, and by that I mean an emotional pain. We say emotional pain is in the heart, partly because our chests often hurt when we feel emotional pain, but I think emotional pain is also in the brain or the mind, wherever it is. Pharmaceutical companies seem to agree; antidepressants aren’t heart medications, are they?

No matter where the pain is, it is most definitely real, even if we can’t be sure the mind is real. You know the pain is real because it is hurting you, and you can’t be wrong about whether you are hurting. Show me where the pain is in your body.

Impossible. The pain just is. The pain is part of the universal pain. The pain is in stardust. The pain is free-floating. The pain is in the neurons. The pain is in the gluons. You are hurting. I share your pain. We are real. Suffering is infinite, and it is all in the mind.