Sunday, April 28, 2013

Where Were We Now?


(4/28/13)
"Curiouser and curiouser!" cried Alice.
- from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll (1865).


Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, 'long about now, that Lewis Carroll's white rabbit - holding a timepiece and wearing a waistcoat, no less - doesn't look to be all that great a fit with Thomas Nagel's bat.

"c emerson," you may want to be saying, "Some time ago you asked me what it would be like to be a bat, a live bat. You didn't ask me anything about what it would be like to be a fictional character - a rabbit holding a timepiece and wearing a waistcoat, no less - that appeared in some fairy tale written one hundred forty-eight years ago."

Well, I might just want to answer you this way, "Things just keep gettin' 'curiouser and curiouser' when we try to figure out who we are, and what we are made of." Mirrors or no mirrors.

"We all have a history, don't we?" is the way I just might continue, if I had a mind to continue, which I do.

"And like my title, 'Where Were We Now?' - Time, with a capital 'T,' is a factor, too, in who we are. A pocket watch, for a waistcoat, is just like an ancient stone timepiece, only easier to carry. You'd agree with that, wouldn't you, that time is part of who we are?"
Alice gave a weary sigh. "I think you might do something better with the time," she said, "than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers."
Now Lewis Carroll, whose 'real' name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was born and raised in Cheshire County, England, bordering Wales. The Mersey River flows through the County. Charles, aka Lewis, was born into a family tree filled with Anglican clerics, until the boughs were breaking, so to speak. Isn't that the way it is for everyone in England? And didn't Gerry and the Pacemakers sing a song about ferrying across the Mersey?




Did you see how I worked another time image (pacemaker) and a place name (River Mersey), right into the story about who Charles Dodgson 'really' was? Dodgson, aka Carroll, spent his professional career as a Lecturer in Mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford. While his modern fame centers on his fictional characters, particularly Alice and the White Rabbit (but don't forget the Queen, King and Jack of Hearts), Dodgson, without his pen name, published a significant number of other books, including ones in the study of logic and mathematics. His books, The Game of Logic and Symbolic Logic, are still worth the read today, in me 'umble opinion.

Didn't know all that, did 'cha? Well, it's a mug's game, if Knave ye be. And a Queen's game, if you like this sort of thing.

Maybe you did know all those things. I know I didn't ... not until I learned about Dodgson, aka Carroll, set into his own place and own time. This dialogue is well-suited to my own learning curve:
"Please would you tell me," said Alice, a little timidly, "why your cat grins like that?"

"It's a Cheshire-Cat," said the Duchess, "and that's why."

""I didn't know that Cheshire-Cats always grinned; in fact, I didn't know that cats could grin," said Alice.

"You don't know much," said the Duchess, "and that's a fact."


If all these metaphors, icons and symbols strike no chords with "you" -- that is, with your own deep-seated Self -- then let me clarify a bit more; nay, let me make it as clear as day; just like the tree carving here of 'Greenman,' who stands at the center of the Tatton Park Maze in Cheshire, hoisting a compass for lost travelers to survey, on land that Lewis Carroll may have walked on: here and now, in our search for an understanding of our Selves, we (meaning I, unless you join in this journey with me) have now added a Where and When to what was already a What and Who. We -- you and I and they and those and others like them and those and us -- all seem to exist somewhere, within our own bodies or within our own minds, and at some place and some time.

But exactly where is there?




It seemed so peaceful, on the river. Then Alice went to sleep, and the Sweep of Time changed everything, and the White Rabbit rushed by, through the recesses of her mind.
"Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. Was I the same when I got up this morning? but if I'm not the same, the next question is, 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle."
- queried Alice, just a fictional character, lost in a maze down some rabbit hole.


YES, EXACTLY: who are we?

And WHERE SHALL WE GO?

Almost sounds like song:

In the midst of war-torn America, in a world where up seems to be down, where neighbor wants to hate neighbor, and the axe is ready to fall, "go ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall."

When the clock strikes midnight, but won't show a pattern on the wall, and "the men on the chessboard", are all telling "you where to go", then "go ask Alice, I think she'll know."

That, at least some of it, from the Jefferson Airplane (1967), mixed with a number of my own eclectic phrases (which J.A. might well reject), seems to portend some pretty sage advice, if we only knew what it meant.

Like being a bat, in some specific place and at some specific time, somewhere out here on planet Earth, or just in the back of your own mind.

But like Alice, let's never forget:
... if you drink from a bottle marked "poison," it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.
Now where did that bat go?


***
UPDATE: This post was moved from (4/23/13) along with any comments. Note that this post's title and Blogspot URL will no longer match, but the title here is correct.

Credits

- all inset quotes from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll (1865), Bookbyte Digital Edition; ISBN #978-1-61306-025-4 (text in the public domain; freely downloaded in iBooks onto iPad and iPhone)

- facts and data about Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) and Cheshire, England, from Wikipedia articles on "Lewis Carroll" and "Cheshire" at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Carroll and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheshire

- song reference, Ferry Cross the Mersey, by Gerry and the Pacemakers (1964)

- lyrics (quoted and then interspersed with non-lyrics) from song, White Rabbit, by Jefferson Airplane (1967); thanks Brad, I was trying to figure out how to tie this together.

- Earth Day was yesterday, the day I intended to post this piece; uploading delays changed my plans; my, where does the time go? Let's do whatever it takes to save the planet, even scurry down a rabbit hole if need be. It may cost me a vote or two, but check out my post, "Bicycles Will Cost Less" on my other blog, Random Walk way back in 2008; the time is getting late, and the Queen won't wait: it'll be "off with our heads" if we aren't careful. And by the way, I'm not running for anything.

Image Credits

- The White Rabbit, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, 1865), photo courtesy of From Old Books at http://www.fromoldbooks.org/

- Ancient Stone Sundial from Marcianoplis, courtesy of Museum of Mosaicas (2010), Devnya, Bulgaria; Wikipedia article "Sundial" at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundial (CCA-SA-3.0)

- Map of County of Cheshire, England, contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database rights, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheshire and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cheshire_UK_location_map.svg

- 'Greenman', Tatton Park Maze, Cheshire, England, courtesy of Tim Burgess, sculpted by Tim Burgess, Rosterne, Cheshire, England, at http://thetimburgess.typepad.com/ and http://thetimburgess.typepad.com/photos/just_ordinary_carvings/p4290008.html ("The plinth on the top has the four corners of the compass marked upon it ... there are 244 leaves on the tree -- which is the number of steps it takes to get from the Maze entrance to the tree ... I think this tree has real spirit, maybe it is in his eyes ... I feel he is a bringer of luck and good fortune").

- Macclesfield Canal, Macclesfield, Cheshire, England, photograph by Patrick Hogan, courtesy of Pictures of England at http://www.picturesofengland.com/England/Cheshire/Macclesfield/pictures/1136652/link (all rights reserved; not for commercial use).

- Longleat Hedge Maze, Longleat House, County of Somerset, photograph by Lewis Clarke (CCA-SA-2.0) at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedge_maze

- Vertical Declining Sundial, Moot Hall, Aldeburgh, County of Suffolk, England (photograph placed in the public domain) at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundial


 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Looking in a mirror, who do you see?


(4/23/13)

"I got to thinking ... looking in a mirror, who do you see?"

- c emerson asked that.



I absolutely have not forgotten about our two previous, unanswered questions:
(1)  What's it like to be you?  and (2)  What are you really?

But I got to thinking, while ogling myself in the morning mirror, there is more to this puzzling question of Self than meets the eye.

Take a moment, right now if you can. In fact, or in your mind. Go study your face in a mirror. Check the angle of your jaw, the shape of your neck, the position of your eyes, and even the length and shape of your earlobes. Is that you?

Look at your whole face, if you can pull your focus back enough to really see your whole face. Is that you? Now look away from the mirror and realize you can see virtually none of your face without an image-maker. It is like you are in the front of a train, looking out of some kind of a tunnel. Where are you exactly while all this looking is going on?

A close friend reminds me that we have photographs to remind us of us. She tells me people can spend hours picking just the right picture of themselves to use as their Face Book profile photo. So does just the right photograph tell me who I am, or who you are?


So I got to thinking, just the right picture - like studying the length and shape of your earlobes - tells me what your skin and make-up, if any, and body shape, looks like. I can also tell - usually - your gender and age - and if you are smiling or looking serious then I can also tell ... well, nothing ... really.

How do I know why you are smiling or looking serious?



So I retreat from photo gazing, of you, and smile into my morning mirror. What did that just tell me about me? I have no idea. So I peer intently into my own eyes, which I can't even do - in the plural anyway - because I can only look into one eye at a time. Then I suddenly realize, I can't see my own eyes move! My guess is "I" .. am .. 'in there' .. somewhere.

At least I think that is me looking out at me. But even if so, who am I today? I just a moment ago smiled at myself - well, that's not true - I smiled at an image of myself. Or was that the real me I was smiling at - the one who appears to be peering back at me out of that double-slit tunnel? But I didn't actually feel like smiling today; I just did that to see how I looked smiling. I am actually feeling quite serious today, and not like smiling at all. STOP THAT.

You know what? Answering what is not enough. We also need to answer who it is that's doing the what.


***
UPDATE: This post was moved from (4-10-13) along with any comments. Note that this post's title and Blogspot URL will no longer match, but the title here is correct.

Image Credits

- Into the Looking Glass Room, from Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There (Lewis Carroll, 1871), photo courtesy of From Old Books at http://www.fromoldbooks.org/
- Naason, L├╝nette (restauriert), ceiling frescoe, by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallery_of_Sistine_Chapel_ceiling (public domain, derivative work; cropped) and Web Gallery of Art at http://www.wga.hu/ (educational use, not for commercial redistribution)


 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What it's like to be you


(4/10/13)

"What are you really?"

- c emerson asked that.

The first thing I want to point out, before I talk about you, or more specifically Self, is that my self-quote and that part of the title which follows after the word Self do not mean the same thing.

To be exact, there is a difference in substantive meaning between ...

(1) What it's like to be you (or: What is it like to be you?), and

(2) What are you really? (or: What you really are).

The first sentence (and question) is derived loosely from Thomas Nagel's famous essay, What is it like to be a bat? (1974). It seeks analogies as to what it is like to be another conscious being. The idea is you can't really know. This raises the whole question of subjective behavior, and subjective experience.

The second question (and sentence) is derived loosely from me, and plenty of others. It seeks further assertions (scientific data; or philosophical arguments) about what living beings, including humans, actually are. The idea is that you can know what Self is, or objectively means.

Whew! Already too many big words, like self, substantive, subjective and objective. But these ideas are important if you want to explore these kinds of things relative to the 'meaning of your life'. I will develop these ideas in future Posts.

Route Marker. Meanwhile, let me explain where we are in this blog. This sort of navigational digression I shall call a 'Route Marker.' This Post starts Part I of this 'live book'. The prior posts collectively form the Introduction. Click on My Index tab above to see how that works out. The unpublished part of my outline currently includes eleven parts to this 'live book', but that might change. I'm not that organized. For now, Part I will be about Self; not just myself; but yourself; ourselves; and even themselves. Other than the wordiness of this Route Marker, this Post was intended to be a short, question-provoking Post. So be provoked.

Whether provoked or not, feel free to express your Self.


***
UPDATE: This post was moved from (3-30-13) along with any comments. Note that this post's title and Blogspot URL will no longer match, but the title here is correct.

Credits

- You can read 'What is it like to be a bat?' (Nagel, 1974) at several places on the web. Here is one such place:   http://organizations.utep.edu/portals/1475/nagel_bat.pdf   (9 pages)
- I invite you to see my photo log from my recent Death Valley Nat'l Park camping trip (a great place to find space to think about Self), on my other blog Random Walk
- This Post was Updated (4/4/13); moving the Route Marker to the bottom part of the Post; and making minor editorial revisions