Sparks fly – hang-on tight!


Sparks fly (top photo)

It’s funny how some matters that seem bafflingly vast and subtle when you’re a young curious student (like the classic Greek debates about understanding the universe), can gradually develop increasing associated richness and clarity, if you keep an actively-open mind. Mind you, it’s both easy and common for us to fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing this, when we’re actually thinking mostly in terms of familiar and comforting patterns (much like the primary first-year challenge for all art students – to discard what they believe they know, and learn to observe everything afresh, without any obscuring substitution-symbols and framing-preconceptions).

Laziness and conceit aside, the other most popular way to narrow our view, is to become any sort of zealot – I ought to know, I’ve enjoyed several different varieties of unjustifiable certainty over the years – thankfully, none recently. Sanctimony has it’s pleasures (far too popular a sport for any to deny this) but it takes a young person’s energy to be that mad without getting bitter. Got to think about the heart at some point along the line – prioritize compassion.

Each time we break with any one framework of understanding which pretends to have more clarity and authority than is it’s due, we’re given another chance to learn that all frameworks are human inventions, and serve (or fail) strictly human purposes.

The world itself (and universe around it) is something quite other – and while our ideas can often illuminate, it is generally going too far to say that any one idea characterizes even a limited part of reality so very precisely, that it conclusively eliminates all other alternate models of understanding.

You wouldn’t want to bring your most far-out imaginative art-head to a crucial high-stakes contract negotiation, any more than you’d bring your fine-print detail-brain and best intimidating scowl to a midnight jam session! Times and places (everyone!)

Hang on tight – same old thrill-ride

I’m reminded again and again, that one of my first subtle frustrating puzzlers – the split between Platonic and Aristotelian understandings, is still an unresolved debate to this very day. To me, an argument nearing 3,000 years old, where both sides continue to draw passionate defenders (along with many like me, who enjoy both models at once, for a richer picture), and in which neither position has ever been able to conclusively disprove the other’s value, suggests that both have genuine utility, and also by-extension, some non-exclusive validity.

But of course, much like one sort of zealot despising another over a small (but somehow unforgivable) divergence in dogma (instead of recognizing their common faith, and judging the admonishment to modesty which bears on both, to apply also to the vain expression of their own disquiet), idealists will continue to insist that perfect triangles do exist (if only you will let your mind see them) and all mortal forms owe to those exquisite and inspiring divines – while reductionist-materialists will keep insisting that you can’t store ideal grain in an ideal silo (because winter comes much too quickly to achieve either) and anyhow, their side has both number and measure on their side – a clear win. (Yet we all know it was definitely an idealist who first dreamed-up the silo, long before the scoffing reductionist first jealously adopted, then finally laboriously perfected it – just as the idealist first noticed grain itself – followed shortly thereafter by fun with fermentation!)

What can I say? Level one – imagination wins on art-problems, rigour on science problems. Level two, both positions are much improved (made more vivid and representative both) by adding balanced reference to the other. Level three? Simple fair what’s the other-person’s-position logic – works on so many of the human-scale problems we waste crazy proportions of our energy trying to force, instead of understand.

Admittedly, it’s very hard to avoid passion-based aspirations to achieve what are ultimately logical impossibilities. (Like proving something absolutey false or useless, when it isn’t). We have long adored great phyrric seeking-games which could never possibly yield the slightest benefit to us. But awareness, and indeed avoidance of this traditional emotionalist trap, is how we have (for the last four-score and 3K years or so) asserted that we are about reason, rather than ego or tantrum. Somewhat shakily, to be sure.

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