Yesterday, in the middle of a philosophical conversation about a conversation partner’s sense of loneliness, it occurred to me that loneliness just is the experience of not being present. Loneliness is the word we typically use to designate this nebulous feeling of lack: the other is not there, the past in which love was is now gone, and there is some other place I would rather be.
Contrariwise, to be there is to be genuinely attentive to what is around one. Attention requires focusing one’s concentration on the specific, significant features of some object. I pay attention to the particular way in which the white dove preens itself with a view to honoring its way of existing. In a second breath, reverence expands my vision from this white dove before me to the beautiful world in which this white dove fittingly exists.
Attention reveals itself within the rhythms of eternity, in the view from here, and loneliness has no time in eternity, no view but otherwise.
Some good news from a handful of current and former conversation partners in my philosophy practice:
- One is leaving behind professional work to start an organic farm in the country.
- Another is, after a long hiatus, completing a master’s thesis on sustainability.
- Another is launching an artist retreat and craftsmanship school in 2014.
- Another has rented a beautiful farm in hopes of providing artists and creative individuals with a ‘place to call home.’
- Another has quit her corporate job to open up a body awareness practice.
We praise some persons for their virtues (such as courage), we wish some persons good fortune (in the face of uncertainty), and we congratulate others for their successes. In some cases, we praise, wish well, and congratulate the same. I do all three for those above.
In rural Appalachia (the penultimate syllable pronounced like the ‘a’ in ‘apple’, not like the ‘a’ in ‘staple’), self-sufficiency is not an essential characteristic of Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, the divine unmoved around which everything else moves. Nor is it the intrinsic property of Spinoza’s substance, that which is ontologically independent for its existence. For generation after generation in these parts, self-sufficiency has meant the ability to take care of oneself and one’s kin without the aid of foreigners.
Time was when these self-sufficient people knew how to name the same tree across summer and winter; could build gardens and make wheels of cheese; concocted home remedies by using local roots and herbs and, on occasion, sold these to the people in the surrounding cities; spoke a language all their own. ‘Are you peart?,’ one used to ask a neighbor who moved in 39 years ago. Meaning: are you in good health, in good spirits?
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A mountain storm ill-prepares one for its sublime power. Within hours, the power flicks on and off and is out. Night has long fallen, and the mountain–a Iago–shows another, more fearsome side of itself.
Its power exposes our powerlessness. Days without power and without adequate supplies reveal how little one who has acquired an excellent formal education in the analysis of grand ideas has learned to survive. The folly of what goes under the label of higher education is evident when one cannot use a computer or credit card to secure one’s material needs. Technologists such as Google’s Larry Page who assert that Google is working at only 0.1% of innovation miss, in their fancies, the essential facts of existence. Can one start a fire with the loose materials on hand? Can one make food so that it lasts for days? Purify water? Get a car down a mountainside once covered with snow under which lie layers of ice, water, and loose sediment?
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Nicholas Carr begins his blog post, ‘The Searchers,’ as follows,
When we talk about “searching” these days, we’re almost always talking about using Google to find something online. That’s quite a twist for a word that has long carried existential connotations, that has been bound up in our sense of what it means to be conscious and alive. We don’t just search for car keys or missing socks. We search for truth and meaning, for love, for transcendence, for peace, for ourselves. To be human is to be a searcher.
Whereas searching–a verb, an activity of a certain kind–is a key feature of the meaning of being human, a search query, believes Carr, as cogent a writer there is on the limits of the Internet Age, can sharply turn into its opposite: into an attempt to away with the question entirely. To bolster his case, Carr quotes Ray Kurzweil, a defendant of AI and new director of research at Google: ‘I envision some years from now that the majority of search queries will be answered without you actually asking. It’ll just know this is something that you’re going to want to see.‘
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