Life.

sun

Friedrich Nietzsche, The gay science

Book one – 26

What is life? Life-that is: continually shedding something that wants to die. Life-that is: being cruel and inexorable against everything about us that is growing old and weak-and not only about us. Life-that is, then: being without reverence for those who are dying, who are wretched, who are ancient? Constantly being a murderer? -And yet old Moses said: “Thou shalt not kill.”

Life for us human beings starts somewhere around the time we start to remember.

According to the Wiki page life is defined as: Life is a characteristic that distinguishes physical entities that have biological processes, such as signaling and self-sustaining processes, from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased (they have died), or because they never had such functions and are classified as inanimate.

As far as we know we humans are the only beings that know that they are alive apposed to dead. We sing about it, write poems praising it and can have long conversations about it. Life for me is our capability to remember and think about these memories. Do you really live if you don’t know what happened a minute ago or don’t know who you are looking in the mirror, would life not be a mere stream of impressions that disappear if you cannot appreciate them afterwards?

So, life for me starts somewhere around the time you start to remember. Maybe somewhere around your second birthday you have some continues moments, I’m no expert in these things. I get some flashes of old memories when I see old pictures, but it can be flashbacks from earlier times when I have seen these same pictures, hard to tell, but I have memories from my youth and you only have to ask my mother how much of life I questioned.

Memories are necessary for life, but memories are also unreliable, memories die on you constantly. Memories deceive you, lure you away from your path. Memories are like our lives as they are life.

Day 708, Mist in your mind.

Day 708-1

The horizon, your future, is often clad in mist, is what people often say. I disagree, if I look to the future with my minds eye I don’t see a fog, a grayish wall of nothing, I see outlines extending from the present. I see some general direction and contours of what might be. I know off course that around the corner the road might turn another way, but I see a future and not a grey wall of doubt that leads you blindly to anxiety.  The future might seem tough and overwhelming every now and then but remember, you wouldn’t have arrived at this point from the past if that road was impassible. Air out your brain, let the grey mist be blown away so you can see the outlines of your life and future, the things that matter and the facts you must obey. Life might not always seem fair but that’s just a misunderstanding, life does not know what is fair or unfair, those are just concepts we invented and why there is religion and faith. Life is just there and it is what we live with a few things we know and a lot that we don’t.

Day 701, a chance to hear myself.

Day 701-1

If I go outside now and walk to the water and stand still for a while I would hear nothing, maybe my breath and the beating of my heart. It is so silent here that no matter what you do it will automatically calm you down. I am not sure if I really need that silence for myself, but I really like the experience of living far away from a busy city with all its temptations and distractions. It was some kind of a gamble or dare to myself when I moved here over 10 years ago. I had a nice job and after work I went out to be amongst my friends and socialize. I was actually pretty comfortable with that life, maybe to comfortable. Moving to Norway changed all of that, no place to go in the evening in these small towns with maybe a 1000 people. There was one store in the first place I lived and no social live to speak of. It was difficult in the beginning, you get confronted with your own thoughts all the time, something I avoided back in Holland by going out so often. But I am now used to that and like those confrontations with myself, or maybe I am just used to myself now, something I wasn’t when I lived in the city, amongst the people and all the distractions. I guess the silence gave me a voice and a chance to hear myself.

Day 650, How to make up your mind.

Day 650-1

It is really popular In our modern culture to say that someone should “make up their own mind”. That you should trust your own feelings and don’t listen to what others say. If you understand that advice as just another platitude than there is not so much harm in it but if you take them literally than there is a big problem.  The problem is that you assume that we can make up our own mind but the best we can do is to stick with an internal narrative that is for the most part plagiarized.  Or do you think that every thought out of your mind comes from an internal well filled with virgin thoughts? Off course not! Think about your own upbringing, what if you were born in a totally different culture. Would that culture not have influenced you as the culture does that you are living in now? Are most of your thoughts and ideas not in line with most of the people around you? Think about your ideas about democracy, gay and woman rights and religion. Don’t you think that the people that grew up in America, Afghanistan, the Netherlands, or North-Korea al have different ideas about these topics. What people think of these topics is heavily influenced by the group of people they live with. In your mind you might have good reasons for why you believe in certain things, and it might feel that you thought of it yourself but that is of course only partly true.  Look at the words you use to order your thoughts, those are not made up letters and words. You learned those by listening to your parents and other people around you just like you learned your first ideas about the world around you. Se that person on the tv? That is a good person. See those people there? Those are bad. And this goes on your whole life and out of this pool of impressions you make up your own ideas and sometimes you might be lucky and give birth to a unique perspective. But even that unique thought could not have been made without the underlying layer of shared knowledge. So, if people say, “that you have to follow your own mind” they actually say that you have to cling to that what you have and “feels” the best. And why is this important you might ask, because we have to much ego in the world and we all think we are the source of truth and are willing to fight for it. And what is the value of these words of mine? Well, there definitely not unique and come from all the (dead) people around (mostly books) me. I cannot even pretend to add something unique to it. It’s been mentioned by a lot of big names in philosophy and religion like Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Spinoza, Nietzsche and many more. It is kind of pointless for me to write it down because even these big names are no longer read and taken seriously, but this is my exercise and good deed.

Shield

Photoshop-7

When I was in my early twenties I thought for a brief moment that I had all the answers in me, like most people do when their young. After living in different parts of the world, and looking around, I realized that the world is more complex, my inexperienced certainty seemed to be baseless. I started asking people about their thoughts on specific subjects, and got different answers or none at all. I realized that people either have an opinion, are clueless or don’t care. The ones with an opinion often use it as a shield to protect themselves in a discussion or when confronted with undermining facts. The problem with a shield is that as long as it works there is no need to change it, as long as you stay around like minded people your fine. And if you’re among strangers you hold it tighter. These people have their opinion and I wondered where they got it from, or if they ever doubted it. How can you not doubt your opinion? If the next 10 people you meet have a different one, you cannot all be right.

If you ask people to lay down their shield, to step back and look where their opinion comes from, they often cannot do that, don’t understand the question, or get angry. It’s hard to recognize that you don’t know, and that you are vulnerable without a shield.

 

Behind that paper thin wall

 

Day 599-1

I’m rereading the book Human all too Human from Friedrich Nietzsche. I have read the book before, and if I look at it I can clearly see the evidence of that. In this book Nietzsche writes in aphorisms, short pieces that are mostly self-contained, they are not clearly linked together. The advantage of this is that you can read one aphorism and think about it separated from the rest of the book. I have been doing that for the last week, but because I also wanted to write about the aphorisms and tried to analyze them, I used more time than I thought. It made me wonder how much I really understood them when I read them for the first time 15 years ago and read the book in a couple of weeks. Maybe I am so much slower now. Or was I less critical in the past and skipped over the bits that made no sense to me back then?

I have read many books about Nietzsche. So many that I can’t tell where my opinion and knowledge of him comes from. I have read books about him with all kinds of opinions and insights, and I read most of the books he has written himself. I have some knowledge of his work, his life and off course his philosophy but it’s more of a feeling. I can tell about his philosophy but it’s not like in a prepared lecture, it’s more like a sport you have practiced over and over. After a while you do the moves without thinking of them. That’s what I have with philosophy and in particular with Nietzsche, you forget why you know what you know.

Now I am reading one aphorism a day and analyze it. I realize now that what I know of Nietzsche is only from looking at a blurry picture. Now I have a magnifier and see so much more, I suddenly understand what others meant with their enthusiasm about his writing. Before,  I liked his writing to but more superficial, now I’m starting to understand why he is regarded as such a great writer and philosopher.

Well, this is not so surprising off course. Diving in deeper and you find more. The main thing I got from this week is the realization that this whole thing that we call our life is merely built out of a paper-thin assumption that would collapse if we look closer? I was comfortable with my knowledge of Nietzsche, but now I realize that behind the knowledge I think I have lies a whole other world. How many other worlds are there?

Reading Human all too human

 

Letter to a dying friend

Day 585-1

At the end of your life you look back.

We often think, as people, that life is endless. The days flow together, in a week, a month and before you know it, ten years. Looking at it like this, there seems to be no end and you take your time for granted. But the reality is, of course, very different. What is life more than a memory. You have an experience, process it with your biases, your colors, and archive it. Later you open the drawer with the memories in it and put on your glasses containing new life lessons, convictions, and experiences, and use them to look at those old times. That’s our life, colored memories, strung to each other like a web spun from old desires, dreams and stale air anchored to those sparse, valuable moments that make it all worthwhile. Life viewed like this is a construction and time plays a small role in it. This web is two dimensional, seen from the side it’s a few moments thick. All these ambiguous memories and old stories are not as important as those lasting once. Those lasting moments often fit in a few beats of your heart, so in the time you have left, you can still fit, worth a lifetime of new valuable ones.

Death, meaning and cancer

 

I try to imagine what I would feel like if the doctor told me that I would die within the next few weeks. The best way to find this out is probably to delv into your own experiences, looking for something with a similar impact, and how you dealt with it in the past?

When your car breaks down after you hit something in the middle of the night. When the apple was rotten, and you needed it for that recipe. When your lover cheated on you, or your grandmother died. In all these cases you were probably shocked at first, out of breath, felt helpless, or empty. If you have been through these experiences several times you might power on immediately after the initial shock, and if it is your first time it could slow you down to a standstill, unable to think or act. But can you compare the loss of a lover or death of a friend with the message that you soon are going to die?

The loss of a lover or death of a friend are situations outside you. These things can, and probably will happen to you. All these losses are of things that are “attached” to you, part of your life. The falling away, the separation is the part that hurts. You can even argue that the grievance over the loss of these attachments has more to do with that separation, the interruption of an assumption of continuation. You grieve over the hole that is left in your future memory. You lament that YOU can never speak to that person again, or that YOU can never touch her again. You miss the aspects of that person which were important to you, the part of that person that connected with you. The problem is that you cannot miss that person “an sich” because you never possessed the whole person.  Does it make it easier that you know that grieving has more to do with the wound left in you by the loss, than the loss of the person itself?  This depends on how you handle yourself, at least you can be honest to yourself and admit that you miss the connection you had with that person. You can see that connection as a separate entity wherein you have the biggest stake. That part of the bond you had, that connection, is lost. That connection is gone and leaves a wound, that person is gone but you are left with the remains. If you let that connection be so strong that it becomes part of your own direction in life, your identity, than it will be a hard fight. It can give you the chance to develop that part of you that is now empty and take responsibility for it for the future. Connections with other people are part of your own development, for good and for bad, they tie you down or propel you forward. Grief over the loss of someone close, can be seen as grief over the loss of a part of you, a part that tied you down or propelled you forward. No alter, nor fancy grave or religion will help you as good as the knowledge that you are a project or construct that can be worked on and healed if you are willing.

But what if you hear that your friend, a lover, father or mother has only a limited time left to live. What are your first thoughts? Again, this is not easy to find out, you can tell about your own experiences and write down what other people say, but in both cases its difficult. The cohesion of your thoughts breaks down immediately after bad news, and it can be minutes, hours or days later that you can describe what is left of that first impressions. Those feelings and words are like a wave breaking on your consciousness wherein every drop deserves a description, but which one was the first and does that even matter. You still have your connection, and the specific wounds attached to its loss are not there yet and hard to predict. I think it’s hard to be rational about these specific feelings of unexpected bad news, what these feelings mean and where they came from. We have art, poetry, and music to do this for us. There is no genuine reaction to a message of this kind. We all can proclaim what is socially accepted in our culture, say all the platitudes but what we really go through when you know that the one you love is gone a few moments from now, will always be tied down by the limits of our words.

Absence is a house so vast that inside you will pass through its walls and hang pictures on the air.” Pablo Neruda

And what about your own predicted death!  We can of course die at any moment. There are so many things out of our control that could kill us, but most of the time we don’t suffer under this notion. It’s even a thing to say that you’re not afraid of death or dying, something I don’t understand because you might as well say that you’re not afraid of unicorns, both are concepts we can only fantasize about. Death is the end of your time. After that it doesn’t matter anymore, the memory of you lives on for a while in the memory of the living but that’s it.

If you are on death row you know that you are going to die, you don’t know exactly when and maybe you will be pardoned. This manmade cancer has similarities with the cancer that kills so many of us. Reading about death row, cancer and stories from soldiers fighting in trenches or patrolling the jungle you learn that we humans are good in compartmentalizing. Simply said, we can put the parts in our mind that keeps us going in one compartment and the parts that causes distress in another. We already do this in the case of us knowing that we can die at any minute but in severe cases these compartments get more defined to prevent spillage. Remember also that the moment you are dead, your worries are gone. Its sounds cliché but think about it…you can worry, resist, be angry and cry and then comes death, you are gone and so are all your worries or you can read, write, watch tv, play a game, think, talk, eat and then comes death and you’re also gone but it seems to me a better way.

I realize that, specially this last part, is just rationalizing the memories of my own experiences. I looked death in the eyes several times. Never announced but expected sometimes. I see the compartments and lightheartedness in my behavior. There was excitement and adrenaline but not so much fear in the sense that it paralyzed me.  I might say that I am not afraid of death because, it doesn’t exist, death has no beginning or end, you cannot have fear of… nothing.

If I had a choice in how to deal with terminally ill people I would treat them as if they are not sick. They have their own defense mechanism going on and they don’t want to be needlessly reminded of the “compartment” they try to avoid. They probably know the difficulty themselves in dealing with death, so they might feel ashamed that they make you suffer for it, so don’t. If I was close to the Person, in vicinity and mind, I would push them as far as I know I can go to do the things they like(d) to do and for the connection we have, if you don’t recognize it before the person is gone you might have some self-reflection to do.

 

The nuclear bomb and its enemies.

Day 252-1

 

Both the USA and the USSR developed their large arsenals because history teaches them that war is a possibility and probably a necessity. Both were afraid that if either one had the chance of destroying the other, that it could happen. They either made a large arsenal to strike first or hit back hard after an attack. Either way it would be disastrous for both countries with millions of people dead not by a long war, diseases, or famine but by a few phone calls and some presses on 2, – dollar launch buttons.

The USSR was a Communist country, guided by strict rules that guided their past and future. The Russians where convinced that they could win a nuclear war. There would be large destruction, but the conventional war, after the nuclear destruction, could be won. From Napoleon to Hitler their large unwelcome land is there biggest asset that has shaped their history for years and guided their choices in the development and deployment of nuclear weapons.

In the USA they had MAD or mutually assured destruction. The Americans had their weapons spread-out so that it was impossible to destroy all the nuclear weapons in a first strike ensuring that they could strike back with enough power to destroy the enemy. After WW2 America was probably the strongest country in the world but this is not a role that they necessary wanted. Because of their distance from Europe and other hotspots in the world, they often chose to distance themselves from whatever was going on in the world. They reluctantly joined the first world war in the last few months, and they would probably have done the same in WW2 if it wasn’t for Pearl harbor. The USA before WW2 had an army with a size comparable to that of a small country, they had no real fear of being attacked. But with the advent of long range bombers, rockets, and nuclear bombs a devastating surprise attack suddenly became real

Was there ever a real choice or was the development and deployment of nuclear weapons unavoidable once their power was theorized.

Is it possible to not use a bigger stick, once available, to bash in the head of your enemy?

History shows that it isn’t. If you have a bigger stick you can force your enemies not to use similar sticks, but someone is going to pick it up and use it if they can.

There is no clear reason why it is coming so easy for mankind to destroy each other and our surrounding. I don’t know of any animals that would kill excessively more pray than they can eat or poison large parts of their surrounding for years to come.

Is it the power of our imagination combined with our “lizard brain” that we came to understand that just destroying the one that is steeling your meal can be augmented by destroying also their family, or kind to prevent it from happening in the future?

In hindsight it was probably better for our hunter-gatherer forefathers to stick to their way of living for a couple of million years longer before starting sowing crops and taming animals. Maybe their limbic system would have shriveled enough by than to be just a little echo in its empty tomb.

 

 

 

 

Blind spot

Day 232-1

We have a blind spot in our eyes. We miss part of the picture, but we don’t. Our brain fills in the gaps and like our nervous system or bowel movements it does it without our guidance.

For many years now, research has found out that our brain presents us with questionable answers. One of the articles that is interesting is “Priming and communication: Social determinants of information use in judgments of life satisfaction”. As an example, they will ask a group of students if they are happy and they give a response, after that they ask how many dates they had this year and there was no correlation between the two questions, more or less dates didn’t seem to influence the amount of happiness. But if you first ask how many dates they had and then asked about their happiness they found a correlation. Having a number, your dates this year, gives your brain an easier quantification to work with so it answers more realistic the question if you are happy. You should now that the students denied the correlation.

A primer is something that is a cause of.  Lots of thought’s, meanings and hunches have a primer, a cause. But do we know that, can we see that or is that fact permanently fixated before our blind spot colored in by our brain.