Saturday, February 16, 2008

Big Questions and a little Camus



I seem to be in a far too serious mood, and possibly if not probably, could do with a good stiff drink of whiskey.  Perhaps also I should not stop until I got drunk.  That brings another piece of hackneyed graffiti to my mind from my early college years: "Drink is the only reality to cope with the illusion of life!"  So much for old memories.  However, I feel that Camus has been my spiritual companion for these last few days.  Hence, if there are any readers of these lines out there, you may wish to surf away to a more uplifting and more light-hearted site.  However, here's a lovely quotation from the good man himself.  I like it a lot.

Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

I don't know where this quote comes from but I found it, unattributed to a specific work, on the marvellously thought-provoking site of the English Camus Society at this link Camus Quote.  Today as I was walking the above quotation summed up very well how I was feeling.

Years ago, 1980 to be precise, I remember sitting early one morning in the staff room of O'Connell Schools beside the late Gerard Smith, RIP.  That particular morning I remember his asking me the pointed question, "What's it all about, Tim?"  At the time none of us on the staff knew that Gerard had a congenital heart complaint and that his years were numbered.  He was to die in America some five or six years later.  As a young man I think I laughed off his all too serious question.  I was more concerned as a rookie teacher at getting a handle on one or another somewhat ill-disciplined class.  Anyway, I'm no good early in the morning.  I'm a night owl and I only really wake up after 11.00 A.M.  However, Gerard's question has always haunted me.  I can still picture him sitting there in the corner of the staff-room somewhere around 8.30 A.M.  (I have gone on to quote his question and his name by recounting this story many times when lecturing on the Introduction to the Book of Job, through Gaeilge, many years ago at Milltown Institute of Philosophy and Theology here in Dublin.)

Roll on many years and I can remember sitting in the Augustinian House of Studies in Ballyboden with a very good friend Kevin O'Rourke, known to all of us as KC.  This lad, like myself, was to leave the Augustinians for other pastures.  This would have been in the academic year 1985-86.  Both of us sat up all night once that year and polished off a large bottle of Irish Whiskey between us.  I was in my mid-twenties, Kevin some five years younger than I.  Wow, all the questions we asked about life and what we saw as our role or goal in making sense of our own lives.  I remember Kevin as a brilliant philosopher who always asked good hard questions.  In those days, as I'm sure they do today, we young monks were asking questions about how relevant religious life was to society etc.  Kevin used always ask like a true philosopher:  Does it have to be relevant?  Good question, Kevin.  Your question still remains with me.  I quite fancy Kevin asking me about my attempts to create meaning in my life, "Now, Tim, really, does your life have to be meaningful?"  Big question, Kevin, thanks!  I remember an old priest saying sagely, "forget all those questions, just live it!" This guy was always realistic and just a little cynical.  Maybe he had to be to live a life of religious commitment.  He's still working away as a still older priest these days.

Here's a little Camus by way of a balanced answer (at least to Camus' mind):

He who despairs over an event is a coward but he who holds hope for the human condition is a fool.

 

For Camus life was absurd and that's it in a nutshell.  One could only observe as dispassionately as possible what goes on around one, do one's best to alleviate one's own and others' suffering.  After that, Camus says if life gets you down, gets you depressed and makes you despair, well then you are a coward.  On the other hand, if the human condition makes you hopeful, well you are equally mistaken, in fact you're a fool.  So Camus' absurdist walked a middle path, even a tight-rope I might argue, between despair and hope.  In the end, there is the grave and the end of consciousness.  Full stop.  I find the following quotation somewhat dishonest - as I don't think Camus ever seriously contemplated suicide.  Being a sufferer from endogenous depression, I have met many who have contemplated ending their own lives not as an intellectual choice but rather as an existential necessity of ending the pain.  I don't feel Camus suffered such pain.  I could be wrong in this contention, of course.  Be that as it may, here is his quotation on suicide, which existentially I cannot buy.  However, as all philosophers have the penchant for pushing their arguments to their logical conclusions, perhaps it is intellectually consistent.  (Then, what about those intellectually consistent absurdists, then, who live out their lives to the bitter end, are they intellectually consistent?  Indeed have they the courage of their convictions? Why didn't they commit suicide? However, Albert Camus died at 49 years of age in a motor traffic accident on the outskirts of Paris.)

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy

This quotation along with the others is available at the above link.

Now for a personal note.  Sometimes philosophy and indeed literature can serve to bring us down.  I have had experience of this myself.  Once I was reading Brian Moore's The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, a wonderful book which recounts the alcoholic life of its "heroine" or main character and I literally found myself going deeper and deeper into a depression.  This was a little after I was diagnosed with endogenous depression and my consultant psychiatrist changed the pills I was taking.  After that I had no problem.  As one who is involved with mental health both as a sufferer, as one who has attended various forms of psychotherapy and who has studied counselling skills, I am well aware that the type of food we eat, the type of clothes we wear, the type of music we listen to and the very reading material we might be drawn to can and do have a psychological impact. Perhaps, though I certainly don't know for sure, this is what Alexander Pope meant when he said that "a little learning is a dangerous thing"?  Maybe, it's more correct to say that "too much learning is a dangerous thing"? Then we have the knotted problems of meta-thinking, that is, thinking about thinking.  Can we think too much?  Maybe we can?  I will remind any readers that when you suffer a bout of depression you find that your thoughts begin to think you rather than experiencing you as thinking them.  Thoughts have at this stage hijacked the "ego" or any sense of "I" who might be in control.  In this sense, certainly, thinking must be stopped by psychiatric drugs and/or psychotherapeutic methods.


Above, a picture I took with my phone at Howth where I thought most of these thoughts with Camus a sort of strange spiritual guide.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Existential Interlude



There are so many things we might do, except that life just keeps on interrupting them.  The old proverb often on my mother's lips when she was "compos mentis" viz., "man proposes and God disposes" comes to mind.  I remember many years ago when I first went to college and had started to read philosophy at the tender age of 18 - a lot of it was lost on me, though in hindsight I'm all the richer for all the books I read on the subject - that some wag had written on the toilet wall the following piece of hackneyed graffiti: "God is dead! - Nietzsche... Nietzsche is dead! - God."; Or again a old story told by one of our then professors that went along the lines: "One day a famous Professor of Philosophy who had written many erudite and profound books and articles on many diverse topics was due to give a lecture on the topic of death.  However, a porter came in right before the lecture with the news that Professor X was dead."  The point of this wee story for the lecturer in question was just that - life just has a habit of interrupting us in our deliberations and in our fancied self-importance. (For me death is part of life - seamlessly interwoven with it, so I include death by implication when I say that life keeps on interrupting us in our pursuits.) I did advert to this fact in my last post that one of the essential faults of humankind and of the cultures we have created is the fact that we probably do overestimate our own importance in the scheme of things.  A philosophical question worth asking surely is:  Are we really that important at all?  Are our ideas that important either?  I shan't offer any answers because I have always believed that good questions are more important than simple or trite answers.

One of the things I constantly refer to in these posts is the celerity at which life seems to be passing me by.  The years are accumulating inexorably.  At my Uncle Ted's funeral recently - Ted was one of my mother's younger brothers who died there just in the New Year at the age of 72 - I found myself saying in my mind about a first cousin, who is about 2 years younger than I, something like: "Wow, Brenda looks so old - She's practically an old woman!"  I knew instinctively that she was saying in her mind: "Wow, Tim looks so old - He's practically an old man!"  Apologies, Brenda if you're reading this, but I think you'll understand the existential point rather than the baldness of a seemingly impolite thought - (Can thoughts be impolite? Feelings or thoughts are neither good or bad.  Actions and behaviours definitely are!)  Anyway, such is our existential state in the world that we seem to notice the decline in others before we realise the all too apparent (to others) diminution in the powers of own bodies.  Yes, we do need reminding, don't we?  If we don't remind ourselves often of these blunt facts (by meditation or other spiritual or psychotherapeutic helps) then life bloody well will anyway!  The stuff in brackets, while it won't solve our problems, will definitely lessen their impact! Also let's not get blown away by our own perceived importance and our own biased hubris.  That's why I really love the comment by Stephen Hawking that I have quoted many times in these posts.  It does bear repeating here and I'll block-quote it for emphasis:

"One has to be grown up enough to realise that life is not fair.  You just have to do the best you can in the situation you are in."  Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science (White and Gribben, Viking 1992, 293)

This is a wonderfully simple philosophy which is almost Buddhist in its psychological implications.  I keep returning to this harsh teaching when I feel any wee sense of cloying self-pity(that horribly nonsensical, irrational and most wasteful of feelings), call it "tough love" if you will, for its simplicity and profundity at one and the same time, and above all for its utter practicality.

Anyway, continuing my Camus-like existential theme, there I was today in TCD going to an appointment with a lecturer in the Department of Mental and Moral Sciences (i.e., The Philosophy Department) and I happened to bump into several people whom I have known over the years.  This is what ran through my head on meeting one of these old friends:  "My God you are so old and really bad on the pegs.  You can just about shuffle along!"  Needless to say, I did not appraise him of my secret thoughts.  Then another friend whom I met seemed as if he had just crawled out of bed and looked decidedly more decrepit than the last time I had the privilege of meeting him.  However, they both greeted me cheerily and cheerfully.  I then met a woman I had known quite well.  She's still attractive.  I won't write here the thoughts that were going through my head.  I'll leave those to your imagination.

Anyway, I have called this post an "existential interlude" and with reason.  I read a whole chapter on Camus in Hodges Figgis before going to my appointment in TCD.  That's me and bookshops.  I often read whole chapters.  I hasten to add that this is no cheap read phenomenon as I almost always leave at least 100 € in this bookshop every time I go there as I did today.  Books are my addiction.  Anyway two of my early reads in philosophy were books by Albert Camus, namely, The Myth of Sisyphus and The Outsider.  The last one mentioned here was the one to really get under my skin.  Then, like my mates in Mater Dei, I loved the fact that Albert Camus had been a working journalist who had played in goal for the Algerian soccer team.  Albert was the real thing for us in our late teens.   Anyway The Outsider has always stuck in my mind, haunting me almost.  I remember thinking at the time "how can this man be so harsh on his relatives, on his mother for God's sake, so harsh on himself even?"  I had been schooled by the Irish Christian Brothers who had taught us "right and proper" courtesy and "right and proper" behaviour.  We were coming from a structured world which formed us as unquestioning young men.  At college, in Philosophy and English Lit., we were greeted with a mind-blowing array of different ideas which we had never dreamed of at school.  However, over the years I had gradually come to see what our man Camus was at.  He had managed at an early age to be far more objective an observer of life than I.  In short Camus told it as it was, as it is, or as he saw it!  Camus seemed to me to have pared away all the "fluff", all the "fog", all the "cream", all the "icing" from off the "cake" of life if I may use a rather over-stated and inelegant metaphor.

I have always been haunted by the opening pages of this wonderfully well-told tale of modern mythic power and simplicity. I can still see the author in my mind's eye observing his mother's funeral cortege.  Then he sees an old man hobbling along behind her coffin, her lover he tells us, decrepit like my old friend today.  I think of T.S. Eliot's wonderful, if bleak lines from his wonderful poem "The Hollow Men" and they reflect Eliot's interpretation of Western culture after World War I.

The final stanza of this poem may well be the most often quoted of all of Eliot's poetry:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Other bleak lines from this wonderful modernist poet (a Nobel Laureate like our friend Camus) are from his equally magisterial "The Wasteland" poem which go: "A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, I had not thought death had undone so many."  In a way these are feelings that the young Camus expresses in his graphically written and potent wee book The Outsider (1942, in other words this was the work of a young man only 29 years of age.)  I have got out my old copy of this book which has been stored away in my attic.  I have always had the inelegant and rather boorish habit of annotating texts as I read them - a habit attributable to Bart Doyle, M.A., R.I.P., who taught me in the early seventies in O'Connell Schools.  Anyway the following are some quotes from this book:

How about this for a powerful opening sentence?

" Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can't be sure."

 

Or again from later in the book, try this for measure:

" Since we're all going to die, it's obvious that when and how don't matter."

Then we have his quarrel with the priest which is worth quoting at some length:

" It was as if I had waited all this time for this moment and for the first light of this dawn to be vindicated. Nothing, nothing mattered, and I knew why. So did he. Throughout the whole absurd life I'd lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, across years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind levelled whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real than the ones I was living. What did other people's deaths or a mother's love matter to me; what did his God or the lives people choose or the fate they think they elect matter to me when we're all elected by the same fate, me and billions of privileged people like him who also called themselves my brothers? Couldn't he see, couldn't he see that? Everybody was privileged. There were only privileged people. The others would all be condemned one day. And he would be condemned, too."

 

Later again, near the end of the book, we read:

"Gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe."

One can hear many undertones of Nietzsche in much of the above quotations.  I read somewhere in this latter philosopher's work a sentiment along the following lines that the universe is completely indifferent to our moods. I remember saying to myself - how true Ruskin was in his definition of "pathetic fallacy" in arguing only  for the  "seeming" rather than "real" human  characteristics of the elements of nature.  After all he did see it as a fallacy in so far as man was only projecting his feelings unto nature and that nature in no way shared them.  Of course, those of a Romantic or Wordsworthian predilection would not agree with these thoughts here.  They would feel that nature communicates something to them either by pantheism or panentheism.

Anyway, Camus has been my spiritual guide today.  He seems to be the gadfly I need to wake me from my more dogmatic slumber.  He was my Hume to my Kant so to speak.  We do need to wake up, to come alive, to stop living like the walking dead that many modernist and even post-modernist writers write of today.  It is so important to question old certainties, to shake the tree of tradition, as it were, so that all those riper and even rotten apples will fall to the ground.

When I left TCD I brought my bag of books with me (from Hodges Figgis) and read from one or two on the way back to Howth where I had my car parked.  In the harbour I spotted the hulk of an old rust bucket of a ship which was undergoing some very necessary repairs to allow it some last few years  respite before resting in the breaker's yard or in a more watery grave elsewhere.  It became a suitable metaphor for the way I'm feeling and for the break I need from teaching before I do have to, as the Bard of Avon was wont to say, "shuffle off this mortal coil."  Like my friends above I do hope I won't be shuffling or "shuffling off" too soon.


Above I have uploaded the rust bucket of a boat, a fitting metaphor for my soul, which I took with my phone at Howth today.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Minotaur Mind



After yesterday's blog I've exhausted somewhat my philosophical larder. I'll simply have to shop for more imaginary culinary delights. However, a poetic interlude, I feel, is what's needed. Therefore, I'll publish here a poem I wrote exactly a year ago, the 31st of January 2007 to be precise. On re-reading it I feel it does tackle the mystery which we experience the mind to be. No more than that needs to be said as I believe the poem is fairly self-explanatory after that. Anyway, the whole idea of poetry is that it should be self-explanatory because a poem worth its salt must be able to stand alone and sell its wears itself.
Minotaur

Always when you think you’re done
Something else opens up –
Some new problem to be solved
Or even worse an old one
Still haunting you too long
Because it was never put to bed.

The mind’s a labyrinth
More devious and deceiving
Than that at Knossos long ago.
You’d need more than a ball of thread
To unwind behind your back
As you wander ever inward

In pursuit of some stray spark
Of Soul or Self to light
Your benighted way,
Something to inflame the heart,
To give you courage
To keep you going against the odds.

Sometimes you are the slayer,
Sometimes the monster slain,
Sometimes both or something in between
In the chimera world of dreams and nightmares,
Half man, half bull –
Not fully whole – unfinished.

You are bereft of Ariadne,
A lover with the secret.
You are bereft of Theseus,
A hero to slay the monster.
Yours is the plight of Icarus –
The sun will melt your wax
And you will plunge into the depths.



We all need some Still Point where we can tie up the boat of our mind and soul, often tired from seeking "too much meaning"!

It's all in the Mind 3



I have heard it said for most of the fifty years that I have lived as one person among the 6.6 billion of us that inhabit this blue planet that the most fundamental question anyone can ask is "Who am I?"  This might seem a little irrelevant given the fact that I'm an individual - one sentient human creature among 6.6 billion.  I'm less that a speck on a very small planet which in its turn is less than a speck when our sun is seen as the size of an average-sized football.  When our sun is compared with the star Arcturus it in its turn is a speck and the earth, well it is too infinitesimally small to be registered by the human eye.  See the following link to get a graphic representation of how small earth is, and then ponder our insect-like significance: Our World.  Anyway as one of these individuals called human beings who live on this speck of earth I believe that the question "Who am I?" is one of the most important.

 

One of the things I believe concerning us humans is that we believe deeply that we are important.  We build cultures and civilizations which weave great myths, customs and knowledge of all kinds to continually convince (deceive?) us in our erring (or unerring?) belief.  If we're true philosophers we won't jump to too many conclusions too soon before exploring all the possible avenues.  As you will realise, this post is getting more and more complicated.  But that is okay, is it not?  After all, the/a philosophy of mind is possibly the most intricate areas of philosophy to study.  Likewise the many problems that the very nature of consciousness poses are also germane to our explorations here.

Another inextricably linked area to philosophy of mind and consciousness is, quite naturally, the area of psychology.  One might also like to throw in several other germane areas also like neurology, neuroscience, brain surgery and psychiatry to muddy the waters just a little.

Now back to some interesting theoretical questions (as distinct from existential ones like pain, anxiety and angst etc).  Think of your colleagues at work.  Next call to mind your good friends and even your spouse (if you have one).  Do any of these people know that "real me" if you will permit me to interchange the first person for the third person pronoun from this on.  They shape a picture of me from what they have observed of me on a daily basis.  They might also take account of what I say, my sense of humour, my general personality which hopefully exhibits certain constant individual traits specific to me or who they know as me.  However, that's not certain knowledge, is it? I could be an actor, a deceiver or a con artist.  Now if they do not know the real me, can I know the real other?  Indeed, a further question would be do I even now the real me?  Would the real me please stand up?  Am I a chameleon or is there a real essence that is me, an "I" different from the 6.6 billion minus 1 others?

Now I think of a relationship I had which broke down.  Obviously I will remember being very upset and even very disturbed.  My certainties have been shattered.  My world of perceived patterns and shapes has broken down and is totally out of shape - at least the shape that I had stamped on it.  Then what of such marvellous abstractions like "friendship", "care", "love", "fidelity," "loyalty," and "trust" which I experienced in this relationship?  Do they now exist?  Or do they only exist out there in a marvellous world of Ideas which Plato described so well.  Okay so those sublime "ideas" exist but what about my concrete experience of them - do they exist for me now?  Did I know the "real person" at all?  Was he or she only my idealised construction?  What indeed is a "person" anyway?  As I said when I ended my last post am I just a collocation of neuronal interactions or am I more?  If we change as we get older am I still the "person" I was when I was much younger?  Am I a "body" with a "mind" attached or a "mind" with a "body" attached? (There are, of course, other huge questions in this complex area of philosophy like (i) what is the nature of our consciousness? (ii) are animals conscious in the same way as we are?  Can they be said to have a mind? (iii) Can a computer be called intelligent?  Can it develop a mind or a personality even?)

John R. Searle in his wonderful book Mind: A Brief Introduction (Oxford 2004, 4) reminds us that when discussing the philosophy of mind we should bear important distinctions in mind, with the following one being, I think, more relevant to my post here:

The first is the distinction between those features of the world that are observer independent and those that are observer dependent or observer relative.  Think of the things that would exist regardless of what human beings thought or did.  Some such things are force, mass, gravitational attraction, the planetary system, photosynthesis and hydrogen atoms.  All of these are observer independent in the sense that there existence does not depend on human attitudes.  But there are lots of things that depend for their existence on us and our attitudes. Money, property, government, football games and cocktail parties are what they are, in large part, because that's what we think they are.  All of these are observer relative or observer dependent.  In general, the natural sciences deal with observer-independent phenomena, the social sciences with the observer dependent.



There is simply so much to learn. The above picture shows me teaching in the Gaeltacht of Árainn Mhór.

Monday, February 11, 2008

It's all in the Mind 2


Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.  Life is not easy, is it?  There are all those existential questions - why do I suffer?  Why has my mother breast cancer?  Why did I fail that test?  Why did I have to meet him or her just now?  The list of possible questions is legion to say the least. (One can ask other less existential and more theoretical questions, of course, like why should I not suffer?  Isn't all about luck and randomness after all?  Who am I to consider myself to be special and blessed beyond the randomness I believe in in other circumstances.)  Then you have those nightmare scenes that flit across the mind from time to time: like pictures of going bankrupt, of your relationship foundering on the rocks or of losing your job.  Or simply, or not so simply, living in the angst and fear of the unknown - like, say, waiting on the results of an x-ray, an MRI scan or whatever.

An yes, the mind - what an intricate and complex concept.  I use the term "concept", of course, because that is precisely what it is, I think. (Not, mind you (very punny) that I'm all that sure exactly what mind is).  However, we can surely ask questions about what the mind is - at least I can, as I'm not at all certain as to what the mind is at all.  Is it synonymous with the brain?  Does it transcend the brain?  Can the mind be equated with what we know as personality?  Is it more or is it less?  Okay, the brain is an organ that regulates the thinking and motor centres of the body.  Do other organs share in any way in the process of thinking?  Good question.  I seem to remember reading somewhere that while the brain is primarily a "thinking" organ that other organs can share to some little, though not to a totally insignificant extent, in what may be termed in the widest understanding what thinking is.

But, then, is the mind solely a thinking apparatus?  The brain is a regular of sensations also - coordinating the five senses - hearing, touching, seeing, tasting and smelling.  Then it also manages to coordinate our movements from crawling, walking, running, swimming, rope-walking (funambulation) and juggling etc.  The possibilities are legion and it seems the brain and indeed the mind are infinitely pliable and flexible.

It is also a regulator of feelings.  The brain feels pain of all types from physical to emotional or mental pain.  Obviously it would be very obtuse and stupid of anyone to argue that the mind does not feel all these pain sensations either.  However, I still believe, as do all scientists that brain and mind are not precisely synonymous.  The brain is the physical organ science can study and map while the mind seems to be "me" with my individual personality.  However, I believe that mind and personality are distinct concepts representing distinct realities which overlap while not being precisely the same thing.

The concept of Multiple Intelligences, spearheaded by the wonderful psychologist, Howard Gardner(born 1943). (See Multiple Intelligences) always appealed to be because it broadens our understanding of concepts and, in a practical way what we mean by intelligence and consequently what we mean when we refer to what we term the mind.  It would seem to me that any theory or hypothesis that stretches the imagination, that reaches out to explore unknown possibilities is the way to go.  On the other hand I believe that any theory that seeks to do the opposite, namely to narrow the imagination, reduce the mystery, to oversimplify reality is neither a good nor morally enriching theory.  Narrowness of approach bespeaks bias, prejudice and hypocrisy to this writer.

The brilliance of Gardner, I believe, can be found pragmatically in that his hypotheses have had a profound influence on the practice of education in the United States of America and elsewhere.  We are only beginning to use some of his insights in the Irish educational system.  His theory expanded the narrow idea that human intelligence can be confined to the numerical, linguistic and spatial abilities measured by classical intelligence tests which originated in the great work of Albert Binet.  Gardner's suggested intelligences are as follows: linguistic intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence, musical intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, spatial intelligence, interpersonal intelligence and intrapersonal intelligence.  However, it is beyond the scope of this present post to go into any more detail about each of these suggested intelligences and how they have been each used in practical ways by individual teachers employing strategies based on this psychologist's concepts.  The reason I have adverted to Gardner at all is because he has expanded what we mean educationally by intelligence.  He has not reduced or simplified the problem of intelligence by insisting on narrow categories.  Rather he has expanded the frontiers of the mystery of both the brain and the mind.  Now, we further realise, if indeed we needed Gardner to confirm us in the more complex views on the mind that were advanced by many brilliant philosophers, theologians, writers and scientists over the past centuries - I advert here to the likes of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Isaac Newton, John Hume, Immanuel Kant, Bishop Berkeley of TCD here in Dublin, Francis Bacon, John Henry Newman, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Albert Einstein, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Richard Feynman, Leonard Mlodinow, Stephen Hawking etc who have added and expanded on our understanding of what man is in the universe.  Not one of these great geniuses could be termed a reductionist of the mystery with which humankind presents us, and certainly never a reductionist of what the mind may entail.

Outside of all this, I must declare my existential interest in the mind.  I am a sufferer from endogenous depression, namely the unipolar form of the same disease.  Both interventions by what is termed psychopharmacology (drug treatment) and by therapy (orthodox psychotherapy and counselling mainly) have worked wonders for my mental well being.  The awful and dreadful experience of any kind of depression I would not wish upon my worse enemy.  The so called "normal" person (whatever this category of "normal" may mean at all I can only guess at.  But that moot question might have to wait for another post) experiences himself or herself as thinking his or her thoughts.  I did, too, before I had my major breakdown at forty. I then had the experience of my thoughts thinking me.  My thoughts, which had become uncontrollable, had hijacked my mind.  If one's thoughts have hijacked the mind where then does the centre of control lie?  This is a big question that has literally a cartload of other stinking questions under its all too thin tarpaulin.  What is my personality so if it can disappear into a cauldron of malfunctioning synapses?  Is my personality a chemical entity solely that psychopharmacological interventions can modify?  What then are feelings?  What then is love?  What then are needs and desires any more than a thirst that must be slaked?  Where then lies meaning in life?  Where then lie great concepts like God, Heaven, Hell, Nirvana etc?  Just another game that the mind invented to while away the time - impossible, inscrutable, inexorable and so indifferent time.

Ah, yes indeed, Noel Brosnan was right, all those years ago - it is, after all is said and done, all in the mind!


Does it really matter what direction I go in if it's all in my mind anyway? Above a picture of some signposts I took in Paris in recent years.