Existentialism, philosophy, Schrodinger's Dachshund, Truth

Gus Sanders, Segmentarian

The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.  Camus

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The archetypal resemblance between the Grim Reaper’s scythe and your lawnmower, surely it’s no coincidence the Big D carries a yard tool rather than a metal-detector, .357,  or pool cue. To explain the particular, start with the general. Take a step back with Gus Sanders, founder of Segmentarianism. During a Peak Experience (aka Satori) he realized the gods made Sisyphus push a boulder because their mower was in the shop. Based on a true story.

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Gus Sanders rested his hands on bulbous knees jutting above black socks and  gulped for air. With desperate eyes he sized up his abhorrent foe, his Goliath. Its silence, a snide boast of invulnerability, mocked him more than howls of laughter. Unknown muscles in his shoulder and back twitched. He spat and probed for weaknesses. Then the fifty-sixth attack met the same ignominious fate as its predecessors.

He sought sustenance in Hate, which is not a fickle flame contingent on the fuel of man’s misfortunes but a great wind impelling warriors in all ages. His Aussie slouch hat provided scant protection from the jaundiced eye in the heavens. How many conflicts has it beheld, delighted or appalled but never indifferent. That would be intolerable. If  it doesn’t care, who does?

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Impervious, the start chord awaited, an Excalibur only the salesman could effectively extract from the LawnMaster Easy-Start Deluxe Mulching Mower. Gus shielded his eyes and looked to the horizon for strength, for perspective. The earth, is it not a vast coliseum?

Rivulets of sweat added a shimmering gloss to what he saw, but they didn’t create it. Certainly an electrolyte deficiency played a role, but not as a sufficient cause. When he attempted to stretch, the crackle from his back was disturbing but extraneous to what followed. Not all  enigmatic visions can be dismissed as pathologies. The smug little skeptics who deify first principles forget that philosophic fundamentalism is as inbred and ill-kempt as its bucktoothed religious cousin.

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Above a Bucky Badger weather-vane on the garage, cumulus clouds morphed into a ghostly figure pushing a mower across a lawn punctured by iridescent dandelions. He dissolved but the grass remained, as if to ridicule and defile the purpose of his fleeting existence. Gus collapsed. “How many hours of my life have I spent cutting the lawn?” he cried, recoiling from the leprous growth surrounding him.

Mentholated smoke wafted through the den where his wife played Mah Jong on the computer amid the sonorous thunder of “Song Sung Blue.” “Why don’t you wait until the sun goes down?”

“Because it will be dark then. We’d need to add a guide dog to the other five.” He tottered to the kitchen and poured  a gin-and-tonic sans tonic and found a scratch-pad. “Must have started when I was twelve. That’s an hour each week walking behind a deafening machine, choking on exhaust in the scalding sun. Have to do it at least twenty times a year. Forty years times twenty equals … sweet Jesus. That’s over  a month of cutting the lawn non-stop. Look at that segment of my life. Stolen. And I never would have known.”

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“Gussy, what are you shouting about? Why don’t we pay one of the neighbor kids to do it?”

“Because cutting the grass isn’t a video game, and we can’t afford the special helmets they need.” He stared at the numbers like a scientist examining a lethal virus through a microscope. “All the evidence is right here. Anyone could have found it. Unless they’re afraid or brainwashed, why haven’t they? Maybe it’s like people stuck in a communist country who have no idea how restricted their lives are.”

He poured another gin-and-tonic sans tonic and looked out the window at the insidious LawnMaster Easy-Start Deluxe Mulching Mower. Its chrome handle extruded from an orange plastic shell: a monstrous, rapacious crustacean waiting to attack him and devour more of his life. “You’ve been sucking up my time. What sane man would consent to being born if he knew his life would involve an entire month of cutting the grass?”

Propelled by the mysterious dynamism animating all beings, the analysis took on a life of its own. During his weekend shifts, Gus ignored college football, Cops, and even the adventures of Mary Weatherworth to begin a Segmentarian Critique. The calculations were simple to perform, but contemplating the sums proved no less daunting than the observation of crime scene photos. Worse than the outrage was the lack of a culprit.

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“Shaving averages out to five minutes a day since I was fifteen. If I live to be eighty that’s … Who would consent to being born if he knew he’d have to spend three months shaving?”

“Tossing and turning in bed is at least four hours a week, which comes to … another twelve months. After all these segments are chopped off, what’s left? And if the government isn’t behind this, who is? It’s too organized and systematic to be a coincidence. Has anyone else calculated  it? Maybe this is what pushed John Nash over the edge.”

With the weariness of all lonely soldiers of fortune fighting a war of ideas, Gus wishes his LawnMaster Easy-Start Deluxe Mulching Mower had started on the fifty-sixth try that afternoon. Once you start exposing life to the terrifying clarity of Segmentarianism there is no turning back. Amazing how a happenstance brush with an idea can change a man.

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“Some day all the grass will look like this. When there’s no one round to cut it, it’ll just grow and grow, all long and messy.”

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To remedy the Lawnmower Blues, contemplate things less ephemeral than your absurd chore. You, dream of a shadow, while you change the length of your lawn each week, devoting your fleeting days to glorifications of futility, the cluster of gasses recently nicknamed Jupiter remain chaotic as they were in the Permian. Oblivion is patient; permanence, relative. That even it shall die, this cherub who shone in a wondrous way for billenium, should its mortality bring you comfort, a sense of familial affinity, or despair? If nothing be permanent, then only Nothing is permanent. And ultimately triumphant. There is no Ontological anchor in Heraclitus’ rapids.

Watchman & The Mystery Box

Shi Tzu, Cosmic Yak Dog

Plato’s Cave? Big Whoop!

 

 

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Annals, philosophy, Truth

The Dialogues of Supernatural Individuation

A Deductive Exorcism of Ghosts

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So that the Reader may fully share in this glorious triumph against superstition, it is essential that he understand and fully acknowledge the theoretical impossibility of ghosts. To the philosophic novice, being theoretically impossible is a far graver offense than being physically impossible. The latter is a misdemeanor against the laws of nature; the former is a desecration of logic herself. Unfortunately, a straightforward descant would expose even the most learned to arguments intricate and arcane. Despite the technical perfection, my exposition would prove insufficient to infuse the Reader with the perplexities that assailed me or bring him to his knees with the unique awe of a grand philosophic revelation. His loss would be of tragic proportions: the argument I shall unveil is as original and profound as the introduction of amino acids into the primordial soup.

To clearly elucidate and explore this point, I have decided to demonstrate it by means of a dialogue. If the format was good enough for Plato and David Hume it is good enough for me. The Reader is encouraged to imagine himself seated at the table with the participants, actively following (perhaps even participating in) the discussion.

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The Participants

Sophia represents the voice of Reason. Scatius is a wily philosopher whose views are in diametric opposition to mine. Cretinius holds the views of the common man.

***

At a picnic table in Pulaski Park sat Sophia, Cretinius, and I. The morning sun or Sophia, which article of Creation deserved greater reverence, which was more conspicuous and inexplicable in its beauty and power? Though she was barely eighteen, to look into her dark green eyes was to confront Wisdom itself. We shared a bottle of peppermint schnapps while giant but gentle Cretinius worked the morning crossword.

“Sophia, a fascinating problem vexes me. In the realm of the supernatural, how in theory would we individuate things? How would we recognize one entity as being distinct from another?”

“What’s a two-letter word for alternative?” said Cretinius, rubbing his salient brow.

After some thought, Sophia leaned forward, revealing cleavage from the plentidudinous bosom concealed beneath her toga. “It couldn’t be the same way we individuate natural things. Consider five coins. What distinguishes each of them is their occupation of different spaces.”

“Exactly,” I said. “Now I am not asserting that spatial continuity is the only consideration, but it is essential.”

“Cretinius, that’s a terrible habit,” said Sophia, her radiant features grimacing as his finger excavated his nose.

A loud belching interrupted her as Scatius staggered into the park. His spindly legs seemed incapable of supporting the humpbacked torso upon them.

“I fear he is in his cups again,” I whispered.

“Those are sandals,” said Cretinius, his lazy eye looking up and away from the crossword.

“I wonder what views Scatius holds on your position,” said Sophia.

“And what position is that?” he said, taking a seat. The black caves of Scatius’ eyes provided the only contrast on his forbidding face to his pasty skin. Though his hair was thin to the point of endangered, his skeletal arms were covered with dense patches of beastly fur. He helped himself to our schnapps, guzzling it from the bottle.

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“I was maintaining the theoretical impossibility of ghosts,” I said. “My critique is more severe than the assertion that they do not exist. I maintain that it makes no sense to even speak of them.”

“Ah, the cheap solvent of logical positivism,” he said with a hiccup. “That’s about as original as breathing.”

“Scatius! Don’t touch me there,” cried Cretinius.

“My argument owes nothing to the lazy and arrogant positivists,” I said. “They assert that statements are only meaningful if they are verifiable. My position is that we cannot coherently speak of ghosts because they cannot be individuated by the criterion of spatial continuity. The difference between one and three of them is not a feature of the distinct chunks of space they occupy. By what criterion can they be separated?”

“Your argument is fascinating,” said Sophia, cradling her chin in her hand and batting her long lashes.

“It is interesting,” agreed Scatius.

“What about Casper the Friendly Ghost?” asked Cretinius. “He takes up space. So do the ones on Ghostbusters.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Sophia.

“Be patient,” I said, stroking the celestial crop of sun-bleached down on her arm. “Something good will arise, non-Phoenix-like*, from his point. Cretinius has voiced the common perception of ghosts. Although we say they do not have spatial dimensions, we conceive of them as gaseous or luminous beings who occupy space in a mysterious fashion that allows them to float through walls. Unable to conceive of non-physical, non-spatial, invisible beings, we are reduced to the conceptual level of tabloid sightings and cartoons. Oh, what can comfort a man who finds himself in a town of ghosts, a town where the stern sheriff of logic is not obeyed?”

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Scatius belched. “The answer is both obvious and devastating to your cute little argument. Ghosts can be individuated on the grounds that they have unique minds or personalities.”

Sophia turned to me and put her hand atop mine. So soft the skin. So unequivocal the yearning in her eyes. The sun beamed on its masterful handiwork: sporadic freckles on her nose, shoulders, and in the heavenly valley of her mountainous bosom.

“What’s a three-letter word for opposite of later?” asked Cretinius.

I winked at Sophia and clasped her tiny hand and prepared for triumph. “On the contrary, we cannot speak of distinct personalities unless individuation has already occurred. ‘I have seven minds but my bother has only four,’ is a ridiculous statement, but if physical embodiment is not a criterion how can we criticize it? From this it follows that we have no means of individuating disembodied minds.”

“Sophistry,” groaned Scatius, reaching for the schnapps. He finished the bottle and smashed it on the bike path. “Let me think,” he said, massaging his temples.

“Oh Petronius, your arguments shine with the light of Truth,” said Sophia.

“Here is the fundamental difficulty,” I said. “Terms such as two, many, some, and few are coherent insofar as they refer to distinguishable items. If we have no means of theoretically distinguishing one ghost from another, what sense would it make to say that there are many of them as opposed to a few, or one as opposed to three? When we attempt to determine the autonomy of entities in a domain where spatial and physical considerations can not be applied we are, to put it politely, speaking gibberish.”

“Gibberish indeed,” said Scatius, pounding his fist on the table. “You would deny what all of mankind has believed since the dawn of time?”

“He’s angry,” said Cretinius.

“Mankind does not know that what they think they believe is conceptually impossible,” I said. “It is the philosopher’s task to demonstrate this, not to encourage their folly with trickery.”

“Writer’s throughout history have documented the tragic plight of ghosts,” said Scatius, putting his head on the table. “Trapped between planes, ignorant of their condition …” He began to snore.

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“You mean cynical hacks know a good gimmick when they see it,” I said. “The lost-ghost cliché is absurd on the face of it. After a full day without hunger pangs or trips to the restroom even Cretinius would figure out that something special had occurred. And what should we make of the supernatural dimension that stands as the basis for these tales? What could possibly transpire in a bodiless, non-physical realm? The traditional answer is the experience of bliss or a reunion with deceased family members. Has no one noticed these are mutually exclusive?”

“But wouldn’t you want to see your father again?” said Sophia, running her fingers through my hair.

“Exceptions only prove the general rule. Regarding the plausibility of the former answer: compile a list of all the types of bliss you have experienced without the use of your body.”

Sophia giggled. “There aren’t many, and the best one isn’t included.”

“Something smells bad,” said Cretinius.

“Oh my,” cried Sophia, pinching her nose. “Poor Scatius has had an accident.”

“He pooped,” agreed Cretinius, and we all abandoned the table with its slumbering defecator. “Petronius, look at the bugs,” said Cretinius with glee. Attracted to the sweet liquid from the broken bottle, a squadron of yellow jackets darted about the shards.

“No Cretinius, those are –”

I put my finger to her lips. “Sophia, when I establish my Academy, Experience shall be granted an honorary professorship. Hopefully all my pupils will be as receptive to my teachings as you. And as lovely.”

Cretinius screamed and lumbered away flailing his arms.

“Now, even if we can conceive of a disembodied state of bliss, what do we mean by bliss in this context? A state of schnapps intoxication? For all eternity? As much joy as that syrupy nectar can bring, would you want to feel like that forever?”

“Oh Petronius, let’s go for a walk in the park.”

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Plato’s Cave? Big Whoop!

*On principle I avoid all references to Egyptian mythology. As clever as they were in covering a desert with giant triangles and gruesome half-cat half-man monstrosities, their obsession with the afterworld was preposterous. How did they expect a mummy to untangle himself once he arrived in the next kingdom? Did not the removal of his vital organs and brain bode ill for his health and vigor? What were those silly people thinking?

As the legend has it, after the Phoenix set its nest afire and burnt itself to a crisp, it was reborn. Why can no modern hack go within a mile of a keyboard without making a reference to it? Verily, it is the true curse of the Pharaohs. That such a story persisted longer than one generation bespeaks the appalling poverty of imagination rampant in Egypt at the time. Worse, it is frighteningly evocative of the Buddhist monks who practiced self-immolation in protest of the Vietnam War.

A conscientious writer will only use a mythic allusion to bring clarity. If there exists even a remote chance of it evoking irritating questions regarding mummies or horrific images of suicides, then he must look to other means to make his point.

Even ignoring the preceding (and utterly damning) objections, it is not clear a Phoenix reference would have been appropriate. I want something good to arise from inferior questions. There is nothing whatsoever in the Phoenix legend about a superior bird arising. It is the same tedious, self-immolating one each and every time.

A question we shall not pursue here is how a bird can set anything on fire. Did it strike a match? Did it rub two rocks together? The Egyptians were aware that birds lack opposable thumbs, were they not? Perhaps they should have spent less time carving gibberish on their gaudy tombs and more time observing the natural world. What manner of brain-disabling deadline did the author of this puerile legend work under? Had the Pharaoh commissioned him to write a new one by the morrow? Or did he compose it after hours in the broiling sun?

In summary: a reference to a Phoenix arising would have been inappropriate, subjected the Reader to needless trauma, quite possibly ruined my otherwise splendid dialogue, and covered my hands in filth from the crime of perpetuating this cheap, contrived, and all-around deplorable myth.

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The Mushroom of Consciousness

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