Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Elegant Simplicity

Centuries ago in Greece, there was a man named Plato. He lived in a time where many called themselves philosophers, and they sold their wisdom on street corners. In many ways, Plato's writings of this time revolutionized and created what we call philosophy today. His teacher, Socrates, opposed the peddlers of wisdom in the most backwards way possible: by claiming ignorance, by asking questions, by logic. In many ways, philosophy began as simple logic, and branched into many disciplines, math and science, logic, rhetoric, ethics, and became a foundation for Greek and European philosophy to come.

Two millenia later, we go into a classroom and study philosophy, which is considered to be dead. In the postmodern era, it has turned to deconstruction and into being an isolated study. No wonder it is considered to be dead, it has become a discipline turned in upon itself. Logic has been shown to be a wonderful tool, but even without its' many abuses, people have begun to recognize the inability to arrive at the truth of all matters through logic alone.

Whether it is religious presupposition, untestable scientific hypothesis, philosophical precommitments, or the belief of any person you talk to, you will never find the "unbreakable" belief. Descartes was the most famous for attempting this, with his famous Cogito Ergo Sum, the privileged presupposition in his beliefs. In other words, "I think therefore I am," became his foundation for proving reality, and from there he logically proved everything else regarding his system of beliefs.

As brilliant as he was, Descartes' Foundationalism still falls prey to language (what does it mean to think? what does one use to think? what does it mean to exist?) as well as other questions (can you prove you are not a brain in a jar being fed sensory inputs, a la The Matrix?). This does not make him any less brilliant, it makes Foundationalism flawed. Descartes' purpose was ultimately to logically prove everything, to make an unbreakable system, and he failed to do so. Had he not, modern Philosophy would look very different.

So we are left with the inescapable fact that logic is a tool, but not the whole picture. One can apply reason to anything and come to conclusions based on one's data, but there are many other factors to a person. Their emotions also play a part, as well as their morality, their circumstances, and their convictions about the nature of reality.

So is meaning constructed? Should we despair and create whatever meaning is convenient for us? If the Western world's logic focused philosophy has self-destructed, where does that leave us? Living on a whim?

If so, then we fail to do so on a daily basis. People have meanings and reasons for how they are, no matter if they are twisted or genuine or whimsical or trivial or beautiful. Everyone has a morality, and it is often more complex than a set of things that one should do. They live how they feel they should, sometimes burdened by the expectations of others and finding they've created their own burdens in life, sometimes allowing themselves to run over anyone in their way, and finding they have done the same to themselves in the process.

Intelligence is not limited to logic alone, it applies to one's emotions, to one's sense of what is right, to one's actions, to one's words and phrasing, to the way one treats others and the way they treat themselves. It is not a concept for subjugating oneself, it is a path to freedom.

Life is more complex than the logical mind would admit, and far simpler simultaneously. For when we come down to it, humans are not purely logical beings, nor are they bags of emotions or robots that always do the right things. They are not their words, not their reactions, and cannot be measured by what one chooses to look at.

With such complexity so evident in life, we have to ask ourselves a few questions. How do we even handle every day situations? How can we ever understand another person if they are such complex creatures? How can people even connect at all, how is communication possible if we must take so much into account? Why do people form patterns, why do social groups occur, what is the reason for existence and how is harmony possible with such dissonant complexity?

The answer seems to lie in intuition. Or perhaps more basically, instinct. There are times we know things with no explanation why, and even our explanation is an afterthought to something a part of us perceives. The simple truth is that there's more, that the complexity will all converge into something more simple, more basic, more visceral and more elegant.

Perhaps the universe itself is not the design, but the aftereffect. Perhaps under what we see, what we experience, what we think and feel, there is a way it all ticks. Perhaps the elegant simplicity we can sometimes find in silence, in simply being, is what we look for when we try to construct a belief system or surround ourselves with comfort or do things just so we can live with ourselves or be accepted by others. Perhaps the design is actually a Designer, and when we get caught up on the methods or specifics we are missing the point, that there is a spark of Him in all of us and that we're carriers of meaning, bearers of light, and we see truth without even trying.

Perhaps life is a lot simpler than we think, and the way to weather the hard times (and the easy, for people like me) is to simply be and reflect and live as rightly as one can, refusing to let ego or shame slow you down in your quest for how to make one's life full and beneficial to all around you.

Perhaps the dissonance we find when the complexity gets overwhelming is a reminder that we get caught up and forget to live practically, forget our intuition and what our hearts and bodies and minds tell us naturally. We get burned out and lose our strength because we do not live elegantly, we do not allow ourselves to simply enjoy and simply live. Perhaps this post will be a reminder of what you have forgotten in the narrative, and a catalyst for contemplation.