The Daily: 27 January 2023

They asked a Chinese man, "What is science?"
He said, "Science is knowing people."
Then they asked, "And what is virtue?"
He answered, "Virtue is loving people."
— Tolstoy, from his Calendar of Wisdom for 27 January

Yesterday was my birthday. I am not going to say which one, but that’s more because I like my privacy rather than any particular problems with aging. I like being an elder. Prefer it even. I still have to deal with boomers patting me on the head and pretending that I’m a child so that they don’t feel so decrepit. But I don’t get similar dismissals from anyone else these days, so it’s easy to dismiss the boomers. Also I think people see personhood in me now. They certainly look at me differently. They seem to see an “I am” in this old body in ways that they never did when she was younger. So I’m pretty happy with aging. Wish there might be a little less random discomfort, but one can’t have everything.

Aging makes one philosophical. I was already bent in that direction but never got into sharing the whole stream of consciousness; I’ve always tended to keep to myself. But in the last few years, I’ve been writing it all down. I have dozens of journals full of garden notes and observations on my world. Increasingly interspersed throughout these mundane accounts are true flights of fancy. There are stories and poems, of course. But I’ve also recorded all the reasoning that went into creating my yearly calendar and traditional practices, and I’ve composed many philosophical sketches that are starting to coalesce into something like a system. One theme that keeps coming out of my pen is the relatedness of time — measured in change — and consciousness and care.

I don’t know that I believe in inert matter. I think all things have some mechanism by which they monitor change, and they have ways to determine whether that change is internal or external. This implies that every system has a fundamental definition of self and not-self, that everything that regulates interior change is a self. You might quibble over whether that implies consciousness, but it’s definitely an internal thought process. Maybe thought that is not recognizable to our human modes, but still a way of saying “I am” and “that over there is not I am”. I think that monitoring change over time is what makes it possible to say “I am”. And this is not limited to any type of system, certainly not to these things we call humans.

To be self-regulating also implies that decisions are made, at least to the point of choosing to continue without changing course or not. You can say this is just programmed response, the natural effect that follows cause. But I wonder, what makes your natural responses to stimuli “thought” and those of other systems “not thought”? The radical non-dualism people have latched on to this conundrum and decided that there is no difference. None of it is thought, they say, because there is no self to be doing the thinking. I sort of like to go the other way and say that it’s all thought, that it’s all consciousness.

In any case, I have rather strong objections to calling everything a predetermined response. First off, there is the problem of differing responses, that there is very little that happens exactly the same way every time. Now, there may be subtle variations in the causes that we can’t perceive that lead to very different effects. (… and yet whence came those causal variations?) Still, there is quite a lot of un-mechanistic response in the universe, beginning with the fact of the existence of the universe itself. Which calls up my other major objection: how did the “natural” programming originate? What is the programmer? You can say that there are laws of physics and maybe try to say that there are laws of biology (at which I will laugh loud and long…), but the existence of the universe defies all the laws that we know. So maybe we don’t know everything… or very much at all if we can’t even propose a system of physical rules that allow for physical rules to come into existence.

But still… that seems way more complicated than just allowing the system that is the universe to create itself and all the rules therein by self-regulation through time. Allow existence to imply consciousness and so many of our philosophical quagmires dry out and become happy meadows of bright flowers and sunshine. Everything is thoughtful. The world is a sentient Thou to my I. And this tiny “I am” is enfolded into an ancient, many-layered conscious being that is carefully and thoughtfully making up existence as it goes along.

Which is where I wanted to get in this essay. As I’ve aged, I’ve increasingly felt less bounded by this old body and more a part of all that surrounds me. A cared for part. This is a common progression, I think. Or at least a great many scribblers have written down exactly this. We all start out in an infancy that has few boundaries between I and everything else. We learn to be individual selves. Then, with age and varying degrees of success, we merge back into the everything. And it is pretty much universally agreed that this is the greatest joy you can find in life.

Well, of course it is! To know that you are a part of a larger being, one that is consciously taking care of itself, is to know that you are cared for. To feel this connection is also to lose all the uncertainty of purpose. Maybe the universe has to ask “why am I here?”, but I don’t. I’m here because I’m here and my purpose is to be me, my humming thoughts harmonizing with the thoughtful song that is everything. Everything made me and tends to my needs. Everything wants me to be me. And here I am.

Some decades ago, I began… and through thousands of scribbles down through the years I’ve come to see that I really didn’t begin there. That maybe I don’t have a beginning. Nor an end. I am a part of the everything. And everything is alive and thoughtful. Oh, this body was born and will die. The system that is a conscious self with my name on it won’t last forever. But this tiny “I am” is an integral part of the conscious universe… and She lasts as long as time.

ergo i

  i think
	i think o’er much
  and thought thought engenders
	til sense be subject
		to this neural breeding

  i know 
	i know not what
  yet knowing knowledge renders
	thoughts of thought and yet
		to thought unheeding

  i feel 
	i feel a’right
  though feelings feeling tenders
	and yet such feelings, too
		on thoughts are feeding

  i am
	that what i am
  feeling thoughts with no amenders
	for i am because of thought
		i feel i’m needing


A Brief Note on the Morning

Tomorrow at around 6:30am, look to the southeast. Normally faint Mercury will be well above the horizon and, at magnitude 0, as bright as Vega, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra. Mercury is the planet closest to the sun. Coincidentally, at only 25 lightyears distant, Vega is the one of the sun’s closest starry neighbors. But you can see bright Vega most nights. You don’t get to see a bright Mercury very often, being mercurial and all.

©Elizabeth Anker 2023

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