The world — lone and dreary, glorious and beautiful

At around 1:00 p.m. on  Wednesday, September 28, I was eating lunch and playing with my kitten Pinto, and I thought about how the instincts that make him play like that are the very instincts that were “designed” to make him an efficient killing machine. I started brooding on such topics — how adorableness grows out of the predatory drive, how genuine love can blossom out of lust. I thought of the Buddhist symbol of the lotus, a beautiful flower growing up out of the filthy mud, and of the honey Samson took from the lion’s carcass. “Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.” I thought of how breathtakingly beautiful the whole damn world is, no matter how ugly and horrible and sad it can also be. I thought of the Leonard Cohen line, “Even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”

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At around 3:00 p.m. I read the post “Lone and Dreary, Glorious and Beautiful” at Junior Ganymede. Here is the entire text of the post. (The original post also includes lots of photos illustrating respectively the dreariness and beauty of the world.)

Ours is a lone and dreary world.

Lone, because it is cut off from the presence of the Lord. Dreary, because all is vanity; there is nothing new under the sun.

And yet …

It is also glorious and beautiful.

It is a fallen world. When we marvel at its glories and beauties, we appreciate, in a small way, what it is fallen from.

I wish all our readers a joyous experience participating in General Conference this weekend.

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At around 11:00 p.m., I read the following characterization of the Neoplatonist worldview on page 85 of The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas.

The material world, existing in time and space and perceptible to the senses, is the level of reality furthest from unitary divinity. As the final limit of creation, it is characterized in negative terms as a realm of multiplicity, restriction, and darkness, as lowest in ontological stature — holding the least degree of real being — and as constituting the principle of evil. Yet it is also, despite its deep imperfection, characterized in positive terms as a creation of beauty, an organic whole produced and held together by the World Soul in a universal harmony. It imperfectly reflects on the spatiotemporal level the glorious unity and diversity that exists on a higher level in the spiritual Intellect’s world of Forms: The sensible is a noble image of the intelligible. Although evil exists within this harmony, that negative reality plays a necessary role in a larger design, and ultimately affects neither the perfection of the One nor the well-being of the philosopher’s highest self.

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The next day, Thursday the 29th, at around noon, I took out the 9th volume of Copleston’s History of Philosophy to read while I was waiting for something. As it happened, I didn’t have to wait very long, and I only read a page and a half — including this passage from page 122.

If such passages were isolated and considered by themselves, it would be natural to conclude that according to Durkheim the collective consciousness was a kind of universal substance from which individualistic consciousnesses proceed in a manner analogous to that in which plurality was said to emanate from the Neoplatonist One.

It is perhaps scarcely a coincidence that a key Neoplatonist doctrine would be mentioned in two different histories of Western philosophy, but the timing makes it significant. (I hadn’t read any Copleston in a week or more when I picked it up today and read less than two pages.) Also, the 9th volume deals with French philosophy after the Revolution, and index informs me that Neoplatonism is mentioned only twice, in passing, in the whole book.

Magnificent 7

On Monday, September 26, I was riding my motorcycle through town. I passed another motorcyclist whose T-shirt read “BE MAGNIFICENT.” Less than a minute later, I rode past a movie theater which had an enormous poster up advertising the movie The Magnificent Seven — a movie that I had not heard of before.

Of course the repetition of the word magnificent is what first caught my attention, but after a few seconds I noticed that the the word be is comprised of the 2nd and 5th letters of the alphabet, so B + E = 2 + 5 = 7.

Minor syncs between The Alien Code and EFL magazines

In Taiwan, there are several magazines with reading material (with accompanying notes on grammar and vocabulary) for students of English as a foreign language, and I sometimes use them in my classes.

On Friday, September 23, 2016, at around 3:00 p.m., I taught a class in which we used an article from Advanced magazine (August 2016, p. 38), originally taken from a Seattle Times article by Sandi Doughton. It was about scientists who lowered a microphone to the deepest abyss in the sea and recorded various sounds. The article begins with this paragraph.

The deepest spot on Earth is a surprisingly noisy place, scientists from Oregon discovered when they lowered a hydrophone almost seven miles below the ocean surface into the Challenger Deep. Left in place for several months, the device recorded the booming cries of whales, the rumble of ships passing overhead and crescendos from earthquakes deep in the planet’s crust.

After this class, I had a short break. At around 5:00, I was reading Mathieu Hamaekers’s The Alien Code. The following passage, from pages 380-81, describes one group of aliens hiding from another. They are hidden in an “Ark” deep in an ocean abyss. Intelligent elephant-like animals called “oligants” help them hide by creating distracting noises.

She has linked the Earth in the now time with the Ark, deep down in one of the abysses of the Ter I ocean. . . . With a strangely shaped musical instrument, he called up all the oligants of Molo’s herd to communicate with a very deep sound that these animals only use when there is severe danger. Only oligants can make that sound. During the whole operation they were spread in the jungle and produced these sounds one after another, confusing the control units of the Grey crafts. The instruments could not distinguish between these sounds and the signals from the Ark, hidden deep in the Abyss.

The juxtaposition of ocean abysses with the deep cries of large mammals seems a noteworthy coincidence.

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Later the same day, at around 8:30 p.m., I was using a different magazine (Live Interactive English Magazine, September 2016) in a different class, and we read from an article by Helen Yeh called “One Man’s Fight Against Garbage on Lanyu.” The following paragraph is from page 28.

A-Wen is the owner of a grocery store on Lanyu. As a native of Lanyu, he was sad to see all the garbage on his island. He was also fed up with the local government’s inaction in dealing with the problem. As a result, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

The magazine had a little sidebar drawing attention to the phrase “to take matters into one’s own hands” and giving a few more examples of its use.

On the train back home after this class, at about 10:00 p.m., I read again from The Alien Code, and found that the construction “take something into one’s own hands” occurred five times on a single page. The snippets below are from page 398.

The problem is that more and more movie heroes take the law into their own hands. . . . The point is that the heroes take justice into their own hands. . . . Ramon was convinced that the idea that it is ok to take justice into your own hands is the real cause behind instable [sic] persons executing these terrible dramas. . . . A lot of movies would follow, suggesting that you are allowed to take justice into your own hands. . . . It may be understandable but in essence they took justice into their own hands.

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The fact that, twice in one evening, passages from The Alien Code synched with EFL magazines, is itself a sort of meta-synchronicity. (The amazing power of synchronicity is, by the way, a recurring theme of The Alien Code.)

If you think you might be a snake-eyed jerk, you’re (probably) not.

On the night of Sunday, September 18, I reread a recent post by Bruce Charlton about soulless “snake-eyed” people and left this comment.

Posts like this make me wonder if I might be one of those snake-eyed people. How would I know? I’m sure no one ever knows this about themselves. (I’m totally insensitive to this anyway; I’ve never noticed snake eyes even in others. A general aura of deadness and inhumanity, yes. It may be that this vague feeling is triggered by something abnormal about the eyes, but if so that perception is subconscious.) And unfortunately, “The fact that you can even ask yourself whether you’re snake-eyed proves that you’re not” and “The fact that you can even ask proves that you ARE” sound equally plausible.

The next morning, I checked Arts & Letters Daily website and found a new link with the following teaser text.

Are you a jerk? If the question causes genuine worry, you’re probably not. But note: Often it’s the most educated who are the least self-aware…

The linked article — “Are You a Jerk?” by Eric Schwitzgebel — begins thus.

Here’s something you probably didn’t do this morning: Look in the mirror and ask, am I a jerk?

It seems like a reasonable question. There are, presumably, genuine jerks in the world. And many of those jerks, presumably, have a pretty high moral opinion of themselves, or at least a moderate opinion of themselves. They don’t think of themselves as jerks, because jerk self-knowledge is hard to come by.

The following passage appears later in the same article.

This definition can help us see two obstacles to jerk self-knowledge. One obstacle is this: To the extent one genuinely worries about being a jerk, one’s jerkitude momentarily vanishes. If you prickle with fear and shame at your possibly shabby behavior to someone, in that moment, by virtue of that very prickling, you are recognizing the legitimacy of that person’s interests and values, seeing that person as an individual with moral claims upon you, rather than as a tool or fool. You have, at least for a moment, taken your jerk goggles off.

Thus, ironically, it is often the sweethearts who are most worried that they have been acting like jerks—who approach you later with blushing apologies for their really not-so-terrible behavior. In contrast, nothing is more foreign to the full-on jerk than a blushing apology.

Of course, if you take comfort in this idea and think, “hey, since I’m worried that I might be a jerk, and in fact I’m reading a magazine article on that very subject, then I must not actually be a jerk!” and thus cease to worry, at that very moment your jerkitude potentially reasserts itself.

Schwitzgebel then offers this alternative to asking oneself directly, am I a jerk?

If the essence of jerkitude is a failure to appreciate the perspectives of others around you, this suggests what might be a non-obvious path to self-knowledge: looking not at yourself but at other people. Instead of gazing into the mirror, turn away from the mirror and notice the colors in which the world seems to be painted. Are you surrounded by fools and non-entities, by people with bad taste and silly desires, by boring people undeserving of your attention, by people who can be understood quickly by applying a broad and negative brush—creeps, stuck-up snobs, bubbleheaded party kids, smug assholes, and, indeed, jerks?

If this is how the world regularly looks to you, then I have bad news. Likely, you are the jerk. This is not how the world looks to most people, and it is not how the world actually is. You have a distorted vision. You are not seeing the individuality and potential of the people around you.

Using this method, I have to conclude that, yes, I am to a significant extent a jerk. No matter how many times it happens, it’s still always a mild surprise when I meet a new person and discover that they have a soul. Academically, of course, I know better, but I’m always unthinkingly falling into the trap that psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls WYSIATI — what you see is all there is — and subconsciously assuming that other people are as superficial as my knowledge of them.

Giants, animal-name malapropisms, single-handed lion-killing

On Wednesday, September 14, I read the last several chapters of Tarzan of the Apes, finishing the book. Throughout the book, Tarzan is frequently referred to as a “giant,” and the penultimate chapter is called “The Giant Again.”

In the chapter just before that, “Monsieur Tarzan,” now a French gentleman whose jungle background is not generally known, amazes some acquaintances by killing a lion single-handedly, using only a knife and a length of rope.

One of minor characters in Tarzan, Jane’s servant Esmeralda, is always mixing up the names of African animals, talking about “gorillephants,” “hipponocerouses,” and “rinopotamuses.”

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Later the same day, my wife was watching TV, and there was a bit about the Spielberg movie version of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. They showed a brief clip in which the title character, a “Big Friendly Giant,” talks about his fear of being locked up in a cage like a zoo animal — and as examples of the latter, he mentions “hippodumplings” and “crocodowndillies.”

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The next morning, Thursday the 15th, I read a few chapters from the Old Testament. I have been going through the book from the beginning, starting with Genesis 1, and it just so happened that on this day I had reached the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel. Before killing the giant Goliath, David tells of how, when working as a shepherd, he had killed a lion and a bear single-handedly.

Some minor Tarzan syncs

On Sunday, September 4, I taught a class in which we read the first five paragraphs of an article called “What Is History?” from the book Brushing Up Your English with American Junior High School Textbooks. The passage (from pages 11-13) included the following.

An understanding of history can only be obtained by piecing together knowledge from a wide range of sources in order to provide a broad picture. [. . .] Archaeologists usually need to make a painstaking reconstruction, carefully excavating the remains of ruined buildings. [. . .] In more recent times, detailed diaries provide a valuable source of information.

Later that day, I went to a used bookstore and picked up, among other finds, a copy of the original Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. John C. Wright and some of his readers had recently spoken highly of it on his blog, so when I happened upon it I decided to buy it, despite it not being the sort of thing I usually read.

The next day, Monday, September 5, I started reading Tarzan. The following is the fourth paragraph of the novel, appearing on the very first page.

The yellow, mildewed pages of the diary of a man long dead, and the records of the Colonial Office dovetail perfectly with the narrative of my convivial host, and so I give you the story as I painstakingly pieced it out from these several various agencies.

On Monday evening, in the course of another English class, I told a story which someone had once told me, about someone who made an embarrassing mistake at an ethnic restaurant of some kind. (I said it was an Ethiopian restaurant in my telling, but in fact I don’t remember. Anyway, it was some country where people eat with their fingers.) Before the meal, the waiter gave everyone a bowl of water with lemon in it, and the guest proceeded to drink his. Then he saw to his great embarrassment that his tablemates were using theirs to wash their fingers before eating.

On Tuesday morning, I read some more of Tarzan and found the following on pages 69-70.

And then Lord Greystoke [i.e., Tarzan] wiped his greasy fingers upon his naked thighs and took up the trail of Kulonga, the son of Mbonga, the king; while in far-off London another Lord Greystoke, the younger brother of the real Lord Greystoke’s father, sent back his chops to the club’s chef because they were underdone, and when he had finished his repast he dipped his finger-ends into a silver bowl of scented water and dried them upon a piece of snowy damask.

These are minor, relatively unimpressive parallels, to be sure, but they still seem to be worth recording. The finger-washing one in particular got my attention. The thing is, I heard that story maybe 15 years ago and have never once repeated it. I have no idea why it — rather than any of a number of much more amusing stories from my own personal experience — came to mind as an example of an embarrassing table-manners misunderstanding. Subconscious precognition suggests itself as a possibility.

A scene from “The Accused”

On Saturday, September 3, my wife and I watched the old Jodie Foster movie “The Accused,” which she had picked up on DVD from a secondhand shop. The central scene in the movie is one in which Foster’s character is gang-raped on a pinball machine at a bar, with a crowd of onlookers cheering the rapists on. At one point, they chant “Kurt! Kurt! Kurt! Kurt!” — encouraging a guy named Kurt to participate in the rape. One of the onlookers, though, who later becomes a key witness, watches everything, shocked, neither cheering nor intervening.

About two hours after the end of the movie, I was at the home of one of my students whom I tutor privately. The student’s little sister, who is about 8 or 9, was in the room, too, and was amusing herself by choosing example sentences from her English vocabulary book and illustrating them on the whiteboard. One of the sentences was something like “She happily accepted his proposal.” She drew, as might be expected, a man kneeling at a woman’s feet — but then in the background she drew a crowd of people watching them and chanting “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” Then she added one more man watching, but he wasn’t part of the crowd. Instead, his eyes were bugging out of his head in an exaggerated expression of total shock.

A marriage proposal is quite different from a gang-rape, of course, but the marriage proposal aspect of the picture came from the sentence in the textbook. Where did the other details come from? Marriage proposals don’t usually involve crowds of cheering or shocked spectators. This is a case where it’s hard to separate synchronicity from telepathy.