From A to B…

A:  (clasping hands in triumphal display) And that’s how it will all end…

B:  (in pensive mood) All theory is interpretive. All facts are theory-laden. There is no pure objective world out there that we can measure and explain. The act of measuring itself is a creative process. We define reality as we go along. After a while, our own creations become idols, so that a law of physics is merely a cognitive habit. What is interesting to see is that every age in history has presumed possession of Absolute Truth. What will be revealing is that meta-narratives are relative to the epoch’s climate, ideals, unconscious motives, and so forth. Today’s theory will become tomorrow’s mythology.

A:  (visibly offended) My god!

B:  (smiling and sympathetic) But I’m likely to be wrong…

WIDER HORIZONS – An essay on experiential limits to truth

“The intellect [as] a local effect of evolution, a flame, perhaps accidental,

which lights up the coming and going of living beings in the narrow

passage open to their action; an lo! forgetting what it has just told us,

it makes of this lantern glimmering in a tunnel a Sun which can

illuminate the world.” Henri Bergson

 

Revolutionary insights are bound to occur every few centuries. Evidence for this is clear since we stopped regarding earth as the center of the universe nor our solar system as the only existent planetary system; the “island universes” discovered in the early 20th century later became proof that we float inside a great vacuum filled with galaxies and our position is not in any way advantageous: we are merely an anthill in a vastly greater desert. Revelations of this sort change the root of all our understanding of the human being and his position in this strange universe. The above discoveries lead to a re-conceptualization of Man on the material plane. There are other revelations that force us to reevaluate our previous conceptions at a cognitive or intellectual level. Kant believed to have transformed philosophy with the same impact that Copernicus’ theory revolutionized astronomy. However, his philosophy as influential as it is, couldn’t produce the radical transformation its author had anticipated. In more recent times Heisenberg dramatically redefined the future of physics with his Uncertainty Principle, setting a perennial barrier to the accuracy of information we can obtain at the subatomic level. It will be safe to speculate that world-changing insights will continue to appear throughout history.

We are so immersed in our own opinions plus the unswerving faith in our convictions makes it hard for us to accept, much less digest, what new ideas are pointing at. The evolution of human knowledge is constantly pushing for wider horizons, breaking free from assumptions that were once crowned as truths but are in reality only provisionary scaffolds that permit the growth of more profound insights. Such may be that case with our idolatry to matter; ever since science usurped almost every field of knowledge proclaiming that epistemological certainty is only possible through objective (that is, physically oriented) evidence.  Steadily ever since Einstein tried to unify electromagnetism and gravity there has been an increasing wave of believers in a unified theory of reality; which in closer analysis is a pretension to explain the entire universe, or all that is, by physical mechanisms. It rests on an unproven assumption that can be summarized like this: because we are able to perceive the physical universe with our five senses and technical apparatuses, everything we perceive can be explained from that which we perceive. In simpler terms we are convinced that there exists nothing more than what we are able to perceive or deduct from our perception, and although this sounds like the plainest commonsense, we should carefully rephrase that assertion to: we can only discuss what we perceive. But we should not discard beforehand the possibility that this world, every phenomenon at the experiential level, may be simply a fragment of a vaster and greater reality. This does not imply that that greater universe which we cannot perceive should be a concern to science and philosophy but it simply comes as a warning to our proud advancement of knowledge. My case can be summed up in the following way:

If our awareness and intelligence arose out of earlier biological experiments, its persistence on this planet must only be explained by the advantages it has given to our species. Its function has been to assist the survival of our kind and not as we now presume, to solve the riddles of existence. Intelligence did not arise to survey all the scope of whatever exists but only to aid the organism in its survival with its immediate environment. This may be a total and insurmountable obstacle for the arrogance of science and philosophy; merely because there may be dimensions of reality we are not designed to perceive, causes that may influence the physical universe which are not strictly perceivable nor deducible from physical phenomena. This condition could set an experiential limitation to our knowledge –not unlike the uncertainty principle – forever and ever concealing absolute truth from our grasp and revealing us not as possessors of facts but merely as gatherers of illusions.

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Timelessness

Unable to escape this vast dawn

hanging upon me like an atmosphere of chemicals

a mechanical tingling from ages’ past

I’ve collected the motionless quantum of floating seeds
constantly mirroring the pinpoints of valleys

as seen from peaks of departure

I’ve spoken with the dark red shade of tomorrow
perhaps seducing despair to taste my blood

her choice fluttered like a hummingbird’s thought

I’ve fallen in those perimeters of wonder
unfelt timelessness

incapable of resisting the language of rising steam

The old skins of trees invade the territory of sense
while curves vague as clouds

              embroil this journey’s end.

 

 

 

 

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A man in San José

  (photo by Ryan Moss)

 

 

It may appear imprudent that a story that takes place in a Spanish-speaking city should be told in English. First, and partly, because the English-speaking readers will have a hard time grasping the culture in which the story takes place. Secondly, and conversely, those that can relate to the story are few since the story is narrated in a foreign language. But I will remind the indulgent reader that my situation is a hopeless conundrum. English-speakers constantly visit San José but do not have enough time in the city to experience its routine and tradition. Anglophone foreigners might have come to live permanently in Costa Rica but it is highly likely they have stayed outside the capital due to its ordinariness and its dangerous crime. Likewise those that were unwittingly born in this country have avoided the city because of its pollution, recklessness and delinquency. Finally, those that have actually managed to live in the heart of San José year after year are unlikely candidates to enter this blog and squander a few minutes to the reflections of an (Anglo-phony!) Costa Rican.  I have therefore taken the liberty to entertain only a few at the risk that much of what will be said will be lost in the abysmal gap between dissimilar cultures. Also, it may not be superfluous to add that the message will apply to Anglophone first-world citizens and the English-speaking high-class citizens of Costa Rica, which so eagerly emulate the ideals of foreign societies. 

It is common to step down from the bus and abruptly wake up from your daydreaming as you enter the rowdy streets of San José. Those inevitable reveries that take place while you sit silently on an old American school bus come to an end when the smoke, heat and noise startle you back into reality. The images of the outer world that were streaming like invisible currents in the fabric of your mind become concrete and your attention is no longer floating in careless thoughts. Your vision is attracted to the large enchiladas on your right, the kiosk man selling newspapers and mangos at the corner, the pretty girl with a low-cut skirt, the taxi honking at that young woman, the bus almost crashing into the sidewalk, a big dog followed by three smaller dogs. Your head turns to and fro unless you are already too numb to notice the riot of any ordinary day. Your pace accelerates as you cross the street when the pedestrian light is red or slow down as you inspect the imitation sunglasses in every third store. People cross by you as they speak on the phone, scold their children or speak to themselves in a sometimes delusional manner. The stores’ windows have merchandise in every conceivable quality with prices tags in bold colorful numbers: ¢5,000 for a tank top, ¢800 for lipstick, ¢13500 for wide legged jeans, ¢250 for a pair of earrings, ¢18000 for a new toaster oven. Small cantina bars have brown and white beads-on-a-string hanging from the entrance, palm trees are easily spotted at street corners and if you venture a bit outside the crowded pedestrian streets you may even find trees ripe with mangos, bananas or jocotes. You get on an inner city bus that costs ¢100. When you pay make sure you don’t stand in between the electronic bars that count how many passengers get on and off (a rather recent feature), and then, quietly take your seat and distract yourself with the view of the sidewalks. It was on this Sabana-Cementerio bus that I saw for a quadrillion time the old bespectacled man that takes notes on his clipboard.

He has been working for the bus company for 37 years, out of those he has been in the same position, every weekday, for 35 years; keeping track of how many buses pass by his position, how many passengers were on the bus at each particular time, and making sure the money the bus driver has matches with registered passenger count of the day. It seems the electronic bars are not foolproof, and a good pair of scrupulous eyes is still warranted.  I have seen him so many times I was bound to ask him one day about his job, but as it is common in our country to tattle once we engage in a conversation, I ended up knowing much more than I initially wanted to inquire.   

It may seem strange that a man of sound judgment would choose to work in the same unchallenging job for 35 years. Not unless, we could argue, it was very high paying. But the truth is that a salary of under $325 a month is not very much. Our modern avaricious conscience would rebel against this inhumanity; but our initial repulsion might subdue with what I will now tell. 

It has been the fortune of many of us to never have dealt with the misfortune of poverty. Even if some of us have endured the hardship of unemployment, most of us, I venture to say, have always had enough food on our tables. In this country many have to strive for a decent meal every day and sometimes circumstances are not in favor of poor families that battle just to survive. Our protagonist grew in a similar condition. His mother had to support his whole family because his father had become blind from an accident at a construction site after some deadly chemicals had fallen on his face. Her mother worked in middleclass homes as a maid and on weekends sold knitted sweaters at a street corner in San José. Having four brothers and a sister, they had a very harsh time growing up. One brother ran away when he was twelve, the remaining three had to drop school to help their mother earn a living. Our friend never reached beyond third grade. It was clear from his expression that his early years were tremendously hard, yet I could perceive a certain satisfaction in his eyes. I assume he is now proud that they survived those tumultuous years.   

As a young adult he carried out many different kinds of jobs. He didn’t go too much into detail but he had enough to live on and support his family until the unavoidable crossed his path. He had gone out one night to a salsa/merengue club. Never having a radio or TV at home he grew up unfamiliar with the dexterous moves of Latin dance although he enjoyed greatly listening to the music. (He jiggled his rusty hips, I laughed). He would envy every corrongo male that would sweep women by their dance abilities. That night he was drinking a cold Tropical, a new beer that had just been released in the market by Cuban entrepreneurs, although he hardly had the habit of drinking beer. Eased by the alcohol, he ventured to take out a girl to dance. If it wasn’t for those beers, I would have never asked Yelena out for a dance– he commented. Not very romantic, I know. There’s a common misperception that we Latinos are all desperate romantics. They got married next year and started raising a family. His wife’s father had been working as an administrative director in a bus company and the rest seems logical. 

I didn’t dare to ask him why he settled for that simple position. True, it’s a higher position than being a bus driver but also very monotonous. However, when I was just about to bid him goodbye, in an unusual expansion of lucidity, he reflects on his humble circumstances and pronounces thoughts that have answered my tacit doubts: 

 “No puedo culpar mi familia, mi cultura, mi sociedad, mi país, ni la civilización mundial actual. Mi vida fue la consecuencia de una sencilla decisión: vivir sin la ambición de conocer otros continentes o poseer una abundancia de posesiones. Yo viví así y declaro sin arrepentimiento mi total conformidad con la rutina y singular angostura de mi vida. Me conformo con ser el señor que trabajó 35 años en la misma parada de bus, repitiendo la misma labor día tras día, arruga tras arruga, sin la ambición de buscar algo más que tener la comida en mi hogar mientras veía mis hijos crecer.” 

This can be roughly translated thus: 

I cannot blame my family, my culture, my society, my country, or this modern civilization. My life was the consequence of a simple decision: living without the ambition of knowing other continents or having great material wealth. I lived this way and I affirm without regret my complete conformity with my routine and singularly narrow lifestyle. I’m comfortable being that man that worked for 35 years at the same bus stop, repeating the same activity day after day, wrinkle after wrinkle, without having the ambition to look beyond the meal of each day while I saw my children grow up. 

The end.

A Modern Hero

A modern hero

We can watch him quietly chewing his dinner. His gaze is imperturbable and his thoughts invariably these:
 
The nothingness that exists in all forms, and the nothingness that is yet to be born.
 
The modern hero awaits (and this waiting period is interminable) for a fatal threat. This threat is anticipated throughout the cycles of the clock. It is always approaching, never disappearing.
 
What can he do?
 
Nothing. Resisting the menace of existence is a futile and wearisome illusion. He will initially find himself in hypertension, guarded against an invisible enemy. Since there is no defence against his opponent, rebellion would represent a defeating madness. Acceptance must be learned and practiced. However, salvation is not achieved solely by the acceptance of one’s own precarious situation. He has no escape, he must sacrifice a distracted and unexamined life in order to become bearer of a strange suffering.  He will be the hated antagonist of any unfounded human optimism.
 
For what?
 
To cure himself of a malady that is not only his own but also a dormant illness that all conscious beings carry within.
 
What relieves him? 
 
From the perspective of the world he has secluded himself in an abstract and spurious discourse; from the perspective of his own condition he has renounced his faith in a world of form and substance, he has lost trust in the socially approved states of consciousness. He lives in a mythological world, albeit, his myth has not yet been written nor can it be.  He is dispersed in a flux of perception that not necessarily implies an objective external world. His experience cannot be communicated, it does not have the logical structure of a normal human situation.
 
 Is there a light at the end of his tunnel? 
 
From the standpoint of the all-too-human, suicide may appear as the last desperate, but effective, act of liberation, but this won’t be his course. He has selected an ambitious journey: The transmutation of consciousness. An intuition convinces him that the reality we live in is only one of many possible creations; and in the sober creation of less restricted states of consciousness he will achieve his ultimate objective: inner peace.

Liberation

Free wanderers of the spirit, you astronauts in the lost space of indecision, all of us that have noticed and condemned the irrationality of our age, yes, you passionate survivor that in the mist of these nonsensical years battle through the current of conformity in search of a justification, a raison d’etre, a simple satisfaction that will overshadow the ever-lasting presence of frustration.
 
We are the inheritors of a struggle that has pervaded all of history. Our efforts so essential in the field of human potential must never come to an end. In these complex societies that require even more complex solutions to cure the collective madness, our perseverance must not wane. Even if most attempts to heal the wound of civilization have failed throughout history, the spirit of the rebel will live on as a child of that irrepressible force that commands human existence: an energy that will ask of us to emancipate man from his self-imposed shackles.
 
Our mistrust in human conventions, ideologies, and reforms should not stop our search for an immediate liberation, a source of enlightenment, a spring of contentment. In peeling off all boundaries we still have a chance of finding a secret treasure in nature, beauty, art, brotherhood, work, love, poetry, even in the darkness of suffering or the maniacal passion of a philosopher, somewhere within these and all inspiring things we may stumble across a beautiful sensation of peace, a harmonious agreement with what is most essential in life.
 
But what is the most essential?
 
This each wondering mind must seek but I am sure that with sufficient honesty and perseverance we can find that basic need and satisfy it sanely. Then we may watch our torments wither away and vanish as our reality elevates itself into a more exciting and promising realm.
 
Allow this vision to settle in:
 
Long, unanimous cries and shouts into the open sky, not from another fascist’s Holocaust but from an inexplicable mad ecstasy, the long-awaited contact with pure joy.