If you’re over 60 and not asking that question. . .

How far can infinity go?

How far can infinity go?

Yesterday (October 9, 2013) on NPR’s All Things Considered Philosopher Samuel Scheffler said,

. . .  when you start to think about how you would feel if you knew that life would end shortly after your own death, lots of the things that you now do might come to seem pointless. Like, if you’re a cancer researcher, will you still find it meaningful or valuable to pursue cancer research? Quite likely not. I think we implicitly take it for granted that our activities belong to an ongoing temporal chain of human lives and generations, and that if we imagined that, you know, a giant asteroid were going to destroy the earth so there was no future for humanity, suddenly lots of what we now regard as valuable would seem pointless.

He also pointed out that most of us believe—no, know—the earth will eventually cease to exist. The universe is expanding, and the whole enterprise will eventually blow itself to bits—or simply keep expanding into infinity of both time and space. That is, of course, a ridiculous statement because the universe is already “infinite.” Or is it? Does the universe have an edge, an end? What’s beyond it? Nothing. And how can there be “nothing?”

He's a philosopher.

He’s a philosopher.

Two years ago (precisely—on October 10, 2011) I wrote about my need to hear (participate in) a burial service from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer after my father died. (This is somewhat amazing—coincidence?—because I had no idea until I Googled it that I wrote that on October 10.) That little posting explains a great deal of what I’m thinking this morning. I guess I’m simply stuck—unable to move on in my thinking. It’s not my fault my family does not possess the same genetic predisposition to genius that, say, Samuel Scheffler’s does. I have no way even to ask the right questions, much less give the right answers.

So I continue to think in my small infinite circle of questions and answers, never ending, without—as far as I can tell—ever having had a beginning.

If the universe is already infinite, how can it be expanding? Infinity is getting larger? There’s more infinity out there somewhere? A couple of days ago Dr. Peter W. Higgs of the University of Edinburgh and Dr. François Englert of the Université Libre de Bruxelles were announced as the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of the “God particle” (the “Higgs boson” particle—which I have also written about but cannot find the post). Because of their work, we now know that everything in the universe is held together by particles. Go figure. So the universe is expanding outward (into infinity), but we now know how to look inward and see the end of infinity. Higgs boson particles are as far inward as we can go. And I want to know if there are an infinite number of them to keep filling up the expanding infinity of the universe.

Further evidence that “I’m simply stuck—unable to move on in my thinking” is my posting in my other  blog on November 15, 2009, when I wrote about some sort of mystical or religious or some such experience on the beach at Port Orford, Oregon.

Of course I’ve been trying to write this essay my whole life. You’re trying to write it, too. It’s all any of us ever does.

One night when I was on the beach at Port Orford (as I said the last time I wrote about the place, I must stop writing about it before all of you rush there to have a mystical experience), I noticed that there were two identical moons hanging in the east overland, but creeping (as I stayed on the beach for two hours) toward the zenith. Two moons. I know there were two because 1) I haven’t had a drink of alcohol for 26 years, and 2) there were two even if I closed one eye. I was not seeing double. There were two moons.

Later this morning I have an appointment (my third) at the ophthalmology clinic at UTSouthwestern Medical School. They’ve been trying to figure out why I see two moons. Apparently it’s not as vexing a question as we thought. I have an astigmatism. My cornea is misshapen. Dr. what’s-‘is-name is going finally to figure out what to do about it. I may well have hard contacts to reshape my corneas very soon.

But I’m not sure there won’t still be two moons even if I can’t see them anymore. I’m not thinking about “parallel universes” or anything spooky like that. Quantum physics and consciousness are not/are the same thing as far as I know. And I can’t be bothered with questions like that. I think mine is a much more basic question—the kind of question an old guy who isn’t really very smart might ask.

“What the *bleep* is consciousness? And, furthermore, how long does it last?” I’m still asking the same question I did at church camp on

Where infinity begins

Where infinity begins

the hillside at Chadron State Park in Nebraska more than 50 years ago. Except, of course, it’s more urgent now because I’m 50 years closer to the end of it. “Eternal life?” Even if I “believe in (Him) and have (it),” what is it? Don’t give me some fantastic palaver from Revelation or Ezekiel. Don’t ask me to have faith. Just tell me.

What is eternity? Exactly the same as the outer edge of the expanding universe, I should think. An infinite expansion of infinite nothingness.

It’s even harder to contemplate “nothing” than it is to contemplate the meaning of Ted Cruz’s rantings. It can’t be done. What infinity will I become part of when I die?

If you’re over 60 and not asking that question . . . well, I don’t know what you’re up to.

All I have time for is to quote from a letter I wrote today

The deadline for submitting semester grades is tomorrow, and I still have two classes to finish. I am trying to be responsible (and keep my job).

Akhenaten - is there but one god?

Akhenaten – is there but one god?

Instead of giving in to hypergraphia and writing a less-than-coherent piece especially for posting here, I will use the piece of writing I had no choice but to do when I first woke up this morning.

It’s not in any way humorous or necessarily about growing old. Or, perhaps it’s both humorous because I continue to believe that I have something worth saying, and about growing old because when I write this sort of thing, I realize how old-fashioned I really am. The very fact that I mention Alan Watts (a reference to my friend’s suggestion that I need to read Watts) is enough evidence that I am a fossil.

Below is the substance of a letter I wrote this morning to my dearest old friend (we go back exactly 50 years). We have had a constant (and, I fear, sometimes contentious) debate about politics and what-little-we-both-know about economics. He is staunchly an old-style (think Robert A. Taft, Everett Dirksen, and William F. Buckley instead of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Ted Cruz) conservative, and I an old-style lily-livered liberal (think Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, and George McGovern instead of Dianne Feinstein, Michael Moore, and Al Franken).

Dear _______ ,

You will say that I’m, oh what? not doing research and being mindlessly liberal or something, but this is a concise statement of the sort of thing I fear.

I.e., the wealth of corporations

I.e., the wealth of corporations

“Corporations are getting better and better at seducing us into thinking the way they think—of profits as the telos and responsibility as something to be enshrined in symbol and evaded in reality. Cleverness as opposed to wisdom. Wanting and having instead of thinking and making. We cannot stop it. I suspect what’ll happen is that there will be some sort of disaster—depression, hyperinflation—and then it’ll be showtime: We’ll either wake up and retake our freedom or we’ll fall apart utterly. Like Rome—conqueror of its own people. ” – David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (the fact that this is a quote from a work of fiction makes it more, not less, true in my estimation).

The problem with capitalism is that it makes profit the telos. The invisible hand perhaps at some mythical time in the 18th century guided the marketplace in something like benevolence, but corporations are not invisible or benevolent. They are omnipresent, omnipotent, and (they believe of themselves) omniscient. The power human beings used to attribute to the gods, Western capitalism has granted to corporations.

I’m not sure how you reconcile the mysticism of, say, Alan Watts with the horrific materialism and all-consuming (all puns intended) greed of the corporate life of America (and, in the past 50 years, “globalization”). Just as our education system is designed not to educate but to make sure that a certain percentage of students are failures, so our economic system is designed not to lift everyone’s wealth and comfort but to make sure a certain percentage of people remain enslaved to poverty.

The only students who ever ask me if I “grade on the curve” are B students desperate to be A students. The only people, I would guess, who think it’s OK for 1% of the people of the world to own 50% of the wealth are those who think they have a chance of becoming part of the 1%.

Mysticism and materialism (for every mystic I’ve ever read, beginning with Socrates and moving forward even farther than Alan Watts) do not, cannot by definition, coexist.