Thursday, September 23, 2010

Free Association. With Spiders.

Last Friday night was singularly unpleasant. I woke up around 4:00 in the morning, to find a spider walking on me—underneath my left breast. Not a huge spider, but not teeny tiny either. Medium-ish. About the size of my fingernail. I threw that sucker across the room, then got up and obliterated it with a large book. No spider bites, fortunately, but not what I would call an ideal start to my day.

I was driving on our nearby mountain late Saturday morning, and I passed a building with a sign in front of it that said “Intergenerational Preschool”. I don’t know what that means, and I don’t know how that’s possible. Unless this “delayed adulthood” that I keep hearing about is worse than I thought.

Lately I’ve been seized by a strange desire to drink port. I don’t usually like port, but I tried a really nice one over the summer at Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes. Maybe it’s the Fall weather, or maybe I’m reading too many Victorian ghost stories. (They all seem to be drinking port in those stories, don’t they?) In any case—it’s out of my budget range at the moment, so maybe next month.

I’ve been watching an old BBC series featuring James Burke called “The Day the Universe Changed.” I’ve gotten through three episodes, and it’s a rather interesting take on the history of ideas. And enough footage of Europe to make me wish I was there.
Scott Adams recently noted in one of his blog posts that men frequently die for ideas, but ideas never die for men.

Ideas are a bit like fire—they can be used for good or for ill, but they’re basically neutral. No idea is dangerous unless you decide to do something harmful with it. Ignorance is not necessarily a factor, except with regard to how much guilt or innocence you have with regard to the consequences of acting on those ideas. But even that’s a gray area.

Still, ideas come from thoughts, and thoughts come from just about anywhere. They breed like dandelions in your pristine lawn, and it’s just as difficult to root out the original culprit. Osho once said that if you took a tape recorder, and spoke aloud to record the stream of thoughts in your mind, then played it back—it would be nothing but garbage. The mind makes a lot of random associations and gibberish. Kind of like this blog posting.

I had a discussion with my friend’s son about meaningful coincidence. He is quite skeptical, and suggests that people see connections where there aren’t any because they don’t understand how probability works. Mathematically, the odds that certain “random” yet similar occurrences will happen is much higher than anyone thinks.
But the brain is all about connecting dots, making correlations. We need to make sense out of everything, even if it makes no sense. This is why we have gods and conspiracy theories. We can’t imagine something existing that isn’t a “thing”. And we have to assign labels to things. For instance—this weekend I was baking, and didn’t open the oven door wide enough when removing something from the oven. As a result, I ended up burning the back of my left hand against the oven door. It no longer hurts, but the burn mark looks like a Rorschach ink blot. I think it looks like a bunny. Or maybe Jesus, if he’s a stick figure doing something funny with his arms.

Thinking about the God argument—East versus West—do ideas have a “substance”? In the West, it is assumed that God is Infinite, Unknowable, and Beyond Time and Space, just as “God” is in the East. But in the West, there is the added condition that God is of a different “substance”. My question is, “Why?” Like Stephen Hawking’s assertion about a creator of the Universe, it just seems unnecessary.

Another spider has lowered himself onto my writing desk. I smoosh him with my New Jersey Homestead Benefit application. Notice it says “Benefit” and not “Rebate”. We get no money back, just an alleged lowering of my property taxes, maybe an extra deduction at tax time next year. An “idea” that is not likely to translate into real action. I look at the smooshed spider next to the words on the envelope, and realize I’m looking at a great metaphor for the idea. In this case, the spider represents the New Jersey taxpayer.

Now that I’ve come full-circle with spiders, I think I’ll have a glass of red wine, and imagine it’s really port, and that I’m drinking it in some drawing room in an old European house.

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