A Student of Philosophy

Typing.  Typing.  Typing.  Typing.   Trying to drum up some creative new posts for this blog.  Something interesting and original.

What to say, what to write, I ask myself.   Gaming?  My Hunter just got to Light Level 400 in . . .

You did say original, right? Cynical Me interjects.  And with the countless millions Twitching and podcasting while posting actual gameplay, who would actually read ‘The Adventures of Murph on Digital Mars?’

Sardonic but on point.  Okay, so no games.  What about day-to-day?  Should I start complaining about work? 

Yeeaah, sure.  People would love to read about grading Scantrons and the conservation of mass, I reply my inner voice practically dripping with venom.  Everything  you do is either boring or depressingly boring.  Reading is for escape. And nobody wants to read about school life unless you can guarantee postal owls and magic wands.

You’re not leaving me many choices here.  I work so I can buy games.  I play games to decompress from work.  It’s a never-ending cycle of co-dependence or simply poor life choices, I’m not sure which. 

You know my opinion on that issue,  my inner mind mutters.

Either way, I continue.  I’m not left with much time throughout the rest of my week to do anything else . . . Let’s try philosophy for a bit.

I attended an all boys Jesuit high school in Maryland.  While most Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore taught religion, the Jesuits taught philosophy.  They somehow avoided much of the preaching and the ‘believe-this-or-else-you’ll-dine-in-hell’ mantra of some schools, and therefore most of our religion classes evolved from scripture readings to discussions of Kant.  During my eight years of elementary and middle school religion classes, most test answers required some mention of ‘love,’ ‘Jesus/God,’ or ‘good works,’ in order to pass.  For example, in response to an essay question “How can the hope to bring the Kingdom of God to this world?”  I answered, “By embracing God’s love and attempting to emulate Jesus Christ, we are more capable and willing to perform good works, thus bringing the Kingdom of God to Earth.” Or something like that.  No studying was typically required.  We learned to BS most test questions, a skill which has successfully carried me through much of my academic career — so it wasn’t too bad.

But the Jesuits did not care much for BS — at least without proof.  On one day during my freshman year, our teacher, Mr. Brian, asked us our opinion on the existence of God.  Being trained to recite Scripture passages and Gospel readings, a few of us cited the Bible and writing of saints, but Brian dismissed our practiced responses as irrelevant.

“You can’t prove the existence of God with the Bible,” he said.  “It was written by those who already accepts God’s existence and therefore doesn’t prove anything.”

Others in the class went the other route and said God doesn’t exist, citing that people are superstitious and stupid to place their trust in an “old guy in the clouds judging mankind.”

However, Mr. Brian dismissed this argument too, because “impossibility does not negate existence.”

“Simply because something seems unbelieveable does not disprove the possibility.  Look at space travel.  At one point in human history, it would have been thought impossible, even heresy to walk on the moon.  Now, we imagine visiting other planets . . .”

Faith, of course, was the entire point of Brian’s argument. In this philosophical horse race, both sides had faith in their respective jockeys. Thus, neither side is necessarily wrong or posing with rose-scented laurels. Both are equally wrong and partially correct.

That is the trick with philosophy of course. A college freshman eager to please their professors often make the mistake of choosing a single platform: Aristotle is a joke while Nietzsche is a genius.  Philosophers hate absolutes.  Most scholarly Socratics attempt to steer their pupils to perceive multiple perspectives, thus discrediting no single opinion while simultaneously discrediting all. It is said that philosophy teachers were the first to insert “All of the Above” (or “None of the Above”) on their midterms.

The conversation continued to encompass the concept of vocation.  After all, Catholics believe countless paradoxes.  This is the crux of their charm for me since if we’re going to discuss the nature of the Universe, logically I do not think it should not make a lick of sense.

Anyway, as Mr. Brian explained later that week: Human kind has free will, the freedom to make any choice, yet God is omniscient and thus knows all including past, present and future.  If our choice is already known, then how can we say free will exists?  Furthermore, — and bear with me — God supposedly has a plan for us.  A mission to accomplish here in life.  We can either accept God’s call like becoming a teacher or choose to ignore it and do something else like sponge off your parents until you’re 40.

“It has to be one or the other,” he reminded us.  “Accept or ignore.  You cannot go half-way with God.”  That is the way with Catholics though — at least those that teach religion classes.  Absolutes and either or’s.

However, looking back on that day, reflecting on my life both professional and private and at the stack of ungraded labs on my desk in my parents’ basement, I had already managed to choose both options.

“Like a true philospher . . .” I whisper to myself, pulling another paper from the pile, the scent of freshly baked cookies emanating from the upstairs kitchen.

 

Traditional Yule

Onesies were Brigid’s idea.  The rest of the siblings had their newborns, new spouses, new houses, new raises, and other welcome topics of the successful adult.  For the singles — Brigid, Kevin, Shannon, and of course myself — still living at home, working as either students or teachers, there were no new achievements or traditional rites of passage to announce over double helpings of pumpkin pie.  For myself, the arrival of yearly milestones — first college degree, first internship, first car, first job, first paycheck, first roadtrip, first love, first heartbreak . . . first hangover — had come to a halt sometime during the last five years.  It was as if while running a marathon, you discovered someone had replaced the road with a treadmill.

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Surf and Turf

The-BeachSomething kissed the surface of the water off to my left.  Reflexively, I began pulling my feet onto the board.  Rodney was on shore, wrestling with his ankle-strap; his surfboard drifted in the tide pulling at the strap like an impatient child.  The rental guy had mentioned how to attach the strap to the board, but excitement and eagerness to start had smothered any useful advice.

“We’ll figure it out,” Shannon had said.  It’s practically a family motto.

We had searching half of the morning for a ideal surfing spot and the remaining half for surfboard rentals near Kapulua.  The beach was located on the western side of Maui, just south of Lahaina.  Large black stones like giant pebbles scattered across the sand.  Smoke billowing from townhouses past the park promised barbecues; a few families ate box lunches at picnic benches; a man strummed his guitar while his wife stared into the tide.  Otherwise the beach was empty.

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Stuck

Hooked-up“I just need an hour of your time,” Dad muttered as my foot hovered over the basement stairs.  Inwardly, my gut tightened with a sickening amalgam of anxiety and dread.  It was almost 9 am and already I felt drained.

My father’s sense of time is generally exaggerated to the point that I had already given up my Saturday as a loss.  After a week of teaching gas laws and grading fifty ten-page labs on molarity (I loathe repetitious activity.  It is the water torture of the soul.), a Saturday morning without immediate plans provides an opportunity for refueling my mental, physical and emotional energies.  For Dad, it’s a chance to simultaneously plan and execute a Honey-do list while enlisting the aid of his inactive children.

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Snow Promises

I wrote this particular post, just hours before the Blizzapocalypse hit the East Coast.  Weeks later, a small storm has covered the area in about 1-3 inches of snow and freezing rain reminding me of this following unfinished editorial, which I’m sending to you all now.  

The world is changing.  I feel it in the water. I smell it in the air.  I see it in the crowds outside the grocery stores.    

I love the promise of change snow brings with it.  Minute by minute, as each layer of ice and flake cake the ground, trees and roadways, snow promises to change the world.  Tomorrow, we will have gone back in time, 65 million years into the past when man would hunt mammoths with long pointed sticks.  No other season grants us this clean slate upon which we can rewrite the world.  Even spring, with its promises of renewal, resuscitates the world of last year, of 2015.  Moreover, the change is gradual: day by day we are given an extra bud, a new leaf or two, one or three extra berries on the vine.  Winter is the contractor with no budget:  “Give us twelve hours and we’ll remodel your entire landscape.”  

The goal and curse of science etches itself in the belief that the universe follows a constant and unerring pattern.  That with inquiry, experimentation and discovery we may predict the outcome to any phenomenon.  To, in short, map the whole of time and space to one solitary pattern and drive chaos from their borders.  This desire grants us control through the sacrifice of spontaneity.  Imagine if you could predict the most minute cellular spasm or broadcast the results of every war, election, and Oscar race.  You would have power, knowledge, and control . . . And it would be boring as hell.    

Winter reminds me to embrace the chaos of change and to wonder at the unexpected.  Like seasoned salt on the surface of a bland meal, this incoming blizzard promises to season the next few days with a healthy mix of excitement and beauty.  Tomorrow outside the world will be a new place: white, silent and sparkling, ready to be either shaped into snowmen or crushed into snow angels.  Long live the unexpected joys.  

Water Strikes

  “Alright everyone, I’m only going to explain this to you once so pay attention.  The motion you make with the oars requires minimal effort.  It doesn’t take much to move these vessels, but you have to follow instructions.  If you do not, I will give you three chances to fix whatever you’re doing wrong and then . . . the coach comes out.  The coach is six-foot two and a nasty SOB.  He will get in your face, and trust me, you do not want that.  I am strict and demanding, but you will learn the correct way to paddle today ladies and gentlemen.  I will not hesitate to send you back to shore if you slow us down by not following directions.  Do not force me to let the coach out, gentlemen.”

Dan, our kayak instructor, finished his tirade with a long hard stare at Rodney and me.  Instinctively, I turned around.  Not seeing any spider, snake or shark, I considered that Dan had already singled me out as the ‘problem child’ of our little excursion.

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Adventure Hilton Head

Attempting to pull me away from my ps4 and the latest Batman game, my siblings have kidnapped me this morning.  We are currently heading south to Hilton Head Island, SC to enjoy the next ten days biking, golfing, and avoiding the occasional shark attack.

Compared with our Orlando vacations, Hilton Head decided is a welcome change of pace.  Biking, golfing, swimming and eating encompass much of the island’s entertainment.  And while fishing and kyaking are available by reservation — I’ll discuss these in a future post — the point of Hilton Head is to imagine a vacation without schedules, roller coasters, or hour-long queues outside of Space Mountain.  I’ll post pictures of the resort and the island over the next few days with a proper write-up of our adventure after we return.  See you later!

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