Maya and Mysticism: Diary 10/6 to 10/10/21

Rejection of “Maya”; Nietzsche’s Will to Power; Russell, Heraclitus, and Spinoza quotes; dreams; Hemlock Club frustrations; Thick Nhat Hanh’s “suchness”; and atomic vibration and inertia.

Copyright (text only) 2021 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

B. Russell (1872-1970)

{10/6/21}  Weight 212.6 at 5:45 am.

“2.  ‘Knowledge’, Nietzsche insists, ‘works as an instrument of power. It is therefore obvious that it grows with every increase of power….’ The desire of knowledge, the will to know, depends on the will to power, that is, on a given kind of being’s impulse to master a certain field of reality and to enlist it in its service. The aim of knowledge is not to know, in the sense of grasping absolute truth for its own sake, but to master. We desire to schematize, to impose order and form on the multiplicity of impressions and sensations to the extent required by our practical needs. Reality is Becoming: it is we who turn it into Being, imposing stable patterns on the flux of Becoming. And this activity is an expression of the Will to Power. Science can thus be defined or described as the ‘transformation of Nature into concepts for the purpose of governing Nature’.”  Frederick Copleston, S.J.:  A History of Philosophy, Volume VII:  Fichte to Nietzsche, An Image Book, Doubleday, 1965, p. 408-409, capitalization as in original, references omitted.

Reading Copleston on Nietzsche last night stimulated many thoughts, one notable:  “Maya” is a fiction, reality is no illusion.  Rather, reality is what it is, and we grasp it very imperfectly with the senses we have; that we grasp it imperfectly and partially does not mean that what we grasp is therefore false or deceptive—what we grasp is “not absolute truth for its own sake,” but is sufficient for our needs.

“Reality is Becoming”:  I translated this into my own terms, that is, that what we call “objects” are better (more “accurately”) thought of as processes, and by hypostatizing these processes as “objects,” we are turning Reality from Becoming into Being.  And thus we transform “Nature into concepts for the purpose of governing Nature.”

This rejection of Maya is something I should have done long ago, because belief in Maya does nothing useful for me; rather, it muddles what should have been simple (a reference to Whitehead’s distinction, quoted here).  This claim is undoubtedly an overreach—I’m rejecting the beliefs of a billion people—but I can live with that.

The rest of Copleston’s #2 is well worth reading and learning, but is a bit more than I’m willing to copy here (two pages), but I’ll add this (quoting Nietzsche):  “Truth is that sort of error without which a particular type of living being could not live. The value for life is ultimately decisive.” p. 409.

I don’t have much use for Nietzsche’s concept of “The Will to Power,” because too often it comes across as “power over other humans,” humans who he dismisses as “herd beasts”; but I have always sought it in the form of self-mastery.

I read all of the Nietzsche section, thirty pages of admirable prose that set off no alarm bells.  It’s unfortunate that Copleston stops his History at Sartre; I could use a good summary of Richard Rorty.

{10/7/21}  Weight 212.0 at 6:40 am.

{10/8/21}  Weight 212.2 at 5:20 am.

Worst night for sleeping that I’ve had in a long time.  Finally gave up the quest after coming up with the thought of sending my book to my brother, because I began obsessing about it.  If I had to guess, I’d guess that he won’t answer me.

Watched The Unholy (2021) last night and enjoyed it far more than the Rotten Tomatoes reviews would have led me to expect.  It’s a horror picture with a religious message.  It has effective work by all the actors, notably Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a cynical, disgraced reporter and Cricket Brown as Alice, a teenager deaf-mute from birth (it seems) who is cured (if that’s the PC word) when she sees a vision of the Virgin Mary.  25% from the RT critics, 57% from the audience.

{10/9/21}  Weight 210.4 at 6:50 am.

Following up on the thoughts expressed here on 10/5/21 and, from a few weeks ago, the idea of “philosophy’s rejection of mysticism” (from Baggini’s Toolkit book [Julian Baggini and Peter S. Fosl: The Philosopher’s Toolkit]), I looked into Bertrand Russell’s “Mysticism and Logic” and was amazed to find this, in reference to Heraclitus:  “In such a nature we see the true union of the mystic and the man of science—the highest eminence, as I think, that it is possible to achieve in the world of thought.”  Bertrand Russell:  “Mysticism and Logic,” in Mysticism and Logic, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1917, 1957, p. 3.  He gropes toward a definition of mysticism:  “Mysticism is, in essence, little more than a certain intensity and depth of feeling in regard to what is believed about the universe…” (p. 2)

He goes on to list four questions “that arise in considering the truth or falsehood of mysticism” (p. 10) and then says, “On all four of these questions, while fully developed mysticism seems to me mistaken, I yet believe that, by sufficient restraint, there is an element of wisdom to be learned from the mystical way of feeling, which does not seem to be attainable in any other manner.”  (p. 11)

A delightful dream fragment this morning, just remembered:  Greta Thunberg smiling, laughing, rubbing cake all over her face.

{10/10/21}  Weight 211.2 at 7:10 am.

Long dream this morning—elevators in a mall, with horizontal movement on rails, which I said was like Disneyland, at which point we saw small animatronic figures at play.  The only other thing I remember was that a passenger said something like that I needed the old people’s level.

Yesterday’s weight of 210.4 was the lowest I’ve weighed since February.

Yesterday’s Hemlock Club had its usual share of frustrations, exacerbated because I wanted a serious discussion of the edited diary entries of 10/5 and 10/9; we spent a lot of time on the handout, but it was nothing like a “serious discussion,” though the usual suspects tried their best.  Since Nietzsche was quoted, all Pablo wanted to talk about was how his message had been coopted and corrupted by his sister and the Nazis; which isn’t quite fair, because he also apparently wanted to say, but didn’t quite, that Russell was in favor of mysticism.  I mentioned that Russell insisted on “sufficient restraint” along with mysticism, and I defined it as “science.”  What Nog said was rather vague, though I think he was generally in favor of the thoughts.  As for Peanut, she put it aside and never really engaged with it, preferring (later) to read aloud from a kid’s book based on the Ice Age movies and something from Thich Nhat Hanh that talked about “suchness”—something like “inner spirit.”  Then she asked each of us to express our suchness, receiving the following responses:

Alan:  “A giant ego.”

Nog:  “Confusion.”  Peanut heard this as “Confucius” and was difficult to correct.

Pablo:  “Jazz.”

Peanut:  “Confusion.”

TC:  “Obstreperousness.”

Early in the meeting I asked why atoms vibrate, was it internally generated or a response to externals, like a ringing bell.  Nobody took up the challenge.  There was some talk later about inertia and why when we encounter a moving object, it exerts a force.  Nog and I both raised Newton’s laws in response, but nothing was settled or even coherently discussed.  TC said that “Reality is for people who can’t handle drugs,” a quote from someone but I didn’t get the source.  I loaned Bertrand Russell’s Mysticism and Logic to Peanut.

When I returned home I found that the first essay, “Mysticism and Logic,” is also included in the Modern Library collection that Russell published in 1927, Selected Papers of Bertrand Russell; Mysticism and Logic is available here, as expected (Gutenberg).  I finished rereading the essay, and it’s one of the best; I’d rank it with Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” as essential reading.  Two quotes:

“All our thinking consists of convenient fictions, imaginary congealings of the stream:  reality flows on in spite of all our fictions, and though it can be lived, it cannot be conceived in thought,” p. 45 in the Selected Papers, Modern Library, New York, 1927, 1955.  This is much like Korzybski’s idea that reality is “unspeakable.”

Russell quotes Spinoza:  “By good I shall mean that which we certainly know to be useful to us,” p. 48, referenced to Spinoza’s Ethics, pt. IV, Df. I.  How very utilitarian of B.S.

He also briefly quotes Wordsworth’s “Ode:  Intimations of Immortality,” available from Bartleby here.  While in prison I read a poetry collection, The Top 500, and typed out some of the poems, including the “Ode,” but I didn’t recognize the quote.

Copyright (text only) 2021 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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