Don’t try to make things more than they are.
We are specialists at this in our society. This is the story of marketing, of the anthropology that we embrace in the west, and the story of much of modern science—a kind of metaphysical striving for more, for the same kind fo achievement and accumulation that we seek in everything else.
© Aron Hsiao / 2018
That’s not to say that science is bad, necessarily, but that its purpose shouldn’t be the mere enlargement of things, if those things are to be meaningful for and useful to us in the end.
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This is the very same impulse that led me by mistake to academics, and that I discovered that academics in turn made and makes.
I went in search of wisdom, but what I found was facility under the banner of Wisdom, on the mistaken theory that wisdom isn’t enough, and Wisdom is what we’re really after, and Wisdom can’t possibly be Wisdom if it is as small as wisdom.
But if you take wisdom and try to engineer it to skyscraper heights and nuclear powers, what you get is instrumentalism. Mere wisdom is not merely the small, but also the understanding that it is the small that is wisdom.
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We are a culture and a species and a collective metaphysics that hungers for conclusions. Not just in the academy. Not just in commerce. Not just in religion.
We want to know how the story ends; how the argument ends. Not just to know, as it turns out—because we long ago discovered that this knowledge doesn’t readily present itself. The innovation of the Enlightenment was the realization that in this absence, which is all that being provides to us, we could construct the ending instead. Follow the threads, add the girders, tighten the bolts, erect the edifice.
If the universe won’t provide the conclusion, the end, the outcome, the fruition, the final, the tool, the affordance—then we will. And we did. And they are powerful things in the most immediate sense.
But they are so utterly, utterly temporary as to be meaningless in the bigger sense. As the power of the event shock wave approaches the infinie, its durability and thus ultimate reach throughout all that is, being inversely correlated, approaches the infinitesimal.
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What’s missing in everything—everything we do, from parenting to academics to cooking to vacations—is the observing. The conclusion is never profound. The result is never profound. The outcome is never profound.
The numinous cannot be found in Wisdom, but rather only in wisdom.
And wisdom can only be found in observation. In the endless geographies of being, which stretch as they do over so many axes—time, space, memory, feeling, mind, God, color, breath, thought—the observation is infinitely more powerful, more profound, and more wise than the conclusion.
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To succeed, we can rely on any number of Enlightenment technologies.
To meaningfully be is to dwell in mere observation of the small and the actual and to consciously refrain from going any further than that.