Monday, August 3, 2009


From time to time in my life, I have experienced epiphanies, of varying degrees of profundity. For instance, there was the time in my daughter Laura's high school algebra class, on parent day, when I was racing to solve the problem on the board faster than the kids could, and I realized that I really like mathematics. Up until that point, my conscious relationship to mathematics centered on the idea that I wasn't very good at it. I think there were two main reasons for this: 1) I had high school teachers who were not very good at math, and passed on their confusion and sense of difficulty to me, and 2) as an ill-prepared freshman MIT student, I was surrounded with people who were SO good at math, that I developed a survival strategy based on doing the minimum necessary to get by, and deprecated both my own ability and my interest with regard to doing more. Not until some 20 years could I realize the amount of pleasure that mathematical reasoning could bring me. Note that nothing material had changed. I'm still not "good" at math, when measured on the MIT/Ivy League/graduate-math/physics/engineering student scale. I can't prove many theorems - but I can FOLLOW a lot more than I can prove (providing I start at the right level). AND I can derive significant enjoyment from doing so.

But the biggest epiphany in my life was when I realized that I have always been a philosopher. I mean “always” in the sense that my whole life, since my earliest memories, I have been challenging the meanings of the world, asking questions of adults, in my childhood, that they couldn’t answer, and drawing connections between answers that they found surprising; and I mean “philosopher” in the literal sense of a person who loves wisdom, at least to the extent that wisdom is represented by knowledge and truth, and who loves them to the extent of being willing to make sacrifices in their pursuit, especially, and especially in childhood, of social acceptances; but more, I feel, with Plato and Aristotle (once I finally got around to reading them), that pursuing these things is my greatest pleasure, and my truest calling – the thing that makes me feel, more than any other, both truly alive and truly me.

Similarly to my epiphany regarding mathematics, this epiphany about philosophy doesn't necessarily mean that I am a GOOD philosopher. Undoubtedly my ideas have often been naive and sophomoric; undoubtedly, because everybody's are, at some time in their life, but in my case, autodidact that I have become, it is more than likely that significant naiveté still remains. But that can't stop me from trying; can't, in the normative sense, because the endeavor is a noble one, but even more keenly in the empirical/natural historical sense. I can't stop trying, because this is who I am, who I have always been, and who I will always be until death or the ravages of age, injury or degenerative disease render my mind no longer capable of functioning. What IS a variable is whether I write, addressing my thoughts to a public audience, or just proceed as I have been, and impose them only on my wife and occasionally, a fortunate or unfortunate friend. If I had to go out in the world and find an editor and a publisher, this would probably be a foregone conclusion. But blogging is so easy...

So, I begin. I dump my thoughts to probably no one, but potentially the world. But whether I meet with approval, approbation, or simple apathy from the blog-following public, one thing I cannot stop doing is thinking, reasoning, exploring - in short, being a philosopher - because that is who I am. So I adopt a tagline from a tale by SF writer Edgar Pangborn: "Still I persist in wondering..."

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