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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

seek, and ye shall find

I'll be away for the next two days. I'll probably resume posting on Monday 27 August 2007.

Yesterday I played hookey from the blog. I started reading an article on the international situation, "America on the Downward Slope" by journalist Dilip Hiro, and found myself absorbed. Blog-writing time came and went.

I'm brimming with thoughts, with ideas and anxieties. They run in many different directions, and one of my challenges--a major challenge of my life--is to unify them, bring them into relationship with each other. My intuition is that if one's ideas and thoughts don't come into harmonious relationship with each other, one has not really found the core of one's being--one's true self. In some sense one is in a fragmented state, like somebody suffering with multiple personality disorder.

I search for causes. I look at things that interest me and ask why. In that way I am a scientist or a philosopher. But for a long time I have not been satisfied with the way scientists address problems--or perhaps I should say, have not been satisfied with the limits on the kinds of problems that scientists can address. Nor have I been satisfied with the assumptions under which scientists generally work.

For example, an obvious problem arises with the assumption that the world is made out of matter. For one thing, we have the experience of our minds, which are immaterial. And while we take it for granted in our everyday lives and in the way we run our society that we can make decisions and act on them--that is, that our minds can cause our bodies to do things--we have no scientific way of accounting for how matter can be influenced by mind. Matter requires physical energy to move it, and the mind is nonphysical. This is the classic mind-body problem, and it remains unanswered and mostly unaddressed by modern science.

This problem is considered the province of philosophy, but there has not been a good working answer in this field either. At least, not one that the practical, scientific world has been able to accept. Mainly in philosophy there have been attempts to clarify the problem, rather than solve it.

I think of this extract (compressed) from a work by John Dewey, the American educator, quoted in Campbell's Creative Mythology:

The shock and uncertainty so characteristic of the present marks the discovery that the older ideals themselves are undermined. Instead of science and technology giving us better means for bringing them to pass, they are shaking our confidence in all large and comprehensive beliefs and purposes.

It is psychologically natural that the outcome should be a collapse of faith in all fundamental organizing and directive ideas. Skepticism becomes the mark and even the pose of the educated mind. It is the more influential because it is no longer directed against this and that article of the older creeds but is rather a bias against any kind of far-reaching ideas, and a denial of systematic participation on the part of such ideas in the intelligent direction of affairs.

The popular philosophy of life is filled with desire to attain such an all-embracing unity, and formal philosophies have been devoted to an intellectual fulfillment of the desire. Consider the place occupied in popular thought by search for the meaning of life and the purpose of the universe. Men who look for a single purport and a single end either frame an idea of them according to their private desires and tradition, or else, not finding any such single unity, give up in despair and conclude that there is no genuine meaning and value of life's episodes.

The alternatives are not exhaustive, however. There is no need of deciding between no meaning at all and one single, all-embracing meaning. There are many meanings and many purposes in the situations with which we are confronted—one, so to say, for each situation.


Campbell concludes: "In sum: the individual is now on his own."

Dewey's words were published in 1931, and they still apply. When you're on your own, where do you find your answers?

Answer: wherever you can. I think about a question that has sometimes been asked me: How do you get to work in television? Or: how do you get a TV show on the air?

The truthful answer is: I don't know. I've done it myself, but there is no process, no recipe. I use the image of shipwrecked people swimming around a lifeboat that is already overcrowded. How do you get aboard? The people on board don't want you on there; they'll smash you with an oar if you try to climb in. You'll just have to think of something--or drown.

It's a joke. But like all jokes, it contains a kernel of truth. In reality I trust those spiritual teachers who say, "Seek, and ye shall find. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you." The real issue is not lack of answers, but lack of looking.

So I'm looking. That's my life.


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