INDEX OF TITLES  (0001- 0029 May/June 2007)

   0001 - First entry
   0002 - Reality check
   0003 - Observation makes a difference (and vice versa)
   0004 - I, there's the rub...
   0005 - The inexplicably undescribable
   0006 - art vs. Art
   0007 - Unsatisfied forever
   0008 - Priorities
   0009 - Are you an amoeba?
   0010 - Why five?
   0011 - Five secrets of success
   0012 - President Jesus
   0013 - The power of song
   0014 - Style
   0015 - Poetry alive and well
   0016 - Ecstasy
   0017 - Desire and will
   0018 - Naked
   0019 - Frozen blueberries
   0020 - La difference
   0021 - Different  
0022 - The better hypothesis
   0023 - Alienable rights and required duties
   0024 - Creating the future
   0025 - Why we exist
   0026 - The rhetoric of fiction
   0027 - Poetry defined?
   0028 - The quality of your life
   0029 - Vacation notice

06/27/07 (#0029) Vacation notice



I knew that. - the Ed

Dear Editor:

H. Other, spelled with an "M" as in "Mother". I'm too busy doing what needs to be done to stop and think what I am doing here. Which does not diminish my joy one whit.


You're carrying out you genetic programming and that feels good and right. What can I tell you? Enjoy! - the Ed

The Nutshell is putting on an itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini and heading for the beach. Back July 5.

Until then,

Paul W.

06/26/07 (#0028) The quality of your life

Which of the following best describes your understanding of your role in life?

A. You're trying to survive by your wits and will in a hostile and predatory world.
B. Trapped in a meaningless Kafkian enterprise you're trying to create a bubble of meaning to anchor your life to.
C. Somebody set this world going and you're just doing your part to keep it going.
D. You're going with the flow, getting what enjoyment and nourishment you can from life as it happens.
E. You know the world can be made a better place to live, for yourself and others, and you're trying to do something about it.
F. You're a citizen of the world, enjoying your privileges in it and serving its needs, working for a prosperous future.
G. You know exactly what's wrong with the world and you're going to fix it (if they'll let you...).
H. Other.

Why? Oh, nothing in particular. Just thought I'd ask...
Me? I'm somewhere between D, E and F - in various proportions on various occasions.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

06/25/07 (#0027) Poetry defined?

Dear Editor:

Here is something to think about. So far you have produced the following:

Different words/items counted: 1860
Total Words: 6777
Total Punctuation: 901
Total Other Text: 127
Total Characters: 39244
Total Paragraphs: 498

The Nut

So what's to think? But thanks for keeping track... - the Ed

What exactly is poetry anyway? In common speech when we say "poem", "poet", "poetic", etc., the idea that's foremost in our minds is "romance", something vaguely associated with beauty, truth, unrequited love, moonlit nights and grandiloquent tragic heroism. We have Byron, Shelley, Keats and the rest of the 19th century romantics to thank for putting that cast on the popular notion of poetry.

A poet is, presumably, someone who writes poems. But what is a poem? It eludes definition: it is often relatively short, but there are many book-length poems; it may have a regular rhythmic and rhyming form, or it may be completely free-form; it may be intended to be heard as spoken or sung, or it may be intended to be seen as a pattern of words on a page; it may be an expression of the writer's feelings of the moment, or it may be simply an observation and reporting of an event; a poem may be lyrical, satyrical, ironic, comical, tragic, dramatic, didactic, romantic, or nonsensical. So how can you tell a poem from any other piece of writing?

In fact, there is no boundary between poetic and non- or un-poetic expression - it's a continuum. The aim of the poetry seems to be elegance, effectiveness and economy of expression through precise and artful use of words. Well, big deal. This is the aim of all good writing. Is poetry particularly good writing? Some of the best writing in the world is classified as poetry, so is some of the worst. Is there, in fact, any such thing as poetry or is there just good and bad writing? Here's my take on it: if you come across a piece of writing that is superbly organized, compact, clear, jewel-like and carries a potent message in a penetrating form - you may call it a poem, even if it happens to be the grocery list or the fine print on the back of a ticket.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

06/23/07 (#0026) The rhetoric of fiction

The problem with fiction is that it is not the reality. Of course, that is also it's chief virtue. It seems to me most "serious" fiction falls under the rubric of rhetorics, with the author artfully re-presenting the world of his/her experience in such a way as to bring out for the readers the structure and meaning s/he perceives in it. It's an argument for a particular point of view.

Unless it's a pure entertainment piece with no pretensions to offering insights into anything, fiction needs to be read as critically as any report on the state of the world but this is made difficult to impossible by the fact that the author is intentionally messing with our heads and hearts. There's a shamanistic aspect to the rhetoric of the novel (or any of its visual equivalents like film or stage drama): the form provides enough space for the shaman in charge to take the reader apart and put her/him back together again, reshaped. Many lives have been changed by novels, for better or worse. But fiction is not reality. Caveat emptor .

The only reality we have direct knowledge of is our personal experience. Everything else is second hand or inference. A novel sets up a "virtual reality"  which becomes the reader's actual if illusory experience akin to a dream or a hallucination with the boundary between illusion and reality deliberately blurred. Caught up in this illusion, we do not want to read critically. But if we wish to deepen our understanding of the world, we have to let go of the illusion and analyse the rhetoric.

Until Monday,

Paul W.

06/22/07 (#0025) Why we exist

The two schools of existential thought are a) that there is no reason for existence and it has no purpose or meaning, and b) that there is. I belong to the second school because I find the first one depressing. That leaves me with the question what exactly is the reason for existence? As far as I can tell, the only conceivable reason for existence is the enjoyment thereof.

Capacity for enjoyment requires consciousness and, judging from the presumably unexceptional sample provided by this planet, the universe is evidently busy evolving ever higher forms of consciousness. Where it will all end up is beyond human ken - here is where religion comes in with answers that reflect our hopes and aspirations.

As we well know, existence is not exactly edenic. There are hellish aspects to it as well. But existence is about creating possibility for enjoyment - enjoyment is not guaranteed. The possibility of joy is what ultimately drives the evolution of the universe. Indeed, if joy were guaranteed, there would be no reason for all this vast and elaborate apparatus.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

06/21/07 (#0024)  Creating the future

Congratulations on reaching 0.22002200220022002200... % of your goal! 
 (Actually, I had no idea that was my goal... - The Ed)
In this issue you almost had me agreeing with you but that third paragraph is a philosophical bombshell. The last two sentences mash (or smash) together the laws of karma, Western fatalism and Stephen Hawking at his maudlin worst. Give me a break ...universe in a nutshell, indeed! -The Nut

Perhaps todays rumination will cast some light on that overstuffed third paragraph.  - The Ed

I don't see why we have a DUTY any more than we have a RIGHT to anything.  I think we choose to impose all that stuff on ourselves.  For better or worse, and sometimes even for the better. -mzq

"Choose" is the critical word - see below. - The Ed

In a probabilistic universe there are no guarantees. There are, of course, probabilities - from virtual certainty to virtual impossibility - which, to the extent that we understand the present circumstances, we can estimate. Generally, this works well enough for practical purposes. This is not surprising since we are well adapted to the world of our experience. We have  a practical knowledge of what the probabilities are - some of it inherited with our genes, some of it learned. This knowledge allows us to make useful predictions about the probable future.

Now here is a fact that is nothing short of miraculous: Not only can we predict the probable future, we can actually change it! We can alter the spectrum of probabilities to make the future come out closer to our heart's desire. In other words, our desire can be an aspect of the present circumstances determining the probabilities of what happens next. Can be - not is. To become effective, our experienced desire must be first converted into a decision (will) to act.  This is the miraculous part: we can chose to act or not to act, we can choose to act in one way and not another, and our choice changes the probable future. This is true creation: intentional shaping of the yet uncreated future.

Of course, creation, exhilarating and hopeful as it may be, is a perilous act. No matter what we choose to do, there are still no guarantees. We must be always prepared to deal with the unforeseeable consequences.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W

06/20/07 (#0023 )  Alienable rights and required duties

Contrary to the American Declaration of Independence, we do not have any inalienable rights. Not to life, not to liberty, not to pursuit of happiness, not to free speech - in fact, not to anything. The universe does not give a hoot about our demands for whatever rights we may claim.

In this universe, there are only two ways to get what we want: either you go and get it for yourself, or else someone gives it to you. In a civilized society we agree to grant each other certain rights for sake of order, peace and prosperity. It's called culture and law. The rights we grant each other are agreed on by consensus - there is nothing inalienable or absolute about them. They are not intrinsically ours - they are given to us by others and can be taken away by others.

On the other hand, like it or not, we all have duties which we neglect at the risk of extinction. Duty to keep ourselves alive and healthy, duty to the wellbeing and future prosperity of our species (which includes the duty to take care of this planet so that it can continue to sustain us), duty to use our minds to figure out where we want to go from here and how, and perhaps the most fundamental duty of them all: to enjoy ourselves, each other and the world. Punishment exacted by the universe for neglecting these duties is harsh and merciless and not always fair to the individual though in the large scheme of things a natural justice prevails. This is a lawful universe though its laws are probabilistic, not absolute. Once in a while you may get away with murder, another time you may be punished for a crime you did not commit, but it all comes out even in the end.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

06/19/07 (#0022) The better hypothesis 

73 years ago, at approximately 9 AM Central European Time, I survived the ordeal of being born into this world. In the course of the next 65 years or so I did not learn much - enough to fake it as a social animal but not enough to deal with my fundamental existential confusion.

In the most recent few years I finally got down to the brass tacks and did some serious thinking. What emerged is no less than a cosmology concocted to account for the world of my personal experience. While it provided a good fit for everything I could claim to know so that I could at last clean up the mess in my mind and hang everything up in its proper place, it left me with an ultimate dilemma. It led inevitably to two, and only two, possible answers to the most fundamental question of all: why is there something rather than nothing? One answer is that there is a transcendental, eternal desire, the cause of all existence, driving the evolution of the universe toward ever more complex forms of consciousness. The objective? The greatest possible enjoyment of being. The other answer is that there is no reason for there being something rather than nothing. The universe and its evolution are absolutely meaningless.

Both these hypotheses are equally tenable. Neither can be proved or disproved. Logically only one of them can be true (they are mutually exclusive). But which one? The second one has the advantage of simplicity - it passes the Occam's razor test. On the other hand, it does nothing for me in my search for a meaningful life. I much prefer the first hypothesis - it has infinitely greater explanatory power (for one, it allows for and explains free will). It opens up vistas of potential joie de vivre and offers hope and purpose. That's good enough for me.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

06/18/07 (#0021) Different but equal?

There's a mechanical complication standing in the way of complete equalization of the sexes - the genital apparatus. Until we develop some "brave new world" technology for manufacturing human beings in vitro directly from DNA, we're stuck with some people being assigned to the child-bearing function, specifically people with wombs, sharply distinguishing them from the people without wombs. 

Mechanics aside, there is a much more significant difference between sexes: the psychological difference. Its origins may be rooted in the physiological difference and the long history of relations between men and women before the technological and cultural revolutions made it possible for women to start liberating themselves from their dependence on men. However, its significance transcends its origins. It offers two distinct perceptions of reality - the feminine and the masculine. The two together create a possibility of deeper understanding than either one could achieve on its own. 

Interestingly, it appears that the potential for development of a feminine or a masculine psyche resides in all humans. Femininity or masculinity are not absolutely determined by gender, they are the two extremes of a continuous spectrum. We are all to some extent androgynous. Nevertheless, I believe we profit greatly from the creative interplay between the feminine and the masculine - it would be a loss to erase the distinction. The price of keeping it, however, must be paid in the logistics of division of labor - masculine and feminine persons are not equally suited for all jobs.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

06/16/07 (#0020) La difference

Once upon a time, not so long ago, in fact, the last time I looked, women were only good for pleasuring men, bearing and raising children and household chores. They were not considered to be fully human. OK, granted, not all of them (it never was true of all of them) and the number of women claiming full humanity on par with men has been and is growing rapidly.

What it is is that in the survival of the fittest game the importance of brawn and aggression has greatly diminished and the importance of brainpower has greatly increased. But even more significantly, the importance of the sexual difference has diminished. Life is no longer mainly about procreation and continuation of the species - it is mainly about fulfilling our human potential for conscious experience and creativity. Sexuality has been subordinated to that now primary objective. Sex is no longer just for making babies, indeed, it is no longer required for that purpose.

Now that we are becoming all equal in our humanity, men and women, and procreation is not the primary objective, obviously heterosexuality looses its cultural status and significance. We are becoming sexually homogenized. We need not look for genetic causes to explain the homosexualization (and generally, pansexualization) of humanity. It is inherent in the equalization of the sexes.

But a complete loss of the distinction between sexes would be, in my view, a tragedy. Women are good for pleasuring men (and vice versa) precisely because of that distinction and I say vive la difference!

Until Monday,

Paul W.

06/15/07 (#0019) Frozen blueberries

I owe it to the posterity to reveal a marvelous discovery of mine. You know how frozen blueberries do not even remotely resemble fresh ones, in appearance, texture or taste? In fact, after defrosting they look and taste cooked. Yuck! (I hate cooked blueberries as much as I love fresh ones). Well, pay attention - here is how to bring dead frozen blueberries back to life.

I hope you like hot cereals because a hot cereal (such as Bob's Red Mill multigrain cereal) is the critical component in this project. I didn't use to like hot cereals when I was a kid, but now I love them, which is how I stumbled on this method of frozen blueberry revivification. It's wonderfully simple: cook your cereal normally to a somewhat thinner consistency than you like, then, while it's hot, dump in a good bunch of hard frozen blueberries and stir. Two things happen: the cereal which normally takes forever to cool down to where you can eat it without scalding your mouth comes down to perfect eating temperature in no time flat; and the frozen blueberries defrost yet remain plump, firm, and cool - a credible facsimile of the fresh fruit!

I have my theories why this works but I'll refrain from inflicting them on you. This method also works with frozen cherries and with frozen peaches. Go forth, enjoy, spread the word...

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

06/14/07 (#0018) Naked 

There is no difference [between desire and will] because I did not think of such a question.

(I did, and I defined them so as to distinguish between them - The Editor)

On the other hand it would make a good summer blockbuster: William Shakespeare in a posthumous affair with Desiree Clary (and Napoleon).
Whatever happened to Wittgenstein? Didn't he direct just such a spectacle? -  The Nut

Wittgenstein (r.i.p.) and I have no quarrel. He didn't have the answers either... - The Editor

The nude as an idea and an art form is made possible by the fact that we wear clothes - most of us, anyway. Why do we wear clothes? Because we're born hairless (except here and there). We need clothes for warmth, for protection, for distinction, for decoration and, questionably, for [im]modesty. Note the "im" in the square brackets - it's there because clothes are used both to hide and to flaunt the sexual aspects of the body. However, both these functions currently apply almost exclusively to females in their nymph-hood. Contemporary men, when in their normal attire, vie with each other for extremes of grunginess, ugliness and grossness.

It's decidedly not cool these days to look good if you're a guy. The rule in the "western" cultures seems to be: women must be super-attractive and men must be super-repellent. That's how the sexes are differentiated, clothes-wise. I rather think this is a reaction to the rise of the gay culture. But then we have the phenomenon of the "metrosexual" - the actually good-looking male who is not gay. Perhaps this is a counter-reaction to the appropriation by the gay culture of the right to look good. 

In any case, clothes have become a permanent aspect of being human. We have become as dependent on these synthetic pelts as hermit crabs on their adopted shells. If we discarded them now, the civilization as we know it would crash and we would perish. We can no longer survive without clothes just as we can no longer survive without electric power, oil, capitalism, atom bomb or internet. We have become semi-synthetic beings, partly biological, partly manufactured, and plugged in.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

06/13/07 (#0017)  Desire and will

In answer to the question you never asked, here's my take on the difference between "will" and "desire".

"Desire":  the consciousness of a need - of something necessary yet missing; the direct experience of incompleteness, of a void-that-must-be-filled.

"Will":  the conscious intent to act with a specific purpose (to satisfy a desire).

Desire might be described as the beginning of all things - without desire nothing would happen. On the other hand, nothing might be described as the mother of desire - it is the quintessential void, the lack of everything.

Desire is necessary but not sufficient for anything to happen. It is a state, a pre-condition. Intent or will is the necessary generative force that actually makes things happen in response to the desire.

Where does will come from? How does it make things happen? Excellent questions. If you know the answers, let me know.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W

06/12/07 (#0016)  Ecstasy

Ecstasy: the state of having bootstrapped oneself out of and beyond one's historically established limitations and boundaries (physical, intellectual, emotional). In most cases, these limitations and boundaries are self-imposed - bootstrapping  merely requires conscious recognition of the facts on the ground, something that may be precipitated by an intense experience such as falling in love, radical failure or rational cognitive therapy.

But not all of our walls are of our own making. Some of them are virtually absolute (we cannot substantially change our height, even by surgery). Some have been imprinted in our genes or deeply planted by early childhood experiences. They are represented by well established structures in the brain against which we keep bumping, powerless to tear them down. They may, however, be torn down for us, or at least temporarily disabled, by external forces such as psychoactive chemicals, usually with  shamanic assistance. That's when we experience true ecstasy. Our consciousness actually travels outside the confines of our established self, out of the familiar territory and into a world totally new and strange filled with possibilities we could not have even imagined.

This kind of out-of-self experience is akin to becoming bicultural (except for those for whom becoming unmoored from their established self is a terrifying experience that drives them even deeper into their ego shell). There's an irreversible loss of the parochiality of selfhood. The psychedelic generation saw in this the cure for all the world's ills. Unfortunately, contrary to popular belief, ideas are powerless in themselves. Raising consciousness cannot by itself change the world. What we need to raise is the desire and the will to work for the change and to keep working until it becomes reality. For better or worse.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W

06/11/07 (#0015)  Poetry alive and well

I just heard there's a biopic of E. Piaf in the works. Mining the past for stories has ever been our saving grace...

Poetry has been in the news recently for one of the least poetic of reasons: big money. $200 million to be specific, now available, thanks to Ms. E. Lilly, to support this literary genre worldwide. There's been much talk. Poetry, it has been alleged, is dying as an art. Poetry has become a sterile exercise for academicians. Nobody reads poetry anymore. Maybe $200 mil can finance a campaign to make poetry relevant and readable. Etc.

It is true that many if not most poems published in the New Yorker (possibly the only general interest magazine in the world which still regularly publishes poetry) are intellectual verbal puzzles for which I have no time, no patience and no requisite scholarly background (I'm bad at crossword puzzles too). Yet I am not a totally unpoetic soul. Indeed, it was news to me that poetry is moribund - I find it almost everywhere I look in abundance and bursting with life.

It's not the poetry, it's the definition of it as a "literary genre" that is dying. What has happened is that poetry has gone multimedia. Yes, poetry as a purely linguistic exercise had, has and always will have an important place in culture (it can be huge fun) but against the expanding world of poetic possibilities its share of our attention inevitably must be shrinking. $200 million worth of spotlighting won't hurt, but as long as we're just talking words, it won't help, either...

Until tomorrow,

Paul W

06/09/07 (#0014)  Style

Style. Can you buy it? Can you wear it? What's it worth? Can you afford it? Do you need it?

There are those rare people who are at all times utterly themselves. Their innermost self and their public persona are one and the same. They live in complete harmony with themselves. Never at a loss how to act, what to say, they simply express what they feel, directly, spontaneously, genuinely and easily. They lack any guile. What they do have, without trying, is style. Their style is simply the shape of their soul as it expresses itself unhindered by any masks in their words, thoughts and actions. Some of these people can be extremely attractive, some horrifying, all of them disconcerting.

As for the rest of us, we need to consciously put on a synthetic style to establish our public identity. Especially if we are not sure what our true identity may be. Or would rather not know. Or maybe as an aid to becoming what we wish to be. Or, in the extreme case, as that which we have become - when we have become the mask we're wearing with nothing behind it.

Initially, we pick up a style by imitation from family and friends. It may or may not suit us. Prefabricated styles are readily available in the price range from free to fabulously expensive. We can use them as crutches and/or status symbols until we find our own true style - that degree of harmony between the inner and public selves that allows us to act consistently without having to think about it.

Until Monday,

Paul W

06/08/07 (#0013 ) The power of song

Dear Nutshell
Since when did the neo-cons become "ultra capitalists"?
Profit was incidental and desireable but not essential.
The neo-cons have/had a power/culture agenda which aimed at protecting sources of oil and defending/extending western colonization a la Israel.
Yours sincerely
The Nut

Dear Nut

Profit was not essential?? I doubt that love of humanity is what motivates the neo-con power/culture agenda.

The Editor

Triskadekaphilia is my particular pet quirk. Thirteen being my lucky number, off we go under its happy spell.

I was perhaps sixteen or seventeen, still living with parents. That morning the radio woke me up as usual but what I heard - still half asleep, savoring the last dregs of a dream - was far far from usual. It was a young woman's voice, singing - but her singing was like nothing I had ever heard before. Her clear, resonant, full throated voice was naked, fearless emotion - a soul laid bare, nothing held back. That voice woke me up to a state of deeply conscious wakefulness - it was as if until then I had never been really awake.

The singer was not identified after the song ended. But with that one song she changed my life. For many years I kept listening for her voice, hoping to find out who she was, without luck. All I knew about her was that she was French - that was the language of the song. Ultimately, I did discover her identity - Edith Piaf, the Parisian street singer who rose to fame between 1936 and 1948 then flamed out. I own a full set of Piaf recordings, and I love them - but you know what? It's not the same as it was that morning when I was a teen.

I wonder to what extent who we are and how we live is influenced by the music we wake up to? Especially in our formative years? And why don't we have anyone like Piaf around? Actually, I'm sure we do, but any Piafs that may be out there in the world are flying well under the cultural radar which is simply not tuned to them. Not even close...

Until tomorrow,

Paul W

06/07/07 (#0012 ) President Jesus

I know at least one person has read the Nutshell, in fact, all of them. But for some reason, she did not click on to comment. I think the problem is she has my personal e-mail address and used that automatically. But if you're responding to the Nutshell please click the red link above. Thank you. That's all the business for today.

So how would Jesus do in Iraq if he were in the White House? (Not in the least a farfetched idea - he'd be in by a huge landslide if he ran). I am talking here about Jesus the man, as we know him from history, not Jesus God Almighty who, presumably, could fix Iraq and everything else with a snap of his fingers if he wanted to. Jesus was a man with a profound understanding of the human nature and with a personality and charisma that commanded respect and love of the common people he liked to be with. (So much so that the Established Powers became seriously alarmed by his popularity). These are not qualities our current President [George W.] can be accused of, his claims of being a follower of Jesus notwithstanding. I think it is fairly safe to assume that President Jesus would not have started a pre-emptive war with Iraq in the first place. Not because he was against war in principle but because he would have found a more effective and less destructive way to deal with the threat of Iraq - besides being able to evaluate that threat far more realistically and honestly than W's cohort of ultra-capitalist ideologues for whom "good" and "profit" are synonymous.

But what if Jesus were to be elected in 2008, with the Iraq mess firmly in place? I suspect he would take some radical actions to resolve the conflict between the Islamic and the "Western" cultures, to get at the root of the conflict and expose the festering fear and hate feeding it. He would likely do the same for the Suni-Shiite and Arab-Israeli conflicts. Assuming he would not be resorting to miracles, in the course of his eight year administration he would only be able to plant the seeds of peace in the hot spots of the world. The rest would be up to people of good will. Of course, chances are pretty good that we would be back at it within years or months after the Jesus administration.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W

06/06/07 (#0011)  Five secrets of success

I just visualized it: for securely grasping 3D objects, four points of contact is the minimum required. That's four fingers, or, three fingers and a stop, like the palm. But the fifth is totally unnecessary. I have no idea how many fingers are needed to securely grasp a 4D object and I'm not going there.

Four Secrets of Success! Don't ask, they're secret. But I'll tell you anyway because I hate secrets and it is my secret mission in life to destroy all secrets. Starting with the Four Secrets of Success. Why they're secret, and who's guarding their secrecy - that's another secret but it will have to wait for another time because today I'm blowing the lid off the Four Secrets of Success! Got your pads and pencils? Here they are:

1. Desire (yours)
2. Energy (yours)
3. Intelligence (yours), and
4. Support (from people and circumstances)

That's it. Yes, that's all there is to it. Now go forth and succeed - just pay attention to the details. It's all in the details, where, they say, God meets the devil. The battle between God and the devil can get tedious. So much so that I think we need a Fifth Secret of Success:

5. Endurance (yours).

Until tomorrow,

Paul W

06/05/07 (#0010)  Why five?

This makes exactly as many Nutshells published so far as I have digits at the outer edges of both my hands.

Does that make this number special? No, but it's a "handy" (so to speak) counting unit if you have a lot of stuff* to count. More curious are those digits growing out of the palms of my hands. Why five on each hand? OK, two is not enough, really, for effective grasping. But three does the job. Whether four is better than three is debatable - depends on the design of the grasping unit. It might add some versatility to some designs but a really economic design should be able to do everything with just three well designed and related digits. Except play piano. Or a flute, or a guitar or most any musical instrument. For making music one can't have too many fingers. If we had twelve on each hand, we'd make good use of them. But we only have five - why five? In a well designed general-purpose manipulation tool, fourth finger may not really be necessary and the fifth is almost counterproductive. And special purpose manipulators (such as music players) require as many digits as music calls for (hence orchestras). What absolutely requires five, no more, no fewer, fingers to execute? I can't think of a thing**.

The fact that people and a lot of other creatures, like apes, racoons, lizards and dinosaurs, have five fingers per limb, may be an evolutionary accident., or it may be meaningfully related to the fact that a lot of flowers have five petals. I rather think the latter. There's something  about number five...

Of course, there's something about every one of the smaller numbers. Even some huge, monstrous numbers have individual peculiarities which make them stick out. I wonder if there are any completely undistiguished numbers that have no strange unique properties whatever (other than being smaller or larger than every other number)? I bet there aren't.

But why five?

Untill tomorrow,

Paul W

* Publisher's Note: "stuff" is an archaic term for "shit".
** Publisher's Note: "a thing" is an archaic phrase meaning "shit".

06/04/07 (#0009)  Are you an amoeba?

"...but never, never on a Sunday, for Sunday is my day of rest." (Mellina Mercouri - whatever happened to MM?)

OK, it's a day of self-indulgence and not doing anything I don't wanna. So this is the new publishing policy for the Nutshell : Never on a Sunday! On the other hand, one should never say never, so I reserve the right to publish on Sunday if the spirit moves me. As if anybody cared...

Here's what all this shouting into empty space is about: it's a proof of my existence. It may also be a proof of your non-existence. No, that's wrong. Actually my existence prooves your existence. I can only exist by distinguishing myself from everything that is not me. So there must be something else besides me in this wilderness after all. All that is not me, namely, you. QED. Now the question is: what are you up to? You can't destroy me any more than I can destroy you because we cannot exist without each other. But there might be some disputes over the boundary between me and you - where exactly is it? Where do I end and where do you begin?

I just thought of something. If you should split, like an amoeba (for all I know you are an amoeba) then you would no longer depend on my existence. One of you could devour me entirely and, as long as there was the other, the world would not cease to exist! What are you up to? Are you splitting?

Damn! I don't think I can split -  I'm too well integrated. Doomed by a stupid amoeba! How horribly humiliating.

Until tomorrow, if there is one,

Paul W

06/02/07 (#0008) Priorities

I was sick yesterday, OK?

Believe it or not, there are actually things that take precedence over the Nutshell. Besides dealing with risks to life and limb, there is the matter of obligations to friends, lovers and family. This is followed by my duty to myself to use what talents I have in the most effective ways. Then come the Mechanics-of-Life: maintenance of the infrastructure, utilities, fiscal arrangements. After that, there is the package of education, entertainment and recreation - in other words, fun stuff. Next, adequate rest. the Nutshell trails last. But not least. After a day of doing what I must, should or want to, the Nutshell provides an escape into another dimension - of unplanned and unrestricted spontaneity of thought.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

05/31/07 (#0007) Unsatisfied forever

Only too much is enough. Perhaps not even that.

This may be true of other animals as well, but homo sapiens as a species is the epitome of insatiability. There are individuals among us, particularly among the old and about to die, who claim to be content with their lot and maybe the are. But many of us, and not just the young, resent any limitations on our dreams and desires. Our ambitions are never satisfied, as related by many a folk tale. We will not cease our pursuit of happiness until we overreach ourselves and often not even then. We'd rather die than be satisfied.

Well, that's evolution for you. It continues to test all possibilities for increasing capacity for conscious experience. Here on Earth, we're the species at the leading edge of this evolutionary drive towards higher consciousness. And we haven't got here by being satisfied with who we are and can do. Should we ever find peace and happiness, that will be the end of us - another evolutionary dead end.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

05/30/07 (#0006)  art vs. Art

A clarification. In yesterday's musings about art what I had in mind was, of course, Art with capital A.

The regulation garden variety art with small a (illustration, portraiture, journalism, advertising, decorative arts, entertainment, etc.) lies well within the spectrum of linguistic communication devices. Like all languages, it has its rules of composition and its set symbollic vocabulary. Its meaning and intent are usually clearly evident. This is consumer art, an ancient and honorable craft - we need not look down our noses at it. Not infrequently it possesses some aspects of Art - that certain je ne sais quoi, inexpressible in words. There is no hard boundary between art and Art - they coexist happily in many if not most works of art. Indeed, capital A Artists often resort intentionally to the language of art with small a to catch our attention in order to confront it with the Ineffable.

So, if you can describe and explain it, it may well be art, but it's the parts you can't put your finger on that make it Art.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

05/29/07 (#0005) The inexplicably undescribable

Why do we do art? Here's one theory: because language is inadequate.

The literary arts - poetry, story-telling, oratory - play with the language itself, trying to force it do more, to transcend its own limitations, to find new dimensions. The non-linguistic arts - music, dance, construction, decoration - already free of the restrictions that language imposes, rush in to fill the great need to express the liguistically inexpressible. 

From the earliest beginnings, the human languages have not been able to keep up with the human need to communicate. They never had the capacity to contain the fullness of the human spirit. This is not surprising since language is a thing of our own invention - it is necessarily something less than its inventors and constructors. Try as we may to adapt it to our needs, it will always fall short. We need something beyond language to bridge the gap.

Does that make art a kind of a supplementary language? No. A language is bound by the universally agreed on rules of grammar and a set vocabulary of defined symbols. We can construct languages using vocabularies of sound, movement, images, or structures (and have done so) but these languages also, though they may extend the possibilities for communication, cannot fully meet our need. Art begins where all language fails. In art there are no rules except those embedded in our individual natures and desires. And there is no vocabulary - there are only attempted evocations of feelings and experiences beyond the reach of any defined symbols.

In other words, if you can describe and explain it, it's probably not art...

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

05/28/07 (#0004)  I, there's the rub...

So I took the Sunday off. Deal with it.

Some second thoughts on lucid dreaming. Dreams, as such, are as "real" as any experience and to the extent that they are "real" they can bite. They have physiological effects - they stir up emotions. Should you work yourself up into such a state that you burst a vessel and die, well, you'll never know for sure whether you died while asleep or awake. There goes the basis for distinguishing between a dream and waking "reality"...

"To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream. Aye, there's the rub". If Hamlet thought about it a little more lucidly he would surely realize, especially after viewing poor Yorick's skull, that once the contents of that skull decompose and cease to be functional, there is no infrastructure left to support such activity as dreaming. Or thinking, or experiencing at the level of human consciousness. No, there's no chance of dreaming. But suppose consciousness is not a function of the brain? An argument can be made (I won't go into it here) that it is the other way around, that the brain is a creature of consciousness.  The "I" that once peered out of this now empty skull through it's now long rotted out eyes may not remember anything of the personality that was the function of the brain (memory, too, is a function of the brain) but it may still be here, in this world, peering out of other, still functioning eyes, experiencing life in all its glory and horror. I, there's the rub...

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.


05/26/07 (#0003) Observation makes a difference (and vice versa)

Can something happen without it being observed?

To say that something has happened is to assert that the world has changed. But if no change has been observed what grounds have we for saying that something has happened? At most we could say that perhaps something has happened even though we can't see any change. But we have no reason for saying even that. We don't know whether something has happened or not and it doesn't matter - it made no difference.

We often assume, or speculate, that something has happened that we did not directly observe. Yet we do not make such assumptions for no reason at all - they are necessary to account for something we did observe. Directly or indirectly, an event has been observed as a change in the world of our experience.

It is true that much that happens in the world escapes our individual attention. To any one of us, it's as if it did not happen. But the world as a whole "knows" that it has changed whether we notice or no. The change in the world  constitutes an observation in itself, just as the chemical changes in our retinas and our brains constitute an observation of changes in patterns of light and dark. Nothing happens, no change can occur, without it being observed by the world (which includes, but is not limited to, us human beings).

It would seem that an "unobserved event" is an oxymoron.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

05/25/07 (#0002)  Reality check

Day two.

How do you distinguish between dreams and waking "reality"?

There are instances of "lucid" dreaming when we are absolutely convinced that we are awake. In my experience, this conviction is more akin to a temporary confusion - failure to observe the difference between the dream and the world of waking experience. Sooner or later something highly improbable occurs forcing me to conclude that I must be dreaming. I can confirm this by waking up (though sometimes with panic inducing difficulty).

Once in a while a similar situation arises when I am, presumably, awake. The difference is that, in this case, I cannot wake up at all. I am trapped in the waking "reality". So that's my test: I can wake up out of a dream. I can't wake up out of the "reality". And I cannot escape it by denying it or halucinating or falling asleep - the waking "reality" still bites. It has predictable consequences.

Which is why I tend to take waking "reality" seriously and discount the dream experience, however lucid.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

05/24/07 (#0001) First entry

First question: why are you reading this?

Some hypotheses:

1. You are a compulsive reader and will read anything in front of your face.
2. You are a wannabe writer and are following Hemingway's instruction: "read everything".
3. You're hoping this blog contains something new under the sun.
4. It's nice and short.
5. You're wondering where I'm going with this.

I'll tell you: I don't know.

This much I do know: it will be short. Most ideas will fit into a nutshell - this is the Nutshell.

So what's on your mind? I will publish what's on my mind and the most interesting (and shortest) comments (if any) on (mostly) daily basis although I reserve the right to disappear for indefinite periods of time without notice.

Send comments, ideas, questions, images to .

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.