INDEX OF TITLES  (0043- 0057 August 2007)

   0043 - Choosing to believe   [analysis culture joy meaning myth nature purpose revelation right/wrong tradition]
   0044 - Wealth and income   [poverty joy] 
   0045 - Mirror for the soul   [appreciation contrition guidance intentionality introspection meditation petition prayer]
   0046 - Science: the source of all knowledge?   [error experience joy observation understanding]
   0047 - What science does not (yet) understand   [choice consciousness error free-will intentionality observation truth value]
   0048 - My erotic life   [emotion gender history intimacy  love sex]
   0049 - Shredding Asimov   [fiction literature novel]
   0050 - Elements of Art   [boundary experience intentionality meaning observation]
   0051 - On art and Art   [artist artisan boundary skill technique utility]
   0052 - Noticing God   [atheism experience religion value wellbeing]
   0053 - De profundis   [angelic bestial charity civilization faith hope satanic]
   0054 - Choosing to suffer   [evil fairness justice necessity self-absorption]
   0055 - In search of flavor    [food home]
   0056 - The soul of photography   [accident accuracy cinematography image point-of-view record]
   0057 - Extreme moderation   [authority behavior civilization reality society]

08/31/07 (#0057) Extreme moderation

"Only too much is enough". You know you are getting on when you no longer subscribe to that view. (Myself, I'm old enough to subscribe to the principle of "moderation in everything, especially in moderation"). While we're young and sky is the limit nothing but extremes will do Never mind pushing the envelope, punch your way right out of the frigging thing.

Of course, in the far corners of the bell curve, there live the exceptions. Some are pathetic timid souls, living in perpetual fear of the unknown and the untried. Some others, like me, are  Candide-like optimistic rationalists born to the belief that this is the best of all possible worlds. In my childhood it never occurred to me to question the authorities. Not only that, it never occurred to me that anybody would think of questioning the authorities. I knew there were some kids who sometimes did what they weren't supposed to do (I myself had transgressed parental prohibitions on occasion) but as far as I was concerned those were rare exceptions in an otherwise orderly world. What a shock it was when it finally became apparent to me that misbehavior was the rule, not the exception! For boys, anyway. Girls tended to be goody-goodies - on the surface. Underneath they tended to be vicious bitches and liars which was far more shocking. My practically perfect world was shattered and all the king's horses and all the king's men could not put it ever together again.

For me this epiphany came too late. My habit of good behavior was ingrained by then and, fascinated as I was with my contemporaries' experimentation with fringe philosophies and extreme experiences I could not bring myself to participate in such adventures wholeheartedly. I remained on the fringe of the fringe. I may have been disillusioned, but I was still a rationalist of Apollonic rather than Dionysian bent. Eventually, like almost everybody else, I became, to all appearances, a Responsible Adult, a Law-Abiding Ctizen, and a certified Non-Extremist..

Still, living within the confines of my adopted social parameters sometimes gets to be a bit stale. Once in a while I get the urge to break out and do something outrageous. What usually stops me is lack of energy. That's the bottom line. So, instead, I go nuts in my artwork - that's almost as good as the real thing...

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

08/30/07 (#0056) The soul of photography

In the beginning, photography was perceived by artists as another means of drawing images, a kind of instantaneous pencil, and on this basis it pretended for a while to be an Art medium competitive with the pencil and the brush.  It soon became clear that it wasn't. It was too rigid, too literal, too slavishly devoted to recording of every detail, regardless of artistic significance. Photography as Art fell into disrepute - it was even questioned whether a photograph could be Art. Still, efforts to involve photography in making of Art never ceased. 

Now photography is firmly established as an important Art form. Not surprisingly, its current importance derives from what earlier was considered its fault. It has progressed along two paths, uniquely its own: one as an accurate record of the passing scene or the accidental image (found Art) and the other as a dynamic recording medium for the performing arts. In this role, the camera has become itself an actor and a participant in the action. In cinematography photography reached its fullest potential and became wholly integrated in the process of making Art.

In still images, photography's fidelity to the scene before the lens allows recording of faithful portraits of reality. Yet the camera's fidelity is not absolute and capable of distortion and perversion. After all, the photographic record is only a two-dimensional projection of a split second in a continuing three-dimensional process, observed from one particular point of view. It is eminently vulnerable to misinterpretation and to intentional or unintentional deception. The difficult Art of still photography lies in observing and recording that special moment when the captured image also captures unmistakeably the true essence of the scene. 

Even though Art photography has found its own true soul, cameras are still being widely used simply to draw images. In this mode, the fidelity of the record can actually become an obstacle to obtaining the desired image, cluttering it with non-essential detail. But with digital image processing it is now easy to use photography to provide "clean" graphic elements which may be then infinitely metamorphosed to create entirely new images (a primitive precursor of this Art form is the collage). Whether this can still be called photography is debatable, but whatever it is, it has certainly generated much new Art.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

08/29/07 (#0055)  In search of flavor

To add to the list: One of the most common forms of self-inflicted suffering is unforgiveness. An analogy I've always liked (not my invention) is that rather than "keeping the unforgiven person on a hook of suffering" it is the unforgiver who places themself on a 'hook of suffering', stewing about the events and the persons involved oblivious to the fact that the 'unforgiven' usually are NOT thinking about it at all!  Unforgiveness is a self-cultivated cancer that truly does 'eat up' the actual sufferer. - Charles

And how much more bitter the unforgiver's suffering when they discover the truth! Somebody said "the best revenge is living well". - the Ed

I live in the woods, in a little chalet clinging precariously to a hillside. My chief complaints are a) I can't see the stars, especially in summer (in winter, however, the moon shines into my studio through the 20 foot high windows), b) if the woods ever catch fire the house is gone - I have trees practically leaning against it, and c) except for a little stream running by the house in the rainy season, there is no body of water in sight. Otherwise it's very pleasant here and you can go out naked at night - or in daytime. 

One of the summer delights of living here is that I am surrounded by orchards and farms growing a great variety of fruit and produce. Local cherries, berries of all kinds, peaches, plums, apples and melons are available in a mindboggling number of varieties which change almost daily as they ripen in their turn. All tree ripened and freshly picked. Among the produce, the latest to appear are several varieties of "heirloom" tomatoes. Since I eat tomatoes like apples - at least one a day in season, I got myself a basketful of a couple of varieties of these babies.

With my fading taste buds, in general nothing tastes like I remember it tasting in my youth (normally I blame this on the mass production techniques used by food producers nowadays). However, these tomatoes are the best I have ever tasted. Really! A startling wake up experience, like, hey! this is a real tomato! With flavor yet! Who knew such things existed?

Now, if only I could find a cup of coffee that actually tastes and smells like coffee... (In my whole life I only found five good cups of coffee and two of them I drank at "Joe & Joe's" in the Bronx, NY).

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

08/28/07 (#0054) Choosing to suffer

Not all evil is man-made. Nature socks it to us as well: hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, extreme heat, extreme cold, droughts and floods, just for starters. Then there are bacteria, viruses, genetic errors and mutations, toxins of all sorts, and, of course, the deterioration of old age.

It's not as bad as it seems. Assuming we don't go looking for trouble by settling in dangerous or potentially dangerous environment (such as the vicinity of Mt. Vesuvius) a great majority of us can look forward to mostly safe and satisfactory lives. Nevertheless, some disasters, personal and global, remain out of our control, and may strike us any time. The usual reaction is "why me?" - a silly question.

The more pertinent question is how do we deal with the intrinsic unfairness of the universe? As an immediate remedy there is charity - the more fortunate helping the less fortunate. We try to compensate the victims of disasters, but some losses are beyond our power to compensate. We just have to live with them. Still, a disaster often turns out to be a test of our mettle, and in accordance with the principle that what does not kill you makes you stronger we ultimately find ourselves better off for having been tried and having made the passing grade. 

When we are the victim of a disaster and are permanently diminished by our loss, we have a choice: we can spend the rest of our life contemplating our loss, raging against it and feeling sorry for ourselves, or we can simply get on with doing the best we can with what we still have. Most suffering is self-inflicted. Many people love to suffer - they use suffering as the source of meaning in their lives. It's like a hobby - something to fill their otherwise empty lives. Others suffer as a result of setting too demanding expectations for themselves or others and as a result being perpetually disappointed, irritated and frustrated. Yet others suffer deliberately as conscious or unconscious self-punishment for imagined inadequacies and failures. Then there are those engaged in strenuous pursuit of happiness which is forever eluding them.

If people the world over would just let go of all the unnecessary suffering and concentrated instead on the immediate tasks before them the world would be radically changed. Universal peace and plenty would descend on the planet as self-absorption in one's own suffering gave way to attention to what needs to be done. I can't say "it will never happen" - I never say "never".

Until tomorrow

Paul W.

08/27/07 (#0053) De profundis...

Re: Elephant Art:  Is Art Art because of its creator's motivation? Does motivation of reward disqualify a piece from being Art?  There are countless examples that would contradict that premise and plenty of artists who have stated that they, 'do it for the money' yet whose works are considered Art.
Besides, we can only surmise the elephant's motivation(s) for putting brush to paper. - Wispy

But that is not my premise. Motivation doesn't matter as long as there is intention to make Art. What does matter is significance - the piece must mean something to somebody even if only to the artist. The elephant doesn't signify anything by its action of swiping a brush across a canvas. - the Ed.

Deprivation. Pain. Dread of the unknown. Insecurity. Mistrust. Greed. Anger. Hostility. Hatred. Aggression. Violence. Cruelty. Survival of the fittest and death to the weaker. No, I'm not talking about the beasts in the jungle - these are very much human experiences and reactions, here, now, in the twenty first century. Not only that, but to a greater or lesser degree they are universal. We have all been there and, at any moment, we can find ourselves there again. It has been noted that civilization is only a thin veneer. We chafe under it and yearn to break out.

That is our satanic side founded in the natural and inevitable fear and ignorance of an isolated individual (or an isolated group under the influence of an individual). But there is an angelic side to us, as well, a desire to transcend the beastly existence, to experience higher joys than can be derived from brutal domination of others. Our angelic nature drives us toward association, cooperation, mutual assistance, maximization of human potential, group consciousness and integration with the environment. Against fear and ignorance it sets faith, hope and charity - irrational virtues which, considering the alternative, seem very rational indeed.

Nevertheless, fear and ignorance are always there. Necessarily, we do not and cannot know everything. Necessarily, the future is uncertain and potentially dangerous. These are the necessary conditions of existence, sine qua non. We can optimize the quality of our lives but we cannot perfect it. The struggle between our satanic and angelic sides is permanent. However,  there is no rule that their influence on our lives must be forever equal. As an optimist, I see us evolving and continuing to evolve from beasthood towards angelhood.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

08/25/07 (#0052) Noticing God

Does Art necessarily have to be about human experience? Animals may be able to meet some conditions that make Art - observeable, distinct and intentional. For example, there is an elephant that paints pictures. It uses a paintbrush, paint and canvas. People buy the pictures this elephant paints. -  Molly

Ah, but if it isn't significant it isn't Art. Someone could well discover Art in an elephant painting (Art may be found anywhere) but it would be her Art, not the elephant's. The elephant doesn't mean anything by it - it just goes through the motions to earn peanuts. - the Ed

Mother Theresa (I wonder how many Mother Theresas there have been but you know the one I mean) like most pious people, suffered from "spiritual dryness" - a condition of not being able to feel and respond to God's presence. This was a cause of great sorrow for her and she struggled with it for the last ten years of her life though this had no effect on her continuing charitable work.

Without passing judgement on God's ways, I note that this seems a curious "penalty" for piety. I who am not at all pious (though, I hope, not impious) have no trouble whatever recognizing and being conscious of the presence of God any time I pause to notice it. As somebody said (maybe it was me) God's presence is as obvious as a tiger jumping out at you. Mother Theresa's idea of God was no doubt different from mine (though probably not at the most fundamental level). Still, I marvel at the fact that she felt isolated from God and I do not.

On the other end of the piety spectrum, the self-proclaimed "atheists" carefully cultivate conviction of God's absence. It's not that they can't sense God's presence, they deliberately ignore it on the grounds that rational thought leaves no room for and has no need of God. They are mistaken in this. Rational thought not only leaves room for God, it suggests an absolute necessity for God as an alternative to a meaningless universe in which rational thought (along with everything else) has no value.

Of course, those who place their faith in "pure" rationalism argue that value can be derived simply from observation of what it is that maximizes one's own sense of well-being. What they fail to notice is that one's own sense of well-being is that very tiger jumping out at you.

Until Monday,

Paul W.

08/24/07 (#0051) On art and Art

Let us now give equal time to art with little "a" - no relation to Art though often mistaken for it. Like its Greek parent word, art means simply a skill, as in art of saddle making or of motorcycle maintenance. In so far as skills are employed in making Art, art may well be an integral part of Art (such as the art of representing 3D objects in 2D, or the art of composition, or the art of applying paint to canvas).

Artists with capital "A" having usurped the term "artist" for themselves, practitioners of small  "a" arts usually call themselves "artisans" or "technicians" often adopting specific labels referring to their particular skills such as "potter", "draughtsman", "welder", etc. The main difference between art and Art is that both the intent and the significance of art are utilitarian - art is not the ultimate objective, it is only a means to achieving it - whereas Art is complete in itself (even though it may be a continuing "work in progress") regardless of intended or unintended consequences of the experience of it.

Artists are almost always technically adept artisans, and artisans often invade the realm of Art. Humans are simply not contained by categories and definitions set up by language. Hence the commonplace confusion between art and Art. In real life, the boundary between them is porous and diffuse and in that vague region live all kinds of hybrids such as graphic arts, decorative arts, design, commercial art, illustration, architecture, etc. In any case, whatever else it may be, if it meets the criteria of observability, distinction, intentionality and significance it's Art.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

08/23/07 (#0050) Elements of Art

To celebrate the 50th Nuthshell, let's turn back to the sublime, namely Elements of Art. The question I shall contemplate today is: "what are the absolute minimum requirements for there to be Art?".

It seems to me that one essential property of Art is that it must be observable. If there is nothing there to experience, presumably there is no Art there. It needs to be noted that a piece such as John Cage's composition consisting of a pianist not playing for a prescribed interval of time does not qualify as "nothing" or "unobservable": it is the ambient sounds contained in that seeming "silence" as well as the initiating and terminating actions.

Which brings us to another essential property: Art must be framed. By "framed" I mean "made distinct from its environment" or "pointed out". We have to be able to tell Art from the rest of the world - we need a boundary drawn between Art and non-Art. It does not have to be sharp, but it needs to be there.

Another essential property of Art is that it must be intentional. Somebody must have intended to make Art or at least to point it out. Somebody had to say (actually or figuratively): "this is Art" or perhaps "let it be Art!".  Here we need to note that Art is in the eye (or the ear or any other sense) of the beholder whether the beholder is its maker or merely its discoverer.

Finally (?) and perhaps most fundamentally, Art must possess significance. It must refer, symbollically, metaphorically or literally, to some real aspect of human experience in such a way as to give it a particular meaning by relating it to some larger structure.

These four: observability, distinction from the rest of the world, intentionality and significance seem to me to be the essential elements of Art, sine qua non. And what exactly is Art? Why, anything that possesses these four elemental properties...

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

08/21/07 (#0049) Shredding Asimov

I never liked Isaak Asimov. I met him personally on couple of occasions: a brilliantly intelligent man, bursting with energy and charisma - what's not to hate? Recently, being incarcerated in a hospital for a number of days, I read all six volumes of his "Foundation" series. Absolute twaddle.

Good read, though, mostly. Asimov keeps you turning those pages. I think it's his ingenious plots. It's not the quality of writing (often dreadful, especially the dialogues) or characterization (shallow and stereotypical) or the ideas (admittedly plenty of them, culled from a variety of global resources but mostly half-baked). Asimov is a master plotter, deft enough to make you forget that what you're reading is at its core nonsense. In the end, unless you're captivated or blindsided by all the ideas he throws at you (much of his text is opinionated pontification), there's a sense of lack of philosophical gravitas, a sense of mere ingenuity of invention. It's the breadth, not the depth of his mind that impresses.

Besides, the "Foundation" series is outdated. The biggest problem with "hard" science fiction, even Asimov's, is that it doesn't age well. The world these days is changing so fast and so unpredictably (Harry Seldon's psychohistory notwithstanding) that even Asimov could not foresee the immediate future, never mind twenty thousand years hence. He populates these far future worlds with mid-twentieth century characters and attitudes (it's an all male galaxy out there with only an occasional token strong woman) and mid-twentieth century problems. Expanding them to a galactic scale doesn't make any real difference. Instead of hopping a train, plane or a bus, people hop a hyper-spaceship. Instead of traveling from city to city, they travel from planet to planet. Technologically and sociologically it's mostly same old same old except for pseudo-futuristic details. And already old-fashioned from our twenty first century point of view. (However, the evolution of Gaia/Galaxia - global consciousness - may actually be a possibility).

Anyway, now that I've shredded Asimov, I feel better.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

08/21/07 (#0048) My erotic life

If the Innuit use a dozen or so words for different kinds of snow, then why, oh why oh why do we use only one virtually meaningless word "love" for so many vastly different experiences ranging from sexual lust through infatuation, affection, friendship to deepest caring? Just asking.

My "love" life started precociously early. I became intensely interested in girls at the age of not quite four and my interest in the opposite sex has continued unabated to this day. However, I had a problem. Initially I tried to be friends with girls around my age but none of them were interested in being my friend. Even after the onset of puberty, I still sought friendship with girls first and foremost. Sex, to me, was the apex of intimacy, a manifestation of extreme emotional closeness and deep caring for each other, something that obviously took time to achieve. But, no takers. 

That was back in wartime Poland, where I spent my childhood in pleasant solitude - no school, no close friends, no male role models. When I arrived on this continent and finally went to school, among several major cultural shocks was the realization that I was absolutely unique in my approach to girls. The rest of the boys my age were interested in girls mainly as sex objects and their lusty pursuit of them yielded infinitely greater success rate than my search for a meaningful relationship (which remained at zero).

Well, eventually I did find a soul mate (via correspondence) and for a few good years it worked, too. But if sex without love was unthinkable for me, love without sex turned out not to be a workable proposition either. After a renaissance (literally) of several more years following the birth of our daughter, there was no closeness or intimacy left. I resumed my search for a soul mate with various tragicomical results and finally ended up in a love relationship based on deep mutual respect. It has lasted twenty years, so far.

Looking back, I can tell you: je ne regret rien!  It was an interesting ride with a truly happy ending. 

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

08/20/07 (#0047) What science does not (yet) understand

In "Brave New World" Aldous Huxley envisons a rationalized human society operated strictly according to scientific knowledge. It is a cautionary tale which represents only one of countless possibilities, perhaps not all of them so distopian. The question is, given as complete knowledge of human nature as science can provide, how do we apply it? What constitutes a "perfect" human society? One in which everyone is "happy" (whatever that means)? Where everyone has an ideal  body (whatever that may be) and never gets sick? Where economic and/or political equality is assured for all? Where everyone is exactly like everyone else? Where specialized classes are bred to carry out different tasks?

Naturally, whatever the answer, once virtually certain scientific knowledge becomes the basis for all decisions, any notion of "free will" goes out the window. All behavior is ruled by rational analysis. Emotions are appropriately controlled and channeled. Satisfaction is guaranteed. Well, almost. There is the matter of the inherent incompleteness and imprecision of the scientific knowledge. There is always room for error and unpredictability, however small.

The problem is that any answer to the question "what would the ideal human society be like?" requires assumptions which science cannot test for truth by observation. The question presupposes knowledge of the purpose of humanity and the word "purpose" is not in the scientific vocabulary. Without a purpose human life is meaningless (see The Nutshell #43). In which case, scientifically speaking, it doesn't matter which of the possible brave new worlds we choose. Any one will do.

Curiously, that is not how the world works. The one thing that science has not been able to come to terms with is the phenomenon of conscious choice and intentionality. Or, for that matter, the phenomenon of consciousness itself. Under the present scientific paradigm, study of consciousness would require observing the experience of observing in an infinite regression - a koan-like paradox which science has yet to break through.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

08/19/07 (#0046) Science: the source of all knowledge?

Yes, this is a rare Sunday edition of The Nutshell to make up for the recent irregularities due to events beyond the Editor's control. And what better choice for our Sunday musings than science.

A very simple (and inadequate) definition of science is "knowledge about the world of our experience" ("science" comes from the Latin word "to know"). But what does it mean "to know" something? When we observe something we know what we have observed - sort of. There is the matter of how accurately we have observed, under what circumstances, and from what point of view. All our observations are partial and imperfect - we never observe the totality of an event. Add to that the fact that as soon as the observation has been made it becomes merely a memory of what actually happened and it becomes obvious that there is room for error and uncertainty in what we think we know about what we observed.

It is the genius of science to recognize that all knowledge is incomplete and erroneous to some degree and to try to assess the magnitude of that error. As noted in an earlier Nutshell, knowing your error is the beginning of wisdom and true knowledge. It is the source of the explanatory power of science - science works only with what can actually be known with high degree of certainty and with full awareness of what is not known. It has no agenda other than to discover how the world works, without any preconceptions. Science never believes its own explanations - it puts them to test and even after the test is positive does not consider them "proven" once and for all time but only as provisional practical "truths" subject to continuing testing and refinement.

The success of science in achieving remarkable levels of understanding how the world works (and putting this understanding to practial use) has led to a certain degree of hubris among some scientists who see science as necessarily the sole source of all human knowledge including the knowledge of humanity itself and therefore of such things as joy and happiness and how they may be achieved for one and all. In other words, some scientists see science as leading to the knowledge of good and evil and to the ability to deal with them rationally.

Can this be so? Tune in tomorrow.

Paul W.

08/16/07 (#0045) Mirror for the soul

By my definition, wealth is having the time and the money to freely experience the things and activities you love, shared with the people you love, any time and place that you choose.
It's a fascinating concept to consider, because it can shine a bright light on those things that one considers important in the physical world. My definition of wealth does not consider happiness, which I consider to be completely different and linked to spirituality and well-being, not to resources (time & money) -Mike

It seems that besides requiring leisure (time) and adequate income your defintion also implies well-being. And it involves love which surely links it to "spirituality" (i.e. the irrational intangible values which nevertheless we hold as being of ultimate importance). Sounds like happiness to me...  - The Ed.

Millions, more likely billions of people daily ask God (or gods) for special personal favors, most of them conflicting. Far fewer pause to express gratitude and appreciation for the joys of being. Then there is a goodly number who simply seek guidance, inspiration or understanding. And a smaller number who wish to express their regret for what they see as wrongful actions. These, as far as I can discern, are the four main categories of prayer: petition, appreciation (thanksgiving, praise), seeking and contrition. There are other minor varieties, some of which freak me out, e.g. prayer as punishment.

Even though most petitioning prayers are unreflectively selfish and therefore of no consequence, this type of prayer does have a valid raison d'etre. It's proper function is to focus attention on our real needs and desires - to recognize them, to come to terms with them and, so far as possible, to do something about them (God, it is said, helps those who help themselves). Prayers of appreciation keep us mindful of the fundamental goodness of conscious being. Seeking prayers are meditations on the present situation and the appropriate action under the circumstances. And prayers of contrition lead us to recognize our failures and weaknesses and motivate corrective action.

In every case, prayer is a matter of serious introspection, of facing ourselves, to the extent that we can, as we really are. Even prayers for others are reflections on our personal relationships with those others and on the reasons for what we desire for them. If I were a poet, and if I accepted the conventional notion of the "soul", I'd say that prayer is a mirror for the soul. 

That said, I am not prepared, in my ignorance, to declare that power of prayer lies solely in self-reflective reality checking. When we look in that mirror, who knows what else we may glimpse besides our selves? Who knows what shifts in probabilities of possible futures our clear intentionality may effect? Who knows how the world really works? Not I.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

08/15/07 (#0044) Wealth and income

I consider myself a wealthy man. It's not just a matter of opinion - concrete facts testify to my wealth: I lack nothing in way of basic needs for comfortable and pleasant living, I have virtually unlimited resources for entertainment and learning, and I can pretty much do anything I really want to do. Add to that the fact that I don't have to work at all to maintain my princely existence and my wealth is beyond dispute.

And yet, according to the government statistics, my annual income falls into borderline poverty level. At least by the standards of the United States of America where a great majority are blessed - or cursed - with incomes far greater than mine. Yet many of these people do not consider themselves wealthy. Many are struggling to make ends meet. And some are downright miserable.

As Mr. Micawber noted long ago, happiness is spending one penny less than one's income, misery is spending one penny more. But there's more to it: it's a matter of being satisfied or dissatisfied with what one already has. If one measures one's worth by one's income one can not be satisfied until one has reached the highest possible level. Under this paradigm, a sense of wealth is, in fact, an ultimately unattainable objective, regardless of income.

However, if wealth is measured according to one's capacity for enjoyment of life, income becomes a tool rather than an objective. To some extent the ability to enjoy life is contingent on income, but it does not necessarily increase proportionately with income. It may even decline as income increases. On the other hand, it is possible to achieve a high degree of enjoyment of life on a relatively small income, depending on one's openness to opportunities for enjoyment, sense of proportion, and good management of one's assets.

As for me, I have no idea whether I am enjoying life to the max nor am I particularly concerned about it. I know I am enjoying it. And my income taxes are minimal and that's enjoyable too...

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.

08/14/07 (#0043) Choosing to believe

That faith is necessary to make life meaningful is a given. The only matter for dispute is whether or not it is necessary that life be meaningful. Necessary or not, it seems to me that it is desirable that life be meaningful - simply on the historical evidence that meaningful lives tend to be more satisfactory (joyful) than meaningless ones.

Faith is the acceptance as true of a declaration of a purpose for one's life. The purpose is what gives a life its direction and shape. It provides a framework for all of life's relationships and a way of distinguishing between "good" and "bad" so that the answer to the question "what is a good life?" can actually be attempted. It makes judgement and grace possible. And satisfaction with a job well done.

What the purpose of life may be, beyond mere survival for its own sake, is something that we need to determine for ourselves - we are not born with that knowledge. There are guides: the culture we are raised in with its historical experience and its myths and traditions, our own immediate experience with our capacity for rational analysis, and the teachings of the most brilliant and penetrating minds who have lived among us so far. And then there is the matter of direct revelation from the Ground of All Being - which I consider to be an inevitable fact of conscious life but one which is almost universally obscured, distorted and muffled - and sometimes permanently destroyed -  by cultural influences, misinterpretation of experience and misunderstanding of teaching. It is that ineffable universal something which we usually call "humanity" when speaking of the positive value of being human. It's in our nature, a direct sense of what the purpose of our life ought to be. It's there if we stop and listen. We only need to choose to believe it.

Until tomorrow,

Paul W.