Tag Archives: philosophy

From Ovid’s *Metamorphoses* [Lines on Impermanence and Inter-being];

From Ovid’s Metamorphoses [Lines on Impermanence and Inter-being]; all passages from the Horace Gregory translation (which, unfortunately, does not contain line numbers. The passages appear in the section called “The Philosopher,” who seems to be Pythagoras]

And so I ride (which is my metaphor)
A full-sailed ship upon an endless sea,
A universe where nothing stays the same.
Sea, sky, wind, earth, and time forever changing—
Time like a river in its ceaseless motion:
On, on, each speeding hour cannot stand still,
But as waves, thrust by waves, drive waves before them
So time runs first or follows forever new:
The flying moment gone, what once seemed never
Is now, which vanishes before we say it,
Each disappearing moment in a cycle,
Each loss replaced within the living hour

[Book XV, p. 419]

Nothing retains the shape of what it was,
And Nature, always making old things new,
Proves nothing dies within the universe,
But takes another being in new forms.
What is called birth is change from what we were,
And death the shape of being left behind.
Though all things melt or grow from here to there,
Yet the same balance of the world remains.

Nothing, no nothing keeps its outward show,
For golden ages turn to years of iron;
And Fortune changes many looks of places.
I’ve seen land turn to miles of flood-tossed waters,
Or land rise up within a restless sea;
Shells have been found upon a sanded plain
With never an ocean or a ship in sight,
Someone has seen an anchor turn to rust,
Caught among brushes on a mountaintop.
Stormed by great cataracts, a wide plateau
Turns to a valley and Spring floods have swept
Far hills into chambers of the sea.
And where a swamp once flowed beneath the willows,
Is now a strip of sand, and where a desert was,
A little lake sways under growing reeds.
[p. 421-22]


*Hamlet*–impermanence and inter-being

Hamlet [5.1.198-205]


Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander
returneth to dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make
loam; and why of that loam whereto he was converted
might they not stop a beer barrel?
Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.
O, that that earth which kept the world in awe
Should patch a wall t’ expel the winter’s flaw!

4.3.26-30 [King=K, Hamlet=H]
H: A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a
king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

K: What dost thou mean by this?

Nothing but to show you how a king may go a
progress through the guts of a beggar.

“Childhood and Golden Days” –The Rambling Prose of Paul Burgess [Entry 6]

People often view childhood nostalgically as a happier, less troubled time, but few of them when children enjoyed the carefree, exuberantly happy existence that they associate with childhood. Adults often trivialize children’s problems and think, “I wish had problems as ‘serious’ as those of the children.” What these adults fail to recognize is that a child’s pain when, for example, not picked for a playground sports team is sometimes as acute as that felt by an adult dealing with social or sexual rejection.

When adults think that they would like to be children again, they likely mean that they would like to be a child/adult hybrid. They would need their current perspectives to appreciate being children; after all, children usually want to be adults. Adults have the freedoms a child wants but have little time in which to enjoy them, and children have the time an adult would like but not the freedom to use that time as they please.

It is easy to remain nostalgic about “Golden Days” of history or one’s life because these times cannot be repeated. In other words, there is no danger of experience clashing with and contradicting one’s idealizations because there is no possibility of putting the imagination to the test of reality.

“Thomas Hobbes”

When influential monarchist Thomas Hobbes
Suggests that men in nature are like brutes,
The modern readers say, between their sobs,
“I guess some haven’t left behind their roots.”

“Skepticism” (the Parable of the Boulder Explained) [The Rambling Prose of Paul Burgess]

“Skepticism” [The Parable of the Boulder Explained…as if someone need or wanted an explanation;)]
-Skepticism would benefit from being rebranded “suspension of judgment.” [“Agnosticism” would not be an adequate substitute because the term, now associated almost exclusively with religious beliefs, carries a negative connation—likely resulting from some people’s conflation of it with “atheism”. ] Despite the popular misunderstanding that skeptics insist on contrary positions’ correctness, true skeptics refuse to assert confidently that any position is beyond doubt.
-Considering skeptics’ reservations about proclaiming truths, I find it bizarre that so many people call skeptics “arrogant” for having the audacity to challenge “certainties” that have held for centuries. One might more appropriately attach the label of “arrogance” to the skeptics’ “humble” critics who defer arrogantly to traditional authority. The “endurance=truth” equation falters because beliefs—after becoming part of a culture’s inheritance—were placed in the realm of the untouchable, and anyone who would question them would face powerful opponents. Traditions often last so long because they are defended fiercely and remain unchallenged. If a fort is never attacked, should we praise its endurance? Endurance in the realm of ideas should mean little if a position endures only because it has not been considered honestly by those holding it. A rock might lie on the floor for centuries if no one touches it, and it might eventually come to seem immovable. Much of the rock’s apparent strength derives from its defenders who—despite claiming to believe in its immovability—zealously guard the door to the room in which it rests. Why not let people handle the rock to experience firsthand its immovability?

[To be continued and probably revised…]

“The Great Ideal”–The Rambling Prose of Paul Burgess [Entry 4]

“The Great Ideal”
An ideal state, sometimes called “perfection,” remains “ideal” only until it is seemingly realized. Perhaps the “Great Ideal” is the existence of unfulfilled ideals that, like mirages of oases in the desert, compel travelers to keep seeking. The mirage, remaining distant regardless of one’s progress, is more beautiful than the handful of sand slipping through the fingers of travelers who, having reached an illusory oasis, try to cup its water.

“On Inconsistency”–The Rambling Prose of Paul Burgess [Entry 3]

“On Inconsistency”

How unfair it is to criticize a thinker for changing a view considered earlier or perhaps only briefly! Should thinkers revere what they have written? Should they defend it, as if it were a child, solely because they gave birth to it? Should they cease to question, to explore, to consider? Should authors treat their own words as dogma to be defended rather than blocks on which they and others can build? When being refuted would better serve the advancement of knowledge, should ideas become pieces that thinkers must force into a scheme and view solely with an eye for “evidence” and “confirmation”? Why make consistent adherence, i.e. stubbornness, such a virtue?

The stigma of “fickleness” should attach only to those who change views for so-called “pragmatic reasons”. Those deserving this stigma are insincere political “flip-floppers,” trend-chasing courters of academic acclaim, and avowed intellectuals interested  only in greater mass appeal and the profit and fame that accompany such appeal; in other words, the fickle are those who only pretend to seek the noblest way or purest truth. There should be no shame in ceasing to hold a weak or false position once presented with a better alternative. What some call “inconsistency” is sometimes intellectual growth, maturity, and integrity. It requires more courage to say, “I was wrong,” than to persist in error or—as some people do—to deny that one ever held the discredited view by switching slyly to the new view once it receives authority’s sanction or attains popular acceptance.

“On the Relation of Pleasant Past Memories to the Present and Future”–The Rambling Prose of Paul Burgess [Entry 2]

“On the Relation of Pleasant Past Memories to Present and Future”
1st Version: Clinging to a ‘better’ past state fills the present with unsatisfied desire that we experience as suffering; the present becomes the time in which we mourn the passing of a better time and dream of a future in which that ‘better state’, experienced in the past, will be re-attained. [Ghosts of past joy become present misery that will lead to future misery because one will continually experience the present as the time in which better days have passed and better days are hoped for. The present is transformed into memory-induced suffering. People spend much of the present mourning that which has passed and that which might not come; anxieties ruining the “now” often relate to obsessive desire to recover past joy and fear that such recovery will not be achieved. ]* As long as we experience the present in this way, we condemn ourselves to lives made of present moments in which we mourn the past and anticipate the future.

I think I could compress everything above into the following two sentences:

2nd version: Clinging to a ‘better’ past state fills the present with unsatisfied desire that we experience as suffering; the present becomes the time in which we mourn the passing of a better time and dream of a future in which that ‘better state’, experienced in the past, will be re-attained. As long as we experience the present in this way, we condemn ourselves to lives made of present moments in which we mourn the past and anticipate the future.

I would appreciate constructive feedback regarding the comparative effectiveness of the two versions. Believing that concision is the best policy, I prefer the second version.

Frustration and Staying Present–the Rambling Prose of Paul Burgess [Entry 1]

“Frustration and Staying Present”

Frustration often arises when things, people, and other forces in the external world fail to react as we had hoped or to yield as immediately and painlessly to our control as we had wished. We often become frustrated when multitasking—which includes thinking about one thing while doing another—results in mistakes. For example, while making plans for the day or watching television, we might pour our coffee carelessly and make a mess. Then, the mess, which we have to clean, frustrates us because it challenges our illusion of control over the external situation; contrary to what feeling “so busy” might lead us to assume, multitasking has made us less efficient. Rather than recognize our accident’s relation to our dispersed mind, we tend to blame our luck and to say to ourselves things that suggest that the world is conspiring to ruin our day.

People who claim to have no time for this “mindfulness, staying in the present mumbo-jumbo” underestimate the extent to which being somewhere else, such as the “future”, makes us less efficient in the present.

Storytime with Dr. Burgess (Entry#1)

“The Parable of the Boulder”
A mighty man once moved a boulder that his people had deemed immovable. For this feat, he was made leader.

During his lifetime, other individuals tried unsuccessfully to prove their strength by moving the boulder. Witnessing the futile attempts eventually convinced the people that the leader was the only person on Earth who could move the boulder and that he must be a deity. Once the leader was deified, the boulder became a monument to his divinity, touching the boulder became a crime punishable by death, and guards were set to watch the boulder night and day.

For centuries, no one was allowed to touch the boulder, and suggestions that someone should try to move it were met with outrage and accusations of impiety; the would-be boulder-movers were scorned for having the arrogance to mistrust hundreds of years of testimony and tradition testifying to the boulder’s immovability, and they were called heretics for believing that they or others might be able to perform an act achievable only by their deity.

One day—when his colleague fell asleep—a guard, overcome by curiosity, decided to give the boulder a try. To his surprise, he moved it quite easily. Once aware of the situation, and after overcoming his initial outrage, the colleague tried and found that he too could move the boulder without great difficulty.

On being informed of the feat, the guards’ superior had them executed after demonstrating their guilt with the following syllogisms:

Syllogism 1:
Minor Premise: Neither of the guards is the Deity or His reincarnation.
Major Premise: A person who is not the Deity or His reincarnation could not move the boulder; in other words, a person cannot do the impossible.
Conclusion: Therefore, the guards could not move the boulder; in other words, they cannot do the impossible.

Syllogism 2:
Minor Premise: The guards are people who claim to have done the impossible.
Major Premise: All people who claim to have done the impossible are lying, suffering from delusions, or producing unholy illusions.
Conclusion: Therefore, the guards are lying, suffering from delusions, or producing unholy illusions.

Syllogism 3:
Minor Premise: The guards are people who are lying, suffering from delusions, or producing unholy illusions.
Major Premise: People who are lying, suffering from delusions, or producing unholy illusions are possessed by demons and must be put to death.
Conclusion: Therefore, the guards are possessed by demons and must be put to death.

Centuries later, an archaeological dig revealed that most of the deified man’s contemporaries had brittle bones and were far smaller than him. The researchers discovered that the ancient leader was what some might call an average-sized man living among pygmies.