My private life:

My concentration is on three areas, two are more academic than the third (which will not be discussed here). Those two are language/literature and philosophy/history. Why do I designate these as duel topics? Language may be seen as a science: knowledge of language development, language learning, the speaking apparatus, and so on; or art, the spoken word, rhetoric, and writing. Language (or linguistics) is the science, and literature the art. As for philosophy, this means the “love of knowledge.” In Chinese the word is 哲学 zhe’xue, the study of wisdom. May we say, the love of knowledge for the sake of wisdom – the knowledge of ultimate rather proximate causes (as one might discover in science). Wisdom, like art, is intuitive, and is built on a foundation of knowledge and observation. Philosophy is the love of knowledge and is usually associated with observation, musing and dialectic (language as a mode of discovery). I pair this with history because this builds a framework of knowledge to work with, and feeds the intuition to seek ultimate causes which the conscious effort cannot attain.

As for language/literature, I currently divide this into three sections: Chinese language practice, linguistics (a science), and the history and practice of literature or writing (English, English translations of other languages, and Mandarin). While I have spent much time on this (lacking mostly in linguistics) over recent years, by speaking fluently in and teaching Mandarin, and reading extensively of classic literature, I am more focused on the philosophy/history partition of my studies now.

As for those philosophy and history studies, I am surveying Western philosophy by way of some books on history of philosophy, and reading several philosophers (pre-Socratics, Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Lucretius, Epictetus, Seneca, Cicero, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Bacon, Machiavelli, Descartes, Spinoza, Voltaire, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Emerson, Thoreau, Steiner, Gibran, the Chinese classics Laozi, Zhuangzi, Kongzi and Mengzi, and Youlan Feng, and the study and practice of Buddhist philosophy, ethics and meditation, some dabbling in others and more to come). I am now concentrating on learning The Trivium, the classical, Medieval, liberal education (grammar, elementary logic and rhetoric), after which I intend to study mathematics and Aristotle. It was said that a student must be adept at language and mathematics before becoming a pupil of Plato, so this I intend to do (though only a student of text). In addition, I have begun a survey of world history and basic prehistory of humans and anthropology. Also, I intend to put to use a side interest in mnemonics and the history of memory techniques, using mental imagery to memorize several of these subjects.

Language/Literature

a. Mandarin (interests in Cantonese, Japanese, Thai, German and Russian)
b. Linguistics (speaking apparatus, language learning and development)
c. Literature (and rhetoric, reading and writing, logically and poetically)

Philosophy/History

a. Pre-requisites (The Trivium, Quadrivium, Plato, Aristotle, other Ancient philosophy)
b. Texts (reading actual philosophical texts)
d. History (world, philosophy, pre-history)

The intent is to combine all of these studies in the art of self expression, i.e. writing, speaking, and in turn, continued character development, applying myself daily in the world. Without this, philosophy is nothing, rabble. Philosophy does not make one good, but it does make one informed, for thoughtfulness is the only true information, true knowledge, true power, to be, something.

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Awakened – In a room of my own

Friday, 22 September, 2017 – 01:08

How rare it is that I find myself awake at this hour, and not working. My mind is a ticking time bomb, and it has been stuffed away in a pressure cooker for over a year. You see, I come awake at night, but not in the talkative, jolly, intoxicated and social way. No. I awaken within, I am intoxicated within, and thence drawn to heights and highs of thought and knowledge. For what intoxicant is greater than knowledge and its exercise (save, perhaps, love)? For the past year I worked most nights, and slept through the few that I had to myself. Now, I am freed of that work, and I find myself awake, at night, and alive with thoughts. I lay there in bed for hours, four hours, without sleep, before I realized, this is my time!

And where did my thoughts take me? I can’t quite recall where they began. Probably, I was thinking of a dear friend who is soon to leave on a great journey. At some point, however, I picked up a book, A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf, and then my mind wandered to other places: what environment does a creative mind need to flourish? how were women in history kept from that environment? why do we keep people from that environment? why is racism so pervasive in our time? why do people think culture belongs to a race, and how do they not realize that is itself racist? how can I light the flame of youth within me? how can I be a leader, and have wit, and care, and develop as a philosopher in my day-to-day life? how and why have a strayed from this path? is it all because I had not my evenings to myself? How thoughts love to wander.

I rose from my bed, and prepared some tea, an aged and heavily roasted oolong from Taiwan, the “Old Tea King.” This tea usually has two effects on me, besides being rich and delicious. They are, it deepens and steadies my thoughts, and it makes me sleep well. Unfortunately, I will not be able to cash in on the latter, because I do, in fact, have to go on duty in a few hours, and will not be sleeping at all tonight; but for now I shall cash in on the former effect, of deeper and steadier thoughts.

I intended to sit at my journal and write on the topic of creativity, and the environment needed to express it, but ended up here, writing for the world. Perhaps that environment is different for everyone. For my part, I can say that the evening hours are almost necessary, fasting for some time helps, and a slight stimulant, as in the tea I described above. Some excellent literature or conversation with a intellectually challenging individual proceeding my “creative expression” is also of some help. Perhaps the most important element is that drive that all creative people feel. That love of it. For it is that love that keeps us awake at night – as love has a way of doing.

And about this world I have awoken into… my God! (shall I define her for you?) What madness has possessed people? Since when did arrogance and indulgence become respectable human traits? I hear this talk of some people, let’s call the blue people, stealing the culture from some other people, we’ll call them the green people. The talk says that the blue people hate the green people because they are green, but think that the green people are ‘cool’ and want to be like them, want to adopt their culture. It goes further on to say that if you disagree with this theory, that you definitely hate green people, because they are green. Then, by application of logic we see that, because hating people because they are colored any particular color is ‘racist,’ and disagreeing with the theory means you hate people because of a color, then anyone who disagrees with the theory must be racist. Furthermore, racism is considered such a bad trait to have that racist people are ignored and even threatened with violence, so that anyone who disagrees with the theory must, because they are racist, keep their mouth shut or risk ostracization (to be ostracized) or even death. So, blue people are racist because they hate green people, and if you disagree with this you are racist, and in either case, you should keep your mouth shut or risk bodily harm.

Wait… let’s back up a moment. The theory says that blue people hate green people. Blue people hating green people would be racism on the part of the blue people, right? To hate another based on a physical characteristic (a racial feature) is racism, right? Now, if blue people are automatically put in the category of racist, that means they are already hated by all, because racism is detestable. But wait… I’m being completely serious here… Doesn’t this make the imposers of the theory themselves racist, for hating a group of people for being racist, because that group of people (in this case blue) are identified as being racist by their color (a racial feature)?

You see? This is why I feel sick whenever people talk of this. I grew up fairly ignorant of race and racism. Then, my cultural education taught me to recognize various traits, cultural and racial, in people. On the racial side we have physical characteristics – bone structure, hair type, eyelids, body size and stature, intolerants and allergies, and… oh yes, skin color. No single set of traits is universal in any group of people, and most traits are mixed throughout.

Then, I learned about racism. There are two people: Caucasian and black. Somehow these words are politically correct, yet completely absurd. A native (someone born in the place they reside, not a Native American) of North Africa or of, say, Thailand is probably more Caucasian than I am, with my light skin (which more accurately predicts my recent ancestors as being Northern-European rather than Middle-Eastern, i.e. Caucasian). And a person with dark brown or black skin may well have grown up in Indonesia. Racism isn’t a hatred or a prejudice. Racism is the filing of people into cultural categories based on one superficial trait, namely, skin color. We could call lighter skinned people and darker skinned people anything we want, blue and green perhaps, and the result would be no different. How many black people are black? How many Caucasians come from the Caucasus region? How many white people are white, or European? How many Asians have long black hair? What about Native Americans? What do Mexicans and Macanese have in common? How about Vietnamese and South African? What do Americans have in common?

This is what happens when I stay awake, or rather, awaken in the night. This is where my mind wanders to. The pressure cooker has been keeping these thoughts warm, and the pressure has been building. My arguments are no doubt unsound, and faulty. What they need is a questioner, and what I need is a people willing to be questioned? If I may say one more absurdity about the world I have awoken into. Since when did statements become more fashionable than questions? What if the chess player, in order to practice, said to himself all day long “I will win,” instead of studying, playing against himself, and against his peers? What if the cancer patient told the clouds her wish, instead of studying and seeking experts in the field of cancer treatment? What if the “leader of the free world” simply told people what to do, instead of seeking to know their wishes and advices?

And now I have finished my porridge, and my mind is growing dull and tired.

Thanksgiving, For What?

Wednesday, 23 November, 2016

Thanksgiving ~ Is a holiday, where we celebrate what we have to be thankful for. Is my mind so dark that I should think there is nothing to be thankful for? All the great thinkers have taught us, that our well-being in life is on our own shoulders to bear. We may practice a freedom from desire and carving, as the Buddha suggests. We may celebrate our struggles, living out the Greek tragedies. We may recognize our place and be content as a part of nature, as the followers of the Tao. Or perhaps we can embrace love, and find happiness and satisfaction in wishing, praying, and giving to others as the Mesopotamian prophets.

Some of us are born into wealth, and live out our lives in the shadow of spiritual poverty. Some are born in shackles, and are enlightened through an ascetic life. The slave-become-philosopher. The prince-become-tyrant. The truth is, we are all born into a bondage, and we all suffer the pangs of our conscience. No one can fathom the individual struggles of their fellow beings, and when we try to share it seems that burden is only harshly coughed out of our lungs, dissipating in a cloud of black smoke which, at best, receives a kind of annoyed attention by our listener. Rare it is to find the one who will inhale our smoke, but even then we are only sharing the waste, the remnants of our pain, in imperfect expressions. And even then, we feel ashamed to have spent that waste on our listener.

So, happiness is found within, and that other thing found within, the pain, cannot be fully passed on. What difference does it make if I have a hot steamy turkey stuffed with the green and orange guts of vegetation, or cold socks in wet shoes, with the ice cold wind on my cheeks? Either way, there is a sentimental element, a kind of happiness, and a kind of pain. Besides, from my own experience, the freezing cold of hypothermia, like dehydration, is one of the more pleasant kinds of sleepiness, not unlike the kind which comes from eating more than one’s share of turkey meat.

So, what have we to be thankful for, really? We are where we are, by way of our actions and our fate. We are responsible for our happiness, and creativity comes from struggle. We should be thankful, then, for our pain, our ill health, or poor positions, our dying life. Let our successes and happinesses thank themselves.

Milton Syme

Plato’s Unwritten Lessons

I have read somewhere that there are lessons which Plato did not preserve in his writing. Had I not heard this, it would seem obvious enough. I think any student of anything would understand that there are things which you can learn from a teacher, and then there are things which are written down. In the case of Plato, his writing seems primarily a form of art, and to the receiver a kind of entertainment. Now, here I should say that I am only speculating, and that my knowledge of Plato is quite limited, and I have not read all of his works (though I wish one day I might know them all well). Perhaps, if some knowledgeable reader stumbles by they might enlighten me on the subject. What I am thinking, the thoughts I am now putting down in writing, are just that, thoughts.

Imagine you’re a philosopher in the 5th century B.C.; what sort of skills would you need? Particularly if you are of an aristocratic class, and probably don’t have too many pressing chores to do (that is, you may have chores, but sustaining your body is not a concern with regard to accomplishing those chores). Better yet, imagine you are a philosopher. Sure, now days some people get degrees in philosophy, and become professional philosophers, possibly in the form of a university professor; but, this is not representative of the common type, in my opinion (need that be said… in my opinion?). The philosopher generally is not paid for her or his work. He or she philosophizes on their own, of their own accord. How do they do this? Is this the same as going for a jog, or watching the television? Can one simply read some books and become a philosopher? Maybe this is the real question I’m asking. Is the philosopher one who has knowledge (by way of the love of knowledge), or is the philosopher one who practices knowledge? Quoting Plato (having knowledge of his works) might make me sound interesting, but it doesn’t make me any more a philosopher than being suave in a foreign country would make me a James Bond? So, what’s the practice? What does the philosopher do?

Two obvious points come to mine, which we can discern from Plato’s work. One, a philosopher needs time to think, and a philosopher needs a store of knowledge, or better yet, wisdom (feel free to discuss that one). Now, for most people, if we just sit down to think, the first thing that comes up might be something about a project at work, or cleaning the room, or what the next program is on television (who watches television anyway?), or who was that person who smiled at me on the bus, and so on. So, the philosopher needs a method by which to think, and to remain focused on the thought in order to develop it. Maybe we can call this dialectic, if we like. Have you ever tried dialectic on yourself?

As for that other thing, storage of knowledge – do you keep your school notes? Can you recall everything you wrote down? What do you think Plato used to take notes on in the 5th century B.C.? Maybe a made-in-China notebook, with ruled pages, and a little quote on the cover that said something like “stay far away from computer, be happy life.”

So, a philosopher needs to learn how to think, and how to remember. What else does the philosopher need? If my own memory serves me well, the idea of wisdom, as discussed by Socrates and his young pals, is something about knowledge of the good. And good has something to do with benefiting people. Of course, it’s not quite so simple, but I don’t intend to answer the question with any more certainty than Socrates at this point. I raise the topic so that we may recognize that wisdom may, in fact, be a practice, and not a storage. The philosopher builds wisdom through experience and learning, and applies it to build more.

I’d like to look at two other philosophers, around at a similar time, but in very different places. Let’s take Confucius. This guy, much like Socrates, is a pain to be around, unless you are interested in wisdom. He seems, according to what his students wrote, to be highly obsessed with political structures, and family relations. I have reason to believe he also knew much of the Tao, but left credit for that to his ol’ pal Laozi (should we call him Laocius?). Now, as with many religions, a lot of people see his teachings as teachings, or codes to live by. Perhaps he was only observing the world, and the way the Tao functioned in human social structures, and tried to apply this wisdom, to practice it. Is this any different then having knowledge of what is beneficial for people (wisdom) and applying that, as Plato talks about?

The other philosopher I intend to bring to the table, if he should decide to leave his tree for a moment, is Siddhartha Gautama. Here too, we have a philosopher who managed to learn a lot of things about human relations, and taught people these things. Now, it is quite well known that the core of his wisdom practice was, what we popularly call, meditation. This is a method of seeing clearly, past the façade presented to us by the sense organs, through the shadows on the wall (not even they are shadows).

The philosopher needs to be equipped with certain tools. Where the craftsman has his hammer and drill, and the warrior has his body and weapons, the philosopher has his time, his meditations, his memory, and his wisdom, which are all in constant use and practice, and not set aside when it’s time to go to work.

What does the philosopher need? What lessons must the philosopher learn? How does the philosopher go beyond reading and talking, and into practicing?

The Great Tree

Friday, 29 January, 2016
A Parable, By Milton Syme

One day, a mother crow was hoping around on the ground at the base of a large tree, when she heard a group of earthworms talking. One earthworm said to the other, “This tree grows tall and strong, so that it may gather enough energy from the sun, and grow these massive roots to help keep the soul soft and healthy.” The mother crow, thinking this talk absolutely absurd, plucked up the earthworm and carried him away into her nest in the great tree.

While the chicks were eating their breakfast in the nest, the mother crow told them of the earthworms’ talk. She warned them of the earthworms ways, and reminded them of the real purpose of the great tree; “The great tree grows such massive roots so that it may gather enough nutrients to grow strong bows, where we may build our homes, safe from the dangers below.”

The great tree looked down upon the crows, and upon the earthworms, and smiled at their naivety. Then the great tree looked up to the sky and breathed in a wash of light, and was satisfied to be able to help so many creatures.

And sun smiled down on the great tree.

An Exploration of Literature: A Year of Sleepless Nights

Original Title, written on 25 September, 2014:

Literature Exploration of the Summer of 2014

New Title, as of 20 May, 2015:

An Exploration of Literature: A Year of Sleepless Nights

I am writing this, partially as a personal account and review of the work I have done, but also to inform my friends and relatives what it is that has weighed so heavily on my mind the past year. While it may seem I am busy with a stressful graveyard schedule, and various work preparations, it is the following which has, actually, been most forefront in my mind, and most taxing to my energy. However, the way in which such studies tax the energy, is one which also produces energy. (The taxed energy is physical, whereas the produced energy is willful, and far more powerful and sustaining. If the world knew of this secret there would be far fewer cases of overconsumption of the edible kind. For, the brain consumes far more than the body, and in it’s consumption, spurs the body on to more labors. Not only is more energy used in this work, but the labor also limits time for oral consumption – by doing we forego – and unites the mind more clearly with the body, such that the overconsumption of food can be immediately recognized and, in this light, uncomfortable: it fatigues the mind, and frustrates it by hindering its will.)

Toward the end of March, in the year 2014, I began working a graveyard security shift in a building in Downtown Seattle. Due to the large amount of unsupervised, and unpopulated downtime, and the long lonely roves of the thirty-six floors of the building, I made a project to survey the literature of the English language during my work. The list which follows is the almost complete list of everything I studied, while at work, and being paid – though a meager wage – from March to September of that year. [edit: The list has actually been updated on having resigned that post during the month of May, 2015, after just a month past one year of service.]

I made a point to listen to the English literature in audio form, rather than read, firstly because I spent so many hours roving the building alone, in the dark, and secondly, because the mass amount of new vocabulary and expressions would have significantly slowed me down. By listening to audio recordings, those vocabulary and expressions are learned more naturally, in the same way a child learns to speak by listening. However, the effect of learning these vocabulary and expressions will not likely reveal itself too quickly, for I tend to write more than I talk, and even that I have little time for. Hence, I have made massive lists of vocabulary words to practice and use, which will, some day, be natural to my speech.

I then left most of the philosophical surveys, foreign language philosophers, and modern literature (mostly science-fiction) to my sit-down reading time, which I also had plenty of time for. That is not to say that these books did not also have new vocabulary for me. In contrary, they had much, specifically in the language of philosophy. Much of the vocabulary in the science-fiction works is modern and known to me, though in many cases coined by the authors in their time. In the cases of the translated philosophers, there was a large amount of new vocabulary, often of a historical period, or of a political nature. There is much reason, in these cases, to give my regards to the translators, who have such capable vocabularies, to accurately translate the works in question, and thence include the occasional uses of Greek, Latin, and the expressions from other languages.

Someone reviewing what I have read may note some of the books are sequels in a series of novels. To my knowledge I have read all of the previous books in those series before reading the sequel during this particular time period. Also, in some cases, I was re-reading a particular book which I enjoyed.

The list is chronologically organized by the author’s life, and not in the order in which I read the works. However, for the audio portion, I mostly surveyed the literature in a chronological order, so as to better understand the allusions in each.

I am not yet certain as to when I will publish this list [as I edit this in May of 2015, I am preparing to publish], as I do not intend to make it public while working under this current employer. They may be unhappy if they were to discover how efficiently I spent my time, and thereby not only enjoyed my work, but still conducted the expected tasks better than most. For, as I have said, the will gives inhuman powers, and is spurred on by higher thinking. During this time period, while on the clock, I have also written a small book on Wing Chun, and done significant study in Medical Interpreting and Law Enforcement test preparation. The amount of work involved in both doing a job, and studying so profusely is, for many, incomprehensible, and that is how I do it undetected – for my employers and my co-workers cannot understand something incomprehensible. It is customary for workers in my position to find something to “pass” the time, such as a newspaper, or now days, the incessant obsession with tele-electric social networking. My time was, instead, spent enduring, lasting, and persisting. Rather than short and meaningless (which seems to be the fashion), my time was made longer and purposeful.

The list follows, first what I read in print, and second what I listened to in audio:


Books in Print:

Laozi 571-531 BC

: : Dao De Jing (trans. David Hinton)

Kongzi (Confucius) 551-479 BC

: : Lunyu (trans. David Hinton)

Plato 428-348 BC

: : Charmides (trans. J. Harward)

: : Lysis (trans. J. Harward)

: : Laches (trans. J. Harward)

: : Protagoras (trans. J. Harward)

Zhuangzi 369-286 BC

: : Zhuangzi (trans. David Hinton)

Mengzi (Mencius) 372-289 BC

: : Mengzi (trans. David Hinton)

Niccolo Machiavelli 1469-1527

: : The Prince (trans. Bondanella and Musa) (re-read)

: : The Discourses (abridged,trans. Bondanella and Musa)

: : A Fable: Belfagor, The Devil Who Took a Wife (trans. Bondanella and Musa)

: : The Mandrake Root (trans. Bondanella and Musa)

: : The Art of War (abridged, trans. Bondanella and Musa)

: : The Life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca (trans. Bondanella and Musa)

: : The History of Florance (abridged, trans. Bondanella and Musa)

: : [various other abridged works, essays and letters from The Vicking Prtable Library]

Stendhal 1783-1842

: : The Red and The Black (trans. Lloyd C. Parks)

Fyodor Dostoevsky 1821-1881

: : The Idiot (trans. Constance Garnett)

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900

: : Thus Spoke Zarathustra (trans. Kaufmann)

: : Twilight of the Idols (trans. Kaufmann)

: : The Antichrist (trans. Kaufmann)

: : [various other abridged works, essays and letters from The Vicking Prtable Library]

Bertrand Russell 1872-1970

: : The History of Western Philosophy

Will Durant 1885-1981

: : The Story of Philosophy

Aldous Huxley 1894-1963

: : Brave New World

Fung Yu-Lan 1895-1990

: : A Short History of Chinese Philosophy (trans Derk Bodde)

Frances Yates 1899-1981

: : The Art of Memory

George Orwell 1903-1950

: : Nineteen Eighty-Four

Isac Osimov 1920-1992

: : Foundation and Empire (sequal to Foundation)

Frank Herbert 1920-1986

: : Dune

Paddy Chayefsky 1923-1981

: : Altered States

John le Carre 1931-

: : The Spy Who Came In From the Cold

Michael Chrichton 1942-2008

: : Jurassic Park

William Gibson 1948-

: : Neuromancer (re-read)

: : The Peripheral

Orson Scott Card 1951-

: : Speaker for the Dead (sequal to Ender’s Game)


Books in Audio:

William Shakespeare 1564-1616

: : Much Ado About Nothing

: : All’s Well That Ends Well

John Milton 1608-1674

: : Paradise Lost (re-read)

: : Paradise Regained

: : Samson Agonistes

Daniel Defoe 1660-1741

: : Robinson Crusoe

Alexander Pope 1688-1744

: : Essay on Man

Voltaire 1694-1778

: : Candide

Henry Fielding 1707-1754

: : The Life and Death of -Johnathan Wild- the Great

: : The History of -Tom Jones- a Foundling

Samuel Johnson 1709-1784

: : Plan and Preface to a Dictionary

Oliver Goldsmith 1730-1774

: : The Vicar of Wakefield

William Wordsworth 1770-1850

: : Lyrical Ballads (with Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

Sir Walter Scott 1771-1832

: : The Lady of the Lake (did not finish)

Jane Austen 1775-1817

: : Sense and Sensibility

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley 1797-1851

: : The Last Man

: : Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus

Edgar Allan Poe 1809-1849

: : The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfall

: : The Gold Bug

: : Four Beasts in One – The Homo-Cameleopard

: : The Murders in the Rue Morgue

: : The Mystery of MArie Roget

: : The Balloon Hoax

: : Manuscript Found in a Bottle

: : The Oval Portrait

: : The Purloined Letter

: : The Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherezade

: : A Descent into the Maelstrom

: : Von Kempelen and His Discovery

: : Mesmeric Revelation

: : The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar

: : The Black Cat

: : The Fall of the House of Usher

: : Silence – A Fable

: : The Masque of the Red Death

: : The Cask of Amontillado

: : The Imp of the Perverse

: : The Assignation

: : The Pit and the Pendulum

: : The Premature Burial

: : The Domain of Arnheim

: : Landor’s Cottage

: : William Wilson

: : The Tale-Tale Heart

: : Berenice

: : Eleanora

Charles Dickens 1812-1870

: : Little Dorrit

George Eliot 1819-1880

: : Middlemarch

Mark Twain 1835-1910

: : The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

: : The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

: : How to Tell a Story and Other Essays

Rudolf Steiner 1861-1925

: : The Education of the Child and Early Lectures

: : Theosophy

: : Anthroposophy: A Fragment

Walter Kaufmann 1921-1980

: : Lecture: Kierkegaard and the Crisis in Religion

: : Lecture: Nietzsche and the Crisis in Philosophy

: : Lecture: Sartre and the Crisis in Morality

Howard Zinn 1922-2010

: : A People’s History of the United States

William Gibson 1948-

: : Neuromancer (re-read/listen)

: : Neuromancer BBC Radio Drama

Neal Stephenson 1959-

: : Snow Crash (re-read/listen)


Ghost Story Collection (short stories):

Algernon Blackwood

: : The Empty House

Bram Stoker

: : The Judge’s House

Saki

: : Laura

E. Nesbit

: : Man-size in Marble

: : Uncle Abraham’s Romance

: : The Ebony Frame

Lewis Carroll

: : Phantasmagoria

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

: : Schalken the Painter

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

: : The Shadows on the Wall

Anonymous

: : Tales of Treasure

Charles Dickens

: : The Trial for Murder

H.P. Lovecraft

: : The Beast in the Cave

Gertrude Atherton

: : The Bell in the Fog

John Kendrick Bangs

: : The Ghost Club

: : A Midnight Visitor

: : A Psychical Prank

: : A Quicksilver Cassandra

: : The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall

Mark Twain

: : A Ghost Story

H.G. Wells

: : The Red Room

Elia Wilkonson Peattie

: : An Astral Onion

: : On the Northern Ice

Ellis Parker Butler

: : The Chromatic Ghosts of Thomas

Elliot O’Donnell

: : Glamis Castle

Rihard le Gallienne

: : The Haunted Orhard

Arnold Bennett

: : Phantom

Rudyard Kipling

: : The Return of Imray

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

: : Since I Died

Thomas Hardy

: : The Withered Arm

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

: : The Yellow Wallpaper

The Birth of Thought

The Birth of Thought

Milton Syme

Written on Thursday, 22 May, 2014

How does one enter into the world of thought, ideas, words, expression and wisdom?

I find that it is as though life goes in stages. First the infant must rear his body into self identity, into self awareness or consciousness. Consciousness then comes, suddenly and unexpectedly, it seems, in a moment of solitude, like walking home from school, alone. Then, in this state of self awareness, the youth is smacked upside the face with reality, the result of being suddenly confronted with the enormity of information the brain had been processing but, up until that point, kept to it self. For some the information load is too great and they decline into a gentle, but sustaining ignorance, often through conditioned ideology, such as religion, faith, or some other moral structure, and live, more or less, happily ever after, depending on the moral structure they adopt. For others, ignorance cannot be reached, and those ones tend to sink down into depression, intoxication, and chemically induced denial and detachment from reality.

Some, however, reach helplessly into the Heavens, and their ambition presents as restlessness, and their helplessness, only a temporary state of inexperience. These ones are often suppressed by their superiors – that is superior in might but not in mind – and often disappear into strange underground realms of success where those superiors cannot touch them. I, for I am who this is about, had the fortune of being raised in an environment where restlessness was allowed, drudgingly tolerated, and rarely suppressed.

During this stage of life a madness sinks in such that the individual may cope with the vast amount of information being presented to them. Madness is necessary, because, to these individuals, instinct keeps them subconsciously unable to conform entirely to any particular ideology, religion, or other ethical structure by which they may appropriately interact with their environment. Madness is their mask of sanity. In order for an individual to interact appropriately with a community of other human beings, a common system of morals is required, otherwise the individual becomes antagonistic to the community, and is shunned. For many this system comes in the form of a complete ideology to which they are devoted, such as religion. For many, these morals are taught by the family, an ethical code of conduct, which is likely the unconscious result of religious conditioning, which in America, where I grew up, is largely based on the Judeo-Christian tradition. Some societies, however, grow up without religion, but still have strongly conditioned ethical codes. This is often the case, for example, in mainland China, where the Confucian tradition has left a basis for strong family ties and prescribed modes of inter-familial communication, even lasting through the cultural reforms of the last century.

For my part, ideology was not so simple. Sure, growing up in 21st century America, I went to church once in a while, and no doubt absorbed the Judeo-Christian conditioning of my parents, greater family, friends and community. Still, my value system grew out of something more complex. I grew up with tales of might and cunning from Homer to J.R.R. Tolkien.

In primary school I was introduced not only to the teachings of various large scale religions, but I also attended pipe circles and was sent on Native American vision quests; I studied Greek and Norse mythology; celebrated the Day of the Dead, and sat in Shinto shrines and practiced the Japanese tea ceremony. Yet, for the most part there was little conscious absorption of these systems of thought into my conditioning. I suspect this is partially because of a unique learning style, but also because of a lack of care. Something deep inside of me was aware of primacy, the laws of nature, which, I knew intuitively, lack morality and are beautifully brutal.

I began to make sense of this feeling with the exploration of Buddhist traditions, and the more extreme Samurai culture of Japan. (Which might be thought of as the culmination of the Daoist School, the Confucian tradition, Mohism, and the Buddhist teachings as interpreted by the razor-sharp imagination only witnessed in the Japanese speaking peoples). The reason these hit me so profoundly was that these traditions focused heavily on death, or non-being, which leads to a method by which I could peer through the looking glass, and see nature as it is without the distortion of conditioned perception. Still, I grew to understand that all of these ethical structures which I had been exposed to where not in vain, and that they were taught to serve a larger purpose – such as, to deal with intense suffering and pleasure, to produce social cohesion, or to build influence or power. They also were taught to me as an example of variation.

The mind which knows so many systems is acutely aware that no single system provides absolute truth. This understanding is both liberating and painful. Many, still, would prefer to enter quietly into the mundane depths of denial and accept one truth, such that they may cope with the more relevant difficulties of procuring modes of comfort, food, shelter and self replication.

As a child, one younger than I am now, I had borne a disdain for education, simply, I think, because it seemed fashionable to do so at the time. While I wish I had paid more attention in my mandatory studies, upon deeper reflection I suspect it was not so much loss after-all. Being a child I lacked perspective and would have been therefor unable to extract so many lessons from the stories. Such that, it may be I extracted all that I could, though I played at distaste. I cannot recall what age exactly, but I do recall a kind of fascination with many of the words and stories I had been exposed to. Basically, at approximately the same time my body was growing into self awareness, it was also being given a splattering of nonsense, which would, in time, become sense, a nostalgic kind of sense. Now that sense has grown into a fuzzy lattice like network which I may explore on my own terms, bolstered by an extended education in the sciences, linguistics, and the great languages and literature of China.

This is the birth of thought in me. So many ideas and thoughts passed through my head as a child, but I lacked the tools to properly investigate them. Really, I lacked the confidence to realize that others had no greater tools than I. Here, my ship sets sail anew, with a keen and relaxed observation of reality, and a budding new sense of humor which can only accompany such cool and unbiased observation, (which is not to say the opinions generated are so unbiased). And more, I have possibly spent more intellectual energy, during my studies, on the topic of learning, as it pertains to me, than the studied topics themselves, and I have thus built a profound toolbox by which to embark on my journey of thought and discovery.

The greatest obstruction for me, then, is the inaccessibility of quality education, teachers, mentors, and collaborators. I’ve been through some great educational institutions and made acquaintance with a few great thinkers and teachers. However, it has become plain to me that such institutions are too costly for formal attendance and my confidence in myself is too great to return to them; for I know now who my teachers learned from, and those teachers profess free of charge, through extant literature. I do hope to maintain my acquaintances, but I cannot afford to attend their respective institutions, unfortunately.

In life and in learning there are big steps and there are little steps. The big steps build foundation and wisdom, while the little steps traverse complex and awkward terrain. Little steps may keep the individual alive, but they do not lead to any place. It is then my goal to play as much as I can with the big steps.

Firstly, is vocabulary, which due to my early lack of interest in literature and study is stunted. Fortunately, there is a great vocabulary acquisition tool available now, that is the audio book. Vocabulary is best acquired, in my case, through context and use. How better then, than to listen to the words in use, and furthermore, to absorb the great literature of the world at the same time. I try then, to focus my use of audio books to classic English literature. Perspective is also an important big step. To understand the history of literature, philosophy, and science in general, and those great ethical ideologies which have permeated the various great societies like viruses: the religions. History in this sense is not so concerned with facts and dates, but of generalizations and relationships. Time frames can then naturally coalesce in my mind, by the flow of occurrences and ideas. This broader perspective intensifies the latticework have I previously mentioned.

Philology and linguistics, I think, may be the final essential to this structure. To explore the development, meaning, and change in language and words over time: for language embodies thought and ideas and can teach a lot about the process of thought. For example, both English and Chinese abstract words derive usually from older concrete words. What can this tell us about thought? I have studied a little of the classic writing of Chinese, but not so much Greek, Latin, Sanskrit or other such basic systems of expression through writing. (I am, admittedly, clumping spoken and written language together here, but of course they are two entirely different animals. I am thinking primarily of writing, as that is what is passed down.) So, I have to work on literature, vocabulary, philosophy, science, religion and language.

The most essential thing of all, then, is expression, through writing, and dialogue. The most carefully observant and reasonable individual need not any of the aforementioned education to hold their own in understanding, expression, and debate; though they may spend much time defining their terms (if there were no teachers do define them). It is the exploration of ideas, the expression and dialogue, which necessitates the education; except, maybe, in the case of the natural philosopher – that is the one who feels compelled toward knowledge and it’s manipulation regardless of it’s being put to use – the true lover of knowledge. This natural philosopher can concentrate his ambition with education and expression. This I intend to do.