(2003 to 2005)

2004-04-05 0354

Mon Apr 5 03:58:00 UTC+1000 2004


I was just lying on the floor trying to get to sleep, but my mind is ticking, and it won't stop, so I was compelled to get up and write this. Yes, this is a rant. It's confused, and the result of an hour or two at the keyboard, in fact, I haven't even re-read (5 times) it before posting, who knows what I said, there's probably half written sentences in there. Have a read if you want, it probably doesn't adequately represent truth. Sorry for poor spelling, no spell check tonight.

I was out and about on Friday evening. Drinking. Lots. Some time late in the evening I ran into someone I know and joined them and their friends for a while (before crawling to my mates place to sleep on the couch for a few hours prior to running on to a rugby field to have my eye gouged). I ended up having a brief conversation with a total stranger, who's name escapes me now. Basically, as is not at all unusual of any conversation that I get involved in, the 'meaning of life' (or similar) came up. I don't remember how, or why. I remember making some comment about being a nihilist. The guy who I was speaking to wanted to tackle me on this, and for the first time ever (or in the most 'noticeable way I can recall'), I didn't feel like talking to him. I didn't feel like trying to search for something, or trying to get to the bottom of anything.

This pattern is something that has been creeping to the front of my 'human interactions' slowly for the last few years. Arrogance, contempt, rudeness. Stuff that I never really considered as me, stuff that I still don't consider as me, but based on the way that I interact is more and more likely to become a general impression of me. I blame a fault in 'language', not 'personality'. I can't decide whether this bothers me or not. But I know for sure the fact that I can't make that decision bothers me.

This guy that I was chatting to at the pub had obviously done a fair amount of research in this area (of 'life and stuff' generally, but 'nihilism' specifically), perhaps having studied theology or some other social science where he'd been required to read, write and think about this among other topics. He was even able to tell me about its history, what the word meant, what it implied, etc. Typically, I would have been delighted to have such a conversation, but instead I was basically rude, arrogant and disinterested in continuing the conversation, which is highly uncharacteristic (usually I'm arrogant and interested), but happened nevertheless. I didn't and still don't understand the word, but I know basically what it means and that it basically suits my present state of mind, or at least part of it in a crude manner. I understood my motivation at the time, and frankly I still understand it, and to a greater or lessor extent support my decision not to have the discussion.

This is interesting. Perhaps I've reached some crucial point in my decline to 'cranky old man'. At 23, that seems like a bit of a worry (at least I'm sure that many people would tell me that it was, based on their 'point of view' (which I am likely to mock as poorly considered (to their perception of my detriment (not asserting they are wrong)))). My big thing over the past few months, and something that has been in the front of my brain is a consideration of 'language', or more generally 'expression'. I really feel entirely isolated, perhaps more so when I'm around people than when I'm alone. This is a feeling that is easily avoided, so generally it's outside of my consciousness, but it's always there, like a 'splinter in my mind' (seriously, a rant from me without a Matrix quote?). I just don't feel like talking to people any more, I can't determine any reason for wanting to do so, and more and more the only thing that I've always wanted to talk about seems to be the most futile thing to discuss. I like to be 'around' people, but I really just don't have anything to talk about. I won't deny however that communication seems to be somewhat of a necessity. (this webblog by the way is not something that I generally consider as 'communication' (even though it obviously is), it's more like 'self help' that happens (possibly foolishly) to be public, or really, perhaps it's more like 'thinking' where an accidental thought can arrive for me via someone else. Nah, it's really just writing, and that's it, let's call it 'practice').

Since I can remember (8 years old maybe) I've concerned myself with the 'meaning of life', even more so as I got older. I was raised in a Catholic family, and spent most of my childhood attending church on Sunday, and generally being involved in a 'catholic' way of life. When I was about 13 or so (guessing there) I decided that I didn't want to go to church any more, and pretty much 'renounced my faith'. Since then, I've been trying to figure out what it was that I do believe in. Over the last year or two I came to realise why I was so concerned about this (I don't think I put my finger on it for many, many years, even though I knew I *was* concerned, I had never specified *why*). The reason as I have come to think of it is that I really want to find a 'moral basis' for life. I need a framework that I can use to help me make decisions. People throw words like 'good' and 'bad' and 'life' around, as if they had real meaning, but I don't think that they do. I use them too however, and am frustrated by what I perceive as the perpetual 'double-think' that I am guilty of, perhaps (to my way of thinking) not to the same extent as 'everyone else' but still pretty heavily.

Generally, all that I've found in my personal life as a result of this 'search', is depression and frustration. The only things that I've been able to isolate as 'truth' have been particularly 'unhappy' notions. Perhaps unfortunately when I communicate with others regarding this subject I tend to be met with mixed reactions, most of which seem ultimately detrimental to the goal of keeping the bag of atoms that I refer to as me and those around me in a configuration that is likely lead to a long-term complex state typically referred to as 'happiness'. See, if you talk about such things for any great length of time, people become tired, frustrated, angry, etc. Many people also get the impression that your just trying to pass yourself off as an 'intellectual' or a 'thinker' etc. for what they perceive as your assumption that there will be some long term gain in creating such an impression. Frankly, I don't understand my reasons for doing anything, and that is my frustration, and 'my pain'.

I realised (or mentally verbalised something which seems obvious enough in retrospect) something while I was on the train a week or two ago. Basically a human has a finite amount of time. To a large extent (speaking for myself) we are 'serial execution contexts'. Basically, we can be in one of three modes. I can externalise my state, I can receive state, and I can process state. With regard to communication I'd say at any given moment I'm really either, 'reading', 'writing' or 'thinking'. I think people tend to focus their attention to these areas of their communication abilities in varying degrees, and with respect to time people do more or less of each of them. I won't pretend not to be contemptuous of the majority of the material that I see as generally 'up for consumption'. Stuff that you get from pretty much all media sources, even just 'people'. This contempt, particularly if honestly externalised, is likely to lead to great loneliness, but I haven't reached a final decision on how I feel about this and frankly my opinion changes greatly based on circumstance and mood, which is to a greater or lessor extent really the problem. I need a final decision so that I can live a life of integrity, something that I deem important for reasons unknown.

People who are good 'readers' are consumers of information. They absorb information. They find what is being said and consume it. Generally I'd say that they 'accept' it as input, rather than 'think' about it. Obviously this is not completely true, but I like to keep the concept of 'reading' and 'thinking' separate, so by implication reading is not thinking as per this discussion. Often 'argument' is what happens when someone refuses to 'accept' information after 'thinking' about information they 'read', but I'd say they must first 'accept' it and later 'refute' it, even if this process is a quick one (this process is actually something that I want to discuss, and is in fact what I was thinking about while on the floor trying to sleep just a little while ago). The problem with most typical sources of information is they are largely 'read only'. In fact, by definition 'reading' is read-only. 'Reading' might be 'listening' or 'watching' etc. but I'm going to use the word to encapsulate receipt of any input. You can get involved with 'communication' by reading something then by thinking and writing (responding), but all you really do is publish your 'read only' response and hope it is in turn consumed (i.e. read). When it comes to most media, like television, books, etc. your feedback is not likely to be consumed to anything near the extent as the information you are responding to, so this is what makes it 'read only proper' i.e. one-way communication. Anyway, I can tell I'm not explaining myself well, but I'll get to that. Input that can not adequately be responded to is 'one-way'. The process of 'reading' takes time and is required to receive an 'input' of ideas or thoughts.

So, people who are good thinkers in my view are people who are good at combining thoughts, concepts, words and patterns, creating a new combination and analysing it for logical consistency. Philosophy regarding logic or that refutes logic is not something that I can claim to understand, in fact, logic is the only thing that I feel I really do understand (however imperfectly). Reading is useful for receiving a starting point, or 'library' or ideas or concepts that you can dissect, recombine, compare, etc. The process of 'thinking' takes time and is required to create new ideas or thoughts.

Writing on the other hand really just the use of media to express the results of your thinking. For me, language is my primary tool for expression (or C# if you want to make the programming analogy). People who are good writers can format and express concepts such that another party can infer useful meaning (whatever that means). The process of 'writing' takes time and is important to create 'output' of ideas or thoughts.

In that context, I'd say I'm mostly a thinker. I'm less of a reader than I am a writer, and I am frustrated by my ability to both read and write, feeling that I could be more competent at each. Regardless of this, again with arrogance, I am confident that my ability to read and write (i.e. communicate) is better than many others'. This leaves me in the unhappy position of being contemptuous of many people. Sometimes I feel justified in this thinking, and often I do not. Suffice to say, I haven't read very much if I use most of the people I know as a yard stick. In many ways I consider this helpful, this I guess is because I consider much of what I read to be logically flawed, but I'll expand on that later. For me, writing (speaking, etc.) takes a long time (and I have finite time). Mostly I think this is because of my 'exacting', 'anal', 'TYPE-A' personality. I don't like being wrong. I find it almost impossible to be brief. One reason I have trouble being brief is because I don't feel like I have adequate language. I feel like communicating in English is like coding in assembly language to target several million incompatible chip sets that I don't have a specification for (read: impossible). I can't rely on your understanding of the words that I use. At some point I have to draw the line and use them anyway, as I've discovered words are defined in terms of other words, leading to some interesting thoughts, leading to analysis that I've always meant to do on an English dictionary but have never invested time in (I'm sure someone has, but I've never read their results). Basically, words are vague, and if you're not careful, when you use them you can make all sorts of assertions that you didn't mean to, or rely on all sorts of premises that you might possibly not be prepared to accept. I heard once that some philosopher considered that the use of a word necessitated the assertion of an entire language. I believe this, although in itself it is over simplified. At any rate, the reason for my 'longwindedness' (inventing words now?) is generally in a vain attempt to properly communicate my thinking. Another reason that I have trouble being brief is because my thinking is not final. I don't actually have all the answers, and generally I use writing more as a means of forcing myself to find the logical errors in my 'thinking' than as a final representation of my results.

I mentioned that I consider a lot of what I read to be logically flawed. The reason that I say this is because usually within the first paragraph of something that I read I run into an expression that asserts something that I have not been able to accept, or that I have rejected (not the same thing, although perhaps logic has no place for such a statement). At any rate, the rest of what I'm reading then pretty much builds on false premises from my perspective, and reading for me is heavily taxing, because I have to think very hard about what I'm reading, and this also takes a lot of time. Reading technical material is often far easier, perhaps because it tends to have fewer inherent logical problems that are of significance (with respect to the problem domain) or even simply because I can reject the entire document upon the first inconsistency knowing that I need not waste my time on the rest (RE: google results, which I read quite a lot of).

The other problem with reading is that the stuff that I want to read, that I find contains decent information, is also (perhaps necessarily) long-winded. This is a problem, because of my finite amount of time. Who knows what the correct ratio of reading/writing/thinking is supposed to be. I'd like to have read more, or to spend more time on what I write, but basically I am mostly committed to thinking. I think however, that to be an effective thinker it can help to have a fair input, and a fair output -- each can probably help. Part of the way that I look at the world is "no-one has figured 'it' out yet". I know philosophers have been trying, and religious institutions have been pimping their version, but I've never got too close to any of those, just far enough to see what I felt I needed to conduct my own thinking. This topic is not one that I'm comfortable 'outsourcing'. So, it follows that I reckon no-one really has the answers. If no-one has them, then I won't be able to read them in a book, so there's not really too much point in reading to heavily. Writing is a good way to get involved in communication where I may be able to solicit input that is helpful, but I've been trying for a long time and haven't really found anything. In fact, the more I read (listen, etc.) the more I realise that I'm on my own and the more futile and surreal my entire existence seems. Ho hum.

As an isolated, but heavily related aside, I was in a taxi at some point on the weekend and I was pissed off. I mentioned something to the taxi driver about not understanding why I did anything, and he agreed and made the other half of my point. This guy was easily 50 years old, and he entirely agreed with me that he had never during the course of his life figured out what he was doing here, and could see absolutely no point in all the 'bullshit'. He had no idea why he got up everyday, and didn't pretend that he had one, and agreed that he had the same problem that I had, basically no moral basis for life. No reason to live, no reason to die, and no basis for any decision that he made.

Over the past five or six years I've been working on a philosophy that fundamentally helps me 'cope' with what I see. I don't claim to really have any understanding of the world, or of life, but perhaps I could say that I have an understanding of my lack of understanding. I empathise very heavily with Agent Smith:

There's no escaping reason, no denying purpose - because as we both know, without purpose, we would not exist. It is purpose that created us, Purpose that connects us, Purpose that pulls us, That guides us, That drives us. It is purpose that defines, Purpose that binds us. We're here because of you, Mister Anderson, we're here to take from you what you tried to take from us. Purpose.

Unlike Smith, I'm not so certain that I couldn't exist without purpose. I, like many others, subscribe to the philosophy that "I think, therefore I am" (which is interesting, because it nullifies most concern about a 'real world'). I do however entirely understand his complaint. I wish I had someone to blame, or even (like him) someone to destroy. As long as I understood that was my purpose. Not for lack of trying I haven't been able to determine that purpose, and in many ways have really lived my life deciding that my first goal was to determine my purpose. No wonder someone said that 'life is what happens while you make other plans', because I'm caught in a day to day monotony that I don't understand and forced while in it to make decisions that I fundamentally understand I have no basis for.

My philosophy is something that I've never really tried to explain to anyone before. Mostly because I felt that it was too large a job. I still feel that way. 23 years of thinking is a drop in ocean, and frankly nothing like enough. I know that I still hold far too many conflicting truths and false positives to even attempt communication from anything less than first principles, which seems impossible given that I need language for 'logical' communication, I'm not interested in eliciting emotion, I'm interested in finding truth. Truth by definition is tied to logic. I don't even feel that I have an adequate mechanism for logical expression, starting from my own inability to effectively utilise what language I already share, fundamentally language and logic seem far too abstract (much like this paragraph I might add :P).

In short, I break up the world into 'layers'. I tend to think of these layers in the shape of a sphere (that is outer layers surround inner layers). Each layer is a state of consciousness that I can walk in and out of, each more complex than the other. Don't quote me, but a concept such as 'I' exists in 'Layer 3', so basically I can consider the world and deny my existence at a certain level. In this way I can observe myself as a collection of matter, or atoms, or 'energy' or what have you. This, in my perspective is enough to justify use of the term 'nihilist', because it denies morality (in a context). That's not a terribly happy way to view the world, and certainly doesn't offer any framework for 'purpose', thus I aggregate this stuff based on observation and arrive at 'higher order' constructs. Constructs like 'me', 'you' and 'morality'. In doing so, I find gross inconsistencies, and have a lot of trouble dealing with things that 'I can not accept' but that 'I have to accept'. I also haven't really been able to find a common ground with most people who communicate with me. Things like the use of the term 'good' or 'fair' for example. I can't really understand those words, but I can use them as can others. I'm not even going to try and verbalise my working philosophy on life just now.

This really sucks. In some respects I'd like to talk about it, but then again I don't really think that we can communicate and I tend to doubt that you'll have anything particularly useful to say (that's not very 'nice' is it?). Instead, I'm just going to keep thinking about it, just another 'confused young man' caught up in man's eternal search for meaning and still awake at AM.

Anyway, for reasons that I can not truly specify, I am going to go and try sleeping again.


p.s. I had one random thought just before I posted this, and that is that I reckon people should be more concerned with the 'detail' of what they say than being mystified by broad statements that contain something that seems profound. Getting caught up in an exciting analogy, etc. might be fun and seem 'deep', but I'd prefer to get right down to the details, not confuse and bewilder myself with some complex aggregate concept that has all the appearance of depth but relies far to heavily on a poorly specified language to have any particularly useful meaning. "No animal shall sleep in a bed (with sheets)".

p.p.s. I don't actually believe there is really much 'truth' to be found. What I really want is a moral basis for life (in Layer 3) but I'm not prepared to cop out and take up a pre-packaged one backed by an institution.. yet.

Copyright © 2003-2005 John Elliot