Saturday, March 23, 2013


Something unknown is doing we know not what.
                                                 Sir Arthur Edington

What, ultimately, is purposeBoxed in, as we increasingly and inescapably are, by reflections only of ourselves and our science-based achievements, we are I believe in danger of becoming hypnotized by teleology: the explanation of phenomena in terms of the purposes they serve. We are in turn constantly being reminded that we are – or should be – rational beings. Purposelessness, like irrationality, is dismissed as nonsensical. Accordingly, you can't just take a stroll in the modern technocratic state, you'll be apprehended for suspicious behavior.  No, you must be "out jogging" - with all the accoutrements that jogging requires – so as to stay fit, or heading down the road to catch the bus to get to work to earn the money to pay the 25-year mortgage to eventually retire - and die - in comfort, if cancer or a heart attack doesn’t get you first.  Meanwhile, you are working like a slave at a job you dislike for the interim purpose of affording annual holidays. Yet the holidays are deemed “escapes”, “away from it all”, and at the end of them you head “back to the real world”.  It’s all very odd.

In his play Death of a Salesman, back in the 1950’s, Arthur Miller illustrated this phenomenon with a neon sign over the stage which flashed  
Our obsession with purpose, he was warning, is a treadmill. Alan Watts, writing around the same time, referred to it as “eating the menu, instead of the meal”. 

Philosophers have long pondered the purpose of life. The question sounds reasonable, but in reality it’s nonsense, a paradox thrown up by the dualism of the thought process itself. Gertrude Stein famously solved the riddle on her deathbed, with her pronouncement that  "a rose is a rose is a rose". Her lover, Alice B. Toklas, echoed this insight when her own end came. "What is the answer?" she demanded, in philosophical anguish, and then, after a long, ruminative pause, "What is the question?"

The utilitarian questions we put to the universe deliberately limit us to the finite, and that would be fine if we were merely the robots, or slaves, of some brave new world paradigm. “What is a giraffe?”, we ask – and then proceed, with a certain smug pride, to enumerate its physical attributes, its “function” in the ecosystem of the Serengeti, and its evolutionary ancestry as traced back through the fossil record; its purpose, in fact. Thus cleverly enmeshed in our own Aristotelian net we reckon we’ve got that giraffe taped, when in reality it has escaped, entirely unmeasured and unmeasurable, through all the holes.   
Watch this video, and for these five minutes at least drop all the utilitarian questions the scientists are pondering and which earn you your daily bread. As these expressions of the Universe - their habitat miraculously as yet untampered with by man - so perfectly show, life is a dance! That is perhaps all that can be truthfully said about it. The universe simply - wonderfully, exuberantly, non-sensically - IS.

Stop press!
From the same source I just received this, which seems to illustrate the problem of the utilitarian mindset we are presently mired in.