Bare metal consciousness

For days now I have been trying to comprehend the meaning of Hurssel’s ‘epoché’. I still don’t have a confident grasp of the process, and do not even know if my understanding in any way matches what he intended. But a sense, useful to a searcher, coalesced this morning into breathtaking focus.

Starting from his notion of ‘bracketing’ or suspending our ‘presuppositions’ surrounding sensory data I am reminded that:

  • Sense experiences are simple and immediate;
  • The five senses are separate and distinct;
  • Sensory data is fundamental to our notion of time, as time is essential to the interpretation of sense data.

The implications of these rather obvious premises intrigue me. Even before following through with them, I can see they place me on the threshold of a paradigm shift. Things get even more delightfully precarious when I cross reference the reality of my version of epoché with my previously adopted schemata of the four aspects of human consciousness – the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

This combined perspective on being reveals a rich, meaningful, exciting philosophical framework, which will be a background element of my literary development and exploration from now on.

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Why do dogs chase sticks?

Sitting on the beach at Fairy Lake, Diana and I watched a pair of otter, hunting in an area where a fish had jumped some moments earlier. As we watched, a third otter made a beeline for the same zone.

That got us thinking about the remarkable intelligence and resilience of nature, and how quick we human beings are to underestimate the other animals that share this planet.

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Inhumanity at its worst

Image from the Gallus Domestics show by Diana Durrand

There are no words to adequately describe the inhumane behaviour of a group of men whose job it was to round up for slaughter a flock of ‘free run’ chickens in a Fraser Valley barn this week. Heartless, cruel and stupid will have to do.

But after we’ve tried to make ourselves feel a little better about being homo sapiens by expressing our outrage, we have to ask the same question SPCA animal welfare specialist Geoff Urton posed: “Why are these people abusing these animals in the first place? … There’s a fundamental disrespect for animals,” he said. “These workers need to see that these are living things that are capable of suffering.”

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Does secular humanism have anything positive to say?

I joined a secular humanist society here in B.C. hoping to find some kindred spirits; got tired of all the ranting and railing against Christianity and let the connection lapse.

But the experience reminded me of a couple of things. First, praying still has its place in our world. I pray all the time… to my fellow humans, hoping they will embrace more humane ways and learn to enjoy the beauty of this planet we share; to flowers for growing, and bees for pollinating, and seeds for germinating; to dogs for being dogs; to those closest to me and all around me to fulfill themselves in loving, meaningful ways.

Second, humanity has gone through many stages as consciousness unfolding in this universe, belief in gods of one form or another among them. Without those previous stages – including Christianity, paganism, Islam, the fabulous cave art of Altamira – our current belief in science would never have manifested. We’d still be sleeping in trees at night praying not to become the prey of the magnificent saber toothed tigers lurking down there on the forest floor.

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Existential flittings

Not a black capped chickadee on a branch, but a bird of sorts, willing to have its image captured…

I have been searching for an existentialist rationale, and all I can come up with are intersecting rubrics:

  • Imagine me a square circle, and I will say you have attained freedom of a sort.
  • Imagine me a point beyond infinity and I will say you have fully expanded the possibilities of consciousness.
  • Imagine me the end of time, and show me its position on the rim of a clock, and you will have put a full-stop to the question of eternity.
  • Tell me what kind of universe can exist without a mind to think it, and I believe we will understand our reason for being.

There! Now I can watch the black capped chickadee in the branch of the naked tree outside my window and marvel at its version of freedom.



Made a mistake? Learn from it!

Failure isn’t an end; it’s an experience

I’m one of those people who beats himself up when he makes a mistake. Natural perhaps, but self-flagellation as a learning experience is only effective if it’s followed up with self-improvement, and that process of growing through our anguished moments only begins when we stop writhing, forgive ourselves, and get on with the job of repairing the damage while figuring out ways to avoid making the same mistake again.

Forgiving, of course, isn’t the same as forgetting. Rather, it’s the deliberate act of putting our errors into context. I’m human; I make mistakes. That’s the basic equation. To beat myself up for more than a couple of seconds over a typical faux pas becomes counter productive – I’m so busy grinding myself into dust, so concerned about making another mistake, that I’m afraid to do anything. It’s when we are able to step back, analyze a mistake the way a sympathetic coach would, then consider how to slingshot out of it, that we are able to grow.

Growing – as in the phrase ‘growing up’ – is not a process that ends with puberty. In fact, the most enriching phases of growth and self-improvement can come late in life, when we have learned how to grow. We’re not plants, or insects, or mammals bound by instinct. We’re never completely adult, in that sense. Humanity’s niche in the spectrum of life is as thinking, adaptable spirit. We are the species best able to figure out ways of succeeding in almost any environment, and discovering new possibilities. Making mistakes is an unavoidable part of the human condition.

Scaling that statement down to the personal, I have to ask myself what types of learning outcomes I can possibly derive from a misstep? It’s important to understand what kind of signals I’m receiving via the ouch-loop, or in the ‘Gawd no!’ reflex that smacks me on the forehead when I’ve made a more serious blunder. I can think of two obvious decisions to be made based on the cumulative evidence of my errors: I can decide I have to learn to do something I want to do better; or I can learn I’m not meant to be doing something I thought I wanted to.

Of course there’s a million shades between, but those two considerations lay at the root of my decision-making process moving forward – whether the process is triggered by the pain of error, or the blaze of a wahoo! inspirational moment.

To scale things back up again, those are the trial and error questions we as a species need to ask continuously, if we want to survive and achieve a sustainable, equitable and expanding future. For me as an individual, embarrassment and social castigation are the most likely outcomes of any slip-ups I might make; for us as a species, the stakes are much higher, and our ability to overcome collective pride and anguish so that we make good decisions requires Herculean exertions of leadership.


Finish Line

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FINISH LINE / by Craig Spence

“You don’t have to run fast, you just have to run hard,” Mel said.

“D’ya get it?”

Alison glanced up from her bowl of chopped banana and granola with milk, squinting. ‘What’s that supposed to mean,’ she was thinking. You could tell by the downturn of her lips and the knitting of brows she didn’t believe him. “Worked hard all my life, what the fuck did that get me?” she said.

How could you gainsay that? She had worked hard. Cleaning toilets, making other people’s beds, changing their towels and bars of soap… people who had money to spend on hideaway motels, determined to have a good time. But really they were no better off then her when you got right down to it. Grunting away at their ejaculations, their entangled moments of glory. Or just lying there side-by-side, sawing away like beached sea lions.

“There’s no meaning to any of it,” Mel judged. “Life’s just a series of sensations and events adding up to…” his thoughts on the matter petered out.

“What are you on about?”

Mel sighed, hadn’t meant to think out loud. He had to admit Alison’s wasn’t a bad line of inquiry though. ‘Except the questions had to be asked by the right person, a person with the mental capacity to understand the answers,’ he ruminated in careful silence.

Not that Alison was stupid. She had brains. But her neurons connected to what he classified as a crow’s spirit – opportunistic, argumentative, garrulous, greedy, focused on the ground even though Crow’s magnificent wings, sleek plumage, and obsidian eyes were a composite meant for the arc of flight.

Of course, she sensed when he was thinking stuff like that and it annoyed her. “You’re going to go out there and run like a fucking lunatic, give yourself a heart attack and die, then you’ll leave me without a pension for christ’s sake,” she accused. “Where’s the sense in that?”

Fair enough, he had to admit. There was an element of selfishness to his undertaking. And he did look the fool out there on the track. “Hey Usain, can I have your autograph!” a smart-aleck student from Cowichan Secondary had taunted just the other day, he and his buddies laughing at the jibe like hyenas. What did they know? What would they ever know, except the mechanics of bone, muscle and guts – the sensations of pushing a machine through an atmosphere thick as sludge.

“Don’t expect me to cheer you on,” Alison shouted after him as he stepped out the front door. “I won’t even visit you at the hospital! I won’t go to your fuckin’ funeral, you bastard!”

Of course she’d go. She’d even pretend to be bereaved, daubing her eyes with a tissue. She’d get herself all worked up – actually convince herself that she was mourning bravely, even though the bastard had made a dent in her retirement income by going out and dying… not that Mel intended to die, of course. He just wanted to see… even if the vision lasted less than an instant… just wanted to see if he could actually run faster than his own body.

That was the whole point of the exercise – to run so hard the ligatures binding soul to flesh might snap, and set something free, something unknown, unknowable really.

Can eternity be encapsulated in a split second? In a split-split second? Mel couldn’t say for sure, and the problem with that kind of question is you could never know the answer unless you actually proved the proposition true. You could fail, and fail, and fail again, and still you wouldn’t know. But all it would take would be one brilliant millisecond of success and…

“Careful what you hope for,” Mel cautioned inadvertently.

No fancy track suit or shoes. Sweats and sneakers were good enough. He tried to get there before the walkers and joggers started their rounds, circling the Sportsplex track grimly, or pertly, or in yakking pairs and threesomes. He knew they thought him strange. What was a graying, paunchy retiree doing out there, huffing down the track like a locomotive, then walking round the backstretch to the start line again, and sprinting once more down the outside lane – if you could call his lumbering gait a sprint?

Four or five times, two or three times a week.

He’d read on the internet somewhere that the hundred-yard dash wasn’t just a matter of running hell-bent-for-leather down the track. There were three distinct stages to a 10 second run: Drive, from dead still to full throttle; maximum velocity, where the sprinter runs erect, hips lowered achieving highest velocity; maintenance, where the athlete minimizes the inevitable deceleration, exhausted, but still striving for the finish.

Maximum velocity. That was the critical stage, the only one that mattered as far as Mel was concerned. But you had to run the entire race. “Go for it!”

Mel didn’t crouch, as if his feet were in the blocks. He just took off from a walking start into his run, accelerating down the track hard as he could, pushing harder through the middle of his sprint, continuing to drive through the maintenance phase. If separation was going to happen it would be in Stage II, he thought, when the psychic booster rockets kicked in.

If only. If only. He set off down the Sportsplex track for trial-one, fast as he could go. Then torqued up to maximum velocity, urging every increment of speed, and then some, out of his flabby muscles and clattering limbs, flapping down the runway toward… what? Take off…?

Pushed harder, surging until he ran out of oxygen and the inevitable strangulation of human nature took hold, throttling down his yearning… pushed even then, when he knew it was too late… that even the possibility of a glimmer of hope… of feeling himself detach, break free, fly out ahead of body like…

“Like what?” he gasped… crossing the imaginary finish line… body and soul at the exact same instant.


Thanks for reading. Finish Line is part of a series I am writing from what I take to be an Existentialist POV. It is inspired by the memory of track athlete and all-round amazing human being Jesse Owens.