Saturday, August 30, 2014

What Cannot Be Without the Other Is the Other

Many years ago. Many, many, years ago, in fact, I sat in a lecture hall and listened to a very bright young professor of Philosophy, whom I shall call John Smith, largely because, believe it or not, John Smith was his actual name, expound upon the various themes in the branch of Philosophy known as Ethics. It was an introductory course, and I found it very, very interesting and threw myself into the study of the subject with a dizzying passion. After a few weeks of this, I felt myself becoming, smarter somehow, perhaps even wiser, as the ever-growing wealth of information passed through my fingers and beyond my eyes and seeped into my mind like a rich, green tea. After a few more weeks of near total immersion, the tea began to feel more like a thick, grayish soup that was starting to congeal in my brain, rather than the healthy and easily disgestible tea that I had enjoyed earlier.

My mind began to wander in class. I was perhaps nearing exhaustion, since at the time I was carrying a full course load, which included Spanish, Cultural Anthropology, English Literature of the 18th Century, American History, and Philosophy while working full-time at night as a Proofreader/Typesetter to support my wife, our child, Benjamin Franklin Keeperman, and myself. From out of nowhere, and for what purpose I do not recall, it came to my meandering mind that opposites do not occur in Reality, but rather they are illusions created by us to order “things” in a manner that gives us a sense of actually having the power to create such order out of what any reasonably sane person would believe was a chaotic existence.

I had been reading much at the time about right and wrong, good and evil, free will versus Determinism (although I think Determinism went by a different name in those old days. Was it Cause and Effect? I can’t recall). Anyway, I gave up a week or so of sleep, and in the very spare time I had after doing my required reading, studying, working, commuting, etc., I managed to put several hundreds of single-spaced lines with my old L.C. Smith typewriter on some cheap legal-size pulp paper and titled it: Hypothesis: What Cannot Be Without the Other is the Other. I handed the same to my friend, the Professor, (we really had become friends by that time, because I was the only one that partook of his Office Hours where he was generous enough to listen to me praise to the high heavens the philosophical genius of our Founding Fathers whom, next to Captain Marvel and Blackhawk, remained my childhood heroes.)

He returned the typed work to me after the following class meeting. I could see that he had read it carefully, because it was practically impossible to read what I had typed under the abundance of questions that he had raised and inscribed; sometimes adding a half-dozen or more comments for each sentence that I had written. Even a novice such as myself could see that all of these questions were legitimate, and I found that I couldn’t, given my state of apparent ignorance, answer even one of them coherently. At the bottom of the last page, however, he wrote the following: Well, to tell you the truth the paper is around here somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. Maybe it is with those other pulps, Captain Marvel and Blackhawk. If I find it I’ll add his exact remarks to this blogpost.

The gist of what Professor Smith wrote was this: “Sir, you would be doing I, yourself, and Philosophy an honor and a service if you would consider making Philosophy your major and consider me as a Mentor in the months and years to come.” Well, needless to say, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I realized quickly that all those questions that he had raised about my hypothesis, all those questions that matter, are what makes being a Philosopher tick. They thrive on asking questions. That is why I decided to stick with Literature. I just love answering the questions that matter. Even if I am dead wrong.

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