Diversion

“When I have occasionally set myself to consider the different distractions of men, the pains and perils to which they expose themselves at court or in war, whence arise so many quarrels, passions, bold and often bad ventures, etc., I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home, would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town. A commission in the army would not be bought so dearly, but that it is found insufferable not to budge from the town; and men only seek conversation and entering games, because they cannot remain with pleasure at home.

But on further consideration, when, after finding the cause of all our ills, I have sought to discover the reason of it, I have found that there is one very real reason, namely, the natural poverty of our feeble and mortal condition, so miserable that nothing can comfort us when we think of it closely.

Whatever condition we picture to ourselves, if we muster all the good things which it is possible to possess, royalty is the finest position in the world. Yet, when we imagine a king attended with every pleasure he can feel, if he be without diversion, and be left to consider and reflect on what he is, this feeble happiness will not sustain him; he will necessarily fall into forebodings of dangers, of revolutions which may happen, and, finally, of death and inevitable disease; so that if he be without what is called diversion, he is unhappy, and more unhappy than the least of his subjects who plays and diverts himself.

Hence it comes that play and the society of women, war, and high posts, are so sought after. Not that there is in fact any happiness in them, or that men imagine true bliss to consist in money won at play, or in the hare which they hunt; we would not take these as a gift. We do not seek that easy and peaceful lot which permits us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the labour of office, but the bustle which averts these thoughts of ours, and amuses us.

Reasons why we like the chase better than the quarry.

Hence it comes that men so much love noise and stir; hence it comes that the prison is so horrible a punishment; hence it comes that the pleasure of solitude is a thing incomprehensible. And it is in fact the greatest source of happiness in the condition of kings, that men try incessantly to divert them, and to procure for them all kinds of pleasures.

The king is surrounded by persons whose only thought is to divert the king, and to prevent his thinking of self. For he is unhappy, king though he be, if he think of himself.

This is all that men have been able to discover to make themselves happy. And those who philosophise on the matter, and who think men unreasonable for spending a whole day in chasing a hare which they would not have bought, scarce know our nature. The hare in itself would not screen us from the sight of death and calamities; but the chase which turns away our attention from these, does screen us.

The advice given to Pyrrhus to take the rest which he was about to seek with so much labour, was full of difficulties.

[To bid a man live quietly is to bid him live happily. It is to advise him to be in a state perfectly happy, in which he can think at leisure without finding therein a cause of distress. This is to misunderstand nature.

As men who naturally understand their own condition avoid nothing so much as rest, so there is nothing they leave undone in seeking turmoil. Not that they have an instinctive knowledge of true happiness …

So we are wrong in blaming them. Their error does not lie in seeking excitement, if they seek it only as a diversion; the evil is that they seek it as if the possession of the objects of their quest would make them really happy. In this respect it is right to call their quest a vain one. Hence in all this both the censurers and the censured do not understand man’s true nature.]

And thus, when we take the exception against them, that what they seek with such fervour cannot satisfy them, if they replied—as they should do if they considered the matter thoroughly—that they sought in it only a violent and impetuous occupation which turned their thoughts from self, and that they therefore chose an attractive object to charm and ardently attract them, they would leave their opponents without a reply. But they do not make this reply, because they do not know themselves. They do not know that it is the chase, and not the quarry, which they seek.

Dancing: we must consider rightly where to place our feet.—A gentleman sincerely believes that hunting is great and royal sport; but a beater is not of this opinion.

They imagine that if they obtained such a post, they would then rest with pleasure, and are insensible of the insatiable nature of their desire. They think they are truly seeking quiet, and they are only seeking excitement.

They have a secret instinct which impels them to seek amusement and occupation abroad, and which arises from the sense of their constant unhappiness. They have another secret instinct, a remnant of the greatness of our original nature, which teaches them that happiness in reality consists only in rest, and not in stir. And of these two contrary instincts they form within themselves a confused idea, which hides itself from their view in the depths of their soul, inciting them to aim at rest through excitement, and always to fancy that the satisfaction which they have not will come to them, if, by surmounting whatever difficulties confront them, they can thereby open the door to rest.

Thus passes away all man’s life. Men seek rest in a struggle against difficulties; and when they have conquered these, rest becomes insufferable. For we think either of the misfortunes we have or of those which threaten us. And even if we should see ourselves sufficiently sheltered on all sides, weariness of its own accord would not fail to arise from the depths of the heart wherein it has its natural roots, and to fill the mind with its poison.

Thus so wretched is man that he would weary even without any cause for weariness from the peculiar state of his disposition; and so frivolous is he, that, though full of a thousand reasons for weariness, the least thing, such as playing billiards or hitting a ball, is sufficient to amuse him.

But will you say what object has he in all this? The pleasure of bragging to-morrow among his friends that he has played better than another. So others sweat in their own rooms to show to the learned that they have solved a problem in algebra, which no one had hitherto been able to solve. Many more expose themselves to extreme perils, in my opinion as foolishly, in order to boast afterwards that they have captured a town.

Lastly, others wear themselves out in studying all these things, not in order to become wiser, but only in order to prove that they know them; and these are the most senseless of the band, since they are so knowingly, whereas one may suppose of the others, that if they knew it, they would no longer be foolish.

This man spends his life without weariness in playing every day for a small stake. Give him each morning the money he can win each day, on condition he does not play; you make him miserable. It will perhaps be said that he seeks the amusement of play and not the winnings. Make him then play for nothing; he will not become excited over it, and will feel bored. It is then not the amusement alone that he seeks; a languid and passionless amusement will weary him. He must get excited over it, and deceive himself by the fancy that he will be happy to win what he would not have as a gift on condition of not playing; and he must make for himself an object of passion, and excite over it his desire, his anger, his fear, to obtain his imagined end, as children are frightened at the face they have blackened.

Whence comes it that this man, who lost his only son a few months ago, or who this morning was in such trouble through being distressed by lawsuits and quarrels, now no longer thinks of them? Do not wonder; he is quite taken up in looking out for the boar which his dogs have been hunting so hotly for the last six hours. He requires nothing more. However full of sadness a man may be, he is happy for the time, if you can prevail upon him to enter into some amusement; and however happy a man may be, he will soon be discontented and wretched, if he be not diverted and occupied by some passion or pursuit which prevents weariness from overcoming him. Without amusement there is no joy; with amusement there is no sadness. And this also constitutes the happiness of persons in high position, that they have a number of people to amuse them, and have the power to keep themselves in this state.

Consider this. What is it to be superintendent, chancellor, first president, but to be in a condition wherein from early morning a large number of people come from all quarters to see them, so as not to leave them an hour in the day in which they can think of themselves? And when they are in disgrace and sent back to their country houses, where they lack neither wealth nor servants to help them on occasion, they do not fail to be wretched and desolate, because no one prevents them from thinking of themselves.

Blaise Pascal

(Pascal’s Pensées, number 139)

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Humanismo y Técnica

“No tengo tiempo ni es esta la ocasión de comprobar históricamente aquella tesis. Mas es lo cierto que con el imperativa de ‘seguir la naturaleza’, tan caro a los estoicos, nos desviamos del verdadero mandato divino según el cual el hombre es el ser que emerge de la naturaleza y la supera. Sobreponerse a la vida natural es el anhelo de toda ética y de toda religiosidad, en suma, de toda cultura propiamente humana. (…)

Pero al mismo tiempo se advierte que esta misma realización del hombre es su posible destrucción. Y se habla entonces, con toda lógica, dado el punto de partida, que el progreso humano e una contradicción insoluble, un callejón sin salida, una aporía. (…)

Sin embargo, dos maneras se han hallado en la historia para contrarrestar la naturaleza: ‘a la naturaleza se la somete obedeciéndola‘ (…). Existe una segunda manera de enfrentarse a ella y de oponerse a su fatalidad… El hombre podía colocarse por encima de la fatalidad natural, porque es además espíritu y porque las potencias del espíritu pertenecen a un mundo distinto y distante del gobernado por la leyes del cosmos. (…)

Hay otra misión del conocimiento de más alta dignidad,… es ‘una finalidad sin fin‘.

Ya es un lugar común que la prosperidad económica no sólo no es la causa de la ideas, sino que ciertas ideas han hecho posible justamente esa inmensa riqueza de que disfrutan algunos países. (…)

Combatir el especialísimo no equivale a rechazar las especialización. Profundizar en una región del saber, ser en ella seguros y firmes, cultivarla con pasión y si se quiere con obsesión. Pero como el hombre es también un ser personal, ha de cultivarse él mismo como una obra de arte. No puede ser sacrificado el individuo, la persona individual, ya que de lo contrario sólo concluiremos por hacer de la sabiduría y de la ciencia un inmenso cuartel de esclavos. (…)

Pero el conocimiento no lo es todo. Sólo cuando se conjuga con todas las restantes potencias del espíritu, el saber resulta soportable. Una vida sacrificada ante el conocimiento no es una vida total; y puede decires que ese saber mismo se ha frustrado, que se ja perdido para él lo mejor de su esencia, pues como ha dicho Hegel, ‘el saber no sólo se conoce a sí mismo, sino que conoce también lo negativo de sí mismo o su límite. Saber su límite quiere decir, saber inmolarse‘.”

Cayetano Betancur

 

Sociología de la autenticidad y la simulación

“El hombre ordinario no sabe nada de sus méritos, pero conoce muy bien los ajenos con la tácita ansiedad de encontrar algún día que son inferiores a los suyos. (…) El hombre distinguido es el que no se compara. Ser hombre distinguido es reposar en sí mismo. (…) En las comunidades, el hombre distinguido predomina; sólo con él son posibles estas formas de agrupación en que cada cual ocupa los distintos cargos que sus propios méritos señalan. Con la sociedad aparece la idea de la igualdad absoluta, ocurrencia salvadora del hombre vulgar que la predica y la impone; como no reside en su ser, como no descansa en sí mismo, tiende a buscar en los demás motivos de inferioridad, los que no hallados, lo inducen a descubrir la idea de la igualdad mecánica que nivele a todos como portadores en igual cantidad de unos mismos valores. (…) En los movimientos nacientes de la cultura, el hombre distinguido es el que crea.”

 
“Existe una honda afinidad entre lo cómico y lo trágico. Comedia es también como tragedia función de los medios, cualidad de los medios, virtud de los medios. Una y otra son sendas hacia una finalidad. Pero mientras la tragedia incluye la plenitud en la realización del fin, la comedia es el aborto de la finalidad, es la adquisición frustrada. Lo cómico perece en la mezquindad del fin, al par que lo trágico muere en su plena posesión.”

Cayetano Betancur

Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology

“At this point we are ready to make a fundamental discovery. We have gathered evidence for what I would like to call the “law of uphill analysis and downhill invention.” What I mean is this. It is pleasurable and easy to create little machines that do certain tricks. It is also quite easy to observe the full repertoire of behavior of these machines -even if it goes beyond what we had originally planned, as it often does. But it is much more difficult to start from the outside and to try to guess internal structure just from the observation of behavior. It is actually impossible in theory to determine exactly what the hidden mechanism is without opening the box, since there are always many different mechanisms with identical behavior. Quite apart from this, analysis is more difficult than invention in the sense in which, generally, induction takes more time to perform than deduction: in induction one has to search for the way, whereas in deduction one follows a straightforward path.

A psychological consequence of this is the following: when we analyze a mechanism, we tend to overestimate its complexity. In the uphill process of analysis, a given degree of complexity offers more resistance to the workings of our mind than it would if we encountered it downhill, in the process of invention.”

Valentino Braitenberg

The Human Aspiration

The earliest preoccupation of man in his awakened thoughts and, as it seems, his inevitable and ultimate preoccupation, —for it survives the longest periods of scepticism and returns after every banishment,— is also the highest which his thought can envisage. It manifests itself in the divination of Godhead, the impulse towards perfection, the search after pure Truth and unmixed Bliss, the sense of a secret immortality. The ancient dawns of human knowledge have left us their witness to this constant aspiration; today we see a humanity satiated but not satisfied by victorious analysis of the externalities of Nature preparing to return to its primeval longings. The earliest formula of Wisdom promises to be its last, — God, Light, Freedom, Immortality.

These persistent ideals of the race are at once the contradiction of its normal experience and the affirmation of higher and deeper experiences which are abnormal to humanity and only to be attained, in their organised entirety, by a revolutionary individual effort or an evolutionary general progression. To know, possess and be the divine being in an animal and egoistic consciousness, to convert our twilit or obscure physical mentality into the plenary supramental illumination, to build peace and a self-existent bliss where there is only a stress of transitory satisfactions besieged by physical pain and emotional suffering, to establish an infinite freedom in a world which presents itself as a group of mechanical necessities, to discover and realise the immortal life in a body subjected to death and constant mutation, — this is offered to us as the manifestation of God in Matter and the goal of Nature in her terrestrial evolution. To the ordinary material intellect which takes its present organisation of consciousness for the limit of its possibilities, the direct contradiction of the unrealised ideals with the realised fact is a final argument against their validity. But if we take a more deliberate view of the world’s workings, that direct opposition appears rather as part of Nature’s profoundest method and the seal of her completest sanction.

For all problems of existence are essentially problems of harmony. They arise from the perception of an unsolved discord and the instinct of an undiscovered agreement or unity. To rest content with an unsolved discord is possible for the practical and more animal part of man, but impossible for his fully awakened mind, and usually even his practical parts only escape from the general necessity either by shutting out the problem or by accepting a rough, utilitarian and unillumined compromise. For essentially, all Nature seeks a harmony, life and matter in their own sphere as much as mind in the arrangement of its perceptions. The greater the apparent disorder of the materials offered or the apparent disparateness, even to irreconcilable opposition, of the elements that have to be utilised, the stronger is the spur, and it drives towards a more subtle and puissant order than can normally be the result of a less difficult endeavour.”

The Life Divine

Sri Aurobindo

A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans

“Whoever wants to hold on to the conviction that all living things are only machines should abandon all hope of glimpsing their environments.

Whoever is not yet an adherent of the machine theory of living beings might, however, consider the following. All our utensils and machines are no more than aids for human beings. Of course there are aids to producing effects, which one calls tools, a class to which all large machines belong (…). But there are also aids to perception (…). Animals are made thereby into pure objects. In so doing, one forgets that one has from the outset suppressed the principal factor, namely the subject who uses these aids, who affects and perceives with them. (…) One has also gone so far as to mechanize human beings.

For the physiologist, every living thing is an object that is located in his human world. He investigates the organs of living things and the way they work together just as a technician would examine an unfamiliar machine. The biologist, on the other hand, takes into account that each and every living thing is a subject that lives in its own world, of which it is the center. It cannot, therefore, be compared to a machine, only to the machine operator who guides the machine. We ask a simple question: Is the tick a machine or a machine operator? Is it a mere object or a subject?

(…) This is no doubt a case of reflexes, each of which is replaced by the next and which are activated by objectively identifiable physical and chemical effects. But whoever is satisfied with that observation, and assumes he has therefore solved the problem, only proves that he has not seen the real problem at all. (…) It is only a question that, among the hundreds of effects that emanate from the mammal’s body, only three become feature carriers for the tick. Why these three and no others?”

Jakob von Uexküll

Pragmatism

“I know that you, ladies and gentlemen, have a philosophy, each and all of you, and that the most interesting and important thing about you is the way in which it determines the perspective in our several worlds. You know the same of me. And yet I confess to a certain tremor at the audacity of the enterprise which I am about to begin. For the philosophy which is so important in each of us is not a technical matter; it is our more or less dumb sense of what life honestly and deeply means. It is only partly got from books; it is our individual way of just seeing and feeling that total push and pressure of the cosmos.

The history of philosophy is to a great extent that of a certain clash of human temperaments. (…) Of whatever temperament a professionla philospher is, he tries when philosophizing to sink the fact of his temperament. Temperament is no conventuonally recognied reason, so he urges impersonal reasons only for his conclusions. Yet his temperament really gives him a stronger bias than any of his more strickly objective premises. It loads the evidence for him one way or the other, making for a more sentimental or a more hard-hearted view of the universe, just as this fact or that principle would. He trusts his temperament. Wanting a universe that suits it, he believes in any representation of the universe that does suit it.

There arises thus a certain insincerity in our philosophic discussions: the potentest of all our premises is never mentioned. (…) But the one thing that has counted so far in philosophy is that a man should see things, see them straight in his own peculiar way, and be dissatisfied with any opposite way of seeing them.

… a very similar contrast expressed in the pair of terms rationalist and empiricist, empiricist meaning your lover of facts in all their crude variety, rationalist meaning your devotee to abstract and eternal principles. No one can live an hour without both facts and principles, so it is a difference rather of emphasis; yet it breeds antipathies of the most pungent character between those who lay the emphasis differently. Now what kinds of philosophy do you find actually offered to meet your need? You find an empirical philosophy that is not religious enough, and a religious philosophy that is not empirical enough for your purpose. (…) What you want is a philosophy that will not only exercise your powers of intellectual abstraction, but that will make some positive connexion with this actual world of finite human lives.

It is a this point that my own solution begins to appear. I offer the oddly-named thing pragmatism as a philosophy that can satisfy both kinds of demands. It can remain religious like the rationalisms, but at the same time, like the empiricisms, it can preserve the richest intimacy with facts. The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable. The pragmatic method in such cases is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences.

There can be no difference anywhere that doesn’t make a difference elsewhere.

William James