Saturday, October 27

Blog no. 2

As from today, Silence has a baby sister. This doesn't mean that Silence is coming to an end of course, there is simply a difference in the style and choice of subjects between the two blogs. Getjilp ('chirping') will be less philosophical, more down-to-earth - hence the grass - and written in Dutch. Anyone is welcome to read and comment.

Wednesday, October 24


The last few months I have been following my first philosophy class, on theories of consciousness in Eastern and Western thought. In order to define the essence of consciousness, many questions need answering, such as:

  • What is the relationship of consciousness to thought?
  • Can consciousness itself ever be known?
  • Does consciousness mirror reality, or does it create reality?
  • Where and how does consciousness arise?
  • What is a person, how is the self related to consciousness?

At the end of the course I wrote an essay regarding my own point of view on the subject. The thing is, I have only a very vague opinion about the subject, and personally I don't mind keeping it that way. My answer to the questions above have little meaning, since there are numerous other explanations as valid as mine. But as I was writing the essay, I did form a theory about consciousness and the self. I used the metaphor of an ocean to describe what consciousness might be like (it was only afterwards that I stumbled on similar, though not identical metaphors on the internet) and I noticed that this image gave rise to some interesting ideas. Just a little thought experiment - the following is an excerpt from my essay.

What is the relationship of consciousness to thought? Descartes and others thought that consciousness underlies thought, as if it is the stage on which plays are performed. But perhaps thought does not need to occur on a substrate. I am more inclined to agree with the so-called mosaic model, the view that consciousness does not differ from thought, but instead is built up of thought. Without thought, there would be no consciousness at all. I must add, however, that I do believe one can be conscious without consciously thinking - the concept of consciousness must include a state of no-thought. In such a state, there is no complete absence of thought, but one would not experience actual individual ideas and emotions. Thought would be undifferentiated and calm, as an ocean without waves.

In investigating the true nature of consciousness, one of the first questions that should be posed is whether it is even possible to succeed in this aim or not - a question related to the one I have brought up in the introduction of this paper. If consciousness underlies thought, how can one know it? Knowing is an ability of the mind, which would be absent during the state of pure consciousness. The stage would be empty, the actors no longer present to contemplate what is beneath their feet. However, if we assume that consciousness is the sum of all thoughts (conscious and subconscious), the question is wether or not knowing can know itself. I will not set this possibility aside, but it would require thought to be like the still ocean. As there would be no active thoughts one could only know one’s pure consciousness subconsciously. When we think about ourselves, we think about the waves breaking on the shore. This is only a small part of our self, of the consciousness that we are, but it is the only part that we consciously know.

In this metaphor of consciousness, conscious thought is symbolized by waves breaking on the shore. Reality itself is the cause of these waves at the edge of our consciousness, and influences their behavior. One could say that this narrow strip of active consciousness mirrors reality, but it does not directly observe it. Reality stretches out far beyond the coast, to lands the ocean will never be able to conquer.

Sunday, October 21

I don't need anyone, part 2

We are lucky in many ways, and we know it. Of course we know it. But isn't it hard to really feel it? The gratitude. In the words of Aldous Huxley, most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted. Most of us have never been crippled, or blind, or deaf. When we were young our parents told us to clean our plates, because "the poor orphans in Africa have nothing to eat at all". Broccoli! Spinach! They'd be over the moon.

On the one hand one could say we don't compare ourselves to other people enough because in general we don't seem to realize how lucky we are. On the other hand we compare ourselves to others way too much. Often I feel it's not enough to be good. If I would get, say, a 60% score on a test, the score of the other participants would matter to me. If everybody else fails with very low scores I'd feel lucky to have passed. If the majority gets much higher scores than me, I'd feel dissapointed. I don't just want to be good enough. I want to be better. Why?

I've also noticed that whatever is beyond my reach attracts me more. For some reason, sometimes it's not enough to have one good thing if the next thing is out of reach. Sometimes it even feels bad if I can't have something I don't want in the first place. Sometimes I just want to have what they have. To have something that satisfies their standards, not just mine. Sometimes I want to impress people who's opinion doesn't really matter. And sometimes I'm just jealous. I am deeply ashamed to admit it, but those are my weaknesses. Hold it against me if you want.

I see what I have. I see which choices are right for me and what I ought to want. I know it... but sometimes I just don't feel it. I guess I do have my disadvantages after all.

I don't need anyone, part 1

Ernst van der Pasch is a Dutch cabaret artist. The following lyrics are his - the song is called 'Ik Heb Niemand Nodig' and can be downloaded here. It's not very amusing (I like Ernst's show although I do not find it very humorous) but rather very serious and profound. I'd like to use this song as an introduction to my next post, and I'd also like to recommend the other work of Ernst van der Pasch to any Dutch visitors.

Ik heb geen manke nodig om te weten dat ik kan lopen
Geen blinde om te weten dat ik kan zien
Zonder hopeloze kan ik hopen
Ik heb niemand nodig
Hooguit jou misschien

I don't need a cripple to know that I can walk
Don't need a blind man to know I can see
Without someone hopeless I can hope
I don't need anyone
You at most, perhaps

Een dove man verstaat me niet
Een vrijgezel verlaat me niet
En door een gek weet ik nog niet meer dan ik weet
Een zwerver maakt mijn huis niet groot
Een dode vriend laat mij de dood niet beter begrijpen dan ik zonder hem al deed

A deaf man doesn't hear me
A single won't leave me
I do not know more than I know because of a madman
I don't have a big house because of a homeless person
Because of a death friend I do not understand death better than I already did

Ik heb geen zin meer om te kijken naar de zwakken
Om te zien hoe goed het met me gaat
Waarom zou ik mij nog laten zakken
Waarom zou ik als nu blijkt
Dat er niets boven me meer staat

I don't feel like looking at the weak anymore
Just to see how well I'm doing
Why would I lower myself any longer
Why would I when it turns out
That there is nothing above me anymore

Sunday, October 14

Bright world

A delicate autumn day in October. In the afternoon, some sunshine started to break through the clouds above south Amsterdam. Very modestly, as befits autumn sunshine. The avenue that connects the university grounds to the student district was lying peacefully beneath four rows of impressively large trees, dropping their leaves one by one. No hurries. Metro trains whooshed by every few minutes, but in a very modest way.

Somewhere along the east side of this avenue we found a park of humble proportions. I would say it was about 600 metres in length, fit for a short stroll. At the other end we sat ourselves down on a bench, next to a fairly unmoving and old lady, and discussed the many great and small questions of life. Where cinnamon comes from. How Bonobos solve all their problems. Why big birds tend to be mean. How ethical it would be to name your child after a Sesame Street character. You see, Big Bird is not only light blue in the Netherlands, he's also called Pino. And no, that wouldn't be very ethical.

I picked up one of the hundreds of fallen leaves lying at our feet and held it to the sunlight. A thin leaf with a fine network of veins and an incredibly warm tone of orange brown, perhaps only hours away from curling up and shriveling. And we just looked at that little leaf together, amazed about the arrangement of veins nature had been able to design. Millions of years of evolution, of trial and error, of natural selection on tens of thousands of generations, resulting in the pattern on this unassuming little leaf. Nature may never before have found such an efficient way to distribute plant juices evenly across a flat surface.

Many things need time to fully blossom. Plants need sunlight, water, nutrients. Some things feel right from the start. But perhaps it'll only get better.