Which philosopher do you disagree with? Source: Quora

I totally disagree with Rene Descartes concept of mind-body dualism. I think this concept influenced the modern philosophy at many levels, with very negative consequences for our eduction and medicine.

Our education is based on the idea that mind-things are separate from body things. It follows that we have our youths nailed to their seats at school for hours, every day, so their ‘minds’ are filled with knowledge. The body does not do anything. Knowledge has to get to the mind. And we wonder why we have to diagnose them with ADHD.

Our medicine is also influenced by the idea that there are two types of disorders, a physiological (bodily) disorder and a psychological disorder (mind). So we go to a physician to check out our pulses and blood pressure, and then sit down on a chair of a shrink to see what is going on in our mind.

In most eastern philosophies, there is no separation between mind and body. Mind is an emergent quality of the body, or actually for some the body is an emergent quality of the mind. Their practices also reflect such integration. See how mind and body are connected in Yoga, martial arts, Chinese medicine, etc.
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Answer 2 of 10
John Hartman
John Hartman, studied Mathematics at Australian National University (2017)
Answered Wed
Plato. I’ll give him credit for basically inventing western philosophy, but goddamn he was just wrong. Deeply, fundamentally, offensively so.

Plato’s view of reality was back-to-front. To Plato, truth was independent and prior to physical reality. Truth came first, and the world was a mere caricature of truth; the shadows cast against the back of his cave.

When Plato saw that things were different, that no two tables looked alike, he deduced: Since physical tables are different, yet they share the property of “tableness”, there is a pure and eternal expression of “tableness”, the “true table” which physical tables mimic imperfectly.

His attempt to reduce all things to their “true form”s permeates all his philosophy. The story of Diogenes and the chicken is a great example:

According to Diogenes Laërtius, when Plato gave the tongue-in-cheek definition of man as “featherless bipeds,” Diogenes plucked a chicken and brought it into Plato’s Academy, saying, “Behold! I’ve brought you a man,” and so the Academy added “with broad flat nails” to the definition. (Source)

He couldn’t have been more wrong, because reality comes first, and then we apply meaning to it. The concept of a ‘Table’ does not exist independently of humans; it’s a loose cluster of objects we’ve observed and given a single name for convenience’s sake. Whether something constitutes a “Table” or a “Desk” is not a debate about true, undying metaphysical forms; it’s an arbitrary choice of mental models.

Reality is far too vast, weird, and complex to be neatly divided into units of absolute truth. There are so many exceptions, so many microcosms of meaning that any attempt to pin things down to their ‘essential nature’ is doomed. Instead of shunning nuance and complexity we should embrace it, allow ourselves to see something two ways at once but not put one before the other, to see a theory as a flawed tool to explain the world and not confuse it with the world itself.
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Answer 3 of 10
David Moore
David Moore, A philosopher who masquerades as something more useful
Answered Feb 13
Ironically, Friedrich Nietzsche – sheerly because what he says is so deeply poetic and powerful and yet it is like reality viewed from the perspective of a mirror.

There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.

…and so I see madness in his reason, as I do in my own.

We have art in order not to die of the truth.

…because we assume it would kill us?

There are no facts, only interpretations.

…so ‘subjectivity is truth’, as a hero of mine says? He is being ironic, you know.

He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.

…so show me your raison d’être, O maker of the ubermensch.

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.

Now that’s ironic. You sound like me. Is truth false? I think you’re saying what you mean. I’m not – I’m meaning what I say.

A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.

So why should I believe you? Didn’t you go mad from your great learning?

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

This from the man whose influence on the modern world can hardly be perceived it is so pervasive. What have you done?

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: “I am looking for God! I am looking for God!”

As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances.

“Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

…and is this a good thing? Is it even true? I agree entirely, but you seem to have missed your own point, great sage.

To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities—I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not—that one endures.

…but you’re dead and your legacy was distorted into the literal application of what you say here as a rebuke. Get it? It’s a joke, but it’s not funny. It’s serious. Why so serious?

It is a self-deception of philosophers and moralists to imagine that they escape decadence by opposing it. That is beyond their will; and, however little they acknowledge it, one later discovers that they were among the most powerful promoters of decadence.

Indeed. Are you a philosopher? What wisdom should I learn from you? What good might I gain that I might avoid such evil?

To recognize untruth as a condition of life–that certainly means resisting accustomed value feelings in a dangerous way; and a philosophy that risks this would by that token alone place itself beyond good and evil.

Are you saying “trust me, I’m lying?”!

There is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena

Then my interpretation is my morality, and I reject yours!

The text has disappeared under the interpretation.

I’m just saying exactly what you said!

One must shed the bad taste of wanting to agree with many. “Good” is no longer good when one’s neighbor mouths it. And how should there be a “common good”! The term contradicts itself: whatever can be common always has little value. In the end it must be as it is and always has been: great things remain for the great, abysses for the profound, nuances and shudders for the refined, and, in brief, all that is rare for the rare.

You sound like a monster now.

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Then you are the abyss, and I condemn you. I am enlightened. You are wrong in every way.

I obviously do everything to be “hard to understand myself”.

Really? That’s ironic. People will misunderstand you. That’s your intention?! That we learn nothing from you except our own error?

Objection, evasion, joyous distrust, and love of irony are signs of health; everything absolute belongs to pathology.

Then I’m the healthiest man alive. My distrust of you brings me joy and my objection to your evasion causes me to evade every objection of yours. I will be a fundamental Christian with complete faith in Christ through the sovereignty of God because of what you say.

Swallow your poison, for you need it badly

Yes, O captain my captain! I will join Socrates with you and cast away the faith in myself which makes such poison – drinking the cup of Christ and surrendering to the Will whose own will is the only power.

Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood. Write with blood, and thou wilt find that blood is spirit.

Amen. Now I see the spear of destiny in your side.

You look up when you wish to be exalted. And I look down because I am exalted.

I feel your pain.

But it is the same with man as with the tree. The more he seeks to rise into the height and light, the more vigorously do his roots struggle earthword, downword, into the dark, the deep – into evil.

As you say, great tree of the forest. “Cursed is he who is hung on a tree”. Who, then, is Zarathustra? I thought you were…

I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Are you the witness to the beginning?! Do you speak as Eden against the crime of humanity in choosing fear over love?! Are all your words judgement against those who believe them to be what they appear because we make ourselves God in doing so?!

you must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame; how could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes?

Then rise to the heavens, O saint. I will follow you to the opposite conclusion. You have entangled me. Thus, we are one because of our differences. Sleep well, my friend. You have awakened me to become what I am. I thank God for you.


Without music, life would be a mistake

…and yet we have music. Did I tell you I’m a trumpet player? I’ve played this fanfare for a long time. It is not for the common man.
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David Moore
David Moore
Feb 13 · 1 upvote
Jan Špenko, Valerie Yip, you know him probably better than I. However, here I am speaking plainly about him, by speaking with him.

Jan Špenko: Human, All too human:…
David Rossiter
David Rossiter
Feb 13 · 3 upvotes including David Moore
Very eloquent conversation with someone from the past as if they are alive today.

Your breadth of resources and your ability to extract and bring together reminds of psalm 42 which deals with the troubling of the soul as one searches for God in the midst of turmoil.

There is an apt phrase which springs to mind from that psalm-

Psalms 42:7

Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;

All Your waves and billows have gone over me.

In you I can see that process of deep things being pulled from deep places of the soul.

David Moore: David, such a wonderful example from you of the same thing. Thanks so much
Slađana Vićentijević
Slađana Vićentijević
Feb 13 · 3 upvotes including David Moore
I am not familiar with his work as Jan Špenko is, I also do not disagree entirely with Nietzsche, but I think David your answer is so worthy of reading. 🙂

David Moore: Thanks Sladana!
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Answer 4 of 10
Peter Flom
Peter Flom, I like to read philosophy.
Answered Sat
Of the people who are undoubtedly great philosophers, I find a lot of what I’ve read of Nietzsche truly appalling, but I am not expert enough to give detailed reasons for this.

As a person, I think Rousseau was the biggest jackass in the halls of great philosophers. A nasty, petty person (he managed to get David Hume mad at him, which no one else managed to do, Le Bon David was renowned for his equanimity) and wrong about just about everything as well. Getting rid of civilization is not a good idea (and, in Rousseau’s mythical state of nature, he would be dead).
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Answer 5 of 10
Alex Johnston
Alex Johnston, Guitar/bass player, writer, father, ex-husband, book reader
Answered Feb 13
Socrates. At least, Socrates as served to us by Plato.

In order to understand something, we have to be able to define it. Definitions can only be arrived at by philosophers, because only they know how to make them. Therefore, nobody really knows anything except philosophers, so philosophers should run the world.

What a crock of shit.

And don’t give me that fucking Oh I’m such a gadfly! nonsense, Socrates. When stuff was going down during the Peloponnesian War, when the debate about what to do with Mytilene was happening, where the fuck were you? Nowhere! That guy Diodotus had more balls than you, because at least he showed up and said something that affected public policy and saved people’s lives! You were off drooling after that self-serving, crypto-fascist prick Alcibiades. And that would be okay, except that at your trial, you shake your head sorrowfully and say Oh well, it’s not your fault that you wouldn’t listen to me.

You never fucking showed up, Socrates, because you hated that guys like you weren’t running the show.

Your debating technique leads into pointless blind alleys, most of the time, and don’t tell me that Oh, that’s the point, I’m trying to teach you something about knowledge blah blah. Straw debaters and verbal quibbling don’t teach anybody anything. I learn more about how to think from reading a fucking BBC radio talk by Bernard Williams than I learn from entire dialogues with you in them.


I don’t like Socrates.
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Answer 6 of 10
Michael Masiello
Michael Masiello, I have taught humanities at the college level for many years.
Answered Feb 13
Ayn Rand. Because that simply is not how people act, or how they interact, no matter how she stamps her foot and says Objectivism is a totally rational and absolutely coherent system.

Also, I find ethical egoism repulsive: cf. Michael Masiello’s answer to What is Bernard Williams’ critique of ethical egoism?
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Oscar Tay
Oscar Tay
I’ve never read any of her work. Why does everyone hate her so much?
3 more comments from Robert Todd, Peter Flom, Alex Johnston
Answer 7 of 10
Iredia Uyi
Iredia Uyi, Deist. Light the darkness!
Answered Fri
David Hume. His radical empiricism ties itself in absurd knots. It is true sense experience is relevant to knowledge and we may not assume beyond what we see but Hume takes these wisdoms to extremes. Several concepts like love, beauty, infinity and unity though expressed by or inferred from physical things are dressings of innate reason on the world it sees. Hume doesn’t see this.
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Answer 8 of 10
Nathan Coppedge
Nathan Coppedge, Philosopher Artist Inventor Poet
Answered Fri
What you will find is no philosopher will pay lip service to their true enemies, as it gives their enemies way too much credit to be talked about.

Instead, philosophy, being concerned with wisdom, finds trivial and stupid things to be opposed to philosophy.

But nor should one emphasize this point, because, overall, with the right theory, even initially stupid-looking ideas can have a purpose for philosophy, although not so much as theories belonging to anyone, unless we mean good theories.

So, analyzing a ‘theory-as-bad’ is not so important to philosophers. Theory-as-bad is in other words a bad theory with a good meta-critical theory.

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Answer 9 of 10
John Stanley
John Stanley, former High school English teacher for 37 years
Answered Feb 13
Plato, in his proposition that what we perceive is merely an imperfect example of some mystical ideal form which is perfect. The idea of perfection is merely a mental habit, not a real trait. If Plato says a chair is merely the reflection of a perfect chair, for example, a perfect desk chair is not a perfect chair for dining at table or a perfect easy chair. A perfect black desk chair is not a perfect maroon desk chair; a perfect desk chair for typing is not a perfect desk chair for filing; a perfect desk chair for one posture is not perfect for another posture; etc. As we define perfection more and more exactly, we can get to the point where each chair is the perfect example of itself.
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Answer 10 of 10
Thiago T
Thiago T
Answered Feb 13
Thomas Aquinas.

First, because I love St. Augustine and think they are opposite in their philosophies. Is foreclosure against the exegesis and I’m taken by expressiveness vertical, even though I’m an atheist. In this sense, is an incredible writer called Portuguese father Antonio Vieira.

Well … The truth is that I can’t get involved with the substance, form etc Thomistic. About it, I admit that the problem is all mine.

Thank you,

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Where Are The Rice Fields (Edited Version)?

Where Are The Rice Fields? (Edited Version)

A few years ago, I disassembled, deconstructed, and reassembled a powerful short story written by MS. The end result was that I contributed about 75% of the words in the adapted story (I acknowledged the intellectual debt to MS at the end of the story). I felt cleansed after I was done writing it. The exercise was therapeutic to me. It helped me overcome feelings, at least momentarily, of homicide.
I recently came across Sakey’s story again. Its impact on me was still the same: I was on fire and at peace at the same time. The sad thing is that I couldn’t locate the adapted story. It got lost somewhere in the cyberspace. So I’m writing another story from scratch. I hope it’s going to be half as good as the one I adapted a few years ago, but I know at least it will be more original, now that my imagination is more fecund and despairing.


You love talking, especially if there’s a chance of seriously hurting myself. You like your food so hot that any woman sitting next to you would catch fire and invite you home. You like to live dangerously, close to the abyss and far away from the stars. You used to live in fear, but not anymore. Now you live in rage. You know one day you will not die in bed.
Early Spring may be somewhere else in North America, but where you live it’s already summer. The sun comes out early and stays late. By mid-morning, it’s already scorchingly hot, sucking moisture and energy out of all living things. The sunshine is white and blinding. Most of the time, the air is still. There’s hardly a breeze. Leaves and branches on trees hang motionless most of the time. Rustling sounds made by swaying foliage are rare events. You’re sitting on a cement bench in the shade of some tree which sports tiny, waxy leaves in the parking lot of a Vegas public library, thinking of what has happened in your life.
James Joyce once wrote in the Ulysses: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery”.It may be so, but since you are no genius, you know you’ve made mistakes and they are legions, and your mistakes are portals of horror and anguish.
It’s reasonable to worship financial success. In fact you had financial success once upon a time. One day, however, you decided to embark on a journey of self-discovery and haven’t looked back.
You don’t regard yourself a failure, nor do you think the journey has been of no use. You still have money. There’s no way you will spend all of it before you die, unless you become stupid, fall in love, and give it away to some beautiful, sexy bitch. You have had a very rich life, compared with most other humans who decided to play safe. You could have a net worth of at least $5 million by now if you played safe like most monkeys and cowards, but Money was not what motivated you. Love and Knowledge kept you going. And now something else really keeps you going. Did you ever regret over what you did? The head softly says yes while the heart keeps screaming, “Fuck No!”
You went to Vegas, not by volition, but out of necessity. Vegas is big and full of transients and tourists, a place where an appearance of anonymity is alluring. It gives people like you a second and possibly last chance to start life all over again. You thought long and hard of other choices like Los Angeles and Biloxi, MS., but they came up short, although Biloxi came a very close second. Biloxi’s slow pace of life, the quiet, and Southern hospitality appealed to you, but the anonymity was not assured. Besides, you don’t like humid, hot climate, even though you originally came from the tropics. You like dry, arid, hot climate. Vegas, its size, climate, and culture appealed to you.
Like you said, you used to live in fear. Fear of failure, of poverty, of ignorance, and of death. The fear drove you to books and kept your mouth shut. But that was not exactly how you wanted to live your life. You loved talking, opening your mouth and letting whatever pass through your mind to exit through your mouth, consequences be damned. But fear made you become a stranger to yourself. So you read more books and saved more money until one day only one fear remained: fear of ignorance.
The more you were fearful of ignorance, the more you read books. In the process you discovered that you were different from most humans. They had no fear of ignorance at all. Consequently, they were poseurs and full of pretenses. They presented to the world they had a high regard of themselves. They had a fear of disrespect and rejection. But fear was a strange animal, whatever its manifestation. They could shut it off in a room and throw away the key, hoping the animal would eventually die in there and they wouldn’t hear of its presence. But the animal didn’t die. It kept growling and beating on the door until one day the hinges got loose and the door got busted open and the beast got out and found them. It grabbed their shoulders and looked at them in the eyes and grinned, showing its yellow, mildewed teeth and a foul odor exited from its mouth when it said to them, “Hello, it’s me. We met before. Do you remember?” At that time, most of them had a stupid, sheepish look on their faces.
The assholes and scumbags craved respect so they brazenly lied and/or put others down by cheap innuendos and insinuations instead of owning up to facts and truths. Deep down the assholes and scumbags had no self-respect nor a sense of honor. They were basically animals, fearful of just about everything, except the only thing that would make them human: ignorance.
Dusk is now arriving. Sunlight is receding to the west. And then it is dark in the sky, except for the crescent moon and then the stars. You feel empty and lonely and strong and cynical. You think of her, of evening excursions to the park, after university lectures, where she and you would haltingly explore each other’s body. And then bam, what you thought as Love vanished into thin air, without a trace, without a lingering regret on her part.

Last night the song Tracesby TheClassics IV,written in 1968, the year she and you started going out came on the radio. The relationship you had with her lasted only three years, but the impact on you has lasted a lifetime. Love is a strange and yet familiar thing, like Fire. Don’t play with Love or Fire. You might get burned and scarred for life.

Faded photographs, covered now with lines and creases
Tickets torn in half, memories in bits and pieces
Traces of love, long ago that didn’t work out right
Traces of love

Ribbons from her hair, souvenirs of days together

The ring she used to wear, pages from an old love letter
Traces of love, long ago that didn’t work out right
Traces of love, with me tonight

I close my eyes and say a prayer that in her heart
She’ll find a trace of love still there, somewhere, oh

Traces of hope in the night that she’ll come back and dry
These traces of tears from my eyes, oh yeah

Unlike the sentiment expressed at the end of the song, you gave up on the hope she would ever come back to you. Still, only recently do you have the control of your emotions when you hear the song on the radio.
After she disappeared from your life and lingered in your heart, there were so many others that came and went, but no one came close to rekindling the fire and the love you had for her, not even Harriet who really loved you, but was too coarse and crude to bring you peace of mind.
Now there’s another “she”, the one who lives in New York and sundry other places. You look at her photograph and savor the memory when she took your hands into hers and spoke obliquely of what might and could have been. She is no raving beauty, but has a kind heart. And you are a chicken-hearted romantic fellow, too scared and too scarred to let her know how you think of her, and of your deep, dark secret of the night.
Sun is cold, Rain is hard, Sex is overrated, and Love is elusive, but to live is to find somebody to love and to be loved by somebody. To live is also to forget the past, live for the present, and prepare yourself for the future and your eventual demise. To live is to find meaning for our brief but often fraught existence, to struggle with its inherent absurdity, to cope with the lies and venality of our fellow humans who are mostly inferior to us in terms of intelligence and knowledge and have nothing to offer to us by way of enlightenment.
You had a pleasant dream about Alicia the other night. It woke you up, but you didn’t bother to record the dream right away. You were very surprised that the dream was very nice and romantic, since nowadays you realize with stark awareness that she no longer has a hold on you though you understand that she has aged well and gracefully. You suppose you finally recognize that Love is really a dream and a fantasy, and it is really overstated and overblown. Or it could be that you now think that she does not deserve your love and affection because she is just as common as the others. You now use the memories of her and Laura to better yourself. The past is gone, like water over the dam. Life is for the present and the future.
A concerned friend asked you why you are wasting time on imbeciles and assholes. You told her that having a “dialogue” with these scumbags is a way for you to know how some human animals “think” and feel. The “dialogue” has energized you and once more brought to the fore a realization that you are indeed blessed that you are not like those pathetic animals. These animals have no true pride, deep down. Not really. If they did, they would do something about their conditions. For instance, a fucked-up and terminally ill lesbian lodged a nauseously self-righteous and pathetic complaint about your language while she conveniently overlooked her own coarse and stupid language. Her hypocritical behavior made you laugh about human nature. No wonder we have wars and atrocities. Some, if not most, human animals need to be exterminated like vermin, since they pollute the gene pool. The old adage rings true in her case, “you must shut your fucking mouth if the matter on hand doesn’t concern you. In fact, only speak when you’re spoken to.”The problem with the human race is that most humans don’t know how to keep their mouths shut.
From reading the book review of Primo Levi’s Coomple Works of Primo Levi, you leaned about evil and the complexities of human nature, especially the drive for power, the despair, as well as the sheer human will to live at any costs. To search for life’s meanings is an intellectual and emotional exercise only when one is safe and free from harm, only when one has to confront daily ennui. But when one’s physical existence is in danger, the instinct for physical survival must kick in, and everyday is the repetition of the mantra, “Survive, survive, survive at any price”. Your body will not give up if your mind does not give up. Now you understand why many former internees of the VC’s concentration camps are still hating the VC with a ferocity, despite the passage of time. Still, a life lesson is being etched in your mind here: to survive in this increasingly absurd and unjust world, you must cultivate an attitude that calls for stoic and cynical acceptance of two things: Bad Luck, and Man is largely an evil creature thatoften resorts to vengeance, greed, power, and sadism. Of course, there are humans who are kind, fair-minded, and not venal. Those are true humans, but they constitute no more than 10% of the human race. The other 90% are human animals who make life a problem, not a yoyful existence, for themselves and othes, including non-human species. So, who are you? part of the 10% or the 90%? The choice is up to you. To be human is to be blessed with choices. To survive means not to be burned up with Hate and a preoccupation with Justice and Revenge.
So, after gallantly and ferociously asserting his will to live through degradations and depredations of life in Auschwitz, Levi took his own life at the age of 67 in 1987, 43 years after his arrest and deportation to Auschlitz. Levi evinced his zest for life in prose, but in poetry he bared his darker feelings: isolation, bitterness, and even hatred of life. In “Song of Those Who Died in Vain.”, there is a line that reads, “We’re invulnerable because we’ve died.”As the book reviewer remarked, “Reading the poems, one wonders not that Levi killed himself, but that he took so long to do it.”
So Auschwitz did kill Levi, only it took 43 years. One can tell if a person is really emotionally and mentally tough. Usually such a person does not talk much, not because he internalizes most of his thoughts, but because when he talks, he merely tries to convince others, not himself.
A strong, tough-minded man thinks much and talks little. He is sure of his thoughts and emotions. There is no need for him to articulate them for an audience in order to seek feedback.
A strong, tough-minded men doesn’t usually write poems of despair.
It was knowledge that set humans apart from non-humans. Real humans know who they are, why they are on this planet Earth, and where they go after they die. They also know concepts like God, reincarnation, heaven and hell are products of the imagination of mind controllers and absolutely have no basis in physical reality, and are produced for the consumption of the human animals who are too stupid or lazy to think for themselves, who are fearful of disrespect and rejection.
It was precisely fear of disrespect and rejection that led Yvette to you. She was the mother-in-law of Chuck. Chuck was a poker dealer in one of the Indian casinos in Scottsdale, a wealthy suburb of Phoenix, AZ. Poker has exerted on the imagination of the public and has its own myths and mythos. It can be played as a recreational game, a gambling pursuit, or as a deadly mind contact sport where honor, fortune or bantrupcy are at stake. It is a social equalizer. At the poker table, the social status doesn’t mean diddly-shit; neither does money because if one plays poorly in a gambling way without a good grasp of mathematical probability; the nature of luck (good and bad); understanding of the human mind regarding courage, saving face; pain threshold; self-control; and money management, the money would not last and will migrate to those who initially had less money.
Poker attracts all kinds of players who think they are smart and can think. People who like to take risks and love excitement also flock to the game. So at the poker table, a wide range of humanity assemble and duke it out for supremacy. Only the best hand wins. Coming in consistently as second place is a financial disaster and a blow to one’s conception. There’s no other human adventure where a man’s true nature is laid bare for him and others to see. It is an activity where lying to others is acceptable but lying to oneself is disastrous. Poker, properly played and managed, can be a good builder of character, not counting bankroll. Poker is life condensed and distilled where conversations can turn deadly as what happened a few months ago in a poker room in Scottsdale where Chuck worked.
The game was no-limit hold ’em where one could bet whatever the amount one had in front of him. The poker room was full, as usual. You showed up there right after work, having called ahead for a seat reservation.
You ambled into the poker room, feeling tense and ill at ease. It was not so much from fear of losing as having a foreboding sense of something dramatic, out of joint, and unusual that was to occur. You were directed to a table that was full of regulars. The banter was friendly as usual, but a bit more risqué, being Friday night and the Super Bowl was just two days away. Then it turned sick. Two old, cynical players started talking about death, cancer, and suicide, then “progressed” to necrophilia and murder and cannibalism. They seemed to relish the conversation. Now and then several others chimed in, adding wisecracks and double entendres. The conversation was now about Jeffrey Dahmer and how sick he was. Alberto, one of the two cynics wondered out loud if Dahmer’s death was a spontaneous jailhouse execution or it was a murder for hire commissioned by one of Dahmer’s victims’ relatives. He then added that he would kill Dahmer for free. That was when you felt you had to speak because you didn’t like Alberto’s motor mouth and braggadocio.
You just talked. You wouldn’t have the balls to kill him even if somebody paid you.
-Oh yeah, how the fuck that you know so much about me?
– I just know, shithead. I know your type. All talk. No action. All fucking lies to make yourself look good. Assholes like you are dime a dozen. Shit, in my college days, assholes like you, I ate for lunch.
-Oh yeah? Eat me then, suck my dick!
Chuck, the dealer told us right there and then to cut it all out, otherwise he would have to call the poker room shift manager over. Alberto glared at you and said nothing. You looked at him and smiled in contempt. A few minutes later you won $375 off him and you got up and left. Chuck was still dealing. You tossed him two red birds ($5 chips) as tips.
You were still steaming while walking to your car in the parking lot. You hated scumbags like Alberto. They never owned what they said. They just wanted to look tough by talking tough. You ran into assholes like him all the time. You should have kept your mouth shut, however. You knew better.
Instead of going straight home, you stopped by the 24 Hours Fitness Club. You swam laps non-stop for over an hour until you could hardly raise your arms above water. When you got home you were in a somewhat better mood. You took off your clothes, soaked yourself in the bathtub and listened to the sound of bubbling brook on tape wafting from the bedroom.
The next evening you were back to the poker room. You were somber and laconic. You were led to a table with no regulars. You were there for no more than 15 minutes when Chuck came over and gave you a piece of paper. It said, “Meet me in the men’s room 30 minutes from now. Something very serious coming up. Stop playing at once. Be alert. Watch your back. Destroy this note. Tell nobody about the note nor about meeting me. Your friend, Chuck “.
You felt short of breath after reading the note. Your throat was dry. You gulped down almost all of your bottled water. You got up from the table. You had a small loss. After cashing your chips, you went outside for fresh air and to clear your head. You kept walking around in the casino parking lot in the cold but invigorating winter air. Steam of breath escaped from your nose. You kept wondering what Chuck’s cryptic note was all about. You were back inside the casino after 20 minutes of walking and headed to the restroom next to the poker room. Chuck appeared 5 minutes later, looking real serious and weary. He motioned you to get to the last two urinals along the wall. He whispered:
-After you left, Alberto was talking trash. Others laughed at him, saying you had a point. Then he blurted out that you and everybody else didn’t know the fuck you guys were talking out. The way he talked really concerned me. The tone and the quiet fury. Then Bobby asked him what he meant. He just clammed up and got up and left. If I were you, I’d leave town immediately. 
-You really think he has the balls to do something stupid? 
-No, but he could hire somebody. He has money and he is mean.
-Thanks a lot, Chuck.
-If you’re in Vegas and need a place to stay for a while, call me. I have friends there. 
You didn’t leave town immediately, but you acted fast. Death would come to those who didn’t draw fast enough. You couldn’t afford to diddle and dawdle around. You left the apartment after taking with you the bare essentials (including a Glock and two magazines) which fit into two suitcases. You checked into a motel that night, paying for a week in advance in cash, using a false name and making up the car license plate number. Your car was parked not in the motel’s parking lot. It was parked a block away in the visitor’s spot in an apartment complex.
You holed up in the motel room, surfing the net for Alberto’s address. You found it within 15 minutes. Google Earth indicated that the house was not in a gated community. A very good sign. Then you thought and visualized and meditated and doing Yoga exercises. You didn’t go out, even for food. You had pizza and Chinese meals delivered to your room.
On Monday morning, you called in sick. Then you went on a reconnaissance mission with a rented car, after selling your car at Carmax. You already dyed your hair and were growing a mustache. By the time you got to Alberto’s house, it was almost half past ten in the evening.
You drove past it with a normal speed. It was in the cul-de-sac, fairly big, two stories, no cars parked in the vicinity. The street looked quiet and empty. No toys or kid bicycles in the front lawns.
You drove past the house again, this time more slowly. Curtains were closed on both floors. You knew Alberto was widowed. His wife died last year. He made a big stink about it at the poker table. Everybody, including you, made a show of conveying sympathy while he gravely acknowledged the condolences. He could live by himself. He could have roommates to share the expenses although he didn’t really need the money. He was a retired successful CPA. He told everybody so. There was one way to find out if he was in the house and alone. You took out your cell phone.
About 30 minutes later, a rather beat up old Camry with Papa John’s Pizza sign on the roof stopped in front of the house. A middle-aged Hispanic delivery man stopped out of the car and marched briskly to the door. By that time, you were by the side of the house, looking nonchalant and cool. You blocked his path. You gave him $20 for a $15 pizza, telling him to wait if your friend Alberto would answer the door, and if he did, just saying to Alberto he was delivering a free pizza, at the courtesy of a friend, and hanging around if Alberto would give him any tip. If Alberto did not, you would give him another $5. The Hispanic looked excited and happy. He rang the door bell. The door was yanked wide open after a few seconds. Alberto barked, “I didn’t order any pizza!” You stepped right inside the house, your finger was already on the trigger of the Glock inside your jacket, and said, “But I did, as a pleasant surprise, Al.” “Here’s your tip, ” said you as pleasantly as you could as you gave the $5 bill to the Hispanic pizza man with your left hand. He bowed lightly his head, saying “muchas gracias, señor“, handed the pizza to Alberto and ran back to his car. You kicked the door closed, and said sternly to Alberto: “I came to make peace, Al. Are you hungry? Let’s eat pizza and have a talk. Anybody else in the house? They can share with us. The pizza is big enough. Do you have any beer?”
– Stop the bullshit! How did you find my house?
– You told us. You forgot? A nice, big house just for one person.
– Get the fuck out! And take the damned pizza with you. 
– Al, be nice. I am here on a peace mission. Let’s take a ride. There are two persons I want you to meet. I want to check your words against theirs. 
At that time, you pulled the Glock out and raised it to the level of Al’s head and gravely intoned, “please don’t force me to use it.” By that time, you had already determined that there was nobody else in the house. You had looked at his eyes all this time and they had never left yours . Al never looked furtively at other rooms in the house nor raised his voice to alert his roommates, but you didn’t want to be over-confident, so you forced him to walk with you, with the Glock on his back to check all the rooms and closets in the house. Finally, you told him to give you his wallet, his watch, and his diamond ring. He asked you why and you told him in an über-serious tone of voice if he did as he was told, he would be okay. You added, ” listen very carefully because your life depends on it. Just do as I say, no screaming for help, no running away, just sit still in the car, look straight ahead. We’ll take a ride for about 45 minutes, meet two guys, have a talk, then I will return to you the wallet, the watch, and the ring, and you can go home again.”
Alberto did as he was told, including carrying the pizza and putting it in the back seat of the car, although he looked scared and confused. A couple of times he tried to ask you questions, but you told him to shut up as there would be plenty of time for questions later. You drove with your left hand, the Glock in your right hand, pressing against his ribs. The car heater was on, but you could tell that Alberto was shivering. After all, he was 70 and didn’t appear in robust health. You doubted if he frequently the gym as often as you did, and you were 6 years his junior. You took him to a quiet, remote part of a Arizona National Park that you went hiking from time to time in the summer. Snow was on the ground. You stopped the car, motioned him to get out of the car, the gun trained on his chest.
– While waiting for the two guys to show up, l want to ask you a few questions.
-What guys? Do I know them?
– Doesn’t matter. Just answer my questions truthfully. After I left, did you threaten to have me wasted?
– No(after a slight hesitation of about one second).
– Are you sure?
– No, I meant yes, listen Roberto, we knew each other. We all bullshit for “fun”. I meant nothing by what I said.
– So that meant you actually did threaten me. So what was your plan? You would do yourself or you had a contract out on me? 
Then the fucker stupidly tried to act smart and brave.
– Killing me would just get yourself into deeper shit. Yes, there’s a guy looking for you.
– You sure about that?
– Yeah. 
– Thanks, Al(for a CPA, he was fucking dumb)
You shot him in the chest. The impact blew him off his feet. He landed on his back, looking very pale and in shock. You walked over and shot him one again in the chest, aiming for his heart. You then followed up with two shots in the head. You didn’t bother to check his pulse as they did in the movie because it was extremely unlikely an old man in his condition would survive with most of his face and brain missing, not counting two chest wounds.
On the way back to the car, you noticed that there was some blood on your jacket, but first thing first. You took out a baseball bat, put your gloves on, came back to the corpse, and bashed all Al’s teeth out of his jaw. You picked up all of those you could find, put them in one of the pockets of the jacket, and came back to the car.
You drove away. You met nobody on the way back. You didn’t expect any, being in January, the park was closed. Where Alberto and you had got off from the car was about a mile from the park’s gate. You dumped Al’s teeth in the toilet in the highway public restroom near Scottsdale. You broke the bat into two and threw them in the dumpster. You threw away the blood-stained jacket in the drainage ditch near the restroom after looking around and seeing nobody. You put on another jacket and drove at the speed limit all the way to Vegas, too keyed up to sleep, too worried to stop at any rest stop for long.
You checked into a nondescript motel in downtown Vegas, paid cash for the room, and crashed after getting on the Net and flipping on CNN and Fox News for any news about a missing retired CPA named Alberto Gonzalez. The next day you returned the rental car, called Chuck up and told him you were in Vegas and needed a place to stay.
He got you hooked up with his mother-in-law named Yvette who lived alone in a big house after her husband of over 40 years walked out on her and moved in with a Thai woman 30 years his junior whom he had met at a bar. After living with Yvette for 3 weeks, you understood why her husband had left her. She was demanding and controlling and vengeful. She developed a crush on you but told everybody that you had a soft spot in your heart for her. You played dumb as you needed anonymity and a quiet place to stay out of sight. You changed your appearance. The mustache stayed on and so did the dyed black hair instead of the normal salt and pepper. You didn’t talk at poker tables anymore. You didn’t want to stand out. You didn’t make friends. You just played poker for a few hours to keep you happy and sharp. Chuck never once asked you about Alberto. You kept surfing the Net about the stupid former Hispanic CPA, but apparently his disappearance was a non-event.
You’ve been in Vegas for four months now. You’re not getting complacent. However, there’s very little circumstantial evidence to tie you with Alberto’s disappearance, let alone his demise. Yesterday, Yvette had a disturbing conversation with you.She talked to you because you moonlighted as a counselor specializing in untangling the entanglements and convolutions of the human heart. The following was a partial transcript of the conversation you had with her.

– What should I do? I want my husband back.
-Let me ask you a question. Do you really love your husband? Or do you simply want him back because he is now shacking up with somebody?
– What kind of a question is that? What kind of a counselor are you?
– A very good question. A very good counselor, also.
– I beg your pardon?
– I’m saying my question to you is a very good one. I’m also saying that I am a very good counselor.
– Ah, I see.
– Do you really?
– What do you mean?
– I mean do you really love your husband or is it the question of the ego here. From the way you described to me, you took your husband for granted. You ignored him. You neglected him. You assumed that since he is an eight-three year-old man, nobody is interested in him. But you were erroneous in your assumption. Now you want him back, but it is a bit late, don’t you think?
– I’m talking to you because I need help, not to hear you putting me down. I don’t know why my friends and Chuck say you are good. You certainly are a very strange counselor.
– Strange but good. You will see. Listen, I help people deal with realities, naked realities, unvarnished realities. That’s my mission in life. Nothing but realities. The way I see it, you have a very slim chance of getting your husband back if you continue showing your anger and frustrations. You should email him saying that you are sorry, that you really miss him and love him, and that you realize that you have made a mistake by being selfish and self-centered, and not catering to his needs. You should further state that you are waiting for him to come back till the day you die and that you are not interested in divorcing him. Meanwhile you go on with your life, trying to get over him, pretending that he is already dead, or accepting the ultimate likely scenario that he is going to divorce you and marry his girlfriend. The important thing is that you should never go out with any man prior to the divorce. If your husband gets wind of the rumor that you are dating any man just to get over him, he will divorce you in a heart’s beat. You complain that you can’t sleep because you are both sad and angry. My advice to you is to accept your mistake and think only of the bad things that your husband has done to you so you would start loving him less and less with each passing day until he is just a stranger to you. Once you stop thinking he is a nice and desirable man, you will be able to sleep. What kills a person is not what happens to him, but his failure to accept responsibility of his actions or the reality of the situation. You also must learn not to be so cocky and arrogant about yourself. In other words, learn to be more objective and humble. Too much arrogance is a reflection of unresolved inferiority complex. I realize my words may sting you, but it’s about time you step down from your self-built pedestal and learn to take a good look of yourself and admit that maybe it is logical that your husband is staying away from you because you are difficult to live with. Remember, nobody is running away from a good thing. Do not go for a facile rationalization that your husband is getting senile and don’t know what he is doing. Give him a possibility that he has been so nice and patient with you. He could have left you long time ago. I find your bragging that you would have no difficulty to get ten men interested in you by just flicking your fingers disturbing. I suggest you take a good look at yourself in the mirror, examine your aggressive, abrasive, uncompromising personality, and ask yourself a question that whether or not you are a desirable sixty-year-old woman. You know and I know that if any man right now who is interested in you, he is interested in your money which you admit there is not much left because of your mounting losses at the casino.
– Are you interested in me?
– You must have a weird sense of humor. I don’t fraternize with my clients. And I don’t like aggressive and coarse women, no matter how much money they have. I do have pride, in case you have not noticed. In fact, I hate money in a romantic relationship. It brings back bad memories.
– Okay, proud man. You even called me “coarse”. That hurt, but I can take it. I am a tough girl. What I cannot take is defeat. I’m telling you what? I want the woman to be taken care of. I don’t care how. I want it done as soon as possible. And I am willing to pay $25,000 to have it done. Do you know somebody who can do that?
– Wow! Now I start liking you. I like people who are into actions and not mouthing off bullshit. Are you really serious? Are you trusting me that much? We hardly know each other.
– I know something about people. I know you are a man of principles. Your words are tough and sometimes stupid and you are very rough around the edges, but you are a decent man. You understand my pains. You are not going to run to the police. What is going on is my own business, not the business of the police. Fuck the laws!That woman is fucking with me. She does not know who she is messing with. I want her gone.
– In that case, I do know somebody. Let me think about your proposal. I will get back to you. 

– I am counting on you. In fact, if you have it done fast, I will throw in $5,000 as a bonus. 
Ever since Yvette made the disturbing inquiry about murder-for-hire, you’ve been wondering that maybe after the job is done you need to go back to the tropics where you originally came from. But doing that would deprive you of “amenities” like freedom, democracy, human rights, excellent health care, and good library system, not counting the arid, hot climate to which you are acclimating and with which you are falling in love.
Killing is easy, it’s living with the consequences is the bitch, if not the butch. You read somewhere that more males die of overconfidence and testicularity than lung cancer.
April 08, 2013
Ainsi Parlait/Thus Spoke/Así Dijo Wissai
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Because It Is Dark, Because It Is The Human Heart. A short story by Wissai.

Because It Is Dark, Because It Is The Human Heart.

I was up before the crack of dawn. After going through the bathroom and Yoga routines, I put on the running shoes and headed for the foothills. I live in a valley surrounded by mountains. There’s a fine running track at the foothills, about two miles from my condo. The air wasn’t as cold as a few weeks ago. Spring was arriving.
I started really slowly at first, more like a slow trot than a run. At my age I dared not risk injury. Recently I took up running again, to clear my head, to lose weight, and to keep murderous thoughts at bay. In my 20’s, I ran in order not to kill others and then myself. Now I run so I could hold together the center. I don’t know how much longer I can hold off my demons.
The air was crisp and clean in the faint light radiating from the rising sun that struggled to get over the mountain top. I let my mind run free with me. My feet hit the ground, slowly, very slowly and softly, hardly making any sound as I was running on the trail. One thought ran after another, alongside with me, deep from the recesses of my burdened mind.
Why did the Bitch say such an untrue, cruel thing to me? An effort to assert herself or a perverted form and manifestation of self-destructive behavior so common among humans whose aspirations are thwarted by limitations and stupidities? There are certain things which are much better off unsaid, even if they are true. Truths are difficult to face and sometimes impossible to carry. Trampling on a man’s ego and he will kill you, without hesitation. There are some men whose ego is so fragile and brittle that you are much better off staying away from them. You can tell who they are by the tense facial expressions, the tics, and hostile, glaring eyes.
Why did the motherfuckers in this world cling to falsehoods and self-deception while trying to have a pretense of self-respect? How could a person respect himself when he knew he was lying? How could a man go on living when he has no dream, no hope, no pride? No, no, no, you thought I was talking about myself? I was talking about you, fools!
I myself was a fool for a long time with regard to bitches. I stayed too long in dead-end relationships and I was lazy and timid in seeking fresh ones. I probably just got wised up about women about 2, 3 years ago. Love is a game played by strict rules. All human interactions are games. However, I don’t really regret my past errors and follies. Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards, as Kierkegaard famously opined. Still, it does not hurt to fortify yourself with fantasies. You must imagine that you are indeed attractive and desirable. You must be willing to flirt and exude an air of confidence, sophistication, and urbanity. That was exactly how I was doing with Frau Baum.
About a year ago I met her out of the blue, in the full bloom of serendipities, like all my past encounters with women. I was browsing around in the section of Philosophy in the local library when I sensed I was being watched. I turned and caught her right in the act. She blushed and stepped away. I was intrigued but I didn’t want to follow her and start a conversation. I had a bad day at the office. That was why I loitered in the library. There are men who drink or jerk off to release tension. I either hit the movie theater or the library. Anyway, I checked out two books and headed to my new pussymobile, a black Jaguar in the parking lot, that I foolishly purchased on a whim. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw her admire my shining black new car, sparkling and glimmering in the hot desert sun. This must be destiny, this is nothing but predestination, that was what I said to myself. So my hesitation all disappeared and I briskly walked to her and said, “You’re not thinking of stealing my car, are you?”
She blushed again and started walking away. I didn’t let her this time. I put on the sweetest smile I could muster and my most sincere, cadenced, baritone, mellifluous voice I had practiced for hours, talking to myself on whatever the subjects that flew in and out of my mind, while driving aimlessly on country roads in the darkest, loneliest nights of my life,
-“Pardon me, I was only kidding. You liked the car? I just bought it. Two months ago. You like Jaguars?”
-“No, I prefer water buffaloes” (What? Am I running into a psycho here? Or a tough, bitchy, Amazon woman who is testing my manhood? I wouldn’t be deterred.)
-“That’s absolutely cute. Very, very good. Water buffaloes, huh? But you sound German, Teutonic, am I right? You can’t be familiar with water buffaloes. You grew up in Southeast Asia? My name is Roberto, by the way, what’s yours? “
She didn’t get away. She stayed and talked to me. Her name was Martha Baum, a few years younger than me, fresh in the city, and freshly widowed. She moved to the Sin City not to seek and wallow in sins, but for the health of her asthmatic Korean elderly husband, but he died anyway. I, of course, told her only half-truths about myself. I had learned hard lessons about unvarnished honesty. I was lonely and didn’t want to chase her away. I liked her and wanted her to like me. She looked pretty and sounded educated and intelligent. After some hesitation, she gave me her cell phone number.
I called her that very evening. That seemed to delight her. We exchanged more info about ourselves. She lived in a tony suburb of Vegas. She didn’t have to work for a living. She did volunteer work for the city. And yes, she liked to read philosophy. I told her of my interest in languages and writing and of my avocation of poker, which took her aback. She then commented that I must be doing all right on account of having a brand new Jag. I chuckled, telling her not to believe everything she saw with her own eyes. Appearances could be deceiving. Yes, I was doing fine. And I was only interested in having somebody to talk to. “But you must have a lot of women who want to talk with you. You look good and you are funny, charming even, if I may say so.”. I chuckled again and said thanks and then added, “my heart is a very strange, lonely hunter. It goes after impossible prey and hopeless dreams.”
We talked some more in subsequent weeks. It was always I who called. I didn’t mind. I was not looking for love, hence no ego got dragged into the relationship. I was looking for a sympathetic ear, an intelligent listener to whom I could unburden myself. I began sending her my “writings”, a mixture and mélange of essays, poems (translated as well as original) and short stories, all unpublished, while learning German in earnest. I didn’t tell her that I was learning her mother language. That would sound cheap and crass, for some reason.
I usually called her in the evenings, after I got back from work. I spoke whatever that occupied my mind at that moment. But invariably my topics revolved around religion, philosophy, love, sex, power, honor, knowledge, and honesty. Usually, the conversations were actually monologues and soliloquies from me with some interruptions from her for clarifications. She let me spill my guts while she kept close to her chest her views. I didn’t know I kept her spell-bound or she played me for a garrulous fool. But I didn’t really care. As I said, I was not in love with her or anything close to that. All I wanted to do was to talk.
And talk I did. About three weeks ago. I called her up and said I wanted to talk about honesty.
-“But what kind?”
I was stumped and flustered and bewildered by the question. And I told her so.
-“Is there more than one?”
“Ja, Herr Wissai. 
-“Such as?”
-“That’s for me to know and for you to find out.”
She had not been playful like this before. This was the side of Frau Baum I least expected. So, I was stalling for time (“Let me think. You said there was more than one. So, there could be two, three, or more than that.”) and then the floodgate in my mind was opened. And I spoke.
-“I agreed that there are more than one kind of honesty. We have ethical honesty: be factual, don’t tell lies, don’t misrepresent facts or yourself. And we have what I would call situational honesty which says that unvarnished honesty is not really the best policy. Honesty must be subordinate to higher values like kindness. Am I getting warm?”
-“You’re getting more than warm. You’re getting hot!” (Boy, I am treading on dangerous terrain, I think. The woman is either flirting with me or putting me in my place. I will soon find out.)
-“Whatever. What I want to speak tonight is the intellectual honesty I find lacking in most people I interact with. They have an ego to protect and they don’t want to admit to themselves that they could be intellectually inferior to me. I’m not saying that I’m vastly intellectual or anything close to that. What I’m saying is that when I interact with people, I want to find out where I stand intellectually and if there are things I could learn from them. If they’re intellectually superior to me, I’m happy for them and I don’t actually feel bad about myself because I know I don’t know everything and there are always people who are much better than me, not only intellectually but in other aspects as well. But I’ve found that most people have small minds and puny hearts. And that’s made me feel good about myself because I’ve long suspected that I’m special and rare. I guess what I’m saying is that one cannot find out who one really is if one doesn’t interact with others. The others act as a preventive mechanism that works against self-delusions and too much subjectivity. If we have nobody else to compare and contrast, we don’t really know who we are. 
“Jawohl! “, she exclaimed or, should I say, thundered. And then she spoke in that lilting Bavarian accent of hers.
-“Roberto, you’re “zu” sensitive for your own good. The hell with others. Don’t give a damn what they think of you. Humans are mostly scumbags and assholes. Really. They are no different from dogs and pigs. They are aggressive but deep down insecure, and greedy and filthy. Sie haben keine Liebe in ihren Herzen. Sorry, I mean, they have no love in their hearts. By the way, do you know German? 
-“No, not at all.”
-“Roberto, my Roberto, you are going to die, sooner than you want or think. Each day if you are still alive, that should be a cause for celebration. Be peaceful. Don’t get too involved in the world. Don’t get too anxious and excited to show off your intellect. Rise above common desires and temptations. You are a very good looking, strong, and vibrant man. Don’t waste your time. You have very little time left. I sensed that you were perturbed, troubled, not blessed with serenity, even lonely, although really funny, when I first met you. Go with the flow. Be good and alert. Peace.”
What the fuck was going on here? Why Martha spoke to me this way? Preachy and maternal. Was I that transparent? I had nothing to say to her strange change of tone of voice. I didn’t want to get hurt. So I said goodnight to her and clicked off.
I lost the urge to talk to her. I needed to retreat and regroup and reorient myself. Loneliness and the need to be understood had always been my enemies. Those plus the habit to unburden myself. No wonder I found no peace and received no respect. I ran longer distance, though not faster. The longer I ran, the urge to reach for the phone and call her became less strong. After a week, I regained my composure. After two weeks, I stopped counting the days. I was getting stronger physically and emotionally. Daily financial gyrations did’t bother me much, After three weeks, she no longer occupied my mind. Then she called when I least expected. I was still at work, so I said I could call her back when I got home. But I didn’t. I usually kept my word, but somehow with her, I wanted to make an exception. Besides, what could I speak about now? I had exhausted the topics. Then she called again, two nights later. This time I was at home.
-“You are a tease. Do you know that?”
-“Pardon me?”
-“You called every night. Then you stopped calling. No explanation. No goodbye. Who do you think you are?”
-“I don’t like the way this conversation’s heading.”
-“Are you playing with me? With my emotions?”
-“Whoa! Wait a minute. You got me all wrong here. You told me to be strong and serene. That’s what I’ve been doing.”
-Yeah, at my expense.”
-“I don’t think you really know me at all. I’m not what you accuse me being. I’m trying to survive here, okay? I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. Didn’t you realize why I elected to talk about honesty in our last conversation? Honesty is not just an idle subject for me. It’s an integral part of me. It’s my middle name, believe it or not. Of course, I can lie as the next person. And there were times I was forced by circumstances to do so, but I was never comfortable doing so. I always want to be accepted and loved on my own terms, warts and all. I told you a lot of things about myself. They were all truths, but only half-truths. I had to protect myself. The whole truths would scare you and make you feel uncomfortable about me. I experienced a pull towards and a push away from you. When a man and a woman talked— actually, I did most of the talking—as often as we did, something was bound to happen. And I was scared of the sentimentalist in me. You were so bizarre and coy and aggressive in our last conversation that terrified me. I figured, however, if you really liked me, you would get in touch with me. My life has always been about displacement and dislocation, literally and figuratively. Catastrophes and disasters always happen to me because of my personality. And I somehow have survived thus far. There is a thrill to that. I guess what I am saying is that I am looking for a person like myself all my life, my long lost twin brother who is a woman. Do you think you can be my long lost twin brother, who understands what and how I think and feel and long for? I don’t think so because if you are, you would call me right away, a day or two after you didn’t hear from me, instead of weeks. You are the one who is a tease, not me. You overthought. You were too burdened with philosophy. There was not enough poetry in you. Life is not about being safe and sound and rational. It’s about being alive and honest with yourself, with your feelings, with the other person, with taking risks and damn the consequences. That’s how you would find out who you are and what you are made of. I’m sorry if I’m sounding too judgmental here. Actually, I’m not. I respect your worth, your very being as a different person from me. Not everybody must be like me, I realize that. The world would be very boring.Thanks for listening.”
-“Hey, don’t go away. Listen, you are free tomorrow evening? Come see me, please. We will talk some more. Here’s my address.”
I arrived at her house, dressed in black. Pants, shirt, and shoes. I even put on a necklace of prayer black beads for peace and confidence. I purchased it in a mosque in Turkey. Everybody seemed to like it and said it looked good on me. I am no Muslim, though, even though I am very fond of and respectful towards Muhammad. If you take the time to read about his life as I did, you would like him, too. He was a well-rounded man. The only blemish about him was his decision to marry a six-year-old girl Aisha,  daughter of one of his aides. There are certain things thou must maintain decorums, like thou shall not walk around naked outside of thy house; or thou shall not marry a child 50 years younger than thou art, no matter how much thou lovest or desirest her, no matter how powerful thou art. Thou must learn to curb thy desires. Thou must respect the order of things in life. There is nothing that exceeds like excess. Anyway, I am digressing.
Martha greeted me very warmly, asking what I would like to drink. I said a cup of tea would be just fine.
After bringing me a steaming cup of green tea, she just sat there in the sofa, studying me and simply said, “We talked enough already. I just want to welcome you in my house and feel what it is like to have you here in the same room with me. Say anything you want. I just want to hear your voice and see your face. This is the second time we met. We met 3 months ago. You remembered that, didn’t you? Did you count the days as I did?”. The last three sentences were delivered with a choking voice. It was quite moving for me to see her trying to maintain a composure. Then she added, “I was trying to be strong, to stay away from you. But I couldn’t. I hope I am not wrong about you.”
I didn’t know what to say. I lost my capacity for speech, momentarily. The whole thing was like a dream, a melodramatic scene from a cheap romance novel. She looked at me inquisitively and I looked back at her, tenderly. She then motioned me to come sit next to her on the sofa. When I got up, she opened her arms widely. I collapsed in her arms, with tears in my eyes.
I told her everything she wanted to know about me and more. I spoke without restraint. I bared my soul. I completely unburdened myself. I told her about my ex-wives and current wife, my past girlfriends and the current ones, my triumphs and my defeats. I told her about my oppressive loneliness. I spoke about my quirks and phobias, my lack of peace. I told her of my daily routines and my plan for the remainder of my life. She only interrupted my monologue when I talked about the first two women that went through my life. She wanted to know if I still loved them. I bitterly laughed, “No, not really. And maybe not at all. And do you know why? I fully admitted that they were smarter than me, but I now strongly believe that I have a better heart than they do and I don’t respect them as much as I used to. I think they are too common, too predictable, too sane, too rational. Their lives lacked what I would call poetry. And most importantly, I don’t think they cared about me at all. They were flattered and pleased, but not really moved that I mistakenly cherished and treasured them. In hindsight, they were intelligent but ordinary while I could be less intelligent but much more non-ordinary. I seized on life, I took risks, and I made myself vulnerable. I had a bigger heart. I was more willing to sacrifice myself for others. I, of course, was wrong and impractical in my approach to life and in my orientation towards others. But I think I was more real, more authentic, and I won’t regret when Death arrives. I guess my ambivalence towards both of these two common women was gone. I had concluded that I was a better specimen as a human being than they were. That is why I have stopped having bad and sad dreams about them.”
She told me more about her life: how she grew up in Bavaria, moved to Chicago as a student and got a job as an insurance claims adjuster upon graduation; how she met her Korean dentist husband (she was his client and they were childless) and why she liked to read philosophy (why we must learn to live and not to kill ourselves or others). She told me to stay where I was, went to one of the bedrooms, and came back with a framed picture of her and her deceased husband. I was startled. The man looked like me, like we were identical twins. Then she said, “Now, you understand why I spied on you at the library, and why I couldn’t stay away from you.
Of course, I asked her an all-important question, “You like me because of me or him?,” pointing my index finger at the man in the picture.
Her answer was that initially because of the physical resemblance, but as time went on, it was because of my unique personality. She added, “I have met nobody like you. Nobody. You’re so different, so childlike and yet incredibly profound, so stupid and so wise. I just hope you aren’t going to hurt me, making me feel like a fool, that I’m falling in love with a rascal, a jerk. I don’t care that you’re already married. I just want to know if you love me and care about me as much as I care about you. As you said, we are no spring chickens. We’re going to die soon. Before I do, I want to be loved. I want to hang around a man I feel comfortable with and whom I trust and respect. You are that man. I thought long and hard during those three weeks I didn’t hear from you. I even went to the library, looking for you, hoping you’re there.”
I told her yes, I respected and cared for her, and that I didn’t know if I loved her yet, but given time, I would as there was nothing about her that would stop me from going to the next level. I then added that based on past experiences I had to go slowly because I had learned to my sorrow that the human heart was really a dark place, and not a sunny locale as many of us would like to believe. I had learned that many, many humans were filthy, stupid, ignorant, untrustworthy, greedy, and vain. They cared nothing for others. All they lived for was to service their needs and their egos. “A selfish heart knows no light. It’s dark, very dark indeed, darker than night, blacker than asphalt. There was no mistake and no joke that Joseph Conrad talked about Heart of Darkness and named one of his novels after it. By nature, I was a funny, loving, trusting, caring man, but the more I interact with humans, especially those from my old country, I’m getting to be misanthropic and homicidal. Most of them behave like plain animals, with no redeeming human qualities. I now prefer a dog for company than taking with my so-called compatriots. Still, I’m struggling with the notion that we must always try to rise above animalism and we must learn not to be indifferent to the suffering and misery of our own kind just because of some or even most bad apples among us.”
I was exhausted and weary yet still angry after my short but intense and personal speech. I felt like going to the gym and hit a punching bag. And I told Martha so. She just said, “”Hush” and placed her index finger on my lips, then pulled it back, and seized my hand and led me to the master bedroom. She took my shoes off, asking me to lie down and close my eyes, and not to get all worked up over the foibles of animalistic humans. She came back with a warm wet wash cloth and proceeded to clean my forehead and my face, all while speaking to me in a tender soothing voice. She offered me a glass of Glenlivet, urging me to inhale it deeply and then drink it if I wanted to. The elixir worked wonders on my nerves. She then undressed me and patiently massaged me all over. I passed out before I knew it. When I woke up a few hours later, Martha was lying naked, next to me, with her arm stretching over my chest, sleeping….
I wouldn’t bore you with the titillating details and clichés of how we made love that night and of whether I was still a stud and if she was a tigress in bed. Suffice to say I was pleased and honored and appreciative of how lucky I was loved by Martha. Now there are times when we are together, I wonder if the whole thing, I mean how we met and fell in love, is like a dream or a screenplay for a soapy French movie. Still, I believe in luck. I know I’ve been a very lucky man, considering what has happened to me throughout my life. It was I who kept screwing things up, who had a Death Wish. But I won’t screw things up with Martha, oh, no, not with her. She’s too incredible, too trusting of me, too understanding of my matrimonial predicament for me to hurt her and myself. She has helped me become less cynical about the human black heart.
When I told the Bitch about Martha, she was furious at first and then incredulous. She pestered me for a meeting with Martha as proof. When I proposed a conversation over the phone instead, she initially refused but gave in when I held my ground. Yesterday evening 9 pm was the agreed-upon time. I called the Bitch. She answered on the first ring. After a minute of light banter, I handed the phone to Martha who put it on the speaker, per my request. Here was how the conversation went:
Hi, Sassy.
-Oh, Hi. Are you Martha?
-Excuse me?
-Ja, I am.
-So, you’re for real, huh?
-Excuse me?
-That son of a bitch Roberto has been bragging that he’s found a new girlfriend, a widowed German woman. Are you the one?
-Listen, I won’t tolerante that kind of language from you. Roberto is my man, a real gentleman. He ain’t no son of a bitch, you hear? And he ain’t no “stupid failure” either. You’re the one. He has told me everything about you. Now, go fuck yourself! (Martha clicked off the cell phone and handed it back to me, her eyes glared with anger and she was huffing).
The phone rang almost instantaneously. I looked at the number. It was Sassy again. I didn’t answer it. Instead, I put the phone on mute. It vibrated in my hand for a few more seconds. Then it stopped. I put it down on the bed side table. Martha then put a question to me, “Does your wife have bad manners like that Bitch Sassy?”
I just shrugged my shoulders and said nothingThen it was my turn to ask her a question, “What in the world, you used “ain’t” this and “ain’t” that for? Weren’t you concerned the Bitch thought you were uneducated? 
She laughed and said, “it’s my way to let people know that I’m mad and pissed off. I’m telling them, watch out, I’m willing to get down and dirty in the gutter with you.”
“That’s my girl!”, I said.
March 20, 2015
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Interview of Cormac McCarthy in the NYT

Wissai’s Comment:

If you have not seen the movie, No Country for Old Men, based on McCarthy’s novel of the same name, please do. It won an Oscar for Best Picture. The movie resurrected the career of Josh Brolin.

A human’s life is pretty much like a short story or novel. Some lives are interesting and meaningful; others are just dull and a complete waste of time and space.



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You don’t know who you are and what you are made of, until and unless you are tested and in extremis

Wissai’s Comment:
I keep searching for the “best” Om chant, the one to which my body and mind respond(s) most favorably, and maybe this is the one.
For those who are interested, go to Google and look up articles that deal with the connection between Meditation and Cancer Prevention. We all have to die, but to some extent we have the ability to choose the kind of death we want to have. We don’t really know who we are and what we are made of, until and unless we are tested and in extremis. The same thing can be said about Love and Friendship. We don’t know if we are loved until we need help.
Have a good day. Things can’t be that bad. You are still alive. That means, there’s a possibility for change, for enjoyment, and for Love and Friendship. Because humans are social beings, in the final analysis, it is Love and Friendship, more than anything else, that most humans realize that makes Life worth living. One woman once told me, “There must be at least one woman who finds you loving and lovable. For now that woman is me. And trust me, Roberto, there should be two or three more. You are different, but you are a good man. Those that hurt you just didn’t know who you are. Be yourself, but also be careful. Don’t fantasize too much.”
A new friend of mine recently told me during the last stock market crash around 2008, a friend of his lost all his fortunes and job. His wife nagged and complained day in and say out until one day she came home from work and found the poor bastard dead from hanging.
My new friend lost all his money and job, too, from the market crash, but his wife comforted him. He now has a job that only pays the bills. His wife is the main bread winner. During the weekend, he plays poker but loses money consistently. Still, his wife comforts him and advises him to focus not on the losses, but on the “enjoyment” that the game has brought to him. The man is younger than me in age but looks years older.
I told him that his wife is an angel, a rare diamond, a precious human being. Morals of the story: 1)  A person’s attitude about Money defines him. 2) True Love trumps Money. When you love a person, you must love him or her like a child of your own. You give him/her unconditional love and protect and comfort him/ her till the end of time.
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Daniel Dennett’s Science of the Soul

Wissai’s Comment:
Read and reread and reread again this article very slowly. There’s a direct relevance in it with reference to Religion and “God”. All manifestations of Knowledge are interconnected. Consciousness is a very hot topic in Philosophy and Science nowadays. Lesser minds take the teachings about Religion and “God” as gospels. Better minds know better and want to think to the ultimate of the issues. In the end, one can only understand oneself and the world in which he inhabits in accordance with the limitations of his mind and his command of the language through which he thinks and learns and expresses himself.

Daniel Dennett’s Science of the Soul

A philosopher’s lifelong quest to understand the making of the mind.

Four billion years ago, Earth was a lifeless place. Nothing struggled, thought, or wanted. Slowly, that changed. Seawater leached chemicals from rocks; near thermal vents, those chemicals jostled and combined. Some hit upon the trick of making copies of themselves that, in turn, made more copies. The replicating chains were caught in oily bubbles, which protected them and made replication easier; eventually, they began to venture out into the open sea. A new level of order had been achieved on Earth. Life had begun.

The tree of life grew, its branches stretching toward complexity. Organisms developed systems, subsystems, and sub-subsystems, layered in ever-deepening regression. They used these systems to anticipate their future and to change it. When they looked within, some found that they had selves—constellations of memories, ideas, and purposes that emerged from the systems inside. They experienced being alive and had thoughts about that experience. They developed language and used it to know themselves; they began to ask how they had been made.

This, to a first approximation, is the secular story of our creation. It has no single author; it’s been written collaboratively by scientists over the past few centuries. If, however, it could be said to belong to any single person, that person might be Daniel Dennett, a seventy-four-year-old philosopher who teaches at Tufts. In the course of forty years, and more than a dozen books, Dennett has endeavored to explain how a soulless world could have given rise to a soulful one. His special focus is the creation of the human mind. Into his own he has crammed nearly every related discipline: evolutionary biology, neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, artificial intelligence. His newest book, “From Bacteria to Bach and Back,” tells us, “There is a winding path leading through a jungle of science and philosophy, from the initial bland assumption that we people are physical objects, obeying the laws of physics, to an understanding of our conscious minds.”

Dennett has walked that path before. In “Consciousness Explained,” a 1991 best-seller, he described consciousness as something like the product of multiple, layered computer programs running on the hardware of the brain. Many readers felt that he had shown how the brain creates the soul. Others thought that he’d missed the point entirely. To them, the book was like a treatise on music that focussed exclusively on the physics of musical instruments. It left untouched the question of how a three-pound lump of neurons could come to possess a point of view, interiority, selfhood, consciousness—qualities that the rest of the material world lacks. These skeptics derided the book as “Consciousness Explained Away.” Nowadays, philosophers are divided into two camps. The physicalists believe, with Dennett, that science can explain consciousness in purely material terms. The dualists believe that science can uncover only half of the picture: it can’t explain what Nabokov called “the marvel of consciousness—that sudden window swinging open on a sunlit landscape amidst the night of non-being.”

Late last year, Dennett found himself among such skeptics at the Edgewater Hotel, in Seattle, where the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research had convened a meeting about animal consciousness. The Edgewater was once a rock-and-roll hangout—in the late sixties and seventies, members of Led Zeppelin were notorious for their escapades there—but it’s now plush and sedate, with overstuffed armchairs and roaring fireplaces. In a fourth-floor meeting room with views of Mt. Rainier, dozens of researchers shared speculative work on honeybee brains, mouse minds, octopus intelligence, avian cognition, and the mental faculties of monkeys and human children.

At sunset on the last day of the conference, the experts found themselves circling a familiar puzzle known as the “zombie problem.” Suppose that you’re a scientist studying octopuses. How would you know whether an octopus is conscious? It interacts with you, responds to its environment, and evidently pursues goals, but a nonconscious robot could also do those things. The problem is that there’s no way to observe consciousness directly. From the outside, it’s possible to imagine that the octopus is a “zombie”—physically alive but mentally empty—and, in theory, the same could be true of any apparently conscious being. The zombie problem is a conversational vortex among those who study animal minds: the researchers, anticipating the discussion’s inexorable transformation into a meditation on “Westworld,” clutched their heads and sighed.

Dennett sat at the seminar table like a king on his throne. Broad-shouldered and imposing, with a fluffy white beard and a round belly, he resembles a cross between Darwin and Santa Claus. He has meaty hands and a sonorous voice. Many young philosophers of mind look like artists (skinny jeans, T-shirts, asymmetrical hair), but Dennett carries a homemade wooden walking stick and dresses like a Maine fisherman, in beat-up boat shoes and a pocketed vest—a costume that gives him an air of unpretentious competence. He regards the zombie problem as a typically philosophical waste of time. The problem presupposes that consciousness is like a light switch: either an animal has a self or it doesn’t. But Dennett thinks these things are like evolution, essentially gradualist, without hard borders. The obvious answer to the question of whether animals have selves is that they sort of have them. He loves the phrase “sort of.” Picture the brain, he often says, as a collection of subsystems that “sort of” know, think, decide, and feel. These layers build up, incrementally, to the real thing. Animals have fewer mental layers than people—in particular, they lack language, which Dennett believes endows human mental life with its complexity and texture—but this doesn’t make them zombies. It just means that they “sort of” have consciousness, as measured by human standards.

Dennett waited until the group talked itself into a muddle, then broke in. He speaks slowly, melodiously, in the confident tones of a man with answers. When he uses philosophical lingo, his voice goes deeper, as if he were distancing himself from it. “The big mistake we’re making,” he said, “is taking our congenial, shared understanding of what it’s like to be us, which we learn from novels and plays and talking to each other, and then applying it back down the animal kingdom. Wittgenstein”—he deepened his voice—“famously wrote, ‘If a lion could talk, we couldn’t understand him.’ But no! If a lion could talk, we’d understand him just fine. He just wouldn’t help us understand anything about lions.”

“Because he wouldn’t be a lion,” another researcher said.

“Right,” Dennett replied. “He would be so different from regular lions that he wouldn’t tell us what it’s like to be a lion. I think we should just get used to the fact that the human concepts we apply so comfortably in our everyday lives apply only sort of to animals.” He concluded, “The notorious zombie problem is just a philosopher’s fantasy. It’s not anything that we have to take seriously.”

“Dan, I honestly get stuck on this,” a primate psychologist said. “If you say, well, rocks don’t have consciousness, I want to agree with you”—but he found it difficult to get an imaginative grip on the idea of a monkey with a “sort of” mind.

If philosophy were a sport, its ball would be human intuition. Philosophers compete to shift our intuitions from one end of the field to the other. Some intuitions, however, resist being shifted. Among these is our conviction that there are only two states of being: awake or asleep, conscious or unconscious, alive or dead, soulful or material. Dennett believes that there is a spectrum, and that we can train ourselves to find the idea of that spectrum intuitive.

“If you think there’s a fixed meaning of the word ‘consciousness,’ and we’re searching for that, then you’re already making a mistake,” Dennett said.

“I hear you as skeptical about whether consciousness is useful as a scientific concept,” another researcher ventured.

“Yes, yes,” Dennett said.

“That’s the ur-question,” the researcher replied. “Because, if the answer’s no, then we should really go home!”

“No, no!” Dennett exclaimed, as the room erupted into laughter. He’d done it again: in attempting to explain consciousness, he’d explained it away.

In the nineteenth century, scientists and philosophers couldn’t figure out how nonliving things became living. They thought that living things possessed a mysterious life force. Only over time did they discover that life was the product of diverse physical systems that, together, created something that appeared magical. Dennett believes that the same story will be told about consciousness. He wants to tell it, but he sometimes wonders if others want to hear it.

“The person who tells people how an effect is achieved is often resented, considered a spoilsport, a party-pooper,” he wrote, around a decade ago, in a paper called “Explaining the ‘Magic’ of Consciousness.” “If you actually manage to explain consciousness, they say, you will diminish us all, turn us into mere protein robots, mere things.” Dennett does not believe that we are “mere things.” He thinks that we have souls, but he is certain that those souls can be explained by science. If evolution built them, they can be reverse-engineered. “There ain’t no magic there,” he told me. “Just stage magic.”

It’s possible to give an account of Dennett’s life in which philosophy hardly figures. He is from an old Maine family. By the turn of the eighteenth century, ancestors of his had settled near the border between Maine and New Hampshire, at a spot now marked by Dennett Road. Dennett and his wife, Susan, live in North Andover, Massachusetts, a few minutes’ drive from Tufts, where Dennett co-directs the Center for Cognitive Studies. But, in 1970, they bought a two-hundred-acre farm in Blue Hill, about five hours north of Boston. The Dennetts are unusually easygoing and sociable, and they quickly became friends with the couple next door, Basil and Bertha Turner. From Basil, Dennett learned to frame a house, shingle a roof, glaze a window, build a fence, plow a field, fell a tree, butcher a hen, dig for clams, raise pigs, fish for trout, and call a square dance. “One thing about Dan—you don’t have to tell him twice,” Turner once remarked to a local mechanic. Dennett still cherishes the compliment.

“Seriously, lady, at this hour you’d make a lot better time taking the subway.”

In the course of a few summers, he fixed up the Blue Hill farmhouse himself, installing plumbing and electricity. Then, for many years, he suspended his academic work during the summer in order to devote himself to farming. He tended the orchard, made cider, and used a Prohibition-era still to turn the cider into Calvados. He built a blueberry press, made blueberry wine, and turned it into aquavit. “He loves to hand down word-of-mouth knowledge,” Steve Barney, a former student who has become one of the Dennetts’ many “honorary children,” says. “He taught me how to use a chain saw, how to prune an apple tree, how to fish for mackerel, how to operate a tractor, how to whittle a wooden walking stick from a single piece of wood.” Dennett is an avid sailor; in 2003, he bought a boat, trained his students to sail, and raced with them in a regatta. Dennett’s son, Peter, has worked for a tree surgeon and a fish biologist, and has been a white-water-rafting guide; his daughter, Andrea, runs an industrial-plumbing company with her husband.

A few years ago, the Dennetts sold the farm to buy a nearby waterfront home, on Little Deer Isle. On a sunny morning this past December, fresh snow surrounded the house; where the lawn met the water, a Hobie sailboat lay awaiting spring. Dennett entered the sunlit kitchen and, using a special, broad-tined fork, carefully split an English muffin. After eating it with jam, he entered his study, a circular room on the ground floor decorated with sailboat keels of different shapes. A close friend and Little Deer Isle visitor, the philosopher and psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, had e-mailed a draft of an article for Dennett to review. The two men are similar—Humphrey helped discover blindsight, studied apes with Dian Fossey, and was, for a year, the editor of Granta—but they differ on certain points in the philosophy of consciousness. “Until I met Dan,” Humphrey told me, “I never had a philosophical hero. Then I discovered that not only was he a better philosopher than me; he was a better singer, a better dancer, a better tennis player, a better pianist. There is nothing he does not do.”

Dennett annotated the paper on his computer, and then called Humphrey on his cell phone to explain that the paper was so useful because it was so wrong. “I see how I can write a reaction that is not so much a rebuttal as a rebuilding on your foundations,” he said, mischievously. “Your exploration has helped me see some crucial joints in the skeleton. I hope that doesn’t upset you!” He laughed, and invited Humphrey and his family to come over later that day.

He then turned to a problem with the house. Something was wrong with the landline; it had no dial tone. The key question was whether the problem lay with the wiring inside the house or with the telephone lines outside. Picking up his walking stick and a small plastic telephone, he went out to explore. Dennett has suffered a heart attack and an aortic dissection; he is robust, but walks slowly and is sometimes short of breath. Carefully, he made his way to a little gray service box, pried it open using a multitool, and plugged in the handset. There was no dial tone; the problem was in the outside phone lines. Harrumphing, he glanced upward to locate them: another new joint in the skeleton.

During the course of his career, Dennett has developed a way of looking at the process by which raw matter becomes functional. Some objects are mere assemblages of atoms to us, and have only a physical dimension; when we think of them, he says, we adopt a “physicalist stance”—the stance we inhabit when, using equations, we predict the direction of a tropical storm. When it comes to more sophisticated objects, which have purposes and functions, we typically adopt a “design stance.” We say that a leaf’s “purpose” is to capture energy from sunlight, and that a nut and bolt are designed to fit together. Finally, there are objects that seem to have beliefs and desires, toward which we take the “intentional stance.” If you’re playing chess with a chess computer, you don’t scrutinize the conductive properties of its circuits or contemplate the inner workings of its operating system (the physicalist and design stances, respectively); you ask how the program is thinking, what it’s planning, what it “wants” to do. These different stances capture different levels of reality, and our language reveals which one we’ve adopted. We say that proteins fold (the physicalist stance), but that eyes see (the design stance). We say that the chess computer “anticipated” our move, that the driverless car “decided” to swerve when the deer leaped into the road.

Later, at a rickety antique table in the living room, Dennett taught me a word game he’d perfected called Frigatebird. Real frigate birds swoop down to steal fish from other birds; in Frigatebird, you steal words made of Scrabble tiles from your opponents. To do so, you use new letters to transform their stems: you can’t steal “march” by making “marched,” but you can do it by making “charmed.” As we played, I tried to attend to the workings of my own mind. How did I know that I could use the letters “u,” “t,” and “o” to transform Dennett’s “drain” into “duration”? I couldn’t quite catch myself in the act of figuring it out. To Dennett, this blindness reflects the fact that we take the intentional stance toward ourselves. We experience ourselves at the level of thoughts, decisions, and intentions; the machinery that generates those higher-order properties is obscured. Consciousness is defined as much by what it hides as by what it reveals. Over two evenings, while drinking gin on the rocks with a twist—a “sort of” cocktail—we played perhaps a dozen games of Frigatebird, and I lost every time. Dennett was patient and encouraging (“You’re getting the hang of it!”), even as he transformed my “quest” into “equations.”

A running joke among people who study consciousness is that Dennett himself might be a zombie. (“Only a zombie like Dennett could write a book called ‘Consciousness Explained’ that doesn’t address consciousness at all,” the computer scientist Jaron Lanier has written.) The implicit criticism is that Dennett’s account of consciousness treats the self like a computer and reflects a disengagement from things like feeling and beauty. Dennett seems wounded by this idea. “There are those wags who insist that I was born with an impoverished mental life,” he told me. “That ain’t me! I seem to be drinking in life’s joys pretty well.”

Dennett’s full name is Daniel Clement Dennett III. He was born in Boston in 1942. His father, Daniel C. Dennett, Jr., was a professor of Islamic history, who, during the Second World War, was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services and became a secret agent. Dennett spent his early childhood in Beirut, where his father posed as a cultural attaché at the American Embassy. In Beirut, he had a pet gazelle named Babar and learned to speak some Arabic. When he was five, his father was killed in an unexplained plane crash while on a mission in Ethiopia. In Dennett’s clearest memory of him, they’re driving through the desert in a Jeep, looking for a group of Bedouins; when they find the camp, some Bedouin women take the young Dennett aside and pierce his ears. (The scars are still visible.)

After his father’s death, Dennett returned to the Boston suburbs with his mother and his two sisters. His mother became a book editor; with some guidance from his father’s friends, Dennett became the man of the house. He had his own workshop and, aged six, used scraps of lumber to build a small table and chair for his Winnie-the-Pooh. As he fell asleep, he would listen to his mother play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Prelude No. 6 in E-Flat Major. Today, the piece moves him to tears—“I’ve tried to master it,” he says, “but I could never play it as well as she could.” For a while, Dennett made money playing jazz piano in bars. He also plays the guitar, the acoustic bass, the recorder, and the accordion, and can still sing the a-cappella tunes he learned, in his twenties, as a member of the Boston Saengerfest Men’s Chorus.

As a Harvard undergraduate, Dennett wanted to be an artist. He pursued painting, then switched to sculpture; when he met Susan, he told her that she had nice shoulders and asked if she would model for him. (She declined, but they were married two years later.) A photograph taken in 1963, when Dennett was a graduate student, shows him trim and shirtless in a courtyard in Athens, smoking a pipe as he works a block of marble. Although he succeeded in exhibiting some sculptures in galleries, he decided that he wasn’t brilliant enough to make a career in art. Still, he continued to sculpt, throw pots, build furniture, and whittle. His whittlings are finely detailed; most are meant to be handled. A life-size wooden apple comes apart, in cross-sections, to reveal a detailed stem and core; a fist-size nut and bolt turn smoothly on minute, perfectly made threads. (Billed as “haptic sculptures,” the whittles are currently on display at Underdonk, a gallery in Brooklyn.)

Dennett studied philosophy as an undergraduate with W. V. O. Quine, the Harvard logician. His scientific awakening came later, when he was a graduate student at Oxford. With a few classmates, he found himself debating what happens when your arm falls asleep. The others were discussing the problem in abstract, philosophical terms—“sensation,” “perception,” and the like—which struck Dennett as odd. Two decades earlier, the philosopher Gilbert Ryle, Dennett’s dissertation adviser, had coined the phrase “the ghost in the machine” to mock the theory, associated with René Descartes, that our physical bodies are controlled by immaterial souls. The other students were talking about the ghost; Dennett wanted to study the machine. He began teaching himself neuroscience the next day. Later, with the help of various academic friends and neighbors, Dennett learned about psychology, computer programming, linguistics, and artificial intelligence—the disciplines that came to form cognitive science.

“I’ll go shop around for a doctor.”

One of Dennett’s early collaborators was Douglas Hofstadter, the polymath genius whose book about the mind, “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid,” became an unlikely best-seller in 1979. “When he was young, he played the philosophy game very strictly,” Hofstadter said of Dennett. “He studied the analytic philosophers and the Continental philosophers and wrote pieces that responded to them in the traditional way. But then he started deviating from the standard pathway. He became much more informed by science than many of his colleagues, and he grew very frustrated with the constant, prevalent belief among them in such things as zombies. These things started to annoy him, and he started writing piece after piece to try to destroy the myths that he considered these to be—the religious residues of dualism.”

Arguments, Dennett found, rarely shift intuitions; it’s through stories that we revise our sense of what’s natural. (He calls such stories “intuition pumps.”) In 1978, he published a short story called “Where Am I?,” in which a philosopher, also named Daniel Dennett, is asked to volunteer for a dangerous mission to disarm an experimental nuclear warhead. The warhead, which is buried beneath Tulsa, Oklahoma, emits a kind of radiation that’s safe for the body but lethal to the brain. Government scientists decide on a radical plan: they separate Dennett’s brain from his body, using radio transmitters implanted in his skull to allow the brain, which is stored in a vat in Houston, to control the body as it approaches the warhead. “Think of it as a mere stretching of the nerves,” the scientists say. “If your brain were just moved over an inch in your skull, that would not alter or impair your mind. We’re simply going to make the nerves indefinitely elastic by splicing radio links into them.”

After the surgery, Dennett is led into the brain-support lab:

I peered through the glass. There, floating in what looked like ginger ale, was undeniably a human brain, though it was almost covered with printed circuit chips, plastic tubules, electrodes, and other paraphernalia. . . . I thought to myself: “Well, here I am sitting on a folding chair, staring through a piece of plate glass at my own brain. . . . But wait,” I said to myself, “shouldn’t I have thought, ‘Here I am, suspended in a bubbling fluid, being stared at by my own eyes’?” . . . . I tried and tried to think myself into the vat, but to no avail.

Toward the end of the story, the radio equipment malfunctions, and Dennett’s point of view is instantly relocated. It is “an impressive demonstration of the immateriality of the soul, based on physicalist principles and premises,” he writes, “for as the last radio signal between Tulsa and Houston died away, had I not changed location from Tulsa to Houston at the speed of light?” The story contains only neurons and machines, and is entirely materialist; even so, it shows that you aren’t situated “in” your brain the same way you’re situated “in” a room. It also suggests that the intuitions upon which philosophers so confidently rely are actually illusions created by an elaborate system of machinery.

Only rarely do cracks in the illusion of consciousness appear through which one might see the machinery at work. Proust inspected the state between sleep and wakefulness. Coleridge experimented with mind-altering drugs. Neuroscientists examine minds compromised by brain injury. Dennett’s approach has been to look back into evolutionary history. In the minds of other animals, even insects, Dennett believes, we can see the functional components upon which our selfhood depends. We can also see the qualities we value most in human selfhood in “sort of” form. Even free will, he thinks, evolves over evolutionary time. Your amygdala, the part of the brain that registers fear, may not be free in any meaningful sense—it’s effectively a robot—but it endows the mind to which it belongs with the ability to avoid danger. In this way, the winding path leads from determinism to freedom, too: “A whole can be freer than its parts.”

Along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens, Dennett is often cited as one of the “four horsemen of the New Atheism.” In a 2006 book called “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon,” he argued that religion ought to be studied rather than practiced. Recently, with the researcher Linda LaScola, he published “Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind,” a book of interviews with clergypeople who have lost their faith. He can be haughty in his dismissal of religion. A few years ago, while he was recovering from his aortic dissection, he wrote an essay called “Thank Goodness,” in which he chastised well-wishers for saying “Thank God.” (He urged them, instead, to thank “goodness,” as embodied by the doctors, nurses, and scientists who were “genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive.”)

“You’d think a celebrity sex tape would display a higher degree of showmanship.”

Yet Dennett is also comfortable with religion—even, in some ways, nostalgic for it. Like his wife, he was brought up as a Congregationalist, and although he never believed in God, he enjoyed going to church. For much of his life, Dennett has sung sacred music in choirs (he gets misty-eyed when he recalls singing Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion”). He and Susan tried sending their children to Sunday school, so that they could enjoy the music, sermons, and Bible stories, but it didn’t take. Dennett’s sister Cynthia is a minister: “A saintly person,” Dennett says, admiringly, “who’s a little annoyed by her little brother.”

The materialist world view is often associated with despair. In “Anna Karenina,” Konstantin Levin, the novel’s hero, stares into the night sky, reflects upon his brief, bubblelike existence in an infinite and indifferent universe, and contemplates suicide. For Dennett, however, materialism is spiritually satisfying. In a 1995 book called “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea,” he asks, “How long did it take Johann Sebastian Bach to create the ‘St. Matthew Passion’?” Bach, he notes, had to live for forty-two years before he could begin writing it, and he drew on two thousand years of Christianity—indeed, on all of human culture. The subsystems of his mind had been evolving for even longer; creating Homo sapiens, Dennett writes, required “billions of years of irreplaceable design work”—performed not by God, of course, but by natural selection.

“Darwin’s dangerous idea,” Dennett writes, is that Bach’s music, Christianity, human culture, the human mind, and Homo sapiens “all exist as fruits of a single tree, the Tree of Life,” which “created itself, not in a miraculous, instantaneous whoosh, but slowly, slowly.” He asks, “Is this Tree of Life a God one could worship? Pray to? Fear? Probably not.” But, he says, it is “greater than anything any of us will ever conceive of in detail worthy of its detail. . . . I could not pray to it, but I can stand in affirmation of its magnificence. This world is sacred.”

Almost every December for the past forty years, the Dennetts have held a black-tie Christmas-carolling party at their home. This year, snow was falling as the guests arrived; the airy modern shingle-style house was decorated like a Yuletide bed-and-breakfast, with toy soldiers on parade. In the kitchen, a small robotic dog-on-wheels named Tati huddled nonfunctionally; the living-room bookshelf displayed a set of Dennett-made Russian dolls—Descartes on the outside, a ghost in the middle, and a robot inside the ghost.

Dennett, dapper in his tuxedo, mingled with the guests. With a bearded, ponytailed postdoc, he considered some mysteries of monkey consciousness; with his silver-haired neighbors, many of whom had attended the party annually since 1976, he discussed the Patriots and the finer points of apple brandy. After a potluck dinner, he called everyone over to the piano, where Mark DeVoto, a retired music professor, was noodling on “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” From piles on a Dennett-built coffee table, Dennett and his wife distributed homemade books of Christmas carols.

“Hello!” Dennett said. “Are we ready?” Surrounded by friends, he was grinning from ear to ear. “Let’s go. We’ll start with ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful.’ First verse in English, second in Latin!”

Earlier, I’d asked Susan Dennett how their atheism would shape their carol-singing. “When we get to the parts about the Virgin, we sometimes sing with our eyebrows raised,” she said. In the event, their performance was unironic. Dennett, a brave soloist, sang beautifully, then apologized for his voice. The most arresting carol was a tune called “O Hearken Ye.” Dennett sang the words “Gloria, gloria / In excelsis Deo” with great seriousness, his hands at his sides, his eyes faraway. When the carol faded into an appreciative silence, he sighed and said, “Now, that’s a beautiful hymn.”

Dennett has a philosophical arch-nemesis: an Australian named David Chalmers. Chalmers, who teaches at N.Y.U. and at the Australian National University, believes that Dennett only “sort of” understands consciousness. In his view, Dennett’s theories don’t adequately explain subjective experience or why there is an inner life in the first place.

Chalmers and Dennett are as different as two philosophers of mind can be. Chalmers wears a black leather jacket over a black T-shirt. He believes in the zombie problem and is the lead singer of a consciousness-themed rock band that performs a song called “The Zombie Blues.” (“I act like you act, I do what you do. . . . / What consciousness is, I ain’t got a clue / I got the Zombie Blues.”) In his most important book, “The Conscious Mind,” published in 1996, Chalmers accused Dennett and the physicalists of focussing on the “easy problems” of consciousness—questions about the workings of neurons or other cognitive systems—while ignoring the “hard problem.” In a formulation he likes: “How does the water of the brain turn into the wine of consciousness?” Since then, the “hard problem” has been a rallying cry for those philosophers who think that Dennett’s view of the mind is incomplete.

“Could we move the piece representing ourselves a little farther away from the battle?”

Consider your laptop. It’s processing information but isn’t having experiences. Now, suppose that every year your laptop gets smarter. A few years from now, it may, like I.B.M.’s Watson, win “Jeopardy!” Soon afterward, it may have meaningful conversations with you, like the smartphone voiced by Scarlett Johansson in “Her.” Johansson’s character is conscious: you can fall in love with her, and she with you. There’s a soul in that phone. But how did it get there? How was the inner space of consciousness opened up within the circuits and code? This is the hard problem. Dennett regards it, too, as a philosopher’s fantasy. Chalmers thinks that, at present, it is insurmountable. If it’s easy for you to imagine a conscious robot, then you probably side with Dennett. If it’s easier to imagine a robot that only seems conscious, you’re probably with Chalmers.

A few years ago, a Russian venture capitalist named Dmitry Volkov organized a showdown between Dennett and Chalmers near Disko Island, off the west coast of Greenland. Before making a fortune investing in Shazam and in the Russian version of PayPal, Volkov was a graduate student in philosophy at Moscow State University, where he wrote a dissertation on Dennett’s work. Now he chartered a hundred-and-sixty-eight-foot schooner, the S/V Rembrandt van Rijn, and invited Dennett, Chalmers, and eighteen other philosophers on a weeklong cruise, along with ten graduate students. Most of the professional philosophers were materialists, like Dennett, but the graduate students were uncommitted. Dennett and Chalmers would compete for their allegiance.

In June, when the Arctic sun never sets, the lowlands of Disko are covered with flowering angelica. The philosophers piled into inflatable boats to explore the fjords and the tundra. The year before, in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Dennett had published a paper called “The Mystery of David Chalmers,” in which he proposed seven reasons for Chalmers’s resistance to his views, among them a fear of death and a pointless desire to “pursue exhaustively nuanced analyses of our intuitions.” This had annoyed Chalmers, but on the cruise the two philosophers were still able to marvel, companionably, at the landscape’s alien beauty. Later, everyone gathered in the Rembrandt’s spacious galley, where Volkov, a slim, voluble man in sailor’s stripes, presided over an intellectual round-robin. Each philosopher gave a talk summarizing another’s work; afterward, the philosopher who had been summarized responded and took questions.

Andy Clark, a lean Scottish philosopher with a punk shock of pink hair, summarized Dennett’s views. He wore a T-shirt depicting a peacock with a tail made of screwdrivers, wrenches, and other tools. “It obviously looks like something quite colorful and full of complexity and ‘peacockness,’ ” he said. “But, if you look more closely, that complexity is actually built out of a number of little devices.”

“A Swiss Army peacock!” Dennett rumbled, approvingly. He was in his element: he loves parties, materialism, and the sea.

After the introduction and summarizing part was over, Chalmers, carrying a can of Palm Belgian ale, walked to the front of the room and began his remarks. Neurobiological explanations of consciousness focus on brain functions, he said. But, “when it comes to explaining consciousness, one needs to explain more than the functions. There are introspective data—data about what it’s like to be a conscious subject, what it’s like experiencing now and hearing now, what it’s like to have an emotion or to hear music.” He continued, “There are some people, like Dan Dennett, who think that all we need to explain is the functions. . . . Many people find that this is not taking consciousness seriously.” Lately, he said, he had been gravitating toward “pan-proto-psychism”—the idea that consciousness might be “a fundamental property of the universe” upon which the brain somehow draws. It was a strange idea, but, then, consciousness wasstrange.

Andy Clark was the first to respond. “You didn’t actually give us any positives for pan-psychism,” he said. “It was kind of the counsel of despair.”

Jesse Prinz, a blue-haired philosopher from cuny, seemed almost enraged. “Positing dualism leads to no further insights and discoveries!” he said.

Calmly, nursing his beer, Chalmers responded to his critics. He said that he could make a positive case for pan-proto-psychism, pointed out that his position wasn’t necessarily antimaterialist (a pan-psychic force could be perfectly material, like electromagnetism), and declared that he was all in favor of more neuroscientific research.

Dennett had lurked off to the side, stolid and silent, but he now launched into an argument about perspective. He told Chalmers that there didn’t have to be a hard boundary between third-person explanations and first-person experience—between, as it were, the description of the sugar molecule and the taste of sweetness. Why couldn’t one see oneself as taking two different stances toward a single phenomenon? It was possible, he said, to be “neutral about the metaphysical status of the data.” From the outside, it looks like neurons; from the inside, it feels like consciousness. Problem solved.

Chalmers was unconvinced. Pacing up and down the galley, he insisted that “merely cataloguing the third-person data” could not explain the existence of a first-person point of view.

Dennett sighed and, leaning against the wall, weighed his words. “I don’t see why it isn’t an embarrassment to your view,” he said, “that you can’t name a kind of experiment that would get at ‘first-personal data,’ or ‘experiences.’ That’s all I ask—give me a single example of a scientifically respectable experiment!”

“There are any number of experiments!” Chalmers said, heatedly. When the argument devolved into a debate about different kinds of experimental setups, Dennett said, “I think maybe this session is over, don’t you? It’s time to go to the bar!” He looked to Chalmers, who smiled.

Among the professional philosophers, Dennett seemed to have won a narrow victory. But a survey conducted at the end of the cruise found that most of the grad students had joined Team Chalmers. Volkov conjectured that for many people, especially those who are new to philosophy, “it’s the question of the soul that’s driving their opinions. It’s the value of human life. It’s the question of the special position of humans in the world, in the universe.”

Despite his affability, Dennett sometimes expresses a weary frustration with the immovable intuitions of the people he is trying to convince. “You shouldn’t trust your intuitions,” he told the philosophers on the Rembrandt. “Conceivability or inconceivability is a life’s work—it’s not something where you just screw up your head for a second!” He feels that Darwin’s central lesson—that everything in biology is gradual; that it arrives “not in a miraculous, instantaneous whoosh, but slowly, slowly”—is too easily swept aside by our categorical habits of mind. It could be that he is struggling with the nature of language, which imposes a hierarchical clarity upon the world that’s powerful but sometimes false. It could also be that he is wrong. For him, the struggle—a Darwinian struggle, at the level of ideas—continues. “I have devoted half a century, my entire academic life, to the project, in a dozen books and hundreds of articles tackling various pieces of the puzzle, without managing to move all that many readers from wary agnosticism to calm conviction,” he writes, in “From Bacteria to Bach and Back.”“Undaunted, I am trying once again.”

For many years, I took Chalmers’s side in this dispute. I read Dennett’s “Consciousness Explained,” but I felt that something crucial was missing. I couldn’t understand how neurons—even billions of neurons—could generate the experience of being me. Terrence Deacon, an anthropologist who writes about consciousness and neuroscience, refers to “the Cartesian wound that separated mind from body at the birth of modern science.” For a long time, not even the profoundly informed arguments that Dennett advanced proved capable of healing that wound.

Then, late last year, my mother had a catastrophic stroke. It devastated the left side of her brain, wrecking her parietal and temporal lobes and Broca’s area—parts of the brain that are involved in the emotions, the senses, memory, and speech. My mother now appears to be living in an eternal present. She can say only two words, “water” and “time.” She is present in the room—she looks me in the eye—but is capable of only fleeting recognition; she knows only that I am someone she should recognize. She grasps the world, but lightly.

As I spent time with my mother, I found that my intuitions were shifting to Dennett’s side of the field. It seems natural to say that she “sort of” thinks, knows, cares, remembers, and understands, and that she is “sort of” conscious. It seems obvious that there is no “light switch” for consciousness: she is present and absent in different ways, depending on which of her subsystems are functioning. I still can’t quite picture how neurons create consciousness. But, perhaps because I can take a stance toward my mother that I can’t take toward myself, my belief in the “hard problem” has dissolved. On an almost visceral level, I find it easier to accept the reality of the material mind. I have moved from agnosticism to calm conviction.

On a morning this past winter, Dennett sat in an armchair in his Maine living room. The sky and the water were blue and bright. He’d acquired two copies of the Ellsworth American, the local newspaper; later, he and Susan would sit by the fireplace and compete to see who could finish the crossword first. In the meantime, he was thinking about the nature of understanding. He recalled a time, many years ago, when he found himself lecturing a group of physicists. He showed them a slide that read “E=mc^2^” and asked if anyone in the audience understood it. Almost all of the physicists raised their hands, but one man sitting in the front protested. “Most of the people in this room are experimentalists,” he said. “They think they understand this equation, but, really, they don’t. The only people who really understand it are the theoreticians.”

“L.L. Bean.”

“Understanding, too, comes in degrees,” Dennett concluded, back in his Maine living room. “So how do you take that last step? What if the answer is: ‘Well, you can only sort of take it’?” Physics, Dennett said, tells us that there are more than three dimensions, and we can use math to prove they’re there; at the same time, we struggle to picture them in our heads. That doesn’t mean they’re not real. Perhaps, he thought, the wholly material soul is similarly hard to imagine. “I’m not ready to say it’s unimaginable, because there are times when I think I can imagine it,” he said, “and then it doesn’t seem to be such a big leap at all. But—it is.”

Before the morning slipped away, Dennett decided to go out for a walk, down to where the lawn ended and a rocky beach began. He’d long delighted in a particular rock formation, where a few stones were piled just so, creating a peephole. He was disappointed to find that the tides had rearranged the stones, and that the hole had disappeared. The dock was pulled ashore for the winter, its parts stacked next to his sailboat. He walked down the steps anyway, occasionally leaning on his walking stick. For a few minutes, he stood at the bottom, savoring the frigid air, the lapping water, the dazzling sun. ♦

This article appears in the print edition of the March 27, 2017, issue, with the headline “A Science of the Soul.”


Ainsi Parlait/Thus Spoke/Así Dijo Wissai

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A Mother’s Love Is the Beginning, Death is the Ultimate Meditation

A Mother’s Love is The Beginning, Death is The Ultimate Meditation.

Camus once famously said, Life is the sum of all choices. You made several WRONG key choices in your life. But you have survived in spite of them. What did not destroy you, have made you wiser and stronger. Unconsciously you are becoming who you really are.
What you once viewed as pains and sorrows were actually just incidents suffused with sentimentality. You were sentimental, childish, and immature. That was why you suffered. You are liberated now. You think so. You know so.
What you once viewed your life as teemed with terrors and anxieties are now seen as opportunities for growth. You expect nothing now. You take nothing. And you give nothing. You are bare and dry and serene and totally indifferent to all the dramas and traumas happening around you. If one is stupid, naive, and idealistic, one will suffer and die early of a broken heart. Unreserved Love should be preserved for canines, not humans, because canines don’t lie and don’t betray.
Yesterday you talked with a tall, handsome, fit man, not terribly bright, but not stupid either. He has never been married because he doesn’t want to be tied up by a piece of paper if things go wrong. You told him that he was smart and wise, and that you were stupid and dumb. You have been married three times. You thought Love was attainable and wonderful. A woman once sobbingly told you that after she died, you must be very careful because Love was hard to come by, and that to be loved one must be lovable and it was difficult to love you because you were difficult to understand. You replied, “was it so?” Actually, you don’t really care as much being lovable as not too much consumed by Hate and Anger and Killing. You must practice Equanimity,  Indifference, Compassion, Contempt, and Avoidance. Most humans are just scumbags and filthy animals. Wariness should be your attitude. Most humans just make noise instead of music, empty chatter instead of sublime poetry.
You are a poet, or at least a man with poetic sensibilities and expressions, looking at the world through a prism of beauty, truth, love, and honor, and not with a crass concern with money, power, and fame as most human animals do.
Two nights ago, you had a nightmare. You were humiliated publicly and you dared not fight back. You woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep.
Last night a dream broke out involving 67. She was unexpectedly loving and receptive. A marked progressive step. You then encountered scenes of minors being sexually molested . War broke out. You defended the children using a metal spear. You killed several sexual deviants. Blood was everywhere. Conversations with Ava, “I am not in the path of Love. Not anymore. Too old and too jaded for that. What I am looking for is some quality time during which we unburden ourselves, feel human, and are each other’s psychiatrist. On your countenance I find beauty but also unspoken pain. Every human with whom we come into contact affects us in some way, big or small, positive or negative. That’s inevitable. We are just the embodiments of waves and vibrations. They bounce off or blend with one another when we interact. What you call feeling, I call the outcome of the meeting of waves and vibrations. Each of us exudes and gives off a strong electromagnetic field when we are alive. You must believe there’s an element of “Providential Destiny” that we met and finally are talking. We are talking because we are a bit brave and willing to take some risks. We want to know about each other, about why and how we come to be who we are, and whether we are in some ways sublime human beings and not just scumbags and assholes like so many others around us.
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Interview of Anne Tyler by Charles McGrath

The novelist Anne Tyler, whose 22nd novel, “Clock Dance,” comes out July 10, has been around for so long, reliably turning out books of such consistently high quality, that it’s easy to take her a little for granted. Oddballs, misfits, sad sacks, melancholy, messed-up families — by now we know, or think we know, exactly what we’re going to get. Nor has Tyler made much of an effort to publicize herself. She doesn’t do book tours, almost never gives interviews. She doesn’t need to. She has a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Critics Circle Award and legions of satisfied fans, among them writers like Jodi Picoult, Emma Donoghue, Nick Hornby. John Updike, another admirer, once said that she wasn’t just good but “wickedly good.”

Tyler is not a recluse, exactly — or, as one critic called her, the Greta Garbo of the literary world — but she’s a creature of rigorous habit, rooted in Baltimore, her home for the last 51 years and one she seldom leaves. She doesn’t do interviews, because she dislikes the way they make her feel the next morning. “I’ll go upstairs to my writing room to do my regular stint of work,” she said recently, “and I’ll probably hear myself blathering on about writing and I won’t do a very good job that day. I always say that the way you write a novel is for the first 83 drafts you pretend that nobody is ever, ever going to read it.”

So why was she sitting in front of a voice recorder now? “I don’t know.” She laughed. “Maybe because I’m getting old and easier to push around.”

For the last 10 years, since her husband died and her children moved away, Tyler, who is 75 now but looks much younger, has lived in a high-end Rouse development on the edge of Baltimore’s leafy Roland Park neighborhood. Furnished in contemporary Shaker style, with lots of polished wood, her house is almost disturbingly neat. Her upstairs writing room is so uncluttered and antiseptic you could safely perform surgery there, and what actually takes place at her desk is only a little less complicated. She writes in longhand, draft after draft, and when she has a section she’s satisfied with, types it into a computer. When she has a completed draft she prints it out and then rewrites it all in longhand again, and that version she reads out loud into a Dictaphone. The result is a style that she modestly calls no style at all, but is nevertheless unmistakably hers: transparent and alert to all the nuances of the seemingly ordinary.

Tyler, who is as unpretentious as most of her characters, insists that she did not set out to be a writer and is still a little surprised that she became one. Her parents were Quakers and conscientious objectors, and until she was 11 she grew up in a commune in the mountains of North Carolina. “I can perfectly remember my childhood, but nothing else,” she said. “I remember when I was 7, making crucial decisions about the kind of person I was going to be. That’s also the age when I figured out that, oh, someday I’m going to die, and the age when I decided I couldn’t believe in God.” She smiled. “I’ve never been as intelligent as I was at 7. I have never been as thoughtful or as introspective.”

As a child she read a lot — sometimes books like “Little Women” over and over again — but even in high school it never occurred to her to be a writer, because she was assigned books like “Silas Marner,” and “Julius Caesar” and she knew she could never write like that. When she was 14, living outside of Raleigh, she had a revelation when she read Eudora Welty’s “A Curtain of Green and Other Stories.” I was handing tobacco in the summers,” she recalled, explaining that her job was passing tobacco leaves to someone who tied them on sticks for curing. “The stringer was always a black woman, the handers were mostly farm wives and a few teenaged girls. And they talked, talked, talked. It was a real education. I’d go home every night and my arms would be covered in tar up to my elbows, which tells you something. I realized the people Welty was writing about were country people just like the people I was handling tobacco with. I was just flabbergasted. I said, she’s writing my life, people I know, and it’s not Shakespearean English. She’s just telling what’s real out there that she sees. Later I even got to know her. She was like her stories. There was something wondering about her as she spoke, as if she was marveling at everything she looked at.”

Welty notwithstanding, Tyler went to Duke and majored in Russian, not because of any particular interest in that language or its literature, but because she “just wanted to do everything different from my parents.” She said, “If I could have majored in outer space I would have.” This was at the height of the Cold War and another thing that greatly appealed to her was that the head of the Russian department had a personal F.B.I. agent trailing him around. “I still had no intention of becoming a writer,” she recalled. “I had a series of really good high school English teachers, then an English professor at Duke, and then Reynolds Price, who taught writing there, and every single one of them would say, you’re really good, you ought to be a writer, and I’d just say O.K. I wanted to be an artist, though it’s just as well I’m not. I honestly sometimes think to this day, I wonder what I’m going to be?”

Baltimore was also unplanned. Tyler moved there from Montreal in 1967 because her husband, Taghi Modarressi, an Iranian child psychiatrist, was offered a job at a hospital there, and at first she hated it. “Now I don’t know where else I would live. It’s a very kindhearted city, friendly and gentle. That sounds ironic to say but it’s true.” Almost all her books have been set there, so that by now her Baltimore has become a sort of urban Yoknapatawpha. For the most part the Baltimore she writes about — a place part real, part imaginary — couldn’t be less like the neighborhood she actually lives in. The Baltimore of Tyler’s novels is mostly middle class, or even working class — a place of crowded streets and small houses whose first stories sometimes double as offices for podiatrists and insurance agencies, and where people are probably a little kinder than they are elsewhere.

“I never consciously decided that from now on I’ll just write about Baltimore,” she said. “Part of it is just laziness — it’s a lot easier to set a story in the place where you live. Part of it is admiration. I like the grit and character. If I’m in the supermarket and hear two women talking, I’ll be kind of making notes in my mind. It’s a very catchy way of speaking, the way Baltimoreans speak.” (In the new book, someone unused to the accent thinks that one of the characters is named Sir Joe — until it turns out he is really Sergio.)

“Clock Dance,” Tyler’s fans will mostly be relieved to know, is hardly a departure. It’s almost a compendium of familiar Tyler tropes and situations. It mostly takes place in Baltimore, though the main character is not from there. There’s a difficult mother and some estranged siblings, just as in “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant”; a marriage of mutual (and perhaps deliberate) misunderstanding, as in “Breathing Lessons;” and, above all, a curious exploration of what it means to be part of a family. Some of the characters watch a TV show called “Space Junk,” which is practically an emblem of the novel; it’s about some aliens who kidnap random earthlings on the assumption that they must be related and then try to figure out why they behave the way they do.

“Every time I begin a book I think this one is going to be completely different, and then it isn’t,” Tyler said. “I would like to have something new and different, but have never had the ambition to completely change myself. If I try to think of some common thread, I really think I’m deeply interested in endurance. I don’t think living is easy, even for those of us who aren’t scrounging. It’s hard to get through every day and say there’s a good reason to get up tomorrow. It just amazes me that people do it, and so cheerfully. The clearest way that you can show endurance is by sticking with a family. It’s easy to dump a friend, but you can’t so easily dump a brother. How did they stick together, and what goes on when they do? — all those things just fascinate me.”

She has no plan to retire. “What happens is six months go by after I finish a book,” she said “and I start to go out of my mind. I have no hobbies, I don’t garden, I hate travel. The impetus is not inspiration, just a feeling that I better do this. There’s something addictive about leading another life at the same time you’re living your own.” She paused and added: “If you think about it, it’s a very strange way to make a living.”

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Charles McGrath is a former editor of the Book Review

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