Monthly Archives: March 2009

The truth and chickens

chicken

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Why did the chicken cross the road?

The first question is impossible to answer according to the ordinary laws of humanly observable nature.  This makes the second question all the more difficult, since we cannot answer it unless we discern whether it was the chicken, or the egg, that crossed the road in the first place.

Like Kafka, chickens have provoked controversies over some very important issues.  And, as with Kafka, the answers to these questions become harder and harder to find the deeper we get into the mundane circumstances of the chicken’s world.  Their lives are a maze of small doors and windows followed by a short plunk on the head in the service of something they will never understand.  They know not who their warders are, and their warders won’t even call the chickens (or the eggs) by name.

Note:  Cage-free chickens, their owners, and their consumers comfort themselves in the thought that these “free” chickens have been spared the Kafkaesque world of their cousins, but they haven’t – and you don’t need to be Sartre to see through this fowl illusion.  Their maze is just bigger and harder to see.  This will become apparent when free chickens reach a road.

The explanation provided by quantum mechanics is mathematically elegant and scientifically consistent, even if it’s at odds with the observable universe:  The superpositioned chicken and egg coexist in perfect harmony until the very moment you attempt to answer the question.  Then you have trouble, because the question forces you to put one thing before the other when in fact their natural state is to coexist in perfect, yet completely reasonable, contradiction.  The superpositioned chicken is both egg and chicken, and it is on both sides of the road at the same time.

This is the paradox of Schrödinger’s chicken.

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Credit: http://animalphotos.info/a/, photo of chicken crossing road with Schrödinger, or possibly Kafka, disguised as a dog, watching in the background.

Inspiration:  http://maghanlusk.com/category/exploration/, “Are You and Antiterminalist?”

See also:  “Schrödinger’s cat”

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Filed under danger, Erwin Schrödinger, existentialism, Franz Kafka, freedom, Jean-Paul Sartre, superposition

The truth and love

htr_mrlincoln3

I love you.

We fall in love, declare love, make love, and do crazy little things for love.  We search for love in all the wrong places and find the most incredible fulfillment in even the slightest glimpse of love in our lives.  The trouble with love is that, like the truth, love creates its own parallel universes of contradictory meanings and motives.  Lovers create worlds of intoxicating beauty and lasting contentment, but lovers do things that threaten to destroy love altogether.  Why is it so much easier to reveal our secrets and anxieties to strangers, rather than just tell the one we love?  By the time we can let it out, it’s all too much.

An old pop standard put it like this,

You always hurt the one you love
The one you shouldn’t hurt at all
You always take the sweetest rose
And crush it till the petals fall

You always break the kindest heart
With a hasty word you can’t recall
So If I broke your heart last night
It’s because I love you most of all

Love is the moral equivalent of the superposition of quantum particles – this is the phenomenon in which a small particle, like an electron, seems to be doing two contradictory things at once.  Like an electron, love spins right-side up and upside down all at the same time, and any attempt to know what is going on collapses its ability to be two things at once.  And if it’s not both things at once, it’s not quite the love we desire.  Love is always and everywhere on the precipice of its own demise, the strongest trust suddenly shattered by the right amount of pressure in the right place, the right place being that fault line we’re never really aware of.

The trick with love is to know when to leave well enough alone.  None of this means that love is doomed, or that love isn’t beautiful all on its own.  It is beautiful.  Love moves us, but like Heisenberg, we find that knowing one thing about love essentially blinds us to some other quality that will catch up with us later.

Like love, the truth requires us to remember that beyond the words we say, something else is always implied, even if we can never know what it is until we’ve lost something else.  To bring truth into relationships requires us to remember that contradictions are no mere accidents.  Contradictions – in principles, thoughts, words, or actions – are the substance of the truth and par for the course in the truth of love.

Truth dares us to learn how to heal.  Love dares us to be vulnerable, to be open, and to live without knowing everything about the one we love.  Love is a dangerous beauty, as another well-known song records it,

Some say love, it is a river
that drowns the tender reed
Some say love, it is a razor
that leaves your soul to bleed

Some say love, it is a hunger
an endless aching need
I say love, it is a flower
and you its only seed

At the end of the day, love and truth challenge us to be open to the greatest rewards, in spite of any risk.

Credits:  Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher, “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” sung by many, among other Clarence Frogman Henry and Ringo Starr

Amanda McBroom, “The Rose,” made most famous by Bette Midler

http://www.flowerpictures.net , rose photo.

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Filed under beauty, Bette Midler, Clarence Frogman Henry, danger, love, superposition

The truth and living well

There are three simple steps to living well.  They are:

  • Do something
  • Expect nothing
  • Get everything

The fine print:

Step one: The truth of our lives is in our actions.  Simply put, we are what we do, and attempting to flee from our actions won’t help anyone.  Thoughts, visions, dreams, and internal reckonings are necessary elements of action, but alone they don’t suffice.  The truth is that words (and thoughts and dreams, etc.) are cheap, but be sure to choose well what you do, because regrets come cheaply, too.

Step two: If you’re a receiver in a football game, and you’re running for a pass, do what you need to catch the ball and don’t think about what will happen next.  If you think about anything but catching it, you’ll drop the ball, even it hits you in the chest.  Same goes for trying to catch a fly in baseball, or in the kitchen, for that matter.  Or shooting hoops.  Or writing something great – if you spend your time thinking about what this contribution to thought and science will get you, then you’ll produce something that will get you nowhere.  When you take your eyes off what you’re doing in order to see what’s around, what to expect, what dangers or bonuses are lurking in the environs – when you start thinking about what you might get – you’ll stop doing (see step one) – and you’ll mess it up.

Step three: You can now experience what happens when everything – in this case nothing – contains its opposite and you reap your reward.  The reward is everything, but like truth, this comes with some unspoken qualifiers that actually make everything, in this case, much more rich and interesting.  Get everything that you truly need. The Rolling Stones’ song is quite right, but there’s even more at stake.  Get everything that you truly need, because anything else is too much and will kill you. Which implies the following sub-step:  Don’t take everything you get. Too drastic?  Abundance is the wellspring of dead-living.

True riches come to us without asking.  They are in the things we cannot see, prove, or make tangible in any permanent way.

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Filed under riches

The truth and mullets

me-mullet1

Hypothesis, H1:  The truth is a mullet.

Hypothesis, H2:  The mullet is the truth of all haircuts.

First, no matter how good or bad the truth is, it’ll always grow out, though this follows a distinct trajectory depending on how bad, good, or great the haircut (or truth) was in the first place.  The first few weeks of hair growth can turn a really bad haircut into a thing of beauty.  If the haircut was good in the first place, it becomes truly great during these first few weeks, as the early growth adds that “natural” look to a solid foundation.

By contrast, a really great haircut has nowhere to go but down:  it’s too good to be true (or too true to be good?).  Consider this a lesson in how to learn about truth from your hair.  Starting out at the top is never a good thing.  Adding insult to injury, you never realize how great that haircut really was until you see how bad it looks with just a couple weeks’ growth.

Null hypothesis, H0: The “truly great haircut” can endure.

Second, there are two undeniable truths about mullets:

(a)  No matter how unpopular the mullet may be in any given place or time, there will be at all times some community, somewhere, in which the mullet rules.

(b)  For this reason, the mullet is indeed the universal haircut, even though it will never be universally dominant in all places at one time.

This is the essence of the truth:  like the mullet or a proposition by Michel Foucault, the truth is everywhere and nowhere at all.  The only other thing one could wish for is a picture of Foucault with a mullet.

Third, the mullet passes muster as a universal truth.  I can still recall a group of kids in Brazil I knew about 15 years ago, playing soccer one afternoon.  They were poor kids, gang kids, people I worked with.  The star player was the spitting image, in miniature, of Richard Dean Anderson, complete with a picture-perfect MacGyver mullet – and of course all the boys called him MacGyver.

Finding: The mullet is a transcultural, transhistorical, and (potentially) post-national metanarrative that can reconcile Michel Foucault and Allan Bloom in less than 500 words.

Fourth and for further research, the mullet, like the truth, sets you free.  Ask anyone who has ever had a one.  When your hair is just a little bit longer in the back than in the front, anything is possible.  People will listen to you, fear you, love you, and revere you, like Billy Ray Cyrus in 1992.  But that’s the thing with mullets and truths and the freedom they create.

Mulletude, like truth and fame and some other, more ubiquitous pleasures, seems to last about fifteen minutes at a time.

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Filed under Allan Bloom, Billy Ray Cyrus, body, freedom, MacGyver, Michel Foucault, Richard Dearn Anderson, vanity

The truth and tattoos

Case #1. I once had a friend who had a small tattoo on his ankle.  This was his only tattoo, but it was important to him.  It was a set of Chinese characters, and I asked him what they meant.  He told me, “truth.”  We’d met in a bar, medicating our sadness over lost loves.  I never asked what the tattoo was for, but he told me that it had something to do with his first wife and his daughters, who lived in another town several hours distant, and not the second wife who had thrown him out around the time we met.

Case #2. Ashley Alexandra Dupré has tattoos in different languages (but not English) on different parts of her body.  One of them, tutela valui, had the Latin scholars in New York stumped for a while.  Seems to mean something like I had strong protection, or I was strong by means of a protector.  She has others that are life-affirming sayings and others still that are said to have served as reminders to stay off drugs and clean up her life.  She was the call girl, known as Kristen, whose life style led her in and out of escort service and eventually entangled her in Eliot Spitzer’s downfall in March 2008.

Case #3. Leonard Shelby has facts tattooed on his body so that he’ll remember them.   Shelby has a mental condition, anterograde amnesia, that prevents him from forming new memories.  Along with the tat’s, he “remembers” other facts with Polaroid photographs and paper notes.  This doesn’t work that well for him, until he meets a woman with normal memory, who can help him keep it all straight.  Along the way, she uses Leonard’s condition to manipulate him into scaring off a man who was harassing her.  The fight nearly kills Leonard, who will soon enough find himself back at the place he started.  Leonard is a fictional character in a movie.

In a moral sense, we’re all Leonard Shelby, to one degree or another.  Whether we’re shooting ink into our skin or not, most of us are doing something to remind ourselves of what we think is true, what we want to be, and what or who we would like to honor.  It doesn’t mean that we’re naturally bad, because we’re not.  It just means we all need some help to remember things that are important.

It’s fitting that people would turn to tattoos for the toughest truths.  Getting a tattoo is an aesthetic pleasure that takes shape with pain, breaks skin, must heal, and, if infected with the right bacteria, just might kill you.  Like tattoos, the truth gets under your skin; it gets stuck to you and is hard to remove.  Try to remove it, and you’ll probably have a scar, though of course rich people can get the right kind of surgery to permanently remove truth with very little pain and almost no scarring.

For most of us, though, the tattoos remain.  Just like we do, they get old and fade with time.  The meanings that the tattoos once had are no longer relevant.  Whatever the case, we do with a tattoo what we do with the truth – live with it, figure out how to change it, or ignore it.

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Filed under Ashley Alexandra Dupré, body, Leonard Shelby, truth hurts

The truth and onions

The truth is like an onion.  It’s wrapped in a tough skin that’s hard to get through.  Once you get the skin off, you realize it comes in layers, and you can peel them back one by one.  As with an onion, getting to the truth will make you cry.  Your eyes will burn, and your nose will begin to run.  The truth turns you into a weepy, snotty mess.  The truth hurts.

Ever see anyone eating an onion like an apple?  Ever see anyone in a restaurant order a plate of raw onions for their meal?  People eat pickled onions whole, especially pickled baby onions.  Some people put raw onions on burgers or in a salad, but that’s the point:  if you’re not going to consume the truth in small bits or pickled baby-bites, you’ll need to cook it, cure it, and add other ingredients before you’ll actually want to digest it.

Onions aren’t usually the main ingredient of a dish.  Onions are “aromatics,” the kind of flavorful vegetables that can withstand a lot of cooking and not lose their flavor and aroma.  Aromatics impart their flavors to the things around them.  Other aromatics are carrots, green peppers, and celery, but these aren’t like the truth.  People love eating carrots and green peppers and celery raw, though frequently with dip (closer to truth territory).  But an onion?  Like the truth, an onion is one tough cookie.

To really fit into a dish, onions need to be cooked over a high flame.  As with the truth, turning up the heat makes the onions transparent.  The heat dilutes and transforms their power, so that they flavor the actual centerpiece of the meal – a hunk of meat or fish or chicken or tofu or green beans or spinach.  That’s what you ordered the meal for.  We even use onions to flavor water – but you don’t get the soup for the onions.  You get the soup for everything else that’s in it.  Even French Onion Soup is that way.  The French get it for the clear, rich, dark meat broth and the sweet flavor of caramelized onions.  Americans get it for the bread and cheese.  We expect onions in our meals, but we want much more.

And so the truth is like an onion – its flavors are so concentrated that they startle and burn and choke you.  Truth by itself isn’t something we really want – nor will the truth alone sustain us.  The problem with truth is never the onion-like nature of the truth.  It’s how the truth is cooked up and served.  Done properly, the truth can be part of a very fulfilling, nutritious, and pleasurable experience.  When it’s not, it’s the chef’s fault.

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Filed under food, truth hurts