A few words from Carl Jung

Lately I have been reading Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, a strange hybrid autobiography that was partly dictated and partly written by its subject. Jung was, as my friend James would say, a stony critter; for someone nominally in a branch of the sciences, he was guided to a surprising degree by his dreams and visions. And these make up a large part of the book, going on sometimes for pages at a time; Jung dreamt on a large scale and in baroque detail.

But perhaps my favorite part of the book is the one that deals with Jung’s travels, which unsurprisingly often take on a dreamlike quality. I was particularly struck by this passage concerning a trip to Africa:

From Nairobi we used a small Ford to visit the Athi Plains, a great game preserve. From a low hill in this broad savanna a magnificent prospect opened out to us. To the very brink of the horizon we saw gigantic herds of animals: gazelle, antelope, gnu, zebra, warthog, and so on. Grazing, heads nodding, the herds moved forward like slow rivers. There was scarcely any sound save the melancholy cry of a bird of prey. This was the stillness of the eternal beginning, the world as it had always been, in a state of non-being; for until then no one had been present to know that it was this world. I walked away from my companions until I had put them out of sight, and savored the feeling of being entirely alone. There I was now, the first human being to recognize that this was the world, but who did not know that in this moment he had first really created it.

There the cosmic meaning of consciousness became overwhelmingly clear to me. “What nature leaves imperfect, the art perfects,” say the alchemists. Man, I, in an invisible act of creation put the stamp of perfection on the world by giving it objective existence. This act we usually ascribe to the Creator alone, without considering that in so doing we view life as a machine calculated down to the last detail, which, along with the human psyche, runs on senselessly, obeying foreknown and predetermined rules. In such a cheerless clockwork fantasy there is no drama of man, world, and God; there is no “new day” leading to “new shores,” but only the dreariness of calculated processes. My old Pueblo friend came to mind. He thought that the raison d’être of his pueblo had been to help his father, the sun, to cross the sky each day. I had envied him for the fullness of meaning in that belief, and had been looking about without hope for a myth of our own. Now I knew what it was, and knew even more: that man is indispensable for the completion of creation; that, in fact, he himself is the second creator of the world, who alone has given to the world its objective existence — without which, unheard, unseen, silently eating, giving birth, dying, heads nodding through hundreds of millions of years, it would have gone on in the profoundest night of non-being down to its unknown end. Human consciousness created objective existence and meaning, and man found his indispensable place in the great process of being.

I’m not 100% sure I agree…but it’s something to think about, isn’t it?

Andy Warhol quote of the day (#2)

Andy on boredom:

I’ve been quoted a lot as saying, “I like boring things.” Well, I said it and I meant it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not bored by them. Of course, what I think is boring must not be the same as what other people think is [boring], since I could never stand to watch all the most popular action shows on TV, because they’re essentially the same plots and the same shots and the same cuts over and over again. Apparently, most people love watching the same basic thing, as long as the details are different. But I’m just the opposite: if I’m going to sit and watch the same thing I saw the night before, I don’t want it to be essentially the same — I want it to be exactly the same. Because the more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel.

A few words from Daniel Kahneman

One of my Christmas presents was a book called Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, a somewhat intimidating tome that I am tackling on sheer momentum after successfully conquering Anna Karenina over the last few months. Confidence is high but this is exactly the sort of book I start with great enthusiasm and get bogged down in after 95 pages, not unlike Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos, currently propping up a window in my bedroom.

12 pages in I mostly feel like I’m following what Kahneman (a Nobel prize winner in economics who is very fond of the word “heuristics”) is saying. But whether I go the distance or not, here is a sentence that I loved and that seems worth remembering for its own sake:

When faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.