Arenʼt they odd, the thoughts that float through oneʼs mind for no reason? But why not be frank? I suppose the best of us are shocked at times by the things we find ourselves thinking.
But how is one to keep free from those mental microbes that worm-eat peopleʼs brains—those Theories and Diets and Enthusiasms and infectious Doctrines that we catch from what seem the most innocuous contacts? People go about laden with germs; they breath creeds and convictions on you as soon as they open their mouths. Books and newspapers are simply creeping with them—the monthly Reviews seem to have room for little else. Wherewithal then shall a young man cleanse his way; how shall he keep his mind immune to Theosophical speculations, and novel schemes of Salvation? Can he ever be sure that he wonʼt be suddenly struck down by the fever of Funeral or of Spelling Reform, or take to his bed with a new Sex Theory?
‘I must really improve my mind,’ I tell myself, and once more begin to patch and repair that crazy structure. So I toil and toil on at the vain task of edification, though the wind tears off the tiles, the floors give way, the ceilings fall, strange birds build untidy nests in the rafters, and owls hoot and laugh in the tumbling chimneys.
Logan Pearsall Smith
Smithʼs remarks on Edification remind me of this quotation from a young and up and coming philosopher:
I will begin with two ordinary cases of weakness of will. First, a case of akrasia (the state of acting against oneʼs better judgment) at bedtime. I am watching television and I realize that it is 2 a.m. I am tired, and I know that I really should go to bed. Tomorrow morning the Formal Epistemology Workshop begins, and I would like to attend as much of it as possible so I can learn something about formal epistemology. But the witty dialogue of the Buffy rerun and the winsome smile of the redheaded supporting actress have their grip, and even as I tell myself that I really should go to sleep, I stay where I am and keep watching television for another hour. (Neil Sinhababu, “The Humean Theory of Motivation Reformulated and Defended,” Philosophical Review 118.4 (2009), pp. 498-99)
All Trivia, click, here, itʼs online! Read Empty Shells, and Vertigo! Great stuff! Some of my other favs appear below.
In the midst of my anecdote a sudden misgiving chilled me—had I told about this Goat before? And then as I talked there gaped upon me—abyss opening beneath abyss—a darker speculation: when goats are mentioned, do I automatically and always tell this story about the Goat at Portsmouth?
These exquisite and absurd fancies of mine—little curiosities, and greedinesses, and impulses to kiss and touch and snatch, and all the vanities and artless desires that nest and sing in my heart like birds in a bush—all these, we are now told, are an inheritance from our prehuman past, and were hatched long ago in very ancient swamps and forests. But what of that? I like to share in the dumb delights of birds and animals, to feel my life drawing its sap from roots deep in the soil of Nature. I am proud of those bright-eyed, furry, four-footed or scaly progenitors, and not at all ashamed of my cousins, the Apes and Peacocks and streaked Tigers.
‘But when you are as old as I am!’ I said to the young lady.
‘But I donʼt know how old you are,’ the young lady answered almost archly. We were getting on quite nice.
‘Oh, Iʼm endlessly old; my memory goes back almost for ever. I come out of the Middle Ages. I am the primitive savage we are all descended from; I believe in Devil-worship and the power of the Stars; I dance under the new Moon, naked and tattooed and holy. I am a Cave-dweller, a contemporary of Mastodons and Mammoths; I am pleistocene and eolithic, and full of the lusts and terrors of the great pre-glacial forests. But thatʼs nothing; I am millions of years older; I am an arboreal Ape, and aged Baboon, with all its instincts; I am a pre-simian quadruped, I have great claws, eyes that see in the dark, and a long prehensile tail.’
‘Good gracious!’ said the terrified young lady. Then she turned away and talked in a hushed voice with her other neighbor.
When, now then then, on a calm night I look up at the Stars, I reflect on the wonders of Creation, the unimportance of this Plant, and the possible existence of other worlds like ours. Sometimes the self-poised and passionless shining of those serene orbs is what I think of; sometimes Kantʼs phrase comes into my mind about the majesty of the Starry Heavens and the Moral Law; or I remember Xenophanes gazing up at the broad firmament, and crying, ‘The All is One!’ and thus, in that sublime assertion, enunciating for the first time the great doctrine of the Unity of Being.
But these thoughts are not my thoughts; they eddy though my mind like scraps of old paper, or withered leaves in the wind. What I really feel is the survival of a much more primitive mood—a view of the world that dates from before the invention of language. It has never been put into literature; no poet has sung of it, no historian of human thought has so much as alluded to it; astronomers in their glazed observatories, with their eyes glued to the ends of telescopes, seem to have had no notion of it.
But sometimes, far off at night, I have heard a dog howling at the Moon.
But oh, those heavenly moments when I feel this three-dimensional universe too narrow to contain my Attributes; when a sense of the divine Ipseity invades me; when I know that my voice is the voice of Truth, and my umbrella Godʼs umbrella!
I got up with Stoic fortitude of mind in the cold this morning: but afterwards, in my hot bath, I joined the school of Epicurus. I was a Materialist at breakfast; after that an Idealist; and as I smoked my first cigarette I transcendentally turned the world to vapor. But when I began to read The Times I had no doubt of an externally existing world.
So all the morning and all the afternoon opinions kept flowing into and out of my mind; till by the time the enormous day was over, it had been filled by most of the widely-known Theories of Existence, and emptied of them.
This long speculation of life, this syllogizing that always goes on inside me, this running over and over of hypothesis and surmise and supposition—one day this infinite Argument will have ended, the debate will be for ever over, I shall have come to an indisputable conclusion, and my brain will be at rest.
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