Descartes: off his rocker?

Rene Descartes famously said: I think therefore I am (or as originally written in French – je pense, donc je suis), (or as the latin would have it – Cogito ergo sum).

All My Relations

All My Relations

From Wikipedia: “Descartes asserted that the very act of doubting one’s own existence served—at minimum—as proof of the reality of one’s own mind; there must be a thinking entity—in this case the self—for there to be a thought.”

Perhaps he was not completely off his rocker, but it occurred to me on a nature walk recently that thought does not and cannot exist in a vacuum. It only exists in relation to other thoughts. Perhaps I would even make the leap to say that, verily, “to exist” is to be in relationship with existence.

Gregory Bateson – the anthropologist and epistemologist (although he thought of himself primarily as a naturalist) – suggested that everything is what it is because of what it is in relation to everything else. Knowledge is a web of connected endpoints – the idea that any strand of that web can stand alone is unimaginable. And you cannot grasp the meaning of any one body of knowledge without perceiving it’s connected endpoints with other bodies of knowledge.

Consider what we know about how “knowledge” gets represented in our own brains. You have all these neuron cells connecting via synapses in web-like fashion to other neuron cells with electro-chemical signaling. “Each neuron may be connected to up to 10,000 other neurons, passing signals to each other via as many as 1,000 trillion synaptic connections, equivalent by some estimates to a computer with a 1 trillion bit per second processor.”

I will take it a step further and talk about people and places and things. These all exist in relationship to other people, animals, places and things – and only so. The Lakota people say – “Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ” – “The phrase translates in English as “we are all related,” or “all my relations.” It is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life: other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys”. They saw the essential interconnectedness of existence, and made it a prayer – I think that is beautiful.

Ubuntu – an idea from the Southern African region is understood in a philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”. Or to put in someone else’s words – “A person is a person through other people”

More from Michael Onyebuchi Eze:
“ ‘A person is a person through other people‘ strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance”

I know… hunh?!? I will need to read thru that a few more times… but I think I get the jist at least.

The Hawaiian Kahunas (basically tribal medicine men, or shamans) saw their role in the tribe as repairing the broken connections that lead to sickness, strife, and other general unpleasantness’. They understood that health was synonymous with strong relationship (with others, with self, with earth). Serge Kahili King says this: “I define [a Hawaiian] shaman as a healer of relationships: between mind and body, between people, between people and circumstances, between humans and nature, and between matter and spirit.”

Now what strikes me is that, when I attempt to grasp the meaning of myself or of any other creature, place or thing, I recognize that first – there are many-many relationships – a gigantic web of connected endpoints, and second – that I am powerless to perceive each and every relationship that is an essential part of my existence. This too is beautiful, but in a frightening way. If my very existence is defined basically by a thousand trillion connections to the rest of existence, then my perception of my own existence is infinitesimal.

Given this I can make some assumptions (or rather, I am forced to make many-many assumptions).

–I can assume all of the unperceived relationships do not actually exist.
–I can assume they do exist but do not have any real bearing or importance on anything or anyone – myself included.
–I can assume they do exist and do in fact have significance beyond my ability to perceive or comprehend.

Which of these assumptions will I select to guide me?

This line of thought is not completed here… but if you have read this far I will suggest you carry the preceding question with you for a while. Visit the dressing room with each of the options and try them on for a day or two. Which will you ultimately select to guide you?


Morality? Yeah, I don’t really like to talk about it.

ScreenShot508Morality, the more it has become a thing, the more it has become meaningless. The more meaningless it becomes the less it’s worth talking about. Let’s talk instead about the things that are important to you, the things you find precious, the things you value above other things. Ultimately we would get to a morality that can be defined and practiced starting this way, but if we start with morality as if it were the bar to meet, we will get stuck in a sort of slough of despond. Morality will become an end in itself when it is not really even a thing you can place value on.

I don’t litter. I don’t not litter because the sign over there says “Do Not Litter”. I don’t not litter because I have “morality”. I find the environment I live in to be important, precious even, and because I value it I don’t trash it. But I see something more valuable than the environment.

I once dated a girl for a few weeks. After several dates we discovered that we got along great, found each other interesting and all the other things that go into a relationship. The last date found us at McDonalds for a chocolate shake and a walk around a nearby park. And then it happened… she finished her drink and proceeded to toss the McDonalds cup into the bushes… she was a litterbug! And so I broke it off.

See it became obvious that we did not value the same things. It was not just the nature park that I value, it was also (and more importantly) the poor slob who had to come along behind us and pick up her trash. A person I will never see or meet or have anything to do with was ranked down into a lower caste with less value by the act of littering. Absurd? How would you feel if you were the poor slob?

If morality is really just the result of rightly valuing, how do we rightly value another person? It is common to assign value with a refrain of “What have you done for me lately?”. If someone is in a position to benefit us, we would tend to rank them higher than someone that can give nothing. And theoretical person who can give us nothing (that is, the person we will never meet) is even more lowly.

“But isn’t this the way it should work? Survival of the Fittest and Competitive Exclusion and blah blah blah?!?” Well the comment implies a standard behavior by which to judge – which is nearly also synonymous with “morals”. But the unguided process of blind matter has no morality. If there is no innate morality, we have to provide one in order to keep using words like “should” and “ought”. So this means that we have only our own behavior by which to judge our behavior. We have only our own preferences by which to judge the value of another life (be they person plant or animal). Any one of us seems to have the right to say “To hell with your preferences”.

Or we can assign value to a person based on the categories of “right” and “wrong”. But still, we can only get the categories from a pre-defined morality. We tend to get hasty with our judgements as well – like a 5-year old boy who’s told that he has to clean his room before he goes outside to play. There are only two toy boxes and so everything gets tossed into one or the other. Judgements are made quickly and never really examined after the fact.

But suppose there is a method of assigning value that transcends personal preference, pragmatism and judgmentalism? Suppose I could say with full impunity that the theoretical person I will never met has a real value – one inherent to their existence? Because they have life, they have value. Just because I will never come face to face with them does not mean I can treat them like shit.

And more… Suppose I do devalue another human – since we share an inherent worth I am also devaluing myself. This is ultimately why porn is bad for us. By viewing another person as nothing more than an object we degrade them, and when we degrade another human we degrade ourselves. And it doesn’t have to be something as blatant as porn – littering accomplishes a similar objectifying degradation of another person which whips us with its tail even as it strikes another. Basic self-respect becomes harder and harder to come by from there, and short of that, all kinds of pitfalls in behavior.

Plato made the assumption of perfect forms. He described the things we experience in life as imperfect copies or degraded images of a Perfect that existed outside of time and space. We experience beauty here only as a pointer to a perfect beauty. The same with goodness and truth. We see through a glass dimly, but the imperfect experience is evidence of the perfect’s existence. Here we can find a way to assign value to another that is not dependent on preference, pragmatism or judgmentalism. We can find the beauty in that person plant or animal and allow it to remind us of the Perfect Beauty. We must remember a strict comparison with Perfect Beauty is beyond our reach but if we can find a resemblance in our neighbor, our spouse, in strangers and even enemies, we can value them apart from the small thinking our culture is trapped in.

We can look for goodness, and allow it to remind us of Perfect Goodness. Remember that good and bad are not independent entities. Badness is only goodness gone sour, twisted out of form – it has no foundation of its own. And so even badness can be a street sign pointing us to Perfect Goodness and therefore a method of evaluation.

I’m still working through this thought so there may be refinements in the future. Until then, wonder for yourself about the things you value, and the ways you assign that value.

Bones and Stones and Birdyhouseys


I see this all the time… There seems to always be some language personifying the non-personal in the rhetoric of Science (capital S intended ironically). Have you wondered why this occurs?

Crick spelled Nature with a capital N, Sagan spelled “C”osmos. Even Dawkins, although he identifies this behavior as the very start of religion in our world, does this (subtlety) in some of his writings. Certainly they each would not actually say there is a “person” behind or encompassing the material universe, yet the personifying language seems to naturally flow out for some reason.

Science does not actually ever “do” anything… people do things with science. Evolution does not ever “decide” anything, people have will and make personal choices with it – a strictly material universe has no such thing by definition as I understand “strictly material”. Evolution is an idea that only has existence in the mind of people, but people personify it (and if I can go so far…) worship it.

I’ve been working on an analogy for this – if I may share?

I have a toolbox. In the tool box I have a hammer and some nails. I look in my toolbox and I get the inspiration to build a bird house, and so I do using the hammer and nails. I might say my inspiration came out of the toolbox, but really only the hammer and nails did. I perhaps used the tools twice – first (maybe) for inspiration, and second to build – but only the second use came out of a physical material universe – and would not have at all without the first “use”.

Now suppose I see birds feeding from my bird house and I get an inspiration to draw a picture of them. I look in my toolbox for something to use. No paint or color-markers so I grab a nail and start scratching a picture of the bird onto a rock. It’s not the best birdy picture you ever did see, but I was able to follow the inspirations calling with the tools at hand. I begin to wonder where that calling actually comes from – where did the inspiration to build and draw originate? I find myself lost in my fascination and I write a poem in my head about the inspiration. I like my poem in my head and decide to share it. I remember using the nail (which was intended for holding wood together) to draw a picture so I try using it also to make words on bones.

I accidentally drop one of the bones onto another and my ears delight me with the sound they make.  I intentionally reproduce that sound over and over, and I also hit the rock (you know, the one with the birdy picture) until a rhythm develops and I now have a song played on bones (upon which is found a poem of the wonder of building a birdhouse) and stones (upon which is a beautiful birdy picture). Do rocks and bones give birth to delight by themselves, or is there an unknown at play here?

This all started with a hammer and some nails. But they themselves, by themselves, did nothing. Inspiration came from somewhere – no one knows exactly where from still – and a person (namely “I” – which is a curious thing and somehow different from rocks and birds) used them in a blend with my own creativity (whatever that is).

Science is a tool in a toolbox – it is not a bird, bone or stone. Nor is science the actual inspiration that compels us to build things with science. Evolution is a picture drawn of a bird with a somewhat crude misuse of the science tool but it kinda works – although it lacks the color of the real thing.

Philosophy is another tool. It can write poems of wonder and stretch our experience beyond the confines of science where certainty gets lost, but it is still only a tool. Using the science tool *as* a philosophical tool is a crude misuse which often results in silliness such as spelling cosmos with a capital “C”. This is also how science proper morphs into Scientism and usurps a position of authority in our lives it does not deserve.

If I may suggest… personifying the non-personal is really just a natural response to a mysterious call – and I suspect, that same calling of inspiration that sparks birdhouses, pictures, poems and music. It is a call to worship.

We were made to worship, you and I. We disagree at times (okay…, most of the time) about what is worthy of our worship. We can all tell stories of worshiping the wrong things in our lives yet still not really know the right thing. We worship hammers and nails. We worship birds and birdhouses, bones with etched poems and stones with birdy pictures. Some of us go so far as to worship the inspiration itself, but even that may be falling short of the true worth. It is where the inspiration comes from – that mystery we cannot touch (or draw, or spell correctly) – that unknown source of what is known – that is what we are actually trying to worship with everything we do. That is where the calling is coming from.





beyond that door



There is nothing beyond that door.

I am unable to open it…
I am unable to validate the whispers some hear… from beyond it
I am unable to verify empirically so… and so now…  hear my loud lack of belief
There is no evidence to say that something great lies beyond it
Never-you-mind that there is no evidence
to say there is not… something… great… beyond it
I will not be caught under any burden of proof… any
It looks like a door to many… imaginative… fools
but my imagination says it looks only like a wall with useless handles
I am no fool

so says I



This dust is a well-polished accuser against me
If I lived in the wind I might have less to show but more of a story to tell
like a carved mountain, that which creates my scars should be powerful and real – I wish it were real – but I fear it is but weak shadowy sketches

What I need is a hat that tells the mirror something different today
Or perhaps some shoes that will refuse to repeat the blind-mans path
Or maybe all I really need is the next line of the blurred poem that is in my guts and growling

What I want is an instinct, an inborn pull, an unquestionable drive
What I want is like howling sex between two coyotes that paints color and passion and life
around the walls of the burrow that keeps

The edges fray as I grunt under the weight of professional expectations
To play among the moments seems a far-off illusion – “a thing committed to the childish”
But it’s the years that are calling me to question – the years that beckon me to unsuppress some song within


I practiced the moment there.
I closed my eyes and traced my fathers name with my finger tips
I took a handful of the fresh dirt there and rubbed it into my palms.
I felt my origin – my destination in my hands
Begotten by my father in his twenty-fourth year
I pulled the small stones from the dirt – grains – of time, of life
Counting 61 I lined the marker with these stones – the years of my father in symbol
Counting 14 more – setting them off by themselves
I wondered – those unspent years – what might they have been consumed with
He feared, desperately feared- I think – nothing more than the last 14+ were consumed by
I wrote the moment

75 little grains
Consumed by… Burning down
Consumed by searching
for happiness, for meaning, for relief
to be wanted – loved
for significance – in work, in marriage, in fatherhood
to be important to someone – needed – loved
Years consumed with a dream – a longing
unspoken – perhaps unidentified
Time consumed by time itself

I realized – I myself – I have been searching
What for?
This is nonsense – damned nonsense as one once said
I already have everything I would ever need to search for
I am loved
I have meaning – purpose – significance
I know the answers now – being and existence are no longer utter mystery
I have life with an uppercase ‘el’ – not merely a lower case one
So why the searching?
An addictive behaviour I suspect. Damaging behaviour – I now recognize.
I will not pretend I am lost any longer – I am not
I will not wander lost in a fog of my own making

I gather the 75 little stones in my hand
These are my years now
Covered in mud I see them vaguely
They balance with my soul in some strange way
I wash them with water – as my years have been redeemed
My spent years cleansed – my unspent set aside – sanctified
What Christ wouldn’t give to hold in His hands
My seventy-five little grains



Date of Birth: April 1942

Date of Death: May 2004

Lived: 22660 days

Changing my Ways

There is a story about Alexander the Great that goes as follows:
One night, during a campaign, struggling to sleep, Alexander left his tent to walk around the camp. As he made his way through, he came across a soldier asleep on guard duty – the penalty for which was instant death.
As Alexander approached, the waking soldier recognized him, immediately fearing for his life.
“Do you know what the penalty is for falling asleep on guard duty?” asked the general.
“Yes sir,” responded the soldier in a shaky voice.
“Soldier, what’s your name?”
“Alexander, sir.”
Repeating the question, Alexander the Great said, “What is your name?”
“My name is Alexander, sir.”
Again, more loudly this time, the general demanded, “What is your name?”
“My name is Alexander, sir,” the soldier meekly answered.
Looking the young man straight in the eye, Alexander the Great said, “Soldier, either change your ways or change your name.”

I suppose this story returns to mind often because at some point I experienced some conviction and some motivation by it, and some days I really need some more of that stuff, you know what I mean? I seem to fall asleep while on guard too often, distraction (and perhaps a wee-bit-o’ laziness) takes command of my ways.

I have a goal of writing. Not the great american novel thing, but I have a lot of ideas I wish to deepen through essay and poetry. Some days I feel like a attacking that goal like a monster soldier swinging a battle-axe, but then I end up instead, poking at it with a drink umbrella – oh well…

So maybe here, facing Alexander the Great as I am, I should change both my ways and my name. We live up or down to the identity we have for ourselves, the story we tell about “me”. So perhaps a new story is in order, one that is neither a sword swinging maniac, nor a barstool warmer. It must still be me, but also someone to become.

So meet if you will, S.E. Roon – poet, essayist, trail-walker, wonder-junkie.

The In-Between

ScreenShot154The In-Between

Miles of dust and sun
40 needful years of turning on a bitter lathe
Yet only my children will know why
and will their children’s children remember?
will any legacy be left written upon hills of sand?
will there be no wind, no moon, no fear?




In a way I am begotten of those stiff-necked nomads
In a way, my feet still burn and suffer the lessons learned

But I have my own desert stretching my toes
But I have seen a promised land filled with giants
and I have sided with the ten
and I have labeled the two – nutbrained

But slow your fear shea… slow your darting eyes and consider…

I live
I don’t have to but I live
I live now
At least for now… but
For what?
Must I live for something?
I might live for nothing important
but that is not the same as nothing
and important is a thing to consider
while this wind carries pain into your face

But I do not lie down
to let dunes shift over me
For this fact if none other
I perceive a reason
A something
More even – a Presence
Concepts in the human mind are like these flowing hills – changing
I have not pushed
this far
for the sake of a concept
I know I have not because – becuase – it is not even in my power to do so
you are looking at a turtle on a fencepost – do the math

So return behind the How
Let the weight of the What
and the wonder of the Where
with the obvious Why
There is only one
and it is a Who

So tell me while my ears are open
Play Solomon for my blistered and bewildered heart
must I chase wind
or worse… turn heel and flee the wind
all the way back to Egypt
Can these ashes in my mouth be
swallowed or spit
while I yet live – yet journey

Her Favorite

teaAll used cups – 99 cents
and there is one well-used
A bit delicate
A sharp lip
The floral design fading into china white

She drank her coffee black
I conclude with a tipping look
or perhaps a single sugar cube but certainly
this cup lived its life favorited

It has rested beside many morning papers
and accompanied many fresh tea-biscuits
here it is so sad so lonely
its friends saucer and spoon lost
at the bottom of a box in back

All these other stranger cups surrounding
most haven’t a clue how to be a favorite cup

You must meet her lips just so for
what you contain is both
a delight and dangerous

You must shape into her hands lovingly on cold mornings
and balance perfectly from her aging fingers
when her mind is engaged elsewhere

Your morning greetings should be bright and hopeful
reminding her daily of all she is likely to forget
– There is beauty in the world to savor today
– There is goodness in every drop of life
– There is truth to be stirred by even now

It is not an easy thing to be a favorite cup
you must endure many more scrubbings
than the visitors cups
and the thoughtful-gift cups
which say “Worlds Greatest Grandma” – loved but unused

You are far more likely to be dropped and chipped
so you must be stronger than the rest

and more than any other dish in the cupboard
you become part of who she is
until the day she dies and when
she does
the plates and bowls and holiday mugs
will always find a new home
you never will

different, kid

ScreenShot042It could have been kid
it could have been different
it could have been me and you
back to back against our foes
kickin ass and grasping big ol handfuls of glory
laughing like pirates cuz it was just too easy
“Those scurvy dogs never knew what hit ‘em”
we’d say to each other
and laugh
and laugh some more

It could have been me and you kid
and I suppose it’s just silly
to be wishing on that lost star now
but I do
here at two am listening
listening to them howl out there in the greenbelt
I do wish I could tell you
about the chunk they took out of my heart
even from here I can see stringy shreds of chest muscle
stuck in their teeth
dangling from their snarls

I do wish I had been at your back kid
when the crystal wolfpack first circled you
you were easy pickins and they knew it
their night cries gathered their number against you
“we found one alone, come feast”

It could have been different though
it could have been a reason to live
to live at full volume
a reason to wake fist banging for the day ahead
it could have been doorways into a grand courtyard behind high walls
instead you were exposed
out there in dry wilderness
with a bottle of pills for hope
that hope to end hopelessness
it visits me too
it comes round in the dark and pisses on my doormat

It could have been different, kid
it could have been me and you
shooting fireballs of light into the fucking darkness
owning our street
riding with the top down
spinners singing that sweet chrome song
I know I’m not very gangsta
and I had wished that world would refuse
to welcome a twelve year old white boy
but now I just wish I had just put on some dem gold chains
and learned to bounce
and be with you

You probably don’t know it
but for Christmas one year I bought you a Busta Rhymes CD
it sat under the tree until well into January
I finally unwrapped it and played it
and man it was good

You probably don’t know it but I’m not who you think I am
I don’t feel the way you think I feel
and I was just about sit down to write you this
when the amber wolfpack came for me
I didn’t fight long before they had me to the ground
I reasoned I belonged there
and so I just laid down in their hungry circle
just like my father did
you didn’t know him much but you remind me of him

There is not a lot of pride in our blood kid
sometimes kid it is just that way
and we get only what we scrape up
but it could have been different
it could have been you and me