July 27, 2005

It has been almost three months since the last issue of Phlit was released. Now I’m on Nantucket Island, visiting relatives, vacationing. I’m finally in the mood to write, because I’m away from all the distractions of home. It seems that I can’t work unless I’m on vacation!

Yesterday, I walked on the beach by myself, when daylight was fading, the moon was clearly visible, and the first flickers of moonlight could be seen reflected on the waves. As I looked out to sea, a large black animal raised its head from the water, then went back under the water. For a couple minutes, it swam along the beach, only about 40 feet from land, raising and lowering its head, the rest of its body visible only as a kind of black shadow. Though I’ve seen seals in the same area, this animal seemed bigger than a seal, and it seemed to behave differently. I’ve also seen sharks in this area, but I knew this wasn’t a shark. Finally it vanished, and I was left wondering if I had seen a small whale.

A couple weeks ago, I spent several days at Lake George, visiting relatives. Lake George is in the Adirondack Mountains, in New York. Click here if you’d like to see some pictures that I took at Lake George.

When I started Phlit six years ago, I invited people to submit their own writings, but no one ever did, so every article has been written by me. In this issue, however, there are two articles by other people: an article on Cioran by Richard Costa, and an article on Transcendental Meditation (TM) by Don Lovejoy (no relation to the intellectual historian A. O. Lovejoy). Richard is a 22-year-old Brazilian with a wide knowledge of the humanities. As for Don, I met him recently when he attended a meeting of our Socrates Café. I was fascinated by Don’s comments on TM, which integrated two of my favorite topics — meditation and the occult. Don said that people who meditate create a “field effect,” spreading tranquility through occult means. I hope you’ll find Richard’s and Don’s articles stimulating.

1. Cioran
by Richard Costa (Joinville, Santa Catarina, Brazil)

June 20th marked a decade since Emil Cioran’s death. In the last issue of Phlit, Hammond introduced him. I have drawn from a few sources to present a mini-biography and then gathered a selection of aphorisms.

“All are lunatics, but he who can analyze his delusions is called a philosopher.”
--Ambrose Bierce

Cioran spent most of his life in Paris writing a fragmentary and “philosophical romance on modern themes of alienation, absurdity, boredom, futility, decay, the tyranny of history, the vulgarities of change, awareness as agony, reason as disease.” Born in 1911 in Rasinari, Romania, a small, idyllic Transylvanian town. Son of a Romanian Orthodox priest and his unbelieving wife, he enjoyed what he considered a happy childhood, though this happiness consisted of fond memories of town drunks and playing with skulls in the cemetery.

Later on, he went to live in Germany, where he read copiously during the day and wandered the lonely streets at night when suffering from bouts of insomnia, which could last up to several weeks. As his feelings of despair and depression increased, he lost interest in his beloved violin and developed a morbid interest in religion. In 1928, Cioran became a philosophy student at the University of Bucharest, where he continued his study of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, whom he discovered while a teenager, in addition to German idealism, phenomenology, Bergson, Shestov and Worringer’s aesthetics.

At about this time, he became friends with Mircea Eliade and Eugčne Ionesco, both Romanians. Cioran’s first book, On the Heights of Despair, was published in 1934 and won the prestigious King Carol II Foundation for Art and Literature Prize, which allowed Cioran to study in Berlin, where he grew disillusioned with academic philosophy and began gravitating to the aphoristic, fragmentary style that would become his trademark. By the time he reached Paris in 1937, Cioran had published three books in Romanian, but was forced to live meagerly, “as a parasite,” often depending on the charity of dinner parties thrown by the friends of his fellow Romanian expatriates. Like all parasites, he adapted well. Cioran would live in Paris for the rest of his life. He worked as a translator and reader for various publishing houses to support himself.

In 1944, while trying to translate Mallarmé into Romanian, Cioran found the limitations his native language imposed on his creative expression, and so he decided to write exclusively in French from then on. He rewrote his first book in French, A Short History of Decay, four times even after it was accepted by Gallimard. Upon publication, the book won the Rivarol prize, the only award Cioran accepted in his lifetime.

During the fifties, Cioran met Simone Boué, whom became his lifelong companion. He led a predominately quiet and solitary life of study and composition, occasionally publishing books of aphorisms and short-essays. He befriended Samuel Beckett, but Beckett later lost sympathy with Cioran’s pessimism. In his later years, he withdrew from social life, finding himself with Eastern religion. By the mid-eighties, Cioran grew tired of “slandering the world and God” and no longer felt the need to write, a turn of events he accepted as a reward for his work rather than a punishment of it. He gave up writing definitively in 1987, though he continued to do interviews. By that time, Alzheimer's disease began slowly deteriorating his mind. He fell ill in 1994 and, after a yearlong battle, died in 1995.

He was considered “the king of pessimists,” but considered himself an impostor.

An imprecise list of works (as far as I know the titles in English):

On the Heights of Despair
The Book of Subtleties
Tears and Saints
Breviary of Losers
The Twilight of Thought
A Short History of Decay
All Gall is Divided
The Temptation to Exist
History and Utopia
The Fall in Time
The New Gods
The Trouble with Being Born
Drawn and Quartered
Exercises of Admiration
Anathemas and Admirations

Aphorisms of Cioran:

To be is to be cornered.

Only optimists commit suicide, optimists who no longer succeed at being optimists. The others, having no reason to live, why would they have any to die?

One should write books only if one were to say in them the things one would never dare confide to anyone.

A golden rule: to leave an incomplete image of oneself.

To want fame is to prefer dying scorned than forgotten.

Alone, even doing nothing, you do not waste your time. You do, almost always, in company. No encounter with yourself can be altogether sterile: something necessarily emerges, even if only the hope of some day meeting yourself again.

No one can preserve one’s solitude if one doesn’t know how to become odious.

If you can’t feel unique, in solitude, then you won’t be able to be alone, you don’t belong there.

A man who fears ridicule will never go far, for good or ill: he remains on this side of his talents, and even if he has genius, he is doomed to mediocrity.

Ideas come as you walk, Nietzsche said. Walking dissipates thoughts, Shankara taught. Both theses are equally well-founded, hence equally true, as each of us can discover for himself in the space of an hour, sometimes of a minute...

Objection against science: this world does not deserve the penalty of being known.

A civilization is destroyed only when its gods are destroyed.

Saints live in flames, wise men, next to them.

I dream of an ideal confessor to tell everything to, spill it all: I dream of a blasé saint.

Time, accomplice of exterminators, disposes of morality. Who, today, bears a grudge against Nebuchadnezzar?

Apart from matter, everything is music: God himself is but a resonant hallucination.

Born with a normal soul, I asked music for another: it was the beginning of marvelous disasters.

“I cannot distinguish tears from music.” -- Nietzsche. He who does not comprehend this immediately, has never lived in the intimacy of music. All true music arises from wailing, since it is born from the nostalgia of paradise.

Without Bach, theology would lack object, Creation would be fictitious, the peremptory nothingness. If anyone owes it all to Bach, it is, doubtless, God.

In the church of Saint-Séverin, listening to The Art of the Fugue on organ, I would repeat to myself: “Behold the refutation against all of my anathemas.”

Graduated in the school of velleities, idolaters of fragment and stigma, we belong to a clinical time in which concerns us solely the cases. All that interests us is that which a writer has concealed, that which he could have said, his mute profundities. If he leaves a work, if he explains himself, it is assured our oblivion.... Magic of the unrealized artist..., of a loser that disfavors his deceptions, that doesn't know how to make them fructify. [After reading this, I wrote to Richard, “There’s something here, but I can’t quite reach it, and if I can’t reach it, I don’t think I should ask my subscribers to wrestle with it.” He responded, “Have you read Rimbaud? Have you ever thought of all the poems he left unwritten, or rather the ones he possibly destroyed in Africa? Have you ever imagined what Nietzsche would have created if he wasn’t struck by ‘madness’ (just to put it simply), after writing Ecce Homo? Have you listened to the unfinished symphony of Schubert or Mozart’s Requiem Mass? Or even, to pick a less noted case, have you ever noticed a person who could have been a great artist or writer or whatever, if this person had the necessary resource? Or whatever else you can think of, in this specimen of imperfection, of humanity, so to say.”]

In Shakespeare there is so much crime and so much poetry that his plays seem to be conceived by a demented rose.

Paleness shows us until which point can the body comprehend the soul.

Leukemia is the garden where blooms God.

All thoughts are similar to moans of a roundworm stepped on by angels.

In the paroxysm of Insensibility, one thinks of a good crisis of epilepsy as a promised land.

We shouldn’t bother our friends other than for our funeral. And still...

2. TM (Transcendental Meditation)
by Don Lovejoy, Ph.D. (Cranston, Rhode Island, USA)

[Editor’s Note:
Wikipedia has this to say about TM:
TM is practised for fifteen to twenty minutes twice daily while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. In essence, the TM technique comprises the silent repetition of a simple sound known as a mantra, allowing the repetition to spontaneously become quieter and quieter, until it disappears and one is left conscious, but without thoughts.... Alongside the settling down of mental activity, the body also settles to a state of deep rest, and this allows for the release of deep-seated stresses from the system.]

I came to meditation seeking relief from the stresses and cares of life. I was a seeker and I tried various forms of meditation. I had some good experiences, but gradually the methods became difficult and a strain, and I was not able to have a consistent practice because it was not working and thus not worth doing. I learned later the two criteria for effective meditation that it should be effortless and it should work. But in the meantime I was disillusioned, even cynical, about the efficacy of meditation. That lasted seven years.

I became very stressed in my work as a crisis counselor in a large HMO. In addition, coming home at night, I was in the middle of family stress with two small children and often being on call from work as well. The demands of my life were truly overwhelming at that time.

I recall hearing a renowned MD who I highly respected say that the most important decision he made as an adult was the day in which he decided to learn Transcendental Meditation. Even though I doubted that I would learn TM, I felt with the pressures I was up against in my life, it was worth looking into. So I went to a free introductory lecture.

The Transcendental Meditation teacher was not attached to whether I learned or not. The information I received combined with the quiet strength of the teacher convinced me to learn TM. My very first meditation I went into a deep state of transcendence. I had asked the instructor before deciding to learn, how often does TM work. His response was it worked every time.

I have now been doing Transcendental Meditation for 12 years, twice a day. I have never missed and it has worked every time. The scientific evidence and benefits that were discussed in the introductory lecture, and that I was secretly skeptical about, have proven true over the years.

Initially, I learned to meditate to overcome stress. However, TM does not help you cope with stress, it actually dissolves it, and it is the ideal solution to remove stress. What I have found is that TM does so much more than that. It has transformed all areas of my life for the better — relationships, career, health (mental and physical), business acuity, etc.

Once a week, I would go to a vegetarian dinner at the local TM Center in Providence. After meditating we were all in a divine state of peace, and then we would eat together. And I would look at some of the meditators — one man in particular with white hair radiated such friendliness and bliss. When I asked him what he thought about TM, he responded thus:

Our mind often identifies with the emotional distress of disappointments and mistakes, memories of the times I said or did something I wish I hadn’t, or the missed opportunities that would have changed everything for the better. During TM, the mind transcends its boundaries and gains its simplest form of Awareness — pure Being. Then during our group Yogic Flying sessions, we experience a rush of energy and power as the body lifts up. It’s such a feeling of freedom and bubbling bliss. The heart expands and we naturally become more aware of the expanded value of ourselves. Unity — being connected to everything — grows from having that experience in meditation.

The TM organization offers meditation retreats. In these retreats, your nervous system gets revitalized through sound rest and deeper transcendence, which is nourishing to mind and body. When I started going on these retreats, I began to get more in touch with what is called the “field effect” of consciousness, an effect that’s generated in group meditation. We know from quantum physics that there are force fields in nature. Radio, TV, and radar all exemplify invisible waves that are part of the electromagnetic field and each creates its characteristic effect. The field effect of consciousness functions like every other aspect of nature. It is an unbounded hidden field “with waves that radiate throughout society. The human brain is, among other things, an intricate broadcasting and receiving station for the waves that travel this field.”1

One person in a home doing TM creates a harmonious effect in the whole house. In like manner, when a group is meditating together, a spillover effect is created. This field begins to neutralize stress in the surrounding society. In the 1970s, scientists called this the ‘one percent effect’ — they noticed that in cities where 1% of the population was doing TM, the crime rate started to drop. The higher the percentage of meditators, the bigger the drop in crime.

During June and July of 1993, at The National Demonstration Project held in Washington, DC, meditators came in large numbers from 84 countries, and there was a drop of almost 25% in violent crime. In recent years, a South African university known as CIDA has had considerable success by integrating TM into its curriculum. CIDA has received a lot of corporate funding and publicity, including a visit from TV star Oprah Winfrey. There’s also a university in Fairfield, Iowa that integrates TM into its curriculum.

To learn more about the benefits of TM — for individuals and for groups — go to www.tm.org or www.globalgoodnews.com or www.istpp.org.

3. Gödel

A friend talked to me recently about Kurt Gödel, whom I knew nothing about. I decided to look him up in Wikipedia, and here’s what I learned:

  • Kurt Gödel was perhaps the greatest logician of the 20th century and one of the three greatest logicians of all time with Aristotle and Frege.
  • Gödel was born in 1906 in what is now the Czech Republic. In his German-speaking family, young Kurt was known as Mr. Why (Der Herr Warum).
  • Gödel is famous for his “incompleteness theorem,” which says that a mathematical system can’t be both consistent and complete. His theorems ended a hundred years of attempts to establish a definitive set of axioms to put the whole of mathematics on an axiomatic basis.
  • In 1933, he took his first trip to the USA, during which he met Albert Einstein who would become a good friend.
  • In the late 1940s, his work on relativity suggested the possibility of “rotating universes” and time travel. Gödel’s work on relativity caused Einstein to have doubts about his own theory.
  • Gödel became a U.S. citizen and a professor at Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Study, where Einstein also worked.
  • Gödel informed the presiding judge at his citizenship hearing, against the pleadings of Einstein, that he had discovered a way in which a dictatorship could be legally installed in the United States. Despite this minor fiasco, the judge, who was apparently a very patient person, still awarded Gödel his citizenship.
  • In the early 1970s, Gödel, who was deeply religious, circulated among his friends an elaboration on Leibniz’s ontological proof of God’s existence. This is now known as Gödel’s ontological proof.
  • Gödel was a shy and withdrawn person, and suffered from paranoid delusions. Towards the end of his life, he became obsessed with his health, and convinced that he was being poisoned. He refused to eat, and thus starved himself to death.
  • Gödel figures prominently in Douglas Hofstadter’s popular book, Gödel, Escher, Bach. This book contains various mind-games, logic-games. As an example of such a game, one might point to “Hofstadter’s Law”: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.”

© L. James Hammond 2005
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1. Compare my earlier comments on modern physics. back