The Best and Worst of Times

It can be hard to make sense of the world at the best of times and even harder to make sense of it in the worst of times. Charles Dickens wrote that the best of times and the worst of times happened simultaneously, along with belief, incredulity, wisdom, foolishness, light, darkness, hope and despair. Perhaps he was right but it seems more likely to me that these things happen in different times in different measures in different places.  Continue reading

Governments and Wisdom

The wisdom of governments is a rare commodity. It is difficult for those in government say things that are the right things to say for the right reasons and in their belief that governments must provide their people with their daily bread and weekly luxuries, they fall into the tempting belief which they verily want to believe – that their own government has special ideals and special qualities which will protect or enhance their masters the people.  Should any of the masters or competitors of government err, it is unlikely that those trespasses will be forgiven for the self belief of governments tends to prevent much self knowledge and less self criticism. Continue reading

Small Observations of an Insightful Kind

I am reading a book that was published over a hundred years ago by a little known writer who did not, as far as I know, have more than a handful of books published. Some say that everyone has a book inside them, but I am not sure that is true. Everyone has a real and unique story inside them, which can, if plotted, become a book that will keep us amused or entertained and be a pleasant way in which to pass time. The book that I am now reading is not one which has such a story, but is full of small observations of an insightful kind.

Casually, the author exposes these insights, which explain our behaviour when it seems irrational. If you were to extract the observations from the plot and put all the insights together you would have an anthropological study of humanity in London at the turn of the last century. If you simply read the book without attempting to synthesise its wisdom you will absorb the wisdom (or some of it) through the entertainment. The book is called “The City of Beautiful Nonsense” by E. Temple Thurston and you can read or download it for free at the Gutenberg website.

There are more famous books which are a collection of small observations of an insightful kind, and many of them, too. I think that this shows us the processes that our ideas go through and how they often end up. We live, as in a story, through a series of events and from those events we select pieces of what we think is wisdom. That wisdom is a belief, tempered by experience, which may or may not be profoundly true, but to us its truth is paramount and obvious, because we have lived and loved it.

We then recite the idea as a truth, or as a story, or as advice or as belief. That seems the process of living until we reach a condition when we want no more ideas, no more insights and no more trouble. That of course is the dangerous time as we take the small slice of history through which we have lived so far as containing all the wisdom and insights that the world will ever need. That may be so, but is unlikely to be so and it is even less unlikely that we will have been able to have the wisdom the select the important insights or the insights that will mend a broken world or even a broken heart.

Great minds can synthesise these insights; small minds live with them as prejudices. We ought to try to honour these insights, not as dogma or as hard wisdom, but as soft malleable wisdom (all real wisdom is malleable) whose truth lies in the strength of the ideas and whose wisdom lies in the beauty of truth.


Looking Over Your Shoulder

Sometimes you have to look over your shoulder to see what is behind you, but usually it is better to keep your eyes firmly ahead and move quickly, so that the past stays behind you and that you enjoy the moment in which you live. There is little wisdom is remembering events that have passed, only a nostalgic sympathy for them. They have shaped what we are in the present, and help us cope with what may come in the future. Experience is not wisdom, and knowledge not understanding.

An Onion is Not an Artichoke

Life is complex. It is a mixture of politics philosophy and economics, which some people study, in an effort to understand. Approaching life as something that needs to be understood is the work of an alchemist; it is complex and results in failure because you cannot understand what cannot be understood. Continue reading

Odd Things – Waving Trees in the Wind

Do humanity’s emissions of greenhouse gases cause climate change? Let us think of trees waving in the wind.

If you look at tree waving on windy days you can deduce either that the trees are moved by the wind or that the trees waving make the wind. With just those basic observations either deduction is possible and equally valid.

If you study wind and study trees and take more observations you can find that wind blows where there are no trees. By widening your area of study you widen and enlarge your knowledge and the more you know the more likely your deductions will be true. That means that you have to know what you actually know and understand what you do not know.

We start from small knowledge, both as individuals and humanity, and we make our deductions as we gain knowledge. We must remember to change those deductions as we know more, both of what we know and what we do not know. Otherwise we will confuse ourselves, rather as we confuse ourselves now about many things.

“With the seed of wisdom I did sow

And with my own hand laboured it to grow

And this was all the harvest I did reap

I came like water, and like wind I go.

I owe these thoughts to GK Chesterton, Confucius, and Fitzgerald’s version of Omar Khayyam

Odd Things -wisdom and truth

The pursuit of truth is excellence, truth is the basis of excellence and truth requires sincerity which is the foundation of all communication. Like sincerity truth is simple. Wisdom is simple too, and that is why it is so hard to be wise. Truth and wisdom, like excellence are rare. Simplicity is rare.