Trade Wind Philosophizing

Noon Position: 19 09.3 S 097 40.3 W
Course: 275 Speed: 6 Knots
Wind: East sou’ east F3-4 Gentle to Moderate breeze
Weather: Overcast, warm
Day’s Run: 155 miles

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A good days run, otherwise not much to report. Back to a bit of philosophizing to pass the time (trying not to think about girls!). For want of anything else to write here is a bit I wrote about Camus and the absurd (of course feel free to skip this):

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I have recently been reading some of Camus' works and related essays. In particular "The Stranger", "The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays" and a couple of essays about "The Stranger", one by Sartre and another by Robert Champigny. I found Sartre essay, "An Explication of L'Estranger", fascinating, his ability to explore Camus’s method and technique was uncanny. He did little to help me understand the notion of the absurd, though the essay also made frequent mention of "The Myth of Sisyphus" essay, as a parallel work. Sartre claims that the essay gives the reasoning behind the absurd, and "L'Estranger" the feeling of the absurd. I subsequently read the essay, of which I had only read parts previously. Much of it is difficult, not surprisingly, but Camus explains very well the fundamental notion of the absurd. He provides a couple of analogies of what he means by absurd, e.g. a man armed only with a sword attacking a group of machine guns, we would consider the act absurd. So the absurd is a relationship between an assertion, aim or desire within the context of its reality. Remove any one of these three elements, the assertion, the environment in which the assertion is made and the relationship between the two and the idea of the absurd ceases to exist. In this sense man's situation is absurd. The gap between his desires and hopes and what he can actually expect in this world, the only one we know, in particular knowing that at the end of it all death is certain (we are sentenced the moment we are born), is so vast as to be absurd.

Given man's situation Camus asks in the first essay, "An Absurd Reasoning, Absurdity and Suicide", why not rush towards our inevitable fate and commit suicide. He notes that this is the first and foremost philosophical question, if the answer is yes we should, then the remaining questions are obviously irrelevant. I found his argument complex and difficult, but his bottom line is that to one who is conscious, acknowledges and embraces his absurd condition, then indeed suicide is not an option, rather an attitude of revolt and indifference is the appropriate stance. (As an aside I think it rather amusing to ponder the consequences if he had found the answer to his question to be yes, for surely then anyone of a philosophical bent who agreed with him would follow him lemming-like off the nearest cliff and all the problems of philosophy would be solved through the very pragmatic process of natural selection.)  I am reminded here of Milton's Satan, who would rather live free and be his own master in the hell assigned him as a consequence than be in heaven, the servant and slave of God. While Camus makes no mention of "Paradise Lost" I find this idea resonates through his essays.

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"Consciousness and revolt, these rejections are the contrary of renunciation. Everything that is indomitable and passionate in a human heart quickens them, on the contrary, with its own life. It is essential to die unreconciled and not of one's own free will. Suicide is a repudiation. The absurd man can only drain everything to the bitter end, and deplete himself. The absurd is his extreme tension, which he maintains constantly by solitary effort, for he knows that consciousness and in that day-to-day revolt he gives proof of his only truth, which is defiance. This is the first consequence." 
Myth of Sisyphus p.55

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All is not lost-the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?
That glory never shall his wrath or might
Extort from me.
Paradise Lost, Book 1, ll 106-111.

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A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what should I be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell then to serve in Heaven.
ibid. ll 253-263

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Camus says he wants to stay within what he knows, to follow his reason to its limits but no further. He acknowledges there are definite limits and that much of the world around him is irrational. I wonder how he overcomes Descartes problem, how can he be certain about what he knows, as we know that our senses can deceive us. Camus responds to the statement that nothing is certain, "well, at least that is certain." For his proposition for the absurd to hold he only needs to feels certain of: 1. his desires (complete and certain knowledge, clarity and immortality seem to be the key themes - sounds like he wants to be god) and 2. that the world, as he puts it, is unreasonable, it cannot be known with any certainty, and that we will die. To the suggestion of eternal life he would respond that we cannot know what follows death, most likely non-existence, in that sense no one has experienced death, and even if there is some sort of existence after this life it is not this one and this is one in my human condition that I can know something about and effects me as a human being. The third element of the absurd is the relationship between these two things which is brought about by man's consciousness and awareness of them. Camus emphasises the importance of not negating any of the terms of the absurd, that it consists of these three things of which he is certain and there seems no escaping it. Most people live there lives in ignorance of their absurd condition but one day they may wake up to it with all the accompanying anxiety it entails.

He explores the encounters a number of great thinkers have had with the absurd, notably Jaspers, Chestov and Keirkegaard. Kierkegaard is the only one I am slightly familiar with. All of them he claims find their way out of the problem of the absurd by negating one of the terms, generally in some irrational leap. Certainly I find Kierkegaard's logic inscrutable, in "The Sickness Unto Death", his argument seems to be that for the Christian death is not the sickness but rather it is despair, " ...the formula which describes the condition of the self when despair is completely eradicated: by relating itself to its own self and by willing to be itself the self is grounded transparently in the Power which posited it." I must admit I have difficulty in finding meaning in such a self-referential statement. The self relating itself to its own self and by willing to be itself ... sorry I am lost. Reminds me of Hoffstadter's "I am a Strange Loop".

To be continued, maybe.

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I miss old Bob Cat.

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All is well.