Smart Entities Don’t Exist in Isolation
[These posts can be read separately, but they’re sequential, too. If you’d like to follow the thought process, start with the first posting. There is a list of latest posts on the left.]
Here’s a little about how this website is set up. It started out as a book about a resort for dogs in south-western Pennsylvania, and I wasn’t far into that till I realized the book wanted to be not just about those amazing creatures but about how smart all creatures are. So I started pointing my cart in that direction.
What a Dog Is
Then I realized, for heaven’s sake, all living things are tremendously intelligent, relatively speaking, so the book took a turn that way. But then it came to mind that these smart entities don’t exist in isolation; any pinpoint of intelligence is part of, indeed is, the whole intelligence network.
So there it is. If you want to talk about dogs and do it properly, you have to talk about sub-atomic stuff, and the golden apples of the sun. Nothing less will give you a good sense of what a dog is.
This continual shifting bothered me a little bit. I had structured other books with satisfying patterns that emerged early. One decided to flow chapter by chapter through the stages of life, from nothingness to infancy to old age to death and back to no-thing. Another decided to be structured like a symphony, themes rising and falling, prelude to coda. Another sectioned itself off subject by subject. And so on. It seemed to me, working on what was now my intelligence book, there ought to be a logical way to arrange the material. But the material refused to be reasonable. It did not want to be put together in a logical way, and it refused my efforts to make it fit a conventional framework.
A Star or Nose Hairs?
Then one day I was working on a segment when I ran across the quote of the zen poet Ryokan in which he asks, ” If you point your cart north when you want to go south, how will you arrive?” Ah! My cart did not want to go north. Then I remembered the kinds of conversations I love and the beautiful classes I had had with my students over many years when we discovered which way our cart wanted to go. There was never a logical structure, never a logical beginning, and in the end we had gone no-where. We began right in the middle of everything, in media res, and we ended up there – illuminated. What seemed an insurmountable difficulty in my intelligence book was the crazy certainty that everything is everything, but as my students and I learned, that’s not such a terrible situation. Whether we were looking at a star or nose hairs we soon found ourselves looking every which way. The star was in the nucleus of the atom in my big toe. And the spirit of the universe was there for all to see in a cup of cold coffee with a cockroach floating around in it. As a student years ago wrote,
Our How-Things-Are Painting
As I thought about how this new book wanted to be arranged, I realized it wanted to go the way the classes had gone, the way my conversations with good friends usually go: We always start in the middle. It’s the same with us all.
We human beings start, whether we’re aware of it or not, with a picture in our heads of how things are. What we’re all doing is working on that picture, our how-things-are painting.
You can see this easily when you watch a baby going at it. The kid is trying to get a handle on this mess he or she’s been thrust into, not dismayed or upset but joyously checking things out, having a fine time.
The Heartbreakingly Beautiful Moment.
It was the same with college students. They didn’t give a damn what we explored. They realized, perhaps not really articulating it – I don’t recall anyone every mentioning it – that they were working on their painting.
Whatever we were messing with, however far afield we went – and we did indeed go into the fields sometimes – they would be happily painting in a bit of their picture or stepping back a pace or two and seeing how much clearer it was becoming, how much more vivid. So of course there it was: My intelligence book wanted to start anywhere – for it was always the same picture becoming more lucid with each visit. Start with a wild parrot, you come back to the life force manifesting.
Start with a grand symphony – or a cable car clattering on Powell Street – you always come back to the blood coursing through the veins, the heartbreakingly beautiful moment.
It’s All About a Rain-Glazed Wheelbarrow
And when we run across a poem we encountered last March, since it’s always the same picture we’re all working on, we’ve traveled realms of gold since then, and now that red wheelbarrow is intense, glistening with sunlit rain drops. We do not leave beautiful things to gather dust. When we come back, we’ve traveled some. It doesn’t matter that we’ve been looking at wild mustangs; it’s all about a red wheelbarrow. We all know that.
So that’s the way my intelligence book wanted to go. And now it wants to be a website, and it wants to be called Realms of Gold. Who am I to argue? That’s the way the cart wants to go.