Thursday, May 28, 2009

shadows at sundown

Is there anything which, having captured a person's intense interest and dedication, doesn't lose its force over time? Baseball, success, marriage, religion, war, automobiles, skydiving, philosophizing, movie stars, tricycles, chocolate ... anything at all? What was once of utmost concern ... what happens to the concern?

I guess being interested in something boils down to being interested in "me." If the thing or circumstances in which anyone was interested had some intrinsic or overarching interestingness, then everyone would be interested in it ... and clearly not everyone is interested in the same things.

And while there may be a seemingly endless interest in "me" one way or another, still, to the extent that anyone might offer some dedication to the matter, that concern would not just shapeshift and be asserted in some newly-minted form, it would tend to dissolve ... leaving nothing... and yet not a void and vacant "nothing" but a "nothing" that was somehow informed.

The other night, I was watching a TV show about mathematics. The people involved were using the word "fractal," so the mathematically-inclined probably know what the show was about. But I did not. I kept on watching it because I was fascinated by the fact that I simply didn't get it. I felt as if I were sitting among a bunch of perfectly friendly Uighurs who were chatting about something in their own tongue and, although I was welcome, I had no clue as to the meaning or concern of their discourse. These mathematicians were clearly people like me, using language as I too used it, but ... I simply couldn't understand. And I kept watching the show because I purely loved the idea that there could be something on TV -- or elsewhere -- that I just plain didn't understand. It wasn't that I felt some insistence to understand ... it was just delightful, somehow, that I didn't. These were dedicated, hard-working people, so I took them seriously. I was interested, but what I was interested in was my own ignorance -- my own "me."

When I told this experience to a woman in the office who had majored in physics, she offered to lend me a book that was pretty clear and down-to-earth about things like fractals. I declined the offer. I don't really want to know about fractals. I'm not interested enough. I'm more interested in ignorance -- the kind of ignorance that leads to dedication and effort and then slips away like shadows at sundown. Fractals may be a good entry point just as baseball, success, marriage, religion, war, automobiles, skydiving, philosophizing, or movie stars might be.

I am interested.

I am interested enough to want to find out.

I offer up dedication and effort.

I find out.

I see what I have found out wisping gently away and leaving ... a nothing that is still something.

I am still here, but Adam has left the building. It cannot be called happy or sad. When it's happy or sad, Adam has not yet left the building. He is still dedicated and concerned. There's nothing wrong with it (as if there were some elevated other way to be), it's just something to notice. But the question might be asked -- gently and gently as a mother might whisper her child to sleep -- what building is this?

Well, hell ... what started out as a simple observation has devolved into something airy-fairy or (ick!) something "profound." Basically I am interested in the fact that our wondrous and well-woven expertises, whatever they may be, have a way of drifting upward like camp fire smoke...thinner and thinner, wispier and wispier until ... until... until.... Perhaps there is a habit of filling the 'emptiness' with yet another expertise and another and another under the umbrella explanation that "it's human." And of course it is human. There is no virtue in stupidity any more than there is virtue in expertise.

But it's interesting to watch, don't you think? Sitting around the camp fire with a bunch of Uighurs. Everyone is warm. Everyone is friendly. Everyone is someone who is no one who is someone. Anyone can laugh, right? And the laughter, like wood smoke, rises to meet the heavens ... which laugh right back.

Talk about expertise!


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