Sunday, August 26, 2018

back and back and back and back

One of the things that I suspect of drew me in to the spiritual orbit of Hindu Vedanta was its willingness to confront cause-and-effect. Cause-and-effects asks the question, "what came before that," a question anyone might ask when lolling in the darkness waiting for sleep to claim its time. Back and back and back and back the question burrows. There is no escape, whatever theology might say or promise.

How many stars are there in the skies: What came before that?
If the New York Times could print an article that pointedly did NOT use quotation marks around the phrase "the edge of the universe," how and why did the newspaper do that? If there is an edge to the universe ... what's beyond that edge?
If circumstances are as they currently are, of what cause are they the effect? Nothing fancy or magical -- no promissory notes -- just what came before that? Back and back and back and back.
And if current effects rest on preceding causes, to what extent are they little more than new causes?

I suppose masturbation might have been a more satisfactory train of thought, but every now and then cause and effect would raise a questioning hand. Without getting into heaven and hell, Vedanta seemed to embrace what was clearly concrete: cause and effect. Where does it go? What are the implications? And how much magical mystery tour needs to be applied in order to still the nattering queries? But what came before that...?

In a Guardian opinion piece today, author Maryanne Wolf assesses the dumb-down fatigue imposed by the information overload of the internet and electronic gadgetry. People who don't read as once miss out on the civilizing effects of tapping into deeper stories .... back and back and back. Skim-reading is the new normal.
English literature scholar and teacher Mark Edmundson describes how many college students actively avoid the classic literature of the 19th and 20th centuries because they no longer have the patience to read longer, denser, more difficult texts.
Skimming is the new normal and its effects are not solely literary. The willingness and capacity to think and infer and empathize are reduced as reading slips into a touch-base activity. Going back and back and back takes time and effort and ... well, what the hell do you get in return? Whatever it is, Amazon probably has it on sale.

I suspect, but don't know, that Ms. Wolf is engaging in the new-normal complaints of all those who got brought up on books and critical thinking and the capacity to create. In other words, she's old or getting close to it. The digital age demands its pound of flesh. And a skim-savvy lifestyle is one of the results.

But besides the obvious, I too am interested in cause and effect and its echoes. Think of it: All the good thinking in the world cannot shut down the question, "of what cause is this an effect?" What's beyond that and that and that and that? I have friends who are excellent researchers. Back and back they travel in their documentations and extrapolations. Back and back until, until, until ....

Even the best-coiffed and best-educated fall defeated by the side of the road. "Enough already!" or "It may not be perfect, but I'll put my money on it." I pick what I hope is the least-wrong course or deduction and get on with a second cup of coffee. I don't like sloppy thinking, but in the end, thinking is, by its nature, sloppy.

Back and back and back and back and.....

It's as bad as forward and forward and forward and forward....

Either way, I'm still a dummy, a state I do not admire, but life snickers, "Tough shit!"


  1. Interesting how the study of Vedanta awakened your understanding of causality.

    Aristotle did it for me. See

    Both the early Indians and early Greeks could help but bring in speculative metaphysics into their understanding of causality. Sometimes it seems that little has changed in the public's consciousness.

    Didn't care for Wolf's pointed article. Too superficial. While suggesting that people aren't availing themselves of all reading has to offer she misses the larger point: educating people that there're many reading strategies. If a given person doesn't avail him or her self of those strategies they may have never learned or comprehended them or forgot them. It's pretty much the same as the state of critical thinking in general.

    It make me wonder how much the testing culture implement in public school under the guise of GW Bush's Leave No Child Behind and Obama's Race To The Top actually fostered the dumbing down of education.

    In any case it used to be the high school language arts and social studies teacher who would select a few really good books and have the student read and then have guided discussions. I wonder if that's being circumvented.

    I'm sure Wolf understands that reading Tweets or Reddit posts doesn't necessitate deep thought and refection.

    As for the general populace's not reading dense complex literature of the 19th and 20th century, come on! That has little to do with digital screens.

    How many have read all or any of these books:

    The "classic" book on how to read is "How To Read A Book" by Mortimor Alder & Charles Van Doren.

    A more modern and practical approach can be seen In "The Reading Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers" by Jennifer Serravallo.

    Here's a nicely distilled, cookbook approach: