July 28, 2020

Meanwhile, back in Marlborough…


You get older, and you realize there are no answers, just stories.  And how we love them.

-Garrison Keillor


We’re taking about a 12-day hiatus from our trek – life maintenance has intervened.  Nothing serious, just stuff that needs doing.  Waldo and I continue our daily walk on the Marlborough rail-trail, however.  Rain has come to visit us and brought cooler temperatures with it.  When possible, I wait until 6 AM to get up, instead of 4 AM.

I still need to talk myself into getting out of bed at that hour. The alarm goes off.  I turn it off.  My body says, “Leave me alone!”  I reach over and grab my phone and check the weather.  Can I wait a bit longer and snooze, or do I have to get up so we can be done with the walk before the hot comes?  Is it going to rain and, if so, when?  I make a decision and my starter motor grinds to get the pump going that starts the activity-sustaining juices flowing.  This takes awhile and I usually solve a crossword or play some Mahjong to get the brain circuitry warmed up.  Waldo sees me stirring, gets out of bed and lies near the bedroom door, which I keep closed, eyes on me, waiting patiently.

Later, rather than sooner, we’re on the trail.  Waldo is up ahead, sniffing, looking up at something I can’t see in the trees and grabbing sticks.  I look around, appreciative of the cool morning air, the bird song, the rustling leaves and the squirrel running along the fence rail.  And then I’m off, somewhere else, thinking about this or that.  It is so hard to stay in the moment — temptations abound that drag my attention elsewhere.  Part of this is habit and part is the delusion that if I think about something, I can exercise some control over it.  But when I’m thinking about stuff, what I’m really doing is telling myself a story.

People have argued forever about what makes humans distinct from other animals.  Our ancestors were tool makers – yes, but that’s not unique to mankind.  People are self-aware – yes, but is it not true of dogs as well?  Prove it.  Good luck with that.  In the end, it seems to me, humans are just at an extreme of a continuum, not entirely distinct from other animals, we just have traits that are more exaggerated.  I’ve been thinking, recently, that one of those more exaggerated traits is story-telling.  We are a story-telling species.  Homo Narrativus.  Our minds are constantly full of stories that we tell ourselves.  We make ‘em up, draw them out and then we believe them!  We objectify our stories and posit the existence of things outside of ourselves that support the validity of the stories.  Those envisioned things then bring about what happens to us and we tell a story about it.  It’s all very circular.

But there are rules.  Logic dictates a most important rule: any story we make up must be consistent with the other stories we already tell ourselves.  Logic does not tolerate contradictions.  So, a new story must be relevant in some way and, at the same time, not contradict our other stories.  If it does, logic forces us to amend or discard it, or our previous stories must be changed to remove the contradiction.  This is very interesting because it is not at all a certain thing that this can always be done.  A man named Kurt Godel proved that, within the bounds of number theory, no theory can be both complete and self-consistent.   If you demand completeness, there will always be some contradictions somewhere.  If you demand self-consistency, there will always be truths that you cannot find from your theory.  Some thinkers have suggested that any formal system of thought suffers from this same problem.  No world view can be both self-consistent and complete.

So, our efforts at telling ourselves a comprehensive story that follows the rules of logic, that we can take as a consistent world view, may be doomed.  Yet many of us do it anyway.  At the very least it is alluringly distracting.  I’m not so sure that Waldo does this at all.  If he does, I’m pretty sure that it’s at the other end of the story-telling spectrum from where I sit.  Sigh.  It does get me out of bed in the morning so I can enjoy our walks.  But then it distracts me from being in the moment so I can really enjoy the experience.

Being human is just so complicated.


Waldo knows this is a place of natural beauty and wonder.

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