Raten: Intellectual Fodder

So every once in a while I buy more books for my library and indulge in a fervent reading craze. Over the past few years the desire to improve my intellect has grown, causing me to read and consume books that most would consider odd, or at least deem a strange way to spend my free time. My first serious purchase was Whitehead and Russell’s Principia Mathematica, considered the greatest treatise on mathematical logic– and some say philosophy– in history. This is not to be confused with Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica which is widely regarded as the most important work in the history of science. At any rate, logic has been a passionate past-time of mine and I continue to study it when I can.

More recently I’ve developed a growing interest in physics which has consequently nurtured a fascination for geometry which, after all, serves as its foundation. As a result of this interest I purchased two of the seminal works in the discipline, specifically Euclid’s Elements and Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. According to historians, Euclid’s Elements is one of the most widely published books in all of history with over 2000 editions, second to only the Bible. It was so well know that references to I.47 were automatically attributed as the 47th proposition of the first book of Euclid’s Elements, much in the same way we assume that 1 Kings 2:11 refers to the Bible.

At any rate, here is a list of my new reading material:

  • Euclid’s Elements Translated by Sir Thomas Little Heath
  • Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Newton
  • The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. I: The New Millennium Edition: Mainly Mechanics, Radiation, and Heat by Richard Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, and Matthew Sands
  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard Feynman
  • Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Path by Richard Feynman
  • Relativity: The Special and General Theory by Albert Einstein
  • What is Life?: with “Mind and Matter” and “Autobiographical Sketches” by Erwin Schrodinger
  • One Two Three…Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science  by George Gomow
  • Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen
  • Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics by William Dunham
  • Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms by D. Borror
  • The Evolution of Physics by Albert Einstein & Leopold Infeld
  • Process and Reality by Alfred North Whitehead
  • An Essay on the Principle of Population by T.R. Malthus

All of these should make for amazing reads. I hope to study Euclid’s Elements in depth for many, many months before getting into Newton’s Principia. Eventually I’ll make my way to Feynman’s famed lectures on Physics. In the meantime I’ll need to devote serious time studying these works in depth, working them out on paper, and reflecting about them in my journals before I gain any appreciable proficiency with which to call myself a master of the subject.

But you may ask, why on earth should I ever take up such a task? Why read such obscure books on such abstruse domains of knowledge?

To that I have two responses. The first is that I am not so concerned with acquiring the knowledge of these books as much as I am concerned with learning the process of acquiring. I recognize that mastery of these subjects offers little direct relevancy to my life at the moment, but I’m preoccupied with the ancillary benefits of undertaking such difficult pursuits. To read and understand these subjects requires the utmost of mental discipline, the highest exercise of intellect that very few people throughout history have attempted to undertake, save only the greatest. But those who did endure the crucible of this study were prepared to become the greatest, most powerful and influential minds this world has seen.

Regarding the study of Euclid’s geometry, aside from his obvious influence on scientists such as Newton and Leibniz or philosophers such as Spinoza and Cicero, the Elements influenced even mighty political figures like Napoleon Bonaparte and Abraham Lincoln. It was said by Lincoln’s biographer, Carl Sandberg, that as a young lawyer Lincoln bought the Elements and carried the twenty-three hundred year old book in his carpet bag as he went out on the circuit. At night he would study Euclid by candlelight long after others dropped off to sleep. Many have noted that while Lincoln’s prose was influenced and enriched by the study of Shakespeare, his cogent and sound political arguments derived their character from the logical development of Euclid’s proposition.

Studying this material is good and well if you are interested in physics and engineering and anything requiring an entrenched understanding of analytic reasoning, that much is true. But I must believe, as many others did before me, that there is no greater exercise in intellect than to study the most logical of disciplines no matter what your domain of specialty. Even the earliest thinkers acknowledged the role of this training as a requisite for critical thinking. According to legend, etched across the archway to Plato’s renowned Academy read the words “Let no man ignorant of geometry enter here”. Powerful.  There is a balance to be achieved as well, but I confess that for all my knowledge and experience I am lacking most proportionally in this type of training. And this is despite the years of educational training in mathematics and the rigorous application I encounter throughout my studies in economics and finance.

The additional advantage of studying this type of material is precisely the content, but not simply the content. I believe that metaphor is probably one of the greatest vehicles of semantics, of meaning. Metaphors allow us to transpose relations from disparate domains and uncover otherwise hidden relationships among a webs of facts. Despite their lack of linguistic flexibility and variegation, I believe that this holds true even for the rational disciplines such as mathematics, geometry and physics.

In sum, I’m excited to make these books apart of my past time studies the next few years.

The Great Dichotomy: Passionate Power

Random musings.

Money to get power, and power to guard the money.”
~Medici family motto

Dichotomies are interesting. Many are none other than existential paradoxes: mind and body, thought and matter, possibility and necessity, spiritual and physical,  and the list goes on. Kierkegaard, as well as Nietzsche and other agents of enlightenment, was a literary guru when it came to expounding upon how to live with these irreconcilable realities. Over the years I’ve learned to cope with the resulting blindness of these realities, the otiose character of life and the recondite disunion of body and soul. I’ve compromised with myself and learned to live with one eye pointed inward and the other pointed outward so as to balance introspection and aspiration.

In recent years I’ve faced a dilemma of deciding what to do with my life and career. It’s not like I didn’t see this crisis coming, but I guess I didn’t realize how many times I would be wrestling with my conclusions and convictions. Despite the temporary setbacks and failures mottling my youth, I’ve orchestrated my education beautifully over the years, exploiting a multitude of disciplines of thought and growing ever cognizant of how achievement is actualized. I’ve gone to great pains to realize the context of my condition and the contingencies of my aspirations.

Out of my experience grew two concentrations of study, economics and philosophy, each representing the broader dichotomies encompassing life. One satisfies my intuitions about what I perceive other people to value, the other regards what I value in my heart. I’ve tried to reconcile these over the years and explain why this dichotomy exists, whether a balance can be achieved, or what direction I should favor. For a long time I decided to refuse to sell out. But this clashed with the omnious system that I would face upon entering the workforce: success seemed tantamount to abiding to the myriad of expectations laid out by others.  As I have no trust fund to lean on for support, no assets to buy my way into fortune (compounding investment: you must have money if you wish to accumulate more money), I faced the reality that no upper echelon would endorse my musings, my art, my thoughts, unless I belonged to them, to their network or, by chance, satisfied their criterion of worth.

The citizen of the world in me refused to conform to the ‘system’, to the authority that dictates standardized achievement and propagates worldly values. The autonomy within me bucked as I studied philosophy and developed the tools and methods for critical inquiry, tools I used to ridicule the backward nature I learned to see in the world. The pragmatic element of my spirit recognized the utility of conformity and uptook various preoccupations that would fashion my mind according to them, such as the study of economics and finance.

But I ask myself: what does it take to be successful? I always like referring to the context in question. I’m American. I live in a ‘democratic’ country where the few rule the many. The few in this case are not the parasitic politicians (although in many cases, when it’s convenient, they are one in the same). The politicians are figureheads, merely the arm or scepter of power, not the head of governance. The true source of governance and power resides in the wealthy, the capitalists, the business owners, the stock holders. These are the greats that arbitrate the economic and political atmosphere. They embody the will to power. They pass the laws, set the wages, orchestrate the commerce, conduct the symphonious marketplace we’re lead to believe is free and open. The current sentiment is that if governance is left to the people, we’ll be in a real mess. The populous is simply a bewildered herd, uneducated and incapable of self-rule. (The Wagner Act of 1935 was the last real effort of the masses to mobilize. Since then these efforts have been squashed. Unions are ‘evil’ and communist.) This is why we live in a ‘democratic republic’ where we elect a small group of ‘leaders’ to instruct the masses on which policies they should live by.

To be successful you must be a sycophant. More specifically, you must possess utility for those in power. If you cannot help these people achieve more power, you are worthless and will amount to nothing more than a cog, expendable and interchangeable. But the wealthy will not extend a job or opportunity to just anyone with ample capacity and a strong will. No. They must be familiar with you. You must possess some wealth, influence, charisma, intelligence, talent or power that they can leverage for their own gain. Posterity is as empty as truth. Rationality is an instrument of the powerful: they dictate the rules of the game, the vernacular, the premises and logical structure of your success.

“All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” (Nietzsche)

Rationality is a function of motives, of intention. Pin-point desires and motivations and you can construct a cathedral of reason to leverage against those in power to mutually achieve independently contrived ends.

The questions that have wracked my mind most over the years: Do I follow my heart or my mind? Do I follow my passions or my prudence? What it’s come down to is that, given the current state of affairs, given my context as a young American, passions are prized only in youth, as is freedom. With the coming of age what is most prized is security, with the passions left to fantasy much like the irrealism of dreams are left to enamoring vagaries. We discard our passions and convictions, our fantastical visions of grandeur for a better world, in favor of a ‘realism’ scented with a dark cynicism that dispels illusion, that acquiesces under the ‘system’ that we obey out of sheer necessity grown from our will to survive. What has been trampled is our will to power, but it is never too late to revive this urge.

The artists, when they are not lining the capitalists pockets with profits, are simply muses in the most passive sense of the term. These artists are no longer concerned with inspiring as much as they are fixed on entertaining, or ‘amusing’, for their agenda is the same as the capitalists: money. They render the audience as docile and facile as possible, getting them in a blurred frenzy, caught up in emotion, totally distracted from the realities that oppress their sad existence. The poorest, the most impoverished left with only their intangible dreams, love these entertainers the most. Since they cannot live through possessions and materialism they escape through fantasy, artificial emotions induced through hollow emotives.

I’ve decided I want to sell out, for a time. I want to master the system so I can one day create the system. Considering my background, I’ve played my cards right up until now: the best university, the best internships, solid degrees, great grades. What is necessary now is to capitalize on these achievements instead of forfeiting them for the preponderances of my heart, the longings of my spirit, the existential conundrums I unravel in my reflections.

What I need to do is exploit the source of power for my ends: finance. I need to get into the industry where all the wealthy have a mutual stake. Wealth is the common denominator of power. Investment banking, wealth advising, asset management.

I need to toss these ephemeral thoughts about passion, about right and wrong, about selfless creation, to the garbage. They are fruitless. If I want to succeed, I must capitalize on my strengths: people skills, smooth talking, will-power, vision, charm, intelligence, good nature, pleasant appearance. I can be obedient. My rebellious nature was resistant to obey arbitrary authority, and my attitude throughout school and to my superiors proves this. But this needs to be corrected if I am to succeed and dominate. I must fawn these superiors in order to advance. There are many who wish to succeed, but only those who stroke the ego’s of those holding the keys to power will allow be to ascend to their true potential. I look around me and I see so much talent. Young automatons do everything right, except they haven’t a clue that doing everything right has a ceiling. You must not only serve the interest of your superiors, you must also create value for them, you must learn to hijack and supplant their vision with yours in order to aid them in their accumulation and concentration of capital. In this way achievement is guaranteed.

Morality does not exist. There are no facts, only interpretations. You cannot have a universal moral conscience as a businessman, as a ruler of wealth: only a fabricated justification that accepts the inequality of man as a rule. Nietzsche said, “The reasons for which ‘this’ world has been characterized as ‘apparent’ are the very reasons which indicate its reality; any other kind of reality is absolutely indemonstrable.” Those in power dictate these reasons. Their are the moral clergymen.

It’s interesting to consider the influence of media control. The media is the mouthpiece of the powerful. As Chomsky said in his book Media Control, “Propaganda is to democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”

Who rules the world? The powerful, the elite. These are the American ruling class. We elect proffered politicians which have been paid for by these elite with the single agenda of taming the bewildered herd, of keeping the masses complacently compliant.

Slavery was replaced by share cropping, which has been replaced by credit and loans: all of these forms of debt rob the citizens of equality, life and liberty, and it’s legal. Bankruptcy laws. Capital gains taxes. Trickle down economics. Sub-prime mortgage lending. Failed education reforms: No child left behind. The war on drugs. The rise in pharmaceutical psycho-therapeutics. Currency manipulation: Coinage Act of 1972. Foreign wars and fear mongering, communism, creating enemies like Russian and terrorists as a means of keeping the populous paralyzed and fearful, of keeping their attention turned outward instead of inward. All creating fear. All manufactured to suit the ends of the elite. All propaganda.

Truth and lies are one in the same. They condemn or praise according to which subjective end you are most vested.