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Turning down the static

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Ages ago, commenter Sam Vega was kind enough to suggest I could write a book gathering together some of the more serious themes in this blog. As yet there is no book, so to explain why I have a story to tell, but first here is the key to the problem.

In the ebb and flow of human affairs absolutely nothing ever happens twice.

Now the story.

A couple of decades ago I began to hammer out a book about the seventeenth century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza. My idea was to weave Spinoza’s philosophy into the fabric of modern life, drawing lessons from his work which could be applied to modern life. After several hundred hours of effort I finished the book but kept it to myself. I didn’t even try it out on Kindle.

I’d enjoyed writing it anyway, but there was a problem – the evolution of ideas. A worthwhile personal philosophy evolves too quickly to be written down in a satisfactory way because nothing ever happens twice. We do not even have the same idea twice. This sounds odd because we have a powerful sense of an enduring self, coupled with an enduring set of ideas – as Spinoza certainly had. Yet suppose we consider a fairly common event such as a political scandal.

Any political scandal is likely to stimulate familiar ideas about more general political failings, as we know too well. Yet the latest political scandal is never exactly the same as any previous scandal nor will it be identical to any subsequent scandal. Even political scandals evolve with the times. However familiar a scandal may be, in some respects it will always be new and therefore unique.

In other words the fabric of our lives does evolve and there is no going back to square one without losing something important – the unceasing dynamism of real life. A personal philosophy undergoes subtle adjustments whenever we encounter anything even slightly new and every event is new in some respect. It may introduce new insights, new phrases or yet another sentimental appeal to be scorned, but some aspect of the event will make it unique.

As I wrote my book I came to realise what I should have known in the first place. A personal philosophy has to evolve, otherwise it becomes a matrix of doctrines and that was not what I intended to write. The dynamic nature of real life can be ignored, but if it is ignored so is real life.

A worthwhile personal philosophy is an evolving aptitude which never ceases to evolve with surprising rapidity. In the age of the internet it may evolve on a daily basis. It may evolve between the beginning and end of a piece of writing, a lecture, a book or a video. Or a blog post. We are shallow and adaptive because we need to be. Pretend to be deep and it doesn’t work – we end up with narrow rather than deep. It is better to stay in the shallow end and evolve.

Take blogging for example. Your comments change any blog post I might choose to write, extending it into other areas from a joke to a disagreement to an aspect not covered by the post. Should you choose to add a comment to this post it will alter it but here’s the interesting aspect – it will alter me as I read the comment. Writing my Spinoza book changed me, reading and editing it changed me again. In the end I didn’t want to take the book any further – I preferred to absorb the lessons of writing it and move on. I realised that I enjoy the dynamism of moving on.

A blog post is not as dynamic as a debate but less static than a book and for me that is the core problem. Turning old blog posts into a book would lose the dynamic aspect of blogging. Maybe one day I’ll do it, but as yet – no book.


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