Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On the Nature Of Certainty

In this very uncertain world, there are an awful of people who are certain of things. This is that, or that is this, or this is diametrically opposed to that. Despite all we know, we really know very little. How to put our pants on maybe. Friend of mine once related a tale to me: seems he was an artillery man in Nam, and he was sleeping one night when his base came under attack--he allowed that he was fully dressed and on his way to his post ten seconds after the first shell hit, never asked him if he tied his boots, passed on now, shoddy work of the VA carried him away--yeh, but in times of stress I guess we know how to put on our pants.

We are entering a brave new world; how may we certain that this theory is any better than the one it debunks? How long will it be before the parameters change; the stars shift?

No, it doesn't matter what theory, we have theories for everything--the computers leave us with a range of probabilities and we just rearrange the facts to fit the current condition, or at least as many of the facts as we can fit into an incomplete and fragmentary picture.--watching the detectives, they often say, "it's all we got to go on--sanitized for public viewing they never smoke anymore--another subtle hint for acceptable behavior, another subject--

One recalls reading the Foundation trilogy--Hari Selden's invention of Psychohistory, and the second Foundation's refinement of the data over a millennium--the project's purpose, of course, was to predict the the future history of the Galactic Empire through the movement of a vast number of people. Even so, the data was incomplete, errors could occur...

Our confrontation today, well, at least mine--is with Economics, Politics & Art, specifically poetry; and I for one, know so little about them that it would be best if I just crawled back in the cave and pulled the bearskin over my head. I should note here, that it would have been my step-dad that killed that bear, if I were confronted by such a fearsome beast, I fear the outcome would be somewhat different.

Through the good graces of our various magic boxes we are indeed bombarded each day with certainties,--yet those same certainties have led us to the brink of Armageddon rather than the steps to the gates of Eden. Something has gone awry. It would seem the experts know more than they are telling us, or they know very little at all.

"No, that's not what I meant at all, I was not sure of things, and really, it just seemed to be that be that way, at the time."

When I was a boy, over in Dogtown, I'd go up to old Earl's and listen to the old men sitting around the Burnside, spitting, telling lies and cussing the politicians. They'd all been union men, democrats and John L. Lewis was a god--one of Grandpa's favorite stories was the time he'd met John L. up in Brownton when the union was first getting going, "shook his hand," he'd always say. They was certain of God, though they weren't very good Christians, certain of the union, punching the chicken on the ballot, and damned certain every politician that had ever been born was going to pick your pocket. Back then, having only one tv channel, and having Uncle Pete as both news anchor and kiddie show host wasn't quite enough to affect the way you behaved; so I hung out with them old guys and probably learned a lot of things I shouldn't have. I suppose, through everything because of that, I have a few certainties of my own deep down inside, one's you might say as I keep for my own.

"There's nothing better that 250 mics of good acid to kick start the cosmic coonhunt for Enlightenment. It takes juice. After all sonny boy, you don't knock down stars with a bee bee gun."
-- Mad Dog Howard, Hippie Doper/Philosopher

Yeh, all that was later on, something about it--where you came to a rockhard place that you knew you were going to and the Great Game was laid bare. Kinda pointless here, to try and illuminate the motel rooms, the neon, the flimsy walls and the animals--but it was what it was at the time: The whole damn world as a charnel house; everything bleeding & breeding and dying--ancient visions now, and prophesies that saw way down deep at the seams of things. I looked at the Nature of things and who we are, and was amazed at the veneer which we use to cover it up. That is another certainty which came along; I suppose if I could translate it, it might be helpful, but I reckon that particular certainty can't be taught or bought or stole.

It was round about that time, I decided I was going to be a poet--Dave's fault really, he wrote about the wheel of life in a little poem, and I was astounded, got lost in a fever from which I have never escaped, and have been lost in the uncertainty of certainty ever since. Damndest thing about it is, you have to learn all this stuff, (damn near everything) just so you can write about that which you cannot know; and that's the easy part. Damn silly thing to want to be in the first place--quite vogue these days; the net is crawling with "poets". There are some commitments you can't escape, yet all the wanting in the world won't make you what you want to be; that may or may not come along after you are gone, and by then I don't suppose it will matter much, now will it. Turns out, I was never much good at making a living anyways so it was just as well I wrote things down. Point is--I was certain that is what I wanted to be, since nothing else made any sense; everything I learned from that point on had no practical purpose, it was simply grist for the mill, stuff to be sifted through for the next poem.

Whatever other certainties I acquired, I applied to that. Studied philosophy from Thales to Sartre, dumped most because the next one proved the last one wrong, History from the Nile Valley to the second world war, literature from Homer to Ginsburg. Came away from that with a few things--Birth death rebirth, the absurd, and the dialectic--which seemed reasonable to me. I rejected the formal, preferring instead to see in each finished poem a form. To me the formal structures lacked weight, they determined, not allowed. (many consider a mastery of the forms as liberating, but that is not my view.)At any rate, I determined that I would find my own way through the maze; and that is not so easy as it sounds; everything you read sends you to the next one you will read and certainty about anything retreats ever further away.--Nowadays, and I suppose it was always true, though I cannot be certain of this--most folks will have you do something in one particular fashion; because it is their way, and therefore it is the correct way. Put the square a sixteenth of an inch longer than it should be, and maybe it will come out right, whatever it is, it's a feel for the the thing that matters and that's something you can't be certain of no matter how sure you are that you got it right.

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