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Episode #165 ... Ralph Waldo Emerson - Nature and Other Things

2022-04-30 | 🔗
Today we continue our discussion of Emerson.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hello, everyone, I'm Stephen West. This is philosophize. This wanna thank everyone out there who still supports the show. Look, I know times are weird right now, but just now that the nine year and Averse three of the show was coming up in June when doing this for a while, and I'm always gonna try to find a way to keep the show going. So thanks for your understanding in the coming months, today's episode is part two on Ralph Waldo Emerson. I hope he loved the show today. So since the dawn of civilization, human beings in one way or another, have been at war with each other, but there it's a culture bore economic war. All the way down to an act physical invasion of a country, whether it's a war of ideas, religions, fighting other religions, philosophers. You can't stop giving about the minutiae, even that guy that spends all day screaming Botz on the internet? Even he as a warrior and humanities fight against our robot overlords. Leave it to us human, He d never run out a creative ways to argue with each other about stuff and Ralph. Waldo Emerson wouldn't feel bad stating the obvious here that the one thing we definitely
don't have a shortage of in this world over the course of history is disunity within our species. But why is that he would ask I mean none of us like being at war with other people. We try. Our best to prevent fighting between cultures for as long as we ve been working on this whole project of getting along with each other. Why can it sometimes seem like there's been zero, progress made in this area. Why haven't we ve been well to do more over thousands of years, like even in world war, two they eventually came out of the trenches played sock. a cheese and crackers and had an armistice day when's, our arms, to stay when we get our cheese and crackers, because if we just listen to what the general consensus on the matter, people will tell you that everything seems to be getting better in this area that, since the days of roving barbarians, pillaging innocent people, the human species apparently has been on a pretty consistent progression upwards here, in all things, to the underlying strategy, reviews to learn more about the universe and constantly make things better. What do we do? Well, we exist
I'm in the world around us, and we come up with all kinds of complex abstractions to help us make sense of the world. In other words, we come up with narratives, religious scientific, philosophical narratives. That PETE against other narratives in an ongoing discourse of ideas, where the hope is after having enough conversations with each other after enough centuries a talking to each other about sex. The cream is eventually going to rise to the top the ideas that lead to these wars and conflicts between people will some day be mostly reasoned away, and we can usher in a new age of peace and justice wherever when bows on their yoga Matt to a giant picture, a Carl Sagan and turtleneck. Why has this not happened yet? Why can it sometimes seem like all we're really doing, is arguing about stuff and not making any real progress when it comes to the unity of our species? But one obvious answer to this is that this is just how people are conflict is how human beings behave politically, I mean we gotta be willing to accept the passive
letty that we may always just be pitting one narrative against another arguing and fight in going to war over how we want the world to look at least for the next couple weeks, that our fate as a species is to be in a constant state of war. That's one answer to the question, but Ralph Waldo Emerson would want to say that maybe that's the case, but maybe the These and despite our best efforts, we can't ever seen to arrive at any sort of enduring unification of ideas. Is that since the dawn of civilization, we ve been using entirely the wrong strategy, in fact, our strategy, he would say, may even be getting us further away from any sort of unification. What's he get net their boat people during his time and no doubt he would say people during our modern time, put far too much importance on what he calls the dry bones of the past, the dry bones being this history of external narratives and obstructions that we use to make sense of the world. We put far too much emphasis on old ideas and not enough empathy.
on coming up with new ideas. What he means is there's no excitement about being the people that are fighting to creatively solve the problems of our age. The only thing we seem to be cited about is memorizing in rattling off the theories that somebody else came up with be humble if you want take your own intuitions with a green assault. If you must but recognise Emerson would say that when you do that when you yield to the theories and narratives of other people. All you're really doing is replacing own intuitions with the intuitions of someone else Why not rely a little bit more and yourself instead of this historical record of the thoughts of other people and its? No doubt at this point that
so many out there are already a little bit frustrated. So let me try to clear that up I'd. Imagine some people out there are thinking. Okay, look we get it, we get it be self reliant. I read your self Reliance essay Emerson be intuitive, don't let other people tell you how to feel every part of the universe is connected to every other part, and we should try to connect with this over soul that permeates all of being but fair question. How do I actually go about doing that? Should I should I have a say as does the over soul have an email address. I can get at because it seems like everything I am otherwise getting from these religious, scientific and philosophical abstractions, I'm supposed to be getting from connecting with this oversold. How do I do that? The short answer to Emerson is going to be through an intense individual, intentional relationship with nature. Now for the record this, nature with a capital in which two Emerson boils down to anything in the universe. That is not me, meaning art is a part of nature languages. Apart a nature, other people, even your fists,
whole body? The reason why he wants to include these things alongside the natural world will make more sense a little later in the episode, but for now just no If you want to get started on having this intense, intentional relationship with nature, the best way to get to know Nature Emerson thinks is to go out. Get far away from your daily routine and the troubles of your life and just for awhile, try it out, try being in nature, come on put on put on your hiking boots grab your bear spray. Learn that the hard way, let's go out into the woods and let's get intentional with our relationship to nature, people now once you're out in nature, what do you do cause it's not as easy as just show up in the woods one day you don't just go around nature and look at the leaves there's a special kind of attention. You have to pay to nature a special kind of intention that you have to bring two
worsen. The first mistake people make when they get away from the city and they go out and a nature is that are often not really paying that closer attention for often distracted by something they're. Looking for a pretty picture to post on Instagram or their thinking about how far they ve walked, whether they're gonna get their step goal for today or their distress to clear them Heads reveling in the fact that for a while, they don't got to worry about anything distracted Emerson says. The second mistake people make that Emerson would want to point out is that people often see them so miles when they're out in nature in relation to one of those narratives that informs how they already think about nature. For example, if there are christian maybe they see nature as gods kingdom that was put here for their delight during their time here on this planet that shades every experience that they have in nature. If there were an environmentalist, maybe they see their hike as a low in the brush area with a fledgling mere cat population. If you're Thomas Hobbes, maybe you see it as a place where life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short, the point is
we always have these narratives that were projecting onto nature, as were in it. We undressed and our relationship to nature only through this filter and the first step for Emerson of truly being able to connect with nature is gonna be to try to remove this archaeological record of layer after layer of the intuitions of others that we built up over the years and instead try to connect on the bedrock of our own experiences and interpretations. It becomes possible to view nature through the lens of a child like here osity rather than through the lens of a much learned, abstractions and that's exactly what we have to do to Emerson. So once are able to do that once you ve shed yourself or the dry bones of the past and all the ways we ve been told to think about nature. There obviously has to be a place. You start the process of formulating your own opinions about it and for Emerson. That process is going to begin with a question when you're out in the woods observing nature at work. He has tried to answer this question. To what end is nature,
to what end is nature put another way. What is nature mean like viewing nature, as though it's a unified holistic landscape of being from this perspective? What is it that nature even does? These can seem like bizarre questions to ask It was kept remember a time when we didn't have a ready made answer to them, but Emerson thinks part of coming up. New ideas is going to involve coming up with new answers to old questions. seeing nature in a new light. Has the potential to change the way we see absolutely everything in our societies, and he says if you take this question seriously. If you look at me you're through this sort of God's violins, devoid of narratives, what he calls at one point, his transparent eyeball. If you can view nature with this level of openness and genuine curiosity, you're bound
notice, a lot of things about nature that are otherwise extremely easy to take for granted. First example, he gives of this are the stars in the night Sky chapter, one of the book he says, think of the night sky peppered with constellations and shining Now. Imagine if the stars in the night sky only came about once every thousand years, he says: can you imagine the level the people would be losing their minds. If that just randomly happened, one night Imagine the books written can you imagine, the stories of people would tell about the crazy day that, as he says, the city of God was shown to everyone on earth. There pandemonium in the streets. This will be covered, toilet paper level, crazy times, a thousand and it got messy there in Costco for a bit folks, let's be honest, people would lose it, and yet here we are living in
world where those exact same stars are available to us every single night, and we couldn't care less and so too, with the trees and the mountains and all the other aspects of nature around us that sort of fade into the background of our lives because they're, just always there almost like a close, friend or family member that you take for granted. You assume that they're never going to leave you, so it becomes possible for you to discount their existence and only think of yourself until you need something from them. Not a perfect metaphor, though, because to Emerson, you always need some from nature. There is never a point where you are self sufficient in regards to nature just for fun. Let's continue this metaphor and consider for a second how good a friend nature has been for you all throughout your life. Think of all that nature does for you. That is so easy for you to take for granted you worthless. Scum. Nature is first and for most a provider. It provides you with the food and water that makes your life even possible. It provides you with the raw materials you to build your country.
the gasoline or electricity that transports you throughout your life it sure is a landlord that has given you a home to stay in and a lifetime lease at that nature is both a boss and an employee. It gives you tasks that you need to get done. It gives you purpose, but it also sometimes works for you, the things you need, nature is a twenty four hour. Jim cry, walking up one of those mountains sometime nature is a doctor, not only because it provides I do with the medicinal ingredients for any number of problems you may have physically, but nature is a psychotherapist as well. How many people have you heard say that the problems of city life are stressful and draining to them? and that when they can take a couple hours and be by themselves in nature, they feel recharged, they feel a renewed sense of vitality. Nature has the ability to transport us into an entirely new head space. On that same note, Emerson. Nature puts the problems of day to day life into their proper perspective, that almost all of them are not that big, certainly not
big in comparison to the ongoing unified process of the natural world. By studying the macro chasm of nature, we started better understanding, microcosm of ourselves within it Emerson, right in one of his essays quote the ancient precept of know thyself, and the modern precept study nature become at last. One maxim end quote: by connecting more with nature, we end up connecting more with ourselves. What else is nature, though nature as a role model? We talked about consistency in our episode on Self Reliance at suggested and Emerson, says: don't worry about being the picture of a salute consistency, that society sometimes expects a people, because your human nature alone has a certain level of coins since he written into it. That corresponds with the rest of nature. He says: look at a mountain range or a tree or a bird every one of these looks chaotic and inconsistent from one perspective, but take a few steps back and look at the mountain region its
entirety and the seemingly jagged and chaotic rock formations start to make more sense and appear consistent. We can learn how to live better from nature, and there are thousands of examples like this to Emerson. Nature is an entertainer. It provides you with beautiful sunsets landscapes, all the way down to the petals of a flower and make a mistake. Emerson, says beauty is an absolutely crucial human need as well. It's a need that we all indulge in for the sake of our mental health and whether its Netflix or the Grand Canyon, you can ultimately think nature for all the beauty. That's out there see to our buddy Ralph here. The reason beauty is something universally loved by people is because our minds naturally seek order and the things we find beautiful are ultimately manifestations of the order that permeates all of nature. Call it God's spirit
I call it the oversaw call it whatever you want, but to Ralph it's this order that we're connecting with when we connect with beautiful things. In other words, beauty is derived from nature in a way on a related note, nature is a linguist. Even something like language, which can seem entirely separate from nature, is, in fact Emerson in part derived from the natural world. He says physical objects in nature. There is sometimes represent ways that we express things in language. For example, we describe people's personalities in relation to a snake or a fox, a torch he says represent someone who is was really bright. That sort of thing now probably good moment to pause here and give some clarifications, especially about these last two that I just talked about. Never wanna give Emerson too much rope to work with no doubt alot of people out. There are saying, but no Emerson wrong, language. That's absolutely not how language works. Structural linguistics alone refutes what he just said, let alone more content maybe linguistic theory and beauty who is here to stay
that what makes something beautiful isn't it represents the order imbued and nature view is in the eye the beholder it's entirely subjective. These two points may be correct, but there My me a bit of a person at the beginning of last episode that says that everything is subjective and you can never really know. Anything for certain trust me on this Emerson point here is not to provide an exhaustive explanation for linguistic theory or a final take on beauty. If it was, he deftly what has spent more than a couple short chapters explaining it hidden inside of a book that is more gender early about nature. The point he's making is less about the literal face value of what he sang and more about symbolism of viewing nature. Is a holistic process where each constituent part is connected to every other part. In some way. The point he's making is that everything that we consider to be an important part of human life is derived from the process of nature. And, yes, that's right Emerson is a process philosopher to Emerson. We are not distinct, as human beings
from this unified process of nature. We are a part of that unity and yet isn't it ironic, he would say that story, we often tell ourselves, as at the crowning achievement of humankind, has been that we freed ourselves from the shackles of nature. Look at all the cool stuff. We can do look at how we we manipulate the natural world do whatever we wanted to do. Look at our technology. Corns me from the natural world to the extent that I barely even have to acknowledge that its there we want to believe that we somehow conquered nature and now live outside of it and we whose these narratives and abstractions to help us prove our case to ourselves. But what, if every narrative that we add on top of the narrative of the past just create yet another layer in this archaeological record that gets us further and further away from the truth. This is the sentiment the Ralph Waldo Emerson is trying to get. It got a few emails after last episode, so just a real, quick clarification here. He is not saying: don't listen to other interpretations of reality,
or do not have respect for the feelings of any one else in their take on the world. He saying don't let their interpretations get in the way of your creating your own this actually applied a lot to anyone, that's passionate about creating in general. You know you see professional musicians or performers, people who are masters of their cracked and though often talk about how for the first ten. Fifteen years of their career, all they were doing in retrospect was an impression of the people there
spired than the most no bad intent there. They just that people who influence them, but what, though, also say, is set at a certain point: they had to shed the pieces of other creators that were inspiring them and re imagine themselves through a purely individual act of creative expression. This is precisely the sort of thing Ralph Waldo Emerson is talking about, have respect for the thoughts of other people, take inspiration, but don't ever have too much respect, restart worshipping at their alter, dress and like them, eating like them working out like them. No once again trust myself above everyone else, and when you do, he says what you might find but he found his answer to the question. To what end is nature is that nature contains within it a divine wisdom that is beyond our capacity to understand through normal modes of inquiry, there was a life force, the permeates all of the natural world, ourselves included and intuitively paying close attention to nature
it becomes our way of receiving the moral truths that are contained within this life force. Nature, then, above all else that it does for us that we often take for granted. Nature is a teacher. It is an intermediary. It's a communication, medium between us and before that, guarantees the order and continuity of the universe of what some people call God or the oversold than into describe nature as a medium imply some sort of separation when, in fact to Emerson God is always present in us, and we are always present in God. This is why it's so easy to see ourselves in nature and to find wisdom in the way that it operates. Maybe the mistake to Emerson is trying to describe all this through conventional language
Maybe that's also part of why these narratives and abstractions only seemed to get us arguing with each other more about what the truth is not getting us closer to it. Bottom line is when you change your answer to the question. To what end is nature, your whole world view will change once you recognise the holistic unity of all things. recent thinks what inevitably starts to emerge as a worldview where you have compassion for other people. You start to realise that we're all in this together equal parts of the same unity, hurting someone else, only really serves to hurt yourself the gallop
heroism democracy. These become the sort Elaine's that you start to fall into and most of the differences that you see between cultures start to seen petty. Interestingly enough for Emerson, the differences often come down to the exact same divine, creative spark that lies at the heart of all human action animated by this overall, but that creative spark interacts with different external circumstances. Given the specifics of the culture, this accounts for many of the apparent cultural differences that we spend our time arguing about see. There was a time long ago, Emerson thinks when human beings were more connected with nature and for us to get back to that place. It's gonna take people individually, making a conscious effort to get out there and reconnect with the natural world that, if your passionate about healing the disunity of humanity start first by healing the disunity you find within yourself and then what
you're way out from their once again. This is a turn inward to find wisdom, rather than outward also, it's gonna be important for our buddy Ralph here to make people aware of some common mistakes. People make when moving forward, trying to balance their understanding of nature and the later chapters of the book Emerson set its sights on marking an important distinction that he sees between two very different ways of studying nature. On the one hand, there is a purely scientific material understanding of nature and, on the other hand, there is that intuition tat gives you access to the transcendent immaterial aspects of the universe that flow through the material, but which, by the way, are extremely important to Emerson. He says verbatim that for any one, there's gonna be a true scholar in this world. There's gonna be a certain baseline and knowledge that you're gonna need to have you're gonna need
learn about history. You're gonna need to learn about science, but Emerson would say understand that with any interpretive method, including science, there are inherent limitations written into it, and you're only doing yourself a disservice. If you choose to ignore those limitations, Ralph Waldo Emerson says that science is great at providing a certain type of understanding about the natural world. He says that scientists are really good at breaking things down into their component parts. Among other things, they weigh things measure things they isolate substances, and I can tell you: all about the properties of those substances? All this is great, but there are certain things that science can't do. You can't weigh and measure your way into a moral or spiritual lesson given to you by nature that can only come through a deliberate personal connection that you create with nature. You can't isolate substances and dissect, something down to it's finest detail.
while also understanding how it fits into a more holistic, unified process of nature that can only come through intuition. It's not science is job to say why things are the way they are. They asked questions more like. What is this thing doing? How is it doing it? That's part of what makes science great is that it doesn't bother itself with stuff like that and Emerson would agree, but he'd critique the person living during his time and no doubt the person listening today who pox a big game about how much they're interested in. Sure they read books about the natural world. They listen to twelve podcast, describing the natural world and yet spin next zero time actually in the natural world listening and paying attention to what it has to teach them outside of a classroom. Setting If humanity is out of alignment and seemed stuck in this place of disunity, this has to be a contributing factor to Emerson. People are so over indexed on gathering scientific information from nature that they completely
ignore the moral and spiritual information it's available through actually having an experience in nature in his essay title, the american scholar Emerson makes a case that there are three things a person needs to ensure a proper education. They need nature books, and action. Hopefully it's obvious why nature is important to him at this point, and action is the only way. Thoughts in your head ever become something real in nature that you can learn from, but it's the books and the nature books, inaction, education to Emerson books, pose a unique threat if anyone that wants to be a thinking person, because, despite how much undeniable good they may do, books can also be a dangerous trap for someone to fall into now. Keep in mind when he says books. That means any type of educational content. In our modern times it can be videos, podcast, documentaries, blogs, even endlessly going to school, because there was never a set in point when it comes to learning about things and easy trap to fall into four Emerson
to just endlessly learn, and they never actually create anything, but the knowledge that you acquired endless education can be a lifelong filibuster, so you never really have to ever think for yourself. He makes an interesting point towards the into self Reliance and am paraphrasing here, but he says you know you asked the average person. What is it that you want to do after you retire once you're done with work? What do you want to do and a really common response people will give? You is? Oh, I want to travel. I want to see the world and experience other cultures. what percentage of people say that when asked a question, and as modern, tolerant people that value other cultures, we not our had an agreement, and we never really question them about it. I mean who doesn't want to get into a flying metal cylinder for eighteen hours, but Emerson would say how interesting that the way we choose was to spend our time once. It's only hours to spend it's a trap.
far and wide and marvel at the cultural contributions of other people, rather than creating something ourselves that might contribute to the culture that we're apart of he says it may come from the way we educate people from grade school onwards. We tell kids to sit still in a classroom and memorize facts memorize the contributions that other great people have made in the past, its no wonder people carry on with this general strategy as they move into adulthood and then on into retirement. The proper way to read a book as well as the proper way to educate children Emerson, will always involve inspiring creativity. I mean kind of society. Do you want to have? Do you want a society of mindless robots that are good at memorizing information? Or do you want people that know how to do something useful with that information? The value of a book is only as much as the level that it inspires its reader to Emerson. Anything outside of that is just the mere idealization
in a box, the differentiation of the historical record of ideas rather than the act of creating new once it seems clear to him that we need both of these and others. Of course, a structuralist response to basically everything that Emerson said so far. Here's Emerson for the last two episode singing the praises of thinking for yourself intuition, shedding yourself of the third party dogmas that have been handed down to you by society, but couldn't you say that the entire process of thinking for yourself is an illusion. Anyway, I mean Emerson Talkin about this. Like he's some sort of brain and a vat remove from society, but a structuralist might say you can't escape societies, influence whether you like it or not, society has given you, a narrative and with it the RO parameters that you used to navigate the world down to every category. You used to categorize things, every binary opposition everything that seems like a reasonable solution.
Into a problem society has given you not only the building blocks of every thought. You will ever think, but every thought that you can possibly think put another way. There are, of course, are possible thoughts outside of what you will ever think you just effectively will never think about them, because you were given a different set of cultural input since birth. So even the most seemingly outside of the box idea arrived at you in the most seemingly independent way imaginable at it's foundation was ultimately given to you by society, but I think Emerson would have a response to this criticism. Let's say that what this person is saying here is one hundred per cent true. Does that really take the power away from what Emerson is saying in these essays? I mean even if every thought that I've ever had could have been predicted by some sort of cultural supercomputer and that the act of thinking entirely for myself as ultimately nothing but an illusion. Isn't there
an enormous amount of value and being more self aware of the origins of my thinking of being more cautious, of how others may be influencing my thinking isn't their value in working the muscles of the brain Not relying on wrote, member memorization or just trying to please the people around me, but instead trying to create something that inspires people. After all, I think you might say that this person that it may true that you're nothing more than a byproduct of the ideas of the past, but recognise the fact that one day, the ideas that you have today will be the ideas of the asked and of the people living there will have no choice apparently, but to be a by product of you. It determined thoughtful individual can inspire culture with new ideas and, if that's something they have aspirations are doing, then I guess what Emerson might say is to make sure that you choose for yourself what you want. Those ideas to be. Thank you for listening, talk to you next time,
Transcript generated on 2022-05-02.