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Method and Encounter with Magister

Plato by Raphael. Public domain

Dialectics 1.
Dialogue Within One’s Mind

The method of this blog is finding free inspiration in the technique of dialectics (διαλεκτική ) possibly invented by Socrates and Plato something like 2,400 years ago.

[2014 update : much earlier, and not only in the West; see Indian dialetic]

As far as we know dialectics is primarily based on thought discussing with itself in an effort to reach constantly better conceptions, such inner dialogue being though not obvious here since what readers actually get is just a sequence of apparently unrelated writings.

The point is our posts are connected by mental links, and writings and ideas within them bounce on one another in quick or lazy succession, thus answering, contradicting, integrating one another and now and then considering previous-post themes from different angles or even entirely diverse views.

What’s more, in the context of one single post, questions and answers or different opinions can at times coexist, this conflict/dialogue being actually the core of ancient dialectics.

A further layer of complexity – as we havesaid before – is provided by the delectable game of free associations, which, pleasant or not, is part of our inborn cognitive style.

Risk of Bewitching Chaos

Thought in progress, we believe, is a better self-improvement tool than finished and sedentary conclusions. The risk here is chaos, or irrationality. We hope though to attain some consistency:

a. because of the nature of dialectics itself, tending from heterogeneity towards unity (see Dialectics 3);

b
.
because our ideas are not thrown down at random, links among them being stimulated by inner themes we have been meditating in the years and presumably of biographical origin;

c
.
because almost all our interests have come (though changing over time) from an sudden germination.

We are referring to a crucial encounter that took place in Rome, 35 years ago (see Dialectics 3).

Dialectics 2.
Dialogue Among Minds

Now, reason discussing with itself doesn’t exclude dialogue with others, since dialectic sees in fertile dialogue among thinking people the highest expression of cognitive exploration.

We have conversed with people of any cultural level, even a few top brains, their ideas interacting with ours in many ways. Plus we digest tons of debates in the media.

In any case, however we put it, we cannot have what Socrates or Plato had. Being not big shots of thought we cannot invite to dinner the great intellectuals of our time on a weekly, monthly or even quarterly basis. What an awful stress it would be (we are reserved,) although, let’s be frank, it’s not that they wouldn’t accept, it’s just they wouldn’t even notice we are inviting them.

[And how silly to even think of having what Socrates or Plato had. Today even top think-tank people cannot enjoy those sublime, holistic symposiums, for the simple reason that knowledge today is too massive and appallingly – though necessarily - specialized.]

Virtual Symposium

So, not being able to recreate a circle with big intellectuals, this virtual Symposiumis what is left to us. It involves a certain number of ‘virtual guests.’

A virtual guest is a quotation or just a reference to a book passage. This is exactly what we mean by a virtual guest. The ideas of an author, dead or alive, participate in the discussion thanks to the greatest invention of all time: Writing.

Read how this young (and uncouth) Roman helps me explain this “Virtual Symposium & Writing” concept. We locked horns a bit, like males sometimes do, but the fight was worthwhile. Yes, we think it was worthwhile.

Locking Horns. Fair use

Quotes and Text Authority

“What are you talking about – argues Arthur Schopenhauer – quoting is copying other people’s ideas”.

Well, it can be, but my quoting is different. First of all it is the feedback and interaction with a writer’s ideas, as I said. I don’t see any copying in confrontation of ideas towards a richer knowledge.

There’s another thing though, personal this time. Take Braudel: “Great civilisation never die”. Or Augias-Zola: “Was Rome ever Christian?”. These were things inside of me since a long time and lurking their way out, i.e. trying to be expressed in clear words. I mean, when I quote an author it is often because he/she can better express what I had already felt but not verbally formulated, hence not totally clarified yet. It is a verbalization of intuitions I ask others to help me bring out. When I’m reading, I’m often struck by something. It’s cannibalism, or autism – a friend once told me. Well, I don’t really know, readers, I am not kidding.

One thing I though know is I hate exegesis of texts, a plague in Italian and foreign universities. What they call research over here is nothing but this totally moronic self-referential game of he-said-she-said, research and exams regarding “only what another earlier authority thought” (quote from John Brockman.) I really do hate exegeses, and most of the time I invoke the authority of nobody. I can invoke the big heros of thought like Goethe, and honour them as virtual guests in my living room, as a guarantee of non superficiality at least.

Books can fly. Fair use

But my quotations can be derived from Dante, Plutarch, Dan Brown, Bugs Bunny or Homer (Simpson, lol). No matter their origin, they are interesting to me to the extent that they clarify lumpy mind stuff still at an intuition stage (= not translated into logos = reason = words). This lumpy mind stuff, well, keeps bugging me and asking to pls be let out of its irrational status.

Ψ

Thus being said, it is high time we introduce this great Roman to you. Since from the day this crucial encounter took place our life changed completely, the present blog is dedicated to him.

It is dedicated to our beloved mentor, or Magister, writer, philosopher, outstanding educator.

Maybe some readers are expecting him, so here he comes. Welcome, Magister!

Dialectics 3. Magister.
The Manifold longing for Unity

My ideas started fermenting the day I encountered Magister 35 years ago. It was a rainy day. Rome is so smelly when it rains. I went to this place where he delivered lectures, close to the Tiber, the sacred river of Rome. He was already very old, with long white hair and beard, eyes penetrating. Italy was all a huge debate in the roaring 1970s (I am listening to Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon album to relive the feel of those days.)

Roma. Tiber with rain. Courtesy of eternallycool.net

Magister talked softly most of the time, the silence of the audience being absolute, even embarrassing at times. When he though got angry his voice became like thunder almost, eyes flashing.

I will never forget him. I was an ugly duckling when I met him. Not that he made a swan out of me, lol, but he taught me much, basically by having me understand I had the means to be a free man by just making use of my mind and will.

I do not know if I was a good pupil.

I left family to find my fortune. Unfortunate are the young who never find magistri.

I won’t reveal his identity – not that he would mind, he being no more, his ashes scattered somewhere in this eternal city he loved so much. I adored him and I was not the only one to cry over his ashes. There are reasons for not revealing his identity.

What I can say is just repeating this: to him I really owe a lot. Last but not least this love for knowledge, this curiosity or craving, don’t know how to phrase it – this chilly charming language being so difficult for a non mother-tongue.

I mean, this cultural hedonism which tends to auto-organization and which in defiance of age is constantly growing instead of abandoning my soul (cultural = related to knowledge, as people in France, Spain, Italy mean it).

Plus, of course, I owe him this dialectic method.

Spontaneous philosophy

From that day this process of spontaneous philosophy started going through alternate phases though basically it never stopped (well, almost never.)

Not a big deal, after all. Magister was a disciplined intellectual while I was too whimsical, too eclectic. I (re)turned to music, failing in this economically. I hence turned to high-school teaching and freelance journalism, which proved one of the best things I ever did in my life (teaching), while journalism being somewhat superficial to my taste it basically turned to be good training for writing (plus it taught me that success, even a tiny bit, is a powerful drug.)

Ok, journalism despite a bit of glory produced zero money. And teaching, well, teachers in this country are among the worst paid, the Italian ruling class caring about keeping power mostly and being not much interested in instructing the common people  – who might understand how they are manipulated by all parties, left and right, and by the mass-media.

This is why I finally turned to computer engineering, which produced more money but also gave a bit of a blow to this spontaneous philosophical process. Or maybe not?

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

“Ok, this story about Magister is moving, your failures a bit less, being pathetic. Don’t you realise you are a digression maniac not sticking to the point and forgetting about dialectics and its tendency towards unity?”

Ψ

No, I didn’t forget my point. The encounter with Magister in fact (and the sudden germination it produced) might hopefully help me to fulfill this longing for some unity which after all is the ultimate goal of any dialectics.

In other words, dear dear Magister, this imprinting I owe you makes me hope this quirky research of mine could somehow be fulfilled.

Dialectics 4.
Life is a comedy, not a tragedy.
Dialogue with readers

We know too well our topics are too heavy for the common reader while too unsophisticated for the happy few. Unfortunately the interests of readers are flocking towards entertainment, actors, gossip. So how many hits will I have? Very little. Not that I care much – well, I do a bit, but not so much. I am doing this just for fun, as Linus Torvalds said in his book about Linux.

And it’s such great fun, believe me, this philosophical folly!

Although, do not take me too seriously, please. Life is a comedy, not a tragedy, it shouldn’t be zu schwer, too grave (well, it is better to see it this way. Watch Benigni’s La vita è bella. Life is beautiful, or at least it could always be if we make use of will and imagination.

The autumn of life is a phase one should 1) do lots of sports and 2) use one’s brain extensively to keep it fit. And here, it is my opinion and personal taste, humanities & holistic thought, rather than specialised thought, are much much better for rewiring one’s synapses.

Tomb of the Diver. Public Domain Wikimedia

Wait, I forgot the completion element of blog dialectics: readers’ comments!

Hits might be negligible, but a few readers are arriving. The intriguing Indians came first, so unpredictable (since the Far East is really far.) Then one ex student of mine from USA, a great and totally eccentric guy living in Rome and who left one comment on my very first post. One Chinese woman too. China! She talked about mysterious things like vowels in Mandarin and Cantonese. A sweet person rich in emotions, which contradicts what many Italians think of the Chinese people, aliens with marble faces. Finally one first Italian guy (!), Massimo from Viterbo. That area is north of Rome but still in Latium, where the Etruscans lived and met the Romans. Might be promising.

Ψ

In the end this blogging mixes up my ideas, authors’ ideas and readers’ ideas. [Plato’s dialectics? Yes, though revised a bit.]

Now be patient enough to listen to Man of Roma’s (delirious?) conclusion …

Roman Night Forum Skyline

Dinners on a Roman Terrace.
Let us have fun!

Let us have fun, my delectable guests. Let us imagine we are in early summer when the evening sea breeze, or ponentino, is delightful. I’m inviting you all from every country, era space, location. I am inviting you ALL to this imaginary Roman terrace, overlooking the eternal city‘s glorious skyline.

Rome (loose woman and she-wolf) is watching attentive. Is she smiling?

Dinner after dinner, amid flowers perfumed and smells from dishes exquisite, in front of a breathtaking spectacle of glories and defeats, coming from a civilization of hard & refined conquerors, who always accepted those who were diverse, and their gods, and their creeds, and philosophies and manners …

Right here, dear guests of mine, let us enjoy our life a bit!

Away from all the sorrows, away from all the pains, let us discuss on themes light, silly and severe.

Good food will not be missing, together with good music (another needed guest, of course) and plenty of good wine and, no real objection to a pot of beer (or cervesia), once in a while.

Playing being simple, playing being easy. All it takes is good food, good music and treasured company most of all!

Ψ

PS

While I was writing, music and red vino di Montalcino were helping me to fly high.

Italian version

Sex and the Search for a Method

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius, Emperor and philosopher

Italian version

I am preparing a post on method.

Why?

1) Because I am a dilettante philosopher who is not content with just blogging. I need a method in my blogging.
2) I had promised a method post, so it is very Roman-like to keep my promise :-)

Truth being the method governing my posts keeps bugging me since I started this blog, and, needing to process my ideas a bit I propose this posting sequence to readers:

I) a post as a preparation for the method post (ugh!). It’s the present post. I need it for clearing my mind up before the real thing.

II) A post on SEX, as a break. It might help not to lose ALL my readers because of my philosophical manias.

III) The real thing, i.e. the method post.

IV) A second post on SEX, to beg for additional pardon, thus ending this sequence in full regalia.

Ψ

What do you think? Will you pardon me? Will SEX help?

Rhetorical questions not expecting answers let us put some preparatory ideas together and that the trip begin!

Game of Ideas
with Hidden Links

1) We will touch upon questions from numerous points of view, as if for each topic there were like a dialogue of different opinions in the writer’s mind.

2) A thought in progress where who is writing is gradually clarifying his ideas. Such ideas might contradict one another because the writer is constantly reaching new (sometimes opposite) perspectives, which could baffle the reader but also help her/him understand the complexity of things.

3) A game of ideas, then, with anecdotes and facts only apparently deprived of connections. Such connections (mental links) will sometimes be explicit (said) or implicit (unsaid,) which should bring the reader to make her/his own connections, namely towards creative non-passive reading / thinking.

Ψ

Well, at least Magister was very successful in this game. But Magister was Magister.

Writing. Low res. Fair use

Writing vs Thinking

Writing, thinking, clarifying,
striving to sort out thoughts
in ways so “clear and ordinate”
and comprehensible.

This, many years ago, Magister counselled
for the good education of the mind.
Beloved Magister,
writer, philosopher, educator…

Ψ

Writing in fact is a stern discipline linked to the activity of thinking. Writing teaches us how to think in ways so clear and ordinate. It obliges us to. Reason and word (word = discourse, written or oral) are actually only one word in Greek: λόγος (logos.)

Awkward prose or clumsy oral / written reports often reflect muddled thoughts.

As for the MoR the problem is:

  • writing in a foreign language makes things harder
  • we have this fatal attraction for digressions and all their unrestrained associations, ie for chaos (something Magister definitely wouldn’t condone.)

We like both sides of the moon – the dark indistinct and the crystal-clear. We appreciate discipline, clear argumentation, polished sentences, and we also dig lush jungles of words. Examples of both attitudes in art are:

  • The perfect equilibrium of Western Classical Music: Mozart, Boccherini, Clementi, Haydn and young Beethoven. Or of Italian Opera: Verdi, Bellini, Donizetti etc. wrongly called romantic, since Italian Opera is classical in its nature (and even Puccini is.) Interesting how Italians never totally absorbed Romanticism, their classical heritage and almost inborn sense of taste (and grace) being too tenacious (read here.)
  • Insane Western Romantic music (later Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Scriabin etc.), with a tendency towards excess.

Thus said, will our so-called philosophy be muddled? Will readers think MoR is crazy? I really got no idea, I really got no idea at all.

ψ

Note. We just gave above an example of digression + bizarre association. The concepts of writing and thinking were linked with music, two totally different planes of the human experience, although the connection appears evident to me.

We like mental associations though we understand they may confuse readers. See an example in the post Relax & Creativity.

Weakness or Strength?

My friend The Jurist has told me yesterday:

“Why the heck are you worried about this roving of the mind? It’s just a blog, go ahead and be crazy.”

True, but the thing is I am a bit ambitious (only a bit, or I will fail). I am actually attempting a research. A research from a man-in-the-street-of-Rome point of view, though a research nonetheless. Thence this roving tendency could turn into a weakness (or into a strength?)

A Philosopher in Every Man

Magister used to say that every person is a natural-born philosopher, ie everyone, during the entire course of his/her life, keeps building a constantly evolving grid of interrelated concepts. This world vision or Weltanschaung (read here) enables us to com-prehend the surrounding world (from Latin comprehendere, cum + prehendere = put together, grasp, or insert into a grid).

Comprehension of the surrounding environment – it implies also better (inter)action within it, the two things going together.

ψ

Ok, if this is true of every man (that he is a natural born philosopher,) and, if I am a man, which I certainly am, I should somehow hope to be able to transmit my Roman feel in a sort of organized way. Is that true?

In principle yes, ALL though depending on the degree of discipline, education and availability of time I dispose of.

A Helping Hand

  1. What’s the difference – one might ask – between a philosopher on one hand and a man of the street on the other hand? No difference, except the level of training, skill, specialization that may differ. The philosopher is a pro. Which doesn’t mean the non-pros must shut up. I will not ;-)
  1. We should all learn to think (and write) more effectively because it can greatly help us to make our days and guide us in the fundamental choices of our life. The more efficiently we think, the happier we live, classical measure being vital here though: should we think too much and act too little, we can get neurotic, wimpish (the list is long.)

This blog will try to give a helping hand to those who think self-improvement is important and possible.

Mind. Fair use

Reason? Not All

Ideas are now taking shape a bit as regards my future method post. The next writing will though as promised be devoted to SEX, SEX, SEX NOTHING BUT SEX (though in the Roman way.)

In the meanwhile, some additional patience pls.

One can rule one’s chaotic mind with control, writing, striving for some order. But chaos is still there; non rational things, disorder etc. are still there. The guys at the Third Culture are doing some work on this, good idea to have a look at it.

What I do know is we can not live in disorder. We need force, organization, we need to discipline ourselves most of the time.

Though not all the time.

We also need excess, spring breaks, fun, Carnivals, Saturnalia – a Roman festival (see picture below) where rules were broken: masters became for ex. slaves and slaves masters (see two posts of ours on Saturnalia: 1 & 2).

The Romans were big gurus in the art of living. They ruled the world with humour on their faces and tongue and not with mystical seriousness. While facing the most dreadful tragedies with utmost courage, they preferred comedies.

Saturnalia. Authour unknown. Fair use

Reason and order are not all. They can lead to horrors if taken too seriously, a great lesson from the non ideological Romans, that some folks from colder climes do not seem to have quite understood. Taking things zu schwer can call disaster.

Let us then have fun then too! Carnivals are made for that! Look at Rio in Brasil, look at our Spanish cousins! – an economic success [2014 update: well, well, they, we, will rise up again: we are confident] although Madrid has movida every night.

Mask

God, how can I finish this never ending blabber?

Perhaps with Coelho‘s beautiful words, from his novel Zahir:

Let us have some respect
for our life on this planet …


Relaxation & Creativity

Creativity and Thinking. Fair use

In Deception Point Dan Brown describes the editorial office of ABC News, “at a fever pitch 24 hours a day”. When a scoop arrives this paroxysm goes even beyond its limits: “wild-eyed editors screamed to one another over the tops of their compartments etc..” Then in another wing of that same place reside “the glass-walled private offices reserved for the decision makers who actually required some quiet to think”.

ABC Studios. Fair use

Actually for real thought one needs quiet, relaxation. This reminds me of a Roman top advertising agency where, at the end of the 80s, extremely well-paid copywriters and art directors were walking around in robes or catching the sun on a very elegant terrace overlooking Parioli-district-haute-bourgeoisie Rome. I was puzzled at the time but I later realized how ideas actually come out brighter this way since, as it has been observed, they are often suddenly presented to us when we are relaxed and not when we are actively striving for them (true for remembering things as well: the more we strive to remember, the less we succeed). See also Buddhist meditation (or meditation tout court) and its effectiveness upon creativity and mental health.

Budda in ceramica, Bután. Public Domain

See also the scientific discovery process. British scientists talked a lot about the three Bs — Bed, Bath and Bus, which appear to be those idle-mind situations where great discoveries are favoured. Obviously Anglo-Saxon buses are much more relaxing than their Roman compeers.

Italian version

Man of Roma

colosseum_in_rome_9-percent.jpg
Italian translation

I am a man of Rome, Italy. Some of my ancestors, many centuries ago, were already citizens of Rome. So I guess I am a real Roman, or sort of, since some barbaric blood must unquestionably flow in my veins, Germanic probably and Gallic from the Alpine region.

My mother tongue is Italian, not very different from the Latin spoken by the common people at the times of the late Roman Empire.

The reason I am attempting to communicate in this Northern language – which I do not master entirely and which, though a bit chilly to my heart, I find not entirely deprived of charm – is that variety excites me like a drug and I am tired of talking mostly to my countrymen, this lingua franca, English, allowing me hopefully a wider exchange of ideas.

Why this blog

collosseumccwiki4.jpg

One reason, I have said, is wider communication.

But what can a Roman of today say to the world? Such a big statement (if there weren’t the Web to make it not entirely such.)

I think it is a great privilege to be born and to be raised here, such a special place, to the extent that something must have penetrated, something distinctive and worthy of being transmitted – in order to be able, in our turn, to receive.

I hope for comments from Western and non-Western people, since Rome and the Romans have a mediation nature that comes from the Mediterranean.

Rome in some way is more Mediterranean than European.

However, as she was already universal during the ancient Roman days, she has continued to be universal as a religious centre, like Mecca or Jerusalem, which makes Rome something way beyond Europe (*).

ψ

Religion will not be a central topic here (there excepting ancient religions, of course) since, greatly respecting all faiths I personally have none, being an agnostic.

I like to think that I am similar to those Romans of the past who counted mostly on knowledge and reason (the followers of Epicure, Ἐπίκουρος – one among many possible ancient examples.)

Three Reasons for Uniqueness

colosseo-zoomgut1.jpg

Ages have passed since this great city was the capital of the known world, this role now being played by New York, London or Shanghai, perhaps.

Rome is though unique in the first place because “among all the greatest cities of the ancient world – Nineveh, Babylon, Alexandria, Tyre, Athens, Carthage, Antiochia – she is the only one that has continued to exist without any interruption, never reduced to a semi-abandoned village but rather finding herself often in the middle of world events and, equally often, paying for that a price (**).”

Secondly, and more importantly, Rome is the city of the soul (as Byron, Goethe and Victor Hugo put it,) of our authentic Western soul, since Europe and the West were shaped here and these roots are sacred – to me surely, and I think and hope to most of us.

These roots we have to rediscover in order to better open up to others in a new spirit of humanitas and conciliation (two chief components of the everlasting Roman mind.)

We all here in the West must encourage a totally new attitude which may enable us to better face both our present crisis of values and the radical changes looming ahead which might cause our swift decline.

Lastly, Rome, the eternal city, is unique because she is also one of the most beautiful cities in the world, if not the most beautiful.

Beyond her imperial testimonies, her stupendous urban spaces and squares, even small piazzas and alleys radiate that “sacred aura” which comes from the millennia and to which ever increasing multitudes from every land come to pay their tribute.

The capital of our beloved and civilised French cousins, Lutetia Parisiorum (it’s how the Romans called Paris, after the Parisii, a tribe of the Gallic Senones,) was not but a village until the year 1000 AD. “1700 years younger than Rome! It shows, one can feel it (***).”

Fragments Sent in a Bottle

pantheon-inreriottimizzgnu.jpg

Scattered fragments of this special identity inserted in a bottle and sent across the Web: this shall be the activity of this blog.

The conveyor of the message is not so important in relation to the greatness of the source and to one ingredient this conveyor might, willingly or unwillingly, possess: he perhaps being like a fossil from a distant past which is dead though, astoundingly enough, alive yet in so many Italians.

Let us admit it. In some central and especially southern areas of this country, minds and habits survive that may puzzle foreigners, historical remnants whose disadvantages towards modernity appear evident. Are they only disadvantages?

All Things Considered

This and other topics will be discussed here by a 60-year-old Roman (2014: 66) whose knowledge can be located at a medium level, with interfaces towards the upper and the lower layers of knowledge.

He will try his best to transmit something useful to others (and to himself) having been an ancient-history & literature educator for 16 years, then converted to Systems Engineering & Training for the last 14 years.

He hopes this blog will allow him to brush up humanities back, which is daunting at his age (not to mention the crazy idea of blogging in English, Italian and bits of other languages.)

ψ

If not profundity of knowledge, he might though have an advantage (still to be proved) over many foreign commentators even born in one of the  ex-provinces of the ancient Roman Empire.

The plus of being a witness from right here.

The advantage of being a Man of Roma.

lupaottimigut1.jpg

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