In his What I Have Lived For, Bertrand Russell writes: “Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair. “
In a similar spirit, though without his brilliance, I write this text in order to unfold what I myself have become. The blowing winds of time seem to me to have taken me to routes I would not have predicted, and since my experience of appreciating some melodies of the outside world has mainly been an experience of addition, not of substitution, I sense it would be more elegantly unfolded in the sequence it has befallen upon me:
Playing. I can remember few days in my life in which I didn’t want to play. Whenever there was a game, a set of standardized instructions with which one could be challenged, there I was. It is doubly natural for children to play, playing is common among most of the young members of social species, and humans are the species whose brainwiring has led to the delightful nickname The Eternal Child.
I hold an extra passion for playing, it provides me, all at once, the three different senses of happiness that positive psychology seems to be canonizing, the good life, the meaningfull life, and the sense of flow.
Next comes thrill. It started as the pleasure of sliding on my own knees, then along came water slides, roller coasters, and some years later, drama movies, whereas in playing I find active fulfillment of deep emotions, thrill takes me away from the world in a passive fashion, and it destroys all sense of self, for there is no time for self to constitute, experience takes over you to a point where there is no longer you to be taken over. Though thrill’s control over me has started when I was about six, this later realizing of self-deconstruction is a twenty two year old’s comprehension, and the time-gap between happening and understanding proves the point to a fair extend.
Curiosity, when still not analysed, only experienced, is a kind of questioning game, so I would say it only became a different appreciation when I felt Desire for Knowledge. Subtly, but strongly, this passion has been gaining control over me this last year, the inexhaustibility of knowledge is likely to blame. I remember that in the beggining, I wanted to be quicker and smarter than everyone else. Only in college I have abandoned the effort of speeding up, and only from reading Russell have I abandoned the idea of being smarter than everyone, shifting it completely to having a magnificent comprehension of the world and its extension, and, if possible, being a great counselor for the joy and glory of people, near or far from me, both in space and time. That has become the main purpose of my life, and I see nowhere among the future quantum mechanical possibilities that some physicists say our universe can unfold into a single spot where I could change it for something stronger.
Social Interaction has driven me to strange places (underground macedonian caves in sweden with a czech girl, soccer stadiums and punting boats in Cambridge, to name a few). My hard-developed extrovertion made me into a strange social character, who regulates his actions by strange guiding principles such as:
To be cozy and have intense physical contact with friends is a higher goal than to do so in romantic relashionships
If your emotions and your verbal contracts conflict, stick to what you said (or thought!) you would do to the last breath
To keep one’s friends is the greatest thing one can do. Partly from my inability to do so, and partly from being driven away by the desire of knowledge, I have been refraining from this principle, not withouth an enormous amount of suffering.
To make happier those who are neutral is a better thing to do than tho relieve the misery of those in illness (that comes uniquely from my incompetence towards most illnesses)
Acceptance of incompetence. For years I struggled to avoid hatred towards me from my best friends, it has not been completely in vain, but I understood that not being empathic, strongly emotionally-driven, or corageously self-risking will have unfortunate consequences, and that my personality will not change regarding those issues in a near future.
Being exotic is good. Perhaps because of my lack of surrounding social perception, which is the chief cause of my lack of empathy, I have realized that adopting a point of view which differs from the people around you is not bad at all, in fact, the more neutral an analysis one makes about the tacit norms implied in a groups behavior, the more they look pointless, and being an outsider feels better (If, and only if, your outsidity is appreciated, or at least tolerated with a suspicious but curious glance, by those that surround you).
Sensuality. As most geeks, intellectuals, gamers and social-outsiders can report, it takes a long while for a mind that likes control (what is knowledge if not unspecified, potentially infinitely reaching control?) endeavour itself in the amazingly intrincate and illogical world of sensuality. I admit to have used, and be still firmly using, all the technique and expertise that knowledge on psychology provides one for the benefit of my sensuous life. I have met strange people who match all my other particularities and strangenesses, but so far I have met none who consciously uses gathered geeky knowledge of science as an approach to the sensuous, sex, and love. As far as I’m concerned, that is my most uncommon characteristic.
Form, Drugs, and Experience. The last thing I learned to appreciate so far is form. The differentiation between form and content made me into a content-addict back in school. It was so easy to be better than everyone in content, that there was no way my thalamus would let me value form. After all, come on, it is only form! Can form do anything for you? Can you win something with form? No! Or at least I couldn’t… Since my school overvalued form, I have hated form with blithe for my first twenty years. It was not until I read about geniuses of content that dedicated great part of their lifes to form that I have learned to appreciate it. I have once called the people who not only were geniuses, but could very well transmit emotions to public Master Minds. These new people who are into form I shall call Swiss-Knife Geniuses. They include Douglas Hofstadter, author of Gödel Escher Bach, Per Aage Brandt, danish semio-linguist expert in hard sciences, philosophy, both analytical and continental, and writer of twenty eight books of poetry, Smullyan, Logician and Magician, and perhaps, Richard Feynman. The categories of Swiss-Knife Geniuses and Master Minds, being about different but related characteristics of course overlap, and so far I have found (in my thoughts) only two men who achieved the level of Swiss-Knife Master Minds, Bertrand Russell, and Roger Waters.
Within form, there are many valuable issues, approachs, things and so forth, but two of them have become stronger for me than the other ones, the first one is Experience, with a capital “E”. Experience as I use the term here is about exploration of all the possible realms of conscious interesting states one can possibly pass around, during the trip called life. Say you are in a bar, and for some reason, a strong urge of inviting a stranger to dance befalls upon you. In this moment you are given a choice between experience, and Experience. Or you are in a church, and you can either let yourself go into the classic thoughts of “How ridiculous is all that, how come people are so unbelievably stupid?” or try something new like “ How far can I go into the religious experience, even though I lack the necessary stupidity to go all the way?”. Once you have already made the first choice a few times, it is only a lack of appreciation of Experience that will prevent you from trying the second one. To Experience something is to avoid conscious pre-clustering of the concepts of something you will experience in such a fashion that prevents you from “being there”. I understand this is also a way into always keeping one’s mind active, and the only way to learn something new from a somewhat known experience, or, as they say, teach an old dog new tricks, but that is not the aspect I am interested at at this point. The value of Experience is not a derived value, Experience is valued in itself, not as a part of something, or means for something else, and it is in this sense that I invite one to think about the examples I gave above. To experience is to be, and that is pretty much what we can do in this life, as opposed to, for example, that death.
Among the very well known forms of Experience increase, like above cited religious experience, and other well known forms like meditation, massage, dance, non competitive sport and singing, there is an undergrounded (as in unreasonably placed under the ground, like the gold in fort knox) form that is hardly if ever appreciated as it could be, drugs. By drugs I mean any kind of chemical that can change the character of experience, for good or worse, from omega 3, a comproved very slight mood enhancer, to cocaine or morphine, whose use can result in tragic experiences, both during or years after consumption. But by what I appreciate about drugs, I mean only those few drugs that can actually be a trigger, catapult or enzyme for turning experience into Experience. That of course differs from person to person, and it is no better idea to go out in the streets trying each one of them to see the one that fits you than it is a good idea to go into all the different religious cerimonies (including those that include rules like genital mutilation, delirious thirsting, scalping or “eat non-locals”) looking for the religion that just fits you. My approach has been the same for religion, thrill, and drugs, I take a look at statistics, and see what seems fulfilling, great tranformers of experience into Experience, and cross this information with the level of risk involved in the activity. So although I virtually (in the sense of virtual reality) would like to know what is it like to bungee jump, run without seatbelt in my car across my city, and inject speedball (a powerfull combination of cocaine and heroin) I do not take seriously the possibility of actually doing so. The reasoning for me is the same that would prevent me from accepting if a magic fairy asked me “Do you want to really become an Italian plumber and fight against hundreds of fire spitin turtles and castles of lava to kill an evil drake-turtle and save a princess?”. It simply goes without saying when you look at it this way, doesn’t it? On the other hand, there are great things like roller coasters, theme park elevators, LSD, Mescalin, Salvia, Meditation, carefully controlled Buddhism, carefully controled ecstasy and indian religious cerimonies that can actually take you from experience to Experience, and do not offer enough risks so that your best shot is to computer simulate them. You can actually experience it all the way through, and be sure that you will be there to tell the story. Than why drugs in particular have captured my interest? Because they are the closest thing that we have of experiencing something that is different from being human (life-long meditation as well, though I am too young to tell from my experience), from being a 5 fingered bypedal walking primate that hangs about in search for food, shelter and sex. That time on the bar, when you choosed to actually ask the stranger to dance, you already did something great for Experience, but if you put that in the Vast space of possibilities of what it can be like to be something (animal or vegetable, computational or quatum-mechanical, random or collectively controled) , the distance between the two choices is negligible, in fact, if we seriously think about it, even the distance between living as a priest in the himalaias and being Bill Gates is negligible, in this overwhelmingly Vast space. The world of drugs (and meditation) gives us a glance, a tiny timid look, into this vast space of possible Experiences, it enlarges, even though by a tiny radius, our scope of knowledge, and it reminds me and brings me closer to the last thing I learned to appreciate from the combination of all the previous one, To look with glaring eyes into the future, to expect from the development of technology the long foresought destruction of all evils, and the possibility of playing, forever, in the Vast world of possible existences that extends indefinately beyond my imagination.
Playing, thrill, desire for knowledge, social interation, sensuality, form, drugs and Experience have shaped me into who I am, and if this were to be my last text, I would all-heartedly remark, with Russell:
This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.