Archive

Tag Archives: philosophy

clouds-cropped
[image credit: Sunset from above the clouds]

I’ve always liked to fly, perhaps in large part because I fly so rarely. Despite the hum-drum and aggravations of traveling through air, it has always been a special treat for me. I particularly like to fly at night or in the early morning, where for one shining moment the world fades away.


 

You sit on the tire-blackened runway, untold inches thick of rubber streaking storied scars into the dark asphalt. The airport thrums excitedly, a small city of caretakers and travelers pulsing through its great veins. The cacophony of activity is overwhelming. You find yourself distracted, a headache forming, trying to take it all in. Travelers with worn earmarked bags or polished shoes keep themselves removed and focused, but you seek no such luxury as you try to take in the commotion.

You wait in anticipation as the plane taxis to its place. Is this the moment? No just a turn. How about now? No. The plane hasn’t been cleared for take-off yet.

At last you hear the tell-tale roar of the engines flexing their might. Images of astronauts and shuttle launches cross your mind as the acceleration weights you into your chair. You wait for the critical moment, where the air foil overcomes the earths pull and the nose points towards the sky. While gravity is distracted, the plane makes an escape and leaps up into the air!

Higher and higher you climb; the ground retreats in defeat.

At a certain point – of which I have never been able to quite discern – there is a shift. You sit there, helpless in giant metal tube, unknowingly clutching the arm rest, the roar and shake of the engine filling your senses. You’re watching the busy city below you shrink smaller and smaller, and suddenly every thing just… fades away. The city, so full of life just mere moments ago, recedes into itself and becomes still. Juxtapose against your industrial and noisy setting, the landscape below holds its breath. Everything is quiet. There, floating in the sky, you behold something crystalline and naive – a moment captured in time.

The cars gently trundle their way through twists and turns. Buildings and houses sit quiet and reserved against their grassy knolls. The trees rest. The lights of faraway street lamps twinkle up at you in the twilight like a tiny sparkling galaxy.

As you continue to rise, you notice the first tufts of clouds, gently shrouding your view. Before you know it you’re submerged into a vast world of swirling, questioning mist. For a time, that is all there is. Just as you adjust yourself to this quite gray, the plane bursts brilliantly above the cloud cover, revealing a stoic ocean of vapor against the azure sky.

Here float mighty towers of swirling cotton. Unexplored valleys and trenches in an alien unique landscape never to be seen again. Here too everything is calm. The new sun peers contemplatively at the cloud tops, as if unsure whether to rise or not. The great blue-gray mountains are snow capped with a peach-orange glow. You imagine falling into the shrouded landscape and wandering this strange new terrain. You stare as long as you can, trying to memorize each new turret of towering mist, until finally your attention is drawn back to other concerns, leaving the ethereal landscape for another way-ward traveler.


 

When I was a child, I used to stare up at the jet liners leaving behind their vapor trails and imaging the silvery glint of the plane to be the tip of a giant cosmic knife, slicing apart the blue fabric of our sky. I thought the vapor tails to be a mighty gash, torn apart and then slowly stitched back together as the knife moved onward.

In some ways, I still think of flying this way – as a tear through which we peer into a greater unknown. It isn’t hard to think of the swirling landscape of clouds as something akin to a realm of the gods, and yourself a solitary intruder on the unknowing landscape.

The stillness of being above everything really lends perspective to the stress of daily life on the surface below. Its easy to get wrapped up in the chaos of our own lives, and to feel as though the world is spiraling out of control. But up in the air, the world is quiet and peaceful. Removed from the immediateness of it all, I am filled with contentment and an inexplicable feeling that, no matter how chaotic things feel, the world below me will continue to do just fine.

— Ben

Advertisements

I love Blue Mt. Dew. That combination of raspberry, ginger and massive amounts of sugar sets my mouth watering and my mind racing pleasurably towards smooth decision-making. I find that sugared-up, whether it be a placebo or otherwise a dopamine reward, I am able to focus much longer on generally unpleasant tasks, like math homework. I know this as empirically tested fact, because I spent the last month testing it.

You see, there’s a life-hack out there which directs us to smell incense while studying to associate that smell with the subject. When we take the test, we simply expose ourselves to that smell, and voila! an instant A. I took this to the next level. For a month and a half, three times a week, I drank a bottle of Blue Mt. Dew during math class. I perched my chin on the bottle and listened to the lecture, to focus on that sweet, nectary smell. I rewarded myself with an ice-cold sip every time I got an answer right. And you know what? It worked brilliantly. It worked so well that I should revise my previous statement completely: I used to love Mt. Dew. Now I associate it with math. I’ve had so much of the stuff that I hate it on that basis alone, and it’s association with math makes me hate math too. I look at an equation now and smell ginger, like i’m having a mild epileptic attack.

But I wasn’t going to let this stop me, so I arrived early for the midterm on Friday and stopped by the student store to complete my experiment. But you know, I go to a small, poor community college, and I had bought every single Blue Mt. Dew they had. They were out, and I took the test while nursing a Coca-Cola because I had addicted myself to massive amounts of sugar.

I told this later to several people and they all said the same thing, “Connor! That’s like something out of Seinfeld! The Big Bang Theory! Friends!” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s because I’m an idiot, and these things happen to idiots.” Because you know, when smart people experiment with their bodies, it’s usually not with unhealthy chemicals and the goal of getting out of studying for a math test. What was I thinking?

Which brings me to my next point: I wasn’t. In fact, I deliberately wasn’t thinking about the possible results of my experiment. I was thinking, “Wouldn’t this be cool if it worked?” If it had worked, I would never think on it again and move on to the next thing. Previously, I’ve done things like draw portraits of my professors while they lecture, which did not help me remember their lectures. I’ve said to myself: “If someone asks you to do something, say okay, I’ll do it later, to see if you remember later to do it.” I never got any chores done. Last month, I tied my shoes by looping the lace counter-clockwise around my finger, and then this month I tied them clock-wise. Why? To see if I could change my habits. What I did not try to do was actually change habits that matter.

While I carry one experiments with my life, I deliberately do not think of other experiments I could be doing. What if I did my homework right after school? What if I didn’t play videogames? What if I go to bed early, get up early, and get to work and school with minutes to spare, instead of a few breathless seconds? These experiments are certainly more important, and furthermore, it’s easy to see potential outcomes. I could have less stress, better sleep, more time for productive enterprises like blogging, and hey, let’s throw a girlfriend in there for good measure.

Those changes seem hard to carry out, but they’re also pretty easy to see. But I’m ready to take this thought experiment to the next level. What experiments, changes in my life, am I really not thinking about? What paradigms do I operate on, and which are negative for me? How about I appreciate my parents more, spend less money, or not even that. How about I achieve a more holistic perspective of human nature, or a deeper peace with my choices in life?

In Seinfeld’s final episode, the show was still about nothing. Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer; they just carry on shooting the shit, while bars close around them and the camera dolleys out for good. There was an odd romanticism in it, like it was where they truly belonged, and it seems that they are still there now, like statues of ogres in Tolkien’s woods. Me, I continue to experiment, scheme, plot for a better life and listen intently to Demetri Martin but I still don’t make changes. Like sitcom characters, I relegate the real issues to the background, in favor of mental gymnastics that distract me when I am the only audience to my own life. I almost wish there was a laugh track to keep me company, to show me when to just laugh at myself, to add meaning to empty gestures.