18 January 2011

Meditations on first philosophy

Meditations on first philosophy is the title of the first book ever written in contemporary western Philosophy, according to the university course I took. It was written by Rene Descartes in the seventeenth century, who began with the premise that he wanted to find true factual indubitable knowledge and that the way to find this was to begin by doubting everything, and retaining only what could be defended by rigorous logic. So by these meditations he reasoned to such respected elements as "I think, therefore I am." This short book continues to be relied on hundreds of years later and modern (especially French) philosophers such as Sartre, Foucault and Derrida all explicitly acknowledge the importance of Descartes' achievement.

I am occupied with a similar project. This was not entirely a conscious choice or any sort of Cartesian magnum opus. In the past five years I have slowly realized that almost nothing I think or do is too trivial to closely examine, and I am now of the attitude that I am willing to examine anything and everything, taking absolutely nothing for granted.

The first major recent instance changed my note taking practice. This happened in 2005 and was entirely accidental. I found myself in a seminar that did not absorb my entire attention, and to entertain myself I experimented with notation methods. It is no understatement to say that I learned how to take notes all over again as if for the first time in my life, which is a little odd considering I was over forty years old at the time. By the end of the seminar, I still was not engaged in it very attentively, but everybody else in the seminar felt they had to have a copy of my notes. One of my fellow attendees referred to them as the Golden notes. I later learned that a similar system was employed by Michel Foucault, which he referred to as hypomnemata.

The second big event concerned my vocabulary. In 2006 I thought I had almost as much vocabulary as I was ever going to need, that this was a basic skill like tying one's shoes or riding a bicycle that you learn once and don't worry about it after. In retrospect, that was obviously a silly attitude, but it was not until I took a vocabulary test which I thought I had aced and found out I had not aced it that I realized this. Details are here.

It was the third of my discoveries which shook me to Cartesian doubting level. This was months in the making, and thanks to my hypomnemata I have exact records of its genesis and development. On the 31 March 2010 I became self-employed, and one of the first tasks I embarked upon was an overhaul of my diet and workout practices. I took advantage of the freedom to ignore the clock, eat when hungry, and sleep when tired. Things seemed great in the beginning and actually for several months when I noticed that I had lost quite a few pounds. I bought a scale and weighed myself and was surprised at how little I weighed. It was actually a little bit alarming.

This was in late September. I began weighing myself daily. Within a couple of weeks I concluded that eating when hungry was not consistent with the level of working out I was doing, that I had to eat breakfast immediately upon waking and continue to feed myself as soon as possible in order to maintain weight. After a couple of months (and gaining weight very slowly) I did the numbers. It was a revelation. Here are the constraints:

Eight hours sleep per night.
Three meals per day.
Ninety minutes workout per day.
Five hours to fully digest dinner before laying down to sleep.

To my amazement this sums up (including to the minute how much time is required to prepare and eat breakfast, lunch and dinner) to 24 hours within 2%; i. e. there is virtually no slack time in my schedule at all. After six months and nine days of thinking I was indulging myself in complete freedom, on the 10th of November 2010 I discovered that the simple mechanics of running my organism in its proper operational fashion requires rigid adherence to a fixed daily schedule. Up at 6:00 A. M. every single day without fail. Directly to the kitchen to ingest my breakfast. After four hours digestion, directly into workout with no delay. After workout, directly to the kitchen to prepare and consume lunch. After four hours digestion, directly to the kitchen to prepare and consume dinner. Five hours after dinner, directly to bed to sleep for eight hours. I am self-employed and I have no boss.

Ha! My body is the most rigid task master I have ever known. A fact which I could have, should have known my entire life but it took me six months of being unemployed or self-employed (however you prefer to frame it) to figure it out. And so now I am wondering what else is ripe for making over, and I am inclined to consider anything--speaking, reading, walking, standing, sitting, listening. Even breathing.

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About Craig

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Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.