Monday, April 13, 2009

Who Knows?: A Study of Religious Consciousness: Begun 2009.04.12

Raymond M. Smullyan
601 North Morton Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47404-3797 USA

Began, today, with an 'accidental' on-line find while researching Tachibana Akemi on the web.

This find is an example of what I have called a 'synchronicity-petite'. Not powerful enough to be a full bodied synchronicity, but so weirdly wonderful I feel compelled to note them. How did this example come to be? Well, it began with my innocent choice to acknowledge the source of the image I have substituted for my mug on this blog, which is clipped from a painting by Tachibana Akemi. (Sadly, I am no longer able to find it on-line.) Tachibana has also written one of my favourite all time poems, 'Solitary Pleasures.' During my search I was surprised at how few Google hits I got for the poem, but that one of the five or so included one of my all time favourite philosophical writers, Raymond M. Smullyan. And while that is a delightful surprise, even more delightful was his having cited it within an overview of Canadian psychologist and philosopher Richard M. Bucke's idea of Cosmic Consciousness, and American philosopher/p
oet Walt Whitman's equivalent ideas as expressed in Leaves of Grass. And so I began to read the book that someone has scanned on line. See it at Who Knows?: A Study of Religious Consciousness, which is honestly available from Indiana University Press. (So I have yet another book to purchase.) But the most amusing thing about this find was an observation Bucke made about Whitman's reading habits, because he describes exactly what I do when perusing books, and what just happened here! Smullyan begins by citing Tachibana:
It is a pleasure
When, in a book which by chance
I am perusing
I come on a character
Who is exactly like me.
(Tachibana Tr. Keen 1935, pp.174-75).

Then Smullyan continues:
Well, I also like to come across characters just like me, and so I was delighted to come across the following observation by Bucke about the reading habits of Walt Whitman:
Though he would sometimes not touch a book for a week, he generally spent a part (though not a large part) of each day in reading. Perhaps he would read on an average a couple of hours a day. He seldom read any book deliberately through, and there was no more (apparent) system about his reading than
anything else that he did; that is to say, there was no system about it at all. If he sat in the library an hour, he would have a half dozen volumes about him, on the table, on chairs and on the floor. He seemed to read a few pages here and a few pages there, and pass from place to place, from volume to volume, doubtless pursuing some clue or thread of his own. Sometimes (though very seldom) he would get sufficiently interested in a volume to read it all.
(Bucke 1956, p219) (p.123)
What makes this book even more intriguing, is that Bucke's idea of Cosmic Consciousness, that Smullyan explores, corresponds to CG Jung's ideas of the development of consciousness. See, for example, The Origins and History of Consciousness by Erich Neumann. Then, even more amusingly (to me), Smullyan very gently chastises Bucke for excluding a few historical figures from a list of those who exhibited Cosmic Consciousness, such as Havelock Ellis, when neither refer to Jung. The timing of this read corresponds beautifully with the lecture I'm currently
reading, "VII: The Development of Personality," from CW17 The Development of Personality.

And, I guess, I may have to post the great little poem
"Solitary Pleasures".
So, why not now?
Exactly. Here it is:

It is a pleasure

when, spreading out some paper,

I take brush in hand

And write far more skilfully

Than I could have expected.

It is a pleasure

When, after a hundred days

Of twisting my words

Without success, suddenly

A poem turns out nicely.

It is a pleasure

When, rising in the morning

I go outside and

Find that a flower has bloomed

That was not there yesterday.

It is a pleasure

When, a most infrequent treat,

We've fish for dinner

And my children cry with joy

"Yum-yum!" and gobble it down.

It is a pleasure

When, in a book which by chance

I am perusing,

I come on a character

Who is exactly like me.

It is a pleasure

When, without receiving help,

I can understand

The meaning of a volume

Reputed most difficult

It is a pleasure

When, in these days of delight

In all things foreign,

I come across a man who

Does not forget our Empire.

Tachibana Akemi (1812-68); tr. Donald Keene.

(Perhaps from Anthology of Japanese Literature.

New York: Grove Press, 1935.