5:50/5:33, 72/94. The Almanac today shares “Sweetness,” a poem by Stephen Dunn that says “often a sweetness has come and changed nothing in the world… just long enough to make sense of what it means to be alive…” But it reconciled the poem’s subject to grief and loss, and it helped the poet write that poem. That’s change, isn’t it? Change at least of the stoical variety, an inner adjustment to outer circumstance? A change in attitude and temper is change I can believe in, whether it changes events in the world or not. I’m betting it does.
Continuing the epiphenomenal theme, it’s the birthday of Ambrose Bierce. His caustic and clever Devil’s Dictionary (1906) defines philosophy as “the most ancient occupation of the human mind” and “a route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.” He was a philosopher and a cynic, with no use for this hour of the day.
DAWN, n. The time when men of reason go to bed. Certain old men prefer to rise at about that time, taking a cold bath and a long walk with an empty stomach, and otherwise mortifying the flesh. They then point with pride to these practices as the cause of their sturdy health and ripe years; the truth being that they are hearty and old, not because of their habits, but in spite of them. The reason we find only robust persons doing this thing is that it has killed all the others who have tried it.
Bierce was a misanthrope, but an entertaining one.
MAN, n. An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada.
The word “epiphenomenon” is missing from Bierce’s dictionary, but its flavor is there.
EFFECT, n. The second of two phenomena which always occur together in the same order. The first, called a Cause, is said to generate the other—which is no more sensible than it would be for one who has never seen a dog except in the pursuit of a rabbit to declare the rabbit the cause of a dog.
And he offers
PERIPATETIC, adj. Walking about. Relating to the philosophy of Aristotle, who, while expounding it, moved from place to place in order to avoid his pupil’s objections. A needless precaution—they knew no more of the matter than he.
Bierce is wrong, though. Even when rambling alone, the peripatetic philosopher cannot avoid confronting objections. Especially then. The point of all that motion is precisely to summon and deal with them. That changes everything.
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