Fredric Dennis Williams
Death, Truth, Self-Knowledge, Self-Control, Purpose
August 29, 1997
When I consider how my life is spent.... Those were the words that came to my mind tonight after hearing of the death of Brandon Tartikoff, a brilliant television executive five years younger than I am.
The line, with the word "light" instead of "life" is from Milton's sonnet on his blindness. The question he asked himself is one I have asked again and again -- have I buried my light and not used my one talent wisely?
Milton concluded that God needed nothing from him but that he accept God's mild yoke well; while the world is filled with mad rushing about, patiently waiting is enough.
My search for Milton's words brought me past Lord Byron's Hebrew Melodies -- I opened to "She Walks in Beauty." Then to Shakespeare's "Turtle and Phoenix" -- of true love and tragedy. And to Keats' "When I have fears that I may cease to be" before my pen has done its work.
Patience, after sixteen years, remains difficult for me. I think that perhaps I should create an army of super lawyers so that I might work in the system to put assets to work where they can benefit people. A regrettable necessity or an unwise possibility?
When decisions seem uncertain, inaction seems easiest.
Milton lost his eyesight and in 16 years had written "Paradise Lost." What will I do with my buried talent? Keats died young but with great accomplishments - Death where is thy sting? I am young and old, sighted and blind, a forgotten star in a distant galaxy.
I write and rewrite, create pages and brochures, go on doing nothing others request and nothing I seek as a goal. Am I putting together a master plan, or just keeping myself entertained? Only time and other people will know what has not yet happened. I myself do not know much.
August 30, 1997
The Test of Truth
a. My mother came to America from Africa.
b. My mother came to America from India.
c. I do not know my mother's ancestry.
d. I believe my mother was part Scot.
e. All of the above.
So much of our difficulty in understanding each other comes from our desire to make words lead directly and immediately to some practical knowledge.
We call it, when it has produced a blatant and egregious error, "jumping to conclusions." Yet this phrase tempts us to jump to a conclusion -- that when someone jumps to a conclusion they are doing something so unusual that it deserves comment. This is untrue.
People habitually form opinions in the first few moments after meeting a stranger. They take visual or auditory cues, compare them instantly to their databank of experiences, stereotypes, beliefs and assumptions, and decide who this person is -- and, as part of the decision about who the person is -- they decide how the person will act, what they will do in advance to prepare for such actions, and how they will respond to the stranger to protect their own interests or to advance them.
We don't like to admit this sequence of events, but it is the normal response to new data. We need to do something with it -- put it in storage somewhere or use it immediately. To do this we must -- or believe we must -- decide to turn data into information. We must, to use the phrase we have reserved for extreme cases, "jump to conclusions."
When we jump to a conclusion, it is much like jumping off a cliff. It may be fatal, but even if it is not, it will be very difficult for us to return to the top of the cliff in the same condition we were in before the jump.
Once we convert data into information, it is difficult for us to use it. Just as you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, so, too, you must destroy data to convert it into easily consumed information. Once an omelette, it cannot be used to make eggnog or cookies or cakes. Data once converted has little use. It is lost.
As a result of our desire to get the answers quickly, we reduce our ability to learn the true answer and we destroy the raw materials of a thousand answers yet to come. We see 1,2,3 and decide the next number will be 4. When 1,2,3 leads to 3,2,1, we are disappointed. We have expected an outcome rather than waiting patiently to see the universe unfold as it is unfolding.
So what? This is our way -- a natural response which no doubt saves us much work in apprehending reality.
For those who do not believe there is any reality, or claim to believe so, jumping to conclusions is a way of life. For the rest of us, it seems convenient.
Yet if we are to follow the trail of truth, we must wait to hear and see, feel and touch, taste and perceive all the evidence. Done in an instant, our verdict may be only a projection of our opinions, our prejudices leading to pre-judgment. To know the truth, we cannot jump to conclusions. For most matters we must postpone, postpone, postpone.
The way of truth is a journey. Our path to truth, to true knowledge of as much as we can comprehend of the universe around us, is not a busy highway. It is a trail cut by pioneers. Follow the crowd to a generalization, follow the trail to the wildflower.
August 31, 1997
The Trail of Truth
The crowd has been taught how to walk, not by nature -- which guided their first real steps -- but by teachers. In place of a wide-eyed curiosity and an open mind about the world around, the crowd has opinions, beliefs, dogma, doctrine, faith, theory, established views, accepted facts, common knowledge.
If I hold a pencil four feet above the floor, how far will it move and in which direction when it leaves my fingers? How many people feel they truly do not know the right answer? You do not know the truth -- reality -- in advance. You will, however, rely on a generalization -- an effort to predict the future based on the past.
What if the wind is blowing? What if an earthquake occurs? If it hits the floor, will it roll? In which direction? How far? Do you know exactly? Absolutely?
Certainty is an illusion -- until we see this, we are blind. Once we see this, we may learn. Probability remains, but reality is peripetetic, a word sometimes formed as "peripetaphysics" -- and derived from "peripeteia" -- an abrupt or unexpected change in a course of events or a situation. Thus it becomes peripetaphysics, or just petaphysics, the science or nature of unique events -- the way things actually, unexpectedly, happen. "To walk about" is the Greek meaning-and it was a description of Aristotle's method of teaching -- walking about the Lyceum.
Aristotle, however, was the greatest teacher and, thus, a kind of enemy of true knowledge and true learning. His efforts to organize knowledge led to advances and prevented advances. What he found and organized led others to discard what did not fit. Reverence for the advance prevented others from correcting errors and advancing in new directions.
Today we suffer and benefit from the natural desire to believe -- to order what fragments of knowledge we have obtained, or believe we have perceived. A patient goes to a medical doctor with a series of symptoms. The symptoms fit no known and defined illness, so the doctor may characterize the illness as psychological -- all originating in the mind: "psychogenic." Or they do fit a known illness, and it is assumed the cause is known for certain and treated. Very often this approach works well. Sometimes it is a great error.
Letting go of certainty is a step toward truth. Not letting go of raw data, of reality and our limited perception of it, is a step toward truth. Stand on perception, let go of certainty; stand on experience, let go of assumption. Step-by-step, holding very loosely on to everything -- and nothing.
Unfocused reality -- not narrowly focused perception-is the trail to truth. Looking around without jumping to conclusions, not staring at the path through a microscope or at a distant horizon through a telescope -- this is the way to discover reality. To focus is to eliminate, and choosing what we will focus on -- aware or not aware that we are choosing -- is to decide to eliminate most of what is real so that we may have a simpler problem and a simpler solution.
If the universe is simple, once we have used our selection of data to determine the whole, we cannot find the truth that lies behind our perceptions. Once we have created atoms, we cannot cut them. Once we have cut them, they are not atoms. We simplify by destroying reality; once we have simplified, we cannot easily restore our full vision. We choose to see less, and our choice leads us to see less from then on. We want to know -- and to make it easier to convert data to knowledge, we ignore much. Our road to knowledge is to ignore -- so ignorance becomes our knowledge.
Yet true knowledge is humble. It knows that it does not know. It is aware, it knows, too, that it cannot know much and, therefore must be ignoring much even without intending to do so. The trail of truth is an open road full of surprises. Because we do not know, we can learn. The more we learn, the greater our awareness of all we do not know, and the more our ability to learn is increased.
This is why the Tao Te Ching says that the wayfarer, the sage, the master traveler, learns by letting go of knowledge -- gains by losing.
September 1, 1997
What is the truth but a lie? Truth is not possible in words. I am a man. In mathematics: I = man. Not true or true? Man = Scott. True or not true? Therefore, I = Scott.
To make these untruths relate to each other, we have a complex set of rules of logic: a system for ordering words which is believed to make them work better to represent the truth.
Yet we know a photograph of a dog is not a dog. It is a two-dimensional abstraction. What then is the word "dog?" A non-dimensional abstraction: it has no specific size, shape color, or bark. The word "dog" is a focal point so narrow as to be nothing at all. It is ignorance of reality raised to a power.
Still, we have truth and lies. If we say "a dog barks in the night," it may represent reality as accurately as we are able -- a tiny and unimportant fragment of reality. If we say, instead, "a cat barks in the night," we call it a lie. What if the sound we heard was a tape recording? Is it a lie, a failure of perception, an error?
When we hear a spoken word that purports to represent reality, we must listen with an open mind. Is the statement an accurate reflection of reality? Is it a misperception -- an unintentional error? Is it a conclusion drawn from too little information, too little data? How useful is this reflection of a tiny fragment of what is real based on the limited perceptions of another person?
The trial of truth is its usefulness for guiding action. Just as our own perceptions of reality are severely limited -- yet they are sufficient to permit us to act in accordance with our needs and desires -- so, too, truth in words may contribute to our well-being, our welfare, our wealth. When words lead us away from our well-being, when they are used to conjure up a mirage, they fail the trial of truth.
We are each witnesses to fragments of reality. To the extent we are able to bear true witness -- to communicate to others the truth of our perceptions and the knowledge that they are our perceptions, we greatly extend the reach of man's perception and knowledge. To the extent our words convey true and useful data, our voice is well used.
Yet our words to one person may be useful while the same words to others are destructive. We may harm others by the data we select and present -- the inevitably partial truth -- not only because of the selection, but because our ability to present it is very limited. To make the best presentation, we must know well the person to whom we speak, how they will perceive our words, and the resulting understanding or action which will be based on what we have said.
If we tell a little girl who loves dogs that there is a dog in the next room, she may run to see. If it is a trained attack dog, but we do not know it, our limited perception has led to an injury. If we do know it, our limited statement has led to an injury. If we know it and say so, but the little girl does not understand the meaning of "attack dog," our limited knowledge of the hearer's capacity for interpreting and understanding leads to an injury.
Each time we speak face-to-face with a stranger, the opportunity to cause injury or misunderstanding is great. Each time we listen to a stranger speak, because they do not choose every word carefully, because they do not know the meaning we may attach to each word or phrase, because they do not know how we will use the information, the opportunity for injury or misunderstanding is great.
How much more so when we write. Instead of a slow exchange between two individuals -- with a chance to correct course, notice reactions, hear questions -- we have a one-sided message scrawled in permanent ink for people in another place and time: strangers in a strange land.
We are all strangers. We are, to each other, extraneous -- outside, estranged. Yet looked at from a distance, we are part of a species, two of a kind, relatives, two colonies of protoplasm able to cooperate to advance our common interests. The truth is, we may do nothing for each other, we may do much, or we may injure.
The trial of truth is in benefit, not to ourselves but to others. A lie will serve us often, though perhaps only in the short run -- but will it serve others and will it do so in the long run? What if a Jewish family living in Germany had been told a lie -- that they had a rare genetic defect which could only be treated by moving to the U.S.? Would the lie become truth? Would a total falsehood bring benefit? Should we then lie?
The power of communications and the immense power to share the truth and thus cooperate with others depends not only on truth telling, but on an accurate understanding of the consequences of our words. To tell the truth is essential to greater trust and cooperation; to tell the truth may also generate fearful distrust and thus be a barrier to future contact.
To lie may create an insuperable barrier to future trust and cooperation, for once the lie is revealed, how can trust be restored? The lie, too, can produce unexpected and undesired consequences. Say you are "too busy" to see me and I may believe it and cease making an effort to be seen. My ignorance of your intended meaning may cause me to take your every word to be a simple statement of truth. Then, too, I may use the statement to arrive at a conclusion -- that you would rather run errands, sleep, do laundry, or play with your family than see me -- and that you would not wish to do both at the same time.
Ignorance of the vastest portion of the universe, when we wish to draw conclusions, is the primary truth. No matter what you say, how you say it, or how I may perceive it, if I can keep in mind just one small phrase -- if I can unlearn a lifetime of false teaching -- I can be more aware of the truth: I do not know.
The trial of truth begins with an assumption of ignorance. I do not know if the words reflect reality. I do not know if I understand the words. I do not know if the words are intended for my welfare or harm. I do not know.
I listen, therefore, to the testimony of all the witnesses. I observe reality, I consider the data of my own experience, I listen to the words and observe the behavior of the speaker. Is it true, is it beneficial? I do not know.
I am who I am.
Who am I? To answer that question is to mislead. I am who I am, not who I have been, not what I have thought or believed or said, not what I think or believe or say right now. You can never know me, never put me in a category, never give me a name, never predict with certainty what I will do.
Am I good or evil, tall or short, strong or weak? To tell the truth, these are your opinions about me.
I am not good or evil -- I am what I am and do what I do. You may believe my actions are not beneficial, but only time will tell.
So how do I describe myself? I say I am no one, for you cannot know me and cannot name me. More exactly, when you think you know me or think you know my name, you are missing the mark. Once you believe you know, you will not notice that I am alive, changing, never the same as yesterday -- a product of the past, a progression along a path, but a point in passing -- not a fixed and immovable mountain but a flow of energy that cannot stop moving.
". . . when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, when I am pinned and wriggling on the wall..." as T. S. Eliot wrote in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," how can I be who I am and how can you see me as living.
So, I tell the truth. Some would say I tell too much, but it is my desire to tell the whole truth -- holding no piece of evidence back.
So, I do not lie. Some would say that a white lie may be a kindness, but I believe that people cannot believe the truth when others lie to them. If I lie to them as an act of kindness, can they not see that the people who protest they love them will lie to them? If you will lie for their benefit, surely you will lie for your own. If your friends and lovers will lie to you, surely those who are strangers and enemies will lie to you, lie for you, lie about you.
I tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to the best of my ability, so help me God.
I do so, not to benefit others at a cost to me, but because it clears my mind of the endless clutter of deception. I do not need to create clever lies, I do not need to keep secrets, I do not need to remember a complex web of lies so that I may build on it in the future.
"Oh, what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive!" Who can doubt the words of Sir Walter Scott. I do not lie, but tell all truth because I do not wish to be a weaver of false worlds, but a builder of life in the real world to come. To build life is in my interest because if I do not do so, I cannot live beyond a few decades. If I do so, to the best of my ability, I will live on in my descendants and in the recesses of the cells of countless beings not yet conceived. I am part of a great progression of life, and I will play my small part as well as I can.
Some will say that too much truth will be disbelieved, and this is true. Those who have been lied to, as we all have, those who have lied to themselves, will not believe the truth when it is told to them.
What better reason to speak the truth? When I am easily believed, I have found a person who knows the truth and is more likely to be telling the truth. If I am disbelieved, what need is there for further conversation.
September 2, 1997
Money for what? Money for whom? Work for hire, wages of superintendence, return on capital?
If the purpose advanced benefits life, how shall we judge the means used? If the means enriches those likely to abuse their power, what alternative exists?
Measure twice and cut once. Before employing your talents, ask if your actions may result in an undesirable consequence, and err on the side of inaction. Realize, too, that action consistent with nature and benefit to life may produce some short-term discomfort and yet lead to many long-term benefits, which result from the knowledge gained and the opportunities created for subsequent progress.
Working for others, one must always consider the alternative sources of income. Laborers, even those well-trained and highly skilled, may find their wages held down as a means of allowing others to benefit from the power concentrated in their hands.
To compete in a market for commodity labor -- as virtually all with credentials and resumes do -- is to achieve wages based on the supply and demand for services considered largely interchangeable.
Henry George wrote that capital does not pay the wages of labor and that it is incorrect, too, to say that capital employs labor. Mr. George argues that labor employs capital to increase production. The underlying condition is that an entrepreneur or organizer brings together capital and labor, paying each what is necessary to obtain their contribution and collecting from consumers the value achieved by productive enterprise.
The unique skill of the organizer is the power to perceive the compensation to capital and labor which will create the greatest value to consumers and, consequently, the highest profit from the resources consumed or employed.
September 6, 1997
Who are you? In response to this question, we answer with a long series of lies. We are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers: we are related to other people. We are standardized data: age, height, weight, education, occupation. We are owners of possessions and debts: our net worth. We are our past: errors, encounters, accidents, achievements, goals set and realized or abandoned. We are our resume. Yet these efforts at self-description are descriptions of something else -- relatives, measurements, attachments, events.
Who are you? You are not the dreams or thoughts in your mind. You may dream that you are an angel, princess, genius, god -- but these are in your mind -- electrical and chemical impulses that attempt to classify you and define you by associating who you are with some abstract grouping based on a handful of chosen elements. You are not a handful of chosen elements.
Every effort at self-description is doomed. To describe is to encompass, to write down, to render in words. No living being can be transformed into words without losing all that makes them live. Knowing who you are begins with knowing you cannot be described or circumscribed. You are all that you are.
Yet, knowing this, you have only to know you are also more than you can perceive and more than you can hold in your conscious mind. Knowing yourself must lead to quietly accepting all you are and acting without relying on your conscious mind. Only then can your actions reflect who you are -- rather than an abstraction or illusion or fragment based on your limited ability to define what cannot be defined or, worse, someone else's portrait of who you are or who you should be or how you should act.
You are who you are.
September 8, 1997
Not my will, but Thine be done.
Why are people so controlling? Why do they beat, abuse, use force to compel the behavior of others? Why do they struggle to persuade people or convince them against their wishes?
Who is in control? Often the most controlling people are themselves unable to control their own behavior. As if in a state of madness, they strike out at others. Unable to do what would be beneficial in their own lives, they project on to others the same inability. They provide the control over others that they believe is necessary for the achievement of proper actions and proper results, implying that they believe they require some outside force to control them -- though they struggle against such external control.
Behind the oppression of government is the desire to impose useful controls on the behaviors of large numbers of people. Yet external controls based on both written and detailed rules and on people and physical force bring about conflict and disorder. A great order is disorder; a great disorder is order.
Those who wish to control may have been taught by others who were controlling. Force teaches force. Regulation teaches the need for regulation. Whatever is done to us we see as part of the natural order of the universe. Our narrow experience -- of family, lovers, friends -- is our world. We cannot see the infinite variety. We cannot understand people who live without external controls, without a perception of the need to work, without worries.
For strangers living by other beliefs, we find an explanation which is consistent with our beliefs. Our bias, our prejudices, become stronger than reality. We are blind.
To control others means to use force, a step necessary only in self-defense, when no escape is possible. Let go; let be.
Life requires no conscious control. If you are hungry, eat. If you are tired, sleep. If you will let the wind push you along, you can glide through life. Yet to be pushed along, you cannot stand fast -- you cannot control the wind -- you cannot choose a direction.
You can struggle to become someone in spite of all the forces around you, struggle to get to the top, become king of the hill. You can control, to some degree, your steps and even those of others. You can manipulate people and facts and systems to achieve ends.
But why? Do you know so much that you can decide what is best for others? Do you know yourself so well that you can with certainty choose your place in the universe? Control your movement to the place you have chosen -- a place you do not know because you have not yet reached it and have no personal experience of it -- and you pretend to know more of the universe than you really know. Accept your limited knowledge of the universe to come. Do not believe you know where you want to be because that place -- off in the future -- does not yet exist. The you who will be alive in some future time does not exist.
Only the you who are here right now and known only to yourself can be heard. Only the place you are right now, the tools before you, are real. Do not decide now what you will do later, where you will go later, what you will want later.
Let go each moment of the plans and feelings and desires which have passed away a moment before. Do not seek to revive the desires of yesterday or last week or years past.
The wind shifts, and if you are not chained to a dead past or an unchanging course that drags you along, you can feel that fresh breeze blowing you along across an untouched field to a distant place.
September 9, 1997
To renounce power and wealth and position and honor is to throw back the gifts and commands of the universe. To renounce is to deny the truth of the angelic message -- to reject the word, the order, of God. God and the universal order give certain authority and power to each of us. Accept it without hesitation, without question, without doubt.
Announce your power -- proclaim it as it exists and must be, as it grows and changes. You are all that you are -- to show forth your light is an essential part of truth. To hide your light is to deceive, to allow the sleeping world around you to remain in darkness.
Be humble and be proud. Lower yourself to the earth in true knowledge of your lowly origins. Your feet are on the ground. Remember it. Yet do not grovel or bury your light beneath the soil. You are of the earth, subject to gravity and to all the needs and limits which bind the flesh. Lower yourself as far as you really are -- to your true level. You have power -- it is your ability.
Be proud -- not arrogant or haughty. Do not demand more power or authority or reward than is rightfully yours. Do not claim some status base on what others have done, some error or chance that has given you unearned power or position. Be proud, not vain. Do not seek to be what you are not, do not puff yourself up, create an image, be an empty balloon.
Be proud -- brave, good, gallant -- and justly pleased and satisfied with being who you are. Acknowledge your goodness, then move on. Accept and recognize your true abilities and put them to good use.
Power does not corrupt, but corruption seeks undeserved power. Seek to be more perfect and to be better suited to power, then and now use your ability to protect all of us.
September 13, 1997
We know that death will come, though we may not always hear it approach. Our death, perhaps tomorrow, will take with it all that depends on our life force.
We could, knowing this, eat, drink and be merry. Why? If death is to come in the morning, what difference will it make that we have lived our last moments in pleasure. Might we not as easily spend our last moments building a home for those who will remain living? Might we not as easily pass on to others the essence of our experience? Might we not spend our final night planting the seed of our spirit and body where it may grow into a new life?
We are all travelers along private lanes to the edge of the universe. Walking slowly or running cross country races, we all arrive at a private end -- a cliff, a volcano, a rushing river, a speeding automobile in a tunnel. Death comes.