Further Than Diotima

February 12, 2016

The encomiums delivered by those proceeding Socrates are all fine to look at. But apart from over-generalization (Eryximachus), baseless speculations (Aristophanes), what the weakness that I dimly felt really is was specified by Socrates as “to attribute to Love every species of greatness and glory, whether really belonging to him or not, without regard to truth or falsehood”, whereas Socrates, or rather Diotima strove to reveal his innate nature and her conclusion is quite illuminating to my delight:

the love of the everlasting possession of the good… of immortality.

In deriving this, I have no objection to the assumption that

Nor is there any need to ask why a man desires happiness; the answer is already final.

– a principle I base my entire life upon! Only that -as I’m still in a sophist’s spirit- the notions of the good, beauty, virtue etc are frequently used without substantiation, which can be subject to various interpretations. Despite the minor flaw, I have to admit the mysterious idea of beauty absolute sounds so compellingly romantic even though nothing of substance is said about it. Added to its charm is an interim stage where one recognizes that

…the beauty in every form is and the same! And when he perceives this he will abate his violent love of the one, which he will despise and deem a small thing, and will become a lover of all beautiful forms…

Feeling myself on the right track, isn’t it natural that I’ll be burning with curiosity to know what sits at the destination of the trekking? Nevertheless, even though her words strike my heart ever so powerfully, I carefully reserve a space at the back of my mind not to be won over so easily. For I do not wish to despise anyone anything, especially in a sense that I want to cultivate a humble soul that does not put procreation in the rank of barbarism, ignorance and backwardness or hold a pregnant mind that conceives child of wisdom at such high esteem. (The other narcissist self is currently banging behind the bars screaming “I totally do!”) Because after all, I doubt the existence of the good absolute. Consequently I shall not sneer at others without concrete scientific evidence of my own good being compromised by that of the others.

Now it’s nice that many phenomena of love can be explained by quote (1), where immortality is the key. However, this kind of phenomena that has been so for the past thousands of years need not be so in the next thousands of years. Recognizing the finiteness of everything earthly, why cling to something that is unattainable even theoretically? I could understand and appreciate that I’m able to write down these gibberish today all thanks to countless such futile attempts accumulated in the entire human history. All of a sudden this ungrateful small fry starts to talk about abandoning this axiom that nature imprinted on all the living things and that almost exclusively defines what life means?

But I find something more axiomatic than quote (1) that is quote (2). To me, quote (1) betrays a horrible sense of self-importance. Our mind has evolved to such a degree that we have generalized numerous traditionally narrow concepts to broader senses. For example, Diotima praises poets and artists who “conceive that which is proper for the soul to conceive or contain” alluding to the inferiority of the conceiving of mortal children. We definitely could eliminate the redundant association of happiness with immortality, which is probably genetically embedded in us in the beginning. But our happiness is now more governed by the product of our minds than any other materialistic things. Therefore it’s not hard to desert the cruel path of pursuing the everlasting once we recognize that it’s filled with agony and suffering. And if I must be labelled as one who has a self-destructive tendency, I must confess my intense love for the breathtakingly tranquil ending rather than the uncomely finale that the foolish pursuit of immortality is bound to yield, all the while noting that there WILL BE an end – the question is only how.

As for this transient moment, contemplating beauty, full of love of the infinite possibilities of the mind that creates fair and noble thoughts, I could not resist but, like in a swinging crib, be swayed by such flowery rhetorics, hither and thither.


Whales Through Melville’s Eyes

October 14, 2015

Browsing through the highlights and notes, the brilliant moments from the long journey of Moby Dick came to life again. I remember being repelled by the second half of Heinlain’s A Stranger from A Strage Land, despising its complete derailment from the story and the endless spouting of his unimportant opinions. But I totally enjoyed the random thoughts and musings Melville offered.

The narratives of the plot constitute just a small part of the volume. In an unintruding manner, the various aspects of the whaling business was laid out. If these descriptions are more out of necessity for later understanding, then what branches out from them emitting witty insights and wild deduction, touching ancient history, philosophy, social issues, are pure brain food. One example is taken from the last passage of the chapter debuting Ahab’s harpooneer Fedallah,

…according to Genesis, the angels indeed consorted with the daughters of men, the devils also, add the uncanonical Rabbins, indulged in mundane amours.

As Melville’s ambition commanded, the book also contains large quantities of encyclopedic entries. Similarly, his comments are most worthwhile paying attention to. In particular, he revealed one peculiar aspect of the whale’s vision system: the sideway positioned eyes separated by a dead wall of face, thus two completely different images at the brain’s processing center, and thus two fronts and two backs! I’m surprised how I have never thought of this amusing problem. I’m less troubled by his classification of whales as fish though. He explained reasonably, and that’s his personal choice. But it’s indeed questionable whether his description of whale’s exceptionally small brain is true by today’s standard. That aside, it nevertheless illustrates Melville’s powerful armament of similes.

… hidden away behind its vast outworks, like the innermost citadel within the amplified fortifications of Quebec.

Perhaps the tranquil tropical cruising that Melville so lavishly and untiringly depicted – which I already quoted before and had better refrain from doing so again – is truely the source of the freest thoughts seen all over the book. Yet my constant theme has always been the conflict between the strong sympathy towards the whales and reading of what the main characters are doing to them. This is intensified by the author’s own manifested contradiction of attitudes. He did not withhold any bit of admiration for or marveling at the whales’ mild profoundness and joyous swiftness. But no less praising was given to the whaling business and killing scenes. I don’t attempt to guess which side he stands, but he clearly knows what they are doing down to the core – read more …


Chrysanthemums and Aphids

December 22, 2014

I bought myself a bouquet consisting of several kinds of flowers for the birthday more than a month ago. In no more than two weeks, all the flowers withered away except for the two branches of white chrysanthemum. Surprisingly, these outlived not only their peer flowers, but also my expectation and lived vigorously to welcome a new neighbor – a dark red Betta fish. I scarcely changed water and never cut away the bottom bits, although I was instructed to do both everyday. They remained in their loveliest blossom, not showing any sign of weariness from day one. My boyfriend once joked that I had bought plastic flowers. But yesterday 🙁

As I was about to drink my morning water, a miniature bug floating in my glass caught my attention. I quickly realized that it must have come from the only plants in my room, the chrysanthemums. A close observation had me totally stunned and disgusted. Numerous small bugs similar to the one dead in my glass are found everywhere on the topmost flower of the four. The other three flowers adjacent were also speckled to various degrees. I straightened up and looked out of the window, not able to believe what I just saw. I moved my line of sight back again and confirmed this horrible scene. This time I noticed how these insects firmly remained static in their respective positions on the petals, unlike what I would imagine that they would crawl all over the place. I couldn’t give more description because I couldn’t stand it and trashed the flowers immediately.

After that, I gave much thought about it and felt sorry for the chrysanthemums. If only I had given them more attention maybe I’ll notice some early warning of the pest attack. How come that it seemed like it was all fine for over a month until suddenly there appeared such huge number of insects? The only possibility I could think of is there was already larvae when I bought it. They simply hatched at the same time suddenly and started their feasting.

Recently I’m reading Insect Plant Biology by Schoonhoven et al. The bugs I just saw reminds me of something I’ve read in the book. After some searching I’m convinced those belong to the common pest family of aphids. From what I read online it seems their usual place of appearance is the leaf surfaces. If the ones in my case also hatched on the leaves, possibly on the undersurface since I didn’t see them, and moved from the leaves to the flowers, that means they had been around in my room for much longer time, which makes me sick even more. Although I took comfort in thinking that usually monophagous species are very specific in their food choices. This means that they choose not only a particular plant but also a particular part on that plant. According to Wikipedia, aphids feed on sap rather than chew on plant tissues. This on one hand explains why they sit there motionless but on the other, it’s strange why they target flowers where I suppose there’re no phloem vessels.

Above all else, the biggest lesson that I learned is that there are actually home-friendly ways to kill the aphids and preserve the plants. If I had examined my chrysanthemums throughly thoroughly – petals, leaves and undersurface of the leaves, that would have given me hints on abnormalities and would have enabled me to take early preventive actions. This combined with the spray method that should have been used after the pest attack happened, could have saved my chrysanthemums. Sigh.


A General Launches a War for Wildlife

July 22, 2014

Chapter Six of Alon Tal’s book Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel. This chapter talks about the activities of the Nature Reserves Authority, mainly when Avraham Yoffe was in charge. I’m left with an impression that under his command, the new born authority secured an astounding fraction of Israeli land for reservation, albeit small and scattered. His successful campaign to stop the dirty habit of wildflower-picking remains the single legend that never repeats. Along with the anecdotes, for instance

walking into the kitchen of his host, opening the refrigerator, and pulling a leg off of a chicken without being invited,

or another, he hired two female scientists and threw out the grumbling male staffs saying

he had ‘enough balls’ already and wanted some brains,

Linked to Alon Tal's Pollution in a Promised Land in UC Press online libraryas well as Figure 13 which depicts a Yoffe in full army uniform, feeding a cute little baby herbivore (I’m guessing gazelle?) with a milk bottle, which easily reminds me of that famous picture of Ariel Sharon with a lamb slung over his shoulders – all these make me take a great liking to him.

However now, many weeks past, Claude Lanzmann’s Pourquoi IsraĂ«l that I watched much earlier somehow surfaced again. And I remember there was an interview with a retired military man who turned to wildlife advocacy. I opened the DVD package and found indeed the name Abraham Yoffe there. In the film, aside from telling us about his dream of rehabilitating the biblical animals in the land of Israel [1], he also offered his opinion on the political conflicts, in which he clearly aligned himself with the school of “Greater Israel”. For Egypt, he said the Sinai

is not important to them, but important for us… It can act as a buffer zone, which is good for us, good for them and good for the world.

I can’t decide if to say he was naive or if he was intentionally blind. As regard to the Palestinian problem, he said

We should learn to live together. and I’m ready to give them all rights as Israelis.

This is of course one basic underlying belief for any one-state solution advocate. But when questioned by the director “what about the Jewish state”, pointing to the demographic problem, Yoffe said

I’m not afraid… You see when I was born in this country, the percentage between Jews and Arabs was 1 to 10… Today it’s 3 Jews to 1 Arab. So why should I be afraid?

Well I don’t really want to give an analytical comment on this bizarre statement. The point is, it is really interesting to get accounts of things and people from different places. Just as reading the Israeli environmental history gives me a unique perspective when looking at these less known but no less inspiring, exciting, heroic or heartbreaking deeds against the most familiar Israeli modern history, the association of different depictions of this person evokes a similar curious sentiment. As a result, Yoffe’s image is now more complicated in my mind than before.


[1]. This biodiversification effort – the Hai Bar project – is also documented in the book. It is quite a subject of controversy. On one hand it collected a lot of endangered animals, opened up a safari as a tourist attraction, on the other hand some predators were confined in small areas, and the indigenousness of some of the species were questionable.


Reading Report: Albert Hoffman’s Problem Child

October 3, 2012

How did a school kid like me get to know about LSD is a mystery. But I figure most probably it’s from a friend from New Zealand. As today I recall, she is quite hippie. Dangerous! is the impression it left me for it seems to be a prominent figure in the drug scene. But on a certain day the mystical side of it prevailed and I wanted to know more.

The choice is Albert Hoffman’s LSD: My Problem Child. What else is there for this canny little creature who is eager to learn something dangerous, than the book written right by the father of LSD through a academic approach?

And it turns out, LSD is not dangerous at all in terms of toxicity, neither physically nor mentally. And only the first several sections are written in a relatively “academic” fashion, in which the author described the cause and process of discovery of this compound from ergot. Afterward, I was mainly presented with a compilation of psychedelic experience from various people. They keep telling us human language is incapable of convey a least bit of idea what they saw in their visions, while their words show us a world of wonder. And also read in the book is Hoffman’s travel to ancient tribes in Mexico, almost like a pilgrimage to the sacred mushroom – whose psychoactive substance is similar to LSD. This is further a drawing of veil of Aztecan charm rather than illumination.

Although troubled by the abuse of LSD as an intoxicate drug outside scientific circle, Albert Hoffman thinks it as a key to open the door of the inner universe, to counterbalance the materialism in an industrialized world, to release a suppressed reality and integrate it with the everyday reality, thus shaping a new world view. I so recall reading somewhere that Descartes spent a certain period alone during war. Because of the absolute solitude and continuous self-concentration, he saw devils dancing around him in the room. It is explained that when people receive minimal signal from the outside world, sensation from the inside will be augmented; for the brain, when there’s no tasks from outside to tackle with, it creates “tasks” itself and hallucination dominates.

This is why some people seeking mystico-religious enlightenment usually turns to meditation, yoga and Zen. LSD through a biochemical mechanism achieve the same goal with significant speed-up of the alteration of the state of mind. I believe this state of mind along with many other possible states are encoded in us by the force of nature over the history of human evolution. The only normal state left for us today should be the one best tailored to survival of human race. So is it that important to release the suppressed reality locked up by nature for our own good? I doubt it.

But certainly, for the sake of aesthetic interests, ever-going pursuit of euphoric exposure or simply the sense of curiosity about what kind of possibilities our minds have been given by the almighty god, for all these reasons, it is more than a good idea to dive into the world of LSD for some time.

The various accounts in the book often remind me of van Gogh’s the Starry Night and Munch’s the Scream of the Nature, of how the cypresses come to burning with vigorous green flames, of how the moons and stars whirl and roll and try to swallow one another, of the distorted and distant human face with a terrifying look, and of the blood red cloudy sky resonating with each and every nerve, cell and pore. Hallucination must have naturally occurred to these psychiatrically abnormal artists. Then I also become passionate about understanding the abstruse modern art with aid from LSD

Now I can’t help but mention Trance. Originally the word itself is related to a mental state of dizziness. I have always tasted the euphoric and even ecstatical feeling from some trance music. The repeating phrases many people find monotonous are by no means simple repetition. They are like clouds over clouds, arches after arches, that lead you to a wondrous land. Benz & MD’s Wonder is such an example.  “It builds and takes different shape throughout, never remaining stale. Melodic hooks change and take different form throughout.”( – from resident advisor) This resembles one of the core features of LSD trip, that is a kaleidoscopic view of beauty. You linger to a certain organic synth at a certain moment but in the next second you are taken to a twinkly sound. I shall dedicate a whole article for Benz & MD’s music later on. But for now, I’m thinking, if this blissful experience could be 100 times more intense, I would like to have it.