Things fall apart

It’s been more than a week since the last post on this blog. Anne Mei and I have been traveling around looking at colleges. In the past few months Anne Mei experienced two major events marking changes in her life (turning 18, and her first prom).  Now she’s preparing for another transition next year when she graduates from high school.

When we go on long car trips, I usually download podcasts to listen to.  One podcast turned out to be particularly appropriate for this trip.  It was the May 30th episode of Radiolab, which I had downloaded because I was intrigued by the title “Things.”

The episode, I learned, was an extended meditation on how things fall apart, how things change, how we learn to view two or more images as belonging to the same thing, how we use things to remember the past, even to place ourselves in past historical events.  I’m using the term “meditation” loosely here.  It’s probably more accurate to say that one could take each of the various segments of the podcast and use that as a seed for meditating on some aspect of impermanence, one of the three marks of existence.

Ironically, I first introduced the noun “impermanence” into the discussion in a post challenging the use of nouns.  It is not easy to rid ourselves of using nouns to make fixed things out of changing.  Even the Buddhists who seek to empty categories such as “impermanence” fall into the trap of talking about another noun, emptiness.  Talking tends to get in the way of simply seeing that we are just continuously changing, moving, doing as we change, move, and do.  Meditating can help us simply see changing. Or better: meditating simply changing; meditating simply; simply.

I’m not going to recapitulate all the segments of this Radiolab episode.  Just to note that the podcast begins with things from the past that I have tended to discuss in terms of grief and memory, but which are seen here in different lights.  Then there is a long story that ends with radical change in something that had remained the same for centuries, something that embodies the permanence that we associate with being a thing.  In another segment, Alison Gopnik, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, presents mind experiments that challenge us to face up to what we are doing when we see “things.”

Professor Gopnik’s mention of Buddhism caught my attention.  I found that she has published an interesting paper in which she tries to show that David Hume may have been influenced by Buddhist thought, through the channel of all people–the Jesuits.  We will return to that paper when we discuss the biggest thing in our lives, the big “I,” under “Whoever you are, I love you.”  Perhaps it wasn’t so incongruous to use Hume’s toe at the top of each of these blog posts.

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