Memories of Tōkyō

One of my most favourite moments of 2016 took place on September 7th. Why? What? Where?

This was in Tōkyō, the capital of the State of Japan. More precisely, it was in the Imperial district and by the entrance to the Imperial Palace. The sun was setting with its last rays still casting a faint light, bringing the park to life in an unique way. There were not many people present, the tourists had come and gone though it was not yet late (twenty to six) — but the Sun was setting and people move with it, so for that day, they had passed on.

The setting was beautiful in every mentionable way. It is still in my mind, the Sun’s quiet descent as daylight slowly receded, as it left the Imperial District, and as its last rays illuminated the former heart of the Shogunate.

Overall, I did not see much of Tōkyō as I had barely 24h there, but I am incredibly happy that one of the places I decided to go to was the Palace. Having the limited time to explore, I had started out without much of a plan and with a very limited grasp on which options were plausible. Chance ruled. The providential decisions which made me exit the underground in that station and walk down the street to arrive in the nick of time to see the day pass away are worth pondering about on their own. How much of what happens to us is chance, and chance alone? How much of this was indeterminable by anything I did?

But, with regards to this post, I mostly wanted to share this image:

Kōkyo

I can still remember the serenity. Can you sense it?

Longitude 180° E/W

It was my pleasure to be able to cross the 180° W to 180° E line last year (more or less this day), crossing the Pacific Ocean. The feeling of separation, of being thousands of miles from the closest bit of land, was spectacular on its own.

I am not entirely certain what more I can say. For me, this memory is so real I don’t need to use any more words. For anyone reading, these words are mere lines on a screen.

Thinking about it, I can describe a few more things.

One of these would be the sunshine Central Pacific experienced. I never thought it would be like that. I never thought it could be so warm, so calm, so tranquil. But, possibly the name of the ocean is not that wrong even though it can experience horrendous storms. Fernão de Magalhães may have been wrong in the entirety when he named the ocean, but he definitely grasped the occasion of the quiet sea.

The other thing to describe would be the sensation by which the aloneness feels. Sure, I wasn’t actually alone. There were probably about ten to fifteen other people on the vessel I was travelling, but, in general and in the modern world, that is secluded. The closest islands of Alaska and Hawaii were both more than two thousand kilometres away and even so, uninhabited. The closest inhabited place may have been a small town in Alaska.

Added to this distance across the globe I would add the distance above and below. The space above us is forever unlimited, and the space below is normally of no concern to us. Central Pacific in where we were was probably between three and four kilometres deep, and its inhabitants we can only imagine — the last frontier open to us on this globe is the depth of the oceans.

Only water, boundless water, in every direction. What an experience.

Clear Skies

Today has been a brilliant day, the sky clear and resplendent; these brilliant days often make me wonder. Firstly, the question to wonder about is what else can be seen under this sky? The answer to this is — literally anything. Similarly, who else could be looking at the sky at the same time?, who else might be wondering the same things?, asking these same questions? Again, it could be anyone. It could also be no one.

Slightly aimless? Perhaps…

But now, what if we try to think of places which have never seen a clear sky? How many of those can there be? If Jupiter’s gaseous clouds hide sentience, what is their concept of a clear sky? What of the people on Titan, or the inhabitants of Venus? Is a clear sky on Mercury the one which burns under the gaze of Sol, or the one which faces the vast emptiness of space?

When we start considering these issues, we are truly lost. Lost since the answers are impossible to comprehend since they are so far out of our normal range of experiences. I wish they weren’t though… That would be the greatest experiment of pathos, the way to awaken tender emotions, that a man can undertake — finding an instance of normality (the reality we know) in the most foreign of environments.

Unfortunately, this is something very difficult to actually practice. It would be good fun though.

 

Am I a cynic?

I had a very interesting discussion on Saturday with people who kept on insisting that doing things for other people just so they would feel better is a reasonable way of spending time. I, quite naturally, disagreed. I’ll get to the specific examples in a moment, but right now I’ll establish the label that was given to me based on what I said.

Namely, I am supposedly a “cynic”.

To help us with the question of whether I am one, it might make sense to define “cynic” just to be sure we know what we’re discussing. Here goes the Wikipedia version that has probably got quite a bit of it right:

Cynicism is an attitude or state of mind characterized by a general distrust of others’ apparent motives or ambitions, or a general lack of faith or hope in the human race or in individuals with desires, hopes, opinions, or personal tastes that a cynic perceives as unrealistic or inappropriate, therefore deserving of ridicule or admonishment. It is a form of jaded negativity, and other times, realistic criticism or skepticism. The term originally derives from the ancient Greek philosophers called the Cynics who rejected all conventions, whether of religion, manners, housing, dress, or decency, advocating the pursuit of virtue in accordance with a simple and unmaterialistic way of life.

By the 19th century, emphasis on the negative aspects of Cynic philosophy led to the modern understanding of cynicism to mean a disposition of disbelief in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions. Modern cynicism, as a product of mass society, is a distrust toward professed ethical and social values, especially when there are high expectations concerning society, institutions, and authorities that are unfulfilled. It can manifest itself as a result of frustration, disillusionment, and distrust perceived as owing to organizations, authorities, and other aspects of society.

That is what Wikipedia says. It is a bit of a mouthful and could probably be expressed in an easier way, but it will suffice for now.

The two specific examples we questioned yesterday were as follows: a) our graduation ceremony is a worthy event, and we should go there; b) marriage reception is an integral part of the ceremony.

My views on those two can be best expressed as follows: a) graduation is a ceremony that does not establish anything of value nor does it grant us anything we would otherwise miss out on, therefore there is no harm in missing said event assuming there is something better that could be done with the time; b) marriage reception is worth it not because of it being an integral part of the ceremony, since marriage is best taken as an institution for an economic and social purpose, but the reception is worth it assuming that people have gone through the trouble of marrying in the first place.

These views were enough to have me labelled as a “cynic”. I disagree, for there is nothing inherently distrustful or hopeless about my attitude — it is rather an expression of a cost-benefit system that evaluates whether an action is worth it or not. If something is worth it, then it should be carried out — which is also incidentally why a reception would nearly always be worth it: as mentioned above, the trouble of organizing things into a marriage would almost definitely ask for a release as a party. The same cost-benefit analysis says that if the time spent on a ceremony as useless as a graduation could be spent on something else that would create value for the people in question then that should be done instead.

So, thus far, nothing cynical — only the best application of one’s time and effort to maximize any outcome from life. I am not sure that every person who reads this will agree with that assessment, but that at least is how I would reason it. For, after all, it is not that I am saying that no one should go to their own graduation — if people find that they can spend their time and effort on something that doesn’t give them anything they cannot find otherwise, then they can obviously go for it. What I am saying is that it is highly unlikely anyone will find me from my own graduation (unless it is by some lucky chance a day off from work) — simply because I will have better things to do with the time.

I will add that in general I follow the good words of Mr Arthur C Clarke — and by that I mean I am not a pessimist about our future. I don’t have the greatest of hopes for humankind but I am of a mind that we will end up somewhere better in time. For the words I speak of are as follows:

“I am an optimist. Anyone interested in the future has to be otherwise he would simply shoot himself.”
— sir Arthur C. Clarke

Which is very true. I think there’s a glimpse of hope for us, and I am sure we’ll get there in the end. It just might be that the road will be long and hard.

Another relevant question might be if I have Cynic tendencies, referring to the old Greek school. Now, that might be true although I am not familiar enough with them to actually answer this in detail. Based on a short look into them giving up most of the desires of people, I would have to say no. My philosophical outlook rather tends to welcome and accept desire, so again I seem to have thwarted being labelled a “cynic” in some way or form.

Although I guess that labels don’t really matter as long as there is a coherent thought process working its way in one’s mind…

The Second Benefit of Queues

I recently posted on how I enjoyed the feature of scheduled posting. That is still so, but now — around half a week into this experiment of mine, I can safely say that I forgot about an important part of this style of writing that I couldn’t really imagine before. Well, when I say “forgot” and “couldn’t really imagine”, I am speaking against myself, I know that. Do forgive.

However, what I wished to say is that when I schedule my posts I remember what I have written, and I get the wish to go back and change the words. I want to edit the post at least once so that when I read it through myself the next day (far less time consuming than writing itself), I get no bad feelings about anything I say. The wording might change and I might be improving the thoughts I wished to convey, but their internal inconsistency might have been the biggest downfall thus far with my posts.

So, there we go — another point for scheduled posting. =)

The Benefit of Queues

I have recently started writing posts in advance and then queuing them so that they are published throughout the week. This seems to be the approach that works better for me for otherwise I need to find the time and opportunity to come here every day (or every time when I have something to say), and to expand on my thoughts there and then. This clearly has not worked very well in the past so maybe this new way will do better.

For example, the posts this week on this site and on my literature blog both were written on Saturday evening when I had a moment to myself that I used to the best effect I could have thought of at the time.

It could be that in a sense I am losing the moment of “I am here, right now!” if I continue to think of what to say on a certain day in the future (or in the past).

Also, since my mood on that Saturday evening (well, it would be so much easier to say ‘right now’ but that wouldn’t be *the right now* when this post will be published so that I do not really want to do that) was a bit philosophical I am clearly avoiding writing of the world in favour of the topics that have a bit less to do with any tangible place and more with those passing feelings.

One benefit I do feel to be present though is a more consistent style. I could be mistaken, but these would probably read better overall than my posts from say November or December which were far more intermittent. Those posts were also written in a more hurried way — the time I had for them wasn’t really meant for them, but potentially a simple stolen 5-minute gap between eating and running out of my house. It would be interesting to see how this actually represents itself in the words you are reading though.

My next challenge therefore — if I am to continue this scheduled writing — is to find a way to encompass the world into the topics. I am certain that I can do this, although I might require some sort of incentive. I think that looking at National Geographic’s published photos or something similar would be enough though.

For anyone in a similar position as me — that is, feeling like writing at certain moments and not at others where thinking is the realm you’re in — I do suggest trying this scheduled posting way of writing.

Curiosity

Do you know that moment when you see something on the mind of other people? And your inner curiosity is so kindled that you have to insist of getting to the very bottom of it immediately?

I am very easily taken in by such thoughts, but then again I am also very much on the other side: not mentioning it at all until people are willing to talk.

The second option, however, is by far a better one — and I managed to confirm it yesterday when in a show I watched, a line went: “Hey, you look as if you have something troubling you… Oh, you’ll tell me when you’re ready.” and the guy was off. No doubts, no need to ponder about it.

So I’ll be trying to conquer that curiosity within me in a permanent way, leaving only the other option. We’ll see how that goes.

Friends/Solitude

Even in the middle of ten thousand people, I am alone.

I have thought of writing about friends for a while, but I have never felt like it. Until today, I guess. What are they really? How good friend is a good friend? If you’re a friend, does that not immediately mean you’re a good friend?

The society’s tendency to classify absolutely everyone you’ve known by their forename for a second as a friend is tedious for me. I most certainly do not do that — however, I also find that trust does not really follow that category. I guess it could: trusting people more if you know them better or for longer, classify them as friends.

Yet I know that there are people I would trust with nearly anything but I don’t really consider them as friends. I don’t even know why — I just guess it is difficult for me to bring anyone to the same level as people I’ve known for fifteen years.

But as I said, that does not necessarily matter. If there are two paths, and on one of those you get a few good people you know well and on the other there are loads of people that are known not-that-well, I am very much a person for the first choice. And I do not mind that at all — it is the easier and more natural option for me.

However, along with all this I am still rather good at guessing what people are about, at least if I can spend a certain time in their company. And that makes me understanding but also cruel in instances where my patience disappears. Self-control is the one item I mostly have (even my dream today was a metaphoric take on that, for some odd reason), except when I need it. Funny how that works.

In the end though, friends and trusting comes down to questions for me. I am not inclined to start talking of myself without someone asking a question in that direction beforehand. So, I remain unknown to most: no one thinks (or dares?) to ask that first question.

Even with ten thousand friends, I would be alone.

Maybe that is for the better.

Of Watching ‘The Hobbit’

‘The Hobbit’, made into a wonderful movie by Peter Jackson, has been out for a while now. I have not yet taken myself to the cinemas to watch it. And this, rather interestingly, has managed to surprise a few people — and I admit it, it surprises me as well, when I think about it. But I have my reasons.

‘The Hobbit’ is a book I really enjoy. It might not be amongst the top top favourites that I have, but it is not far off either — and that has something to do with it.

I already have seen a movie of ‘The Hobbit’ — with every book that I read, as my eyes go past the words on the paper (or screen, I guess), my mind creates an image. And that image is my own creation, it might not be something anyone else would like, but it is an important part of the story that I have read. If I were to watch a movie made by someone else, what would happen to these pictures in my own mind?

That is the reason I have not yet seen Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit’, and while I really want to see it — I won’t. At least not immediately. Maybe tomorrow. There’s always tomorrow. Tomorrow might be a better day for ruining the composition that my mind has drawn, and I might have reasons for doing so. But until I feel compelled to do so, I shall abstain.

On Swearing

I saw a few days ago that an acquaintance on Facebook posted a picture which went by the effect that “Science shows that people who swear are most honest in their daily lives”. I offered no comment then, but in my mind a rather prominent question-mark appeared. So, I thought of this…

As a general note on the background, I have to add that this same person does use swearwords as part of his everyday vocabulary, both online and in-person as far as I know. I, on the other hand, rarely do so — I indeed remember a particular instant last week when I did use an expletive with the explicit goal of trying to emphasize my point to the other person, which I believe worked at that time for her first reaction was: “I don’t think I’ve heard you swear before.”

Now, however, to get back on topic: I am very adamantly of the opinion that any use of an expletive in a conversation between two people only serves to dumb the discussion down, and is of no use in building intelligent constructive arguments. That, along with the fact that anything can be very well said without swearing, is the main point that I stick to as much as possible (singular cases like the one I brought out before excluded).

That is also the same critique I apply to most items I read and hear: if they have needed to use expletives to define their own point of view, then clearly something is wrong. Either their statement was too weak in their opinion without swearing or they just feel as if they need to add to it to make it stronger. And that “addition” by default makes me regard the entire point as less, not more.

I would indeed state that I have yet to see a sentence which has improved in its overall value by making it more profane — it is, in short, for me the (first and foremost) sign of an uncultured mind.