Poet by Necessity
We find ourselves in a world we do not fully understand. The sheer changing complexity of everything around and inside us is as fascinating as it is overwhelming. Natural forces, both inner and outer, act on us with what seems like an inescapable necessity, while simultaneously feeling that our will has a certain freedom to shape our destiny.
We do not come to this world alone but are accompanied by others like ourselves, parents and the whole medley of people who make up our contemporaries, who have been alive in the world we’re joining longer than we have. But we soon learn there have been countless others that have left us a legacy and record of innumerable decisions made in the face of experiencing the world, whether in the form we find it today or in another that is long gone. Everyone gives us, by gift, record, artifact, ceremony, tradition, payment or example, their own opinions as to who we are, what world we have found ourselves in and what we’re supposed to do in it.
Yet little time is left to pause and ponder. In school or elsewhere, we are rushed to be taught or told what to do and are supposed to make a living before we really learn how to live and what life is worth living. Then the years pass relentlessly, our prime for most of us provided we reach it, dedicated to a recurring activity that sustains our life and the world around it without justifying its suffering nor explaining its wonder. Past our prime, some of us will be lucky to live our last years in peace, finally catching up with old questions at a time we lack the mental fitness or adequate time to answer them. In the end, we prepare for our last farewell, never to return to that world in the form we learned to live in it.
There is no pause button in life. We constantly find ourselves at crossroads and have to make decisions and face consequences even if we don’t choose.
What are we to make of all this?
Philosophy is born in response to ignorance and wonder. Out of fear, curiosity and a love for wisdom.
In following that love you walk to previously unseen vistas transforming yourself with each step, with each view. Transformed, akin to a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, it becomes impossible to live the same life as before. How can one who flies and drinks nectar go back to crawling and chewing on leaves?
Some of those who are transformed, not only live in a different world, but can do more things in it. Some of these benefit the ones who have yet to change, do things that they otherwise couldn’t, despite not having the knowledge to create those things themselves.
We can transform our knowledge of the physical world without transforming our ethics. Thus, it is possible that, provided our ethics stay the same with those around us, others will understand our intentions even though they might not fully understand the novel way by which we harnessed nature to achieve them.
However, in doing philosophy we evolve not just the means by which we achieve our ends but those very ends themselves, and through that process the I that is doing the achieving. In other words, it’s not just novel science and technology but new ethics – a new way of life. It affects not only how I’m going to go somewhere but where I’m going, who it is that’s going there and for what reasons.
Those who transform that way still live among us, though the world appears different to them. They remember and can compare their life before and after the transformation. They form judgments as to whether it was better or worse, even though these categories may now have a different meaning or none at all.
Communication starts becoming harder between those who have transformed and those who haven’t. That’s why metaphor is not only useful but necessary. It takes an existing vocabulary and uses it to say something new.
Metaphors are ladders to the uninitiated. The philosopher, a poet by necessity.