A very insignificant fraction of the time for which the planet has existed have humans or even living organism been around. The time it has taken for molten lava to set and form the highs and lows of Earth’s topography alone is enough to contain multiple bouts of evolution. If one is to still look only at the period for which we have been biologically recognizable as Homo Sapiens, the term for which we may consider ourselves as civilized; seems insignificant. So considering all this and we understand that whatever we are today, how we are defined and what we do beyond basic existential processes; is defined by the last three millenia. Our lives, definitions of success, happiness, contentment and the divining of our purposes is all a culmination of the thoughts of a few, lauded by the many over the seemingly insignificant number of generations in the immediate past.
All this is of course common sense and can hardly be defined even as knowledge. The realization that our rights and wrongs are a function of cultural evolution in environments themselves under constant change can hardly be new. But still on reexamining the works of those who define our society now in their hopes to change theirs then, there is something worthy of note. I like to think of myself as someone mildly struggling with philosophy. Not so much in understanding what others before me have made of the World but what I make of it now. The study or in my case, trivial observation of the metaphysics of life is somehow always riddled with the appreciation or criticism of prior students of the field. An exercise justified with the hope of diversity of thought and the power of collective experience. But reading the works of these observers in the past is difficult.
It is difficult not in that their thoughts are always elusive and their language dense. It is so because of a lack of relevance. Our World is perhaps the most free it has ever been in recorded history. In terms of expression, sharing, discussion and collaboration. The strong-minded and like-minded now can traverse all physical and virtual boundaries and talk about the most taboo of topics. We have medieval rituals and regimes still running strong but they are not impenetrable to modern technology and it’s inevitable unshackling of the mind. So to these creatures who realize the potential of the Earth’s citizens. Those who don’t find the Church, or any religious institution deeply relevant today reading Descartes or Plato is tough. These works are entwined in the lives of their authors, mostly men of a predictable lifestyles whose experiences shaped what they wrote of the world (Not that anything else can be expected from any author). Words of unflinching conviction which now can be appreciated for their uniqueness in the time of their authorship but are not so unique today. To read is to broaden one’s mind and I want to read very badly. Yet I find not one work which seems so independent of time that I can leave myself unguarded in its consumption.
But society shaping is what most meddlers in the art of thinking find themselves confronting. So they must perhaps address the institutions which society is built upon. Education, church, warfare, government and God all must find mention in the work of the man or woman who truly wishes to change the lives of tomorrow by the criticism of today. The dispelling of doom is a viable option for an author but he or she will never be as popular as one who offers hope in the guise of a mechanism for change. A collection of ideas which can be tagged and labelled allowing for quick referencing. Such writers will eventually weave that fabric onto which their successors can build their ideas. Philosophy thus largely seems like a self-sustaining discipline with the work of today’s thinkers forming the basis of the livelihood of those in the future. No real problems have to be addressed or brought to a conclusion, their discussion being more than sufficient.
So what does one read? If you look at any Eastern philosophy, the one from my country India then there is that deep association with theology. It is in fact so deep that its proponents and defendants today would argue that there is no connection with the divine. The mere presence of supreme power beings taken as granted all of our philosophy proceeds to discuss how one must live to be in their good books. In Western philosophy you do have the frequent critic of the church and all thoughts originating from it. But that is the point, even after establishing that religion is not necessary and often a hindrance to, original thought, they can’t help talking about it! So then we must turn to the books on science the factual nature of which is beyond question. Those works which define our understanding of the universe, an understanding which runs the world. One must be careful to sway away from those works which present dogma with theory.
With such thoughts doing the mambo in one’s head, one can only hope that the promise of math and sciences is enough to sustain a continuing interest in that very noble hobby of reading. Reading after all provides all the fuel that is required to power that other very important machine, that of writing.