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Turning Points

by on January 19, 2022

Turning Points

by Marco M. Pardi

Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible player.” Albert Einstein. Interview. What Life Means to Einstein. Sylvester Viereck.

All comments are greatly welcomed and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

Though it may not seem like it, I often laugh at myself. Of course, as the years pass the cause of the laughter shifts. Lately, at the end of my seventh decade on this super-sized petri dish we call Earth, I laugh when I remember that the things I’m thinking about are typical for my age; I must really be this old. That’s okay. One day I won’t be laughing, or remembering, or even breathing. Instead, I might be having an Aha moment in which I realize getting a day older was “not in the cards”. Dealer wins. Ain’t it always that way. But who or what is this mysterious dealer?

You don’t know what you’re missing,”they say. (I underline they because they are usually as elusive as the dealer.) Of course I don’t know what I’m missing; that’s because I’m missing it. But how often do I – and here I’m using I in the grand sense that includes the reader – concoct fantasies of what might have been had I, or had I not {fill in the blank}? The silliest part of spending time like that is that, since I don’t know, there could be a universe of other possible actions/inactions and outcomes or maybe just one. Any of those possible actions/inactions would have yielded outcomes that would have ruled out my knowing about other outcomes, including the one I’m living now. I absolutely think the world of my daughter and grandchildren. But had I agreed to the serious requests to extend my time in the military I’m quite sure I would never have met the woman who became the mother and grandmother of these now wonderful people. My daughter and grandchildren would not exist, at least not in the form I know them today. But did refusing the military request and eventually meeting this particular woman mean I didn’t bring other children into existence? I don’t know. And likely never will. Thinking about it is a waste of time. If I get my hands on that f__cking dealer I’ll ……….

Some years ago I read a book titled What If. I had mixed feelings about doing so, but it did prove interesting as the author went into great depth about events in history. One event which particularly interested me, since I was there at the time, was the culmination of WWII in Europe. As the Allies swept across France and into Germany British Field Marshal Montgomery and American General Patton devised a strategy in which Montgomery, from the north, and Patton, from the south would exercise a swift pincer movement on Berlin, capturing the German High Command. Remaining German units in Eastern France and in Germany would be bypassed on the theory that they would collapse once the High Command was captured. But American General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, did not believe the encircled German units would easily surrender. And, he is said to have feared the British would reach Berlin first and claim credit for ending the war in Europe. He refused the pincer movement and ordered a diagonal sweep across Europe. The consensus is that this decision prolonged the war by 10 months, enabling the Germans to vastly accelerate their Final Solution, what we now call the Holocaust, resulting in the preventable deaths of multitudes and the sacrifice of Eastern Europe and half of Germany to the Soviets, approaching from the east.

We will never know which of the two purported reasons influenced Eisenhower more. We know only the outcome. We will also never know how he looked back on his decision, which he likely did.

Still, some people like to say, Hindsight is 20/20. It is NOT. For several years in the 1970’s I was a licensed consultant helping terminal patients and their families. One of the more common sentiments expressed by patients was a variation of, If only I had or If only I hadn’t. One lung cancer patient said, If only I hadn’t smoked for so long. I said, Okay, you did. But cancer often takes years to manifest. It could have been your first cigarette or your first pack. Or, it could have been one of the routine chest x-rays well meaning physicians administer to patients who smoke. There are people who develop lung cancer yet have never been around tobacco smoke at all. You do not know. We will not know. Beating yourself up now will not bring you the answer. And so we talked about now, about what her life and her family meant in its totality and its richness, not about could’a, would’a, should’a. (Note:I did not mention the many hours I had spent within arm’s reach of nuclear weapons. Those things were known to leak radiation)

My point in recounting this is that, as I sit here at 79, were I to look back at a decision I made at, say 29 and wring my hands and tear my hair over which way I chose then, I would be ignoring the 29 years of experience, learning, and development that brought me to that decision, and the 50 years that have happened between that decision and now and how those years have shaped the perspective, the instrument, that I now use to turn back to judge the person I was in the past. And that holds true for any judgmental exercise of the present remembering the past, no matter the time frame. Focusing on the decision and ignoring the context then and now is an error followed by a mistake.

Sure, there will be some who protest that this is a “Get out of jail free” card. It isn’t. In fact, it’s a call to much greater work, the work of discovering and understanding yourself in full context.

In explaining conceptual thought to college classes I used the example of Leonardo da Vinci bringing David out of a block of marble. (My mistake. It was Michelangelo. I apologize for writing this in haste. See Gary’s comments below) Leonardo had a mental image of David, and he walked up to this huge rectangular block and simply knocked off everything that was not David. Can we approach the confusing shape that is us and knock off everything we think is not us? Or would we be producing a person who never was? I think that until we are willing to examine every lump and every crevice we are living a fantasy. Not seeing something doesn’t mean it’s not there. And those things which we habitually do not see can be influencers and drivers of decisions we make, as we later might suspect when asked why we did something; I dunno.

Retirement can sometimes seem to be little more than habitually waking up in the morning. Forty years ago a student asked me if I believed in reincarnation. My immediate answer was, I reincarnate every instant. Being me is just a habit. Twenty years ago a former faculty colleague who knew that student socially told me she (the student) was still marveling over the thoughts my remark awakened.

Reading or hearing about the work involved in understanding the self some might say, Why bother, you’re going to die anyway.” That’s true and I have heard people say it. On the other hand, Socrates once said the unexamined life is not worth living. Sounds sensible. But, in an article published by Cambridge University in 2012, there are different views:

Extract

According to Socrates, an unexamined life is not worth living. This view is controversial. Is the unexamined life worth living or not? Most philosophers disagree about the answer. While some argue for the worthlessness of an unexamined life, others support the superfluity of self critical examination. In his recent article, Jamison pooh-poohed the claim that an unexamined life is not worth living. According to Jamison, not only is an unexamined life worth living; the rigorous examination of life should not be encouraged due to its possible negative effects on the participants and the entire society. In Jamison’s view, a consistent and unregulated examination of human life produces a feeling of ecstasy (a specie of spiritual feeling) in those who engage in it. The feeling, if allowed, could endanger both the thinker and the entire society. For Jamison, “once you get a taste of this kind of thing, you do not want to give it up”. Someone who engages in self-critical examination eventually becomes entangled with it. Socrates became entangled in dialectics, became unpopular, was accused of corrupting the youth and eventually sentenced to death.


TypeResearch ArticleInformationThink , Volume 11 , Issue 31 , Summer 2012 , pp. 97 – 103DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1477175612000073CopyrightCopyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 2012

A cautionary note. I would guess Jamison did not have the full context of what Socrates taught or did not understand the political landscape in which he taught. Reading through Plato’s accounts of Socrates’ teachings, I would say a central message was, Don’t get caught up in the could have beens, would have beens, and should have beens. My neighborhood is laid out with many cul-de-sacs, some obvious, some not so. It’s easy to spot visitors; the car which just went that way is now coming back this way. Confusion, frustration, time wasted. What were thought to be turning points proved to be dead ends. Everyone is born equal. A nice sentiment in principle, but inaccurate in fact. There are those who will need guidance in exploring the neighborhood in which they live – their personhood. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha (Awakened One), guided us to realize the neighborhood is infinite, it is Allness and therefore nothing in particular.

What do you think? I can’t count the times I’ve been told, You think too much. But over the years I’ve been fortunate in having as personal friends two eminent psychiatrists one of whom knew my family and both knew my work history. I won’t bore you with snippets from conversations, but I will attest that I’m fine. Driven at times, but fine. Of course, you may think otherwise.
Specializing in the study of Death & Dying, and teaching the subject in colleges, I’ve encountered many who say they want to simply die in their sleep. My answer has always been, What? You study all your life for the final exam and you want to sleep through it? Of course, I recognize that not all people study. And answers are neither right nor wrong; they just are.

But there is no escaping that we approach many turning points throughout our days. Do we choose to be the happy-go-lucky wanderer, or do we tie ourselves up in indecision, or do we examine who we are as we consider what appears to be a choice. I would love to read your thoughts. I think.
Note: This will not be on the test.

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15 Comments
  1. Ray Rivers permalink

    Very insightful.. I’m in the process of writing my memoirs. I’m not famous but it gives an history to generations to follow should they be at all interested. It is also an emotional rewarding process, almost like living my life again. And if nobody really cares, it’ll make great firestarter. So not critical self examination which as you note is pointless and most likely painful – the memoirs are just plain accounting and my wife and I will get to write our 52 year history as the bulk of the manuscript.

    As an aside, I am puzzled by this course on death and dying – what would the final exam entail?

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  2. Thank you, Ray. I sincerely hope you inform us of when your memoir is in print and ready for purchase.

    I was often asked about the “final exam” for the death course. (Actually, I taught an Intro course and a Lab course, and the Lab course REALLY drew comments) Did I say the standards were pretty stiff?

    Seriously though, the most common comment at the end of the Intro course was that it should be renamed: Introduction to Life.

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  3. Gary permalink

    I think you meant to say Michelangelo imagined David emerging from the marble. I know it is very difficult to keep talented and gifted Italians properly ordered (there were so many of them).

    I remember lining up in Florence see David. You first go through a hall where there are a number of the artist’s sculptures emerging partially from marble. He made mistakes and you could see that in these abandoned attempts. It occurred to me how really famous a person must be to display his mistakes as well as his triumphs.

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  4. Thanks, Gary. I wrote that part in haste and should have given it more thought. Yes, I’ve been to see the gallery and his works several times. There always seem to be women lined up to have their picture taken with their hand seemingly cupping some part of his anatomy.

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  5. Hi Marco, First I want to say your ability to question everything and think outside the box is an asset and I feel likeminded, and find you very inspiring and help me to broaden my thinking, I genuinely thank you so much 🙏🏻
    I feel life is a gift and it’s up to us to choose our path, sometimes we don’t have the insight (especially when we are younger) however whatever we choose sets up a chain of circumstances whether that being “good or bad”. We evolve and learn as we go, however I do believe the wildcard is that we have the ability to change our life whenever we want to. As for the “what if’s” that’s a pointless exercise as we are where we are and should continue to move forward the best way we know how. I personally love growing older, I find it satisfying after decades of hard work and steep learning curves, where I am now at 55 I find life much easier in every way and get great happiness at seeing my children all grown up into beautiful humans and my grandchildren are such a delight 💓
    One final comment, I feel there is some bigger plan involved in life that we don’t understand, I have found looking back at my life so many coincidences that are hard to make sense of (in a good way), do you have any thoughts about fate or pre-planned events somehow in your life Marco ?

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    • Thank you, Julie. Although I don’t post on Facebook I do follow your adventures and the marvelous activities and life changes you go through.

      As you know, I’m not a believer since I define that as accepting without evidence. And it often asks us to accept something totally non-logical. So, for example, I reject the notion that there is a personalized god. That said, I have had several experiences, which I have previously written of, for which the evidence satisfies me that linear time, as we conceive it, is an illusion. Einstein is reputed to have said, Time is Nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once. I also am quite satisfied that all life, including us, is fundamentally of a spiritual or non-physical nature. Many people think that requires a god; that is false logic. In encounters I have had with outstanding psychics I have met those, who despite my work at the time which required Top Secret – Cryptographic security clearance, gave me precise and exact details of what I did, who I worked with, etc, told me things about my “past” I learned of only later, and told me things about my “future” that I most certainly would not have wanted to make happen, or even could have made happen. It was as if my entire physical life, start to finish, was immediately and completely laid open to them and they told me of it. But to say it was a “plan” suggests it was conceived before I lived it. Okay, the non-physical is by its nature outside of time, meaning I have always been, am now, and always will be. But planning still bothers me because it suggests purpose. I’m not there yet. I do think the Universe, which I refer to as Allness (all that ever “was”, is “now”, and ever “will be”) is conscious. Some may want to call that god. Okay.

      For many years I’ve wrestled with Determinism, especially after delving into quantum mechanics. But I keep returning to the position that, for example, the word “random” is just a facile way of saying “I don’t know the cause”. At times I remember what the nuns always said in answer to my very young existential questions: “It will all be revealed after you die, Mister!”

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  6. I wondered when you would get around to recognizing your own mortality, as most of us do sooner or later. To know that we are someday soon to shuffle off this mortal coil is a sobering thought. For the record, I fear your demise more than I do my own. You have given far more to this world that I could ever imagine, and I hate to think of that coming to an end. Realistically, none of us gets out of here alive, but that doesn’t make the thought any easier.

    I happen to be one of those people who believe that everything happens for a reason (the big things anyway), and so while I am guilty of sometimes questioning that reasoning, I have basically avoided the shoulda, woulda, coulda’s of this existence. If I look back, I can see the path I have taken to get here quite clearly, and would alter very little. If I could take back the pain I’ve caused without loosing the lessons I gained in the process, that is the one thing I would change. Perhaps, I tell myself, the pain I caused was meant to be a part of their learning process as much as it was my own.

    Despite my often verbose comments to the contrary, I do not imagine that I know all the answers. I am fascinated by the notion that all time happens at once; it explains so much. I believe in a universal source of knowledge, from which some of us draw more than others (insert laughter). I want to believe in the possibility of reincarnation, but would hate for it to be mandatory; second chances don’t count if you keep making the same mistakes. I am (mostly) happy for the life I’ve lead, and for the people in it. The current state of this country terrifies me, and I wonder what sort of life we are leaving behind for the generations to come. One day at a time; this too shall pass, I hope!

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    • Thank you, Rose. Actually, over the years I’ve been to the edge several times, so I have given it some thought. I’m quite heartened by your comment that, in looking back at your life you would alter very little. I do understand the regret about pain to others, but I agree more with the conclusion that it was part of their lesson. (Maybe that comes from the nuns beating the crap out of me)

      I have come to the conclusion that reincarnation happens, but I’m with you on the voluntary versus mandatory aspect. In fact, I wonder about reincarnation into “the past”, which might explain some of the prodigies of past centuries.

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      • What a fascinating idea! When paired with Einstein’s concept of non-linear time, it explains Jules Verne, Leonardo DaVinci, and innumerable others who seemed to have drunk deeply of the Pierian spring. The possibilities are both endless and potentially frightening, especially if you add the element of conscious choice. I’m not ready to go that far, but Woh! the What Ifs!

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  7. It is fascinating, and I’ve thought about it for a long time. I’ve often been asked what I thought of reincarnation, especially when small children give such details of “past life”. After reading and considering many such reports I propose that small children are especially open to contact with the non-physical world; we discourage them and funnel them into what we think is concrete reality. Thus, I see these testimonies from children as being what I call “intrusions”. That is, the child is unwittingly channeling a non-physical person who has died. Since the child feels he or she is experiencing and expressing their own memories their presentations are quite convincing to observers. As the child “grows” into the concrete world we impose upon him he loses this openness and the testimony becomes dimmer and dimmer until it is usually gone.

    For over 25 years I have closely known a woman who is world famous as a “medium”. I have observed her many, many times as she does so. Invariably, she slips into what is clearly a childlike state. I long ago lost track of the exact number of “exactly correct readings” she has done in my presence, often with people she has never met and who are in some cases quite skeptical until she starts. But I can attest from my own experiences with her that she is exactly accurate and conveys information she could not possibly have gotten elsewhere.

    I am inclined to agree with the Buddhist concept of Bodhisattva, a person who has chosen to remain involved in our lives even beyond their own physical death. Of course, I am sometimes met with “This is not scientific” My answer: Science has limits. And, science explores the unknown; it does not merely catalog the known. If you want to do that, be a librarian.

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  8. Rose, the classic conundrum regarding time travel to the past, that your action would negate your existence and that of your offspring in the present might not apply since you are already “deceased”. But even if it did apply, the people involved would simply never exist. Or, you could go with the commonly held concept that the universe is actually a multi-verse of infinite dimensions. Pick one and make entry.

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  9. Dana permalink

    Marco, tonight as I write this I would like to think of myself as the “happy-go-lucky wanderer.” “Luck” or being “lucky” in my view might be better described as being fortunate. And I have been. I’ve managed to survive and sometimes even thrive in the midst of overwhelming circumstances. All of the previous trauma and the choices made for me brought me to my children, to you, and to a few other close friends. In particular, I could never imagine any other life without my children. It also would seem I’m exactly where I should be in this moment, even though life isn’t easy much of the time. Nor were the paths I wandered that led me here.

    I don’t know what was predetermined by forces outside human control, if anything. Sometimes that idea seems akin to religious notions I’ve always rejected. Yet there are also a number of things I’ve somehow known would happen in my life that are beyond explanation. Is the unseen force within us? Is it our own intuition?

    Wondering about all of the “what could have beens” is a futile exercise, and as you said even silly. It’s a habit I struggle to shed. Further, wondering “what might be” beyond each moment can also seem silly and admittedly almost impossible for me. The less I plan, the better the outcome sometimes seems to be. And so I wander.

    The comments on this entry from readers and you have been deeply interesting. I can certainly relate to what Rose said about fearing your death more than our own. As you know I don’t like to discuss it and I don’t think I’ll ever shake that anxiety. But we are all here as of this moment, and I do realize the importance of discussing death and dying. It would also be unfair to expect you to censor the thoughts you are compelled to share here.

    You are the embodiment of the Bodhisattva, and I can think of no one else as selfless. Trying to express what I mean by that is difficult, as is expressing gratitude. That seems like the proper way to conclude this comment. I’m also thankful for the others who continue to contribute to this endeavor.

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    • Thank you, Dana. You make me think of you as a female lead in the television series Kung Fu. You have wandered far both physically and spiritually but have always maintained the non-theist monastery within you. I well understand the aversion to religious notions, those being for those who need to cling to simplistic and comforting assurances. Your bravery both in the world and within yourself deftly defies the need for such ideas.

      I know you remember the story of the two monks approaching the girl on the street corner. We still carry many of those who have gone before, some because we feel we have to and some because we want to. Gratitude sometimes seems too much of a word; understanding might be better.

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      • Dana permalink

        Thank you so much, Marco. I read this reply outdoors on my lunch break at work today. Your meaningful words moved me to tears as I sat near the border of a small wooded area. The wind was blowing through a favorite tree, and our Sun on the Magnolia leaves made them appear even shinier than usual. I almost thought I might reach Enlightenment, or perhaps I was only longing for it. But from my own experience Oneness is always spontaneous and can never be attained on command.

        Regardless, I was still fully enjoying my thoughts about our discussions. Thank you for the joy, comfort, knowledge, and as you said – understanding.

        Oh, I do remember the story of the monks, and I appreciate your mentioning the non-theistic Monastery within me. It’s a wonderful place to be.

        Like

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