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Thoughts On And For A Structured Existence



Did The “Undisciplined Whimsy” Of Jack Kerouac And “Beat Zen” Prove The Need For A Structured Existence?

Reading the paper edition of the Sunday New York Times is a rewarding ritual. Like the comfort of a classic book or poem that gives the allusion of an unexperienced life unfolding even though you know the ending, a structured safe zone is created. People, places, events and ideas flow from the pages to nourish the mind and promote thought.

The “Cultured Traveler” section visited the Boulder, CO homes of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University and Beat Generation poet/writer Allen Ginsberg. The article quickly sent thoughts to the battle of American Zen in 1958 between Jack Kerouac and Alan Watts.

Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen - Alan Watts quote on Jack Kerouac 1958

Watts (Square Zen) writes of Kerouac (Beat Zen) as lacking the discipline needed to attain Satori In Paris by Jack Kerouacenlightenment (“Satori“) through a comparison of rival 17th Century Rinzai Zen Masters Hakuin and Bankei. Kerouac, who died of cirrhosis after a lifetime of heavy drinking, wrote “We were never really born“, echoing Bankei’s realization of “Unborn” after a near-death experience.

Square Zen requires “years of meditation-practice under strict supervision”, quite the opposite of the “undisciplined whimsy” of Beat Zen. The Beat Generation/Beatniks gradually vaporized into the 1960’s Hippie Culture, providing future generations a literary raison d’etre for a structured existence.

“Walking With Plato And Aristotle”: Physicist John A. Wheeler’s Dream To Unwrap Acoustic Memory

“Can a single stone from a time
That used to be
Hold the memories of conversations 
That mean so much to me”

Adapted from “Memory Motel” by The Rolling Stones (Jagger/Richards)

    Theoretical Physicist John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) coined the term “black hole”, worked on the Manhattan Project that led to development of Atomic and Hydrogen bombs, and championed theories in gravity and relativity. In an interview late in his life he spoke of receiving a stone from the garden at Plato’s Academy (“Akademeia” c. 385 BC) in Athens:

John Archibald Wheeler Theoretical Physicist on a Machine that could unpeel Accoustic Memory

Albert Einstein wrote that “every true theorist is a kind of tamed metaphysicist”. Wheeler, who collaborated with Einstein, moved productively between Aristotelian Realism (Universals exist in things) and Platonic Realism (Universals can exist in abstraction). This “miracle creed” helped transform theoretical and quantum physics.

Wheeler was consumed by the idea that “human consciousness” shapes the past and present, a topic that he foreshadows might have been a topic of conversation between Plato and Aristotle:

Complexity Entropy and the Physics of Information

He asks: “Is existence thus built on ‘insubstantial nothingness’?”, directly referencing Shakespeare’s “The Tempest“, where Prospero tells us:

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. The Tempest

Imagine the shadowy voice of Plato asking Aristotle: “How come existence?”. Aristotle might look to John Wheeler for information on that.

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