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Thoughts On And For A Structured Existence

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Wisdom

“Light Bulbs And Enlightenment”: Thomas Edison’s Ironic And Misguided War On Sleep

  edisons-prophecy-a-duplex-sleepless-dinnerless-world-literary-digest-nov-14-1914

 

      Thomas Edison, perhaps referencing Plato in “Laws” (“By nature, prolonged sleep does not suit either the body or soul, nor does it help us to be active in all this kind of work.“),  ushered in the Age of Electricity and the electric light bulb in 1879. But with the brilliance of the “inventor” came the dogma of the “businessman”:

Everything which decreases the sum total of man’s sleep increases the sum total of man’s capabilities.

The historical irony of Edison’s exhortations are manifest: the man who resisted sleep and promoted sleeplessness, ultimately died of complications of Type 2 Diabetes. Obesity and diabetes are consequences of the electric light’s disruption of sleep/wake cycles and circadian rhythms:

electric-light-particularly-at-night-disrupts-human-circadian-rhythmicity-is-that-a-problem-royal-society

The poets and playwrights of the Age of Enlightenment and Romantic Era knew the value of sleep for health and well-being:

to-sleep-by-william-wordsworth-1770-1850

Sleep allows the brain to process, retain and discard the day’s images and information, a process of “forgetting” stress and strain as Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” bemoans:

henry-iv-part-ii-o-sleep-o-gentle-sleep

Levinus Lemnius (1505-1568) wrote that one should sleep eight hours as it “…repairs and raiseth up the tired mind and spirits that are exhausted with constant studies and lucubrations”. Time will show “….wise men at their end know dark is right.”

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.

Presumption And Humility

“To really learned men has happened what happens to ears of wheat: they rise high and lofty, heads erect and proud, as long as they are empty; but when they are full and swollen with grain in their ripeness, they begin to grow humble and lower their horns. Similarly, men who have tried everything and sounded everything, having found in that pile of knowledge and store of so many various things nothing solid and firm, and nothing but vanity, have renounced their presumption and recognized their natural condition.”

“The Complete Essays of Montaigne”
Book II, Part XII “Apology for Raimond de Sebonde
Translated by Donald M. Frame

   The early 21st Century may well be defined by future historians and critics as the “Age of Presumption”, characterized by googled facts, shallow thinking, time spent watching Reality TV, Sports and Superhero Movies, while posting selfies to Facebook. True knowledge organically evolves into wisdom only through deep thought, an embrace of experience and life-long learning, and self-conceived humility. Michel de Montaigne, the great French Essayist and Skeptic, famously posited “What do I know?”. But this humble mantra is most likely the road to “Know Thyself“, one of the oldest of Greek maxims.

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