09:08:14 am on
Monday 15 Jul 2024

Sjef Frenken

"I was thinking..." said Jack.

I said "And therefore you were..."

"What?" said Jack.

"Think!" I said.

"Oh, Descartes," it dawned on Jack. "I never understood why he had to start off with that "cogito"; why not start with the "I am". I mean, he could just as well have said ... whatever the Latin is for "I shovel", or "I just farted", therefore I am. One way of another it involves a few leaps of faith: that words make sense, that there is a link between words that makes sense, that by linking words you can make even more sense, and that it all is going somewhere -- getting you somewhere. He might just as well have skipped the first part, and started right off with the "I am". Good enough for me. It still leaves him in a position of having to come up with an idea of where he is going even before he can make a step in that direction. It's like constructing a syllogism: you need to know the outcome to help you set up your propositions."

"Leaps of faith abound," I concurred, "that's life."

"How do you mean?" said Jack.

I said "Most of our life is based on faith. I don't necessarily mean a religious faith, but faith nevertheless. Just before we open our eyes in the morning, we expect the world still to be there the way it was when we went to sleep. That the woman beside you is your wife ... sorry, wrong example in your case ...., anyhow, that the electricity, the stove, the refrigerator, the toaster, the telephone are still working. When you get in your car, you have faith that your car will start, that people will be driving on the right side of the street, that there is an office for you at the end, where work awaits you, and that you get paid once in a while. I know we're both retired, but you know what I mean. What proof do we have that today will be much the same as yesterday? None. Just faith.

"Well," said Jack, "that's both a scary and a comforting thought. But are you sure we're only running on faith?"

I said "faith and habit. We tend to think of habit as bad habits, like chewing you fingernails, picking you nose or smoking. Have you any idea how much of our life we run on automatic pilot? Take a guess."

"Are you going to give me an exact figure?" asked Jack.

I said "No, but take a rough guess anyway."

Jack thought for a moment and then said "How about ten percent?"

I said "I think it's considerably higher. Did you actively think when you woke up 'I have to turn down the blanket, lift my legs out, stand up, stretch, head to the bathroom, sit down, do the paperwork, turn on the taps of the shower.... No, you just did it. Out of habit. Let me ask you: when you left your house to come here, did you think of the route you had to take or did your mind wander all over the place, and your body moved to where it had to go like the milkman's horse? I know that I got from my house to this mall, without probably thinking more than a few seconds about my driving...all on auto pilot. That doesn't mean I didn't stop at the stop signs or the red lights. But I didn't have to think about the process of getting from there to here. I wouldn't be surprised that we're operating on auto pilot for most of our life."

"I guess if pilots can get away with it, why shouldn't we?" said Jack. "It saves a lot of wear and tear on the mental machinery."

"And, I said, "it gives us more time to think."

"Or waste." said Jack with a satisfied smile.

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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