One of the most intriguing courses Old Grumpy took at University was Philosophy 100 and 101. Way back in 1969-1970 he remembers being totally intrigued by the discussions led by two young New Yorkers, who came to study at the University of Waterloo, just because a world renowned Philosopher was a professor there to mentor them.
The discussions were lively and enthusiastic, passionate and revealing because these two Bronx philosophy fanatics asked questions that sent our receptive minds into speculative over drive.
These discussions continued at Campus Pubs, even though that environment became more conducive to mumbling and slurred prognostications.
“Issh that bottle of beer half full or half empty?”
“I donno, I can’t shee it!”
Nevertheless, Grumpy had been introduced to this kind of thinking by his Grade 8 teacher. Good old Lloyd Barkwell (great name for a teacher), in his role covering our class as “Principal Relief” asked out of the blue one day, “How do you know you exist?”
Long pause as the jaws of each student drop like the gate of a pick-up truck, one-by-one in succession.
Then of course, mindful questions begin to fill our malleable brains, challenging our pubescent hormone-driven teenage beliefs. These thoughts become befuddling to the point of numbness.
“Say what, Mr. Barkwell?”
You mean I might not exist. This life of mine may be some kind of dream; a fabrication or an apparition. Is this the Twilight Zone?
“Mr. Barkwell, my brain hurts.”
Heck, most of us guys were having sexual thoughts about every thirty seconds at that age. Now Mr. Barkwell introduces these high falooting questions to us only to bump all of those worthy and scintillating thoughts into the background?
What a bummer!
Then, as if to throw gas on the fire of our newly created angst, he added this little gem.
“How do you know that anything exists outside of this classroom? Maybe this room has been created just for you and everyone and everything in it is an illusion.”
“Sir, can I call my mom. I wanna go home. You’re scaring the bee-gee-bees out of me!”
These questions continued over the course of the entire Grade 8 year. The discussions soon became lively and engaging. Grumpy remembers pondering them late into the night, often experiencing shivers that traversed his spine like ice-water induced lightning bolts.
Many a time he remembers sitting bolt upright in bed when a particular thought disturbed him like;
“Maybe when you die it’s over and out! Gonzo! No afterlife!”
“Maybe my parents are zombies?”
Grumpy recalls that at that time, from say ages 11 to 25, a lot of thought went into the questions of “Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? What happens to me when I kick-the-bucket?”
So, in response to this kind of thinking, Grumpy became a teacher believing he could make a difference in children’s lives. He was convinced that a purposeful life of service to others was one way to create his own legacy. That would be his answer to the “why am I here” question!
But, of course, very quickly life gets in the way of this kind of reasoning. There are children to raise, mortgages to pay, work that consumes your time and energy and no time to let your mind drift to thoughts of a metaphysical nature. Indeed, you are battling speed-bumps, roadblocks and detours all along the way.
And, those sexual thoughts that occurred every 30 seconds when you were 13 now occur about every two weeks if you’re lucky. Actually, thinking clearly is about as rare as rain in Dubai during this turbulent period of life.
Your biggest question is not “Do I exist?” but more like “What do I have to do to keep existing with this particular life-style?” You are no longer attempting to make sense of your existence you are trying to cover the expenses of your existence.
Then suddenly 40 years fly by.
Oh my, how those years fly by?
Now you are retired, the kids are off trying to cover the expenses of their own existence and, because of a health issue or two, you recognize that the Grim Reaper may be catching up to you one step at a time.
“OMG, what are those footsteps that I hear? Honey, call 911!”
You realize that your end is a lot closer to you than your beginning. And, lo and behold, you also have more time to be introspective and to contemplate your existence. You are thirteen again and those metaphysical thoughts swirl in your mind once more – at least when you’re not having one of those rare sexual thoughts.
Why am I here?
What is/was my purpose in life?
What happens when the flame of life is snuffed out?
Is there still time to make a difference: to create some kind of positive legacy?
Dammit, where did I put my reading glasses?
Take for example, yesterday.
Grumpy was heading down the road to pick up the Good Wife from her place of employment. He was listening to the CBC and the religious/metaphysical/philosophical program called Tapestry. The guest was Jim Holt who wrote the New York Times best selling book, Why Does the World Exist: An Existential Detective Story.
He also tackled a metaphysical puzzle that was presented many years ago; namely, “Why is there a world rather than nothing at all?” or more colloquially – “But, Mommy, who made God?”
His book discusses the theories and philosophical constructs that try to explain all of this. The task, of course, was daunting.
BOOK NOTES: “Following in the footsteps of Christopher Hitchens, Roger Penrose, and even Stephen Hawking, Jim Holt emerges with an engrossing narrative that traces our latest efforts to grasp the origins of the universe. As he takes on the role of cosmological detective, the brilliant yet slyly humorous Holt contends that we might have been too narrow in limiting our suspects to God vs. the Big Bang.”
Grumpy bought this book ONLINE just a few minutes ago and will report to you at later date regarding the efficacy of its contents. He envisions sitting bolt upright in bed once again.
“What if the Good Wife is a Zombie?”
These topics are not for the faint of heart. Get this:
BOOK NOTES: “Whether interviewing a cranky Oxford philosopher, a Physics Nobel Laureate, or a French Buddhist monk, Holt pursues unexplored and often bizarre angles to this cosmic puzzle. The result is a brilliant synthesis of cosmology, mathematics, and physics—one that propels his own work to the level of philosophy itself.”
So why is Grumpy telling you about all of this, you may ask? Where is the humour in that?
Simply stated, he believes that each of us as we age become wise and experienced with life, and intuitive and introspective; we become philosophers in our own right. Each of us has something to contribute to the understanding of these metaphysical questions. Our opinions must be valued because we’ve “been there and done that”.
Am I not, right?
Just ask anyone over 60 for their opinion on something and what to you get: a soliloquy worthy of the Shakespearean stage at Stratford.
“Prey tell, good servant, doth thou have a full and worthy hourglass for this telling? Sit thee down and listen.”
And maybe the BIG answer to the BIG question is within all of us, because now we have the time to work it all out. We are the gurus with the smarts that too often sit silently complaining instead of using our minds, our voice and our ideas to make a difference in order to explain it all to others.
Grumpy intends to write a few philosophical blogs that, in a “tongue-in-cheek-humorous” way, will try to explain some answers to LIFE’S BIG QUESTIONS. Finding the humour in such dark and intriguing topics will require a lot of detective work. But, Grumpy is up for the task because he has known that he exists and that he had a purpose in his life ever since his Philosophy 100 and 101 days.
“I think, therefore, I am!” loosely translated for him means that he’s also “growing older but not up!” Grumpy will use his “inner-child” to figure this entire thing out for you. (He will use his outer disguise – Rumpled Senior Citizen – to get to the places no one has yet to venture.)
Also, the bonus for you is that you won’t have to spend 40 bucks on some other gurus’ book. You will be able to read all about “Grumpy’s Meaningful Metaphysics” here at Grumpy’s World – free of any charge.
So, stay tuned for PART ONE and stay classy.