Small Things That Keep Me Happy
A lifetime ago I wanted to get a doctorate in philosophy. I knew exactly what I wanted to study – philosophy of science – and with whose ideas I wanted to wrestle the most – Sir Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn. Although my interest in these two thinkers lay in a prior interest in how language not only shapes but gives substance to the constant flow of phenomena we call “the world”, it was precisely because both these gentlemen were committed to an image of science offering “the best way” to “know” the world, no matter how wildly they disagreed with one another that I intended to study them both.
Like I said, that was a lifetime ago. Then we had a child. Then we moved to the Midwest. Then we had another child. Then we had children to raise. While never forgetting all that I previously wanted to do, I satisfied myself with all manners of the mundane parts of living: keeping good jobs, making friends, being a pastor’s spouse, being a husband, being a father. In recent years other things have piqued my interest and curiosity and I’ve spent much time reading about music from all different angles.
The last three weeks I was in New York I stopped reading, even though I’d brought a couple books along; even though I was staying in a house overflowing with books. My energy was so focused, the intellectual and psychological effort to read and understand anything seemed out of my grasp. I kept trying, if only because I have always been someone who has kept a book handy, even if it was brain candy. Even that, however, was beyond me.
Now I’m home. I’m easing back in to my life here. Part of that “easing” involves finding something to read. I decided, more out of curiosity than anything else, to pick up Karl Popper’s essay collection Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach. If that seems like an odd choice for light Sunday fare, in my own defense I only planned to read one essay. To which the obvious response is, “Sure. An essay in analytical philosophy. Why don’t more people just while away their alone time that way?”
Yes, I’m quite odd. I own that. Thus the photo above.
In any event, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how deeply I’d absorbed not only Popper’s thought in this particular piece (one I’ve read numerous times, even preparing some critical responses back in that previous life I wrote about); my own critical view both of this particular essay and Popper’s larger philosophical project were such a part of me that reading something I hadn’t read in about 20 years was as comfortable as putting on an old shirt that still fits, surprising us at how comfortable it is. I’m not going to go into the essay itself or my criticism of it, because that isn’t the point of all this. Rather, I’m just reporting how happy I am that something so simple and relatively inconsequential still rests easily with me.
I think I would have made a pretty lousy professor of philosophy. I have the look for it, I suppose, but at the end of the day I think academia is far better off without me than with me. All the same, I do still enjoy reading these things I found interesting and important when I was much younger, and that small thing brings a whole lot of happiness. It’s like being afraid a terrible accident would render you blind or deaf and discovering you can still see or hear; even though not “going on”, life does continue in its changed state and there are continuities with what went before and what is now, and that helps keep your life from feeling completely and utterly strange and terrifying.
So I think I’m going to read another essay this afternoon. Just because I can.