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Deconstructing Betrand Russell

09 April 2013, 11:04

In reading this article, proceed with an open mind and a light heart. On this basis, then, consider the following quote from Bertrand Russell:

"After ages during which the earth produced harmless trilobites and butterflies, evolution progressed to the point at which it generated Nero’s, Genghis Khans, and Hitler’s. This, however, is a passing nightmare; in time the earth will become again incapable of supporting life, and peace will return." Unpopular Essays (1950)

Well, according to one authority, trilobites ate algae or plankton and some trilobites "had spines on the legs and they might have used these to eat larger pieces of food by tearing them into smaller pieces first. EG: Worms" So trilobites weren't really harmless, and to say that trilobites were harmless is wrong. There are other mistakes in Russell's above quote. He says "Nero’s." I only know of one Nero. Nero was the resident Emperor who fiddled while ancient Rome burned. And Russell says "Hitler’s." How many dangerous Hitler’s were there? I presume that Russell was referring to Adolf Hitler because the other Hitler’s were not known to be very dangerous. And he says "Genghis Khans." You'd better be glad there was only one Genghis Khan! Russell's use of English is rather careless. Perhaps the man was worn out from being so precise doing so much logic and mathematics. I would say that as a comic, Russell did okay. I do appreciate that in the above quote the man was simply cracking a joke.

Seriously, though, I also have to accept that Bertrand Russell was not dead serious when he uttered the brief remark: "What science cannot tell us, mankind cannot know."  This statement really is a joke because, well, how do we use science to know (or prove) that that particular statement is true?

Moreover, according to the website I am consulting, that short plug for science is only said to be "attributed" to Bertrand Russell. No source of the quote is given by the website. So how can we know for sure that Russell said or wrote it? Can science tell us? If not, how are we ever going to know, and how long are we going to run around and around this dilemma like a mad dog chasing its tail? Bertrand Russell well knew it when he dreamed his dream, but was it "science" for the man to dream as Russell did, about the imminent fate of his and Whitehead's Magnum Opus:

"I can remember Bertrand Russell telling me of a horrible dream. He was in the top floor of the University Library, about A.D. 2100. A library assistant was going round the shelves carrying an enormous bucket, taking down books, glancing at them, restoring them to the shelves or dumping them into the bucket. At last he came to three large volumes which Russell could recognize as the last surviving copy of Principia Mathematica. He took down one of the volumes, turned over a few pages, seemed puzzled for a moment by the curious symbolism, closed the volume, balanced it in his hand and hesitated...." G. H. Hardy, a Mathematician's Apology

How did Bertrand Russell the dreamer get into logics anyway? Well, read his own words and be glad if you are enjoying good mental health: "In adolescence, I hated life and was continually on the verge of suicide, from which, however, I was restrained by the desire to know more mathematics. Now, on the contrary, I enjoy life; I might almost say that with every year that passes I enjoy it more. This is due partly to having discovered what the things that I most desired were and having gradually acquired many of these things. Partly it is due to having successfully dismissed certain objects of desire . . . as essentially unattainable. But very largely it is due to a diminishing preoccupation with me . . . . I learned to be indifferent to myself and my deficiencies; I came to centre my attention increasingly upon external objects." Conquest of Happiness (1930)

From the above quote, a thinker may imagine that a professional man has to give up his talent to be happy. Do you think that Russell would have become famous and been honoured as a comedian or as a composer of books about his own personal opinions? He may have been happier being a public figure just spouting off but so what? Many people have said that a person has to agonize to produce a meaningful and enduring work. Like Siddhartha, for instance.

So is happiness the goal? If not, then why should there be any conquest for happiness?

The perennial question of what is good and thereby a meaningful goal brings us to the perennial philosophy and to a quote from a famous British whose name was not Bertrand Russell: Aldous Huxley.

According to Aldous Huxley, the perennial philosophy is: "the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man's final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being; the thing is immemorial and universal. Rudiments of the perennial philosophy may be found among the traditional lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions (The Perennial Philosophy, p. vii)."

What with the atheistic-agnostic Russellians and the theists going at each other, the image is that of a mad dog chasing its tail round and round and round and round. The wheel keeps on spinning and the mad dog debate never stops. Is there any way to transcend such canine spin-madness?

Maybe you should ask the laughing Buddha. Legend says that Buddha got off the karmic wheel. He won't stop laughing, though, and give you an articulate answer. So who else can you ask?

If all else fails, you can deconstruct yourself.

During your deconstruction you may realise that humanity was created when a mad dog swallowed a corkscrew and that's how humanity got so muddled up. Or, if you choose you might verify the following tale told by the dental patient whose story was related in this quote by Bertrand Russell:

"There is a story of a man who got the experience from laughing gas; whenever he was under its influence, he knew the secret of the universe, but when he came to, he had forgotten it. At last, with immense effort, he wrote down the secret before the vision had faded. When completely recovered, he rushed to see what he had written. It was "A smell of petroleum prevails throughout."" A History of Western Philosophy

In light of this humorous Russellian revelation, you might say that all that blackness a person sees on a clear night is composed of crude oil. You also might say that's an example of some very dark humour inflated to a cosmic level, even to the point of being one big bang of a joke.

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