Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Thoughts on Tiamat this Electoral Eve

 

The maples, wicks of autumn, go to cinder from the top down, the blaze on most trees past its prime, now mostly scattered at our feet. The plant kingdom burns brightly as it plunges into wintry darkness. A plunge into some outcome or another awaits us tomorrow, too. We can estimate what it might be – and we should. But as Ricochet Member @rodin reminds us, “none of us will ever know (or at least [not] for a long long time) whether the way we cast our ballot was better than the alternative.”

All this fall, I’ve had an unknown greater than the outcome of this election hanging over my head – or at least greater to me. One reason it’s greater is that I’m more responsible for it. However I vote, whatever I say, the outcome of this election is largely out of my hands. This other thing, though, is very much in my hands, or it’s supposed to be, and so the moral weight I bear for its unknown nature is far greater than the weight I bear for my vote.

Briefly, it’s a Thing That Gets Better on Prednisone, prednisone being a powerful anti-inflammatory steroid, medically miraculous for short-term use, but too dangerous for long-term use unless clear diagnosis warrants it. The Thing may be a congenital connective tissue disorder which was simply never caught. Or, it may not be. If it is, then the signs have been present for years, just overlooked, with much lost by not catching it earlier. If it isn’t, who knows? Unluckily for me, fresh disagreement on possible causes of the suspected disorder appears to have suddenly prompted several specialists to stop taking new patients: my GP and I arrived at this suspicion just in time get caught up in the chaotic reshuffling of medical knowledge that must periodically happen in order for medicine to advance, but which sure can seem like retrogression to those caught up in it. Somehow, I’m not surprised that I of all people should be rewarded for tardiness in this particular way.

Medical mysteries, at least when you’re one of them, are by their nature self-absorbing. Unpleasantly so, I find. In an age when so many of these mysteries can be solved, claiming an unsolved one for yourself sounds like weak sauce. Wimpiness. A lame excuse. And yet it’s there. Ignoring it for prolonged periods has not helped. Stoicism and optimism have not helped. Knowing what to do might help. But perhaps I will never know. Even in this day and age.

How absurd.

I have observed that devotees of philosophy and devotees of science frequently clash over notions of chance and chaos. To those of us whose background is scientific, philosophy types’ insistence that chance and chaos cannot be explained in mathematical language can seem… odd. And counterproductive. Because clearly, they can be! Our philosophy can only become poorer, not richer, if it ignores what mathematics really can do. Even so, there remains an absurdity to life, a morally “irrational surd”, as DB Hart puts it. If it is this absurdity that philosophers mean when they speak of “chance”, of “primordial chaos”, then perhaps I can finally agree with them on where they’re coming from:

In the beginning, when God created heaven and earth, there was darkness on the face of the deep, a sea upon whose face the Spirit of God had to move. That sea is the primordial chaos, Tiamat, the Leviathan. Surely, a God who created everything created the sea as well – He didn’t just find it there. There’s no room for a literal primordial chaos in the story of a God who created All. But even the godly cannot banish the absurd from their lives. Nor can the mathematically literate. Perhaps philosophers object to the scientific doctrines of chance and chaos because those doctrines might seem to render Tiamat, that vengeful goddess, meaningful, rational in a moral sense, not-absurd. Perhaps philosophers worry that the achievements of applied mathematics could be mistaken for a moral claim to have removed her – to have removed Unstory, absurdity – from human life. But obviously math has not! Votaries of these glittering mathematical doctrines may even have good reason to find life more absurd than ever.

So to @titustechera and perhaps to other assorted Ricochet philosophers, I concede, in case it was once in doubt:

Tiamat – that absurd goddess whom the ancient seers and poets called the sea, the sea which shall be no more when the first heaven and the first earth are passed away, and what remains before the throne is that other sea, like unto fire and glass, of uncreated light – is not a goddess meaningfully tamed by scientific notions of chance and chaos, notions which dance on her surface like light reflects off the water that rejects it. That science cannot banish the absurd from life is by no means a rejection of the insights science offers, or their power. Merely a rejection of comforting thoughts that “everything happens for a reason” in a manner knowable to the human mind, whether science or the revelation of faith is used to rationalize them.

Indeed, probability itself is the science of figuring out what we can infer knowing that we don’t know all the reasons. That cannot be a thought that sits comfortably with everyone, especially those who know how utterly arts like medicine and psephology depend on probability.

The human calling might be to sing beyond the genius of the sea, beyond the genius of the great and unblinking eye of utter ocean watching something other than our wars. But only a God, in apocalyptic re-creation, could rid us of that sea. I may be feeling seasick right now for largely personal reasons, facing personal absurdities that dwarf the absurdity of this election year precisely because I’m more responsible for them than I am for the election. For others, I suspect the seasickness is more electoral – being sick of trying to sing beyond the genius of something so… unknowable… “none of us will ever know (or at least [not] for a long long time) whether the way we cast our ballot was better than the alternative.” We give our best-informed guess – we should give our best-informed guess. It can be morally revolting to know that’s not the same as certainty.

Wednesday morning, I predict Tiamat will still be with us. Hopefully, a great deal will be settled by then, but even this election is not apocalyptic. Tiamat glitters. She reflects the light of reason because she rejects it. The sea that is luminous of itself awaits another age.

There are 24 comments.

  1. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I agree with you about our ability to pick the best candidate from those available. Even when the signal is strong, the noise is stronger, particularly given the high degree of unpredictability involved in both candidates (Trump on character and policy, Clinton mostly on character). That said, as with so many things, knowing the optimal answer is considerably more difficult than identifying clearly wrong answers.

    • #1
    • November 7, 2016, at 2:17 PM PST
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  2. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    I understood very little of what you wrote, but it was a beautiful read anyway. It was a lot like listening to beautiful music sung in another language.

    • #2
    • November 7, 2016, at 2:48 PM PST
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  3. Publius Inactive

    You have no idea now much I thought that post would be about Dungeons and Dragons when I read the title.

    • #3
    • November 7, 2016, at 3:29 PM PST
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  4. TG Thatcher
    TG

    Thank you, Midge. You’ve provided beautiful commentary on some decidedly unbeautiful circumstances.

    • #4
    • November 7, 2016, at 3:43 PM PST
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  5. Kay of MT Member

    Midge, you are way out of my league. But it was beautiful none the less.

    • #5
    • November 7, 2016, at 4:12 PM PST
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  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A colleague went to Africa on a sales trip some years ago. Despite all the normal precautions, he came back with a bug that no one had seen before and as far as I know one that was never identified. The doctors pumped him full of every antibiotic they could lay their hands on and his condition worsened and worsened. It looked for a time as though he wasn’t going to make it.

    And then, one day, the fever broke and the symptoms started to go away. Just like that. It may have been this treatment, or that one, but the doctors in the end had no idea what it was they were dealing with or what it was that saved him.

    Just one of those things.

    • #6
    • November 7, 2016, at 4:55 PM PST
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  7. She Thatcher
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A lovely post, Midge, with an unexpected link to a Wallace Stevens poem I’ve never read–wonderful.

    So sorry about all the medical uncertainty. Mr She (a medievalist) once commented to his doctor that he thought he could explain the history of medicine in one sentence, and that it consisted of a single, repeated achievement over hundreds of years: that being, taking one illness at a time and moving its identified cause from the “evil spirits” column into the “bugs” column.

    Here’s hoping they find the bug, and drive out the evil spirits, soon!

    • #7
    • November 7, 2016, at 5:18 PM PST
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  8. MarciN Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Wednesday morning, I predict Tiamat will still be with us. Hopefully, a great deal will be settled by then, but even this election is not apocalyptic. Tiamat glitters. She reflects the light of reason because she rejects it. The sea that is luminous of itself awaits another age.

    I love this. Thank you.

    • #8
    • November 7, 2016, at 5:30 PM PST
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  9. RightAngles Member

    When we go to the doctor, we want them to have seen it before and to know instantly what it is. It’s awful when nobody knows what to do.

    • #9
    • November 7, 2016, at 6:38 PM PST
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  10. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member

    RightAngles:When we go to the doctor, we want them to have seen it before and to know instantly what it is. It’s awful when nobody knows what to do.

    Sometimes knowing what it is doesn’t help when there’s nothing you can do.

    • #10
    • November 7, 2016, at 7:56 PM PST
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  11. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Life and the world will go on without us. Maybe we’ll get the answers at last at the end. Songs about the passing of life and time always hang on me. This is one that has a different sort of meditation on things.

    • #11
    • November 7, 2016, at 8:31 PM PST
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  12. Titus Techera Contributor

    Publius:You have no idea now much I thought that post would be about Dungeons and Dragons when I read the title.

    You know there was a cartoon where Tiamat was featured as a bad guy a way’s back?

    • #12
    • November 7, 2016, at 8:53 PM PST
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  13. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This is absolutely, stunningly beautiful writing. If the Member Feed calms down, I hope to read more Midge masterpieces like this one, like the other great full length posts that you’ve done before the Mod and Mom businesses got too intensely busy.

    I’m falling in love with the seductive patter of a snake–isn’t that how mankind fell?

    • #13
    • November 7, 2016, at 9:00 PM PST
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  14. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Gary McVey:This is absolutely, stunningly beautiful writing. If the Member Feed calms down, I hope to read more Midge masterpieces like this one, like the other great full length posts that you’ve done before the Mod and Mom businesses got too intensely busy.

    I’m falling in love with the seductive patter of a snake–isn’t that how mankind fell?

    She is amazing, ain’t she?

    Should have heard her singing on the AMU last week too. I know she thought she had her phone on mute while she was trying to put Zeke to bed, but she gave a nice concert.

    • #14
    • November 7, 2016, at 9:14 PM PST
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  15. michael johnson Inactive

    well, I for one, have no idea what you are talking about and I went to Tiamat for 35 years. sometimes there is no opportunity to debate the fine points of the philosophy/ scientific method divide…..The sea decides to really bring the storm and if you are in it you’d better be ready. Hurricane Matthew taught a few people the same lesson. The whole prednisone thing made little sense to me, though I have taken the drug because of a ruptured lumbar disc…I suppose I could read your post again…or I could bend over and run full tilt into a stone wall. It’s a tough choice. It seems you want to untangle the Gorgian knot so you can use the string later rather than taking you knife and cutting the twine above the knot and then throwing it away. Seamen and soldiers answer with a pithy saying….Life sucks and then you die.

    • #15
    • November 7, 2016, at 9:26 PM PST
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  16. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    michael johnson: well, I for one, have no idea what you are talking about and I went to Tiamat for 35 years.

    Yeah, I’m not talking about a literal sea, for starters.

    michael johnson: …I suppose I could read your post again…or I could bend over and run full tilt into a stone wall.

    Please, feel free.

    • #16
    • November 7, 2016, at 9:59 PM PST
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  17. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Titus Techera:

    Publius:You have no idea now much I thought that post would be about Dungeons and Dragons when I read the title.

    You know there was a cartoon where Tiamat was featured as a bad guy a way’s back?

    Ooh? Which cartoon? Because I don’t know – the pics I’ve seen of Tiamat were from biblical archaeology.

    • #17
    • November 7, 2016, at 10:05 PM PST
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  18. RightAngles Member

    The plant kingdom burns brightly as it plunges into wintry darkness

    This was one of my favorite sentences. I miss the fall colors and this is a beautiful description.

    • #18
    • November 7, 2016, at 10:07 PM PST
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  19. Publius Inactive

    Titus Techera: You know there was a cartoon where Tiamat was featured as a bad guy a way’s back

    Yes, Titus. Yes, I do. I have an extensive nerd resume that probably has the makings of a proper Ricochet post at some point. Might be a good way to get people’s minds off the political.

    • #19
    • November 8, 2016, at 12:13 AM PST
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  20. Publius Inactive

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Titus Techera:

    Publius:You have no idea now much I thought that post would be about Dungeons and Dragons when I read the title.

    You know there was a cartoon where Tiamat was featured as a bad guy a way’s back?

    Ooh? Which cartoon? Because I don’t know – the pics I’ve seen of Tiamat were from biblical archaeology.

    Sigh. Because we want everyone on the main feed to profoundly geeky this place can get? I thought the idea was to convince people to join us here?

    Don’t say you weren’t warned.

    • #20
    • November 8, 2016, at 12:19 AM PST
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  21. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    MFR,

    If you wouldn’t mind a few thoughts from a philosopher type, I’ll take a shot. We think of Gd not as rational but super-rational. Gd has made nature, your soul, and reason too. Gd’s reason, we assume, is beyond ours. We assume he has revealed only just so much of it to us. However, to obtain more we must try on our end. We must go half way up the mountain and Gd will come down the other half and meet us. Our halfway up the mountain is science. We must use everything that we have to solve the problems with our reason. Then we must have faith that Gd will see our efforts and reward them.

    When I was five my father had two Grants running. One from the National Science Foundation and one from the National Institutes of Health. He was doing pure research in Biochemistry. He would tell me that we can only make progress because “we stand on the shoulders of giants”. Each small step must be confirmed. We only know what we know today and must not be tempted to exaggerate what our range is.

    I am very sorry to hear that you are having difficulty. You should feel free to explore every scientific avenue and possibility. You should also feel free to pray to a benevolent Gd. That Gd knows that you are climbing up the mountain. Gd will come down to meet you.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #21
    • November 8, 2016, at 8:03 AM PST
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  22. Rodin Member

    @midge, I scanned this post the other day but came back to it this morning. Like other commenters I luxuriated in the prose satisfyingly even as I grappled with the conceptual detail. First, I am sorry that you are suffering from an infirmity that may escape definition and cure. Second, although I cannot claim to have mastered your point I can report that it stimulated some fun thinking:

    Life is rife with contradiction to which we normally give little thought. The value of Pi has never been calculated to a finite end, but its approximate value continues to be usefully applied. Infinity is a boundless boundary; we continue to seek the end of the Universe even as that term negates the search. One might say we will find the end of the Universe when the Universe ends, when all mystery is swept away. Instead of fleeing uncertainty we should embrace it as a tool to be used rather than an enemy to be conquered. If we can do so, the next period of time will be far more enjoyable.

    • #22
    • November 8, 2016, at 8:54 AM PST
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  23. Laughing on the Inside Inactive

    Thank you for this unique take on the election. The thought that my decisions will create waves of consequence far into the future is not unknown to me but the idea that we won’t actually know who was the right choice until well downstream is sobering. I take comfort in that idea mentioned in your last line.

    • #23
    • November 8, 2016, at 10:19 AM PST
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  24. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    James Gawron:MFR,

    If you wouldn’t mind a few thoughts from a philosopher type, I’ll take a shot. We think of Gd not as rational but super-rational. Gd has made nature, your soul, and reason too. Gd’s reason, we assume, is beyond ours. We assume he has revealed only just so much of it to us.

    November 8, 2016, 8:03 am – @jamesgawron, what are you doing back so early?

    At any rate, I have no dispute with God being super-rational, or having reason beyond ours. Indeed, that is exactly my point:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: That science [or faith] cannot banish the absurd from life is by no means a rejection of the insights science [or faith] offers, or their power. Merely a rejection of comforting thoughts that “everything happens for a reason” in a manner knowable to the human mind, whether science or the revelation of faith is used to rationalize them.

    In a manner knowable to the human mind. If the human mind cannot understand that which it expects to understand (even if it only expects to understand it in order to fulfill social expectations that it be understood) it is absurd.

    You can find more of my thoughts on these matters here. It might clarify where I’m coming from.

    • #24
    • November 8, 2016, at 7:18 PM PST
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