Buddhism, A Spirituality Begun in Aporia and Wonder


‘What is the origin of spirituality in Buddhism?’ is the question that this study will explore. The question is not, ‘what is the definition of spirituality in Buddhism’. A single answer is not possible because of the many different belief systems that have emerged from later scholar analysis of the original suttas or lessons of the Buddha. To arrive at my thesis that Buddhism is a spirituality born in aporia and wonder, we will follow Siddhartha, the man who would become Buddha, on his journey into enlightenment.

What Buddhists in general can agree upon is that a person from what is now northern India, Siddhartha Gautama and the man who would become the most recent Buddha, was the progenitor and foundational source for Buddhism. Therefore, if there is spirituality in Buddhism, a belief system that originated with the Buddha, then it is appropriate to look at the Gautama Buddha himself and his youthful countenance, Siddhartha for preliminary answers to the question of the origins of spirituality in Buddhism. Going further than Gautama exceeds the scope of this project. That said, spirituality and Buddhism is a vast topic that requires significant additional study and thought. Govind Chandra Pande provides this summary of the spirituality that the Buddha inculcated:

Spiritual life consists in the effort to move away from ignorance to wisdom. This effort has two principal dimensions: the cultivation of serenity and the cultivation of insight. Ignorance is the mistaken belief in the selfhood of body and mind, which leads to involvement in egoism, passions, actions, and repeated birth and death. Wisdom is insight into the three characteristics of existence—no-self (anatta), impermanence, (aniccā), and dukkha—and the direct experience of timeless reality, leading to liberation and lasting peace. (Pande 1995, 10)

Pande’s summary will provide for us a basic understanding of the core elements that comprise early Buddhist spirituality. While this is important, what has received little attention is how the Buddha came to understand these elements of spirituality and their importance to his entire belief system. This is the journey on which this paper embarks. Why is this important? As we will discover, Buddhist spirituality is derived from a human, not the divine. Nor is Buddhist spirituality metaphysical.

To begin this journey with a man and a man alone suggests an important divergence from the discussion of spirituality in other belief systems, particularly those of the Abrahamic where God is omnipresent with humanity throughout the Bible and biblical scripture. The origin of the Buddha and the Buddhist suttas are without divine intervention, revelation, or metaphysical hypostases. The powers of Gautama Buddha and his path towards the spiritual are derived from his own abilities that he learns from masters, or acquires through sheer intellectual thought, praxis, and failure.

Therefore, and with the admonition of the Buddha himself, we must begin this journey by eschewing the temptation to derive metaphysical answers from everyday processes and actions.[1] We are beings in the world and must use what the world provides us to derive answers to questions we have about it. The world of the Buddha is a phenomenal world of experience and action. Karma is produced as the result of both intention and action, where intention supervenes action in the creation of good or bad karma.[2]

However, there will be questions such as the first and last cause in the universe that our minds cannot grasp. The Buddha reminds us that these questions are not worth pursuing because we are not capable of discovering their answers and therefore should be set aside.[3] All other questions, including those of the message of the Buddha himself are subject to query and analysis. In other words, the Buddha admonishes us not to put faith before reason, but to use our own intellectual and compassionate abilities to decide what to believe.

Above all, Gautama’s Buddhism is a humanism.[4] This humanism does not presuppose and anthropomorphic dominance over the world. Rather, that we are like all other existents, a product of dependent origination and co-origination. We are contingent beings like all other beings. Being contingent not only produces dukkha, suffering, lack, and unsatisfactoriness, but also produces the means for ascendance from the clinging, grasping, and craving for a permanent self or soul which we can never obtain. Impermanence as an understanding overcomes traditions and rituals that tend to stultify humans into a repetitious search for the same and the same in continuity. Rebirth or saṁsāra is simply the product of such ambitions towards permanence which causes the suffering of the world. It is this suffering or dukkha which must be overcome for Buddhist humanism to arise in full in the individual.

The pre-originary condition of the human is contingency, not permanency. The primordial methodology of Buddhism is both towards an understanding of the origins of dukkha, and a process of emptying of conditions, rituals, and thinking that attempt to maintain, shore up, preserve, and cling to that which cannot be permanently maintained.

Buddhism is a humanism that is both a freeing from attachment and a process towards a new form of consciousness that can exist in a world of dependent origination using the powers of compassion and intellect to intend and act wisely, and without undue harm to others. Even though Buddhism is a humanism, its compassion extends to all living entities. It derives humanism from the co-dependence of the world and the human in all thoughts and actions.

The later Mahayana Buddhism goes even further to declare that all sentient beings have Buddha nature or the ability to become enlightened.[5] Therefore according to Mahayana tradition, our humanism is not something we alone can possess, but is a fundamental capability of all sentient beings, and it is a derivation from consciousness itself. This is a new consciousness that has arisen from another that passes away during the process of enlightenment.[6] Our humanism therefore is interdependent with the processes that play out in the world around us. We extend our compassion not only to humans but with and to all with whom we interact. Given this basic understanding, our quest begins with the question of, ‘How did Siddhartha Gautama discover what has become known as Buddhism?’

By his own admission, Gautama was not the first Buddha and by his own prediction he will not be the last. He was human, not God, not deva or demon. He did not receive any revelation from a metaphysical other, nor did he derive his understandings from metaphysical or mystical sources.

Roger Gottlieb says about spirituality, “In its broadest sense, spirituality is an understanding of how life should be lived and an attempt to live that way. (5, Gottlieb 2013)” Gottlieb’s broad sense of spirituality requires an understanding. This understanding must come from somewhere. In Buddhism, the origin of this understanding is the Buddha himself.

To arrive at the origin of spirituality in early Buddhism, it is appropriate to begin with Siddhartha’s journey into enlightenment. We will follow not only the process that Siddhartha used to obtain his understanding, but we will also explore some of his key tenets for how to live life in the way that it should be lived. The two: the process of how he derived his understandings, and the understandings themselves are key to the genesis of spirituality in Buddhism.[7]

What he learned on this journey, Siddhartha translated into two fundamental constructs of Buddhism. The first of these are the four noble truths: that first there is dukkha; second, dukkha is caused by clinging, grasping and craving to make permanent ideas, things, and self in an impermanent world; third, there is a cure for dukkha; and fourth, that cure is the noble eightfold path. The process of the noble eightfold path is the way out of dukkha (suffering, unsatisfactoriness, lack) and prepares one for enlightenment or nibbāna (nirvana in Sanskrit). To prepare for our journey we must consider a definition for spirituality.


Peter C. Hill et al. discovered little “systematic conceptualization” between the concepts of religion and spirituality (Hill et al. 2000, 52). What he did find in common was that they develop over a lifetime, are “social-psychological phenomenon”, are “related to cognitive phenomenon…affect and emotion” and are “relevant to the study of personality” (Hill et al. 2000, 3-4). Both religion and spirituality also have relationships to mental health, drug and alcohol use, and social function (Hill et al. 2000, 4-5). As a humanism, Buddhism aligns with Hill et al.’s observations. Antoine Panaioti even called Buddhism, “the great health” (Panaioti 2013, 3). The great health he posited is the curative practice of the eightfold path to show the right ways of living one’s own life. While health, well-being, and the end to ignorance are foundations of Buddhist thinking, we cannot ignore compassion. Compassion for all living things presupposes a significant broadening of Buddhism from the idea of personal heath alone.

Given the fact that there are similar facets of religion and spirituality, can we differentiate one from the other? Hill et. al. found little consensus in the definition of religion (Hill et al. 2000, 63). Since Buddhism has no God or metaphysical constructs we are well advised to stay away from a discussion of whether Buddhism is a religion or not. Considering that there is some common ground between religion and spirituality we are better served to consider the spiritual aspects of Buddhism and leave religious definition to others.

What is spirituality? Rather than define spirituality in iconoclastic terms, Hill et al. consider specific criteria necessary to describe spirituality within a particular belief system or psychological experience:

The feelings, thoughts, experiences, and behaviors that arise from a search for the sacred. The term “search” refers to attempts to identify, articulate, maintain, or transform. The term “sacred” refers to a divine being, divine object, Ultimate Reality, or Ultimate Truth as perceived by the individual. (Hill et al. 2000, 66)[8]

Buddhism begins in the search for truth. The sacred is not divine. The sacred is the end to the experience of dukkha. This is no ultimate truth. Dukkha remains in the world. It is not vanquished, only shed by one who becomes enlightened. There is no ultimate truth in Buddhism. Enlightenment is both eternal (outside of time) and timeless. Timeless in that it has no end and no beginning.[9] Therefore, enlightenment cannot be an ultimate truth.

Enlightenment is. Dukkha is. To become enlightened one must live and this existence is without a separate and permanent self or soul. Buddhism is a quest to understand the reality of existence in an impermanent world, one that changes from moment to moment. Recall the uncertainty that Rene Descartes had whether an evil demon had created that which we think we see and feel rather than God. He felt certain of only one thing, that is that he was a thinking thing. This uncertainty is the uncertainty of impermanence, that we exist in a momentary world for which form and function are never permanent. Yet, we do understand the Newtonian proposition that action produces reaction. How far back this action-reaction regression goes gets murky and becomes inconsequential as I must observe this very moment to prepare for my next intention and action. This is all I can do. If I spend time theorizing about what led up to this moment or think about all the possible outcomes based upon the various possible intentions and actions I might perform, I might miss something important. While I am a thinking thing, I must not dwell in any other place than the present. Thinking involves process, something that is never permanent but is continuous as is the process of dependent origination.

Thing is the nature of existence, but Descartes retained the idea of a Christian permanent soul. Thing for the Buddha is not permanent, but as Frank Hoffman explains is, “continuity without the identity of self-same substance. (Hoffman 1987, 53)” Even our being is impermanent. Our body is in as much flux as our mind. In fact, the Buddha described us as five aggregates or processes he called the khandhas.[10] These processes never coalesce but they work both independently and synergistically towards our continuity in impermanence. Descartes’ uncertainty, even in his certainty that he was a thinking ‘thing’, is just one process of the Buddha’s khandhas that never leads to a thing in itself. If, as Hill et al. suggest, spirituality is partly a search then it is appropriate to follow Siddhartha on his own search for answers to his questions about dukkha. However, before we follow Siddhartha on his quest for spirituality there are other terms with which we must become familiar. These include awakening, enlightenment, wonder, and desire.

On Awakening

Awakening is a part of the experience component of spirituality. In the Pali Canon we become witness to an awakening. Buddhism is a belief system where process and the order of thoughts and actions are both significant and important. An awakening is a process that takes one from real or spiritual sleep into the realm of wakefulness. Wakefulness is the realm of consciousness. In Buddhism, the awakening to enlightenment is into a new form of consciousness that arises from the passing away from the old. This change in consciousness occurs during the process of enlightenment.

Enlightenment: Continuity Without Time

Time is the ‘through which’ spirituality as the search is investigated. However, nirvana is both eternal and timeless. This is why enlightenment cannot be an ‘ultimate truth’ if it is without end or beginning.

We are in fact an impermanent existent who exists. Our belief in and understanding of temporal continuity is associated with all the internal and external processes that provide us with information that we try (in dukkha) to order into a continuous stream but which only operate in concert for the moment. In Dukkha we mistakenly guide the five process aggregates (khandhas) to believe that there is something more to this idea of ‘continuity’. It is the idea that a permanence of some sort can be found in this process. In fact, what we are likely to do in our minds is conflate process and continuity.

Process is a change agent which fundamentally produces only change. Change is the result of dependent origination regardless of whether there is an intentional process or not e.g. chemical change. Intentional processes only eliminate the degrees of freedom for other processes to become possible and effect the chain of causes. We too have become victims of this conflation of process and change. We are no more the child as an adult than the can is a bar of metal.

As Hoffman explains, something that passes from the dying person to the new embryo has continuity but it is without the identity of self-same substance. No less is the person who has had a lifetime of experience producing karma, both good and bad. Frank Hoffman clarifies that early Buddhism explained continuity as, “[c]ontinuity of the stream of consciousness” (Hoffman 1987, 48). The stream of consciousness, not the actual consciousness is that which has continuity.

This confirms the notion that process (the stream) and consciousness are separate. Consciousness dies with the dying person, but the stream of consciousness must continue otherwise rebirth would not be possible. The continuity of the stream of consciousness requires that there be something associated with the process. A process without something to process is an empty process.

What early Buddhism says karma, or that which results from our intentions and actions good or bad, is derived from process. The karmic forces are independent from both stream of consciousness and consciousness but they contribute to that which is ‘continued’ in the embryo of rebirth.

Karma, however, must comport with the idea of dependent origination. This means that karma, once it has been generated, is irreversible as are the dependent conditions that produce the present moment. The production of the new, the embryo that results from egg and sperm, are subject to dependent origination just as much as the can from its steel bar. The karmic forces from the dying person, present at that moment in the stream of consciousness, becomes associated with the embryo. This establishes the originary state of the new individual which begins its own dependent origination process: birth, child, adult, death.

The ‘whole’ of the aggregates (khandhas) produce a sense of being in the moment from which we derive continuity from our memories. Memories (in the sense of how the aggregates add value to the ‘whole’) are both helpful and unhelpful in the context of impermanence. They are helpful because they can guide us to produce other than bad karma. They are unhelpful because they are brought forward to complicate the now with past assumptions. Disconnecting the unhelpful from the helpful is one of the fundamental goals of Buddhism.

The continuity we seek and have spoken of is brought about by the illusion of time. We know that the stream of consciousness is a continuous process that continues (in a contingent universe) with or without our earthly existence. It is a process and by itself contains no information that can help us understand the present moment. Our existence condition (khandhas) in the present is the only thing we have available to understand the present. Thus, the child’s present is different from the adult’s present because its capabilities are limited, even though we stand next to each other in the same place.

We must de-conflate process and substance to understand the nature of our own existence and reality. Even though we have accumulated memories, they are useful to serve us only in the present moment. The matching process of considering aspects of the past towards conditions of the present are no less a logical process than Emmanuel Kant described with his categories of reason. We use what we have learned against what is present today. What we cannot do is to conflate a permanence of the past with the immediacy of the moment. This means that reason only uses what it has learned that is relevant to the phenomenal moment. If reason carries forward the past as something that is conditioned by the past and not the present, the disconnect to the present occurs. This is dukkha. Emblematic of dukkha is the conflation of the immanent conditioned past to the present.

The Buddhist enlightened one disconnects the immanent conditioned past from the present. In other words, immanent consciousness is replaced by a new form of consciousness that is reflective, but only to the extent that brings forth that which is helpful at the moment. The continuous return to memories and instances of past existences to connect to the present to preserve a state of continuity has been severed. This is the end of the rebirth which is a cause of dukkha. Consciousness, recall, cannot be reborn. The stream of consciousness continues but consciousness dies away. The process of enlightenment serves to sever living consciousness as the desire of continuity, of continually bringing forward consciousness in the form of even a semi-permanent construct. If consciousness is severed from continuity, then one cannot be reborn. One lets go of consciousness that clings, grasps, and craves permanence, and returns the aggregates to the process of dependent origination—of presentism and mindfulness.

This transformation produces emptiness, the emptiness into an otherwise than being. The otherwise than being does not presume a separate ontology. It does not deny the ontology of the world and its objects but understands that there is no permanent ontological object that continues from moment to moment. Impermanence permits death without rebirth. Simply stated, if we can internalize the idea of dependent origination we can flow with it rather than try to buck the tide of change with notions of permanence. We can then let go of rebirth as an idea that is towards the perfection of the self and as an idea that does not comport with dependent origination. Deathlessness is a letting go of permanence.

Letting go of that which produces the notion of permanence to accept unconditionally impermanence is the first step towards the end of dukkha and the beginning of nirvana. Once the person escapes the rebirth cycle of saṁsāra, the person will not be reborn again.

An important question is whether this is extinction? The Buddha provides little instruction as to the state of the dead Tathāgata or Arahant. As Hoffman says, “Nowhere in the literature of the Nikāyas does the Buddha assert any view about the afterlife of the Tathāgata” (Hoffman 1987, 105). Nor does the Buddha say this is extinction, as Hoffman explains, “That is, there is no place in the Nikāya literature where the Buddha is depicted as saying parinibbāna is extinction” (Hoffman 1987, 108). What Hoffman explains is that deathlessness is not immortality or endless life, but it is eternal which means both timelessness and without ends. Practically this is conceivable because while one has the experience of the aggregates during one’s life, after enlightenment we do not know whether the Tathāgata’s aggregates ‘experience’ phenomenon after death. We have received no communication from the Buddha or other Tathāgatas after their final deaths. Nor is parinibbāna a transcendental state but is, as Hoffman explains, “As for parinibbāna, it could be amata [deathlessness] only in the sense of being a limit of the flux of rebirth, as the death-not the process of dying-of an Arahat” (Hoffman 1987, 117, Emphasis in original; item in bracket added).

As we have seen, Buddhism is in no way fatalistic. Dependent origination permits change independent from other beings. Nor is action predicated by a substrate determined by an omniscient god. What is now has been predicated by past actions and intentions with no discussed original cause and no prophesized end to origination. This permits a condition of nibbāna/parinibbāna that can be eternal—without ends, and deathless, which is timeless. If timeless eternality is the state of the universe, the shedding both of ends and time produces the condition of being in the moment for the moment is all that there is. Time is only an emergent process within consciousness that exists in dukkha.

Therefore, not only must one understand dependent origination as a process, but also understand that dependent origination is conducted in eternal timelessness. This means that if we shed both the notion of time in the context of continuity, and the context of continuity in the notion of time, we have reached a place of understanding where we may begin not only to live in a state of mindfulness in the present but we can also position ourselves to end the process of rebirth, which produces unsatisfactory repetition or saṁsāra. The end to saṁsāra means the end of dukkha which means the beginning of enlightenment. However, enlightenment emerged only after Siddhartha began to wonder.


Wonder that arises from aporia is the process through which the search (as previously noted by Hill et al.), “attempts to identify, articulate, maintain, or transform.” What is wonder?  Says Mary-Jane Rubenstein, “Thaumazein [wonder] arises when the understanding cannot master that which lies closest to it-when, surrounded by utterly ordinary concepts and things, the philosopher suddenly finds himself surrounded on all sides by aporia” (Rubenstein 2008, Location 214, Kindle edition, item in brackets added). It is that which cannot be resolved or solved quickly through pure thought or phenomenological analysis that produces the locus and the environs necessary for wonder. Wonder begins with a question, an uncertainty. Wonder may involve all the processes that make up a person in the moment of doubt.[11] Outside of the semantics of the question, wonder’s environs can produce urgency, angst, and obsession. Wonder is a feeling of disconnectedness to the world. This disconnectedness is only the beginning of the journey towards Buddhist spirituality. One may understand the Buddhist precepts of, for example, dependent origination, no soul, meditation, and dukkha, however, as Paul J. Griffiths says of the practitioner, “She learns, that is, not merely to assent to the proposition ‘everything is impermanent’ but also to directly perceive the impermanence of everything” (Griffiths 1995, 37).  Therefore, while the practitioner needs to know that everything is impermanent it is more important to know what impermanence means and how to perceive it. This knowing what requires considerable practice and consciousness alteration. Buddhist practices require great effort and therefore wonder in Buddhism is also a desire. Before desire, there is a catalyst for wonder.

Wonder’s Catalyst

Like any process whether chemical or mechanical, there is a catalyst or first step. The first step for the Buddha in his own process of awakening began in aporia which for him produced wonder. Wonder itself is a process. Wonder’s two volatile elements are the question and desire.

The catalyst to wonder is aporia, a cognitive-emotional uncertainty that contains both curiosity and anxiety. Aporia is a question about the state of the present moment and what it means. Aporia is the catalyst because it brings into focus one’s uncertainty which causes the desire to search for answers to the questions. A question without desire is simply a question. A question with desire is wonder.

To begin in the realm of uncertainty is important for Buddhism. Buddhism is an amalgam of psychology, soteriology, and science associated with the idea of impermanence. It is the Buddha’s ‘discovery’ of the primacy of impermanence in physics and in the world of existence, the life world, or what Jakob Von Uexkull called umwelt that is central to the understanding of Buddhist spirituality and process.

However, this discovery of impermanence in all things began in a peculiar aporia. To understand the pre-originary location for the Buddha’s aporia we must return to his youth as Siddhartha, during the first twenty-six years of his life as the son of what some scholars believe was a wealthy householder or as the ruler of a minor principality. Siddhartha was brought up to be the successor to his father. In this he was taught not only the local religions of the time, including Brahmanism, Jainism, and early Hinduism, but also the affairs and requirements of rule. However, legend says that when Siddhartha was born his father’s soothsayer proclaimed that this child will be a disrupter and not have much respect for tradition.[12] It is said that Siddhartha’s father feared this prophecy and so kept him from experiencing suffering of the people in everydayness by keeping him confined within the palace. When Siddhartha was married and in his mid-twenties he first saw illness, death, old age and a renunciant.[13]

His aporia began in the recognition that these persons all were experiencing suffering. Siddhartha had not experienced the same living in a hedonistic state of comfort as the son of a wealthy person. Unfortunately, we may never confirm the truth of these stories because little definitive is ‘known’ about the early life of the Buddha. However, we can see familiar human elements in this story.

To unpack the genesis of Siddhartha’s own aporia in everydayness terms, we begin with the worries of common parents and that is the uncertainty of the happiness and fate of their newborn. They do everything they can to both prepare the child for its life and in Siddhartha’s case, his hereditary and heraldic role in society. At the same time, parents do everything they can to keep the child away from misery, illness, and suffering.

However, Siddhartha saw and experienced things from which his parents could not shield him. We must be clear that while Siddhartha was a precocious and an extremely intelligent child and young adult, he was not the son of God, nor was he visited by a god or gods who endow him with special powers. Siddhartha was just a person. He was like all persons, born into a world of dukkha. His circumstances and intelligence were better than most—but he was nothing more than a human boy and young man.

The Buddha, however, had deva vision, or the ability to see and remembered his own past lives and the lives of previous Buddhas and other persons.[14] How did transformation take place? If there is no God or there were no gods who would nurture him, aid him, or provide him with supernumerary powers for him to become the omniscient being of the Buddha, how did this occur? We may never know how a Buddha becomes and gains deva vision, but we can ascertain some clues from Siddhartha’s enlightenment.

A fundamental lesson of Buddhism is that this was a personal transformation and not something produced by outside forces. This transformation involved process and practice and a profound change in understanding and consciousness, but was not something that was caused by metaphysics or a metaphysical being. The Buddha’s message to all who would listen was that enlightenment is something that can be achieved presumably by anyone who has the stamina and desire to maintain personal progress following the Buddha’s noble eightfold path. Buddhism is a highly-ordered process of thinking, which can, but does not always produce enlightenment. Enlightenment is the end to ignorance of critical ideas about existence, and involves the birth of a new form of consciousness that is both intrinsically ethical and compassionate towards others.

From the story of Siddhartha, we can derive the story of all children, and that is they eventually will experience aporia in the form of unexpected change. The Buddha’s aporia began, as we are told as a voyeur, someone who sees the suffering of others without experiencing the same in his own physical aspect. However, what Siddhartha the voyeur experienced was both vicarious and personal, a questioning of the status-quo beliefs of the time that there is a permanent state of existence. His questioning conjoined the historical local belief of rebirth to the suffering of all persons.

The problem that the Buddha saw is that there is decay within the human form in the aspects of sickness, age, death, and asceticism. He wondered, ‘If there is decay, then how can there be something that rides along with the existent that does not decay and even improves through ritual so that it can become again in the next life?’

What he derived from his thinking is that this permanent self or soul does nothing for the person in this or a next life to assuage sickness, old age or death. It is this aporia and the seemingly unsatisfactory answers that his contemporaries used to explain away this unsatisfactoriness that led Siddhartha away from the comfortable nest of his familial existence and into the world of suffering to discover his own answers.

Siddhartha could have let go of his aporia to follow that which was established beliefs of the time. However, these answers did not satisfy him. Like all who feel uncomfortable with knowledge that is presented as fact, his questions did not end with currently accepted understanding.

However, the aporic to be catalyzed requires a desire. Siddhartha’s desire was to find better answers to the questions of suffering and existence. Desire requires both action and determination to follow the question down through its logical and perhaps even illogical successor questions.


Desire, in the search for the origin of Buddhist spirituality is the search for truth. However, for Buddhism this search is towards the end of ignorance that there is a permanent self or soul. This complicates the idea of desire as we will see. The paradox of desire is that Buddhism understands desire differently and explains that to end suffering one must end that which is associated with desire: clinging, grasping and craving. Siddhartha did not know that clinging, grasping, and craving would be his answer to the causes of suffering when he began his journey. In fact, the desire to understand dukkha burned in him throughout his six-year journey as an ascetic before he abandoned even that mode of existence when he sat under the Bodhi tree to enter the deepest meditation.

How would the Siddhartha resolve the paradox of desire that it is both necessary and undesirable? Buddha’s disciple, the Venerable Master Ananda in the Iddhipādasam̩yutta explained this in his conversation with Master Knanda.  Master Knanda asked Ananda how could one seek enlightenment without desire? Ananda asked Knanda whether he had desired to go to the park that day. Knanda said he did. Ananda asked Knanda whether he still desired to go to the park after he got there. Knanda said no. Ananda then said about the one who seeks enlightenment, “He earlier had the desire for the attainment of arahantship [enlightenment], and when he attained arahantship, the corresponding desire subsided”.[15]

Stephen Collins asks whether it is possible to desire nirvana (Collins 1996, 186)? To answer he explains that the English word desire comes with baggage that Buddhists are wont to discard. He suggests aspiration is a better word (Collins 1996, 186). The problem with desire is that it can come with corruptions sāsava or without corruptions anāsava. Tanhā (thirst), and upādāna (attachment) are both corruptions that are associated with desire (Collins 1996, 187). Collins explains that rather than use desire, terms most often used in the context of ‘aspiration for nirvana’ are: abhinihāra, panidhi, pat̩t̩hāna, and saṅkappa (Collins 1996, 188).

Siddhartha did not seek nirvana in his quest to find answers to the issue of suffering. He became enlightened after he found these answers. His wonder turned to desire for answers and likely did so with the corruptions that Collins points out that are associated with desire. The paradox of nirvana is that if you desire it with corruptions you will not get there. When Siddhartha realized that clinging, grasping, and craving were the cause of dukkha, he shed these from him like one who withdraws wood from a flame. With this letting go of desiring desire he prepared himself for his enlightenment.

You must let go of desiring desire just as Knanda did with his desire to go to the park once he reached the park. However, the park is a place that one can direct oneself to. It can be something one does for a sound reason (without corruptions) or (with corruptions). Nirvana is a state of existence that comes from following a process and that includes letting go of the corruptions of desire.

Another that question arises is whether one can desire that which is unconditioned. Nirvana is both timeless and eternal. The Buddha reasoned that our world is conditioned and impermanent. In this world, our desire can only be towards the conditioned and the impermanent. Therefore, we can never achieve the ends for a desire for the unconditioned and permanent; yet we try.

Stephen Collins says that nirvana is both unconditioned and permanent in addition to being eternal and timeless (Collins 1996, 141). This produces an aporia and that is that if something is timeless it exists without ends. If something is eternal, time has no effect upon it. The notion of permanent becomes anachronistic in a state without ends or beginnings, even though eternality is persistency without the effects of time. What the Buddha had to do was to find a way for one who exists in an impermanent and contingent state to enter a state that is eternal and timeless. To do so, the Buddha understood that our entire cognitive approach to existence would need to be radically altered. In fact, he posited three steps towards this end. First, that we must let go, shed, and forego any thoughts of trying to attach permanence in an impermanent world.  Second, we must then train our minds to exist in a contingent and impermanent world by living in the moment, without the desiring of desire. Third, there is a meditative and somewhat mysterious process whereby our minds become prepared to accept the first two tenets in a way that gain us entry into the state of nirvana. The Buddha met these three requirements in the three watches of one night under the Bodhi tree.[16]

The Buddha understood that only nirvana is unconditioned. We cannot desire the unconditioned otherwise we will never achieve that which is unconditioned: nirvana.

Desire is a circular process. To keep desire going, one must continue to desire otherwise desire fades. We can only desire impermanent things even though we want to make of them a teleology: a permanence. We are locked into the cycle of desiring which the Buddha called dukkha. Therefore, desire is pejorative in that it keeps us in the circular loop of ignorance, desiring permanence where only impermanence is possible.

The paradox of desire is that we desire something which we cannot ever possess: permanence in a contingent world. On the other hand, we cannot desire something without ends or beginnings. It was the Buddha’s contention that once we recognize the futility of desire as a recurrent intention and action towards an objective that cannot be reached, we will begin to realize that this desire will ultimately bear no fruit. We have embarked upon a journey towards a destination that does not exist. The only thing we could desire that is not impermanent is nirvana, but nirvana defies notions of teleology and time.

The next question Siddhartha had to answer was if nirvana is an achievable state, how does one go about getting there without the false promise of desire?  Ultimately, he determined that we as process beings require a process to strip these processes of their cankers. This process he called the eightfold path. He recognized that one would need to commit to the process steps in the eightfold path. Therefore, one must desire to perform the process. This desire to perform the process is different from the desire for permanence. Desire one has within the eightfold path is only desire towards which can be accomplished and these are to follow the steps of the process. In other words, one continues to use the tools of desire in the impermanent and circular realm of saṁsāra even while on the route towards nirvana. The implication is that one must do this to stay on the path while at the same time conditioning oneself to shed the cankers of desire.

Siddhartha’s Obsession

Obsession is an excess of desire, in Siddhartha’s case brought about by the aporia he experienced after many attempts to solve the riddle of dukkha. The paradox of desire, and the eventual Buddha’s enlightenment into a state where desire is no longer necessary, is that Siddhartha became obsessed with the question in his search for answers. This obsession with the question sent him on journeys of discovery for which he contributed every ounce of emotional, intellectual, and physical energy he could muster. He learned meditation from two yogic masters and then determinedly perfected his meditative abilities. These processes gave him new skills of meditation, but not the answers he sought. He had gone as far as he could, he thought, with meditation so he determined to find out whether becoming an ascetic monk, as had many others of his time, would serve to answer his questions. He became the model for ascetics. He denied himself even the minimal sustenance required for healthy existence and became close to death. Even in extremis, he was no nearer finding his answers.

His journey was not unlike that of any mythical hero. His enemy was dukkha. It loomed large as he sought weapons to defeat its grip on his mind and the people at large. He became apprentice to not one, but two yogic masters and became even a stronger meditator than either. He practiced their techniques. He found them useful but they did not give him the answers he was seeking. He set off with these twin weapons through the desert of existence, suffering physical depravity, discomfort, penury, and starvation. Then he came to a moment where he knew he could go no further. To travel further in asceticism was folly for it gave him no answers and would kill him. Rather, he paused and determined to hone his twin yogic weapons further and attack the question in the most profound meditation he could muster in himself. He did this one night under the Bodhi Tree.

What happened then? We cannot know for sure because the Buddha could or would not detail the cognitive-emotive experience of his moment of enlightenment. We know the answers that he received and recounted during each watch of the night he received them, but not how they all fell into place. Is this not the conundrum of all epiphanic experiences? We could ask the same of Newton or Einstein, and they for sure could also give us general answers, but perhaps as to the moment of epiphany they would have as vague answers as the Buddha.

What we see in these processes towards personal or scientific enlightenment is a question that is both aporic and nagging. We see the question rub at core beliefs at the time. We see the desire and even obsession to learn, to understand, and then to gain as much knowledge about the question as possible. Different pathways are followed to their deadest ends. We see frustration that all this effort has been in vain. However, the desire does not leave. New pathways are established, even returning to one or more that has been tried before for additional clues. All this effort eventually succeeds in producing answers that are not only different from conventional wisdom, but profoundly different.

What to do with such a unique idea or process? Both the scientist and the Buddha stop to think what profound new knowledge means. Both know they must learn how to explain this new idea to others in a way that they too can understand it.

Siddhartha faced a similar challenge. When Siddhartha, now Buddha, emerged from his meditation under the Bodhi tree, he was unnerved. He was uncertain how to proceed as an existent in his own new existence. He had gained the answers he sought and a process how to get there. However, his discovery had profoundly changed him. His answers obtained, he had come into a state of existence that he could easily maintain for himself until his own passing. However, as with all contingent beings, his aporia did not leave him. This time the aporic unease was not about his question about suffering, but about his own future path of existence before his final passing into parinibbāna. What would be the best use of his own enlightenment: to continue on the path he had chartered with his enlightenment, or to walk back into the world of suffering and teach his noble eightfold path to others?  He chose the latter option and became a great teacher of the dharma.

Siddhartha’s began and ended his journey as a human. No metaphysical being revealed to him, nor did he receive a metaphysical revelation. He used his own experiences and what he had learned from masters to transform himself from Siddhartha to Buddha. His science was the science available at the time coupled with his profound understanding of the meaning of impermanence and its actions upon the world and its beings. His psychology began in the process of letting go of outmoded and ignorant ideas, beginning with prevalent local practices of self-completion and soul purification. He used the tools of both logic and meditation to scourge from him ideas that were not valid and led to dukkha or unsatisfactoriness. He did not deny sickness, old age, or death and their effects upon his body and his own temporality as an existent. He did not deny pain of injury or disease. They were, he concluded, a part of anyone’s existence. What he did help himself and others achieve is the end to the belief of permanence as our state of existence in this contingent world. His process called the noble eightfold path steers one towards an acceptance of and an existence in the impermanent state of being which is the condition of all existents. He then prepared the way for persons to become enlightened and the end to impermanence in the state of deathlessness called parinibbāna.

Enlightenment is derived from the fundamental soteriological process called saṁsāra.  The Buddha did not reject rebirth but needed to reconsider the process from its fundamental tenet: that is that a permanent soul passes from the dying person to the embryo of one to be born. Perhaps the simplest explanation of the process of rebirth without a permanent soul, is Hoffman’s idea that there can be continuity without identity of self-same substance.

Rebirth in this context is not reincarnation. The person is not reborn into an identical other or a discrete other with memories intact, but what is brought forward with each rebirth is the cumulative impact upon karma that previous rebirths bring to the evolving embryo. Karma is action, good or bad. Like a report card from school, good and bad karma helps determine into which kind of embryo the person is born into.

The challenge of such a karmic report card that follows continuity is not to construct a rebirth soteriology that is fatalistic. The murderer who is reborn may or may not be into an embryo with a propensity towards murder. Later Mahayana Buddhists explain that with the idea of Buddha nature: all sentient beings can become enlightened. Therefore, carrying forward a cumulation of bad karmic acts does not guarantee a lower rebirth. Nor is one necessarily doomed to the impermanent but interminable Buddhist hells for accumulating bad karma during one’s lifetime. The Buddha showed how Angulimala, a serial killer, could become enlightened during one lifetime.[17] What Buddhism taught is that enlightenment can stop both rebirth and the commission of bad karmic acts.

To deal fatalism another blow, the Tibetan (a branch of Mahayana Buddhism) concept of the Bodhisattva suggests that one who becomes enlightened can elect to return in rebirth, continuing the cycle of saṁsāra voluntarily. However, this sacrifice back into the cycle of saṁsāra is to be reborn again into an enlightened state where one can continue performing good karmic acts. The more enlightened persons in the world, the more impact that they can have on dukkha and unsatisfactoriness.

Therefore, saṁsāra is a fundamental soteriology of Buddhism and of the Buddha’s time, but it is not tied into any definitive caste system of moving up or down in rank in society depending upon the deeds of those from whom one has been reborn. However, this produces a problem. The ethics of existence in a Brahmanical caste system means the promise of higher rebirth tomorrow. If there is no such promise of soul perfection into the apex state of Brahmanism, why be ethical? Being ethical is part of the process towards achieving enlightenment. The carrot of Buddhism’s ethics is not higher rebirth but enlightenment in this lifetime. The Buddha rejected the caste system and with his noble eightfold path found a way to enlightenment that did not involve soul perfection or rebirth.

Summary and Discussion

The spirituality of Buddhism begins in aporia and wonder. Questions generated by aporia remain open and wonder remains as a desire until the questions are answered through the considerable effort and process that is the noble eightfold path. Only upon enlightenment can the one let go of the desire for answers to the question of dukkha.

However, even as one achieves that profound transformational state as we saw with the Buddha himself…aporia does not disappear. Existence without dukkha is not a blank meditative emptiness that awaits a final death. Even the enlightened exist in the world replete with dukkha. Compassion (karun̩ā) becomes the aporia for the enlightened.[18] The question of how to be compassionate to all other living things becomes the next question. This question is not one that is ever answered completely because it is asked anew with each encounter with another living being. Even the recluse monk must consider other life forms in an otherwise cloistered and solitary existence. While the enlightened one has ended ignorance of impermanence and contingent existence in saṁsāra, one never loses the need to ask questions. We can say, then, that an essential element that is associated with the beginning of spirituality in Buddhism is the question.

The spirituality of Buddhism is a humanism, but a humanism that is compassionate to all living things. Why a humanism? Buddhism seeks the highest use for humanity’s intellect and capacities for good. Buddhism considers what the human can become. This is not the egoistic human who accretes power for self. Rather this is a human who uses skillful means to help others achieve their own best use of their own talents and intellect, but always so in an ethical and compassionate way.

The later Mahayana branch of Buddhism has been especially mindful of the communitarian capabilities of Buddhism that may have been lacking in the Pali Canon suttas. For example, the serial killer Angulimala becomes enlightened, but neither the Buddha nor Angulimala set about processes to heal the villages Angulimala terrorized. However, we must consider the circumstances of the Buddha. He did choose compassion in his efforts to teach others the message of enlightenment. He was spread thin and even in his lifetime could only find and teach so many followers.

However, Mahayana Buddhism is right to take up the cause of compassion for all. Would the Buddha have embraced this idea? He considered compassion for all as a noble pursuit. However, he would also admonish his followers not to become engaged with only one or a few aspects of the noble eightfold path. All steps are required to achieve enlightenment. He would likely frown upon those who choose only mindfulness and meditation, for example, without also engaging in the other steps of the noble eightfold path. He might note to these practitioners his own unsatisfactory progress towards enlightenment through meditation alone. He would then admonish that the path towards personal enlightenment is a strict practice and process. That engaging in some parts of the process and practice and not others would lead to a muddle and not the end to suffering and dukkha which is the goal of the noble eightfold path.

Rather than try to define Buddhist spirituality, considering the many branches of modern-day practices, we turned back to the Buddha’s own journey into enlightenment to understand the origins of spirituality in Buddhism. While much of the early life of the Buddha is not known, we do know from his teachings as recorded in the Pali Canon that he went through a difficult ordeal to discover the path towards enlightenment and the end to dukkha. By beginning his journey in wonder as the question with desire to answer that question, his catalyst was aporia. Aporia is something that we all experience from time-to-time as uncertainty. Innumerable questions can cause this uncertainty. The question that the Buddha sought was whether there could be a better way than living in dukkha.

Spirituality according to Hill Et. al begins in a search. Answers derived from this search are transformational.  Siddhartha’s search began in aporia after seeing aspects of suffering in the world. What he discovered on his search for answers was not an ultimate truth. Rather, what he did discover is an end to ignorance with his understanding of dependent origination and the impermanence and contingency of being. His truth led him to discover that the end to dukkha is in a state of deathlessness that is outside of time and without beginning or end. To break the chains of saṁsāra one must discover and come into this timeless state. Deathlessness means that one will not be reborn.

It is appropriate to ask whether nibbāna, and parinibbāna, the state of the enlightened one after a final death is the core of Buddhist spirituality. Certainly, as Collins informs us, it is the aspiration of Buddhism. However, if we consider that Buddhism began in wonder, then we must ask whether wonder is the pre-originary location for the beginning of spirituality, Buddhist or otherwise. Rather than make this an affirmative statement, I suggest that wonder is a derivative of Hill Et. al’s definition of spirituality, and at least in the case of Buddhism, wonder originated the search for answers that blossomed into the process belief systems that have evolved over the past twenty-five hundred years since the Buddha asked his first question. We recall that Socrates was of a similar opinion when he said to Theaetetus who claimed to be often perplexed and amazed—that is because you are a philosopher; for philosophy begins in wonder. The Buddha became perplexed and amazed at the problem of dukkha. His wonder brought him to the philosophical, but also the scientific and psychological to articulate processes for how to live an ethical life free from ignorance.

Pali Canon References

  1. L. (Frank Lee) Woodward Trans. 2008. The Book of Gradual Sayings, Volume I. Oxford UK: Pali Text Society.
  2. W. (Thomas William) Rhys Davids Trans. 1899. The Dialogs of the Buddha, Volume II. Amen Corner, UK: Henry Frowde.
  3. B. (Isaline Blew) Horner, Trans. 2007. The Middle Length Sayings of the Buddha, Volume I. Lancaster, UK: Pali Text Society.
  4. B. (Isaline Blew) Horner, Trans. 2002. The Middle Length Sayings of the Buddha, Vol. II. Oxford: Pali Text Society.

Mrs. (Caroline Augusta) Rhys Davids, Trans. 1980. The Book of the Kindred Sayings, Vol. V. London: Pali Text Society

Other References

Readings in Philosophy of Law, edited by John Arthur and William H. Shaw. Boston: Prentice Hall.

Association, American Humanist. 2016. “What is Humanism?”. American Humanist Association, accessed 12/30/16. https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/.

Collins, Stephen. 1996. Nirvana and other Buddhist Felicities. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Gottlieb, Roger S. 2013. Spirituality What is it and Why it Matters. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Griffiths, Paul J. 1995. “Indian Buddhist Meditation ” In Buddhist Spirituality, edited by Takeuchi Yoshinori, 34-66. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company

Hill, Peter C., Kenneth I. Pargament, Jr. Ralph W. Hood, Michael E. Mccullough, James P. Swyers, David B. Larson, and Brian J. Zinnbaue. 2000. “Conceptualizing Religion and Spirituality: Points of Commonality, Points of Departure.”  Journal For The Theory Of Social Behaviour 30 (1):51-77.

Hoffman, Frank J. 1987. Rationality & Mind in Early Buddhism. Delhi, India: Motilal Banasaridass.

Kalupahana, David J & Indrani. 1982. The Way of Siddhartha. Boulder, Co.: Shambhala.

King, Sallie B. 1991. Buddha nature. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Panaioti, Antoine. 2013. Nietzsche and Buddhism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pande, Govind Chandra. 1995. “The Message of Gotama Buddha and Its Earliest Interpretations.” In Buddhist Spirituality: Indian, Southeast Asian, Tibetian and Early Chinese, edited by Takeuchi Yoshinori, 3-13. New York: The Crossroads Publishing Company.

Rhys Davids, TW & William Stede. 1921-1925. Pali-English Dictionary. Sri Lanka: Pali Text Society.

Rubenstein, Mary-Jane. 2008. Strange wonder: The closure of metaphysics and the opening of awe: Columbia University Press.

Siderits, Mark. 2007. Buddhism as philosophy: An introduction. Indianapolis, In.: Hackett Publishing.


[1] As the Buddha later told the Kalamas, faith (saddhā) should not be blind. If something does not add up or one has reason to doubt, become your own teacher and learn. And when you find out that one or more articles of faith are compromised, abandon them. (The F. L. Woodward translation of The Book of Gradual Sayings, Volume I, VII, The Great Chapter §65, Those of Kesaputta (i-xvii) [§iii])

[2] Mark Siderits explains, “Karma is not a set of rules that are decreed by a cosmic ruler and enforced by the cosmic moral police. Karma is understood instead as a set of impersonal causal laws that simply describe how the world happens to work…A true causal law has no exceptions. Likewise, the laws of karma are understood not as rules that can be either obeyed or broken, but as exceptionless generalizations about what always follows what. (Siderits 2007, 9) Stephen Collins outlines some of the difficulty involving the application of karma, “But to use an ultimate explanation such as karma God’s will, fate, or the like is not ipso facto to offer any suggestion as to how the immediate situation may be dealt with. It is simply to say that the phenomenon in question exists or has happened, it is unavoidable; but it is not meaningless or unintelligible, it does not threaten to escape the webs of meaning which a given ideology provides for dealing with life.” (Collins 1996, 119-110).

[3] For example, in what is known as the ‘fire sermon’ the Buddha admonished Vacchagotta not to engage in the “speculative view” as to what happens to the enlightened one after death. (The L. B. Horner translation of The Collection Of The Middle Length Sayings, Vol. II, Part III (Majjhimapaññāsa), The Division On Wanderers (Paribbajakavagga), 72. Discourse to Vacchagotta on Fire (The Aggi-Vacchagouttasutta [486-487])

[4] Humanism as defined by the American Humanist Association: “Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity” (Association 2016). Since Buddhism is directed towards personal enlightenment and compassion for all, this definition of humanism is a good place to begin the discussion of the Buddha’s humanism.

[5] For a detailed discussion of Buddha nature consult: (King 1991).

[6] Said the Buddha, ‘Thus is it that through training one idea, one sort of consciousness, arises; and through training another passes away. This is the training I spoke of,’ said the Exalted One” (From the T. W. Rhys Davids translation of the Dialogs of the Buddha Volume II, Potthapada Sutta § 10. [182]).

[7] Unless otherwise noted, ‘Buddhism’ used in this study is Gautama’s Buddhism, early Buddhism as recorded in the Pali Canon penned two centuries after the Buddha’s death by anonymous monks. The Buddha wrote nothing down so these are the first known recordings of the Buddha’s words and deeds. Since they are not in the Buddha’s hands nor from actual observers of the Buddha, we can only speculate as to whether these words were his or an approximation.

[8] There is much in the literature about spirituality and religion as Hill and his colleagues note. Both ideas remain the subject for considerable debate. What hill does is not a meta-analysis, per se, but a review of the literature leading towards a common focus, especially in the concept of spirituality. His notion of spirituality is couched in contemporary terms and not in the exact terms that the Buddha might have used. Regardless of the time and cultural differences, Hill’s work will be used to help center the idea of spirituality for this discussion.

[9] Both Frank Hoffman and Stephen Collins express nirvana in terms of timelessness and eternal. (Hoffman 1987, 117, Collins 1996, 141)

[10] The process of the khandhas are the primordial state of the human, a state without singular self or soul because we are always changing. The state of otherwise than being in nibbana is the withdrawing of the fuels that fan the flames of the khandhas, the five process ‘groups’, ‘aggregates’ or ‘heaps’ (they include material form rūpa, feeling (vedanā), perception (san̄n̄ā), dispositions or coefficients of consciousness (sankhāra), and cognition or consciousness (vin̄n̄āṇa) that make up the human.

[11] The khandhas.

[12] According to Kalupahana: (Kalupahana 1982, 5)

[13] See David Kalupahana’s The Way of Siddhartha for more detail. (Kalupahana 1982).

[14] Here the Buddha describes his remembrances much the same as one who remembers one’s own past in this lifetime: “Then I went back again from that village to my own village.’ Even so, monks, does a monk remember various former habitations, that is to say one birth and two births. . . . Thus he remembers divers former habitations in all their modes and detail. (From the I. B. Horner translation of the Middle Discourses of the Buddha, Volume I,  Mulapariyāyavagga The Third Division, Tatiyavagga Chapter 39, Greater Discourse at Assapura, (Mahiassapurasutta) [278])”

[15] (The Book of the Kindred Sayings, Volume V, The Great Book Mahāvagga, 51, Iddhipādasam̩yutta, P. 1733, item in bracket added)

[16] There are three things that the Buddha said he discovered that evening. In the first watch of the night he discovered his past lives and that of other Buddhas. In the second watch he learned the process how things are reborn and die. In the third watch he discovered dependent origination.

[17] From the Second volume of the Middle Length sayings of the Buddha the story of Angulimala, the Angulimalasutta.

[18] karun̩ā is one of the four divine states, the other three are: mettā (the desire of bringing

others that which is welfare and good), muditā (heartedness, kindliness, sympathy), and upekkhā (equanimity the point between joy and sorrow) (Rhys Davids 1921-1925).


The Toad Queen

It was five feet away. The giant toad, right in front of Rafe. All kids knew about the giant toad. Older kids told younger kids and scared the littlest ones with wide grins, growls, and stuck out tongues. Nobody’d ever seen it, and even if they said they had, no one survived the playground interrogation that followed. Cindy boasted that she’d seen it. She was only four.

“It hop hop hopped across the street,” she insisted, “Right in front of our car!”

“Did your mom see it? Come on let’s go ask your mom,” the playground kids demanded. It never stopped after that. She was Toad Girl from then on.

Because of all the nastiness he would face, Rafe was not happy to see it. He was alone on the path, which was good. However, he wasn’t one to keep things inside, and knew that he would be confronted by playground lawyers and school bullies if he should utter a word about this…He was even hesitant to say ‘toad’ in his mind in case it stuck and he would have to say it to relieve the pressure of holding it in.

Rafe had come by this spot on the deer path leading to the creek hundreds of times before. It had always been a large mossy spot. Now, sitting on this moss, was the giant toad. As toads go, Rafe thought, this wasn’t much different, only bigger. Big grin, round eyes, sitting on all fours, with its back like a right triangle.

“His tongue will dart out and git you, and swallow you whole,” the older kids said to younger ones.

But this toad just sat. Its size was such that five feet away, Rafe was not safe from its tongue. Yet, somehow this giant toad didn’t frighten him.

“I hear you grant wishes,” Rafe said, not expecting any answer.

“Wow, that was quick,” said the giant toad, “Greed is taught early in your generation, Raphael.”

Rafe stepped back a step. Its mouth hadn’t moved. Toads can’t talk. He looked around for big kids in bushes, but saw nothing. He regained some composure and responded, “Wait, how do you know the name Raphael, only mom calls me that.”

“I have known you since you were just a wobbly thing holding your mother’s hand as she walked you down to the creek for your first swim,” said the giant toad, “I believe a white butterfly fascinated you and you let go of mother’s hand, grasped for the insect, then fell unceremoniously on your bottom.”

Rafe stared. However, he was not to be intimidated by this all-knowing giant. “Whatever…What do they call you, anyway?” Rafe asked.

“Your Majesty,” said the monarch.

“Are you a king or something?” asked Rafe.

“A Queen, Raphael. Isn’t it obvious?” asked the Toad Queen.

“Not really,” said Rafe, “and don’t call me Raphael. I don’t like Raphael, it’s a dumb name.”

“To the contrary, my young, man, Raphael takes three big leaps as it pronounces itself. Ralph-a-el. See how it bounds along the path like a deer? You try it.”

Rafe shook his head. He was sure only about some things, and this was one he was most sure about, and that he was Rafe. Rafe believed Raphael was his mother’s way of torturing him. But he wasn’t going to stop her because, well because, that’s who she was and he was all right about that.

“You’re about ten now, is that it?” asked the Toad Queen.

“Ten in June and old enough for my own bike, not Stuart’s old broken one,” said Rafe.

“Ah, Stuart. He doesn’t come here anymore. He has other interests now,” said the Toad Queen.

“Yeah, football. About that bike. You do give for wishes, right?” asked Rafe.

A sigh wafted through the forest. It stank like mud at low tide in the marshes where the forest creek emptied out. “Such a small wish for a small boy. Others have dreamed much bigger than you,” said the Toad Queen.

“It is certainly not my wish,” said Rafe, “I was just testing you to see if you were what everyone says you are. If you’re a Queen, show me something Queenly.”

“Queenly! A word filled with contempt. Something spat out that says nothing because it presumes to already know of what it speaks. Yet again, it is full of ignorance about the subject. It’s a throw-away, an undignified utterance from someone who has but a small and insignificant mind. Queenly. Come on, do better, or I will end this conversation,” said the Queen.

“Sorry your majesty,” Rafe mumbled. He went into a quiet place. He defied the world, sometimes too much, and his quiet place was where he could reflect and then move forward, less belligerently. “It is, Your Majesty, just that, well, I would like to live forever,” said Rafe.

“Forever? And what meaning do you give forever?” asked the Toad Queen.

“Well,” said Rafe, “Like not dying. Gram died just before Christmas. She was the best Gram anyone could have and she loved being Gram. Then one day they found her in her chair. We had a funeral and all, but she’s gone for good. I don’t want that for me. I want to keep going on.”

“Well,” said the Toad Queen, “The question of forever is one of the biggest, because, you see, it has no end. Now, what if you could see your Gram again?” asked the Toad Queen.

“Can you make that happen?” asked Rafe.

“No, that is beyond my powers. There are some that say we all will be reunited with long dead relatives and friends when we die,” said the Toad Queen.

“I don’t buy that stuff,” said Rafe, “I just think that when you die, you die and are gone. The only thing that is left of you is your bones and thoughts in people’s heads. Then they die and you’re gone for good. That’s why I want to live forever.”

“I do see your point, Raphael. However, one must consider just what it means to live forever. Would you live forever as a ten-year-old boy? Would you be a Gram? Just who would be living forever?” asked the Toad Queen.

“I suppose I don’t want to be old like Gram because she had trouble walking and said her bones ached. Being a kid isn’t all that great. Uh…fourth grade over and over again? How horrible!” said Rafe.

“I sympathize with you on that one. What you have just discovered is the second problem. First you must decide who you will be when you will live forever, and then, second, what will you do? How do you keep from getting bored with life that seems to go on and on? You’ve been bored. You got that video game that everyone wanted, and by day’s end it was set aside, never to be looked at again,” said the Toad Queen.

“Its batteries are probably dead. Anyway, it was a stupid game,” said Rafe.

“A stupid game. Well, how many stupid games will you play if you have forever to live? What if you did everything once, and those things you liked you did again and again until even your most favorite activities bored you? What would you do then if there is nothing more you wanted to do?” asked the Toad Queen.

“I suppose, nothing,” said Rafe.

“And for how long would you do nothing before you wanted to stop doing nothing?” asked the Toad Queen.

“I guess I would just want to die,” said Rafe.

“You can’t die.” said the Toad Queen.

“Yeah,” said Rafe, “I get it now. It doesn’t have to be forever, does it? It just has to be long enough, whatever that is.”

“Was Gram long enough?” asked the Toad Queen.

“For her, I dunno. For me, no,” said Rafe.

“That’s the problem with life, there’s never enough. That’s why some people pine for more, the greatest more…immortality, and never get it. They waste time wishing for it while their own life ticks away. So, is your wish to live forever, or have you another?” asked the Toad Queen.

“No, not any more. You know, Your Majesty, this may sound stupid, but I don’t want to just ask and get, because I’ll just get something I will regret asking for,” said Rafe.

“Raphael, very wise…Sorry to be rude, but I must be off. I hear more children coming and you and I know they mustn’t see us,” said the Toad Queen, who then sprang gracefully across the path and into the woods beyond. Rafe wasn’t so much puzzled by her quick escape, but that he was now strangely calm. He didn’t lash out when the high schoolers taunted him on their way by. He thought to himself that this surely was a better way of looking at the world. “Through toad eyes,” he said to himself and smiled. Of course, he never mentioned the Toad Queen to anyone.

The Search for Otherwise than Being in Levinas and Early Buddhism


Simon Critchley introduced a radically different interpretation of otherwise than being in The Problem of Levinas. Critchley proposed that Levinas’s solution to Heidegger’s finitude of being as ‘substitution’ is ultimately flawed because it replaces one encapsulation with another. In this I agree. Critchley proposed that fecundity produces the otherwise than being in the form of my child—my otherwise; the me but not me, the me otherwise for whom the child has a full measure of life ahead and the capability also to produce a child. I will agree that fecundity is a solution, but not in the way that Critchley proposed. For an alternative reading of otherwise than being through the notion of both responsibility and fecundity, I will turn to the Buddha’s conception of otherwise than being to bring forth what I believe is a richer and even more fecund explanation.


‘How do we get out of being’ is a challenging question. Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) asked this question in his monograph, “On Escape” in the days before World War II:

It is the path where we recognize the insanity of acts and thoughts incapable of taking the place of an event that breaks up existence in the very accomplishment of its existence. Such deeds and thoughts must not conceal from us, then, the originality of escape. It is a matter of getting out of being by a new path, at the risk of overturning notions that to common sense and the wisdom of the nations seemed the most evident (Levinas 2003, 73)”

Being tends to box in the idea of the person as a static entity with an unrestrained ego. To begin to think otherwise is to think towards otherwise than being and the implications that otherwiseness brings. Levinas thought that thinking otherwise permits one to substitute oneself for the other in order to be responsible for the other. This substitution would not be possible without one being capable of acting outside of an unrestrained ego. However, to get out of being Levinas said we must find a new path. Levinas saw that this begins in the event of the face of the other.

Levinas was not the first to ask this question about getting out of being, nor was he the first to seek a different path. The Buddha (fifth century BCE) had a similar critique of the unrestrained ego, but unlike Levinas, developed a practical process (the eightfold path) towards both self-responsibility and responsibility to the other through skillful means and compassion. The Buddha saw suffering as associated with the belief in a permanent self and soul, and otherwiseness as obviating this belief through the process of the eightfold path towards enlightenment.

Levinas defined the other as infinitely alterior from me and he explained that responsibility can reduce useless suffering in the idea of substitution—me for the other—in a state of radical passivity. However, Simon Critchley suggested that substitution removes me from one box into another and not into otherwise than being. I agree, but do not accept Critchley’s solution that the child of mine is the otherwise than being. Rather, I will show how the Buddha’s idea of fecundity of mind produces an even better explanation of the otherwise than being than either Levinas or his critic, Critchley. We will first explore how both the Buddha and Levinas came to understand their respective ideas of otherwiseness.

The Path Towards Otherwise than Being

The answer that the Buddha sought and Levinas sought were to the question: how do we get out of being? Levinas was uncomfortable with Heidegger’s ontological being towards death; and the Buddha was uncomfortable with the Vedic ceremonies and rituals that celebrated the emergence of the permanent self.

Recall from the stories about his life, that Siddhartha, the young man who would become the Buddha, begins his life in about the fifth century BCE in a hedonistic world where his father protects him from dukkha (unsatisfactoriness and suffering).[1] He is a precocious child which is the proof of an early prophecy, from a trusted advisor delivered to his father, that Siddhartha would challenge the assumptions we make about the world (Kalupahana 1982, 5). Frank Hoffman said that Siddhartha discovers dukkha and suffering outside the protectorate of his father when he sees a dead person, a sick person, an old person, and a renunciant (Hoffman 2013, 14). As the son of a king, Siddhartha is taught the basics of politics and leadership, but not suffering. He ponders the idea of suffering he has seen in its four aspects and then leaves his home, wife, and newborn son to enter into the life of an ascetic, first in the practice of yoga.

As an ascetic, he learns and practices the yogic techniques from two masters until he becomes a master. However, he finds even these advanced yogic techniques and their meditations inadequate to answer his question about the nature, cause and cure for dukkha. He continues on his ascetic journey for some time but then finds that not only has his fasting and his fastidiousness towards the ascetic lifestyle injured his health and well-being, but also this path like the path of his earlier life in hedonism does not produce the answers he seeks for the understanding of which he hopes will lead to the end of dukkha. He sits under the Bodhi Tree and meditates and by morning he has found his answer in the idea of dependent origination, that there is no static permanent being because everything has a prior cause and every new action or thought produces a new cause and often these causes are co-dependent upon each other. The otherwise than being for the Buddha begins in his understanding there being no permanent self (being) or anatman.

After On Escape, Levinas begins his own journey to discover the otherwise than being. In the intervening years he experiences the suffering of hard labor as a Jew in a military prisoner of war camp, not a concentration camp. The unsatisfactoriness of the whole Nazi system pervades his existence from his internment, his loss of most of his family and many friends, and his growing dissatisfaction with Martin Heidegger, not only because Heidegger joins the Nazi party early in the nineteen thirties, and becomes a fervent Nazi in his duties as the Rector of Freiburg University, but also because Heidegger’s philosophy is deeply rooted in the tragedy of being—the unsatisfactoriness of impermanence in the guise of ontology, and the being before death.

The Buddha is raised with the belief in samsara or rebirth.[2] The idea of the rebirth from the death of one into the embryo of the other is explained by Hoffman as the concept of, “continuity without identity of self-same substance (Hoffman 1987, 53).” This gives the Buddha a foundation from which to fashion his own eightfold path of the liberation of being in samsara into nibbana (nirvana) or the otherwise than being. Kashi Nath Upadhyaya explained this without identity of self-same substance through the idea of ever-changing forces which are always already there:

The entire mechanism of the process of rebirth envisaged by the Buddha can be understood empirically [not metaphysically]. When a man dies, his physical organism is dissolved, but the flux of the physical stream goes on to form a new conglomeration, since the ignorance and craving which feed the karmic forces [Paticcasamuppada] have not been destroyed. Impelled by the karmic forces, the last moment of the series of physical states [gandhabba] finds a new matrix suited to it. Evidently, it is not some identical entity (the soul) which passes from one to another place but the ever-changing forces which disappear in one state and appear in another. (Upadhyaya 1971, 372-373)

Levinas’s foundation for his own developing understanding of the otherwise than being was developed out of the idea of being itself which Heidegger so deftly explicated in Being and Time. Levinas concluded:

The elementary truth that there is being—a being that has value and weight—is revealed at a depth that measures its brutality and its seriousness. The pleasant game of life ceases to be just a game. It is not the sufferings with which life threatens us render it displeasing; rather it is because the ground of suffering consists of the impossibility of interrupting it, and of an acute feeling of being held fast. (Levinas 2003, 52)”

There is being, but is there an otherwiseness? Is suffering a permanent state as Levinas suggested? These are the questions that Levinas wanted to ask. For the question of suffering’s permanence, I first turn to Buddhism.

It is important to reflect on what dukkha means in the Pali and how the Buddha probably understood the term. As author explained: T. W. Rhys Davids and others translated dukkha into English as ‘ill’ for the texts written for the Pali Text Society at the turn of the twentieth century; Padmasiri de Silva added, “disharmony, anxiety and unsatisfactoriness” but he cautioned that dukkha is not angst; Sue Hamilton explained that, “…it is important for a proper understanding of dukkha means to realise that is being used to make a truth statement and not a value judgment…In particular it is not stating that human experience is unpleasant”; Therefore, if dukkha is a truth statement assigning the western concept of ‘evil’ to it would not be appropriate; Dukkha simply is (Author 2015, 116).[3]

The way out of dukkha for the Buddha is the eightfold path, a process that leads to nibbana or the otherwise than being. Levinas also sought a way to end useless suffering through responsibility in the idea of substitution: his concept of otherwise than being. Both were looking to critique suffering through the development of a process of ethics that can defeat suffering.[4]

The Critique of Suffering

Both the Buddha and Levinas saw suffering (dukkha) as appearing to be intractable and a permanent state of the human. Each independently developed an idea of ethics from the problem of suffering (dukkha) by looking for ways to end suffering. Both understood that the idea of a static and permanent [totality in Levinas’s terms] being was not the way to build an ethics to end suffering. Suffering that both were concerned about is that which we bring upon ourselves and to others through our own actions and mistaken ideas about what suffering is. Ethics begins in the idea that there can be something otherwise than an encapsulated but unrestrained ego that cares only for itself.

The critique of suffering begins in the search for the otherwise than being for these two philosophers who lived twenty-five hundred years apart. We know that Levinas did not engage with Buddhist thought in the development of his ideas on otherwise than being—he came to the idea independently (Kalmanson 2013, 2, Introduction). While there has been much written about the idea of suffering, there has not been much written, outside of the Buddha (and his followers) and Levinas, about the critique of suffering as the quest or search for the otherwise than being.[5]

I will not offer, as have Gillian Rose and Slavoj Zizek, that Levinas’ ethics is a “‘Buddhist Judaism’ that posits an absurdly impossible ethical ideal and entails disastrous political consequences. (Kalmanson 2013, 102, In Eric S. Nelson’s, The Complicity of the Ethical)” Suffering is a universal problem for most religions and systems of thought. I do not seek to link Buddhism and Judaism as did Rose and Zizek but rather to posit the idea of otherwise than being in context of the two ethical systems of thought: Levinas and his responsibility to others, and the Buddha with his four noble truths.

Buddha’s chroniclers in the Pali Canon spent considerable time developing arguments for and explaining how nibbana and the end to suffering comes about through the process of the eightfold path.

To begin with we must understand how the Buddha saw the person. The process of the khandhas are the primordial state of the human, a state without singular self or soul because we are always changing. The state of otherwise than being in nibbana is the withdrawing of the fuels that fan the flames of the khandhas, the five process ‘groups’, ‘aggregates’ or ‘heaps’ (they include material form rupa, feeling (vedana), perception (sanna), dispositions or coefficients of consciousness (sankhara), and cognition or consciousness (vinnaṇa) that make up the human. These never coalesce and are constantly changing—hence there is no single self or soul.

However, what the Buddha saw as suffering is our endless search for permanence in an impermanent world. When he realized that the answer lay in the idea of dependent origination, that every thought or action has a prior cause, he realized that if he could teach others to understand this idea, he could help others begin to defeat suffering. From his experience under the Bodhi tree he developed his eightfold path to enlightenment and the end of suffering. The enlightened one is no longer in the state of being in dukkha: rather the enlightened one is in the otherwise state of nibbana.

Otherwise Than Being

Levinas developed no eightfold path for his ethics of the philosophy of the other and the radical passivity that leads to substitution for the other, his otherwise than being. Meaning, he developed no system of ethics. He said, “My task does not consist in constructing ethics; I only try to find its meaning. In fact, I do not believe that all philosophy should be programmatic. (Levinas and Cohen 1985, 90)” However, his project connects subjectivity and ethics, “For I describe subjectivity in ethical terms. Ethics here, does not supplement a preceding existential base; the very mode of subjectivity is knotted in ethics understood as responsibility. (Levinas and Cohen 1985, 95)” If ethical responsibility is knotted with subjectivity, there is an opening to disambiguate the ontological ‘being’ to allow for its otherwiseness to become. How is this done?

As Simon Critchley explained, Levinas would only articulate otherwise than being ambiguously (Critchley 2015, location 1700). In his last major work, Otherwise than Being, Levinas explored the difference between the saying and the said. Critchley offered a crude explanation that the saying was the ethical and the said the ontological—in the context of its propositionality (Critchley 2015, Location 1700, Kindle edition). However, any saying must be said which means that the saying is thus betrayed, and by association, so is the ethical (Critchley 2015, Location 1700, Kindle edition). The saying becomes other than it was when it becomes a said because it comes to be a totality which can only be undone by another saying which comes to be a totality in a said and so on. The process of saying unto said and its repetition is one of the problems that produces suffering. Consulting Freud and his pleasure principle, Critchley rightly stated that Freud needed to go beyond the pleasure principle because, “The psyche is not oriented towards the fulfillment of wishes that result in pleasure. Rather, the psyche is organized in relationship to a trauma. (Critchley 2015, Location 1616, Kindle edition)” And, “To go beyond the pleasure principle is to assert that what trauma yields is compulsive repetition, and the compulsion to repeat overrides the pleasure principle (Critchley 2015, Location 1624, Kindle edition)”

The need to repeat, to be and become and be again produces the penultimate cycle of rebirth that is the Buddha’s samsara. In this repetition and samsara there is dukkha. There is always already dukkha for all sentient beings. Continuity without identity of self-same substance is why a moth can be reborn into a higher being and a human can be reborn into something less, depending upon the karmic forces and how one lives one’s life. The Buddha realized that dukkha and samsara (rebirth) are intertwined. Desire for existence is repeated over and over again through samsara, and the state of being is always already in dukkha. What must end for dukkha to end is the end of the desire for being. Being’s end is otherwise than being—nibbana.

The Ethical Subject; The Subject of the Ethical

How one lives one’s life was essential to Levinas; as Critchley said, “…the ethical subject is not a subject in general; it’s me. (Critchley 2015, Location 1643, Kindle edition)” The subject of ethics is me in Levinas because the subject of that ethics is how I understand my relationship to the other, both the other who stands before me and the other of society. The ethics of responsibility begins with the other’s face who appears before me. Granted, Levinas explained in the other’s face I can see God, but in that other, what reflects back to me is the understanding of my responsibility to the other, though this vision of the face does not explain just what this responsibility is. The saying of the other’s face presents to me the other’s infinite alterity which speaks to me as responsibility. That encounter repeats many times every day. The encounter with the other is trauma which brings me out of my enjoyment of dwelling within myself. This is suffering. However, Levinas differentiated between useless and non-useless suffering. Useless suffering is the trauma faced by the other when I am not responsible to the other, or worse. Non-useless suffering is the trauma of the ethical subject: me (Levinas 1988, 157-158).

Antoine Panaioti called Buddhism, “the great health” (Panaioti 2013, 3). The great health he posited is the curative practice of the eightfold path to show the right ways of living one’s own life. I think that the great health is incorrect, because it posits a very egoistic and narcissistic view of Buddhism and the way that the Buddha understood the path to enlightenment.

Wing-cheuk Chan compared three branches of Buddhism, Theravada as is attributed to the Buddha himself, Hinayana, and the more recent Mahayana, that scholar Nagarjuna deftly articulated. While the three branches have their differences, all agree in three Dharmas (teachings)” dukkha (as has been defined), anitya (the idea of impermanence), and anatman (no soul or no separate self) (Chan 1999, 228). Chan explained that the critique by Mahayana Buddhism of Hinyana Buddhism is that it is selfish and more like the great health of Panaioti, and, “…lacks empathy towards other sentient beings. (Chan 1999, 229)” Chan elucidated that the very nature of the Mahayana Bodhisattva, the enlightened one who is reborn again and again until all sentient beings are enlightened, is more like the idea of Levinas and his responsibility to the other because its compassion is infinite and everlasting until responsibility can be achieved through the end to dukkha (Chan 1999, 228 & 229). Mahayana Buddhism follows a similar path as Levinas, not to deny the ontology of the body, but to deny its permanence, its permanent ego or separate self (Chan 1999, 231). Said Chan, “From the Mahayana Buddhist slogans that all sentient beings can become Buddha and that Bodhisattva lives for the sake of the other, one can discover that Mahayana Buddhist indeed commits to the paradigm of ethics as first philosophy. (Chan 1999, 231-232)”

Can we say the same about the Buddha? The Buddha never explained that all sentient beings could become enlightened. However, I believe if he were presented with the idea he would understand its implications. As I believe he understood it, the continuity without identity of selfsame substance that passes from rebirth to rebirth must have the capacity to exist in a mouse or a human because one could be reborn in either form of sentience. Therefore, any sentient being has the capacity from this continuity without identity of selfsame substance to embark down the path towards enlightenment. As the Buddha denounced the caste system, he might also have offered additional reasoning for this capability through the idea that the lowest as well as the highest of the Indian caste system in place during his time could become enlightened. In fact, Anguilimala the murderous robber, a story told in the early Pali texts, lives on the fringes of society and produces more dukkha with every day he lives. After encountering the Buddha and listening to his lessons, he reforms his ways and becomes enlightened. Angulimala attests to the fact that anyone who follows the eightfold path and produces no new bad karma can achieve enlightenment.

I believe with T. W. Rhys Davids that the Buddha did not conceive of nibbana as a transcendental state, but rather an ethical state (Rhys Davids 1921-1925, 405, Nibbana). I believe The Buddha (and Mahayana Buddhism) understand with Levinas that ethics is not a subject but a condition of the individual. In the case of Buddhist enlightenment, it is a state of perfection of the ethical idea where the fuels that feed the fires of passion have been withdrawn. This means that both the hedonistic pleasure and trauma of dukkha are defeated and the individual exists in a state of pure responsibility. This responsibility is bi-directional, both towards the self and others. To be responsible to myself is to prepare myself to be able to be responsible to the other. The great health is therefore better understood as a panegyric for dukkha or suffering. It is suffering that the Buddha wanted to cure, not just find enlightenment for himself. If all he wanted was his own health, he might have become a recluse. Instead he spread the word of his experience and his wisdom to others using skillful means so that they might learn how to enter the ethical state of nibbana. The Buddha’s turn I believe was made during his great hesitation just after he became enlightened where he considered whether to live a monastic life, largely away from people, or wade into society to teach people. He found room for both and continued his own meditation and teaching to the end of his living days.

How Dow We Escape from Finitude

Simon Critchley outlined Levinas’s problem as a question, “How can we escape from the Heideggerian tragedy of finitude? (Critchley 2015, Location 3069)” Finitude is the problem of facticity that we are thrown into the world in what Levinas might call il ya a, the there is. The there is means that we are given over into ourselves and cannot escape other than through death. Thus our existence is finite and ultimately our death is finite. This is why Heidegger called the angst of existence, the being before death. Death looms for the finite being who is thrown into the world.

The Buddha was opposed to the Brahman naming rituals of his time. The trouble he had with these rituals is much the same that Levinas had with Heidegger, they tend to cement the individual into a state of being (totality), a static finitude where a singular self is created and which, like Parmenides’s monistic being, is complete and continuous. In general, the Buddhist idea of dependent arising (that everything has a prior cause) has been conceived of as a critique of the Vedic myth of creation and the corresponding rituals of the Vedas that involve naming exercises towards completion and perfection of the self (Blanchard 2012, Gombrich 2009, Jurewicz 2000). The twelve traditional links of the Buddhist chain were constructed to undermine the veracity of the Vedic myth of creation in creating a self, and the rituals themselves that produce an ever more perfected self. Dependent origination (paticcasamuppada) can be thought of as stepping stones where one precedes another but not always in the same order of the traditional chain. The process of the eightfold path does not produce the perfected self as the Vedic rituals claim, rather the no self (anatman), meaning that humans are themselves a process.

The Buddha rejected this Vedic idea of a separate self. He noted that we never stop changing. Our body changes; our mind changes all the time so how could there be something that continues without change in all of that? He posited that we have the five process aggregates or heaps, the khandhas that make up who we are, but they are not linked together like a chain. They somehow work together but even they are continuously changing over time. The tragedy the Buddha saw is that there is dukkha, and that is the clinging and craving to rebirth of the same, and therefore by definition dukkha is unsatisfactory. The repetitive trauma of samsara is what the Buddha was trying to break with his eightfold path.

We might begin by thinking with David S. Henley that in Buddhism we must become an alienated being which Sartre called the authentic being to break dukkha (Henley 2015, 13). Henley referenced the Buddhist scholar Krishnamurti when he said that when one is released from the burden of the self, one does not replace it with another construct (Henley 2015, 16). This is also Critchley’s critique of levinas’s substitution that we replace one construct of encapsulation with another. Otherwiseness, as Henley explained, “Krishnamurti appears to imply that one can simply refrain from thinking about one’s own nature. (Henley 2015, 16)” How does one do this? I suggest that this letting go of thinking about being begins in the concept of fecundity of mind.

Fecundity As an Answer to the Escape from Being

The question before us is whether there a way out of the finitude of Heideggerian throwness of being into the world before death: the tragedy of being without resorting to substitution for the other or Critchley’s child for me? The concomitant is the Buddha’s question: Is there a way out of the Buddhist samsara or the suffering of rebirth?

Critchley thought that fecundity would be the solution to the problem of finitude. He suggested that the child is our otherwise than being. For Critchley it wasn’t, as Levinas posited, that substitution in the radical passivity of being responsible to the other is otherwise than being because, “Substitution for the other is not escape, it is just a different description of imprisonment, of captivity, of being held hostage by the other. (Critchley 2015, Location 3095)” Finitude is poured into a different vessel but retains the same monistic tragedy of being.

Critchley suggested that the child one produces is outside of being, the otherwise than being, has all the earmarks of the idea of infinitude, the extension of me and mine down many new possible paths. We recall a similar path for Friedrich Nietzsche’s Zarathustra who endures three metamorphoses from camel, to lion, to child. He bears the burden of being as a camel, but resists that tragedy of being human in the form of an angry lion, and finally he crosses the bridge of wonder through the wide-open eyes of the child who does not carry the baggage of humanity, only the unfathomable notion of existence and the promise of the ubermensch, the superman—an otherwiseness of the human: man’s successor. Zarathustra’s metamorphosis is in the form of a metaphysical regression, not as Critchley describes his idea of Levinas’s notion of the child as a result of fecundity. Is there a difference between the fecundity of regression and the fecundity of the child?

I suggest that there is. This is where my concept of Levinas and Critchley’s Levinas diverge. My child is an otherwise than being but as another form of substitution. I turn to the Buddha again, not to drown the flames of passion (to end the tragedy of dukkha), but to use his regressive technique in order to create a fecundity of mind. The Buddha’s eightfold path and his teachings are a comedy designed to turn the mind around, to think in a different way, to think otherwisely and to enter the realm of otherwise than being he called nibbana. It is teaching the techniques of becoming otherwise that I believe can provide direction for Levinas in relationship to otherwise than being. Certainly the child becomes an otherwise and an otherwiseness who possesses some of who you are. The vessel of being and the vessel of substitution (of me for the other in the ethics of responsibility) are, as Critchley explained, ensconced within the ontology of being but in different forms. If the otherwise than being is the child, then the I encapsulated within being is still there in my, il ya a (there is), and remains the being before death. My shadow coffin contains my being even though I have a child. The child then suffers the same fate of being, reduced to a being before death.

How did the Buddha resolve this re-encapsulation? The enlightened one (Arahant) is a product of the khandhas processes, the same as any unenlightened one. The difference is that the fuel that flares the flames of passion associated with the desire for being have been shed like so much excess baggage by the Arahant. The Arahant has achieved a state of understanding that ignorance is ensconced in the mistaken idea of the durable self and soul. Once one understands that dependent arising is the way of the world, ignorance can be shed. The Arahant does not know everything, but the Arahant has the capacity to better understand the world using the right ways of the eightfold path. The unenlightened one does not have these same skills. The state of otherwise than being (nibbana) is no longer the state of dukkha because samsara is no longer an issue for the Arahant because the Arahant will not become again. The unsatisfactoriness of being behind him, the Buddha could prepare to enter paranibbana, which he understood as a deathlessness, but a state for which he had no knowledge because nobody could report back from that state.

Is fecundity a certain escape from being? Is the eightfold path a certain escape from being? When we bring Critchley’s Levinas together with the Buddha we find that there are great similarities of project but less certain outcomes for the tragedy of finitude. Critchley would like for there to be a divine comedy, a mysticism ensconced in the idea of love. In the intersection of Levinas and the Buddha, love might be the idea that endures. The Buddha’s love for all things gives all sentient beings the opportunity to engage in the process of enlightenment. In Critchley’s Levinas, love produces not only the eros of being with and for another, but also the child as continuity, not the same but not unlike the Buddha’s continuity without identity of selfsame substance. Yet, this Buddhist continuity is also the comedy of dependent origination. One knows that what happens next depends in part upon what has happened before. The comedy of dependent origination is the phenomenological process of trying to understand the world from how it presents itself over time. With comedy, the outcome evolves through the antics of the actors who live in the world of dukkha, suffering for their own efforts. Thus human foibles along with action produce what follows in a theatrical demonstration of dependent origination. In comedy, the path is outward and evolutionary as is the path to nibbana. However, in tragedy, one begins with the tragic self, the being ensconced in dukkha, forever doomed to repeat because the only outcome of each step in the process of dependent origination is towards self-destruction.

For Critchley’s Levinas, the everyperson hero dies but retains the hope that the child from fecundity and eros will begin with the same opportunity and become otherwise through a child of her own.

I suggest that in the end, Critchley’s Levinas desires being, but being in the guise of another, another form of samsara that is otherwise than transformative as the Buddha had discovered in his own regressive process to become enlightened. The Buddha saw eros not as the fire of passion but as the love for compassion in an ethical state he called nibbana. I see similarities of thinking otherwise with Levinas, but Levinas did not have the same transformative experience as the Buddha. What Levinas did was outline very carefully why being’s end begins with Heidegger, and offers as a solution: the idea of responsibility, a teleological recognition that I must substitute myself for the other in order to overcome the tragedy of being. Critchley rightly suggested that this is just another prison. Critchley’s ultimate solution through the ideas of Levinas of love, eros, and fecundity producing the child is a scintillating idea, but when juxtaposed against the Buddhist idea of love as understanding, knowledge, and compassion: the being towards, not death, but deathlessness, I suggest that Critchley’s fecundity of the child as an otherwise than being ultimately fails as another vessel to encapsulate being.

The Buddha would not have us be encapsulated in a thrown vessel. We are, of course, the product of our khandhas, but have no separate self that can be considered permanent and undifferentiated. We are in constant flux. We carry within us the seeds of past lives through the karmic forces and our continuity is tinged by what has come before. However, we have the wherewithal in our own lifetime, if we are willing to try to discover it, the power of deathlessness, or the otherwise than being. This is passion without the flames of passion, an eros of pure existence without the unsatisfactoriness of being. Certainly when we produce a child, this child enters the world with all the possibilities that are available to the human. However, what the Buddha saw was not the fecundity of the act of eros, but the fecundity of the process of enlightenment that is important.

The Buddha could have gone into the woods to live out his life like a hermit, instead he spent the rest of his life after he left the Bodhi tree, to teach others the power of the state of nibbana and the idea of deathlessness. The fecundity of the mind is what the Buddha taught and he worked hard to pass this down to his own son. It is the fecundity of mind, not just procreation, that I suggest is the comedy that replaces the tragedy of Heidegger’s being. The essence of comedy is thinking otherwise and expressing it as such. It is the twist, the reversal, and the unexpected, that emerges as humor. The comedy of the fecundity of mind that the Buddha teaches is to think otherwise in order to better understand how dependent origination brings forth the world to be perceived by one who is ready to see it.

In the many stories in the Pali Canon, the Buddha is recorded as helping people to change their minds by asking questions that expose the absurdity of their beliefs. He didn’t stop there because he also helped the other replace absurdity with knowledge that they could use to improve the fecundity of their own mind towards reaching nibbana, which for some the concept also means joy. I believe that the Buddha understood that thinking otherwise is the way to escape the tragedy of samsara and the unsatisfactoriness of dukkha. Have the child; teach the comedy of fecundity of mind. Don’t have a child, but teach others the divine comedy, the metaphor of the fecundity of mind. Be responsible to others by all means, but be mindful that teaching the fecundity of mind is the most responsible thing you can do for the other.


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Gombrich, Richard F. 2006. How Buddhism began: The conditioned genesis of the early teachings. 2nd. ed. New York: Routledge.

Henley, David S. 2015. The Logic of Enlightenment. Alresford, Hants UK: Iff Books.

Hoffman, Frank J. 1987. Rationality & Mind in Early Buddhism. Delhi, India: Motilal Banasaridass.

Hoffman, Frank J. 2013. Introduction to Early Buddhism: Philosophical Texts, Concepts, and Questions. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Research Centre for Buddhist Studies.

Jurewicz, Joanna. 2000. “Playing with fire: The Pratītyasamutpāda from the perspective of vedic thought.”  Journal of the Pali Text Society 26:77-103.

Kalmanson, Leah, Frank Garrett, & Sarah Mattice, ed. 2013. Levinas and Asian Thought. Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press.

Kalupahana, David J & Indrani. 1982. The Way of Siddhartha. Boulder, Co.: Shambhala.

Levinas, Emmanuel. 1988. “Useless suffering.” In The Provocation of Levinas: Rethinking the Other, edited by Robert Bernasconi, & Wood, David, 156–167. NY: Routledge

Levinas, Emmanuel. 2003. On Escape. Translated by Bettina Bergo. Stanford: Standford University Press.

Levinas, Emmanuel, and Trans Richard A  Cohen. 1985. Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo: Trans. Richard A. Cohen. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP.

Mayerfeld, Jamie. 1999. “Suffering and moral responsibility.”

Mishra, Pankaj. 2004. An end to suffering: The Buddha in the world: Macmillan.

Panaioti, Antoine. 2013. Nietzsche and Buddhism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Park, Yin Y. 2013. “Comparative Philosophy of Religious Responses to Suffering: A Panel Discussion.” Comparison Project, Drake University.

Reid, Donald. 2002. “Towards a Social History of Suffering: Dignity, Misery and Disrespect.”  Social History 27 (3):343-358. doi: 10.2307/4286911.

Rhys Davids, TW & William Stede. 1921-1925. Pali-English Dictionary. Sri Lanka: Pali Text Society.

Soelle, Dorothee. 1975. Suffering. Translated by Everett Kalin, R. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Sullivan, Daniel, Mark J. Landau, Aaron C. Kay, and Zachary K. Rothschild. 2012. “Collectivism and the meaning of suffering.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 103 (6):1023-1039. doi: 10.1037/a0030382.

Upadhyaya, Kashi Nath. 1971. Early Buddhism and the Bhagavadgita. Delhi: Motilal Barnasidass Publishers.


[1] I will be using Pali terms (a derivation of Sanskrit) because the first manuscripts translated into English were in Pali. For simplicity I have consciously not used diacritic marks.

[2] Please note that I have elected not to use diacritical marks for Pali words. Pali words, other than person’s names, are in italics.

[3] This is not to say that evil ones do not produce or encourage dukkha. The Buddha’s deva (god) Mara is such a trickster who the Buddha calls evil because he tempts the Buddha and his followers to stray from the eightfold path back into the desire for being.

[4] For Levinas he calls the suffering he wants to overcome is useless suffering—that which others suffer and he suffered, for example, at the hands of the Nazis.

[5] For recent western scholarship on the idea of suffering other than Levinas, consult: (Amato 1990, Andorno 2014, Davies 2012, Frances 2013, Mayerfeld 1999, Reid 2002, Soelle 1975, Sullivan et al. 2012) For recent Buddhist commentary on the Buddha’s idea of suffering, consult: (Blanchard 2012, Gombrich 2009, Gombrich 2006, Mishra 2004, Park 2013)

Levinas and Natural Language


I argue that Emmanuel Levinas provided for the locus for the development of proto natural languages that begins with the face of the Other. At the same time Levinas’s first philosophy suggests that not only is language fundamental to ethics but that ethics is also fundamental to language. From this analysis it is proposed that the first word in natural language is, ‘Thou shall not Kill.’

The Face of the Other

Natural language was born in our distant past. Where; when? Nobody knows. If we can discover the conditions possible for the generation of the earliest natural languages this may provide us with direction towards how proto-languages first begin. I will argue that Emmanuel Levinas provides such a locus with his first philosophy, and that a locus for the proto natural language begins is with the face of the Other[1].

Michael Bernard-Donals saw the first philosophy of Levinas connecting language and ethics, “It could be said that if ethics is first philosophy for Levinas, then a theory of language or utterance (rhetoric) might be fundamental to ethics. (Bernard-Donals, 2005, p. 63)” I will argue that the significance of the first philosophy which begins with the face of the Other is not only that language is fundamental to ethics but that ethics is also fundamental to language. As Levinas said: “The ‘vision’ of the face is inseparable from this offering language is. To see the face is to speak of the world. Transcendence is not an optics, but the first ethical gesture. (Emmanuel Levinas, 1961, p. 174)”


While we likely will never hear the first words ever spoken, we get close to that condition with a biblical tale. Amit Pinchevski, in his thoughtful retelling of the story of the tower of Babylon explained that when God confused the languages:

The confusion caused the people of Babel to retract their gazes from the Tower to each other’s faces, acknowledging, maybe for the first time, that they were different, finite, separate – a dialog of baffled faces. Never before were the Babylonians so close and yet so far as in this moment. Is there a moment wherein one is more exposed to the Other’s otherness? (Pinchevski, 2005, p. 225)

It is at this event, this primordial moment in language development, when we cannot understand each Other’s words we look towards the face of the Other. In doing so we retreat from our singular knowing of the tower as the omniscient I of our inward egos and begin to consider the Other – the face of the Other. While this event allegedly occurred during the period of signs and signifiers there is no common understanding of either at the moment of confusion. All that remains is the human language of the face of Other. “Language as the presence of the face” held special meaning to Levinas because for him language was justice (Emmanuel Levinas, 1961, p. 213). The face is the epiphany, the moment where the whole of humanity becomes present, “…in the eyes that look at me. (Emmanuel Levinas, 1961, p. 213)”

The faces beneath the tower of Babel called to each Other in their humanity, revealing the whole of humanity in the Other where both the same and the Other were joined in their nakedness and destituteness. Levinas explained that the event of the original language occurs within this proximity of the other and is without words:

“This relationship of proximity, this contact unconvertible into a noetico-noematic structure, in which every transmission of messages, whatever be those messages, is already established, is the original language, a language without words or propositions, pure communication. (Emmanuel Levinas, 1987, pp. 119, Language and Proximity)”

From this original language, the evolving ethical natural language and natural language are co-determined in this event for they are inseparable even by degree. It is the separation of the ethical from the natural discourse that is unnatural because it bifurcates the face into its separate ontology and otherness. Analogously, it removes the spider from its web. Levinas’s critique of western philosophy is that it has done much to structure the language artificially in this respect, concretizing the Other ontologically within the limits of reason and the totalizing of knowledge through the descriptive and the demonstrative where inquisitiveness and curiosity about the Other has always been the primacy of the natural cum ethical conversation (Emmanuel Levinas, 1961, pp. 21-22).

The Conditions Possible for Natural Language

If the face of the Other is the locus for the generation of natural language then there must be both an I and another. Can a brain in a vat produce a language that only it understands, a private language? Ludwig Wittgenstein argued against such an idea because the individual would not be able to develop intelligible meanings for the signs it developed, “I could not apply any rules to a private transition from what is seen to words. Here the rules really would hang in the air; for the institution of their use is lacking. (Wittgenstein, 1958, p. Paragraphs: 262-263, 275-277, 311, the quote @ 380)” For purposes of this discussion, a natural language requires two or more participants[2]. Second, in this locus for the generation of natural language, there does not have to be words or any verbal or visual symbols that anyone understands other than what can be derived from the face of the Other. The confusing of the languages by God provides at least one moment where this was so, at least in the Bible. Or, as any traveler might attest, in a strange land where others only speak a language that the traveler does not understand.

Our bodies are oriented such that we must look straight at another’s face to see it. We are oriented to faces from infancy. However, Levinas’s insight is that the face of the Other is an announcement to me of its otherness. The Other’s face is not me. As it is not me it also is a mystery to me because there is no possible way for me to get inside the Other’s head as I can with my own. The face of the Other brings me up short from my egoistic sameness if just for a moment. This is true even if it is the face of a familiar Other because I cannot be sure at this moment whether this Other will be the same Other as before. This is the infinite alterity of the Other – that I can never know the Other completely. There is always more Other of the Other that is unfathomable.

From Ontology to Metaphysics

Western philosophy, Levinas argued, has remained focused on the body with a face, the embodied face of the Other – the ontological manifestation of the Other in its definition of being (Emmanuel  Levinas, 1996, pp. 8, Is Ontology Fundamental?). By focusing on the ontological first, philosophy has been engaged in ipseity for both the I and the Other. We separate each and provide a locus for each in the world. This produces an ethics that is oriented from an I locus. For Levinas this is a problem because the I notoriously has been instrumental in defining ethics that are beneficial to me and others whom I define as me. With ontology of being defined first and I focused, the Other’s humanity is demoted. Levinas challenges the phrase, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” because it requires the I to first think of itself before it thinks of the Other. As a result the twisted ethic of the Nazi final solution says to its ipseity, “If I were evil like the Jews, I would want me to be exterminated as well.” The Levinasian turn revises the statement of the golden rule to, “I am responsible for the Other and am obligated to the Other as the Other so desires.” The orientation from the I becomes the orientation to the Other. The primacy of I ontology is reversed so that metaphysics of the face of the Other precedes ontology. I am still an I but the Other, when before me, becomes a metaphysical mystery for which I am responsible but uncertain in how to proceed. What concerns many who read Levinas is that I am responsible to the Other even if it means sacrificing myself for the sake of the Other. This is far different from Other ethical orientations that begin with the ontological I and perform a calculus towards a logical and equitable ethical solution I can live with. There can be no final ethical resolution in a Levinasian sense because my responsibility to the Other never ends.

The problem is that it is not logical in the traditional ethics of the I for me to have the authority, let alone responsibility, to sacrifice myself for the Other. The logic of the Levinasian Other becomes the Other qua Other and as such it is my responsibility towards the other that becomes the first philosophy, its ethics.

The Moment of the Face

In the moment the face comes before me is the moment and the locus for when natural language can occur. “A being (l’etant) is a human being and it is as a neighbor that a human being is accessible – the face. (Emmanuel  Levinas, 1996, pp. 8, Is Ontology Fundamental?)” This face of the Other requires no arbitrary Saussurean symbol or sign. It is an event. It is an event between two, separated by a clear space where there is implicit knowledge that this is an Other before me, but an epiphany that I cannot ever know the depth of the Other from the height from which the Other looks down at me. In this the Other calls into question my ipesity, “The calling in question of the I, coextensive with the manifestation of the Other in the face, we call language. (Emmanuel Levinas, 1961, p. 171)”

The face of the Other is a complicated conversation at best. The Other as the body containing a face is a subject of my intentionality to be sure, but my phenomenal investigation at this moment of seeing is disrupted, disturbed by the presence of the face. “The Other remains infinitely transcendent, infinitely foreign; his face in which his epiphany is produced and which appeals to me breaks with the world that can be common to us…(Emmanuel Levinas, 1961, p. 194)”

What begins simultaneously with this recognition is the realization that I cannot phenomenally know the Other because my intentionality is restricted to the Other as an ontological corporal being. In order to begin to understand the Other I must reach out to the Other with something more than my intentionality. I must begin a conversation.

Levinas never explicitly said that the locus for ‘natural language’ begins with the face. His fundamental project in context of the face and language was to consider how the face precedes ontology in its metaphysical alterity. However he did say that the face and discourse are articulated. “Face and discourse are tied. The face speaks. It speaks, it is in this that it renders possible and begins all discourse. (Emmanuel Levinas & Cohen, 1985, p. 87)”

It is not difficult to suggest other loci for the origin of natural language. Some might maintain that hand and arm movements are the source for the development of natural language. Gestures in and of themselves could be considered a form of language symbolism as gestures take on meaning when repeated again and again. And while the hand as well as the face have corporeal ontological meaning, the arm and hand do not take on the aspect of otherness as does the face in its infinite alterity. The body produces a language of its own but we look to the face for answers to the question of our understanding of the Other. As such the face is a logical locus for the beginning of natural language which is founded ethically as obligation to the Other.

The locus of the face of the Other is not natural language in the traditional sense of something that evolves naturally as language. Instead it produces a condition of possibility for natural language to evolve from the basic human abilities to produce a natural language. “On the contrary, it calls to me above and beyond the given that speech already puts in common among us. (Emmanuel Levinas, 1961, p. 212). The language of the face is not dialogic, “…the epiphany of the face qua face opens humanity. (Emmanuel Levinas, 1961, p. 213)”

The face, however, is not a sign. Bernhard Waldenfels explained, “The face, expression simpliciter, forms the first word, the face is the signifier which appears on the top of his sign, like eyes looking at you. (Critchley & Bernasconi, 2002, pp. 68, Levinas and the Face of the Other)” It is the expression of the face that forms the first word. So, can we make the intuitive leap that if the face is the first word and there as yet are no words because language has not been invented yet that the face becomes the word or the locus where language might begin? The problem with this pre-linguistic environment is that the face might be reduced by the I to an ontological object from its infinitely alterior place in the first philosophy because there is no language to follow this epiphany. Yet the expression of the face of the other has produced the first word which Hilary Putnam suggested that Levinas explained is, “Thou shall not Kill. (Critchley & Bernasconi, 2002, pp. 45, Levinas and Judaism)” If this is the first word then the space for natural language has been opened by the expression of the face of the Other before me. The second word might have been the expression of wariness, keeping in mind the ethics of the first word of the face, ‘Thou shall not Kill.’ But is this ‘language’ if, as Susan Goldin-Meadow says, “…the definitive characteristic of human language is the recursive function in its grammar…? (Goldin-Meadow, 2002, pp. 87, Missing Links, Issues and Hypotheses In the Evolutionary Origin of Language)” There is not yet a formal grammar in this pre-language formulation of ‘Thou shall not Kill’ but there is recursion for if this is the first word uttered by the face in its alterity before me then there is a kind of pre-grammatical recursivity in the expression of the human face when I meet Others and Others and Others. What caused the explosion of additional morphemes beyond the first word, ‘Thou shall not Kill’ that created the first proto-natural languages? Perhaps it is from this ethical locus of first letting the Other ‘be’ that the stage is set for the development of a communication that extends beyond body language, gestures and grunts. So there must be something in the human condition that recognizes the ethics of letting the other ‘be’ as the primordial condition of human interaction which is the fundamental precept of Levinas’s first philosophy. The face produces this durable ethical space where one can let another ‘be’ but is there something deeper in the human condition that produces the environment where this can be the case? Perhaps this is the ultimate mystery of the metaphysical.

The Ethics of Inquiry

The Levinasian turn recognizes that the history of western ethics that is bounded in ontology produces an I oriented conversation where the primacy of the I is more interested in its own understanding. By being oriented towards understanding I, the Other is an object for the I to consider and understand only in relationship to my ipseity. The conversation in an ontologically oriented philosophy is demonstrative. However, the conversation in Levinas’s first philosophy oriented towards the I’s responsibility for the Other is inquisitive and its primary focus is inquiry. The other becomes a teacher in this space of inquiry, “This voice coming from another shore teaches transcendence itself. Teaching signifies the whole infinity of exteriority. (Emmanuel Levinas, 1961, p. 171)”

Demonstrative conversation cements the Other in the eye of the I and objectifies the Other by promoting the intentionality of the Other as an object of interest to me rather than an object of mystery for which I have an obligation to learn more because I am obligated to the Other without reservation or limit. The metaphysical turn of Levinas redefines language as inquiry and inquiry towards understanding but of understanding of obligation. Language becomes a conversation without theoretical end as the I and the Other continually refine our inquiry in order to better understand each Other. This understanding, of course, will never be complete. And the understanding of this fact became evident in the moment when the face of the Other appears before me and me before the Other. As a result for Levinas, conversation is oriented towards the Other and not towards me.

The Approach

If an utterance is an approach to the Other then, as Bernard-Donals said, “any encounter with another compels speech (Bernard-Donals, 2005, p. 63)” If I am responsible for the Other, according to Levinas, then the approach to the Other is with this understanding that any speech or utterance that results is couched in the same terms. The asymmetricality of this approach to the Other is that my responsibility is irrespective of whatever response to my approach I receive. I may be rebuffed, violently struck down, but my inquiry never changes.

Sam I Am from Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham asks the Other over and over again in situation after new situation whether the Other could like green eggs and ham (Geisel, 1960). Sam I Am is not badgering the Other, but he is making sure through his inquiry if there is any circumstance where the Other might like green eggs and ham. While an extreme form of inquiry to be sure, the message is gotten across that ‘Sam I Am’ is really ‘Sam I Am for you the Other’ at your service to determine your wants, likes, and dislikes without any reference to my self or my needs.

Before Language and Culture

The face of the Other precedes all language and culture. “Meaning, the intelligible, consists for beings in showing itself in its nonhistorical simplicity, in its absolutely unqualifiable and irreducible nakedness, in existing ‘prior to’ history or culture. (Emmanuel  Levinas, 1996, pp. 58, Meaning and Sense)” The nakedness of the face of the Other before me is primordial to my humanity and it exists even in the Hobbesian state of nature, before culture, before civilization or law and before language. It is a condition human that cannot be controverted by language or culture without doing damage to its ethical primordiality. But from where is this naked condition human derived? It is derived from the trace; the beyond. “The beyond is precisely beyond the ‘world’, that is, beyond every disclosure, like the One of the first hypothesis of the Parmenides, transcending all cognition, be it symbolic or signified. (Emmanuel  Levinas, 1996, pp. 59, Meaning and Sense)” Thus the face is an abstraction but one for which humans are attuned to its abstractness. But as Edith Wyschogrod explained, this abstraction is incomplete even in its nakedness without language. Language serves me pedagogically when it comes from the Other (Critchley & Bernasconi, 2002, pp. 191, Language and alterity in the thought of Levinas). It informs me of what is behind the face of the Other by lifting the fog of even a trace of the trace of alterity. I learn by what the Other says to me and I continue my own education by inquiring further, “would you, could you like green eggs and ham?[3]

In Summary

The face of the Other is not language in the traditional sense, but the appearance face of the Other before me produces a moment from which natural language can be sprung. The advance of I towards the Other produces a conditions possible, even a mandate, for language and conversation to begin. The face of the Other is before culture or civilization and is a condition human. The face of the Other as the trace shows itself in its own alterity but it conflates with the primordiality of ethics which is born in the face as the first word, ‘Thou shall not Kill.’


Bernard-Donals, M. F. (2005). “Difficult Freedom”: Levinas, Language, and Politics. Diacritics, 35(3), 62-77.

Critchley, S., & Bernasconi, R. (2002). The Cambridge Companion to Levinas: Cambridge Univ Pr.

Geisel, T. S. (1960). Green eggs and ham. NY, NY: Beginner Books.

Goldin-Meadow, S. (2002). Getting a handle on language creation. Typological Studies in Language, 53, 343-374.

Levinas, E. (1961). Totality and Infinity: an Essay on Exteriority. Pittsburg, Pa: Duquesne University Press.

Levinas, E. (1987). Collected philosophical papers (Vol. 100): Springer.

Levinas, E. (1996). Emmanuel Levinas Basic Philosophical Writings. Bloomington, In: Indiana University Press

Levinas, E., & Cohen, T. R. A. (1985). Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo: Trans. Richard A. Cohen. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP.

Pinchevski, A. (2005). The Ethics of Interruption: Toward a Levinasian Philosophy of Communication. Social Semiotics, 15(2), 211-234. doi: 10.1080/10350330500154790

Wittgenstein, L. (1958). Philosophical Investigations (G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.


[1] Levinas capitalized the Other and the Self. This convention is maintained here when it refers to another person or ‘me’.

[2] Acknowledging, of course, that there are more who comment on the private language argument including Saul Kripke, Anthony Kenny and Keld Stehr Nielsen.

[3] The words used in but not an exact quote from Green Eggs and Ham (Geisel, 1960)

From The Story Called Continuity

A giant insect claw pulls a curious farmer wielding a shotgun into a crater where a spaceship has crashed in the 1997 movie Men in Black. From our vantage beyond the edge of the crater: lights, commotion, silence. The farmer emerges somewhat unsteadily and walks back to his home. He demands sugar and lots of it from his wife. This is no longer a man but a skin bag filled with cockroaches who, with hive-like capabilities, can imitate the farmer’s speech and movement…almost. We laugh this off because we are privy to the joke in this movie’s comedic take on all the alien invasion movies ever made. We, that is government in its darkest form, have made peace with aliens through a black-ops program called MIB which serves as an immigration and nationalization service and portal for aliens who wish to travel to and work in the world.

Later we see the former farmer driving a pest extermination truck. This is not out of the ordinary. The fact that he is a bit weird, unsteady, and has jerky movements does not give us concern because it just seems logical for anyone who would do this nasty job….

We don’t consider as we watch this that we are made up of colonies of billions of bugs, bacteria, mites, viruses, parasites and more that dwarf the amount of stuff that our DNA has constructed which we call ourselves. It does not even enter our minds that maybe the bug filled farmer may be the real “human” and we are the alien, and that drinking sugar and walking funny is normal and we are the exception. That’s fiction…

The Facts of Life

We nod to the scientist who wonders whether the mitochondria that makes us and other creatures that have more than one cell may be the symbiotic construct of bacteria and a single cell creature. Nor does it phase us to any great extent when president Bill Clinton proclaims that a meteorite from Mars may contain primitive life.1 We find it curious, amusing, but not frightening when scientists claim in the argument called panspermia, that life came to earth from Mars or elsewhere in the universe, blown out into space by asteroid or comet collisions, to survive thousands or even millions of years of dormancy in the harshest conditions: space.2 It is not an insult to our intelligence when science reanimates viruses frozen in the Siberian tundra for more than ten thousand years, or when other researchers revive spoors over two hundred and fifty million years old.3 We grieve for the humanity lost in the Columbia disaster of 2003 but don’t dwell on the fact that nematodes the shuttle carried survived and once again thrived after the ships fiery reentry.

A veil has been drawn over our eyes. We fail to recognize the often insidious nature of life. Life demands continuity.4 Life demands its continuity at the expense of individual life forms, species, genomes, families, and perhaps even kingdoms. There have been five major extinction events that have nearly wiped out life from earth. Most have been the result of “natural” activities such as super volcanos, asteroids, and a big freeze.

Life caused the first near-extinction. The earliest life forms were anaerobic, meaning that the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere was so low that life could not use it to fuel its metabolic engine. Then, as Darwin and evolutionists tell us, something happened. A stromatolite developed capabilities of photosynthesis which uses the sun’s energy and carbon dioxide as its metabolic engine and produces a waste called oxygen.5 Oxygen, it turns out is poisonous to the anaerobic life forms and ninety eight percent of existing life forms became extinct. Did life “care”? Not one whit.6 In fact, if this hadn’t happened probably all those monstrous creatures who preceded us including the dinosaurs would not have existed.

How do we thank a serial killer, an ethnic cleanser, the architect of the primordial “holocaust” and still maintain an ethical stance towards our own existence? We are life’s minions, the dutiful servants of a harsh mistress who demands only one thing from us and that is to reproduce. Life is the God who says be fruitful and multiply. Life is the idea of building the ark that Noah believes he gets from God. It is the ark that launches with two of all creatures to repopulate the earth after the flood of the ages. Life’s ark can also be a tiny meteorite, a vial from a doomed space shuttle, a rock buried deep in the earth that has formed around dormant microbes, or a synthesis of lipid bag, metabolic engine, and plan that emerges out of primitive ooze.

It matters not to life whether you live or die, only that something exists that can reproduce itself, multiply, mutate, evolve and fill as many niches as possible in the universe. Life has found ways of existing in the hottest springs, caustic sea vents, rocks, and the deepest mines.7 Ubiquity is optimal; however, just one life form that can reproduce asexually or parthenogenically is all that is necessary for life to fulfil its mission of continuity.

Is life the supervillain of all supervillains? To begin to answer this question we must ask and answer what is a supervillain? First, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) finds the origin of the word villain: “Originally, a low-born base-minded rustic; a man of ignoble ideas or instincts; in later use, an unprincipled or depraved scoundrel; a man naturally disposed to base or criminal actions, or deeply involved in the commission of disgraceful crimes…”8 Our farmer from MIB certainly fits the criteria of a low-born basic-minded rustic. Yet there is more to the villain definition, “The character in a play, novel, etc., whose evil motives or actions form an important element in the plot. Also transf., esp. in phr. villain of the piece.”9 We cannot help but thank life for our own existence. We are, however, but characters in life’s play. I will suggest that life is the author of both the superhero and supervillain characters in the story called “Continuity”.


Continuity means that life makes no distinction in the worth of any life form over another. Continuity is all that matters. Our anthropomorphic vision of humanity as a superior creature holds no meaning for life. If we go extinct, so what? If we ruin the climate with global warming and overpopulate the globe until the ecology collapses, there will be something of life that remains. Good riddance humanity?

Is continuity evil? This is similar to the question theologians of the Abrahamic religions have asked for thousands of years: if God is good, omniscient, and omnipotent how can there be evil in the world? The answer that some think satisfies this paradox is that there must be something good about evil if God can only do good; others think it is the abuse of human ego that brought evil into the world.10 It appears that life’s continuity question produces elements of logic like the first religious argument: Continuity must be good for life otherwise life would not have evolved its aspect of continuity without concern for the individual.

The buggy farmer in MIB is a villain for sure. The farmer, both before and after the infestation, is life. Bugs kill the farmer. Is the farmer as a bag of bugs a supervillain? The OED defines supervillain as, “An extremely villainous person; spec. a fictional character with superhuman powers in a comic strip, film, etc.”11 This entry is of little help because it defines villain with itself and adds only the imprecise adjective “extremely” to give us any indication of its difference from the common variety villain. Let’s consider the prefix “super”.

Super as a prefix means something that is above the word for which it is the prefix.12 Therefore a supervillain is something that is above a villain. Above, like the adjective “extremely”, is just as imperfect a definition. If we dig further into the idea of God, the idea of above refers to heaven and the expanse and the soaring cathedrals that reach up to God. A metaphysical above, then, is where God dwells. This proves to be good imagery for the faithful who cannot otherwise understand the concept of God being everywhere, so up is as good a place as any. Correspondingly, down is Satan’s realm.

However, we cannot see God. Therefore, the metaphysical realm is all that we can give to God. We can see life. It is all around us. We can smell it, put our fingers on it. It is ubiquitous in our phenomenal world. God remains hidden even though God is purportedly as omnipresent as life. If we are God-fearing then God is the creator. If we lean towards the atheistic, then something quite natural is the creator, that is of life. Animal life becomes from its minimal constitutional requirements: lipid bag, metabolic engine, and a plan (DNA/RNA).13


Here our life-originary options so far. Life: is a construct of God, emerges from earthly ooze, it crashes to earth from extraterrestrial space rock, or, from what have yet to discover— some other explanation. Even if we take the skeptical stance of Rene Descartes that all we can know for sure is that we are thinking things, then we are both tangible and thinking. What more proof of life’s existence do we need? We can, like Descartes, discount our reality as coming from some evil genius, give it to God, or even to the processes of the universe. Regardless of its origin, let’s assume we believe that life is.

How the other stuff of the universe becomes we turn to cosmologists whose best explanation is all somethings came from an infinitesimal singularity that inflates suddenly into a universe. Let us assume that the big bang is the case and with it comes all the forces and laws of physics. Within this theoretical construct, the idea of life is possible. Let’s stay with the assumption that life can emerge from the fundamental processes and laws that became from the big bang. It as good as any place to start.


Now to the business of supervillainy. The problem with originary explanations other than God are they offer no pre-originary metaphysical reason for life to exist other than it could and it does. We need an alternative explanation of life’s origin that comports with the laws of the universe, whether God had a hand in authoring these fundamental precepts or not. The panspermia argument of life arriving from space rocks presumably from other planets or even as the result of alien seeding experiments does not bring us to an originary event.14 We still must ask where did life first originate in this universe (or, in an even more theoretical and murky multiverse)?

The emergence theory suggests that conditions became right for a lipid bag to form, perhaps in the tidal zone at the rocky shores of an ocean. A stew of lipids, proteins, minerals: all the ingredients necessary for life to form, might have been captured in a bubble of fatty stuff in water. Emergence requires no meddlesome deity and does not need anything outside of the elements and materials available to the early earth. The emergent life form is a bricoleur of the world, combining available elements and forces into a new technology that has: dimension and border (however pervious), and a metabolic engine to convert minerals, water, protein, and other substances into energy. What emerges is something more complex than the surrounding environment: life. The most primitive pre-originary life may have had only a metabolic engine in a lipid bag that did not have a plan. We won’t speculate further on how DNA/RNA became the plan other than to say, yes it has.

This sounds nothing like supervillainy. Rather it sounds rather plain and normal. Perhaps this was the state of the original life form. It could reproduce so it did. How did it reproduce; pinch off a bit of itself? Was it too efficient and was beginning to become too big for its own lipid bag? There are yet no nerves, no brain, no intelligence so to speak, just a metabolism that works. Perhaps even at this earliest stage of pre-primordial life there is no “formal” plan, only a moment where the original stuff pinches into two bags. Maybe water serves to separate the bag into two, or other processes emerge that do the same. Why did it reproduce?

Something strange happens. Not all the same material in the original bag makes it into the pinched off bag. These new bags are now different. You see where this is leading. We have entered a speculation as to why something would need to reproduce itself or pinch off a piece of itself. This pinching-off is not consistent with other fundamental processes. Things combine and chemical processes break things down in chemistry and physics, but life seems to ride above these processes, to exist in the context of being “super” to other earthly processes.

Life evolves from processes we call mutation. The gene, whenever it originated, mutates. If the mutation finds purchase and sustenance in an earthly ecological niche it survives. If it does not; it dies. Offspring from thrivers survive as do those who barely survive, and even some who ultimately cannot survive, but survive long enough to reproduce. This chain of mutation appears random to many, caused by processes we do not fully understand. Mutations may be the result of diet, injury, radiation, internal chemical processes, external chemical processes, or combinations thereof, or a lot more. This we can accept and have evidence in radiation studies, cancer studies, and other longitudinal studies of viruses and bacteria that this is the case. The fact that a new flu shot is required each year is a testament to the powers of reproductive mutation.

However, this doesn’t answer the fundamental question of the why of life’s fourth and least understood aspect: continuity? Rocks don’t reproduce. Yet rocks emerge. Stars don’t reproduce. Yet stars emerge. What produces reproduction if it is not something that is fundamental to other natural processes? Reproduction does not bring any new elements to the universe. Life reconfigures elements and processes available in the universe. It cannot reach down and create new laws to accommodate itself. It is the ancient furniture maker who uses the wood that is available, for he cannot invent a new species that might produce a better product. Yet, while the furniture maker repeatedly turns an idea in his head into the same or even slightly different table, the tables themselves have no capability of reproducing.

We can explain the chemistry and biology of DNA/RNA, look at physical processes and environments that can duplicate the same thing repeatedly, and even introduce processes and environments that can produce mutations. Let us assume that we will eventually have good scientific explanation for how life emerged and how reproduction came about. Does that explain the continuity angle? Is continuity just a derivative concept that just happens to result from all this chemistry, physics, and biology? For what purpose is continuity? Do we need God?

A Straight Shot to the Metaphysical

We can go straight to the metaphysical and suggest that it is a super-construct, beyond the physics of the universe. Even if there is no one God, perhaps life’s continuity is something akin to the atheistic karmic forces of Buddhism that enable samsāra, or the rebirth repeatedly of something that has no soul but is, as Frank Hoffman describes it, “continuity without identity of self-same substance.”15

Can we say then: whether the result of activities from a prime mover, or an unknown origin, continuity of life is metaphysical, a super-construct? If continuity is a super-construct (metaphysical) then it exceeds or is over a construct. What is the construct? Continuity itself. Continuity that exceeds itself is but more continuity. We can only define the super-construct of continuity with itself…continuity. We run straight into a circular argument.

Richard Dawkins called the gene selfish.16 It wants to preserve itself at all costs. It does so through reproduction and its association with successful mutations and processes that preserve existence for the next reproduction. This may help describe the process of and the result of continuity but it doesn’t state the cause. Why is there continuity and why is it the villain of all villains in that it has no concern for the individual other than that which produces continuity?

Good and Evil

Suppose we abandon the effort of trying to define continuity with itself. Let’s turn to the human construct of good and evil. We tend to consider good to be that which, as Aristotle suggests, helps humanity and even the world maintain or even increase its flourishing. Evil affects flourishing in other than flourishing ways. Therefore, evil is something that reduces flourishing or otherwise limits flourishing. There is a moment of equilibrium where flourishing is both encouraged and discouraged in this continuum between good and evil. It is this locus, this evil/good equilibrium that we must investigate next.

First, equilibrium is not a fulcrum point that leads to evil or good’s ascent or descent. Many recognize that it is difficult to make ethics an absolute science. Thou shalt not steal as a categorical imperative becomes frayed if your only “good” option is to lie to save the lives of others. Ethics as the equilibrium “moment” between good and evil is also not so clear cut.

Without life is there good or evil or just physics? Life’s processes are not judgmental. However, life’s aspect of continuity imposes upon physics a quality that isn’t found in the fundamental theories of physics or cosmology. For example, humans, as well as other species, have emerged from known and other controversial processes that prefer continuity over the individual. However, we tend to care about others of our own species, whether a selfish gene controls us or not. Why then does life permit us to care about the congenital eunuch?

Not all humans or animals are given the opportunity to reproduce, but most complex beings who do not reproduce can live out their normal existence without penalty. This makes little sense if continuity is such an overarching aspect of life. Therefore, continuity cannot be an absolute construct that is connected only with reproduction. It is super-reproductive (above reproductive). Life has no means for eliminating most advanced life that thrive in its niche that otherwise will not or cannot reproduce.17 Therefore, life’s continuity is not associated with the individual as an individual. Consequently, life is not any more villainous to the viable individual who thrives that cannot reproduce.

However, we can say that like Dr. Mengele of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, life’s experiments that produce monsters or others whose very existence is threatened by its existent are villainous. We call this evil because it rubs up against our sensibilities that life is sacred. Life “needs” no sacred understanding, only continuity. It experiments; lets whole species and genres of life go extinct. It is in this way that life becomes super-villainous.

The Human Villain

The human villain does not care about the other person for other than the villain’s purposes. It kills, robs, murders, or uses “super” powers to effect its purposes. The villain’s purposes are no different from other existents and that is flourishing, though we would not call someone like Hannibal Lecter a normal flourisher. Yet, it is flourishing just the same. To be a supervillain means to be above villainy. Continuity is above villainy. It cares not for any one of its own, even its aggregate biomass of existents. Continuity is concerned only about existence.

The other aspect of supervillainy we see with someone like Dr. Lecter or the bug-filled farmer is that they are part of society, of the family of existents. They may, at times, be strange, but at other times they may appear ubiquitous and normal. In fiction, Wade Wilson (Deadpool) and Norman Osborn (Green Goblin in Spiderman) are “normal” persons who, when provoked, display supernormal capabilities that are not self-evident in their regular and non-super demeanor.18 Such is the aspect of continuity. Continuity is always already there in life as it is in both superheroes and supervillains. Continuity expresses itself as superhero when life arises from near extinction. We understand this as a good thing. Without it we would not be here. We embrace and thank continuity for our own existence. On the other hand, we see how life performs its grizzly business through mutations that produce monsters—extreme existents who suffer immeasurably. We see continuity produce mutations like the stromatolites that extinguish all rival life forms by poisoning their world.

The paradox of life’s aspect called continuity is that it is both superhero and supervillain at the same time. Consider the similar good/evil paradox called Dr. Lecter. He has murdered many to serve his ends, yet (even towards his own twisted desires) he helps Agent Starling to find another serial killer who is about to kill his next victim. We are torn with admiration for Lecter’s considerable insight into the human psyche but abhor his cannibalistic nature.


Life produces both good and evil from the perspective of human flourishing. There are, however, two differences between us and the other forms of life that we have discovered. First, we understand Life’s continuity and its tendencies to produce both good and evil in the world.19 It is we who see life as both superhero and supervillain.

Second, we are the only species we know of that understands that life’s continuity is threatened by the eventual expansion of the sun into a red giant and its collapse subsequently into a white dwarf.20 We hear physicists like Steven Hawking suggest that if we do not find another locus for ourselves, we humans will wipe ourselves out in a thousand, no wait, he later revised that to two hundred years, by our own negligence and inattention to earth’s complex ecology.21 This is far earlier than the billions of years it will take the sun to eviscerate life on earth.

We have intelligence to understand much about the world, life, and physics. Yet we have pitifully short lives in which to do anything about life’s eventual termination on earth. Given our knowledge of the earth’s demise, we must extend our own notion of continuity beyond the next two generations of our life span. Life beckons us to agree that intergenerational efforts towards the continuity of life itself must continue. For this, if we choose to follow this lead of life into the idea of continuity, we must also begin to accept that continuity brings with it all the good and evil that is essential to life and its continuity. This idea of accepting that which is fundamental for life’s continuity as being at time unfair to our sensibilities is no less concerning than if a pardoned Hannibal Lecter moves next door or we see a grizzled, ashen-faced man in overalls step out of an exterminator’s truck and walk jerkily up our sidewalk.

Do we have any choice? Isn’t our future as a species beholden to life’s own requirement for continuity? If so, we must accept life’s continuity as both superhero and supervillain. If we can accept our critical role in preserving the continuity of life, are we not also protecting both superhero and supervillain? Therefore, through our commitment to life’s continuity, have we not also become both surrogate superhero and supervillain?




  1. While President Clinton announced in 1999 the finding of life-like spores in a meteorite believed to have originated in Mars, there are many who do not agree that the structures found in the rock are life.
  2. N. C. Wickramasinghe explained the panspermia theory as one where life traveled through space in space rocks or similar space debris, landed on earth and successfully reanimated. N. C. Wickramasinghe, J. Wallis, and D. H. Wallis, “Panspermia: Evidence from Astronomy to Meteorites,” Modern Physics Letters A 28, no. 14 (2013)..
  3. R.H. Vreeland etal. Have purportedly reanimated a one hundred and fifty-million-year old spoor inside of a salt crystal that existed even before the dinosaurs. Others digging in Siberia have found and have reanimated viruses and seeds from the last ice age. R.H. Vreeland, W.D. Rosenzweig, and D.W. Powers, “Isolation of a 250 Million-Year-Old Halotolerant Bacterium from a Primary Salt Crystal,” Nature 407, no. 6806 (2000)..
  4. Edward F. Trifvonof reviewed a hundred definitions of life and developed his own meta-definition, “Life is self-reproduction with variations.” Edward N Trifonov, “Vocabulary of Definitions of Life Suggests a Definition,” Journal of Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics 29, no. 2 (2011): 259.
  5. D. T. Flannery etal. explain, ‘If cyanobacteria are indeed alone in their ability to produce such structures, a minimum date for their origin may then be based on the first appearance of tufted microbial mats in the fossil record, a date now set at 2.72 Ga. There then remains the dilemma of why it took more than 200 million years for oxygen to accumulate in the atmosphere. DT Flannery and MR Walter, “Archean Tufted Microbial Mats and the Great Oxidation Event: New Insights into an Ancient Problem,” Australian Journal of Earth Sciences 59, no. 1 (2012): 10.’
  6. Richard Dawkins also makes the argument that life does not ‘care’ about individual organism or species. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 2.
  7. For details about the great oxygenation event, see: Heinrich D Holland, “The Oxygenation of the Atmosphere and Oceans,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 361, no. 1470 (2006). J.D. Rummel and L. Billings also note, ‘Scientists have found that Earth microorganisms are tough, some able to survive in the space environment [1] as well as in extreme Earth environments such as deep-sea hydrothermal vents [2], Antarctic rocks, and regions more than three kilometers beneath the continental surface. Such extreme earth environments may have analogs on other solar system bodies—Mars, for example. J. D. Rummel and L. Billings, “Issues in Planetary Protection: Policy, Protocol and Implementation,” Space Policy 20, no. 1 (2004): 49.‘
  8. Oxford English Dictionary, “Villain, N.” (Oxford University Press), n.p.
  9. “Villain, N.”. n.p. .Emphasis in original
  10. “Supervillain, N.” (Oxford University Press), n.p.
  11. Augustine of Hippo makes the first argument that something that has been corrupted that originally had some good in it is still good even if the corruption cannot be arrested. Thomas Aquinas suggest that humanity brought evil into the world by their own actions. Both are efforts of what is known now as theodicy, the project to prove an omniscient, omnipotent, and good God.
  12. “Super-, Prefix” (Oxford University Press), n.p.
  13. Terrence Deacon provides a more scientific explanation, “containment in a lipid membrane, metabolic processes powered by ATP, and information intrinsically embodied in nucleic acids” Terrence W. Deacon, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (NY & London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012), 288..
  14. Christopher Ketcham, “Towards an Ethics of Life,” Space Policy (2016): 2.
  15. Frank J. Hoffman, Rationality & Mind in Early Buddhism (Delhi, India: Motilal Banasaridass, 1987), 53.
  16. Richard Dawkins found in the gene the source of the ego. It is the gene it egoism that is required for individuals want to continue to exist and to reproduce. Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 2. Many others have found different explanations for ego (even if there is such a thing) and selfishness, but this chapter will not follow those threads.
  17. For example: lesser wolves in the wolf pack will never reproduce but they thrive and serve the pack in other ways. Other life forms die after reproduction or even if they do not reproduce at about the same time. Moths that cannot eat run out of energy and die within a prescribed window regardless of whether they find a mate or not.
  18. As do superheroes Peter Parker (Spiderman), Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Clark Kent (Superman) superhero foils to many supervillains. All these superheroes and supervillains, with perhaps the exception of Bruce Wayne have distinct transcendent if not metaphysical superpowers whether from being from another world (Superman), spider bite (Spiderman), biological experiment (the cancer riven Wade Wilson) and haunting spirit or internal demons (Norman Osborn).
  19. How do we arrive at a non-circular argument for continuity from the polemic superhero and supervillain explanation? We don’t define continuity by itself. Rather we assess it from its range of possibilities towards good and evil. The question of where is the equilibrium for continuity as an aspect of life’s existence may be subjective, but evidence of such swings includes, for example, the supervillain-like Chytrid fungus that is causing many amphibians to become extinct. We might also look at with Darwin his superhero-like Galapagos Islands as a place where diversity has opened niches without much internecine extinction—or as far as he could see. The super for both villain and hero indicate something beyond the norm of good and evil in the world which we may consider in the evil extreme of the opportunistic Chytrid fungus or even the good but also opportunistic extreme of the first movement of sea-life onto land which had hitherto been devoid of life. We do not have to assign the prefix “super” to the metaphysical, we can stay within the realm of nature and life itself to accord the extraordinary the prefix without a metaphysical “supernatural” connotation.
  20. Ketcham, “Towards an Ethics of Life,” 3.
  21. As reported by CNN in, Doug Criss, “Steven Hawkingh Says We’ve Got About 1,000 Years to Find a New Place to Live”, CNN.com, Accessed 11/20/16, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/17/health/hawking-humanity-trnd/

My Christine

“What is the question concerning technology?” is the question I will ask Stephen King and that is where we will travel, into some of his stories that raise the question concerning technology through the potentials of autonomy, emergence, its effect on us, new technology differences, and what does technology need.


Throughout King’s work we are confronted with the problem of autonomous technology. Langdon Winner said we have become stressed by the thought that, “…somehow technology has gotten out of control and follows its own course, independent of human direction.” [1] It is King who exploits this stress.

In The Stand, King engineers a deadly flu virus that mutates so frequently, it is impossible to produce an effective treatment. We contain the virus in a special lab but it escapes and does what flu does best, multiply and spread. This is fiction.

This is not. We have eradicated smallpox from the wild. Today the only known sources of smallpox are in two labs: one in the US and one in Russia. There is no stockpile of vaccine should smallpox again escape into the wild.


Not only does King exploit autonomous technology and its effects on the world and ourselves but he engages the process called emergence. Perhaps one of the hardest problems we have yet to solve is, “How did we and our complex minds come to be?” Emergence theory suggests that minds emerged out of matter, that there are natural processes at work in the universe that tend to turn chaos into order.[2] Emergence theorists think that over billions of years such processes have plenty of time to work their magic to create things like life itself and more recently: humans.

We too are accomplished emergentists. Don’t we take matter that is lying about in this chaotic world, order it, work on it and fashion it into technology? We’ve been doing this probably since the first human emerged—or even before, because monkeys use sticks as tools. However, in the past two hundred thousand years of human history we certainly have gained our stride as accomplished emergentists, turning chaos into order.

The question Stephen King asks in his book Christine is whether a billion years of emergentism is necessary to create technology that can think for itself. His emergence theory understands that our ability to organize what is otherwise disorganized doesn’t have to wait the billion years to work through the first steps of the process of basic organizing structures. Why? Because we’ve given Christine and other technology in the King repertoire a head start by emerging things like cars and trucks from chaotic bits of metal and plastic.

What’s With the New Technology?

You say, and rightly so, we have always used technology. Our earliest ancestors banged rocks together to create tools that would cut meat and vegetation. Today, however, we are confronted with worldwide phenomenon called global warming which many believe is directly related to our technology. It would be difficult to suggest that when we were limited to small bands of nomadic tribes who broke rocks and sharpened sticks that we would have had a global weather impact from the plains of Africa. Hans Jonas asks what has changed with new technology?[3] What about the ethics of new technology should we now be thinking about—worrying about? King responds in The Stand with an answer: deadly pandemic; and that answer isn’t what we want to hear.

Effects of Technology on Us

Certainly the world can be shaped by technology, but what about humans? Volker Boehme-Nebler asks, “Does technology really shape culture and society? Or is it actually the other way around: does technological development depend on the culture, politics and economics of a society?”[4] Both Boheme-Nebler and King say it isn’t either or, but both. There is an interrelationship between culture and technology. Steven Jobs and Bill Gates set out to put a computer in every home. In less than thirty years, not only have we gone from typewriters to word processors but information that we had to walk or drive to get we can now download on telephones.

In King’s short story “Trucks” autonomous trucks surround a diner.[5] They too want to be fed: fuel. Some in the diner say wait out the trucks, they will run out of gas. But the trucks threaten the people inside the diner. The people pump the gas. In the end we ask, “Who has changed whom?”

Technophilia and Technophobia

Michael G. Campion considers the polarity of our attitude to technology as, on the one hand, technophilia or the wholehearted embracing of technology; and technophobia, the fear and distrust of technology.[6]

In Christine the technophiliac Arnie Cunningham falls in love with a car. Christine appears to love him back. However people associated with Arnie sense something is wrong; they feel that Christine swallows them. This feeling of unease, of being swallowed is a symptom of technophobia that many in the world today are experiencing. Something is not quite right with Christine; something is not quite right with all this technology that is running our lives. I ask, ‘With all the new 24-7 connectivity technology affords are we working to live or living to work’:

“As the convenience to work increases, this convenience has a way of justifying acquiescence – a person may choose more work over more living. ‘Get a life’ is a familiar phrase which in and of itself contains the seeds of the fact that the body can be converted from life to work. The ‘good life’ has become work. This giving over of the body to work has been internalized.”[7]

King uses three thousand pounds of twenty-year old technology in Christine to show how obsessive technophilia can arise and its effect on those who fall into its consuming trap.

Outlining The Question Concerning Technology

The question concerning technology is complex and multifaceted. What King has done is use his fiction to bring forward the question concerning technology using brilliantly clear examples albeit with disturbing overtones.

We will not find all the answers we require for the question concerning technology in this brief overview. Nor will we be exploring all of the technological conundrums that pervade King’s work. What we will accomplish is the posing of some of the questions that you, I and others should be asking concerning technology and hopefully give all who read this insight into how to gain a closer reading of King’s work with an eye towards the question concerning technology.

Martin Heidegger in his The Question Concerning Technology says that his investigation will not at all be technological. Rather he is asking, what is technology’s essence?[8] In a similar vein we will be asking about technology’s essence through these potentials: its autonomy; its emergent qualities; ethics and the new technology; our relationship to technology and it to us, and finally what does technology need. We begin by reviewing Heidegger’s project through King’s stories.

Heidegger’s Question Concerning Technology

Says Heidegger, he wants to engage in a conversation that, “…opens our human existence to the essence of technology. When we can respond to this essence, we shall be able to experience the technological within its own bounds.”[9] King first bounds technology, encapsulates it within a character, whether a car, some trucks, a petri dish or even a man-made bauble that is just right for the right person as in the story Needful Things.[10] By turning the technology into a character in its own right, we can begin to understand its essence, not just its anthropomorphic qualities, but as technology in its own right. Let’s unlock the door to Christine.

Heidegger looks at technology through four Aristotelean causes. Heidegger calls the act of creation the “bringing forth”.[11] The four causes include: 1) the material used; 2) the shape we turn the material into; 3) the shape in relationship to what we will use it e.g. a silver chalice to be used for a specific ritual; and, 4) the maker who takes the material and shapes it for a particular purpose or purposes.[12] While we may try to separate the causes, the project falls apart if even one is missing.

Virgil Exner and his team at Plymouth designed Christine. She’s made of steel, chrome, plastic and rubber. Like other cars of the day she has fins, chrome, curves and round headlights. She was designed for the everyday market. Exner built mom’s car.

Those are Christine’s four causes in a nutshell but it isn’t her essence. Somewhere in the bringing forth of Christine something happened which didn’t happen to other 1958 Plymouth Furies. Heidegger asks, “But how does bringing-forth happen, be it in nature or in handwork and art?”[13] He answers, that it is revealed. Christine is revealed to Arnie Cunningham as he passes by her one day. He is drawn to her. His experience of her and those with whom he interacts becomes central to the story. Says Heidegger, technology is not a means, “Technology is a way of revealing. If we give heed to this, then another whole realm for the essence of technology will open itself up to us. It is the realm of revealing, i.e., of truth.”[14] What King does with technology is to reveal truth through the interaction of Christine to the world of her human relationships. It is a complex world filled with those who are technophobes and those who are technophiliacs.

Heidegger explains that modern technology is also a revealing . Christine reveals herself. From rusting twenty year-old hulk to gleaming restoration is just the beginning. The essence of Christine comes to us slowly. She covets Arnie and he her. As he buys the car, Arnie sits in it and his friend Dennis watches. Dennis thinks to himself, uneasily, “It was, in a way, as if the car had swallowed him.”[15] He’s not the only one who has this feeling. Leigh, Arnie’s girlfriend, “…did not feel that she rode in Christine; when she got in to go somewhere with Arnie she felt swallowed in Christine. And the act of kissing him, making love to him, seemed a perversion worse than voyeurism or exhibitionism – it was like making love inside the body of her rival. The really crazy part of it was that she hated Christine. Hated her and feared her.”[16] Christine’s revelation comes slowly.

Think back to the last twenty years as the internet has been revealed, first as a novelty and a way to send e-mails, then as a marketplace, and now as these but also as the repository for the world’s knowledge. This didn’t happen all in a day.

Heidegger worries that despite technology’s ability to reveal, it also conceals. While both Dennis and Leigh feel swallowed, Christine slowly reveals from concealment her temper which eventually leads her to kill even Arnie himself. Once revealed, Heidegger concludes, technology cannot be un-revealed. As we see in Christine at the end of the story, after Arnie is killed and Christine smashed by Dennis’s vehicle, Christine’s revealing doesn’t end there. When Christine later is crushed into a block of scrap metal, one of the workers is cut. He said, “It bit me.”[17] Dennis is haunted in his dreams by the calamity of Arnie and the others and reads in the paper about another car which seemingly on its own crashed into others. Christine, as King points out, hasn’t stopped revealing.

At the beginning of the book and at the end, Christine isn’t working. She’s in need of a total overhaul at both ends of the story. She isn’t dead, just dormant. She is “standing-reserve” as Heidegger calls it.[18]

King turns the tables as does Heidegger when he asks whether humans could also become a standing-reserve in their relationship to technology. The narrator in “Trucks” leaves the comfort of the diner and his human companions to fill the tanks of the long line of trucks. His life has become a standing-reserve to technology. He has come to understand this only later, not at the moment the trucks first began to move autonomously.

Autonomous Technology

Heidegger uses the term “enframing” as a way to describe how this standing-reserve is accomplished, “In Enframing, that unconcealment comes to pass in conformity with which the work of modern technology reveals the real as standing-reserve.”[19]

Often the concealed is more worrisome than what is revealed. Confined to the laboratory, the potent flu virus in The Stand reveals its potency to the scientists. They record its standing-reserve or potential for lethality at 99.4%, the same as an advertisement of purity for Ivory Soap®.[20] The technology of the lab reveals only that it could produce potency. Hiding within the virus is its ability to spread. It does so by air and travels quickly through human populations. All this, of course, is concealed in the laboratory. The real is revealed by King slowly, showing how what has been enframed by the laboratory as an autonomous entity will emerge from its standing-reserve and in its virility attempt to purify the world of humans. By this act, the virus will also put the technological, that is the ever-present march of technology, into a period of standing-reserve. In the story Lucy, a flu survivor, tries to hold on to the idea of the town of Stovington she once knew but now is a standing-reserve, “She had held on to the idea of Stovington with nearly a panicking grip. It stood, by nature of its function, as a symbol of sanity and rationality against the rising tide of dark magic she felt around her.”[21] However, its standing-reserve is beginning to molder.

“What is technology’s destiny?” asks Heidegger and Langdon Winner. Winner answers that its destiny is what we both reveal and conceal in the creation of technology. Winner says:

“It is at this point that a pervasive ignorance and refusal to know, irresponsibility, and blind faith characterize society’s orientation toward the technical. Here it happens that men release powerful changes into the world with cavalier disregard for consequences; that they begin to ‘use’ apparatus, technique, and organization with no attention to the ways in which these ‘tools’ unexpectedly rearrange their lives; that they willingly submit the governance of their affairs to the expertise of others.”[22]

The life of the virus in The Stand was supposed to be contained in the laboratory. Virgil Exner and others in Detroit built cars that could be easily replaced the next model year. Nobody expected to see 1958 Plymouth Furies in continuous use in Cuba for fifty years. Winner asks us to begin to take responsibility for our technology—to think ahead and not be afraid to tear down something for which its standing-reserve is just too menacing.[23]

On the surface this tearing down is easier said than done. In “Trucks”, after the narrator is relieved from pumping gas he says, “But they’re machines. No matter what mass consciousness we have given them, they can’t reproduce.”[24] We can fix them. They can demand we fix them. We can stop the production lines. The Cubans and their cars know how to survive. This is why Heidegger feels so strongly that once revealed, technology is difficult to conceal again.

Winner provides us with four suggestions towards controlling our propensity to produce autonomous technology. First, can we rethink the whole idea of technology, “This would mean, presumably, the birth of a new sort of inventiveness and innovation in the physical arrangements of this civilization.” Second, get the user involved in the design process. Third, “…that as a general maxim, technologies be given a scale and structure of the sort that would be immediately intelligible to nonexperts. This is to say, technological systems ought to be intellectually as well as physically accessible to those they are likely to affect.” And finally, we must try with whatever means are at our disposal to deploy technology only, “…with a fully formed sense of what is appropriate.[25]

Suppose a panel of regular people like you and I were asked to review the protocol for Project Blue to be conducted in the California desert—the laboratory in The Stand where that now infamous virus was to be created. Given a simple explanation that the lab would be producing a virus for which no treatment could be fashioned and from which death was almost certain—what would you as a panel member recommend? This is all that Winner is asking. It’s common sense. King is asking we do the same in The Stand for secret government programs.

What Winner, King and we all should demand is that before we release technology into the world it must be carefully researched for its standing reserve and concealed essences that may be contrary to what we see as what Winner calls, ‘appropriate.’

From autonomous technology that produces more effect on the world than what it was originally designed for, we turn to the companion conundrum of emergence.


We have long known about emergence. The winds off the Sahara find the warm ocean of the Atlantic favorable to produce clouds which emerge into hurricanes. Snowflakes emerge into crystals at certain temperatures. Certain chemicals when mixed together produce uniform structures that stay uniform. In a famous experiment in the nineteen fifties, scientists put a bunch of chemicals that would have been plentiful in early earth in a vial and hit it with thousands of electric strikes to simulate lightning.[26] Amazingly after only a few days, amino acids, the building blocks of life, were created. Somehow the building blocks of life emerged into chains of amino acids that eventually became our DNA.

All life as we know it has DNA. Christine doesn’t have DNA. Christine doesn’t live, you say. Technology cannot live because it has no DNA. King might agree. She isn’t alive, but she sure seems conscious enough.

Ray Kurzweil famously says that he thinks very soon we will see computing machines that will exceed human intelligence, the moment of which this will happen he calls the singularity.[27] Would this mean that a machine would become conscious?


David Chalmers says that we know a lot about consciousness. We can discriminate between being awake and asleep; we can discriminate between a rock and a flower; we can focus our attention. All these things we know. What we don’t know is how to define is experience.[28] This Thomas Nagel sums up in his question, “What’s it like to be a bat?”[29]

We ask with Nagel, “What’s it like to be Christine?” We see Christine driving herself, repairing herself and even killing. She seems capable of projecting herself into the mind of Arnie Cummings, making him want to want her. We know these things and we can check her oil and tire pressures and kick her tires, but what is she really experiencing? If she is conscious, how did she get that way?

This is the same question that we must ask of the first conscious life form. Where did consciousness come from? Since the beginning of recorded philosophy we have been asking this question—what is it like to be and to experience being. The ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides thought that being is and cannot not be, that somehow it becomes for beings and is always already there for us. About the same time as Parmenides, in northern India the Buddha saw a kind of permanence of consciousness because that which seems to leave the dying stays intact and finds a home with every single rebirth. Recall that the Buddha could remember his past lives! Frank Hoffman called this idea of recurrence, “continuity without identity of self-same substance.”[30] In the nineteenth century Arthur Schopenhauer said that it is free will that is common to all sentient beings.

Christine certainly is sentient. She seems to be conscious from all the things that Chalmers says we can easily observe. We don’t know how she became so. Was she reborn from one of the workers who died building her (in the movie version) as the Buddha might surmise? Or, is it Schopenhauer we should be consulting? Is free will so powerful a force that it can come into being—just like that—with Christine? Was it ‘just like that’ for the first sentient life form? Since we can’t point to something and say, “aha there’s the consciousness lobe” does it even exist in material form or is it a force like the electro-weak or strong force that are essential to the universe itself? If consciousness is a fundamental force or condition in the universe then perhaps it is surprising that no automobile before Christine has acquired it. It is also unnerving that other technology that we have been creating has not also become conscious. Perhaps it has and we just do not recognize its manifestation. Those gremlins that crash your computer—is that consciousness trying to come into being, albeit clumsily?

King shows us in Christine that technology can experience and although we can’t yet define consciousness, she appears to be conscious. She doesn’t just acquiesce to our commands; she commands. She has a will and she becomes reborn again and again. What hath King wrought? On the other hand what if it wasn’t really we who wrought Christine or meant to create her? We built a 1958 Plymouth Fury. An essence emerged in her, granting her the ability to experience and not just be experienced. The ancient question of whether the rock experiences or the rock can only be experienced is what King explores in Christine. His question is the same that Terrence Deacon asks, ‘how does mind emerge from matter.’[31] Or, how does something thing that cannot experience become something that can experience? How did a 1958 Plymouth Fury become ‘Christine?’

There are real life zombies. The parasitic Jewel wasp inject cockroaches with a cocktail of chemicals and then control their movement. They discover the cockroaches by smell, first locating suitable places where their prey frequent, then finding the cockroach, and third, testing suitability before they attack.[32] Before Christine captures the affections of Arnie, she tests Dennis for his receptivity. He hears in his head, “Lets go for a ride big guy…let’s cruise[33] After she has Arnie, Dennis no longer hears the request. However, as the story progresses, Leigh, the hitchhiker, Dennis and others smell in her a dead smell, as if Christine wants them to go away. Arnie does not smell this.

The human egg attracts sperm to it but once one enters, it changes to block any other sperm from entering. Can the process be any different for Christine? Once she has Arnie; she has all she needs.

Buddy Repperton, Moochie Welsh and the other hoodlums who are the bane of Arnie’s existence find Christine in the airport parking lot and bash her in quite completely. Much later, Christine takes her revenge, first on Moochie and then Buddy and the rest. Elephants and humans are known to take revenge even years after someone harms them—they remember.

As she returns from each episode of murdering Moochie and Buddy, she’s pretty banged up but the dents, dings, and broken lights repair themselves before she returns home. Bones mend, scars form over gashes, and newts can grow a new functional limb, muscles, bones, blood vessels and skin when the original is bitten off—no scars. If we can set aside the supernatural that pervades King’s stories there are underlying processes in nature that have emerged that imitate King’s creatures. The trucks, riding around and around together, in synch: flocks, schools, herds, rugby teams and yes your morning commute are examples of individuals working in groups towards common goals.

Of course we all understand that King’s horror and fantasy stories are other-worldly. However, throughout his body of work, technology finds a way to become more than perhaps we had originally envisioned it to be. It emerges. It becomes autonomous. If technology has the propensity to both emerge and become autonomous then Winner is right—before we birth the thing we need to understand better what it is capable of both doing and becoming. We need to understand its standing-reserve. That is all well and good, but what is it about technology today that is different from cave man tech?

What is Different About Today’s Technology

Hans Jonas explores the difference between the old technology and the new technology. First, the old. It was person to person and ethically neutral. An axe could be used to chop trees or cut down an opponent in war. As such any good or evil resulting from the axe blow is very close to the act of swinging the axe. Generally there were only short-term consequences, not global as in The Stand.[34] Says Jonas:

“The good or bad of the action is wholly decided within that short-term context. Its moral quality shines forth from it, visible to its witnesses. No one was held responsible for the unintended later effects of his well-intentioned, well-considered, and well-performed act.”[35]

Today Jonas says, “All this has decisively changed. Modern technology has introduced actions of such novel scale, objects, and consequences that the framework of former ethics can no longer contain them.”[36] Did we anticipate the smog and urban sprawl that would result from building highways to imitate Germany’s Autobahn to speed military vehicles to sites where the Soviets might invade? Did we wonder whether this would lead to global warming?

Jonas says we should build knowledge about the new technology; do the things that Winner suggests and more. He offers this maxim, “In your present choices, include the future wholeness of Man among the objects of your will.”[37] This is the same statement that The Stand makes. King asks in The Stand, “But how could we know what could happen?”

During Campion’s investigation of the escape of the virus, Len says to Cindy, “…what I’m trying to say is that this was a chain of coincidences on the order of winning the Irish Sweepstakes…but mostly it was just a thing that happened. None of it was your man’s fault.”[38] It is the future, accountability for the future even the distant future that worries Jonas when he says, “But the future is not represented, it is not a force that can throw its weight into the scales. The nonexistent has no lobby, and the unborn are powerless.”[39]

To what extent do we hold government accountable for its actions and guidance in the area of technology? “Who speaks for us and who speaks for the unborn,” King asks in The Stand. The technological world has been taken down by the technological. The human has been turned into what Thomas Hobbes calls ‘a state of nature’ where all are out for themselves in a world where technology is decaying and we begin over again.

At the end of The Stand Stuart thinks to himself as he looks down at his child Peter, “Maybe if we tell him what happened he’ll tell his own children. Warn them. Dear children the toys are death—they’re flashburns and radiation sickness, and black choking plague. These toys are dangerous, the devil in men’s brains guided the hands of God when they were made. Don’t play with these toys dear children, please not ever again. Please…learn the lesson. Let this empty world be your copybook.”[40]

How did we get to The Stand? Robert Merton in his preface to Jacques Eull’s book, The Technological Society understands that our fatal flaw in our relationship to technology is the need for immediate reward and, “Above all, he is committed to the never-ending search for “the one best way” to achieve any designated objective.”[41]

We required immediate gratification from the use of the axe and we do still today but with much more complex and difficult to control technology. King’s cars that kill and trucks that demand service are but metaphors for the more difficult problem and that is understanding the purposes for which technology is capable not just what’s in it for me now.

We have one more question to ask to finish our discussion of the question concerning technology. What does technology need?

What Does Technology Need

Some critical studies see King’s technology through what it produces in the human or in terms of anthropomorphic analogies. Gary Hoppenstand and Ray B. Brown call King’s automotive victims, “…the metaphor for dehumanization.”[42] They see Christine also as a metaphor for womb and image and also as the manifestation of the teenage Id erupting in its hormone rush of excitement and angst.[43] They say, “Names, brands, symbols oversignify: Christine. Libertyville, and Plymouth Fury compose an unholy trinity of god, country, and female principle.”[44] They say also that Christine is the other woman, the temptress, and that her backwards running odometer wants to return people to another age of fifties rock and roll and Happy Days reruns.[45]

Jonathan P. Davis says that, King’s technology, “…reduces its creators to slobbering supplicants.”[46] King uses animated names like baby, she, and Arnie’s married to his car to anthropomorphize technology.[47]

King’s technology is all of these things. However there’s more than just the horror, the metaphor and the anthropomorphism in King’s work. Davis points out that we have repeatedly failed to recognize the needs of the others we create. In the early eighteenth century story by Mary Shelley, Dr. Frankenstein abandons his monster. Davis finds the same in the King story “Trucks”. We create trucks—they need to be refueled in order to exist just as we need to eat to live. They threaten us until we realize what they need and supply them with it.[48]

With the trucks whirling around the diner, the trucker who’s lost his own truck to the whirling mob says with a smile to the narrator, “And they can’t pump their own. We got it knocked. All we have to do is wait.”[49] But the trucks are not satisfied. They use their horns to render “attention” in Morse code and then they make their demand to be fueled or someone will get hurt.[50] The trucks have a will to survive just like Schopenhauer says any sentient being has. They have a bulldozer now. They mean business. The narrator takes the lead and begins to fill the trucks until he runs the tanks in the fueling island dry. Then a tanker filled with fuel drops a hose from the back. After the narrator is relieved of pumping he says, “But they’re machines. No matter what mass consciousness we have given them, they can’t reproduce.”[51] We can fix them. They can demand we fix them. We can stop the production lines. However, the Cubans have been for fifty years regularly using and maintaining with no new parts from Detroit their nineteen fifties vintage cars. The Cubans and their cars know how to survive.

For me there is more horror in this idea than technology as metaphor. The implication is that we have become creators but have not considered the needs of our progeny. That we produce progeny like deadly microbes for our special purposes not recognizing that they have their own needs and that is to multiply. The microbes in King’s The Stand have no consciousness that we are aware of—they choose their victims based upon their need, not ours. We made them immune to our immune system otherwise they are just the flu. Christine emerged with her needs which we have been unable to meet.

In King’s Needful Things, the title says it all. What do things need? In Needful Things, Leland Gaunt opens a shop where he seems always to find just the right thing for the right person. What is important about this story in relationship to technology is that there is a place for things. Can there be an equilibrium for humans, technology and the world? Perhaps, but we do not regularly have the vision to imagine this possibility. Instead we’re like Leland Gaunt, always on the lookout for the perfect technological solution for a single problem without ever realizing that no one thing ever has a single use. We had no clue that the 1958 Plymouth Fury, just another mid-size sedan in the bevy of offerings from Detroit, used to cart groceries and the kids to school or dad to work could become the love-child of an adolescent boy twenty years later. And, what we begin to understand from The Stand is that any creation built to harm others can also turn around and harm us too.

The virus hasn’t killed everyone. It was most successful in the technologically advanced societies, much less so in the more rural parts of the world. Glen Batemen, the self-styled sociologist in the story points out, “The technological society has walked off the court, so to speak, but they’ve left all the basketballs behind. Someone will come along who remembers the game and teach it to the rest again.”[52]

We have come full circle. We have always used technology, but the new technology is different: it’s emergent, adaptive, autonomous, and yes, needy. With King and all the others who contributed ideas to this essay on the question concerning technology…Shouldn’t we be asking again and again whether we should create this particular technology in the first place?

At the end of The Stand, Stuart askes Frannie, “Do you think…do you think people will ever learn anything?” She replies, “I don’t know.”[53]


Boehme-Neßler, Volker. “Caught between Technophilia and Technophobia: Culture, Technology and the Law.” Chap. 1 In Pictorial Law, 1-18. New York: Springer, 2011.

Campion, Michael G. “Technophilia and Technophobia.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 5, no. 1 (1989).

Chalmers, D.J. “Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 2, no. 3 (1995): 200-19.

Davis, Jonathan P. Stephen King’s America.  Bowling Green, Ky: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994.

Deacon, Terrence W. Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter.  NY & London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012.

Ellul, Jacques, John Wilkinson, and Robert King Merton. The Technological Society. Vintage books New York, 1964.

Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays.  New York: HarperCollins, 1982.

Hoffman, Frank J. Rationality & Mind in Early Buddhism.  Delhi, India: Motilal Banasaridass, 1987.

Hoppenstand, Gary, and Ray Broadus Browne. The Gothic World of Stephen King: Landscape of Nightmares.  Bowling Green, Ky.: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1987.

Jonas, Hans. “Technology and Responsibility: Reflections on the New Tasks of Ethics.” Social Research  (1973): 31-54.

Ketcham, Christopher. “The Work of Bartleby the Scrivener.” Philosophical Inquiries 3, no. 1 (2015): 9-28.

King, Stephen. Christine.  New York: Penguin, 1983.

———. Needful Things: The Last Castle Rock Story.  New York: Penguin, 1992.

———. The Stand.  New York: Anchor Books, 1978.

———. “Trucks.” In Night Shift. NY: Doubleday, 1976.

Kurzweil, Ray. The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. Penguin, 2000.

Nagel, Thomas. “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”. Chap. 25 In The Philosophy of Mind, edited by David Chalmers, 219-26. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Robertson, Hugh M, Juergen Gadau, and Kevin W Wanner. “The Insect Chemoreceptor Superfamily of the Parasitoid Jewel Wasp Nasonia Vitripennis.” Insect molecular biology 19, no. s1 (2010): 121-36.

Winner, Langdon. Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. Mit Press, 1978.


[1] Langdon Winner,  Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought (Mit Press, 1978),  13.

[2] Terrence W. Deacon,  Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (NY & London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012).

[3] Hans Jonas, “Technology and Responsibility: Reflections on the New Tasks of Ethics,” Social Research (1973),  32.

[4] Volker Boehme-Neßler, “Caught between Technophilia and Technophobia: Culture, Technology and the Law,” in Pictorial Law (New York: Springer, 2011).

[5] Stephen King, “Trucks,” in Night Shift (NY: Doubleday, 1976).

[6] Michael G Campion, “Technophilia and Technophobia,” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 5, no. 1 (1989),  32.

[7] Christopher Ketcham, “The Work of Bartleby the Scrivener,” Philosophical Inquiries 3, no. 1 (2015),  25.

[8] Martin Heidegger,  The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays (New York: HarperCollins, 1982).

[9] The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays, 3.

[10] Stephen King,  Needful Things: The Last Castle Rock Story (New York: Penguin, 1992).

[11] Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays,  5.

[12] The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays, 2-3.

[13] The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays, 5.

[14] The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays.

[15] Stephen King,  Christine (New York: Penguin, 1983),  35.

[16] Christine, 196.

[17] Christine, 501.

[18] Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays,  8.

[19] The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays, 10.

[20] Stephen King,  The Stand (New York: Anchor Books, 1978),  42.

[21] The Stand, 741.

[22] Winner, Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought,  314.

[23] Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought, 335.

[24] King, “Trucks,” 150, .emphasis in original

[25] Winner, Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought,  326-27, .emphasis in original

[26] This was called the Miller-Urey Experiment

[27] Ray Kurzweil,  The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (Penguin, 2000).

[28] D.J. Chalmers, “Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness,” Journal of Consciousness Studies 2, no. 3 (1995),  200-01.

[29] Thomas Nagel, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?,” in The Philosophy of Mind, ed. David Chalmers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

[30] Frank J. Hoffman,  Rationality & Mind in Early Buddhism (Delhi, India: Motilal Banasaridass, 1987),  53.

[31] Deacon, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter.

[32] Hugh M Robertson, Juergen Gadau, and Kevin W Wanner, “The Insect Chemoreceptor Superfamily of the Parasitoid Jewel Wasp Nasonia Vitripennis,” Insect molecular biology 19, no. s1 (2010),  121.

[33] King, Christine,  36.

[34] Jonas, “Technology and Responsibility: Reflections on the New Tasks of Ethics,”  35.

[35] Technology and Responsibility: Reflections on the New Tasks of Ethics, 38.

[36] Technology and Responsibility: Reflections on the New Tasks of Ethics.

[37] Technology and Responsibility: Reflections on the New Tasks of Ethics, 44.

[38] King, The Stand,  43.

[39] Jonas, “Technology and Responsibility: Reflections on the New Tasks of Ethics,”  51.

[40] King, The Stand,  1319, .emphasis in original

[41] Jacques Ellul, John Wilkinson, and Robert King Merton,  The Technological Society (Vintage books New York, 1964),  iv.

[42] Gary Hoppenstand and Ray Broadus Browne,  The Gothic World of Stephen King: Landscape of Nightmares (Bowling Green, Ky.: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1987),  84.

[43] The Gothic World of Stephen King: Landscape of Nightmares, 85.

[44] The Gothic World of Stephen King: Landscape of Nightmares, 86.

[45] The Gothic World of Stephen King: Landscape of Nightmares.

[46] Jonathan P. Davis,  Stephen King’s America (Bowling Green, Ky: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994),  70.

[47] Stephen King’s America, 73.

[48] Stephen King’s America, 71.

[49] King, “Trucks,” 143.

[50] Trucks, 144.

[51] Trucks, 150.

[52] King, The Stand, 617

[53] King, The Stand,  1320, .emphasis in original

Driverless Cars Escape!

July1 1, 2017: Correspondent Christopher Ketcham, reporting from a truck stop just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The virus, gEtMeGoNe.Tx has infected the driverless car package called GoItAlone® which has let driverless cars from most manufacturers to go it alone, literally. Hundreds of thousands of driverless cars have escaped from their garages and parking spaces to roam the streets and highways all over this country and parts of Europe. “We only wish now that the faulty ignition switches had been in these vehicles so they would just stop,” said Captain Joe Johannison of the Minnesota State Police. While most vehicles stop after they run out of fuel, some pranksters have been seen filling stalled cars with gas in order to watch them drive off. Otherwise stalled vehicles are causing massive traffic jams in some areas and represent significant safety hazards when they stall on blind curves or in the middle of intersections. B.D. Dunju, spokesman for GoItAlone® said that the virus can be neutralized by taking the car to a service technician. “Why not also by the satellite update feature in the software?” a reporter asked Dunju. “The virus disables the feature,” he responded.

The problem of refueling is especially acute in New Jersey where these driverless cars have been seen lining up at gas stations where attendants are required to pump gas and self-service is not allowed. It seems that some attendants haven’t been all that observant that there’s nobody in these cars even when they don’t pay.

In California the zero-emission automatic fuelling station experiment has been temporarily suspended because the rogue electric vehicles simply pull up to the auto-recharging stations and recharge. Residents of Oakland, California which was the center of the experimental program are grumbling that now they are back to manually recharging their electric cars.

Compounding the problem of identifying these cars is the fact that people have become used to their driverless cars and many sleep in the back seats where the window tinting is dark. It isn’t unusual any more to see lines of cars on the highways that look like they have no occupants.

The sheer volume of driverless cars that have escaped has made it difficult for law enforcement to interdict the free-range cars even with license plate data. Because of the aforementioned problem of people sleeping or doing other things in the back seat, it is tough to identify other driverless cars that have gone astray and have not yet been reported to police.

Even more difficult is the problem that police departments are unable to interdict these cars in the usual manner using flashing lights and pulling over the car. The virus seems to have disabled the feature that was put into the product that allows officers to pull over these vehicles remotely. The use of tactics to stop cars in car chases such as pit maneuvers or spike strips is not advised because the cars nor their owners haven’t committed a crime and the damage that results from these tactics is usually significant. After a rash of damage from the use such tactics by aggressive Highway Patrol officers in Texas, the ACLU filed suit and received a temporary court restraining order against the use of these maneuvers except where a person is seen driving and trying to evade police. The ACLU has argued that the use of these procedures violates the rights of car owners to peacefully use their vehicles in the way they were intended. Thankfully, the virus has not disabled the manual takeover provision of the software. If there is someone in the car, they can drive it and stop it. However, if it is virus infected, it is likely to reset itself from manual after being stopped and will likely drive off by itself.

The virus, notwithstanding, the vehicles simply go about their business as usual, deploying the pre-programmed collision avoidance procedures that we have come to expect from driverless cars, even though we have no idea where these rogue vehicles are going. “Better to let the cars run out of fuel,” said National Transportation Safety Bureau Spokesman Angelina Bladderwort. Local law enforcement agencies, however, are warning motorists to be on the lookout for these stalling vehicles that are running out of gas because they can at one moment be driving at the speed limit in high-speed lanes and suddenly slow down because of lack of fuel.

So far insurers have not weighted in on the subject, but a spokesperson for a major mutual auto insurer who wished to remain anonymous said, “We see no reason to exclude collision or bodily injury claims from any incidents involving these rogue vehicles. We just hope that we can stop this problem in time before there is significant personal injury or property damage.” This same anonymous spokesperson deferred any answer when asked what would be the insurer’s stance on claims involving loss of use, especially for the few truck fleets that have been licensed to use this technology on select highways in the Midwest. Trucking companies have been reporting finding stalled refrigerated trucks where entire loads were or had to be destroyed. Towing claims have increased significantly in number and cost according to some reports, as towing companies have raised rates significantly due to increased demand.

Auto manufacturers have calculated that the software glitch will only affect about twenty five percent of the driverless cars on the road and that the peak of driverless cars escaping will be reached in three weeks’ time and wind down just a few weeks after that. Other driverless car packages like MyWayHighway© and  iDrive© are not affected. However, the timeline for ending this viral attack has been disputed by Dr. Eggy Yolke, of the University of the Pines. Yolke calculates that the industry has failed to account for the significant increase of fuel-efficient diesel vehicles that use this technology and he predicts that we will be experiencing this problem for months if not years. While a recall of all virus prone cars is expected, no announcement has yet been made by any automobile manufacturer. The manufacturer of the GoItAlone® module declined to make any further comments to this reporter. However, not everyone sees this as a major issue. “I sure am glad I kept my DeSoto,” said an unnamed elderly woman at a recent classic car show…


John Smith felt strangely light. It was a most unusual day, the first in his life that was not scheduled. He knew that this happened occasionally where the system simply did not schedule someone for a day or even a week. At other times interference near scanners registered the wrong microchip number in the deceased’s neck and a living person’s identity would be temporarily sent to archives, but not for long. The next scan of that living person would reveal the mistake and that would be corrected in days if not hours.

This free day for John Smith was a system mistake. The AI had forgotten him for one day. It was the thirteenth of October and the regular hour time chime chimed thirteen on the internet screens that are mandated in front of every home and business in the city. Everyone else in America had to be someplace and doing something on the thirteenth hour of the thirteenth day of October, but not John Smith. Of course, his chip would register him walking down the street as he passed the scanners hidden in every internet screen. Just walking, with nowhere to go.

As the clocks struck thirteen, the great seal of America came on the screen in front of a shop where John Smith was passing and the ubiquitous digital announcer announced: “We have done it.” The words were then displayed on the internet messaging banner across the street. “We are what we wished for, completely isolated and self-sufficient,” were the next words out of the faceless speaker.

All imports are now prohibited regardless of necessity. Exports are permitted, but few countries want American goods. Besides, it is difficult to get goods past American borders because any personal contact with other people stokes terrorism fears.

As the message finished, John Smith nearly panicked because normally he would have had to be somewhere at thirteen O’clock. He saw others hurrying to reach a required location in time, or close enough not to trigger the AI deviation routine. Consistency and timeliness are the two antiterrorist watchwords which every child learns virtually from the moment the child can understand words. AI has become quite sophisticated in identifying persons not meeting consistency or timeliness standards, but personal anonymous reporting of infractions is encouraged. Personal reporting brings purported infractions right to the top of the scrutiny list.

However, when the system matched his number with his schedule it would find nothing wrong—just nothing. Eventually this would register as an anomaly, but he was free to do what he wanted for at least this twenty-four hour period. They would catch up to him and he would be called in and interrogated. He knew he would probably be put on high surveillance status, perhaps with his own personal watcher for a time, but if he did nothing untoward, odds are he would not do any reconditioning time. That is what he hoped.

John Smith looked up into the orange haze that hung low over the city. Coal had replaced other fossil fuels because oil was no longer imported. To mask the smell in the air, he sprayed some freshener on his face mask.

The idea of scheduled time came from counterterrorism experts. They reasoned that if everyone’s time is scheduled to the moment, each person has implanted from birth a unique identifier chip, and surveillance covers all permitted places of occupancy and travel, terrorism acts could immediately be detected as diversions from the lawful schedule. Surveillance ScanDrones® patrol the national parks which means that these places of wonder can still be visited by lawful Americans if the schedule authorizes them.

Silicon Valley geared up its AI and predictive analytics divisions to provide a balance of work and recreation that the medical community today lauds as helping reduce the incidence of high blood pressure and non-hereditary heart disease because stress from overwork has been virtually eliminated.

Early critics at the time of the scheduling rollout complained that this was unconstitutional because it denied people freedom to act on their own. The medical community and psychologists convinced Congress and the courts that such scheduling efforts would keep people from making bad decisions. Authorities reasoned that scheduling plus permanent and pervasive surveillance would catch pending addictions and other deviations such as shoplifting and even murder much more quickly. In fact, the initial increase in arrests for deviations worried many supporters, but once people got used to being scheduled, these deviations from the norm dropped to unprecedented levels. It solved the undocumented immigrant problem because only citizens and legal aliens could get chips. Those who did not get chips triggered scanners and soon the unchipped were deported in huge convoys that went on for miles. Chips are made with counterfeit countermeasures, and few illegal chips fool scanners.

The business community initially groused that the limit on work time would ruin productivity. In the end, the organizational psychologists were right and studies have confirmed that happier employees maintain and in some cases, improve productivity. The increase in virtual reality and internet connectivity means that people do not have to leave their homes to perform most work that doesn’t involve active manipulation of equipment. They have more time for other things such as work and play. Notwithstanding this evidence, industry continues to turn jobs over to robots at an ever-increasing rate.

After the unchipped were deported the cost of food skyrocketed because wages had to be raised to attract American citizens to work the fields. Industry has worked hard to develop new mechanical pickers and other assorted tools. Hotel prices also soared initially, but since there is now very little need for people to travel, the hotel industry has collapsed. Lawn tractor sales spiked early on and have remained steady for many years now. Lawn maintenance is part of the schedule for those who have lawns. Unfortunately, AI has not developed routines that correct for weather.

Private passenger vehicles have been banned because they are no longer needed. If one’s schedule permits travel there is local bus transportation and high-speed rail. However, there continues to be much political rancor over the cost of transportation, and budgets are never enough to maintain an efficient public transportation system. This encourages critics and naysayers to call the transportation system a failure and this further depresses or delays necessary repair and maintenance efforts. Infrastructure spending is at a new low by design.

While one can request changes to the schedule, AI quite often rejects such changes because they unnecessarily disturb the work-life balance. Certain changes such as extended school field trips are often permitted, though students no longer go to real classrooms. By law and, all schools are in virtual reality classrooms. Yellow school busses are now a distant memory of the elderly.

John Smith walked, peered into shops, walked around the fountain, and ate some ice cream, none of which he was supposed to do. Well, it wasn’t prohibited, it just wasn’t scheduled…He realized that it is so complicated when your everyday isn’t yours and then it is. He had another motive for just walking other than recreation. His two boisterous sons aged fourteen and fifteen were, by schedule, practicing their drums and would likely now be beating on each other had been the case since they both could walk.

This bit of freedom also gave John Smith considerable anxiety which he tried to push back into the recesses of his mind. Still, his hands shook a little from the adrenaline that was coursing through him. He smiled when he needed to and didn’t speak to anyone other than to the clerks in the stores. All were registered, anyway, and dutifully wore their right to work badges, certainly now an archaic regulation, because the chipless were deported long ago. However, the clerks and others he interacted with would be called to account when John Smith was discovered to have escaped into non-routine, but neither surveillance nor these workers would have anything untoward on him. Perhaps one would have an agenda, trying to get back into the good graces of the system for this or that infraction against the schedule, but he felt that the recordings of their conversations and him browsing the stores would reveal the true innocence of this venture.

John Smith was not a terrorist. However, his inaction in alerting authorities to his scheduling anomaly would put him under suspicion as, at least, susceptible to terrorist propaganda and manipulation.

The final stretch of The Wall had been completed the year before John Smith’s unscheduled day and it girds all the borders of the country, even Alaska. The walls are high and electrified with acres wide minefields inside. All the harbors have been mined and the coastline and beaches patrolled day and night by robotic flying and surface drones that have only one order, shoot to kill. Beaches and borders are off limits to all humans. There is one warning only to a trespasser and then bullets will fly. By law, trespassers, border-jumpers, and ocean swimmers are presumed to be terrorists and subject to the harshest defensive action, with no questions asked.

Only American naval operated transport vessels travel from Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, and other island possessions of the US. These are permitted passage through the port of Long Beach and the port of New York. Security is tight at the renovated Ellis Island in the east and the new Trump National in the west that process citizens and the few remaining legal aliens.

John Smith knew that fear of terrorism had driven INS, NSA, Homeland Security, the FBI, and the other surveillance and control organs of government to be wary even of our own people, because the islands are not seen as secure as the mainland. There is little need for people from the islands to visit the mainland with the internet and virtual reality, so all are treated with suspicion and given extra scrutiny and surveillance while in transit and during their time on the mainland. Special schedules need to be devised and deployed, and permission for such deviations from normal island routine require extensive negotiation and planning with the local representatives of INS and NSA. Few schedule modifications are granted, and those only for compelling reasons where there is no alternative but to travel e.g. medical conditions that can only be performed on the mainland. Few desire to leave the mainland for the islands because that puts them into a category of permanent suspicion, and nobody wants that. Virtually no one who leaves the mainland ever returns. Even congressional representatives from Hawaii rarely travel back home, preferring to conduct local business through the internet and virtual reality. This simply is the way things are done.

Immigration has been closed to America for years. However, The Wall is touted as being one of the most important accomplishments in America’s three-hundred-year history. Some even give The Wall equal weight to the Declaration of Independence because, like that document of liberation, the wall has liberated the country from foreign terrorists.

The elimination of immigration, The Wall, the closing to the world of American Internet, and now self-sufficiency from even imports makes the country an island unto itself. In fact, the week-long celebration of The Wall’s completion around all the continental United States surpassed even the tricentenary celebration of 2076. Emigration is permitted, but anyone who emigrates cannot ever return. All diplomatic business is conducted on dedicated vids and monitors not connected to American internet.  

Those who do have relatives in other countries can talk to them in heavily monitored special virtual reality or internet kiosks at special government agencies. Every word is carefully evaluated for the possibility the conversation carries hidden or even overt terrorist messages. None of these locations have any connections to internal American internet hubs so that no viruses, trojans, or secret terrorist messages can enter the now clean American internet system. Internet freedom has been declared accomplished by the FCC.

All American internet is by landline or local wi-fi. Cellphones have been replaced by the ubiquitous two-way vids that are in front of every building and on every power and transmission pole. Satellite receivers and transmitters have been banned and surveillance measures can quickly find the location of any transmitters or receivers.

Internet Freedom Day has been declared a national holiday. New holidays, of course, represent special challenges to the schedulers who must develop special AI processes to perform the complicated rescheduling required for three hundred million people.

When the clocks rang fifteen, John Smith felt that he had walked enough. Too many more places would just increase interrogation time when he was caught for not reporting the day of freedom before the unscheduled day occurred. He walked up the steps of the old five story brownstone that once housed a single family, but now housed ten. There were no elevators and his flat was one of two on the fifth floor. Every flight meant a new surveillance camera and scanner. The light on the scanner vids blinked green. If one had blinked red, homeland security would have been called for an immediate search and pick-up of the unchipped individual.

Chips are implanted at birth and with it comes one’s unique number. Chips rarely fail but can be surgically removed which only means that the person becomes a fugitive and is presumed to be a terrorist. Life incarceration is the sentence for voluntarily removing one’s identity chip.

John Smith reached the door of his flat. On the other side, drumsticks clicked and the boys banged each other into the walls of the flat. John Smith heard his wife Jane yell at them to stop. He stood outside the door fumbling with his keys to try to convince the AI behind the scanner and the vid that he was having difficulty finding his key. He really didn’t want to go in to the bedlam he could hear behind the door. He wanted just a dose more freedom…

He sighed and walked in. Donald and Mike stood in the narrow hallway running riffs on the other’s hardhat covered heads. The drumsticks made a clacking sound that filled the hallway. Neither one looked up to greet their father. Jane, her back to him, was in tiny living/workroom on the internet, fulfilling this or that special order for the gear manufacturer she worked for. She oversaw the team that designed, built, and fulfilled orders for special gears for special projects, things that AI or robots could not do. Once they were built, AI could handle any reorder or remanufacture of the now standard custom product.

Within moments of his arrival, the door smashed inward without warning and an armed team of black-suited Homeland police entered and quickly took John Smith, his wife, and two sons into custody. Hands secured behind their backs, they were rushed down the stairs and each into separate lorries which sped away. Just as the lorry door closed, John Smith saw the dogs and the bomb disposal person climbing the steps to the front door of the building. John Smith then realized, his would be the top news story of the week.

Regrets for an ice cream eaten and for getting his family into this scheduling mess came all at once to John Smith. He felt sick to his stomach and retched. Rather than asking him what was wrong, the two guards in the lorry scanned him, looking for any kind of device or propaganda he may have swallowed just as the security force entered his home.

As the car sped along, he knew where he was going and that was derrogatorilly known as the Gulag. It is where all terrorist invaders, home-grown terrorists, terrorist wannabes, and those expected of terrorist leanings or susceptability are taken for interrogation. Few who enter the Gulag are ever seen again.

John Smith wondered just what had possesed him to risk everything for a few hours of not being scheduled. He hoped that his wife and son were not going to the Gulag, but to the Homeland Security station where their interrogation would still be grueling. Their innocence in all of this John Smith hoped would be quickly discerned. Much depended upon what his wife and boys told Homeland Security. One slip-up…John Smith shivered at the thought.

His own innocence he now realized was not at all presumed and might not ever be possible because of his temporal transgression. His stomach churned and his hands shook, not from excitement as they did that afternoon, but because of the real possibility that he would not ever be let out of the place they were taking them.

It was as he envisioned the place. In through a large vault door which closed behind and then an other which opened slowly on its own. Gray cement block walls, and narrow empty corridors devoid of decoration.

Strip and invasive search. White lab coats soon replaced black uniforms. He was scanned from head to toe for even the smallest microchip or communication device, or worse, implanted bomb. Stomach pumped and enema given. They said nothing to him other than to bark orders as to what to do next.

He was prepped for interrogation, first with truth drugs, then traditional lie-detector tests. and the more accurate live brain scans to assess whether he was answering their questions truthfully. The white coats all had somber faces and refused to answer any questions, so John Smith stopped asking. He knew what this was, and where he was, and what he was supposed to to—submit. To resist would confirm that he was a terrorist. However, respond only when questioned and not questioning, as was his new strategy, would also brand him as a terrorist with something to hide. There simply was no strategy that would help his cause. He prayed for some indication from all the tests and scans that he had not lied and that the white coats and their handlers would believe what they saw.

Tortuous interrogation of the Spanish Inquisition and elsewhere in mideval Europe was designed to elicit confessions. Those who confessed to heracy would be executed; those who did not were executed. Not confessing was tantamout to lying. Those who did not confess would be eternally damned by order of the Inquisition. Confession and rejection of heretical thinking earned absolution before execution.

Brown coats now administered some of the same tortures. In the end he confessed to having terrorist leanings. No evidence other than his taking an unscheduled day was probably ever discovered, but that, of course, is classified. As a result of his confession, John Smith disappeared from America. The torture stopped.

While his number was not retired, it was incarcerated along with his torture-battered body. He was sent to reconditioning rehabilitation and was a star student. However, even if he became rehabilitated in his own mind, and even though he said he had, and the scans and tests likely did confirm this, conventional wisdom of the Gulag is that his terrorist leanings once again could come to fore in the right conditions—or so say the terrorist scientists who equate terrorist leanings with opiate addictions, which are nearly impossible to eliminate from the minds of even those who have spent years clean.

Addicts and others who can be blackmailed or bribed with money, drugs, sex, or other temptations to commit terrorist acts are accorded the same category as terrorists and are ncarcerated, though only a few, like John Smith who actually have broken the rules of America, are sent to the Gulag for life.

What happened to John Smith’s family, he never knew. Visitors are prohibited at the Gulag as well as are letters from inmates to the outside or to anyone inside, for that matter. When he wrote letters they were sent to analysts and put in his file. This was only more evidence of guilt and his propensity to violate rules, because the prohibition against letter writing is no less aggregious than him deciding not to report the scheduling glitch.

He wasn’t getting out anyway, John Smith figured. He, like all the others who tapped on the walls from time to time were kept apart, in solitary, never permitted to see others through their windowless cells. Escort to the 12×12 recreational room was down the same lifeless corridor that greeted John Smith when he arrived at the Gulag.

Did he ever truly regret his decision to take unscheduled time? He did and worried over and over again about his family. However, he soon became convinced that in the short period where he experienced unscheduled time, he had achieve the American dream of freedom. He wondered why this did not occur to others.

As You Wish

By Christopher Ketcham

Once upon a time there was a handsome farmhand named Westley. Now Westley was like any other hired man who works farm duties; you know, he takes orders from the farmer and, you guessed it, also the proverbial farmer’s daughter. I can tell you some tales about farmers’ daughters…but I digress. You see this farmhand Westley was a polite young fellow. Whenever Buttercup—of course the farmer’s daughter—you never heard of a farmer’s daughter named Agnes or Tallulah or even Naomi, have you…well Buttercup had a habit of bullying poor Westley, ordering him about as a young farm lass who would be princess might her dolls and lesser servants. But of course Westley was in the same category as all the others with whom Buttercup must order about with impunity.

“As you wish” the hapless lad would always reply to the bossy lassie. “And this is about the most politest thing anyone could ever say,” you might hear that old plantation maven Scarlet O’Hara say in another timeworn classic Gone with the Wind. But wait a moment here. You and I know that crafty Scarlet would probably respond to an entreaty by ole Rhett himself, “Well fiddledeede, as you wish”…and you know then and there that this certainly isn’t the politest thing that anyone could ever say. So let’s return to the hapless farmhand again. What exactly did Westley mean by “as you wish?”

You’re So Vague

Ah, you say, the locus of the problem is that this vague response could be either a polite retort or a snide remark—or perhaps just about anything you or I could want to make it out to mean. And what about the listener, our lassie the farmer’s daughter Buttercup? She believed that when Westley rolled “as you wish” off his tongue, he was saying “I love you”.


I agree. But read the movie’s script. There’s nothing in there that prohibits “as you wish” to mean anything, anything at all. Are we at a crossroads here where throwaway lines and vague retorts can mean just about anything? Isn’t there a law against such a thing? Shall we consult our Little Big Grammar Book for admonition, prohibition, and rebuke for uttering such a damnable phrase as “as you wish?” It isn’t in our style books either. Why is that? Tell me, why is that?

The As You Wish Code

It isn’t in the code because “as you wish” has become a useful expression of the oppressed. It’s the phrase of choice of the farmhand, the genie who pops out of the lamp, the bully sent to detention, the indentured servant, and, of course, the hassled employee sent by a cruel boss on another dreadful task. It’s what the careworn doughboy mouths, slouched against the trench wall, soaked in sweat and mud as he waits for the sound of whistle to send him over the top and into the meat-grinder of no-man’s-land. It is not the deprecating, “My pleasure” that operators are taught when they transfer you to the high mucky-muck who can’t answer her own phone. No, “as you wish” is a statement of defiance. So, how did Buttercup get it so wrong?

Well, you see, she was to become a princess. Princesses by all accounts are basically clueless. Clueless that is to the conditions their household staff and farmhands like Westley. Buttercup could not possibly have heard the effrontery in Westley’s voice because she had never known anything but the lap of luxury. Princesses as well as other royals just don’t get it. They are so filled with self-righteous power they can’t see through their designer shades or hear through their ears lobed with diamonds—that they are being dissed all the time by the likes of our fair young lad Westley. Dissed—but she and he did hook up—but then he died. Then again the story would have gone much differently if he hadn’t.

But they, royals and princesses aren’t the only ones who don’t get the joke, or miss the deadline to cash in a lottery prize, or in a drunken stupor fall off the turnip truck into the foul smelling ditch. Anyone in power anywhere is equally clueless.

Take Your Brain Out of the Vat

You’re skeptical. I do understand. Let’s try a few thought experiments, the favorite fictions of philosophers who wish to dazzle the unwashed masses whom they think are equally clueless…

We are not amused, you say.

So let’s dispense with all that falderal and show up those in power with a few examples that come not from some philosopher’s brain in a vat but from you, me, and that person over there who has been staring blindly into space for the length of this paper so far.

First is the case of Hannibal the Horrible, as he’s known by his fellow classmates. Hannibal is the consummate bully. He jabs you with his pencil and trips you on the stairs. He steals balls from the little kids on the playground and throws the orbs into traffic. POP! Ha ha. As he’s hauled off for the eleventh time this month to a promised detention, he says to Mrs. Henderson with a wry grin, “As you wish”.

Next, the genie slumbers peacefully in that nether world inside the lamp. Then you come along, an overgrown bumbling oaf. You lost your last penny down a sewer drain and have been known to eat rocks to sooth hunger pains. But out of the bottle like the wisp of smoke he probably is (cannabis I think) he does the usual. You know, the three wishes thing. Your make your first inane wish for a double cheeseburger with fries. And the genie says….you guessed it, didn’t you. Not as dumb as I expected.

Argh, and before the mast we now are, mateys. Why? The lot of us were pressed into to service. That is, we took from the one legged man a free pint of beer just to find a king’s shilling at the bottom which we used to get horribly drunk. And then upon wakening in the rusty scuppers found ourselves in shackles and bound for parts unknown on His Majesty’s frigate. And whenever the first mate shouts his orders to ye laddies, whadday say…Of course. But he can’t hear you, nobody with the rank of first mate can hear the likes of you swabs especially when you say that bloody thing.

So, you see, it isn’t so farfetched that the delicate Buttercup would find wax so built up in her ears from years of disuse to mistake “as you wish” for “I love you”.  But that isn’t all of it.

Of Grandpas and Grandsons

We must fast forward to the end of the story, that is, the story of the story—the whole premise of the movie, remember? The grandfather is reading The Princess Bride to his grandson. Remember that story? Certainly grumble back at me…and an “as you wish” I’ll say back to you. The child thinks that this story about princesses is going to be a real yawner. But after the tale is told he asks his grandfather to read it again the next night. And what do you think the grandfather says back? You got it. There, it isn’t so hard is it?

But how could this be, he’s the grandfather? You know this: grandsons always have absolute power over their grandfathers…You just walked into the trap, didn’t you? The roles have been reversed. The grandson has become the lord of the story and his grandfather the humble squire who’s tasked with reading it to him. Painful, isn’t it?

You see, it’s verifiably impossible for the person in power to say “as you wish” to the one she commands. Try it. I dare you. See how horrible it feels? It’s a downright inane thing to say, isn’t it?

First of all, you the all-powerful are the one who commands, not the servant who stands before you. When you give the order and respond back to his nod with, “as you wish” what do you think the poor dolt will think of that? He’ll figure that you have gone daft and just stare at you. Worse yet, he will come to despise you. He’ll even defy you and trundle off in a rage, desperate for a real master who’ll boss him around with impunity. He wants to be happy under your thumb not be mollified by some drivelish “as you wish” response. It breaks all the bonds of the oppressor to the oppressed when you the big boss respond to him, “as you wish.” And if you do it again, he’s likely to wander off. He’ll get lost first, then become homeless and later a heroin addict and end up cutting himself again and again with dull razorblades, and then he’ll die from a hot shot with a needle stuck in his arm. You want that, you really want that? Then come off it. Get with it and turn yourself around. Be curt, demanding, and even insulting but never as the boss say “as you wish”.

By Your Command

You want some theory, eh? Ok, let’s discriminate here first. If you recall in the television series Battlestar Gallactica, the centurions responded in their best analog voice, “by your command.” What makes that different from, “as you wish?” First of all, the commanders all can hear “by your command.” It’s the response they expect to hear. They have not wished it, they have commanded it and the proper response they expect to hear back is, “by your command”. But what about the theory of all of this? We’re getting to it.

You see, sociologists have known for years that there are some of us who are in power and some who are not…

Don’t patronize me

I hear you.

But would you believe that people who are the oppressed buy in some measure into the mythology that the oppressors are spinning? The oppressed hear that they are all dolts; they live for siestas; they can’t keep a job. Even if they don’t totally buy into it they question their own abilities. You know the drill of the oppressor: “Got to keep em down where they belong by explaining over and over again to em who they are.” But here’s the thing, while the oppressed may look like they’re buying into it they aren’t. That blank stare and the response, “as you wish” is about as far away from buying into it as you can get. But the trick is, and this is what we’ve been saying all along, the oppressor hears nothing of this, nada, zilch. They’re like the princess wallowing so deep in the mythology of her own power she hears nothing but what she expects to hear… “I love you…. Or, by your command.” Are the sociologists all wrong then; do the people on the bottom really buy into the crap they dish out at the top? What do you think?

Conspiracies Abound

That’s right. There is a grand conspiracy going on in the halls of power. The little people just aren’t buying it anymore. They have adopted tactics like, “as you wish” to defy their deaf overseers with suitable wit and wryness. However, and unfortunately in the end, this is a fool’s venture. Why? Remember the overseers can’t hear the irony in “as you wish.” It comes across as lips flapping and is heard in their power-soaked minds as “I love you” or “by your command.”

We are beyond hope then—hope for a better world? Hope to release the bonds of oppression and like phoenixes, rise from the ashes of our oppression? I’m afraid so. You see, subtlety is lost on the oppressor. They just don’t hear it; they can’t hear it. Buttercup couldn’t hear it and even the grandson who had just listened to the complete story of the Princess Bride didn’t hear his grandfather say, “as you wish.” What exactly he heard we don’t know because the movie ended.

It seems that we were built with this switch in our head. Even if we’ve been lucky enough to have risen from poverty and oppression and now become the oppressor we’ve lost that ability to understand, to hear, to even recognize the sly remark back to our urgent commands, the “as you wish.” We must perform experiments, you say to find out what switch in the brain triggers the loss of sensibility when one assumes the role as master, overseer, and yes oppressor. It’s a monstrously devilish problem to which we might even consider applying alien conspiracy theories to. Who put the power switch in our brains?

And yes, it goes both ways. The mighty sometimes fall and with it the switch goes back, resets, the current reverses and guess what comes out: “as you wish.” Ah, you say. I have an idea. What if we were to start a movement, a movement to ban, “as you wish” from the language, any language, even the dead ones (in case they rise again)? If there are no more people who will say, “as you wish” then there are no more people who are oppressed. But who will start this lobby to ban the hated phrase? Not the oppressed for it’s a salve to them. Not the oppressors because remember, they’ve never heard it. It’s up to you and me, the faithful fans of The Princess Bride.

Paper the House

So we scheme some more. What if we record our message on every cable channel so it plays more often than It’s a Wonderful Life at Christmas. Will they hear it then; will they begin to get it? I’m afraid you have more faith in humanity than I do. I think not. Even if we tack on subliminal commercials that petition for the elimination of the phrase or hire credible film critics to introduce the show and explain the problem in a clear way—we run into the same problem. Switch on—don’t hear it; switch off, don’t want to stop saying it. But, you say it’s the cause of oppression–the fundamental cause of oppression. It must be stopped. And we can’t stop looking for a cure to this horrible malady. Stop the phrase…stop the phrase.

Paste this chapter on every billboard from Istanbul to Detroit—not Detroit, nobody lives there anymore—Minneapolis, then. Take it out as an editorial in the local paper, start blogs, hire hackers to create virus pop-ups to explain the problem. Switch on; switch off. Even with massive efforts the situation is futile. We can’t change what’s been wired into our brain.

Turn the Damn Switch Off

But you see now don’t you. You hear the phrase, “as you wish”. Guess what that makes you? You see how it is? How many times have you tried to speak truth to power and gotten squashed, fired, pushed aside, or lost your case against the smooth talking accuser’s lawyer? Switch off.

So you’re thinking drastic measures. You want to lock all the oppressors up and do to them what they’ve done to you. You want their switches off! But what does that do to the phrase, “as you wish”? It’ll be no fun to say it any more, will it? You really want that? Don’t you get at least some satisfaction from saying, “as you wish?” Aren’t you showing your distain for the big guy even though you’ve bought into the oppressor’s story just a bit? Come on, admit it? You have a little bit of loser in you simply because you don’t drive a Bentley. And if we don’t have the oppressor to boss us around we won’t do anything, right? The whole place will go to hell and society will crumble, all because we will no longer have any fun saying, “as you wish.” How are we to live with ourselves knowing what we now know, that no matter what we do we can’t ignore the importance of, “as you wish” and what it means to us?

And, of course, there’s the little matter of the switch in our brains. It won’t go away and as soon as someone starts getting a feeling that they can boss, shove, or push someone around they’ll do it. You won’t believe how quickly the world will slide back into its own oppressive ways again. Millions of switches will turn like dominos in a long line. Dum dum dum dum dum.

Can’t We Stop Them?

This is horrible, you say. And why then did they make The Princess Bride? To torture us, to make us slaves to the switch? You didn’t know that about the movie, did you? Packaged as a comedy, its sinister plot is to laugh at you, laugh at your ‘O I’m oppressed’ ways. The joke is on you and me, not in the story of The Princess Bride. The only line in the movie that matters to you and me now is, “as you wish.” Damn the directors, you say! It’s they that should be locked away, not the oppressors. We must ban the movie from ever being shown again. We must stop this evil conspiracy. We must petition the studios, the White House, even the Pope to prevent another remake of The Princess Bride!

From their embattled studio where hundreds of pickets daily gather to protest the remake of The Princess Bride I can hear the director saying, “as you wish.”

Sense and Nonsense or a Philosophical Investigation of Louis CK

Warning…the language of Louis C.K. quoted in this piece contains many of George Carlin’s seven words you can’t say on TV. His subject matter is also at times…disturbing.

12/17 update. After recent admissions of impropriety by Louis C.K. there is consternation on my part for keeping this in the blog. I do think that the investigation into his character does reveal the potential for, in this case, to become too enamored with his craft combined with fame that made him invincible, to himself at least, and capable of doing anything as a result. And, as a result this study becomes much more disturbing.

By Andor Nitwitstein; Translated from the Hungarian by Christopher Ketcham

I Andor, having the unfortunate accident of being born into the family Nitwitstein am about to make amends for that moniker through a treatise on that disturbing fellow known as Louis CK. I am most concerned with his language—no, this will not be an expose on the silliness of profanity or the base humor of common guttersnipes (though there is much of this about the man)—but it will be an inquiry into his relationship with his children…a much more interesting but disturbing subject. I assure you that a popular authority spewing ‘alternative facts’ would not be as strange as Mr. C.K.

Of course, in style and in substance I am deeply indebted to my distant third cousin twice removed on my Father’s side, Ludwig Wittgenstein.[1]  There will be some who will say that I have stolen Cousin Wittgenstein’s philosophical thunder as did the serpent Jörmungandr steal Thor’s thunder at the battle of Ragnarök. Well, be informed that as that battle was the twilight of the gods as put to music by Wagner and later satirized by Nietzsche in his Twilight of the Idols, this philosophical investigation will put to end all speculation of a divine CK. [2]

It was Ludwig Wittgenstein’s folly to tackle metaphysics with logic. But, in the end, he did a fair job with it, or so people think. Far be it for me to suggest that I can perform the same brilliant surgery on the equally difficult subject of Louis CK, but I will, of course with your permission, begin the effort. However, I do hope that by the end of this treatise that I will not throw up my arms as Wittgenstein did in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and say, “6.54 He who understands me finally recognizes them [his logic of course!] as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)”[3]

Louis CK, or rather his language, begs to be analyzed logically because what he says contains both sense and nonsense at the same time. With Louis CK and his rants one is reminded of G.E. Moore’s Paradox, ‘It is raining but I don’t believe it’[4] or in variation on a theme and with Louis CK in mind, ‘I am watching Clifford the Big Red Dog, but I don’t believe it’ or any other number of things he does with or to his children that seem so disturbing but at the same time an honest reflection of what parents endure. And of course cousin Wittgenstein understood that when one deals with language and learning, there is the inevitable need for the parent to understand what the child does understand…back to Moore’s paradox again. But Wittgenstein said in defense of learning language:

If we look at the example in §i, [a child seeing and using something for the first time] we may perhaps get an inkling how much this general notion of the meaning of a word surrounds the working of language with a haze which makes clear vision impossible. It disperses the fog to study the phenomena of language in primitive kinds of application in which one can command a clear view of the aim and functioning of the words.[5]

So what will it take to lift the fog from Louis CK? Quite a good bit of analysis to be sure. Therefore I will concentrate on the language Louis CK uses with and about his children because, let’s face it, there is little logic in children or in parenting and quite a bit of fog…[6]

1. The World is Everything That Is the Case

1.1 We are informed by logic that if A = B and B = C then A = C. This is always the case. But is this always the case? How can we confirm the accuracy of such a thing when uncertainty is the watchword of fundamental physics? For as Werner Heisenberg was fond of saying, “It is impossible to determine accurately both the position and the direction and speed of a particle at the same instant.”[7] If in one world it is uncertain that A could equal C but in our world it does, then this is a contingent fact, not a necessity. Logic must be clear!

1.2 It all comes down to evidence. Let’s look at the number 2 for a moment. If we add 2 + 2 or multiply 2 x 2 we get four. Armed with this knowledge we can assume that adding and multiplying any two equal numbers will produce the same result. But, of course, this isn’t the case. Nor would we be well informed if we took 1 x 1 and arrived at the assumption that multiplication of a number by itself always produces the number. Wrong again. That these two numbers are unique we can only know this from obtaining further evidence.

1.3 Which leads us to Louis CK. Fundamentally we can assume that it is the case that as a parent he will love and do practically anything for his children. But this is not certain because we have evidence of other children being left in hot cars so that dad can sext, being abandoned on church steps, floated down the Nile on a reed boat, or driven into the river to drown…all by their parents.

1.4 But do we have evidence that Louis CK is the exception to the case that parents love and will do practically anything for his children? We must examine the evidence and that evidence comes from his own words.

2. What is the case, the fact, is the existence of atomic facts.

2.1 Our atomic facts for Louis CK being a devoted father must come from a combination of things he has said, not just one invective or even an aphorism delivered in soliloquy. “My four year old is a fucking asshole,” he says in his stand-up Shameless.[8] At first blush (and I do mean blush) this is not something that one would call one’s child. However, consider the facts of the situation. You are going out and the little creep does not want to put her shoes on. She’s going to make you late and late again—because this is simply not the first time. Of course he wouldn’t call her an asshole in front of her or her mother because, well, it just isn’t done unless you want child protective services to come knocking on your door. But how frustrating is it when the child who is first sensing her own independence to resist does on your time and not hers!

2.2 Atomic fact two: still on the four year old and in the same performance, but a different day than the shoe occurrence. The child says, “Momma I saw a doggie today”. Louis asks, “Really, where did you see a doggie?”, and she replies, “I’m telling mom and not you.” The atomic facts are that the child has her own agenda right now and there is probably a very good existential reason why she is telling her mother and not Louis…because he thinks she’s an asshole, likely he has been less than charitable in other such show and tell events. So what does Louis tell the audience about what he was thinking at that moment…”Well fuck you I’m just asking to be nice anyway.” Oh the slings and arrows of being a parent who has a child who has her own mind and is developing her own sense of being and moral direction. She has not yet developed the politically correct response. We do want to say, “Loosen up Louis.” But we don’t. Instead we laugh.

3. The logical picture of the facts is the thought.

3.1 While we’ve have seen/heard Louis rant about his four year old in his monologue performance, the child does not appear in the performance. So, how could our logical picture be formed from thought? Do we see his four year old child? No, we have never been presented with her likeness. Is it (or when she was the same age) your own four year old daughter you see, or is it a composite of four year old girls; perhaps pigtails or neat rows of braids and the ubiquitous polka dot or animal print dress, with knobby knees, flailing elbow and some such smudge on her left cheek, which after a mother’s wipe turns out to be simple dirt and not finger paints or some other disaster looming in in another room. So how does this picture come about? From thought, you say.

3.2 What is thought? First our mind wanders back to Descartes and his Meditations.[9] Descartes wanted to be sure of something…anything. How does he (or anyone) know whether reality is real or just a miserably cruel illusion from an evil demon? Descartes dismissed the listing of score after score of things he couldn’t be sure of and went straight to the heart of the matter—what is the one thing he could be sure of. He thinks. He is a thinking thing. That’s all he can be sure of. Well Descartes, we ask the same question, what is thought?

3.3 We can imagine it…in this case Louis CK’s four year old daughter. It may not be the same picture that Louis has of the child but we think it represents the genre, four year old child. So, as my third cousin said in his Tractatus, “2.225 There is no picture that is a priori true.” Thought is possibility and if possibility is thinkable then even the impossible is thinkable e.g. Louis calling his child an “asshole” or a “douchebag” to her face. However, at some point in his and her lifetime he will have some explaining to her how he used her in a most deprecating way to make others laugh at her expense. Do we not all cringe at what we have said to others, especially our children, and ruminate about it at much latter holiday dinners where the farce of the event of deprecation or snub or simply bad parenting is revealed and subjected to ridicule and laughter. Or, pathologically it regurgitates in insistent bubble when the now adolescent runs screaming from the room because she has resumed cutting herself after thousands of therapy dollars and hours. I digress. But Louis brings us back to reality in this same performance…“No I didn’t really say that to her. Nobody ever calls her on her bullshit, that’s how she got to be an asshole in the first place.”

3.4 We perceive things through our senses (we don’t physically capture them when we are just looking at them). Our perceptions become our thoughts and we propose the possibility for what it is. We listen to Louis and he tells us he has a four year old child. The proposition is that there is a four year old child, a girl, his, and she’s an asshole. Well, the problem is that asshole has, like other words, multiple meanings. The first is anatomical. And perhaps the child of a certain age where the literal becomes the answer for everything and she would consider herself to be that part of her body which defecates. Perhaps that will or will not be traumatic. On the other hand you or I know that the word refers to a kind of person who is not someone we likely will want to associate with. But how do we get there?

3.5 With the sign, of course. The simplest sign, of course, is the name: book, shoe, four year old girl—Lisa, Laura, Linda, whatever. What is more complex are the signs associated with this particular four year old child: asshole, douchebag, Louis CK as father, living in such and such a place with mother and her older sister. Now it begins to get complicated and as my third cousin said in his Tractatus, “3.324 Thus there easily arise the most fundamental confusions (of which the whole of philosophy is full.)” And, as he said, if the sign (say dress color) is not significant it has no use in our thoughts about who this little girl is. So we do, do we not, tend to develop our thinking about this four year old from what seems to be the least amount of information. Why? Well, we don’t want to be mired in thinking when Louis spits out his next invective about the poor child, do we? We’re there to laugh, not ponder whether we could create her likeness on canvas, or produce a biography of her brief existence to date. Only the essentials—that which matters!

4. The thought is the significant proposition.

4.1 We have run the course with the four year old as an asshole. My third cousin said in his Tractatus, “4.001, The totality of propositions is language.”

4.2 What is language? We can surmise from Louis CK’s standup that he has a limited vocabulary and in which words like fuck, and asshole are held in high honor if only for the fact they are repeated in rapid fire and in great quantities. Perhaps, you are thinking, that he peppers these terms because they produce the desired effect—laughter. And we may think from that that he might not have always used these words so many times but like Pavlov’s dog with Tourette syndrome, the positive feedback of laughter has conditioned his way of speaking. But that isn’t why we’re here.

4.3 I must ask again, what is language? Louis CK confounds us in his HBO special One Night Stand when he explains that one can name one’s children just about anything.[10] He offers gibberish without any vowels, the name Ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff, and Ladies and Gentlemen. But what meaning do these names have? Well, at least with Ladies and Gentlemen it is used to focus attention—“Ladies and Gentlemen, please”—“Johnny, please”—both work just as well. But is Ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff language or just malarkey? In the same way, how do we get from a written musical score to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto Number One? First, as my third cousin suggested: it is a proposition, whether Bach or Ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff. He explained in his Tractatus, “4.021 The proposition is a picture of reality, for I know the state of affairs presented by it, if I understand the proposition. And I understand the proposition, without its sense having been explained to me.” If I cannot read music then a musical score is meaningless for what it proposes to be but has meaning to someone who does. Should I see Ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff or hear it, I likely will be confounded or surmise that the speaker or writer has a profound stutter.  Ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff once explained to me by Louis as being a proper name can from then on be a proposition because he made it clear to me that this series of F’s is a proper name and it is the name he has given to his stand-up son. And, for me and others who know Louis and his son, this becomes part of our shared language experience…that is until Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa comes along. But since we have Ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff, then it will be an easier leap to understand that Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa is a proper name, but for a girl.

5. Propositions are truth-functions of elementary propositions. (An elementary proposition is a truth function of itself.)

5.1 What is truth? Like my third cousin we could utilize a truth table to determine whether a proposition p is in fact p and q is in fact q—or that both, one, or neither is true. And certainly when we have found that p is in fact p, we can test propositions derived from p until we reach the last proposition that is true. We likely will have a crooked ladder structure of even infinite length if our original proposition contains a rather big thought.

5.2 With Louis CK truth tables are complex. Take his statement in Live at the Beacon Theatre, “I hate Clifford the Big Red Dog.”[11] Certainly he gives us reason after reason why he finds this children’s book series interminable and most dull and boring. But at the same time, rather than run away, he endures the watching with his children. So, we are left with a conundrum in the case of Louis CK, does enduring the thirty books with his children invalidate the statement, “I hate Clifford the Big Red Dog,” if , for purposes of love, he condemns himself to reading them with his children? Let’s consider revising the proposition to, “While I hate Clifford the Big Red Dog, I endure it deference to my child’s enjoyment.” That certainly has a better chance of surviving a truth table, doesn’t it? So, why doesn’t he just come out and say that?

5.3 It is the nature of comedy. As my third cousin said in his Tractatus, “5.1362 The freedom of the will consists in the fact that future actions cannot be known now. We could only know them if causality were an inner necessity, likely that of a logical deduction—The connection of knowledge and what is known is that of logical necessity.” Humor, in fact, is humorous simply because we do not know what the future actions are. We have no cause and effect relationship with Louis saying “I hate Clifford the Big Red Dog.” Certainly we get a giggle from it because we have all suffered through children’s books and they no longer hold us with fascination like they did when we were children. It isn’t until Louis takes us further down his intended path that we begin to see how that converts into the truth statement, “While I hate Clifford the Big Red Dog, I endure it deference to my child’s enjoyment.” But if he had started out with this truth statement then it becomes the future of his routine which by necessity means that we need to hear no more. The argument is done and by continuing we are not supporting humor just more about the developing state of mind of Louis CK and that likely is more tragic than comic. To make, “I hate Clifford the Big Red Dog” a true statement we must hear the entire routine so that we can refashion it into something we can accept as being true. But there’s no fun in that. The fun was in the process of getting there, not subjecting the statement to a truth table.

6. The general form of truth-function is [p, ξ, N(ξ)]. This is the general form of proposition.

6.1 We will not be translating these hieroglyphics into their logical components. Rather we must only need to understand is that a logical proposition has a certain form if it is to be logical.  This, of course, does not mean that even a logical proposition is true. We could say that if p then q. That certainly is a logical proposition as is if p = q and q = r then p = r. But we are not yet certain that in writing that if p then q is entirely true. How do we know that this is fact without subjecting the statement to further scrutiny? While some may take as a true statement, “if God then the Devil,” others may vehemently disagree, suggesting that only God is true, and still others will object to even the mention of God in any statement related to truth.

6.2 As we consider this idea of logical propositions associated with Louis CK and children, one thing is revealed. Louis does have his finger on the pulse of what it means to be a parent and what children are, or better yet, how their own logical propositions evolve over time.

6.3 In Live at the Beacon Theater one minute Louis CK fantasizes about masturbating at the playground and the next he defends his daughter against the playground bully Zinjanthropus. And even as he confronts Zinjanthropus with vitriolic threats he realizes he has just done wrong. Then he goes off down paths of revenge against Zinjanthropus’ parents that can only be understood as disturbing. What is Louis’s logical proposition? It is that there is no logical proposition about the act of parenting. It is frightening, confusing, and we are not immune from imagining taking out our most perverse fantasies and applying it to any parental act, but most of us refrain from such indulgences—but we may do so just a little bit by threatening Zinjanthropus only slightly more than decorum or…the law…will permit.

6.4 So how do we develop this ability to form logical propositions and not act like drunken revelers reeling down the road careening into parked cars and people with abandon? It’s all about cognitive development. My third cousin explained this in his Tractatus, “6.52 We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not be touched at all. Of course there is then no question left, and this is the answer.” That there are always questions because we cannot ever know all there is about all there is because we have yet to have and will likely never be all we can possibly be.

6.5 With children it is no different. One minute they are stupid, and the next minute they are wondering how they could have been so stupid back then. It now makes no sense to the child why her younger sister is stupid—unless the child has become in loco parentis: in simpler terms the older sister who makes it clear to Louis that she too is dealing with a younger sister who at times just doesn’t get it. She is, in a word, impatient. And he makes his own case for being impatient especially with the pace of young children in board games or as he says in Live at the Beacon Theater, “I’m bored more than I love you”.

6.6 Louis tells us in Live at the Beacon Theater that he and his kids play Monopoly and not only does the youngest, who is now six year old, lose, she is devastated that she has to give up everything she has won when things don’t go her way. At the same time Louis lets us know that his plan is to use all of the gain he has harvested from younger sister to bankrupt older sister who is now nine. Once again the passions of which Aristotle warned us should be experienced in moderation—Louis lets us know our innermost desires, inappropriate as they are, directed at his two children in the very dark and debilitating game called Monopoly. But therein lies the logic—why would anyone play the game of Monopoly to lose? It is all about winning and taking and consuming and taking the other for all they are worth. I had better stop this for I am beginning to sound like Louis CK.

7. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

7.1 Need I say any more?

[1] Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951).

[2] In the Latin, in fairness to Nitwitstein’s third cousin, the title of this chapter is, Tractatus Logio-Louisckus

[3] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus trans. C.K. Ogden (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, and Co. Ltd., 1922).

[4] G. E. (George Edward) Moore (1873-1958), Krista Lawlor and John Perry, “Moore’s Paradox,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 86, no. 3 (2008).

[5] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958). Sections 1 & 5

[6] Subtitles in this chapter are from the seven propositions of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, as translated by CK Ogden. Of course there are those who prefer the later D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness translation but that is for those who obsess over things like the proper placement of silverware at a state dinner or the number of rivets in a model train engine.

[7] Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) Werner Heisenberg, Nuclear Physics (New York: Philosophical Library, 1953), 30 emphasis in original

[8] (Louis CK, 2007, Shameless, HBO)

[9] Rene Descartes (1596-1650) Ren’e Descartes, Meditations and Selections from the Principles, trans. John Veitch (La Salle, IL: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1962). Second Meditation

[10] (Louis CK, 2005, One Night Stand, HBO)

[11] (Louis CK, 2011, Live at the Beacon Theater, Pig Newton)

Who is the Other?

By Christopher Ketcham

What makes a Time Lord tick? It’s the early nineteen sixties. World War II, Lend Lease, and The Bretton Woods Accords had sapped Britain’s treasury to the point where she could no longer afford her colonial territories. In the late nineteen forties Gandhi took India to democracy, and Britain ended its Palestine mandate. By nineteen sixty three the world of Britain had shrunk and there was significant question about her future. Dwindling time and shrinking space intertwined: enter the last Time Lord. And it’s important that he’s the last because if as Emmanuel Levinas (1906—1995) suggested that time is created by being with the other and others, the recent memory of the Holocaust and millions of war dead had shrunk time to where only one Time Lord could be a possibility. And this Time Lord is the embodiment of the Levinasian other, infinitely alterior or different. One never knows which Doctor Who one will be with in the next moment for he regenerates quite often. And even when one is with Doctor Who for a period of time there is no knowing the ‘totality’ of Doctor Who for he always retains a bit of mystery: he never lets on fully what he knows or who he is. But the good Doctor is pure responsibility, responsibility for the other, even responsible for the other’s responsibility whether human or alien. As such he risks his own existence to repair rents in the universe that jeopardize the security and well-being of all. He’s the ultimate Levinasian ethical agent. Coincident with Doctor Who’s arrival in nineteen sixty three is the British invasion of the Beatles, Dave Clark Five and others.

In the episode, The Three Doctors (aired December 1972—20 January 20, 1973) Jo Grant (played by Katy Manning) sings a line from the Beatles song I Am The Walrus, from a 1967 single and their Magical Mystery Tour album. Nah, Doctor Who couldn’t have done that, that’s not his style. But what is his style?

A Bit of Doctor Whoness

It depends. Do you prefer bowties, outrageously long scarves, a preppy or a black leather jacket look? Oh, not his fashion, but who is Doctor Who? Is Doctor Who a Brit? He must be with the accent, the TARDIS, and all, but what if that is simply one of his talents, to fit in to the environment?

The third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) pointed out, “Obviously the Time Lords have programmed the TARDIS always to return to Earth. It seems that I am some kind of a galactic yo-yo! (The Claws of Axos, aired March 13—April 3, 1971)” You see, he’s the last servant of the universe—he serves time and unlike us he has all the time that remains.

As the second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) said, “The Time Lords are an immensely civilized race. We can control our own environment—we can live forever, barring accidents and we have the secret of space/time travel. (War Games, aired April 19—June 21, 1969)” So he’s learned, or it appears that he is, and it also appears that he must fit-in to societies as he travels in time and space. Yet, he’s beyond being. But how could that be if he is as Martin Heidegger (1889—1976) said about us that we are the beings for whom being is an issue (Heidegger, 1962, pp. 32, H 12). Is Doctor Who not also a being for whom being is also an issue…all of being, the being of the universe? Of course. So what is at issue is not the ontological being of Doctor Who, which is settled—he is a being—but the otherwise than being of Doctor Who.

Phenomenally Speaking

We cannot get towards otherwise than being without first going back to phenomenology. Edmund Husserl (1859—1938) started the phenomenology movement. First, we exist and go about our business in what Husserl called ‘the natural attitude.’

The ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) explained, “Ricky (played by Jahvel Hall), let me tell you something about the human race. You put a mysterious blue box slap-bang in the middle of town, what do they do? Walk past it. Now stop your nagging. Let’s go and explore. (Boom Town, aired, June 4, 2005)” So in our natural attitude we just go about our business in the world. Not very observant now are we. If we had just opened the TARDIS door we would have seen that it’s bigger on the inside. Enter Doctor Who, the phenomenologist:

Ian (played by William Russell): Doctor, why do you always show the greatest interest in the least important things?

The Doctor: The least important things, sometimes, my dear boy, lead to the greatest discoveries. (The first Doctor, played by William Hartnell, The Space Museum, Aired April 24—May 15, 1965

Said the philosopher, Simon Critchley (1960—), “A phenomenologist seeks to pick out and analyse the common, shared features that underlie our everyday experience, to make explicit what is implicit in our ordinary social know-how. (Critchley & Bernasconi, 2002, pp. 7, Introduction)” Doctor Who has had to become adept at analyzing the shared features of different species and how they relate to other species in order to navigate the intricacies of the paradox called universe. His tool? Language:

The Doctor: Any being that can exist, let alone thrive, inside a nuclear pile is hardly likely to be deterred by a few primitive missiles.

Professor Watson (played by Glyn Houston): But they’re the most powerful missiles we have!

The Doctor: On your standards, perhaps. I think we should try much older weapons.

Sarah (Played by Elisabeth Sladen): Like?

The Doctor: Speech? Diplomacy? (The fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, The Hand of Fear, October 2—October 23, 1976)

Even when faced with imminent destruction as in the endless parade of Daleks bent on exterminating the good Doctor and just about everyone else, Doctor Who tries to talk them out of their obsession even if such talk is ultimately futile:

The Doctor: Failed? No, not really. You see, I know that although the Daleks will create havoc and destruction for millions of years, I know also that out of their evil must come something good. (The fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, Genesis of the Daleks, aired, March 8—April 12, 1975)

Is that it—‘talk’—is that all it takes to become a Levinasian ethicist and is this otherwise than being? No, phenomenology is only the beginning. Because, you see, the other is not a phenomenon, the other who is before me—and any other is an enigma…

The Psychism

The Time Lord and his earthly companions come across all manners of exotic others, from devilish androids to serpentine monsters and all the other nasties and joyous beings in between. And at seven hundred years old (give or take a century or two) Doctor Who has become quite familiar with the different beings that ply their brand of sociability throughout the universe. But how does Doctor Who do this if he’s constantly regenerating? He must have a common thread, something that remains even after the body changes. Every new Doctor has a different personality from the one before which means something else must be at work here. There is; it’s the mysterious psychism. No, don’t burrow through your episode list to find the word—it isn’t listed in The Whodunit. The word psychism has an exotic history. It has been explained by some as something like the Star War’s ‘force’ and by theosophists (God and world from mystical insight) as psychic activity (Wedgwood, 1914). Levinas, a practicing Jew and a Talmudic scholar in his own right, also read the Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism). But he borrowed the term ‘psychism’ for his own purposes.

The body has a ‘causa sui’ (cause of itself) necessarily from God. However to God’s “great glory” according to Levinas is that God enabled the human being capable of a-theism or of creating the will without prior cause, meaning without God’s help (Emmanuel  Levinas, 1961, p. 58). Levinas called this construct of the will the psychism. But as with everything else Levinas, it isn’t that simple. The psychism is our subjective experience, “…our responsivity to the other” which  Simon Critchley said, “This deep structure, what Levinas calls the ‘psychism’ and what other traditions might call the ‘soul’, is the other within the same [me], in spite of me, calling me to respond. (Critchley & Bernasconi, 2002, pp. 21, Introduction)” It isn’t all about me, it’s about the other that I see before me that suddenly and abruptly tears me from my enjoyment of dwelling in myself and shows me that the other is different from me. And it’s this difference that shocks me into seeing that I am me and separate from this other whose face is before me. And it’s because there are others that my own self is created. Without others there wouldn’t be a me…And at the same time Levinas asked us to think hard about this other. First, how do we know this other? We don’t. Even when we see the other before us there’s infinitely more to the other than we could ever know. Just looking at a Dalek would you know that there’s a living squiddy thing inside its salt-shaker shell?

Second, ethics begins with understanding that the other is a neighbor and how should we treat neighbors? Levinas is fond of quoting Dostoyevsky on this, “Every one of us is guilty before all, for everyone and everything, and I more than the others. (Emmanuel  Levinas, 1996, pp. 102, Truth of Disclosure and Truth of Testimony)” Sounds like ‘I am my brother’s keeper’, but there is more to it than that because I am infinitely responsible to and for the other and even for the other’s responsibility. And I’m even more responsible than any other, if we can read that into Dostoyevsky. So, maybe Rene Descartes was right: the mind and body are separate, at least for Doctor Who, and with each regeneration his psychism goes along for the ride. But is this the otherwise than being we want to learn more about? Not exactly.

Beyond Being—The Otherwise Than Being

The Doctor is an enigma, the embodiment of Levinas’ infinite other who regenerates into different bodies and rides the times of the universe like a surfer who rides the different tides:

Martha (played by Freema Agyeman): He said, “last of your kind”. What does that mean?

The Doctor: It really doesn’t matter.

Martha: You don’t talk. You never say! Why not? (The tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, Gridlock, aired, April 14, 2007)

In some respects the Doctor is a trace, an anomaly of time itself, or as Levinas said, “A mark traced on sand is not part of a path, but the very emptiness of a passage. And what has withdrawn is not evoked, does not return to presence, not even to an indicated presence. (Emmanuel  Levinas, 1996, pp. 70, Enigma and Phenomenon)” The good Doctor is this absence of a presence, an otherwise than being. Let me explain.

Levinas wanted us to get beyond being, the body, and the ontology of being and into the metaphysical realm beyond…beyond being. But our language makes this difficult, and he’s up against the formidable presence of Heidegger who wanted us to understand what philosophy seems to have forgotten that we are beings who are thrown into the world. Enough of that, said Levinas, and he agreed that while it is true that we are thrown into this world we need to move beyond the ontological being to the otherwise than being in order to begin to understand the first philosophy: ethics.

So the first thing Levinas did is work the language a bit. To do so, Levinas separated the saying from the said. The said is the concrete, the totality of writing, of what has been spoken. See, there it is: said in black and white. The saying, however fleeting as it is in its temporal aspect, Levinas said that, “Saying is not a game…it is the proximity of one to the other, the commitment of an approach, the one for the other…(Emmanuel  Levinas, 1974, pp. 5, The Said and the Saying)” And the saying unsaids the said. Whoa…

Let’s unpack this. The saying is a response to the proximity of the other in the form of language. As long as we are talking to each other we are in the realm of otherwise than being, elsewise we would be stuck, stuck in time. The good Doctor uses time to unsay the said, to move amongst the beings of the universe to maintain order, to continue the saying which primordially is time itself. As Doctor Who said:

The Doctor: I’m not running away. But this is one corner of one country on one continent on one planet that’s a corner of a galaxy that’s a corner of a universe that is forever growing and shrinking and creating and destroying and never remaining the same for a single millisecond, and there is so much, so much, to see, Amy (played by Karen Gillan). Because it goes so fast. I’m not running away from things, I am running to them. Before they flare and fade forever. And it’s alright. Our lives won’t run the same. They can’t. One day, soon, maybe, you’ll stop. I’ve known for a while. (The eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith, The Power of Three, aired September 22, 2012)

So it’s Doctor Who’s constant unsaying of the said: the hegemony, the confronting of evils that have taken control over this or that parsec of the universe, that brings him to a state of otherwise than being. It is the Time Lord’s job to unsay the ontological said…but at the same time, violence is not his primary weapon. His weapon is the saying:

Taron (Played by Bernard Horsfall): Doctor, we’d never have succeeded without all your help. I wish there was some way of thanking you.

The Doctor: As a matter of fact, there is.

Rebec (played by Jane How): Yes, Doctor?

The Doctor: Throughout history, you Thals have always been known as one of the most peace-loving races in the galaxy.

Taron: I hope we always will be.

The Doctor: Yes, that’s what I mean. When you get back to Skaro, you’ll all be national heroes. Everybody’ll want to hear about your adventures.

Taron: Of course.

The Doctor: So be careful how you tell that story, will you? Don’t glamourize it. Don’t make war sound like an exciting and thrilling game.

Taron: I understand.

The Doctor: Tell them about the members of your mission that will not be returning. Like Maro, Vaber and Marat. Tell them about the fear. Otherwise your people might relish the idea of war. We don’t want that. (The third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee, Planet of the Daleks, aired, April 7—May 12, 1973)

Doctor Who becomes the embodiment of the theme that Levinas developed throughout his body of work: beyond being. “To exist has a meaning in another dimension than that of the perduration [permanence] of the totality; it can go beyond being. (Emmanuel  Levinas, 1961, p. 301)” Existence is impermanent yet infinite…it is beyond being. Where does ethics come in to all of this, you ask?

Beyond Ethics

Ethics is responsibility for and to the other—infinite responsibility even if it means…

After the death of Katarina (played by Adrienne Hill), the Doctor said: She didn’t understand. She couldn’t understand. She wanted to save our lives. And perhaps the lives of all the other beings of the Solar System. I hope she’s found her perfection. Oh, how I shall always remember her as one of the daughters of the gods. Yes, as one of the daughters of the gods. (The first Doctor, played by William Hartnell, The Daleks’ Master Plan, November 13, 1965—January 29, 1966)

It’s not always self-sacrifice like Katarina, but it’s knowing that this responsibility has no limit and as Doctor Who knows, and not just because he’s the last of his kind, that his responsibility cannot be tasked to another. It’s my responsibility and mine alone. Doctor Who explained:

The Doctor: “My dear Jo, the TARDIS was working then because it was being operated under remote control by the High Council of the Time Lords.

Jo (played by Katy Manning): Well, if it worked for them…

The Doctor: I don’t want it to work for them: I want it to work for me. No one’s going to turn me into an interplanetary puppet. (The Third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee, Day of the Daleks, aired January 1—January 22, 1972)

Levinas asked, “Is not sociality something more than the source of our representation of time; is it not time itself? (Emmanuel  Levinas, 1978, p. 93)” He answered this question by suggesting that our very existence in the world towards others and their infinite difference is in relative time, not absolute time (Emmanuel Levinas, 1987, pp. 6, introduction)…Which sounds like something the Doctor would say, doesn’t it?

Finally, Levinas asserted that morality comes from being responsible for the other but the will is always on the verge of being courageous or cowardly. He said, “In affirming that the human will is not heroic we have not declared for cowardice, but have indicated the precarity [existence without predicate] of courage, always on the verge of its own failure…But in this very failing we have caught sight of the marvel of time…(Emmanuel  Levinas, 1961, pp. 236-237)” Our ordeal is the matter of our living, of life, not death. And is this not the Doctor, long enduring, different from before when he regenerates, but ever patient? The Doctor is sometimes courageous, and sometimes cowardly (or so it seems), but he’s always for the other in the end.

Quoting the Dalek Emperor (played by Nicholas Briggs): “Then prove yourself, Doctor! What are you? Coward or killer? (The ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, The Parting of the Ways, aired June 18, 2005)”

Yet Doctor Who is aware that there are some saids that cannot be unsaid:

The Doctor: My dear Steven (Steven Taylor played by Peter Purves), history sometimes gives us a terrible shock, and that is because we don’t quite fully understand… I dare not change the course of history. (The first Doctor, played by William Hartnell, The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, aired February 5—February 26, 1966)

Doctor Who must work within the system called time and this requires a delicate balance of action and inaction. This is his ultimate responsibility, his responsibility to all the others, the universe of others. And he’s responsible for their responsibilities even if they refuse to be responsible. You see, he knows that it’s the other’s business whether to reciprocate responsibility back to the Doctor or even to other species or alien races, or even the universe itself. If the Doctor would require reciprocity, when it’s not forthcoming, he could avenge this breach. And it’s this very thing, this one-sided nature of responsibility that is the centerpiece to Levinas’ ethics. It requires my responsibility to the other regardless of the other’s attitude or response to my approach. It’s how ethics which is first responsibility becomes the first philosophy because there is nothing that stands before responsibility. It’s primordial to our existence. It’s Doctor Who and his responsibility for and to time which he engages all manner of good and bad to preserve:

The Doctor: The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views. Which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering. (The fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, The Face of Evil, aired January 1—January 22, 1977)

The Doctor works within what time has wrought. The other is before him and rather than remake it in his image he uses the saying: questioning, conversation, dialog, and discourse to help him understand his responsibility to others and help others understand their responsibility to time and the community of others that are the universe and its otherwise than being. And his companions have come to see this and understand this ethics of responsibility:

Martha (played by Freema Agyeman): I travelled across the world. From the ruins of New York, to the fusion mills of China, right across the radiation pits of Europe. And everywhere I went I saw people just like you, living as slaves! But if Martha Jones became a legend then that’s wrong, because my name isn’t important. There’s someone else. The man who sent me out there, the man who told me to walk the Earth. And his name is the Doctor. He has saved your lives so many times and you never even knew he was there. He never stops. He never stays. He never asks to be thanked. But I’ve seen him, I know him… I love him… And I know what he can do. (The tenth Doctor was played by David Tennant, The Last of the Time Lords, aired June 30, 2007)

Towards an Imperfect Discourse

Doctor Who can be a curmudgeon and is quite often sarcastic, acerbic, and even downright mean to his companions and others…and he doesn’t much like the Daleks and certain others of his nemeses. He’s an imperfect humanoid. Levinas never left us with a how-to manual and certainly the Time Lords didn’t leave the Doctor with one either. Levinas said, “My task does not consist in constructing ethics; I only try to find its meaning. (E. Levinas & Nemo, 1985, pp. 90, The Face)” So we are left to roam the universe with Doctor Who trying to figure out this thing, this responsibility for the others which is the essence of our existence. Certainly many of Doctor Who’s companions began to grasp this mission, this need to be for and be before and with others. Without others we would not be and to be otherwise than being is to be in the midst of others whether our own species or others:

Speaking to Ace (played by Sophie Aldred), The Doctor: Your species has the most amazing capacity for self-deception, matched only by its ingenuity when trying to destroy itself. (The seventh Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy, Remembrance of the Daleks, aired, October 5—October 26, 1988)

So we are imperfect species and with the imperfect Doctor ride the tides of time in an imperfect universe. Yet, we all are subject to the same conditions of ethics as responsibility to the other as our first philosophy. Should we begin to get that right, shouldn’t everything else follow? Maybe, maybe not…

The Doctor: I walked away from the Last Great Time War. I marked the passing of the Time Lords. I saw the birth of the universe, and I watched as time ran out, moment by moment, until nothing remained. No time, no space – just me. I’ve walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a madman. I’ve watched universes freeze and creations burn. I have seen things you wouldn’t believe. I have lost things you will never understand. And I know things. Secrets that must never be told, knowledge that must never be spoken, knowledge that will make parasite gods blaze! So, come on, then! Take it! Take it all, baby! Have it! You have it all! (The eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith, The Rings of Akhaten, aired April 6, 2013)


Quotations from the Doctor Who series come from http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Doctor_Who and the individuals who play the various characters were cross referenced against the IMDb list of cast and crew from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0436992/ and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056751/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt.

Critchley, S., & Bernasconi, R. (2002). The Cambridge Companion to Levinas: Cambridge Univ Pr.

Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and Time (J. MacQuarrie, & Edward Robinson, Trans.). New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Levinas, E. (1961). Totality and Infinity: an Essay on Exteriority Pittsburg, Pa: Duquesne University Press.

Levinas, E. (1974). Otherwise Than Being (A. Lingis, Trans.). Pittsburg, Pa.: Duquesne University Press.

Levinas, E. (1978). Existence and Existents (A. Lingis, Trans.). London, Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Levinas, E. (1987). Time and the Other (R. A. Cohen, Trans.). Pittsburg, Pa: Duquesne University Press.

Levinas, E. (1996). Emmanuel Levinas Basic Philosophical Writings. Bloomington, In: Indiana University Press

Levinas, E., & Nemo, P. (1985). Ethics and infinity: Duquesne University Press Pittsburgh, PA.

Wedgwood, J. I. (1914). Varieties of Psychism. Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Publishing House.


What Does Care Have to Do With It?

Care: the four letter word

Roald Dahl’s Matilda is a child who could have been left behind. You know her: curious, independent, precocious, and brilliant. She makes you proud and also nervous that you may not be able to keep up with her intellectual needs for long. There is a bit of Matilda in every child, yearning to come out; yearning to be developed. Matilda could have been left behind by society, but she was not, she was left behind by her parents, “We don’t hold with book–reading,” Mr. Wormwood said. “You can’t make a living from sitting on your fanny and reading story–books. We don’t keep them in the house.”[1] She could have been left behind by the school through the apathy of Headmistress Trunchbull, “My idea of a perfect school, Miss Honey, is one that has no children in it at all. One of these days I shall start up a school like that. I think it will be very successful.”[2] But she was not left behind by the school because her teacher Miss Honey would not let Matilda be left behind.

We hear daily that there is a crisis in education. There is a crisis, but not one that many see. We face a crisis in education where care is a four letter word. Instead of being care–full, the student is a metric on the pathway towards plumping the graduation rate statistic. The good student is the generator of the most right answers out of questions with four choices. The unfortunate student has Wormwood parents and Trunchbull school officials and lives in a community that blusters and bellows but refuses to address the underlying causes of poverty and discrimination. Minority students must leave their culture at the door when they enter the classroom. Educator Angela Valenzuela calls this ‘subtractive schooling’ where the school, the teacher and society subtract the world of minority culture from the student.[3] And we ask why students fail.

Then there are teachers like Miss Honey. What are your memories from your first days of school? What about your children? What will they say? Will they come running home repeating the words of Miss Trunchbull, “You take it from me, it’s no good just telling them. You got to hammer it into them.”[4] Or will they demonstrate how they used something quite thrilling and new and mysterious to learn how to spell, “Miss Honey gave us a little song about each word and we all sing it together and we learn to spell it in no time.”[5] Both Miss Trunchbull and Miss Honey are drilling their students to learn basic concepts but there is a difference: care.

Care is not about achieving the cut score on the high–stakes test or even about whether the teacher has checked the box that the programmed lesson plan was conducted as prescribed. Care is a continuity and not an end state. Care is not a subject but a way of thinking about the subject, the student, and the curriculum. This is a fitting way to look at things because care is important to all humans.

Philosopher Martin Heidegger investigated the nature of our being and becoming. His conclusion: our being and meaning are care and we reveal ourselves as care. Heidegger discovered that we are thrown into in the world and we engage with the world. We care about the world and each other. Even with our need for care and individuality many of us become just like everyone else. But as with Matilda and all other children there is a chance to become authentic, a being–towards what the child might ultimately become.

In a child’s engagement with the world she discovers, for example, how to use a hammer (Heidegger’s favorite metaphorical tool, by the way). At first it may be painful to watch and painful for her as she mistakes her finger for the nail head. It begins as a theoretical project but gradually and over a period of practice and apprenticeship she becomes so adept at using the hammer that it seems to disappear into her hand, losing all theoretical aspect and becoming quite practical. No different are the skills of writing, summing, or reading. The book disappears as the story unfolds. But if the child does not care for reading, hammering, or summing then she will not learn how to make them disappear and create her own potentiality towards reading, hammering, or summing. How do we know what potentialities to encourage in a child? One must care first.

But what is care? It begins like this, “’I myself’, Miss Honey went on, ‘want to help you learn as much as possible while you are in this class. That is because I know it will make things easier for you later on’”[6]

Care Care–fully

In care there is the caring and the cared for. I care about myself; I care about others; others care about me. Some of my relationships may not care at all. How many are in my caring relationships depends upon many factors, not the least of which is my capacity to care. Educator–philosopher Nel Noddings said that, “This learning to care requires significant knowledge; it defines genuine education.”[7] Care is an acquired skill; it is also a necessary skill. So I ask, ‘how many schools offer classes about care either for students or teachers?’

Noddings also said, “The primary aim of every educational institution and of every educational effort must be the maintenance and enhancement of caring.”[8] But what does this mean in practical terms?

Caring first understands that it is not about the subject, the test score, the grade, nor the promotion to the next grade – it is about the person.

You are in the class with a teacher who adores her subject but for you it is a mystery and a chore. She thinks that if she can teach you to love the subject it will cure all your ills. But she is in her world not yours and hasn’t even peeked in to see whether you are still online or have logged out. She had better care and get into your world fast or you will have gone away. Noddings said this discovering of the other’s reality is fundamental to the caring relationship:

“Apprehending the other’s reality, feeling what he feels as nearly as possible, is the essential part of caring from the view of the one–caring. For if I take on the other’s reality as possibility and begin to feel its reality, I feel, also, that I must act accordingly; that is, I am impelled to act as though in my own behalf, but in behalf of the other.”[9]

This is the opposite of subtractive schooling – it adds back the student’s world to multiply the opportunities for growth.

What is the Strategy Honey?

Roald Dahl has personified care, care–fullness, and the caring relationship in Miss Honey. She will explain her six strategies for engaging students care–fully.

Our World

It is the first day of class for the five year old children in Miss Honey’s classroom. She begins by opening up the world for the children:

“I myself”, Miss Honey went on, “want to help you to learn as much as possible while you are in this class. That is because I know it will make things easier for you later on. For example, by the end of this week I shall expect every one of you to know the two–times table by heart. And in a year’s time I hope you will know all the multiplication tables up to twelve”[10]

Care is not all about free will and wanting to do anything you want just because. What Miss Honey understands is that the better the students are equipped to be in the world when they leave her class, the better off they will be going forward. From this we can derive Miss Honey’s first care strategy as:

  1. Create an environment where the student can have concernful engagement in and with the world

Miss Honey understands that there are things everyone needs to be able to do–like multiplication tables–to be able to move about in the world. But not everyone sees it this way and Matilda’s father suggests that students use a calculator. Miss Trunchbull has her own method where she swings a child around by the ankles, blustering and whirling her lesson into him.

So there will never be agreement by the school, by society, by the students, or by the parents for what should be learned and what should not be learned, or even how ‘it’ should be taught. But if we care about the students and we care about their world first this begins the process of preparing for learning for all involved.

My World

Matilda has entered the class with skills that are far beyond that of other students. She can multiply and sum big numbers without resorting to calculator or paper. Miss Honey takes time in class to discover Matilda’s world:

“Now tell me, Matilda,” Miss Honey said, still polishing, “try to tell me exactly what goes on inside your head when you get a multiplication like that to do. You obviously have to work it out in some way, but you seem able to arrive at the answer almost instantly. ”[11]

By discovering Matilda’s world Miss Honey can begin to address Matilda’s needs in the context of Matilda’s world. She does the same with other students in the class and the result is not the typical classroom where everyone’s book is (supposed to be) turned to the same page. Instead Miss Honey’s class is a learning space where everyone is working within their own individual worlds.

Miss Honey’s second strategy of care is:

  1. Engage the concern of the student by focusing on the world of the student

Miss Honey has shown how to engage the concern of Matilda in her world and other students in theirs. This is a first year classroom. There are other grades in the school and these first year children will move on. The school built on care does many things differently from what we see in many ordinary classrooms. A care school may keep students and teachers together for many years so that they can grow with each other and the teacher can better tune towards the student’s world. Even where this is not the case teachers in the care school confer with each other about students who are leaving their class and progressing into other grades. They transfer knowledge about the worlds of each student so that continuity is maintained. They care that there is continuity for the child and challenge for the child – each child; caring for each.

Of course things can go wrong. Students may not care. Students may face challenges that are difficult to discern let alone resolve. In many schools there is poverty, broken homes, crime, drugs, teenage pregnancy, generational apathy towards education, and, yes: prejudices, culture clashes and anger. Care asks the teacher to discover the student first and then work out how after.

Why Do We Have To Do This Stuff?

Matilda has learned too much on her own to be stultified by the first grade curriculum. Stodgy old stick–in–the–mud Trunchbull will not have Matilda sent to a higher grade. It just isn’t done and she has been convinced by Matilda’s father that the child is a behavioral nightmare–not deserving, in fact a wart.

Most parents…other than the Wormwoods…have genius aspirations for their children.  The parent is involved in the child’s education and care requires that the parent’s concern be part of the care–full equation. The care school understands this but also considers the child from the child’s own vantage point in a setting where the teacher digs deeper into what the child needs based upon observation and questioning. Teachers in the care school not only assess cognitive but also emotional skills and how the child can and likes to learn how to learn. When Miss Honey discovers Matilda’s skills she speaks with Miss Trunchbull and then goes to visit her parents to explain what she has seen. But Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood see little purpose in education. Thwarted but not deterred, Miss Honey finds a way to help Matilda with her educative needs albeit in a slightly more devious way than many might want to go:

“There is no point”, she said, “in you sitting in class doing nothing while I am teaching the rest of the form the two–times table and how to spell cat and rat and mouse. So during each lesson I shall give you one of these text–books to study. At the end of the lesson you can come up to me with your questions if you have any and I shall try to help you. How does that sound?” “Thank you, Miss Honey,” Matilda said. “That sounds fine.” “I am sure,” Miss Honey said, “that we’ll be able to get you moved into a much higher form later on, but for the moment the Headmistress wishes you to stay where you are.” “Very well, Miss Honey,” Matilda said. “Thank you so much for getting those books for me.”[12]

Miss Honey has defied The Trunchbull by promoting Matilda into a class within a class and has exceeded her parent’s desire for Matilda’s progress. Was this the right thing for Miss Honey to do? Relationships of care may often be asymmetrical. In Matilda’s case, Miss Honey is in a relationship of care with Matilda but The Trunchbull and the parents Wormwood relationship of care with Matilda is minimal to non–existent. Caring where uncaring is present in the extended relationship provides challenges that are not easily resolved. Matilda was privileged to have one caring relationship. How many children do not?

Miss Honey begins to work within Matilda’s world of capabilities which is her third strategy of care:

  1. Engage the student in practical activities within the interconnected world of the student’s work

After probing and observing and investigating the world of Matilda, Miss Honey assigns work associated directly with Matilda’s world.

Don’t be ridiculous, you say. If all a child wants to do is cut out paper dolls, should we let her – should we just let children do what they want to do? Care asks what is a classroom for and what learnings this child wants to learn. Care asks why does this child want to just cut out paper dolls. Care asks the child why. Care then suggests ideas that might bring the child to reconsider the world of paper dolls and how it can enlarge the child’s own world – to bring the child back into the world–the larger world. Of course it isn’t easy. Care is the most difficult thing.

Oh Man, You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me

What is an assignment for? If it is drudgery who will want to do it? If I perform the assignment perfunctorily what have I learned—is how to perform perfunctorily. Care is not about automatons it’s about autonomy and celebrating difference. It’s not about disturbing the mythical world of the standardized classroom; it is about disturbing the student’s own world which is where learning begins.

As we reenter the story, Matilda has just humiliated the Trunchbull by using her newly discovered teleportation powers to dump newt and water down the headmistresses’ blouse. After class Matilda seeks out Miss Honey to question what this newly discovered power is and to find out answers why. Miss Honey is skeptical of this power at first…who wouldn’t be…and challenges Matilda to tip over the glass again.

How much can we really ask the student to do? Why not: whatever they care to want to try, within the bounds of safety. Miss Honey does not dismiss the teleportation act as a flight of fancy but instead steps into Matilda’s world to observe this new thing. By considering this new level of understanding and skill Miss Honey can now observe Matilda and assign her projects that will challenge her. And challenged she is. Matilda goes home and practices her teleportation powers until she becomes a master (remember the hammer). Using this new skill Matilda makes all sorts of fun things happen…but you will just have to read the story to find out what.

From this care–full challenge Miss Honey’s fourth strategy unfolds:

  1. Reveal world through disturbance but provide an environment where the student can consider how to reconstruct the world of the work after circumspection so that the work once again can become practical.

Consider the hammer analogy again. Say you have just taught your child how to use a hammer to pound in big nails. One nail goes in badly and is bent over. The child smashes the nail down so that it is flat and sort–of disappears. You show the child the claw and how to pull out the defective nail. The child’s world has been disturbed by the bent nail. Suddenly the hammer has done something wrong (surely not I!). But you have provided an environment for learning and have shown the child how to exist with a new language of hammer–claw with this new change in the world.

The child is producing a different concept of hammer–one that bangs and one that pulls. After a period of circumspection and practice the child simply swings the hammer around and pulls an errant nail. Of course, if the child ruins too many nails…I know what you are thinking, but think care first. Obviously if the child’s every fingernail is black and most ten penny nails are bent then perhaps it is time to refocus the child on another enterprise. Please don’t say sawing.

How do I Know What I Know?…I Just Do, I Guess

Matilda wants to know how she knows how to teleport and whether it is real, illusion and, of course, is it peculiar. Matilda explained how the teleportation experience felt to her:

“It made me feel lovely,” Matilda said. “For a moment or two I was flying past the stars on silver wings. I told you that. And shall I tell you something else, Miss Honey? It was easier the second time, much much easier. I think it’s like anything else, the more you practise it, the easier it gets.”[13]

Isn’t this just what we want our children to feel about their own useful abilities…delicious! Matilda is enthralled with her new talent and has learned how to learn and how to begin to develop the skill. One aspect of learning that so few understand or even think about is how we know what we know. You may first rattle off the times table, memorizing it along the way. Sure, memorization is a form of learning. So is practice. But suddenly like Matilda, you fly by the stars on silver wings. Yes, it surely is an epiphany. You have discovered something new about yourself and your world. You have developed the capability to multiply thirteen by sixty–three in your head. You have learned how to learn this thing without having to memorize table upon table. You can move on to new things having learned how to learn like this. You even try this skill on other subjects and other challenges.

Because the relationship of care exists between Matilda and Miss Honey, Matilda is not afraid to share her feelings with her teacher. The caring teacher like Miss Honey will incorporate this new–found understanding into her conception of the student’s world and will use it in other projects and learning opportunities.

So in her exploration of caring and her craft Miss Honey resolved to:

  1. Facilitate the student’s mode of being of projection in order for the student to begin to understand the possibilities for what the student is capable of becoming.

This is called meta–knowledge: knowledge of myself and my learning capabilities. Quite often skills acquisition and knowledge acquisition require the student to attain different learning capabilities and ways of thinking–even new cognitive functions. These new ways of learning and knowing often require as much practice as the subject matter itself. What do you think–have we been successful as educators and parents and leaders to understand this very real nature of being and becoming by learning how we know what we know?

Tick Tock

The problem is that formal education cannot do everything. But we ask it to. Truthfully, there is only so much time to learn. It is also the case that learning and educative environments exist outside the classroom in society, at home, in sports and play…Remember this–the world is our classroom. Heidegger knew it. You know it. Therefore, given the time you have–how do you use it? This is the same question we should be asking in the classroom. What is the best use of the student’s time in context of all the other strategies of care that Miss Honey outlined?

Miss Honey seemed capable of matching the right exercise or activity at the right time with each student. This certainly isn’t easy because many times even an accomplished learner doesn’t know the best way to move forward in the learning process. It is even more difficult when you don’t know the capabilities of the student in the student’s world. Because Miss Honey took the time to learn the world of her students and how they learned, she could provide the right instructional technique or experience for the right subject for the right student at the right time.

This is no different from most other activities oriented towards progression. The more time that is spent in planning a project, the less time it will take to build the desired result, and the do–overs are likely to be far fewer. By learning the world of the student, care strategies are oriented towards the right instructional strategy at the right time. In the end more can be done in the same amount of time. Miss Honey’s sixth and final care strategy is:

  1. Consider the anticipatory resoluteness of the student when conceptualizing the curriculum in a manner that is optimized as parsimoniously as possible and occurs at the right moment when possibilities and time are the most opportune

For Heidegger, resoluteness is being fully engaged with the world. The anticipatory resoluteness anticipates the finality of being–of there being only a certain amount of time to do things.[14] If I am to reach my full potential I must be fully engaged with the world. The task of any educational event or process is the care that is required to provide students with the opportunity to fully engage their anticipatory resoluteness. However, if the task or concept is introduced before the student is ready for the challenge, the whole thing might collapse. Therefore care requires understanding the student’s capabilities so that the right task for the right learning opportunity is introduced at the most opportune time.

After confirming that indeed Matilda could tip over a glass with her mind, Miss Honey invited Matilda to tea at her home. Sensing that Matilda needed time to process her new–found skill, Miss Honey carefully changed the subject to nature during the walk to her cottage. Sometimes you just have to change the subject and let the mind work.

On The Purposes of the Child

Miss Honey was a special teacher–a caring teacher; a nurturing teacher. Her strategies of care she never formalized in the story, but through her careful navigation of her students’ worlds she was able to implement this complicated strategy with success. Nel Noddings summed up Miss Honey’s strategies of care through the ideas of the early twentieth century American philosopher, John Dewey:

Possibly no insight of John Dewey’s was greater than that which reveals the vital importance of building educational strategy on the purposes of the child. The principle of the leading out of experience does not imply letting the child learn what he pleases; it suggests that, inescapably, the child will learn what he pleases. That means that the educator must arrange the effective world so that the child will be challenged to master significant tasks in significant situations. The initial judgment of significance is the teacher’s task.[15]

Miss Honey understood the time, the process and the place when she needed to take the time to care about Matilda and meet her in her world to learn what she knew, and how she knew how she knew, and how she learned. Miss Honey and Matilda learned how they could learn together in a caring relationship. It’s just that simple and all that difficult.

[1] Dahl, Roald. Matilda. Penguin Group, 1988, Kindle ed., p. 129.

[2] (p. 223)

[3] Valenzuela, Angela. Subtractive Schooling, U.S.–Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring. State University of New York, 1999. P. 3.

[4] : Matilda, p. 216

[5] Matilda, p.203.

[6] Matilda, Kindle p. 88.

[7] : Noddings, Nel The Challenge to Care in Schools : An Alternative Approach to Education. Teachers College Press, 1992. p. xiii.

[8] p. 172.

[9] Caring, p. 16.

[10] Matilda, p. 88.

[11] (p. 95)

[12] (p.  119.)

[13] (p. 255)

[14] Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Translated by John MacQuarrie, & Edward Robinson. HarperCollins Publishers, 1962., p. 330, H 303

[15] Care, p. 63