It was some time between the end of my sophomore and junior year in college that I discovered how basic philosophy really is. I started off by reading Confessions by Augustine who, though not known primarily as a philosopher, asked some of the same probing questions of existence and self that I had mulled over for years.
Augustine led me to Kant. Kant led me to Descartes. Descartes led me to Plato. Plato led me to Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard somehow drop-kicked me into Derrida. Derrida confused me until I retreated to Ellul. Ellul was kind of cozy. Hiedegger, Sartre, and Nietzsche were tiny blips on the radar which I barely took the time to notice. Hegel, Spinoza, Locke, and Hume are still total strangers to me, honestly.
Mostly, I lost my zeal and interest. I had accomplished my goal. Philosophy is not too deep for me. They just use words that were not part of my vocabulary to represent the same ideas, thoughts, and questions which I already have. Every now and then, I pick up one of my unfinished books and give it a whirl. I usually make it through about three pages. Then I’m back to reading Robert Jordan, the Bible, or a novel.
The challenge in reading philosophy isn’t comprehending some complex set of possibilities. The challenge is to read enough to learn the language. Learning the language is key. I found myself reading a collection of writings from Albert Einstein recently. He has this mythical importance, probably linked to the great quality of the sound of his name. How perfect for the genius everyone references to have a rhyming last name. It’s so absolutely easy to remember. He wasn’t just a great name and a cute face, though. I discovered that he was extremely insightful – not very prophetic, at times, but insightful regarding the day in which he lived. It is strange to read his thoughts on Bertrand Russell’s theory of knowledge. I never thought of Einstein as a philosophical man before. He was always this little weird looking guy who stood in front of a chalkboard writing mathematical/scientific equations.
Shows how much I know. Einstein had some fairly optimistic expectations of our society which regrettably appear to have been mere pipe dreams. As technology and industry surged ahead at a record breaking pace, people were able to rest from some of the most demanding labors. Machines took our place. Einstein predicted, or at least hoped, that such advancements would allow us the opportunity to reflect and to become better people.
“This security and the spare time and energy which the individual will have at his disposal can be turned to the development of his personality. In this way the community may regain its health, and we will hope that future historians will explain the morbid symptoms of present-day society as the childhood ailments of an aspiring humanity, due entirely to the excessive speed at which civilization was advancing.”
I suppose it is still possible that Einstein’s hopes were accurate, but I doubt it. It is true that the speed of advancement has never slowed. From trains, planes, and automobiles to televisions, rockets, and microwaves to computers, microchips, and internet to nanobots, dna cloning, and RFID transmitters – we have never allowed ourselves the luxury of rest. We have never taken the time to pause, reflect, and regain our health.
I seem to always be writing a critique of something. How unfair that I find fault in so many places. It saddens me to discover a man so brilliant as Albert Einstein and so unrealistically hopeful. How does a man who knows so much know so little? In many ways, he was a shining star, a tool of the Lord used to unravel a mystery or two from his countless wonders.
Einstein made me stop and think. No one fits within the confines of stereotypes. He was more and also less than people gave him credit for. I am grateful to learn about people like him. It is my sincere hope to someday contribute something unique to this world that justifies the length of my existence.