Ancient Hindu philosophers provided even the illiterate like me to conveniently refer to all that figment of our imagination as Maya. It is all a grand illusion. We think the red hot chili pepper is insanely spicy and pungent. But, does that mean it really is? What exactly is real and what is not real? Am I real? What if the "insane" descriptions of the world that those in the cuckoo's nests offer are the real descriptions of the world? What if we are the ones trapped in an asylum and we don't even know it?
Some day, when we figure out where consciousness comes from, maybe we will sort those questions out once and for all. Until then, we struggle through. And we have to make a conscious effort to deal with these tough questions especially now when it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify the real from the virtual. You think you are listening to a cello being played, when it turns out that a kid is producing those sounds through a computer. Friends are virtual. Even that most primal of all--sex--doesn't have to be real anymore!
I had designed for myself deep reads for this summer so that I can engage with those questions for a while and continue to chip away at my existential struggle of "who am I?" and "what the heck is all this about?" The final one in the list is John Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez. Yes, a non-fiction work by the great storyteller. As is noted in the introduction in the Penguin edition that I am reading:
If we read and consider Sea of Cortez in all its complexity, we see John Steinbeck fusing science and philosophy, art and ethics by combining the compelling if complex metaphysics of Ed Ricketts with his own commitment to social action by a species for whom he never gave up hope, and whom he believed could and would triumph over the tragic miracle of its own consciousness.The travel adventure is, to use Alfred Hitchcock's favorite, a MacGuffin. Yes, Steinbeck the marine biologist will give me details about invertebrates and I would not really care about that.
"We were curious" writes Steinbeck in the introduction:
Our curiosity was not limited, but was as wide and horizonless as that of Darwin or Agassiz or Linnaeus or Pliny. We wanted to see everything our eyes would accommodate, to think what we could, and, out of our seeing and thinking, to build some kind of structure in modeled imitation of the observed reality.And he gives an example of the reality versus what we construct it to be:
The man with his pickled fish has set down one truth and has recorded in his experience many lies. The fish is not that color, that texture, that dead, not does he smell that way.The travel adventure is a MacGuffin. I don't want my entire life to be a MacGuffin.