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August 6, 2020 / Congau

Quantifiable Amount

Everything can be measured and compared. It’s just a matter of deciding on the standard of measurement and then relative value between two objects can be completely determined. A book is measured by its thickness, an image by its pixels, a song by decibels. There are also standards that seem to cover just about anything. All that exists can presumably be reduced to moving molecules, and then there is that one all encompassing estimation of value: money.

On a scale from one to ten, how do you feel? This confusing question sometimes demands an answer, and you are left trying to weigh the heaviness or lightness of heart that you are supposed to be feeling today. You know there is a difference since some days are decidedly better or worse than others, but how could you possibly find that yardstick that would reflect your feelings?

Any reductionist standard can only explain one particular aspect of an object, and the broader its area of explanation the less accurate it will be. Money is only a figure indicating what an odd market of abstract beings wish to acquire and those molecules in motion tells you absolutely nothing about an object that is likely to interest you. 

That being said, nothing is absolutely unique and incomparable. If it were so, there would be no way to even recognize it. If something didn’t look like anything you had ever seen before, it wouldn’t make sense as a separate object and would blend in with the background. Whenever two people see two different things when looking at the same entity, they employ two different standards of measure and the only way they could then agree would be two forget their own assessments and settle for a third one. They look at the price tag and buy it.

August 5, 2020 / Congau

The Locale

The place where it all happened was somewhere far away. Or maybe it was rather close. No one knows, because it was given a fictional name. It could have been anywhere, really, for it was inhabited by creatures of the human race, and they have a remarkable tendency to labor under the same psychological constraints wherever they find themselves on their planet. 

True, there is such a thing as culture and any hobby anthropologist is keen to make shrewd observations about subtle differences that penetrate into the psyche that shape the way we think. Well, we are partly products of our environment, of course. When nature has been accounted for, nurture must be blamed for the rest, and cultural circumstances are undeniably a part of it. But the size of that part is dependent on what aspect of our psychology we are dealing with. Social interaction is obviously more cultural than solitude, and broader and more institutionalized relations more so than private ones. 

Therefore the locale doesn’t always matter much, and if the story was dealing with problems of general human nature, almost nothing at all. 

Great literature is timeless and also placeless. Ancient books have come down to us from locations that no longer exist, for the societies they describe have ceased to be. But if we still read them, it’s because they tell us something about ourselves and occur in a place we actually know.

However, it must be authentic, must it not? The colors need to look real and the atmosphere believable. It may be easier for the storyteller to describe a place he is familiar with, but the reader doesn’t really have to know where it is. In a way it is better not to know since incomplete knowledge is a source of prejudice.

Please tell us a story from nowhere.


August 4, 2020 / Congau

Umpteen Umpires

There were so many of them, umpteen at least, maybe even more, it’s hard to count when you don’t know how. Let’s just say all those bugs came crawling in upon me, multiplying as I was trying to brush them away. Some would say they were just a product of my own imagination and therefore not real, but I beg to differ. For me they were as real as real can be, since nothing can be more certain than our own thinking, just like the old philosopher has taught us.

I think, therefore I am. My identity is in my thinking. Does that mean that whatever I happen to think about immediately becomes my indisputable self, and that my perception of reality cannot be questioned? In that case, there is no such thing as madness, and everyone will have to accept my bugs as if they were genuine. And what is worse, I’ll have to accept them myself.

It’s a crazy world, there seems to be a general consensus about that verdict, but most people are reluctant to include themselves in the craziness. When pressed, they may admit to certain personal flaws, but they feel convinced about their own sound judgment and common sense. Above all, don’t try to doubt their perception of their own identity: They are what they think they are.

Do you really want to believe in those bothersome bugs that are making you miserable? Once you have accepted their existence, they stubbornly multiply and become an obsession poisoning your thoughts. What a waste to be contaminated by something that may not even exist. Do they exist?

Existence is not subjective. You can ask all the judges you can find, and all those umpteen umpires may rule differently. But man is not the measure; you are not, and they are not; reality is.


August 3, 2020 / Congau

A Felon

Once a felon, always a felon. The past can never be deleted, and what has once been recorded in the book of history, will remain there forever. You may wish it were otherwise, that your felony were converted into a mere crime and when you had suffered your punishment your record would be cleansed, and nothing had ever happened. That was the idea, wasn’t it? When the damage has been compensated, your debt to society has been paid and you are on even terms with mankind. Not so. Whatever your punishment was, time behind bars or a hefty fine, it didn’t undo what was done.

We like to believe in that illusion. It is too frightening to think that a misstep can never be corrected, and it’s comforting to imagine the rewinding of the past by a simple judicial device. The earthly power of the court must be a magic power, since it is actually able to create justice, mend what is broken and set the world aright. We know that a broken vase is smashed beyond repair but think innocence can be restored for a price.

No one can convict and no one can acquit another human being. The court only decides the criminal status of a person towards society and spell out the punishment that the law happens to stipulate. Society has found ways, good or bad, to deal pragmatically with its problems, but it has not the power to change reality or undo what is done. There can be no justice in a justice system, and guilt or innocence is not the result of a bargain.

But although nothing can be undone, it is not our duty to remember. A felon may remain a felon, but we don’t have to think of him as such. It is not the business of a human court to morally condemn, and we are humans too.

August 1, 2020 / Congau


You can rise from low to high without moving. It saves you the effort of having to climb and the heights that can be reached are sometimes more impressive. No wonder some take pleasure in sitting on a throne feeling how the flattery of their subjects exalt them to ever greater altitudes.

Who wouldn’t want to be a little king and sense the power that feeds him with admiration and honor from those poor wretches who need his favors. A slight gesture with his right hand is a sufficient reward, and they would say anything to obtain it: “Our greatest majesty, so full of virtue, the sun of our life.” “They are right of course,” thinks his highness, and bestows his magic grace on the petitioners, little suspecting that there would be any insincerity in their manners.

You are a little king, rising without moving, for your slight gesture is also sometimes needed. Sometimes suppliants gather around you begging for your blessing and you, normally such a miniature entity, swell in proportions. “You are wise,” they tell you. “You are fair and benevolent and your judgment can never fail.” “They are right of course,” you think, never finding it curious that those exalted characters are now scrambling for your grace.

Elections are great for a little man. We shouldn’t begrudge him a moment in the sun and a temporary feeling of exaltation. But he rises without moving; it is not real.

They want our votes, and they want our money. Of course they will flatter us with what touches us the most: An exalted feeling of self, a unique individuality and an unfailing power of judgment. Infallible voters and consumers act more willingly.

It is fair. They flatter us and we raise them. They pretend and we are real. No one laughs at us…

July 30, 2020 / Congau


Facing danger without trembling, that is more than courage and more than fearlessness. Even the bravest of us will have a corporal reaction when in peril. It is just a recognition of the threat and does not reveal a person’s ability to meet what is coming. In fact, a recognition of danger is necessary before anyone can be called brave, for a failure to understand is hardly deserving of praise.

But could there be someone among us, a stoic sage perhaps, a saintly character who has reach such a level of virtue that he has eliminated even the possibility of danger to his own person? Probably not. Still, one can always theorize about an image of perfection and construct ideals that might function as a remote light that can be approached although never reached. The question then becomes if it is at all desirable to erase the sense of danger from one’s mind.

A wholly indifferent and lethargic person who had given up on life could maybe achieve such a thing, but there is nothing admirable about such a condition. Our imaginary guru could not be a councilor of life if he had given it up. Instead he must be both fully in life and detached from the world and its unpredictability. Anything can happen and the accomplished stoic would accept it and understand it with both his soul and body and therefore be intrepid in the face of anything, since for him a danger does not exist. Is he then brave?

On the other end of the scale we find the poor wretch who imagines dangers everywhere. But although he lacks realism and insight, he is not necessarily a coward. He trembles when encountering a spider and sees dreadful monsters where others see nothing, but he confronts his fears and stands the ground.  He is as far from intrepidity as anyone can be, but he is brave.


July 29, 2020 / Congau


Beauty has no smell. It is strictly for the eyes and for the ears. Therefore art is visual and music conveys feelings through sound. The art of cooking hardly addresses the faculty of the soul that is receptive of beauty, and the fragrance of a good meal disappears from consciousness soon after it is devoured. The seed of an idea is either seen or heard.

Yet a scent does create feelings and it may remind us of ideas that we have previously had, and then it may occur that it evokes a deeper sense of beauty. A memory from a forgotten past is sometimes brought back when an invisible aroma reaches our nostrils. It is then as if a thought is appearing from nowhere, implanted in the mind by what might have been a hidden spirit – a triviality redolent of importance.

The fifth sense holds the lowest position among our strings of connection to the world. But it also suggests a path to a sixth sense if there is such a thing. Seeing provides a rather certain knowledge and it’s easy to believe what you hear. What you touch is clearly tangible, and taste is something definite to chew on. But a smell is in the air, reminiscent of something but unproductive of certain knowledge. It’s a vague intuition, not very credible but capable of distant leaps.

Je ne sais quoi – I know not what. Well, if you don’t know, you have no idea, and there is nothing to think about and nothing to talk about. But the redolence of something can carry you back to a place where an idea is found, and there the vagueness can transform into clarity. Just let yourself be carried along, sniff the air and absorb it, feel it and then fly away. Smell the beauty.

July 28, 2020 / Congau


We certainly can’t be certain about anything. The world may be just a dream and the past a false memory. But even if we take a less skeptical approach and choose to believe what we see, the future remains completely undefined and open to anything. It has the illusive quality of a dream, fully uncommitting as to its reality; you can think about it and then dismiss it as you would any nightly image upon waking up. Yet at any moment a future is devoured by the present and sent into the past, and the past is more certain than anything since it can never be changed.

This sharp contrast between total uncertainty and absolute certainty feels frightening. First there is an infinity of options and possibilities. There is no limit to what might happen: Make your most fantastic guess and estimate the probability to be ridiculously low, there is still a positive chance that it may happen and the risk of a disaster can never be eliminated. No matter how carefully you deliberate, regardless of all precautions, when the moment arrives, any moderately detailed prediction is likely to be wrong and the newly arrived reality will stare mockingly into your face. “This is what you got for all your safeguards,” it laughs scornfully.

Better not choose anything then. Stay in your daydreams where everything can be freely imagined while making sure that all you have to do is to wake up and all misfortune will disappear.

Certainty can only be achieved if you do nothing, search for nothing and believe in nothing, for then you will be sure to make no mistake. At least that is what that poor coward thinks as he is hiding in his corner too fearful to check if reality is real. He is most certainly wrong.

July 27, 2020 / Congau


It broke because it had a potential for breaking. When it smashed against the floor and was instantly dissolved into a thousand pieces of glassy splinters, it merely fulfilled its inherent ability to transform.

Still, what had happened to the precious vase was hardly an improvement. Its value was immediately reduced to naught and even less. It had become a nuisance and a hazard for any bare feet that would venture to cross the room and thus the remains were promptly swept onto a dustpan and dispatched of forever. The end.

Yet, no deep sorrow accompanied the parting of the decorative article. Although it had been in family ownership since several Christmases back, it had never been a revered household object, and it was merely out of respect for the ancient aunt who had donated it that it was kept in such a prominent location. The mantlepiece where it had stood was indeed the center of the salon, but it must also be observed that the shelf had not offered much security. A cynic, who was of course non-existent in such a proper family, might have been inflicted with the thought that the vase had wittingly been placed in such an exposed position in the attempt to erase the memory of the said relative. The lady who had loomed over the clan while alive was still making her ghostly tentacles felt, and perhaps it had occurred to an erring grand nephew that her spying monocle somehow inhabited her gift.

Was it then simply meant to happen? When during a heated discourse on the merit of tradition versus liberty of thought, the proponent of the latter, a pimply progeny, underscored his conclusion with a convincing right hand gesture, it effectively meant the end of an era of oppression. Mrs. Columbus fell from her pedestal.

July 26, 2020 / Congau


Doing and get it done. There are so many ways to go about it. Traveling from A to B is rarely a straight path. There are multiple hindrances and uncertainties. How can you go there if you have never been there before? How can you go anywhere for the first time? How did you ever get anywhere?

Well, you know how you got here. You stumbled along, tried and failed, attempted one path and finding it blocked took another and somehow got past. So here you are at point B, which doesn’t look anything like the B you imagined, and dread the prospect of having to move to C.

There must be an easier way. You study the map; you inspect all those little symbols on the paper; you try to imagine what it will be like to go this way and that way and how and when, and you endlessly repeat the theoretically impossible process.

You must be efficient this time, you think. No more wasting time on dead ends and unproductive sidesteps. There is a best way to do it, and you will find it.

Of course you will never find it. It’s not possible to find anything without looking for it where it is. A treasure is not found on a map; a phantasy is not another reality; an attempt is not an attempt until it has been tried.

Hit the road. Take the first step and then the second, that is the only way to get anywhere. The greatest efficacy may not be realized, but it is sure more likely to succeed than the strategy of never setting off until everything can be predicted.

Efficacy and planning: Great tools if they set you going, an impediment if you consider it to be a requirement for reality.