(From left to right: Gord Bishop, my son’s best friend & support, me and Louis) About 2 weeks ago, my youngest son, Louis died of natural causes. He was 41. We are of course sad but after the past 26 years, our tears were already mostly shed. There is also great relief for him. He is out of his suffering. For the past 3 years he was in and out of hospitals, trying to overdose.
In an article on Einstein, a writer for the Ottawa Citizen said: “…everything in the universe, including us, are condensed energy, waiting to be liberated back into the universe.”
Louis has been liberated. He was a 41 year old in the body of a 90 year old whose brain had never evolved since adolescence, due to drug use.
We do feel blessed in that Louis returned to us as our child, phoning 4 or 5 times a day for comfort, these last few months. Much of these past years he had been alienated from us. So we got our son back before he died.
My wife Rose and I have fled far from the religion of our youth with good reasons. (after all, both our sons were molested by a choir master in the church). However, I think my wife’s relation to God has always been more natural than dogmatic. She finds consolation in truth.
I on the other hand, have striven to make logical sense of the concept which the word, ‘God,’ symbolizes. I have spent much time in the wilderness of abstract thought.
As my quote earlier suggests, I find my consolation in science and philosophy which come together in Spinoza. I am not too fond of hermeneutic apostates who blaspheme science, even though I was once one of them.
Proposition 29 in Part 5 of Spinoza’s Ethics has been my special consolation in this time:
“We conceive things as actual in 2 ways: Either insofar as we conceive them to exist in relation to a certain time and place [Spinoza knew about relativity long before Einstein discovered its scientific expression] or insofar as we conceive them to be contained in God and to follow from the necessity of the divine nature. But the things we conceive in this second way as true or real, we conceive under a species of eternity and their ideas involve the eternal and infinite essence of God.”
Dem. P30 “Eternity is the very essence of God…”
As I reflect about my son’s life, I realize that Democritus’’ saying: “to live badly is to spend a long time dying,” is only what Spinoza calls a “being of reason,” and to apply notions like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are only relative positions of time and place. His true or real essence was in the necessity of nature/God.
Nature sent my wife and I affirmation of that fact. After we put Louis’ obituary in the Kingston paper, we got a card of sympathy from his kindergarten and first grade teacher, Joyce O’Shea.
Our memories of Louis are cluttered with much of what is relatively called, ‘bad,’ but understanding, is, as Spinoza says, “…the eyes of the mind,” which come from the truth or real under a “species of eternity.”
While I have found consolation in science and philosophy, I have found that what I have discovered is not applicable for most people. Spinoza, who was only 5 years older than Louis when he died, wrote a book when he was about my son’s age, as an attempt to reason with the Dutch people about religion and politics. This was after they killed their democratic leader.
It wasn’t well-received, not even by Cartesian philosophers. (Treatise on Theology & Politics). In it, Spinoza said, ‘common people’ do not operate by what he called, ‘the light of reason,’ but rather by stories taken from experience. Scripture, he said, was not written to enlighten the ‘common people’ but rather to call them to obedience in loving God and treating their neighbours as themselves. (Matthew 22:31-40).
When Spinoza wrote this, he was mad at ‘common people,’ because they killed Jan de Witt, the political leader and friend of Spinoza. He interrupted his writing of the Ethics to write the Treatise. When he returned to writing to Ethics and the negative reaction to the Treatise his method of exposition. (Deleuze calls it, ‘expression.’) – his method had changed from abstract to practical. He never got to storytelling but probably would have if he had achieved maturity.
Spinoza’s immature and decidedly academic approach to ‘common people,’ in the Treatise was because he forgot, in his anger, the foundation of his philosophy was in Euclid’s Common Notions (axioms of thinking) of equality and the whole is greater than the part. He returned to his foundation in Part 2-5 of the Ethics.
The common notions of equality and part/whole are the foundations of all human thinking (what the early Greeks called, ‘demonstration’), and possessed by every human, no matter how developed their intellect. Abstract thinking is not everyone’s skill but we all possess the common notions as the foundation of our understanding. The true and real stories of human experience demonstrate this fact. This is why the teachings of humankind, as Spinoza said, tell stories from experience.
Bertrand Russell, whose method of logic I adore, labeled Spinoza a ‘mystic.’ What Russell didn’t realize, was that his faith in reason and logic was also mysticism. As finite beings, we tell stories of our fluxations in time and space out of the infinite and eternal ‘now’ that we experience.
One more thought: It takes abstract thinking and academic hubris to ignore the common notions as the foundation of our common thinking. The history of academia?
Louis has been redeemed into the natural.