Just read Joshua Rothman's New Yorker profile of philosopher Daniel Dennett, his lifelong pursuit of a materialist, non-religious, un-mystical theory of consciousness. Dennett steps out as a brilliant, original thinker, with an impressive science background (biology, mostly). And as an admirably enterprising DIY jack-of-all-trades.
I'm neither scientist nor philosopher. But I have, like many another, puzzled over the question of "mind", this ancient (back to Epicurus, at least) divide between idealism and materialism.
Just a few off-the-cuff reactions to Rothman's Dennett. He strikes me as a curious, searching person, whose stance toward nature is essentially that of an engineer. He's interested in the mechanics of process - how things are done. This is obviously necessary for science, an attentive approach which leads to discovery. But it seems ironic that Dennett's view of consciousness - as a continuum, shared with other animals and living things - is not that different from the classic "chain of being" perspective of Aquinas (for one example). That other animals exhibit a "sort of" consciousness (Dennett's term) - an evolutionary preview of the human mind - parallels the chain-of-being picture, only without the traditional hierarchical fence between "Man" & the rest. For Dennett it's a flow. & it seems he has focused passionately on explaining (theoretically) the how of it : how our sense of consciousness could arise from purely physical, evolutionary developments.
This is, I would say, the blind spot in Dennett's vision. There are limits to the mechanical, analytical dissection of reality offered by biology. Whatever conclusions he can draw from such analysis only serve to justify his prior conviction of the non-existence of an over-arching God, Spirit, or Mind - something which cannot be "proved" by such analysis anyway.
It seems to me that aesthetics & poetry, as well perhaps as some branches of philosophy, can offer a more valid perspective - because they are rooted in a sense of holism, a synthetic sense.
The poet and the artist register the fabric of the dream. The theologian (or philosopher of God) articulates the analogical/anagogical synthesis. Materialist attempts to disprove the reality of Mind or Spirit lack the tools to achieve it, first of all - and, secondly, are probably asking the wrong question.
The question, maybe, is not how, but why. Why does this immense spectacle of the universe exist at all? "We are such things as dreams are made on..." - but why?
I've always found the theological answer the most satisfactory. Why the wonder of the cosmos? The truest answer : it's a gift. Why human consciousness? The truest answer is a kind of geometric/analogical one : human consciousness, which governs (imperfectly) life on our planet, demonstrates an analogy - a sort of geometric parallel - with the divine Mind that governs (ineffably) Reality as a whole. And history is basically a spectacular drama, unfolding the destiny of that governing mind or spirit, working through humanity toward some kind (or kinds) of definitive expression - call it "Providence".
We moved through a smog thicker than coal-dust
filled with angry cries.
I couldn’t recognize
my guide, only her humming through a gust
of wind. The moon was a copper disk
printed faintly rust-green
over that desolation –
like a hovering fingerprint, a mask
for Queequeg, Abraham – a penny
for Liberty, glinting
from the dark well (hinting
freedom, good will, where there wasn’t any).
A doubloon for Mammon flickered so
below shrouds of the Pequod –
many an aching tattoo would
echo in blood that talent for woe.
Marine Corps taps (trompette marine).
Memory shapes emblems
like coral wreaths... drums
weave light fleece mandala, copper green
& gold. Like an iron spring wound
taut into infinity,
one Mendelssohn memory
emerges from my swampy ground –
the ancient plow we found, Heidi
& dragged back home together
through April weather
(iris blooming like a peacock’s eye
out of dead bulbs that never die).
The tarnished metallurgy
Iron Age surgery
some Raven-shaman shall (with high
& fluting Light Warlpiri) bring
might lift our eyes again
to one galactic common
wheel, that voices in Ark-Argo sing –
Hagia Sophias in Yezidi throng
to harmonize their peacock
tongues, & nations flock
to chime each footnote of a brazen gong.
The Word flies backward so, before Babel.
Its talons (like a raptor-
seal of olive-arrows) are
for real – to carry us from Hell
to Paradise, fledged by free will;
its almond eye (above
the pyramid) is Love –
forever fair & kind & true, until
the splendor of infant Creation
shines like Sacajawea
from green Equadoria –
justice & liberty combine
in meek Franciscan poverty
to weld the planetary
flora into Primavera
sunlight-gold... bright solidarity.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 3.21.17
The river is calm, like a brown mirror
on the vernal equinox.
Moving through bifocals
of that lovable double oval (dear
Franklin Ave. Bridge). Gliding
from Ojibwa marsh,
a trickle out of harsh
winters... a fluent continuum (abiding
parchment years, the tides of March).
On this sparse Minneapolis
spring morning, under clumps
of woolly cloud-cover, her twin M-arch
might make a 2-seat kayak for a monarch
(Manitou, Big Wind) –
swelling from wing-finned
goldfish to a whale (or Jonah’s ark).
The flimsy grey wool threads a quipu
knot. Stravinsky’s right
to be so wrong : the lights
are snuffing out all over Europe...
the little gypsy girl must dance
to death (so we might live).
The crowd roars, GIVE.
Ariadne’s thread enwraps the lance
of Theseus, the hunter. MINOTAUR
IS RUST (feed him tar-cakes
until he bust). Stakes
are high – each gets an equal share
or else. It’s the American way.
So speak plain English.
Royal myth be not the dish
we wish for now – try testimony.
They killed the King of the Milky Way –
(& his Irish sidekick,
his brother). Sacrificial hay
for infinite Corn Goddess, maybe?
Don’t think so. It is
& means to a dead end (his,
theirs, ours)... rewind the anthropology.
Anonymous shadow tilts toward sundown.
Ghost dance under trees.
He coming back, in threes –
the buried man, with his Papillon.
The guy in Resurrection Cemetery
(never gone, still here).
Can’t kill someone who never
died – so let’s undo all this necessary
violence (stand your ground, Hamlet
– until Ophelia’s dead gone).
The Shadow Knows (someone
whispers – my Dad?). The blood is let.
It’s an old warped story, on the loom
of Time. Peruvian lamb
sandwich, taken for a ham... a
concrete Cleopatra (equal to her doom).
Civilization is a natural good.
Valleys are honeycombed
with anthills – tombed
with moral titans (Lincoln would
live up to his Memorial).
then – our pleasant fate
to be so compagnevole,
says Alighieri (after Harry
marbled with majesty
will have a double Jubilee
this year – May 29th (the K
of Camelot’s birthday);
crowds cry hurray
up to the pint of vanishing
& glory glory hallelujah.
I love my country too.
But pride, you know,
leads oft to suicide – King Saul,
alas, fell on his sword, & Henry’s
Clover (sad antithesis
of photosynthesis) was
mortised into concave penury
(her veil of Isis hoovered out
of Iowa). Her star
twirls like Ishtar
above a Willow River twilight
where gold prairie meets the far
horizon (at the green
mountain, where shriven
penitents climb to the door).
Pride be the world’s blockade.
Banners of orange black
& green (by Jasper Jack)
are complementary, not made
for nought. Pete? Smoky Pete’s
still lively, though John’s
jotting paper crayons
with encaustic slivers now. Wheat’s
blonde for Brother Jim’s Great
Purple Hairstreak – what
a butterfly! Yet
there’s no sketchy moral shortcut
to self-centered celebrations
for a nation, in this world
of woolly worms curled
into cottonwood canyon-
cocoons. No idle soul-solace
– an oxymoron in
the China cookie tin.
True penitence proceeds apace,
slowly, like Frank’s old shaky mule
inching to San Francisco.
Sorrow made your child go
sailing. Grief tacks up another Yule.
the fallow air grows milky
The Rio shines in quietness,
mottled by fading ice.
Cato the Woodpecker is
prince of cottonwoods – his highness
tock-tocks like Railsplitter toward
the taproot of Twin Cities’
canker sores. He’s
whittling his wooden law – a word
scrimshawn against all takers,
all Caesars of commonweal,
in the court of last appeal –
galactic axle of the makers.
Is this a holiday? The soothsayer’s
a dreamer (pass, tense).
Cinna lost his innocence
mangled among conspirators –
murdering for liberty (the mob
took it another way).
Is this a holiday?
The Ids are on the march – to Nob
Hill, where nabobs are on fire
amid their books. Moses
threw tomes into a rose-
bush (ruby thorn in rabid empire)
& King David warped his harp
with smooth rushes & grass –
his humble plant shall pass
anthills of Tyre, the minnow tarp
of Lucifer – the arrogant hare
shall slip behind the turtle
& the dove shall hurtle
like a hummingbird (plum everywhere).
The sea wind washes the shoreline;
she lifts my face toward
her calm sunlight. The sword
shall pierce your own heart, Minute Man,
little island seeker after Liberty –
her candle glimmers, copper-
green, where grasshopper
& ant both anchor. Charity
of Chartres, Maid of Orleans,
Spirit of St. Louis
circling toward Paris,
read us what soul freedom means –
infinite mercy & joy
lifting the universe
from snowy ovoidness
into a Shakespeare play –
late Mississippian romance
only the first people
have beheld. Quadruple
diamond, sapphire expanse,
arc of a Southern Cross above
refulgent rose island –
we expiate... to understand
your ever-brimming streams of Love.
Down by the Rio del Espiritu
Santo, the sun ignites
the pileated woodpecker’s
red-feathered crown. The sky is blue,
the river flows, a serpentine
rainbows to the engulfing
sea. Dido’s shade will lean
forever toward the perimetric
oxhide rim of Carthage,
choking on her rage
with tears. Dante’s epileptic
yearning for supernal Grace
paces her transcendental
number round a circle
of circles – like Angela Mace
Christian, or a greyhound, hunting
down that palimpsest
of muffled tracks (geist-
hand behind the arras bunting)
to find F. Mendelssohn at last –
well-tuned, unlucky sister
polishing her Easter
song (spliced to her brother’s mast).
& as my poem’s radius inches
toward her hemisphere,
its eigenvalues (fear
& hope) rhyme where it pinches
here in Mendelssohn, where children
in the shade of worlds
their parents made, unfold
a bruised & tender leaf-pattern.
The family circle is a dented
sphere. Your twin cousin
became a ghost – the other one
a cryptic cosine (marginal)... prevented
on path P to blossoming, somehow
(obliquity of bad faith,
lack-love). Now each wraith
in Dante’s bowl of wrath & woe
will step into your Mirror Lake
as into Galilee,
so you might slowly see
circumference of eternity – & make
amends. Dido weeps by cave-door.
Moses goes home free,
his daughters over Lethe
summoned, as in play (Cleo,
Ophelia, Jessie...) by paddle-wheeler
quick, now, here, gone
like a Mississippian –
irrational Thanksgiving number
Guillem d’Orange (not neon, now,
beneath his Provençal
shade-grove) beheld – her wavy prow.
On Coney Island of the West
in Lake Waconia
of archaeological interest
has surfaced. Shards, arrowheads
of prehistoric hunters
peek from beachcombers’
pebble-piles, a gravel shed’s
debris (shale chips, random limestone
was born of such disjecta
membranes. Origins are alien.
The poem is gratuitous.
Nature is useless too –
a toy made out of blue
marble, flotsam, detritus.
Ocean is grey as morning twilight.
Clouds, frail shells, gull-
feathers. Breakers roll
the whole toward a more perfect
Union (not quite). The whole thing
needs but the slightest
nudge to knock the rest
into a nest of lovable, hurtling
good will... like Roger Williams’
Rogues’ Island – Rog’s
Island – paradox
of durable Rose Lighthouse beams
outlasting slander & contempt
spilled from sharp fork-
tongued human mark-
of-Cain mistrust. None be exempt,
Pilgrim. We all fall in the ditch
led by Venetian blinds men.
We have to clamber again
toward mutual forgiveness (each
to each) if we would be free, just
free (happy). Restore
the crumbling infrastructure
of democracy – liable to rust –
with a sense of gratitude... play!
This is the order of the day
quadratic creatures cry
mounted on the fiery rim of a sky-
born Thunderbird. Red Wing
was where she landed –
one cosmic six-handed
octahedral diamond bling-a-ling
like a yellow gyroscope spinning
from the calyx of a rose
aubade the center glows
with its own light... the winning
smile an Okie restoration
out of an almond shell
riding her great sea-swell
vast turtle-dome Reunion
Mighty Theseus was stuck in Hell,
strapped to a chair by Pluto.
Persephone’s no go.
Pennies clink in the wishing well.
The Blarney Stone’s a backward stretch –
cold kiss from pale ghost,
silky diner hostess
off the Isle of Man (unfinished ketch).
Snarled in the Underworld, Ariadne
warps him her cocoon...
a wee mummy pontoon
bridge, of air (soon, soon). Erinye
Medea’s in the murk of crime,
stark raving grief –
Death offers no relief;
meek mercy must unspool this time,
unbind expiring rhyme. Raven
Cautantowwit – wrathful
Coatlicue – skull-
wound knitting Golgotha-maven –
I ken your reddening woodpecker pate
all round our Oklahoma
home (green aura
martyrdom for scapegoat fate).
Because we won’t agree to disagree
we have to pick on somebody
small, like a refugee –
some poor kid cornered up a tree
who doesn’t sound like you or me.
Somebody will have to pay
for our settlement today –
it’s worth more dough that Proserpine
Hollow, or Bohemian Grove –
& that’s a fact. Leaven
with mite of muddy heaven
this Martian clay of ours, O Love!
For the wars plainly disturb our sleep
& the mushy copper mirror
shows nobody anymore
way outa here. Grave is the deep
wherein my friend is laid. The blue
moth scatters, the monarch
flitters from the ark,
& they will not return until you
say : Blessed be he & she
who come to live with us
escaping strife, as guests –
may we tender hospitality
like theirs. The whole Indian nation
has done as much for us.
When Thunderbird appears
as thunderstorm over the dry station
the rain might ease this drought
of reason & compassion.
Share the green ration;
pipe-skip the chilly serpent out.
Quiet today along the river.
In the steep ravine, only
the Morse drum-talky
of the family Woodpecker
interrogates the oaks with hollow
query. Where are you,
worm? Job’s blue.
Ice-packed for the long, Nile-slow
Egyptian winter, thick with Pharaoh-
dolour, pyramidical –
suffering, encased in snow.
It’s not his fault, & he will tell you so.
O, if these canyons were
only in a book! We’re
leaving – desiccated, delicate. Don’t go.
The poet has her humors – she’s
devoted to them, wholly.
Lear’s wise Fool, she’ll
follow Boaz carrying the heaves
out loud, in sheaves. The polis, too,
be uncobbled knowledge. What
vaguely familial knot
of rivals, bickering horseshoe
favors for grubs, is this?
or Minotaur – no, such
rapacity’s reserved for the abyss
of Pole Star Netherworld (Étoile
du Nord). Little Crow
stood there, y’know –
with the Red Wing clan, in a potted bowl
of leers. Stood with the scapegoat
as a prophet should – charisma
whirling in the twister-eye
(magenta bronze, the serpent-calumet).
Who sees him sky-hole in this mess?
as Mississippi burble
through a transparent lamb-lattice –
the holeness of that holy garment
parti-colored Joseph wore,
way under limestone sediment
of painful jealousies & wounded hate.
Her singular vocation,
musing on desolation
til scarred earth-pangs abate –
bored by a dream of early days.
Canoe of Camelot,
the old bare dance, woodpecker maze
of placid Oak-Gal Day – a writ of spring
(St. Vitus 1913
Paris Corn Maiden)
that joins Creation to Thanksgiving.
Hobo hides out among his cottonwoods,
a shade in camouflage
of cotton shade. Mirage
of dreaming limbs. She’s Robin Hood’s
Maid Marion, mayhap, he wheezes
in his sleep. Across the road
(under the Shriners’ bold
benevolent scimitar) three turkeys
elegant & dainty as Enlightenment
grande dames mime
their quadrille parallelogram
athwart a sump pump drainage vent.
America drowses in Sargasso Sea.
The frigate Rachel picks
up Ishmael, sticks
him in her hold for an Eternity –
Queequeg’s confessions will be written
on his skin, with milky raven-
ink. Temple of heaven
& earth, your living image (spit-on)...
Every inch a king. Take physic,
pomp. O, I have taken
too little care! Reason
is gone, Regan is Goneril – my wick
sputters waxy blood, not gentleness!
Old man Pound rages
like Lear in striped rags –
Who shall succeed this rookie wilderness?
My cottonwood sap is like a floating mote
in Ezra’s crochet eye.
Lend him humility
for Lent – he’ll shrive his peacock boat
like Provençal Guillem d’Orange –
warlord who gave it all
away – the pride, the gall –
for fasting, prayer... passing strange
peace. She is our peace – Star
of the Sea, the Evening Star;
ange of Apollinaire,
pirhouetting fée to end all war –
green child in her basilica
against her limping bull’s-eye
crane-dance labyrinth –
limpid, humble, simple
climbing a ridge in Voronezh.
The temple of her body (yours,
mine). A little salt
savors that azure vault –
elfin leap across the years
into the pond where Hobo swims
& Ishmael paddles... Jonah
surfs... Rachel’s Magdala-
spring (where the fresh well brims).
I mean the bedrock of our freedom – a bedrock of our
freedom is the right to worship freely. – G.W. Bush, 2.27.17
A light snow fell the first of March.
Will Blackstone would say.
Antithesis to Caesar’s march,
this errant solitaire into Rhode Island.
Where his friend Rog Williams
established bedrock freedoms,
planting Providence to stand
all time to come. Like some great cedar
rooted in the granite eye
of personal soul liberty –
Milk River journey (if you dare).
Dark night of Jonah’s foundering.
Black scar of raven-
knife, Earth’s oven-
kiln. Poe’s ghastly pondering...
Job’s pain. Pound’s acid bath of hate.
So take this flake of ash.
Solder hexagonal gash
ice red across your brow, ingrate.
Within the creaking iron rose mandala
where Time slowly, slowly
runs to stillness. Sea-
rose, sea-bell... whispers, ephphatha.
When the Eternal comes, emerging
like an infant infantryman.
Unknown soldier, Everyhen, merging
with your sunken sun... a crown surging
from Lake Vermilion
– soul-memoire’s pain
et vin (violet lilac, ever-urging).
So the shy brown hermit lends his Lent
for ghost dance baptism
to Roger’s freedom-rhythm.
Chaste kamen of Magdalen, arc-bent
in parallax beneath the surface –
retinal curve of stone
lifted, of death undone
by innocence... & you will trace
the light thread-path, proportional –
like hazel-wand, or Blue
Morpho – wing true
monarch (black-yellow jag, regal)
from Providence to Mexico.
Across the night sea
gulf, Psyche, Persephone –
along an agate spiral go
into your copper spring turned green.
Slow wheel in clay...
a simple Lincoln penny,
twirling planet on a mast of pine –
the fiery root – Cautantowwit
& Manitou – the Spirit
blazing perfect light –
salt-spark of snow – sun-chariot.