Purpose

4-8-05

I read this morning a yellowed piece of paper, an ancient clipping that my Aunt Helen had long ago saved, that she must have thought was inspirational. It was a poem titled, “God’s Purpose”. The first line began, “What are we here for, you and I”. The unquestioned assumption of the poem was that God has a purpose for our existence in this world. I wonder if the world can be said to have purpose? I think that it is more likely that the world has a reason for being. I think that our reality has simply emerged out of a complete and utter void simply because it could, given no laws or prohibitions against such a thing, and because it must, given no prohibition against the inevitable invention of a state of affairs that realizes its own existence. How can we find any purpose in that? Still…

4-16-05

I just returned from LaVigne’s Hotel in the heart of East Norfolk. It was a warm day, warmer than in New Jersey even though we are 400 miles to the North here. I decided, with some trepidation given the rushing traffic on Rt. 56, to walk, given that it is only about 1/4 mile to the sidewalks and streetlights. Then, I had only to walk the other 3/4 mile on the streets of the little town where it all began. I used to walk late in the night all over the town, musing about the little grade school that I had attended so many years before, not that many from my perspective now!, and old friends and events long since faded into the mists of time. Tonight I was restless. I have been working on the computer for days, composing music and writing and checking fruitlessly my e-mail for a note from Sally. Annita has been wonderful. She barraged me with up to five e-mails a day… “check this out”, “I want this”, “Here’s what I plan to do”, and so on. Suddenly, however, she stopped. I haven’t gotten an e-mail from her in three days. The emptiness has begun to set in once again. So… I decided to go and have a beer. I didn’t know what to expect. How out of place would I seem, would I feel? It wasn’t too bad. The bar was quiet, with just a few young people sitting there. The young girls were looking me over discreetly. I would like very much to be a fool and think that I was attractive to them, but I am too old and wise for that. I was someone new, someone out of place, someone who brought at least a small sense of adventure into their everyday lives.

I watched half in pretense a basketball game on the television. I looked around. There were young female waitresses as well in the dining area. I wished I was much younger, I must admit. I wondered how I should act, what my role in this place was. Was I just getting out of the house for awhile? Was I supposed to be a mystery man in the lives of the few young people and bartender at the bar? I listened to the conversation around me. A young girl, obviously over 21, sat several stools away from me next to a young man. I deduced that he worked there at other hours, perhaps her too. I liked her. I liked him. She was looking me over for the reasons I just named above, and being quite discreet about it. I would notice her glance falling upon me as her eyes swept from one person she was talking with to another. At one point she was discussing an upcoming trip to Florida. She and the young man were talking about airports, and which ones are hard to navigate and which ones are easy. You cannot get out of here by air to much of anywhere without making a connecting flight somewhere. At one point she had a mental block. “That airport in Boston… what’s the name of that airport in Boston?” She queried to the people working at the bar, coworkers I presume as I have said. One waitress answered brightly, “I don’t know, Boston airport?” There was no answer in the next moments as “Logan” drifted across my mind. Without really thinking I said aloud, “Logan”. “Yes!”, she said, “Logan… that’s it. Thank you!” The conversation went on. I left shortly thereafter, again wishing I were younger. I walked further into town. An object came into view on the sidewalk along the river in the glare of the streetlight. It was a frog. “Now what in the world is this supposed to mean?” I thought, again thinking of Sally and her one time comment about how much she liked frogs. But, I cannot allow myself to believe in such things as signs and omens, so I said firmly to myself, “It’s just a coincidence, we’re right next to a river, frogs do live on the earth!” I walked onto the bridge, thinking again of the young girl and how much I would have liked to share her company for awhile. “I need to be exposed to estrogen’s point of view”, I thought. I reflected on the young girl and all of the young people I saw whizzing past me on their way to parties, bars, friends homes. “They’re in their mating years. I’m old and beyond that”. I turned to walk home again, thinking of Sally, omens, my aloneness, young girls, phases of life, purpose, and many other things. Was there any purpose or meaning to events, to what happened to us and when it happened? Just as I arrived to unlock the door to the farmhouse, it struck me. My whole two mile walk at that time, my restlessness leading up to it, had been for one reason. I had walked two miles, sat down alone and out of place at a bar with strange young people only to utter one word. “Logan”. Then I had left, vanishing into the night as mysteriously as I had arrived. 

Those damn questions, again!

5-4-09

Serendipity. Coincidence. What are these things? Recently, while idly looking for a possible web-page profile for an old acquaintance I came upon a profile that might have been what I sought. Unfortunately, I was informed in bold letters that “This profile is private“. That was followed by the further message, “… but here are other people you might be interested in meeting.” One of them caught my eye. The photo was striking and in particular the profile name was intriguing. Now thoroughly off on a tangent I clicked on the profile and began to browse through it. Before me began to emerge the image of an intelligent, creative, strong, tough young woman clearly on the leading edge of “hipness” for her generation. I liked her, or at least the impression of her conveyed by her written words, despite a sometimes “in your face” abrasive attitude. There seemed to be heart and sensitivity beneath the veneer. Then I discovered some blogs she had written. I began to read.

I read a poem. After selecting the next entry I was once again informed in bold letters, as if I had crossed some forbidden line, that “only her friends can read this!” But I had been captured! I wanted to read on! There was only one thing to do. It seemed futile, but if I wanted to continue reading I had to send her a friend request. I did. I shut off my computer and went to bed, musing as I fell to sleep that probably there would never come a reply.

By the next morning, with the day’s work details on my mind, I had all but forgotten the events of the night before. I turned on my computer and checked my email. To my surprise there was a notice that my friend request had been accepted! That evening I returned again to her page. I read more of her thoughts. My impressions of the previous night were reinforced. I was also rewarded by a powerful, thought provoking poem which I had not been able to read the previous night. I commented on it. 

The next day, I was again surprised when she replied to my comment. Over the next two weeks, this pattern continued. At first, I admit, I believed that she would any day vanish from my friends list since I am an old fart and under natural law must say what I think and feel. After all, people sometimes don’t want to hear things, particularly from essential strangers. So far the deletion hasn’t happened, but I am certainly not confident that it won’t. I am coming to realize that she is really a quite complicated person and it is not possible to predict what she will do. The point is, I am glad that she has, however obliquely and for however long, become known to me and part of my life experience. She has shaken up and stirred my thoughts. My life is richer for it.  

What is fascinating for me about this episode is that it seemingly came to pass by essentially random means. Who knows the exact mathematically prescribed physical laws and programmed instructions that led a certain stream of electrons and network packets to arrive at my computer on that dark night several weeks ago and light up my monitor with information that led to the above events? Possibly there was even random noise involved… perhaps a sunspot that created a voltage fluctuation or tiny power surge somewhere out there in the vast electronic web that now girdles our planet and tipped one stream of electrons rather than another towards my computer. She lives a half continent away from me. She is of a distant generation. Her life is in an early phase; mine is in a late phase. The connection is completely implausible. Nevertheless the connection was created and has had an effect. 

What puzzles me is the question, again, about whether or not there is some ├╝ber pattern or purpose to these kinds of things? On the one hand, any time we attempt to search for anything beyond the physical laws governing a given sequence of events we shall fail. I firmly believe this. On the other hand many of us have personally had, or know someone who has had, some nearly inexplicable experience, a coincidence so startling that our eyes widen in amazement. Sometimes it is impossible enough to give us an eery feeling that it has clearly been designed, that it has been planned… if not by God then by some other intelligence for some obscure purpose. Sometimes they are so incredible that the psychologist Jung gave them the special name, “magnificent coincidences”. 

Richard Bach once wrote about a cross country flight with a fellow pilot in an antique aircraft that had been built around the time of WW1. Trouble developed in a bracing strut for the horizontal stabilizer. They were forced to land in a farmer’s field far from any towns or villages. As they talked over their seemingly dismal options, the grizzled old farmer sauntered across his field to them. “Any way I can help you boys?”, he asked. Bach turned to him and answered, a little sarcastically, “Not unless you happen to have a bracing strut for the horizontal stabilizer of a 1917 (very rare, very old) biplane”. “Why, I believe I do… right over there in that barn”, the farmer replied, pointing to a crumbling, weathered old barn across the field as the jaws of the grounded aviators began to sag to the ground in astonishment. Sure enough, in the old barn sat a long forgotten, long retired, dust covered and partially cannibalized duplicate of the antique aircraft they were flying with its bracing strut for the horizontal stabilizer still there, usable and intact. That is what is meant by “magnificent coincidence”. It is coincidence so unlikely, so improbable, so apropos that it seems it would take several times the age of the universe to ever occur by sheer chance.

Nevertheless, as I wrote above, if we look for some kind of cause of events beyond the physical laws we are doomed to fail. What is going on, then? Tonight a thought about what could be happening occurred to me. The world is an extremely complicated system. All around us there are vast numbers of local processes taking place. These might even be thought of as independent streams of physical events, each unfolding according to the laws of nature. While the events in stream A and the events in stream B, for example, all follow sequentially and rigorously from physical laws and consequences what controls the correlation of the streams of events A and B? Is it possible that there exist higher level interactions and interferences between separate streams of physical events? When one takes such a notion towards its limits a chaotic system seems to arise where cause can no longer be precisely determined and the emergence of some sort of intrinsic awareness or intelligence or purpose that yields the startling kinds of coincidences mentioned above cannot be trivially dismissed.