Friday, 25 March 2011

Descartes' Blanket

(I think therefore I am(c(old)))

If thinking is a disease of the mind (unattributed aphorism)
and the great error is the Greek, `however beautiful it may be.' (Gauguin)
what if, leaving aside the observations of artists and sages,
we fast forward and backward to the seventeenth century - what are we to make of it all,
Life's purpose and meaning?
Let us turn in our confusion to a little known disciple of Descartes 1596-1650
and progenitor of mine Arnold deBeaufrere (Born 1595 died sometime later)

In need of comfort amid the vagaries of life,
Arnold reached out to embrace the comfort blanket of what would later be called Cartesianism, in order to stave off the extremes of the cold winds of uncertainty and experience.
`At last here would be a method' he recalls - `by which
I will know for certain, that I will be able, at last, to sleep;
conscience clear,
having stared into the eye of God.'

Arnold was accustomed to take a walk by the river after
his lunch and caught by a storm; it was midwinter,
he took shelter in a rude cave, hewn out by some eremite his mind fancied, (oh fateful lack!) in years gone by.

`How fortunate a man am I,' he thought, as he unrolled from his knapsack
`a woollen blanket to stave off the cold of the day and how fortunate to have the time to extend my usual reverie.'
His focus now on the blanket, he began to employ his friend
and mentor’s method to examine it.
Here is an abstract, I have translated from the French, from the journal he kept with him at all times:
What a pleasant and delightful thing is a woollen blanket!
Its very colours warm me an such a chill day.
Is the colour enough, I wonder, to warm me? - surely not!
I will get to the bottom of this and examine the warp and woof
the spaces in-between, the very soul of the blanket as I unpick one from the
What warms me?
is it these tiny threads of wool, each no thicker than half a stem of corn?
Not the colour, as, though my mind is disposed to reds and oranges
as warm colours, in truth I never burned myself upon an orange!
and not in these individual threads I observe…
I will endeavour to know wherein the warmth resides!
As I make careful observation of each unravelled thread - I see that it itself
composes three other threads.
I will separate each of these and examine and test their texture and composition testing each rigorously for warmth.
When divided I observe each one of the three strands
seems composed of tiny filaments, and though my fingers
now numb with the cold are clumsy instruments
with which to conduct my experimentation, they are all
I have.
I have decided that the loss of heat from my body,
overall, will soon be replenished when, upon discovery
of the object of my pursuit, namely wherein the
warmth of the blanket resides, I will rapidly be able
to make up the loss of heat I am currently experiencing.
Half the blanket used up in experimentation and strewn
around me in small heaps, I confess to experiencing
slowness of mind in this cruel winter’s cold but non
the less I feel a breakthrough immanent as I trust in the process.
Closer investigation of the threads reveals them to be as thin as a spider’s web .
My next task will be to gather all the filaments
together from the whole blanket, thus, having
exposed the essence of the blanket, I will
at least be able to apprehend wherein the
warmth resides.
Before that, however, I will rest a while as I
confess to being cold to the marrow in
this damp and freezing place…

Now, a final push as I fear there
may be little time before the previous
occupant of this cave, whose gloomy form I apprehend,
attempts to steal the warmth from
my woollen blanket which now lies
as fluffy clouds before my eyes…
such pretty shapes..
in which I see reflected upon the wall of the cave
the fields of my youth in summer’s guise,
and hear the skylarks song…
oh cruel fate!

mother calls…
time for tea my son…
wash your hands now…
like a good boy….
soapy water…
perhaps I have been in error seeking warmth
in the woollen blanket
instead of the summer sun
which warms the sheep
or the grass they nibble…
yes, perhaps the warmth is in the grass of the blanket
but where is the grass now…
yes the grass will warm me…
through its intimate connection to the sun…
whose golden warming rays are trapped within…

The journal ends here…

Arnold died in that cave,
his body found by his dog who upon discovering
his master’s body lay down next to him in order to revive him with the warmth of faithful companionship
as only dogs which run freely in green fields under the sun know how.

The journal was handed down to me in a wooden box inlaid with intricate
marquetry, rosewood and pearl inlays,
full of family letters
Someday I will explore them

but for now I return to my
studies and the quest for
how meaning can be found and made through
and how to connect the history of the land
to spiritual journey.
remembering Einstein's definition of insanity and that
in every journey, there is a mystery of meaning,
an enshrouded epiphany, unknown to the traveller
converting, by faith, wanderer to pilgrim.