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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I


July 2nd, 2020


It’s a feature and a bug that we can understand different varieties of nonsense.  That sentence itself might count as an example.  We need only wonder: is it nonsense if it can be understood?  Isn’t that a contradiction since nonsense is defined as that which can’t be understood?  And yet there are formal traditions and practices involving koans, which are perhaps designed not to make sense in order to further a mental practice.  At the same time, we as a group species occasionally fall under the spell of hysteria where we use mental frameworks rife with contradiction in order to make decisions. 


It’s occasionally said that a wise person is capable of holding two disagreeable ideas in their mind at the same time.  It seems we can say something similar about those who lack wisdom: people are quite capable of holding two different contexts in mind, so long as they don’t overlap in any way that might rouse an inconvenient suspicion of contradiction.


Wisdom, or rather growth as a person is achieved when we let those contradictory ideas and their respective contexts mingle in our mind, battle it out and resolve into a stronger context.


The hypocrite is a person who can’t entertain this internal resolution.  A hypocrite keeps the contradictory notions of their mind carefully separated.  Using each only in turn when it’s appropriate, convenient, and above all: sensible.


The contradiction of the hypocrite is only visible from a larger context that includes both notions.  Perhaps this is what it means to be narrow minded: you can only see and deal with one idea at a time, so the contradiction never reveals itself.  Open mindedness might not be so much about how willing you are to welcome in new ideas as it is having enough open room in your mind to see that some of the ideas in there, contradict.


This definition of narrow-mindedness allows for nonsensical frameworks to function in the short term.  The long eye of history holds in view a larger context by default.  The saying hindsight is 20/20 merely means that our perspective is now wide enough that we can see the contradiction, the mistake…the nonsense of our actions, because we can now see all of the different contradicting parts in one view.


Nonsense either reveals itself or dissolves as we change the scope of our perspective and the size of the context at hand.  Keeping this ability to ‘zoom’ in and out is key to resolving contradiction and creating a perspective that is more in line with a reality that enables us to make things happen.  Counter to ignoring nonsense, we are best served by trying to understand why something seems like nonsense and likewise endeavoring to see if our own thinking and behavior looks like nonsense from a different perspective.

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Podcast Ep. 809: Varieties of Nonsense

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