May Showers.

I’m sitting on my patio right now, surrounded by my latest attempts to grow some beautiful and tasty things before the spider mites kill them, listening to the rain.  I’ve spent a lot of time out here the last few weeks, enjoying my favorite smell (rain on pavement) and sound (rain and wind on tree leaves), reading, thinking, and writing.

Sometimes it just does take five months to get around to your New Years resolutions.  I resolved back in January to write a post about my intent to write more.  Ha!  Truth is I’ve been in a survival mode over the last several months, desperately clinging to some semblance of work-life balance and chasing inspiration across one (or more) too many projects.  But I am emboldened by the last few weeks, which were dominated by the beautiful words DONE and NO.  I’ve traveled halfway around the world and back, gone from about 12 outstanding tasks to 5, and said “no” successfully no less than four times, which is some kind of record for me.

And, unlike previous bouts of emerging-from-under-the-rock syndrome, I feel like the words are more uncorked by my relative productivity than spent.  I hope I can turn this into a new norm.  Knocking on wood.

Ever More Perfect Eyes

As of now, I’ve settled on this as a name for this blog (in lieu of my first, third, and any number of impulses toward more cynical, ironic or flippant names).  A quick note about where it comes from:

“We have ever more perfect eyes in a world in which there is always more to see. See or die.”
—Teilhard de Chardin

At least, that was how I encountered it in an epigraph of a book I was reading.That’s actually a condensed, slight misquotation.  The full line in context is much less pithy (according to my favorite modern translation):

“Seeing. One could say that the whole of life lies in seeing — if not ultimately, at least essentially. To be more is to be more united — and this sums up and is the very conclusion of the work to follow. But unity grows, and we will affirm this again, only if it is supported by an increase of consciousness, of vision. That is probably why the history of the living world can be reduced to the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes at the heart of a cosmos where it is always possible to discern more. Are not the perfection of an animal and the supremacy of the thinking being measured by the penetration and power of synthesis of their glance? To try to see more and to see better is not, therefore, just a fantasy, curiosity, or a luxury. See or perish. This is the situation imposed on every element of the universe by the mysterious gift of existence. And thus, to a higher degree, this is the human condition.”

—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon, trans. Sarah Appleton-Weber, p. 3

Yeah, I then tracked down the book and read it, in two translations.  Occasionally I can go on a philosophy kick, it’s allowed. And that book is a trip, I recommend it.  Some sections are knock-you-on-your-ass profound, while others let me understand why when I Googled the quotation I stumbled on a psychadelic hippy poster.

In this passage I get caught up in the encouragement, the humility, and the imperative.  First, I take “seeing” as a shorthand for perception more generally.  Perfection of perception here is I think both a scientific and a theological concept (Tielhard was both a Jesuit philosopher and a paleontologist).  It’s accuracy, detail, scope, understanding, appreciation, and finally synthesis.  But I take a page here from Thoreau’s distinction, “do not observe, behold”: perception includes awe and gratitude. In a scientific sense, perfection is accuracy and understanding; in a theological sense, perfection is a measure of closeness to God.  This is a continuously ongoing process, elaborating “ever more perfect eyes. Our abilities improve and Teilhard asserts that this improvement is limitless. We will never reach that state of perfection but we will always, if we do not ignore or deny what we see, get closer to it.    But, “there is always more to discern.” No model is perfect, no perspective truly whole.  If we could achieve that we would not be “as gods,” we would be gods.   And finally it’s not just for scholars and wankers and blathering in cafes, but a vital imperative.  Blindness, denial, ignorance, unwillingness to improve are lethal luxuries.

As a species our only chance of survival is to perceive more, to think better, and to act on what we learn. And as individual people, that’s also our best shot.