A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Saturday, February 18, 2012

First Principles

There are only a few things left that I don’t understand.  Which is good since I almost died today, my mortality floated out in front of me for the rest of the drive, and it was once again brought home that one should not waste time [1].

The car came around the curve toward me much too fast, lost its footing and began to spin, white smoke rising up from the tires. It was quickly sideways in the two-lane road and just as quickly in my lane.  A big car, black, long and low, like an older Pontiac muscle car, but I don’t know; identifying it was not my first priority. 

I could feel my mind calculating and I let it go.  I didn’t hit the brakes.  It seemed there was only one option: get passed before the approaching car cut off the road entirely.  It had come into my lane completely out of control at maybe 60 or more miles per hour by then.  I aimed to pass just in front so as to stay as much on the road as possible since the ditch was filled with rocks to prevent erosion.  I expected to be hit on the driver-side rear quarter panel as I shot in front of the car’s trajectory toward the ditch on my side of the road, but was not – it must have been a matter of inches.

From the smoke and the fact that the car was sliding sideways and spinning round there must have been a good bit of noise.  My memory is of absolute quiet.

I took as much of the shoulder and grassy ditch margin as I could, bumping over only a few rocks – following a line to avoid the car was first, avoiding the ditch was second.

It was all over in a second [2]; faster than reading the first sentence.  I slowed and stopped, took a moment to measure how shaken I was, not very, and drove back to the spot.  The car was gone; I could see nearly a mile down the relatively straight stretch beyond the curve.  If I had lost control avoiding them, hit the rocks, run up the embankment and flipped over… they didn’t even check.

And now I am thinking that I’d better get on with understanding things.  I’ve figured out evolution, specieshood, religion, politics, economics and the basic mechanics of how our species is relating, dangerously, with the world; figured out the future.  Even with such achievements, I do not understand, and have come to also realize, that I will never understand how love between and among humans works.

What I do know is that this understanding has to come like a first language; it is learned when it can be learned and will always be a second language for those like me – the many millions like me – who are taught early on to get along without love.  I do know that love is like a contagious disease and can only be caught from someone who has it.  I even know how it is that the loss of love as a primary informing principle of human life underlies much of our human dilemmas and crimes; but only as an outsider, as observer.

Need is something else.  It is like ‘needing to speak the language’, but not knowing enough of it to make one’s self sufficiently understood; too often there is misunderstanding and then all the consequences of that confusion.

And so, at least for a few days, until the image of the spinning car, the smoking tires and slow motion driving lesson pale and weaken, I’ll wonder about this last great mystery.  Interesting how coming so close to dying brings the mind back to first principles.

[1] I know this doesn’t make sense, but that space between being able to think about things, taking pleasure in understanding them, and not being there at all is too vast to easily bridge with a few simple words.

[2] For the mathematically minded and because I wanted to know: with an approach speed of 120 MPH (~70 + 50) 176 feet are covered in one second.  That is about the distance at which I first saw the car come around the curve.  That means that only about one second transpired between first seeing the car and just missing it as it spun passed my car.  There was about another second used to get my car back out of the ditch without losing control.


john said...

Glad to know that you're still with us.

Low rider out of Espanola?

James Keye said...

No John, that guy took out a pod of motorcycles in Chamiyo and is out of action. This was an Albuquerque type driving through Cedar Crest. It was the closest call I have in over 50 years of driving.

James Keye said...

John, make that Chimayo. The old dyslexia kicks in when I’m tired.

john said...

In my dyslexia I hadn't even noticed.

But I've driven up there many times. They serve excellent flautas at Rancho di Chimayo.