Monday Morning Surrealism

 Rene Magritte, "The Good Omens," 1944

Rene Magritte, "The Good Omens," 1944

 All those parts comprising me which are materialists rebel against our posting of a painting titled “The Good Omens” the day classes commence because classes start today, and that “luck” might be swayed goodly by the posting. Uploading the picture I did, in this semi-public forum, records the stirrings of my superstitions. This is a good thing. It is pointless, harmful even, not to acknowledge superstition where it still holds sway, even when it is not believed–especially when it is not believed.

There was always a part of my childish self that even in the deepest grips of obsessive compulsion knew no harm should come to pass as the direct result of my failure to adhere to my rituals. I fully admitted I’d invented for myself, and only to hold at bay entirely fantastic consequences. Still, I kept to the rituals, at  the beginning and end of every waking hour without fail. My logic ran thusly: I disbelieved harm might come to me by way of magic should I fail to abide the rules of magic. But all the wicked children in those fairy tales which are the first warnings against hubris disbelieved the rules of magic too, so did not abide them, and as consequence were stolen by witchs or turned into monsters for their insolence. I would not make their mistake, but would be humble against those alien forces with which I communed, omnipotent, crafty beyond human invention, and manevolent utterly. I would keep the rituals, however hard or repetitive or embarrassing.

I grew out of the worst of my compulsions sometime before leaving middle-school. (My anxiety had generalized itself, or at least refocused itself upon social matters.)  By the week of March 19, 2006, I was convinced that Nature was the sum totality of the real, and that She was comprised of only so many atoms in the void. Thus forever was eliminated the possibility of the distant causation of malicious, unseen forces hellbent on punishing me–or so it would seem.Even now I am not immune to magical thinking.  Knowing it defies all reason, absurd imperatives still assert absurd imperatives to me. Recognizing that the easiest (though hardly healthiest) means at hand to quell their accompanying anxiety is to fulfill them, I sometimes do. As late as my sophomore year of college, I practiced a little ritual by which I checked the lock on my door and switched the light off-and-on-and-off-again twice before going to bed. This kept me from dying in my sleep. As late as last year, I had to glance over my shoulder before stepping into the shower, and blink once for every birthday I had had. This kept me from slipping in the shower and suffering retarding brain damage. Just last night I feared punishment with disfigurement for imagining a grotesque character described in my readings with the face of someone suffering noma whose photograph I’d once seen.

There is of course no possible way the universe-at-large could visit some sort of ironic punishment upon me for such thinking. I realize this. Even should I or someone I know become disfigured, or develop a degenerative disease, it should prove nothing; I should be tasked with explaining all the times conspicuosly appropriate punishments were not visited upon me or mine for my unflattering thoughts. * (Footnote below the fold.)

But still the anxiety remains. I can say now I do not structure my life around avoiding cursed combinations of letters and numbers, or forcing myself to think the right thoughts while touching objects. But without contradiction, I can say, On a theoretical level, I believe magic is impossible. But pragmatically, I do sometimes act as though assuming the arbitrary, autistic magics presupposed by imaginative strains of obsessive compulsive disorder. It can get frustrating.




*A similar notion to this, invoking Hume’s skepticism of miracles and specific incidents of causality, helped me to break my light-switching habit near the end of my sophomore year. It was not so much an arguement that occurred to me, but a flash before me as I rose to jiggle the switch; “What would Hume say about your habit?” was roughly its sentiment. The absurdity of the ritual was stripped before me all naked then, and I had no fear of breeching it.

That was the second of three times Hume has been present at a turning point in my thought. The first incident was a chance exposure in 2005 to his formulation of the Epicurean paradox as it appeared in his Dialogues (though I was not aware of its origin at the time; I probably first saw it on Wikipedia, I’m sad to say). I could find no way out of this starkly complete presentation of the problem of evil. More so than any of the dozens of arguements before it at the time, this one of Hume’s was one of the most influential in my evolution out of my Deism (itself a holdover from a recently shattered Catholicism) into naturalism.

The third was a cheerful discovery of the Scottsman’s compatibilism after unnerving exposure to Benjamin Libet’s famously humbling experiments on volition and readiness potential.


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