Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hedgehogs, foxes, bad poets, yoga; upcoming interview with James Altucher

Besides playing online chess and watching Battlestar Galactica (you can read about my exploits in these areas by reading whatever few posts I have written in this month and the last), I have also been spending a large part of the summer reading stuff that I haven't had time to read during the course of the regular school year. Right now, I am reading Isaiah Berlin's famous essay, "The Hedgehog and the Fox", which is a very accessible and engaging analysis and commentary on the life and work of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, in particular, of his novel War and Peace. I am having so much fun reading it, that I am now inspired to go reread War and Peace.

Anyway, earlier today, I came across this rather long passage from "The Hedgehog and the Fox" which I find very intriguing, fascinating, and... yogic in nature; yogic in the sense that it alludes to this larger medium or reality which is beyond rational analysis but yet is all around us, kind of like the way in which water is all around the fish which swim in it (now, that was a pretty bad metaphor, wasn't it? Talk about bad poetry...). In any case, if you would like to read the passage, here it is:     

"We--sentient creatures--are in part living in a world the constituents of which we can discover, classify and act upon by rational, scientific, deliberately planned methods; but in part (Tolstoy and Maistre, and many thinkers with them, say much the larger part) we are immersed and submerged in a medium that, precisely to the degree to which we inevitably take it for granted as part of ourselves, we do not and cannot observe as if from the outside; cannot identify, measure and seek to manipulate; cannot even be wholly aware of, inasmuch as it enters too intimately into all our experience, is itself too closely interwoven with all that we are and do to be lifted out of the flow (it is the flow) and observed with scientific detachment, as an object. It--the medium in which we are--determines our most permanent categories, our standards of truth and falsehood, of reality and appearance, of the good and the bad, of the central and the peripheral, of the subjective and the objective, of the beautiful and the ugly, of movement and rest, of past, present and future, of one and many...

Nevertheless, though we cannot analyse the medium without some (impossible) vantage-point outside it (for there is no 'outside'), yet some human beings are better aware--although they cannot describe it--of the texture and direction of these 'submerged' portions of their own and everyone else's lives; better aware of this than others, who either ignore the existence of the all-pervasive medium (the 'flow' of life), and are rightly called superficial; or else try to apply to it instruments--scientific, metaphysical--adapted solely to objects above the surface, and so achieve absurdities in their theories and humiliating failures in practice. Wisdom is ability to allow for the (at least by us) unalterable medium in which we act--as we allow for the pervasiveness, say, of time or space, which characterises all our experience... It is not scientific knowledge, but a special sensitiveness to the contours of the circumstances in which we happen to be placed; it is a capacity for living without falling foul of some permanent condition or factor which cannot be either altered, or even fully described or calculated; an ability to be guided by rules of thumb... where rules of science do not, in principle, apply. This inexpressible sense of cosmic orientation is the 'sense of reality', the 'knowledge' of how to live...

We cannot describe it in the way in which external objects or the characters of other people can be described, by isolating them somewhat from the historical 'flow' in which they have their being, and from the 'submerged', unfathomed portions of themselves to which professional historians have... paid so little heed; for we ourselves live in this whole and by it, and are wise only in the measure to which we make our peace with it. For until and unless we do so (only after much bitter suffering, if we are to trust Aeschylus and the Book of Job), we shall protest and suffer in vain, and make sorry fools of ourselves (as Napoleon did) into the bargain." 

Isaiah Berlin, "The Hedgehog and the Fox"     

Reading this passage, I can't help getting the sense that there is a certain futility to yoga blogging. When one writes about yoga, one is using linguistic tools (words) to take apart and give expression to something (whatever the experience of yoga involves) that ultimately cannot really be taken apart and given full linguistic expression to. To write or blog about yoga, then, is to try to measure the depth of a large body of water while being submerged in the water itself... hmm... another bad metaphor here. Ah, but what can you expect from a bad poet? Perhaps what this means is that the best yoga bloggers are (good) poets. Because poets do not use language to try to take apart reality; rather, they open themselves and allow language to flow through them as water flows through a vessel. Thus, through them, language reveals/un-conceals reality rather than fragment it. Now who said this? Heidegger? Hmm...


But there is really no use crying about what a bad poet I am, is there? So I'm going to switch gears here, and give you a headsup about an upcoming event here on Yoga in the Dragon's Den. James Altucher has very generously agreed do a Skype interview with me on this blog. The actual interview will take place via Skype tomorrow (Thursday, July 18th) at 12 p.m. EDT. Very soon after the interview, I will post it on this blog, for your entertainment and possible edification. I hope you will enjoy it; if nothing else, it is really not too often that you get to witness a Chinese guy living in Idaho having a conversation with a Jewish guy in New York over God-only-knows-what; well, actually, I anticipate that most of the interview will center around James's ideas in his latest book, Choose Yourself. But given the way past interviews on this blog have gone, anything is possible. So stay tuned...      


  1. I love James! I look forward to this. Every interview of yours I have enjoyed immensely. Can't wait!

  2. "...we are immersed and submerged in a medium..."

    This brings to mind David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement address to Kenyon College. Beautifully adapted into the short film "This Is Water."

    1. Just saw the video. Very refreshing take on the everyday grind. Thanks for sharing.