of primary sources and wonder

September 9, 2006

People seem to praise primary sources. Coffee was first planted in Hawaii sometime around 1817, a few years after pineapples were introduced. In order to prove this fact, documents of some type must have been consulted. That document contained a type of memory cue able to confirm the suspicions of those people interested in the history of Hawaii.  The record of a farmer, a listing of a ship’s cargo or notebook containing the experimentations of a knowledgeable plantation owner could help answer the question as to when the pineapple first arrived in Hawaii. If some other person had written a poem about an imaginary fruit in early 19th century Hawaii, it probably wouldn’t carry the same weight as the document to which the growth of an actual fruit can be ascribed.  Thus business records are often of vital importance to historical evidence seekers.  But who writes of imaginary fruits? And what is a pineapple and its nutrients? Eating a pile of sugar may be able to cure jaundice, nutrition is so vital to human life.  What is the mind if not conglomerations of tissues running off ingested proteins and sugars. What is the mind without protein and sugar is probably the better question.

I know why pineapples are so important to the story of humans populating the globe, but I am still puzzled by the constant emphasis on the first thing in things? A larger question: Why is their so many things people don’t care about when so many of them make it their job to care? The dealing with ‘first thingsl seems to take up an exorbitant amount of time, and too large a portion of the historical record. First walk on the moon, the first equinox of the year becomes new season despite it having occurred countless times, the first day of the week, the first morning since sleep… Perhaps emphasizing the first in things creates the very history which people care about. If it weren’t for the reading of events in a partly sequential people would be at odds over what to talk about.  Who would initiate the discussion? The document of the 2,000,000th pineapple cultivated in Hawaii is most likely in the trash, yet that might have been someone’s first pineapple.  Let this remain as a question.

Getting to the substance of a thing is a type of duty for humans.  Greg Hawkes of the Cars started to use a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 keyboard in the late 1970’s to produce rich melodic accents in his band’s music. New features such as oscillator sync and digital patch storage were most likely helpful to Hawkes’ task as a keyboardist for a very popular band whose sound relied on the correct settings of his ADSR envelopes.  But why then are their people who who likes the Cars’ music but doesn’t care about ADSR envelopes? When should we stop being interested in something and move on? How do our interests create interconnected worlds from music to technology to the dates in which instruments were used? Do these connections ever really stop as move along from meal to meal?

If Google and the information age are to be trusted, then new words exist like ‘montaigne mind‘ and ‘montaigne essays‘ employed as keywords in searches for more information. These new types of ‘keyword words’ represent moving knowledge, they are pathmarkers on the trail of interconnected everything. This is most likely why serendipity remains the best, or most forceful way in which our mind receives information.

Even as Nature makes us to see, that many dead things have yet certaine secret relations unto life. Wine doth alter and change in sellers, according to the changes and alterations of the seasons of its vineyard. And the flesh of wilde beasts and venison doth change qualitie and taste in the powdering-tubs, according to the nature of living flesh, as some say that have observed it.” Book I: Chapter III, Montaigne’s Essays , Our Affections are transported beyond our selves.

About one decade since I first read “Zu den Sachen,” or at least had it translated for me. Yet, I still haven’t gotten down to what matters. What is a thing? What is a thing itself.  How good is a person who just insists on wondering? What is death? How bad is a person who does the same? Death is the end.  So I labor on, dim in my mind relative to the lime kiln at which I stand. Perhaps substances will always get the best of fragile humans, who even in their most fragile state seem to be convinced that their being is higher than the compounds both cellular and atmospheric on which they rely. And why it is that so many humans as people remain so fixated on certain combinations of these elements when they first arrive in their mind and in the minds of others who documented these forces in the years, decades and eons passed.

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