My Newest Book is Here! – Chapter 1

I am happy to announce that the second installation of the Tackle the Library series is finally here! This book took me five months to write and I am thrilled to have the project completed. Plato is a tough dude to study and I read over 4,000 pages of text to write this tiny book. Do not fret, I guarantee that you will be able to understand Plato’s philosophy in this easy-to-read narrative. Below is the description.

Plato’s philosophy, political theory, and scholasticism shaped our modern day world. His ideas and writings are both important and honestly confusing. Have you ever wanted to learn about this crucial man but felt overwhelmed by the number of books on the subject? Have you tried to read dry Wikipedia articles on the “Forms” or the “Philosopher King” which soon made your eyeballs glaze over? Do you simply not care that much about Plato to commit a lot of time in dissecting his complicated beliefs? 

The Tackle the Library series takes the top 5 books on a subject and turns them into a cohesive story that is not only interesting to read but highly informative. Plato is one of the greatest philosophers of all time and is worth learning about because he attempted to understand topics which impact our everyday life: ethics, desire, virtue, wisdom, love, politics, and purpose to name a few. This book makes nonfiction a painless process – no other text naturally explains the background, the evolution, the application, the history, and the paradoxes of Plato’s philosophy in a way that keeps the pages turning. Stop staring at that dusty shelf of nonfiction texts in the library and crack open a book that you’ll actually want to read.

If your curiosity is piqued, please give this book a try. It will take you a couple hours to finish and you will gain an entirely new understanding of the world. Just like my last book, We’re all Chihuahuas, I am having a special weekend sale where you can download it for free. Please click this link or any link you see on this page to download. For the next three days, I will post the first three chapters as a thank you to my readers. I hope you enjoy and gain something from the experience.

Without further adieu…

Chapter 1 – The Cave

“The beginning is the most important
part of the work.” – Plato

The path seems to meander in the distance and turn hazy in spots from shimmers of light-reflected heat. You’re on a hiking trail and slowly ascending a steep hillside during the peak days of summer – magnificent in beauty but sweltering in humidity. A quick glance off trail reveals a shaded spot and a possible resting place before the final push upwards. Sitting under the shade, you set your bag down and notice a small opening. It is a hole that emits cold air – what appears to be the entry to a natural cave. After an arduous dig, the gap widens to a large opening that teases the curiosity. Slowly you descend until your eyes adjust and all of the surroundings become discernible; this is no ordinary cave but rather one with a group of mystified inhabitants staring at a particular wall. These inhabitants were born in the cave and were forced, since birth, to watch the shapes and figures on the stone – created by the tiny holes of light behind them. They believe these shadows are actual objects and there is no more to the world than what is observed on that slimy edifice. You tap a few on the shoulder and break the spell of their imprisonment. You turn them towards the light source and show how the images are created; they are stunned and cannot believe that their reality was just a mirage.

Exalted in your good deeds, you try to lead them further out of the cave. Surprisingly though, you see the inhabitants turn back to their familiar wall and continue in their most comfortable state – ignorance. The truth is too much for them, and they prefer to look at the shadows instead of understanding their outer and inner worlds. Frustrated, you grab a few by the arm and you force them out into the summer day. The cave dwellers’ eyes sear from the brightness and they are unable to see. You slowly get them use to their new reality, and eventually, they grow in their belief and reason of what the world entails. They go back to the cave and try to get more people – only a few more decide to step out – most remain steadfast to the wall. Having done your job, you continue on with your hike and immediately tap your phone and post about your experience. You get to the top of the hill and check the news, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and various other media outlets; looking up for a second you see the horizon and have a weird thought pop into your head – “Am I also looking at the wall of a cave?”

The idea of “The Cave” is one of Plato’s most relevant and endearing metaphors. In today’s world, we no doubt would have an easy time finding “cave dwellers” who propagate stupidity and selfishness – just imagine Plato reading the comment sections of an internet post. Plato was not pretentious in his view of humanity but hopeful that man could turn from ignorance and reach a better life through active reasoning; Plato wrote, “Apply yourself both now and in the next life. Without effort, you cannot be prosperous. Though the land be good, you cannot have an abundant crop without cultivation.” This cultivation begins with the belief that wisdom is something worth pursuing and that we can climb above our “sense perception” to a greater realm of understanding. Plato’s highest goal in life was not understanding the physical realities of the world – which our cave eyes could quickly ascertain – but rather the light source itself. The sun in the Cave metaphor is the source of all things good in this life: virtue, happiness, love, justice, courage, beauty, and loyalty are a few examples of the “goodness.” Plato wanted to understand a universal standard for the “Good” and a level of knowledge which would allow us to fully grasp our inner self – ultimately leading to a greater appreciation of life.

Plato made it clear that most people will never leave the wall in the cave and few will cross over the threshold of understanding the highest truths. The journey out of the cave is a lifelong process and I wanted to give the ascent my best shot. Like Bilbo Baggins exiting the Shire, I soon realized that my path towards truth was not an easy road and not a solitary pursuit. To understand Plato, I enlisted the help of others and decided to read the top five books on the subject: Plato: Complete Works – edited by John M. Cooper, Plato’s Ethics by Terence Irwin, Preface to Plato by Eric Havelock, Plato: The Man and His Work by A.E. Taylor, and The Cave and the Light by Arthur Herman. These books were challenging and entailed 4,000 pages of cave-exiting illumination. My eyes are now turned from the wall and it is my job to help you understand how beliefs morph into knowledge and how knowledge morphs into wisdom. We will climb through the mountains of Plato’s philosophy and cover subjects which have perplexed humanity since the beginning of time: the soul, desire, virtue, wisdom, love, politics, and purpose. Plato lived over 2,400 years ago, but his teachings seem more relevant today than any other time in history – our world sinking further into a “virtual” reality. Ultimately, we study Plato to open up our perspective of our inner self and our humanity so that we can live a better existence and help others to cross over the bridge of ignorance. So let’s turn our heads from the wall and take a step towards the light – let’s TACKLE THE LIBRARY.

The Count of Monte Cristo

“All human wisdom is contained in these two words – Wait and Hope”
-Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

The past couple weeks were quite busy for me because of Christina’s graduation and a particular book that I needed to read. This book was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, and I was putting off reading it because of its sheer size – almost 1500 pages. To read this many pages in a span of two weeks required a lot of time, patience, and questioning. I say questioning because it is not every day you see a person walking around with a massive gray book. On a couple of occasions, young children asked me if I was reading the Bible or the Dictionary. People thought I was a Jehova Witness or some sort of hipster-encyclopedia salesman trying to pawn off printed editions of Wikipedia. The book itself became my second half and each night, depending on my mood, I would stare at it with elation as the best book ever written or dread as the longest book ever printed.

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I just finished it today, and without a doubt, it is one those books that forever changed the way I look at literature and the potential of writing to impact human thought. The plot is one of revenge and redemption: a young man is unjustly sent to prison, escapes, and returns to bring ruin to those who wronged him. Most people have seen the movie, but the plot of this novel is nothing like that of the 2002 film; a 10 season HBO drama would barely give it justice. To better understand this epic story think of those 200 layer salads your aunt brings to a potluck; at first, it looks too formidable to eat, but with each successive layer, you find yourself enjoying the complexity, and eventually, you crave reaching the bottom which contains that mysterious jello.

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The Count of Monte Cristo is a story about revenge, greed, death, despair, hope, love, and wisdom. Throughout the plot, there is an overarching theme of contrast – characters swing from the highest peaks of happiness to the lowest states of depression; opulence is juxtaposed with impoverishment. The main character, The Count of Monte Cristo, was at one point on the verge of death from starvation and at another the most wealthy host of a grand dinner party in the heart of France. This contrast is highlighted throughout the book because it represents Dumas’ ultimate point to the reader, “Wait and Hope.” Or put in another way, one must be patient in life and hope that God will look favorably upon their plight. The Count of Monte Cristo waited and hoped for his rightful revenge, and his wrongdoers were eventually punished.

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Alternatively, other characters in the book waited and hoped for their loved one’s safety and were rewarded with both a stronger relationship and a greater appreciation for life itself. A fuller life is the ultimate reward of “Wait and Hope,” because it allows one to not only reflect on the future but also appreciate what is had in the present. One of the best examples comes at the end of the book when the villain is eventually imprisoned. He has lost his family, his fortune, and his fame but still he waits and hopes that a savior will come. His savior does come in the form of the Count of Monte Cristo, who through his own ability for hopefulness forgives his transgressor. Life is burdensome, and when we don’t feel like it is in our favor remember that even in the lowest depths of existence, hope and patience are tools that can carve a way out of any indomitable prison.

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War and Peace

Growing up the biggest book in the house was always the Holy Bible. The Bible stood above all other books in its shear mass – the thinness of the pages, the small font, and the endless footnotes made it formidable. Of course the Bible is in a class of its own but my third classic, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, gives it some competition in the size department: 1,400 pages of 19th-century Russian Literature. I always viewed War and Peace as the ultimate ego-trip – imagine some hipster guy walking down the street holding a copy while curling his mustache and listening to a Walkman. In all honesty, this book almost destroyed my sight; halfway through I bought a magnifying glass from Amazon that had in the description, “GREAT FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA.” It took me over three weeks to finish and I felt like a man waiting for his wife to give birth when the doctor says it will take all night – initial excitement, tears at the vending machine at 3:00 AM, and finally exhausted delirium at sunrise. Instead of a crying baby I was rewarded with a new found perspective of what art in the form of writing truly represents. War and Peace is not a novel but rather a philosophical treatise that has the added benefit of a great story. The general plot takes place in Russia from 1805 to 1820 and follows the family life of  a few Russians during the Napoleonic Wars. So what makes this book so great? The complexity of the characters mix with the backdrop of war to form a multilayered cake of delicious metaphor, behavior, and historical understanding.

As the title suggests, War and Peace, is all about contrast. The characters juggle life’s myriad curve balls: young love transforms into mature friendship, an engagement fails after an unexpected affair, happy families suffer with untimely deaths, once bountiful fortunes turn to meager incomes. The backdrop to these life events is a war that sweeps up the individual characters and the nation as whole. War that once seemed so glorious becomes surreal as the years progress. The war symbolizes both destruction and birth: taking the lives of some while bringing together people who may have never met. The philosophical theme throughout the book aims to better understand the meaning of life and man’s ability to express free will. The purpose of life, which is best expressed by the characters who suffered the most, is simply to “live” – every expression is a manifestation and glorification of God. This conclusion is simple on the surface but hard to practice: people seek money, respect, power, and control as their purpose, while “just” living seems inadequate. This purpose is mirrored by man’s desire to express free will while simultaneously being drawn by others into actions that are counter to life – war. Tolstoy makes the point that free will is not an absolute, just as inevitability (no choice at all) is also not an absolute. Thus, Napoleon – with his genius – did not impact his soldiers and the battle’s outcomes as much as he or everyone else thought. The same is true of the individual soldier’s free will – time, space, history, and infinite circumstances swinging the pendulum of choice. History, is not decided by the powerful few but is decided by a irreducible power which is wielded by innumerable individuals – always susceptible to the curve ball of life.

“If everyone fought for their own convictions there would be no war.”
-Leo Tolstoy War and Peace

A Tale of Two Cities

Most of my readers know that I love nonfiction. Nonfiction to me has more utility compared to fiction. You want to learn some interesting fact? Nonfiction. You want to have informed conversations? Nonfiction. You want to seem like a jerk and voice all the answers during Jeopardy? Nonfiction. Fiction was always the red-headed-step-child of my reading repertoire. I knew there were great stories in text but honestly I felt that TV series were just as good. I never could get into the clumsy stage of learning characters and how they connected with each other – to put it another way, I didn’t like the foreplay; get me to the climax already for goodness sake! But, with greater knowledge and maturity, I found that I was missing the foreplay in many of my nonfiction choices. This was especially apparent when reading about the French Revolution. I knew that life was hard for the poor but it felt empty – I wanted more of the buildup. I got this buildup from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Dickens is the master of text for the sake of text. While reading the book I kept going back to my 13 year old self, “come on and get to the fricking point!” At last I reached the end and it was like my brain exploded with pleasure. All of the crap at the beginning actually mattered – I took away so much from the end because of the formidable journey. It’s the difference between climbing a mountain and getting to the top – sweating, crying, despairing, rejoicing – compared to driving to the top of the mountain – rushing, distracting, yawning, appreciating.

It is this change of heart that has led me to yet another over-arching goal for this blog: I will read all 1,300 Penguin Classics by the age of 60. This is a quintessential component in my search for wisdom and it will push me to read books that are arguably the best in human history. For each book, I will write a blog post explaining what wisdom I gained from the experience. The posts will not summarize the books because you can easily Wikipedia that information. I want to look into myself and at the world in a deeper manner; I believe this journey will greatly help these aims. In the end, I hope to create a book with all my posts that I can reminisce on.  A Tale of Two Cities inspired this venture and hence it is my first post. The love story in this book is one of selflessness and sacrifice. Unlike the love triangles in the Hunger Games and Twilight, the one Dickens constructs makes you question the true meaning of love. If two men are fighting for a girl can they truly love her equally? When is failure both a blessing and a curse? Is it worth getting what you want at the expense of others? Read A Tale of Two Cities and let me know. Let the journey begin.

Click here for a complete list of the classics. You can also visit the Penguin Classics Website.

The Hike of a Lifetime

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

-John Muir

One of the top things on my bucket list is to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). The AT is 2,200 miles and stretches from Georgia all the way to Maine. The trail was completed in 1937 and is maintained by hundreds of volunteer clubs. Each year, over 2 million people hike the trail at least 0ne day and over 2,400 complete a thru-hike of the 2,200 miles. A thru-hike is extremely difficult-those who attempt this endeavor take an average of 6 months to complete the expanse and 75% will fail in their pursuit. If you can’t get 6 months off from work then there is the option of section hiking the AT-this officially counts as completing the entire trail and can be completed over a lifetime. My goal is to section hike the trail over a 3 year period. I think one-month stretches twice a year during the best times for hiking would make the trip much more enjoyable. My ultimate goal is to hike the AT along with the Continental Divide Trail (3,100) which runs through the Rockies and the Pacific Crest Trail (2,600 miles) which runs through the west coast.

So the question is why would anyone want to hike over 8,000 miles of wilderness? What is the point? It is a hard question to answer because in a sense it requires one to describe an instinctual urge. I feel better in the woods. I feel more happiness in the woods. I feel alive in the woods. The woods bring me into nature in the most intense way because they encompass every sense: the sight of trees, the songs of birds, the smell of fresh air, the texture of trail beneath my feet. In addition to the surrounding nature, the act of hiking is the most relaxing and pleasant activity. Hiking is the foundation of mankind’s physical prowess. We walked across continents and spread throughout the entire world with our ability to hike. When I’m hiking in the woods my mind is in a proverbial hot tub of relaxation. Moving through the woods tangibly connects me to the earth and to the ancestral urge to explore. Contrast all these feelings with the unnatural state of everyday life: driving in a climate controlled vehicle, staring into a computer screen, shopping at Walmart, watching TV commercials, etc.

I think most of you who are reading this agree with me about the awesomeness of hiking. However, I still haven’t justified why I want to hike 2,200+ miles while carrying a backpack and sleeping in a tent. Backpacking is a humbling experience because you can only carry so much stuff and what stuff you do pack becomes quite heavy overtime. It is the antithesis of our consumer culture where we accumulate tons of stuff but never really feel the environmental impact of our consumption. This antithesis attracts me to backpacking and my minimalist lifestyle delights in carrying only the most essential. So what is the point of hiking all those miles? The point for me is to push myself and see what I am capable of. God has blessed me with great health and I want to utilize those blessings to the fullest. This logic runs parallel to my proclivities for reading and writing-I don’t want my talents to be wasted so I regularly do both of them. We all have goals but unfortunately many of them are misaligned. I want to get a promotion. I want a new car. I want an extra 20,000 a year in salary. I want a remodeled kitchen. I want bigger biceps. Humans need goals and we like to conquer those goals. That is why I want to hike all these miles. It is a challenge that brings me closest to my naturally aligned physical and mental state. What do you think? Would you like to join me?

The Forgotten Elderly

The morals of a society can be best qualified by the treatment of its weakest members. Who are the weakest members of a society? The disabled? The minorities? The poor? The elderly? My grandmother just turned 92 today and is currently residing in an assisted-living home. She has seen so much in the last 9 decades and has lived a very full life: scraping during the Great Depression, reading newspapers of Hitler’s blitzkrieg,  hearing reports of JFK being assassinated, birthing 4 children, and so much in between. Unfortunately, her health is quite precarious and she needs 24 hour care. Thankfully, she has a great family that visits her regularly and brings her copious amounts of tasty treats. The sad reality is that my Grandma is the exception rather then the rule when it comes to visitations. Most of the residents sit in their chairs all day with no visitors week in and week out. They have no advocates. They have limited conversations. They have no hope. They have almost nothing left. Contrast this with the youthful vigor (relatively speaking) making up the rest of the population. Most people are spending time at work, socializing, doing recreation, and wasting time sitting on their butt. Most people have the priorities of pleasure and getting more money to maintain pleasures. I am one of these people and I want to change this about myself.

I want to spend more time with the elderly. I believe that we all have a duty to share our time with those who are most vulnerable. I feel strongly about this because I never want to be a lonely old man waiting to die in a nursing home. Loneliness to that degree is one of the scariest things to think about because I have to share thoughts, laughs, and emotions with people on a daily basis. A paradox exists today; we are more social and connected then ever but more isolated then ever. Kids grow up using social media and it is not uncommon to see whole families at dinner glued to their respective phones. This isolation extends to the elderly and I think we need to look hard at how we prioritize our time. Could we replace one hour of time spent on the internet with spending time with an elderly individual? Could we take our kid to a nursing home for 1 hour instead of the umpteenth soccer practice? Could we watch one less rerun of Friends and go talk with a lonely person? I think we all can and should. America was built by these elderly individuals and they deserve the respect of our time and love. I personally want to play my guitar for the nursing home residents and talk to them about their personal histories. Let’s better our society by bettering those most vulnerable. Taking care of the elderly will send positive ripple effects throughout all generations-increasing our understanding of love, respect, and life’s blessings.

 

Revisit: The Preposition of God

Question, should you live your life from God, over God, for God, or under God? Confused? Well, it was a trick question, you should live your life with God. Still confused? Don’t worry, I was to when I first started reading With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God by Skye Jethani which uses the above mentioned prepositions to explain how most of us relate to God. This book is an excellent read and I highly recommend it to religious and non-religious people alike. Alright, let’s define Mr. Jethani’s prepositions…

Read the full post here.
The Preposition of God

I Think Therefore I Am Not

“I think therefore I am” was the famous phrase coined by French Philosopher René Descartes. Essentially, Descartes  was saying that no one can deceive him that he does not exist because any conscious thought of his own accord proves his existence. But what if he consciously thought that he didn’t exist? Would he still technically exist? Confused yet? This tidbit of philosophy is a great introduction into the world of the “self.” What makes you-you? Is it conscious thought, narrative experiences, memories, or just the ability to experience things in the first-person? Thanks to my friend Megan, who bought me The Man Who Wasn’t There: Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self by Anil Ananthaswamy I have a better understanding of what makes us-us. 

We all have an inclination of what our “self” represents. On the surface, our “self” is the culmination of our thoughts and experiences in the past, present, and future. We also have a physical “self” that comprises our body and a model of how the physical world should function (when I hear a noise outside I know that is not self-produced but coming from some other source). This basic thinking of the self stems from philosophers who connected the self with conscious thought and shaped western ideology of the mind-body connection. Unfortunately, the “self” is not that simple especially when disorders of the brain give us very different pictures of reality.

Would you pay someone 20,000 dollars to have your healthy leg-amputated? You may think this is a crazy question but there is a disorder known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) where people feel that certain parts on their bodies are not their own. Individuals with BIID, from an early age, can pinpoint the exact place on their body that feels alien and many go to extremes to remove what doesn’t seem their own-there are several reports of people laying out on train tracks or paying foreign doctors to excise healthy legs or arms. Does BIID bring into question the “self” as defined by the body we inhabit? What about people with Cortad’s Syndrome who believe they are dead. Individuals with Cotard’s have no desire to eat, drink, or do anything (including committing suicide) because they believe that they no longer exist. So would this scenario disprove Descartes-“I think therefore I am not.” Going along with questioning Descartes, do individuals with Alzheimer’s disease have a “self” if they are incapable of conscious thought? What about Schizophrenics who have multiple “selfs”? Even weirder, people who have out-of-body experiences where they can view themselves through the third-person, or communicate with their own doppelgänger. Is their self fixed, split, or dynamic in the conscious mind and physical world?

All of these maladies of the self can be explained by dysfunctions of certain areas of the brain and help explain all the dimensions that make up the self: “our narrative, our sense of being agents of our actions and initiators of our thoughts, our sense of ownership of body parts, our sense that we are our emotions, our sense of being located in a volume of space that is our body… all of these can be argued as comprising the self-as-object.” Beyond the self-as-object is still the self-as-subject. In all the aforementioned maladies there is still an “I” which is experiencing and this is always present regardless of consciousness. Who am I? What is the most reducible version of the “self.” It isn’t our physical body or our ability to think but rather something irreducible and essentially undefinable. The self is always present but intangible to objective measurements. I think the poem, “Nirvana Shaktam” by Indian Philosopher Adi Shankara best explains the “self.”

I am not the mind, nor the intellect, nor any entity that
identifies self with ears, tongue, nose or the eyes;
Not even perceived by space, earth, light or the wind.

So is there a self or is there not a self? I believe there is a self and it’s greatest reduced component is the soul. Of course, the soul is not scientific but science cannot explain the self entirely through states of consciousnesses or physical dimensions. Buddhists and many philosophers do not believe in the self-rather they believe the self is a made up manifestation to help explain our personal subjectivity of the world. So why does this philosophical question matter at all? It matters because understanding the self can help us understand the way we interact with the world. Are we just a body walking around with a library of thoughts? Are individuals who have maladies of the self negatively disordered or just neutrally different. Simply put, what you define as “self” will dictate  what you deem important in life and your interactions with people on a daily basis.

Revisit: You’re Going to Die in 1 Year

Unfortunately, this title was a reality for Morrie Swartz in the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Morrie was a sociology professor who received the life changing diagnosis of ALS which slowly takes away the ability of the muscles to function and has no cure. Morrie, being the introspective person he was, did not become morose over his predicament but rather analyzed death and was extremely optimistic throughout his dwindling state. He tried to answer the hard questions of life and was a metaphorical bridge between the living and the dead….

Read the full post here.
You’re Going to Die in One Year