Monday, May 4, 2009

Midnight Mental Meandering: Plato, Nietzche, and Elder Bednar

While watching a recent CES broadcast I was struck by some contrasts between what Elder Bednar had to say and some statements by Plato regarding experiencing reality. Both, amusingly enough (in that they both pick on the same subject for essentially the same yet opposite reason), warned of the danger of media’s by which life is represented: Elder Bednar warning of cyber media and Plato decrying poetry. Both of them protested them as distractions away from ultimate reality. However Plato was talking about immaterial forms experienced through the mind and Bednar was talking about this bodily existence. Perhaps they both had a true point to their own cultures, given that in Plato’s day there may have been fewer opportunities to envelop oneself in the mind and today there are so many opportunities that they can dilute our experience of physicality.

Elder Bednar also spoke at length of the need to experience physical/emotional life in family life, friendship, exercise, and social experience. Plato on the other hand, in Phaedo, speaks of experiencing absolute reality when he says that an enlightened one should practicing dying by separating the mind from the distractions of the body in search. And as such we should look forward to the separation of the body from the spirit. In describing this I can’t help but contrast it to Nietzsche who described that we can only really experience the world as we drown ourselves in physical experience, only grasping to the world as perceived by the Apollonic mind as necessary to avoid madness.

Bednar describes happiness as coming from having a body and pursuing the experiences that come from it, wheras for Plato happiness comes from pursuing otherworldly truth in the mind alone. I would not wish to inadvertently put a false dichotomy on the subject, as the D&C clearly describes 101:37 “Therefore, care not for the body, neither the life of the body; but care for the soul, and for the life of the soul.” Now, as the soul is defined in LDS theology as a combination of body and spirit, it is hard to see this scripture as really meaning to neglect the body, but rather to take care of it as part of the greater whole of our being. And I think Elder Bednar would agree with my framing his words in that context.

Bednar’s reprimands fit me generally enough as a person…you’ll find me stuck in a book or a video game much more readily than trying to get to know my next door neighbor. And as a member of Aspie subculture, I find some of Bednar’s reprimands…provocative. Its commonly described in Asperger Syndrome and has also been my own individual experience that electronic interaction can be easier than “real” social interaction in some ways. Strip out the non verbals, the tone of voice, eye contact, and pronunciation emphasis and leave the words to speak for themselves and I do much better. Sit me down next to someone that I know moderately well and have interacted with before and it might be five to ten minutes before I sort myself out enough to attempt a social interaction. With most people this period of silence is something of an interaction killer in itself. With my wife the silence was something we could share about as meaningfully as the words. But electronically, I don’t need to break the sound barrier. I don’t mean to suggest my own preferences or strengths/weakness pattern as validating or invalidating the point Elder Bednar was trying to make, nor do I feel particularly validated or invalidated by them. It just makes me introspective, reveling in interior nuances, evaluating strengths and weaknesses, etc. When one of my college classes a while ago had us read a book on an Enneagram based personality theory, I was confused to find myself exhorted to “ground myself in my body” to help me progress or something of the like and I didn’t really know what it meant at the time and I’m still not entirely sure that I know now either. I tend towards Plato much more and a life of the mind, though I try to stay engaged otherwise. I mainly just hope to enjoy all the meandering nuances of my own and other’s existence in all their dimensions while finding truth from among the brambles of presumption and folly with which every society deals. That sounds like a pretty good life.

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