Philosophy for The Masses

The utter impossibility of knowing even an infinitesimal fraction of everything there is to know is the allure of the universe. The possibility that somewhere, well beyond the limits of our reach and our imaginations, the ultimate answer to everything awaits us. Drives us, even in our sleep. What if, we ask ourselves, we could learn the incredible secret that could turn our understanding of space and time and the laws of physics on their heads? What if there is an answer that explains everything; something that reveals all we know is archaic and fundamentally flawed?

We stalk the unobtainable, formulating questions that increasingly reveal that we do not know what we do not know, but for which we thirst with the passion of a lost soul three days alone in the desert without water. Our quest for answers to questions that have never been and will never be asked consumes us. When physics and our own observations fail us, we turn to Zeus and Allah and God and Poseidon and Yahweh and Apollo and Buddha and Jehovah and a thousand others. The incomprehensibility of everything stupefies and intoxicates us. Yet that very futility draws us like moths to a flame. We want to know. We never will. Yet, still we persist.


Why, though, if we hunger for understanding, do so many of us have such a terribly hard time with high school? Why is college so damned difficult? If we are so driven by the quest to know, why don’t we try harder? I can’t answer those questions for myself, much less humanity at large. A monumental disconnect exists between philosophical questions and practical answers; and vice versa. Humans are simple creatures, but some of us seem to have broken out of our dimly-lit cocoons. Some of us have turned not into butterflies but fire-breathing winged beasts with an insatiable hunger for knowledge.

I am convinced there are several sub-species within the primate conglomerate we call homo sapiens. We recognize and worship the most advanced by awarding them Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine. The other three categories—literature, peace, and economics—are reserved for those who are intellectually advanced but whose abilities do not quite equal their superior brethren. Those two groups (Nobel first-line and Nobel second-line) constitute the tiny fraction of humanity worthy of pursuing the unknowable. The rest of us are a bit like worker and drone bees but, unfortunately, the two subgroups are all-too-capable of reproducing our mediocre and even inferior selves in great numbers. In time, the workers will produce so many subpar replicas that the Nobel lines will be edged out into oblivion. 

Taking a quick look back in time, I assert that we will find a much, much larger percentage of the population would qualify as members of the Nobel-class than is true today. I would argue that Aristotle and Plato and Socrates and Pythagoras and Cicero and Confucius and so forth comprised a much larger percentage of their cohorts than did/do Albert Einstein and Immanuel Kant and Noam Chomsky and Friedrich Nietzsche and David Chalmers. The gene pool is getting saturated with—depending on your perspective—damaged goods or “deeply mediocre” goods. Over time, the pool will have been sullied to the point that no filter could possibly restore it even to the upper layer of mediocre. I realize, of course, that my perspective could be used in an attempt to label me as aligned with monsters like Adolf Hitler; that is not in the least true, though. I’m not suggesting we do anything about it. I’m just saying Thomas Malthus made some legitimate points about the effects of over-population, though his arguments and mine do not mirror one another (although I buy his arguments entirely, though he was badly out of sync with reality with regard to timespan).


My knowledge of the subjects about which I have written today (and about which I write everyday) is slim, almost transparent in its thinness. I wish I knew more, but I am lazy and lack discipline, characteristics that together make for deeply shallow intellectuality. I think I know less about more things than most people know about few things. Their (most people’s) knowledge is considerably deeper than mine about things that don’t matter. My knowledge is considerably shallower about things that do matter than it should be. I get the sense that I am attempting to do a comparison between apples and scalpel blades; the margin of error is razor thin, but it smells good.


If I were to disappear today, my absence wouldn’t be noticed except by those who matter. In this sham of a universe in this sham of a world, we have to always remember that we have no value whatsoever to almost everyone, but we have all the value in the world to someone.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

I wish you would tell me what you think about this post...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.