December 1, 2004

aesthetics northern lights hume

This search term absolutely stunned me for a moment. Here were three of my most favorite things in the world, aesthetics, the northern lights, and the philosophy of David Hume, spun together in an awkward search pattern whose actual meaning is altogether inconceivable.

For me, aesthetics do not merely imply visual appeal. Aesthetics soak into the very depths of human existence, emotion and passion. I revel in things that I find beautiful, but at the same time I am fascinated by things that I think may be good, but I am unable to comprehend. Above anything else I prefer the mental challenge of things that I cannot understand, and this scales into all facets of my life.

I love listening to the esoteric avant-garde jazz stylings of Happy Apple, which to the untrained ear (or even the schooled ear) sounds like a triad of mayhem. My recent trip to San Francisco, my first major excursion into a large city in many years, reminded me that I am simultaneously repulsed and attracted to the perfumed breath of big cities. I love open air and the outdoors, and will pick up just about any hobby that gives me an excuse to disappear into the woods. My love for both the city and the wilderness grow from a shared kernel. I live for the thrill of exploration, whether it is in the company of one or millions.

Aesthetics do not merely relate to good taste in the arts, but are a philosophy of life. It’s about absorbing your surroundings, trying to make sense of them, and then tossing yourself into completely new surroundings in order to comprehend those as well. It’s not an ideal, but a journey. Aesthetics are not an end, but a method.

I spent four years living in Duluth, and during those years my skin absorbed the aurora borealis many, many times. The most memorable experience was one early spring, upon our return from a week-long road trip to Zion. It was late and dark, and as we crested the hill and began our descent into the glimmering lights of Duluth, we looked to the sky and saw a spectacular display of the northern lights.

A full quarter of the sky was taken up with a glistening chandelier of light, morphing and pulsating its long white crystals in pace with the Earth’s magnetic field. We were finally wrapping up our 30 hour drive back from Utah, and the entire experience, from the natural light show to the bitter cold to the mental fatigue, was ethereal.

Now, David Hume, as I recall, didn’t write extensively on aesthetics or northern lights alike. Hume is known as the English philosopher who pushed empiricism and skepticism to its logical limit, and ultimately admitted that if empiricism is indeed the only way that we can come to know the world, that we must deny the existence of everything beyond our immediate perceptions. Hume was ruthless in his adherence to empiricism, refused to make concessions that previous empiricists were willing to make, and in so doing he proved that it was logically foolish to assume that empiricism was the source of all human knowledge.

However. While Hume was indeed willing to accept all the philosophical fallout that resulted from a strict adherence to empiricism, he was also a jovial fellow. While philosophy was indeed a great passion of his, he didn’t let his observations and conclusions pine away his existence. Nay, Hume was known to have partied it up with Ben Franklin of all sorts, frequent the local pubs, and pull the serving girls down into his lap. Hume freely admitted that he drew a line between his actual experience of the world, and what his philsophies told him. I greatly admire the man both for his incredible work in the realm of philosophy, and his ability to keep on living in spite of his cynical (though indeed inevitable) conclusions. Hume’s consistency in empiricist philosophy was matched only by his remarkably human nature.

I’m not sure what all this means, but I am certain of one thing. If in six months I am still working as a full-time web designer, with no end game in view, I will be seriously troubled. Self-reflection has revealed to me that I got into web design not as an end, but as a means to another end. There are far more things on this wide blue Earth that I enjoy more than web design, kiteboarding and snowboarding being a few of them, and writing another. Writing was the catalyst that led to web design in the first place, and I wouldn’t mind getting back into it.

Web design has gone limp for me. I need to experience fresh challenges, and this path is beginning to feel dangerously like one of inevitability. It is time that I pause to reflect, and remind myself that I am not a man of inevitability.

Dude – I seriously think you should get back into writing. Your ramblings are mostly completely incoherent, but imaginative, which is the mark of a brilliant writer. See Carl Hiaasen – who has been able to channel his incoherence into coherence without losing his imagination.
I’d get together a portfolio of stuff if I were you, and pitch a few outdoor mags on some adventure stories.

Heh. Thanks for the support, Simone! I think you’ve inadvertently come up my new tagline, too:
Brainside Out: Mostly Completely Incoherent
I’ll have to take you up on your advice, and start hammering together that portfolio. As far as everything goes, I believe that is the direction I really want to move towards.