Friday 5 April 2024

Does advancing confidently in the direction of our dreams, lead to success unexpected in common hours?

I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. 

He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. 

In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. 

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

 From the Conclusion to Walden by Henry David Thoreau.


I can recall the excitement, and optimism for my life ahead, with which I read the above passage in my middle teenage years. It seemed like I was being offered a key to open the locked door of life - a life that, since adolescence, had become more sinister and oppressive in term of how most people lived it. 

I have since read many similar passages and extended arguments. The point may be summarized as asserting that if only we would adopt the right perspective, the right attitude to living, then the fundamental problems of life are soluble. 

Such statements remain common - although less culturally influential than they were up to the 1970s.  A more recent example is the work of Joseph Campbell - whose slogan of "follow your bliss" was saying very much the same as Thoreau.


Although there is no mention of deity - such statements do assume a purposive and benign universe; because built-in are such beliefs as that "more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him".

In other words, there is an implicit assumption that the proper attitude in ourselves will elicit from reality an appropriate response - we will "make our own luck". 

This is strictly nonsense on the basis of modern mainstream scientistic materialism; where the universe and Men's minds are alike the accidental and undirected products of random and determined processes. 

Yet something deeper and unreasoned continues to evoke a response and expectation that, indeed - despite "rationality" - we might perhaps make our own luck. 


Looking back, I would say that Thoreau's statement is false ultimately and overall - and that his advice does not solve the fundamental problems of life: it did not for Thoreau himself, nor has it done so for anybody else of whom I have knowledge. 

This is because the fundamental problems are life are consequent upon the inevitability, and ineradicable nature, of evil and "entropy" (by entropy I mean the innate tendency, operating through time, towards disease, degeneration, and death). 

And false because we are not only surrounded by evil and entropy in our environment; but these are both also operative within us - so that, even if we lived in an earthly paradise, we would carry evil and entropy into that paradise. 


On the other hand; although fundamentally untrue; Thoreau's advice is helpful! 

It is an attitude that can lead to a more fulfilling life - especially if (as was not the case with Thoreau) it comes to be underpinned and explained by faith in a creator God, who is our loving Father.

And Thoreau's vision may become literally true and eternal on the other side of death; if we choose to accept the gifts of Jesus Christ. 


NLR said...

Thought-provoking post. A similar kind of quotation is this one from Wittgenstein:

"Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits."

Since moments will pass, this idea is also ultimately false in mortal life.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NLR - Yes, that (famous) quote from Wittgenstein begs - does not answer - all the important questions.

agraves said...

Bruce, I would only add what I find most vexing in modern life, especially in the West, and that is the predominant attitude of denial in daily life. A rather simple minded approach to life that it will all work out for the best when really the assumption of worst case scenario would be that correct attitude. Hoping that the next election, that simple illness, those violent kids, that it will all turn out for the best is typical of the West. What is really happening is a trajectory of continued destruction of traditional values which cannot be stopped without the utmost effort, painful as it must be. Acceptance of pain is a requirement for maintaining our civilization and pain is something most cannot handle even in the slightest .