Good and Bad




Ganesh H Shankar
Good and Bad
The root of the greatest errors in philosophy lies in projecting our human purposes, criteria and preferences into the objective universe. Good and bad are relative to human and often individual tastes and ends, and have no validity for a universe in which individuals are ephemera, and in which the Moving Finger writes even the history of the race in water.

Whenever, then, anything in nature seems to us ridiculous, absurd or evil, it is because we have but a partial knowledge of things, and are in the main ignorant of the order and coherence of nature as a whole, and because we want everything to be arranged according to the dictates of our own reason; although in fact, what our reason pronounces bad is not bad as regards the orders and laws of universal nature, but only as regards the laws of our own nature taken separately. . . . As for the terms good and bad, they indicate nothing positive considered in themselves. . . . For one and the same thing can at the same time be good, bad, and indifferent. For example, music is good to the melancholy, bad to mourners, and indifferent to the dead - Baruch Spinoza

This has changed my interest in photography greatly during past few years. In past I thought "art as an opinion" did not make sense at all as anything could be called an "opinion". Art as an "opinion" is still very uninteresting to me. For this reason Cubism makes no sense to me. Similarly many such 'work of art' as 'opinions'. Why do you care what my "opinion" is? It is just an opinion and has a limited shelf life.

However, I was deeply believing in expression of emotions and feelings as work of art, as advocated by Leo Tolstoy in his book - What is Art?. During last few years I started losing interest in this view point too. This dilution of interest is the result of a convincing viewpoint by Spinoza - "Good and bad are relative to human and have no validity for a universe in which individuals are ephemera".

At the outset, this may sound like "Thrinamapi nachalathi thenavina" ("Nothing moves without you, the God"). But there is a difference. I think theists and pantheists have one thing in common, both know that they don't know. However, theists do think God knows it all and we are at her mercy. Pantheists just wonder about Nature, their version of God, that they don't know. They still are rooted in reasoning as much as possible but know its limits. What I love about pantheism is the freedom - my eyes and ears are still widely open. I don't surrender myself. This is not a statement of arrogance but a gentle position taken due to lack of enough reasoning powers to accept it. This probably manifests itself as a humble conviction. This however comes at a great cost!

What is the cost? As a pantheist I am on my own. I don't have Almighty's shoulders to rest on when I am in trouble or my near and dear ones are in pain. Like a theist, pantheist feels the same pain. However, he understands that pain is Nature's way of ensuring its creations try to preserve itself. A pantheist helplessly suffers when he is in pain, probably enjoying the very nature of it when he musters courage to sit back and reflect up on the larger scheme of things. Since pantheists believe in Nature as God, birth and death of an individual is as mysterious and inevitable as a falling leaf or a sprouting seed. When a pantheist understands that he needs to accept this simple truth, he prepares himself to be part of this cycle, he spends more time enjoying and wondering about the Nature.

Back to the image, we may feel sad (or happy), we may be in different state of of mind, may have opinions, feelings, or create our "work of art" or everything that matters to us. However, that does not matter! I think, there is an immense beauty and probably a purpose beyond what is visually accessible. How do I know? I don't know.

Leaves will fall, new life forms will come over them, seeds will sprout. In between our ‘work of art’ silently gets dissolved in Nature as a stray detail. These are beyond our reasoning. Opinions and feelings does not matter. Truth (if we can know) probably does! I prefer to sit back and wonder about Nature, not about ourselves. This is not intended to be a discourse on pantheism, just an attempt at seeing things in Nature beyond visual boundaries.

Organic life, we are told, has developed gradually from the protozoan to the philosopher, and this development, we are assured, is indubitably an advance. Unfortunately it is the philosopher, not the protozoan, who gives us this assurance - Bertrand Russell

On a serious note, I am very convinced about what Russell said.

Oh, I did not expect you reading it till this line!
Wed Sep 11, 2019 10:08 pm
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Ganesh H. Shankar
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Ganesh H Shankar  Joined CNP On 24 Apr 2008    Total Image posts 620    -   Total Image Comments 5665    -   Image Post to Comment Ratio 1:9    -   Image Comment Density 39     -     Total Forum Posts 832

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Commentby Nevil Zaveri on Wed Sep 18, 2019 10:46 pm

Can't agree more!, Ganesh. And probably, Bertrand gave the best answer to human who boast to know all!
Love this thought provoking image, that goes deeper with human touch.

Nevil Zaveri

Commentby nirlep on Thu Sep 19, 2019 1:58 pm

A thought provoking thread Ganesh. beginning with the quote of Spinoza used by you "Good and bad are relative to human and have no validity for a universe in which individuals are ephemera" would suggest that being ephemera individuals are also insignificant. The logic could extend to everything. But aren't the universal time scale and the local time scale different? For example within one life span of humans a dog may live ten times over, a butterfly thousand times and so on. With this logic butterfly or a still smaller organism would appear as ephemera to us but consciousness has evolved to have compassion. So our heart goes out for all things carnate, it feels for them, it is able to comprehend the tugs, sometimes ambivalent, of the universal and the local. While good or bad in universal time scale would appear just as "acts" driven by impulses, but in relative human terms they have ethical considerations requiring action, duly "compassioned" by the universals, in the form of speaking, writing, arts, photography, music..... In my view compassion transcends time scales and enables us to treat everything as valid life deserving careful attention.
The very act of picking up the camera in my opinion is a decision to speak or express. Subjectivity is bound to come in but that's how images speak to each other. While becoming irrelevant in the course of time, new relevance is created in the future by their having existed in the past. An artist creates his own critique, Is my work relevant? She knocks at the door of the world and contributes his/her mite. That's a demand placed by subjective time. While seeking relevance, artist also has the universal in mind. That makes him/her submit to the larger design. That aspect to me is humility. Expressing with humility is both local and universal in which you my friend abound.