I was recently introduced to a new phrase which I rather like, “existential musing”. It nicely describes what I’ve been doing a lot of lately.
The phrase comes from the newly released book by one of my favorite bloggers Venkatesh Rao — Tempo: timing, tactics and strategy in narrative-driven decision-making — which I’ve been cheerfully digesting over the past few weeks. The book is amazingly dense. It synthesizes a shelf full or two of books but I’m finding its ideas a fertile source for new ways to think about decision making and the world in general.
The opening page of the book re-introduced me to a quote from Fredrick Neitzsche:
Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself. And your way leads past yourself and your seven devils. You will be a heretic to yourself and a witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and a villain. You must wish to consume yourself in your own flame: how could you wish to become new unless you had first become ashes!
Lonely one, you are going the way of the creator: you would create a god for yourself out of your seven devils.
One last thought, also drawn from Tempo, on the tension between contemplation and action. Quoting now, “a tension that causes us to swing between a greedy, grasping engagement of life, and a tentative, doubting withdrawal from it. A mode of life that doubts the possibility of meaning sufficiently to choose action, and believes in the possibility sufficiently to be tempted into reflection.”
As I’ve grown older, and hopefully a bit more mature, it seems more and more of my thinking has started to center around the many paradoxical pairs of ideas such as this one and others such as reason vs. emotion, freedom vs. order, individual integrity vs. community responsibility, men vs. women, justice vs. mercy, liberty vs. equity, etc.
It seems one or more of these paradoxical pairs of ideas is at the heart of every significant problem I face.
The contemplation/action pair is especially meaningful right now as I’m in the midst of a doubting withdrawal from life as I close up shop on my first startup and reflect on what to do next.
Posted April 22, 2011
Kyle Mathews lives and works in San Francisco building useful things. You should follow him on Twitter