Throughout the rise of humankind we have always faced new horizons.
The humanoids in the next forest were the first. The land of others like us, the next. But what if some of us have arrived at a point in human exploration and advancement where there is no more, no farther land to discover, no other planets to inhabit and no more great scientific and industrial discoveries to be made.
While scientists, researchers, and their like, have worked wonders, many of those wonders have become burdens. Is this our direction now? Only a gifted few are aware of the direction, and even if more become aware, there will never be enough of the enlightened. Far too many are not intelligent enough to help better the world in any significant way, or to govern themselves through any knowledgeable and rational system.
A not-to-be-missed book exploring the consequences of our constant search for new horizons and where it is leading us.
The germination of this effort began over thirty-five years ago. Much mental perspiration has nourished and baptized this, therefore please tread lightly and surely.
Readers should not depend on academic footnotes, a bibliography, and such. They must be familiar with the implied references, or be willing to become familiar with them. Also--as a prerequisite--readers must possess the acumen and mental agility required to appreciate the essences herein contained. Otherwise this mightn't be the book for you.
My method of writing involves much jumping about in time and subject, and he hopes the reader will not be too disquieted. The rationale for such method is that in everyday life that is the way our minds work. One minute we're anticipating having tea with aunt Martha; the next we're back at the computer looking up something on Alcibiades.
The original title of this book was to be Brick Walls, but given that life's dead ends began eons ago I imagined a graph with a lopsided curve that resembled a rat, with the tail to the left and the head toward the present time. The rat's tail was far too long to be included on the graph. The head is a terminus of the different aspects of human knowledge.
With the exceptions of my immediate family, my parents, and my grandparents (whose names have been changed) I have invented the other characters in this book.
Rat-tail Curves has been preceded by two literary novels--Men With Broken Faces, and Jake Miller's Wheel--wherein my grandparents, Lars and Caroline Nordraak, and my father, Sexton, are minor characters based on real life.
(Østby in the original Norwegian)
When you come to northeastern Montana, you come to nowhere, and there's nothing. Nothing but sky, space, open prairie, wheat fields, and isolation. Deserted homesteads and small, dying towns. Sun, wind, rain, and snow. Solitude. And memories. Time to think. Too much time. It's been quite a journey. We all take different paths: winding, convoluted, tortuous, . . . , often regressive. Some of us are cut short of our goal early in life, some of us are blessed with more time and higher intellectual plateaus. And some of us pause to look back with more skepticism in order to catch more realistic glimpses of our final destination. Many are sure of their destination, some of us are not.
This book is about physical, philosophical, spiritual, and human limits, and the frustrations that arise when those limits are met. When I began this project many years ago, I read extensively; mostly philosophy and science books; some religion. (I tend to lump religion and philosophy together, but that may be a concession to religion.) Something happened: the ideas got repetitious. And, after all of my reading--at some sort of mental saturation point--it was obvious that no writer, especially any philosopher, had promulgated much in the way of real, substantive content. Lots of baloney but no sandwich. No new philosophers; no new philosophies. Everything worth thinking had been postulated hundreds of years B.C.E. and subsequently subjugated by religion, which subjugation is in turn being superseded by science and a new awareness of reality in the more enlightened areas of our small domain. I came close to throwing out most of the books I had read and I admit to skipping thorough parts of some, but at the last moment--about halfway through the completion of this endeavor--I reconsidered. There are still some pearls of wisdom.
Nihilism (from the Latin nihil, nothing) is the philosophical position that values do not exist but rather are falsely invented. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilists assert that morality does not exist, and subsequently there are no moral values with which to uphold a rule or to logically prefer one action over another. Nihilism can also take an epistemological, metaphysical, or mereological form.
But his book is not about nihilism of any kind (existential, moral, . . . , because I'm not saying there can't be meaning -- only that there is an ultimate end to knowledge. Even in epistemological nihilism there can be purpose in life. (And I'm not denying all knowledge.)
I have tried to emphasize the self-evident. It's surprising how seldom that is done. There seems to be a standard notion in scholarly writing that one has to do a lot of abstract academic research and go through a bunch of other scholarly mishmash. Several years ago an elderly friend--a medical academic--told me that if there are knowledge limits, I have to do a study to determine when the quest for knowledge will end. Some kind of definite time line. I guess he's a product of the system.
As far as my stories go, some are like my dreams: invented, but they are all true to the area and its people. Maybe more veridical than (the) real stories.
The late Christopher Hitchens, in the first chapter of his book god Is Not Great (2007) paraphrase the old saying "We now know less and less about more and more." A bit later he observed that some things will never be known by humans. Tacitus said, "We have great notions of everything unknown." If you cast aside this book now, at least you will be reminded of that insight. In some book I read, the author started by stating that both scientists and philosophers are concerned with impossibilities. Unfortunately, most of the time those impossibilities remain impossibilities. Or do they?
Rat-Tail Curves is philosophic and historical without forgetting its first intention to be a readable and enjoyable book. It is really quite unlike most of what I have read.
Author James Ostby shows his talent for writing clearly throughout the work, and there is an interesting literary voice at the core of this book.
JD DeHart: www.dehartreadingandlitresources.blogspot.com