A Stream of Text

I was going for something very simple: a single dollar sign for a prompt, line orientation, no tab completion or other creature comforts like that. When notifications came in from biff or irc coprocess, they wouldn’t mess up the screen, because all input would always occur on the next line. Managing multiple input and output streams from a single line would make terminal multiplexing unnecessary. So far, so good.

I don’t have a window system. In fact, my user interface is purely one dimensional. No images or line drawing characters. No character matrix addressing. Just an alphabet and line breaks. Take it a step further: like in poetry, we’ll use semantic rather than stylistic line breaks. That’s my medium for the time being.

It is archaic to be sure; but actually, I get along just fine. It requires more abstract thought than a graphical interface, but can you convince me that this is a bad thing? I doubt it.

The difficulty arises with the question of conforming to the conventions of the outside world. Strange as it is, most people just don’t know what to do with a stream of plain text. So I have a Makefile and a markdown-to-xml converter to automatically add all the useless trappings, including pretty fonts and pictures.

It’s a quiet interface, almost meditative in its way. If I were still an academic, it would surely be my preferred environment for composing an argument. But since (thank God) I am not, I only ramble to pass the time, and I occasionally try to say something edifying.

Here is something that might be edifying: in our modern, technological age, we take for granted the method of precise observation using instruments designed and built for the purpose of measuring. But this is not at all an obvious method of gaining knowledge. Measurement is an operation, in the first place. As Yates pointed out in the passage from Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition that I quoted way back in the beginning of this blog, ancient and medieval people did not want to operate. They considered operation to be something beneath the full dignity of man. It fell short of man’s ultimate earthly purpose, namely, speculative contemplation of the first causes and principles of all things.

In that case, let me suggest that modern man has forgotten a rather archaic method of acquiring knowledge whereby, to impose a modern paradigm, the instrument, so to speak, of measurement, is actually the human soul. If we consider the great monuments that ancient civilizations have left behind, our first impulse might be to wonder at the kind of technology that could have produced them. But I say that the “operational consciousness” of modern man has mistaken the Greek techne for technology. They are not the same. Techne is productive knowledge, whereas technology is a complex of devices and arts which, when used together, produce things; but which no one man has to hold together in his head and contemplate, such that it would be properly called knowledge. In the ancient mode, the quality of the tool is only a reflection of the quality of the soul that produced it. But nowadays who knows how to make a tool?

Now, our distant ancestors might not have had electricity, modern medicine or sanitation, or even indoor plumbing. They might have had to gather water and chop wood. But I submit that they were so much more perceptive than we are, that we cannot even begin to imagine it without great difficulty. They were far, far more alive. Their inner vitality supplied amply for the want of modern medicine. Go further back, close to the very beginning: in those days an average man lived for centuries on a vegan diet. It is likely that they enjoyed an infused knowledge of such mysteries of nature as the bleeding edge of modern scientific research only humbles us by clumsily grabbing, and then upon reflection, finding that they have slipped through its fingers.

Because we don’t know any better, we are proud of the technological terror we’ve created. But beware, because this pride informs our spiritual destiny. Our natural powers have atrophied over centuries due to the corrupting influence of sin. Only by simplifying my computer interface, I certainly cannot claim to have self-initiated a return to the relatively pristine state of my forefathers. I could even, as I feel I would enjoy, learn to survive in a remote cabin, chopping wood and drawing water indeed. I would not thereby satisfy the desire that causes me to lament over our civilization’s technologically induced myopia. Even in the days before the Flood, the hearts of men felt the same longing I do: a longing for eternal life once lost, then a hope in the promise of a coming Redeemer, now a joy in knowing Him and anticipating His return.

However, maybe if I indulge that feeling of longing, I won’t forget Who I’m waiting for and why I am alive.