Oh this tasting and thinking self! We experience it and swear we’re at the heart of who we are, and yet, and yet.
But though we may call this thinking self (the soul) substance, as being the ultimate subject of thinking which cannot be further represented as the predicate of another thing, it remains quite empty and inconsequential if permanence–the quality which renders the concept of substances in experience fruitful–cannot be proved of it. (334)
For Kant, where we speak from cannot be proved as a thing in itself, especially when that thing is us. And even for the synthetic world we live in, additions and attributes on and on, may be known through experience, but not in itself. Consider a dram of peat and the sea.
North Atlantic waves whip sea-salt into the cliffs, the buildings of Islay along the coast. When you open a bottle of Laphroaig Single Malt Scotch, that’s part of what you’re smelling and tasting. Laphroaig sits next to Ardbeg and Lagavulin on the southeast coast of Islay. The ocean brine soaks the air and the casks containing the precious aqua vitae.
This is our world of experience. We know we cannot say what it is to exist as brine, cliffs or a coast. We do experience the taste, but to say we “know” the taste might be a bit off. Seamus Heaney has something to say on the matter.
for T. P. Flanagan
We have no prairies
To slice a big sun at evening–
Everywhere the eye concedes to
Is wooed into the cyclops’ eye
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country
Is bog that keeps crusting
Between the sights of the sun.
They’ve taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up
An astounding crate full of air.
Butter sunk under
More than a hundred years
Was recovered salty and white.
The ground itself is kind, black butter
Melting and opening underfoot,
Missing its last definition
By millions of years.
They’ll never dig coal here,
Only the waterlogged trunks
Of great firs, soft as pulp.
Our pioneers keep striking
Inwards and downwards,
Every layer they strip
Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.
The wet centre is bottomless.
Remember Kant’s emphasis on the imagination as extolling a world of vagaries not limited by experience, and I would add, heighten our being with experience often by pathetic fallacy–the giving of the world our senses and thoughts. Heaney’s “cyclops’ eyes of a tarn” which seduces us is such an example, deepening our appreciation of how we interact with the world around us. Our ability to cast our voice into things suggests the synthetic amplifications of what we are allow a portal opening into a world we may never know from the inside, but we may experience by drawing it into us. Again, we end up knowing by logical progression neither us nor the world in itself, but we play engagingly and excellently in all the sandboxes in between. Such as cooking. Humans have cooked food with peat for over 5,000 years; still, what is it? This is part of what Andrew Jefford has to say on the subject in Peat, Smoke and Spirit.
Dead plants. Not just any plants, though; these are the plants of an irredeemably wet place, a place from which the water cannot drain. Visitors to Islay are sometimes surprised to hear its peat bogs described as ‘moss.’ Surprised–because the intractable, unworkable, boot-filling bogs don’t look at all like the vivid green carpets and soft poufs of woodland moss you can find on a forest stroll. True; but examine those bogs more closely, and you will see that much of their mass is made up of coralline Sphagnum capillifolium and its many relatives: a strange, rootless community of plants commonly called bog moss. Sphagnum is sponge-like; its tiny, orange-yellow ‘leaves’ are in fact nothing but water flasks. The chlorophyll in them is squeezed into slender strands between rain-gorged cells.
Sphagnum is deathless–as only a rootless plant ca be. Together with it skins, it just keeps climbing, growing form its bud tip, lifting the whole bog by a whisper more than millimeter a year.
This process has been underway in Scotland for about 7,000 years since the warm, dry, tree-growing weather which followed the last Ice Age gave out; banks of peat up to 10 metros deep are found on Islay. (193-94)
The world of experience is what we have to hold for better or worse. A marriage of sorts between the bubble we believe we occupy but do not know for sure, unless through experience, and the dead plants, moss, chlorophyll and rain. I’d hazard the mixing and merging taking place in a bog compares to the mixing and merging in a pot of meat, veg and water simmering over a fire; and further, given Kant’s allowances for experience and imagination, this is the world we live in and around, and finally pour into our mouths. Sláinte!