Furthest Right

Pipe Meditations (March 30, 2023)

Blend: Erinmore Flake
Type: Virginia, Burley
Power: medium-to-strong

If you go to a pipe shop, they will most likely give you bad advice. Prevailing wisdom is to send people home with sticky aromatics and expensive pipes; if they want flake, tell them to rub it out or cut it into little cubes. So goes the prevailing wisdom.

As is too often the case with intelligent species, this advice is not just wrong but totally destructive. Smoking aromatics may be one of the more difficult tasks in pipe smoking since they go out quickly, and reducing flakes to little bits tends to wreck the flavor of the flake.

You will get other terrible advice like drying your tobacco, microwaving it, or keeping it in a humidor. If you buy a tin and will not consume it within a few days, stick it into a half-pint widemouth jar and seal it tightly, then store in a cool dark place.

When you buy your first pipe, for the love of the gods, get an easy-to-smoke Burley blend like Carter Hall or Prince Albert. Pipe shop guys seem to think these are pedestrian blends, and they may be right, but they are easy to smoke.

Learning to smoke a pipe is like learning to ride a bicycle, play a guitar, or cook a roux: there is technique involved. You cannot just suck on the thing like a soft drink, which is what industry wants you to do which is why they give you soda pop flavorings on cheap tobacco.

On paper, their policy makes sense. Most people buy soft drinks and like sweet artificial flavors. However, pipe smokers are not “most people,” nor does handing people something that smokes hot and wet encourage them to do anything more than buy one pipe, get frustrated, and sell it when they move.

A monk or philosopher would understand the essence of the pipe best, namely the controlled rhythmic breathing that produces a slow constant roll of smoke over the tongue. This method, called “breath-smoking,” requires some skill to be able to do unconsciously enough to enjoy flavor.

Similarly, when you bring flake home, bend it lengthwise, fold it, and twist that wad, then stuff that in the pipe. It should slide in easily. Tamp the top, then light it gently and puff a couple times. Tamp again, and light but this time be aggressive. Get the flame a good eighth of an inch in there.

Then settle back into your breath-smoking rhythm. The real wizards stick the pipe in the mouth, seal the lips around it, and let capillary action draw in the smoke, opening their lips every seven seconds or so in order to let out the old smoke. They do this for hours without thinking about it.

Just like riding a bicycle becomes fun when you are no longer worried about falling, and playing guitar gets interesting when you know how to reach the notes you need near your position, smoking a pipe for flavor only happens when you can breath-smoke without thinking about it.

On the “smoking for flavor” issue, one must mention of course that it is total nonsense. You want the flavor, but also the nicotine, as well as the practice of smoking itself that allows you to enjoy fiddling with fire and briar and cool stuff like pipe cleaners, tampers, and knives.

For Erinmore Flake, a flake and a third of another get folded and twisted, then slid into the pipe. The flake expands as it burns, so it has to go in easily. The first light is disappointing; this is a semi-damp flake and goes out quickly. The second light tends to stay for the duration.

Expect mostly Virginia flavor, especially the bright Virginias with their lemony toast flavor, with the red and brown Virginias melding into that as the Burley lights the whole thing up from behind with its warm roast grain flavor that takes on the overtones of the Virginias.

Flakes tend to burn longer than loose leaf because they are so intensely compressed, so expect a flight time of over an hour; if your breath-smoking is really good, you will get a couple hours or longer out of one of these bowls. You burn only what you need and waste nothing.

Erinmore Flake has some kind of mystery fruit flavor that may include some of the floral overtones of the Lakeland-style blends, but it and small amounts of propylene glycol burn off at about the same time the Virginias melt into a warm nutty caramel flavor with an almond-like taste.

During the second half of the last century, this blend enjoyed great popularity in the UK because it provides consistently sweet but not too sweet flavor, a little fruity lift, and a gentle smoke which nonetheless has enough strength to keep your eyes open.


Very few of us started out life wanting to be conservatives. We just wanted to live, explore, enjoy, and pursue the greatest quality of experience, which means chasing beauty, adventure, wealth, discovery, knowledge, and self-discipline all that the same time.

We may have had an intuition however that most of humanity is missing the point. There is only one morality, and that is end results, and these are unequally perceived. This means that we need social order with the best on top because they are the most sensitive to quality.

That is common sense, but common sense is always uncommon, and these days is downright rare because that which offends anyone has minimal market value unless it also flatters a large group. You can offend the Jews if you delight the Africans or Hispanics, but not the other way around.

Symbolism replaces direct knowledge of the world. When people lived alone in small tribal bands or villages, most of their learning came from interacting with nature or watching others demonstrate learning on physical objects.

Once society becomes large enough, people lose that root connection and also become specialized into some niche area for the convenience of their careers, which means that they must rely on symbols, categories, tokens, gestures, and assertions by others to understand the world.

The nature of grouping itself — forming organizations, even as small as a hunter-gatherer band — forces this upon us. When people are no longer living on their own in a subsistence state like critters in nature, they must use symbols to inform and command others.

Even simple things like deciding who leads the hunt, who lures the mammoth, who are the backstop spear-throwers, and who throws a spear first require the use of symbols. Whether grunts and gestures or full-blown Edwardian dialogue, the symbol rules us.

Symbols however invert causation. Unlike objects in reality, symbols have inherent traits that they always express; this provides their utility. Symbols express hard categorical boundaries such that a number four always has the same value, equal to all expressions of the token “four.”

This causes us to adopt materialism because we treat people like symbols. We view them as having inherent traits arising from who they are, not the intersection of the person, their character, events, and the time. We give up on the idea of destiny and moral choice and favor static types instead.

For example, we view people as having robotic emotions in response to material events. Something goes well, they are happy; something goes wrong, they are sad. Sad is bad so we manage sad by trying to eliminate things going wrong.

In the ancient view, emotion happens at junctures, or when something changes. Bad and good form a cycle from which learning — change in mental state — occurs. In response to that, people have complex emotions about where they have come from and where they have arrived.

The modern view sees emotions as static, like a symbol exposed to an operand. If you multiply a number, it gets sad. If you add it, it gets happy. Divide it, and it becomes melancholy. We view people the same way, as being entirely dependent on external events and their own numeric traits for emotions.

We have eliminated the internal sense from humans of where they are and how they can mentally change, and replaced it with reactions. The individualist in all of us wants to be equal so that we are above criticism and safe from our own incompetence, but this makes us into robot zombie golems acting a role.

Symbols must be universal, or seen equally by all people, in order to have utility and perceived legitimacy. Once we adopt those, we start doing the same to ourselves: becoming uniform, stripping away culture and race and sex, so that we can be interchangeable parts.


In my view, nihilism is the gateway to all philosophy. It starts with a simple supposition:

Nihilists reject the socially-acceptable illusion that there are universal truths, values, and communications.

Nihilists refuse to accept the argument that others advance on us, which is that life occurs in duality. There is physical reality, but there also is a shared consensual space between us comprised of symbols and truths which is somehow more real than life itself.

To reject this space requires us to accept that humans are part of reality, not above it. Our thoughts belong to us alone. We can share intimations and hints of them through language, but that language being understood depends on the presence of those who can understand it.

In this way, nihilism embraces both relativity and holism. We are all what we each are, but we are part of a larger world, and therefore our thoughts reflect our place in that world. A serf has different visions than a king or a fisherman.

On the other hand, nihilism denies the false consensual space formed of social pressures, symbolism, and the fear of the world that prompts people to prioritize their perceived needs above all else. That fear, called individualism, motivates most people to seek power and revenge on the world they fear.

Your average human has not much changed from the days of the hominid or great apes. They see the world as a competing and stronger animal, so they either submit to it or fight it. The former makes them negate themselves, where the latter impels them to be destructive and retaliatory.

A nihilist stops caring about social mores, and starts thinking about reality, at which point the nihilists ask what will really make a person whole. Where is the best life? It starts with a sense of destiny formed by backing away from the herd and its symbols.

Thinking about reality however forces us to understand ourselves because we are part of reality and, terrifyingly, the actor in our own lives. Our minds look at our selves and think, “Oh boy, I’ve got to get this guy to do some stuff and he’ll probably screw it up.”

Once we back away from the consensual symbolic reality, and instead of dualism see the worlds of mind and body, heavens and Earth, as continuous expressions of the same thing, we have to figure out what it makes sense for us to want.

This takes us back to the origins of philosophy. Who am I? A destiny: neither slave nor master, merely looking for a niche in which to express itself. What do I seek? A sense of purpose by doing something useful in the world, uniting my need for power with the need to adapt.


We can start this exploration by leaving behind the idea that some mystery will be cleared up. Much of the universe will always be a mystery and as we discover it, it will form more mysteries; this also is relativity.

Our perception of the world shuttles between the visible and the invisible. We can see events as they are in this moment; we can only derive via logic what events will be like in the future, or might have been like in the past. This is more art than science in some cases.

In my view, what made Western Civilization and Imperial Japan rise was an emphasis on the transcendent, or the sense of order and structure pervading life that, when properly understood, gives the dark sides of life not just a reason for being but a role in improving things.

A transcendental view does not see good and evil so much as a balance between order and disorder. It sees life as perpetuating order by incorporating disorder as a test for order, such that even the opposite of order works to produce order.

Such views also accept the need for mystery. If there were no mystery in life, we would all simply repeat what succeeded. There would be a path to follow — like symbols, especially “the writing on the wall” — and no reason not to obey, so we all would do the same things.

Our universe would rapidly collapse into disorder at this point since the lack of variation would make consciousness itself unbearable. If you want to turn humanity into a colony of mushrooms, enforce uniformity.

In our lives we exist in a perpetual struggle to find the transcendental underneath the tangible. Visual and sensory inputs give us fixed impressions of what lies before us, and we then fill in the details with our imaginations and memories, often missing the bigger picture.

People have been talking again about the shopping cart theory which says that people who return shopping carts when no one is watching are the basis of civilization, and all the people who leave them scattered about the lot are those who burn down civilization.

Symbolism means the shopping cart is always watched. When we set up a symbol for good, and in the grand tradition of control tell people to obey or be seen as bad, the bad people as well as the good ones obey because they want the reward of being considered good.

For this reason, meritocracy fails, as an example. You tell kids what to memorize and how to recite it, and they are able to entirely passively obey and take the steps necessary for success, without separating the honest people from the sociopaths.

The real world offers a harder test. The parameters are not set; the field is wider than the textbook. They must think instead in terms of how to define a goal, how to consider which options would achieve it, and then how to implement those without the simplified, narrower conditions of an exam.

The mystery of life keeps us from having writing on the wall and golden idols to follow. Life sorts us by those who would return the shopping carts even when no one is watching, rescue stray kittens without making a social media post, and bake cakes for friends without vlogging about it.

It sorts us by those who see only the surface, and those who look within and toward the whole, since the two are indivisible. To look at the whole is to find a place in it for oneself, instead of dominating it by projecting narcissism. That requires knowing oneself and where one fits.

Most people exist as part of an unconscious process to the universe. They are the means-over-ends part of humanity; they trust certain methods and use those as a substitute for having a goal, which allows them to avoid instrospection and holistic examination of the world as tend to occur in parallel.

Their activity in different areas but repeating the same patterns forms a larger shape to humanity like a tiled fractal:

Fractal geometry treats forms as relationships between parts rather than as areas. In fern fronds there are often constant relationships between parts. Four fractal methodologies for describing these relations within leaves are explored in this paper. These include recursive line branching algorithms, iterated function systems (IFS), modifications of IFS, and L-systems. The methods are evaluated by comparing their results with measurements and appearances of various ferns. Fractal methods offer objective, quantifiable and succinct descriptions of fern-leaves. We conclude that fractal geometry offers simple descriptions of some elaborate fern shapes and that it will probably have application in investigating different aspects of ferns and other organisms.

Nature uses Platonic forms in its way. If it finds a working pattern, it applies it in many areas in parallel, but also “tiles” it or repeats the same pattern in a larger form, creating a different shape from a few simple elements that it loops through like computer code.

In this way, life resembles a bas relief, a type of flat sculpture used to decorate walls that compresses distance while maintaining the sensation of depth. We see the effects of complex patterns, but only the shape, and not the parts used to assemble it.

This is what Plato was talking about in his cave: the mind of Reality is shown through logic and other intangibles, and the tangible keeps us floating in a state of perpetual self-fascination. What we consider most real is in fact illusion, and the real is intangible and requires transcendental insight.

Almost no one can think in terms of destiny. To accept destiny is to embrace the idea that life has purpose that is not external, like a god, but has worth in the process of life itself. Destiny requires we look within, relight the pipe, and peer further into the darkness to see what glitters.

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