on evolution and evolutionary reality (me and you)

Posts tagged ‘existentialism’

Johanna Oksala-Femme Fatale of Neoliberalism

Since humans invented our civilization, the desperate struggle for power has been going on. Many different divisions and alliances were made, along the kinship lines, tribal, national, racial, religious and recently- class lines. And of course, at last, but not at least along the gender divide- this one literally started from Adam and Eve.
Michel Foucault, a historian, a sociologist and a philosopher of the second half of 20th century, analyses forces of the government and discipline in a society mixing phenomenological and postmodernist stances. He sees the members of society as experiencing their subjectivity in Husserlian way, but the society changes for him in an impersonal, mechanistic and post-modernistic way. The phenomenological intentional arc leads him to “biosociality”- the societal forces influencing and disciplining human bodies, trying to subdue them into “docile” bodies.
The early feminist movement uses Foucault to point to the exploitation of women by the male dominating capitalism. Partly for the economic reasons, and partly as the response to feminism and the general human rights movement, the capitalism, late in 20th century, morphed into seemingly gentler, kinder and more enlightened form- neoliberalism. It was also supposed to be an antidote to the powerful ideas involving class relationships- as in socialism, marxism and communism. Many feminists, like Eisenstein and Walby, oppose neoliberalism as leading to more economic and social inequalities. They want to improve neoliberalism by helping women ( and other social groups with limited power-minorities, children, gays, handicapped people) by giving them more equal rights, better pay, better social status.
Johanna Oksala sees deeper problems with the neoliberalism, she uses Foucault arguments to point into neoliberalism as a creator of a new feminine subject. “This implies that women are now also governed and subjected through new mechanisms, namely through the harnessing of their economic interests. It is significant that normative femininity has become firmly attached to economic gains in a new way. Women are increasingly rationalizing their participation in the normative habits of femininity in terms of their own economic interests, not in terms of men’s interests”
Oksala believes the mechanism of power has been transformed from “the subtle mechanisms of discipline described by Bartky — a system of social sanctions and rewards such as shame and sexual admiration”.And she explains: ”We must recognize that the personal freedom and choice that neoliberal governmentality entails is an integral aspect of this technique of power. The idea of personal choice effectively masks the systemic aspects of power — domination, social hierarchies, economic exploitation — by relegating to subjects the freedom to choose between different options whilst denying them any real possibility for defining or shaping those options. This excessive focus on free choice has been perhaps the most insidious aspect of neoliberal governmentality for the subject of feminism.” J. Oksala, Feminism and Neoliberal Governmentality.(2013) Foucault Studies.,(p? This is from the online version of this article)
The choices this system gives to a woman are not liberating , they are pushing her deeper and deeper into “docile”- (again!) member of the economic system, a cog in the well-lubricated machine. It is why Oksala calls for the revolution: “we have to transform not only our political or economic institutions but more fundamentally, our way of life and even ourselves. We need a politics of ourselves that acknowledges that it is through us, through the reshaping of our subjectivity, that neoliberal governmentality is able to function”. ibid.,p. 135.
I couldn’t find any clear answer as to what exactly this new way of life should look like. Is it a meditation in the modern “mindfulness” monastery? A matriarchal, Amazons- like system?
Personally, I am afraid, there is not enough time for these posturings of our civilization. I am afraid that the ecological crisis, with all well-known evils, will limit our women and men choices to simple survival mode. And I doubt the technological miracle ( or any other miracle, for this matter) will hack it.

We’ll have to stop fighting  and be really, really good….. or die.

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Lunch with Derrida ( Human Nature Grilled)

It seems that philosophy has been obsessed with human nature since the beginning of time. And, as times and philosophy change, so does the concept of human nature.
From Aristotle’s (384-322 BC) “Nichomachean Ethics” to Hume’s “A Treatise of Human Nature” (1738) human nature means just the way we understand and know the World, which includes all- ontology, axiology, praxeology, and epistemology. For Darwin (The Descent of Man- 1871) human nature is mostly about how we differ from the monkey, and how we came to have common ancestors. By the way, it looks that, the humanity is getting over this offensive detail of our nature. For E.O.Wilson ( On Human Nature-1971) it is about humans with their qualities to form the pinnacle of the evolutionary and the sociobiological process. For Chomsky, human nature represents an innate neurobiological structure responsible for the development of language. For me, human nature is all the above, but most importantly I see a human being as the evolutionary marvel, able to reflect on him- or herself, and to consciously build a personal world around and with the free will – own life.
This concept was discussed in the domains of biology, history, evolution, theology, and sociology and now the postmodernists want to take it away from us? Derrida in “Differance” denies the importance of humans interest in their history or biology. Absurdly, he preaches the absolute supremacy of text which, he thinks, means everything- but as there is no meaning- so ultimately- it means nothing. He says: “Differance is neither a word nor a concept. In it , however, we shall see the juncture-rather than summation-of what has been most decisively inscribed in the thought of what is conveniently call our “epoch”: the difference of forces in Nietzsche, Saussure’s principle of semiological difference, etc, etc”. (p130, I could not find a better quote). Of course, postmodernists question human nature but also the subject, truth, and moral standards. It is difficult to argue if the person you want to argue with, questions the argument itself, the process of arguing and the existence of the opponent.
Michel Foucault as the social historian and phenomenologist is less radical:
“It was not by studying human nature that linguists discovered the laws of consonant mutation, or Freud the principles of the analysis of dreams, or cultural anthropologists the structure of myths. In the history of knowledge, the notion of human nature seems to me mainly to have played the role of an epistemological indicator to designate certain types of discourse in relation to or in opposition to theology or biology or history. I would find it difficult to see in this a scientific concept.” (1971 debate, excerpts). And, actually, I agree with him about human nature being “an intellectual tool” rather than a biological or moral entity. During their famous debate, Noam Chomsky tried to defend the notion of human nature and pointed to the quality of creativity as the basic, innate human faculty responsible for the creation of the language, which made the culture and civilization possible.
For Foucault the forces behind human civilization are not personal, he sees discoveries and the changes as the inevitable result of societal progress. According to him human nature is just a “shopping list of science.”; humans can not not create anything, until the mechanism of the economy, politics, and psychological development of masses made it possible.
In my opinion, we should keep exploring the concept of human nature. With the progress in global education, improved critical thinking, people have become more and more individualistic, making their own decisions. The awareness of our cultural and sociobiological heritage, of our qualities and capacities for good and evil is very important in this age of the planetary crisis.
Human nature might be not a real thing, but as with the crisis in religious dogmas we are searching for origins of good, it would be useful to recognize the common origins of our character and values, pan-human brotherhood. And postmodernism is of not much of help, may be only by giving us the list of values one can question and telling us what humanity is not.

For myself, I would like to know that I can figure out my place in the world and my plan for action, conscious, deliberate and passionate action. This will be my human nature. And I wish that the people around me would do the same.
Or, would they rather go to lunch with Derrida???

Is Philosophy Dead? What Would Husserl Say?

(reading Husserl for my phenomenology class)

 

                    “Dead? Yes, he is dead… But not completely dead.”-

                            The Sorcerer about Wesley from “Princess Bride”.

 

                       “The entire universe of science is constructed upon the lived  world. And if we wish to think science rigorously, to appreciate precisely its sense and scope, we must first awaken that experience of the world of which science is the second-order expression.”

                             Maurice Merleau-Ponty “ Phenomenology of perception” p.9

 

     The future of philosophy is tricky. Science will continue its march into realms traditionally occupied by philosophy- the structure of the Cosmos and the nature of the Mind. But reading Husserl’s discussion on science’s shortcomings one can get a glimpse of the future philosophy as (as always) the queen of the human knowledge, with phenomenology providing absolutely necessary grounding for all human endeavors.

    Stephen Hawking, arguably the smartest scientist on the planet, in his book The Grand Design, declares that philosophy is dead. Obviously, the killer is supposed to be triumphant science. But if one reads this book further, very soon one realizes that the very same author washes his hands like Pontius Pilate and abandons the murderous plot. Hawking is interested exclusively in the building the model of the universe which agrees  with the maximal spectrum of the empirical data in the broadest possible spectrum of domains. He excludes from “his science” the big questions: what is, why, and what is the human place in this model.

   So I am not worried about Stephen, smart people are not a threat for philosophy. I am worried about the Trumps of the world, the stupid, scared and insecure people are the threat. They create and thrive in a shallow, greedy consumer culture fed by countless forms of fear and violence.  People do not read books, they don’t have the  skills and habits of conversation and dispute. The critical thinking and self-inquiry are rare.

One would say then , that Husserl, in his writings about the live world and the pre-given world of science is barking at the wrong tree. Well, maybe he is not so useless…

  Kant and after him, Husserl, both made a distinction between the noumenal world- that what really is, and the phenomenal world – that what we experience. But for millions of years animals and later humans used neither. They used a system of behaviors which helped them survive, i.e. the pragmatic “what works” world. By and by, they developed the senses,  perceptions, instincts, memory, and the motivation mechanisms of pain/fear vs pleasure. The behaviors became rules, laws, and commandments, the system became the science, and humble in-between noumenal and phenomenal space mushroomed enormously and became, well, the Universe.

Husserl, himself a mathematician and treating himself as a scientist, points out that in this magnificent world of science, the human experience comes first.  He writes:” In this world, we are objects among objects in the sense of the life-world, namely, as being here and there, in the plain certainty of experience, before anything that is established scientifically, whether in physiology, psychology, or sociology. On the  other hand, we are subject for this world, namely, as the ego-subject experiencing it, contemplating it, valuing it, related to it purposefully.” E. Husserl, The way into phenomenological transcendental philosophy. P.152. He investigates the world which can be experienced and can be shared through intersubjectivity: “ Thus in whatever way we may be conscious of the world as universal horizon, as coherent universe of existing objects, we, each “I-the-man” and all of us together, belong to the world as living with one another in the world; and the world is our world, valid for our consciousness as existing precisely through “living together”.  Ibid , p154. This world existed always, way before the era of science and should the basis for our thinking and especially feeling.

   So, science operates in the pre-given world, disregarding that its nature and origins might be not so obvious. It presumes its ultimate reality and bulldozes forward leaving humans with their unique conscious, transcendental experiences, behind. In Husserl’s words: “ Science is a human spiritual accomplishment which presupposes as its point of departure, both historically and for each new student, the intuitive surrounding world of life, pre-given as existing for all in common.” ibid, p. 163. And: “ If we made it clear for ourselves, the obviously an explicit elucidation of the objective validity and of the whole task of science requires that we first inquire back into the pre-given world.” ibid p. 163.

   Husserl proposed his new type of philosophy as the solution. Fantastic, phenomenal! (pardon the pun). “ There has never been a scientific inquiry into the way in which life-world constantly functions as subsoil, into how its manifold pre-logical validities act as a ground for the logical ones, for theoretical truths. And perhaps the scientific discipline which this life-world as such, in its universality, requires is a peculiar one, one which is precisely not objective and logical but which, as the ultimately grounding one, is not inferior, but superior in value.” ibid p.165. He argues that the study of the intuitive, pre-given world of our experiences can ground  science. And without it, without philosophy (in the Husserl’s case, without the transcendental phenomenology) scientific results will lack the experiential connection with human existence.

   In general, I agree, but I see two problems with his solution.  First, scientists don’t seem to worry about their science lacking life-world, intuitive, experienceable grounding. They actually abhor subjectivity and  are trying to be as “dry” as possible. Neither does general public: “If planes fly and the ATM pays cash, everything is fine.” Secondly, speaking from personal experience, phenomenology has little chance to become a worldwide popular movement or a Facebook’s darling. It carries all the foes that philosophers have grappled with for millennia- nobody listens to them, nobody cares about them, they are lonely and mostly forgotten. It is because phenomenology is intricate, difficult and without everyday applications.

 And here is the trick, I was talking about at the beginning – Houdini escape from the cold academic halls and dusty libraries straight to the 21st-century mass media.

There is a small chance that there is a trend in the evolution, which together with the complexity and explicitness of communication also increases the  organism’s individuality. This trend might be augmented in humans by mirror neurons, by culture, by democracy, education, and by the internet. So far it has shown up in the individualized shopping, weird hairdos, and tattoos. But maybe, just maybe, as the world population grows older, more lonely and more confused, more people will ask big philosophical questions. The personal worldview is something that everybody has, in his guts, in his heart, and in his dreams. This is the implicit worldview.

        But, what if a personal, experience-based philosophy can help a person with work on what until now has been a subconscious set of opinions and worries? Then these opinions and worries, as old and primordial as the humanity, and as important as birth and death, can be transformed. This personal worldview can be made into the explicit form, into the language, conversation, and written form. This can help a lot of people and save philosophy.

 

 

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Big Question #6: What is the nature of mind?

 

“Cogito ergo sum”  (I think, therefore I am). – René Descartes

“I participate, therefore  I am” – Jeremy Rifkin, Empathic Civilisation

“Life is making sense”  – Francisco Varela

Subquestions and everyday relevance:

  • Your mind, what is it actually?
  • Who are you?
  • Is it true, what you see?
  • Can we know reality?
  • Is it brain or heart or both or neither?
  • The mind, the self and the soul, which is which and who is in charge?
  • Can one improve?, Can one forget? What do you regret and what can be done about it?

How to work on the answer to the Question #6:

Even if you are a neuroscientist or a shaman you do not know the answer. Even the question itself is new for us humans. The critical thinking and especially reflective thinking is the latest evolutionary addition to our brain’s toolbox. So, as Dr.Guo would say, don’t get too excited, any thoughts on this subject, if original and yours, would be precious and interesting. (I am, for example, always mad at myself. I am trying to change, to improve. Maybe it is all in the genes, or because of the difficult childhood. I think I need to meditate more.)

An example from philozophy.com:

From ‘Richard The Lion Heart’: “The mind is the real you. It is the ghost in the shell, the soul, the conscious thinking eternal energy that experiences and retains.”
View more answers on philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

This is a great area to work for all of us who feel like we’ve got the short of the stick. Excellent for a victim attitude, regrets, and blaming. This work will help with looking  at your problems from outside, as an observer.

An Essay

I am interested in human intelligence as it evolved from the animal intelligence. What are our abilities and our constraints? Looking into the past, into the nature of our world, who did what?  Which part is done by animals: colors, for sure?  Fear and pleasure, certainly? But reality??

It seems that the objective world is just the evolutionary construct of the subjective experiences of our ancestors. How far back this construct reaches?  It reaches further and further back, as our understanding broadens, our science reaches deeper into cosmos and time and consciousness.

This all can be interesting, but “so, what?” It seems that I have got entangled into mind/body jargon.

Let’s see what somebody else would say about the nature of mind.

I am talking to Lawrence Mathis King, author of “Opinion on first principles”, a philosopher, a painter and an architect.

Me: Lawrence, I want to start our conversation with the general lay-out of the inquiry, so to speak, what comes to mind when we question the nature of mind?

LMK: First thing that comes to me is the metaphor – the concept of the mind is like the concept of the water for the fish. The fish doesn’t see it, it’s a part of her of her medium, her nature. Unless there is a turbulence in the water, it is invisible. If you do not look into water you have the depth of vision, but if you concentrate on the water itself, you are suddenly surrounded by the opaque fluid which doesn’t allow you to see through it. The same is with the mind, if you say that it is “trillions of synaptic interactions” biochemical and electrical and leave it at that you put yourself in the corner, madly, because you leaving no room for “the water”, the blind spot.  The mind , I think is much more , beyond the matter of the brain, any substances of the body, is much more shared.

Me: Shared? with whom?

LMK: Shared with all humans, all creatures, all beings even all environment.

Me: You mean the sharing developed by the eons of the evolutionary process?

LMK: I think the evolution is very slow, it makes all the organisms related, yes.  But more importantly I am thinking about the fact that everything affects everything. the connection, the sudden leap in understanding can happen by intuition, the insight, revelation.  Also by the necessity, the danger, the survival- when you run out of food – the unthinkable become possible. When the construct become a narrative, it actually works with environment and it sculpts the story, the outcome. The things, like the jump of faith,  irrelevant yesterday become relevant, even important today.

Me: Your language, the concept of constructs, narratives and relevances, you give new meaning to these terms. I like it, you get some traction in an area that has nothing but the philosophical jargon.

LMK: The questions we ask, about mind , cognition, reality, we have to bring our own language, very private and intuitive. this is a creative process, everyday language is different, most often can not raise to the occasion. I decided to use my own formal language and my terms and defend it as best as I could, but not to yield to the urge to make it “easy”.  I thought: ” to hell with it, it is like going to the concert of classical music- one has to prepare for that way of expression, not the easy way”.  For example- the narrative is the verb for the construct-it is created by necessity and it might become relevant. As, like a little creature living happily on the lily pad, then one day it crawls to the edge and the big pond and everything is suddenly, “uh,uh,” not very lily-paddish. A new relevance, new construct is created- the old language just would not do- needs to search for the new thing.

Me: How do you understand constructs and their origins? You imply that when you try to understand the world and the nature of mind, the constructs are not only useful but crucial terms to connect these two.

LMK: I think the constructs are necessity of consciousness .

Me: Explain this please!

LMK: When you are a conscious being, what the consciousness mean that you are looking at the world through an aperture, through your senses, the sight, the sound touch, etc, through your intellectual ability, your memories. The consciousness is much more than that, but it is a starting place. You get a tiny glimpse of the great spectrum of reality. S o you go back to your lily pad where things make sense locally. You see these past experiences which are relevant and this became the structure- you create or use old- constructs. if you are blind the colors are irrelevant( until somebody invents brain waves to transmit colors to the blind). Constructs are inevitable parts or results of the situation of consciousness. they arise spontaneously, by necessity to interpret the world we see through this aperture. Then, what you do, from the present you extend these constructs through the time and space.  If you travel, the snow storm in the distant city messes your flight schedule, suddenly it become relevant to you.

Me: Your philosophy, like for Husserl was, is a mixture of the content and the method. Like him you use old words in new way, like him you are trying to figure out the relationship between self, the perception and the environment. Trying to explain this to yourself and share with us this explanation of the reality and social structures.

LMK: Social structures are shared via language.  Being “gifted with the present”  we use the language to communicate with other, very imperfectly. It is why I love to be around the animals. their language, their communication is so direct, unequivocal, not affected by time and space, so immediate.

Back to humans, our social constructs are very important, there are millions of them. For me they emphasize the unity of consciousness. through them we realize our interdependence, , co-thinking, co-creating, co-being.. On the good day it tell us  that our similarities are so much bigger than the differences.  We feel our oneness down to the atomic levels , from here to the edge of the universe, I believe that the consciousness extends to all organism and to the inanimate objects too.  On the bad day, these constructs, this interdependence can be so powerfully destructive- dangerous to our very existence, to the existence of humanity. So, this necessity of other, the social structure of our world is a double, more than double, many edges sword. It brings all goods…

Me: if we do not behave like a animals.. or worse

LMK: much worse.

Me: You wrote your book, you tackled many big questions, about our humanity, structure of mind , of reality, you did something similar to writing your worldview.  It is what this manual is about- write your thing down, show that you are not scared or embarassed, show you level of freedom. Did it work for you?

LMK: Yes, it helped a lot.  What I wrote is very satisfying, regardless what other people think about it, if they read it , etc, etc. I have more peace, I obsess less…

Me: Now, I encourage my readers to treat it as a work in progress, to come back to it, edit it, make it more “mine”.

LMK : Maybe, maybe I’d return, but now I am more free to do other things, like return to painting.

Me: Thank you Lawrence, any conclusions ?

LMK: No, thank you for doing this work, it is important and relevant.

Me: Now all we  need is to the world to catch up.

Suggested Readings:

Thomas Nagel, “What is it like to be a bat?” The Philosophical Review 1974
book 2

Big Question #5: Is there free will?

“You are a child of the Universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have the right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.”- Desiderata

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  • Do you have free will?
  • How should we act? Praxeology (theory of actions)
  • Are we really free, or just feel like free? What is freedom? To do what?
  • Are you an optimist or pessimist? Do you believe your choices matter? How about your actions?
  • Do you support social activism, are you an activist, if not, why not? 
  • Do you think the public opinions are manipulated, is it a conspiracy or “normal” behavior?
  • What do you think about social engineering?
  • Is publishing your Worldview on the Internet an act of freedom?

How to work on the answer to the Question #5

This question can call for some deep and pompous philosophy or can be simple and intimate. If you make any plans and projects whatsoever, you have to answer this question first. If you are going to get up from the bed tomorrow morning, you have to answer this question first.

Notice that the fact that you are answering this question is actually kind of answer.

View answers on Philozophy.com

An example by Peter Brown: “Yes. Small but useful in the right place. Think fulcrum.”

Psychotherapy

Working on this question improves mood. It helps people be more grounded and positive about their plans. Even finding of constraints in one’s freedom make one’s realize how much freedom he or she has. It helps with finding a meaning of life.

The interview with Dr. Tamara Welsh.

Me: I would like to talk to you about the free will and freedom. These concepts are obviously related: free will seems to be more philosophical, while freedom -personal and political….

Dr. Talia:  I belong to traditions of existentialism and phenomenology. During the last two decades when I’ve been doing philosophy I come to the conclusion that the free will is pretty limited. Most of our choices have origins in our habits. For example, an alcoholic can refrain himself from the drink now, but over the time we will see the pattern typical for the problems with drinking. Still, I think, that there is something like freedom or free will and this can be related to the worldview.

     In the moment when we do not make these choices, like voting or not voting for somebody, there is a place for a reflective assessment of ourselves. In this retrospective mood we can think, what kind of person I want to be, and I think, one has some control over creating certain esthetics and striving toward this kind of person, and in so doing, working on what one potentially can consider bad habits or good habits, and so by and by you become this kind of person that habitually will live that kind of life you ideally would like to live. But I do not think it is a momentary decision, that’s sort of larger, you can call worldview or personal view.

Me: So, these habits serve, in your understanding, by limiting our free will as a psychological version of materialistic determinism. We act more or less like a machine, with habits determining the pattern of behavior?

Dr. Talia: Yes, but  I do not see limits so materialistic, linear and rigid, with habits determined by the multitude of physiological, environmental and social reasons.

Me: Both materialists and religious people take our freedom and free will away from us, humans – these are really strange bedfellows?

Dr. Talia: I generally agree with both of these views, determinist and religious, even Sartre has a hard version of freedom, they object  seen as a general possession, which occurs in the conscious state, sort of “ I am free and I will go, do free things..” But I am thinking about freedom “provided “ by the environment, and some environments are less free than others, also as a tendency someone has, and one has to cultivate freedom like one has to cultivate good health habits, cultivate good study habits or be a just cultured person. You can not say “I’ll now become cultured”, one has to engage in a long period of study and this is an ongoing process, rather than a state, either yes or no. The deterministic and religious concepts are just too static, you have to see freedom as a quality which occurs over the time.

Me: As a phenomenologist, you should appreciate free will almost by definition. Talking about the “first person philosophy” seems to be equivalent with the accepting free will?

Dr. Talia: I think it fits very well with Descartes and Sartre. Both of these philosophers had strong ideas of freedom. On the other hand, most of the phenomenologists stressed the concepts of being embodied in the culture and in the language which picks away this strong idea of free will. Also when you look at different cultures you see that the centrality of freedom is the western tradition.

This doesn’t exist in other cultures. So, one has to ask “ are we, westerners, free in different ways than the people in other cultures?” and, it seems to me, that the answer is “yes”. Probably, reading Confucius there exists there a kind of freedom. He encourages us to cultivate ourselves in certain ways and have certain attitudes toward the family and certain behaviors. But he definitely sees human more like a relational being rather than an individual.

In our tradition, the free will is an individual’s possession, and when you compare both systems, one can ask oneself a question: “am I free because of me, or because I am honoring behaviors typical within my society in which I am committed to do “free” things”? And now in my thinking, I am leaning more towards this relational concept of freedom. It requires others to have certain habits and me to have certain habits in order to see myself free.

Me: This is very close to the perennial quandary about subjectivity versus objectivity. Subjectively you feel free, but if somebody observes you, for the observer, you just act within your societal restraints and personal habits.

Dr. Talia: That’s right. And we also often view ourselves as objects. If you look in your past, you do not see so much freedom as in present. You see your past as a fixed record of historical events and you think, “ well, of course, I made all these bad decisions, because I was in my twenties and I  couldn’t  have done otherwise. I would be nice to go back and with the experience I have now and make all these good decisions”. But you can’t. The past appears objective but the future is the world of possibilities.

Me: The worldview owner’s manual encourages one to explore big questions. Do you think that the conversation or writing down one’s opinion about, for example, free will can help the person be more grounded, more positive regarding creating one’s life?

Dr. Talia: HaHa, I suppose, because of my job, I should say, “sure”. But I do feel super strongly, yes. Nietzsche has this idea of many wills inside of us. It seems, here is a multiplicity of subjects inside of us, like, there is this lazy person inside of us who wants to do one thing and there is another who wants to do something else and it is hard to tell who is the real self. And I think, that self-reflexion and thinking about your worldview and about other cultures, this philosophical reflection might help you come to better terms with yourself. You can see your strengths and weaknesses and you can potentially see the world in more reflective manner. It has an educational purpose but also has a therapeutic purpose. I think if one do not reflect much, one has to hope for the fate to turn very well for one. If you do self-reflect, it doesn’t mean that you will have the successful life, but at least it gives you some tools to deal with suffering, both external and internal.

      I was working with domestic violence abusers. It was really interesting, because, as these abusers came from the wide spectrum of social, income, educational strata, I found them, mostly, very relatable. And most of them appeared to very strongly wanted to break out the circle of violence, but for many reasons were unable to. It reminded me that it is so difficult to say- “these are bad people and these are good people”. But I think as much as one can engage in the self-reflection it can only help-” why I keep doing these things’’, “ why I am here again”,  “ why this pattern keep occurring in this relationship?” and it applied to both abusers and the victims. Talking to them and teaching them self-reflection aimed at the question “what can I do in the future if a similar situation occurs”? But most of these people saw the world as just happening to them, without being an active agent, they just reacted to things happening. And this is the worldview without free will and without freedom.

Me: We are back to upbringing, habits, and education…

Dr. Talia: Right, both Foucault and Confucius using very different terms, talk about the value and necessity of self-cultivation.  Rather than always trying to make good choices one should work steadily, continuously on self-cultivation until these good choices would come naturally.

This work is much more difficult, almost like the habit to save money or working on your worldview…

Me: Thank You Dr, Talia, I couldn’t agree more.

 

Existentialism and human nature

Motto: “existence precedes essence
nurture precedes nature
subjective precedes objective
facticity precedes transcendence”
There is no author, these things are just there.

The center of the existentialist philosophy is the denial of human nature. Sartre says: “…man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world- and defines himself afterwards. If a man as the existentialist sees him is not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. Thus, there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it……he is what he wills.” (Being and Nothingness, p. 55) This statement is true to their, existentialists, absurd colors because it is almost impossible to write anything which would be not about human nature. Everything written, is written by a human ( not counting- pardon the perfidious pleasure- the scriptures composed by gods), and thus it reflects the human experience, therefore it informs us about our, human, nature. Paradoxically the existentialists, while denying human nature’s very existence have something important to add to the dispute about it. And there is an illustrious list of thinkers writing about human nature- explicitly.
Darwin: “ The Descent of Man”
Kenner: “The Tangled Wing”
E.O. Wilson “On Human Nature”
Teilhard De Chardin “The Future of Man”
Milne “ Winnie the Pooh” etc, etc.
The world we read about in “Man’s search for meaning” is bad, very bad. It is the world where most of the people forfeit their ability to “will” themselves into the authentic beings. Instead, they gave to the powers and fears and desires of the demoralised society. Only a few tried to be free, even fewer survived the attempt. But Frankl believes that this attempt, however hopeless, changes everything. It makes suffering, even death, meaningful. It gives a deep insight into the idea of human nature. It proposes the revolutionary worldview in which the subjective world of an individual has all important qualities of freedom, or the lack thereof, of authenticity, meaning and even happiness.
It’s almost like we need to talk about the two human natures: the one dictated by the survival and fear- the existence of which the existentialists deny- and the second one, subjective and transcendent, seen as a possibility of freedom and authenticity. The human nature seen as a capacity, the chance, to live free and authentic life, no matter how horrible or cripplingly comfortable are the circumstances and facticity.
I think De Beauvoir would like this concept. This subjective world of human nature would have no constraints of traditional rationality and sexism, would be naturally authentic with all the ambiguity related to rich and wise emotional feminine.
Sartre would be also delighted. The subjective world is being created from moment to moment as we live our lives. There is no other way like seeing it as being “willed” into reality by the authentic action of the man! This vision is almost too optimistic for the Eeyore-like existentialist. The “objective “ human nature can be easily thrown into the trash. It would represent human malfunction, immaturity or ignorance. All the vices, cruelty and mistakes, all too human, would have to be moved from the top shelf of human attributes to the garbage can of the failure to be really human.
The mixture of the emotional life and rational life is pretty normal in our subjective world.
First person philosophy galore, we can even be scientific in the most modern way with the full attention being paid to the observer, not only to the observed, and we can explore human experience as equally valid as human “objective” knowledge. And this would make the phenomenologists like Varela and Thompson rejoice.
And now I am going to bring another supporter, the one from the unexpected domain.
His name is Darwin. Contrary to the popular belief, to have subjective world one do not have to have consciousness. Actually the opposite is true. We know now that the consciousness is not all or nothing concept anymore,( “ God giveth it to a man, maybe some to a woman, but not to the beast”). On the evolutionary pyramid, the more consciousness the animal has, the more capacity for the reflective thinking it possesses and the more ability it has to split its world into subjective and objective. Simple organisms with their primitive brains lead instinctive lives organised around survival and primitive emotions of fear, pain and pleasure. They have only subjective worlds. The same is true of babies, they live mostly by the emotions and feelings, a lot of activities in the old brain, not much of the prefrontal cortex.
It is what we can learn from the existentialists about human nature, it is what other famous guys, mentioned earlier, missed. If one attempts to be authentic and ethical, one has to direct one’s attention to the personal subjective world. This is the one which one builds from the scratch since birth until one dies. It is made of the subjective worlds of your ancestors via the worlds of your mom and dad, your teachers and friends and lovers… Forget the notion that because it is subjective it is ephemeral and elusive, like a mood. It is always new and shifting, but it is real and solid and all important. Like the subjective human nature, the nature of constantly re-creating yourself of hope and curiosity and relationship.
And now, there are the last two rabbits in my hat. The first: if we find the subjective human nature so useful and hopeful we can also talk more about subjective and personal values, subjective happiness, subjective meaning of life etc, etc.. And then, we can get tired of the “subjective” adjective and drop it, omit it, forget about it…..
The last rabbit is so big that it is almost impossible to pull off: can then the other, good for nothing, objective human nature, objective world, objective big Universe— disappear?

 

Sarte and Camus- authenticity vs worldview

I am taking a class on the existentialism at the UTC, this is a naive, but sincere essay:

When one lives an authentic life, the set of values one lives by are one’s own. The developmental psychology refers to the values being “interiorised”. For the existentialists, especially for the atheist bunch, like Camus and Sartre, this was a tall order. Without God, with the world being unreasonable, and the life full of absurdity it was difficult to create a system and call it their own.

And yet, the thesis of my paper argues that both of them, Camus and Sartre, were obsessed with moral issues and authenticity. The second part of the thesis (and of the paper) will attempt to make the reader consider the idea that the world is not absurd. Instead, it is tautological, full of bootstrapping (in the good tradition of Baron Munchausen), which might look like absurd.

For Camus the world is absurd. Mr Meursault from “The Stranger’ is perfectly normal, logical, reasonable man. This leads him straight under the guillotine. Even more absurd is the fact that he is not punished for killing a man but for not crying at his mother’s funeral. And if we are not able to figure out the reason for living, the logical solution is to consider suicide. “Does the Absurd dictate death?” Camus asks in the essay “Suicide: the only truly serious philosophical problem”(page 3). This problem “calls for an unjust- in other words, logical-thought” and “it is always easy to be logical. It is almost impossible to be logical to the bitter end.” (idem, page 3). We live a practical life, as he called it, fairly well, but if we start to ask big questions the meaning of life become elusive and vague. We have to find our happiness in absurd. Whether going every day to the senseless, repetitive work  or pushing a big rock up, and up, eternally, it doesn’t matter. Logical, bourgeois Sisyphus is tortured, but by embracing the absurdity of Universe, the life without meaning- this open doors to happiness. “At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.“( Albert Camus. “The myth of Sisyphus” pdf, page 121).

 

From Camus and Sartre (and yours truly, too) perspective, it seems that living in the twentieth century provided a lot of evidence that all the established rules, myths and morals are to be trampled and destroyed. The Germans, an ancient nation of genius musicians and philosophers go crazy, murder savagely 6 millions of members of another ancient and wise nation, not to mention 8 millions of other less ancient guys. The world unites to defeat them, then immediately splits into two camps working earnestly to annihilate the planet. The old Russia creates communism, heaven on earth at last, then quickly transforms it into one huge concentration camp. Black and brown and yellow people suddenly decided to be equal us, whites, have their rights and have their own, free countries. And the philosophy and science are not far behind: god is dead, but Schrodinger’s cat only maybe dead, atoms are mostly empty, and maybe they are just waves, the relativity and uncertainty are the names of the game.

 

Our Western civilisation is fiercely individualistic, we have to make our own choice. Camus’ writing shows how these choices, while logical, lead to absurdity, but his style is lighter, more “athletic”, more dealing with the body, the women, the beach.

Sartre is more abstract, artificial and stuck-up.  His fighting against the bourgeois philosophy is more fierce, desperate, maybe revealing the ambivalence related to his personal past.

Contradicting oneself and lying to oneself, consciously or subconsciously, seems unavoidable, but Sartre makes out of “bad faith” whole philosophy. “Bad faith then has in appearance the structure of falsehood. Only what changes everything is the fact that in bad faith it is from myself that I am hiding the truth. Thus, the duality of the deceiver and the deceived does not exist here. Bad faith, on the contrary, implies, in essence, the unity of a single consciousness. “ Sartre, “Bad faith” (pdf, page 3). Being sincere which is opposite of bad faith is easier said than done. The more one is trying to figure out who you really are, the weaker are one’s chances to become, to be spontaneous, sincere and authentic. It seems that only the loving and compassionate relationship with the Other can save the day ( and make Sartre flip-up in his coffin) but this is already “ post- existentialistic new-ageism”…  

Back in “No exit” Sartre shows that bourgeois social values are deeply absurd , which makes our relationships suspicious and actually a priori a condemned failures.  “There is no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is -other people” jeers Garcin (page 45 ).

So , while existentialism is preoccupied with being authentic, in the same time makes it almost unattainable. The traditional  values of the “enlightened West” were a really easy target. The religion and capitalism, the materialistic and conservative bourgeoisie went in flames in Camus and Sartre’s writings, and, I would say, good riddance.

But it is much easier to demolish the old values and systems  than to build the new ones- ask Nietzsche.

          

Still, if we’d be up to building an imaginary New Order, I’d respect Camus and Sartre’s rebellion ( and nausea ) and I’d take from each of them at least one valuable lesson. From Camus I would take his humanness. He experienced a terrible fatherless childhood, he was condemned to be a stranger in his native Algeria and a stranger in beloved Paris, even stranger to his own body, with a chronic cough and tuberculosis.  And yet, he managed to love the earthly pleasures, had a beautiful smile, played soccer, loved women and wine, naturally counterbalancing the philosophy of absurd and social rebellion.

From Sartre I would take his brilliant insight about being subject and the object in the same time. Being an individual, self, living in the subjective world demanded continuous choices and the desperate search for ultimate freedom. Being seen by other, being and object required sticking to his principles: anti-establishment at all costs, tormenting himself with denouncing the family, the democracy, and common sense as the tainted values of traditional western civilisation.

         I grew up in the post-war Poland, where to the previously mentioned list of twentieth-century follies we could add some local ones. “Liberated”  from German occupation by (of all possible “liberators”) our eternal nemesis, Russia, Poland falls into 45 years of the twilight zone. Poland is independent, but ruled by Russia, there is no freedom, but people talk freely, sometimes people are arrested, but most often not, there were elections but there was no choice etc, etc. Naturally the intellectual elite, so-called “inteligencja”, was fascinated by the existentialism and absurdism. So I sucked it with the mother’s milk, all the jokes were absurd… “do not worry if one of your legs is shorter: the other one is longer!” But I become a scientist and a doctor instead, or maybe it is why.

My intellectual journey took me from the theories of immunity to the theory of evolution, from Darwin, via Dalai Lama to Varela and Evan Thompson. At the beginning of the essay I defined the authentic life as the life led according to values which are my own. And I was wrong, or at most half right.  The term “authentic” comes, I think, from the world of arts. It means true, not fake, but not only that. Nobody would call authentic the real picture made by a 6 years old child. The second, slightly hidden part of the term is “master”. The “authentic “ means “original, by a true master”. So the same, even more hidden, assumed, is the part of the “authentic life” definition.  It is assumed, well, I assumed and naively thought that everybody did,  that when I’d followed my deep values,  my true heart, when I’d  be spontaneous, authentic, becoming – I would do good. It is enough to shed off all the pretense, all social anxiety, fears and hypocrisy – and one stands naked, like a sculpture of the Greek god inside the block of marble for the ancient master sculptor. Just chop off these unnecessary stones and one will be beautiful and virtuous. This is where the guys mentioned in the beginning of this extremely long paragraph come in. The Great Myth of the Human Nature.

I do not find this assumption in the writings of Camus and Sartre. Maybe I did not read enough, maybe they just did not have enough optimism.  I imagine that they experienced so much evil, saw so much negativity in the world, that the absurd, the” no sense”, nothingness  was somewhat an improvement, sensible point to start being.

In the Sartre’s talking about the Other I find an aura of a foreboding distrust and anxiety. “For example, the potentiality of the dark corner becomes a given possibility of hiding in the corner by the sole fact that the Other can pass beyond it toward his possibility of illuminating the corner with his flashlight.  This possibility is there, and I apprehend but as absent, as in the Other; I apprehend it through my anguish and through my decision to give up this hiding place which is “too risky” (Sartre, Being and Nothingness, pdf, page 264). A little boy in the evil world of Others.

But, by Jove, this Other is our only hope! We are hypersocial species, every human baby ( I know about babies) builds her world with the pieces of the worlds of Others. First the Mom, then the rest of the family, then the teachers the friends, the society… We take, we soak “the existence” of Others, put it in our brains and hearts as “observations” or “experiences” and then , and only then, they become the pieces of our personal world, “our essence”.  This set of data, at first very simple, emotional and primordial, later more sophisticated and complex create our world. Our brain can not heap these experiences “as they come”, randomly dump them in the memory, like we cannot learn the language from the dictionary.  As the brain structure develops as the myriads of neurons migrates and connects  according to genes and the environment, creating a human being, these experiences, in the similar fashion, create the rules and beliefs and paradigms. This is similar to Chomsky’s language structure- this is genes-led-experience-becoming-knowledge structure. That is the worldview. One’s world and the worldview is being built simultaneously, from the birth to the day one dies.

 

So, I believe, the existentialist were right, l’existence précède l’essence, but the world is not absurd. We see our world through the prism of human nature, a solid, species-specific brain architecture and its content, our worldview. These are our stories and it is all that is. This includes The Myth of Human Nature. And our darling dance of nature versus nurture, or facticity versus transcendence will always be with us. The trick is to practice being mindful of it.

 

Bibliography:

Camus, Albert. The stranger, First Vintage International Edition, March 1989.

Camus,Albert. Suicide: the only truly serious philosophical problem. (pdf )

Camus,Albert. The myth of Sisyphus (pdf)

Sartre,Jean-Paul. No exit and three other plays, Vintage International Edition, October 1989.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Bad Faith (pdf)