on evolution and evolutionary reality (me and you)

Posts tagged ‘phenomenology’

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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To marry, phenomenology and the natural sciences both have to lose their virginity.

Or, because it is philosophical paper, to make it less biological, both parties have to forgo some of their purity and basic premises. But, the rewards are so big that the proposed cooperation or union has no “if” sign but “how” and “when” (are we ready?- I will return to this sub-question later).

      My idol, E.O. Wilson wrote a book about it: Consilience. The Unity of knowledge. 1998. In the endearing preface, he describes himself as a young scientist discovering the evolutionary way of thinking and dreaming about uniting biology, philosophy, and religion. He brings the metaphor of “Ionian Enchantment “ and human ambitious thinking like in the myth of Icarus: “Let us see how high we can fly before the sun melts the wax in our wings”. He says:(p.12)”There has never been a better time for collaboration between scientists and philosophers, especially where they meet in the borderlands between biology, the social sciences, and the humanities.” But he adds and I wholeheartedly disagree;”Philosophy, the contemplation of the unknown, is a shrinking dominion. We have the common goal(?) of turning as much philosophy as possible into science.” Italics and question mark are mine.

 “Frequently, the assumption has been that a better understanding of the physical world will allow us to understand consciousness better and rarely, that better understanding of consciousness might allow for better understanding of what it means to be real.” D.Zahavi. Phenomenology and the project of naturalization. (p.336). So, obviously, the natural thinking goes that the major beneficially of the ”phenomenology project of naturalization”- is this branch of philosophy. The more we put the emphasis for the phenomenological discourse of embodiment, the more societal recognition such investigation can obtain and more viable such a curriculum can be in universities. According to Merleau-Ponty, our experience is always “into the world” and through his famous intentional arc, it connects permanently the experience with the experiencing body and with the experienced world. Now, when the experience is dealt with by the psychology, the medicine, the biochemistry or anthropology  they talk about different type of sick and healthy bodies while the politics and economics try to tackle “our world” part of the experience. All of them are working disjointly employing distinct paradigms, models, and methods. Phenomenologists point to the naivety and narrow-mindedness of such an approach. Welsh cites Diaprose(1994):” The phenomenological model not only reinstates the dignity of the patient by stressing that the fabric upon which biomedicine works is the self, but also highlights the specificity of that person’s condition, however common that condition may appear to be” and she adds: ”A more phenomenological approach to illness would attempt to view illness in terms of the embodied person’s plans and projects, her relationships, her habits, and her environment.” T. Welsh, Unfit Women: Freedom and Constraint in the Pursuit of Health.(p75).

    In my opinion, though the science would benefit from the phenomenological thinking the most. And I think it is not a choice anymore, the cost of ignoring the role of an observer, the cost of unscientific(sic!) paradigm regarding subjectivity and objectivity, these costs are slowing the progress and the shift in thinking is required. It seems that at this time the science world acts like the left brain “interpreter”- if things do not make sense it explains them anyhow using even most weird theories.  When you read about “string theory”, the anthropic principle explanations, the description of “the time before Big Bang” or even Nagel’s “how is it like to be a bat”, the concept of the white bearded old man sitting in the clouds looks pretty sensible! It is why professor Nagel calls for a new paradigm, the theoretical physicists clearly need one, also non-human cognition and human preverbal cognition are stuck at the “explanatory gap” (Zahavi).

Phenomenology- au secours! Can it deliver? And what would it say? I think that the study of the evolution of the nervous system will be the great arbiter between phenomenology and the rest of the world. It takes phenomenology to do an excellent job with the boot-strapping ( a la’ baron Munchausen) of looking at our mind with our mind.

It is a little bit easier to look with our mind at “the mind” and  the behavior of a primitive organism and assume that the primordial principles of being and sense of reality could not be changed during minute steps of the evolutionary progression. Dan Zahavi talks about the book “Naturalizing Phenomenology” with four co-editors, among them the name of Francisco Varela is very familiar. He would agree, he worked with phenomenologist Evan Thompson and with His Holiness  Dalai Lama and he said: “living is making sense”. The book discusses in details different ways the phenomenology could be “naturalized” but, according to Zahavi, none of them are very satisfying or promising. The second part of the project , “Phenomenologizing Natural Science” was never written because Varela died in 2001 and also because that part would have to be more iconoclastic.

  Shaun Gallagher keeps trying the same thing in his 2016 chapter in Phenomenology and Science. J. Reynolds, R. Sebold (eds.) Intercorporeity: Enaction, Simulation, and the Science of Social Cognition. The term and the concept of “intercorporeity” comes from Merleau-Ponty  and together with “intersubjectivity’ and Husserl’s  “reversibility” they are trying to nudge the science to abandon Newtonian “objective world” and accept that of “lived world” where the experiences would create for each person his or her personal, real, world. So it seems that the phenomenology is very close to the bold revision of the subjectivity/objectivity concepts. “They also speak in favor of recasting the very idea of nature, and of the need for modifying our modern conception of objectivity, subjectivity, and knowledge. “ (again, Zahavi, p343).

   But science doesn’t seem to be ready to accept this “friendly help”. And not only sciences. It looks (and an insightful book of Adam Frank “About Time” illustrates this splendidly) that the changes in the way we live, our culture, the mores, and fears, they all have to open the door for the next scientific breakthrough. And, as long as we ride the frothy top of the technology wave, there is no chance for the paradigm shift. It would be sad if it took the global environmental catastrophe to find our way into our minds.

Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception or Shaking off the Dualism of Descartes.

 

 

        Writing about the cogito Merleau- Ponty says: “Insofar as, when I reflect on the essence of subjectivity, I find it bound up with that of the body and that of the world, this is because my existence as subjectivity (= consciousness) is merely one with my existence as a body and with the existence of the world, and because the subject that I am, when taken concretely, is inseparable from this body and this world.” Phenomenology, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

         It sounds so benign: “cogito ergo sum”. But it sounds benign for a reason- it actually sums up the intellectual grounds of humanity, the way humans feel the reality in its core- “this is me, my small subjective world, and that is the huge, marvelous, but separate, if not mine, then whose, objective world.” All philosophies are built with that automatic assumption at the core.

While fighting with each other, the theists and the atheists, Plato’s idealists and Stephen Hawking’s scientists, nobody messes with the subjectivity versus objectivity divide concept.

It feels beyond philosophy; it feels like linguistics.    

       I think this is the reason, from my paltry readings, both Husserl and Merleau-Ponty sound so, so… painstaking. As their new approach, their method would require this extremely honest and disciplined explanation of the philosopher’s personal experience. They had to explain the nuances in the meaning and explain the process of the concept development because the history and “the establishment” of traditional thought was so old and enormous.  They, Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, sound as if they were trying first and foremost to convince themselves of some odd truth, actually creating it as they proceeded. This truth or this method would attempt to put our intuitive feeling about reality upside down. If proven scientifically, it would be more ground-breaking than Nietzsche’ s killing of  God. These concepts combine perception, movement and intentionality in one conscious experience of a being engaged into the world.

“ How the body inhabits space ( and time, for that matter) can be seen more clearly by considering the body in motion because the movement is not content with passively undergoing space and time, it actively assumes them, it takes them up in their original signification that is effaced in the banality of established situations.” Merleau-Ponty, The spatiality of one’s own body and motricity, p.105.

     Amazingly, modern developmental neuroscience follow the steps of Merleau-Ponty, the philosopher. It was found that the motor neurons are the origins of the sensory and the thinking neural systems. Also motor activity precedes, sometimes by 0.1 second, our decision to make that move. The newborn baby’s body schema, as far as we know, is not subjective or objective, there is no duality, similar to the animals. The process of attachment, which will in the future decide whether one will hate one’s own body and be ashamed of one’s deepest emotions is a perfect example of the intentional arc. “The life of consciousness- epistemic life,  the life of desire, or perceptual life- is underpinned by an “intentional arc” that projects around us our past, our future, our human milieu, our physical situation, our ideological situation, and our moral situation, or rather, that ensures that we are situated within all of these relationships. This intentional arc creates the unity of the senses with intelligence, and the unity of sensitivity and motricity. “ ibid p. 137. Perception embodies the child and the mother, food, touch, love and the level of stress, all mixed together. It doesn’t occur in the baby’s brain, or in the mother’s brain or in between. The meaning of experience is being built and interpreted with the brain and the environment working in one spatiality and movement of feeding, sleeping, getting satisfied and happy… or not. This very real and crucial for future life event occurs in time and space that can only be called the baby’s world, not subjective, not objective, but nondual and phenomenological, baby’s world.

  Evolutionary ethology confirm similar mechanisms occurring in primitive animals. Their behavior, like seeking food or escaping a predator are directed by the “old” brain (the only brain available, in, for example, a lizard) This part of the brain, the medulla, the hindbrain nuclei, like amygdala, in the human corresponds with the “feeling” brain, with subjectivity, but for the animal these behavior occur obviously “out there”, in the animal’s non dual, only real world – out there is the food , out there is danger, out there is escape.

   Because of going beyond such a basic assumption, phenomenology has had to become first and foremost the method, the way of analyzing the conscious experience without the subjectivity versus objectivity divide, the way where embodied consciousness inhabits the world, not my world, not the nobody’s world, just the world, all the reality that any human has to play with.

    And if we accept that as humans this is the only world we have, this ceases to be only the method ( or the historical footnote), this becomes a huge responsibility and the unified force for the mankind.

 

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.