on evolution and evolutionary reality (me and you)

Posts tagged ‘worldviews’

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???

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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.

 

 

Big Question #10: What is the role of evolution?

Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another. Such immaturity is self-caused if it is not caused by lack of intelligence, but by lack of determination and courage to use one’s intelligence without being guided by another. Sapere Aude! Have the courage to use your own intelligence! This is, therefore, the motto of the enlightenment…

 Immanuel KantAn Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?

“We are what we are, we see what we see, and we know what we know, because of the evolution and according to the evolution.  Any scientific or philosophical discussion ignoring evolution is naive and lame. ” -Me

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  • Why things change?
  • Is there a trend?
  • Is there a purpose?
  • Can human mind evolve?
  • Is the history, the civilization, the Universe in its nature linear or circular?
  • How is this question relevant to our everyday life?

(It is not, you can live happily without being bothered by the idea of the evolution.)

How to work on the answer to Question #10

That is the only Big Question, which is not the part of the classical, unanswerable, basic questions of the mankind.  Adding this question to our list was partly personal, as I have studied evolution for the last 30 years, but beyond the personal, I think, the evolutionary look at the world is the part of any rational worldview.

 Examples of answers:

Ann Marshall: “To keep things interesting for God”

Linda Gambill: “To nudge us to look at the little sticker on the windshield that reminds us to change the oil.”

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

Many our problems stem from the fact that we are so dreadfully close to them. They just sit in front of our fat noses and we can not see anything beyond them. Evolutionary thinking gives you a broader perspective. Modern human is also called homo historicus, as the species which has the history. But we can now look deeper and broader than history, we can look into the history of life on Earth, into cosmic space, into subatomic world, into time itself. Won’t it feel good?

 

An Interview

Well, the planned interview is not coming. I wanted to talk to Clement Vidal, a Belgian philosopher who wrote about the future worlds, evolution, worldview, and complexity. Here is my letter:

“Dear Clement, I read with the great interest your article about the worldview. I think you created the monster! You single handed created a new branch of philosophy; the philosophy of the worldview, with its own methodology, history and a purpose. this is great, this is needed. The people have a lot of difficulties when it comes  to creating the personal explicit worldview. But, I think, this work is rewarding, and the world would be a better place if more people work on it. It is why I and my daughter Sophia created Philozophy.com. Now I am writing a companion paper called “Worldview Owner’s Manual”. I am trying to shift from the attempts to improve on Aristotle, do unanswerable answers, towards something like savoir vivre  in the broad and literary sense ( I mean after one figured out how to hold the fork), something useful and beneficial for the participant. In the first part,  I am discussing the general issues, like what is the worldview and why one should write it down, etc. In the second part, there are 13 short chapters each for one of our Big Questions. At the end of each chapter, there is a “guest’s interview, an essay or a worldview story”. Again, rather than pure philosophy, I prefer personal insight or story.  The length varies- 1 to even 5 or more pages.

Some of the chapters are finished (need editing badly), some need badly to be written.
All this you can find on my blog evolutionandmeandyou.com under Worldview Owner’s Manual and in posts. Big Question # 10 is “What is the role of evolution?” I would be honored if you’d write something to finish that chapter because you are the best. But you are probably too busy to do it. So maybe I could call you and interview you on this subject (15-20 min), transcribe it the best I can and with your permission and approval, stick it there? Tom”.
He did not answer, so to avoid an empty page in this book I had to write something.
One of the best books I read about evolution is Adam Frank’s “About time”. It shows how human culture and the way of life parallel scientific discoveries. It is 158 years since Darwin’s famous book was published. Since then the view of the world slowly transforming, life forms disappearing, new ones appearing creating the magnificent tree of life connected and explained like never before is seeping into our brains, our culture and our language. It is not that it is difficult to understand what Darwin was saying. It is that every generation in our global culture slowly sinks deeper and deeper in the evolutionary understanding of the world. Scientific discoveries like the fireworks lit the road of the slow process of changing peoples minds, every generation a little bit further.
The genetics is now household concept, the dating of fossils, the background radiation, nuclear energy, and weapons- all these have no sense whatsoever without evolution. And yet more than 50% of Americans do not accept evolution. So fundamental is the role of evolution, it requires, often subconsciously, to rebuilt your vision of the universe and of ourselves from the ground up. The similar process occurred in our implicit sense of cosmos. The Earth was always stable, solid and unchangeable( even if balancing on the Great Turtle) with the Sun and Heavens looking benevolently from above. Then, slowly, over the last five centuries, the Earth moved, then the Planets, then the Suns and Galaxies and Universes swirling around us madly with deeper and deeper disregard for little bi-pedals. Similarly, we saw ourselves as unchangeable, as part of the family, we wanted our children to live better, but we saw our lives tougher than good old days of our parents and ancestors. With the invention of the history, we, for the first time, saw that the old times could have been quite different, maybe not so good. But surely the people were the same! Then, we, slowly again, started to worry about the other cultures about the “primitives” and “aborigines” and then Darwin shocked us with his crazy theory. Now we have to digest that our intelligence changed, from cave man to present, so will it change again in the future. We have to digest that our sensory mechanism changed, we see different things than the animals. According to neuroscience, our emotional and social brain changed.  And now how about a spiritual brain, how about the sense of reality,  the sense of freedom and individuality, All because of these prefrontals and reflective thinking and this obnoxious and annoying SELF…. After a century and a half, we just started to seriously grapple with this evolutionary worldview transformation, I guess we need to ask Millenials?

Big Question #8 : How do you find truth?

“Have patience awhile-slanders are not long-lived. Truth is the child of time- ere long she shall appear to vindicate thee.” Immanuel Kant.

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  • how to find somebody to trust?
  • how do you know to believe in that or that scripture?
  • how do you know to believe in this or that media source?
  • do you believe in the system of beliefs you have been growing up with?

How to work on your answer to Question #8

“Find somebody you trust, then ask.” This is the answer that served me well for the last 40 years. I use it myself, but more importantly, I advise the parents of my patients, scared, confused and overwhelmed by the media.

Example of an answer:

“Do lots of experiments. Make notes. Try again”.

Beth Lilly.

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

Surprisingly, I think, the people who would benefit the most from the working on that question come from the both ends of the spectrum. First, these pragmatics, these who think and act like the truth is relative, “what works” or even worse “the best deal” people. This is a misery, no happiness, no relationship, no peace of mind is possible- go and work on your answer!

Second group is happy but more dangerous. They “know the truth”, and they are willing and ready to stick it to us through our throats, all for “our good”.  It is frightening to see how nice and friendly they are. They would help to rebuild your burned house and they would burn you at the stake with the same angelic, righteous smile. Maybe even Philozophy.com can not fix them, hopefully, their children will rebel….

An Essay

Tommy is my grandson, a brilliant young man, medical student, fencier, and boxer, and Go player. He lives in Poland.

“The Complete Personality”, By  Tommy Boron

A development of a personal Mundus Operandi, from battling historical inaccuracy to choosing what the devil to do during the next hour. The Truth is the way, Jesus used to say, a golden compass that guides our actions, if we choose to develop it, patterns emerge from chaos, details become relevant, good and evil distinguishable. This question also hides the meaning of this very edifice. I’d also like to share with you my concept of a complete personality, which as you probably agree this project allows to develop. It can be broken down into these four components:

Purpose – a mean to thrive, goal, vocation, an end of the line for some. In the Matrix, Agent Smith stated that “Programs must have a purpose, otherwise they are deleted”. Maybe it’s not the best quote, but it hits the spot. Sometimes it might only refer to the task at hand, but it dictates the urgency of our actions. “The haste that urges man to march, the dignity of every act” – Dante Alighieri (Divine Comedy) That haste is, of course, to be avoided, by keeping it cool, but doing our job.
Principles – a creed, gentlemen’s code of conduct, Savoir Vivre, etc. Gotta stick to your principles, keep a given word, open doors for the ladies.
Convictions – the roots that hold us firmly in the ground, so that we don’t wobble, or flow carelessly with the stream, pretty much a worldview that Philozophy.com helps us to establish.
Void – A core of that is the child which survived, that may at any time let go of all the above and observe with pure curiosity the works of nature, a place where duality is broken, the tao flows without obstruction, dreams become a tangible reality. I’d say it is like a mental sanctuary, mind palace also grasps the essence. An oasis of peace deep within.
Lastly, the components of our life: the story, the game, and the style. Story binds our days, creates beauty, sorts out our experiences so that we may look back and proudly say it was a good day. We are, no doubt, homo Ludens, we enjoy games, sports, physical, and mental activity. The real sages know how to play with their own story, they laugh, cheer the folks around them, and tell us through metaphor that life is just a ride, so we need not worry, and frown too much. Now the style, as Charles Bukowski said: “Style is the answer to everything(…) to do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without it, to do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art”. Adding the cherry on top, personal touch, a subtle stroke of the brush is what makes us truly like ancient warriors.

Big Question #11 : What happens after death?

“Hasta la vista, baby”- Terminator

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  • What will happen after you die?            
  • What is heaven, if any?
  • What part of us will not die, if any?
  • Shall we prepare, talk about the afterlife?

How is this question relevant to our everyday life? There are many things you chose not to think about, but they are there affecting your everyday life.  The death is the poster child of those things.

I think that there are two ways to deal with death. First is to not think about it, this way is a perfect, 100% successful way. The second is to think about it and this way is also, absolutely, 100% successful way.

How to work on the answer to Question #11

Of course, like with all other “primary questions”, the true answer to this question is unknown, but having a frank conversation about the death is interesting. Then, what to say, about the hopes, about the fear or just be “politically correct” (whatever are your politics )?

An example by Dosia Boron : “Those who deserve to keep their soul play on. Others feed others. And if we don’t like the spiritual game it is just a quite useless language construction- “after death”, I mean.”

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

A philosopher said that all our lives end badly.  Does it need to be like this? Lao-tzu says: “Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.”  Can it be done? like, do your work, then step back?”

An Interview

tom kunesh, a humanist, an atheist, an activist for the rights of American Indians,( he is part-Lakota-it is why he does not use capitals) an author, a philosopher and a liberal politician is also a co-founder of the Chattanooga Humanist Assembly. We organized this interview as a part of the Assembly’s monthly meeting so we could benefit from the opinions of the members.

The meeting was long, so below you’ll find excerpts which seem to me interesting and useful for both religious and nonreligious people and anybody in between working on the Big Question #11: What happens after death?

Me: Adam Frank in his great book “About Time” writes: “Death has always been a portal to time’s great mystery. By ending time for the self, death acts as an invitation to consider time’s reality and its meaning”. He sounds like a humanist – “death as an invitation”, huh?

tpk: (tom kunesh) Every time I plan to travel, whether it is to Nashville, 2 hours away, or especially if it is a longer trip, to Minnesota, I get an anxiety. It is not that I am afraid, I am going to fall asleep at the wheel. It is different, it is inexplicable, it is this dread of change. I am missing something.

I do not have any fear of death related to pain – I have been to car accidents, this does not bother me. Even missing my kids do not bother me if I die I will not feel anything. This is the anxiety that bothers me. I am missing my dad since he died many years ago, even we were not living together. Even the change of this place, what use to be a store, now a restaurant, bothers me. The death is just a big change, a big anxiety provoking travel, a one-way ticket.

Me: it is not very logical…

tpk: No. Like the metaphor we use often: “he is gone”. He is still here, I do not believe in the soul, so everything is still here, just like a dog, a cat, a bird which hit the window pane… When I am thinking about it calmly, rationally, I have no worries, no concerns.

Me: really?

tpk : Our behavior around death is irrational. The fear of dying, the pain and grief after losing a loved one, these are very powerful emotions, sometimes stronger than your philosophical attitudes. People venerate others after death, treat their dead bodies like real people. Catholics canonize dead people, make them saints, the society celebrates dead leaders like Lenin in Russia, our presidents here in our country. We visit out a relative to have “the last look”. As humanists, as materialists, we are trying to be rational. We do not pray, we do not think the people after death go to heaven, and they are going to join other dead people there, keep waiting for us. We focus on our memory of that person.

Me: Do you need to be a materialist to be a humanist, now in the era of quantum physics? I think I am a humanist but not a materialist.

tpk: some humanists believe in  the Cosmic Union, but I think this is a hubris, it is thinking that we are something special, better than dying elephants or other animals. I think 99% of humanists are materialists.

Me: I think our modern America handles the death in the most unskillful way. Most people die lonely, painfully and costly in the impersonal hospitals, clinging to the life senselessly, tormenting themselves and the family. Can humanism be a guide to the better way to die?

tpk: humanists are free thinkers, they are generally better at talking about difficult subjects like religion and race and sexual orientation. Talking about dying is one of these subjects, usually a “taboo” in our society. I prepare for death every day, especially now, as I am 60. I prepare my professional things to be ready, things from my office handled, my political unfinished issues completed.

I am talking to my daughters about death frequently ( maybe more frequently than they would like me to), especially when I am leaving and going for a longer trip.My father was killed suddenly when I was the young man. Suddenness hurts. We were not prepared for this as a family, it affected us horribly. I remember I was devastated for a long time.I need my girls to realize, to get into their consciousness the notion that the death is normal, a constant part of our life, every week somebody I know dies, presidents, governors, relatives. I try not to shield my kids from any of these events, even such an event like a dog dying, finding a dead snake on the road, that this is not much different than finding a dead person. I believe that seeing death and talking about death makes us better prepared for the death of somebody in the family. “Ok, the dad is dead, long live the dad’.

Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset said „Hay que tomar la vida con filosofía.“- One has to take life with philosophy. Philosophy helps you to sort out your emotions. It is one of many reasons I admire Buddhists. They talk about death and they practice detachment: “when you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.” this is the metaphor for our escape into heavens, reincarnation etc. instead of facing the real, physical death of your loved one or yourself. To face this reality we need to teach children and our society about the physicality and the naturalness of death.

Me: This is great, I am all for talking about Big Questions.  But can you think about happy dying, like the celebrations of well-done job?

tpk: I think, as usual, you ask for too much, for too much of social engineering. I have seen and I have been told of people dying with dignity, even serenity… Well, how about that scenario:

When I am old and done here I will buy one-way ticket to India. I will meditate there and when I am ready I will ask people to roll me down to the river Ganges, where merciful monsoon waves will wash me away. This is the best I can do for you.

Me: This sounds good but if we go together we might have too much fun and the project might fail?

tpk : Do not worry, somebody famous said: “ all lives end badly”.

 

 

Big Question #7: How do you find happiness?

“All you need is love, love, love.

  Love is all you need.”   The Beatles

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  • It is all important because it is what we all want.
  • But is it important to mull it constantly and ask yourself “are you happy?”
  • Is it useful to chase it, or maybe it will make it harder to get?
  • How about discussing the subject with others?
  • How should we act? Praxeology (theory of actions).
  • What to cultivate? Is giving better than receiving?
  •  Do we have to suffer?
  •  How do you personally search for happiness?

How to work on your answer to Question #7

Fake it till you make it. Your answer should make you smile. Browse our Philozophy.com answers. You’ll learn a lot. Honest answers of the real people.

Ricky Newins: ” Being true to our nature. The difficult thing is finding out what our nature is.”

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

Work on it when you’re happy. More importantly come back when you are sad and get help. Read the “Book of Joy” by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

An Interview

I am sitting in the office of Dr. Zibin Guo, an anthropology professor at the University of Chattanooga, my Tai Ji teacher, and my dear friend.

   Me: Ok, Zibin, the Big Question # 7 in my personal worldview project is “ How do you find happiness?”

Zibin: This is a very “loaded” question.

Me: ??

Zibin: To me, the concept of happiness is really very simple, but deceptively simple. No one wants to say “there is no happiness”, no one want to say: “I don’t have happiness”, and yet nobody is able to explain what happiness really is. In society we use ideas, but many of them can not be explained or there is no standard definition generally accepted.

  To illustrate this problem, let me tell you a story. One day, a few years ago, I ‘ve got a call, really bad news, from the ex-wife of my old friend from Harvard. He was a brilliant man, he did fantastic work in Botswana, a societal model based on chaos theory came to Harvard where we work together and become good friends, then I moved to Tennessee and we somehow lost touch. Last I heard from him, it was about his divorce, personal problems and plans for the new ethnographic research for the military. This time Mary, his ex-wife told me that he divorced again, lost job, can not drive, and lives alone in a shelter for homeless people in Virginia Beach. He was apparently depressed but too proud to ask his rich family for help. “It would be great if I visit him.” I was shocked, for me he was my model of the American Dream, an epitome of the success, the brains, the money, the status… This was the guy I always looked up to and now this?

  That very weekend I was driving from Chattanooga to Virginia Beach to see my friend. I planned to arrive in the evening, have dinner with Mary and her new husband and then to go see my friend. Around the DC area the traffic got terrible, also there was a storm, gusts of wind and tornado warnings. On the road around me, there was the chaos and accidents everywhere, people running, everybody upset and stressed. This did not help my already anxious and sad mood- thinking about my friend and being stuck in the traffic. I reached Virginia Beach 6 hours later, at night. At the Tunnel, the traffic was detoured again and I got lost. I called Mary around 1 am and she was not asleep. There was an another crisis, this time in her family, her daughter, a single mother with some mental problems become suicidal and they spent in the Emergency Room all evening, now coming back home. At last, all exhausted, we sat at their home around the table at 2 am. Mary looked at me and asked: “are you happy?” I was flabbergasted. What did she mean? Happy? Was it about seeing her, being safe after this terrible drive, was it about my friend or her daughter, about the world or my life in general? The absurdity of the question, the absurdity of American obsession with happiness shocked my exhausted and stressed brain so deeply that I still remember that moment vividly after several years.

  I see happiness as a pretty useless social construct. It supposes to reflect, to describe the state of somebody’s mind which is fleeting and do not serve that person or anybody else and has nothing to do with reality.

 Our American civilized society consumes more psychotropic medicines than the rest of the world combined. And you walk around even here on the University campus and see young people stressed and upset. When they talk to you they will be smiling, but there is nothing behind this smile like a poker face

Me: Well, if not happiness, how about the joy?

Zibin: Joy is obviously transient, it is different. But the concept of happiness is abused. It is supposed to be a goal, a promised land, something permanent, achievable. And it is an illusion, a vague state of mind, which does more harm than benefit. Instead of clarity, it produces confusion. The human emotions are very complicated and everybody can exhibit all the spectrum of them- joy, anger, jealousy, sadness, and the myriad of others, one should not try to simplify it with the term “happiness”. This is not valid concept and object of the inquiry. When the society promotes one desired state of mind, the result is almost opposite. The more you’re trying to be happy, the more impossible this become, it leads to faking it, to depression even suicide, like Robin Williams.

Me: Does this obsession or confusion exist in China?

Zibin: No. In many languages, the word happiness doesn’t even exist! People would not even understand you.”What are you talking about?” they would say. “What you mean – Happy?” It is not like in American culture which constantly revolves around happiness. If you keep asking “ Are you happy?” one is forced to say yes or no and either is a lie. So you try to say, I am fine, I am ok, and still is this problem with naming your emotions as something like a permanent quality or ability. Life is much more complex, it is not about happiness or unhappiness, life is a journey, the emotions change. The goal in life, being good or happy is the social construct. Enjoy your life, enjoy its simple pleasures, help people the best you can but do not make goals do not try to save the world. Without using the concept of a happiness people would be much happier.

 

 

Big Question #9: What is the meaning of life?

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” – Pablo Picasso.

When the storm rages and  the shipwreck of the state threatens, we can do nothing more noble than to lower the anchor of our peaceful studies into the ground of eternity.”  Johannes Kepler

Subquestions and everyday relevance

  •  What is the meaning of your life?
  • How should we act? Praxeology (theory of actions).
  • Can we make a difference?
  • What’s your legacy?

It helps to reflect from time to time on it and to write it down. It is mostly helpful in the hour of crisis or worry. Maybe the answer or a glimpse of it will come unexpectedly. Catch it then and use it every day.

How to work on your answer to Question #9

When I was working on that answer, I wanted to write down something big, profound,  and philosophical. Something a guru sitting on the top of the mountain would explain to the confused seeker. But then, do I feel like a guru or rather like the confused seeker? Also, even if you are a guru, what is the benefit for you telling the things you already know. If you know your “Eureka”, tell us by all means, but it has to be yours, unique and personal. What you wander, what you question, what you worry about would be great.

An example by Lucas Prater: ” The meaning of life is to collect as much stuff as possible so that when you die your survivors have to take time out of their lives to sift-through and sell all your stuff. The more of their time you waste, the higher your score.”

View more answers on Philozophy.com

Psychotherapy

Plato said that the life unexamined is not worth living. We all feel emptiness and senselessness from time to time. Working on the meaning and purpose and editing it often might keep you keeping on…

An Interview

 

Trying to figure things out has been my favorite entretaining and interest since I can remember. Naturally writing about meaning of life become more than writing an essay to make your, my reader’s, writing easier and more urgent. The purpose of doing it for you, if I am going to be honest, merges with doing this for myself. In this endavour we are going to join forces with Dosia Boron.
 When she was born, I was a young, searching man and  she become an obvious and unequivocal meaning of my life. Now she is not only a brilliant philosopher, a great
teacher but also a fantastic mom of three boys. As I grew old (still searching) , to turn the tables I am asking her about meaning of life. I am calling her from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Lublin, Poland and here are the excerpts of the conversation.
 We started by contrasting the meaning of one’s personal life versus the meaning of life shared by everybody, a philosophical concept of the humankind’s meaning of life.
DB: First things first. To even think about the meaning of your personal life you have first to find time and hone your skills and develop the habit to reflect on our life. It means stop doing what you are doing, and breathe… in silence. It also means working hard to lead authentic life, to be yourself, making sure you do not betray your essence, that you do not lie to yourself. And this is a huge task in itself- all existential philosophers, Camus, Sartre, Kierkegaard, all of them line up to help you and to mock you with their own doubts and derision. Beyond that, I don’t know, when I am thinking about personal life, I tend to ask negative questions: ” Is my life meaningless? And why not? Is it worth living, how would I know that I should continue?”
Me:  Most people find children, loved ones  a natural reason that the life is worth living.
DB: Not really, no, I know many people with children, and I speak for myself, who wander if their life is meaningless. “Giving , always giving, where is the sense of it?”
I like more the idea of looking for and finding somebody with whom you can share the concept of life, with whom you can talk freely, deeply. I do not know if I met someone like that?
Me: But, this is the problem, people do not talk about these things, at least it is true in my life. Don’t you think that such conversations can be helpful and relevant for you during tough periods in life?
DB: I disagree that people do not talk about it. From time to time, when you find somebody you can talk to and you have time and mood, you talk an intimate and honest talk, and whatever is the subject- it is somehow about the meaning of life. And you ask, I think it is what you mean, if the formal discussion about that part of the worldview, “meaning of life”, would talking about that help? I don’t know.
Rather than talking about the meaning, it is important to discuss and clarify for yourself and for the people you live with, your system of values. To clarify this and to live more or less openly accordingly with these values. It is the part of the authentic life that we were talking about earlier.
Me: Like, Is it about the winning or how you play the game?
DB: Exactly, the system of values, how you play, can actually replace or substitute for the problem of life being meaningful- the winning and what you play for . Dying people , what do they regret? Not being for others, not spending enough time with family. This is weird, dying people stop being selfish.

Me: Talking about death can help.

DB: I think dying people are just very lonely and this is ugly. It is important to think about the connection between the meaning of life and the beauty. For an artist, actually for almost everybody, the great art and beauty, even natural beauty, makes the life meaningful. And the philosopher sees meaning as beautiful. And to bring again the concept of values, I think that it is important trying to find the beauty in the relationship with others.
 Me:  To try to find beauty in the relationship with others! This is one of the best advices and definitions of meaning of life I have ever heard!
 DB:Yes, if we only could communicate…
Me: when discussing the meaning of life, is there a difference between talking and writing?
DB: Most important difference is between worrying about the life without meaning and talking about it, putting your worries in words, then the next step is writing. But when I am confronted with the task to write about the personal philosophy, meaning of life, I do not feel I can add anything new, why would people be interested in what I think? The poetry is much better, it  is like a code, a different, secret language, intimate and multidimensional.
 It is better form of communication. If people read my poem, I feel they become closer to me, but if they read my philosophical definitions or remarks, I would feel embarrassed to write what big white heads have already written in much better way.
Me: Maybe there is the way between, or combining philosophy and poetry/
DB: I am teaching and giving workshops in critical thinking. I am using
socratic method and we analyze beautiful classical texts, like Thomas Mann, Dostoyevsky. The idea is old, but working on this , so to speak, head-on is very satisfactory and my young student like it. But if you think that they could then start discussing the meaning of life,  not so fast, I think they are not ready.
Me:  We need thousands, millions philosophy teachers doing this.
 BD: I feel that I owe this to my ancestors and my teachers.  They worked in harder and more dangerous times, and they fought for their values. In our furiously rased and materialistic world, I feel I need to be brave and to preserve love for literature, beauty, art and philosophy.
Me: Amen
DB: I feel that I did not say anything interesting about meaning of life…
Me: You did, this is the beauty of my hypothesis. You do not need to improve philosophy of the Greeks to benefit from Philozophy.com. All you need is to be brave, honest and personal, this form of answer will help you and others. And you did all that,  and send me a poem or two?
They come three day later:
What I’m afraid the most
 
What I’m afraid the most
is that I will resign
from beauty seeking mission
one day
just like that
will sink into ugliness
stop fighting
stop struggling for breath
It will swallow me eagerly
the EXPECTED and KNOWN
grow on me like mould
thick
I will stop moving
and my poor soul
will simply fly from me
away
to look for beauty
by itself
 Writing poetry
What is worth a line but sharing
maybe
You find it
a treasure of thought
all excited, bathing in a stream of ideas and hints
all smart
 pleasant vibes of discovery
all right!
man
You beat wings
in a dried well
Your bright insights
down deep there
what is worth life if not sharing
I know i know
me, too, I live with the Dead mostly
I beat my wings in darkness
all smart
coughing dust
still
I carry my lines with me
vigiliant
sniffing the air
ready.
 And quotations:
Hanz Castorp in the chapter Snow: (Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann)
” I dreamed about the nature of man, and about the courteous, reasonable and respectful community of men – while the ghastly bloody feast went on in the temple behind them. Were they courteous and charming to one another, those sunny folk, out of silent regard for that horror? what a fine and gallant conclusion fot them to draw! I shall hold to their side, here in my soul.”
(…)
“God and the Devil, good and evil, just made for someone to tumble headlong into its void and perish mystically there.(…) Death or life –  illness or health – spirit or nature. Are those really contradictions? I ask You: are those problems? NO, they are not problems, and the question of their nobility is not the question either.(…)
Man is the master of contradictions, they occur through him, and so he is more noble than they. More noble than death, too noble for it – that is the freedom of his mind. More noble than life, too noble for it – that is the devotion of his heart. There, I have rhymed it all together, dreamed the poem of humankind.”
” And form, too, comes only from love and goodness; form and the cultivated manners of man’s fair state, of a reasonable, genial community – out of the silent regard for the bloody banquet”
 \
“For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don’t we all secretly know this? It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. Behind it? Below it and around it? Chaos, storms. Men with hammers, men with knives, men with guns. Women who twist what they cannot dominate and belittle what they cannot understand. A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.”
― Stephen King11/22/63
“We did not ask for this room or this music. We were invited in. Therefore, because the dark surrounds us, let us turn our faces to the light. Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty. We have been given pain to be astounded by joy. We have been given life to deny death. We did not ask for this room or this music. But because we are here, let us dance.”
― Stephen King11/22/63