Friday, September 6, 2013

Phenomena as a Fixed Point

Our language is ever at risk of becoming something knotty, chaotic, and superfluous. We define concepts - but suppose we define too many or not enough? How should we know what "too many" and "not enough" even are? We might make critical those concepts that we most need to do away with. We might create entire studies, entire subjects, that we devote our lives to that simply do not matter.

Language is human.

We must return to phenomena as a fixed point to keep from losing our minds. This is not to say that we must keep language simple or that language must slavishly proceed from what we observe, but it is to say that there is something outside of language that language relates to.

Perhaps we like our language to be simple, we must wonder what we want it to be simple in relation to? And the answer is phenomena. Or suppose we want our language to be specific. Specific according to what? According to how much we can see. Phenomena keeps us from getting trapped by the words that proceed from our own mouths.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Objective Truth

Might it be said that I do not believe in objective truth? That I don't believe that things are how they are and not how they are not.

First I say that I am a human and I only concern myself with things that concern humans. So instead ask if I believe in an objective truth in relation to humanity?

Yes, I very much do. I believe in a big, objective truth; perhaps the biggest objective truth. For most the truth is the world - state what the world is and you state what the truth is. I on the other hand recognize that there is no stating the world without concepts and axioms and that concepts and axioms come from humans. I say that there is are innumerable true statements that can be made, but their truth stems from adherence to certain rules of thought that we ourselves develop. Sentences rely on their context for their truth value.

My conception of truth is the same as most peoples, just multiplied to the point of nigh-uselessness. If someone says science is truth (or more likely that science is knowledge) then they are identifying a certain method of thought that leads to the unqualified truth. Not a truth, just the truth. Likewise for those who say revelation is knowledge or intuition is knowledge, what have you. They are identifying methods for coming to knowledge, which is no more than identifying rules for evaluating sentences. The difference between them and me is that they put their method on a throne and have sentences that they declare true whereas I collect methods in my closet and have sentences that I declare true depending on how you look at them.

And of course if you do not set up a method as the correct method, what is the point in having methods? We develop methods that they might lead us to something. But what is it that we want to be led to?

Behind all the epistemology is people living their lives. Their methods will reflect this. Methods of thought will produce models and pictures, models and pictures will produce predictions, predictions serve as phenomenological anchors. If our methods are not serving us, we will make new methods.

Suppose I deliver a model showing how the stock market works, and then I deliver a list of 500 hypothetical methods of thought and how each method would evaluate my model. Perhaps my model is true according to 150 hypothetical methods and false according to 350 hypothetical methods. People might decide ahead of time whether my model was worth considering by finding their preferred method and seeing how it evaluates (well, it looks good according to the Voodoo method, the Freudian method, and the Hegelian method, not so good according to the scientific method or the Keynesian picture of economics). But of course people might actually use the model, and they might make a lot of money or they might lose a lot of money. That will be the test of whether or not the model lingers or disappears: people living their lives and determining whether or not my model has any place in their lives. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Nothingness or the Mystical

When one forms a picture of the world, there is often room for words that lack any phenomenological anchors. The words may be essential to the coherence and completeness of the picture, but if someone pointed to the word and asked 'what does this look like' there would be no answer to give.

It is not hard to think of examples. The self. God. Statements of value. There is much that we speak of that we can not verify by appealing to the world of appearance, concepts that lack a phenomenological proof criteria.

That such language exists cannot be denied, what each person must work out for themselves is how they will regard such concepts. It seems to come down to either Nothingness or the Mystical. Let us take the Self for example: by my philosophy, Self is Perception, but this is a peculiar thought as we tend to conceive of perception as an activity. The idea of Self as Perception invites speculation that the Self is something deeper and Perception is merely the activity that we happen to be aware of. However, what could we possibly know about this deeper something? It is deeper than our body, it is deeper than our mind; how could we possibly grasp something that has more depth than our faculty for grasping? So when we talk about Self we are necessarily talking nonsense, but what kind of nonsense is it? Nothingness? or the Mystical?

If Nothingness, then all this Self talk is illusory nonsense. Perhaps it is a useful illusion, perhaps very adaptive and maybe we should hold on to this helpful illusion a bit, but illusion all the same.

If the Mystical, then the Self is something of such depth that we can only hope for little sparks of experience to shine light on something that must be lived rather than understood. We do not write the Self off, instead we see our language as limited.

Where is the substance of this difference?

Those who write off those things we cannot grasp as Nothingness can get on with doing the good work of grasping what we can grasp. Putting aside the question of the soul is a good first step to understanding the nature of cumulus clouds, the mating habits of brine shrimp, and building rockets that do not burn up in the atmosphere. In a way it can be seen as an efficient way of preserving processing power by requiring that concepts meet certain criteria before they are worth weaving into pictures.

However it is often felt that those who wave these concepts off as Nothingness lose their humanity in the process. Often not in action - it is not as though materialists are all monsters - rather that their pictures of the world are too small to actually depict the human experience. Those who see the Mystical find themselves living on the tip of an iceberg with a whole terrible and wonderful world lurking under the surface. All this could be nothing more than fantasizing and wish-fulfillment if it did not color the way we live our lives and the way we pursue knowledge. There are mystical forms of reasoning - and it is too much to consider the question of their validity at this time - which offer methods of gaining dim knowledge of the mystical. And of course one may treat their neighbors, lovers, and enemies differently if they regard them as the phenomenological tip of a deep and mysterious iceberg of a soul.

For me, I see no reason we must regard concepts without phenomenological anchors as Nothingness, but I do see the advantages of doing so for certain intellectual endeavors. Whatever Mystical knowledge we might obtain would certainly be very personal, and therefore ever in danger of becoming tyrannical when it is communicated to those who do not obtain the knowledge first hand. In some ways I might say it would be safer to regard those things without anchors as Nothingness, if it weren't for the fact that many would not be able to breathe that air.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mathematics as Pure Relation

It seems to me that the difference between mathematics and other studies is that mathematics consists entirely of relations.

Whereas other studies consist of objects and their relations to properties or their relations to one another (for example, in biology we say that the platypus is a mammal that lays eggs, which could be cast as a statement about how a platypus relates to the mammal property and the egg laying property; in history we say that in 49 B.C. Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon - which can be cast as a spatial relation between Caesar and the Rubicon and a temporal relation between 49 B.C. and all other dates), mathematics can be seen as being nothing but relation. What is the definition of '5?' We could define it as a relation - it is the relation of being less than 6 and more than 4. This is rough, of course, if one considers the infinite fractions or decimals that could also fit that definition, but what else is a number save a relation to all other numbers?

Mathematics can be seen as the study of the continuum relation. Can a relation exist apart from objects? Are there relations simply relating [void] to [void]? At this time I see no need to conceive of relations in this way. My concept of relations requires that things be related to one another.

5 + 5 = 10 is an abstracted mathematical relation. It is true in the way that any concept can be true: it is coherent, it does not violate the principles involved in its own definition, but it is not yet bound to the world of phenomena. Five marbles thrown into a jar of five marbles will produce what we call ten marbles in a jar; the abstract logical construct has now been bound to the world of phenomena.

Monday, August 26, 2013

"Without Hell there is No Justice; No Morality without God"

When I first encountered the sprawling debate between skeptics and Christians on the internet, I found the oft-repeated comment that without God there is no reason to do good and without hell there would be no reason to do evil. Some people went so far as to say that if God were somehow proven to be nonexistent, the only reasonable course of action for them would be an amoral rampage wherein they indulged whatever appetites they had been starving for the sake of their faith. If one were so inclined, one could find thousands of posts on the internet stating that life would be meaningless without God - and thousands of skeptical responses mocking this notion and asking if those people really consider their romances, children, careers, and masturbatory habits to be completely meaningless.

I am, of course, speaking as an observer at the moment. But I have also been on both sides of this concept. There was a time where I too could not conceive of justice and morality without heaven and hell, immortality, and a supreme ethical judge who wrote moral truths into the universe. And, as should be obvious by now, that is not my present position. However, based on both observation and experience, I have come to the conclusion that the people who say that their morals are rooted in immortality and God are indeed speaking the truth, and that they are being perfectly logical when they say that without God their is no right and wrong. This is one of the best illustrations of concept definition.

Take two people from completely different cultures. If they agree that something is 'wrong,' what do they mean? It may take the form of a command, 'drinking from the green fountain is wrong' may just mean, 'do not drink from the green fountain.' It may also be the recognition of a conclusion from a certain method of thought, 'drinking from the green fountain is wrong,' may mean, 'according to the sign posted next to the green fountain, and assuming that what the sign says is correct, we may not drink of it.' In these cases, the word 'wrong' should have a fairly simple meaning requiring minimal shared context - the concept of 'do not' or the concept 'believe what signs tell you' for example.

However, take two people from the same culture, a culture that has grown and evolved over millenniums to reach whatever height or depth it happens to be at at the present moment. Suppose that these two people say that something is wrong. What they mean by the word 'wrong' may be something completely different to what someone from another cultural context means by the word - although it may seem superficially similar to an outside observer. Two Christians living in a Christian community may have grown up to see the word 'wrong' as meaning, 'forbidden by God.' 'Drinking from the green fountain is wrong,' would then mean, 'drinking from the green fountain draws one away from God,' or perhaps, 'drinking from the green fountain is contrary to the absolute law of God.' In this case, if one negates the concept 'God,' then one necessarily negates all moral statements for such people as well, because their definition of morality relies on the concept of God. Negating God leaves them with mountains of useless sentences - sentences that become empty words because of their reliance on a presupposition.

Perhaps someone asks what the substance of this belief is. What is the actual difference between different beliefs on the nature of 'wrong?' The substance lies in this: what things are forbidden, and the degree to which they arouse disgust or use of force or anger. No doubt it is baffling to many the way that some Christians seem so enraged by, say, homosexuality relative to more commonly held moral offenses like theft. One must look at the concept of 'wrong' that is being used to understand how homosexuality could arouse that degree of moral outrage.

For those who are disheartened by this, simply remember that the way we define our concepts relies heavily on the situations we are in and the needs we have. If a devout Christian has a concept of the meaning of life and a concept of morality that relies on the existence of God, and that devout Christian then comes to lose faith, they will fall into nihilism but there is nothing that demands that they stay there. They have an opportunity to define new concepts, and in most cases they will probably do so. Who has not defined a concept later in life in a way that is different from what they were initially taught?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Wrestle with Public Phenomena

Will, Reason, Concepts, Lenses, Presuppositions, all of these things are relatively Self. We can perceive (perception being the ultimate extreme of Self) them change, we perceive their trends and their twistings directly, we perceive the world differently according to their state. These things are very near to us, and they are very personal. I can not perceive my will the way that you perceive my will; and likewise I can not perceive another person's will the way that I perceive my will. My will is unique to me.

This is why in this day and age it is expected that the philosopher give a bow to the scientist. Even though my narcissism prevents me from agreeing with this sentiment, I do understand it. The scientist must wrestle with the world of public phenomena, his perception being colored by his lenses, but him making every effort to do his work with lenses that any person could wear. He does not work with those things that are near to him, his work is far more with Other than the philosopher's work is. His rules do not easily change, the areas and solutions that are prohibited to him are many. He can not think as himself, he must put his own inclinations aside and adopt the perspective that has been put into language by a community.

And most of all, he must measure the phenomena. He can not merely take note of a phenomena and form theories about it that seem coherent and workable to him. He must gather data, he directly works with the outside world as it appears to him. He has far less power and freedom than the philosopher does.

Is it any wonder that his profession produces so many more concrete benefits for the species?

All this is not to give credit to scientists - although they do of course deserve their share of credit - rather it is to acknowledge that focusing on the changes and developments of that which is near to us produces a futile picture of the world. What does it matter how Will and Reason develop without an outer world of phenomena for it to interact with? How could Self ever develop without an Other to draw it beyond itself?

Never forget that what one sees can be theorized about in numerous ways, but it is only seen in one way.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Despair at the World Being as the World is

It is common for a person to look around at the world and feel crushed. It is not what they want it to be. It is not filled with the air their want to breathe. If this person is of sufficient intelligence, they will write books about how the world is. These books will portray a world that is fundamentally broken: while the world's logical structure is portrayed as coherent there is some breakdown between the human perspective and the structure of the world. They create an objective kind of despair by saying that humans are such, the world is such, and humans and the world cannot get along in a way that produces happiness.

But, then, while the world may be such given one starting vantage point, it is something else entirely from another vantage point. And while humans may be such given one way of life, they may be something else entirely given different presuppositions and values.

The answer when one comes to despair at the way that the world is is not to argue the point. It rarely does good to sit down and analyze the mechanics of a worldview in hopes that there are little contradictions written into the foundations that can bring the whole damned building down. Instead simply present a new point. Build a different building, and in that different building you will find that the discrepancy between humanity and the world can simply fade away.

Feel the weight lift off your spirit once you, for example, make peace with the fact that you are not alive to enjoy yourself and that there is no need to live as though you exist to enjoy yourself. Whatever pain that human existence guarantees is much less bitter once one ceases to resent it. Likewise, surrender your picture of an objective meaning of life for humanity that is to be found in the world, then your failure to find one will cease to be baffling.

Once you build the new worldview, ask what obligation you have to sit in the first worldview when you are much more at ease in the second? Does it truly have any coercive power over you? Is it 'true?'

I don't say this to the pessimists. I don't say this to the optimists. I say this to the optimists who feel obligated to fit themselves into a pessimism that does not fit them right; likewise to the pessimists who can not find all of their pessimism confirmed by what they see in the world.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Evolution of Will and Reason Applied to Skill Development

Previously I wrote about the way that a primitive stage of will and a primitive stage of reason build off of each other to eventually evolve into Will and Reason. I now think that this particular bit of theorizing can actually have a practical application, seeing as there is no reason to suppose that this is isolated to the development of a human being, but should be able to be adapted to more particular situations. In fact, I think that this model could be used as a guide to acquiring new skills later on in life.

We begin with dissatisfaction(W), which leads to movement, which leads to encounters(R). When encounters are multiplied they become experience(R), and experience filtered through the particulars of our nature becomes preference(W). Preference compels us to act in such a way that we avoid some things and cling to others, necessitating a model of the world to guide us, this model being Reason or Language. Reason and Language give form to our preference allowing us to pursue even that which does not sit in front of us, at last resulting in Will.

This is the picture of I have of the evolution of Will and Reason, now apply this picture to the acquisition of a more particular skill.

We begin by being dissatisfied with our skill set. Maybe we are well accomplished, but we lack, say, a musical skill, or perhaps we are utterly unskilled from years of laziness and we wish to reverse this. So we begin searching for a skill to learn, we watch films, we talk to friends, we surf the internet, and we start having encounters. We see the art of guitar playing from the outside, we hear someone play the piano, we listen to a dear friend explain the exact technique for copulating with an oboe. Preferences begin to emerge - we certainly do not want anything to do with the oboe, but the piano arouses our passions, the prospect of learning it excites us. Perhaps we pursue the piano, and then find that we miss the showmanship associated with actually moving our instrument around with us as one does with a guitar - perhaps we find that we are more interested in an instrument that can be carried around and played at any moment - these things we discover with experience, which in turn refines our preferences and makes them more specific.

Finally, with preference and experience, we can use reason and language to state a goal or objective. We take our preferences and we state that we want to be a part of a band, or we state that we want to play at street fairs or what have you. This is the form that our will takes: Will-to-Bandhood or Will-to-Irritate-Fair-Patrons. Then we can organize our lives and efforts in the context of this will, acting in such a way as to bring about the desired.

At least until we decide that we really should learn a classic game, chess perhaps?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

What is an Emotion?

We all use the word "emotion," we can live with the concept, but can we clarify it? Can we draw it out of the messy context in which it is actually used and present a polished - albeit artificial - definition of the word? No doubt we can, Websters should be more than sufficient for that task, but can we do so from where we are sitting right now, right off the top of our heads? I imagine any psychological thinkers in my audience could, but could the man outside that preoccupation?

I myself am not certain that I could. I tend to conflate the words "emotion," "feeling," "passion," and sometimes "impulse" or "inclination." But then, when I think of a feeling I do not think of an impulse, nor do I see passion as being quite the same as an inclination. I tend to use the word "emotion" in contrast to "reason," "analysis," or "language." I sometimes say that I think people have acted out of emotion, especially when I can not fit their behavior into the context of a larger goal or schema. I speak of an emotional part of myself, a category into which I fit certain states of being - the state of being excited or terrified or joyful.

Frankly, I think the way I use the word is a terrible mess. It lacks clarity. What appearances is it bound too? What part of the world am I trying to describe?

When I ask this question, I see something that I think is essential: the emotion is an appearance that others can not see except through me. That is, anger, say, appears to me ("that makes me so angry"), and I change in such a way that others see anger expressed through me ("look at his fists, GTW is angry"). Whereas the appearance of an object is something that we can all approach on equal footing ("there is a rock" "there is a rock") I have a special relation to an emotion that others do not share. It is more sensible to say that I am angry than it would be to say that I am appeared-to-rockly. In some sense the emotion is a part of me, it is closer to Self whereas objects are closer to Other.

Does the emotion proceed from me or does the emotion happen to me? At what point in the continuum of Self and Other do we mark "me?" Answer that and I can answer whether it proceeds or happens. Regardless it is not a neat break: we have emotions in response to that which is outside ourselves, we do not directly control the emotions, nobody can directly arouse an emotion in us on command they can only take note of those things that tend to arouse certain emotions, and sometimes the same external situation produces different emotions. This much is clear: it is much nearer to Self than objects are, and others can not experience our emotions as we do.

This is where I shall begin: an emotion is an appearance that I have privileged access to relative to other human beings.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Recording One's Life

We only exist in a moment.

Everything we experience, everything we perceive, it all takes place in a moment. There is no past for us to experience: memories exist in the present. There is no future for us to experience: speculation exists in the present. For your truest self, Perception, there is only a moment - the present.

But using reason to step outside of Self into Other, well, you can divide the world into Past and Present to help make sense of things. And of course we - in some sense - exist for a lifespan. And when we from our single moment try to grasp that lifespan everything gets fuzzy. Memories are hazy and prone to revision, speculation nearly always excludes far too many factors to be worth a damn for accuracy, and we tend to tune out most of our lives anyway.

I am especially guilty of this. I love the idea of journaling and recording life, but I never stick with it. I have an OhLife that I haven't touched in about a year, I think I have some blogs set to private taking up space on a server somewhere with just two or three entries, I don't know how many documents on my computer detailed the events of one or two days before getting stuffed in a "I'll go through all this later" document never to be seen again.

And really, that is sort of sad to me. Events and experiences that I have a privileged view of I have let tumble carelessly into the memory hole. I have made no attempt to preserve them in language or some kind of model or memorial. Sometimes I reflect on this and feel as though there is a certain failure in this, or, if not a failure, certainly a missed opportunity.

Upon reflection, I realize that what must be taken into account is that time spent recording is not time spent living. If you spend one hour a day recording your life, then you only have 23 hours left to go do things worth writing about. If you spend a half-hour, that is still a half-hour that breaks up your actual living. If pausing for a half-hour seems all too easy for you, are you sure that you are living richly enough to begin with? And of course life is mostly business-as-usual, that is, after all, the definition of 'business-as-usual.' What does one record when you sit down at the end of a day and try to pick out the stand out moments to record and then realize that your day is a haze of routine, habit, and the same old shit?

Occasionally I feel the need to be inventive. This is one of those times.