Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Philosophy as Strength

I have been sick for the past few days, and since I prefer to act like a pansy when I get sick, I've spent most of the last two days laying in bed. My sickness isn't too bad, just a sore throat that has since become a stuffed-up nose and a headache. My body temperature seems to be fluctuating a bit, my hands were ice cold a few hours ago and are now rather warm to someone else's touch but chilly from my perspective. I'm drained and using it as an excuse to be lazy.

Unfortunately, a side effect of this is that my mind has not been in a place for me to do any meaningful writing, so I've just spent the last two days doing some light reading. Clicking StumbleUpon set to philosophy to find interesting articles to read when I'm feeling better, browsing blog traffic exchange sites to find smaller philosophy blogs I could start perusing, and things of that sort. As I did this last night, though, I began to feel my mood shifting. It was when I was reading a brief overview of modern positions in the philosophy of mind; the more the positions differed from my own, the more I could feel a certain anxiety in my chest. Nothing intense, mind you, just a slight sickness of the emotions.

I finished the article and moved on to look at other things, but the anxiety persisted. This happens to me rather frequently, in fact, almost whenever I read anything that differs too greatly from what I would consider comfortable ground. It's not even that I necessarily find it persuasive, simply that there are people out there who believe what they believe and, presumably, have some reason for believing it; as well as the fact that I am always aware that no matter how horrible a worldview might seem, it is a worldview that I could one day adopt. Today I had some time to sit and think about this anxiety I feel.

Up until now, I'd always taken it as a sign of mental weakness. For one, it always seems to indicate a lack of conviction. If every new idea I encounter strikes me as a threat to my current worldview and as a possible worldview I might accidentally be persuaded to follow, it implies that I am secretly aware of all the vulnerabilities of my present philosophy and do not really believe that it could hold its own in a battle of evidence and reason. For two, it always seemed to indicate that I could not approach someone's idea without, however momentarily, adopting it as my own for a time. Not being able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

I still consider this mostly true, and even though I consider it a weakness, I no longer consider it a harm. I realized that the main reason why I write anything at all and the reason I am interested in philosophy in the first place is because ideas can be painful to me. When I encounter an idea, I am acutely aware that I am encountering something that can completely undermine my identity and the way I view my relationship with the world. I am aware of this, because it has happened, my deconversion being the most prominent example; as well as the fact that nearly every belief I hold was, when I first encountered it, a belief I found painful or frightening. It is because I approach ideas in this way that I am interested in philosophy, because I want to know what other ideas are available, how ideas come into conflict, and how to defend my identity against the threat of external ideas while also being able to recognize when I must let an idea, however loathsome, win.

Philosophy, as I approach it, is a kind of strength. It is the expansion of territory in which we are familiar, and it is the ability to see how to defend the territory we call our own. It is the increase of knowledge and ability to use reason, for the sake of being able to make sense of where my ideas stand in relation to other ideas.

That anxiety in the pit of my chest that appears when I read things that I disagree with, that's what spurs me on to keep learning. The only way I feel healthy is when I'm actively thinking through ideas and writing out my own. If I were to ever stop, I fear that I would be overrun by all those ideas I haven't yet explored, and may even come to have an identity I could no longer recognize.

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