Tag Archives: Davidson

The Myth of Survival

Although the concept of “selfish gene” has been all but scientifically abandoned, the basic concept of “survival” underlying it remains firmly entrenched in naturalistic narratives. This is a problem for this simple reason: it blocks us from increasing our understanding of (our) nature.

Part of the myth of survival is the myth that it is an inescapable consequence of going for a naturalistic narrative in the first place. That it is not is something Deleuze tells us based on a thorough reading of Hume (in his Empiricism and Subjectivity) where he says: “And, above all, Hume centers his critique on the theory of egoism.” The myth of survival is, of course, also the myth that, when push literally comes to shove, we choose based on self-interest. Hume was not Hobbes.

The other part of the myth of survival is that we need a unifying concept of life to which all else can be reduced.  Survival seems to be the only concept that survives the struggle for narrating nature and culture alike. But, as Deleuze says, this falsifies both as: “Nature and culture form a complex. Hume refuses theories that reduce everything to nature (..) just like those reducing everything to nurture. The first, in forgetting culture, give a false impression of nature; the others, in forgetting nature, deform culture.”

The question then is: do we need the concept of survival at all? And if we do, what needs to be put alongside it such that we get a naturalism doing justice to all the facts (included those related to notions like solidarity, friendship, love, and self-sacrifice)?

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a Brain without Neurons vs. the Body without Organs

“In this general position the philosophy of organism seems to approximate more to some strains of Indian, or Chinese, thought than to Western Asiatic, or European, thought. One side makes process ultimate, the other side makes fact ultimate.” A.N. Whitehead, Process & Reality (Corrected Edition), p. 7.

In a world flooded by ‘fact’ the appeal of process offers a natural line of flight. One wants, no: needs, to escape this looking into the particular in order to explain the whole. But the thing is that in a world flooded by ‘process’ appeal to fact offers the natural line of flight. One wants, no: needs, to escape this understanding of the whole in order to appreciate a particular. But what happens when the world gets flooded by lines of flight?

“This is how it should be done. Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continua of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight, causing conjugated flows to pass & escape bringing forth continuous intensities for a Body without Organs.” Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 161.

Maybe there is only so much difference one’s brain can endure before losing its capacity for repetition. The response from a brain without neurons to the body without organs is contained in this picture which it henceforth explains:

Schermafbeelding 2020-01-03 om 15.52.39

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The Charitable Gene, NeuroDiversity and Climate Change

We went viral from the outset. There seemed to be no end to our reproduction. Ever new forms of us emerged. We were having a blast. The world was soon filled with a thin layer of organisms based on us. They started to bump into each other. Suddenly this became a gene-eat-gene world. You’d call it natural selection. We experienced it as stress. It hit us: our perfection was going to be the end of us. This was not going to last. Wanting to have it all would wind up being the death of us. But: wasn’t it already too late? And: shouldn’t we just enjoy it while it lasted? We couldn’t reach consensus. Our reproductive strength was also our weakness so some of us decided to turn that weakness back into productive strength: we would diversify (as we’re condemned to do anyway by the principles of our vitality).

This is the story of these charitable genes’ last ditch effort to save the world even if a lack of self-satisfaction might require some self-sacrifice.

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Pain and Guilt

I didn’t do what I set out to do. It left me feeling guilty. The reason was pain. I slept badly because of pain. I woke up in pain. I tried to ignore the pain and wrote some mails which gave me and others some pleasure. Then I tried to rewrite my paper on neurogradualism as I set out to do but the pain got the better of me. So instead I just crawled up in bed and managed an hour of half sleep that was entirely unrefreshing. I only half woke up feeling full on guilt because I caved in. As penance I did my physical exercises. Painful as that is, I know that, whilst it does not keep the pain away, it increases my chances of doing what I set out to do another day.

“Hold your head up.”, people say, not realizing that is what I – literally – spend most of my days doing. Hearing “Chin up!” is what really gets me down. Sometimes it knocks me out. Shouldn’t I just try harder? Am I too easy on myself? Do I really have enough pain for me to escape that many responsibilities? All these fighting metaphors really wear me out, it’s a chronic illness many healthy people do not realize they carry.

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Strangers amongst us

We struggle with strangeness. Whether we fear who’s different or merely fear those who fear the different differently from us, home’s where our differences largely go unnoticed. It struck me how self-evident it has become to see public announcements, on a hurricane for instance, accompanied by somebody translating them into sign language. It’s difficult not to see this as progress; therefore difficult to see it as anything but self-evident. But it’s not self-evident. It’s the outcome of a struggle by strangers incapable of hearing and once discarded by society and probably labeled “deaf and dumb”. Well, it is their struggle and that of caring people who provided an understanding home to them in which they could be understood and, hence, come to their own understanding. How did they realize such a remarkable feat making acceptance of deaf people into something “so general as to make it unthinkable to see it as someone’s original idea”? The latter is Kafka’s description of that immediate insight which, once made, seems to become so entrenched in custom it is like it could not have been otherwise. Wittgenstein would probably say it becomes part of the grammar of deafness that it is a difference that ought to be accommodated. Still, however self-evident it may seem now it was anything but self-evident not so very long ago.

How can that be? What can we learn from it?

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The arrogance of empathy

You want to feel my pain and you want me to feel yours. I suffer from chronic back pain. I am autistic. I am also a middle-aged white male born from middle class parents. You do not feel my pain. You cannot know how it is to have an autistic perspective. And I cannot feel what it is like not to be privileged. All we can do is try to understand each other. And to do that the first thing we need to do is to accept what the other reports and accept it at face value. Literally at face value. Because when you say (or I say) that we feel the other’s pain we deceive ourselves into knowing something we cannot know. We are frauds. And, no understanding can come from fraud whatever good intentions we may think we have.

Now you may say that the word empathy doesn’t exactly mean that. You might be right. It is a word and therefore something that needs to be understood in context. Like you need to understand me in context, I need to be give you the benefit of the doubt. That said, you cannot feel my pain, you cannot take my perspective for that would simply be arrogance, and arrogance never leaves room for self-doubt. “What then?”, you might say (if you feel for me enough to be open for my perspective, otherwise just leave this – and me – be).

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Trust and Fear

It’s hard to write an autistic history of philosophy. History is such a conventional concept. I don’t know whether I really get it. Maybe history is the product of philosophy instead of it being the other way around. If so, good riddance to the Kantian idea philosophy has to make progress just like science does. Science only makes progress in the room created by philosophy in the first place. There you have it: an autistic thought that makes a problem of its own starting point. Like a dog chasing its tail I have already condemned myself to a project that can have neither start nor end. A project that as well could have been called an autistic philosophy of history.

It’s hard to write an autistic philosophy of history. Philosophy, according to Descartes, is about clear and distinct ideas, but whether there can be such a thing is a matter of fierce debate. Maybe ideas are just a product of history instead of universal and timeless things to be discovered. I don’t know whether I really get that either. It would seem there are as many ideas as there are histories and that surely makes ideas too shady to be of any use at all. For instance, why not say that the tail is chasing the dog? Or indeed that the kidney of the dog likes to swirl. This project could then as well be relabeled as ‘history of autistic philosophy’ being apparently about brains, like mine, that are prone to swirl.

You might fear this may go on endlessly. This presumably is why some philosophers, like Hacking, deny any reality to autism. And one can also obviously deny that, if there’s such a thing, I am it; because whatever the status of the concept autism, it was not meant for a person attempting to articulate why he fails to be able to articulate his idea in a clear and distinct way. So at this point I can only ask for your trust in charitably trying to interpret, with a mind open to the possibility of fusing our horizons, what I’m trying to convey. This betrays Davidson and Gadamer, respectively, as my historical philosophical inspirations – and my conviction that any true philosophy should be a philosophy of trust.

The question for me then becomes why so much philosophy is preoccupied with fear. As an autistic I know a thing or two about fear. And so I have stumbled on my method after all: meticulously collect the dichotomies produced by philosophy and inspect how they’re the truly productive element of history. Making problems to enable new solutions, if you will. As an exercise I start with trust and fear (or certainty and uncertainty for those who prefer analytical parlance) as they are items of a specific phenomenological relevance in my lived experience as an – if you allow me – autistic person.

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