Tag Archives: learning

Job’s Metamorphosis

‘My dear parents,’ said the sister banging her hand on the table by way of an introduction, ‘things cannot go on any longer in this way. Maybe if you don’t understand that, well, I do. I will not utter my brother’s name in front of this monster, and thus I say only that we must try to get rid of it. We have tried what is humanly possible to take care of it and to be patient. I believe that no one can criticize us in the slightest.’, F. Kafka, The Metamorphosis.

Only when you’re heard does it make sense to say something.

Job only wants one thing: to be heard. His friends listen to him. They do not hear what he is saying. Gregor wanted one thing: that his sister might develop herself. She does and so stops listening to him.

It’s all right. Both get what they want in the end. Not justice or wisdom or payback for the observation of their duties. They get want they want. They’re heard. Job’s tabernacle will be blessed and Gregor’s family fairs well as well.

You can read both as criticism. That is what happens if you try to hear what is being said. Still, think a little harder when you are trying to hear something. Or a little less. Because, you know, literally both stories end on the up and up. Gregor and Job get what they want, they literally and exactly get what they want.

If you think they don’t then you didn’t hear what they said. Maybe because you were too busy still listening to what you want for them. Probably because you only hear what you want.

Try again (warning: full-on atheism ahead): Continue reading

The looping parable

I write this inspired by the work of Ian Hacking on looping effects, human kinds and so on. My sympathies are with Hacking on this. Still, I believe there’s something that needs to be added: the social looping effect needs a binding effect in reality to remain stable. This has consequences: it is too easy to reduce a specific kind of humans out of the human kind just because they are confronted with a reality that happens to be out of the social norm.

Let me make up a story, a parable of sorts, about an imaginary civilization in which an evil both real and socially constructed exists. A parable has the virtue of edification because it illustrates a point without risking the muddle of prejudice which will inevitably surround any actual real and/or socially constructed concept or behavior.

Mountains, social exclusion and initiation rituals ahead:

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Improper Subsets

“Your occupation is to keep your disguise intact and you succeed in it because your mask is the most puzzling of all; to wit you are nothing, you are constantly only in relation to others, and what you are you are only in virtue of that relation.” S. Kierkegaard, Either/Or, own translation.

One word can make a world of difference. The word that makes the difference in the above quote is the word ‘only’. It is not a problem to be constantly in relation to others. Likewise it is not a problem to be yourself in virtue of that relation. The issue is when you are ‘only’ that. It is simply true that you are at least that and the sad truth is that in atomistic times that simple truth is swiftly swept under the rug. You can deny that what you are you are in virtue of your relation to others but the result of your denial is that you’re nothing because you add nothing; what remains of you is ‘only’ your mechanical relation to others.

It may be a stretch to go from Kierkegaard to mathematics. Still, there’s a sense in which it is improper to call the subset of all your relations a subset of all your relations. Somehow it is an impropriety shining through a most modern sense of self: by taking everything one is taking all that can be taken and this everything just ‘has to make do’. Well, it doesn’t and I will now rant a little on how this failure explains current political issues around identity as well as the intuition that personality-changing medication strikes us as ‘unreal’. It will be a rant that takes the Heisenberg principle as consequence – not cause! -of Kierkegaard’s above use of the word ‘only’. Call me crazy and just read on regardless. Crazy is fun.

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The Tunnel

“Poets are the bees of the invisible, Rilke said.”
William H. Gass, The Tunnel, Dalkey Archive Press, 1999, p. 110.

It should have been: ‘Poets are the bees of the not yet visible.”  Flowers that are not yet visible are invisible. And so are you. Am I. Some things remain invisible though & as such are not not yet visible. Maybe that accounts for Maeterlinck’s fascination with bees.

Was Rilke inaccurate (did he say that?) or does the invisible only apply to what’s ultimately going to flower? Truth as yet undiscovered still truth is. No matter if the words are well ordered. Rilke said; Rilke sad. It’s to a large extent how extent tends to some extent being turned into ‘extend’. A tunnel from the dark side to a more truthful state, of affairs.

Capisce?

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Adaptive Thinking

“(..) insight can come from outside the mind.”
G. Gigerenzer, Adaptive Thinking, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. vii (a.o.).

There’s something deeply unnerving about scientists, especially neuroscientists: it is the idea that whatever there is can be located somewhere. Localized so as to make it a candidate for treatment of some sort. In this sense, neuroscience took over the world because the world is filled with people who believe things can be pinpointed and then addressed. Forget about the butterfly effect, the butterfly is in our current world view pinned down where it can be examined.

Nothing can be farther removed from the ecological point of view (this includes most people who see themselves as the ‘advocates of ecological preservation’). It may well be that this world view of pinning down, setting apart and solving is the root cause of us not applying evident solutions to the issues we have, in a broad sense, with our environment.

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Cannery Row (II)

“I was glad when you hit me,” Mack went on. “I thought to myself – ‘Maybe this will teach me. Maybe I’ll remember this.’ But, hell, I won’t remember nothin’. I won’t learn nothin’. Doc,” (..)
J. Steinbeck, The Short Novels of John Steinbeck, Penguin Books 2009, Cannery Row, p. 496.

But he did learn. He was made to learn. Somehow learning is a sad thing because learning is leaving something behind and speeding away from it and that is why it is so common not to want to learn. Learning is picking up speed without knowing where you are getting to faster. There is a deep universal melancholy for a state of innocence which is a state of non-learning: the status quo.

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Kakanien

‘Ausserdem lehrt die Zoologie dass aus einer Summe von reduzierten Individuen sehr wohl ein geniales Ganzes bestehen kann.
Robert Musil, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, Band I, p. 32, Rowholt (rororo), 1978.

[Amateuristic English translation below: “Besides, Zoology teaches us that out of the sum of reduced individuals may well emerge a brilliant whole.”]

[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 18-03-2010. Ah, my Musil period ;-]

I’m tired. I could just go with the irony of this & make it easy on myself. Heroism is, after all, the easiest interpretation of human value. Heroism combined with some praise of the supporting sheepishness, insofar as it supports the survival of the heroic queen bee. This is after all the classical conservative worldview of the many that are merely the fuel for the engine of greatness that, from time to time, delivers a prophet or a sage or an enlightened philosopher or a paradigm-shifting artist.

But I won’t make it that easy on myself. Continue reading