Tag Archives: Nietzsche

On ‘Being Anxious’ and ‘Anxiety’

“Anxiety (Angst) is ubiquitous, but seems capable of a lower and a higher form.” I. Murdoch in her “Sein Und Zeit: Pursuit of Being”.

My question is: can being anxious be a good thing? If etymology would have the final say, the answer would be a straightforward: “No!”.  ‘Anxious’ comes to us from the Latin verb “angere” which means to choke (under a pressing uncertainty). Still, one can be anxious – at least according to Merriam-Webster – for positive news. Such a positive turn seems not to be on for ‘anxiety’. It would seem anxiety is something one can simply and only suffer from. Still, if one is anxious it would seem that the only thing that can describe what one feels is anxiety.

What’s up with these words then? How does their grammar work? Iris Murdoch does not explore this in the text I quoted but it seems a matter of some practical and philosophical consequence; maybe one of those rare occasions where these types of consequence meet. People tell me to try to stop being anxious (and just ‘be’). This always makes me anxious, for (what) would I be if I weren’t anxious for something? I’d certainly not be ‘me’.

I tend to agree then with Kierkegaard (whose lead Heidegger is basically following) that a life worth living is in a certain way always also a life of anxiety. The original question is then recast into: is this such a dismal state of affairs as it is made out to be?

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Thursday Take-Down of Our Education

Studying is essentially still this: converting stuff in books to stuff in brains. In order to do well in school you have to have a large storage and excellent read/write access to it. Very much as if processor, programming and sensitivity to context do not matter. It is like our education system is stuck in not caring about anything but our memory capacity. And so it produces the new standard uniform class of power people who have muscled memory, and the disciplined balls that go with it. I’ll try to explain why this is as unnecessary as it is bad and why it’s nevertheless unlikely to change.

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Incognito

For famous people it’s refreshing to get out and about without being recognized. At least, so I’m told. Not being famous it’s a feeling I fear I must go without. I feel like an emperor without clothes who – if noticed at all – is noticed for feeling like one despite his clothes. I have no claim to fame nor is it fame that I claim. I do think I have something to say and, I wonder: is there a correlation between having something to say and being famous? It is certainly a matter of fact that many who are thought to have something to say have, first, said something which made them infamous.

The thing is, confused or not, if you wear the heavy garb of an emperor it has to feel light to be able to shed it. Maybe it even feels enlightening. The other thing though is that once enlightened you can go back to your uniform and feel positively sure you’ll impress. That is the way of your subjects, you can rest assured that they’ll bow for your garb. Or maybe hiss at it. Whichever way, your difference will never be met with indifference.

Let’s imagine I’m born an emperor who has never been crowned. Can I be incognito?

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Imagination and Autism

It’s common to see autism linked to (a lack of) imagination, sense of humor, empathy and a host of other human qualities. That makes me wonder. After all, I feel ‘all too human’ to identify with robots or “very-large-brained” apes. I kid you not: these are analogies made by a leading autism researcher in a best-selling book. He might defend himself by saying it was an attempt at vulgarizing science. That does not change the fact such comparisons are, plainly and simply, vulgar.

Maybe it’s because since my diagnosis I finally form part of a minority (instead of merely feeling that way) that I’m more philosophically sensitive about generalization (instead of merely finding them bullshit). Denying human qualities to people is inhuman. It isn’t any less inhumane to qualify that such qualities are statistically less present in a certain set of people. We’re after all not talking about length or the ability to dance or dress well.

So, the problem has to lie in a confusion of how the word is understood. Clearing up such misunderstanding then has the double benefit of understanding better what such human qualities are not and taking away related false generalizations holding a minority down.

This is what I attempted to do in a (philosophical) way in this paper for one case: that of autism and imagination. I do not believe it is an easy read but if you want to check it out at the level of the abstract, you’ll find that below the fold as a (non-?)appetizer. Continue reading

Anti-Socrates

Do you know the mental torture known as “the Socratic method”? It is the watered down version of the origin of all mental torture: the method of Socrates. Despite the likeness of naming, their commonality is limited to one party in conversation passive-aggressively expressing his superiority over the other. In the latter this is done by a person in power asking questions for which no definite answer exists and in the former the questioner’s power derives from asking a question to which he already knows the answer. The result is the same: answering is like a mouse trying to escape from a cat.

Leszek Kolakowski said: “There is one man with whom all European philosophers identify themselves, even if they dismiss his ideas altogether. This is Socrates – a philosopher who is unable to identify himself with this archetypal figure does not belong to this civilization.” in Metaphysical Horror, p. 1, Basil Blackwell.

I don’t know whether this means I am not civilized, not European, not a philosopher or a combination thereof. Maybe Socrates would have thought it a question worth exploring – so let me explore.

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Anti-physics

“(..) who cannot reveal himself cannot love, who cannot love is the unhappiest of all. But you do this out of sheer obnoxiousness, you train yourself in the art to become a riddle for others.” S. Kierkegaard, Either/Or, my translation from Dutch.

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche have a common cause in destroying the confusion that places us as an instrument of ultimate truth. They are seen as anti-metaphysical and adopted by many of this very (psycho)physical age – oh, the irony of it! – as evidence that these times, our times, are superior in having overcome that specific Hegelian disease of thinking.

That’s not true. We straightened some wrinkles to find injecting botox has just made us look more preposterous than ever. We now believe physics can solve anything and that it is just a matter of time to resolve the riddle of life. Deep down we believe there is eternal truth; we happen now to believe as well it is just a matter of time before we find it. Some even think that if they live long enough they’ll live forever and don’t stop to think what a ghastly thought that is.

The question in this evidence based world is: what counts as evidence?

Is it the increasingly complex models picking out specific observations designed to falsify it but somehow always winding up verifying something? Or is it the everyday meeting of minds where you make yourself vulnerable to misunderstanding?

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Dialogues with Dr. Death (2)

I (knocks): Hey, Death, you there?
Dr. Death: Yeah, who there?

I: I
DrD: Ah, you again. What now?

I: Well I wanted to talk some about this notion of self-preservation. People seem to think it crucial stuff.
DrD: Philosophers you mean? My experience is people rarely think at all, maybe I just get them when they’re all thought out.

I: Yeah, well, philosophers I suppose. But don’t they supposedly voice what people think?
DrD: They suppose that they think like other people think. My experience falsifies that.

I: Ah, O-kay, I see. so maybe self-preservation is not such a common thought after all? Continue reading