Tag Archives: tones

The Profanities of Hume & Spinoza

Religion is not getting a lot of slack nowadays. Maybe in reading those who were first to be overtly critical of religion we can learn exactly what occasioned the onslaught. This is an exercise in that, FWIW.

1. Introduction

In tracing back the questions raised in the early modern period we may hope to trace back the current secular attitude to religion. To make a start with this analysis, I focus on 2 short texts by Baruch Spinoza, The Metaphysical Moralist (1), and David Hume, On Superstition and Enthusiasm (2), where they explicitly treat of the threats inherent to religions when the imagination goes unchecked by rationality. My analysis tries to bring to light that there is a crucial difference in their treatment: whilst Spinoza sees linear progress in using reason to eliminate ‘uncalled for’ imagination, Hume puts reason as a mediator between two extreme uses of imagination (one leading to docile superstition – the other to fanatic enthusiasm). In my view there is something of fanatic enthusiasm to Spinoza’s view on rationality which, in denying a constructive impetus in imagination, denies something more basic to the human condition than the arbitrary conventions of specific religions. Both Hume and Spinoza utter profanities against religion, but only Spinoza utterly desacralized the human condition. Continue reading

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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

The Autinomies of Philosophy

The chance of there being an unconscious typo in the title is about as big as that of Freud not having slipped up. If it appears I am talking in riddles that is only because you feel that there is something to decipher. One thing is certain: philosophers are weird. So am I. Even if that doesn’t establish anything as far as me being a philosopher, you got my drift.

Carnap_in-science-there-are-no-depths-there-is-surface-everywhere-403x403-nk55v7

Let us wonder a while about the weirdness of philosophers. They have come up with waves and particles, with particulars and universals. Then they calculated and associated to come to one invariable conclusion: neither the one nor the other, or both at the same time but in an at most a superficial manner. Philosophers say they despair about this. That is merely a mask they wear to ensure somebody feeds them. If they’re particularly power hungry they will even exclaim they’ve solved it. Solutions sell, this much they know of real life. It’s one of those regularities that have neither rhyme nor reason.

Without weirdness we would discuss in caves instead of about waves. What is wrong with that? Caves are no place for philosophers. So what’s up with them?

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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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Proud to be Aut

I’ll just come out and say it: I’m autistic. I’m 48 years old. My diagnosis was confirmed last week. I have been labeled with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) for a little over a week but the label means that I have been autistic all my life. That feels right given I’ve always felt a little off. When you live your life feeling out of phase with the world you can do two things: change the world or change yourself. I did both. I defined being normal and tried to live up to the standards. Any remaining awkwardness I compensated by controlling the context. It is not a strategy exclusive to autistic people, if you read attentively it is a common strategy for strangers to cope with and compensate for a world which is not (yet) theirs. In my case, I don’t look like a stranger and I don’t have a world which is self-evidently mine.

I’m writing this not as a complaint against the world nor as a frustration about myself. I’m writing this in the hope you might come to appreciate what it is to be different. Continue reading

A small Ode to Julian Jaynes

“The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”, is a book title ambitious enough to be suspect just on the face of its book cover. But what is philosophy if not over-ambitious science? The tragedy of Julian Jaynes maybe is that science has become nothing more than under-ambitious philosophy. His conjecture was one of Darwinian proportions: we are all schizophrenics who have learned to trust the voice()s in our heads to be our own. He then traveled the seven seas of ancient history to demonstrate how our forefathers, up to 1000 BC, literally heard the voices of Gods instructing them to write the books on which our society is still largely built. As a scientist he was looking for corroborating facts and he found them everywhere: in ancient texts and neurological neologisms like “bicameral”. By the time the book had made instant fame it was already infamous. Everybody debunked it, starting with the left/right brain hemisphere specialization underlying “bicameral” which as a scientific theory was as short lived as it is enduring in popular psychology books. Then historians picked the references of this psychologist self-taught as historian of all ancient cultures apart. D. Dennett and R. Dawkins quietly left the room of vocal supporters of the Jaynesian thesis and that was that. My plea is simple: don’t judge a book by its cover. Read beyond mere skepticism of the facts to discover the ambition of a true work of philosophy. You’ll discover inspiring beauty of thought. Enough said.

Being of Two Minds: Anomalous Monism

“Anomalous monism resembles materialism in its claim that all events are physical, but rejects the thesis that mental phenomena can be given purely physical explanations.” D. Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events, Clarendon Press, 2001, p. 214.

The lack of clarity in philosophy of mind is a lack of clarity of its terms. That lack of clarity of terms is, in its turn, nothing else than a lack of terms. There was a time the discussion was about mind/body dualism whilst most recent scientific writing is, implicitly at least, based on the identity of brain and mind. It’s all a blur and no matter how many tokens of supervenience or emergency types are exchanged, it remains a blur of bodies, minds and brains. The classical solution to this lack of terms is to index terms like consciousness1 or prefix them with an adjective like ‘basic’ mind or some such. This is then a temporary definition just good enough to make a local argument without risking to enter into holistic arguments. Good for publishing but bad for discussion.

I have always thought that Davidson’s anomalous monism was a basis for getting out of this black hole of terminological unclarity. It has the strength of common sense: there are no extra-natural things but mental descriptions of natural things aren’t something purely physically determined either. The thing is this: anomalous monism of what? Of the mental and the physical, sure, but what about the brain and its mind.

Let me repeat that: what about the brain and ‘its‘ mind? That the mind is ‘of’ the brain would not startle many if I had not also italicized it (and – to play it safe – put it in scare quotes too). Well, if the mind is of the brain I think we don’t have enough anomalousness and still too much monism. Since the mental indeed doesn’t allow itself to be reduced to the physical, this leads to minds1 and minds2 and hence right back into the muddy waters of going mental at or talking past each other.

So I made a picture to try to put the mind right back where it belongs: very much outside the brain. So far out that the mind does not have a location at all, which seems to me rather in tune with the anomalousness of the mental.

twominds

Here goes the not so short explanation: Continue reading