Philosophy Useless? Or What We Consider Philosophy?

“When the main reason why people do x is so that someone else can evaluate their ability to do x, it seems to me that something has gone wrong.”

Seems to me that part of the problem with philosophy (and those who make it, especially for a living) is that no one, except perhaps a few practical crackpots and conspiracy theorists, seems to acknowledge or admit there is connection between this basic flaw in how philosophies are presented and evaluated and the way that flaw presents itself across a spectrum of other life activities – in the evaluation of experts by non-experts, in the insistence that celebrity makes for better theories, etc.

On Philosophy’s Uselessness to Society

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Cut the Crap: descort

You seek for “truth”:
for the origin of being,
the thing in itself,
but either don’t look hard
or waste time looking
in the wrong spot.

It’s right here:
the meaning is no recipe,
it is not the history of a dish
to be rehashed at leisure
to impress special friends.

What a double-edged sword
is imagination!

The way you classify a thing
in theory doesn’t change its lifestyle;
it makes no difference,
one way or the other,
what you choose to call it
when you think it’s out of the room.

To imagine that a thing exists
because we think of it,
and blinks away to nothingness
once it slips our minds
imposes a two-dimensional framework
on the world
wherein our consciousness
is the only proof of life.

You see the dog on your lap.
You see the ant at your foot.

How stupid is that supposition?

24 FEB 2017

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Science v Philosophy

I assume that one of the underlying purposes of psychoanalysis, of psychiatric treatment, is to get to a point where further psychoanalysis is unnecessary, that the neuroses in the patient have been identified, assessed, treated, and successfully mitigated or eliminated. In other words, the goal of therapy is to stop the need for therapy. To no longer be a recovering neurotic, so to speak, but instead to be a non-neurotic.

As someone who eight years ago stopped smoking cigarettes, I can relate. But for me, the key to quitting was to stop referring to myself as a ex-smoker, as a “recovering nicotine addict”. The only way I could stop, cold turkey, and never think of picking up another cigarette was to think of myself as a non-smoker. A non-smoker would never need a cigarette, whereas an ex-smoker might be tempted to fall back in the habit, you see.

There are a lot of atheists and agnostics out there who might, if you asked them to think on it, consider themselves “recovering” Christians. There certainly are a lot of neo-pagans who do so; and I suspect that a great many Westerners who have drifted to Eastern or other “exotic” spiritual paths consider themselves struggling and in recovery from their Western cultural roots. Even modern Satanists are either simply anti-Christians, or in the LaVey tradition, mere worshippers of Self as God. Likewise, those pagans who see an ideal world of myriad gods and goddesses, with temples on every corner are trying to replace their childhood Christianity with the illusion of something different. The Greeks, at some point, had it right, when they made their gods just a little more than human, and by doing, elevated man as the ultimate ideal – but they muddled it up with “divine” intention as well. As Richard Dawkins says in “The Magic of Reality” the wonders of science are diverse, fascinating, and “magical” enough, without interjecting some kind of supernatural into them.

I was raised non-religious, by an engineer and a biologist. One might suppose our holy trinity was Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, and Henry Ford. I was exposed to religion, but never took part except voluntarily and as an absolute outsider/non-believer. In my late teens, I spent a lot of time looking for spiritual paths that seemed to tie the whole together; had I been born 20 or 30 years later, the ideas of quantum science and chaos might have drawn me deeply into the sciences. As it was, at least in my high school view, each of the sciences (i.e., physics, chemistry, biology) seemed their own separate fiefdoms, each requiring the share language of mathematics to progress to any degree. And mathematics, perhaps because of my father’s aptitude for it, was something that did not directly arouse my interest. I did better in geometry than algebra, if only because it seemed so much less abstract – although later in life, abstraction became quite a fascination for me.

As a result, I was never exposed to the idea that we are all “star-stuff”, that me and every other thing in the universe was in fact a product of the same source material. But maybe during the 1980s that idea was not yet so prevalent as it is today, and the need to try to connect everything through a single omnipresent divinity was more likely the idea. I don’t know.

It makes so much sense to me now, of course, except I still don’t grasp all the mathematics. They say that musicians often use math as a hobby, and that mathematicians use music in the same way, both having an affinity for what on the surface seems a diametrically opposed discipline. But they are ultimately both math, of course – music is horizontal and vertical intervals; matter and wave moving through time. It is physics; the only science subject I successfully navigated in high school.

Philosophy, they say, is supposed to the the science that imagines, and then verifies (although the methods for verification here are somewhat nebulous) the truth of that imagining, a single underlying (or overarching, or connecting, or unifying) principle that connects all knowledge (and by that is meant scientific knowledge from both the “hard” and “soft” sciences). What I wonder is if there has been any serious current collaboration between philosophers (a great many of whom were originally mathematicians, or in their early stages, “natural” philosophers, who contemplated the nature of the physical world around them and in the process, invented the other sciences) and scientists (e.g., physicists, biologists, chemists) to more deeply and completely understand our world and our place in it – particularly given recent advances in science toward unified theories of existence.

One great obstacle in that cooperation seems to be philosophy’s current focus on the theoretical for its own sake, to prove or make points with or against another philosopher, not to advance humanity’s knowledge, but to smugly poke holes in the net we’re all using to catch that knowledge, without really repairing it and making it more useful. I see “theorizing”, like theoretical physics which seems to advance theories as a way of proceeding to practical demonstration of that theory’s usefulness, in a more positive, forward-seeking way. That could just be my perception, of course. I recently quipped that philosophers primarily seemed interested in diluting, diffusing, deconstructing, or discrediting the work of other philosophers. Of course, we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and behind true science is always the idea of finding and correcting the flaw in a predecessor’s proof so as to go beyond it – perhaps in a completely different and unexpected direction.

But I wonder, of those scientists and philosophers who may be working together right now – how many of them are “recovering” Christians, or Hindus, or Buddhists? How many still try to reconcile the idea of Divine intervention with the seemingly obvious natural magic that is reality? How many still fight against the urge to defer to an unseen entity as the prime mover?

Can one trace, as Huxley did in The Perennial Philosophy, the journey on the road to find out, where a set of single underlying, non-supernatural principles is universally (i.e., across many earth cultures) understood to be the basis of human reality, without relying like Huxley on non-scientific input from faith-based mystics, gurus and saints?

Inquiring, skeptical minds wanna know.

30 JAN 2017

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A Thing: barzeletta

A thing before the eyes, so crystal clear,
a vision any fool could plainly see:
the fate of any government of men
who choose, not to subdue nor comprehend

the reasons why a thing should come to pass,
or be, thing-in-itself, more than a dream,
perhaps just fancy, winged with gossamer
that looks good in parade, but cannot fly.

The thing our focused energies engage,
what matter that it live on undefined?
A drooling child could scarcely fail to see
that wasting time is all it guarantees.

But something, or just nothing? ‘Tis the rub
that rattles conversations on and on;
and wears great minds from sharpness, down to nub,
until such things are worth the thinking on.

The thing, the magic thing! Oh happy day,
when we may glorify it with a name!
‘Tis such a shame it takes so very long
for any thing worth naming to arrive.

16 JAN 2017

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Some Sense of Meaning: ballade

The world is what it is, the pundits claim;
and City Hall no pugilists defeat.
No matter where you go, things stay the same;
you either like your bourbon iced, or neat.
A thing is in itself almost complete;
just unifying theory holds it back,
a brave philosophy in which to beat
some sense of meaning when they feel its lack.

The picture is designed to fit the frame;
and even honest men practice deceit.
No matter how its critics might defame,
life runs along, wash, rinse, and then repeat.
As even excess sugar loses sweet,
so kindness turns to malice on the rack;
and gives to those who think best on their feet
some sense of meaning when they feel its lack.

The clever find someone to take the blame:
a scapegoat they will not most likely meet,
some part of their brave psyche soaked in shame –
the heart perhaps – and never miss a beat,
while fools still strive to enter and compete
in one more pointless lap around the track.
Like sheep, they seek for answers, as they bleat,
some sense of meaning when they feel its lack.

The world is what it is, wholly complete;
Each moment marches on, not to come back.
Men write philosophy to give blank sheets
some sense of meaning when they feel its lack.

13 JAN 2017

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Only Dream: alcaics

I cannot seek for infinite solutions,
spend endless hours harboring discussion,
just lurking in some thoughtful quagmire,
patiently awaiting final judgment.

How vain to think such artifice delivers
a useful purpose, meaningful salvation,
the precious jewel for reason’s scepter
dispensing revelation to the worthy.

What truth is there in this pointless anointing,
in crowning jesters, mindlessly applauding
like shameless harlots begging mercy,
expecting infinite and wise response?

The single answer, brilliantly revealing
a blinding beacon that dispels the darkness
is just a simple childlike wishing.
Redemption? Absolution? Only dreaming.

06 JAN 2017

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16. Philosophize Only By Accident

Despite what you may think, and what they themselves might to try to convince you, philosophers and other professional think-o-logists for thousands of years have tried to answer just a couple of basic questions.

These are often hard to recognize, certainly, being cloaked in more buzzwords than a Silicon Valley initial offering, and as hard to isolate free-hand as any number of radioactive isotopes, but honestly, the real questions are but a few.

The first is of course Who am I? – although only in the past five hundred years or so has it so explicitly selfish, directed inward in this way. More likely, the more modest (or merely more vaguely indirect) ancient philosophers queried, Who are We?, and then once having determined that “we” could passably be assumed to be of the human species (depending of course on how widely and in which directions you chose to cast that net of we, then some eventually got around to What is a Human? or to an even more intellectually divergent What Does It Mean to Be a Human?. At that point, the more esoteric then make the first leap into an almost magical absurdity, asking things like Why Are We Here? or Why Am I Here? or What is My or Our Purpose in Being? (if of course, the condition of being, specifically being human, is considered possible and to some degree achieved).

Of course, those questions are more or less satisfactorily answered, schools of philosophies founded, conquerors, dictators, and other world leaders inspired (or made dejected), courses of history irreversibly altered, cultures steered, and young minds melded or melted, either positively or negatively depending on whose side of the causal font you’re drinking from.

When I was 13 or 14, my dad become involved with an organization out of Waco, TX called the Success Motivation Institute. Its founder, Paul J. Meyer, said all kinds of things like “If you are not making the progress you feel you should be making, or that you are capable of making, it is simply because your goals are not clearly defined.” Phrases like “crystallize your thinking” and “you need a POA [Plan of Action]” became commonplace around my house. Of course, because I was an obvious underachiever not living up to my potential, I was required to listen and read along with hours of self-help instruction: Blueprint for Success, The Dynamics of Personal Leadership, and so on. My father, born in Toledo, OH, the same place where Normal Vincent Peale cut his journalistic teeth on the Toledo Blade was of course intoxicated by this stuff. He already had a library full of Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Oz Mandino and others. There was nothing that a PMA [Positive Mental Attitude] couldn’t fix. At one point, he became an SMI Distributor (and mind you, this was WAY before Tony Robbins started doing his thing). We nearly moved to Waco before I started high school to facilitate greater growth. Fortunately, my dad made a trip there in the summer of 1978, was not all that impressed with Waco, and continued onward to Phoenix to visit with his aunt Alice. After experiencing the dread, dead heat of August in Phoenix, he wisely sojourned further west to California, where he answered an advertisement from a San Diego firm who didn’t need anyone for that office, but were looking for a General Manager for their Long Beach location. And so, in the summer of 1979, we moved to Torrance, California (for that perfect balance of great schools, marine layer-induced sunny calmness, and reasonable real estate in near proximity to Long Beach).

I mention this because a key phrase in the Blueprint series was the “will to meaning”. When I later read Nietzsche I immediately recognized the idea. Meyer suggested that harnessing this “will to meaning” was all you really needed to get yourself and your life in gear – that it was the difference between a shining knight of industry standing proudly atop the sprawling corpses of the competition, and the grubby, friendless poet dying of starvation in a ghetto sublet.

What philosophers of the greater order attempt to convince you is NOT to answer the initial identifying questions of who you or we are. No, the great grey matter shysters go one further. They insist that the most important question is not who we are, but why it matters and why anyone really should give a damn (except of course to buy their books and attend their lectures).

I wonder, however. If you answer the first question (i.e., Who am I?) you’ve already assumed there is an answer to this higher question. Perhaps, as Jean-Paul Sartre suggests, existence really DOES precede essence. It’s not really a chicken and egg dilemma, where potentiality must and always precedes actuality (unless of course, some divine energy simply poofed a chicken out of midair, fully grown and ready to produce eggs). But it is a dilemma – because you can in fact spend your entire life trying to figure out who you are. They call it “finding yourself”, but it’s really more about making it up as you go along, isn’t it?

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