Drops away into blindness

This passage from Voegelin’s Anamnesis sparked the insight I diagram as an asterisk.

In the illuminatory dimensions of past and future, one becomes aware not of empty spaces but of the structures of a finite process between birth and death. The experience of consciousness is the experience of a process — the only process which we know “from within.” Because of this its property, the process of consciousness becomes the model of the process as such, the only experiential model to serve as the orientation point of the conceptual apparatus through which we must also grasp the processes that transcend consciousness. The conflict between the finiteness of the model of experience and the “infinite” character of other processes results in a number of fundamental problems. (The term “infinite” indicates already by its negativity that along with it we enter on an area transcending experience. To speak of a process as infinite is tantamount to saying that we have no experience of it “as a whole.”) One of the most interesting of these problems is that of the antinomies of infinity in Kant’s sense. We can subject the finite process to certain derivative transformations, the so-called “idealizations,” which conduce to such concepts as the infinite series or the infinite regress. When such “idealizations” are related to finite series, there result the paradoxes of set theory; when they are related to such processes as the causal nexus, there result Kant’s antinomies. The causal series cannot begin in time because we have no experience of a beginning “in time”; more precisely, one could say that because we have no experience whatsoever of a time in which something might begin — for the only time of which we do have experience is the inner experience of the illuminated dimension of consciousness, the process that drops away, at both ends, into inexperienceable darkness.

Two elaborations: 1) We have more “illuminated dimensions of consciousness that drop away, at both ends, into inexperienceable darkness” than just time. In my asterisk, I added two other dimensions.

2) I also another analogy to illumination and darkness. We may not see objects in darkness, but we do see the darkness that prevents us from seeing. In my own experience, sight and blindness is a better analogue for our experiences of finitude and infinity, because blindness conceals not only what is concealed, but the concealment itself. With blindness, we can fail to see what we look at, because when nothing is there, nothing is also missing. If we do the blind spot experiment, wherever falls in our blind spot simply dis-appears — becomes visually nothing — without any tell-tale something blotting it out — there is no visual “nothing” to see. When nothing is there, no thing is missing, as far as we can tell.

We have to wonder — or rather, it is good to wonder — that if we can’t even tell the difference between a blind spot and a seen spot, what exactly is going on in our field of vision, which seems so continuous to us? And if we extend sight to perception, and perception to consciousness, and ask the same question — the question of what happens in in the nothingness of existence? — things get weird.

When we sit in meditation, for instance, we learn how this happens constantly at all times even in our own concentrated awareness. You could say that meditation is an existential blindspot test. We cannot see it directly, and we never have to see it at all if we do not want to (for instance if we wish to imagine ourselves to be self-omniscient) but if we allow our perplexities to bloom we will see ample signs that our consciousness is as sporadic and permeated with nothingness as our visual field. I think, therefore I am? The corollary: I don’t think when I am not, in the gaps that permeate my existence.

Crap. I’m out of time. There’s new stuff here, so I’m going to go ahead and post this.

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Whitehead, Levinas, Schuon

Reading Whitehead’s Modes of Thought I’m reminded of Levinas’s dichotomy of totality versus infinity, and Schuon’s similar indefinite versus infinite. The former term (totality/indefinitude) is some particular conception of all possibilities, against which all particulars are defined; the latter term (infinity/infinite) is real possibility independent of any and every conception. According to Schuon, the indefinite (within a totality) simply repeats a finite entity interminably. The idea of time extending endlessly backwards and forwards is indefinite time, and should not be confused with infinite time, Eternity. That, at least, is what I took from him 15 years ago when I read Stations of Wisdom.

From within any particular conception the difference between totality/indefinitude and infinity is indistinguishable, and for casual practical purposes we treat them as identical. The difference between the two comes into view only when reality defies our conceptual repertoire by producing an inconceivable actuality that refuses to fit within possibilities anticipated by the totality in question and its indefinite possibilities.

We encounter infinity as such when we experience viscerally an incapacity to comprehend, and I will list three instances where this happens:

  1. When we encounter a natural phenomenon that cannot be understood in natural terms as we know it. If we confront the phenomenon as an anomaly to be understood by changing our understanding of nature as a whole, and we do come to understand it in new term, the before and after of our understanding hints at infinity.
  2. When we encounter another mind who attempts to convey concepts inconceivable within the terms of our current conceptual repertoire. These concepts are used to explain reality in alternative terms that conflict with our own, resulting in apparent factual disagreements, but the intensity of such conflicts betrays that more is at stake than epistemic differences. If we shift from disputing facts to attempting a plurality of understandings to compare, the parallax among worldviews opens a depth vision capable of penetrating further into infinitude.
  3. When religion works on us, and draws us from contemplating the indefinite into a living relationship with infinity, which permeates reality, and addresses us continuously.

I’ve travelled a long way from the passage that inspired this reflection:

Matter-of-fact is the notion of mere existence. But when we seek to grasp this notion, it distinguishes itself into the subordinate notions of various types of existence­ for example, fanciful or actual existences, and many other types. Thus the notion of existence involves the notion of an environment of existences and of types of existences. Any one instance of existence involves the notion of other existences, connected with it and yet beyond it. This notion of the environment introduces the notion of “more and less,” and of multiplicity.

In Taoism the infinite is Tao and the indefinite is “the ten thousand things”. I love thinking about people’s totalities as “everythings” and then imagining a totality of totalities as “ten thousand everythings”, each potentially forming a relationship with infinity, starting with forming relationships with one another and their shared realities. This is not intersubjectivity worship.

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Public shaming as cruel and unusual punishment

Fron Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed:

The common assumption is that public punishments died out in the new great metropolises because they’d been judged useless. Everyone was too busy being industrious to bother to trail some transgressor through the city crowds like some volunteer scarlet letter. But according to the documents I found, that wasn’t it at all. They didn’t fizzle out because they were ineffective. They were stopped because they were far too brutal.

The movement against public shaming was already in full flow in March 1787 when Benjamin Rush, a United States founding father, wrote a paper calling for their outlawing— the stocks, the pillory, the whipping post, the lot.

“Ignominy is universally acknowledged to be a worse punishment than death… It would seem strange that ignominy should ever have been adopted as a milder punishment than death, did we not know that the human mind seldom arrives at truth up on any subject till it has first reached the extremity of error.”

—BENJAMIN RUSH, “AN ENQUIRY INTO THE EFFECTS OF PUBLIC PUNISHMENTS UPON CRIMINALS, AND UPON SOCIETY,” MARCH 9. 1787

In case you consider Rush too much of a bleeding-heart liberal, it’s worth pointing out that his proposition for alternatives to public shaming included taking the criminal into a private room—away from the public gaze—and administering “bodily pain.”

To ascertain the nature, degrees, and duration of the bodily pain will require some knowledge of the principles of sensation and of the sympathies which occur in the nervous system.

Public punishments were abolished within fifty years of Rush’s paper, with only Delaware weirdly holding out until 1952 (which is why the Delaware whipping critiques I excerpt were published in the 1870s).

The New York Times, baffled by Delaware’s obstinacy, tried to argue the state into change in an 1867 editorial.

“If it had previously existed in [the convicted person’s] bosom a spark of self-respect this exposure to public shame utterly extinguishes it. Without the hope that springs eternal in the human breast, without some desire to reform and become a good citizen, and the feeling that such a thing is possible, no criminal can ever return to honorable courses. The boy of eighteen who is whipped at New Castle [a Delaware whipping post] for larceny is in nine cases out of ten ruined. With his self-respect destroyed and the launt and sneer of public disgrace branded upon his forehead, he feels himself lost and abandoned by his fellows.”

—QUOTED IN ROBERT GRAHAM CALDWELL, Red Hannah: Delaware’s Whipping Post

If the practice of public shaming was abandoned for being a form of cruel and unusual punishment, isn’t it at least a little alarming that it is being used with increasing frequency as a means of vigilante justice — a form of lynching?

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From The Gay Science

From The Gay Science:

What makes one heroic? — Going out to meet at the same time one’s highest suffering and one’s highest hope.

In what do you believe? — In this: that the weights of all things must be determined anew.

What does your conscience say? — “You shall become the person you are.”

Where are your greatest dangers? — In pity.

What do you love in others? — My hopes.

Whom do you call bad? — Those who always want to put to shame.

What do you consider most humane? — To spare someone shame.

What is the seal of liberation? — No longer being ashamed in front of oneself.

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Geometric Parables TOC

The four chapters of Geometric Parables could be:

  1. Ipsegraph
  2. Altergraph
  3. Genegraph
  4. Ethograph
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Less toxic ideology, more human-centered design

Yesterday, I opened a can of Johnny Letter on Fast Company, for running what I saw as an uninformed and blatantly bigoted opinion piece, “Design needs more feminism, less toxic masculinity”.

Rather than complain about the bigotry, though, I chose instead to focus on what I believe is the root cause of most lousy, unempathic design: the failure to research design problems before attempting to solve them. Far too often we reflexively impose our own perspectives and interpretations upon situations and assume we know what needs doing to improve the situation — neglecting the essential hard work of listening, observing and developing an understanding of people in their contexts.

This is a failure the author herself exemplifies in making reckless assumptions about the cause of the bad design she laments and her proposed solution to this problem. Here’s the letter I sent (with slight edits):

I am disappointed that Fast Company chose to run “Design needs more feminism, less toxic masculinity”. I’ve worked with many male and female designers, and have found that the difference between those who are able to empathize and design to the emotional and functional needs of other people has far more to do with willingness to investigate and to get over our own preconceived notions than anything else. In this piece Tillyer investigated nothing. She does not know who designed that airport gate. Instead, with no attempt to understand how the design happened or who did it she applied her preconceived notions about how men essentially are and how women essentially are and decided to blame men for a design she didn’t like. If I had written that article, I’d have begun by investigating the design process that produced that gate, and if I’d discovered my suspicions were correct — that nobody had looped passengers into the design process — I’d have written an article titled “Design needs more understanding, less toxic uninformed speculation”.

I think rhetorically the choice to deemphasize morality in favor of effectiveness was the right one, but that does not mean I do not see this as a moral issue.

Our social justice discourse has become hopelessly mired in questions of Who. Who is doing the wrong thing to whom? What category of person does it? What category of person suffers? But this is exactly how irresolvable resentments are formed, entrenched and intensified. Justice is traditionally depicted blindfolded for good reason.

If we want to live in a just society, we need to refocus on the How of justice: the How of learning, understanding, interpreting and responding to specific people in specific contexts.

This kind of investigation into particulars is difficult, tiring and uninspiring work, and it is no fun at all. In this work we constantly discover where we were wrong (despite every appearance of self-evident, no-brainer truth), because that is what truth requires.

In pursuit of truth, we lose our sense of omniscience, fiery self-righteousness and uncompromising conviction, and acquire more caution, patience, reticence, reflection, humility, self-skepticism and nuance. These qualities may not be rousing, inspiring, galvanizing, romantically gratifying or revolutionary — but they are judicious.

If we truly want justice — as opposed to revenge, venting of resentment and intoxication of table-turning aggression —  we need to re-acquire a taste for the judicious virtues.

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Hammers, nails, arguments

If the only tool you have is argumentation, everything looks like an argument.

That is, the means to resolve disagreements is assumed to be argument.

*

Prior to modernity, even science was a matter of argument.

Show me an antimodern, I’ll show you a passionate arguer.

 

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Coinage: Leetsplain

Leetsplain: to assume position of unacknowleged privilege and lecture a social inferior on the evils of unconscious social privilege.

The unacknowledged privilege of the leetsplainer is both epistemological (I unlike you, am aware of my biases and have compensated for them, and therefore know Truer Truth) and moral (I, unlike you, know what justice and injustice is, and want a more Just Justice).

The sneaky move behind Leetsplanation is smuggling in unstated and unquestionable assumptions regarding which social categories are real and which are imaginary, which are overpoweringly powerful and which are weak and inconsequential, and which are legitimate qualifications for prestige and influence and and which are illegitimate and unjust. According to the leetsplaining perspective, the trappings of class — the vocabulary, manners (a.k.a. class performances), social capital, educational pedigree — are qualifications for superior knowledge and character, not unjust levers of privilege that are only mildly influential and of negligible importance, and at any rate ought to be respected and heeded when it is asserted. But non-elective demographic categories do convey unjust privilege, and should be systematically suppressed and unceasingly criticized.

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Renaissances suck

When we realize our popular philosophies — each, in fact, an antithetical half of one shared popular philosophy — have come to the end of the road, and that they can go further toward explaining the very conditions they have helped produce, some alarming consequences come to light.

First, few are unlikely to allow themselves to suspect the role their obsolete philosophies are playing in their current state of mind, but instead “double down” and use their philosophies more and more obstinately, anxiously and passionately to diagnose what has gone so hellishly wrong with the world around them.

Second, if a critical mass of people do finally discover that the source of trouble in their own philosophies, they will for a time (who knows how long?) suffer collective spasms of dread and reckless renunciation and social chaos will ensue.

Third, a profusion of intense but unstable replacement philosophies will contend to replace the ground of agreement lost in the earlier renunciation. Most philosophies will flame out under their own non-viability, but the ones that don’t will not have the resources to recognize the others and negotiate a coexistence.

Finally, if one philosophy capable of uniting and making mutual sense of the rest emerges and begins to predominate by providing some common ground for agreement and civil disagreement, it will have an entire reality before it to rethink. This comprehensive rethinking is its process of maturity. On its way to adulthood the society itself will be marked by both good and bad characteristics of the young, including the most essential youthful trait — the conceit that one already comprehensively understands what most needs understanding, a phenomenon I like to call “microomniscience“.

My best hope is that this whole revolutionary process actually began decades ago, and that somewhere, or here and there, pockets of practical thinkers and thinking practitioners have already begun maturing a philosophy that the masses can adopt.

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Speaking as an existentialist…

To existentialist ears, the identitarian preface “speaking as a…” sounds like an announcement of inauthenticity.

It is hard to be an individual. It is even harder when one does not know from where individuality comes, and it is impossible when one starts from the position that individuality is a delusion produced by one’s identic composition.

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Making conversational space

A post I put on Facebook just now:

This morning I was reading a pdf book (using the Notability app on my iPad) about the relationships people have with the things in their lives. As always, I was writing all over the pages, underlining, starring, etc. However, the book format was cramped, and there was insufficient space to write my own comments in the margin. I was feeling written at. So I reformatted the pdf with generous margins to make room for myself, and turned the monologue into a conversation.

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Symptom, diagnosis, treatment

A good doctor must respectfully trust a patient’s descriptions of symptoms — for the patient has privileged access to this reality — but respectfully mistrust all self-diagnoses and treatment suggestions, requests and demands.

Any doctor who will not listen to a patient’s about what they are experiencing and what they think might be going on is not only losing access to valuable information, but, worse, to a personal connection to the patient. But the doctor must sift through the information provided by the patient to determine the most probable diagnosis. The doctor will persuade the patient of the correctness of the diagnosis (versus the patient’s own self-diagnosis), and to accept and adhere to the best course of treatment.

Good parents and good leaders of every kind will accept the doctor’s example as paradigmatic.

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Establishing the conditions for the possibility of establishing the conditions of possibilities

This morning I’m kicking Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics to the curb and starting Peter-Paul Verbeek’s What Things Do. It’s funny, but not entirely a coincidence, that this books starts out attacking Heidegger’s anti-technological views. I suppose I’ll mark my book transition by joining in with a few parting shots at Heidegger.

*

When philosophers go transcendental and start establishing the conditions for the possibility of actual things, something deep and stubborn in my temperament rejects the self-understanding of such efforts.

By my understanding, actuality alone establishes possibilities.

When we establish the conditions for the possibility of some thing, all we really establish is a way to conceptualize the possibility, which is far from the same as proving the actual existence of the possibility.

I am cannot see how “What are the conditions for the possibility of x?,” isn’t better expressed as “How can I conceptualize x?,” perhaps with the qualifier “…so it has intuitive immediacy for me and people who think like I do?”

What am I missing here?

*

A related point: Heidegger’s claim that not being is a possibility for an actual thing is profoundly doubtful. A being can change radically so that it is for us no longer what it was, but that has far more to do with how we conceptualize beings than it does the being’s being. Unless we are solipsists… and this is the crux of the matter, isn’t it?

*

I’ve heard it said that solipsism is easier to assert than to live. I disagree. I think many people — maybe most people — live solipsistically, while asserting the existence of an objective truth that exists beyond their subjective experience. This is practically inevitable if we treat truth and reality as alike — if not in substance, in correspondence — and if not certainly, in principle, possibly. In other words, even a fallibilist non-idealist can, for all practical purposes, live solipsistically.

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Demonic possession

The horror movies have it all backwards: people possessed by demons don’t become demonic themselves. No — in real life people possessed by demons are good people who live in a demonic world, doing what is necessary to make good prevail.

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A bad case of apotheosis

Yes, apperception involves awareness of one’s own experience of perception and conception — but it also requires adopting other modes of perception/conception, for only these alternate modes of perceiving help us detect the difference between our own immediate perceptions of objects and the objects we perceive, which are always necessarily perceived partially, in every sense of the word. We must shift modes serially and notice how much changes and what (so far!) remains constant.

Without the aid of serial multiple partiality, we confuse our own partiality with direct access to reality, resulting in naive realism, which is non-apperceptive however obsessively we self-reflect on our experiences of experiencing what we take to be objective reality. We stay unaware of what we bring to truth when we know it, and we succumb to apotheosis.

*

I’m currently reading Heidegger in his pro-Nazi period complaining about how demonic America was at the time, and how America and Russia were more or less metaphysically identical, and I’m trying to keep my criticisms from turning wholesale against him. It is helpful in times like these to understand the partialities of most radical kinds of right-wing thinking, and what kinds of diagnoses and recommended treatments these modes of thinking almost automatically produce. Or, as they put it, the timeless perennial Truth they recover.

A sample of 1935 Heidegger:

The darkening of the world involves a disempowering of the spirit, its dissolution, diminution, suppression, and misinterpretation. We will try to elucidate this disempowering of the spirit in one respect, namely, the misinterpretation of the spirit. We said: Europe lies in the pincers between Russia and America, which are metaphysically the same, namely in regard to their world-character and their relationship to the spirit. The situation of Europe is all the more dire because the disempowering of the spirit comes from Europe itself and — though prepared by earlier factors — is determined at last by its own spiritual situation in the first half of the nineteenth century. Among us at that time something happened that is all too readily and swiftly characterized as the “collapse of German idealism.” This formula is like a shield behind which the already dawning spiritlessness, the dissolution of spiritual powers, the deflection of all originary questioning about grounds and the obligation to such grounds, are hidden and obscured. For it was not German idealism that collapsed, but it was the age that was no longer strong enough to stand up to the greatness, breadth, and originality of that spiritual world, that is, truly to realize it, which always means something other than merely applying propositions and insights. Dasein began to slide into a world that lacked that depth from which the essential always comes and returns to human beings, thereby forcing them to superiority and allowing them to act on the basis of rank. All things sank to the same level, to a surface resembling a blind mirror that no longer mirrors, that casts nothing back. The prevailing dimension became that of extension and number. To be able — this no longer means to spend and to lavish, thanks to lofty overabundance and the mastery of energies; instead, it means only practicing a routine in which anyone can be trained, always combined with a certain amount of sweat and display. In America and Russia, then, this all intensified until it turned into the measureless so-on-and-so-forth of the ever identical and the indifferent, until finally this quantitative temper became a quality of its own. By now in those countries the predominance of a cross section of the indifferent is no longer something inconsequential and merely barren, but is the onslaught of that which aggressively destroys all rank and all that is world-spiritual, and portrays these as a lie. This is the onslaught of what we call the demonic [in the sense of the destructively evil].There are many omens of the rise of this demonism, in unison with the growing perplexity and uncertainty of Europe against it and within itself. One such omen is the disempowering of the spirit in the sense of its misinterpretation — a happening in the middle of which we still stand today.

 

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Titaness

Pardon the flakiness; I am reading Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics:

If a titan is a god who cannot imagine he is not God, what is a titaness?

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Approval or love?

When I was in my early 20s I made a sharp distinction between what I loved and what met my approval, and I noticed my music taste split along those lines, and the best of both tastes conflicted with the other taste. I did not love what I found most acceptable and what I loved was unacceptable. At the time I decided to emphasize what met my approval, and shortly after that I fell in love.

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Political test

When you were a kid, who did you hate more: A) the school bully who gave you a wedgie on the playground? or B) the teacher’s pet who took your name and made you stay in for recess?

If you answered A) you vote Democrat. If you answered B) you vote Republican.

In 2016, we chose from candidates who were as close to literal embodiments of these detested antitheses as could be imagined, and this intensified everything. No?

Just a hunch.

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Ex nihilo, omnia

If you’ve known a being to emerge from nothing to change everything you’ll be converted from illusion to truth. If it happens again — God forbid — a different order of conversion should occur.

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