Monday, 26 March 2018

My philosophy of existence

     I don't have a philosophy of war and peace, or human bondage to irrational desire, or the greatest happiness for the greatest number, or the liberation of the proletariat, or any other fancy conceit. My philosophy is me. I am my philosophy. My sole interest is in the fact that I exist — and what means or what I can do about it.
     I'm not saying I'm not moved by Wittgenstein's mysticism in his Tractatus and 1914–16 Notebooks, or Russell's romanticism in 'A Free Man's Worship', or any other display of concern for the human predicament or the fate of the human race. But I call it 'displacement activity'.
     This is my philosophy, this is what I teach: The topic you should be concerned about is you, and only you.
     And what of me?...
     I'm not a god, looking down in pity on the world and its creatures, or a Jesus or Gilgamesh looking to sacrifice myself for the benefit of all humanity. I am more remarkable than any of these, not less. It is massively more improbable that I might have existed than either a god or a christ. I have no reason to exist at all. And yet here I am!
     Now, what comes next?
     The hardest thing to shake free is the feeling that I should be doing something important. Instead of frittering away my time, playing computer games or listening to 80s pop music or watching TV sitcoms. For what benefit? Does it make me happy? If not, then that is a reason for looking around for something better to do. The only valid reason.
     The only thing I have that is truly mine is my libido, the flame of my desire. Wanting something, or wanting to do something, or do something to someone, is the only reason for existing. (I kind-of want to be writing this, but am not exactly heated up about it, it's just least irritating activity I can think of for the moment.)
     Do I really want nothing? Is that it? Not at all. I look forward to the things I know I will enjoy. And after I have enjoyed them they are not nothing despite what Bradley says (desires as 'perishing particulars', Appearance and Reality). I take pleasure in the thought that I was pleased. But then again, I'm no hedonist. I see through all that. After a certain point, pleasures begin to irritate me. I'd rather have nothing than to be irritated.
     What I would really really like to do is write something down that was the true measure of all this. A universe with me in it. Unthinkable without. But I can't. Every attempt is lame, beyond belief. Clowning around, when I know that no circus would ever hire me. (Not that I care whether the others are laughing, with me or at me.)
     'The thing you thought you saw, out of the corner of your eye, do you see it now?' I have the same feeling I had back then. That there is something. But I just can't get a fix on it. I can't get it into focus.
     I accept the person that I am. I embrace the person I have become. How could I not when my being here now, my Doing, is the ultimate reality? This is all I have to work with. Palette, brushes and paints. There's nothing else, nor could there ever be. (Which is not to say or imply that the task is somehow 'artistic' or 'aesthetic'. That's way more than any mere facts could justify.)
     Talking about the 'person I have become', I was telling my daughter yesterday about an incident from my early childhood. Impossible to give a date, although I could have been 7 or 8, maybe 9. Snuggled up in bed in the dark with our German au pair girl, she telling me about the fire bombing of Dresden and other German cities in World War II. The terror. How liquid phosphorus fire poured down basement stairs burning everyone cowering inside to embers.
     You'd think that would have some impact. What else happened between us? I have no recollection at all. Just that one memory fragment. I don't even remember her name, although I when I try to see her I picture a roundish face, long blonde hair. We had a number of au pairs, French, German, Austrian, even one Greek. I remember them well. But not her.
     Something else happened yesterday: the ninth anniversary of the death of my wife June. I wrote this epitaph for her web page June Wynter:
Every human being
Successfully navigates
The course
Of his or her
Own life
It's the one journey
With a guaranteed
     Taken from my Filofax notebooks. The thought came to me, maybe a couple of years ago. It's kind of depressing yet also liberating. I laugh in the face of 'success' or 'failure'. June was racked by remorse over her failure to realize her artistic ambitions. I regret nothing. I see through it all.

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Friday, 16 March 2018

Not knowing

The single thing that drives me to distraction is not knowing. I don't know what it is I don't know. I can't even imagine it.
 (Life or death)
I happen to believe that it is possible to give an account of ultimate reality without invoking the appearance-reality distinction. If you want to know how, well that’s something I’m currently working on...
(Ask a Philosopher: Questioning the appearance/ reality distinction)
     It's time to play my cards.
     Ultimate reality resides in the here-and-now. — There, I've said it.
     In some sense, that is something I have always believed, right back to The Metaphysics of Meaning. For the longest time, I thought the only way to describe this was as a 'triadic movement'. A 'dialectic of illusion'. You start with the here-and-now. Then you fall into 'metaphysical illusion' (the 'illusion of detachment'). Then, heroically rescuing yourself from metaphysical illusion, you return to the here-and-now, but this time with a philosophical 'understanding' you didn't have before. — Exhausted but happy.
     As I remarked in Life or death, 'It isn't enough.'
     Then, what?
     Yes, metaphysical illusions (plural) are part of it. I'm sure there are more than the two illusions I chose to look at (the ego and truth illusions). However many illusions or wrong steps you add to your inventory, the 'negative way' (via negativa) can only get you so far. You have to turn around, look, find the positive.
     It will take discipline. You keep hankering after impossible 'knowledge'. Imagining that you can sneak a peek and catch it unawares. But there's nothing to catch.
     There lies the ultimate illusion.
     We don't 'not know' the ultimate theory of everything (in the physical sense) because the regress of 'wheels within wheels within wheels...' is never-ending. Or else at some point you come to a screeching halt. (Superstrings, or whatever.)
     We don't 'not know' the ultimate purpose or meaning of life because every attempt to describe the ultimate meaning ends up as some variety of 'family story' (Nous, Great Architect, Loving Father, etc.) And then, 'Is that all there is?!'
     Science is great, we should keep on doing it. Let's pool our resources, build a super-large hadron collider the size of Switzerland if that's what it takes.
     As for religion, 'believe what you like, it makes no difference'. But if you come up and tell me that I must do so-and-so because the Great Thingamajig commands it, I will laugh in your face.
     I do believe that I know lots of things. I'm no sceptic. Knowledge is possible. There can never be a reason for not pursuing knowledge. But as for the unknown unknowns, there's nothing to 'say' or 'believe' or 'pursue'. Just a surd. And I have the free choice: to keep harping on about it, or not.
     That's the discipline.
     Kant talks about mapping the limits of human knowledge to 'make room for faith'. As if faith only belongs on the other side!
     Faith is the biggest thing in my life. The only thing in my life. It is faith that keeps me going, keeps me doing this, pouring endless words onto the internet regardless of whether or not I receive any response (a rare enough occurrence). Not faith in a 'Great Thingamajig', not even faith in myself. (I know my own limitations only too well, I may be more than a few brain cells short of what's required, but so what? what are you going to do about it?)
     What is faith, or what do I mean by it? — Here's a simple example. I have a computer, an old Windows machine recently upgraded with a moderately faster processor, whose sole task is grinding out calculations for CERN and the SETI project. I am helping in my small way with enterprises I 'believe' in. The difference made by one extra Pentium 4 chip is vanishingly small. But I deem it 'worth while'.
     Just as I deem this. Even if my short life will make no difference whatsoever to the history of the human race. The problems grip me, and I am doing something about it. Call it 'satisfying my curiosity'. That'll do. That's all there is, all that matters.
     Ultimate reality is the here-and-now. And what I mean by the 'here-and-now' is the Doing. Nothing is 'given', nothing 'appears', nothing is 'real'. In the Doing there is no distinction between 'what is' and 'what seems'. There is no 'what'. There only the point of action, the 'issue of my existence', which I decide from one passing moment to the next.

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Friday, 2 March 2018

Perils of freedom

Sneak out the back...
Make a new plan...
No need to be coy...
     After my YouTube video Metaphysical Journal: life and death yesterday — my first video in over a year — thinking about what I'd said, 'I just want to set myself free,' the words of Paul Simon's hit song came to me.
     I was wondering what I would say to that unnamed academic watching the patch of sunlight creep along the wall. 'Walk out, and never come back.'
     You don't need this!
     Start again, start a new life...
     But that's exactly what you did, Jerry. They found your body in a wooden hut in a forest outside Los Angeles...
     Escaping isn't enough. You need a good plan. 'I'm just going to sit here for a while and think about it,' isn't enough. Ian, you couldn't see any way out even though it was right in front of you. You were too clever for your own good, you saw through Jerry's easy non-escape.
     Of course, this is all wrong, because I'm talking about this as if it was just a matter of thinking or reasoning. You can't think or reason yourself out of depression. No, but if you have the wit to realize that you're seriously depressed, that any thoughts that come to you are distorted by your mental condition, not to be trusted, certainly not to be acted upon, then there are steps you can take.
     Steps to get help.
     And this is my case against philosophy. Being a professional philosopher is a permanently distorting 'mental condition'. You come to believe that whatever the fix the power of reason alone can get you out of this, somehow. And if you can't see a way, that's down to your weakness, your incapacity as a thinker.
     So wrong.
     Then again, I can't talk, because I've never taken that fateful step of going for help, never needed to. And I know the icy, deceptive tentacles of depression well enough. But I seem to have an in-built tendency to bounce back. My best quality isn't intelligence — I'm certainly no genius — but more like an animal-like resourcefulness. When backed against a wall, I've always somehow found a way to escape.
     Resourcefulness, and maybe more than a small does of egotism. We're all different, right?
     Look, I could tell you stories that would make your hair curl...
As I gird on my armour, squinting in the sunlight, I feel a sense of lightness, the slightest nudge and I would begin to float. I am floating. Bathed in warmth, waiting to be born. Indeed! The weight of years is falling away — at long last. The harsh twine around my wrists and ankles has withered away, the soreness almost healed. The memories are less painful than they were. A dull ache, the occasional pang. The incidents in my oddly uneventful life are laid out as in a comic strip — no lurid colours, just tasteful shades of grey.
(Hedgehog Philosopher Day 41)
     'Oddly uneventful,' well that all depends on your perspective, right?
     (I like the bit about 'tasteful shades of grey'. So true.)
     That's what freedom means to me. I've never found better words, not needed to. Certainly, armour is a necessity. I may be baring my soul, but it's still protected by bullet-proof glass. Try as you might, you can't hurt me!
I've been made to feel guilty — by crippled manipulators who could find no other way to make up for their own inadequacy; by bombastic pedants and critics with hypertrophied moral consciences — but my conscience is clear.
     — So much for 'the others'.
     Don't listen to them.
     Don't let their self-serving, asinine opinions control you.
     Your cowardly diffidence, the tugs of 'conscience' are just wheels in your head...

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