Friday, March 29, 2013

'During another bout of the blues, [Derrida] wrote to a friend from his infirmary bed, “I’m no good for anything except taking the world apart and putting it together again (and I manage the latter less and less frequently).”

That’s not a bad description of deconstruction, an exercise in which unraveling—of meaning and coherence, of the kind of binary logic that tends to populate philosophical texts—is the path to illumination. In Derrida’s reading, Western philosophers’ preoccupation with first principles, a determination to capture reality, truth, “presence,”—what he called in reference to the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl “the thing itself”—was doomed. He traced this impulse in thinkers from Aristotle to Heidegger, famously arguing, for example, that a tendency to favor the immediacy of speech over the remoteness of writing was untenable....

With the tenacity of a gumshoe, he haunted texts by Plato, Rousseau, Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Marx, and Hegel, among dozens of others, exposing the ways in which the subjugated or banished half of a crucial pair—inside/outside, man/woman, reason/madness, signifier/signified—continued to plague its partner. His close readings were at once highly specific and abstract, but lent themselves to extrapolation. As the scholar Mark C. Taylor neatly put it: “The guiding insight of deconstruction is that every structure—be it literary, psychological, social, economic, political or religious—that organizes our experience is constituted and maintained through acts of exclusion.” And what is excluded “does not disappear but always returns to unsettle every construction, no matter how secure it seems.”'

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I just saw this image online, and it strikes me how it can serve as a beautiful analogy for the goal of psychotherapy, at least of a certain sort, that can repair broken souls and render them all the more exquisite by utilizing their very fractures to make their lives more meaningful.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

"... the total impression is very far from the dislike and fear of [women] with which [Nietzsche] is popularly credited. Essentially, one feels, women were for Nietzsche something strange, mystifying and, above all, tempting.... Much more important than any of this, however, is a simple fact which was pointed out by Bernoulli years ago but which is generally lost sight of: although we know of at least one woman whom he loved, we know of no woman who loved him."

R. J. Hollingdale, Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy

Monday, March 18, 2013

Excerpts from Religion Without God by Ronald Dworkin at The New York Review of Books:

"Richard Dawkins says that Einstein’s language is “destructively misleading” because clarity demands a sharp distinction between a belief that the universe is governed by fundamental physical laws, which Dawkins thought Einstein meant, and a belief that it is governed by something “supernatural,” which Dawkins thinks the word “religion” suggests.

But Einstein meant much more than that the universe is organized around fundamental physical laws; indeed his view I quoted is, in one important sense, an endorsement of the supernatural. The beauty and sublimity he said we could reach only as a feeble reflection are not part of nature; they are something beyond nature that cannot be grasped even by finally understanding the most fundamental of physical laws. It was Einstein’s faith that some transcendental and objective value permeates the universe, value that is neither a natural phenomenon nor a subjective reaction to natural phenomena. That is what led him to insist on his own religiosity. No other description, he thought, could better capture the character of his faith. [...]

What, then, should we count as a religious attitude? I will try to provide a reasonably abstract and hence ecumenical account. The religious attitude accepts the full, independent reality of value. It accepts the objective truth of two central judgments about value. The first holds that human life has objective meaning or importance. Each person has an innate and inescapable responsibility to try to make his life a successful one: that means living well, accepting ethical responsibilities to oneself as well as moral responsibilities to others, not just if we happen to think this important but because it is in itself important whether we think so or not.

The second holds that what we call “nature”—the universe as a whole and in all its parts—is not just a matter of fact but is itself sublime: something of intrinsic value and wonder. Together these two comprehensive value judgments declare inherent value in both dimensions of human life: biological and biographical. We are part of nature because we have a physical being and duration: nature is the locus and nutrient of our physical lives. We are apart from nature because we are conscious of ourselves as making a life and must make decisions that, taken together, determine what life we have made."

"... you have to keep small rations of subjectivity in sufficient quantity to enable you to respond to the dominant reality."

Gilles Deleuze and FĂ©lix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

Friday, March 8, 2013

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
Walt Whitman

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"... emptied of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, make me realize that I'd been happy, and that I was happy still." 

Albert Camus, The Stranger

Monday, March 4, 2013

Panpsychism is the philosophical position that mind is a fundamental feature of the world. Given our scientifically dominated world-view, it is an odd concept for most, but it is not without its philosophical merits,  it is very hard to refute, and remains a valid philosophical alternative as long as Emergentism isn't proven by science. Even though it posits fundamental properties to the world for which there is no current scientific support, it is not a doctrine at opposition to science and empirical research. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry is a very good resource to read more about it.

Panpsychism attributes mental properties to fundamental constituents of the world (the elementary particles of physics) and one of the things that preoccupies me about Panpsychism is the question of whether these elementary particles are conscious or unconscious. One can postulate that elementary particles do indeed possess states of consciousness, but that this consciousness is of an extremely impoverished degree. Much perhaps like electrons possessing gravitational force. They do, but it is so tremendously weak as to be undetectable. One advantage of this postulate is that it by-passes the hard problem of emergence by taking consciousness itself down to the fundamental level. Nonetheless, it is clear to us that some combinations of elementary particles display higher level consciousness, while other combinations do not, so there is still some account required of how and why this happens. Perhaps it may be something of the sort of electromagnetic properties. All electrons possess electromagnetic properties, but only certain objects display magnetism while most others do not. So a certain account of weak emergence is still required. Secondly, the thought of an electron possessing consciousness makes me uneasy because it appears to me that consciousness is always consciousness of something, and the objects of consciousness for living organisms are provided by the sense organs. In the absence of sensory perception, what can consciousness be conscious of? What would an electron be conscious of? What is it like to be an electron?

The other alternative open for panpsychists is to maintain that elementary particles possess mental properties but are not conscious. The mental properties would act as precursors of consciousness, and here again an account of emergence would be required as to how these precursor properties generate consciousness. Can mental states exist without consciousness? It sounds like an odd idea when talking about elementary particles, but unconscious states of mind definitely exist in the human brain, as psychoanalysts are well aware. Can we really make a valid analogy between human unconscious and the unconscious mental properties of electrons? I don't know. Furthermore, the explanation of how conscious mental states arise from unconscious mental states requires a greater philosophical leap compared to the explanation of how impoverished conscious states lead to full-fledge conscious states, raising the question of why such a panpsychism is explanatory superior to emergentism.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Antonio Canova, A Figure Representing Virtue
(The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)

This mourning figure represents the virtue of Conjugal Tenderness.

"It's not heaven, only a promise of heaven... It feels like Earth."


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