Letting Thoughts Flow

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If Bertrand Russell were standing before me now, I’d ask him “what the ____ man?!” Of course, it’s not his fault that I’m slow at understanding… well, everything. But here I am reading my 12th scholarly article and feeling frustrated. I have a 15 page paper due in 12 days and I don’t even have a thesis statement yet. 

Luckily, my wondering mind has been semi-productive. In between sips of blueberry ale and listening to cars pass by, I had an epiphany. My wife has asked me why I study philosophy and why I can’t “just go with it” in life. I think the answer is that I’m still looking at what going with life is. I mean, in order to know what I should do in life, I have to know what there is in the world (objects, truth) as well as myself… and then I have to see if there is a point to it all. 

I’ve come to the point where I understand more than I want to understand. I have no solid grasp on my identity, no quick purpose statement or definition for “me.” And as my dog and cat run around and flop on me, I guess it doesn’t matter. I’m here. I’m now. I think I’ll just breathe for the moment. I mean, why the ___ not? Russell can’t anymore. 

Letting Thoughts Flow

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If Bertrand Russell were standing before me now, I’d ask him “what the ____ man?!” Of course, it’s not his fault that I’m slow at understanding… well, everything. But here I am reading my 12th scholarly article and feeling frustrated. I have a 15 page paper due in 12 days and I don’t even have a thesis statement yet. 

Luckily, my wondering mind has been semi-productive. In between sips of blueberry ale and listening to cars pass by, I had an epiphany. My wife has asked me why I study philosophy and why I can’t “just go with it” in life. I think the answer is that I’m still looking at what going with life is. I mean, in order to know what I should do in life, I have to know what there is in the world (objects, truth) as well as myself… and then I have to see if there is a point to it all. 

I’ve come to the point where I understand more than I want to understand. I have no solid grasp on my identity, no quick purpose statement or definition for “me.” And as my dog and cat run around and flop on me, I guess it doesn’t matter. I’m here. I’m now. I think I’ll just breathe for the moment. I mean, why the ___ not? Russell can’t anymore. 

The Absurdity We All Must Live With – Part 3

Thich Nhat Hanh beautifully wrote in his narrative work, Old Path White Clouds:

Gautama entered even more deeply into meditation. He saw how countless worlds arose and fell, were created and destroyed. He saw how countless beings pass through countless births and death. He saw that these births and deaths were but outward appearances and not true reality, just as millions of waves rise and fall incessantly on the surface of the sea, while the sea itself is beyond birth and death. If the waves understood that they themselves were water, they would transcend birth and death and alive at true inner peace, overcoming all fear. This realization enabled Gautama to transcend the net of birth and death, and he smiled.(1)

If you are like me, you exclude the whole reincarnation bit in whatever form it may be (2). But the key here is that everything is passing away and so much new is coming to be.
Impermanence. Everything is constantly changing. Take a look at pictures from a decade ago – do you really think that you are that same person? If you do, not much has changed in your life. I barely feel connected to that ‘me’ because so much has changed. When you see the face of an old lover and realize that they no longer look like the person you remember. When you step out of bed and feel a kink in your back every morning and know that your body is wearing out. This is you changing.
Love changes. How many people fall out of love because of whatever reason? It’s idiotic to assume that love is that intoxicating rush into another’s arms to explore feelings that are unique to that particular relationship. Once every area in that relationship has been explored, then what? It must evolve or die.
Tastes change. Today, I could hardly listen to the teenage angst screamo music of my high school years. I now enjoy the flavors of wasabi and ginger, whereas a decade ago I was limited to ketchup and honey mustard exclusively.
Goals in life change. Beliefs change. Purpose changes as well.
Now all of this us back to the absurd – to the nihilistic pangs of existence. But look closer at impermanence.
The pain from the lost of a loved one – by heartbreak or death – starts to fade away with time. How could you go on with that pain as strong as ever? Addiction makes way for new habits with continuous effort and restructuring. A child grows into a beautiful adult. A seed turns to wheat and turns to bread and so on.
Impermanence, even though it makes everything seem pointless, allows life to continue. Desire glues us to the past, to what we cannot have, to what is also fading. How many ghosts have we chased to realize that the memory of a loved one is just that – a memory, a fading one at that. A seeming paradox arises – if nothing means anything, everything means everything. How much money would you pay for one breath? Not much unless it was your final one.
Value comes from the relations between subjects and objects. Subjects are always changing; objects are always changing; and relations between them are always changing. Why try to hold on to water? Let it go and smile at it falling from your hand. Sit and watch your child play. Love because the moment feels right. If you use your head too much, you’ll become to attached to your ideas and constructed identity. Live in the moment and experience freedom.
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(1) Thich Nhat Hanh. Old Path White Clouds. Paralax Press, 1991. pg. 157.
(2) Unless you have seen Jupiter Rising, in which case you could say there is a practical element to the idea as a genetic or atomic structuralism.

The Absurdity We All Must Live With – Part 2

So what if all of life is absurd? Does a cat care whether he has ultimate meaning in life? Does a dog know that she will die and be no more? Of course, the answer seems to be an overwhelming “no!” So why should we humans even care?

Perhaps my reading of Sellars and Russell are influencing me here, but I have come to realize that objects have no meaning without relations. In the same vein, subjects have no meaning except as objects in relation to other subjects either.

S relates to O — OR simply, aRb where ‘a’ is a subject and ‘b’ is an object or other subject (honestly, we seem to treat all subjects besides our own Self as objects).

It’s idiotic to claim that we “make” our own meaning. That’s like digging yourself out of a hole. It’s the wrong tool and the wrong direction. Meaning is a social belief about objects and how we relate to them. To one woman, her child is the most precious object in the world. To another, her child is to her. The subjective world builds meaning based upon relations.

Take for example my son’s attachment to his blanket. At this time, just before his 3rd birthday, that blanket means the world to him. The subject is Sam and he relates to the object, his blanket, in a variety of ways. The most important relationship is how that blanket holds meaning for him. That relationship is based as much on the facts about the blanket as his personal interaction has been with it.

So what about the “meaning of human life?” Well, there is no “meaning” so get that idea out of your head. Meaning comes as much from others as from ourselves, but neither exceeds the other as far as I can tell. So as we experience relations with other subjects and objects, we maintain meaning in our life. I say maintain because meaning 1) changes and 2) fades. Anyone who has ever had a favorite dish served to him or her repeatedly knows this. This doesn’t mean that the dish never had great meaning for us, only that it lost is grandeur as it was perpetually served. Life may actually require change and new experiences in order to maintain happiness with it. But that’s another topic.

Embracing absurdity also has a positive aspect that is at the heart of Buddhist philosophy: a recognition of the impermanence of all things and the fruitlessness of trying to hold on. I’ll take this up in part 3.

Russell’s Epistemology in Problems of Philosophy – A Brief Introduction to Russell’s “Knowledges”

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This may be the first substantive post I have ever made. At least I can be honest! The rest of the posts read like Nietzschean aphorisms (before or after his sanity left, I’m not sure).

But to Bertrand Russell. He had a wonderful way of explaining philosophical concepts, especially epistemology, to the average person. I’m currently using his Problems of Philosophy, as the basis of a paper and I have to say, it is quite easy to read as far as philosophical works go. But the problem is, Russell’s style and ease may interfere with his ability to do serious philosophy in that book. Hopefully, I can explain.

His epistemology basically is as follows:

He breaks knowledge down into “knowledge about things” and “knowledge about truths” first in chapters 4 and 5.  In chapter 5, he separates “knowledge about things” into “knowledge by acquaintance” and “knowledge by description.” He states that “we have acquaintance with anything of which we are directly aware, without the intermediary or any process of inference of any knowledge of truths” (Russell, 33). Knowledge by acquaintance is a conscious awareness that the Self is acquainted with a type of sense datum. This sense datum may come from the senses, memory, introspection, self-consciousness, and some universals (like redness or triangularity – these examples of universals have been done to death since Wilfrid Sellars first took the bat to them).

Knowledge by description refers to when “we know that there is one object, and no more, having a certain property” – although I think this definition is too ambiguous. (Russell, 38) An example would be your friend Ted telling you that he saw a red triangle this morning. You use your acquaintance with the idea of redness and a triangle and construct an understanding of what he said. You have a mental picture or at least a sense of understanding what he is saying. You may be slightly wrong – like if you imagine an upright red triangle but then come to see what he witnessed and realize it is upside down instead – but your idea is still composed of elements with which you are acquainted with.

Knowledge of truths likewise faces the same division. The first is intuitive knowledge which is based upon self-evident truths, which are based, in turn, off of acquaintances. Derivative knowledge is based upon intuitive knowledge “validly deduced”. (Russell, 95)

Ian Proops usefully summarizes this information as follows:

“Immediate knowledge of things is ‘acquaintance,’ while derivative knowledge of things is ‘knowledge by description.’ Immediate knowledge of truths, on the other hand, is ‘intuitive knowledge,’ while derivative knowledge of truths is knowledge of claims ‘ deduced from self-evident truths by the use of self-evident principles of deduction.'” (Proops, 795)

In the next post, I’ll look more into knowledge of truths, how they are known, and how they are based upon knowledge by acquaintance.


(1) Russell, Bertrand. Problems of Philosophy. Aberdeen: Watchmaker Publishing, 1927. Print.

(2) Proops, Ian. “Russellian Acquaintance Revisited.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 52:4 (2014): 779-811. ProQuest. Accessed 3 October 2017.

Image of Bertrand Russell courtesy of WikiCommons: By James Francis Horrabin (1884-1962) – (1 August 1917). “Bertrand Russell”. The Masses: 37. (marxists.org), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43058895

The Absurdity We All Must Live With – Part 1

There are many things we must come to call absurd. Not invaluable, mind you, but ultimately absurd because of the impermanence of all things. If we were to start with terms alone, “forever” and “always” would be the first to fall under the categorization of absurd, as well as their opposites. For “forever” and “never” both reside only in conceptual domains, not life and love.

Nostalgia, that feeling of longing for what is past and what will never be again, is the only evidence for the devil that I have ever found. The faces that we loved and longed to see get distorted by that villain time since we last saw them. Even looking back into childhood, those toys we once loved and cherished become nothing but memories latched to plastic commercialism. Value dies with time. Value must die since we must die – otherwise, we’d all be in hell. When we lose a loved one, what could be worse than to never have the sting of their absence subside from time to time? At once, we long to feel that connection that is long gone and at the same time we long to have the chains broken. I once feared memory loss more than any thing that could happen to me. But if I could no longer realize that I forgot something, perhaps I would welcome it.

When I know that I have everything that the average person longs to have in their life, why don’t I feel satisfied by it? It’s not that I feel discontent, but I look at everything and see that it is absurd and pointless and fading, endlessly fading. It’s too much to handle. I am not strong enough to stare into that abyss for longer than a few moments. My heart starts to crumble and tears swell in my eyes. What a terrible fate we all must accept.

But what happens when we do accept it? Will a new strength form within us that edges us on to overcome our fears and tempt our fates?

Wisdom

Wisdom leads to happiness – at least this is what people believe. The main problem is that wisdom is confused with knowledge, while happiness is confused with lack of suffering. The truth is that wisdom only leads to happiness as much as one accepts reality. Wisdom is loving the world as it is. If you cannot change a situation, love it as best as you can. Remember that you are owed nothing. Happiness and suffering mean nothing really. I’ve moved beyond nihilism though. So what I mean is that in the end, every creature perishes – so don’t worry about what is happening if you can’t control it. Embrace life as life is available to you.

Live beyond the words you write – such as this. Living is so much harder than writing. What is written becomes a document; it is “set” in the most obvious ways. Living is a continuously changing event and requires constant attention. It is easy to lose happiness because it is easy to lose contentment. It is easy to lose focus because energy is required to perform work – even mental work.

Diligence in wisdom and contentment leads to happiness. Just remember that both the target and the shooter are constantly shifting.

EDIT:

I just have to add a quote I just read by Bertrand Russell:

“The good life is not contemplation only [quietism], or action only [pragmatism], but action based on contemplation, action attempting to incarnate the infinite in the world.”

Wisdom and Regret

When I was younger, I didn’t know much but I felt sure about many things about life, meaning, and love. Then, the more I learned, the more I couldn’t understand. There were so many contrasting viewpoints and I couldn’t make sense if them. I found out how complicated people are – including myself. Now, I look back at all of my questions and my search for love and I feel a love for myself, but also a deep pain. Nostalgia. It seems we all learn to love too late. We learn to live after life has past us by. But I hope one day to look at myself and everything in my past and smile – with a simple love and acceptance. I’m finding it hard to do. 

An Awkward Feeling

It’s a really awkward feeling to know that you’re simply trying to escape from time. When you long for something you cannot have yet – if ever. There is a peace missing. Peace only comes when we accept the present. When the present is looked upon with love. But love is an immensely exhausting task – especially if done right. Real love does not expect reciprocity. But oh how we long for it. In the moments when we are alone and feel a void, it is the inability to express this love that overtakes us. At least, I hope it’s an “us” and that I’m not alone in this world. I’ll take what I can get in regards to love, friendship or just plain attention. But I’m having to learn patience. Unfortunately, patience in one area drains from another. There is only so much work a brain can do at a time. I hope I can strengthen this with practice.

I love, but I do not expect love back. What a strange thing for me. When I look back in a few decades, perhaps it won’t seem strange at all. Perhaps all of the other things I’ve called love were simply part of the learning process. After all, I have been wrong about love and so many other things before. Here I am, still feeling like a boy but starting to look like a man and I battle discontentment as hard as ever.

So here I am sitting, just trying to escape from time. But I long to spend that time in a way that I choose – but, I do not have the ability to choose any longer. At least not without grave consequences. It’s not a matter of what should I do. It’s about what do I feel like doing. It’s almost all an abstraction anyways.