Monday 20 May 2013
Gordon Finlayson: "What I don’t like about [moral error theory] is the view that all our moral judgments are false and that, notwithstanding this, we keep believing them anyway. Why does the ordinary forensic process of experience, whereby falsehoods are eventually discovered, overturned and, when all goes well, replaced by truths, not function in this case? Skeptics about ‘morality’ owe an explanation for the fact that morality as a whole (not in part) has proven to be pretty durable and that people have continued to hold their moral beliefs, with as much certainty as their ordinary epistemic beliefs."
Sunday 19 May 2013
Wednesday 15 May 2013
I am the second author of this review article published in Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences. (Online version published ahead of the print edition.)
Ali Madeeh Hashmi, Muhammad Awais Aftab, Nauman Mazhar, Muhammad Umair, Zeeshan Butt
The purpose of this article is to review the evidence linking depression with inflammation, to examine the bi-directional relationship between the neuro-humeral circuitry of depression and the inflammatory response, and point out new treatment implications of these ideas. The evidence available is in areas of genetic links, association of depression with raised inflammatory markers such as Tumour Necrosis Factor (TNF)-alpha, Interleukin (IL)-1, IL-6, co-morbidity of depression with inflammatory medical illnesses, administration of cytokines leading to depression, and the recognition that anti-depressants have anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective properties. Inflammatory response and mood regulation constitute a system of bi-directional communication such that inflammatory cytokines can penetrate the CNS and influence behavior. Activation of the CNS cytokine network leads to a cascade of effects such as disturbed metabolism of amino acids, neurotoxicity, diminished neurotrophic support, decreased neurogenesis, impaired negative feedback regulation of HPA axis function and glucocorticoid resistance. Treatment implications include strategies to screen for patients with increased inflammatory activity, possible treatment with anti-inflammatory agents, and the recognition of new target areas for antidepressant medications.
German for 'world-weariness', 'world-pain', 'world-grief'.
"it's the depression you feel when the world as it is does not line up with the world as you think it should be."
(as defined by David Levithan in Will Grayson, Will Grayson)
Monday 13 May 2013
"[I]n the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.
They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing."
David Foster Wallace, excerpt from 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address
Saturday 11 May 2013
Thomas Insel, the Director of National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) writes on the Director’s Blog :
"While DSM has been described as a “Bible” for the field, it is, at best, a dictionary, creating a set of labels and defining each. The strength of each of the editions of DSM has been “reliability” – each edition has ensured that clinicians use the same terms in the same ways. The weakness is its lack of validity. Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure. In the rest of medicine, this would be equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever. Indeed, symptom-based diagnosis, once common in other areas of medicine, has been largely replaced in the past half century as we have understood that symptoms alone rarely indicate the best choice of treatment.
Patients with mental disorders deserve better. NIMH has launched the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project to transform diagnosis by incorporating genetics, imaging, cognitive science, and other levels of information to lay the foundation for a new classification system....
That is why NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories. Going forward, we will be supporting research projects that look across current categories – or sub-divide current categories – to begin to develop a better system."
Wednesday 8 May 2013
"The place the essay has ended up can be described as sceptical – a scepticism of the gentle variety. Having considered the ways in which mental disorder is understood in psychiatric practice, the explicit definitions in the diagnostic manuals, and bearing in mind the clinical problems that they characterise, and having examined the more elaborate, rigorous definitions in the surrounding literature, the most influential of which is due to Jerry Wakefield, and the sociological approaches, and the paradigms and general findings of the current science – there ends up being, so far as I can see, no stable reality or concept of mental disorder; it breaks up into many, quite different kinds, some reminiscent of an old idea of madness or mental illness, others nothing like this at all. This instability and fragmentation corresponds to diversity in the phenomena, in current clinical services, and in current terminology. I would have settled for one clear proposal as to what mental disorder really is, but couldn’t find one.
That said, the scepticism is just about whether there is something stable, fixed and distinctive here, for which ‘mental disorder’ is a suitable name. It does not include doubts about the reality of the phenomena: the distress and disabilities that people bring to the clinic, and the need for psychiatric, or more generally mental health professional care. The domain of healthcare as a response to personal distress and disability seems to me permanent, only mistakenly seen as something to be deconstructed away. There may be no clear basis for distinguishing between mental health problems and social problems, or between mental health problems and ‘normal – more or less normal – problems of living’, but what distinguishes healthcare is the response to the person involved. The response is care for the individual, based on professional training, science and expertise, distinct from social or political action, or religious judgement, or demands for self-reliance. By all means there is then a debate to be had as to the pros and cons of one kind of response as opposed to another, a debate involving many stakeholders, with some clear cases, and many controversial boundary issues, but healthcare has a permanent seat in the debating chamber."
Derek Bolton, What is Mental Disorder? An essay in philosophy, science, and values, Preface
From the Oxford series 'International Perspectives in Philosophy and Psychiatry'
Tuesday 7 May 2013
William Vallicella (aka Maverick Philosopher) recently made a series of posts on the topic of meaning of life, and these contain some of the most philosophically sophisticated and refined discussions that I have read on the matter. In this post I’d like to summarize some of his main conclusions, primarily for my own clarity of thought. For a detailed understanding of his reasoning and arguments, I’d strongly urge the readers to look up the original posts.
The existential meaning of life refers to ‘the ultimate and objective point, purpose, end, or goal of human willing and striving, if there is one’.
Existential meaning has a teleological aspect: a meaningful life is a purpose-driven life. This is a purpose that the individual has to choose for himself out of his own free will. This purpose has to be both non-trivial and achievable.
Existential meaning has an axiological aspect: a meaningful life contains some positive noninstrumental value, a source of personal satisfaction for the agent. Furthermore, it is necessary that this value has to be objective; the pursuit of an immoral life may bring personal satisfaction, but it cannot be called meaningful.
There are also anthropic and cosmic aspects to the question of meaning.
Anthropic question: What is the objective purpose of human existence?
Cosmic question: Is the nature of the world whole such as to enable and further the meaningfulness of human existence?
The meaning can be either exogenous (objective) or endogenous (subjective).
An objective meaning is assigned by an external agent, such as God or ‘the nature of things’. A subjective meaning comes from within and assigned by oneself.
The philosophical question is distinct from the psychological question of a meaningful life.
The philosophical thesis that the meaning of life is subjective (Subjectivism) comes in an extreme and a moderate version. I will only talk about extreme subjectivism here, and will refer the reader to the original post for the discussion of moderate subjectivism.
Subjectivism does not claim that there is no meaning (which is Nihilism) but that there is meaning in life, and this meaning is subjective by its very nature. Vallicella argues that Subjectivism collapses into Nihilism.
Extreme subjectivism states that you give meaning to your own life. Meaning is invented by the agent in a life that is otherwise meaningless.
“On extreme subjectivism, then, the agent freely decides (i) whether or not his life will have meaning, (ii) what meaning it will have, and (iii) whether and to what extent he will live out this meaning day by day.”
Vallicella argues that extreme subjectivism is incoherent. “Anyone who sincerely asks himself whether he is wasting or has wasted his life presupposes by his very posing of the question that there are objective factors that bear on the question of the meaning of life. To raise the question is to presuppose that existential meaning cannot be identified with agent-conferred meaning… if the meaning of one’s life is the meaning one gives it, then one cannot fail to live a meaningful life since any meaning is as good as any other. ” The subjectivist answer contradicts the presupposition of the philosophical question of meaning of life that one can fail to live a meaningful life. If subjectivism were true, a failure of meaningful life would be impossible.
Secondly, Vallicella argues that extreme subjectivism collapses into nihilism. “For if the meaning of my life is the meaning I give it, then my life has no meaning in the sense of ‘meaning’ that gave rise both to the question and the extreme subjectivist answer…. A conferred meaning is no meaning.”
Thirdly, extreme subjectivism entails a vicious infinite regress. For life to be meaningful, there has to be an act of meaning-bestowal, and these acts of meaning-bestowal must be meaningful if life has to have meaning. In subjectivism, however, nothing is intrinsically meaning. If an act of meaning-bestowal (A) is not intrinsically meaningful, then this act of meaning-bestowal needs to have meaning bestowed on it by a second act of meaning-bestowal (A*) and that in turn would require a third act (A**), and so on.
“if a life is meaningful due to acts of meaning-bestowal, and these latter are meaningless, then the life as a whole is meaningless.”
“As soon as the agent reflects that the bestowal of meaning on his chosen purpose is not a response to any objective value such as the elimination of unnecessary suffering, he should see that his meaning-bestowal is a gratuitous and arbitrary and meaningless act. A meaningful life, one wants to protest, is one in response to objective values, where one's responding is itself an objective value.”
“The meaning of life, if there is one, cannot be subjective… But the meaning of life cannot be purely objective either. The meaning of life, if there is one, must somehow involve a mediation of the subjective and the objective: the meaning of life must be subjectively appropriable.”
“An objective meaning or purpose of X is a purpose that is as it were assigned to X from without…. if X has a purely objective purpose, then X plays no role in the realization or enactment or embodiment of its purpose.”
“We may or may not have an objective purpose, but if we have one, it cannot be a purely objective purpose; it must be a purpose that can be made our purpose. But it is best to speak in the first-person. A purpose that I cannot make my purpose is of no consequence to me. Such a purpose would be meaningless to me. An objective purpose that I could not come to know about, or could not realize, or an objective purpose that I knew about and could realize but whose realization would destroy me or cause a preponderance of misery over happiness or thwart my flourishing or destroy my autonomy would not be a purpose I could make my own.”
“We can sum this up by saying that an objective purpose, if there is one, must be subjectively appropriable if it is to be relevant to existential meaning. To appropriate a thing is to make it one's own, to take possession of it.”
“The subjectively appropriable is not merely that which is able to be appropriated, but that which is worthy of being appropriated. I take it as axiomatic that a meaningful life for a human being must be a life worthy of a human being.”
An objective purpose is available to all, the same for all, applicable to all. “The meaning of life, if there is one, must be the same for all and available to all. A rational world plays no favorites. If the objective meaning of life were not available to all, then that would be an evil arrangement, one that could not be objectively meaningful.”
Vallicella defines aporia as ‘a set of propositions each member of which has a strong claim on our acceptance, but whose members are collectively inconsistent.’
With regards to the existential meaning of life, he presents the following aporetic tetrad:
A. If life has a meaning, then it cannot be subjective.
B. The meaning of life must be subjectively appropriable by all.
C. There is no meaning that is both nonsubjective and subjectively appropriable by all.
D. Life has a meaning.
All four statements cannot be true simultaneously. Reasons have been given for A and B. The choice then is between C and D. One of these has to be rejected in order for the contradiction to be resolved.
The case for C can be made as countless millions of humans have not had the capacity or the opportunity to investigate the questions of whether there is an objective purpose in life, what is it and how one may live in accordance with it. Those who have the capacity and opportunity to investigate these questions are confronted with a plethora of conflicting opinions and doctrines, and little means of gleaning out the knowledge of the objective purpose.
“Redemption from absurdity must be possible for all if it is be possible for any. If the world is so arranged that you are barred from redemption through no fault of your own, then my redemption is not a redemption from absurdity.”
Rejecting C, therefore, is not easy. Rejecting D is not an easy alternative either. The biggest argument in its support is a pragmatic argument. One cannot live a life of zest, vigor, passion and commitment, unless it is presupposed that life is objectively meaningful. One who denies this simply does not appreciate the full force of what life’s lack of objective meaning entails. Such a person “maintains at the level of theory that his life has only the meaning he confers upon it, but he ‘contradicts’ this theoretical belief by the energy and passion with which he pursues his projects and perhaps also by the passion with which he tries to convince the rest of us that nothing matters except what we make matter.”
“We must presuppose the intelligibility of the world if we are to embark seriously upon the arduous quest for understanding, but it is logically and epistemically possible that the world is unintelligible in itself. Likewise, we must presuppose the objective meaningfulness of life if we are to live rich and full and committed lives, but it is logically and epistemically possible that our lives are objectively meaningless nonetheless.”
We end, therefore, in an impasse. We have good reasons not to reject all four limbs of the aporetic tetrad, but all of them cannot be true. It is up to the reader, then, to decide which one he/she will choose to reject.
My comment on Vallicella’s post: “Your discussion of limb C seems to have the underlying assumption that the search for meaning terminates at death. If everyone has just one shot at this earthly existence, then indeed it is hard to reject C. However, if some variant of reincarnation is the case, then the search for meaning is no longer restricted to one particular individual life, and will carry on even afterwards by means of another life. If such a possibility is entertained, then one may hope (cosmic optimism!) that over the course of many lives, an objective meaning will eventually be subjectively appropriable by all.”
Vallicella’s reply: “That is a good suggestion and may be a way of solving the problem. My very stringent knowability condition on the appropriability of meaning makes it impossible for most of us to appropriate the meaning of life in one lifetime. But if there are multiple lifetimes then one can hope that mere belief that there is an objective meaning might transform itself into knowledge that there is one.
Or if God exists, then one hope that after death one will come to know what we can only believe in this life. It may be -- and this is what I really think -- that the only way to subjectively appropriate the objective meaning of life in this life is by faith and hope. Just as we cannot live well (or at all) in this life without hope, we must hope beyond this life, and indeed to live well in this life.”
Thursday 2 May 2013
Tuesday 30 April 2013
Monday 29 April 2013
Males who have suffered psychological and social oppression at the hands of females (it does happen) are unlikely to be able to relate to a crude version of feminism which generalizes men as tyrants and women as victims. The oppression that is (and ought to be) the focus of feminism is the oppression of social systems, in which both men and women play their part. Women are no less perpetrators of misogyny and men also suffer (though less frequently) from asymmetrical gender roles. This is not to downplay the men-on-women violence that exists, but a reminder that this is not all there is to it.
"Let us admit what all the idealists admit: the hallucinatory character of the world. Let us do what no idealist has done: let us look for unrealities that confirm that character. We will find them, I believe, in the antinomies of Kant and in the dialectic of Zeno.
'The greatest sorcerer [writes Novalis memorably] would be the one who bewitched himself to the point of taking his own phantasmagorias for autonomous apparitions. Would not this be true of us?'
I believe that it is. We (the undivided divinity that operates within us) have dreamed the world. We have dreamed it strong, mysterious, visible, ubiquitous in space and secure in time, but we have left in its architecture tenuous and eternal interstices of unreason, so that we know it is false."
Jorge Luis Borges, Avatars of the Tortoise
"Theology and texts have far less power over shaping a religion’s lived experience than intellectuals would like to credit. This is a difficult issue to approach, because even believers who are vague on peculiarities of the details of theology (i.e., nearly all of them!) nevertheless espouse that theology as true....
This is the hard part for many intellectuals, religious or irreligious, to understand. For intellectuals ideas have consequences, and they shape their lives. Their religious world view is naturally inflected by this. And most importantly they confuse their own comprehension of religious life, the profession of creeds rationally understand and mystical reflection viscerally experienced, with modal religiosity....
The key insight of cognitive scientists is that for the vast majority of human beings religion is about psychological intuition and social identification, and not theology. A deductive theory of religion derived from axioms of creed fails in large part because there is no evidence that the vast majority of religious believers have internalized the sophisticated aspects of their theologies and scriptures in any deep and substantive sense. To give a concrete example, Sri Lankan Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims can give explicit explanations to at least a rudimentary level as to the differences of their respective religious beliefs. But when prompted to explain their understanding of the supernatural in a manner which was unscripted, and which was not amenable to a fall back upon indoctrinated verbal formulas, their conceptions of god(s) were fundamentally the same!
And that is why one should always been cautious of taking theology, textual analysis, and intellectualism too seriously when it comes to religion....
Not only do I believe that the theologies of all religion are false, but I believe that they’re predominantly just intellectual foam generated from the churning of broader social and historical forces." (Author's emphasis)
Razib Khan, Against the seriousness of theology at Discover Magazine Blogs
This is all well and good, except that religious believers in general are markedly unconscious of this dynamic process, nor are they willing to accept it. They will consciously cling to and defend the theologies despite the fact that in reality their lived religious experience hardly depends on it. This makes any fruitful dialogue with believers extremely difficult. Yes, it's good for understanding religion in a more illuminating and, some would say, sympathetic way, but it doesn't take away the fact that religious believers will continue to espouse their theologies.
"My view allows the possibility that suicide may more often be rational and may even be more rational than continuing to exist. This is because it may be an irrational love for life that keeps many people alive when their lives have actually become so bad that ceasing to exist would be better."
David Benatar, Better Never To Have Been: The Harm Of Coming Into Existence
(source: Substantia Nigra)
In a minority of cases, yes. I cannot find myself in agreement with the absolute value judgement that life is always worth living.
Tuesday 23 April 2013
#TS491 prompts: twitter, aftermath, seduction
They found they could love each other only in bits and pieces, in a romance open to public gaze, all-satisfying but never-enough. #TS491
#TS492 prompts: fear, fly, farewell
The apprehension buzzed in the air like flies over a carcass, rendering their first date too gross for a parting kiss. #TS492
#TS493 prompts: fortress, fiery, rendition
A fortressed city can still burn up from inside; the recurring drama of human pride and folly seeks a charred rendition. #TS493
#TS500 prompts: chuffed, half life, South Pole
"I chuffed away half my life trying to find the elusive poles of her existence, only to realize that the axis passed through me." #TS500
Monday 22 April 2013
There is a spiritual impulse in humans, to seek meaning and transcendent value, and it can manifest as a humble and sublime philosophy...
At the same time, there is a rabid religious impulse, steeped in dogma, which takes the former impulse hostage and suffocates it.
Religion is both sublime and sinister, because man is both sublime and sinister.
No religion that is blind to its own darkness can hope to transcend it. Blindness, unfortunately, comes all too easy.
The world is steeped in ignorance and well-meaning individuals striving to change that are prone to forget their own submersion in the same.
The world is too certain and too far from truth. It is too certain in its assertions and its negations. It needs more self-doubt.
This intellectual humility, however, is a virtue, and virtue does not come easy. It comes from neither logic, nor faith.
A series of tweets from my twitter account.
Sunday 21 April 2013
As far as I can assess, Islam - when seen in terms of its historical origin and development - isn't quite as intolerant as extremists would like it to be, nor quite as liberal as liberal Muslims would like it to be. In this sense, both are guilty of ahistoricism. Both wish to uphold respectively idealized versions that do not correspond well with what history has to offer, and resultantly, the history is either distorted or conveniently ignored. 'Moderates' are probably more in line in terms of the severity of beliefs, but the moral zeitgeist has evolved significantly, so much so that this 'moderate' stance is no longer ethically justifiable.
The liberals are on the 'right side of history' as far as their ethical direction is concerned, but I do not think that any authentic theological reform can come out of an attitude as ahistorical as currently exists. Indeed, with this attitude of ahistoricism, there is no need to even acknowledge a need for theological reform; after all, Islam, revealed in its original form fourteen centuries ago, was already well-suited for practice in the 21st century!
#TS319 Prompts: Tango, Tangle, Tangerine.
The tango ended up in a tangle as they fell down laughing... the warm proximity was forever colored in his mind by her tangerine lips #TS319
#TS320 Prompts: Death, Drape, Desire.
She draped her death-wish with just enough vivacity that, like a hint of cleavage, it even distracted her therapist. #TS320
#TS338 Prompts: Skin, DVD, Eve.
Undressed, Eve was all skin & bones, with disc-like breasts. "You must eat something!" He was aghast. "Let me start with the apple." #TS338
#TS344 Prompts: Purgatory, Darvesh, Shooting-star.
"This kiss will earn you a year in purgatory, darvesh." "I'm past care, light of my life; may this passion burn me like a meteorite." #TS344
#TS358 Prompts: Cheek, Check, Charm.
"Woah, slow down, lover boy. Keep your cheek in check, will ya? Bad boys don't charm me. Not anymore, at least." #TS358
(Found, almost forgotten, in the Drafts folder.)
Saturday 20 April 2013
Friday 19 April 2013
The prospect that Albert Camus may have been considering converting to Christianity in the years before his death is something that makes me very uneasy, as an avid admirer (though not necessarily a subscriber) of his philosophy of the absurd. The dubious information comes to us from a memoir written by Howard Mumma, an American minister in the United Church of America, narrating his private conversations with Camus. This has been well reviewed in this article 'The outsider who almost came in' by Greg Clarke, which I would recommend the readers to go through. It is unlikely, to my mind, that Mumma would have made the whole thing up. I am inclined to believe there is some truth to it, but I am sure Mumma has inadvertently projected his own eagerness onto Camus and has reconstructed the conversations significantly. I am also convinced that even if (and that's a big hypothetical) Camus was seriously considering adopting some form of Christianity, the philosophical shape and essence of that would've been very different from the doctrines that Mumma upheld, and Mumma might very well have failed to understand the subtle aspects of Camus's inclinations. Given that this is the only account we have, we may never be certain of the truth.
Some of the thoughts expressed in this blogpost at The Search for Health in Decadence resonate with my own reactions:
'While most of what Mumma says is plausible, I think he greatly misunderstood Camus's "pilgrimage" toward delving into religious studies and extrapolates an "end point" for what Camus was doing that doesn't necessarily follow.
Most people might read the book trying to extrapolate whether or not Camus was well on the path of becoming a good new born Christian. Even if what is said in the book is completely true, I don't believe that Camus would be a "Christian" in the sense that most Christians are.
Camus was suffering greatly at the sense of emptiness that pervades a life built upon absurdity. If we have nothing but the world we make in a world filled with horrible evils of suffering (like the Holocaust), even a life where meaning is built upon revolt can be exhausting. Camus was looking for something more to life, more of a connection. His self-described pilgrimage doesn't strike me as an attempt to escape the wearying emptiness of living in constant awareness of the absurdities of life, but rather as a spiritual journey to connect with the existence he had in a different way.
I noticed several things in the conversations Mumma had with Camus. Camus was most engaged with the mythological aspects of the Bible. He liked the stories. Keeping in mind that Camus did his master's thesis on Greek philosophy, engaging in Christian mythology for Camus is similar to the tasks of engaging Greek mythology and stepping into the myths as he had done with Sisyphus, Prometheus, and others....
Keeping in mind the despair that Camus was suffering through at this time - his personal and professional meltdown after Sartre's attack on The Rebel, his wife's multiple suicide attempts, his recurring crippled bed-laden spells caused from tuberculosis - it is clear that the starkness of life could be reawakened with a new sort of mythological thinking in his life....
Regardless, this book shows that Camus is ever more complicated and multi-faceted than he is often portrayed as, and I can appreciate that about him. The book creates new problems for me to sort through, but I don't think this book in any way diminishes the works that he has done and his unflinching attempts to always live an authentic existence in good faith. Camus's willingness to engage Christianity at that point in his life is a fine testament to his humility, which is one of his greatest attributes.'
Tuesday 16 April 2013
Monday 15 April 2013
Jean Paul Sartre: Even if one does not believe in God, there are elements of the idea of God that remain in us.... As for me, I don’t see myself as so much dust that has appeared in the world but as a being that was expected, prefigured, called forth. In short, as a being that could, it seems, come only from a creator; and this idea of a creating hand that created me refers me back to God. Naturally this is not a clear, exact idea that I set in motion every time I think of myself. It contradicts many of my other ideas; but it is there, floating vaguely. And when I think of myself I often think rather in this way, for wont of being able to think otherwise.
Simone de Beauvoir, "A Conversation About Death and God," Harper’s magazine, February 1984
This is not an admission of a belief in God by Sartre, as some people mistakenly believe, but it is an admission of possessing some sort of a sensus divinitatis. I don't think this discredits Sartre's philosophical position of atheism in any way; this honest confession, in fact, reflects his intellectual integrity. What interests me is how Sartre maintained his philosophical stance despite an internal pull to the contrary: to proclaim that existence precedes essence, and yet constantly view oneself as 'a being that was expected, prefigured, called forth'.
Monday 8 April 2013
Saturday 30 March 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.”'
Emily Eakin, Derrida: The Excluded Favorite
Thursday 28 March 2013
Sunday 24 March 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 18 March 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."
Saturday 9 March 2013
When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
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.
Thursday 7 March 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
Tuesday 5 March 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 3 March 2013
Sunday 24 February 2013
'In Jung’s interpretation, Job is completely innocent. He is a scrupulously pious man who follows all the religious conventions, and for most of his life he is blessed with good fortune. This is the expected outcome for a just man in a rationally ordered universe. But then God goes to work on him, tests him with misfortune, reduces him to misery, and finally overwhelms him with questions and images of divine majesty and power. Job is silenced, and he realizes his inferior position vis-a-vis the Almighty. But he also retains his personal integrity, and this so impresses God that He is forced to take stock of Himself. Perhaps He is not so righteous after all! [As Marc Fonda observes, God’s omniscience precludes self-awareness. Being omniscient, God has no concentrated self to speak of. Being a part of everything, God has no opportunity to distinguish self from non-self. However, as God knows the thoughts of humans, through the thoughts of his creation he can experience what self-awareness is.] And out of this astonishing self-reflection, induced in God by Job’s stubborn righteousness, He, the Almighty, is pushed into a process of transformation that leads eventually to His incarnation as Jesus. God develops empathy and love through his confrontation with Job, and out of it a new relationship between God and humankind is born.'
Murray Stein, Jung on Christianity
'Job’s innocence is indeed righteous, and the tricky thing about his unfair fate, as Jung zeroes in on, is that the Devil made God do it. Somewhat like the serpent manipulating the first woman and man in the Garden of Eden, Satan challenges God to test Job’s faith by inflicting maximum suffering on this innocent civilian. Satan bets God that Job will then “curse thee to thy face.” God takes the wager, at the obvious and total expense of Job.
But in Jung’s view God hasn’t just taken a wager, he’s taken the bait. Jung says that God has been suckered (“bamboozled”), and goes on to cast an extremely critical eye on the Old Testament Yahweh. He describes God’s “personality” and actions vis a vis Job in these words: unconscious, amoral, totally lacking in self-reflection...no insight, savage, ruthless, revolting, touchy, suspicious, double-faced, jealous [Jung means here “envious”], despotic, intolerable, tantalizing, less than human, non compos mentis, clueless, a monster, etc. If God were a man – and Jung addresses and assesses him as such – Job would clearly be the better man. Furthermore, from Jung’s description God sounds like some sort of superhuman narcissistic personality disorder...'
David Sedgwick, "Answer to Job" Revisited: Jung on the Problem of Evil
'God, in the power position, has no need to be self-reflective, that is until God encountered Job who stood his ground and showed God who God is. Job as the more conscious but less powerful figure in relation to God has more knowledge about God than God, and thus in standing up to God is able to make God conscious of Godself, in particular of God’s shadow side....
Monday 18 February 2013
Meaning in life is generated by the realization of values. Values can be experienced, both actively and passively.
Nihilism is the position that all values are baseless. It doesn't simply declare that values do not exist, but rather that they exist only within the realm of human subjective experience, and that there is no such thing as meaning or value outside of it in the objective reality.
Based on this, I can differentiate between two strains of nihilism:
1) Experiential Nihilism, which is an inability to experience values and thereby an inability to experience meaning.
2) Volitional Nihilism, which is a refusal to realize values. When confronted with the possibility of meaningfulness, a volitional nihilist would respond that even if values can be experienced and meaning can be generated, why bother, it is all an illusion and a deception anyway.
Experiential Nihilism can often be the result of a pathological (for lack of a better adjective) state of mind, such as a person suffering from major depression. An experiential nihilist simply does not have access to an experience than others have access to. Volitional Nihilism, in turn, can arise out of rationalization of experiential nihilism (but not always and not necessarily).
However, underlying Volitional Nihilism is a cloaked value judgement: it is the belief that truth is always preferable to consolatory illusions, and the truth as perceived by nihilism is that the reality is devoid of meaning and value. And yet, if there genuinely are no values, there is no reason to prefer truth over falsehood. Even the nihilist cannot rid himself of the value of truth.
This article in The American Journal of Psychiatry by James W. Lomax and Glen O. Gabbard discusses the nature of transference love with reference to a particular case of a patient Dr. A. The central theme is the analogy of transference love with an artificial rose, derived from a dream that the patient had. The patient dreamt that the therapist gave her an artificial rose, which disappointed her. She would have preferred a real rose, but also acknowledged that real roses 'don't do well in Houston' and don't last long. This is taken by the patient and the therapist as a representation of the artificial nature of transference love in comparison to the real love of other relationships.
Below are some excerpts from the article:
Dr. Gabbard: '... transference love almost always carries with it an undercurrent of aggression and hate. Inherent in the analytic frame is the notion that there is an asymmetrical expression of feelings. The patient attempts to say whatever is on his or her mind, including all of the feelings toward the analyst. In most cases, however, the analyst expresses his or her own feelings judiciously, but only when it seems therapeutically helpful to do so. This asymmetry often creates a chronic sense of rage in the patient about the inequality of the setup. Moreover, the patient must pay the analyst, who, as the patient noted, is just "doing a job." Winnicott stressed that both love and hate are inherent in the analytic frame for these reasons. While love is typified by the empathic holding environment that the analyst creates and the effort to understand the patient’s life in a nonjudgmental context, hate is reflected in the fact that time with the analyst is always limited by the professional hour and that a fee is paid for the service.'
Dr. Lomax: 'For Dr. A, being involved in a loving relationship within analysis carried with it the risk of being lured into a conflictual, critical, and frustrating relationship. While sorting through these urges and the reluctances and prohibitions associated with them, she dreamt of my giving roses to each of my patients. Naturally, she wished for a real rose and a real relationship—one without the imbalance and artificiality of psychoanalysis. The artificial rose she received instead was, of course, disappointing. However, she also recognized that the artificiality of the therapeutic relationship allows it to last longer and to serve the function it was designed to accomplish. In her metaphor, in Houston (our relationship), the living roses (the natural expression of love) would not do well....
Dr. A was right. Love in psychoanalysis is an artificial rose. The psychoanalytic relationship does copy or include elements of more natural relationships. In that sense, it was a real relationship. Yet, if it was to serve as a means to an end, it must also have remained "artificially" within a therapeutic structure, providing the limits required to achieve therapeutic results.'
Dr. Gabbard: '... at the risk of splitting hairs, I don’t think I agree with either the patient or Dr. Lomax that love in psychoanalysis is an artificial rose. I think the love experienced in one’s analysis is basically similar to the love experienced outside of analysis. The feelings are just as real, but the actions are different.... [F]rom the patient’s perspective, the feelings are definitely real. In fact, the only difference between love inside and outside the transference is that the former is analyzed. All of our significant relationships are a mixture of real elements in the present situation and the recreation of past relationships.'
If I were to describe it, I would call transference love 'synthetic' rather than 'artificial'. The analogy I have in mind is the goal of creating life out of scratch in a laboratory. [J. Craig Venter has already created the first complete synthetic bacterial genome in a lab.] Such life, if it is ever created, would be as real as life gets, but it would be synthetic, and because it would be synthetic, it could be genetically programmed to have properties that natural life does not possess. Similarly, transference love is perhaps in some sense like creating love in a psychoanalytic lab, and it is as real as love gets, but because this love is synthetic, it can be programmed to have properties and serve functions that natural love does not.
Just as creating life in a lab raises questions about the value and meaning of life in general, I think that transference love also raises questions about the value and meaning of love in general.
A schizophrenic who thought we are living in hell and not on earth reminded me of a passage from the article Reincarnation and the Meaning of Life by John Hick:
"[The] basic cosmic optimism is marred within the monotheisms by their traditional doctrine of an eternal hell.... Julian of Norwich was one of the minority of pre-modern Christian thinkers, and Jalaluldin Rumi a hundred years earlier one of the minority of Muslim thinkers, who have been hospitable to the idea of universal salvation; and it may well be significant that they were both mystics, that is to say experiencers, rather than writers of dogmatic theology. Buddhism and Hinduism, on the other hand, believing in many further lives to come, have much less need for an eternal hell. Their cosmologies do indeed include many states that are generally called hells, but these are states through which people pass, not to which they are consigned for eternity. It may even be that we are in one of these now. But the cosmic optimism of these faiths, shared by various strands of Christianity, holds that the fundamental element of good at the core of our nature, the atman, or the universal Buddha nature, or the image of God within us, or ‘that of God in everyone', will eventually come to its complete fulfilment through the course of many lives, each bounded by birth and death and thus subject to the creative pressure of mortality." (my emphasis)