Philosophy

Concerning philosophy by school, by behavior, by implication or as a meme.

Telling the truth about something shameful is a really interesting bargain.

We exchange being a worse person who is seen as better, for being a better person, who is seen as a worse one.

That is, we go from being an immoral person who everybody believes to be moral to a moral person who everybody condemns.

We downgrade our reputation and suffer losses for the deeply soulful result of living in truth once again.

There is something about living a lie that is a bit like holding your breath underwater or going around caked in dirt no one else can see. It’s a pure relief then, finally taking a breath or finally being clean.

 

The outrage people feel at hearing they were lied to is also interesting. I want to understand specifically what harm was done.

A lie places the victim in a false location. They are lost but they don’t know it.

A lie steals their autonomy and volition. It prevents them from acting in self-defense.

A lie repudiates the time it seemed but only seemed, we were loved.

A lie reveals our value at the time of sale. So much lower than we imagined.

While the lie was believed we didn’t know where we were, or who we were with. Terrifying.

 

 

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“Through all ages men have tried to fathom the meaning of life. They have realized that if some direction or meaning could be given to our actions, great human forces would be unleashed. So, very many answers must have been given to the question of the meaning of it all. But they have been of all different sorts, and the proponents of one answer have looked with horror at the actions of the believers in another. Horror, because from a disagreeing point of view all the great potentialities of the race were being channeled into a false and confining blind alley. In fact, it is from the history of the enormous monstrosities created by false belief that philosophers have realized the apparently infinite and wondrous capacities of human beings. The dream is to find the open channel.
What, then, is the meaning of it all? What can we say to dispel the mystery of existence?
If we take everything into account, not only what the ancients knew, but all of what we know today that they didn’t know, then I think that we must frankly admit that we do not know.
But, in admitting this, we have probably found the open channel.”

Richard Feynman

 

 

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Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

Soren Kierkegaard

The way we understand the past is the way we understand the future. The future is lit indirectly, by imagination, as if by moonlight.

Perception cannot escape the relativity of POV. Every story can be traced back to its author and their personal story. Every background has a background. Every measurement suppresses or ignores other measures in order to capture its sample of reality. Every given limits what can be given as it dutifully fulfills its own prophecy. Continue reading

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Science is a Gas Giant.

I don’t mean anything disparaging by that. It’s a mental model to freshen up our thinking.

The unequivocal territory of science is the sum of theories plus experiments that have unambiguous, replicable results. This body of knowledge is the diamond-hard core at the heart of science. There are a lot of physics and chemistry experiments here. They seem to know their parts by heart.

Just beyond the border of that core, the gas atmosphere begins but it is nearly as hard as the core itself. It’s a long, dense gradient from here to the wispy edge of the atmosphere that is literally made of thin clouds under scattered atoms and space. Close to the core, the experiments are as replicable as the day is long when you average them out. There are enough squishy, stochastic details here that any random experiment might say something new, but not useful. The ambiguous results are overwhelmed by un-ambiguous ones like a single black grain in a bag of white rice.*

Heading outward, the variables faced by theorists get more complicated and slippery. If the questions science aims to answer were pickle jars, we’d crack them open without a beat at the core, struggle with rubber gloves and screwdrivers around the middle, and create thought experiments about jars and pickles at the foggy upper edge. Your thought experiment may perfectly predict opening the jar, and what’s inside but it’ll be a long time before anyone gets a pickle. Continue reading

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“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.”

―Søren Kierkegaard

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“The unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”. — Klaus Conrad

More simply, Apophenia is seeing connections and meaning in data because we want it to be there, not because it really is.

3 Types of Apophenia:

  1. Confirmation bias – From a background of randomly distributed items; associating items that have no connection except that they fit the story you are already telling yourself.
  2. Rejection bias – Ignoring or denying information that DOESN’T fit the story you are telling yourself.
  3. Pareidolia – (less impactful, but related) A sensory stimulus that is interpreted by the mind as something else. For example, being in the shower and in the sound of the running water, you keep thinking you hear your phone ringing. It is also, the faces we see in teapots, trucks, and clouds. It is seeing Jesus on a piece of toast, or a happy dog face in random shadows and light.

The classic example given is a gambler, excitedly seeing meaningful patterns in random information and sensing a coming streak of good luck. I recently had a painful encounter with this in myself, in a social situation where I consistently misunderstood social signals and lost a friend. It’s shocking how compelling and believable a false impression can be. Then, the dawning realization of having been completely wrong and completely certain is mortifying but also frightening: You’ve been out of touch with reality, and you were not in a relationship with another person, just with yourself and your dream. “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” but in this case, all the fooling and all the shaming is on you. Damn it, brain.

The most basic survival need for any organism is to recognize meaningful information and patterns around it. A little anomaly in the shadows of a bush might mean a tiger. A twinkle of a certain color in the distance could be fruit. If a sudden unexpected sound or movement puts you on alert it means your copy of this software is up and running. The neurology of patterns and meanings is essential from raw survival to subtle nuances of communication. There are patterns to be recognized in faces, voices, and body language: There are patterns in the weather and in the nightly news. This function is our guardian and navigator in literally everything we do. It is the foundation of our relationship with Reality. Apophenia is the name given to a group of universal and necessary pattern recognizing behaviors at the point that we embellish and become partisan.

There is a healthy version of Apophenia and a toxic version. Healthy Apophenia is invisible because it creates no (serious) conflict. Toxic Apophenia can be viewed as a spectrum disorder because it emerges directly out of the same essential brain functions but as beliefs that constantly cause conflict with the outside world.

I’ll use the example of Autism as a spectrum disorder to make a similar case for Apophenia.

All of us fit somewhere on the Autism spectrum. We have our personal “settings” for all the well-known issues of ASD people such as sound sensitivity, dislike of eye contact, social deficits, etc. We might be socially warm, making intimate eye contact and not at all bothered by noise but we are on the same spectrum or there would be no contrasting perception describing Autistic behavior. What makes a person “Autistic” is the degree to which their personal settings cause friction with the “normal” world. We stop calling people Autistic when the friction is mild enough that a diagnosis isn’t necessary. This is simply where we stop measuring the spectrum, not where the spectrum stops.

Apophenia is recognizable friction between OUR reality and REALITY itself. It is a meaning disorder.

We all have a case of high-functioning apophenia if we have any kind of subjective outlook on life. Subjectivity and “reality favoritism” are unavoidable because to have any point of view, we highlight certain data points in the world as more meaningful than others, we prefer these data points. They support the narrative. Of course, there is no absolute objective reality that we could all be perfectly in touch with. A properly functioning person is loaded with biases and subjectivity. If a bit of Apophenia is universal we can consider it part of our homeostasis. It’s part of how we have a fix on our personal life and beliefs. We all need to make some basic assumptions to get anything done. If it means we gloss over a few discrepant facts there’s usually no serious price to pay. A bit of friction is just human background noise.

It is a more serious case of Apophenia when beliefs become obsessive. Not because the person simply has bad information, it’s because that bad information grows disproportionately important, inflexible, and unquestionable. Mistakes aren’t corrected, they are defended. Apophenia almost behaves like an allergic response; eventually, any truth outside the story is treated as antigen. It is an inflammation of belief. That belief becomes our prime motivator, a terrible advisor, and somehow, an essential part of our self-definition. It shows up as an opportunistic infection alongside addiction and co-dependency. It is dogmatic and generates black and white stories. Often it is a willful rejection of any relationship to others becoming a protective wall around megalomania. Apophenia is the mechanism and the very foundation of conspiracy politics. Viral memes and vulnerable people are the breeding ground.

Examples of Hot Zone Apophenia:

  • Stalkers: Celebrity or otherwise. A false story of romance is woven into an obsession and the focal person must be forced to recognize it.
  • Religious Extremists: A religious map of reality becomes more real than the daily world. In the worst cases, the world must be forced to recognize it.
  • Conspiracy theorists: A weird idea becomes a raison d’etre. A monomania.
  • Racists: Everything becomes about “The Jews”, or “The blacks” ad-nauseum.
  • Ultra-Nationalists: It starts with culture appreciation day and ends with ethnic cleansing.

Notice how isolated they all are. In some cases, a natural group of “new best friends” comes with the obsession. Unfortunately, a likeminded community only reinforces the seeming importance and truth. All backs are turned against the outside world and all its damned lies. As the levels of obsession rise, barriers of acceptable behavior are knocked aside. In the worst-case scenario, there is a literally terminal stage when violence and self-destruction occur. These are people it is hard to feel compassion for because they all display unpleasantness or worse but my gut tells me that way back when the obsession is just a tiny glimmer, coming into being, that hopelessness, loneliness and a desperate need for meaning are the sparks that start the fire. The new obsession arrives feeling like a lifeboat, like a rescue, like an escape to a safe place. Much like serious depression, it cuts the person off from the world and rejects opposing views. For many with serious Apophenia, the story leading to their downfall must feel like an answered prayer and a reason for living.

All these people are desperately filling a painful void with a poison that they have mistaken for an antidote. In apophenia, you don’t hold the belief, the belief holds you.

 

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“We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe.”

“When we treat man as he is we make him worse than he is. When we treat him as if he already was what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.”

“I find the great thing in this world is, not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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William James was an American philosopher and psychologist, and the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States. James was a leading thinker of the late nineteenth century, one of the most influential U.S. philosophers, and has been labeled the “Father of American psychology”. Among his most influential books are The Principles of Psychology, which was a groundbreaking text in the field; Essays in Radical Empiricism, an important text in philosophy; and The Varieties of Religious Experience. He coined the phrase “stream of consciousness” to describe the experience of the mind. He made an enormous contribution to understanding human behavior and to making psychological practice more pragmatic and empirically based.  If there were “Baseball cards” for daring, dedicated and original thinkers, he would be Lou Gehrig. The linked article is a fun overview of his life and work. The Thinker Who Believed in Doing.

His theory of Self proposed that there are 4 distinct parts:

“The Constituents of the Self may be divided into two classes, those which make up respectively (a) The material Self; (b) The social Self; (c) The spiritual Self; and (d) The pure Ego.”

My focus here is his model of the Social Self which resembles my model of  The Third Mind. The following is edited for relevance from his The Principles of Psychology:

“…Properly speaking, a man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him and carry an image of him in their mind. To wound any one of these his images is to wound him. But as the individuals who carry the images fall naturally into classes, we may practically say that he has as many different social selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares. He generally shows a different side of himself to each of these different groups. Many a youth who is demure enough before his parents and teachers, swears and swaggers like a pirate among his ‘tough’ young friends. We do not show ourselves to our children as to our club-companions, to our customers as to the laborers we employ, to our own masters and employers as to our intimate friends. From this there results what practically is a division of the man into several selves; and this may be a discordant splitting, as where one is afraid to let one set of his acquaintances know him as he is elsewhere; or it may be a perfectly harmonious division of labor, as where one tender to his children is stern to the soldiers or prisoners under his command.

The most peculiar social self which one is apt to have is in the mind of the person one is in love with. The good or bad fortunes of this self cause the most intense elation and dejection …unreasonable enough as measured by every other standard than that of the organic feeling of the individual. To his own consciousness he is not, so long as this particular social self fails to get recognition, and when it is recognized his contentment passes all bounds.”

 

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