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

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


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


“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


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

In clearer words, Seeing connection and meaning in data because we want it to be there, not because it really is.
3 aspects of Apophenia
  • 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.
  • Rejection bias – Ignoring or denying information that DOESN’T fit the story you are telling yourself.
  • Pareidolia – (less important, but related) A sensory stimulus which is interpreted by the mind as something else. For example being in the shower and the sound of the running water is interpreted as possibly your phone ringing. Or the faces seen in teapots, trucks and clouds. Or Jesus on a piece of toast.
 The classic example is the gambler, excitedly seeing meaningful patterns in random information. I recently had a painful encounter with this in myself, (in a social situation) and I’m a bit shocked at how powerful it can be. This is like “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” Except that all the fooling and all the shaming is me.  It’s all me. Damn it, brain.
 You could just call it cherry-picking but that sounds like an occasional, mild sort of problem one might easily correct. I’d describe it as a kind of spectrum disorder because it grows directly out of essential brain functions. About the most basic need for any organism is to recognize meaningful information and patterns. A little discrepancy in the shadows of a bush might mean a tiger. A twinkle of a certain color off in the distance could be fruit. If you can be scared by a sudden unexpected sound or movement, you are the descendent of people who made good use of that same function a long time ago. More subtly, there are patterns to be recognized in faces and voices and words: And in books and television and the internet. This function is a guardian and a navigator for us.

Continue reading


“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


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.”



Social network moralizing is a Punch and Judy show.

Listen to us, every fucking thing we say about politics and philosophy is about who is good and who is bad.

I believe many of the answers to the questions that sort of torment and enslave us are available one or two floors above where we do our thinking. I don’t especially mean it in a “spiritual” way as much as in a biological way.

You literally cannot ask or answer any question that isn’t shaped by your hardwired domesticated primate brain. You have free will, but only inside a box of rules. 

It never includes a higher insight into why things like racism and war are clockwork for us. These are species quandaries, the well known and poorly understood “fine messes” we are perpetually getting ourselves into. Until we see how they really work and why they truly happen, nothing we say about them helps to change anything. The problem is that war and racism (for example) are aspects of our operating system, they are problems we are not supposed to answer. 

Imagine if dogs had competing societies. They would totally relate to the idea”I’ll build a wall!”. Some would say “We need to do a lot more barking!” & some would say “We should all just roll in fish TOGETHER”. They would glamorize alphas and make fun of betas and deltas. They would make inappropriate “racist” statements about cats. And all of their damn Facebook comments would be about how “somedoggy” was or was not a good boy.


Not Racism.

Scientists have been explaining for years that race, as people think of it, doesn’t exist. What we think of as race is just a single frame from a movie of human traits, determined by locality, conditions, and culture. These are traits that are selected for by a group over time until they share many common points. These traits could be as changeable as a cloud over time. The time required would be generations long but our enormous human genome could supply as much variety as people want (to mate with). The group usually doesn’t change though, and continuity is the default. Why?

It is deep in us to identify down to our very souls with our local people, customs and styles. We prefer them and strive to protect them. It is second nature to jump to their defense. A better name for these defended traits is “culture” but we should recognize this use of “Culture” as a deadly serious “this is me, don’t fuck with it” business.

In fact, culture is a bigger and more elemental thing than we’ve grasped. All of us have two overlapping states of being. The Individual self; The daily us, with our stories, personal history, etc. This is the self we identify with. The other state of being is a “cell” in a cultural body. Human animals are preset to focus constantly on their personal journey and struggles. It’s difficult to wrench our perspective upward and look down on the massive being we are a tiny part of. Our culture is an organism made of members. That organism uses culture as the definition of self. This definition is used to recognize those who belong and don’t. It’s a pheromone for the hive; a membrane of inclusion or exclusion. In other words, it is the foundation of the immune system of our cultural, community organism. When a cultural immune system goes on high alert it sees enemies in all that is other. This is the ugly moment that outsiders are described as vermin, an infection, etc. Cultural “purity” and nativism surge, driven both by hatred of outsiders and fear of being mistaken for one.

Culture creates a matrix of behaviors, styles, and preferences. It describes beauty and what makes a good man or woman.  The phenotypes of people in a given culture are not coincidental, they are part of the culture. It’s like studying nature/nurture within a single family, how do you know where one leaves off and the other begins? People initiate the culture, but then the culture generates and maintains a particular style of people…who then maintain the culture! It is a chicken and egg cycle. the people shape the culture but no more than the culture shapes the people.

We all feel stressed when placed in another culture that does things very differently. That culture is not wrong for being different and we are not wrong for feeling stressed. If you’ve been lifted out of your Monopoly game and dropped into a game of “Hey, that’s my fish!” or “Twister”, you won’t be feeling quite yourself…literally. You have stepped outside yourself…you are an isolated molecule of your own culture, drifting in the wind far from home. This is why “travel is broadening” it is basic brain stretching and it can feel good or horrible, depending.

Think about the early 20th century immigrants who entered New York City through Ellis Island from all over Europe. These droplets of different cultures rolled as quickly as possible straight for the “Little [insert country here] Neighborhood”. There they could fuse with a tiny colony of their own people; the people whose cooking smelled right, whose voices sounded normal. An ethnic neighborhood might be as small as a single block and kids had to be careful coming and going because if they got caught on the wrong side of the street they’d be behind enemy lines. Even later when groups were more settled and established there’d still be for example an Italian neighborhood bordered by Polish and German neighborhoods. Finally, second to third-generation kids would identify enough as American to not make a point of staying in the neighborhood.

These European immigrants were obviously more acceptable to the white and European based mainstream culture of America. The borders of difference were relatively permeable from both sides and group after group eventually became “Normal People” to standard America. Who found it harder? People whose features weren’t European. Asians found the borders unyielding and the other side of the border all too often, dangerous. But the virtual walls around the many Chinatowns and Japan towns were well maintained from the inside as well. Ethnic neighborhoods are reality islands created by pressure from inside as much as out.  Continue reading