Why We All Need Philosophy

Philosophy is, therefore, undismissable for the simple reason that it encompasses all of conscious experience. To criticize philosophy, you must rely on some degree of philosophy. To shit on systematic frameworks of understanding, you must generate a systematic framework of understanding.

~ Mark Manson from, https://markmanson.net/why-we-all-need-philosophy

Irreverant as usual, but—as is also often the case with Manson—an insightful look at why you are already doing philosophy.

Years ago, when I said, “screw this I’m starting,” and tried to get Philosophy wrapped around my brain… Years ago, one of the most profitable things I ever did was subscribe to a little podcast called Philosophy Bites. And then listen to all of them. I’m still not an ivory-tower armchair philosopher, but there’s a crap-ton fewer unknown-unknowns.

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The dedications of philosophy

[T]he dedications of philosophy are impregnable; age cannot erase their memory or diminish their force. Each succeeding generation will hold them in even higher reverence; what is close at hand is subject to envy, whereas the distant we can admire without prejudice. The philosopher’s life is therefore spacious; he is not hemmed in and constricted like others. He alone is exempt from the limitations of humanity; all ages are at his service as at a god’s. Has time gone by? He holds it fast in recollection. Is time now present? He utilizes it. Is it still to come? He anticipates it. The amalgamation of all time into one makes his life long.

~ Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

Context matters

Not only are others blind to the larger context but we are often blind to their context. Only by zooming out and looking at the situations through the eyes of multiple people, can you begin to acquire perspective. And perspective is the key to removing blind-spots.

From https://fs.blog/2011/12/situations-matter/

For example: Knowing who wrote something provides useful context. In this case, the piece has no attribution—which is silly since it’s a useful, concise summary.

One way in which everyone—I can think of exactly one person, whom I’ve personally spoken with, who is the exception to that “everyone”—leaves out important context is by not being clear where ideas have come from. Everyone speaks as if each idea is patently obvious; “the sky is blue,” doesn’t need context when humans on Earth are speaking. But when you start to pay attention, almost everything else does need context. Where in fact did I hear this idea? Why am I repeating it here, in this conversation? Does my personal experience and opinion, agree or disagree with this idea?

A few years ago, I started demarcating ideas with, “I think…,” when it’s an original composition of thought, and “it seems obvious that…,” when that is the case. (And I only spout the third sort of idea—the ones I got from others—when I can recall or track down where I got it.) This forces me to sort my ideas by their contexts. Certain, uncertain, likely, unlikely, etc.. The first thing that happened was I started spouting off random crap far less often. The second thing that happened was that I found, (and have subsequently made a habit of looking into,) a lot of ideas in my head that were of dubious veracity.

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40 knots in the freezing Atlantic

The point is, you’re basically this walking, lumbering habit machine. And these habits — a.k.a. your identity — have been built up over the course of decades of living and breathing, laughing and loving, succeeding and failing, and through the years, they have built up a cruising speed of 40 knots or so in the freezing Atlantic. And if you want to change them — that is, change your identity, how you perceive yourself or how you adapt to the world — well you better slam that steering wheel to the side and be ready to hit a couple icebergs, because ships this big don’t turn so well.

~ Mark Manson from, https://markmanson.net/be-patient

I’ve been saying, “big ship, little rudder,” for a long time about my own attempts to change course. I’m certain I’m right about myself, but it’s reassuring to hear other people say they see this about themselves too. Wether or not Manson is your cup ‘o tea, it’s nice to hear things that confirm your assessment. “That looks like a shark, right? That’s a shark; we should get out of the water, right?”

The reason—not “one of the reasons”, but the actual, single, I’m-not-kidding, this is really why, reason—I tell the truth is that it helps other people form a good model of their world. Sound bonkers? …try this:

You know what it looks like, and/or sounds like, when a car is approaching along a roadway. You have a model of your world that, I hope, predicts that being struck by said car would be Very Bad. So you instinctively adjust your actions—get out of the way that is—when you see or hear a car approaching. That’s you using a model of reality; in this case a really good model that almost always works. Your model isn’t perfect: The driver could swerve to avoid you, and end up hitting you. In which case your model of the world has failed; you should have stood stationary, in the street to avoid being hit.

Where did you get that model?

What if I had arranged it so that every car you encountered as a child was driven by a confidant of mine. I had them all swerve to avoid you, and I taught you that cars will avoid you. You’d have a very different model! …and you’d agree I had done some SERIOUS lying to you!

Does my definition of True make sense now? I’ll say something if it will help you build a better model of the world. One can try this test on everything; it always works perfectly to tell you what is morally correct [in the context of speaking]. Anyway, I digress.

So I’ve been saying to myself, “big ship, small rudder,” and here I have an external bit of evidence from Manson that my model is correct. *shrugs* Sorry, this is what happens when you peek into my head.

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blog by a Stoic

Stoicism has long surged in times of difficulty—the decline and fall of Rome, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Civil War, depressions, and periods of strife because it is a philosophy designed for difficult times. It says, in effect, you don’t control these alarming events going on in the world, but you do control how you respond. And in fact is a framework for responding with courage and virtue, and with the good emotions that accompany and sustain them: joy, caution and well-wishing. None of these inspiring figures were guilty of emotionless acquiescence.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://dailystoic.com/secret-singular-philosophy-todays-politics-desperately-missing/

I’m certainly not going to transform my blog to be entirely about Stoicism. Not because others have already done so—others have, and have done it better than I could—but rather, simply because this blog doesn’t actually have a specific purpose. It’s simply one long stream of consciousness where I’m leaving a breadcrumb trail of my thoughts. That being said…

Stoicism is turning out to be a powerful toolset; an excellent fulcrum for leveraging change in my personal life. Over several years, I’ve become increasingly interested in it, and have read slowly, but steadily. Very recently, I started a morning practice I’ve labeled “philosophical reading.” It’s simply some time set aside in my mornings to read and reflect on philosophy.

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All excesses are injurious

All excesses are injurious, but immoderate prosperity is the most dangerous of all. It affects the brain, it conjures empty fantasies up in the mind, and it befogs the distinction between true and false with a confusing cloud. Is it not better to endure everlasting misfortune, with virtue’s help, than to burst with endless and immoderate prosperity? Death by starvation comes gently, gluttony makes men explode.

~ Seneca

Your model of the world

Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists. Your mind is like a compiled program you’ve lost the source of. It works, but you don’t know why.

~ Paul Graham from, http://www.paulgraham.com/know.html

I deeply love the concept of having a “model” of the world. I’m also deeply interested in having a correct model of the world. The model enables me to understand the world, to move through it, and to create the changes I wish.

I used to try to carefully create my model; for each question I encountered, I would try to learn everything that was important to determine the best answer. But that is an endless fool’s errand. The whole world become an endless field of rabbit holes. Each rabbit hole is wonderfully interesting, and it is immediately clear that exploring even a significant number of them is hopeless in one lifetime.

Instead, I learned to follow my curiosity—which is the recipe for rabbit-holes ad nauseum—but to stop when I’m no longer curious. Piece by piece a model of the world is assembled. Want to build a great model? …don’t focus on building the best model. Instead focus on this next piece of the model—the next thing you read, the next person you interact with, the next thing you do, the next thing you explore.

You have a model too, and you use it constantly. What are you doing to build your model?

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The beginning of philosophy

The beginning of philosophy is this: The realization that there is a conflict between the opinions of men and a search for the origin of that conflict, accompanied by a mistrust towards mere opinion, and an investigation of opinion to see if it is correct opinion, and the discovery of a certain standard of judgement, comparable to the balance that we have discovered for determining weights, or the rule, for things straight and crooked.

~ Epictetus

Lying to children

The first step in clearing your head is to realize how far you are from a neutral observer. When I left high school I was, I thought, a complete skeptic. I’d realized high school was crap. I thought I was ready to question everything I knew. But among the many other things I was ignorant of was how much debris there already was in my head. It’s not enough to consider your mind a blank slate. You have to consciously erase it.

~ Paul Graham from, http://www.paulgraham.com/lies.html

Sure, there are lies of expedience. (“What is thunder?” “It’s clouds bumping into each other.”) But it’s a water slide of lies when you start thinking about it. I know I never really thought about it; I certainly wouldn’t have expected a quick summary of the issues to be 5,000 words.

But there it is none the less, well done by Graham. It contains a litany of ways we all lie to children, (including those of us who don’t have or care for children in any way.) Frankly, some of the ways we all lie seem like an excellent thing to be doing. And if that’s the case, then we all have the we’ve-been-lied-to baggage Graham is describing.

Suddenly! (“It didn’t stop. It didn’t stop!”)

…I feel like I need to toss out the closets of my mind.

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