Archive for July, 2009

Personality diseases

July 26, 2009

About life, the wisest men of all ages have come to the same conclusion: it is no good. Always and everywhere one has heard the same sound from their mouths — a sound full of doubt, full of melancholy, full of weariness of life, full of resistance to life. Even Socrates said, as he died: “To live — that means to be sick a long time: I owe Asclepius the Savior a rooster.” Even Socrates was tired of life. What does that prove? What does it demonstrate? At one time, one would have said (and it has been said loud enough by our pessimists): “At least something must be true here! The consensus of the sages must show us the truth.” Shall we still talk like that today? May we? “At least something must be sick here,” we retort. These wisest men of all ages — they should first be scrutinized closely. Were they all perhaps shaky on their legs? tottery? decadent? late? Could it be that wisdom appears on earth as a raven, attracted by a little whiff of carrion?

— Twilight of the Idols

Nietzsche condemned ‘life-denying’ attitudes born out of a weak will, such as those of Socrates, often employing the metaphors of health and sickness. Nowadays the medical profession is diagnosing ‘personality diseases’ and realising his words in a more literal sense. A weak will, unable to overcome the challenges, trials and setbacks of existence, really is a disease. From Psychology Today:

Wayne Katon, whose research focuses on depression, anxiety and somatoform disorders, makes the case that stress and anxiety play a primary role. In his view, personality doesn’t just create a hospitable environment—it’s an integral part of the diseases. He believes that the initial injury or illness is almost irrelevant. What really matters is the interpretation and emotional reaction. Patients develop what he calls “catastrophic cognitions”: beliefs that if they start to get back to their activity, they will damage themselves further.

According to Katon’s clinical observations, patients with chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia tend to be highly driven overachievers unaccustomed to feeling any loss of control. When injured or sickened, those who decide that the pain or illness has overwhelmingly and permanently damaged their bodies come to feel victimized and unable to cope. Learned helplessness sets in, and patients can find themselves perpetually depressed and inactive. “They have trouble getting back to that old lifestyle, and what sets in is depression,” Katon suggests. “In our modern society, for people who have driven themselves, fatigue becomes a palatable way out of a difficult existence.” Although Katon is well regarded in the field, this perspective is still widely debated, at conferences, in medical journals and even by peers at his own medical center.

However, some patients do describe their experience in similar terms. “Stress seems to be the killer,” Howard admits. “That’s what I think happened with me. I was a superachiever and a perfectionist. I was going to make it, no matter what. I didn’t anticipate the consequences.”

Fear of further damage and disability may keep patients from trying to get back to an active life. “Whatever caused this impairment is probably not what’s keeping it going,” Katon says. “What’s keeping it going to a large extent are the misbeliefs about getting back to an active lifestyle.”

Indeed, Hillenbrand had come to anticipate disaster when she tried returning to a normal life. “I had learned to expect complete collapses each time I overextended myself,” she recalls. “As I began to slide into exhaustion, I would anticipate how I would soon be unable to sit up and speak, and I would become very frightened. The anxiety I experienced as I slid into collapse would feed my exhaustion, and I would become still weaker.”

Philosophy in a nutshell

July 25, 2009

Philosophy without reference to practical self-reflective  psychology and social psychology is bunk.

This statement goes against much of the philosophical tradition, but in modern times it has gained more currency. There are still philosophers out there who are theologian-like, believing that objects have an existence outside of the mental model they have constructed. What these theo-philosophers fail to see is that they have made things up. They have pulled their theories out of their arses. This applies to their ‘reason’ also.

Reason claims to begin with premises that supposedly needs no justification. Taking the premise, the philosopher makes inferences to a conclusion.

In fact, the philosopher already has a conclusion in mind; perhaps not in detail, but in broad outline/context/perspective. This determines the premises chosen and influences the inference process with bias. The conclusion therefore is not an objective, God’s eye view of the world (which of course doesn’t exist), but a perspective with some formal and quite boring flourishes. I need not give an example of how some philosophers have ‘reasoned their way to God’, when in fact they were just rationalising their pre-conceived perspective.

Reason is bunk unless the mental model/perspective can make predictions that are subsequently useful to the senses, ergo the popularity of the scientific method. However, the mental model being evaluated as useful to the senses doesn’t mean it is objective, and doesn’t mean that other mental models may be equally or more useful. Philosophy is not about finding and justifying the one, true (i.e. useful) mental model of the world through reason, but evaluating, deciding on and prioritising those perspectives that are most useful to human life and living them out. In short, philosophy is about wise perspectives and loving these, living these, because you love life.

Philosophers and those who purport to be

July 25, 2009

An interesting piece by Maverick Philosopher, Philosophy as Hobby, as Career, as Vocation, has me thinking about how unself-reflective those who claim the label of “philosopher” can be. Philosophers like to think of their engagements in the most noble, socially-acceptable terms; that is human (or rather, ape). In this, they abuse concepts, such as ‘reason’ and ‘academic rigour’, by using them as endowments which they can lend to their work in order to grant it divine authority.

An honest assessment would be that most philosophers, especially academic ones, engage in ‘philosophical activities’ primarily out of a desire for social status; a primitive motivation. This motivation is evidenced when philosophers come to think that following formal styles and academic standards is more important than the life-impact of their work.

Perhaps no one can escape the motivation of social status in their philosophical pursuits. If that be the case, at least the philosopher should be honest in recognising it. They should attend more of their writings to the pursuit of social status (e.g. as Aristotle did as part of pursuit of the Good Life), rather than pursuing itself by way of pretentious talk on topics not related to it (in the social status game of academic publishing) and having no impact on how we live our lives.

Aboriginal philosophy: lessons to be had

July 5, 2009

Aboriginal Philosophy:

In contemporary times, in the context of ongoing colonisation, we tend to measure other cultures against the lifestyles and values of the modern capitalist consumer societies. An alternative would be to measure the worth of societies and their philosophical bases by considering their longevity. A feature of many early civilisations is that they have sealed their own doom by an exploitation of the natural environment.{1} By contrast, Aboriginal civilisation has been notable for its survival over at least 80,000 years.

The key to this survival lies in Aboriginal philosophy, expressed in religious practice that has been paramount in peoples’ day-to-day lives, informing all their actions. For any human society: ” religion represents a symbolic view of people and their universe which regulates their actions, supports them in crisis, orders their lives, gives their actions meaning and validity – it represents their conception of the world” (Eckerman 1995)

Reading this article makes you think of how shallow and defective Western philosophy/mythology is in regards to meeting the demands and constraints of our society and environment. We do not have a philosophy of life that will see us last; we barely have a philosophy of life at all. It is a safe bet that our civilisation (modern capitalist consumer) won’t be around for as long as that of Australian Aborigines. Yet, us moderns still tend to look down on such civilisations with derision. Our values are very messed up.

Trolls and literary theory

July 4, 2009

The troll dismisses authorial intent in determining interpretation. They judge themself the sole authority on the meaning of their target’s words. These words will be selectively deconstructed and misconstrued in order to fit in with the troll’s preconceived notions. The last thing the troll intends is to engage people to better understand their viewpoint. The troll brings a dogmatic (and often kooky)  ideology to the discussion, and all parties must come around to supporting it. To question the veracity of the troll’s claims is a grave sin and offence, and puts the other party’s character into question.

The troll believes that the world not seeing itself their way is an injustice. To them, the other party is offensive and they are the victim. Any derogatory behaviour from them should therefore be justified and overlooked.  The troll doesn’t see how their pathetic ego and absurd expectations leads to their anti-social behaviour. The troll wants desparately to assert themself above others in order to cover over their negative self-image.

People don’t seek out trolls in order to listen them, so the troll has to approach others, for example on blogs such as this. The troll thinks they are successful if they are seen to vanguish the other party in ad hominem attacks. The troll never succeeds however, because they have ignored something important: authorial intent. No blog author intends for the troll to be the authority on interpreting what the author’s words mean. Troll posts may be humoured for a while, but if they persist, become repetitive, boring and tiresome, and distract from what the author wants to say, they will be deleted.

Pity the poor troll?

Subject, verb and object: all in the mind

July 4, 2009

Psyblog states:

It seems likely that this left to right bias has its roots in language (although not everyone agrees, cf. Chatterjee, 2001). Evidence for this comes from people who speak languages written from right to left like Arabic or Urdu who, sure enough, display the same bias, but in the opposite direction.

There is another left to right bias in the basic syntax of language: the vast majority of languages describe events in the order subject, verb, object (with the notable exception of the passive tense).

Together these two facts mean we not only look to the left first, but we also expect the subject to be on the left, and the object to its right. Subjects are by definition active ‘do-ers’ while objects are the passive receivers of the do-ers’ actions.

With the metaphysical notion of time, we have constructed the concepts of causation, subject, action/force, and object. Objectivity (‘what’)  is supposedly represented by the sciences, whereas subjectivity (‘how’) is the domain of personal interpretation and relation. While Hume took an axe to causation, Nietzsche blew up the roots of these distinctions with dynamite, declaring that objectivity itself is but a subjective misinterpretation that we cannot live without. Pragmatists such as John Dewey and William James deflated the whole bloated philosophical tradition of ontology and epistemology, and focused on what mattered most, namely human needs. I follow in their footsteps and maintain that we should use these categories wisely.

We see ourselves (subject) as acting on the world (object) in time. We therefore assume that we are agents with ‘free will’. From a utilitarian viewpoint this is best. However, it may shadow the way in which the world acts on us. We may not recognise how culture can dominate our decisions and actions, and in such moments we are not truly free. We may become slaves to our narrow-minded way of viewing the world.

Philosophy, such as that from Hume and Nietzsche, can set you free, but you have to be ready for the initally uncomfortable journey. Your cherished assumptions will be exposed as dogma, your values will be overhauled, and you will be left in the wilderness for a while. But then you can go back into the world and create your own meanings and values on a solid foundation. In doing so you will experience the joy of a free spirit.