Archive for the ‘Heidegger’ Category

Inauthenticity and eating disorders

December 18, 2009

Inauthenticity can be physically dangerous. Take eating disorders for example, anorexia and bulimia.

A confused young lady starves herself in order to obtain the body of a concentration camp inmate — that weak, boyish body image much glamourised by homosexual and feminine men in the fashion industry. The young lady does not recognise how such idealised body images have overcome her, and driven her to self-flagellation. She does not realise her self-worth, freedom, and perspective as an individual — apart from the expectations of popular culture. She cannot love her life and herself, because she is trapped in a fiction where she must obtain approval from others, and that approval will never be enough.

Inauthenticity has lead to the negation of her life – physically and emotionally. It is a common story.


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.

Who am I?

January 15, 2009

Thomas asks Who am I?

What do we mean when we refer to the “I”? What is the self fundamentally? Nietzsche instructs us: “become who you are.” But how is this possible? In becoming, I am changing, and thus I am different after I change than I was before. But it was I who changed, and so the I is in some sense a constant.

Ah, the Ship of Theseus paradox, Platonic forms, and all that jazz. The I that is changing is the I that changed, but the I is an abstraction. There is no concrete persistence, only interpretation makes it so. Everything is in a state of flux. Carl Jung talks of one of the ego’s functions being ‘stability of identity’. He sees this function as essential for our making consistent decisions in an otherwise world of chaos. To order (rationalise) is human and wise, but it is also to misunderstand.

I think it is useful to distinguish between self as self-identity (the socially-constructed ‘I’) and biological entity (‘bio-self’) , although we are both and the two aspects are intertwined. The bio-self may be more accurately seen as a force in particular contexts, rather than an entity.

I have taken “become who you are” (Pindar, in full “learn and become who you are”) as a strictly ethical imperative dealing with ‘authenticity’ of behaviour. It means become that projection of yourself (self-identity) that is most virtuous, or that gives you the greatest sense of self esteem/self-expression. Our self-identity is socially constructed, conditioned by upbringing, peers, etc.; we don’t have control over it by default. However, we can create a new narrative or conception of self, and through meditation pursue and fulfill it. “Become who you are” is an indictment to courage, to understand and master yourself, recognising both the reality of your circumstances and your freedom to choose an empowering, life-affirming response to them. Courage is not the popular image we have of it (e.g. Bruce Willis in the Die Hard movies), but rather the simple, dispassionate recognition and passionate, thankful embrace of our ability not to impose excessive, restrictive, ever-fictional interpretations (rationalism) on phenomena, your self-concept, your past, limits on your behaviour and self-expression, and the world in its entirety.

But whose (or what’s) authenticity of behaviour do we refer to? Some objectification of our’s, the name matters not. An object is a point-in-time focus of consciousness to which we may attribute behaviour and/or qualitative/quantitative properties. The bio-self will always be an abstraction due to it never being concrete, however it can be well defined as body in the traditional vernacular. The reference of self-identity, however, cannot be defined. To attribute any essence to it would be ‘bad faith’. It would not be who you really are because in restricting yourself (and your behaviour) through a particular self-defintion you deny the freedom that you have not to be defined. Once you label me, you negate me (Kierkegaard).

Authenticity in a nutshell

January 11, 2009

Are you authentic? – A good overview

You of the future

January 11, 2009

You are always becoming the you of the future. We are constantly projecting ourselves into the future, always expecting things, always hoping things. We live in the future, we are pulled ahead of ourselves.

Further reading:

A better tomorrow? – A bright vision of tomorrow makes for a sunnier today. Our relationship to the future affects our current state of mind

Authenticity: one of three basic psychological needs

January 4, 2009

It ought to be reassuring to have psychologists make the same conclusions as the philosophers you follow. Indeed, if the ‘inference to the best explanation’ of observations from empirical science does not align with one’s philosophy than it really ought to be thrown out. I am reassured in this case.

Psychologists have confirmed the emphasis that Existentialists have placed on ‘authenticity’. In Dare To Be Yourself they define authenticity as the unimpeded operation of one’s true or core self in one’s daily enterprise.

Some background on the concept:

Enlightenment philosophers secularized ideas of selfhood, but it took the 20th century’s existentialists to question the idea that some original, actual, ultimate self resides within. To them, the self was not so much born as made. One’s choice of action creates the self—in Sartre’s words, “existence precedes essence.” For Heidegger and confreres, authenticity was an attitude: the project of embracing life, constructing meaning, and building character without fooling yourself that your so-called essence matters in any absolute, a priori sense.

“The philosophical question is, do we invent this authentic self?” says Portmann. “Or do we discover it?” Socrates believed we discover it; the existentialists say we invent it.

There are many benefits to being ‘authentic’:

Authenticity is correlated with many aspects of psychological well-being, including vitality, self-esteem, and coping skills. Acting in accordance with one’s core self—a trait called self-determination—is ranked by some experts as one of three basic psychological needs, along with competence and a sense of relatedness.

But it is not an endeavour for the weak. There are obstacles that you must overcome (apologies for the long quote; I do so for the sake of emphasis):

Another reason we’re not always true to ourselves is that authenticity is not for the faint of heart. There is, Kernis and Goldman acknowledge, a “potential downside of authenticity.” Accurate self-knowledge can be painful. When taking a test, it isn’t always fun to find out where you score on the grading curve. “Our self-images can be highly biased,” Leary notes. “But in the long run, accuracy is almost always better than bias.”

Behaving in accord with your true self may also bring on the disfavor of others: Must you admit to being a Democrat when meeting with your conservative clients? Does your wife really want to know whether you like her new dress? “Opening oneself up to an intimate makes one vulnerable to rejection or betrayal,” Kernis and Goldman observe. It can feel better to be embraced as an impostor than dumped for the person you really are.

Authenticity also requires making conscious, informed choices based on accurate self-knowledge. Like the existentialists, today’s psychologists emphasize the role of active choice in creating an authentic life: a willingness to evaluate nearly everything that you do. That’s no mean feat in a culture where even simple acts—you can dye your hair any color you want, your television carries more than 500 channels, and Starbucks advertises more than 87,000 ways to enjoy a cup of coffee—require conscious consideration among alternatives.

Such freedom can be exhausting. Baumeister has found that deliberation, no matter how trivial, exacts a cost in psychic energy, of which we have only a finite amount. His studies show that authentic action demands a certain amount of psychological exertion that depletes the self’s executive function. “It’s harder to be authentic,” he says. “It takes more work.”

Leary sees it as an outright burden, part of the perennial longing and doubt that he calls “the curse of the self.” So here we are, stuck with our self-awareness, which also compels us to continually define and refine our sense of ourselves as unique individuals against a background of conformity, superficiality, exhibitionism, and lots of other unique individuals.

But wait, there’s more. In order to realize an authentic life, says Kernis, one often has to set aside hedonic well-being—the kind of shallow, short-lived pleasure we get from, say, acquiring things—for eudaimonic well-being, a deeper, more meaningful state in which gratification is not usually immediate. Sissies need not apply.

The fact is that we tend to flourish under the most challenging circumstances, and enduring the pain and confusion that often accompany them can bring out the best—and most authentic—in us, fostering such deeply satisfying qualities as wisdom, insight, and creativity. But our cultural climate is filled with an alluring array of distractions, from online gambling to video games, that often turn out to be junk food for the mind.

Too Rigid for Our Own Good

But the really hard work, according to Cope and others, is the amount of ego-wrangling required to contact the core self. One of the biggest barriers to authentic behavior, he says, is the arbitrary and rigid self-image that so many of us nurture but which in fact distorts experience and limits self-knowledge. “Oftentimes, the very first line of defense you get with the folks who say, ‘I’m leading an inauthentic life,’ is that they’re living life according to a fixed set of views and beliefs about how they should be.”

What do you have to lose? Nothing

December 19, 2008

I mean, what do you have to lose?
You come from nothing,
You go back to nothing.
What have you lost? Nothing!
Always look on the bright side of life.

– Monty Python

Never say of anything that I have lost it. Only that I have given it back.

– Epictetus

and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

– Ecclesiastes 12:7

God is nothing, and the source/ground of all being*. We must face God (nothingness), indeed accept and appreciate him (it and non-it), in order to passionately live. Only the wise fool thinks life is meaningless because it is momentary (Ecc 12:8). Rather, life is nothing but moments, and life is meaningful because meaning has full reign, if we so desire, with (only) nothing to stop it. If only nothingness is against you, everything is for you.

God (nothingness), will frustrate the wisdom of the wise (the teacher of Ecclesiastes,  who taught the worship of God through teachings made up by men [Ecc 12:13]) (See also Isaiah 24:14). This frustration will come in the form of despair (with cries such as “Everything is meaningless!”), as the wisdom of the wise (its ‘reason’ and expectations) reflects absurdity whence shone upon the world. (The world does not obey our expectations and demands of it; this is the absurd). To avoid this dispair we must accept, appreciate and live in full view of God (nothingness) as we experience the world and create our narrative of meaning.

*To say that God is anything but nothing is to create an idol.  God is not a being and cannot be objectified with a noun nor described with adjectives, except in a poetic sense which does not purport to pin God down. This God could quite rightly pass Derrida’s criteria for the Logos, but I wouldn’t want to disrupt his Sophist-like games.

The meaning of life is to care

September 28, 2008

Heidegger writes beautifully on this, but unfortunately I don’t have any quotes on hand – I’ll better organise my sources soon.

He says, to care is to be a shepherd.

Anxiety is a distressing emotion which is an intricate part of caring. We all experience anxiety, but I think we have wrongly come to see it as a mental illness. Indeed, there are anxiety disorders which are destructive, but anxiety is not something bad in itself. It reminds us, or at least it should remind us, that we care.

When we care about something that something becomes one of life’s meanings for us. It ought to be no surprise that many people find meaning in compassion, caring for others. Others, such Australian Aboriginals, find meaning in caring for the land.

To care is to have meaning in one’s life and to care is to be human.