know thyself?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by ubermich, Jun 27, 2002.

  1. ubermich amnesiac . . . Registered Senior Member

    im going to create an argument logically, then step outside of it, so hold on to your butts:

    there seems to be a consensus on sciforums lately (sorry to those of you who disagree) with the notion of knowledge being wrapped up within the subject/object dichotomy. we have nelson, with his arcane explanations of our "beliefs" controlling our "thoughts" and blinding us from the true power of god. we have Busy Lizzy (where the hell did she go?) and her gynomypisteology on how belief coopts our rationality/self-awareness. we have orthogonal: who said it best along the lines of he rejects enlightenment absolutism as he rejects postmodern relativism. i agree. and of course, a few peopleagreed with my "belief assumptive in logic" asserations on "the illogical god" thread.

    whats the point? im wondering if anyone practices what they preach. uses the knowledge theyve intuited. tiassa took this question by the bullhorns when he asked straight up "what is it that we do with the knowledge we acquire" or something along those lines in his horsepucky thread. plz dont tell me you take philosophical information in bite-sized tidbits and put them in a drawer on the left side of your brain for when finals or a good debate pops up. i dont know about you, but im philosophizing because im looking for answers on life.

    my question is more practical than tiassa's however. it focuses on our individual experiences. what do we do with philosophy when we know (part) of it? how do we live it? i cant figure that one out.

    im not talking about 'how do you actualize existentialist theory in your everyday interactions.' i think thats something you just have to have running through your veins. what i mean is . . . well heres an example.

    lets go back to the subject/object dichotomy. for those of you who agree its true, well what do we do with this piece of information? heres what i tried to do: i concluded that if i believed this, then one can reason a causal relationship between subject and object, in which all knowledge is mere "interpretation" of the object at hand by the subject. if thats true, then to fully understand YOUR understanding of the object, you must understand the subject, yourself . to me this meant knowing one's motivations/emotions/assumptions, the stuff intrinsic to you and your identity, the stuff that influences your understanding of the world.

    if i applied this to my "relationship" with god for example, i realized some of my angst/depressed emotions motivated me to destroy god in my life. but i was still obsessed with him, and could not let the fucker go, and i realized part of me still needed him for security. (all of this takes too long to put into words)

    heres my question: when we realize that my fundamental assumptions are contradictory, what do i make of that? am i nothing, like derrida condemnds me to be? or can i make myself into something by existential action (existence precedes essence.)

    with so many philosophies out there, what do you do?

    i got into philosophy to find the answers on how to live, and theyre not here--in one coherent form. knowledge alone could not save me. i have to act, unfortunately, and im wondering what the fuck that entails. embracing one philosophy cant encapsulate every desire we have. to do so is to deny oneself. am i just rambling as an inexperienced youth? or am putting too much faith in the capabilities of philosophy?
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  3. Riomacleod Registered Senior Member

    Yes, you are, but that's ok. I think that these are some of the same questions that I was asking when I first started. I'm not going to go into depth about the first part of your post, it's early in the morning, I'm cranky because I'm at work, and I never seem to do my best work from a cubicle. However, you asked an important question which essentially comes from another thread which I was quite adamant about, specifically, you ask:

    I come from a unique perspective (assuming that philosophy majors are pretty much similar to the ones that were at my school) in that I spent 3 years learning hard science (physics and chemistry) before I had even discovered that philosophy was more than moral masturbation. I was starting to question whether physics and chemistry really had any of the answers though, and I was required to take some humanites classes, and to make a long story short, here i am today.

    My point is that I had hit a wall in my science classes. There is-I think-a good deal of doublethink that goes into the science community that all of these highly ordered and Beautiful processes were just vomited out from Chaos during the big bang. That in some way the history of the universe was nothing, nothing, nothing, nothng, STUFF! That didn't satisfy me, and most physicists and chemists that I talked to thought that the questions were absurd.

    So, I was presented with much the same choice as you are now... sort of. My initial classes were all introduction classes which let us read a large amount of different schools of thought, and I was presented with lots and lots of authors. My job was to digest all of these, and read through their logical flow. If the philosophy was inconsistent or irrational, it should be discarded for a more rational one.

    Well, a very smart man said that the first step in knowledge is to say "I Hypothesize". If your assumptions and hypotheses are contradictory, they need to be changed to align with what is apparent. There's no reason why you have to have contradiction in a philosophy, or in science. It generally means that there is a logical mistake somewhere back in your original data, and once that mistake is corrected, you can return to decide what your next logical hypothesis would be.
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  5. orthogonal Registered Senior Member

    First, take a deep breath and relax. The good news is that no philosophical theory you invent or adopt has to be perfect. Two thousand years of effort by the most brilliant minds has yet to produce a single perfectly polished philosophic or scientific theory. Everything we now think will one day become obsolete. I can thus assure you that the theory you die with as an old man will not represent the ultimate truth. Truth only provides the direction; it's not the destination. Your theory only has to be good enough to satisfy you. Luckily, I doubt I'll ever be satisfied with a philosophy. If I ever thought I had all the answers I'd stop learning, and instead of pleasantly discussing philosophy, I'd "evangelize." Yeech!

    This brings me to the second bit of good news. You don’t have to adopt any lifelong philosophy. Actually, I’d be more emphatic in advising that you shouldn’t adopt a lifelong philosophy. Your philosophy should change as you change in the course of your life. Your philosophy will become fixed after your heart stops beating, so use your life to continually revise and improve it. My favorite quote above all others, is Kirkegaard’s:

    ”The Self is only that which I am in the process of becoming.”

    Rather than a curse, it’s a gift that so much remains to be explained about this life. My joy in a lifetime spent putting together little discoveries to produce new questions, is far more gratifying than to have been born to a world in which a final, unchanging, universal Truth was simply bequeathed unto me. My brother once sent me a postcard from France with a photo of Pablo Picasso, and Picasso’s words:

    "If you know exactly what you are going to do, what is the point of doing it?”

    So, instead of feeling despair in not knowing, I find excitement in the prospect of discovery. Philosophy and science are gifts whose value exceeds the products of their use. It’s a pleasure as well as an immense load off my shoulders to realize that I’ll never produce, nor will I have to produce the ultimate truth of anything. It’s a wonderful opportunity to forget about the final exam and concentrate instead on the joy of learning and understanding. The early Greek philosophers recommended a life spent indulging oneself in the pleasure of contemplation. The concept of “angst” seems to have come much later.

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    My interest in philosophy has made a profound difference in my own life. Philosophy for me is not a profession or a hobby. It’s a way of life. The only moment of my life when I don’t have a book at hand is when I take a shower. I also carry a journal everywhere with me, in which I scribble my ideas and record quotes and impressions. My most valued attribute is not my intelligence, it's my curiosity. My “work” is to live for half a week alone, in a little hut on top of the highest mountain in Vermont. I have plenty of time here to think, read, and as I’m doing at this moment, to write. If I had a personal motto, it would be:

    ”Man muss immer generalisieren." or ”One must always generalize."
    Carl Jacobi

    Life is very good. I'm happy. Philosophy has been good to me.

    Hope this helped,
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2002
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  7. ubermich amnesiac . . . Registered Senior Member

    to orthogonal:

    thank you, i always appreciate reading one of your posts.

    i think the problem just comes down to a fundamental difference on why we (you and i) philosophize. you seem to do it for the sheer pleasure of exploration/discovery. im doing it to find answers on how to live through 'teen angst.' ill admit, thats a very, very horrible reason to want to learn, but im trying to evolve. i just get frustrated when i dont find the answers im looking for.

    it is comforting, however, to know that someone else feels very differently.

    Final note: may i ask if you are a professor/writer, sir?
  8. orthogonal Registered Senior Member


    Oh, that adolescent thing. I'm afraid I won't be much help to you there Uber. I barely made it through mine in one piece. I hope you have an easier time of it than I did.
    It doesn't seem horrible to me. I started reading philosophy when I was around 15 for the very same reason. If you care to look far back into my archived posts, you'll find some posts I made in a thread titled, "Daddy's Little Soldier." In this I bared my soul (doubtless, an impropriety) concerning my own miserable childhood. While it rarely helps to tell someone in pain that your own suffering was greater, at least knowing that someone walked barefoot over hot coals and yet is able to dance today on those same feet might be an encouragement to you.

    Perhaps the worst aspect of my own childhood was my feeling of being alone in this world. I was always too embarassed to tell my friends what was killing me. I've figured out today that no man is, or has to be an island. If we have any purpose at all (which I normally doubt), it's to help each other through life.

    Sometimes I mentally visualize the Earth spinning silently from a great distance. I note the vast empty space surrounding, in Sagen's words, "this pale blue dot." I think that if I am alone in my life, how utterly alone I must be in this universe. Friends are like those "last chance" gas stations on the edge of the desert. One doesn't simply breeze by them on the way into the void. Instead, one is compelled to stop for gas and a bottle of something cold. There is nothing between us and oblivion other than our friends.

    Well, I expect that cheered you up a bit!

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    Gosh, thanks for asking if I am a prof. or a writer. Not at all. I declared my major as philosophy, but I never had the patience to enroll for the second year at the University. I wanted to run before I could crawl. I felt I was only learning the history of philosophy when I actually wanted to do philosophy. It was the same thing when I tried to learn the violin. I wanted to play Mozart, rather than practice my scales. I was so impatient as a kid! That's why one of my posts to you stressed patience, or Geduld.

    I joined the Coast Guard instead of returning to school. The funny thing was that I brought all my first year philosophy texts around with me in my seabag. I used to sit up on the bridge during the Midnight to 0400 watch and read Kant, etc. I think the combination of that watch, my school books, the Captain's monsterous battleship-binoculars, and the starlit Atlantic Ocean had something to do with my continuing along in philosophy.

    Nearly twenty-five years later I'm a bit of an odd duck. I frequent most of the University libraries from McGill to Dartmouth. I've spent at least one day a week in a university library for as many years as I can remember. It's a bit like John Nash, of the book, A Beautiful Mind, sitting alone in a quiet window seat of the University library for years. Well, no, I'm sure I don't have a beautiful mind, but neither am I mentally imbalanced.

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    I don't recommend my technique to anyone. It only works for me at all because of my special case. It's far better to be a part of the academic world, rather than to eternally peer through the windows. Few persons are not harmed by intellectual isolation. Ludwig Wittgenstein comes to mind. He used to go off for some years to a secluded Norwegian hut to do his work. Another is the mathematician Andrew Wiles, of Fermat's Last Theorem fame. He made a conscious effort to isolate his work from others. However, these are special cases. In general, collaboration is the best antidote for an incestuous atrophy of the intellect. If I could do it over, I'd probably apply to McGill University's philosophy program up in Montreal. Who knows, maybe one day I'll do just that? Actually, I'll be in their library this coming Tuesday.

    It's nice to talk with you Ubermich. I'm very pleased that you are interested in philosophy. If you find a good school and immerse yourself, you will surpass me in my efforts very quickly. BTW, do you already have a second language? If not, I'd suggest German, followed by French.

    Last edited: Jun 30, 2002
  9. Squid Vicious Banned Banned

    My observations are that people (in general) who gain some knowledge of philosophy completely fail to apply any of it to everyday life.

    It is one thing to know philosophy intellectually. The brain is well equipped to understand an idea... but unfortunately most have a tendency to shy away from the more powerful ones, to the extent that we fail to grasp all of its implications. Most of us understand that free will is determined to one extent or another by environment and social conditions, for example... but fail to understand in all it's totality what that thought really means.

    Another trap to avoid is the tendency of most to read TOO MUCH philosophy. I've noticed this tends to dull an individual's capacity for original thought, and they tend to rely too much on quotes gleaned from their readings in answer to questions put to them, eg "as the great such-and-such said....". Their own powers of observation are dulled due to having so many answers "at hand".

    Lastly, those who have a greater command of the english language will always command more respect... it doesnt matter what the idea is, as long as it SOUNDS profound. Some of the greatest thoughts I've heard have come from someone slightly pissed in their backyard on the farm... but you'll never read them in "philosophers' monthly"... because ask them to explain it again, and they won't be able to.
  10. ubermich amnesiac . . . Registered Senior Member

    im sorry i let this die. ive been on somewhat of a hiatus....

    to orthogonal:
    god, you have no idea how much this means to me. *laughs* i think im learning what you learned at my age, sir. i mean im learning it as we speak. it feels good to know that an older person identifies with the choices im making.
    quite frankly, sir, im not bullsh*tting you when i say that i believe many people would kill to be in your shoes. you at least have the freedom to study and learn what you want on your own terms. i think thats definitely more than what can be said for your average investment banker or politician. your lifestyle, while perhaps not as lucrative, definitely provides you with more freedom i believe. the question of success is just a question of priorities.
    thank you sir. i hope in my exploration of academia i dont lose the freedom to explore that you still attain at your age.

    oh, and my second language is spanish. not by family, but education. its because i live in texas (enough said

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    thank you

    to squid vicious:

    i agree wholeheartedly, and could not have said it better. pardon me, but i believe i do somewhat of a decent job with my limited analytical skills of exploring the fullest implications of any philosophical tenet. im grappling with the fact that so many of these tenets, when you consider them in the context of one another, often contradict.
    *rofl. yes, how true. as i said to orthogonal, i hope my capacity to create thoughts, not just regurgitate bastardized interpretations of them, stays intact along with my ability to learn the information i want to know.
    *rofl, again. god, this is true. perhaps it will be my key to the ivory tower of academia--sound educated, as if you know what youre talking about when you really dont, and people will be too impressed by your command of the english language to question you and too embarassed to question your abstruse ramblings/opinions.
  11. wet1 Wanderer Registered Senior Member

    I don't know that you will ever find the answers in life. As you go along you look for reason and meaning to make sense of what you feel and observe. You try to apply that to find your place in life and the world and to find perspective in relation to others.

    I enjoy reading a lot of the posts that orthogonal makes as he seems to draw out things that I had forgotten or wrestled with at one time or another. He is truly an intelligent man. And a questioning one.

    About the time it starts to make sense to you, all of a sudden something will change and you will have to back up and revaluate what you thought to be a general rule. That is why it is an ongoing process that will never be firm.

    As far as the learning goes, it will never end. If it does, look for the daisy roots, they should be right in front of your eyes. We all at sometime question our existence, what the world means, and what are we going to do with it. Especially when we are young. Should you ever find a solid answer I would be interested in knowing it. I think in the long haul you will not. Philosophers have searched, dedicated their lives to finding such, since back in the Grecian time that we have records of. Surely it did not start there. But it is man's drive to understand in some form or fashion the world he lives in. Whether this understanding is true or false is always the question. Good luck in your search...
  12. Squid Vicious Banned Banned

    And of course, the last trap to avoid is becoming an angry little bastard like me... because then nobody will listen to you at all, on the assumption that anger makes for a confused mind

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  13. Doane McTork Registered Senior Member

    Imagine reading only one book your whole life. Maybe the Koran or the New or Old Testament. Studying it to the nth degree. Now, you've been ingrained with these parables and doctrines. Your brain will not be able to eliminate the unreality of the translation of your mind. Neural pathways are grooved and you've got no choice in discovering truth.

    Bottom line is, all philosophies come in handy at some time or another and there is no final answer. Life is in the journey, not the destination. Read Mark Twain, Vonnegut, Gustav Hasford, Steinbeck, Miyamoto Musashi, Ken Kesey, Harper Lee, Ayn Rand, Joseph Campbell, Robert M. Pirsig, Doug Adams, Arthur Clarke, Jon Krakauer, The American Constitution, Bernard Darwin and most importantly, The complete Calvin and Hobbes collection. etc.

    "To know others is wise, to know yourself is enlightenment."
  14. Riomacleod Registered Senior Member

    i'm not sure where to put this, but this sort of thinking really is quitter-talk. Seriously. The depths of the universe and life have real and answerable questions. What if we said this when there was debate on whether the sun or the earth was the center of the solar system?

    I understand your point, Mr Keplar, but it still comes in handy that everything revolves around the earth sometimes. Maybe we should just keep an open mind and allow for both points of view?

    I admit, there's a bit of ego involved in this. If there are no answers to what the universe really is, then really everything we're doing is a big honkin waste of time. Something like ripping your desk open looking for a set of keys that don't exist. No answer means that there's no reason to think or examine our world. Chaos is the only thing that is, (if anything really is) and we should just enjoy the fact that we are existant this particular moment, because in the next instant we could not be anymore. Essentially life boils down to us as organic pain collectors spiralling into oblivion. Frankly, the fact that I could be wasting my life ambition is not something I prefer to think about.

    However, we are still all here. So, that means that we've found at least part of the puzzle of the universe-probably-and are trying to fit it in with millions of other pieces until it all fits together, where experience will align itself with our hypothesis and we can finally say that we have knowledge of the universe.
  15. Doane McTork Registered Senior Member

    I assumed we were talking philosophy not sciences. Maybe I'm off base and a neophyte here but I define philosophy as a variable way to think and live and make choices to understand my relationship to the universe. Science, on the other hand, wants to quantify and digitize the universe. Philosophy gives us the possibilies of the universe. It's freedom of mind with focus. (IMHO)

    Oppenheimer used sciences but eventually fought it with philosophies, and admittedly, may never have developed such philosophies without first understanding the ramifications of the sciences he understood. Science doesn't reduce philosophy but neither does philosphy undermine science. They're different arms of the same benefactor/malfactor.

    I warn that a solid philosophy is a dull and useless way. It only developes egotistic rightness and dogmas and Timothy McVeys and Osama bin Rectums. Hell, I nearly killed 'im.

    Fundamentally, the Tao of Jeet Kun Do, has a fine lead-in to the matter... (badly paraphrased from defective hippocampus) ...

    "Use any and all ways possible to find the way."

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