olimay: (Default)
I had a few thoughts yesterday and today.

You and they are your own

When I anticipate disapproval or ridicule, I have the impulse to think, "I am bad," or "I am crap at this," or to get into an anxious spiral about why the disapproval or ridicule is unfair or wrong. Maybe you are like me sometimes.

Here is something obvious I verbalized last night: when I actually insult myself because feel shame about who I am, I am also insulting people like me.

It is important to note that feeling shame, or insulting yourself does not mean you are now double bad. It is not about being here. It is just something you should not do, and that is important. The whole badness or goodness has faulty premises, and the tendency to feel shame is not your fault, and it's not mine. Let try to do something about it, though.

Anyway, when you say you are bad, that it is reasonable that you should be despised, you are saying that people like you, good people like you should also be despised.

Here is a distinction.

"It is reasonable that people would despise me for failing at this." This is an empirical statement. You expect people to despise you when you exhibit this behavior.

"It is reasonable that people should despise me..." --that's different. No. They should not despise you, no matter how much they despise the behavior. Maybe not expect more, but at least be open to better from your fellow humans. And be open to more from yourself.

Then, think of the other people who are like you. You may not think there are other people who are like you. You can always filter the several billion population of the world down to one person with a few overzealous criteria. But there will still be groups of people with strong common experiences and struggles. Otherwise art, for example, just wouldn't work.

There is someone out there who in some weird way is dealing with stuff just like you are dealing with your stuff. There are people in the past and future facing the same challenges that you are. Some of these past or future people will be you, on a different day, in an ever so slightly set of circumstances. Other people may not be in a position to have understanding and compassion towards these people. You might be. At least be open to that. Maybe you might be the only one.

Then: you might be that one who says, "I know what you're dealing with. I know you might be suffering, that you might be feeling shame. It's natural to feel shame, even though there is no need. You are trying to live and find your way."

Be open to being that one.

What you know and what you learned can help someone, somewhere

So you're going through a lot of crap. You're trying a lot of different things, or maybe just trying your best to get that one thing to work consistently. And maybe it doesn't feel like you're contributing very much to the world--you just happen to be one of those people who cares about things like that.

You can help people!

The solutions you tried that helped you might help other people.

Even if they don't apply to other people, the solutions you tried but didn't work might be good information for others.

And even if neither really applies to a lot of others, your process of finding solutions and understanding your situation might be of use.

And even if your process of understanding is too weird or inapplicable, the failures in your process of understanding your challenges and the world can be of great use to people.

This all assumes you have some grasp on reality. If you are doing your best to a decent grasp on reality you can probably help people by describing what you went through, what you tried, what didn't work, what helped you understand things, what set back your understanding.

But even if you don't really have that good a grasp on reality, if you are honest about what you experienced while going through these things, at least someone might be able to glean some insight.

You can get better at all of these things--and by following the process you've developed to solve your challenges, you are already doing so in some sense. By getting a better grasp on reality, a grasp that makes sense to you without internal conflict, you get a better understanding of what is helping or hindering your understanding, what is working and not working. You can improve those in turn. This is the best practical case for what my friends like to call "rationality".

There are some potential blind spots and problems. They mostly have to do with becoming narrowly attached to a certain way of viewing things. It may be simple confirmation bias--you take in information that says you or things you like are right, and throw out information that says you are wrong. It may be overgeneralization--the pattern you see in this place is so appealing you begin to think it applies everywhere. That's why you should practice being skeptical of your own conclusions, and why you should read and learn a very wide variety of things.

(Or so I say. The reason I read a wide variety of things is because I happen to find a wide variety of things interesting, and I'm easily distracted!)

In the end, through your process of trying to understand and overcome your challenges, you can probably generate something people can learn from. And likely there is someone out there who can learn a lot from what you've lived and tried to understand. And if you get better at all this, there is the greater possibility you can really help someone who was stuck like you. Or stuck in their own way, but enough--analogously--like you.

If you want to. I don't think anyone is under the obligation to do so. I look around at people who have dealt with complex challenges that required understanding to overcome (admittedly I'm only talking about a handful of people in the several hundred people I know). And I find that they may have had to develop an understanding at some point, but then they outgrew the need to have the understanding be an explicit thing. It's like the skill progression thing: unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence to unconscious competence. So, if they did not preserve their lessons and the intermediate frameworks they used, it might be hard for them to teach. I think of myself as someone who likes to extract useful insights and methods for other people to use, but I also just forget things. It's likely I've forgotten a bunch of stuff whose intermediate forms I no longer really use.

But still: the possibility of helping other through living and taking the risks of discovery remains something that inspires me. At least it does when I can remember to see things in that frame of reference.
olimay: (Default)
Interesting "prolegomena", apparently Chapter 33 of the Zhuangzi, which is a survey of schools of thought at the time. I'd not heard of a lot of them, and the conception I had for a few seem different from the description.

Mozi - Mohists, the "ascetics". My concept of them was a rational-empiricist school. But portrayal here is more like the Cynics of Diogenes' mold.

Song Jian / Yin Wen - tolerance, let go of your material possessions, consideration and forgiveness--very Christian (or Cynic in the pattern of Crates of Thebes)

Peng Meng, Tian Pian and Shen Dao ("Temple of the God of Grain group") - detachment, resignation to inevitability, rejection of control over life by reason: live in a state of nature and transcend morality ("P'eng Meng's teacher used to say, 'Al the ancient followers of Tao tried to do was to reach the state beyond praise or blame.") and pretty close to the popular misconception of Laoist thought with a touch of noble savage. Zhuangzi says they only partially understand Dao.

Laozi & Guan Yin - big contrast in the Laozi wuwei vs the Temple of the God of Grain "return to nature". Note that Guan Yin is the officer who persuaded Laozi to write his book, not Guanyin the Bodhisattva of mercy. Instead of "reject humanness, be an animal" we have "appear like clear water", movement in a state of rest. A great deal harder to understand.

Zhuangzi - constant change, lots of questions, radical skepticism!

Hui Shi and the "Sophists" - Why this borrowed term in the translation? Subtlety probably lost on more modern readers, who oversimplify "sophist" as "fake philosopher". Anyway: context dependence of verbal logic, relativity of time and space. Zhuangzi thinks these exercises just amount to playing around with words, no matter how impressed the logicians seem. Later Wittgenstein (according to the summary of others; I've never read the guy) would probably agree with Zhuangzi. Hui Shi really likes to talk, likes to blow other peoples' minds with words, revels too much in the material. But Zhuangzi thought of him as a good friend and a worthy mind.
olimay: (Default)
It seems that the great truths of the world have been seen by the wise men of all ages, regardless of country and period. Dr. Millikan, Einstein, Eddington, Emerson, Laotse and Chuangtse, with different backgrounds and possessing different tools of knowledge, come back to nearly the same thing. The preceding statement of belief is, I believe, acceptable to most thinking modern men. But the ideas are characteristically Taoist: "it is enough for me to contemplate, etc.," "the intelligence manifested in nature," "which we can dimly perceive," and "that part of Him that became us." Emerson, too says, he was a part of "God in nature."

The looping, circular, relative, seemingly anti-positivist view. Something that resonates with me aesthetically, much more than reductionism ever did. But maybe not Lin's version, which is about a combined cultural and intellectual wholesomeness. More anti-materialist than anything. I'm more about the skepticism. Or so I think. Haven't really examined myself. Don't know if I'm well read enough to really do so.

Interestingly, Lin scoffs at people who say that there was no one real person as Laozi (or Zhuangzi); says that it is a continuation of a bad attitude earlier anti-intellectual ages:
it should be remembered that critical skepticism became almost a disease in the Manchu Dynasty, and in the case of Laotse this may be attributed to the pernicious influence of Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, who thought that Laotse's book was most probably produced by some forgers in the third century. There was so much loose talk about forgery, and textual critics could not distinguish between a forged work and later interpolations of single passages. Therefore, when one hears a Chinese scholar saying that Laotse, or the great majority of the chapters of Chuangtse, was a forgery, without sufficient show of evidence or exact reasoning, one may be sure that he is merely aping a fashion which has by now become very tiresome.

Rings of apologia. I need to look again, but Spitznagel, who references more recent Sineticists, seems to entertain that possibility a bit more.

[Lin, Yutang. (1948). The Wisdom of Laotse. Random House: New York.]
olimay: (Default)
Cleaning out my Evernote notebooks, I found this quote:

Chris Macleod calls this “epiphany addiction”: “Each time they feel like they’ve stumbled on some life changing discovery, feel energized for a bit without going on to achieve any real world changes, and then return to their default of feeling lonely and unsatisfied with their life. They always end up back at the drawing board of trying to think their way out of their problem, and it’s not long before they come up with the latest pseudo earth shattering insight.”

That's Aaron Swartz from his series of posts called Raw Nerve.

I know I'm definitely an epiphany addict, though it's worse because I get sucked into epiphany hunting on the web. If I find a good author I relate to, or who seems to know something that I don't, I'll throw aside whatever I was supposed to do and go on a reading binge.

But I don't know that the habit is all that bad. They may not make me magically ten times happier or lower my time preference or help me get great grades on classes. But I do learn a lot on the way, and I do have interesting thoughts that lead to other interesting thoughts. I just reread Plato's Allegory of the Cave. I think he would call highly advanced epiphany hunting just "doing philosophy".

How about you? Do you have this affliction? Or maybe you have the opposite attitude--you don't get this frenzy for answers. What do you think?

Addendum 10-24: After a bit of reflection (all it took was responding to comments) I don't think I'm an actual epiphany addict. I'm much more excited about a lot of articles and books before I read them than after I read them. But I'll keep on clicking. Maybe the next one will have the magic formula.

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