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I have not seen any episodes of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.  And for me, that is quite shocking as I am very much a fan of decluttered, organized living.  I say ‘fan’ because in reality I’m stuffed into a small house that has entirely too much stuff and most of it is not mine, so I cannot purge away my clutter demons.  C’est la vie.

Olberding rasies the point that much of the success of Tidying Up has to do with the latent Orientalism still present in our North American culture.  Our internalized mystic notions are somewhat problematic to say the least.

 

“At a practical level, as a professor who regularly teaches East Asian philosophies, I die a little inside every time we experience a cultural phenomenon with a veneer of ‘wisdom from the East’ on it. Having imbibed pop culture’s mystical Orient, students will arrive to my classes craving a deeper initiation into Eastern mysteries. Teaching these seekers of wisdom then becomes deflationary.

I was once at an art fair where there was a booth selling temporary tattoos. One of the tattoos was a Chinese character that was translated on the tattoo’s plastic label as ‘bitch’, an appealing bit of body art for the tough girls among us, I suppose. Except a far more straightforward and accurate translation of the character would be ‘prostitute’, or maybe ‘whore’.

Teaching students who fell in love with ‘Eastern philosophy’ via our culture’s myriad Mr Miyagis is like being the one to tell someone her tattoo says ‘whore’. The tattooed will be better off knowing, but she won’t thank you for telling her. Pop-culture-induced orientalism usually does wash off, but the cleanup is far less alluring than wearing the myth. At least, I console myself, Kondo’s target market is the middle-aged, so maybe my young college students won’t show up with this particular ‘tattoo’.

In some ways, I admire the impulse to reach outside familiar cultural traditions in order seek wisdom, or even household aesthetic advice. Both the urge to improve ourselves and the curiosity to look beyond our own boundaries seem salutary. The problem, though, is when doing so looks like one more iteration of what started our troubles in the first place. The distracted impulse to acquire the new and shiny, as well as the desperate hope that novelty might alleviate anhedonic consumerist malaise – these are why Kondo’s clients have houses overwhelmed with stuff. We have homes joylessly cluttered by the artefacts of a fruitless search for joy, or at least a reprieve from bathetic numbness. And wisdom from the ‘East’ has long been marketed to Westerners hoping to escape their existential maladies by seeking what is exotic, what promises to be more meaningful than what they have or can find locally.

My cynical concerns, to be sure, are not about Kondo herself. I assume that she is sincere in what she offers, and indeed I expect some might find her counsel truly useful. It is the nature of her attraction to Westerners that gives me pause. This registers most powerfully for me when I re-imagine what she offers in a distinctly American guise. Before I became a professor, I sometimes earned my keep as a maid. And this class-conscious part of me is more oppositional still where the fascinations of ‘tidying’ are concerned.”

The level confusion that Olberding presents, I think, is yet more evidence of the need to teach philosophy earlier, rather than later in the educational process.

 

This is one of my favourite talks. It presents a very important perspective.

One lesson I’ve tried to take from this involves dealing with those I might view as more wrong than me. It is common to wonder at how people can possibly be as stupid as they are. I have heard this sentiment expressed by many different people in many different situations. It is so easy to just think of the offending idiot as a moron and be done with it. It is not the most charitable of moods. The proper thing would be to recognize that we are all idiots, and we should deal with the stupid people in our lives as we would like our own stupidity addressed: with patience and courtesy. I admit, I don’t live up to this standard very often, but I’m working on it.

As a Physicalist, I can get behind some of what Rachlin says.  I think I’ll have to read some more regarding his thoughts on pain though, because I’m finding it hard to take out the direct connection our nervous system has with the world out there and replace it with the notion that it is simply an interaction over time.

Interesting article none the less, and of course the three questions that get you thinking about what Teleological Behaviourism is reproduced here:

 

“As far as I am concerned, our minds are not mysterious entities in our brains but rather equivalent to the long-term patterns in our overt behaviour. This view stems from Aristotle’s philosophy of teleology, in which the end, not the means, is the most important part. For a psychologist, the viewpoint is known as teleological behaviourism, and that’s where I fall.

The concept might be difficult to accept at first, but give it a chance. Following are three questions and answers that are hard to resist; they might not convince you to become a teleological behaviourist, but they should demonstrate that teleological behaviourism is not as crazy as it might seem at first:

QUESTION: It is the far-distant future. Knowledge of the brain has progressed to the point where our brains can be removed from our bodies and stored safely in a room while communicating wirelessly with our bodies; such disembodied brains can control our movements as they do now in situ. American football teams use this brain-separation technique to protect themselves from concussions. Yet there are still broken arms and legs, and players writhing on the ground. Where is the pain?

ANSWER: The pain is in the players’ behaviour. The brains in the locker room contain the pain mechanisms, but pain itself is not an internal mechanism; it is an interaction over time between a person’s overt behaviour and the environment. It is the player writhing on the field, not his or her brain, that needs assistance; pain can function as a signal for that. For the hurt football player, as for us all, the pain of the moment exists in the context of a wider relationship over time between harmful stimuli (such as a hot stove) and overt and generally functional behaviour (such as pulling your hand away).

QUESTION: Again, it is the far-distant future. Suppose you lived then and married a wonderful person and had a great life together with perhaps children and grandchildren. After 50 years of marriage, on his/her deathbed, he/she tells you that he/she is a robot, manufactured rather than normally born. Would you be disappointed?

ANSWER: I would not be disappointed. If anything (say, a non-physical soul or some neural circuit in her brain) had been left out of my wife’s composition, that thing would have been entirely irrelevant to me. If her behaviour after all these years was that of a normal human being, her consciousness must have been that of a normal human being, by definition. Otherwise, consciousness would be a truly trivial thing. Consciousness evolved as did our less-extended behavioural patterns. The separation of consciousness from long-term behavioural patterns allows you to say that a normally behaving person, normal in every way (perhaps, over the long run, a better behaving person than you are), is ‘really’ inferior to you because his or her in-principle non-detectible consciousness is faulty or non-existent. Such a notion is not just wrong but destructive, and can underlie racism and prejudice of every kind.

QUESTION: Two people in a room are asked to imagine a lion. One closes her eyes and says: ‘Yes, now I see it; it’s walking around; I see the mane and the tail.’ The other person runs screaming from the room. Which one is imagining a lion?

ANSWER: Clearly the person running out of the room is imagining a lion. The other is imagining a movie of a lion. There are no sense organs in our brains; if there were, we would see nerves and not lions. To imagine something is to behave in the absence of that thing as you would normally do in its presence – as you would do if you perceived that thing. Thus, as Aristotle said, imagination depends on perception. Actors on the stage are performing acts of imagination. Good acting is not a consequence of good imagination but is itself good imagination.”

Helena de Bres writes about how Philosophy if you’re doing it right, is an absurd practice.  What I found interesting about her essay is the idea of the two perspectives we shift between as hypothesized by Thomas Nagel (“One [perspective] is that of the engaged agent, seeing her life from the inside, with her heart vibrating in her chest. The other is that of the detached spectator, watching human activity coolly, as if from the distance of another planet.”).  Us human types bring about so much of our own troubles, often failing to strike a reasonable balance between ‘living in moment’ and the detached ‘from the point of view of the Universe’.  Significant life events, whether positive of negative, can also foment imbalance between these two perspectives, in which I think require careful mixing in order to live a more meaningful life.

One of the things I’ve noticed in the literature about grieving and loss is how important it is to realize the ubiquity of the experience that happens to be engulfing you at the moment.  Most certainly, this is your own personal trauma, but realizing that others have and are experiencing similar feelings and going through similar motions can help frame your personal struggles in a slightly more hopeful context.   For example, people have been grieving the loss of their loved ones for centuries now, and most find a way forward.  There is some small solstice to be found (for the grieving person) in fact that others have found the means to go on after traumatic life experiences.

This contextual switching, I think,  plays a significant role in the rebuilding of the emotional resilience that is necessary to keep life going and for an individual to continue to grow after a major setback.  I see a fair number of parallels in this essay between the notion of dual experiential perspectives and some of the tenets of Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies.

 

“There’s something especially absurd about philosophers, supine or not. The explanation for this might lie in the best-known philosophical account of absurdity, offered by Thomas Nagel in 1971. Nagel argued that when we sense that something – or everything – in life is absurd, we’re experiencing the clash of two perspectives from which to view the world. One is that of the engaged agent, seeing her life from the inside, with her heart vibrating in her chest. The other is that of the detached spectator, watching human activity coolly, as if from the distance of another planet. Nagel notes that it’s our nature to flip between these points of view. One moment we’re fully caught up in our mushroom-cultivation class, our infatuation with our sister’s husband or our intractable power struggle with Terri in accounting. The next moment, our mental tectonics shift and we see ourselves from an emotional remove, like a spirit hovering over its own body. It becomes evident to us that, ‘from the point of view of the Universe’, to use the 19th-century utilitarian Henry Sidgwick’s phrase, none of these things matter.

Our sense of absurdity kicks in when we snap between these two perspectives rapidly, in a kind of duck-rabbit movement of the soul. The sense of absurdity depends on this instability. If we could retain the internal perspective forever, we’d never experience the shock of doubt about whether what we were doing was ultimately worthwhile or made any kind of sense. If, alternatively, we could permanently view all human affairs, our own included, from the perspective of the Universe, we’d never find ourselves eagerly attempting to adhere fungi to a damp log. We’d be full-time ascetics, to whom nothing human mattered at all, people who couldn’t be caught red-handed caring about something small.

Though Nagel says that we all adopt both the internal and external perspectives on our lives, some people clearly identify more with one than the other. And some of these people cluster in professions where one perspective is disproportionately valued. Academic philosophy is one such profession. When people say: ‘Let’s be philosophical about this,’ they mean: ‘Let’s calm down, step back, detach.’ The philosopher, in the public imagination, is set apart from the mundane concerns and fiery attachments that govern the rest of humanity. He or she takes the external perspective on pretty much everything. When Søren Kierkegaard collapsed at a party and people tried to help him up, he allegedly said: ‘Oh, leave it. Let the maid sweep it up in the morning.’

If this image is accurate, and if Nagel’s account is right, philosophers, parked forever in only one of Nagel’s perspectives, will escape the absurdity of the human condition. We philosophers, however, are among the most absurd people I’ve ever met. The reason for this has a whiff of paradox. Abstraction and detachment might be a philosopher’s stock-in-trade, but philosophers are often fiercely attached to those very things: passionate about impassion, abstract in the most concrete of ways. They spend years working obsessively on papers with titles such as ‘Nonreducible Supervenient Causation’ and then have public brawls about them at conferences. This is part of philosophy’s charm for me. There’s something especially absurd, yes, but also endearing, about people who are so serious about their core life endeavour that they regularly forget its ridiculous aspects, even though the endeavour itself is meant to serve as a perpetual reminder.”

What do you do when achievement becomes hollow and staid? For many of us, the life grind of pursuing and achieving (or failing) our ambitions becomes the very nexus of our unhappiness with life. Schopenhauer would agree with you, the achievement treadmill can be a recipe for a verdant midlife crisis. Kieran Setiya and I believe that there is hope.

“Adapting terminology from linguistics, we can say that ‘telic’ activities – from ‘telos’, the Greek word for purpose – are ones that aim at terminal states of completion and exhaustion. You teach a class, get married, start a family, earn a raise. Not all activities are like this, however. Others are ‘atelic’: there is no point of termination at which they aim, or final state in which they have been achieved and there is no more to do. Think of listening to music, parenting, or spending time with friends. They are things you can stop doing, but you cannot finish or complete them. Their temporality is not that of a project with an ultimate goal, but of a limitless process.

If the crisis diagnosed by Schopenhauer turns on excessive investment in projects, then the solution is to invest more fully in the process, giving meaning to your life through activities that have no terminal point: since they cannot be completed, your engagement with them is not exhaustive. It will not subvert itself. Nor does it invite the sense of frustration that Schopenhauer scorns in unsatisfied desire – the sense of being at a distance from one’s goal, so that fulfilment is always in the future or the past.

We should not give up on our worthwhile goals. Their achievement matters. But we should meditate, too, on the value of the process. It is no accident that the young and the old are generally more satisfied with life than those in middle age. Young adults have not embarked on life-defining projects; the aged have such accomplishments behind them. That makes it more natural for them to live in the present: to find value in atelic activities that are not exhausted by engagement or deferred to the future, but realised here and now. It is hard to resist the tyranny of projects in midlife, to find a balance between the telic and atelic. But if we hope to overcome the midlife crisis, to escape the gloom of emptiness and self-defeat, that is what we have to do.”

Valuing process and (the already hackneyed) living in the moment could be the gentle balm that soothes some of the turmoil in mid-life.  Every day moderately free of pain and anguish is a gift and we should be grateful for the chance to live it through.

 

 

 

A couple of minutes of interesting psychology/philosophy to start your day. :)

Defending against the Echo Chamber effect is difficult as we naturally seek familiar points of view that reinforce our own.  Discourse has always been the key factor in helping people check their views against others and find the experts that they can put their confidence in.  Engaging with others, especially with differing points of view, is important to one’s intellectual health.

This quote from C Thi Nguyen writing for Aeon magazine describes the experience of what reasoning within an echo chamber or epistemic bubble is like:

“This is an explanation in terms of total irrationality. To accept it, you must believe that a great number of people have lost all interest in evidence or investigation, and have fallen away from the ways of reason. The phenomenon of echo chambers offers a less damning and far more modest explanation. The apparent ‘post-truth’ attitude can be explained as the result of the manipulations of trust wrought by echo chambers. We don’t have to attribute a complete disinterest in facts, evidence or reason to explain the post-truth attitude. We simply have to attribute to certain communities a vastly divergent set of trusted authorities.

Members of an echo chamber are not irrational but misinformed about where to place their trust

Listen to what it actually sounds like when people reject the plain facts – it doesn’t sound like brute irrationality. One side points out a piece of economic data; the other side rejects that data by rejecting its source. They think that newspaper is biased, or the academic elites generating the data are corrupt. An echo chamber doesn’t destroy their members’ interest in the truth; it merely manipulates whom they trust and changes whom they accept as trustworthy sources and institutions.

And, in many ways, echo-chamber members are following reasonable and rational procedures of enquiry. They’re engaging in critical reasoning. They’re questioning, they’re evaluating sources for themselves, they’re assessing different pathways to information. They are critically examining those who claim expertise and trustworthiness, using what they already know about the world. It’s simply that their basis for evaluation – their background beliefs about whom to trust – are radically different. They are not irrational, but systematically misinformed about where to place their trust.

Notice how different what’s going on here is from, say, Orwellian doublespeak, a deliberately ambiguous, euphemism-filled language designed to hide the intent of the speaker. Doublespeak involves no interest in clarity, coherence or truth. It is, according to George Orwell, the language of useless bureaucrats and politicians, trying to go through the motions of speech without actually committing themselves to any real substantive claims. But echo chambers don’t trade in vague, ambiguous pseudo-speech. We should expect that echo chambers would deliver crisp, clear, unambiguous claims about who is trustworthy and who is not. And this, according to Jamieson and Cappella, is exactly what we find in echo chambers: clearly articulated conspiracy theories, and crisply worded accusations of an outside world rife with untrustworthiness and corruption.

Once an echo chamber starts to grip a person, its mechanisms will reinforce themselves. In an epistemically healthy life, the variety of our informational sources will put an upper limit to how much we’re willing to trust any single person. Everybody’s fallible; a healthy informational network tends to discover people’s mistakes and point them out. This puts an upper ceiling on how much you can trust even your most beloved leader. But inside an echo chamber, that upper ceiling disappears.

Being caught in an echo chamber is not always the result of laziness or bad faith. Imagine, for instance, that somebody has been raised and educated entirely inside an echo chamber. That child has been taught the beliefs of the echo chamber, taught to trust the TV channels and websites that reinforce those same beliefs. It must be reasonable for a child to trust in those that raise her. So, when the child finally comes into contact with the larger world – say, as a teenager – the echo chamber’s worldview is firmly in place. That teenager will distrust all sources outside her echo chamber, and she will have gotten there by following normal procedures for trust and learning.

It certainly seems like our teenager is behaving reasonably. She could be going about her intellectual life in perfectly good faith. She might be intellectually voracious, seeking out new sources, investigating them, and evaluating them using what she already knows. She is not blindly trusting; she is proactively evaluating the credibility of other sources, using her own body of background beliefs. The worry is that she’s intellectually trapped. Her earnest attempts at intellectual investigation are lead astray by her upbringing and the social structure in which she is embedded.”

Nguyan suggests at the end of his article that the expression of earnest good will toward others inside echo chambers is the most successful way of freeing people from their convictions, as often, those within echo chambers are defended against the presentation of contrary evidence.

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