Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

The Watcher-Walker Problem

December 8, 2007

So, there’s this idea my mom introduced me to, which in a certain way seems to be true of most creative people (hopefully she’ll give us a source) called the Watcher-Walker. While not as serious as, say, multiple personality disorder or something, the idea is that creative people are deeply divided in terms of motives: half the time, they have the same motives as everyone else, wanting to live a happy normal life, and the other half of the time are collecting bits and pieces of life to use in their art. The former is the walker, the latter the watcher. It tends to make you more then a little self critical (and certainly most if not all creative people are very introspective), but it also poses a problem when the two interests are conflicting. While normally you might live your life and the watcher can just enjoy the ride, there are bound to be times when the walker says, “back off, this is dangerous” and the watcher says, “but I wonder what would happen if I pushed just a little harder…”

For me, the first real outlet I had for this introspection was writing. Bit and pieces of my daily life found their way into otherwise fictional stories. I think it’s because of this that I am more likely to push harder out of curiosity in print then I am in person. Through e-mail or instant message, I’ll ask difficult questions or say things that are a little exaggerated to see what response I get.

I have never really trusted these mediums of communication as much because of this, even though I am typically more comfortable in them. The desire to treat them as fictional is too strong. So my response has always been to feel like the things I feel and express in person are the most genuine, and that anything I want to say but can’t in person is possibly more hypothetical then real.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering about this mindset. In some cases, I can look back and know that following this rule would have saved me a lot of trouble. It’s not just creative or introspective people either; I’m sure everyone has been in a fight and thought later that it seems they weren’t really that mad, only that they felt they aught to be mad. It’s the same idea, crafting a fiction of sorts as we go to make sense of the world.

At other times, though, I have wanted so badly to say something in person that it gnaws at me and yet I can never spit it out.  If I can say it more easily with pen and paper later, does that always make it false? By the same token, I say things I don’t mean in person all the time. Who doesn’t? A slip of the tongue, a hurried statement in the rush of the moment, and suddenly you’ll spend the rest of your days trying to clarify what you meant.

It seems maybe it’s not so cut and dry. I need to sort out how to tell one way or the other (if such a thing is possible), though, because I know for sure what I want and what would be interesting to want, I’m stuck, indecisive.

(If anyone, self-described as creative or not, wants to weigh on on feeling this way [or feeling the opposite] I’d love to hear about it. I think it’s really interesting, if sometimes frustrating. Especially comment if you think you’ve found a solution! You may be responsible for eliminating the “angsty artist” once and for all.)

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GUEST POST: A Slap In The Face From The Collective Unconscious

November 13, 2007

(I am swamped in work up to my eyebrows, not to mention dealing with some problems with one of the Threadless designs. Maybe more about that soon. For now, a guest post that has been waiting in the wings for a while. Enjoy!)

The collective unconscious has apparently decided it was time to give me a good slap in the face. A couple of days ago, I was feeling like I was getting sick. I felt like I needed a boost, so went to the Zen calendar for a motivating quote. (You are on your honor with this, just like choosing a fortune cookie. You open the calendar and take what you get. No do-overs.) This is what I got:

“The trouble with you is that you think you have time.” ~Zen master

I kept pondering this, circling the desk like the lion tamer waving his chair at the lion, and wrote nothing all week. So, still feeling sick, I came home last night, Friday, and found the mail had not yet been delivered. I fell asleep waiting for the postman to come (I have to walk across the street to get the mail, so couldn’t change into my pajamas), then went out to find that a book I ordered had arrived days ahead of time, and I thought it would be a good, kinda-sick-but-not-totally weekend for reading.

First, though, I watched television. I cried all through the vampire show, Moonlight, because it was so sad, and because I don’t understand what would be so bad about being immortal and having super powers. (Then I would have time…)

Then, I read the book, “Lean Forward Into Your Life: Begin Each Day As If It Were On Purpose,” by Mary Anne Radmacher. It is an inspirational and motivational book. (You have to understand that I have not been able to settle into any reading since last weekend when I finished the book “Engleby,” by Sebastian Faulks, featuring the male narrator/murderer with the personality disorder, with whom I found myself in total agreement.) Pretty soon the book also had me crying. The author is an artist/writer whose work is featured in a catalog I look at whenever it comes. Though I’ve never bought any of her work, it always catches my eye, and I think often that it would be so great to have that job. I guess I realized while reading her book how hard she has worked to have that job, and how much my own pursuit of a writing life has fizzled since the days when I dropped my son off at school and broke the speed limit getting home.

I suppose it is good for all of us to have a weekend once in awhile for self-interrogation. A time of solitude when we can ask ourselves the hard questions, shed a few tears for old beliefs that we are leaving behind, and begin the work of redefining our truth.

I intend to use the remainder of my time this weekend doing some hard introspection, pen in hand, working on a book review of “Engleby,” and looking for a place where I can have that calendar page laminated.

Abstinence

November 6, 2007

No, not that kind. Well, not exactly.

I’m rushing through Into the Wild (rushing because it is amazing, not because I want to hurry), and it’s pretty interesting; I just passed through a chapter that talked about several other people who, like the book’s focus, Chris McCandless, ventured into the wild (with varying degrees of success). Apparently, there is a common theme among many of them of not just abstaining from civilization, but technology and even sex as well. Thoreau, whose Walden I started this summer and am saving for a time I can focus on it more, was a lifelong virgin. McCandless, it seems, may have been too for his short life. It strikes me as an odd tendency but maybe not entirely unreasonable. As much as there is a pull from nature, surely part of the reason for going into the world is to get away from people.

A quote from Thoreau, for me, suggests a slightly different interpretation, though. He wrote, “Chastity is the flowering of man; and what are called Genius, Heroism, Holiness, and the like, are but various fruits which succeed it.” For the sake of discussion (and my largely American, sex-loving audience), don’t think of chastity in terms of only sex, but more along the lines of moderation or self restraint.

After my technofast earlier this fall,  I saw how valuable self restraint could be. We humans are prone to getting caught up in things, to getting into habits and taking them for granted. Fasting or abstaining from those things, taking the habit and making it deliberate, has always been a way man sought to regain a measure of control. It can work, too. Perhaps this is why pilgrims, philosophers, and holy men (frequent residents if the desert) have long been it’s closest adherents.

I don’t mean to say you should abstain from sex, or technology, or civilization or anything. But consider it, at least for a while. Test yourself, and find out what you really need.

More about McCandless soon. Ciao!

Collected Thoughts on Philosophy

November 4, 2007

I wanted to jot down a few ideas that came up in my last aesthetics class for future reference. Hopefully you’ll find them interesting.

The first is something from Kant, who was trying to deduce what could objectively make art aesthetically pleasing when beauty seems to be so subjective. He gave this as a possible solution (borrowed not from Kant but from the editor’s commentary – see below):

Kant’s model of the experience that leads me to judge an object beautiful is (roughly) that I experience that same kind of unity as occurs in objective judgments, but without any determinant concept or judgment issuing from it. So I feel simply a kind of purposiveness or rightness in the experience itself, and to feel this is fulfilling, without any determinant objective judgment having to be made.

Janaway, Reading Aesthetics and
Philosophy of Art

Just before this he had laid out his theory that human thinking opperated by imagination (perception) supplying sensory information to the understanding, where it was pieced into a coherent picture of the world that makes sense. In short, he’s saying that something about good art leads it to just make sense without any thinking necessary. It feels right.

I think he’s on to something good. I would probably say it something like this: Art’s quality is determined two ways.

  • Composition: This is what Kant referred to: A structure to the piece which makes sense. It varies over time and between cultures, but within a culture is pretty universal. For example, we in the west are so accustomed to reading left to right and top to bottom that we typically read images this way too. A picture which doesn’t read well this way is visually frustrating and unappealing. Judgments about composition can general hold true for all viewers and can be taught.
  • Meaning: This is the wild card that leads you and I to disagree completely about a piece. It can be shaped by the culture, history, the present, personal life, and a million other factors. For example, a piece hung in the art building for a long time that was compositionally moderate; not bad, but not amazing either. However, the piece knocked me over and held me down, because it expressed a feeling I had been missing in my life. I loved the painting, but this judgment could not be universalized. Meaning probably can’t be taught, really, except perhaps for giving a piece context.

Well, if you’re still reading, that is impressive. Onwards to smaller bites!

We started talking about relativism: the idea that there is no universal right or wrong, only the ethics of the day. The example of a small boy torturing a puppy was brought up as something that is hard to imagine being accepted.

There seems to be something natural about avoiding causing unnecessary pain. Of course, a cheetah killing a gazelle causes pain, but it is natural for the cheetah to feed itself. For a person to torture a puppy for fun seems wasteful, but to kill a cow for food is rational and justified.

-Me

Later, we got around to the set of danish cartoons depicting Mohammad which led to massive riots and bombings in the Middle East. The question was, were these in bad taste, considering the damage they caused?

I don’t even think it is a matter of taste. If they had any idea that people would die, it’s not right to draw a silly comic anyway. It isn’t worth it. That just seems wrong.

-Another Classmate
(Sorry, forgot the name)

I’d have to disagree. I mean, I understand that it’s a Muslim tenet that a Muslim cannot depict Muhammad. Great. But if everyone had to follow everyone else’s religious restrictions, we would all die of inactivity. So you can say it was wrong for these cartoonist to “offend” someone, especially just over some “silly cartoons”. Really, though, if you’re looking for who is more rational, it isn’t going to be the people killing tons of innocent people over those silly cartoons. As for the cartoonists, of course they shouldn’t draw these cartoons just to incite violence, but if they have a legitimate end in drawing them, it isn’t their fault that someone else drastically overreacts.

-Me

Those are all the big points that spring to mind! Hope you enjoyed it!

On Living In Your Head

October 25, 2007

We were talking today in my Aesthetics class about Plato’s views on art. He was, lets say, not a fan. Many of his ideas about art and artists are still with us. Art isn’t real work. Artists are too lazy/incompetent to get a real job. Sound familiar?

He’s wrong, of course, and he knows where to stick it. Kidding.

One particular objection, though, which I thought was worth thinking about more was that artists spend all their time inside their own head. Granted, Plato was more concerned with how this affected their search for truth, but it’s important even in a more mundane frame of reference.

I admit, I’m guilty of spending lots of time between my ears. How bad is that? I’m not sure, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately.

I think there are certain advantages. I think artists are a lot more introspective and contemplative then most people. They tend to care more about why the do what they do and fell how they feel. Does it make them better people? Not always, but it certainly spurs self-discovery and, hopefully, self-improvement.

From my perspective, there’s certainly something to be said for thinking about why you do what you do. I have known lots of people who seem to go through life a bit on autopilot, and they always seem to be so open to suggestion, to peer pressure. I’ve never liked the idea of doing things just because everyone else was doing it, or because it seemed like the right thing to do, but then again, I’m closer to the introspective artist end of the scale.

Hunkering down between your ears can have it’s problems too though. It’s rare to experience the in-the-moment sensation I was just talking about. It can be hard to tune out the self-analyzing voice when you don’t want it around.

For me, though, the worst part is how easy it is to get ahead of yourself. If part of you is always thinking about how the future might play out, how you might respond, it is easy to get to where you forget those things haven’t happened yet. It’s not so much that you’re likely to confuse the situations for real events – I’m sure there’s a good, Latin name for that used by psychologists and doctors in white coats. However, it’s difficult because your feelings about a situation can be tainted by those played out scenarios almost as if they had happened. It’s difficult, because often enough you will have thought your way to some conclusion based on speculation, but the people around you don’t have the intermediate steps and so think you’re, well, weird. Or at least confusing.

Anyway, I’ve been in my own head quite a bit lately.Luckily, tomorrow I get to play in the dirt (always a good, in the moment sort of activity) and this weekend is looking to be a bit easier.

Enough of this artist talk. Get some sleep!

The Skeptic’s Manifesto

October 15, 2007

[As promised, here is the manifesto I wrote for one of my classes. I hope people will comment, as I have two days to tweak it before I have to hand it in. Enjoy!]

“Be happy upon the face of the Earth for so long as you live.”
-Richard Bach

Be happy. This is the simplest thing in the world to understand and the hardest to accept. Even though our every feeling tells us that being happy is good for us, we often force ourselves to do something different. People feel guilty when they are happy because they are not working enough, or accomplishing enough, or they are letting down someone else. How can these things matter if you are miserable? Be happy, and let the rest fall into place.

There is nothing more fundamental or more difficult than being happy. Everyone wants to be, and yet we are terrible at achieving it. Even when we don’t throw up roadblocks in front of ourselves, we constantly misestimate what will make us happy. People study for years to find they no longer care about the career they now feel obligated to follow. People spend a year’s salary on a car only to find they are no happier for owning it. It’s near impossible to know what will make you happy tomorrow, because you will be a different person.

There seem to be good things in this world: spirituality, cooperation, love, beauty, etc. These things tend to cause happiness. However, there is also authority. Governments can have authority, as can people in positions of power, but ideas can also have authority. Assumptions, prejudices, goals, and philosophies all have authority. Authority tends to corrupt. It dominates, homogenizes, and excludes.

“The unexamined life is not worth living”
–Socrates

Question all authority. Question your life and the way you live it. Question government, question religion, question your relationships, your perceptions, and your beliefs. Especially question anything you are told not to question.

The best way to answer a question is with personal experience. Anything else requires relying on someone else, so choose who to rely on and when carefully. You can probably trust a chemist who says hydrogen has one proton and one electron, because it’s impact on you is minor and the process of confirming it difficult. However, something like photography is easy to experience for yourself, and the possible implications of enjoying it are immense, so it should be experienced personally.

So try everything. Be a generalist. Experience. Learn. If something works, if it makes you happy, do it again. Repeat for as long as it continues to make you happy. Most of the time, though, new experience won’t make you happier, and you must learn to leave them. Some experiences will be difficult and will call into question things you have believed for a long time. Experience these things anyway. You will be wiser for the experience.

Nothing done was not worth doing, but it likely is not worth doing again.

Most importantly, question this manifesto. If you use it as a basis for approaching life, then it must face the harshest skepticism. For so long as it will serve, use it. If you ever find it lacking, don’t hesitate to throw it out and start again.

Philosophical Musings

October 10, 2007

Today, I was considering how to respond to an art assignment (to write a personal manifesto) and an idea resolved in my mind. I wont say out of the blue, but it organized some thoughts I’ve had bouncing around or a while.

Nothing done was not worth doing,
but it likely is not worth doing again.

I suppose you could say I’ve found an elaborate way of saying “No regrets,” and I think that i partially true. Certainly it has the tone of academic philosophical writing, which makes any simple idea sound ridiculously complicated. I mean something a little stronger though. True, I think regret is largely a waste of time, but more then that I am encouraging people to look upon their past, for better or worse, as a learning experience. If you did something and decided later you wished you hadn’t, absolutely don’t do it again. As I say in the quote above, most things will fall into this category to a greater or lesser degree. But learning how you feel about something, trying a new path in life, is always worthwhile. Nothing done was not worth doing.

I hope you find some truth there. Maybe you will, maybe not. There’s some question though if perhaps I was influenced by some other source I don’t recall. So if it sounds familiar and you can cite a source, do it!

Dislocated

October 7, 2007

I was sitting, watching the tally of abortions on that poodwaddle clock roll up by the second, and talking to two friends on instant messenger. The tally of forest lost. Marriages. Cancer. I had to ask, how is this possible?

In Aesthetics, we talked about how (according to McLuhan), electric media extend our nervous system. Let us feel the world, be in many places at once. iPods, cell phones, the internet.

A human being can’t begin to understand what those abortions ticking away the second means. Never mind that the actual act takes a lot longer then that; try to send your mind out, touching on each of those doctors’ offices. It’s impossible. It would require a constant state of… of what? Pain, sadness, stress. Look down, and send yourself out to each wedding that ticks off. Happyness, love, a constant wave.

It’s all too big.

At the same time, I was trying to talk to my friends. It felt personal, and yet, somehow, I kept asking myself if it was really any more real then the world clock. I can talk to a person but I never see them. I don’t hear their voice.

Earlier, I was getting ready to order plants for my garden next summer. I’m not even sure that I will have a place to plant them, but I want to try. I feel like I need that now, that connection to something more simple and natural.

And yet, a bit earlier still, I realized I went all day and never saw the sun.

No wonder I sympathize with John Zerzan when he says “modern” man is fractured.

Narcissus Narcosis

October 5, 2007

I have put it off for a little while, but it is time to decide what media I will fast from for four days (and four hours) for my Aesthetics project. I probably will not start until I wake up on Monday, but I want to get my list sorted out. So below, all the big options, and my thoughts.

  • Facebook. My official fast for the project. Cold turkey and no exceptions.
  • Cell Phone. I’m treating my phone like a land line for those four days. So I can call people when it is plugged in. However, if I carry it with me (I might for emergencies) it will stay turned off. (This is dependent on a project from one of my other art classes ending on Monday, because we are using text messaging.)
  • TV. I’m already trying this out, furtively. I can’t completely quit because I share the TV and the room with my roommate. I’m not that mean. But I have been forcing myself (for the most part) to not turn it on for myself unless I have something specific to watch. Turns out, that is almost never.
  • Other blogs. Possibly. Most of them I get updates from through e-mail (see below) anyway. I’m a little bored with some of them anyway.
  • E-mail? I’m not sure. A likely middle-ground would be to check it less often. I can’t stop checking my school e-mail, anyway, because my professors use it. Also, I believe my family would have a fit.
  • Instant Messenger? Probably not. I probably should, but there are a couple people who would miss me. I think. I will consider it for the future, but not for the project.
  • Newspaper. No. I like having the campus paper, actually, to keep myself up to date on local news.
  • iPod. I don’t really use mine that much anyway, so, no worries. Most often it is during long stretches of busy work (things I get paid to do), not while I walk between classes or things like that.
  • This blog. No.

I think those are all the big ones. Thoughts are welcome!

On Success

October 4, 2007

It’s been one of the hardest things for me to learn that I don’t always have to be perfect. It sounds obvious to most people, and who hasn’t heard it a million times, and yet, we all want to succeed, don’t we? For me, it’s always been school. My parents did a good job of teaching me that school was important. I wanted to go to college (whether or not I knew why I wanted to go) and I knew good grades was a big part of that. Now that I’m at college, though, I realize there is a good chance this is as far as I will go, and that if I go further, grades will probably not be the most important determinant of where I can go. My priorities have begun to change.

I was writing an e-mail to my mom last night and something I said caught both of our attentions.

I’m getting better at prioritizing what is important to succeed in absolutely in and what I need to judge by my own standards.

Honestly, I think this is one of the most important things one can learn to do in college. Our entire education system is so focused on preparing for the next step, most kids never take the time to consider what they are really getting out of their education. One of my art professors told us on the first day, “I do have to grade you, but don’t worry about it. No one will do poorly.  What does it matter how I grade you? When you escape from this minimum security art school, the world will grade you.” Education is supposed to be preparation for life, not for more schooling.

Education reform is a subject for another day, though.  Today it’s about the personal side.

I started letting go of my got-to-be-number-one mentality at the end of my high school experience. I was lucky to take my AP World History course junior year with an ex-college professor. She made it clear, too, that success would be by our standards; she could teach, and we could learn if we like, but it was up to us and wouldn’t affect her. Somehow, when you’re responsible for determining the criteria for your success, a letter on a sheet of paper doesn’t feel like a worthy goal.

This year, I’ve noticed myself getting more lax in terms of the “all-A student,” but that really feels like an outdated goal. My high school class had only 60 students so aiming for valedictorian wasn’t unreasonable. However, I know that in my huge university there are plenty of people smarter then me. Being Salutatorian never really paid off the way I expected it to anyway.

All of this is on my mind because I realized recently that I didn’t really care about my Philosophy midterm beyond passing. You have to understand, that is a remarkable thing for me to say, even now. And yet, it makes sense. I may or may not become a philosophy minor. Even if I do, it will have nothing to do with academic or professional aspirations.

Philosophy, as well as Sociology at present, are for me a break from the art world. It’s a chance to switch from creative thinking to logical reasoning. Work the other half of my brain. It feeds back into the art I do too. Even if all Sociology does is upset me sometimes, it gets me thinking.

If I pursue a philosophy minor, it will be to help me achieve eudaimonia. That is the beginning and end of the deal. My goal is to find out who I am and where I fit in the world.

It’s taken a long time to learn how to judge success this way, but I think it is one of the most important things I’ve ever learned.