The Impossible Question

“Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamed I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly I awoke, and there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.”

Thoughts?

Comments?

What is Philosophy?

This may be the epitome of philosophy: questioning itself. But if you really look at the origins of philosophy, you find the answer is quite beautiful.

Unlike other disciplines like business or marketing that are concrete and tangible, philosophy is abstract. Philosophy started with wondering about life and the human condition.

But that’s not the beautiful part. The beautiful part is the goal of philosophy: to help each individual answer questions about self, life, religion, etc., for themselves! Instead, of merely being clones that rote memorize and recite what the world has told us philosophy helps us get our unique perceptive into the mix.

I mean after all there is no one that is you other than you; therefore, you are entitled to your perspective on what these difficult and abstract concepts mean to you in your life.

We may learn about famous people and their philosophical theories, but those theories are the product of philosophy. Philosophy is the activity that requires one to question all the assumptions they make about life, the world and themselves.

Philosophy is about the journey not the product that is brought back. Though tremendous insight can be found by reflecting and pondering the works of great philosophers before us, but there is always something lost in translation. They knew what they were trying to describe better than anyone else and even better than they could write it because words are limiting.

Words are what limits us from really describing what we truly mean precisely and the goal of philosophy is freedom.

But, one should not get caught up with comparing themselves and their philosophies to other people’s theories of the past or trying to convince people of your philosophies in the present.

Philosophy is not about other people (as selfish as that sounds) it is about discovering the views that most reflect your true self and are your own. Of course, by doing so and questioning yourself and being open to new ideas and different opinions, this will undoubtedly help you apply your philosophies to others, to help others, to understand and respect others for their unique perspective and life experience.

The goal of philosophy should never be to fight with others about how wrong they are but to look for truth: both truths that are true to you  and those that are true to the world as a whole.

No one can find THE truth, but you can find tiny truths along the way.

Knowing versus Perceiving Thyself?

People often say they know themselves. Others, are more skeptical to jump to such conclusions. But, what does it mean to know yourself?

Knowing yourself would involve knowing the mechanisms behind your behavior; it would be about the workings of the mind, the internal world, the body and whatever else is associated with our ideas of self.

This might be crudely possible. There are always parts of the mind though that really can’t be put into words, but regardless, what about perception?

If I stare at my dog and my dog stares back at me, what is truly going on? Well, for one and interaction is going on. We each are having an effect on one another. He is watching, or perceiving, me, and I him.

But, neither one of us are perceiving ourselves.

We go around the world observing, our eyes stare out at the world and at ourselves, or at least the parts we can see. My hands primarily are of great importance and usually highly involved in my field of vision, but so are my arms, torso, legs and feet.

But, let us pretend there are no mirrors of reflective surfaces in the world I live in, then what about the rest of my body? I am left to know them solely by touch and their motion.

Our world is becoming increasingly visual, but perception is not just about sight. It is our primary sense we use, but does that mean the others are less worthy of our respect. Moreover, what other worlds or mental, neural representations do these other senses map for us?

So, I guess my question of if we can perceive ourselves can be answered with the most famous answer in psychology, “Well, it depends.” If our definition of perception is visual then, no, we can never truly perceive ourselves. Mirrors don’t really reflect how you actually look and neither do videos, or pictures. There is always something missing from those forms and the forms of you viewed from the eyes of another person.

But, you can perceive yourself through sense of touch, which I would say is our second most used sense.

I’m curious for feedback on ranking our senses. My list would be:

  1. Sight
  2. Touch
  3. Hearing
  4. Taste
  5. Smell

Of course, each person’s answer should vary and there is no right or wrong answer.More interestingly, I am interested if there is some other abilities one might consider a sense, type of sense, or subset of a sense.

Thank you for reading.

A Short Reflection on Substance

“Really, the fundamental, ultimate mystery – the only thing you need to know to understand the deepest metaphysical secrets – is this: that for every outside there is an inside and for every inside there is an outside, and although they are different, they go together.”

                                                                                                                                -Alan Watt

This form of thinking falls under the category known as dialectical monism. Monism is the belief that everything is made up of one fundamental substance. In contrast, dualism is the idea that mind and body are fundamentally different things that interact with each other.

Dialectical monism sort of blends the two in a way. While it believes everything is one substance, it believes this substance to be expressed in two ways such as male and female or in the quote by Alan Watt, “an inside for every outside.”

This is a fundamental question for philosophy and psychology. Moreover, it is an important question for whoever is reading this.

An Undivided Attention Read

Our brains are biologically programmed. This much we know. We have always seemed to have this innate idea of time. But is time nothing more than a  function that we perceive our own thoughts?

People in life-threatening situations usually report that time was altered in some way. It slowed down or speeds up depending on physiological functions.

But it is all in relation to the most principle thing to our being: thoughts.

But science shows we cannot truly mutlitask, such as processing, simultaneously, attention rich stimuli. Instead, we process sequentially. Sort of like how computers execute one line of code at a time. We attend to one thought at a time. And when there is a cluster, we are focused, paralyzed even. We need a focus to channel our thinking capabilities.

But without a focus, we are merely ‘lost in the infinite’ as the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard would put it. Yet, how true do these words resonant?

Our thoughts are overwhelmed on a daily basis and we are processing simultaneously so much information rich data and trying to sift through what is important and what to throw out.

The hardest part when you do have a focus is determining what information or sources are the best. The problem then becomes when do you stop searching for the best, because, sure, it could be the best right now and it may well be forever, but how am I supposed to know unless I exhaust all the other possible avenues.

We may eventually find ourselves running these circles with no end game in sight; a code with no termination function.

Rethinking Time

Time is something we live by everyday, but what really is time? Can we touch it or see it? No, of course not. We use scales and reference points to get a sense for this notion of time. But, fundamentally, time is the of things changing. Without change, there could be no time.

Buddha famously stated that life is constant change, and I continually to agree more and more.

But, before we look more into time, lets think about existence itself.

Rene Descartes was a 1600 French philosopher and is considered the father of modern western philosophy. Descartes was a radical skeptic and on his pursuit of truth he concluded only one thing that he could be certain of, “I think, therefore I am.”

This was a radical thought, but it left out certainty on the physical world existing.

Enter German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant thinks more deeply about the idea of existing and the nature of time. He realized that by saying something exists, you are really saying something exists at a precise point in time. Furthermore, he concluded that if you are existing in time, then there must be some external world that contains the notion of time.

But, how do we perceive time? You might say that we perceive it hours, months, years, and so forth, or in minutes and seconds, or whatever scale you use its really just some interval we choose to denote as “time.”

According to Webster’s dictionary, time is defined as:

“the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.”

Regarded as whole is the point I want to emphasize because this comes back to how we perceive time.

Here is an example. If I ask you want time it is, you might say 12 o’clock. If I say that is wrong and I keep asking you enough times, you might, eventually, say it is “now.” That is the answer I was really looking for. No numbers or quantitative entities.

The real lesson comes though when I keep asking you. You continually answer me that it is now and you are completely right. But, surely there is a difference between your first now response and your last. Likely, inside of you, you are now annoyed and frustrated by me.

But, the “nows” aren’t the same, yet we continually perceive that we are living in the now moment. Our whole life we do this. Every moment, we perceive ourselves to be at the forefront of our existence. Of course, then that disappears and we perceive a new moment as the new forefront of our existence. Were we wrong the first time when we said we were living in the forefront of our existence? Of course not! Were we wrong the second time, or the third or fourth time — no.

We have all heard the idea of living in the present moment but physicist Julian Barbour takes it very literally. He claims that each moment exists in its own right and that time is just simply change between these “now” moments. More can be read here:

http://discovermagazine.com/2008/apr/25-3-theories-that-might-blow-up-the-big-bang

I like to think of this theory by reflecting on TV. Most people have seen something on TV and it seems like the people are moving and speaking in real time. In reality though, TV pictures are moving about 24 frames per second. All the motion we perceive is simply small still frames speed up really quickly.

So what though? Let us say that time truly is just a series of “nows” and it is just an illusion. How does this change any part of my life?

This is where I am stuck and where I hope one of you has more of an insight.