Today has been rather a test, yet better than yesterday. I skipped the Snapple tea and felt okay with no caffeine. I did only a little reading out of the same book, an essay by Moritz Schlick of the Vienna Circle. The one by Russell was too difficult for me to follow. Very generally, positivism was concerned with realistic things, kind of like science, and denying the existence of anything beyond the physics; basically, anything you can’t see or sense with your five senses. But then I wonder what the motive was for such a denial of the supernatural. I think they wanted to level everyone down to equality, especially after the Nazis took power in Europe. Frankly, most of the positivists were Jewish and maybe had an axe to grind with the Church and anyone who claimed to be superior in some cultural way— again, like the Nazis and the anti Semitic trend that started with Richard Wagner and other Germans like him. It was absurd for them to say they had the best of everything: women, beer, music, mythology, and the Aryan race of people. I think this was the situation they tried to correct in eliminating statements that were unverifiable. I heard this opinion in a lecture by my old Jewish philosophy professor who once lived in Germany. He escaped from it just before the concentration camps were instituted. This story always impressed me as amazing. Dr Zweig was a good guy. Anyway, the next essay is by Rudolf Carnap and ought to be accessible to me.
Eleven thirty. Now I perceive that my interest in logical positivism is political and historical and relevant to our situation today. The fascism of the departing administration and the attempted coup on democracy, imo, was in many ways like the Nazis. Perhaps the supernaturalism of the extreme right has given it an unfair advantage somehow, in a way I don’t understand, just as no one understands what made Nazism a phenomenon during WW2. But the logical positivists knew what they were doing by leveling everybody to the common denominator and abolishing metaphysics and other outrageous claims to superiority by the Nazis. Hopefully we’ll be wise enough to learn from the precedent of these philosophers and crush infamy before it crushes us.
Nine twenty five.
I left the house for the store at eight thirty, just missing the rain. Before that I called Polly to have a chat. I bought Aesop some original Milk Bones. He was pretty excited to see the red box in my hand when I came in the door… My mind is kind of a blank right now. Last night I urged my pen pal to treat herself to a new book she really wants. She has her eye on a book of bird writing from an online seller. I hope she springs for it today. She deserves a reward just for being herself. I think more people need to spoil themselves a little. We tend to believe we have to rationalize being kind to ourselves, and we feel guilty when we splurge. It depends on our upbringing… I was rather zoned out last night, didn’t realize what I was thinking or saying, but it turned out good. My heart expanded and I was full of benevolence for my friends. To start with, I felt anxious about the well-being of Polly and Roxanne because I hadn’t heard from them in a while. So I called Roxanne to see if she was okay and we talked for a half hour.
Ten twenty five. Probably I was in a reverie yesterday afternoon, hypnotized by the book I’d been pondering. It contains some mathematical logic that’s alien to me, plus some unfamiliar terms and usage. But overall the concern is with truth and language. I keep running into the condition of pessimism regarding what people can know, a hurdle everyone jumps every day anyway without a thought. And being introduced to philosophy is the real trouble, because then you have to find your way out of its problems. Wittgenstein: “Philosophy is the disease for which (philosophy) is the cure.” Most of us get along fine without philosophical complications. I guess I’m not like most people… Honestly, this stuff I had put aside and forgotten about for many years. My sense of smell remembers the reek of burning mint fields when I was 21. After taking Aristotle in the winter I had a loss of philosophical faith. I just turned to intuition and irrationalism like the existentialists. Soon my mind melted down completely. Is it possible to live without logic? Seems you can exist on Romantic feeling and take things on faith…
Three o’clock. Some snowflakes were mixed with the rain a moment ago, and as quickly vanished. I’ve been trying to read very difficult philosophy, the editor’s introduction to Logical Positivism. I’m so accustomed to rhetoric, generalizations, and poetry that the specificity of analytic philosophy is like doing math or something. Is there much difference between philology and linguistics, and which is trustworthy? And what is the use of philosophy if it doesn’t help humanity along? Wading through the introduction, I realized that I’ve been very naive in an epistemological way, a way that regards the medium of language. One can never really refer to concrete objects as they are, but instead you are stuck with verbal statements, and that’s as close as you can get to material truth. Naive realism is sort of a leap from subjective experience to saying the external world is objectively “there.” I make this leap in logic all the time, disregarding the problem of language. I think most people do. Maybe this is why philosophy has become disposable in our eyes: the way it splits hairs is impractical.
And yet, I remember thoughts and feelings from my early childhood, just watching the beads of rain trickle down the car window by osmosis, like observing the succession of my ideas. Our lives start out with endless questions that eventually get silenced by having to chase the dollar. Philosophy may seem useless, but it is our original state to wonder…
For the time being, the rain has stopped. I feel more relaxed this morning, more self possessed and confident. It makes little sense to ask where I see myself in five years or ten years. I doubt if anybody is that prescient of their own life… Yesterday I didn’t practice my bass individually, but instead scribbled a lot of drivel in my blank book. It was basic mind reading of people I know, which never works because there’s no such thing as telepathy. It is a truism that we can never know what another person is thinking unless we ask them what’s on their mind. Often the chasm is wide between what we imagine and the real truth. I may ask for a break from Friday service this week just to collect myself. I want to get back to evidence based thinking, as opposed to faith based. Empiricism is looking better to me all the time. The certainty of the chair I’m sitting on is more reassuring than the idea of salvation for my sins. Everyone can save themselves. Let the guilt roll off your back and enjoy your life.
Eleven thirty. The appeal of Romanticism is wearing off for me. It should feel rather liberating to look into logical positivism again, and the wholesale rejection of metaphysics and other slippery things that people dispute over. A rock band sang, “So we are told this is the Golden Age / And gold is the reason for the wars we wage.” I think this is debatable. At least for now, the world of sense experience seems inviting after a long detour into the indemonstrable.
One ten. The problem with Jungian psychology is that there’s no evidence for any of it, nothing objective and measurable. It’s more like faith: something you feel to be true rather than a truth you can demonstrate. Those ideas just hang there in the ether, incapable of being proven valid or invalid. Logical analysis cannot verify such claims. So what does this do to poetry? Do we rule out the importance of poetry in our lives?… I don’t feel very strong right now. Maybe I’ll pick up a book. Put everything aside and read for a while.
Three o’clock. So I started reading the introduction to the compilation called Logical Positivism by A.J. Ayer: very well done. Some of it was a bit over my head because it involved mathematics, but I could get the basic idea, and with repetition I should be able to master it. I was prompted to read this by my exasperation with metaphysical claims that have no factual basis, that refer to nothing in the world except for language itself. I guess the aim of positivism was to make philosophy closer to a science, a discipline that was absolutely true, though the word “absolutely” isn’t quite right. It was to be a fool proof method of determining truth. I found this reading very enjoyable, while outside it’s a beautiful sunny afternoon. I still haven’t played bass guitar today. Maybe I won’t until tomorrow. I saw Diana gabbing with a neighbor across the street, most likely about current events and politics. She refused to answer her door when I brought over some chocolate at Christmas time, so it’s hard not to take it personally. I suppose just chalk it up to stupidity and forget it. I dislike most of my immediate neighbors, particularly the longest standing ones with ultra conservative attitudes. Their hearts are made of stone and they are very stingy with their money, time, and hospitality. Basically they suck. Now I think I’ll do my bass practice, and to hell with the neighbors.
Four twenty five in the morning.
Yesterday, Michelle said that the peppermint candy ice cream would still be available through the holiday, so that gives me an idea. The store opens at six o’clock, but it won’t become light out until almost eight. Still I might take my chances with the darkness on my little mission. My mind is beginning to juggle the possibilities for a New Year’s resolution. How about finishing up reading Les Miserables in 2021? It’s such a literary monument, and very French… The dudes and I have set a time for our jam this Saturday: three o’clock. There may be a 53 percent chance of showers, but I think I can hoof it. Bass guitar in my left hand, umbrella in my right. We were going to fart around with the John McLaughlin song. No worries.
Nine o’clock. Been to the store for ice cream and a Snapple tea. Aesop just ate. Michelle wore Snoopy and Woodstock this morning. She thought another customer looked shady, so she kept her eye on him. Moving north of the building, my eye caught the beer cooler, but I realized that I do have the power to say no. Choice is a conscious thing, no mystery about it, no psychodynamic forces beyond our control. Right now, I reject Freud and Jung, and maybe the subconscious too. Everyone has the right to be eclectic, to pick the beliefs that benefit them. We can assign responsibility to entities outside of ourselves, but does that really help our situation? In my opinion, it doesn’t. Therefore I put the responsibility where it belongs: with myself. Anything else is the “excellent foppery of the world,” to quote Shakespeare.
Quarter after four. I got exasperated reading part of Pragmatism and put it away. It goes against the grain of science and logical analysis, verification, and sense experience; in a word, it’s non empirical. The way James defines truth is unscientific. How can one say that the “truth” of an idea depends on its practical consequences? As he already admits, this method is non rational, so I guess it’s take it or leave it. I’ve always been one of the rational critics. According to James, my belief that the moon is made of cheese is “true” if the belief gets good results. I used to beat my head against the wall ten years ago when there were so many Pragmatists running around. Who needed facts? Also, the existence of reason and rational people was actually denounced by psychologists who reduced reason to a tool for excusing bad behavior. We couldn’t win. Science was regarded as evil. But luckily, around the same time, evidence based therapy was also on the climb, though it was slow and never quite as popular as the Jamesian fluff. I can’t imagine what the next big thing will be…
Four twenty five in the morning.
Pastor’s sociological sermons go against my grain to the extent that I feel it must be sinful to assert my existential beliefs. Either my ideas have to go, or the church has to go. And it’s a foregone conclusion which it will be. I think there’s a difference between existentialism and your garden variety “narcissism.” The latter is thoughtless and unsophisticated, just unqualified self seeking. There’s also a difference between empowerment and power madness, an example of which I needn’t give. We all see the political cartoons… Around here, I frequently run into people who slander the idea of “control.” But when I ask them what’s the alternative, they don’t have an answer. The truth is that nothing else guides your life if you surrender your responsibility. I guess this is a confession of atheism. And as such, so be it. It’s okay for you to be passive in a school of fish, blindly turning this way and that with the others. Where would you be without the other fishes? In that case you would be stuck with yourself, and that might frighten you. Inside of you is a wilderness of thoughts and feelings you conveniently never had to face. The school of fish is okay for you, but I’m done with it.
Quarter of eleven. I’m on the edge of the same painful memories as yesterday. Music is a powerful stimulus for memory and feelings, but the passing of time tempers the irruption of them. It was almost like being intoxicated all over again. And why would I want to go back to being wasted all the time? Nothing ever gets done when you are blasted. Not even the fun stuff. Impairment is just that… I just had a breakfast burrito for lunch. Now I wish I could shake the Beatles music in my head and the alcohol flashbacks. Try to concentrate on tangible things in the present. Also assume responsibility for my mental state: this is something I can control. The weather is beautiful, with clear blue skies and abundant sunshine. Roger is in his garage working on a project across the street. Earlier I spoke with Lisa at Axis about the bill I received. She was puzzled because I shouldn’t have gotten one at all. So she said we’ll get it straightened out over the next couple of days. I also realize that I need a replacement Medicare card, because I lost mine in the fire disaster… I don’t feel very awake right now. It usually motivates me to use the word “freedom.” This and responsibility are inseparable, because responsibility is another way of saying agency, the power to do, to carry out an action. To be able. It doesn’t mean strictly accountability or being answerable for the consequences of your actions. The important part of the word “responsibility” is the empowerment it affords to you. People often bat the word around and make it sound like a guilt trip, a club to browbeat you with. Responsibility is actually very good news to the oppressed. To be responsible for something is to have control over it. It means that you are in charge, and you are the authority…
Les Miserables has some grand moments, characteristically French, for you can see the responses of succeeding French thinkers. Hugo says that above is God, below is the soul, and the second is the reflection of the first. He rejects nihilism as illogical, because human consciousness could not have arisen from nothingness— the contrary of what Sartre says in the following century. Hugo: nihilism reduces to the monosyllable No; but theism is the affirmation Yes. All of this logic is phenomenological and impressionistic, cutting away the facts of natural science to leave only what is abstract and intellectual: ideal and essential. He may be right that the universe is conscious and that human consciousness reflects that of God. And that within the abysses of darkness there is light. This is all a priori philosophy and rather an intuition, a gut feeling. It is interesting how Sartre’s nihilistic phenomenology shows a general change of attitude, in feeling and faith, from affirmation to negation. To affirm is to say that God exists, and that there’s no such thing as zero: and that is Hugo’s belief. It’s the precedent that Sartre and Camus would grapple with later… When you think about it, it’s a bit strange to look upon a person, place, or thing and pronounce that it is something or that it is nothing, that it’s light or that it’s darkness, depending on whether or not you believe in God. It makes me ponder the definition of God. Somewhere in the New Testament, it is said that Christ always says Yes and never says No. He additionally is the Light of the world. And in the Book of John, God is Love… Can something be made from nothing? Or can you say that what exists is tantamount to nothing? In the end, we have to take the wager…