I woke up at three thirty this morning and put off getting up for another hour, and then I knew I couldn’t sleep any more. An hour ago I walked to the store in inky blackness, mindful of my footing on the way. I feel confident that my addiction to alcohol is all in the past by now. The morning light is coming up overcast blue, the trees not yet green. Being a wordsmith has been interesting for five years, but today I have my doubts about its future. I had a friend who was very literal with language and a nihilist about ethics and metaphysics: things that depend heavily upon abstract language. It’s hard to argue with a positivist, someone so sensory for whom all abstraction is futile. Our relationship ended when I was driven in the opposite direction, towards a myriad of words, words, words, building castles in the air. However, now I believe she might have been right in her quiet, her reticence, and the spareness of her thought. The problem is likely one of those with no answer. In that case I’m bound to be a skeptic, a person who doesn’t know either way, like an agnostic. Romantics use tons of poetic language. Realists cut speech down to what is only verifiable. And the skeptic is the one stranded in the middle: the loneliest place, like an island in the moon.
The sky was quite pretty when I went out to the store, with a myriad small gray clouds on the blue. Children on my street had made drawings in colored chalk on the asphalt. And I think, let them dream and pretend. Michelle, the store clerk, told me about a customer who was rude to her yesterday. She seems to be on the receiving end of a lot of bad exchanges with people and with life itself. It would be nice if she could turn this around and take control of her circumstances. See herself as an agent instead of a victim to make her life more authentic. But it’s always easier to describe a problem than to prescribe a solution… I believe I was on N. Park when I stopped dead and looked at the panorama of the sky, thinking something inarticulate about time and eternity. Has the same firmament been here forever, or have we fouled it up beyond repair?
Eight twenty five. Heidi called in sick this morning, so my appointment was canceled. Immediately I had to call Ridesource and cancel my trips for today. But it’s okay; I wasn’t feeling so great anyway… How nice if things could be simplified, reduced to one perspective. Yet this wouldn’t be reality, which is rather encyclopedic. For six years I kept a worldview of logical positivism, a kind of empiricism: only our senses can tell us about reality. This method rules out metaphysics, the supernatural, and focuses on tangible things. It might be good to go back to Carnap’s take on life, but then I couldn’t mix with church very well. The beauty of empiricism is its simplicity. “No ideas but in things.” And you only have to understand determinism, or cause and effect, in a material and physical way… My dog, Aesop, senses that something is wrong with the world, or anyway, it’s wrong with me. Again I think of the benefit to us of paring down all perspectives to one. We can subject it to logical analysis to determine what makes sense and what doesn’t. But the problem with positivism is its utter rejection of poetic language as empty nonsense. It doesn’t refer to anything concrete, therefore it is invalid. As a consequence, the angels in heaven come crashing down to earth with a mighty thunder.
The rain has stopped outside, but internally there’s often a desire to drown my sorrows, to escape the banality and get a foretaste of heaven. “Watch the monkey get hurt, monkey. Shock the monkey to life.” My age bothers me every day, and I can’t deny the fact of it. But would I exchange my current state of wisdom for youth? You can’t have it both ways. Band practice today. I might get some funny looks from people as I walk by with my instrument, but music is important to me. I imagine many people would call us foolish for playing in a pandemic. It’s okay for them, but they’re missing out on the fun. Later on, they may acknowledge that we had a good idea… Almost time to feed Aesop.
Nine thirty five. I got rained on a little, but I had my umbrella to shield me. I feel pretty good. The raspberry tea hit the spot. During the night I digested a few pages of Carnap, surprised to find how accessible it was. Basically he says that expressions are meaningless that refer to nothing tangible and concrete. His analyses reminded me of an observation by Emerson: words tend to grow more abstract with use over time. He uses the example of “spirit,” which originally referred to a literal wind or breath, and now points to something invisible. It’s an invisible that Carnap would say doesn’t exist. It is easy to detect a bias in his arguments, a preconception that drives him to deny metaphysics categorically… Before I read this, I scanned the beginning of Faust, Part Two: very strange stuff. A person can shut her eyes and accept the spooks at face value, but logically it doesn’t add up. If you look for consistent evidence of such things, you’ll be disappointed. Suddenly it’s grown very dark out and the rain is persistent. Just a matter of cause and effect. Now it’s a cloudburst, and nothing to do with my thoughts. The same Peter Gabriel song drones away in my head. Only another day in the life…
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.
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.
Seven thirty five.
It appears that I volunteered myself for mental slavery when I joined Our Redeemer. I did the same thing with treatment in 2003, and came out of it feeling resentful and rebellious. The pandemic has broken the spell on me of the church, so now I have to decide which way to go. Is alcoholism really a criminal thing, or is that only more brainwashing? How can society incriminate a genetic disease? I’ve gotten tired of feeling like a bad person. My brother feels the same way. Yet he has become a lawbreaker in a worse way than myself. He even told me once that rules are made to be broken. His face was stone when he said that, his voice acid. His addiction was doing something to him. And again, it’s very difficult to tell whether the laws of society are founded in absolutes or rather fictions. We see the effects of ideas on behavior, but not the truth of the ideas per se. This reminds me of a dream I had this morning about Rudolf Carnap. I was having a serious discussion with Kate about the verifiability of morals. Carnap wrote that propositions such as “killing is wrong” are not empirically verifiable. Kate had a hard time defending herself. In reality, the debate is really with myself. Part of me would like to drink beer again. This is the bottom line. The intellectualization is over and beyond the real issue. But why am I tempted to drink? It has something to do with the lockdown. I would probably drink in order to assert my freedom. To defy authority for telling me what I cannot do. Luckily, some changes are happening Friday.
Toward noon. I’ve been to the store and back. Roger exchanged words with me. He said the lockdown isn’t affecting him. But we agreed that we want it to be over with. While in the store, I deliberated over the kind of soda to buy. I voted down anything with caffeine. Finally I got a root beer. The sun came out after a cloudy morning.
I couldn’t motivate myself to do the food pantry today. Lacked the energy. Pastor said he would call me later today. I can sort of remember the religious delusions I used to have, as they pertained to music. That was no fun. And the delusions extended to races and ethnicities of people around the world in the most shocking way. It was a kind of fundamentalism that made no sense. Although, I think my sister would agree with it. She probably needs to be on antipsychotic.
I’d forgotten that my delusions interfered with my music for many years. I don’t feel very well today. I hate schizophrenia. I don’t like the phenomenon of religion much better. If we could level it all down to the literal, life would be tolerable. This would be honest and not a delusion. Scientific certainty is the truth. And yet people want a moral truth, and rules of conduct. They try to make this an absolute. Good luck! No one has ever succeeded in doing that. The rules are different from culture to culture… I wish I felt better. On a beautiful day, here I am feeling pretty lousy. But as they say, tomorrow’s another day.
Four fifty. I’m so lazy. I know that’s a moral epithet, but everyone would agree that it’s true. I won’t deny it anymore because the shoe fits. I can’t motivate myself to put my stuff away like I should. Cognitive therapy states that “should” doesn’t exist, and this attitude is common to logical positivism. Moral maxims are not empirically verifiable, hence they can’t be evidence based either. You can see the relationship between positivism and CBT in this light. Nothing moral and nothing metaphysical stands up to logical analysis or the tenets of CBT. And yet morality is embedded in the languages of the world. Even my dog has a conscience that responds to praise and blame, and to the distinctions of good and bad as opposed to shades of gray. Therefore how can a philosophy and a therapy weed out such a fundamental part of experience? The moral instinct is natural and ineradicable. In addition, it may not be a stretch to say that metaphysics likewise belongs in everyday speech and action. How many times have I taken God’s name in vain without thinking? St Anselm premised that God exists in the understanding. And then there are ordinary phenomena such as déjà vu that no one can explain, but which we refer to all the time. All in all, evidence based theories tend to cut human nature down to the jurisdiction of science, when experience teaches that the languages we use incorporate other possibilities as well. First came the mind, next came language to express the needs of human nature. While CBT is useful, still it shouldn’t supersede all previous therapies and belief systems. But that’s just my opinion…