I just ordered a small volume of Sextus Empiricus, the Greek skeptic, from Amazon. I’d read that Montaigne was influenced by his writings. M’s own motto was “what do I know” over a pair of scales. There’s probably something I can scrap from his skeptical discourses, about the vanity of human knowledge, even if he resolves on Christian faith. And even this might be okay with me, as long as my mind is open.
It strikes me as odd, though. Maybe it’s too easy to dismiss evidence to the senses. To just throw up your hands and say I know nothing. And then to hand it all over to a phantom that you imagine is omniscient and beneficent. I think that Americans have dwelt with this mentality for a very long time. It’s similar to Jamesian pragmatism, where the validity of a belief is judged by its consequences. The factual accuracy of this belief is negligible. What counts is whether it works or not.
What is it with the de emphasis on facts in this country?
My letter to S— this evening was pretty good; it became a discussion of William James quite out of the blue. He sidesteps reason altogether and looks instead at the practical consequences of any belief an individual holds. This method may be the best way to save metaphysics from the logical positivists. And maybe this was the reasoning of the movers and shakers two decades ago when my mother died and the real world blindsided me. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing bogus quantum mechanics or faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the intelligence of water crystals, Intelligent Design Theory, and discovering a Boeing 747 on Mars. The rationale for all of this became the figure of William James, especially his Pragmatism and The Will to Believe. As late as winter 2010, his philosophy was resurrected to sort of usher out the crazy millennium, or perhaps give it another last gasp. In August 2002, I had an assessment for addiction issues at an agency downtown. I told N— what my beliefs were, and was there anything wrong with that. She replied, “It depends on how you use it.” This was a statement of Pragmatism very early in the game, which would drag on for another ten years. I first heard about Cognitive Therapy the following year, but it wasn’t available here until spring 2006. It ran contrary to Jamesian philosophy by being evidence based, almost too little too late. Simultaneously there were these two competing ideas, Pragmatism and something more akin to science: enough to split anybody’s brain into halves at war with each other.
One twenty five. So what is the solution to this pandemic of schizophrenia, which literally means “splitting of the mind?” Because ultimately it comes down to the nature of the human brain, with its two cerebral hemispheres, each with its own mentality. They communicate with each other by means of the corpus callosum and the cerebral commissures, bridging the gap between them. They inform one another. Some people are more dominant on one side than the other. And some people fiercely deny the truth of hemispheric lateralization, that is, the specialization of each half of the brain. My brother and I got into an ugly argument over it twelve years ago, before he retired from his career as a professor. He told his students that hemispheric lateralization was a myth after our disagreement. But he wasn’t aware of the studies done with split brain epileptic patients, where the results suggested a recognizable difference between the left and right brain… Whether you accept lateralization or not, the solution is to improve communication of one side with the other— and to educate people about psycho physiology.
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…
Eight fifty five.
I don’t feel very good this morning. Something feels unbalanced. At the store I saw a handful of customers checking stuff out. And of course there were packs of beer piled to the moon here and there. Holiday cheer. I wasn’t enticed, but only felt kind of tired. It’s a cloudy day, and the rain isn’t through with us yet. I do my best to keep warm. Aesop guards me and the house. He’s a great watchdog. I don’t even have to lock the front door when I go out. Last night my thoughts digressed to Freudian psychoanalysis. Today, hardly anyone thinks that way anymore. About ten years ago, Freud’s contemporary William James was revived on the Campus and continues to win the day. I possess a good copy of Pragmatism. It may be worth a look. Basically, he subordinates the factual truth to whether or not a belief works for you— and calls this a kind of “truth.” In my opinion this method could be a mistake. The world is full of mistakes, a process of trial and error. Maybe we’ll never get it right.
Quarter after ten. I thought on my way home, Just because everybody believes something doesn’t make it true. In general we seem to be regressing to a more primitive state, or perhaps just more ignorant. It might be a good day to stay home and quiet. I observed that the street cleaner removed the leaf pulp yesterday, so the going was much easier on foot. Someday I dread that I’ll need my cane to get to the store and back… or maybe I’m only dreading my birthday on the Fourth.
I ought to go buy myself a big present!
One o’clock. Around this time of day is when my mood often goes downhill. I get irritable and anxious. My conscience cracks down on me and I feel miserable. I begin to borrow trouble and worry about things. I don’t know why. The sun is high in the sky in the early afternoon, ruling over the earth like a judge, a “blonde assassin.” …I don’t want to call my sister in the morning, but I suppose I should. It’s the same thing every Monday.
Two o’clock. I’ve ordered two guitar stands from the internet. Should arrive Friday, but maybe later. It isn’t that important. I’m not sure what really is important. I’ve come to an impasse in my writing. I didn’t sleep well last night, so maybe I should rest for a while. Tomorrow’s another garbage day. I don’t have the energy. My mind is impoverished of thoughts. I’m uninspired, and a bit paralyzed. This is not a good afternoon for me. Something’s bothering me. Perhaps I shouldn’t have agreed to go to church next Friday? The thing about church is that it’s a community activity. Most people don’t think of the philosophical aspects, the logical nuts and bolts underscoring the religious practice. Between thought and deed there can come a schism. Hyper conscious people will detect the faults in the logic, while others go ahead with the charitable work. How useful is it to criticize the reasoning? Possibly it only bogs down the operation, preventing the execution of good works. A bad manager is one who thinks too much. Fortunately I’m not in a leadership role. My life is that of the lone philosopher, until I find a cure for philosophy. The old slogan for Nike was “Just do it.” It was not “Just think it.”
Five o’clock. I ordered two more books by Ayn Rand, but direct from the publisher rather than from Amazon. Free shipping. One title, The Voice of Reason, reminds me of a coworker I once knew named Raejean. I don’t know if she ever read the book, but I think it’s possible because she used the phrase to me in a conversation. She was kind of a Vulcan, but for a few years, so was I. I wore an engraved dog tag that said “Reason” around my neck. I had a little obsession with the idea of “practical reason,” a term I borrowed from Aristotle, for as long as I was working. I converted myself into a robot and worked my job for as many years as I could. The abstraction of Reason was my totem every day until it broke down. Maybe it would have kept going were it not for my growing addiction to alcohol. Being a machine was okay with me up to a point. But eventually I wanted my freedom of thought restored to me. Or maybe I only wanted to drink my life away? I wonder if I’ll ever want to be a robot again. While it lasted, being a cog in the machine wasn’t so bad. It gave me a paycheck every two weeks, and I had a vehicle to drive around. The best part of it was that I could eat all the fast food I wanted. I was a frequent flyer at Carl’s Jr. They had one burrito item, grilled chicken seasoned with cumin, that I was crazy about… Perhaps it was just the alcohol that sabotaged my working life. How can I prevent this from happening if I decide to work again?
Two thirty. Well the big day is over. I expected to see the old place the way it was twelve years ago, but reality proved me wrong to an extent. My good instinct about my new therapist was probably right. I think it’s a fit. Or maybe she appraised me even as we spoke and had me pegged. She told me she wasn’t a Twelve Stepper… and the conversation evolved to the theme of control. I don’t know if she thinks being a control freak is less than ideal, but she insisted that it wasn’t a bad thing. I don’t know; the longer I live, the more I can sum up new trends in a second. We are all just reeds in the wind anyway, singing a symphony to the breath of history. I could likely be a Hegelian and enjoy it. His lectures on the philosophy of history were published in German in 1805, predating Byron and Shelley (who also wrote about the process of history), but like the discovery of natural selection around 1860, the idea was in the air awaiting a voice. History and politics still work the same today, so Hegel was onto something important. I just wonder how long it will be before we figure out how to save ourselves from extinction. It may be a matter of hope and faith, of optimism, of love. At the salon this morning, K asserted that everything happens for a reason. She said that I wouldn’t have been able to afford the renovation of my house if the fire hadn’t happened. I find her Panglossian optimism useful if not accurate. Pragmatism states that if a belief works for you, then it is in some sense true. This itself is a belief that works for me.