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?
There’s no end in sight to these sunny days. I suppose you can get too much of a good thing. It was over a month ago when it last rained. I learned today that Heather is a fan of AA, so I didn’t have much to say about that. To each their own. Usually when I go in the store on weekends, she has the radio tuned to New Country music with its stifling Christian lyrics. But if it helps her, then in some sense it’s a good thing: the essence of Pragmatism. The truth of a belief resides in its results. Still, it’s hard for me to keep that point of view, as it clashes with the facts very often and challenges the definition of truth. The first time I heard a lecture on William James, I found it very idealistic and uplifting. But years later, when his ideas were forced on me, I resisted them like a cornered rat and refused them any validity. Maybe it’s just my nature to be perverse to some extent. When you think about it, not even a dog likes to be pushed into things…
I just fed Aesop, speaking of dogs. Practice with the band is six hours away, and my old body, full of aches and pains, is hard to galvanize to action. The walk to Mike’s place is less than a mile from home; to church is give or take a mile, the same as going to Bi Mart. I can do it if there’s no big hurry to get there. I may huff and puff a bit and break into a mild sweat, but at least I arrive. I don’t know what kind of “belief” motivates me anymore. In the workplace long ago we got clobbered with the doctrine of “karma,” which only succeeded in making me feel guilty and paranoid all the time. I think I’m basically a utilitarian: I function on the Greatest Happiness principle. Whatever promotes general happiness must be good.
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!
Quarter of ten.
I have a couple of purely social engagements this week, and one of them is with Heidi. She is a lot of fun because she’s so young, or perhaps young at heart. We can banter together, talk about nonsense while the invisible antennae purr between us. We had this sort of rapport from the time of our first meeting: a certain ease and familiarity, even informality, when we cruised over to Cal’s Donuts. It was as if we’d always known each other… My Wi-Fi has been connected for nearly a week now. At some point in the future I’ll have the motivation to unpack my computer, but it could be a long time coming. They say necessity is the mother of invention, but so far it hasn’t arisen. I’m anticipating my jam this weekend with gusto. It should be fun, but serious fun at the same time. I want to take my red Precision Bass copy, which I’ve been practicing on most recently. I remember how Roger helped me hotrod it with a DiMarzio pickup in August of 2018. He did the soldering for me, and together we figured out the instructions. We were lucky that the pickguard fit over the part after it had been installed. Finally, that December, I put in a high mass bass bridge, brass finished with chrome. The overall effect is quite a monster P Bass tone. The jam will take place on Sunday afternoon. As for right now, not much is going on. I can’t decide which book to read out of such a huge collection. William James might be interesting to learn more about. His revival ten years ago was quite a thing, though at the time I disagreed with it. At best, I was ambivalent. My brother was a diehard factualist, but James argued for the practical usefulness of religious ideas. If a belief worked for you, then it was in some sense true. This was the essence of Pragmatism. Today, I don’t know what to think of that. I only know that optimism can see you through difficult times. If it’s inaccurate, at least it works… Aesop is ready for bed again, and anon I’ll be right with him. In about twelve hours, Polly and I will be having lunch at Red Robin. It’s my long awaited birthday celebration. Fifty three years old, and thankful to have come this far…
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.