Thanks to the goons.
Monthly Archives: June 2009
by Jerry Coyne.
I thought this was an excellent review article, and it can pretty much stand on its own merits. I am in complete agreement with Coyne on the issue of reconciliation between faith and secular reason. They just aren’t really compatible on a philosophical level, and while many well-intended attempts to show otherwise have surfaced over the years, as Coyne points out, these either distort faith beyond recognition or weaken science with theological “extras” that would make Occam spin in his grave. The only solution is to bite the existential bullet and deal the best we know how with the silent absence of God.
Simon Critchley has posted his third installment of his exposition of Being and Time in the UK Guardian. While his analysis is good, albeit old-news if you are a Heideggerian scholar, I think the most fascinating part of these articles is the comments section. It is interesting how broad the range of opinion on Heidegger is for the layman. Comments range from livid hatred at his “atheistic Naziism”, sympathy for his position but mystification at his strange use of words, to flat out miscontruals and the most hilarious/awful strawmans you can think of. It also seems like a lot of people are simply responding to Critchley’s less than comprehensive analysis. One commenter went so far as to stretch philosophical history so that amazingly, “Hobbes , Locke and Hume rejected Cartesian dualism and did it in a much more sustained , powerful and original way than Heidegger.”
Will Heideggerian thought ever become mainstream in the way Cartesian “soul-talk” is? Seems unlikely to me. Heidegger said the most self-evident facts are farthest from our understanding because they are so phenomenological transparent…but one person said Crichtley’s Heidegger was “common sense”, so I suppose it is possible after all.
I’m curious, how does this work? It just seems so implausible after Darwin. Maybe I am confused on what exactly the argument is. How could we have ever evolved without being in a direct correspondence with the world? It seems strange to me to think that the great tinkerer that is Mother Nature would have left us high and dry when it came to knowledge concerning the world we live in.
I thought this was a pretty fascinating lecture. The main theme is trying to understand why things like religion and schizophrenia have been so evolutionarily successful when their modern full-blown expression is disastrously maladaptive. Similar to the Jaynesian theory I have been supporting on my site, Sapolsky basically argues that there were once great selection pressures on people who had schizotypal personalities provided they heard their voices “at the right time,” within the proper shamanic context. The Jaynesian would take this same principle and greatly expand it by saying “it was almost always the right time to hallucinate because everyone was schizotypal until the development of modern consciousness.”
Also, do yourself a favor and check out Sapolsky’s fascinating 2009 Class Day Lecture entitled “The Uniqueness of Humans.”
I had never heard of “Don Trent Jacobs” until I found this video on google, but I thought it was a really interesting piece and found Jacobs to be articulate and coherent in his mini-lecture. As most readers know, I think the Jaynesian theory has a lot going for it in terms of brute explanatory power, especially in regards to ubiquitous phenomena such as religious fundamentalism, schizophrenia, and shucksters worldwide. I think my favorite part of the video though would have to be the cool archeological pictures, particurally at 1:11 and 1:26.
I will let Jacobs’s political views stand on their own merit, but I encourage you to reflect on what he is saying in historical terms. Nine-tenths of our history was wedded to religious totalitarianism (see Hitchen’s excellent “god is not Great“), so it is no surprise that we have barely pulled away from the psychological trauma that is ideological indoctrination.We have been falling prey to the “hypnotic” suggestions of authority figures for millenia. First it was the gods themselves who led us, helped us, and deceived us. Then it was those who mediated between god and humanity, the seers, oracles, and shamans of past and present. Then it was humanity itself that birthed the bureaucratic class of spiritual middlemen that we now know as “organized religion.”
I highly recommend the critical examination of Julian Jaynes‘s groundbreaking work The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind so that you can think for yourself as to whether this theory explains what he claims to explain, namely why theistic belief has been so thoroughly ingrained into our sociological history. I have yet to see a more parsimonious theory to explain the ubiquity of religious belief. Surely we should give our ancestors some credit and not simply dismiss religious belief as an “irrational” or “superstitious” attempt to “explain the world.” If we take Heidegger or Hegel seriously, we must be open the suggestion that our dynamically coupled self-understanding and basic perception of the world is continuously shifting depending on historical and evolutionary context.
I have always seen Alan Watts as a quintessentially philosophical teacher. His philosophical wisdom and dry humor have always been intermingled to such an extent that I am apt to agree with Wittgenstein when he said “a serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.” Watts would surely concur. But this is not to say that Watts engaged in sophomoric philosophy, only getting at the surface level of what “academic philosophers” have been digging at over the ages. Quite the contrary. The genius of Watts is that he manages to dig so deep while simultaneously not taking himself too seriously. While the form of his lecture style is wonderously entertaining, the content of his analysis is richly deep.
When I listen to podcasts of his lectures, or meditate on his exquisitely readable oeuvre, I am struck by the Heideggerian spirit of his philosophy. His emphasis on temporality, concrete facticity, and participation are largely Heideggerian themes. I am not sure the extent to which Watts was aware of this, but that would be an excellent research question. I don’t want to elaborate on this Heideggerian connection too much in this post, as I hope that this will come out naturally as you read his words. The lecture I transcribed is entitled “Sex in the church, part II”. If you can, I highly recommend going over to alanwattspodcast.com and listening to whatever lecture is currently available. All of them are beyond excellent, but this one in particular struck me as relevant to some of the Heideggerian research I have been doing lately. Enjoy!
So therefore hold yourself aloof. As in for example, in the advise of many Hindus in the practice of Yoga, you are advised to look upon all sensory experiences as something “out there,” which you simply witness. You, yourself, identity yourself with the eternal, spiritual, unchanging self, the witness of all that goes on, but who is no more involved in it than say the smoothness or the color of the mirror is effected by the things it reflects. Keep your mind like a mirror. Pure and clean. Free from dust, free from flows, free from stain, and just reflect everything that goes on, but don’t be attached.
You will find this all over the place. But it has always seem to me, that – that attitude of essential detachment from the physical universe…has underlying it a very seriously problem. The problem being: why a physical world at all in that case? If God, is in some way responsible for the existence of a creation, and if this creation is basically a snare, why did he do it?And of course, according to some theologians, the physical universe is looked upon as a mistake – as a fall from the divine state – as if something went wrong in the heavenly domain, and causing spirits, such as we are, to fall from their highest state and to become involved with animal bodies.
And so there is an ancient analogy of man, which runs right through to the present time: that your relationship to your body is that of a rider to a horse. Saint Francis called his body [inaudible]. That you are a irrational soul in charge of an animal body. And therefore, if you belong to the old fashion school, you beat it into submission. As Saint Paul said, “I beat my body into submission.” Or if you are a Freudian, you treat your horse not with a whip, but with lumps of sugar, kindly, but it is still your horse. Even in Freud there is a very, very strong element of Puritanism. Read Philip Rieff’s book on freud, “The Mind of the Moralist.” And how he shows that how Freud, basically, thought that thought sex was degrading. But nevertheless something that is biologically unavoidable, something terribly necessary, which couldn’t just be swept aside, it had to be dealt with.
But there is you see is that heritage, of thinking of ourselves, as divided. The ego as the rational soul of spiritual origin, and the physical body as the animal component. And therefore, all success in life, spiritual success, requires the spiritualization of the animal component. The sublimation of its dirty and strange urges so that it is thoroughly cleaned up. I suppose the ideal sexual relationship of such persons would be held on an operating table, under disinfected sprays.
Now it is of course true, that the physical world, its beauty and so on, is transient. We are all falling apart, in some way or another, especially after you pass the peak of youth. But it has never struck me that that is something to gripe about. That the physical world is transient, seems to me, to be part of its splendor. I can imagine nothing more awful, than say, attaining to the age of 30, and suddenly being frozen, in that age, for always and always. We would all be a kind a kind of animated wax works. And you would discover as a matter of fact, that people who had that physical permenence, would feel like plastic.
And that is, as matter of fact, going to be done by us, by technology, in order to attain perpetual youth. All the parts of us that decay and fold up, are going to be replaced by very skillfully made plastic parts. And so that in the end, we will be made of very, very sophistacted plastic. And we will feel like that. And everyone will be utterly bored of each other. Because, the very fact you see, that the world, is, always, decaying, and always falling away, is the same thing as its vilality. Vitality is change. Life is death. It is always falling apart. And so there are certain supreme moments, you see, at which in the body, we attain superb vitality. And THAT is the time. Make it then. That is the moment.
Just as like when the orchestra is playing, the conductor wants to get a certain group of say, violens, to come in at a certain moment, and he is conduting and then he is like “NOW make it”, and then they all have to go “pfoosh!” , right now you see! Of course! That is the whole art of life. To do it at the right time. To do it in time, like you dance or play. In time. So in the same way, when it comes to love, sexuality, or equally so, in all the pleasures of gastronomy, timing is of the essence. And then it has happened and you’ve had it. But that is not something that one should look upon with regret. It is only something regrettable if you didn’t know how to take it when it was timely.
And this is really the essence of what I want to talk to you about. Because, you see, to be detached from the world, in the sense Buddhists, Taoists, and Hindus will often talk about detachment, does not mean to be non participative. You can have a sexual life, very rich and very full, and yet all the time be detached. By that I dont mean that you just go through it mechanically and have your thoughts elsewhere. I mean a complete participation but still detached. And the difference of the two attitudes is this. On the one hand, there is a way of being so anxious about physical pleasure, so afraid that you won’t make it, that you grab it too hard. That you just have to have that thing! And if you do that, you destroy it completely. And therefore after ever attempt to get it, you feel disappointed, you feel empty, you feel something was lost. And therefore you want it again. And you have to keep repeating,repeating, repeating – because you never really got there and it is this that is the hang up. This is what is meant by attachment to the world, in an evil sense.
But on the other hand, Pleasure in its fullness, cannot be experienced when one is grasping it. I knew a little girl to whom someone gave a bunny rabbit. She was so delighted by the bunny rabbit, and so afraid of losing it, that taking it home in the car, she squeezed it to death with love. And lots of parents do that to their children. And lots of spouses do it to each other. They hold on too hard, and so take the life out of this transient, beautifully fragile thing that life is.
To have it, to have life, and to have its pleasure, you must at the same time let go of it. And then, you can feel perfectly free to have that pleasure in the most gutsy, earthy, frolicking, liplicking way. Ones whole being taken over by a kind of undulating, convulsive ripple, that is like the very pulse of life itself. This can only happen if you let go. If you are willing to be abandoned. It is funny that word, abandoned. We speak of people who are dissolute as abandoned, but we can also use abandon as the characteristic of a saint. A great spiritual book by a Jesuit father is called “Abandonment To the Divine Providence. “There are people like that, who just aren’t hung up. They are the poor in spirit. That is to say, they are spiritually poor in the sense of they don’t cling on to any property, don’t carry any burdens around; they are free. Well, just that sort of spiritual poverty, that let-go-ness, is quite essential for the enjoyment of any kind of pleasure at all, and particularly sexual pleasure…