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Platonic Dilemma - Transience Divine
July 29th, 2009
05:34 pm


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Platonic Dilemma
Does it surprise you that life just keeps happening, balanced on the blunt edge of choice? The challenges of life always deepen to match you at every point, and never stop calling you forward onto an ever-lengthening road. No matter what decisions we make, we know that any resulting bliss or agony will be largely temporary, any new human connection will be mixed with alienation, and any new truth will only provide more ground for uncertainty.

Our deepest internal flaws will forever confront us, and are reflected in every moment. In life, we perceive exactly the challenges we're ready for, and we will never find a situation that provides lasting contentment, by virtue of how we're built, not how the world is built. The world we perceive is a projection of ourselves.

Brain scientists, Plato, Heidegger and others agree: we create our world. There is a huge gulf between the messy data that we're exposed to, and the orderly world we experience. Ours is a world of actions and properties and causation, even though these things are not really out there. The things that we perceive do not exist at all. Man is the measure of everything we know, but nothing at all. If you saw the world from a fly's perspective, or a tree's, it would be largely unrecognizable. The world no doubt exists in some form, but it is just beyond our perceptions of it.

What if every aspect of our world is explainable in this way? What if everything we experience is just a reflection of our own yearnings, like a dream? The people we sit near on the train, the flies that never leave our food alone, the latest news never actually happened. I meet the women I do because they represent the beauty I'm ready to perceive and patches on the flaws I hide in myself. We are like genius amoebas, experiencing primitive sensations and creating an elaborate story to occupy ourselves.

I do believe there's something outside of us. There is a potential to do good and pursue love. Our actions in this created world have some effect on the real world. I suspect that the real world is much more inside us than we realize (we don't think any part of the world is inside us now), and that actions are only proxies for the real work being done internally-and-in-reality. Life is a fabulous and very-serious game, specifically designed by our own minds out of their encounter with a primordial something. We are offered the opportunity to pursue this woman because she represents beauty, or to help this child as an exercise in providing.

Something in this scares me to the core of my being. I believe that the world runs by scientific laws because I've been told it does. But my own experiments in school have more often defied those laws than confirmed them. It is as though the world was knocking on my consciousness's door, asking to let it defy everything I know. If there's no science, then no biology, no technology, no civilization. My whole life may be like the delusions of a man in a coma, yet littered with clues of its falsehood and the muffled voice of someone trying to talk me out of it.

(10 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:July 29th, 2009 10:48 pm (UTC)
This was a delight to read. Invigorating.
Date:July 30th, 2009 12:08 am (UTC)
I think if I tried to write something like this it would come out with about 1/37 of the meaning. Approximately.

Talking about constructed realities you might be interested in reading this BLDGBLOG post which showed up just below yours on my friends page.
[User Picture]
Date:July 31st, 2009 10:15 am (UTC)
Synchronized blinking, eh? It makes you wonder what the world is like when no one is looking. Thanks for the pointer.
[User Picture]
Date:July 30th, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC)
p.s. i love "internally-and-in-reality" .... very Sartre / Heidegger
[User Picture]
Date:July 31st, 2009 09:48 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'm in the midst of Being and Time, so it's probably inevitable. How have you been?
Date:July 31st, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC)
(this is Aaron)

Jimmy, I really like your post and I wholeheartedly agree that we are not really experiencing or discovering our world -- we are creating it. The "objective world" is too chaotic, too strange for our mind to understand so we are constantly putting new things in old folders. Of course, what these old folders are depends on the refinement of our distinctions in the area, and on our emotional needs on that point.

But why does this scare you? I guess it scared me when I first realized it but only the way something really exciting scares you; it was such a huge door to open. I don't think it scared me "to the core of my being"

After all, doesn't this realization make you feel *powerful*? I used to feel that I am at the whim of the objective world, but now it is at my whim. I don't just get to choose what I learn and do, I actually get to choose the colors with which I see the world.

When you go to a dinner party at the age of seven, you don't notice that the two people next to you are subtly flirting. But as you write, "you don't notice" is kind of the wrong way of putting it -- after all, different adults will notice different types of flirtation. Really, when you're seven, it's just not in your world. So by integrating the concept of flirting you are literally adding to the richness of your world.

Similarly, anything you choose to seriously think about, or any truly new experience that you have will add new dimensions to your everyday life. And you largely get to choose the directions (social, scientific, etc.). You just have to make sure that you're always trying to create new folders, rather than fitting everything into your existing ones.

The point is, it will never be the case that the objective world simply doesn't satisfy your interests, or that you'll come to a huge impassable block. Or if it does happen, at least it'll be a problem within you that can be worked on, rather than a problem with the world.

You write "my whole life may be like the delusions of a man in a coma", but "delusions" still has the connotation an objective world that you *could* perceive, but you're not letting yourself. In fact, you're technically delusional, but there's nothing wrong with this -- the world is too vast and complicated for you to perceive all of it. Instead, you can look at all the progress you've made, and the infinite room for exploration.

(maybe I felt little fear because my goals in life are deep down selfish -- I want to enrich my own world view -- whereas yours are largely altruistic. I agree that the whole prospect of altruism becomes much more hairy under this view of reality, although it is by no means debunked).
[User Picture]
Date:July 31st, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
This is certainly the normal way to interpret this problem. It's said that reality consists of an objective world, filled with various phenomena. Our consciousness filters and categorizes our sensations of those phenomena, producing a subjective world which we experience.

I believe that conception is rotten at its core.

It is claimed that the world that exists beyond our perceptions contains some analog to everything we experience: if we see a tree, there is a thing there and every property we ascribe to the tree provides plausible knowledge about that thing.

But following Heidegger, questions of the nature of Being should start with Dasein-- that is, ourselves. We suppose that there is a moving puddle of dirty water that corresponds to what I call me. Under that assumption, the question becomes whether "I" am synonymous with that puddle, an property of it, or what.

But our identities are formed by the same complex presuppositions that create a tree's identity for us. Our identities derive from a prior or equiprimal conception of the world, and are also defined by our relationships. I know this in my relationship with Flame. I make her, even as she makes me. She, for her part, can and often does identify with everyone within earshot. The puddle of water, if it exists, forms only a small part of our selves.

As a corollary, the subject of our experiences is not what we mean when we say "I" either. We are like patients who have had the two hemispheres of their brains surgically separated. If you tell one hemisphere of such a patient to shut the door, and then ask the other hemisphere why it did that, it will make up an answer-- perhaps because there was a breeze. We are all like halves of a divided brain, fooled into identifying with the individual parts and the whole at different times.

The true "I" is inexplicably amorphous, and reflected in the actions of puddles everywhere and around us at all times. There is no "I", only an "us" of which we can only perceive one part.

Heidegger explains that we experience the tree as something ready-to-hand, as "equipment", not a brute object. It appears to us as something with a pre-existing relationship to us. It's part of our identity too.

If there were a tree, it's identity would not involve us. So what is left of our subjective object that has a resemblance to the tree? It does not look like a dog, nor bark like one, so why do we assume it is one?

The world we perceive is a projection of ourselves. If we encounter a forest for the first time, rather than ascribe it to some external world, we should ask what role it plays in our collective society's self-conception.

This looks nothing like power to me. We are blind, bound, and drunk. The only hope I can see is if there's some way to merge back into the collective consciousness-- to shut our eyes, still our arms, and silence our thoughts.
Date:August 1st, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC)
I very much agree with your conception, and see now that my post indicated a conception which is off and which I do not believe. It is not that there is an objective world and we are all looking at it from different angles. The objective world, although it probably exists in a technical sense, is too complicated for us to perceive from *any* angle. It's not a big building of which we can only see individual pieces; it's a totally random ink blob into which we each read our own thing.

So I agree: we can only see things that we have handles for, that we already identify with. The only reason we all see similar things in a forest is because our society already has handles for it. But although I stand behind your formulation, I don't feel as though you have really explained why it implies that we are "blind, bound, and drunk".

I was wrong when I said "the objective world is at our whim", but *our* world is in some sense at “our” whim. Of course, our world was largely shaped by society, our relationships, etc., but now that we’re in it, we can play around with it. You are only blind and bound if you continue to try to get at an objective world that isn’t there. You are only blind and bound if you see "freedom" as some mastery over the external world.

When you ask yourself why you like a certain landscape, you have to be careful with exactly what you mean by “why?” If you are grasping for the “actual” reason, the objective reason, then of course you’ll feel bound and blind because it’s permanently out of your reach. But you can also be looking for a reason within your own world, your own handles. Often there are parts of your world that aren’t fully crystallized (e.g. feelings that you can vaguely sense but don’t have a word for, and haven’t integrated into larger structure), and sometimes you can even create new handles out of existing ones.

That being said, I’m certainly not saying that since you there is no objective world we can just believe whatever. You can still be delusional within your own world. Delusion is not about a false objective reason, but about not accepting things for which you already have handles because, say, they make you uncomfortable. For example, maybe I am delusional about the fact that I started dating a girl primarily out of lust. By “out of lust” I am not referring to anything objective: I am saying that in my own world I felt myself being lustful – I already have a handle for it – but chose not to look in that direction.

I certainly don’t think I have a fully coherent way of looking at things. I am so used to thinking of everything in terms of an objective I in an objective world that it’s hard to disentangle this from my everyday concepts. But I think it is crucial that we do so because it is this entanglement, not the lack of an objective world, that makes one feel blind and bound. As long as one thinks with respect to an objective world while not believing in an objective world, one will always be seeing a lack.

(I like this whole reversal or roles. For once, I am the life-affirming one!)
Date:September 1st, 2009 05:44 am (UTC)

What a crock.

I too, had to choose between thinking and doing. I chose doing. All of this theorizing gets in the way of the real work. If I cut you, you bleed. You aren't creating a perception of bleeding, you are bleeding. As Lou Reed said: "Some people like to go out dancin', there's other people like us, we gotta work."
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Date:October 1st, 2009 04:28 pm (UTC)

Re: What a crock.

That's not a dichotomy I use. Like Speed Levitch said in Waking Life, "I would say that life understood is life lived."
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