The “self portrait” photo prompted me to peel open the cover of my copy of The Portable Nietzsche, translated by the irreducible Walter Kaufman. Here’s a selection from Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” that goes right to the heart of how I, how we, how people, experience “truth:”
What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.
We still do not know where the urge for truth comes from; for as yet we have heard only of the obligation imposed by society that it should exist: to be truthful means using the customary metaphors – in moral terms, the obligation to lie according to fixed convention, to lie herd-like in a style obligatory for all…
The Portable Nietzsche, p.46-7
Agree or disagree with his statements, the man wrote with *style*. I happen to agree, since I see “truth” through the lens of objective probability.
I’m very seriously considering going back to school for a degree in Landscape Architecture. There are a lot of reasons why, but the biggest one has to do with my vision for sustainable design. I am passionate about creating built environments that interact with the surrounding ecology instead of impinging upon it (or obliterating it completely).
So…I’ve been exploring various programs both distant and close to home. The following quote comes from a document about the Capstone project for a program that’s close to home:
Methods and Study Area / Study Participants
What ontological or epistemological frame will you use to approach your topic, and why? What kind of data will you need, and why? Specifically, how will you collect your data (details of mapping techniques, or interview protocols, or field and lab work of other kinds)? How will you analyze your data, and why?
This entire section—the philosophical terms, the word “data,” the concept of lab and field work—made me want to cry. It’s a thing of beauty. More than ever, this seems like the right decision for me. My inner geek is very pleased.
This recent episode of Philosophy Bites is a good one. The topic is the implicit biases we all have. Jennifer Saul, the head of the philosophy department at University of Sheffield, outlines research on the subject and, quite rightly, calls her own profession on the carpet for having a strong male bias.
Best quote of the cast: “I think a bit more humility would be good for the profession.”
The most intriguing line: “It turns out that even being primed with objectivity makes you more prone to biases.”
Here’s a few questions it raised for me: If I have inescapable biases, how do I deal with them? Does acknowledging my biases help mitigate their impact, or does it simply mean that I’m transparent about my irrational beliefs while still having them? Should we all make a list of our biases and share them like business cards?
The conclusion is inescapable: I’m a writer. Seeing my friend Jessi (a thrice-published author) last week drove the point home.
I’ve written since I was very young, the emphasis for both my undergrad and grad degrees was creative writing, I love the creative tension of putting together a story, I’ve had several small things published, my dream job for many years was to be a photojournalist for National Geographic, I was almost always the game master when I role played, I’ve kept journals, I’ve managed numerous blogs on varied topics, and I currently have at least six books taking up space in my brain.
Next up, finding time to write.
One of the main points John Gardner makes in this Philosophy Bites podcast is that written constitutions are immediately less flexible than unwritten versions, and that they become even less flexible as time goes on, until the conversation has shifted away from the document as a means of codifying normative behavior to one of obsessing over the intentions of the authors. I agree. I also find such obsessing unproductive when it comes to defining normative behavior in the 21st century. Though the text might be fixed, the meaning is not. We must reinterpret (rewrite?) the work in the context of our current reality or risk losing it to meaninglessness.
Perhaps an unwritten constitution is the better way to go. Perhaps. Or maybe write it in sand and shake it up every once in a while? The Etch-a-Sketch constitution method?
I just did a quick search of the “philosophy” category in WordPress and came across a number of very wordy, very depressed people. (Not sure if there is a causal correlation between the wordiness and the depression, but I think it’s highly likely).
I do love philosophy, but not so much that I’m willing to be depressed about everything. So I’ll be a happy person who likes philosophy and blogging. I’m a happy philosophy blogger.
The first intransigent problem with trying to define a particular way of being (i.e. Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal or libertarian, Catholic or Muslim or atheist, etc.) is that immediately you have others pushing on the boundaries of the definition. Definitions are definitively not static. They change in realtime, morphing into new ideological spaces organically—ironically beyond the control of those who seek to fix concepts with a clear definition. A conservative today was not a conservative 50 years ago. A liberal today was not a liberal 50 years ago. A farmer today was not a farmer 50 years ago. A feminist today was not a feminist 50 years ago. None of these definitions today fits their original definition exactly. Some are radically different.
The second irreducible problem with trying to define a particular way of being is that individuals can be defined in a multiplicity of ways and those ways can often appear to contradict one another. A liberal Republican, for instance, or a feminist Catholic. Interestingly, these very states of seemingly contradictory ways of being serve to alter the definitions.
None of these observations helps us solve the intractable problem of ever-evolving definitions, but it does help to provide a perspective on their elasticity. More importantly for me they help me understand that a definition is merely a starting point when it comes to understanding others, whether they have defined themselves or have been defined, and that even the definition is fraught with meanings that may or may not encompass what I understand the definition to mean.
I suppose this is one of those things that makes people so interesting and surprising—they are generally too dynamic to be contained by fixed concepts, so the concepts must either change or become irrelevant.