Day 365: ANYWAY, THAT’S WHAT I THINK

•December 21, 2012 • 1 Comment

blogpict 365Okay, that’s it: dunbloggin, at least for the time being. There’s a year’s worth of days that I’ve written something for and, although pedants might quibble that Day Zero to Day 365 makes 366 days, one of those days was only a third long (Day 23) so we have a closer approximation to a year’s-worth than the conventional 365. Maybe, in the end, this has been no more than one man’s attempt to free himself from what he experienced as a particularly insistent and overbearing faculty of awareness. But along the way, I’ve established to my own satisfaction, at least for the time being, a working model for the way in which the universe works and the purpose of life and, more importantly, the purpose of death. Into all that, you can read as many meanings as you like. What I particularly like about having reached this point is that it is clear to me from what I’ve written that knowledge and understanding are only of value to the extent that they can help you get on with the job. For my own part, I’m just relieved that I no longer have to think about these things and can concentrate now on doing just that – getting on with the job, which could last quite a few more million years should we wish it to. And for all my conclusiveness at this point, there will be plenty of time in those quite a few more millions of years for people of my predisposition to think up any number of new versions of why we are here and what it all means . But just to summarise where I’ve got to, and in no particular order:

The Real World that we share (which science calls ‘the universe’) is constructed from conscious qualitative awareness (CQA).

The boundaries with which we construct the Real World represent limits to our ability to share in CQA.

Certain of death and unknowing as to what lies beyond, we are enabled to live unconditionally; accordingly, the purpose of death is to provide us with an opportunity to become entirely unconditional in our commitment to the on-going elaboration of the Real World.

It doesn’t matter what you believe; the only truth is your intention to dominate or liberate the being you are relating to.

Our purpose in the Real World is to expand the inclusiveness of our consciousness of that Real World and our capacity to act constructively in it.

We humans are an active and visionary interface at which the Real World is being driven into existence.

The hard problem of consciousness is the crux upon which the last two-and-a-half thousand years and the next two-and-a-half thousand years of human thought will balance.

Science needs to be liberated from the burden of truth that it has shouldered and which has now become too heavy for it to bear.

Human beings are constructed and construct themselves from: i) the instincts; ii) the archetypes; iii) the myths, and iv) the polarities of universalism and individualism.

Activation of the instincts, the archetypes, the myths and the polarities of universalism and individualism can be constructive or destructive, depending on how the energies they mediate are applied: their energising qualities can be a major source of progress; their addictive qualities can be a major source of damage.

Individual humans exist to find in themselves ways of according their individuality with an experience of the unity of all that is: the universal, in other words – there are as many different ways to this experience as there are humans.

Human purpose in general is generated and extended by pulling in quality from out of the Big Other; one such purpose could be turning the galaxy green – vitalising it, in other words.

We each build our own world and, in this, ascription of the myth of truth is a key procedure – the bigger the truth, the bigger the world.

We, and every other active entity there is, from atoms to galaxies, are the intelligent designers; perhaps that which has been called ‘god’ informs our values and our visions and beyond that it would be unwise to speculate.

The impersonal, so-called, ‘laws of nature’ that science seeks to identify are, in fact, the expression of exacting choices of behaviour on the part of entities considerably more committed than we humans are to the ethical imperative that is the construction of the Real World.

The universe is not just conscious, it is consciousness; and it is also intensely personal.

What constitutes survival for each individual human has to be redefined in the mind of each one in terms not of physical survival but of creative, constructive survival.

            And in the end… I had better say that once you have stepped over the event horizon represented by the hard problem of consciousness and thought about where your step has landed you, you soon realise that what one might as well call ‘god’ is an inevitability, but you also realise that ‘god’ is such a totally inconceivable inevitability that you would do well to get on with looking after and cultivating your own local patch rather than storming around doing things in the name of the un-nameable. But you also realise that included within, as it were, the un-nameable, there might be any number of discarnate players, not a few of whom have our interests at heart. The conscious universe is, after all, necessarily personal and persons, be they electrons, people or deities are the loci of active elaboration of the Real World. So I think it behoves me to dedicate these writings to one of those tireless powers, who in general, I suspect, find useful the support that our belief gives them. And casting down recent millennia, I notice that the most prominent players have been almost exclusively blokes, especially in the West. There is clearly a balance needs redressing here. So I’m going to dedicate all this to the Great Goddess in all Her manifestations, which is to say, She who has suffered agonies that She might bring into being Her chariot, the rational intellect and its practical application, materialist science, with which She will turn Her galaxy green.

Day 364: SO, WHAT WAS IT ALL FOR?

•December 20, 2012 • Leave a Comment

blogpict 364In these writings I have been attempting to do something that might have appeared somewhat equivalent to my hauling myself up on sky hooks – or my own bootlaces: I have been trying to construct an existential position, couched in rationalist language, from which I can actually view from outside, and see right round, that faculty of consciousness that I have been referring to as ‘the rational intellect’. It might, and perhaps even with some justification, be objected that this is impossible – after all, how can one be reasonable about reason? Well, I would suggest that there is a way, and that is by following reason to the limit represented by the hard problem of consciousness – and then stepping over the event horizon, which that problem represents. Once over the horizon, reason remains as useful as it has ever been, more so in fact, because instead of having one’s consciousness structured by its dictates – trying to see everything as a nail, as it were – one can get a good grip on reason, look around for jobs that can be best done with it and apply it to them with a focus that could never have been available so long as one was labouring under the belief that absolutely every job in hand had to be  dealt with using the rational intellect. To be fair to human beings, by no means all of us are or ever have been dyed-in-the-wool Enlightenment rationalists, but there’s no doubt such people have been calling a very insistent tune and with the advance of the practical fruits of the Enlightenment, in the shape of materialist science, that tune is getting more insistent than ever, so insistent in fact that those dancing to it can, without a blush, assert that observable patterns of chemical depolarisation are consciousness and that their own identities are evolutionarily-fabricated illusions.

            Just to unpack the foregoing a little more – and hopefully to help clarify – crossing the event horizon represented by the hard problem of consciousness involves one recognising as in-your-face obvious that the universe is constructed from what materialist philosophers have hitherto tried to sideline with the word ‘qualia’. What they actually mean by that word is consciousness itself or, to use a phrase I’ve used to try and get around some limiting confusions related to self-consciousness, ‘conscious qualitative awareness’: the redness of red; the experienced quality of a sound; the quality of meaning associated with an idea, for example. There is self-evidently nothing else but quality and where its origins might lie or beyond what limits it may be explored cannot conceivably be explained by one aspect of it, which is the observable, bounded, weighty, inertial, measurable quality of materiality. But that is what the rational intellect has been attempting to do, mostly in the last three-hundred years; but you can extend your consideration to the scaffolding of conceptual objects, God included, that goes all the way back to the philosophers of Ancient Greece. The rational intellect has been attempting to do this because that is what it does – that it what it has an appetite for doing and no reason why it shouldn’t. It’s just up to us how much we give ourselves up to that appetite. Of late, we have been giving ourselves up that appetite more and more and with good reason. Conceptualising observable objects in conceptual time and space, then conceptualising regularities in their behaviours, conceptualising general laws that govern those regularities, then conceptualising how those laws might be used to predict and effect reliable outcomes in the Real World – science, in other words – is an absolute belter (gut-level good, for those not familiar with English pub culture). The laptop I am writing this on, the warmth, light and full belly I am enjoying as I write, the internet that, in however tiny a way, can get what I write in touch with billions of others, even the day-to-day securities that give me the freedom to write this have all had determining inputs from the growth of science. And beyond my personal concerns, the exponential expansion in our awareness of wonderful phenomena, an appreciation of the staggering complexities that just one human body embodies, rockets going into space, the true vastness of the cosmos and the realisation that rather than the end, we could be just at the beginning, these have not had inputs from science, these are science.

            But there has been a history behind the growth and eventual hegemony of the rational intellect and, for all the liberations that reason has effected, its growth has very dark foundations. Put baldly, the growth, proliferation and hegemony of the rational intellect has been powered by allying it with the deep-level, pre-human, primate dynamic of masculine dominance. Now, like the launch stage of a rocket sending a satellite into orbit, that primate dynamic has to undergo a controlled detachment and be allowed to sink back into the vastness of the substratum on which our being is based. In case there’s any doubt about this, just recall Socrates telling the women to get out of his death chamber, and recall the patron saint of brewers and sore eyes expounding at length on the second-rate, inferior and generally worthless nature of women, relative to the awesome power and righteousness of the male rational intellect. And so it went on, and though it was women who received by far the greatest brunt of this dynamic, there were more than a few children and men who also suffered crushing in the face of the dominant weight of masculine intellectual control. So, was all that suffering necessary in order that the rational intellect could stabilise sufficiently and be sufficiently refined in its applications to mediate the freedoms we now enjoy? Apparently (and bear in mind that Socrates had his Diotima and Augustine the love of his life, though – pace Jostein Gaarder – we don’t know what she thought of the deal). So, was it all alright, then? Absolutely not. It was what it was and what it was was on any number of occasions diabolical. So, where does that leave us? Where it leaves us – or more accurately, where it leaves the rational intellect and those whose lives are devoted to its use, is with expiation, atonement and a truly monumental act of restitution. I don’t know what form that act might take for the ethical and legal balance that underpins the workings of the Real World to be restored, but a start might be made by the rational intellect selflessly committing itself to turning the galaxy green.

Day 363: THE ASCENT OF THE WEST

•December 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

blogpict 363The history of the West has been a history of increasing powers of conceptualisation. Powers of conceptualisation are what has enables the West to come to so dominate the human world and the fruits of such powers of conceptualisation are what all but a tiny proportion of the human world aspires to: levels of material wealth are dreamed of and achieved that would have had kings of old feeling like paupers. It really got going with Socrates conceptualising the values we live by, spread like wildfire with the conceptualisation of god as the source of those values and the maker of the world and has reached its maturity with the conceptualisation of the universe as a self-assembling material entity that we are free to manipulate how we wish. But lurking close to the surface of this grand scheme of things is something else that, to my mind, has the power to entirely demolish the West and all it has achieved and, no, it isn’t Al Qaeda, or any kind of religious extremism for that matter, it is that ultimate in conceptual objects that mediates the material value with which the enormous flowering of material prosperity that the West has achieved, – yes, its money, specifically, the lending of money. I’ve gone on at length in previous entries about the dangers inherent in debt, but to reiterate briefly, debt is fine if it creates new opportunities for people to better their material circumstances in a way that is sustainable and in a way that pays the debt back in short order. Debt is not fine if it becomes the means of enriching a tiny minority at the expense of the freedoms and material prosperity of the great majority. The bottom line with debt is that, if you are in debt, be it benign or pernicious, your life is not your own.

            It is said that here in the UK we are living beyond our means. With the government a trillion pounds in debt, this would seem undeniable. I can think of four possibilities as to why we might be living beyond our means: 1) other people are working harder than we are and we are borrowing money to buy what they produce; 2) in the division of labour required to produce all we consume, others have acquired a greater share in the division, e.g. by working more cheaply; 3) we are borrowing money made available by fractional reserve lending, in which case the banks are borrowing against our anticipated labour; 4) people are not being paid the full value of their labour and the consequent profits are then lent out to people to enable them to buy back the fruits of their labour with interest. Yet I do have a question about all this. People have food, clothing, housing, warmth and, at the very least, some minor luxuries, yet they do not have these things because they have forcibly taken them from people who do not have them, they have them because they are there for the having. And, whilst I appreciate there are inequities and exceptions, this seems to be pretty much the case the world over. We do not appear to be living beyond our productive means and we are not dependent on slaves. All the things we have simply are; they are not virtual; they are not going to be taken away overnight by people who don’t have them; they have been produced but they have not been paid for. Accordingly, the problem seems to be not one of supply but one of payment. For this to be the case, it seems to me that at some point there must have been a disconnect between productive capacity and the money that represents that productive capacity such that, whilst everyone has the fruits of our productive capacity, only a few have the money that productive capacity represents and these would be the few from whom we borrow in order to have what we can produce. Setting aside for a moment the question as to how these few came to capture that money, it would seem self-evident that these few do not need all the money that they are lending. What is this money that is being lent and where are the interest payments on it going? Pension funds and pensions is an obvious reply, but there is much else besides and I would have thought that a critical annual statistic that should be splashed all over the front pages should be the extent to which we are working harder and harder for our own futures or harder and harder for a few people to gain greater and greater control over our lives.

            For there certainly are those people and they have been around for quite a while and whether it be by increasing the value of land following enclosure or increasing the value of resources by setting up factories to transform those resources, they have been steadily enriching materially the human world, whilst at the same time creating or gaining power over the means of production. Those from whom control over the means of production has been wrested have been paid less than the value of what they produce but that has still represented a good enough deal for the West at least, to lurch on fairly constructively and for the rest of the world to follow suite. And those who have created or wrested the means of production and have taken their profits have got sufficiently rich to be able to lend out their money and thus apply a further overlay of control that has people working yet harder and harder. So whether it’s pensions for an ageing population or profits for the plutocrats, the age of leisure that was promised us fifty years ago is not going to happen. Is this a bad thing? Are we victims of a treadmill of our own making, doomed to run faster and faster until the whole silly system disintegrates, or are we the creators of a system that, in a fabulous extension of the perpetual imbalance that was needed to get us up and walking on two feet, is teaching us to run for the stars?

Day 362: INCEPTION

•December 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

blogpict 362Some time ago I was examining how Socrates appeared to mark a major upregulation in the workings of the rational intellect by his bringing philosophy down from the cosmos and into what actually mattered to people: namely, values. By conceptualising values and conceptualising them as objectively definable, and by doing this by engaging people in a kind of conversation that was rigidly structured according to forms of consciousness mediated by the rational intellect, Socrates was effecting a critical expansion in people’s capacity to use the rational intellect. And to cap it all, Socrates, being ethically unimpeachable, understood that there are ethical absolutes and, therefore, commanded considerable respect. That his attempt to engage with the ethical absolutes through the rational intellect may have been entirely misguided is neither here nor there: it was enough that he tried for definitions that might make for people becoming better people; enough, in fact, for any number after him to try and do the same. But, although the drive to conceptualise and seek objective definition are key activities of the rational intellect, there are some other functionalities that need to be in place before this novel mode of consciousness can really begin to take over whatever it is to be human. With a tidiness that could almost make one suspicious of divine meddling, Socrates was followed by Plato and Plato was followed by Aristotle. Plato, with his Theory of Forms, offers us the first major example of the conceptual universal system of explanation and Aristotle himself, with his logical forms of thought and his systematic empirical observations, offers us the first major example of what might be called, an encyclopaediac. And then Aristotle was followed by Alexander the Great, who valued so-called ‘barbarians’ as highly as he valued Greeks and surely could not have helped but spread something of Greek consciousness through the great swathes of human society that he conquered.

            To my mind, that little sequence – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander – offers a striking historical example of an inception, not of a specific idea (like in that great film), but of a world-building mode of consciousness. And keep in mind that this was only the beginning. Socrates’ work of value definition and Plato’s on universal conceptual explanations had to be taken up by universal religion before the modes of consciousness those works represented could become commonplace. And for all that time, Aristotle’s intellectual fascination with phenomena and objects and their inter-relationships had to remain as no more than a place holder. But with the European Renaissance and the Age of Reason, it all came together and here we are, which might seem like just one more potted scheme for the last two thousand years of human history, but I’m thinking there are going to have been other inceptions. For example, there will have been the inception whereby consciousness differentiated the functionalities of identity and boundedness, thus becoming consciousnesses. Any number of inceptions could then kick in on the basis of those primeval distinctions, all of them relating to the relationships between those bounded, active identities, and among them one could imagine the inception of the qualities of materiality: not only its boundedness, but its reliability, rigidity, weightiness, density and inertia. And so it would go on, drawing in sex, colour perception, social hierarchy; all the qualities, in fact, that we hardly even think to question in this conscious construct that is the Real World. And the newest kid on the block brings together the conceptual object and the concept of causality to establish a mode of consciousness at work in the Real World that has seemingly unprecedented power to transform that Real World. For a start, it can construct novel, self-sustaining worlds in which it can survive independently of many of the relationships that had hitherto supported it. Plants discovering how to make seeds would have involved something similar.

            The foregoing might seem like a rather peculiar way of talking about things for which it is supposed there is or can be or will be a perfectly rational material, scientific explanation. But, to labour the point which I have been labouring ever since I started these writings, that particular conceptual explanation includes not one iota of conscious qualitative awareness and since the fact that we are consciously qualitatively aware is all that we know with absolute certainty, the material, scientific explanation falls flat on its face – at least, it does as a universal explanation. In fact, the truly peculiar idea is that there might be such a thing as, for example, impersonal force. For all the mathematical simulations that have been conjured up, the concept of an impersonal force really is a very odd one. Experientially, force, for the most part, is experienced as a consequence of intention and we might as well suppose that oddities like gravity and magnetism simply represent limits beyond which our powers of apprehension of conscious intent have yet to penetrate. Interestingly, it is worth noting that the now prevalent mode of thought that would have it that all phenomena are the product of impersonal forces was just as much around in Ancient Greece as it is now. Plato talks about it in his Laws and suggests that irremediable upholders of this supposition should be put to death. To our sensibilities, this seems rather drastic and we would probably favour therapy, although so ingrained in the identity of these people is their assumption of the dominant workings of impersonal force that one could readily imagine a liberation movement developing, which would assert that belief in impersonal forces constitutes an identity to be lived rather than an illness to be cured. Actually, I’ll bet if somebody went looking for it, a gene could be found that conferred on its possessor a tendency to understand phenomena in terms of impersonal forces.

Day 361: SLOW, STEADY PROGRESS

•December 16, 2012 • Leave a Comment

blogpict 361I’ve talked fairly frequently in these writings about ‘the realisation of valued images’ or to put it another way ‘the materialisation of valued images’ as one of the things we are here for, but without saying too much about what those valued images might be. One that I have floated – turning the galaxy green – is sufficiently crazy to be readily-dismissible by those who readily dismiss crazy ideas, although I am sure there are others who think ‘oh yes, I know that one’ and others in whom it may strike a new spark in the mind and others still who are thinking about humanity’s future in tens of millions rather than tens of years, who might think ‘maybe’. In talking about the realisation of valued images, I’ve generally had in mind some form the world or the things of the world might take but I’m just wondering if the valued image that really matters is an image of oneself. There will be a world in which that image can find its fullest expression and that world will be brought into being not by some kind of constructive undertaking according to a plan but by the valued image that is oneself constructing the world in which it can have its fullest expression. This is something of a hazy notion, which could see each one of us as players in an open-ended relay race in which we hold the baton of life for no more than a single span and run like hell to make up such ground as we can. The baton then passes to someone newly-born who has the advantage of all the ground that has been made up before and can take their life that much further still, and so-on until the as yet unknowable end is reached.

            Another version of this hazy notion could grant us a continuity of being that is sustained from one life to the next, each life being a step in the realisation of the valued image that is what might be supposed to be our true and complete self. Accordingly, in each life, we struggle, more or less successfully to live a life that expresses that self. But the kind of self I am talking about is not some character or personality but a consciousness that has grown to maximum inclusive. Quite what might constitute ‘maximum inclusiveness’ I am a very long way from knowing and to even talk about it in such ‘what is…?’ terms is almost certainly inappropriate. The thing about states of consciousness is that they entirely reconfigure belief, feeling and thought. So, as far as maximum inclusiveness is concerned, all one can really do is observe how one’s own consciousness has changed over the years and how it has, hopefully perhaps, moved from less to greater tolerance and understanding of what other people are about and then project that progression onto every other being in the universe. This is, of course, no more than conceptual generalisation, but conceptual generalisations can be put in place to provide signposts so there is nothing wrong in that. There are some resonances with Buddhism in all this, with its emphasis on compassion, heightened awareness and collapsing of boundaries. I am not sure I would make too much of such resonances, however, because Buddhism is focussed on liberation from the wheel of birth and death whereas what I have in mind is actually what the wheel of birth and death is rolling towards in the on-going unfolding of the elaboration of the Real World. What happens when the wheel gets to its destination is anybody’s guess, however.

            A difficulty perhaps in thinking about these things is the basic short-termism of the human imagination. Such a short span of attention is maybe not inappropriate, given that we have to be getting on with the job from one moment to the next, but a little more open-endedness might not go amiss. Current choices in perspective would have it that the world is going to end any minute, or that it is going to continue but that humanity’s time left to enjoy it may not be very long, or that things are going to expand indefinitely with the ever increasing powers that technology can confer on us mortals. Nowhere in all this does there seem to be the supposition that it might actually be people that are expanding and that the activities we mediate are an expression of that expansion. I think the idea that what can be encompassed by human identity might change is not one that is particularly popular at present, it having been hijacked over preceding centuries by religion. And, reading history, I do indeed wonder if human identity does change; there does seem to be a remarkable constancy in the balance of predispositions and personalities that have been around from one era to the next. But written history only covers a very short span of human history and all of human history may only be a very short span of what may yet come. I’ve been through enough changes in my sense of myself during the span of my own life to be quite at ease with the idea that people may change. But it happens very slowly. You don’t change by deciding you are going to be a different person; you change with a progressive accretion of experience which you respond to either by embracing successive experiences or rejecting them. The former tends towards expanding one’s capacity for conscious reference whereas the latter tends to contract it. And time after time after time life brings you up against the challenges you need to face and embrace in order to expand.

Day 360: ONTIC POLITICS

•December 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

blogpict 360Sometimes in philosophy, you do have to ask yourself, ‘wot is this ‘ere bunny rabbitting on about?’ Obscurity seems to have reached a peak in the likes of Kant and Hegel, the meaning of whose writings philosophers are still arguing over. Why have philosophers made themselves so damn difficult to understand? Did they want to communicate or did they – adolescent-like – want to challenge you to understand them? One of the things philosophers have done over the ages is look for conceptual equivalents of phenomena and experience and then try and boil those conceptual equivalents down to the most unifying principles they could find. That is, after all, what the rational intellect seems designed to do and it does offer a kind of simulation in objective terms of what we are all engaged in, which is expanding our capacity for conscious reference; a unifying concept sort of does that, only what it does is limited to unifying other concepts. Whatever, there are going to be some fairly obscure byways down which the conceptualisation of phenomena and experience can travel and that before we even get to thinking up even further concepts that might provide some kind of unification. Outsiders who have not followed those byways are going to find comprehension difficult and this will be compounded if the route map has not been drawn up with the outsider in mind, but has instead merely been noted down by the philosopher concerned to provide an aid to memory. I myself have had the experience of re-reading something I’ve written and had the thought ‘what on earth did I mean by that?’ But is this merely a problem for those who have given themselves up entirely to the rational intellect and its wicked ways or is there something else going on that drives the philosophically inclined down ever more obscure pathways? 

            Could it be that philosophers, be they professional or native (natural?), are actually practitioners of what might be called ‘ontic politics’? There is after all party politics – and international politics and religious politics and local politics and media politics and economic politics and health politics; all kinds of politics, in fact; why not then a politics of being, since there is surely nothing more territorialised and valued than one’s own being? A clue to the kind of politics of being that philosophers might be practising is provided by a quote from Bertrand Russell: he said ‘The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way which will allow a solution’. To my mind, there is a subtext to this which would have it that the greatest challenge to any thinker is to state the problem in such a way that the rational intellect can get a grip on it, get its teeth into it and swallow it whole. To the man with a hammer everything looks like a nail and to a man (it has usually been a man) with a rational intellect, everything looks like an observable object, the behaviours of which are determined by the behaviours of other objects. So the thinker has to state the problem in terms that are objective –in other words he has to ‘nailify’ it, if he is going to feel that he has banged it properly home. For example, were the logical positivists trying to hammer water into shape, or hammer the beach clean, or hammer a baby to sleep? And was Wittgenstein, for whom the only admirable philosopher appeared to be William James, simply trying to find a way of speaking to the LPs that would let them know they were wrong? Anyway, the politics then intrudes in relation to manoeuvring for control and position over the way in which problems are stated. The two-and-a-half-thousand year politico-philosophical project we humans have just been through has then been the expression of a steadily increasing reconfiguration of any problem we might have in objective terms. It may well be that philosophers in general have now been entirely sidelined by one branch of philosophy in particular, namely natural philosophy – or science – as evidenced by the steady rise in the weight given to the discipline of objective evidence.

            In relation to evidence, that mention of the logical positivists deserves examination. The logical positivists rejected virtual all philosophy that had gone before them as ‘meaningless’, by which they appear to have meant that their forebears’ grandest statements offered no possibility of verification in the public arena. They might have considered that philosophy had, hitherto, been no more than the inflation of personal opinion or feeling into universal principal. One can see why they might have wanted to clear the decks, especially given some of the more grandiloquent utterances of Hegel and the like; these may have been necessary reactions against those who would acquire power by mystification. But what the logical positivists did was strictly equivalent to sterilising a room in which there has been some nasty infection. The point is not to leave the room sterile but to clean things up to make way for something more healthy. However, in a universe of CQA, inflation of personal feeling into universal principal is one of the great world-constructing dynamics. The point is that it is precisely the personal feelings that demand inflation into universal principles that have the capacity to become world-constructing, and such feelings do exist – they pick up their victim, mediator or voice by the scruff of the neck and demand that they be promoted in the Real World. And, as far as the quality of meaning is concerned, such feelings and the ideas they generate are meaning incarnate; they are bursting with meaning; they have meaning leaking out of every pore. They are at the heart of philosophy and much else. On the other hand, inflation of opinion into universal principle is more problematic because opinion represents the movement of belief into the public arena. Beliefs are personal but gain power and authority by being shared. They are entirely of the Real World, as are opinions, and they are generally concerned with sustaining the Real World, or with re-arranging its parts. Seems to me that in failing to make a proper distinction between feeling, belief and opinion, the logical positivists were forced to go looking for meaning in the public arena and the only meanings that can be found there are of the ‘where’s the duck’ variety that are actually the proper concern of science.

Day 359: THE ECOLOGY OF TASTE

•December 14, 2012 • Leave a Comment

blogpict 359The following may seem trite but the fact that it I feel moved to single it out suggests that there is some highlighting that could usefully be done. In brief, one’s tastes in art, music, literature, magazines, films, newspapers, stories, anything really, are not about what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They are about who one is. They are public knowledge expressions of who one is. Therefore, if one has any interest at all in who one is a good way of exploring that would be to deliberately and assiduously explore and catalogue everything that is to one’s taste. And, likewise, if one has any interest in who other people are, the same applies. There is, of course, a lot of this that goes on anyway, in websites, blogs, DVD and record collections, bookshelves and suchlike, but these self-portraits do not accumulate with conscious intent – rather they are expressed in terms of ‘what I like’ rather than ‘this is me’. This may, to some extent, accord with the interest people have in lists of favourites – we can evaluate ourselves against a demonstrated average and thus get a better sense of how we may or may not fit in with others. This could save time and discomfort and, in so doing, seems to me to be a better use to which to put the intellect’s fixation on summary statistics than any kind of Procrustean standard of ‘normality’. Maybe a part of one’s education – or self-education – would be to positively work towards assembling a detailed self-portrait in terms of lists of publicly accessible exemplars of what one likes. But if this is to be the case, what then becomes of any kind of judgement of quality? Are there to be no ‘objective’ criteria to which one can refer if one wants to explore further? Is one to give equal attention to Shakespeare and Eastenders?

            There’s a lot of handwringing goes on from time-to-time over such questions and one way this expresses itself is in the question ‘what are we to teach our children?’ We are, of course, talking arts here rather than sciences. Teaching science is quite simply down to choice of approach and what to include in the syllabus; in science, there is stuff needs learning because that stuff is the stuff of science and everyone (bar possibly a few creationists) is agreed on what that stuff is. Moreover, we are not only talking arts, we are talking creative arts. History is considered an arts subject and though not reproducible in the way that science is, there is a sufficiently broad consensus on what happened for that to be taught, along with some rather more open-ended discussion about why it happened. There seems to me to be much less basis for agreement with regard to the creative arts. Teaching students about what constitutes good and bad painting, sculpture, poetry or fiction can be dealt with by teaching them about what other people have said about good and bad painting, sculpture, poetry or fiction and it could be argued that the more things people have said about a given work the more important it may be; at least the more different and sophisticated things people have said about a given work the more important it may be. Importance is then determined by attention given. Why does that sound so unconvincing? Probably because of all the arguments that might arise concerning not only the quantity of attention given but its quality as well. Here, it seems to me, one keeps coming back to the question of authority. Back in the old days, this was no problem: authoritative opinions were upheld, challenged or promoted by people in authority, be they the powerful or teachers paid by the powerful. That arrangement is now well over, and probably just as well. What has actually taken its place?

            What seems to have taken the place of the old authority approach is a kind of ecology of values in which different voices and opinions vie with each other to be heard. Maybe a teacher’s task is to introduce students to that ecology, with reference to some of the major sources of energy that the ecology feeds on. Great works upheld as classics seem still able to provide considerable nutrient, be it in the classroom, television, theatre or film. Maybe what we are moving into is a kind of Darwinian selection system in which that which commands the most sustained attention does so simply because it has the greatest capacity to feed the attention of those who give it attention. What kind of food are we talking about here? Well, I’ve been banging on a lot previously about ‘expanded capacity for conscious reference’ as something that all of us need be engaged with in some shape or form, and there’s no doubt that any such expansion one can achieve is accompanied by a rush of energy and a sense of life having been enriched. Those who have experienced that in relation to a work of art will want others to share in their experience and will pay the source of that experience sustained attention. This contrasts with the mere sensation that might come from a passing entertainment, which leaves one thinking ‘right, what else can I distract myself with?’ The point about a worthwhile work of art is that you can keep coming back to it and each time find something that you had not been aware of before. Your perception of it grows, in fact, and its greatness lies in its capacity to sustain that growth. Then you go off and write about how great it is and you tell people how great it is and you may even teach people how great it is and others of your ilk will do the same and so the ‘cannon’ of artistic taste will be sustained, hopefully. Of course, there will always be novel stuff out at the edges that gets argued about incessantly, but that’s part of the process. And there will be stuff that gets recognised only after many years: I was mildly shocked to learn recently that the poet, John Donne, had not been much considered until T.S. Elliott picked him up and ran with him.

 
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