Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Self Care

Recently I became a peer helper. There is an emphasis on self-care. Self-care is probably Aristotelian and British Columbia socialism. The socialist part is the important of looking after your own health, being your own patient and making sure you get the care you need. The Aristotelian part is philos. Philos has a different flavour. It is not like love because love has Christian and self-sacrificial considerations. It is trusting yourself and treating yourself as the centre. It is self-reliance.

Self care is weird because it misses these points. It is right but it is not personal and it is hard to get past the flakiness in order to see the useful parts. Why not just put it into words that are true instead of requiring us to dig for it? I do not know.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Artist's Way

My roommate is a serious writer. Not like me. She is a writing major. This Summer she fell in with the this book, the Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. She became an enthusiast. I became curious. It seemed the sort of book my mother would read.

She told me about morning pages. Morning pages? Well, I never manage to get up in the morning so that probably would not work. But it did seem like a good idea, except for being encouraged to rant about everything you hate every morning. I wonder if we are honest and happy at the expense of being good.

She told me about Artist dates. You go out and do something by yourself or rather 'take your inner artist on a date'. Sounds like incest. These seemed like a artsie-fartsie (and I use this in the most derogatory way) way of saying something obvious, spending time by yourself in places you love is important.' Time is important. Everything she told me rang both true and wrong. True in that I recognised much of it from my own habits and what I considered important, wrong in that each time the wording was not quite right. I do not think that taking your inner child on a date healthy, I think that going places, forests or cafés or gardens, where you temporarily modify how you view the world, is important. Returning from the café you bring the feeling of it with you, and in the café your thoughts are different. You taken into an atmosphere which requires you to be a slightly different person, and carefully you modify yourself. It is interesting and true. It is not what the book says.

The Artist's Way is useful. I can see that. The stories are good. Her stories about her grandmother sound like awareness of qualia. I like qualia and as such like those. Very existential. Most of the book isn't. What I clearly need is the Existentialist's Way for Art. Nonetheless it bothers me. I know there are others who agree. It is repetitive when it could be embrace brevity. The repetition of the word 'crazymaker' bothered me particularly. That is how mental health patients speak. Assigning all woes and bothers to one person or one idea is dangerous and frightening. In this way the books frightens me. The book is sweetened with artificial sugar and water. You cannot argue with it. It asserts without argument so you must either accept or flail.

Furthermore the religious connotations are heavy and unavoidable. These connotations are not mixed. The religion is not that of many cultures and many viewpoints. It is the God that one meets wandering into the a priori. It is the first idea. It waits in the shadows of abstract reality to devour those who wish to acquire knowledge. It need not be there! It is not even the honest God of the medievals. That God, the God of Plotinus of whom there are slight echoes here, is worthy. The Great Creator is not. Tell me that it is the One, the well-spring of being. The Good, Just, and Beautiful. Tell me to look up and become part of the world soul, ever reaching for pure Parmenidean unity. Tell me to look away from the shadows for fear that I will see beyond them into the nothingness. At least that is beautiful. It may not be true but it has power. There is something there. The other way seems filthy. It is a trap. It is not honest. You are asked to accept a God so that you can be a better person. You are not asked to do so on any rational grounds. Beauty is a rational ground for accepting something. Self-care is not. 

I know that I do not live in a stable way. I procrastinate and fumble. I expect too much of myself and achieve too little. I think outside of myself no longer because I love the external world but because I chose a discipline that requires focus and I want to avoid it. I think this book can help me with that. But I also think it is just like Toastmasters. I recognise it as something that might be destructive and as such embrace it. I do not like myself and hope that if I become another person that person will like themselves better. This is both disturbing and strange. Disturbing because it sounds like mental suicide. Strange because I am really a very interesting person. 

I see that there is value in this book, and the cover is also very pretty. I plan to find what is of value, and what is dangerous. What is of value I will keep for myself and what is dangerous I will post here. If I become brainwashed please send a troop of flying monkeys to rescue me.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Subtlety of thought

The Philosophy Student Union holds semi-formal Cafés. Professors come to talk to us about interests and we talk amongst ourselves about philosophy. I am quiet. I do not have much to say. I do not understand what I am learning like the others do. I do not wish to make a fool of myself.

Last year a law student came to visit us. He graduated with a BA in philosophy a few years back. I listened to him talk with the fourth year honours students.

'It seems like, once you've done four years you're done,' he said.

The student agreed. 'You get a view of the subject matter and it doesn't really seem like there is much more to learn or much further to go.'

The law student was pleased to meet this agreement and they continued their discussion for some time. 'Well, there's a lot of reading but I can pretty much guess where it is all going. A few details wrong but I feel like I understand the field now.'


I talked with my tall friend after that. Neither of us felt as if we could understand philosophy like these bright people. We are both slightly incompetent. We are can never read enough. Is that why he is a law student and I am not? Is this man only a few years older then me really brilliant?

I have felt the way those two felt. I have felt as if philosophy as it is seen now is rather empty. I do not wish to spend my career picking apart one passage in one book. That is not important. It cannot be the goal of a whole life because if the passage is really that troublesome it should be discussed by everyone always until answers can be found. If it is left only to one person who only works on that one little difficulty there will be no imagination left.

I am now a fourth year honours student and I still do not understand what philosophy is, but I have a much better idea then last year. A year full of friends and study groups and excitement for my chosen discipline have brought me into the stream.

I can see the clear path set out for me. I can see the methods with which to discover new ideas. I know I must follow these methods if I wish to make a usable contribution, but sometimes I let my mind wander a bit.

We discussed the use of intuitions in philosophy. Intuitions are our means of communication. We confirm that people agree with us about the world in order to continue safely along the path, for philosophers are ever tempted by willow-wisps and sometimes mistake the light of a kitchen window for the light of truth. The trouble is research is being done on intuitions which shows that the way each person thinks can be much different and much less clear then formerly expected.

I do not see this as a problem because I believe intuitions exist to prevent our audience from becoming lost, but this is not what they are used for. Intuitions are used in the place of evidence, and this can be problematic.

For example, if you ask someone to think of a horse there will be huge variation. One person thinks of an experience, one of a brown horse they have never seen, one of a drawing, one of a feeling.

We think we are communicating and we get this!

The world is very complex. The portion of it we use and discuss and understand is only a portion. There are vast lands we do not know of or do not discuss because it is difficult or because they simple do not interest us, or because the difference between what we see as real and what can be seen as real is so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable. It is like think of the South Pole or discussing China. There is a great deal to discuss when we sit down and begin to speak of it, but these places do not enter into our geography in the same way that other places do.