17 November 2015


Somehow I ended up borrowing A Fine Balance and two dense philosophy books (Human, All Too Human and The Life of the Mind) at the same time. Needless to say I won't be finishing all three before their due date. I did read one or two chapters of each, and decided to attempt to read through The Life of the Mind simply because it's the last of the three that I began reading.

But here's a quotation from the very beginning of A Fine Balance.
What was the point of repeating the story over and over and over, she asked herself - it always ended the same way; whichever corridor she took, she wound up in the same room.
Mark my words, I will read this eventually! (full disclosure: I have been telling myself this since grade 12 English when it was on the IRP list for the enriched class)

Onto The Life of the Mind.
In short, I haven't put this much effort into comprehending a text since...grade 12 English haha, specifically that "Prufrock" poem. I remember so clearly sitting in the Starbucks at a now-closed location of Indigo reading and re-reading that poem for 3 hours because a bunch of us finished visiting the university fair early and was waiting for others to eat dinner together.
I digress.

I discovered this book from the weekly Brain Pickings newsletter. It goes to show her skill of writing and thought because I understood that article without much trouble. This is not the case when I actually read the book, I am barely following along. Mostly because I have zero philosophical background and thus don't understand the intended meaning of most words. For example, "real" vs "reality", are the same concept to me yet I'm sure there is a distinction. Below are some passages that made sense to me, they are from the first section "Appearance" of the first volume "Thinking" (aka I got through 80 pages in like 4 hours):

Whatever the motives may be, success and failures in the enterprise of self-presentation depend on the consistency and duration of the image thereby presented to the world.
aye aye.

Self-presentation is distinguished from self-display by the active and conscious choice of the image shown; self-display has no choice but to show whatever properties a living being possesses. [...] Only self-presentation is open to hypocrisy and pretense, properly speaking, and the only way to tell pretense and make-believe from reality and truth is the former's failure to endure and remain consistent. [...] It has been said that hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue, but that is not quite true. All virtue begins with a compliment paid to it, by which I express my being pleased with it. The compliment implies a promise to the world, to those whom I appear, to act in accordance with my pleasure, and it is the breaking of the implied promise that characterized hypocrisy.

-and men and animals both possess an innate ability to manipulate appearance for the sake of deception. [...] But what then appears under a deceptive surface is not an inside self, an authentic appearance, changeless and reliable in its thereness. [...] An "inside self", if it exist at all, never appears to either the inner or the outward sense, since none of the inner data possess stable, relatively permanent features which, by being recognizable and identifiable, characterizes individual appearance. "No fixed and abiding self can present itself in this flux of inner appearances," as Kant observed repeatedly. [...]
Emotions and "inner sensations" are "unworldly" in that they lack the chief worldly property of "standing still and remaining" at least long enough to be clearly perceived - and not merely sensed [...] It is precisely the absence of form and hence of any possibility of intuition that characterizes out experiences of inner sensations. In inner experience, the only thing to hold onto, to distinguish something at least resembling reality from the incessantly passing moods of it psyche, is persistent repetition.
Intuition, another word that I struggled with the meaning of. I can't even easily look up the meaning of such words since the dictionary usually provides the non-technical meaning...or in the case of verity (used in the book in the context of truth turned into verities), the dictionary defined it as "a true principle or belief, especially one of fundamental importance." gee thanks.
"what I as mind think is not remembered by me as man, and, conversely, my actual state as man does not enter my notion of myself as mind." [... Kant] compares the state of the thinking ego to the state of sound sleep "when the external senses are completely at rest." The ideas in sleep, he suspects, "may be clearer and. Trader than the very clearest in the waking state," precisely because "man, at such times, is not sensible of his body." And of these ideas, on waking up, we remember nothing.
It is characteristic of the Oxford school of philosophy to understand these fallacies as logical non-sequiturs - as though philosophers throughout the centuries had been, for reasons unknown, just a bit too stupid to discover the elementary flaws in their arguments. The truth of the matter is that elementary logical mistakes are quite rare in the history of philosophy; what appears to be errors in logic to minds disencumbered of questions that have been uncritically dismissed as "meaningless" are usually caused by semblances, unavoidable for beings whose whole existence is determined by appearance. Hence in our context the only relevant question is whether the semblances are inauthentic or authentic ones, whether they are caused by dogmatic beliefs and arbitrary assumptions, mere mirages that disappear upon closer inspection, or whether they are inherent in the paradoxical condition of a living being that, through itself part of the world of appearances, is in possession of a faculty, the ability to think, that permits the mind to withdraw from the world without ever being able to leave it or transcend it. 

In a world of appearances, filled with error and semblances, reality is guaranteed by this three-fold commonness: the five senses, utterly different from each other, have the same object in common; members of the same species have the context in common that endows every single object with its particular meaning; and all other sense-endowed beings, though perceiving this object from utterly different perspectives, agree on its identity. Out of this threefold commonness arises the sensation of reality.
The sixth sense's corresponding worldly property is realness, and the difficulty with this property is that it cannot be perceived like other sensory properties. The sense of realness is not a sensation strictly speaking, [...] for the "sensation" of reality, of sheer thereness, relate to the context in which we ourselves as appearance exist among other appearing creatures. [...] whereas realness is akin to sensation; a feeling of realness (or irreality) actually accompanies all the sensations of my senses, which without it would not make "sense".
haha I like the word play (or at least to me is word play) in the last paragraph. It wouldn't look out of place in Alice in Wonderland.

The faculty of thinking, however, which Kant, as we have seen, called Vernunft (reason) to distinguish it from Verstand (intellect), the faculty of cognition, is if an altogether different nature. [...] the intellect (Verstand) desires to grasp what is given to the senses, but reason (Vernunft) wishes to understand its meaning. Cognition, whose highest criteria is truth, derives that criterion from the world of appearances in which we take our bearings through sense perceptions, whose testimony is self-evident, that is, unshakable by argument and replaceable only by another evidence. [...] truth is located in the evidence of the senses. But that is by no means the case for meaning and with the faculty of thought, which searched for it; the latter does not ask what something is or whether it is exists at all - its existence is always taken for granted - but what it means for it to be.

Even the relentlessness of modern science's Progress, which constantly corrects itself by discarding the answers and reform imaging the questions, does not contradict science's basic goal - to see and to know the world as is given to the senses - and yet concept of truth is derived from the common-sense experience of irrefutable evidence, which dispels error and illusion. But the questions raised by thinking and which it is in reason's very nature to raise - questions of meaning - are all unanswerable by common sense and the refinement of it we call science. The quest for meaning is "meaningless" to common sense and common-sense reasoning because it is the sixth sense's function to fit us into the world of appearances and make us at home in the world given by out five senses; there we are and no questions asked.
I was unnecessarily happy when a concept I was actually familiar with (progress) came up. Thank you Vanderburg.

What science and the quest for knowledge are after is irrefutable truth, that us, propositions human beings are not free to reject - they are compelling. They are of two kinds [...]: truths of reasoning and truths of fact. The main distinction between the lies in the degree of their force of compulsion: the truths of "Reasoning are necessary and their opposite is impossible" while "those of Fact are contingent and their opposite is possible." [...] Truths of fact, their contingency notwithstanding, are as compelling for anybody witnessing them with his own eyes as the proposition that two and two make four is for anybody in his right mind. The point is only that a fact, an event, can never be witnessed by everyone who may want to know about it, whereas rational or mathematical truths presents itself as self-evident to everyone endowed with the same brain power; it's compelling nature is universal, while the compelling force it factual truth is limited; it does not reach those who, not having been witness, have to rely on the testimony of others, whom one may or may not believe. The true opposite of factual, as distinguished from rational, truth is not error or illusion but the deliberate lie.

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