1 — Introduction
Putting forth the question of analyzing the efficacious existence of Unicorns may seem from the onset as a futile exercise in sophistry Continue reading “A Philosophical Examination into the Existence of Unicorns”
1 — Introduction
Putting forth the question of analyzing the efficacious existence of Unicorns may seem from the onset as a futile exercise in sophistry Continue reading “A Philosophical Examination into the Existence of Unicorns”
On September 15th, 2016, less than two months until the U.S. presidential election, the New York Times posted an opinion editorial titled When a Crackpot Runs for President, which asked — or, rather, fervently challenged — if the media is failing in their duties to honestly frame the narrative of Donald Trump relative to Hillary Clinton (Kristof 2016). The looming subtext that lies in the shadow of the left-right rhetorical jabs of framing Trump as the climate-change-denying-crackpot is: What happen to reason? Hegel once proclaimed, “reason rules the world” (Hegel 12) and in light of that we can look at the reasonable efficacy of Trump’s limelight-laden candidacy as representing either a challenge to the governing authority of Reason or, with heavy hand, a challenge to the Hegelian proposition, eo ipso, as wholly and fallaciously false. The staunchly attentive run-of-the-mill liberal response to the aforementioned inquiry would surely go as the New York Times opines and see Trump as a challenge to reason and definitely not a challenge to Hegel. And, notwithstanding that opinion and Trump’s fascist underpinning, the devout Hegelian may see Trump as a personification of Reason’s antithesis and will remain woefully idealistic and await the dialectical resolve as Reason acquiesces itself as being both in itself and for itself — there is a Reason for everything, even Trump. With that, and that, said, the purpose of this reflection is not to echo the persistent opinion that Trump is a threat to reason, nor is it to rescue Hegel by reveling in the ignorant veil of the known-unknown of Absolute Spirit, but, rather I ask, is Trump a challenge to Hegel? Continue reading “Trump in the Shadow of the Hegelian Ego”
1— the Coyote
In 1949 the LooneyTunes animation studio released the first episode of a long series that is casually referred to as, The Coyote and the Road Runner. This cartoon series had a formulaic plot that was repeated throughout every episode and the plot primarily unfolded as follows:
The purpose of this paper is to analyze the methods implemented by the Coyote through the eyes of Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper as both a means of explicating their theories, in addition to being a conduit for analyzing their methods against each other. I will then conclude by positing a reconciliation of their two methods that may have been outside of the scope and intent of both Kuhn and Popper, but notwithstanding their own respective systems of belief, it could be seen as adequate dialectical compromise between the two extremes of dogmatism and critical analysis.
2— Popper and the Coyote
Popper’s theory of science begins with a hypothesis, or rather, “tentative theory” that must first be a conjecture and capable of falsification and secondly, after being tested it is either corroborate or refute. Popper believed that criticism is born of rationalism, or as he states, “rationalism is an attitude of readiness to listen to critical arguments…” (Popper, OSAIE, Vol 2, p. 249). In other words, Popper in light of recognizing that theory corroboration is possible, the objective of a rational (and critical) scientists is to refute. The Coyote never corroborates a theory and, in fact, all of his hypotheses are falsified in some way. Is this to say that according to Popper we can say that the Coyote was acting in accordance with how science functions?
Through analysis of the many Coyote experiments we can see that the experiments failed in one of two ways (or a combination): either the experiment itself failed or, the roadrunner foiled the plan. If the telos of Popper’s theory is to assume that through a process of conjecture and refutation the scientist would perpetually and positively progress in some way, as you continue to retool (to use the Kuhn word), then we would have to think that the Coyote would learn from his failings and progress in some sense. The Coyote does not progress.
We could argue that the failings of the Coyote are not because he failed to progress and/or learn from this failings, but more that he lacked what Popper calls “dogmatism,” which is a rather poor word choice as his explanation makes it seem like he intended to mean studiousness (or diligence), as he is referring to a studious work ethic and not claiming that scientists should adhere to a set of dogmatic beliefs. This poor word choice becomes more apparent in Popper’s criticism of Kuhn by arguing that dogmatic scientists are “victims of indoctrination” (Rowbottom, P. 118). Popper states that “dogmatism allows us to approach a good theory in stages…” and we shouldn’t “…accept defeat to easily…” (Popper, C&R, p.4) and, with this in mind, we could say that the Coyote failed because he only tested each experiment once. It would have been better science (according to Popper) if he had tested different elements of a single hypothesis in stages and not given up so quick and worked towards perfecting the experiment in the process of trying to refute it. Or, put simply, if the objective was mere falsification then one could easily ‘straw man’ all their experiments to act in accordance to science— this would serve no purpose in advancing science.
To be sympathetic to our Coyote friend we could give credence to the Roadrunners foiling capacity to show why the Coyote perpetually failed at his goal at hand. In the essay The Logic and Evolution of Scientific Theory Popper uses evolution theory to illustrate his scientific methods: an Amoeba implicitly has a hypothesis for life and if it dies: death is falsification of said theory; and if it lives (due to some adaptive trait): life is confirmation of said theory (Popper, ALIPS, pp. 3-22). Maybe things are that simple in the isolated thought experiment of the Amoeba with a non-evolving environment. But, this is not the case with the Coyote, as a large component of his experiments is another living being with agency, who can also evolve. In an article published in 2005 by K. Brad Wray this point is succinctly illustrated by showing that the cheetah evolved over time to be faster in order to catch the Gazelle, however, concurrently, the Gazelle evolved to outrun the Cheetah (Wray,48). Although Wray uses this to argue why science is not progressive, it is a good example to help argue that perhaps the Coyote failed because his ability to advance conjectures evolved in tandem to the Roadrunners ability to advance competing conjectures. The two-species evolving model is similar — as Wray claims — to social sciences, insofar as a psychologist can interact with their patient and adversely affect the scientific process.
Popper considers psychology and political theories (such as Marxism) as pseudo-science because their conjectures cannot be tested in the same way that you can test harder sciences like physics (Smith, 71) and in this regard, Popper, I posit, would consider the Coyote as falling victim to pseudo-science as there is no way to soundly and probabilistically test the Coyote’s experiments in isolation with the dynamic variable of the Roadrunner always in play. In conclusion I would argue that Popper would say the Coyote failed first by not attempting to test the experiments in a controlled (non-roadrunner) environment and secondly failed by failing to adhere to “some dogmatism” that would enlighten the Coyote on “where the real power of [his] theories lie(s).” (Popper, NSD, p.55)
3 — Kuhn and the Coyote
Kuhn’s theory of science is significantly more complicated than Popper’s as Kuhn argues for two different scientific modalities that he denotes as “normal science” and “scientific revolutions”. For the purpose of our examination we will only be reviewing the modality of “normal science”, this is not to say that our Coyote does not have revolutionary potential, but is merely because examining a revolution can only be done by examining a larger dataset. Kuhn argues that scientists work within a paradigm, which can be defined as a set of methods, theories, standards and assumptions that a specific group of scientists operate within. We could say that the Coyote is working in the animal trapping paradigm or, maybe, the RoadRunner trapping paradigm. The Coyote then would be perceived (by Kuhn) as merely a puzzle-solver who is diligently working towards solving many menial tasks within his paradigm to help solve the fine details of the paradigm. Can we simply conclude that the Coyote is a tinkering normal scientist operating within the parameters of his paradigm? If this is so, then we must conclude that the Coyote is acting in accordance to how science functions.
We can yet again be sympathetic to our Coyote friend and assume (for whatever reason) that his paradigm dictates that Roadrunner Trapping must be done with an elaborate plan and that it also operates with the assumption that Roadrunner trapping is efficacious. If we accept the methods, standards and assumptions of the Coyote as being part of his paradigm, then perhaps he is operating in normal science and if this is true then he is utterly failing at his puzzle-solving, which may indicate that the Coyote is beginning to or is going through what Kuhn calls a “crisis”.
A crisis is when scientists within a paradigm begin to experience that their assumptions (for whatever reason) no longer hold true or are hindering their process to solve puzzles. Kuhn fails to denote the parameters and/or any timeline to how/when this occurs within any given paradigm — although he is criticized for being vague on this issue — and, any attempt to formulaically predict a timeline — barring a historical qualitative analysis of the temporal factors of science — would be purely speculation. With that said, time is a variable we must disregard and since our dataset only includes one scientist, we could assert that the Coyote is in crisis and is dogmatically adhering to the assumption that Roadrunner trapping is efficacious. Although the state of crisis may in time help bring upon yet another paradigm with a whole new set of methods, standards and assumptions to bring the Coyote back to puzzle-solving bliss.
We could conclude from this that if we are being sympathetic to the Coyote we can assume he is in a state of crisis and properly operating within his paradigm in normal science. Conversely, if this was not the case, then without any evidence to showcase that he can solve puzzles we have to either conclude that either Kuhn’s system is wrong, or simply that the Coyote is a very poor scientist. Although, Kuhn does specifically note that it is reasonable that when a scientist is in a “prolonged crisis” it “probably reflect[s]…a less rigid educational practice” (Kuhn, 166), or, in other words, its very probable that the Coyote is just a poor scientist. So is it Kuhn or the Coyote that failed? The latter is most likely the case.
4— Kuhn and the Popper
In 1965 at the International Colloquium of the philosophy of science in London “Pearce Williams put forth the idea that Kuhn’s system is based on what scientists do, whereas Popper’s system is concerned with what scientists ought to do (but do not)” (Zollinger, 517-518). Is it that simple? Is Kuhn illustrating a descriptive theory while Popper is advancing a normative theory?
First to critique Popper, as Williams states, even if science ought to act like Popper posits, they do not. It would seem that from the breadth of historical evidence advanced by Kuhn that it would be easy to say that Popper may have had an interesting normative theory of how science should work but to argue that it reflects actual science is, ipso facto, false. This leads us to the question of why? If the difference between these two theories is — in actu — that black and white then I will try to explicate why this is the case.
Heinrich Zollinger argues through a case-study on chemistry — of which is irrelevant to our discussion — that Popper’s theory “exploited [perhaps naively] the logical asymmetry between corroboration and refutation”; which is to say from a psycholinguistic perspective there is a “psychological barrier” in the “mental process” that limits (prevents) one from the act of negation (Zollinger, 526). This concept is succinctly explicated by Francis Bacon in stating that “…human understanding when it has adopted an opinion…draws all things else to support and agree with it.” Or, in other words, Popper fails to recognize that theory corroboration cannot exist without theory falsification and vice versa. So perhaps it would be ideal for scientists to accept a skeptic approach that is driven from only a desire to falsify and never accept any ideas as true (or certain), but, as stated earlier, this view may not have any efficacy in reality and perhaps may run against the grain of human understanding.
Kuhn, on the other hand, I would like to say is dichotomously juxtaposed to Popper, which would allow me to argue the opposite argument— that Kuhn is failing to recognize the relationship that refutation is interrelated to corroboration, but, that is not the case. Kuhn, as it seems, is not making epistemological claims nor is he making metaphysical claims. He is merely, through historical analysis of science, illustrating the process of how science functions and notes that science progress does not imply progression towards anything, nor does all science develop through intention or through some bold forward thinking conjecture. Scientists function in response to their predecessors and not by conjecturing an idea to a progressive future state. And sometimes this happens from the product of accident and error. We could say, perhaps, that Kuhn is a pragmatist and dismisses epistemological and metaphysical apriorisms as invalid or merely unnecessary to his project. This, in contradistinction to Popper, who advances the bold conjecture that science can (or does) function idealistically towards a positive progression — not necessarily progressing towards anything; but, positive, nonetheless.
5 — Can we reconcile?
Centuries before both Kuhn, Popper and Sir Francis Bacon, Spinoza, in a letter, inscribed the latin expression omnis determinatio est negatio, which translates as every determination is negation. This simple idea that we cannot determine anything independent of its negation and vice versa became greatly exploited by Hegel as the master/slave dialect and the cornerstone to his project in whole. I preface my reconciliation with this further expansion of the previously inscribed critique of Popper to segue towards a reconciliation inspired/suggested by Hegel.
In a paper written by Darrell P. Rowbottom in 2011 he argues to reconcile Kuhn and Popper by arguing for a “resolution on the group level” which argues that within any given paradigm you are going to have individual scientists who dogmatically work towards a particular solution to a puzzle while another may work on a contradicting approach to the same puzzle and in some regard we could say that a group of scientists as an amalgam of collective processes function as Popper argues (Rowbottom, 123). This interesting interpretation (and sympathetic) view of Popper I think does not go far enough in trying to reconcile the two theories. If we expand this further and try to view Popper’s theories through a broad lens of history we argue perhaps that one paradigm advances a conjecture implicit in the assumptions they assert and it is the eventual crisis that serves to finally falsify their conjecture, ad infinitum.
This macroscopic interpretation of Popper could be perceived as akin to Hegel’s theory of history— history is a perpetual process of “unfolding truth” that cannot be independently assessed in any single moment of time nor can any individual moment in time be used towards alluding to comprehension of progress of the past/future in the particular or in the universal (Hegel, ENC, Vol. 1 §140A)(Hegel, POS, §2, 4) — and it stands to reason that if we accept Hegel and presume that scientific discovery will unfold as Hegel argues then it stands to reason that both Popper and Kuhn would fail at comprehending the particulars and universals of scientific progress. Leaving us with a theory reasoned in logic and the limits of induction (Popper) and a theory reasoned in an assessment of history (Kuhn), but both seem to be incomplete or missing something. A scientist would most likely act with disdain towards Kuhn’s pragmatic and humble approach, and, conversely, pridefully accept Popper’s idealistic approach. What is missing?
From Hegel’s view of history we can argue that without Newton, there is no Einstein; without Darwin there is no Dawkins; without Freud there is no Deleuze; without Popper there is no Kuhn and without Spinoza, there is no Hegel. And, moreover, without everything that was before everything that is now: there is nothing. That is to say, scientists may loath at being reduced to Kuhn’s model, but perhaps it is Popper who helps insert spirit into the scientific process and give hope towards something anew. Or as, Popper states, “I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to truth” (Popper, OSAIE, Vol. II p.249) and along the way towards this nearing of truth we find humility in Kuhn, idealism in Popper and in our Coyote friend— we find humor. As any given scientist, philosopher and/or human when assessed as an isolated individual are not necessarily spectacular, but when all combined as one collective unit of humanity we find spirit as either an encapsulation of the process in of itself, or as the transcendental totality of all that is.
Or, in short, to reconcile Kuhn and Popper is to not to say that one in isolation is right or wrong or that combined they become something superior, but it is to persist that they do not explicate scientific progress, but rather they are part of scientific progress and without them both this investigation need not exist.
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, and Arnold V. Miller. Phenomenology of Spirit (POS). Oxford England: Clarendon, 1977. Print.
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, and Klaus Brinkmann. Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Basic Outline (ENC). Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.
Melamed, Yitzhak Y. Spinoza and German Idealism. Cambridge [England: Cambridge UP, 2012. Print.
Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1970. Print.
Popper, Karl R. All Life Is Problem Solving (ALIPS). London: Routledge, 1999. Print.
Popper, Karl R. Conjectures and Refutations (C&R); the Growth of Scientific Knowledge,. New York: Basic, 1962. Print.
Popper, Karl, R. Normal Science and its Dangers (NSD), In Lakatos & Musgrave, 1970, (pp-51-58)
Popper, Karl R. The Open Society and Its Enemies (OSAIE),. [5th ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1966. Print.
Rowbottom, Darrell P. Kuhn vs. Popper on Criticism and Dogmatism in Science: A Resolution at the Group Level. 2011. Print.
Smith, Peter. Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2003. Print.
The Coyote and the Road Runner, (1949), Warner Brothers, Burbank, California
Wray, K. Brad. “Does Science Have a Moving Target?” American Philosophical Quarterly 42.1 (2005): 47-58. Print.
Zollinger, Heinrich. “Logic and Psychology of Scientific Discoveries: A Case Study in Contemporary Chemistry.” Perspectives on SCience 5.4 (1999): 516-32. Print.
[i] Translated from latin as the common meat-eater, this was used in the first episode of the cartoon to describe The Coyote. Vulgaris as ‘common’ connotes that the Coyote is ordinary and not spectacular. Contrary to the Coyote’s self-proclamation of being a “genius” — irony to ensue.
[ii] Translated from latin as Every determination is negation, this was coined in a letter by Spinoza on June 2nd 1674. This could be argued to have had a substantial influence on Hegel’s master/slave dialect — although Hegel never granted any credit to any such influence. (Melamed, 175-196)
The purpose of this paper is analyze our (human) relationship to the non-human universe and how our relationship adversely impacts the environment around us; and, from this, where does this relationship come from and, more importantly, where are we going with it? As part of this process I will contrast two different metaphysical views: the metaphysics of Emmanuel Kant and object-oriented-ontology as rendered by the disciples of Alfred Whiteheads process philosophy. Continue reading “The Synthetic Negation of Human Progress”
As Freud would see me, I am either in a pendulum swing towards neurosis, in which I am repressing my desires in order to acquiesce to the real, or I am swinging towards psychosis and actualizing my desires, notwithstanding the real. Am I sitting in the midst of a straight line, a vector, in which I can swing one way or another? Or, rather am I a vertex of a triangle and I can choose either one path or the other, notwithstanding that my departure only brings me closer to the opposing extremity.
Either I am destined to feel a lack for not actualizing my desires, or I feel a lack from disengaging from the real. Or, I can remain at the tip of the triangle and feel the partial lack and a repression of both my Id and Superego…what am I to do with this Lack? “On the one hand [I am] the desiring machine and on the other hand [I am] the Oedipal-narcissistic machine.” [i] But, nonetheless, a machine? Freud would go further to say that this desire, this lack, was deeply entrenched within my unconscious mind and it is a human condition— a constant, as evidential in mythology and his observation. Is this so? Am I so transparent and just a Zombie crawling through life in search of reconciling my desires to the desires of the collective in a process that serves at nothing but to be a yo-yo that coils and recoils, ad infinitum, and at every metaphorical X,Y coordinate I desire the opposite, the non-self, the other. My object petit a is merely everything that is not me at every moment in time— petulant desires, perpetual lack and, subsequently, perpetual neurosis and psychosis. I am the tripartite. I am screwed.
Daddy is the train, and mommy is the station. I sit within the circular course and thrust the train around, and around— in and out of the station/mommy.[ii] Over and over and over and over and over and over, oh wait— Does this make me God? Zarathustra swoons!
Does not the young Siddhartha lament near a riverbed at the sight of his own reflection[iii] and ponder what can only be seen as the same? Is it I that is truly attached to desiring, or is it the world that asserts this upon me, of which I can’t decipher as my reflection, although rippled and cloudy, is me and in the process of becoming— I am, I was and I will be. Is one of these incarnations of me incomplete, is there a lack, of which drives me to desire and be. Can I discover the moment in time where my reflection becomes I, and I become it and I reconcile and negate— the positive one, upon the negative one, that balances to none. My authenticity, alas, I have negated to nothing and like a cracker-jack box filled with the void, the nothingness, I discover the prize, my Dasein.[iv] But, you know, Heidegger be damned, this was all just a joke. As if Dasein is true, it can only exist, logically so, in two possible modes: either there is a lack that, from pure petulance we desire and, hence, desire qua desire and henceforth my desire is an infinite regression of vacillating desire and Dasein is merely an illusion, a dream— analogous to Wittgenstein illustrating that a finite perspective will always be perceived as infinite[v]; or, rather, there is no lack and henceforth there is no reconciliation needed and we all achieved Dasein by merely thinking ourselves into existence— Descarte for the win!
Who is, as they say, the prankster? Who found the lack and sent Heidegger down the rabbit hole in search of a finite replacement for the infinite void— comically this could be envisaged as chasing your own shadow in a room without light.
As a child I persistently played with trains, as to foreshadow my career as a train engineer— but, now, as my life spins in chaos the analyst tells me that my desire to play with trains had nothing to do with my proclivity towards the mechanical, but rather my unconscious proclivity towards my Oedipal desire— I situate within the tripartite as I lust for my mother and despise my father. Like a tether ball I swing around and around in search for solvency and only end up being wound up tightly in neurosis for a bit, then I retract and recoil and spin freely until wound up in psychosis. And Freud says this was in me the whole time. Voila! Now I know, now I see. I shall stand back and recognize this tethering ball and learn how to grab it, stop it, contain it, isolate it— alienate it? Existential crisis ensues.
But wait Sigmund? Is it possible in the possible of the possible that I just like trains and have a proclivity towards the mechanical? Is it possible that you did not discover my Oedipal desire, but rather created my Oedipal desire? As you said Mr. Freud, the malaise of the individual and the malaise of society run hand in hand, if this is so, how would we ever know if it is Siddhartha who sits upon the riverbed or is it Siddhartha who resides within the stream? What a cruel joke you played on Heidegger to make him spend 800 pages trying to solve such a riddle— as if it was possible to squeeze the universe back into the tiny little kernel of space it occupied before the Big Bang…
So regardless if Freud discovered or created the mode of lack-response, the lack, in of itself, remains the problem. But, how can a lack be? Does this not violate the law of partial objects? Is a donut complete, or is a donut a partial object that awaits the reconciliation of its lack— the donut hole? The only means of determining the completeness of the donut would be to know what donut is, in the ideal. Meaning, what is the true form of the donut? If it’s true form includes the hole, then it is whole and complete…no lack. But, how is this not just another paradox— is a donut defined by its definition or is the definition defined by the donut? Kant, to this accord, would argue that our capacity to know donut is forever and infinitely limited by our own mediation and what we see will never be real or true— the true donut lives in the noumenal and thing-in-itself will never be known[vi]. If this was so, then all things, all knowledge would include the lack— the delta between the thing-in-itself and the thing-in-which-I-see. But, just as Heidegger did, Kant injects us in to the dilemma between everything is real or nothing is real. Kant, as to perhaps avoid becoming God himself, removes the paradox by inviting all the metaphysics to a party and persists we can ask will the real pure reason, please stand up, please stand up. The bouncer, named Apriori, proceeds to boot the real pure reason out the door and, with that, alas, we know which metaphysics are reasonable and which are not— the line has been drawn. We shall be sensible and rely on our friend, Apriori, to maintain that divide. Although, I am rather perplexed, as to how reason can create Apriori, when we need Apriori to know Apriori in the first place, unless of course, as Kant argues— Apriori was born of a miraculous conception, and the only way we can really know this is by existing without existence, or knowing without any knowing— or, simply because Kant said so.
For those at home keeping score:
Freud discovered the lack in our unconscious.
Kant discovered the lack through reason.
Heidegger, as punch line, searches for this lack in his own shadow.
And me, the neurotic/psychotic train engineer, is still in malaise, as is the world around me.
Deleuze, as it were, would say that Mr. Freud did not discover the lack in the unconscious mind, but rather, discovered the conscious mind reflecting the lack that is necessary within the desiring-machine of what is capitalism. As, supply and demand would dictate, if capitalism implicitly and tacitly claims our world is our oyster and we can create, for what its worth, infinite supply, will we not develop an infinite demand/desire? Although our supply, in actu, is not infinite, but as reasoned earlier by Wittgenstein our finite perspective will infinitely be perceived as infinite— so as far as we know it’s infinite and hence, our desire to demand shall know no limits. Our super-human strength is our infinite capacity to consume. Delouse, notwithstanding his partial objects argument, is arguing in a paradox that amounts to this….
10 / 1 = 10 > 1 * 10 = 10
But, then again, maybe the math is not as simple as we perceive. As Deleuze claims,
we no longer know if it is the process that must truly be called madness, the sickness being only disguise or caricature, or if the sickness is the madness and the process is the cure, [but] the more the process of production is led off course, brutally interrupted, the more the schizo-as-entity arises as specific product.[vii]
Maybe this whole essay, this whole thought, this whole meditation has been an exercise in futility, as life and philosophy cannot be expressed in such neat packages, but it is, conversely, rather incompatible and hence: irrational. If life is irrational, then it may be expressed as √-1 — an irrational number. Is the product of our persistent effort to solve this equation just creating an infinite string of non-whole numbers, fractions— incompletenesses. As Freud scratches his head in preponderance over the schizophrenic and induces that they most be animals[viii]— a body-without-organs, an inconsistent anomaly that does not desire, does not lack— a incomplete fraction of existence. But, perhaps the schizo, the hyper rational, the animal as it were, was a human functioning on pure Id, a human without ego. A human without the need to reconcile their desires, henceforth, the only true rationalist is the schizophrenic created by the irrational desire to make sense of our world.
Kant & Freud lament.
[i] Deleuze, Gilles, and Fe Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1983. Print. Page 124
[iii] Hesse, Hermann, and Hilda Rosner. Siddhartha. New York: New Directions, 2009. Print.
[iv] Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. New York: Harper, 1962. Print.
[v] Ek, Slavoj. Less than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. London: Verso, 2012. Print
[vi] Kant, Immanuel, and Norman Kemp Smith. Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Unabridged ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 1965. Print.
[vii] Deleuze, Gilles, and Fe Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1983. Print. Page 136
[viii] Ibid. Page 23
The storyline of the Coyote and the Roadrunner is pretty straight forward and, generally speaking, goes as follows:
As a viewer of this repetition of failure it seems to border on absurdity, as it seems obvious that the Coyote should eventually learn from his failures. However, I do not think the absurdity is rooted in his failure, but more in his lack of success. For example, if a rabbit wanders into a specific area of the forest in search for food and the discovery renders no food and the rabbit continues to show up every single day, after previous fails- this would be akin to the Coyote. However, if the rabbit found food in this spot every day for its entire life, and then after hundreds of successful trips, the food is gone. How many times will the rabbit return before it comes to the conclusion that food is no longer there? Is the rabbit no longer acting absurd, if it was previously successful?
Hypothesis: In area X there is food to eat.
Trial: Four hundred successful trials of hypothesis, followed by ten failed trials.
We would exhibit that the rabbit would eventually stop visiting area X in search of food and we would not consider the rabbit acting absurd. So in the case of the Coyote and the Roadrunner, it is only absurd because the coyote repeats a failed strategy in hopes of success without any past experience of success to illustrate that success is a reasonable outcome.
This behavior is also exhibited in humans:
I have heard lots of good things about a new restaurant that I want to try and all my friends are talking about how good it is. I decide to try it. Prior to eating at this place I have implicitly created the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis: I will enjoy eating at restaurant X
After eating at this restaurant there will be numerous possible outcomes, but for simplicity sake I will use only 3:
Option 1 matches my hypothesis and hence, my hypothesis is a success. Options 2 and 3 counter my hypothesis and will force me to refine my hypothesis to either 2 or 3. Since 2 borders between 1 and 3, it may require I retest my original hypothesis. If the outcome is 3 then I will revise to 3 and never eat there again. It would be absurd if I responded with 3, but then continued to eat there over and over again with perpetually repeated failures of my hypothesis.
A child that unfortunately grows up in a hostile home environment with parents who were constantly fighting will have a higher probability of being in a hostile relationship as either the abuser or abusee in their future relationships.
Hypothesis: A loving relationship is inclusive of physical or emotional abuse
Trials: an entire childhood of observed successful trials of hypothesis
Now, say our example identifies as the abusee and as an adult has a tendency to end up in relationships where he/she is abused. His/her friends who are aware of the abuse should challenge this hypothesis. Let’s put this example on the backburner for a moment.
Back to the rabbit:
As rabbits are prey to other animals the aforementioned hypothesis could also be seen as the following, as the rabbit must always consider its own safety:
Hypothesis: In area X there is food to eat and it is safe
This hypothesis is satisfied when there is both food and safety.
This hypothesis is falsified if there is not food or if it is unsafe (both are sufficient conditions for falsification). The rabbit will respond to a falsified hypothesis with (3) of the following possible outcomes:
If the rabbit reasons with 1, the rabbit will leave and never return, as the hypothesis has been revised.
If the rabbit reasons with 2 then the rabbit will either successfully fight (find food or destroy the threat) and hence the rabbit can reason that the original hypothesis is successful and depending on the difficulty of the fight the rabbit may or may not attempt another trial; or unsuccessfully fight, which will end in no food and/or death. But considering that animals rarely engage in fight unless they have a high chance of survival (a rabbit would not engage a coyote in a fight, but a rabbit may engage a mouse), then it is likely that the rabbit will return. If fighting has a low probability of success then the rabbit will flee, but if the flee option is not possible it will fight as a last resort. Fight is always a last resort, unless there is an obvious high probability of success.
If the rabbit reasons with 3 then the rabbit will run away and if rabbit runs away successfully the rabbit may or may not retry the hypothesis, dependent on the difficulty of the flee and the quantity of successful trials prior to this falsified trial.
If this happens to be the first trial, or the first time the rabbit sought food in area X then the rabbit would peer from the brush and see ‘no food’ and/or ‘threat’ and immediately leave. Hypothesis failed, hence hypothesis revised. The rabbit’s proclivity to fight/flight when the hypothesis is challenged is dependent on the quantity of previous success.
Back to the abusive relationship:
If his/her friends challenge the hypothesis “a loving relationship is inclusive of physical or emotional abuse” the abuser and abusee will both have a proclivity to fight/flight1 instead of merely revising their hypothesis. They will exhibit fight by arguing with the challenge and attempting to reason (rationalize) the abuse or they will exhibit flight by intentionally avoiding the friends who challenge the hypothesis. Like the rabbit, flight will be the natural tendency unless fight has a high probability of success.
The hypothesis of existence:
Upon birth every human becomes cognizant of their own existence, which is exhibited in their own consciousness. Or as Descarte claimed, the ability to think is proof of existence, in short: I think, therefore I am2. Our entire life we are testing the trial of the hypothesis: I AM. And each and everyday we live is a successful trial of the hypothesis of existence (I am). This makes death, in essence, a falsification of the hypothesis of I am. And unlike all other hypotheses, we are aware of this falsification before it happens- it is certain. Being aware of the looming falsification of the hypothesis of existence allows us to respond to the falsification in advance with the following: revision of hypothesis, fight or flight.
A person may fight the certainty of death and try to challenge it, or flight and avoid the question altogether. Like the rabbit, if successful engagement of fight seems improbable, then the rabbit will have a tendency to flight, and will only fight as a last resort. As exhibited in humans, children tend to act as they will live forever (flight) and risky behavior tends to continue through adolescence and slowly the proclivity to flight declines. It could even be argued that the desire to have children is a fight response to the falsification of the hypothesis I am, as it represents a challenge to death.
In the case of terminally ill patients, upon becoming more explicitly aware of the falsification of their existence they will go through the following process3:
Original hypothesis: I am
Revised hypothesis: I am, until I am not.
The Genesis of God:
Unlike the rabbit, humans have one supreme advantage: we have the ability to write down our hypotheses, trials and results. And more so, we can communicate them to other humans. We can learn from the mistakes/successes of other people. In the rabbit, most hypotheses that the rabbit makes always includes survival and the falsification of a hypothesis, which results in death, can’t be communicated to other rabbits, and even if rabbit survives, the rabbits (along with all animals) do not have the ability to communicate anywhere near the capacity of human communication- as humans can communicate through reading/writing/math5.
So humans, for the entire history of human existence, have tended with the ultimate hypothesis of I am. And just like humans are able to communicate and write down theories in math and science and continuously build off the success of their predecessors, as is the case with the hypothesis of I am. The notion of God and afterlife could be perceived as a revision of the hypothesis from I am, to I am, forever. A fortiori, the hypothesis: life is meaningless becomes (with god) life has meaning.
This revised hypothesis is written down and is taught and transferred from generation to generation as a revision to the previous hypothesis, which will ultimately be falsified. The revised hypothesis is incapable of falsification by design and because of this, it will be promoted as a viable revision to the hypothesis of existence indefinitely.
Alas, God is a theory for the hypothesis of existence- a theory that cannot be proved or disproved. As the Coyote tries and fails over and over to the point of absurdity, as do humans persist on accepting a theory without evidence on the sole notion that “I am, forever” feels better than “I am, until I am not”. This may be true, but feelings do not prove theories.
As is the case with plants, animals and humans alike:
I am, until I am not.
1 Fight/flight could also be perceived as an aggressive/passive response from the ego as a defense mechanism to protect oneself from harm and is innate to nature.
2 Descartes, Rene. Discourse on the method of rightly conducting the reason, and seeking truth in the sciences. Raleigh, N.C.: Alex Catalogue, 199. Print.
3 Ross, Elisabeth. On death and dying. New York: Macmillan, 1969. Print.
4 The parenthetical notes to the Five Stages of Grief are my own comments and not the ideas of Elisabeth Ross.
5 Popper, Karl R.. All life is problem solving. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.
Part 1, Escape
All of this started several Sundays ago while I was minding my own business and doing my normal Sunday things. I woke up, made coffee, took the dog for a walk and then took a nice long shower. But afterward, I went back to bed, as I was feeling especially lazy and rather introspective about life. I lay in bed with the ceiling fan zipping away, on a warm summer-day in California. I am not sure if it was the heat, or the fan, or my contemplation and introspective mood, but I felt besieged by a trance-like state. I was mind altered. At some point my eyes-closed, but I don’t recall how or when. I did not fall asleep- I just floated away.
I felt this sensation of absolute nothingness, just me in essence without form or thought. It was like I found some void that existed in between wake and sleep- like a perpetual state of blink. Then, I felt a release, like whatever was pulling me into the realm of the transcendence released my soul back into my control, and from this, I opened my eyes.
I was floating over my own body, looking down- I looked very peaceful and resolved, this image was rather soothing and I hope I remember this. I felt like a balloon that had been released and I was slowly floating up; facing down and watching my body become smaller. I floated right through my ceiling and right into the sky. Kept going up and up and up. The weird part was for some reason I could see everything, even though I couldn’t see it. Like, I could still see my sleeping body lying in bed, with an occasional turn and twist. I could not actually see this, but I knew it to be true. I could see my dog starring out the back window, watching the birds scavenge for food. I can see freeways full of busy cars speeding around. I can see people, so many people, doing so many things. So much activity and I can see it all, hear it all. I am suddenly capable of viewing the entire world and everything it does, at the exact same time…I keep rising and I keep seeing more. I am thousands of feet up now, and now I see all the land and the oceans. I see all the animals of the sea, swimming and fighting for food and shelter. I see birds flying everywhere, some of them right next to me. I see clouds and rain. I see a storm in Colorado and a tropical storm in the gulf of Mexico- just a little one.
I start to notice that things are beginning to move faster, as I get higher in the atmosphere. Only seconds have past to me, but I have witnessed my dog get old and die. Seasons are coming and going constantly. The earth spins around the sun with brilliant celestial intensity, almost like it’s being flung around, like a child’s toy. Time seems to continue to speed up more and more, I have no idea what year it is now, but it seems like centuries have past. Everybody is wearing much different clothes, and everything looks odd and strange, cars are flying about and I can’t even understand the language everyone’s speaking, but I get what they’re sayin. I am now close to leaving the atmosphere altogether- I feel my body become warm, as I am about to leave earth. By this point it seems that every second to me is a thousand years on earth, and for some reason, I can still see every person and every action with absolute clarity.
In this perspective I start to see patterns: patterns of pain and death. Patterns of disease and pandemics. Patterns of war, genocide and atrocities. Climate patterns, earthquake patterns, volcanic patterns and even patterns within the patterns. There is a point when everything starts over and the entire song plays over again, each note represents a thousands years of existence and this song is on repeat. Every human life is the same as every non-human life. Birth, death, nothingness and repeat. – the cycle keeps going. I am high enough now that I can see comets and planets flying by all over- and I keep floating away.
I am now trying to understand and contemplate everything I see and try to make sense of it. I am now significantly outside of our galaxy, looking in, and I can still see earth and all she holds in full clarity. I have seen my dog die and be reborn several thousand times already. I have seen every birth and every death, over and over. Time seems to be this circle of perpetual nothingness, and there does not seem to be a point or an end, or a beginning at that. I have seen the same wars fought thousands of times over and it always ends the same. I have seen the earth warm and cool over and over. I have seen the creation and destruction of empires, and the perpetual cycles of evolution.
Time is now moving so fast that each cycle of existence seems to be equal to one rotation of my ceiling fan, which, I can still see. It spins over my sleeping body as I lay in peace, dreaming of the universe. I wonder what all this means, perhaps the meaning of the universe is, that there is no meaning. There is no heaven or hell, or souls, or anything. It’s just a big perpetual cycle of nothingness- forever and ever. As far as I am concerned, I am a universe to myself and everything that floats around me is nothing. I am nothing to myself, except myself and only myself. Everything I have known before this dream is an illusion. Morality, nationalism, God, society, culture, language, life and death-everything- it’s all one big fucking illusion. There is only one thing I know for sure. I am me, and I am nothing.
Part 2, Release
I have been floating for millions of years and to be honest, I have no idea how much time has really passed in my real life. I have become rather lonely out here in space and the notion of nothingness is depressing. At any moment I will wake up from my slumber and I will remember this dream, and then what. How do I proceed in life knowing all of this now? How can I find any motivation to wake up, to eat, to work, to love- to live? I suppose I can kill myself and skip to the point, but I know I will not do that, as I have already seen my life happen thousands of times and I already know how it plays out, I already know how I die. And, besides, death is no more futile then birth or life. It is all the same- null. The only thing I know with certitude is that I am growing weary of all the pain and suffering.
I begin to imagine what the world would be like if all the suffering was to stop: I close my eyes and then, out of nowhere, silence.
Long, dark – silence.
Out of confusion, I open my eyes again and everything has stopped- EVERYTHING. I have hit “pause” on time and every planet has stopped, every person- everything. The only thing that is capable of moving, is me. I have frozen time and now I float in wonder and awe, as nothingness, has become truly, nothingness. I focus all my attention back to earth and zoom in to my apartment, to my dog and I see my dog sprawled out on the living room floor, being cooled off by the ceiling fan in freeze-frame.
For the first time since this long, weird, wicked dream has began, I finally feel relaxed and at peace. My dog looks happy and content. Satisfied with the simple pleasure of a cool breeze on a warm day. He has a smile on his face, or at least the dog version of a smile. It is spectacular that in the infinite space and time, some atoms found a way to align and make my dog in, what seems like, a state of perfection. This single moment of existence does not have suffering at all. My dog is a manifestation of the entire universe- equally in complexity and simplicity. My dog represents all pain and pleasure, all gods and men, all heaven and hell, and all the light and all the dark. Perhaps the meaning of the universe is not nothingness, as I thought before. Maybe the meaning of life is each moment and recognizing the beauty that lies in each moment. Maybe it’s futile to look at the bigger picture and project notions of a grand design or significance. All existence and the entire universe is only one thing, and one thing only: Right now.
I softly and tenderly awoke from my dream and spent the rest of the day playing with my dog.