Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Philosophy; do we need it?

First time I heard about three big names of Philosophy “Socrates, Plato and Aristotle” was at an English class in college. I got very fascinated hearing that, Plato was pupil of Socrates and Aristotle was the pupil of Plato and just in three generations these three Philosophers contributed so much to Philosophy that some think that Philosophy afterwards are just footnotes Plato’s works. Knowing this, I immediately set to learn about these three great men. My fascination was not because of immense contributions of those three men but because I could see a human face of Philosophy in them. For long I have heard that a tall tree with thick shades prevent nascent trees from growing tall and large and here I got an example where three great men learning and studying together and yet each one are so tall that we see the whole ancient Greek civilization through them. Let me recap,

It starts by Socrates going to streets, marketplaces and temples to question people about their belief through his famous cross-questioning method. The main message is “know thyself”. But why? That is important. Well, because Athens was on decline and as it was a democratic state city so he knew that power resides in people. If people reclaim the right beliefs, Athens could rise again…. You know the rest of story that he was poisoned on charges corrupting youths, and then comes his pupil, Plato. Plato did not follow his teacher method but rather he established a school “Academy” and wrote Republic to sell the idea of “Philosopher King”. He unlike his teacher had lost hope in bringing change through people and wanted to save Athens by “Philosopher King”. Aristotle on other hand takes a very different course. Plato believed that states’ government rotates in three cycles of Democracy, Aristocracy and Monarchy and their three degenerative forms however Aristotle contests this view and thinks that democracy is a degenerative form of government by many. Aristotle takes more realist position and focus on logic and “Sciences”.

It is a very broken and incomplete description of these three men but it serves the main purpose and that is to show the great shifts in thoughts and thinking methodologies of three very close Philosophers in a very short time just to respond to needs of their time.

Philosophy was always in the service of those who wanted to use it for a purpose. Augustine of Hippo used it to rationalize Christianity; Machiavelli just like Plato used it to bring the glory of Italy and wrote his famous book, “The Prince”. Karl Marx used it for economical equality. I believe that Sartre used Philosophy to introduce an unconquerable freedom (A freedom that no other Hitler could snatch). In our time, USA stands as a Republic based on Philosophy. The forefathers of USA used Philosophy to create a great Republic and they succeeded. Margret thatcher says, “United Kingdom is based on history and United States is based on Philosophy”….

I was fascinated by these three men not because they were three great names but because of great shifts in their thoughts. To me, Art is appealing because it has the ability to make us wonder, smile and break our hearts and with same coin, Philosophy is appealing because it makes shifts in thoughts a natural process. Humans grow and go through great shifts but cultures have instilled fear in them through judgments via wrong and right. Unlike culture, Philosophy does not allow to get reduced by changes in thoughts. That is very humane and attracted me.

I never tried to be a logician because to me it looks like something hollow but instead tried to be logical. Logicians need to create non-human language of symbols but for a logical person a few sentences in the language of ordinary people may suffice to declare themselves… Just read following quotes of two men and a woman (Though I may not agree with all Philosophy of Ayn Rand but I provided some key quotations of her to counterbalance the dominance of male thinkers).

I have gained this from philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law….Aristotle

I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong…Abraham Lincoln

Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities… Ayn Rand

The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities….Ayn Rand

A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others….Ayn Rand

Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason…. Ayn Rand
The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me………Ayn Rand
Upper classes are a nation's past; the middle class is its future….Ayn Rand

I think, above quotes suffice to say, though there are no such use of logic but they are pretty logical. You may agree with them or not and it is quite normal but they beautifully depict the stands of those thinkers. That is what I call a human face. OK, now back to title, Do we need to cook Philosophy? ….

I have mentioned in the beginning that Philosophy has a human face and do not work in isolation from their time. In order to answer the question in title, we need to understand the biggest questions of our time. I think two biggest phenomenon of our time is globalization and so called ‘clash of civilizations” and I think that both of them stem from a single root and that is the concept of “nation states”. Nation States are modern phenomenon that have “created people” and have bounded them in nation states. There is no problem with it as such however, when people are made to hate each other, discriminate, kill and die for it then it is problem. Globalization is taken as a decline and loosening of control of nation states due to progress in communication and trade. Though communication is the biggest factor in it but I am interested in outcome of the current globalization. The declines of nation states have resulted in rise of corporations and multinational companies. If the nation states make people hate, discriminate, kill and die for them, corporation exploit people economically using flaws in governments. If you read again the quotes I have selected, you understand that they are the positions of “past” thinkers against misuse of nation states. I think, we need Philosophy not just to write footnotes to big names in Philosophy but to not let ourselves be wasted or reduced by “created structures” of our times. Take for example the concept of “Clash of Civilizations”. If I speak from the position of a Hazara (that is a very small historical nation among other historical nations of world), Hazaras are populated both in East and West, in Central Asia, South Asia and Middle East. How Hazaras can reconcile between clashes of East and West and nation states? Of course, larger historical nations are even more widespread and facing the same problem. For me, it is the demand of our time to go for “Universal Values” rather than sticking to “cultural values” and waste ourselves by created hatred and confrontations. I am by no means are saying that we should compromise our identity or culture. No question about that… but while having our identities we have to move towards universal values. Again by Universal Values I do not mean something new but something common to humanity. In simple words, it is just thinking bigger, bigger than nation states, races and cultural identities when values conflict and demands for judgments. Until now we are hearing about tolerance. That is good but that is very fragile. Unless we do not think big, bigger than our identities, tolerance can anytime change into outrage. It is only thinking bigger than boundaries that will allow to understand and for that we need to keep cooking Philosophy……………………………………………………………….

Sunday, January 1, 2012

An "advice" of Philosophy to Sciences

In 2007, as part of teachers training, I joined the class of a Science teacher to co-teach. When it came to measurements he was expressing "embarrassment" that although USA is the leading country in Sciences yet the measurements are not scientific, pound instead of Kilogram, mile instead of Kilometer and so on. But to me a big fact lies there. It is the thinking mechanism that makes things scientific not the language. I mean the job of Science is to unravel facts not to create facts. That is the job of culture.

I wanted to describe the rock samples that I had collected and I wanted to follow a standard color chart, The Munsell color chart. I looked at Amazon and found Munsell color chart books ranging in prices from 72 US dollars to 995 US dollars. What? I was thinking, will getting the book with 995 dollars will result in production of a work 10 times higher in value than one that is priced 72 dollars? At least the price differences are suggesting so. The main purpose of standardization is to make language "precise" and "common" so everybody could get them with precision but I feel in the process of standardization, "Sciences" have created "facts". I mean if you follow everything else but not a "standard language" then no matter how factual is your work it is of less value or worth than one written in "standard language"... In other words, "standardization" have become something "bigger", "larger" or "more important" than Facts themselves...

I am not saying that standardization is wrong but I am talking about the attitude that are the outcome of standardization. It is a natural process that... when something is constructed and are valued as "higher" then a reactionary deconstructionism follows.

Science is still young so we have yet to wait for this reactionary deconstructionism to come. But if want to know how it is going to look, Philosophy as an aged discipline gives some clues. I am not saying that Sciences are going to face the same fate because both disciplines are very different in their mechanisms but still it provides a lot of clues for those who want to see....

Standardization is not something Sciences are obsessed with but it is a general problem of men and it is why we see it in all disciplines. Philosophy had the same problems. I am not going to start from Socrates who was going to streets to question people's beliefs and world views, an effort to demonstrate the shakiness of their beliefs or to invite them towards standardization of their world views... Rather I start from Plato. Plato ( 424/423 BC – 348/347 BC) stands tallest among Philosophers of ancient Greek in terms of impact on human thinking. He wanted to standardized the Philosophy so he introduced the concepts of pure/ideal forms like those of geometrical forms/shapes. Those forms were ideal and absolute and all other things were changing images of them. You can call this metaphysical standardization or ontological (study of being) standardization, meaning essence precedes the existence of things and are of primal importance.

Almost more than 2000 years later, Descartes (31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650) tried to reverse the course of Platonic standardization to 180 degrees. He tried to make the Human mind as the source of knowledge rather than Platonic ideal forms or essence . He doubted the existence of everything and announced, "I think, therefore I am". In other words there is no ideal forms as Plato was saying but rather it is human mind, "I think" which is the source of knowledge... You can call this an epistemology standardization OR the standardization based on consciousness.

However, Descartes' efforts of a solid firm ground for knowledge didn't last long. Sigmund Freud ( 6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) just a little more than two centuries later thinned Descartes' solid ground of consciousness by theorizing that conscious mind is very thin part of mind and is dependent on the unconscious mind, the largest part of mind...Freudian structural division of mind was a blow to Descartes' genius efforts. Knowledge was there but it was neither divine nor humanistic...

On other hand his contemporary, Karl Heinrich Marx (5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883)gave another fatal blow to the standardization efforts based on essence and mind by theorizing that Arts, literature, Philosophy and Sciences are not truth on their own but are the results of the socio-economic changes.

Reduced by all these changes and shifts, Philosophy turned to language hoping that by standardizing or precising language they might revitalize Philosophy. In one such efforts, Ferdinand de Saussure introduced "Structuralism". Actually it was an effort to create parallel "Humanities Science" to that of Natural Sciences. In brief, he was saying that "words" in themselves do not mean anything but they get meaning when we order them in a lingual structure. However it also didn't last long as Derrida, an Algerian/French Philosopher proposed that structuralism itself is a structure and by this we entered in post structuralism or the "deconstructionism" in humanities.

Let's rewind all this,

Philosophy as an oldest discipline tells us a very interesting Phenomena and out of this comes one thing very clearly and that is standardization projects didn't last long in Philosophy. The longest one was that of Platonic. That was of ancient Greek period and the main goal was to introduce something higher than material things, the ideal forms. Then comes Descartes' conscious and it also lives for two centuries but after that nothing survives very long. The efforts to standardize language burst as soon as they are born and now we live in a time that we are left only with ruins standardization in Philosophy..

Coming back to Sciences, it is going to work because it is based on measurements but attitude of creating something as "higher" is not going last long as reactionary movements will come to contest them...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Divisions on Happiness

Perhaps it is the common experiences of humankind in general that we see the similarity of notions between very contradictory schools of thoughts, those of Sigmund Freud and Religion. In Abrahamic Religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam there is a common belief that Adam and Eve were living happily in Paradise (Garden of Eden) without any pain, needs and ageing and then got expelled from paradise because of disobedience (Whatever it could be either thirst for knowledge or eating some forbidden grain/fruit) and thereafter the coming generations all are suffering from this loss in the form of ageing, diseases and shortages of their needs… As the Adam and Eve are believed to be the first parent of human race so in a way we can call it as an early days or infancy of human race… Whatever, the Abrahamic religions believe that human race are suffering because of the disobedience of their first parent….On other hand, Sigmund Freud has his theory of unconscious mind in which he thinks that conscious mind is only very thin layer of memory. The thickest part of it is composed of unconscious mind and the unconscious mind influences thoughts and feelings by being a storehouse of instinctual desires and needs. The concept of unconscious mind is really interesting in the sense that the childhood experiences that are mostly raw and original experiences are also stored there. Freud links a lot of the psychic actions to the childhood experiences that always stay in unconscious mind. In other words as childhood is prized by most of people as sweetest time of their life (Perhaps because unconscious mind is empty and the senses are fresh so even very small things brings a lot of joys like having a bike or a soccer ball is all what is needed to have the most amazing day but adults while stuffed themselves with all sorts of gadgets do not get even the like experiences)… so the loss of the freshness of senses is a way taken as loss of Garden of Eden on the personal level…. Long story short, whether it is on the largest scale of human race or the smallest scale of personal experiences, the sense of loss is taken as the base line of unhappiness….. Even in the concept of reincarnation that is common in most of non-Abrahamic religions, the form that one will appear in next life depends on ones’ acts in existing life…. A miserable life is considered as the result of previous life’s undesirable acts…
The expulsion from Paradise was because of the burning desire for growth/progress/inquiry….and similarly a child loses his empty unconscious mind by filling it with memories he/she collects in the process of discovering the world they live and it is because of restless desire to learn and grow…. So in brief the unhappiness is by-product of growth…

Now, how to repair this sense of loss? Amazingly, though the basic experience is almost the same but the way to repair it are very different across the cultures and philosophies… Even between West and East there is a big chasm on what to seek…

On large scale, West took a vegetative (emotionless) approach and thought that Progress and power is cure for everything but there weren’t consensus for how to go for progress. Libertarians thought that open market and competition has the power to automatically fix everything while Marxists thought that competition between classes as a result of an open market is an obstacle on the way of progress so they thought struggle for a classless society is the ultimate cure…

Western Philosophers who did not take much of a vegetative approach still thought power is what human is destined to go for. Nietzsche one of tallest Philosophers of modern Western Philosophy thinks that “Will to power” drives men and even the will for over-power is what actually driving men. Though there are “Will to live” of Schopenhauer of which Nietzsche had taken a lot of influences, “Will to meaning” and “Will to pleasure” but “Will to power” is embraced widely in practice… The WWII was the most painful result of “Will to power” and one might expect that people must had gone more towards “Will to live”, “Will to meaning” and “Will to pleasure” as a reaction to WWII experiences but astonishingly the reaction to WWII came out as “Existentialism” which is in a sense refutes all those “Will to…” as existentialists tend to meaninglessness and suicide (Albert Camus) as genuine Philosophical issues…

On other hand East focused more on repairing the loss by adapting philosophies of “Becoming” instead of “being”… Abrahamic religions focused on life after death… Of course, for most of people the paradise was not accessible in this world except after death. Only people who would live in times of promised Messiah would see the earth turning again into Garden of Eden… Besides non-Abrahamic religions took mediations as a main tool to cure the losses and in fact some of their practices are adapted by secular health conscious people. Yoga is prized as a working practice for maintaining both physical and mental health….The concept of reincarnation is also a “Becoming” philosophy which sooths those who have not good conditions in their existing lives; if you have good deeds in your existing life, you will have a better life in the next one as a reward ….

Besides Large divide of West and East on how to seek happiness there are some small divisions that was mostly a mix of East and West… Notable one is Stoicism which was established in the ancient Greek and Roman cities and actually became a way of life. Stoics believed that a happy life is one that is lived according to natural laws. They believed that human suffer because of violations of natural laws. On other hand there was Epicureanism to challenge Stoic notion by thinking pleasure as the highest good. Avoiding pain and seeking pleasure was taken as a way of life and it is thought that this is going only stable when one sticks to simple life…

This was a brief charting of divisions of humankind in the pursuit of happiness… It looks like all of them have powerful appeals and also some overstepping as it is the nature of all human philosophies. Growth is inevitable but overgrowth is problem. Memories are inevitable but sticking with them is problem… Avoiding pains is inevitable but fearing pains is problem…Seeking pleasure is inevitable but taking it as purpose of life is problem…Seeking power is inevitable but committing injustices in the process is problem…Looking for meaning is inevitable but becoming inactive in the process is problem… To me, life is not something that we divide in boxes… Senses could be kept fresh by becoming receptive to life…

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What is before Digging and lOOking?

I think, one thing that I have slowly convinced to move towards is the shift from a deterministic approach to more “dig and look” approach. My approach to “clear thinking” was to create a big picture and then look for fitting jig-saw pieces and complete the picture. That looks convenient to begin as it helps in getting started and it also provides a big enough motivation to jump over any hurdle in your way or stand firm to the face of difficulties. I am not still discarding this method and even have not distanced myself much from it. But what I am saying that it is only good for foundational works and once you get started and moved enough, you will automatically settle down to shift towards a more exact and realist approach of dig and look. It is as one wants to establish a garden but he knows that the environment of to-be garden is not suitable for baby plants so he grows his baby plants in a green house (in the ideal conditions) so they become strong enough to survive harder environments of to-be garden.
Recently I found historical support for my approach but let me share a quotation so these historical excerpts give more sense to you. George Lucas, Film Producer says, "You have to find something that you love enough to be able to take risks, jump over the hurdles and break through the brick walls that are always going to be placed in front of you. If you don't have that kind of feeling for what it is you are doing, you'll stop at the first giant hurdle." ….

Why I wanted to bring up this quotation before moving ahead? The main reason is to highlight the same problem that was faced by primitive societies and still continue in modern societies and that is the problem of free will. If we dig and look, it would be more of a reactionary movement rather than a well thought one. Human being is a creature the requires good reasons for their action and living as a mere reactionist to life events is thought as an insult and na├»ve way of living in which free will is denied. In societies where education is prevalent and people are learned enough to question and ponder upon ideas as a constant quest, philosophy lights up the way for actions but primitive societies as well as conservative societies have developed their own ways, to solve this problem by stories and mythologies…

One may ask why free will is important. That is because whatever human does, he does for his happiness and happiness is not just comforting the instincts but rather having a flourishing life (It is what Aristotle has concluded and called it eudemonia; which is the core of Aristotelian ethics and politics). Human unlike other creatures do not only live in natural environments but also need a cultural environment, a fanciful, imaginative and rational environment that they create for themselves…. It is the demand of the homo-sapiens’ brain….. Without this environment, the human would feel empty and stop at hurdles and brick walls….It is as one tries to use a windows 95 for an ipad. It is not going to work because the software and hardware doesn’t match. The instincts are like basic operating system and instincts alone are not compatible to evolved human brain and needs to be updated and supplied with more advanced cultural products to become compatible operating system…. And even just cultural products do not fill all the demands and requires the creation of more personal reasons to give a sense of fulfillment…

I love to watch movies like Pirates of Caribbean series, Lord of the ring series, Harry Potter series, and Treasure Island series and like movies… Though I know they are more of fantasy but they repeating to say one thing very loudly and that is, “You got to find something that you love enough to take risks, jump over hurdles and break through break walls”…so one sees that the script writers of these movies find a big task for main character of story (Like saving a civilization, fighting an evil or a lost treasure) and then create situations in which the hero has to take risks, has to jump over hurdles and has to break walls…. and this key message is usually missed by majority…They do not look for something lovable enough to do all these for…. Creating a big picture is an excellent way and proved way to get something reasonable enough or lovable enough to do all these things for…and of course once you moved enough, you will also grow in the process to afford digging and look for real and challenging ones……

For thousands of years human societies whether primitive or civilized have understood this process very well. They have understood that in order to make people live in harmony with society, they need a big picture that have enough emotional force to make people fit their behaviors in it and live within this frame so they could take risks in cases it is needed for survival others, jump over hurdles when they make them to stop moving together and break the brick walls instead of breaking their ideals….

I was quite surprised by similarity of the stories between those of Hopi people of the Native Americans and the stories told in Bible and Quran about replacing and destruction of nations that were disobedient and or indulged in immoral activities… You all are familiar with stories of Bible and Quran so here I am just present the story of Hopi people taken an excerpt from Wikipedia so to not put my opinion in it, …

“Four Worlds

Hopi legend tells that the current earth is the Fourth World to be inhabited by Tawa's creations. The story essentially states that in each previous world, the people, though originally happy, became disobedient and lived contrary to Tawa's plan; they engaged in sexual promiscuity, fought one another and would not live in harmony. Thus, the most obedient were led (usually by Spider Woman) to the next higher world, with physical changes occurring both in the people in the course of their journey, and in the environment of the next world. In some stories, these former worlds were then destroyed along with their wicked inhabitants, whereas in others the good people were simply led away from the chaos which had been created by their actions.

Entrance into the Fourth World

Two main versions exist as to the Hopi's emergence into the present Fourth World. The more prevalent is that Spider Grandmother caused a hollow reed (or bamboo) to grow into the sky, and it emerged in the Fourth World at the sipapu. The people then climbed up the reed into this world, emerging from the sipapu. The location of the sipapu is given as in the Grand Canyon.
The other version (mainly told in Oraibi) has it Tawa destroyed the Third World in a great flood. Before the destruction, Spider Grandmother sealed the more righteous people into hollow reeds which were used as boats. Upon arriving on a small piece of dry land, the people saw nothing around them but more water, even after planting a large bamboo shoot, climbing to the top, and looking about. Spider Woman then told the people to make boats out of more reeds, and using island "stepping-stones" along the way, the people sailed east until they eventually arrived on the mountainous coasts of the Fourth World. Welcome to the fourth world!”…..

You can the whole article on Wikipedia by searching “Hopi Mythology”…..

The destruction of previous world and also flooding event is quite amazingly similar with Bible stories except the characters and places are different…Whatever, our discussion is not the stories but a big picture that provides enough motivation for people to behave in a certain manner or make their actions and living more meaningful….