Friday, October 29, 2010

Implied Degrees of (In)humanity in Social Interactions, Or, In Defense of Small Talk


1. Introduction

2. The Implied Inhumanity of the Working World

3. The Implied Humanity of Small Talk

4. Theory- Theory and Implied Inhumanity

5. Simulation Theory and Implied Humanity

6. Zen as an Antidote to Mindless Theoretical Interactions and a Path to Mindful Simulative Interactions

7. Conclusion


So I want to spend a little time essaying on an issue that I have already worked on a little: small talk, chit chat, and politeness. From the start I have been in favor of small talk. I am a huge advocate of politeness. To eschew small talk and politeness because it feels ritualistic or phony is to miss a crucial point, I think. I had a very interesting moment at work today in which I had a very compressed/dense moment of thought in which I thought of some new ways to frame this issue. I engaged in some small talk and found it very satisfying, and then as soon as I walked away my mind swirled with some new ideas. I pulled out my notebook and I wrote down ‘capitalism and vague inhumanity. small talk and vague humanity.’ That was around 4pm. Since then I have decided that instead of talking about vagueness I want to talk about ‘implied degrees of humanity’.

The basic idea is that when we interact with people our behavior implies a certain degree of humanity or inhumanity. When we approach a store clerk, for example, and tell them what we want without looking them in the eye or attempting to make small talk we imply that we regard them with some level of inhumanity. On the other hand, when we approach someone with a smile, we look them in the eyes, and we genuinely engage them despite the inherent superficiality of our interaction, we imply that we regard them with a certain level of humanity. In short, how we treat people implies the level of humanity that we see in that other person. I will just personally say that when people order things from me like I’m a robot and just sloppily throw money at me it makes me feel like my humanity has been ignored or affronted.

This sounds awfully dramatic, I suppose. But at the same time I think it a serious issue. I think that small talk and politeness is an important issue. I think that the stakes are higher than we might realize. But I’m not sure if I can say why at this moment. Perhaps this essaying will clarify.

In any case, I plan on handling this in five sections. In the first two sections I’m going to keep it straightforward and just talk about my experiences and thoughts on the working world and small talk. Then in the second two sections I’m going to connect these ideas to the contemporary debates in theory of mind, in particular the debate between theory-theory and simulation theory. So, first, I’m going to talk about the working world and how ‘business’ like interactions imply a certain level of inhumanity. Second, I’m going to talk about small talk and how it implies a certain level of humanity. Third I’m going to talk about theory-theory and how I think that the implied inhumanity of the working world has to do with the proliferation of theory-theory in people’s minds. To put it differently, I think people’s minds are often overrun with concepts and categories that prevent them from really engaging directly with people, thus leading them to implicitly treat people inhumanely. Fourth, I’m going to talk about simulation theory and how engaging with people with this theory in mind means that out behavior is implicitly humane. And lastly, I’m going to talk about Zen and the importance of being present and mindful during every social interaction. I think that Zen offers a powerful antidote to the inhumanity that is implied in some social interactions. So then, now I can say that with the issue of small talk the stakes are nothing less than subtle humanity. Onward.

Brief disclaimers: First, I’m not completely satisfied with the language of humanity and inhumanity. It doesn’t feel quite adequate. But I’m trying to find ways to talk about how people interact, and what it implies about how people regard one another. But I’m going to let my analysis center around these terms for this essay. Second, forgive me if any of this sound hyperbolic. I am also entertaining the idea of writing an essay called ‘Finding The Moderate Truth Within Hyperbole’. Perhaps sometimes I swing really hard to one view, but that is only because I suspect that things, or my own mind, is stuck on the other side. I swing the pendulum hard to the left because it has been on the right, and I want it in the middle. Hyperbole is not meant to communicate an absolute truth, but is meant to serve as a counterweight to an already distorted view.

The Implied Inhumanity of the Working World

So, the example I gave above is a good starting point. When someone comes up to me and rattles off some ridiculous order and throws a credit card at me I go crazy. But why do I go crazy? Why does it bother me so much? Because I feel like when they look at me they don’t see me as a person. I feel like I exist as some kind of robot in their world who is there simply to get them coffee and pastries. It just makes me think that these people are so wrapped up in their own minds that my presence doesn’t mean anything to them. They don’t realize that I woke up that morning and thought about how I had to go to work and how I find my life confusing. I just feel like my sense of myself is squashed somehow. Since they seem to have no interest in really interacting with me it makes me feel like I don’t matter to them. I then sort of imagine what it would be like for someone to regard me as simply a coffee robot. And that makes me sad. It makes me feel like I am being treated inhumanely, or ahumanely, which isn’t a word. But still. I’m just using that word ahumane to communicate that it isn’t so much an inhumane treatment as a treatment that doesn’t acknowledge humanity. It isn’t the existence of inhumanity but rather a lack of humanity.

In my journal I had written that it had something to do with capitalism and the way that the working world is structured. Perhaps this has something to do with it. Maybe I just exist as a cog in this cafe machine, which is a cog in a larger bookstore machine, which is a cog in a larger economic machine. Perhaps what I am experiencing is the mechanization of social interaction at the hands of the economic system.

I am starting to have more curiosity about Marxism and economic analysis in general. I think this is because I am currently reading David Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry Into Cultural Change. Harvey is a geographer who has written a good bit on economics, cities, and cultural change. He talks about capitalist modernization and how it effects relationships between people. In the part of the book I am currently on he is analyzing Marx’s depiction of capitalist modernization. The thing that stood out most to me is the idea of fetishizing commodities. I really want to read Marx. I haven’t yet. But anyways, the basic idea (as I loosely understand) is that the products that we buy seem to magically appear in front of us, and we thus experience an alienation from how they were created and how they got there. Why this is called fetishization I don’t really know.

But think about it in the context of the present example: people are used to coming into my cafe and there being tons of pastries and coffee drinks and all that and people don’t think about where it comes from and how it got there. So perhaps people can think of me in the same way. They have no idea where I come from or why I am the keeper of their pastries and absurd coffee treats. All they know is that this young man with glasses can get them a treat if they tell him to do so. So my humanity doesn’t have to enter the picture. People are inherently ignorant of and thus alienated from my experience and the process that led me to become the keeper of their treats.

I think that this idea of alienation from the process of production (in which I am a product of sorts that people are disconnected from) is useful in talking about why people sometimes interact with me as if though I were just a robot. People just want the things they can buy, and they don’t see the need to be polite or engaging when just buying these things.

So I guess what I’m saying is that it seems like when people interact with me they are engaging mindlessly. They are just unreflectively going through that moment, desiring their coffee treats, and not stopping to consider the young man that gets them their treats. But this mindlessness is a bit disconcerting to me. I think it is perhaps something to do battle with. But perhaps I’ll get to that later.

I didn’t use the term inhumanity super explicitly in this section. So let me make it explicit: when people mindlessly interact with me in the professional/capitalist world it seems to me that a certain level of inhumanity is implicit in their behavior. By not looking me in the eye and throwing your crumpled money on the counter you are implicitly regarding me as lesser, as inferior, as inhuman. Perhaps they don’t mean this, and would be upset to hear it framed like this. But it seems to me that it might be reasonable to say that their behavior implies this. Perhaps because our political and economic system imply this lack of humanity and they have simply internalized this tendency to ‘fetishize’ someone, or to ignore someone’s humanity. Now let me turn to small talk and how I think that it implies a certain level of humane regard for others.

The Implied Humanity of Small Talk

So when people don’t look me in the eye I feel that my humanity has been implicitly denied. But when someone comes up to me and talks to me about how my day is and how their day is I feel so much better. When I walk past co-workers and we simply take the time to smile at one another or to say hello I feel so much more invigorated by that. At my last job someone said to me ‘Riley, you don’t have to say something every time we walk by’. But honestly I don’t like walking past people I know without somehow acknowledging them. But I find that people do it. And unfortunately I now find myself doing it. I feel shy because the general climate sometimes seems to be one in which people don’t say hello to each other, don’t acknowledge one another. This essay marks the beginning of my polite insurrection: I am now going to be forcibly interactive and friendly with people. Tactfully, of course. But if someone sees me and then avoids eye contact I will say hello to their diverted eyes.

Because today I was in a hallway and me and this guy had a brief interaction that was really nice. We said hello, I asked him how it was going, he said it was good, asked me how I was. I said ‘ah pretty good, the day is winding down’. He said ‘yeah, finally’. I laughed a little and said something positive to affirm the feeling of a long day. And you know what, it made me feel great! It feels fun to identify with people on any level. It feels good to share experience in almost any way at all. It makes me feel like saying ‘Yeah buddy! You and me! We are in this human existence together! Our lives don’t make any sense and we live in some state in some country and that doesn’t make any sense to me! But I like that we can smile and commiserate about how we work and live together’.

Perhaps these people wouldn’t identify with these feelings of confusion and helplessness. This feeling of ‘Why do we live this way? Why do I speak this language and root for these national priorities? Why do I do anything that I do?’ Being the history lover that I am, I always come back to something like historical determinism. I always grapple with the quality of my experience by thinking about how history has structured my life, placed me within a determined political-economic environment. This is what I would like to do as a thinker and an artist. Talk about the quality of contemporary experience and help myself (and maybe others?) grapple with the confusion of this overly-structured life. That is what my new big essay I’m working on is addressing, which I am excited about, and hope to finish by the end of November.

But the point I’m making here is that life is confusing, and that it makes me feel good to know that other people share my experiences. When people come up to me and toss their money at me I feel like they don’t want to share in my experience. They don’t want to share in the commonality of our lives. The commonality of our pain and confusion is lost on them in that moment, it seems.

But small talk is a way to show each and every person that you share their experience in some way. All talk is a way of sharing experience. Experience of thought, experience of emotion, experience of any kind. Language is always about experience. Unfortunately, language also has a darker side. It has the tendency to abstract things, to remove us from the emotional part of our experiences. It can make things cold and automatic.

So I am promoting emotional and engaged small talk. And yeah, it can be hard to talk about the weather or the day of the week and enjoy it. But at the same time it can be so fun. Just to feel lives that are like mine in any way at all. I just love empathy. I talk to someone and I suddenly feel like I exist in their mind and they exist inside mine. Go ahead and look at my profile picture. Minds encase other minds.

I am willing to hold you inside my mind if you are willing to do the same for me.

I think that is why I enjoy small talk. It is mutual regard. Mutual interest in sharing experience. Which alleviates the frustration of my experience. It always feels better to have confidants, to have comrades. With small talk everyone becomes my comrade. The people who throw their money at me don’t seem to want to be my comrades. They seem to want me to be their treat machine.

I’ve known some people who have explicitly declared themselves to be anti-small talk. Poppycock, I say. To be anti-small talk is to be anti-tact, anti-politeness. To be anti-small talk is to deny that we have something in common with everyone. It is to deny that there are people that you simply don’t care to share your mind with. It is to believe that there are certain minds which you just don’t care to know. This is too hyperbolic. But I do think that to be anti-small talk is somehow bad. I am trying to come up with some philosophically defensible view of politeness and small talk.

So now that I have roughly and ramblingly laid out my stance on the different approaches to small talk, and how they implicitly communicate a certain view on the humanity or inhumanity of other people, I want to connect these ideas to the contemporary debates going on in theory of mind. First, theory-theory. Second, simulation theory. Lastly, Zen.

Theory-Theory and Implied Inhumanity

So one of the major contemporary schools of theories of mind is known as theory-theory. I have extensively written about theory-theory, so check out any of my posts between May and August and I will likely talk about it. But to roughly rehash: theory-theorists argue that human’s understand other people’s minds by drawing on tacit or naive psychological theories. They believe that we are equipped with an unconscious psychological theory that allows us to make inferences about the mental states of other people.

I’ll say first and foremost that I think tacit psychological theories do indeed exist. That our minds are equipped with certain understandings about the world and minds that allow us to intuitively think certain things. Tacit theories can in some ways be likened to our assumptions about the world. We assume that gravity will keep us on the ground, that dogs can’t talk, that most people see colors the same as us, so on. Tacit theories can also be compared to mental models that neuroscientists speak of. Our brain models our own bodies and the world around us. We have intuitive models of the rooms we live in, of the size of our bodies, of the way that we move. That is why phantom limb pain is possible, and why we find it startling when someone suddenly moves when we turn our back. Our brain works by modeling the world around us, by creating the tacit theories that theory-theorists speak of.

But to assume that theory-theory can account for all relationships between human minds seems absurd to me. For one thing, many of the things that we assume about other minds come from language and culture. When we see a young person dressed a certain way, for example, we automatically assume that they like certain types of books, music, conversation, or things like that. The tacit theories that we have about people are socially constructed, they are not essential or innate in our minds. Tacit theories likely work with what John Searle calls ‘status functions’: things that work only because a group of people has declared them to work in that way. Obama, for example, is only president because he has been declared president and because our social system makes it so that people agree on this declaration. The conclusion I am leading myself towards is that if tacit theories are based on social facts, then theory-theory mindreading cannot be the most primitive, basic, and essential form of mindreading.

If theory-theory requires status function declarations, and thus language, then how would theory-theory mindreading have functioned in our pre-linguistic ancestors? What kinds of tacit psychological theories do apes possess that would allow them to accomplish the types of mindreading that they need to perform? Similarly, I think there are a lot of things that happen in our lives, like emotions, that don’t revolve primarily around language, and thus couldn’t be handled by something like a tacit theory. I’m preemptively refuting theory-theory so that later on I can talk about how simulation theory (also called empathy theory) is a better way to think about mindreading and small talk. But nonetheless, theory-theory exists. Tacit theories are real, and people unconsciously infer things all the time.

I do need to say, however, that I think theory-theory can be dangerous. That if we are to rely too much on tacit theoretical models of the world and of minds we run some risks. In particular, we run the risk of treating people like automatons, and we run the risk of implicitly denying people their humanity. Earlier I hinted at the darker side of language. I said that it has the tendency to abstract reality, to remove us from it, to make it seem alien. I was alluding to theory-theory and how I see it as dangerous. When we rely on theoretical models of things we run the risk of simplifying them, of alienating ourselves from them. When we use nothing but society’s rigid sets of concepts we pigeonhole other people and ourselves. We get used to things being what we call them. We think, ‘oh this is just a cafe where I can get treats, and this boy is just here to fetch me treats’. We run the risk of identifying people too much with categories of race, gender, class, and sexuality. We think ‘oh that asian person’ or ‘oh that girl is just blah blah blah’. Theory-theory can blind us to the nuance and dynamism of life. Because the truth is that people defy categories all the time, they bend them, they move within them. But when we only identify people with familiar concepts we deny ourselves the chance to experience their nuance. And sometimes our actions implicitly deny them their humanity.

This rhymes with what Slavoj Zizek refers to as the inherent violence of language. He talks about how language disfigures reality, how it takes things from the outside world and perverts them inside our mind. Language changes the way that we perceive reality, and, as Zizek argues, it “simplifies the designated thing, reducing it to a single feature. It dismembers the thing, destroying its organic unity, treating its parts and properties as autonomous. It inserts the thing into a field of meaning which is ultimately external to it” (Violence, 61). Language has the danger of perverting our perception of reality, and of alienating us from the things, and most importantly, from the people around us. So when someone comes up to me and tells me they want this ridiculous coffee drink and throws their money at me their mind is probably saturated with a tacit theory that says ‘oh this is just a barista who will get me my latte because I have this money and I want to buy myself a treat’. I am not a barista. I am not fucking words. Only that is certain. But people have quite a lot of words to identify me with, so it is much easier for them to engage with my in a way that they can bypass any engagement with me as an actual person. By calling me a barista, or thinking of me in that way, people are given the freedom of just approaching me for a product. Then they get it, and they go and interact with other words. I don’t want to interact with words. I want to use words to interact with ineffable minds.

So this is the danger of theory-theory, and I think this goes somewhere in explaining how it is that for some people small talk is a non-reality, something they don’t engage in and don’t want to engage in. Our modern culture is so overrun with words that it can be easy to engage with the world only in terms of words. And I think this is why people can interact in ways that implicitly deny each other their humanity. People interact as ‘customer’ to ‘barista’, ‘boss’ to ‘employee’. All these status function declarations constitute our tacit theories that allow us to engage with others in inhumane ways. Language is dangerous, and we shouldn’t let it govern our perception of other people.

I wonder if this is at all clear to an outside reader. Because to me it makes sense, but I doubt my writing is coherent. But to try and summarize: theory-theory cannot be thought of as the only way that people interact with other minds. Mindreading has to be traceable to a time when individual’s lives were not structured entirely by language. But our society does indeed have an enormous amount of ‘theories’, so much has been said that our minds are flooded with preformed categories. It is the excessive application of these categories, I believe, that allows people to engage in anti-small talk behavior that implicitly denies people their humanity.

Now, let me talk about simulation theory.

Simulation Theory and Implied Humanity

The other major competing theory of mind is known as simulation theory of mind. It has also been called empathy theory. The basic argument of simulation theorists is that human beings understand one another’s mental states by ‘putting ourselves in their shoes’, so to speak. They argue that whenever someone else communicates to us, through language, facial expressions, or otherwise, we use these signs as evidence for their mental state, which we then use to internally simulate their thoughts in our own mind, and then finally project those thoughts and feelings onto that other person. So the process of simulation has three stages that blend in practice and feel intuitive. First we perceive the expression of mental activity in another person, we then internally simulate the state we believe that person is having, and then we attribute that state to that person and project it onto them.

I find simulation theory compelling because it has some pretty convincing neurological evidence that I haven’t seen from theory-theory. One of the most important pieces of evidence is the existence of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are a class of neurons that are active both when we make and witness an action being performed. So when we perceive someone making an angry face, all of the neurons we would use to make that same face become active. The facial muscles then communicate to the limbic system which makes us feel the appropriate emotion. The existence of mirror neurons means that empathy is a real, direct, and unconscious process in which our brain literally simulates the facial expression and emotion we see in another person. The other convincing piece of evidence is known as the enactment-imagination. This refers to the fact that when we imagine an experience we experience the same neural activity that we would have if we actually underwent that experience. So, if we imagine a spider crawling on our skin, we experience neural activity that corresponds with the actual experience of a spider crawling on us. Our imagination actually enacts the experience in our brain. So, this parallels to mental activity as well. When we imagine how a person is feeling we create that feeling in our own brain.

I’m cutting this short because I’ve written on simulation theory so much. Again, look at anything I wrote between April and September and I likely reference simulation theory. But I find it very compelling. And I think those two brief things, mirror neurons and the enactment-imagination, should make it clear that empathy/simulation is a very real thing in the interaction of minds. Also, because simulation theory doesn’t rely on language I agree with Alvin Goldman that it is probably the most basic and important form of mindreading that humans possess. I, however, think that simulation theory is in danger of being overrun by theory-theory. I think that our society’s plethora of concepts has dulled people’s sense of empathy. I think that when people have too many words they don’t need empathy as much.

This is relevant because I think that by placing more emphasis on empathy we would be more inclined to engage in small talk, and thus more inclined to implicitly recognize people’s humanity. What I described above as an excitement at sharing experience with people, even just through small talk, is an excitement for empathy, an excitement for the simulation of other people’s thoughts. Today when that guy told me that he was glad the day was ‘finally winding down’, I felt more excited because I understood that his day had felt really long and now he was feeling good that it was almost over. I was happy for him because he was happy, and I thus became happy myself. It feels good to engage with other minds, it feels good to simulate other minds.

I think my tendency to empathize/simulate other minds also explains why it hurts me when people throw their money at me. When someone comes up to me and doesn’t look at me and just throws stuff at me it forces me to simulate a mind that regards me as not worthwhile. I find myself imagining a perspective that doesn’t care to say hello to me. And it hurts me to bring that perspective to life within my own mind. But I can’t help doing it. My knowledge of simulation theory, and my analysis of my own mental habits certainly helps me. But it still doesn’t feel good to empathize with someone who doesn’t want to empathize with me. In essence it means that by empathizing with them I am not empathizing with myself.

So I really feel like this section doesn’t have to be as long or elaborate. To explicate simulation theory isn’t as hard as explicating theory-theory because I think it intuitively makes more sense. Doesn’t it seem to make sense that empathy would be our primary way of understanding other people? Wouldn’t we draw on our own experiences to understand other people’s experiences? And doesn’t that thus mean that it is helpful, fun, and supremely human to share experience? I think so. And I think that if we were to regard our minds as functioning primarily in terms of simulation/empathy, we might take a positive approach to small talk, and we could realize that when we engage in small talk what we are doing is implicitly acknowledging that other people’s experiences are worthwhile. I think that by thinking of social interactions in terms of simulation we can see that small talk is a rewarding way to share our experiences, however small, however mundane we believe them to be. The alternative is to regard small talk and superficial interactions as not worthwhile. But when we do that we implicitly deny people the worth of their experience, we implicitly deny people their humanity.

So that is all I want to say about simulation theory I suppose. I think that small talk should be thought of as simulations, as an empathic process of sharing experience. Experience of the working world, of the social world, of the absurd 21st century world. Small talk is worthwhile, and I think that simulation theory helps make this true, and that theory-theory helps me see why it can be dangerous to try and bypass or condemn small talk. All you theory-theorists, look out, because I think what you are saying is dangerous and is expanding the gulf between people. Simulation theorists, look out, you need to get aggressive with your empathizing, you need to get active.

Lastly I just want to talk about Zen.

Zen as an Antidote to Mindless Theoretical Interactions and a Path to Mindful Simulative Interactions

I think that Zen is surprisingly compatible with simulation theory, and also conveniently exposes the dangers of theory-theory. The key thing in Zen is awareness and mindfulness. The goal is to perceive reality accurately by being grounded and aware of every single moment. Interestingly, one thing that Shunryu Suzuki says is that we need to abandon all of our preformed concepts. He says that these concepts get in the way of us perceiving reality accurately. Does this remind you of theory-theory? It should. Because what I was telling you was that theory-theory is about our minds reliance on a series of preformed and unconscious concepts that guide our interactions with others. I told you that theory-theory was dangerous because it alienated us from the world and because it prevents us from perceiving reality accurately. As Zizek claims, language is violence, concepts disfigure reality, it paints them in a new light and changes the way we perceive them. So, both Zen and Zizek believe that we need to give up on theory-theory: we can’t continue to identify everything with words because it causes us to treat people differently, it causes us to implicitly deny people their humanity by giving up on the idea of small talk. Lol, that last sentence was a bit too much, but you get the point. We rely too much on language and it gets in the way of genuine empathy and interaction.

Zen also lines up directly with simulation theory and my defense of small talk in two ways. First, mindfulness, the key thing in Zen, might be possible because humans have brains that are inclined to simulate other people’s perspectives. I just wrote a post called ‘Mindfulness and Simulation Theory’, about Guy Claxton’s argument that mindfulness is possible because humans evolved to have brains that are capable of shifting to and simulating different perspectives. So simulation theory in many ways may end up vindicating the idea of mindfulness.

Second, I think that Zen lines up with simulation theory because of their emphasis on perceiving things and people as they are, without a set of concepts. Simulation theory implies that people can be perceived on a pre-linguistic level, on an emotional level. Both Zen and simulation theory also believe that accurate perception depends no the individual. In Zen we are supposed to work on our own minds, our own perception, only by focusing on ourselves as the perceiver can we hope to come close to an accurate perception of reality. The same goes for simulation. Because we are the ones responsible for simulating and projecting other people’s minds, it is up to us to try and do it accurately, it is up to us to take control of the way that we are simulating other people’s thoughts, and to make sure that we are empathizing with people as much as we possibly can. So both Zen and simulation theory stress that we are the ones responsible for how we perceive reality. And that we have to exert effort to overcome our set of concepts that blind us from accurate perception.

So this section won’t be as long as the others. I frankly have quite a lot of reading and thinking left to do with Zen. I don’t know how to integrate it into all my other lines of thought. But this is a start. Zen corroborates both of my major arguments in this essay: 1. Zen warns against the ways that language and preformed concepts can prevent us from accurately perceiving reality (i.e. Zen warns against the dangers of theory-theory that I described in section three), and 2. Zen tells us that we are responsible for monitoring our own minds, and that it is up to us to understand how our mind constructs reality for us, in essence confirming the claims of simulation theorists who believe that we are responsible for bringing other people’s experiences to life for us.

This means that if we can embrace Zen we can embrace a world in which small talk is important and worthwhile. We can embrace a view where people are not just ‘baristas’ or ‘cashiers’, but are honest to god ineffable minds that deserve to be empathized with. By embracing Zen we can overcome all of the words that tell us that these people are this or that, that they are ‘poor’ or ‘crazy’ or ‘irrational’. By embracing Zen we can realize the project of simulation theorists by taking empathy seriously, by getting creative with empathy, by monitoring our own minds and changing the way that we bring other people’s minds to life. In short, by embracing Zen we can overcome the mindlessness that theory-theory encourages and live the mindful life that simulation theory gives me hope for.


My main task was to vindicate small talk as worthwhile and important. I tried to do this both negatively and positively. I tried to do it negatively by talking about how the working world leads to a certain amount of alienation from other people and fosters a disdain for small talk, and how this is a reflection of our over reliance on theory-theory. I’m calling this a negative defense of small talk because I was trying to discount the views promoted by the economic system and corroborated by theory-theorists. I tried to do it positively by talking about how small talk was an exciting process of sharing experience, how simulation theory confirms that we can engage with people on a direct and emotional level, and how Zen confirms the importance of being mindful and sensitive towards other people.

The major axis for this analysis, which I fear I lost at times, was that our stance towards small talk implicitly communicates a certain regard for other people’s humanity. If we don’t regard someone as worth our small talk, we are implicitly stripping them of their humanity, we are implicitly telling them that their experience isn’t worth our time. I feel this way sometimes, as I said, when people throw their money at me. I feel like people don’t talk me seriously and don’t feel me worth their words or thoughts. But when we think people worthwhile of their small talk we are implicitly acknowledging their humanity and the worthwhileness of their experience.

This was about two hours of non-stop writing. I’m glad I did this. I think that I have managed to present a somewhat convincing, albeit hyperbolic defense of small talk. Furthermore, I think I successfully connected it to the ongoing debate between theory-theory and simulation theory, showing that theory-theory has the danger of further corroborating the alienation between people that our political-economic environment encourages, and demonstrating that simulation theory has the potential to make us more empathic and aware, bringing it in line with the Zen philosophy that I also feel vital to the task of vindicating small talk. From downtown, he’s on fire, boom shakalaka. Over and out.

I wrote this because I love people. I want to say hello to all of you. I wish I loved you all. But sometimes I know I can’t love everyone. But I want people to forget their words and remember to feel their minds. Because the mind can be so loving. I want to find out how the mind becomes loving. Because I don’t want it to be trapped by the violence of theory-theory. I don’t want the beauty and importance of empathy to be drowned by the overwhelming power of generalizing words. Cause I sure as hell am not words. And neither are you. So lets stop thinking of ourselves as words so often.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fighting For Love

I’m a lover, not a fighter. I often like this phrase. I often think of myself in this way. But the bottom line is that you have to fight for love. You’ve got to battle yourself and you’ve got to battle the world if you really want to love something and yourself.

The question: what came first, love or war? love or hate? Not the best question, because these things have likely always existed together in the same time and space. Whenever I write phrases like ‘time and space’ I feel so Modern and Western. Not in a good way. Just in the way of being enslaved to certain forms of rhetoric, certain phrases and concepts that serve as the ground for everything else I think. I’m not a physicist. Sometimes I wish I was. But that is enough of that digression. It is just a desire to escape the rhetoric of my time.

My main concern here is that there is a connection, a relationship, an affinity between love and struggle. Zizek talks about this. From what I hear, Plato also talked about it. A few moments ago I finished Mark Lilla’s book The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics. He closed the book by talking about ‘philotyranny’, by which he means that philosophers are inclined to support tyranny. He thinks this is so because the type of mind that is drawn to philosophical work is one that can fall victim to a tyranny within their own mind.

See, with Plato and some of the Greek philosophers, moderation and self-control were the most important things to struggle with. A philosopher’s mind is one that is likely to get carried away with itself. Because philosopher’s are so in love with the truth and with ideas, they have the potential to be carried away by their own ideas. But the thing with Plato is to have a ‘supreme self-awareness’ that prevents you from falling in love and being carried away by your own ideas.

But Mark Lilla seems to be suggesting that all the intellectuals he wrote about fell in love with their own ideas, gave in to the dangers of personal tyranny, and thus supported philosophical tyranny.

So then, if philosophers are those who love love, and love truth, then what do you have to fight for love? You guessed it: yourself. You have to fight your own love of truth and love of love so that you don’t become hateful.

Moderation is such an important lesson that I have yet to really actualize in my own life. But maybe I’m trying? I think I am. But it is hard.

Love and struggle are not dichotomous. They seem to be things that need each other and lead to one another. You’ve gotta fight for love, and struggle so that you don’t hate.

I don’t know if I really believe any of this, or if I really think any of this. But I do have such a curiosity about struggle and love that I want them to be compatible. And Lilla and his writing on Plato, and all of The Reckless Mind, leads me to think that perhaps they are compatible.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The History of Rain

pIt’s as if a spider were to take me

And tell me I’ll never be the same

I’ll never be the same

Because she’s never said a thing

Mindfulness and Simulation Theory

So I just finished reading Guy Claxton’s 2006 article “Mindfulness, Learning and The Brain.” I find it quite fascinating for a number of reasons. But the thing that popped out the most was the way that he framed mindfulness as a logical extension of simulation theory of mind. More interestingly, Claxton never actually makes explicit reference to simulation theory of mind. But based on the language he uses the connection is undeniable.

I did find his major metaphors to be a little bit sloppy or inadequate though. But he did a decent job of talking about mindfulness, which can be very difficult to talk about.

The general idea is that we often find our own reality to be totally engrossing. It is as if we are watching our lives and we are directly facing a computer screen in which we are making decisions, ‘clicking, tapping’, as he says. We are directly in front of the ‘screen’ of our lives and we are working hard to make decisions. But he then talks about a second ‘screen’. What if we don’t have to experience ourselves simply as the first person engaging in the decisions of life? What if we can have a perspective in which we are watching ourselves making those decisions? We are not the first screen guy, rapidly working and making decisions, but we can take the perspective of a second screen guy who is watching the first screen guy make decisions.

We can have a semi-removed perspective in which we are no longer immersed in our own experience, but are observing our own experience from a distance of sorts. Claxton then explains how this logic of screen guy 1 and screen guy 2 implies that we are neither of these screen guys. We do not have a concrete identity. This lines up with lots of Buddhist ideas.

He then goes on to explain how this possibility for mindfulness may have developed evolutionarily. He draws on Nicholas Humphrey's and Richard Dawkins’ claims about social living to explain how individuals would need to learn to predict one another. This is where his argument drifts into simulation theory of mind. Basically, the idea is that living in social communities our ancestors would have learned how to predict how each other were thinking. This depends on the ability to 1. build models of other people and 2. to then assume the perspective of those people in order to understand how it is that they are feeling. This ability to assume a different perspective, Claxton speculates, might make mindfulness possible. When we are taking a removed, mindful perspective on ourselves we are utilizing this ability to push ourselves beyond our own view and into the view of others. This is why Claxton warns that when being mindful we need to be careful that we aren’t simply taking the perspective of another person that is judgmental, or a person from our past.

He suggests that this is why the non-judgmental attitude of therapists can be so important. He says that they allow us to build a model of another person who is not judging us or being harsh. At later times we can then utilize that non-judgmental model of perception to gain an adequate view of ourselves. This is all so clearly in line with simulation theory of mind.

It does, however, imply some interesting things. To me it seems like if simulation is based on models then there is a bit of tension between simulation theory and theory-theory. I suppose it confirms Goldman’s claim that what we really possess is a simulation-theory hybrid in which processes of simulation are aided by our tacit theoretical mental models. All that stuff is so fascinating. But I’m pleased to see how much Claxton is in line with simulation theory, and with how much mindfulness can be connected to it. Also, I am pleased because he confirms or corroborates much of what I was writing about like an hour ago in my post on privacy and simulation. He has some lines that are like what I was talking about when I said something about a loop of imaginative simulations of people. We are imagining other people’s views on us, and are thus using our model of another person to imagine their model of us. Interesting stuff.

More 'Poetry' Babble

Sometimes I sit down and I type nonsense. I don't dare call it poetry because I don't care enough and I doubt I'm really expressing anything super worthwhile. But I put the word poetry in quotes because frankly I have poetry on my mind a lot these days.

The days are mostly colorful

They change when I let them

And the only time I let them is when I work ever so hard

The mental mines where I don’t let it eat me

Just a piece of cake left for someone else

Just a series of stones them are meant to melt

I typically work more than I want to

It seems like radar is something that comes and goes

It is something I feel from every direction

Something that doesn’t even feel so much as it totalizes

It taste like it feels like it smells like it sounds like it touches

It feels like collaboration

It feels like mythical gods stocking produce

It feels like husbands and wives respecting their

Newly found roles

Roles that don’t make sense because they never did

But I want it to make sense

I want it to be alright like some kind of magic

Every turn becomes a new step

A new way to think about something

A language of languages

A palette of plates

A plate of palettes

A tasty way to experience reality

Which doesn’t take like it hears smells feels

It only tastes

It only feels

It only smells

It only isn’t

One Two Three Four and

It all goes onward like a song

It is a song

It counts and it writhes and

Perhaps it even expresses

That is what I’m doing here

In this moment on this ‘page’

On this world

In my mind

Expressing because I don’t think I know how too

Feeling dominated and wanting to feel dominated

Not feeling like I rule because I don’t trust that

What would it mean to rule something?

To have dominion over a piece of water?

I slip and slide and I’m always saturated

I’m drowning in it learning to swim in it

I find the notion of domination almost impossible

Janus and divine violence have kept me afraid

Kept me from feeling the power that I’m supposed to feel

It doesn’t need to be a win lose thing

I don’t think that coming and going like some kind of demon

Is very useful for me sitting here at the bottom of myself

I don’t need to be the one telling anyone anything

I only need to be the one who wants to tell myself

How it really is and what I really could be

This emphasis

This talk

This way

Not how I want it

Certainly not

But I accept it

Because that is how I want it

On Privacy: The Obstruction of Visibility as the Regulation of the Evidence Required for Imaginative Simulations

So I often think about the issue of privacy. The issue of seeing each other and seeing other people and how we don't want to see each other.

I think that this issue becomes clearest to me when I enter public bathrooms. The rinky dink stalls just seem so hilarious to me. They just seem so odd because the bottom line is that I can see through the slits in the door. They don't hide you very well. I can see you. Sorta.

So this just leads to me ask certain questions about what privacy really is, how it is accomplished, what it is for, and how it really works when we say that it has been achieved. What I'm really getting at is that privacy might have something to do with the imagination and simulation theory of mind. Let me talk about three things to think about this. First, I'll talk about the experience of being the one seeking privacy, the one inside the bathroom stall who wants not to be seen. Second, I'll talk about being the one who is outside the stall and who has no real view of the other person. Then I feel like identity may also have something to do with this, so I'll talk about that.

So when you are in a bathroom stall you have this door closed and for the most part no one can see you. You are hidden from the gaze of other people. But what is it that would truly make you feel like you were invisible to other people? What really provides that sense of privacy? I am suggesting that it is your own imagination and capacity to internally simulate other people's gazes that would make you feel uncomfortable. Say, for example, that I was in a bathroom stall, and then I left said bathroom stall only to realize that someone I knew was waiting for that same stall. Suddenly they realize that I was the person in that stall, and I realize that they have now seen me. They now have all the information that they need to imagine my sitting on the toilet. So my privacy is retroactively destroyed. Although I am no longer in the bathroom stall in that moment, and they are not actually seeing me in a moment of exposure, they very shortly after the fact have been given all the evidence they need to see me exposed in their mind's eye.

All of this really has to do with how we perceive other people in our mind's eye. That is the place where simulation takes place, where imagination takes place. I believe that other people exist primarily in our imagination, as my writing of 6/13/10 should have made clear.

So what if I am the person outside of a stall, what is it that gives the person inside the stall privacy? Well, I had an interesting experience once at the National Archives. Everyone there wore name badges that had their picture on them. Once someone was in a bathroom stall and there ID was clipped to their belt loop, so because their pants were around their ankles their picture was visible to me. So basically because I had their picture right there in front of me they didn't really have such a thing as privacy. Sure, I couldn't actually see them naked sitting on the toilet, but I had all the evidence that I needed to imagine them sitting there.

So I am saying that privacy doesn't just depend on the obstruction of visibility, it depends on someone being prevented from having the evidence they need to imagine us in a compromising situation.

Let me give an example: what if we didn't want our parents or our friends to have any knowledge of an embarrassing romantic, sexual, social, or some other type of encounter that we had. We wouldn't tell our parents obviously, and then a couple of weeks may go by and we may forget about the whole thing and think that our privacy has been established. But suppose that we wrote about our embarrassing event in a journal of sorts, and then our parents or friends or whoever read our journal without our permission. Clearly, our privacy has been blown.

But why has our privacy been blown? The event was not directly witnessed by out family or friends, but we still feel the pain of embarrassment, and the feeling that our privacy has somehow been compromised. But why? What is it that has compromised our privacy? It is something in the imagination of our friends and family who have now read our journal.

Prior to that moment our friends/family had no evidence of our embarrassing moment. But once they read it, they suddenly have evidence to imagine and simulate us in that compromising situation. And thus we have evidence to imagine them imagining us in that situation. It is our knowledge of their knowledge that makes us feel embarrassed.

So privacy comes down to regulating the evidence that other people have to imagine us in compromising situations. To bring it back to my original example, when we are in a bathroom stall we are blocked from other people's visibility enough that they don't have any evidence to imagine who it is that is sitting in the bathroom stall. Similarly, we don't have any evidence to imagine that we are being watched by a specific person.

All of this has to do with what Foucault describes when he talks about panopticism. It is other people's gazes, and our knowledge of their gaze, that really gives us the means of controlling our own behavior, or of feeling like we do or do not have privacy.

So it comes to down to the economy of the imagination. It comes back to how much information is available to allow people to imagine us in certain ways. What matters is the evidence people have to imagine us in compromising situations, and how much we are aware of how people are able to imagine us in those compromising situations.

It is like a loop of imaginative simulation. We are imaginatively simulating other people's imaginative simulations of us. So it becomes about gauging what kind of evidence people have to simulate us. This is what I mean by the economy of the imagination. What kind of things are people able to imagine us doing. What is the evidence that they have that is allowing them to imagine/simulate us in those ways.

What a weird post this is. Sorry it is so embarrassing and silly. It is funny because I'm very embarrassed to be writing about this. About this issue of bathrooms and privacy. It just sounds very funny to me.

And in some ways I am engaging in the process I am describing. I am putting out information about my thoughts that will potentially compromise the privacy of my mind. So who will read this, and will it effect the way that other people imagine me? How does this change the economy of my imagination of other people? It makes it so that certain people can think certain things about me. And it makes it so that I have to think those certain things about myself as if I were other people. This whole post just fucks with my mind. The loop of imaginative simulations between people is so hard for me to articulate clearly and without all this jargon and technical terminology. Whatevs.

Active Days, Active Mind

So I was thinking a little while ago about my job and my thinking and my writing. I was thinking about how once I had learned all of my major tasks and felt more comfortable with them, then perhaps I would have time for my own thoughts. Then perhaps I could let myself daydream about the things I'm writing so as to cover some ground on them. But I haven't really been able to do that very much yet.

My mind is still very active though. I find myself thinking tons of different things. But I just don't know about what. The last two days on my lunch break I have had an idea and felt like OH BOY I need to write about that idea! But then I neglected to write it down and sure enough it just slipped away. To be expected I suppose. I need to write these things down when I really think that.

But I'm still slowly working on this new essay of mine. It will be comparable in length to my 'Society's Implicit War' essays. Those essays were so long that I ended up publishing them serially. I suspect I may end up doing the same thing with these new ones. Almost certainly. I've written about ten pages so far and have another 20 pages of outlines and quotations I've pulled. I think once I've pulled all the quotations that I want I'll be able to write it pretty quickly. But the skimming and quotation pulling is hard work. It takes real focus to just sit down and skim this book page by page and figure out where all these different lines fit into the outline of my discussion.

But when I'm at work I'm not able to think about these things. It is true that on certain breaks I have had moments of breakthrough where I suddenly understand a new connection, or something like that. But usually I have to work hard for that. Or maybe I don't. Maybe it just happens.

But anyways, my reading has been pretty productive the last couple days. I was able to finish Zizek's Violence: Six Sideways Reflections and I feel like I'm still grappling with it. But it is starting to make a bit of sense to me.

After that I quickly moved on to a new book I bought called The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics by Mark Lilla. The essay I'm currently working on 'Art, Zen, and Intellectual Insurrection' revolves around the power that intellectuals or other creative types can have on political change. So the book seemed like a good place for me to take my reading. ALso it has given me a better sense of the lives of certain people who I have yet to read, but will undoubtedly have to read. Heidegger is the person who is standing out in my mind the most right now. The chapter on Heidegger traces his relationships with Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers. He seems like his life was very fascinating. In any case, I need to read Being and Time. Long book that feels really daunting, but I think I can do it. But I think that this brief biographical introduction will help me grapple with his work.

I also just finished reading the chapter on Foucault and I feel very good about it. I guess for the last year or so I have been in the thick of Foucault's thought. I felt dominated by him for a while. To figure out what was going on with his work seemed like an uphill battle, an overwhelming task. But now I don't feel as worried. Not that I have mastered Foucault or anything like that. But that I feel like I have passed the halfway mark in my battle with Foucault. I've read enough of his stuff that the journey with him will now be one in which I can move beyond him and incorporate him into my larger understanding of things.

How I felt with Foucault for quite a while is now how I'm starting to feel with Zizek. Zizek has written so much. It seems so interdisciplinary and so challenging. I'm not sure what I will end up doing with him. But I plan on reading him more. Violence was pretty compelling. We will see.

I'm gonna go to a coffee shop and work on pulling quotations out of Collingwood now. So long.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Loving Love and Reading About Violence

I am experiencing some tension right now between the themes of my reading and writing. The two themes that are troubling me the most are 1. my focus on zen, acceptance, and love, and 2. my focus on violence, anger, and war.

I’m a very loving person. I want to be a loving person. I like love a lot. I hope I am as loving as I hope I am. But violence occupies so much of my thought and reading, it is a strange predicament.

But generally I am struggling a little bit to feel the coherency of my reading. The most interesting part is that I can feel a coherence. To me my reading is following some kind of logic. I’m moving from book to book and from topic to topic. I think that I am reading in those directions because there are relationships. But it feels so hard for me to peg down or explain what the connections are. I don’t know how to explain what it is that I’m after on the whole. Mainly I guess because lately I am undergoing a lot of changes in my thinking. Lots of new ideas are coming to me.

But interestingly they don’t feel like brand new ideas. They don’t feel like huge turns or shifts. Sometimes there are big shifts. But for the most part I feel like it is growing in complexity and interconnectivity. I feel like there is a unified theme emerging in my mind. Perhaps this is where i feel the tension coming from.

I think the tension is coming from that I am starting to see Zen and love and war and struggle as compatible in some weird way. But this would make sense. I find nihilism to be a very positive thing that is full of a lot of love. I think nihilism somehow feels really good.

I want to be a really positive and loving person. Yet I find myself so preoccupied with questions about violence and struggle. Maybe that is a good thing. I think it is definitely good to identify love and compassion as the major things to come back to. But I also think that it is important to think about war and violence, seeing as how it happens so often.

So in reality I feel like my two major interests, love and war, are very compatible.

But I think this also has to do with the essay that I’m working on. Unfortunately I have not yet settled on a title for this essay. And I’m still in the working stages of it. It seems as if it may have the potential to become quite a large piece of writing. It seems like it could be bringing together quite a lot of my interests. Just as I always try to do, I’m trying to bring together more things than I have before. I don’t like this title I just came up with. Before I had called it ‘Art and Intellectual Insurrection’, I’ve called it ‘The Artist and the Will to Empathy’. Right now I just came up with ‘Art, Zen, and Intellectual Insurrection: Finding Personal and Social Change Through an Expressive Existence’. Whatever. I am getting at some things in this essay. I want to talk about art as a way to live a better life and potentially as a way to life a politically and socially meaningful life. I want artists to somehow change culture for the better. And I want Zen to be a thing. But all of this is so out of wack. Neuroplasticity, Zen, history, war and violence, Collingwood, Foucualt, Zizek, Searle, all these things and people are coming together for me in this essay. I can only feel it bubbling though. My writing is still at such an early stage. But I’m gonna do it soon. Because I think this will help me reconcile a lot of the interests that are feeling disjointed at this point.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Love Nihilism, I Love Zen

I am not sure what I am getting at with this title. But then immediately after I wrote that I added the part that says “I Love Zen.” Because at first the title was just “I Love Nihilism.” Both of which are true. I love both of those things. I find nihilism to be very exciting and liberating. It helps me feel good about what is happening in my life. I also love Zen. I have been reading some Zen stuff and man does it make me feel good. Just so fascinating. So practical. So real and perceptive. So insistent on perception and the struggle with perception.

Hello, reality. Can I have you? Can I get close to you? Can I perceive you accurately? It seems as though Zen tries to help answer those questions with a yes. I need to meditate.

But I think that Nihilism offers something very similar to Zen. I think it offers a way to be peaceful. A way to try to perceive reality accurately and a way to just be. Yeah. But it seems to me that the Nihilists that I have read were taking steps to enable the practice of Zen. I believe that Nihilists, too, want to perceive reality accurately. I think Nihilism wants to know what is really going on. I also suspect that my reading of Nihilism is too limited. So I’ll read more Nihilist stuff in the future, no doubt.

I already wrote an extended post on this once. I believe it was in April. I wrote about Nihilism as a positive philosophy. One that can bring about calmness and mindfulness. I still think that it is true. But that was when my reading was explicitly focused on Nihlism. Now my reading has been explicitly focused on Zen. So now I am coming to similar conclusions. From both sides of the street it seems like the same road to mindfulness. I am finding similar lessons and conclusions about daily life in both Zen and Nihilism.

Because this all has to come back to daily life. I want to live differently everyday. I want to become different all the time. And to me it seems like Nihilism and Zen both offer this path towards a different life. They offer an open and flexible set of rules or ideas that can allow you to live your life creatively. I want to live my life creatively. And I am so happy that Shunryu Suzuki has been so explicit about how Zen is about expressing yourself fully in every moment. Expressing your true nature, all the time. That is what I want.

But I will just say quickly that this idea of ‘nature’ and expressing your nature doesn’t jive so well with something I’m reading right now and other stuff I have read before. In particular, John Searle in “Making the Social World” discusses status functions. And Slavoj Zizek, in “Violence”, which I am currently reading, discusses how things don’t necessarily have a nature or an essence, but rather language and society gives things their ‘nature’. Things to ponder, no doubt. But I suspect these things are compatible. And I suspect they are compatible because creativity is still possible, and we could creatively construct our own essence. Perhaps. Anyways. Cya.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Crowded Bus Rides, Headphones and Solipsism

What if I were to just start talking to all kinds of people on the bus? What if I just said hello to them and asked them how they were doing? What if I just smiled at them and started telling them about my day?

I ask these questions because the answer is simple: it would be weird and it would probably make most people uncomfortable.

But what the hell is that all about? Why do I need to keep to myself on the bus?

What is this about this culture that prevents me from freely talking to strangers on the bus?

I think it might have something to do with the rigid categories that we are surrounded by. On the bus, for example, two guys were talking about the video game Halo. They were just talking about how the fictional monsters in the game were very compelling to them. They found it exciting, it was a really good time for them. They enjoyed it a lot,a nd they could enjoy talking to each other and seeing how they both enjoyed it.

But what about the older guy sitting next to me? Couldn’t we enjoy talking to each other somehow? Wouldn’t there be something to talk about? Perhaps the weather, perhaps how it is Wednesday and how we are both excited to be past ‘hump day’. But that is bull shit. Not that it isn’t worthwhile. I’m a big proponent of small talk. I’ve even written about small talk, check out my post on customer service. But why couldn’t we have honest deep talk about our lives? Because we just don’t know what people are interested in.

And that is the thing. Is that people are ‘interested’ in certain ‘things’. Specific things. I’m not writing very clearly right now. But I’m trying to get at the perceived boundaries between people and how they come from social categories or from specific interests. I don’t know. Knowledge. Social knowledge separates people. Age prevents me from striking up random conversations because I assume older people lead different lives and we wouldn’t have much in common. Gender prevents me from talking to people because men are difficult to approach randomly and with women there is often weird sexual connotations lingering in the background with any randomly started conversation. And I don’t even think that has to be the case, but it is most unfortunate how gender relations are so often permeated by or traced with sexual relations.

And then everyone has their headphones on. Then I have my headphones on. It locks me into a world where only I can hear the music, where only I am there. Headphones feel solipsistic. They feel like they make a world of isolated subjectivity. They confine me.

Sometimes I see a cute girl and I want to talk to her so I take my headphones off. I just open myself up to the outside world. Because if I didn’t have my headphones off I clearly don’t want to talk. I used to think about this in college classrooms. Everyone has their headphones on, no one is talking. But what if you take your headphones on when you enter the classroom? Class doesn’t start for another 15 minutes so why aren’t you listening to your music? All these other people are still listening to their music, why aren’t you? Are you expressing your willingness to engage in conversation by removing your headphones?

Cold Shower Reflections

I just woke up this morning and I couldn’t get any hot water in this new apartment. Then I couldn’t get any of my burners to turn on. I suspect something has gone wrong with the gas company. I haven’t been in touch with them since I moved in, so I don’t know what they did. Not sure how to contact them, or who the gas company even is. I sent my landlord a text so I’m hoping that she will contact them or something. Who knows what is going on with this.

But I’m trying not to be irritated. Or I’m trying to recognize my irritation and be okay with it. Since I finished “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” I’m very interested in being mindful, just accepting things. Yeah, acceptance.

I think that is they key word. The key thing to do. Accept things as they are. This morning I have to accept that my gas stove isn’t working and my shower isn’t producing any hot water. Even as I wrote that I had to sigh/cringe a little bit, because it is frustrating. I wanted to have a hot shower. I wanted to cook eggs.

But everything changes. And soon enough this will change too. I’ll be able to cook eggs. Perhaps tonight, perhaps tomorrow. God forbid I can’t cook eggs until next week. Who knows.

But I don’t know. Looks foggy outside today. No clue what is going on. Hmmm. Whatever.

Just writing because I want to be mindful. I want to accept things. But it is frustrating when things like this happen. But whatever.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The First Word Document Blog

10/12/10 - 9:05 pm

So I am blogging in a word document. I am trying to look at my essay that I’m working on. “Art and Intellectual Insurgency.” “Zen and the Aesthetics of Existence.” These are some vague working titles I have in my mind. But the honest to god truth is that I feel too tired. I feel very tired these days. Working 9-6 mon-friday is hard. It takes up so much time.

I don’t know if I want to work ‘the double shift’ and do my own work at night. I think I will eventually. But right now I’m a bit too tired and a bit too occupied by being in my own new space. Because part of it is that I am now living in my own apartment. I’m experiencing the freedom of being able to go out and eat and hang out with people whenever I want. But who knows. I just feel torn between all sorts of directions in my life.

I feel a bit torn about my next reading project. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to read Slavjo Zizek’s Violence. It just seems like a pretty perfect example of the things that I want to talk about. I have written a good bit about violence. And I have also been doing a fair amount of watching of Zizek online. I like to watch videos of him. He has amazing things to say. And the way that he says them is perhaps one of the best things. He has such excitement, such drama in his voice. So much conviction. He makes jokes, he says outrageous things, he subverts in subtle ways. I just find him pretty fascinating at the brief glances I have had.

Whoo, so tired. I’m also thinking about reading a novel. In Straw Dogs John Gray discussed a novel called Utz and I own it now. I’m looking at it right now and want to read it. It is about a guy who lived in Czechoslovakia during World War II and how throughout the entire war he just expanded his porcelain collection. He loves collecting porcelain. It doesn’t matter to him that all these terrible things are happening around him. He just keeps collecting his porcelain.

Perhaps it will give me a bit of perspective on the way that I am living my life right now. I just stock bottled water everyday. I stoke Coca-Cola for people to buy. I make 20 oz mochas with extra chocolate and whipped cream. I just feel out of touch. Not because I know what it is to be in touch and I somehow need to get back in touch. I feel out of touch because I don’t even know what it means to be in touch. It is just unclear to me what is happening at anytime and anyplace. Where does all this bottled water come from and how did everyone become so comfortable just buying it all the time? We love coffee and milk and pastries. We love America.

I also have been contemplating my own writing a lot since yesterday. My friend told me that I was a strong analytical writer but perhaps hadn’t found my voice yet. It is true in many ways. I am still learning so much and have so very much left to learn. But my voice is in the background of it all. I think that my voice is an invisble web that is tying all these different ideas together. I think that my voice echos in my analyses. I can hear my voice. Or rather I can feel my voice. I feel it bubbling in the background. It has clear statements of its own to make. But I can’t produce them yet.

I drew my friends attention to my post in July titled ‘In Defense of Thinking a Lot’. Then I reread it and I was really pleased with what I had written. I didn’t cite anyone, and I just put it all out there what I was all about, what I love to think about.

I finished Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind at work today. Great book. Excited to finish it. Who knows what is going on.

My voice. That is what is going on.

I am struggling to write this analysis of life as art, the art of life. I just always feel so far in over my head when I look at my outlines. This was true for all my big essays. For Society’s Implicit War, for The Everyday A Priori Imagination. All of those things freaked me out and felt impossible. And then I wrote them. I know I’ll write this one too. Just need to do it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A quick library post

I am in the Capitol Hill library branch. Today was the first day that I bussed to work from my new apartment. It was a good time. I don't have internet access at my new place and I'm not sure if I am going to get it or not.

Unfortunately this leaves me in a situation in which I am reevaluating my relationship to this blog. Clearly I am going to keep posting on here. No doubt. But will I do it from home and then upload it at other times? How will I manage a limited connection to the internet?

For one thing I just pulled my outlines for my most important blog post that I'm working on. Something about Zen and the Art of Minds. I have yet to come up with a good title. But I'm working hard on this essay and I think it is going to be a real kick in the pants for my mind. Oh well.

I need to do some thinking about how this is all going to work out. Good luck to me. And to the rest of you.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Distractibility and Whatever Else Happens

So I just want to write about anything at all.

Today I assembled my Ikea bed in my new apartment. Now I'm back at my aunt's house, hanging out. Gonna go out later and get some food and drank, but for now I'm just relaxing. The rest of my moving will be done tomorrow. I'll move my clothes, my books, my other things. I need to get a bedside table. I lost my swiss army knife tweezers. They fell down the sink drain. Upsetting.

I need to fix this one thing in my new apartment. It is the little ring in the bathroom that would hold a hand towel or something. Maybe I don't need a hand towel, but I don't like having just some random screw sticking out of the wall, and some random ring not hanging on that random screw.

I am finding my distractibility to be pretty startling. Whoa and then without even thinking about it I just opened another tab and started looking at Facebook. Fortunately, because I was writing about it, I realized that I had been distracted from the previous sentence and immediately closed Facebook and came back to writing.

But gosh it is so easy to just stop looking at things and start looking at other things. Oh and then I just opened up New York Times and then immediately closed it again. The Shallows has really made me a lot more reflective on how I am engaging with the internet, what my attention span is like. What the internet does. I don't know. It is awfully odd to me. It is confusing me.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend last night about the internet and history and other stuff. We often talk about the internet. I think mainly because it is hard to establish clearly what is going on to us with this new electronic medium. The question is of benefits and drawbacks. The benefits are obvious: access to information, expansion of culture, expansion of people's horizons. But at the same time the drawbacks may counterfeit these benefits. If the internet is making us distractible, destroying our attention span, then what does cultural expansion matter? If people are being taught to engage with culture in superficial ways then is it really expansion?

I don't know. I just don't know. To me it feels like a crucial question for our age. For this time. Contemporary culture, the internet, the age of information, democracy and capitalism. My aunt made the point that education is essential to democratic societies because we need an informed electorate. But right now it seems as though our voting turn outs are really low. Less than 50%? About 50%? Less than 60%, definitely. So then what to do about education in America? Are people really informed on the issues? When did rhetoric become more important than real issues? Probably at least since the Cold War. Maybe before. I just don't know enough about history.

I sure do think a lot about graduate school. Whether I'm gonna go into a history program or an interdisciplinary program. My interests are so broad. My aunt told me that she can see me ending up at History of Consciousness, or at Chicago Committee on Social Thought, something interdisciplinary. She says that after talking to me a lot she sees how large my interests are and how I'm trying to weave them together. I think I can weave things together quite well. But what kind of program will help me do this stuff the most? I just don't know.

But fortunately I can keep reading for a while longer before I need to decide.

Lol I also just realized that the title of this blog is funny in some way. Distractibility and whatever else happens. I want my own writing to distract me. I want to flow from one topic to the next without knowing what I'm talking about. I'm not focusing. I'm not following linear chains of thought. Certainly Mr. Carr doesn't think that all thought needs to be linear, but that the age of the book did encourage this type of thinking, and that it has certain benefits.

Who knows.

I don't want to end this post yet. I want to keep going for a minute. But I don't know what to write about.

Tonight is an interesting night because it is the last night I'll be staying in my aunt's house. She sure has been great to let me stay with her. But now I'll be having my own apartment. Wild stuff.

I lost my Orca card last night. Huge bummer. I'll get a new one. But it just sucks to have to pay for buses now while I don't have it. Oh well. I will be happy when I don't have to worry about it anymore.

I feel really tired. Not sure why. Oh wellllll. Tonight I want to do something. Yup, gonna.

Oh why does this post feel so inadequate. I feel like I can't talk about what I want to talk about. Not because I'm afraid to talk about things. Well, I am. But also because I don't know what to talk about. I want to talk about romance and love. I want to talk about new socializing and feeling weird. Life is about to change again. Living in my own apartment is going to be a totally new thing. Life is about to change again. I suppose that is the pressure I feel. Is this room. This room that has become familiar over the last six weeks. Now I'm gonna have another new room to get comfortable with. So be it. Just feels strange. I just know it is gonna be new and interesting. HOW EXCITING.

How unthinkable, too.

That is the thing. Unthinkable.

I look forward to being settled in my new apartment. Then I will perhaps be able to write this new essay I have planned. I don't like having it planned and not writing it. So why aren't I writing it right now? Who knows. I'm preparing mentally for a number of things.

I'll write it. That is also what I really want to do, and what I really want to talk about. I want to talk about Zen and creativity.