Part III.3: Implementing The Aesthetic Theory Of Existence
Now, as I said at the beginning of Part III, I am trying to collaborate with Collingwood’s project of unifying moral philosophy with moral behavior. This whole point of this writing is to make me feel like I can live a good life. And I suspect that this idea of life as an aesthetic project might be a way of conceptualizing a good life. I’m trying not only to tell myself what the good life is, but how to live it. This is the section where I’m going to try and tell myself how precisely this aesthetic life is to be lived, how I am to do it.
I am going to do this in five sections, which are roughly divided into three subsections. In sections fourteen I’ll try to specify exactly what kind of expression would constitute an aesthetic expression. In section fifteen I’ll be furthering the what of the aesthetic existence by tying it to Zen. Sections fourteen and fifteen, therefore, are about what exactly the changes to ourselves would look like. In section sixteen and seventeen I’ll be trying to explain exactly how we could make these changes to ourselves. In order to talk about this I’ll be drawing on John Searle’s notion of the content and form of action. And in section seventeen I’ll be talking about ways in which we can go about modifying the content of our action. Specifically, I’ll be talking about two things. First, a process of reflection that I’ll be calling ‘personal archeology’. And second, how it is that the content of our actions can be modified by acquiring synthetic experience from the humanities. Then in section eighteen I’ll try to bring back some themes from Part I and explain how the aesthetic life is about attaining an expansion of our experience that can make us more empathic and capable of sensitive social interactions. Finally, in section nineteen I’ll be trying to make some comparisons between Collingwood’s definition of art proper and the things that I have explicated in Part III. In short, this section will be about specifying the what, how, and why of the aesthetic existence.
Onward to section fourteen.
14. Applying Artistic Expression to Daily Life: Waiting To Express Within Structures
So in this section I want to talk about what it would mean to integrate emotional expression into our daily lives. What would that look like? What kinds of things would we say about ourselves and about the world that would qualify them as aesthetic? There are a few themes that I want to group this around: waiting, social structure, and the way that expression relates to and is facilitated by the two.
I guess in this section I’m trying to understand how it is that honest artistic expression happens in the social world. Because the key to living an aesthetic existence has to be honest, candid expression. Collingwood is quite clear on this point: “If art means the expression of emotion, the artist as such must be absolutely candid; his speech must be absolutely free. This is not a precept, it is a statement. It does not mean that the artist ought to be candid, it means that he is an artist only in so far as he is candid” (115). So what prevents me from being candid in the social world? Why is it that it is so difficult to honestly and consciously express myself all the time? What is holding me back from being a social artist? And how could I overcome these limitations and become expressive at almost all times?
The issue of waiting is a crucial one. I think this is true in almost any aspect of life, whether it is war and politics, socializing and relationship building, or any kind of expression, be it aesthetic or otherwise. But right now I want to point out that both artistic expression and expression in the social world are intimately tied to waiting. In terms of artistic expression and creativity, both Guy Claxton and Theodor Adorno have made it clear to me that waiting is an integral part of art. In Hare Brain Tortoise Mind Claxton talks about the difficulties of the creative process, and in particular, the difficulties of forcing creative output with rational or deliberate thought. He refers to what he calls ‘mental gestation’, by which he means the process of allowing a seed of an idea to naturally mature until it is expressible. One of the crucial lessons I’ve taken from Claxton is how important waiting is when attempting to express something. This relationship between artistic expression and waiting was then corroborated while I was reading Adorno’s Minima Morali. “Artistic productivity,” Adorno argues, “is the capacity for being voluntarily involuntary” (Adorno, 222). My own experience also confirms this relationship between expression and waiting. Sometimes I go a week without writing anything and then it will just fly out of me. I wrote a blog post once about how I was both the pump and the well. About how I waited for my well to fill up and then I’d pump it all out and then wait for it to fill up again. I think that the relationship between waiting and artistic expression is pretty undeniable.
If I accept that conclusion (which I have no problem with), then I have to ask myself a question about the aesthetic existence: What is the relationship between waiting and aesthetic expression in the social world? Right now I can think of two ways that expression and waiting are linked in the social world. First, I am often limited by my own ability to express something socially, and have to wait until I am more comfortable. Second, the norms of social environments often limit the ways I am able to express myself, forcing me to wait for a situation in which I’m more comfortable expressing myself. Those two things blend, of course. The social environment effects how comfortable I am, and my comfort level effects the environment. But they seem distinct to me, that personal element and that social structural element. The structural element I’ll be handling in a moment. So I’ll just briefly talk about this personal element.
I find that in many instances I simply don’t feel comfortable expressing myself honestly. I sometimes worry about how people will respond, how that will effect my reputation, how it will making people think of me, and I just don’t feel comfortable being honest about certain things. Part of me wonders if the reason I don’t speak freely is because I am influenced by a technical theory of life. By which I mean that I am concerned with representing myself in certain ways, concerned with making people have a certain image of me in their minds, as opposed to me simply expressing myself all the time. But as I said, waiting is very helpful for overcoming these difficulties with expression. If I wait until I get to know people then I typically have a much easier time expressing myself around them. I learn what is going on in their minds, and I learn what they know about what is going on in my mind, and as a result I become more and more expressive. The longer I wait to get to know someone the more candid I become. Sometimes being candid in the social world takes a bit of waiting.
Sometimes I also think that my ability to express myself is also hindered by the way that my social interactions are structured. Sometimes work environments feel too formal for the type of thoughts that come to my mind naturally. Sometimes I don’t feel entirely comfortable expressing myself because I am in a situation with my family, and I have all sorts of ideas about how family shouldn’t know about certain things. Sometimes when hanging out with new people I don’t feel comfortable expressing myself because I know all kinds of rules about first impressions and getting to know people. Sometimes on a first date I might not feel entirely comfortable expressing myself because of ideas I have about politeness and other things. There are certain labels and structures to my relationships that prevent me from expressing myself candidly all the time. Perhaps it would be helpful to say that these structures are something like status functions. They are the labels, the roles, the routines that have been established within our society. I don’t always feel comfortable expressing myself at work, for example, because I am a ‘barista’ and I am not supposed to ask customers certain things, I’m not supposed to say certain things to my ‘bosses’ or my ‘co-workers’. Status functions and structures to my relationships inhibit the way that I am capable of expressing myself.
So what to do about these structural limitations on my expression? What am I supposed to do with the fact that my situation in a certain social environment prevents me from expressing my thoughts full. Well, I have two answers. First, I need to learn to express within the structures that already exist. And second I need to learn to express the existence of those structures in conversation. Let me handle these points in turn.
This first part is in many ways reminiscent of what I said in the last section about the role of craft in the aesthetic existence. I need to learn society’s ‘rules’ for my expression so that I can better express myself within those rules. Because I’m a barista I need to continue to play my role, take orders, make drinks for people. That does not mean, however, that I can’t ask people how they are doing, or ask them strange questions, or tell people what I’m thinking or feeling. If I can learn how I am structured and then learn to be okay with that, I can begin to express myself within those confines. I can understand what tact is, and obey those rules of tact, but still express how I really feel to people. In other words, my expression has to be grounded in and work in relation to the different norms that exist in my society. This really is the point that I was making in Part III.2.10 and 11. My expression will always be in relation to my social structure, so I better learn to express myself within those structures. This also has something to do with waiting. Because the bottom line is that sometimes I can’t express myself within a certain structure. When I’m at work and I have a big line of people in front of me I can’t afford to make small talk, I can’t afford to really express myself to those people right then and there. I have to wait until there is a moment in which it is appropriate to express myself within structures. But am I always trapped by these structures? Do I always have to work in relation to them? Or is there a slightly different alternative?
I think there is another alternative to simply existing within them, and that is to express those structures to those around you, thereby modifying their effect on the conversation. Me and my friend talked about this at one point. We were discussing how outraged we feel walking on sidewalks sometimes, or how much the working world frustrates us. Both of those things are structures that have arisen out of history that I have no control over. Yet I am so astounded by them and feel so limited by them. In conversation, however, it would be really awkward or annoying to say to people ‘OH MY GOD CAN YOU BELIEVE WE HAVE TO WALK EVERYWHERE ON THESE GOD DAMN SIDEWALKS?! I CAN’T BELIEVE I WILL NEVER ESCAPE ALL OF THESE HISTORICALLY CONSTITUTED STRUCTURES TO MY EXPERIENCE! WHAT THE HECK IS UP WITH THAT!?!?! LOLOL.” That is, however, precisely how I feel sometimes. I feel this vague stinging sensation for how limited and structured my experience is. And I want to shout it out and to express it to people. I just worry I’ll sound pretentious and weird, I fear that people will just think I’m trying to make some haughty comment to look smart. But the truth is that I am outraged by most of the things that I do. Outraged in the sense of shocked.
But I wonder if there would be a way for me to express these underlying structures to experience. A good example of all this is gender and sexuality. It is a set of assumptions that structure my relationships with other people. But the thing about gender is that by expressing those structures to other people you can potentially restructure the way that you relate to other people. If I’m dating a girl who is into guys paying for her, or into guys taking a dominant stance, for example, and so I express my discomfort with that idea (which I view as historically contingent and silly) then I might be able to change the way I relate to her. Or with co-workers or bosses, I might be able to express how I don’t like how the economic world structures our relationships, and we might then be able to interact in new ways. My boss (shouts out to puddin), for example, doesn’t like being called ‘boss’ because (I assume) of the way it modifies or frames our relationships. I think that as long as I’m not attempting any kind of arrogant statement, but am rather expressing how I feel uncomfortable with how my relationships are structured, then it is okay for me to express the structures of my life, and in that way this expression can be aesthetic. Because all I’m doing is expressing how I feel, expressing how frustrated I am with the confines of my experience. But, again, this has something to do with waiting. I can’t do this right away. I won’t simply rant about gender or sidewalks to anyone at anytime. But there will be moments that arise in which it will be appropriate for me to express the underlying structure, the underlying status functions, that are giving certain interactions their quality.
So in this section I was trying to figure out why it is that I’m not always comfortable expressing myself in the social world, and how it is that I can navigate these difficulties of expression. I want to understand why the aesthetic existence would be difficult to enact, and how I could get around those difficulties. I talked about how there is a crucial relationship between artistic expression and waiting. I think this is true because of individual feelings and because of the social environment. In either case, I need to wait until I am comfortable enough with myself to express something, and I need to wait until the social moment is one in which it would be appropriate for me to express myself. Furthermore, I entertained the idea that it would be okay to express the structures of life to people with the hopes of modifying the way that the relationship is going. For me it is kinda clear what I mean by aesthetic expression in the social world: it would be the conscious expression of my emotions, and not the representation of myself. But it is so obvious that I am not always capable of being candid in the social world, it is very hard to live an aesthetic existence. So the key is to be aware, and to wait. To wait until there are moments when I feel comfortable and when the moment warrants my expression.
In the next section I’d like to tie this idea of waiting and expression in the social world to Zen.
15. Zen and Expressing Your True Nature in Every Moment: Consciousness, Mindfulness, And Expression
So in the last section I talked about how emotional express will always have to be tempered and regulated by our personal feelings and the social structure of our relationships. I thus concluded that waiting would have to be a crucial element in the aesthetic life. Waiting would aid us in two ways. First, by alleviating personal insecurities that prevent us from being candid. Second, by giving us an awareness of when it is and is not appropriate to express certain things to certain people.
So, in this section I want to explain how these ideas of waiting, attention, and expression are corroborated by my reading of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. I’ll be talking about consciousness, about mindfulness, and about emotional expression in Zen. In particular, I’m curious about the relationship between Collingwood and Suzuki’s claims about expressing yourself in every moment. I think that it all has something to mindfulness. And I suppose is the main thing that this section will be addressing that I didn’t talk about explicitly in the last section: how Buddhist mindfulness would be the way to turn life into a constantly expressive and aesthetic project. I think that mindfulness and Collingwood’s aesthetics share an emphasis on consciousness, and on expression in daily life. I want to be sure that the relationship between Zen and the aesthetic life is emphasized thoroughly. So I’ll first be using quotations from Collingwood and Suzuki to show their similar emphasis on these issues. And then I’ll take the discussion in my own direction and deal with some more nuanced points about mindfulness and life as art.
So the first thing I’d like to do is to look at Collingwood’s definition of consciousness and awareness. I want to do this to try and see if his definition of consciousness has any relationship to Buddhist mindfulness. I suspect that Collingwood’s emphasis on consciousness will make it comparable to the mindful expressiveness that Suzuki talks about. When I was first reading The Principles I was struck by Collingwood’s discussion of consciousness. In particular, Collingwood speaks of awareness, much like Suzuki, as something prelinguistic or ineffable. He argues that the “act of appreciating something, just as it stands, before I can begin to classify it, is what we call attending to it” (203). It is simply about looking without any conceptual or linguistic correlate. This is just like when Suzuki encourages us to forget all of our preformed concepts. Furthermore, Collingwood also establishes the relationship between conscious awareness and artistic expression: “what a student learns in an art-schools is not so much to paint as to watch himself painting: to raise the psycho-physical activity of painting to the level of art by becoming of it, and so converting it from a psychical experience into an imaginative one” (281-82). In many ways this is the kind of perspective I identify with mindfulness. Jeffrey Schwartz describes mindfulness by talking about the notion of the ‘impartial spectator’, by which he means that we would view ourselves from a conscious and removed perspective of another person. Guy Claxton uses a similar metaphor in his essay “Mindfulness, Learning, And The Brain.” He discusses the possibility of putting a screen between ourselves and our actions, so that we could view ourselves from a more removed perspective, gain more insight onto our thoughts and actions. In any case, Collingwood’s description of consciousness in the artistic process reminds me a good bit of mindfulness.
Collingwood’s discussion of consciousness also centers around the importance of particularizing our emotions. As I’ve already discussed, Collingwood believes that aesthetic expression requires that emotions be fully particularized, recognized for all their nuance. This quotation should drive the point home: “The anger which I feel here and now, with a certain person, for a certain cause, is no doubt an instance of anger, and in describing it as anger one is telling truth about it; but it is much more than mere anger: it is a peculiar anger, not quite like any anger that I ever felt before, and probably not quite like any anger I shall ever feel again. To become fully conscious of it means becoming conscious of it not merely as an instance of anger, but as this quite peculiar anger. Expressing it, we saw, has something to do with becoming conscious of it; therefore, if being fully conscious of it means being conscious of all its peculiarities, fully expressing it means expressing all its peculiarities” (113). There is no aesthetic expression unless we are willing to use our consciousness to particularize our emotions.
It seems fairly obvious that consciousness and expression are key themes for both Collingwood and Suzuki. But what about waiting? I don’t believe that Collingwood addresses waiting explicitly, but is waiting implicated in any of his ideas? Well there is one quotation that comes to mind in which waiting seems to implicitly be a crucial part of aesthetic expression. “What we feel,” Collingwood argues, “is certainly limited in its existence to the here and now in which we feel it. The experience of feeling is a perpetual flux in which nothing remains the same, and what we take for permanence or recurrence is not a sameness of feeling at different times but only a greater or lesser degree of resemblance between different feelings” (159). If emotions are firmly grounded in the flux of time, then how is it that an artist is able to express certain things? At another point in The Principles, Collingwood says that artistic expression is grounded in the flow of a person’s experiences. That a work of art can only be created at that particular time in a person’s life. “He is creating it at a certain point in his life, and he could not have created it at any other point, not any other at that point.... because each is created to express an emotion arising within him at that point in his life and no other” (287). Waiting, therefore, is a crucial factor in that we have to wait until our experiences coalesce into a certain type of expression. I’m not saying this very clearly. But, expression and waiting seem to be implicitly linked for Collingwood. I feel like I’ve already established most of these things about Collingwood and Zen in other sections. Consciousness is the key factor. Expression can happen all the time. It might look like mindfulness.
So now I want to use some quotations from Suzuki to reinforce the idea that Buddhist mindfulness would be the way to enact this aesthetic theory of existence. I think that this is so based on its emphasis on consciousness and constant expression. When I was reading Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind I actually found the point super explicit. Suzuki smacks you over the head with the idea that life in itself can become constantly expressive, a constant work of art. Suzuki says that if you can manage to live your life mindfully, if you eat when you need to eat, if you cook when you need to cook, if you can manage to be fully present and conscious of your actions, then your life will be constantly expressive. By being conscious, he argues, “You are expressing yourself. You are expressing your true nature. Your eyes will express; your voice will express; your demeanor will express. The most important thing is to express your true nature in the simplest, most adequate way and to appreciate it in the smallest existence” (Suzuki, 46). Everything that I do, if I do it consciously, can be an expression of my nature, my thought, my beliefs. This is the ambition of mindfulness and of this idea of the aesthetic life. For life should be an act of creation. Or, as Suzuki says, “Moment after moment we are creating something, and this is the joy in our life” (Suzuki, 69). To be constantly turning our life into a work of art, or, as Foucault says to make “life into an oeuvre that carries certain aesthetic values and meets certain stylistic criteria” (Foucault, 1984, 10-11). In short, it seems obvious to me that Buddhist philosophy offers a guide to something like the aesthetic life. The parallels seem clear. They both are about the exertion of consciousness, they are both about turning every act into an expressive one, and they both see their goals as nothing short of life itself. Plus, when Suzuki says things like this the conclusions can be hard to deny: “Buddhist philosophy is so universal and logical that it is not just the philosophy of Buddhism, but of life itself” (Suzuki, 166). So it should now be clear that both Collingwood and Suzuki believe that the exertion of consciousness towards the end of expression can turn life into a work of art. Now I’d like to run through a few points that I’d to make.
The first point I’d like to address is the relationship between mindfulness and waiting. I already explained that for Collingwood waiting seems to be an integral part of expression. But what about Zen? Does waiting matter at all in mindfulness? My hunch is yes. First of all, Guy Claxton is a practicing Buddhist and places a significant emphasis on waiting, which I’ve already discussed. Second, one of Suzuki’s quotations seems to imply that waiting is a crucial part of expression: “Wisdom is not something to learn. Wisdom is something which will come out of your mindfulness. So the point is to be ready for observing things, and to be ready for thinking. This is called emptiness of your mind. Emptiness is nothing but the practice of zazen” (Suzuki, 143). When he says that the point is to be ready for observing, this implies that there is not necessarily always something to observe. Perhaps the mind is quiet, perhaps the social world is peaceful and makes sense. We just need to wait until there is something that deserves our full attention. Furthermore, there is a Taoist notion known as wu wei. Wu wei directly translates to ‘without action’, and is generally about knowing the proper moments to act and to not act. It is also associated with letting things take their natural course, letting your inclinations manifest themselves spontaneously. The point is that we do not always need to do something, but we can wait. Time often has a way of working things out for us. Another similar phrase: do nothing and your will will be done. We don’t need to force ourselves to do what we need to do. If we really need to do it, if it really concerns us, we will do it. To me this seems like trusting the unconscious, trusting intuition, trusting your judgement, trusting yourself to do whatever you need to do. E.M. Cioran also has something interesting things to say about the usefulness of time and waiting: "Time, fertile in resources, more inventive and more charitable than we think, possesses a remarkable capacity to help us out, to afford us at any hour of the day some new humiliation." In conclusion, it seems clear that waiting is a deep element in the type of mindful expression that Suzuki, other Buddhists, and Taoists talk about.
Another thing I’d like to address is the difference between mindfulness and self-consciousness. This is a difficult thing for me to talk about, a difficult thing to parse. Because sometimes I’ve talked to people about mindfulness and they say ‘well that doesn’t sound like it would be very useful for me to be thinking about what I’m doing while I’m doing it.’ This is especially true in the social world and in conversation. Because we really need to feel comfortable and intuitive in order to be expressive and genuine in conversation. So how is it that we can reconcile the desire for mindfulness, the desire for consciousness, with the need to be comfortable and intuitive in conversation? Well, the answer for me is that there must be a distinction between the awareness that brings about self-consciousness and the awareness that brings mindfulness. Self-consciousness is definitely an impediment to expression. When we have that negative awareness of ourselves it becomes very difficult to say what we are thinking or feeling, and we tend to feel embarrassed. Self-consciousness is above all an impediment to intuitive behavior, it prevents us from behaving comfortably naturally. But the awareness that is exerted in mindfulness is qualitatively different. Mindfulness would be about the exertion of an accepting and open awareness. If we can somehow manage to express ourselves intuitively while simultaneously watching ourselves express then we would be able to be both intuitive and mindful. This reminds me of a Collingwood quotation I used earlier in this section: “what a student learns in an art-schools is not so much to paint as to watch himself painting: to raise the psycho-physical activity of painting to the level of art by becoming of it, and so converting it from a psychical experience into an imaginative one” (281-82). What we need to learn is to express ourselves in conversation and to watch ourselves expressing so that we can turn our ordinary interactions into honest aesthetic expression. I think that this makes sense. There is clearly a difference between self-consciousness and mindfulness. Mindfulness would not be self-critical, it would be accepting, gentle, and honest. It is about watching ourselves express and thinking about how we express. Not just judging how we express.
So anyways, I did a few things in this section. The main thing I was trying to do was to drive home the claim that the aesthetic theory of life is to be enacted through Buddhist mindfulness. I tried to do this by using quotations from Collingwood and Suzuki to show their common interest in the role of consciousness. I then tried to show how they both believe that the exertion of consciousness can make our everyday actions into works of art. I also tried to address the issue of waiting in the aesthetic theory of existence. It seems as though both Collingwood and Suzuki regard waiting as a crucial element in artistic expression, and in all forms of daily expression. I then corroborated the importance of waiting by pulling some examples from Taosim and from other authors. Lastly, I tried to address how mindfulness is different from self-consciousness. I concluded that self-consciousness differs from mindfulness in the way that it judges our thoughts and actions. Self-consciousness implies a judgement of the self, while mindfulness implies the unconditional acceptance of expression. But this distinction raises another crucial point: the aesthetic existence needs to be enacted primarily through intuitive behavior. This issue will be the topic of the next section.
Now that I’ve explained that the aesthetic existence has to be enacted through Buddhist mindfulness, I’d like to explain how this could potentially be done. In particular, I’d like to draw on an idea that I developed in an essay I wrote at the end of June 2010.
16. Artistic Expression as Modifying the Content of Action: The Deliberate Creation Of Habits
So, one issue that was implicitly raised at the end of the last section was the importance of intuitive behavior in the social world. The bottom line is that our interactions in the social world will typically be unreflective and intuitive. The social world simply happens to quickly, is too unpredictable, and demands too much daily creativity for expression to be handled in a planned fashion. So the questions becomes these: How can we manage to shape our intuitive behavior so as to make it more expressive? What kind of work would we need to do on ourselves in order for our daily lives to become a work of art? The answer for me is this: We have to learn to create a new set of habits and assumptions that guide our intuitive behavior. In this section I hope to draw on John Searle, Collingwood, Suzuki, and Foucault to help me conceptualize this idea of creating habits. After this section I’ll be using section 15 to explain more precisely how we can create for ourselves a new store of habits. This section is a general introduction to this idea that the aesthetic existence has to be enacted through the creation of new habits that will let us be intuitively mindful and expressive.
The most useful thing to begin with is John Searle’s distinction between the content and the mode of an action. In Minds, Brains, And Science Searle advances his ideas about the mind-body problem, the problem of free will, the role of cognitive science, the social sciences, and other issues that relate generally to minds, brains, and science. In section four, “The Structure Of Human Action”, Searle argues that we can distinguish between content and the mode of human action can. The content of an action is essentially the thought or intention that caused the action. The mode, on the other hand, is the form of physical action that was used to carry out the content. When I get up out of my chair and leave the room the content could be several things: I could want to eat food, I could need to use the bathroom, I could want to drive to New York. But in each one of those cases, while the content of my action differs, the mode was the same. I got up out of my chair and I left the room. The content of the action may differ, but they all had the same mode of expression. So the idea is thus that every action has a certain type of thought that is expressed by it. Searle puts it this way: “There is more to types of action than types of physical movements, actions have preferred descriptions, people know what they are doing without observation, and the principles by which we identify and explain action are themselves part of the actions, that is, they are partly constitutive of actions” (Searle, 1984, 59). In other words, it is not appropriate to classify actions without reference to the specific types of thought that gave rise to that action. Just because two people are doing the same physical action, that their actions have the same form, doesn’t mean that their actions have the same content, the same thought. They are, therefore, different actions.
Now I’d like to use an example from my own life to illuminate the personal significance of this distinction between content and form of action. Every day I make lattes for people. I pack shots of espresso, I steam milk, and I mix them in ways that are supposedly pleasurable. But, I would like to think, that if my mind is swirling with these ideas of expressiveness, of pride in my craft, of concern for how I conduct myself, that the action is somehow different. Because it would feel awfully bad if I was just making these lattes with the idea of making money, or of getting through yet another work week. Instead, I am making these lattes with the hope of expressing myself within the economic system that confines me. So while me and other baristas all have the same form in our actions, I would like to think that the content of my action differs in that I am striving for expressiveness, awareness, consciousness, wisdom. Hopefully this distinction between the content (thought) and form (physical manifestation) of an action makes sense, for it will be a major part of the rest of this section.
Now, in my essay of June 29th 2010, “Social Progress And Personal Progress: Expanding The Unconscious Repertoire And Densifying The Content Of Action,” I was trying to use this idea to talk about how we could make our intuitive actions express an internalized wisdom. The essay was inspired by my reading of Searle and my writing at the time, and by a quotation from Alfred Whitehead. Whitehead said that "Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them." What Whitehead is referring to is the unconscious repertoire of thoughts and actions that we have at our disposal. So I was prompted to ask questions about the relationship between the unconscious repertoire and the ideas of personal progress that I was mulling over. The main argument I was making was that we are capable of modifying our habits so that our everyday intuitive actions could reflect a certain amount of internalized wisdom. I was trying to argue that we could modify the content of our intuitive actions, and, furthermore, that we could make our intuitive actions reflect a greater depth of thought. I put it this way in June: “I think... that most of our actions express certain thoughts (certain contents), that it would be possible to identify the content of our actions, and it would be possible to modify the content of our unconscious actions. In essence, we would be able to modify our unconscious modes of thought so that they were expressed in our actions. In particular, I want wisdom to be expressed by our actions. And I believe that mindfulness, paying attention, would be able to help us modify the content of our actions and make it so that our actions reflected wisdom.” This is what I meant by ‘the density of the content of action’. If we had more thoughts embedded deeply into our mind our actions would potentially express all of those latent thoughts. The content of our actions would become denser, they would express more wisdom, more mindfulness, more sensitivity. So anyways, the project is to alter our intuitive actions, and I think that the distinction between the content and the form of action is a good way of conceptualizing the relationship between thought and action. Furthermore, I think it makes sense to speak of ‘the density of the content of action’. I think it is fair to say that I want my actions to express a deep level of wisdom and sensitivity. Finally, I want to say that this is the way to enact the aesthetic existence: using learning and expression to create new sets of habits, to imbue our actions with greater content, to acquire a mindful outlook that would allow us to constantly express ourselves.
Now that I’ve laid out Searle’s distinction between the content and form of action, and specified the goal of the aesthetic life as the modification of the content of action, I would like to use Collingwood, Suzuki, and Foucault to corroborate these ideas. In particular, I think that all three of these authors believed that the aesthetic activity was all about the creation of new habits, much like what I used Searle’s concepts to describe above.
Now Collingwood’s writing in The Principles Of Art is quite explicit about the relationship between aesthetic activity and the creation of new habits. He seems to believe that the process of expression unavoidably results in the creation of new habits in a person. Furthermore, that these habits are not accidental, but are rather utilizable and important to personal and moral growth. Now, the following quotation comes from a section on ‘Art As Language’, in which Collingwood discusses the use of artistic expression. “Language in itself,” he argues, “cannot be thus denatured; what can be is the deposits, internal and external, left by the linguistic activity: the habit of uttering certain words and phrases; the habit of making certain kinds of gestures, together with the kinds of audible noise, coloured canvass, and so forth, which these gestures produce” (275). When he speaks of language being denatured I think he is referring to his conclusion that language must always be a natural phenomenon: it must arise organically and be genuinely expressive. As for the ‘denatured’ habits, I think Collingwood means that because they are side effects of expression, and not language in themselves, they do not fit the criteria of natural that language has to me. Rather, they are an unnatural, deliberate modification of the self that comes about as a result of the natural process of expression that is language. Furthermore, Collingwood regard these deposits of habits created by expression as useful: “Now, in so far as the activity of expression creates a deposit of habits in the agent, and of by-products in his world, these habits and these by-products become things utilizable by himself and others for ulterior ends” (275). We can therefore use our natural expression to create certain unnatural habits that will be useful to us in our daily lives.
Collingwood also believed that the creation of habits was a crucial element in living a moral life. As I was saying above, because social life is typically navigated intuitively, habits have to play a crucial role in moral behavior. Collingwood seems to think that the personal exploration of artistic expression, and the habits that it creates, are an integral step in living a moral life. He says that by becoming an artist one is getting to know their emotions: “The coming to know his emotions is the coming to dominate them, to assert himself as their master. He has not yet, it is true, entered upon the life of morality; but he has taken an indispensable step forward towards it. He has learnt to acquire by his own efforts a new set of mental endowments. That is an accomplishment which must be learn first, if later he is to acquire by his own effort mental endowments whose possession will bring him nearer to his moral ideal” (291). It seems to me that Collingwood is saying that art can help us modify the content of our actions: it can give us a new set of mental tools and habits that can bring us closer to our ideal, it can help us bring our thought and our action further in line. This is a crucial point for me. I see the aesthetic life and the moral life as very closely related, or perhaps as the same thing. I think that by expressing myself, by giving myself new sets of habits, I can hopefully align my thoughts and actions, and thus live a moral life. The aesthetic and the moral are inseparable. I look forward to finding out if the political is also inseparable. But that is Part IV and V. In any case, it seems obvious that Collingwood regards the aesthetic process as something capable of creating new habits, and that the creation of new habits would be a crucial step in living a moral life.
It also seems clear that Suzuki and Foucault believe that the mindful/aesthetic life are all about the creation of new habits. Suzuki is the least explicit of the three writers on this point. The following quotation, however, has some traces of this idea of creating habits: “Wisdom is not something to learn. Wisdom is something which will come out of your mindfulness. So the point is to be ready for observing things, and to be ready for thinking. This is called emptiness of your mind. Emptiness is nothing but the practice of zazen” (Suzuki, 143). It seems that the idea is to use attention in order to cultivate a mind that has the habit of being blank and open. It is an openness, a patience, that mindfulness is meant to cultivate. In either case, it seems as though mindfulness is both an end in itself and a means to the creation of new habits.
Unlike Suzuki, there is a quotation from Foucault that makes it quite clear that his aesthetics of existence are all about creating new habits. While discussing Plutarch, Foucault talks about the relationship between linguistic expression and the creation of certain patterns of thought. It seems as though he is describing the way in which language can provide us with new habits of thought, and thus new habits of action. In this interview from The Final Foucault he explains how Plutarch said: “ ‘You must have learned principles so firmly that when your desires, your appetites or your fears awaken like barking dogs, the logos will speak with the voice of a master who silences the does by a single command’ .” Foucault went on to comment on Plutarch’s statement: “You have there the idea of a logos who would operate in some way without your doing anything. You will have become the logos or the logos will have become you” (Foucault, 1994, 6). It is a deposit of unconscious thought that has been created through linguistic expression. And most importantly, it is a form of self-regulation that has been created through the purposeful creation of habits. It appears as though he is describing the way in which expression can create a set of habits that can bring your actions closer to your moral ideal.
What I’ve described in this chapter is precisely what I am hoping this writing will do for me. I’m trying to create in myself a deposit of habits so that I can become more and more expressive, less run down by routine, more expressive in my daily life! Does it sound silly for me to say that I want my lattes to be expressive of my nature, the depth of my thought, my desire for wisdom? I suspect it does sound silly. But at the same time I think this is important. I think it matters how much we are trying to express ourselves in our daily lives. I’m trying to change my unconscious behavior, trying to make myself more intuitively sensitive, more intuitively expressive, more mindful. I want the content of my action to be denser. I want all of my actions to express a depth of thought that I have worked to cultivate. In any case, this is personal. I want to live a moral life, and I think this idea of an aesthetic existence is shaping up as a way to unify mindfulness, expressiveness, and the modification of intuitive behavior.
In this section I’ve begun advancing perhaps the most important claim of this whole project: that the aesthetic existence depends on the deliberate creation of a new set of habits. I began by explaining how Searle’s distinction between the content and the form of action is a good way to conceptualize the relationship between thought and action. I then explained how I had written about this in June, and how my goal was to ‘densify the content of my action’, so that all of my actions expressed an intense degree of thought and wisdom. This is precisely what is at stake in this section. I am trying to explain how it is that social behavior has to be regulated at the level of habits. It is crucial that we try to create in ourselves new habits that are more in line with our moral values. I ended this section with evidence Collingwood, Suzuki, and Foucault all addressed this issue of creating personal habits. It now seems quite clear to me that the aesthetic life would be all about a mutually supportive process of expressing to create new habits, and new habits that would encourage expression. In the next section I’m going to delve further into this idea and try to specify more specifically how we could go about creating habits in ourselves.
17. The Endless Project of Studying and Constructing Ourselves: The How Of Creating New Habits
Just to summarize the work done thus far, in Part III.3 I have roughly defined the what of the aesthetic life as a process by which we consciously express our emotions within the structures that have been established by our culture and our history. This would require mindfulness towards our own feelings and towards the way that larger social forces structure our feelings, and a willingness to wait for moments in which expression was organic. Furthermore, we could take steps to modify the structure of our relationships by waiting for moments in which it would be appropriate to express those structures in their own right.
I then went on to tentatively define the how of the aesthetic life by arguing that it would require the purposeful creation of new habits for ourselves. I believe this to be the case based on the intuitive nature of social behavior. I would now like to try and specify the how of the how. I want to try and explain how it would be possible for me to create a new set of habits for myself. I plan on expounding this in two subsections that correspond with the two major issues in this process of creating new habits. The first issue is that by the time we reach a reflective age we have already acquired a whole slew of habits from our childhood and from our experiences. The first step in the creation of new habits, therefore, has to be the discovery of our already existing habits. I’ll be emphasizing the role of reflection, and will be exploring an idea that I have previously called ‘personal archeology’. The next subsection will be about the issue of creating new habits after the discovery of our already existing habits. So that section will be about addressing the actual construction of habits that has to take place in order for the aesthetic life to be actualized. I think that the humanities has an important role to play in the creation of new habits. I think this is the case primarily because of the synthetic experience they can provide, and the way that synthetic experience can aid in the purposeful creation of habits.
One of the most important things to note about this process of change is that it will never end. There will never be a point in our lives in which we have become aware enough, have changed enough, have gotten to know ourselves enough. This will be a life long process of changing, of becoming, of studying and constructing the self.
These are ideas that I already worked on in my essay of 12/12/10 titled ‘Empathy And Language: Particularization, Generalization, And Restructuring Default Thought’. In that essay I was trying to make it so that the generalizing tendencies of language could be overcome so that we could engage in the particularization that empathy requires. This is what this next section is roughly about, and what the final section will be about. I’ll be trying to address the importance of habitual empathy, and the way that art, as a form of language, can help us become more intuitively empathic. I realized today that I was drawing heavily on that work, and would like to point out the relationship between this section and that other piece of writing.
Here I go.
17a. Reflection And Personal Archeology
Now the first step in the creation of new habits has to be the identification of already existing habits. It would be nice to think that we simply can create ourselves, that we are a blank slate in which we can inscribe our life and our personalities as we see fit. But the truth is that by the time we an age where we can reflect on ourselves we have already become a certain person. We have already had a huge number of experiences that have shaped us in certain ways. In order to create new habits, therefore, we would have to discover our already existing habits.
The discovery of our already existing habits would have to be done simply through reflection. Describing reflection, however, does not feel like a very easy task. So I’ll be drawing on a number of different things to try and adequately describe this process of reflection that we would need to undertake. In particular, I’d like to draw on Foucault’s notion of historical archeology, and try to explain how there might be a personal counterpart that we can call ‘personal archeology’. In his early work, notably The Order Of Things and The Archeology Of Knowledge, Foucault developed the notion of the historical archeology of thought. What he was trying to do was “to rediscover on what basis knowledge and theory became possible” (TOOT, xxi). The issue is not to evaluate or analyze past forms of understanding in their own right, but to analyze the climate in which those types of thinking became possible. It is about digging up the underlying structures of past thought to see what assumptions made them possible. “I am not concerned, therefore, to describe the progress of knowledge towards an objectivity in which today’s science can finally be recognized;” Foucault asserted, “ what I am attempting to bring to light is the epistemological field, the episteme in which knowledge, envisaged apart from all criteria having reference to its rational value or to its objective forms, ground its positivity ad thereby manifests a history which is not that of its growing perfection, but rather that of its conditions of possibility; in this account what should appear are those configurations within that space of knowledge which have given rise to he diverse forms of empirical science. Such an enterprise is not so much a history, in the traditional meaning of that word, as an ‘archeology’” (Ibid., xxii, emphasis added). Historical archeology, therefore, is about determining the social conditions that make certain types of thinking possible. It is about discovering the constellation of assumptions that make it possible to think in certain ways.
While Foucault is undertaking this archeology on a very broad sense, it seems apt to personalize the notion of archeology. We have to ask ourselves the questions that Foucault puts to history: what makes it possible for me to have the thoughts and emotions that I have? why do my thoughts and feelings present themselves to me in this particular order and with this particular quality? Now, Foucault’s larger archeologies are going to have personal implications for us: it will reveal to us the history of our identities. It will help us understand why sexuality, criminality, sanity, and science are such major axes for our identity. Foucault’s archeologies, however, cannot account for the particulars of our experiences. His archeologies, therefore, need to be supplemented by our own personal archeology. We have to learn to reflect on our own lives, our own history, in order to understand how it is that our thoughts and emotions are structured in the ways that they are. What happened to me to make me so sensitive to people’s teeth? What happened to me to make me so sensitive to people’s religious belief? What happened to me that makes me so aware of how polite or rude people are? What happened to me that makes me feel so concerned with tact? There is a form of self-discovery and analysis, I believe, something that can be called personal archeology. It is the task of section 15a to define this notion of personal archeology and to explain its relationship to the aesthetic existence and the creation of habits that would enable the aesthetic existence.
Now before I delve further into the nitty gritty sloppy analysis of reflection and personal archeology, I’d like to present some evidence from Collingwood and Suzuki to show that my emphasis on reflection is grounded in their work.
The claim that we would first have to go through a process of self-discovery rests on the assumption that emotions exert greater influence on our lives than our rational thoughts. For if our rational thoughts were supreme then all we would need to do would be to exert our rationality at all times. But as I’ve already said, that can’t be done, life is too intuitive, and emotions are too important. Collingwood agrees with me on this point. In fact, he describes emotions as the foundation upon which thought is constructed. He says that the emotions have “the character of a foundation upon which the rational part of our nature is built; laid and consolidated, both in the history of living organisms at large and in the history of each human individual, before the superstructure of thought was built upon it, and enabling that superstructure to function well by being itself in a healthy condition” (164). I would like to note that Collingwood says that our emotions are historistic in two ways. They are influenced both by the larger history of society and by our own personal history. This lines up nicely with the claims I have made about Foucault’s notion of archeology. It confirms my claim that we would need Foucault’s larger archeology, and that we would need to supplement them with a personal archeology of our own. We need this personal reflection, this personal archeology, according to Collingwood, because emotional knowledge has to serve as the basis for our conscious and rational life. Furthermore, Collingwood says that personal knowledge is intimately tied to art: “Art is not a luxury, and bad art not a thing we can afford to tolerate. To know ourselves is the foundation of all life that develops beyond the merely psychical level of experience.... A truthful consciousness gives intellect a firm foundation upon which to build; a corrupt consciousness forces intellect to build on a quicksand” (284). If we are to lead an artistic life we must have a firm emotional foundation. And the way to create that firm emotional foundation is to explore ourselves, to get to know our emotions and the way that they structure our consciousness.
So, according to Collingwood and Foucault, personal knowledge is vital. It gives us a way of understanding ourselves so that we can live a good intellectual and aesthetic life. It provides us with a strong foundation for our consciousness. But how exactly does self-knowledge do this? How is it that self-knowledge, self study, enables us to live an honest and expressive life? What we are doing when we come to know ourselves, Collingwood argues, is transforming our emotions from something that dominates us into something that we dominate. He says that we are imposing a structure on our emotions, forcing them into a more orderly existence, rather than letting them control us. This long quotation should demonstrate Collingwood’s idea about the use of personal study: “The effect of [reflection] on the feelings themselves is to make them less violent.... their violence, or power of determining our actions (including our thoughts, so far as we can be said to think at this primitive stage), is abated. They are no longer like storms or earthquakes, devastating our life. They become domesticated; real experiences still, and experiences of the same kind as before; but fitted into the fabric of our life instead of proceeding on their own way regardless of its structure.... in asserting ourselves as against our feelings we have asserted in principle a structure of some kind, though as yet an indeterminate one. In becoming aware of myself I do not yet know at al what I am; but I do know that I am something to which this feeling belongs, not something belonging to it” (209). We become the ones dominating our feelings, the ones structuring our feelings. Collingwood again expresses a similar point: “By this self-assertion we dominate our feelings: they become no longer experiences forcing themselves upon us unawares, but experiences in which we experience our own activity. Their brute power over us is thus replaced by our power over them: we become able on the one hand to stand up to them so that they no longer unconditionally determine our conduct, and, on the other, to prolong and evoke them at will. From being impressions of sense, they thus become ideas of imagination” (222). Now when Collingwood talks about imposing a structure on our feelings, and about gaining a power over them, I think this has something to do with habits. Because emotions always seem to be about habits. They just happen, and we experience them in certain ways because of habits that we have developed. So what would it mean to impose new structures on our emotions? To me it sounds like it would mean the creation of new habits. And for Collingwood this is what art is all about: the exertion of consciousness on our emotions. Art, therefore, must have something to do with the purposeful restructuring of our emotions.
Collingwood’s emphasis on personal observation is also found in Suzuki’s writing. “The purpose of studying Buddhism,” he argues, “is not to study Buddhism, but to study ourselves. It is impossible to study ourselves without some teaching” (Suzuki, 85). Furthermore, Suzuki says that it is something that should have an impact on our everyday conduct:“So to find the meaning of your life in the zendo is to find the meaning of your everyday activity. To be aware of the meaning of your life, you practice zazen” (87). For Suzuki reflection also seems to be a crucial part of Zen.
So now that I have used some authors to generally establish this idea of personal archeology and the importance of reflection in the creation of new habits, I need to ask myself some questions. I guess the most glaring question that I need to address is this: The necessity of reflection in the creation of new habits is now clear, but how exactly does reflection actually happen? Reflection is about putting questions to yourself. But how do these questions arise? Do you just do it? Or does experience prompt it somehow? Perhaps we can do it purposefully, but wouldn’t we need a bare minimum education in reflection and mindfulness? What are the bare minimum analytical or observational tools that would enable a mindfulness? I want to understand how reflection is actually done. I don’t just want to say that it is important, I want to be able to say how to do it.
Frankly I find this to be quite challenging. How do I explain how reflection is to happen? I don’t really know. But one place I can start is what I said above: reflection is about putting questions to yourself. It is about challenging yourself to analyze your own thoughts, feelings, and actions. But how does one go about asking oneself questions? There are two possibilities I can think of. First, our experiences may prompt us to reflect naturally on ourselves. Second, we might be able to force questions on ourselves. It seems that the former might be more likely. But I also think that the latter alternative has to be a viable option. I want to believe in free will, in volition. The task of this writing in many ways is to invigorate my desire for volition. Let me handle these points in turn.
As for the issue of reflection coming to us naturally based on our experiences. I think that this is actually something that is quite likely. It seems unfortunate, but it seems true that we wouldn’t really reflect too much on our lives until we have an experience that prompts us to examine ourselves. One thing that comes to mind is Camus’s The Stranger. It has been a long time since I’ve read the book but I’d still like to talk about it. That book is divided into two parts. In the first part the main character seems to operate pretty selfishly and unreflectively. He just does his thing. Then in the end of the first section something very traumatic happens to him. Suddenly in the second section he is very reflective, contemplating his actions and wondering why he had done those things. It seems as though trauma jars him into self-examination. It makes me wonder who ‘the stranger’ is. Part of me suspects that he himself is the stranger. In the first part he is unreflective, and then in the second part he realizes how unaware he had been of himself. He realizes that he is truly a stranger to himself. In either case, I think that this is a good metaphor to use. The habits that we develop before we reach an age of reflection are like a stranger within us, they are like another person who has all these ideas and habits that we are unaware of. We have to get to know the stranger within us. It is just unfortunate that in that book and in life it takes a trauma to get us to reflect on ourselves.
I can say that for my own life I have needed trauma to force reflection on me. The most striking example is how I knocked a bunch of teeth out once. I was about ten and knocked out four teeth. One of them was a permanent tooth. I had to wait a decade until my jaw stopped growing so I could get my tooth fixed. It always bothered me. It felt very frustrating to care so much about teeth and to have an accident effect the way I viewed myself. It effected me on a lot of levels. But for most of my teen years I wasn’t very reflective about it. I felt it looming in the back of my mind most of the time. It prevented me from doing a lot of things, from smiling, from being comfortable. But I was never able to grapple with its full impact on me. It wasn’t until I got my tooth fixed that its full importance was suddenly thrust upon me. It also didn’t help that me getting my tooth fixed coincided with my transferring schools, moving back to my parents house, and losing most of my friends. I had just ended a very long term relationship, and my friends were occupied with other things or away at other schools. So my experiences sort of collided in a way so as to force me to reflect. I spent the bulk of my time alone in those days. I was having a really hard time making new friends because I was very depressed. And I just so happened to be getting my tooth fixed as all of those other things were happening. I had no real choice but to be alone with my pain and my thoughts. Reflection was unavoidable, I couldn’t sidestep the issue of my teeth and how it effected my confidence anymore. Since then, however, I think I have become much more reflective in general. I think about my own life, my feelings, my actions, why they are what they are, and how I can change them. But this circumstantial trauma really had a lot to do with me becoming reflective. It was forced on me by my experiences.
I’m sharing this story because it is something that has effected me in quite a lot of ways. It lies in the background of a lot of my thinking and writing. I don’t want to act like it is an all defining thing. But it is a pretty big deal for some reason. I’m trying to recognize that I didn’t become the way I am based on simple will power, but that it was very circumstantial.
But I’m also trying to come up with a way in which reflection doesn’t have to simply be circumstantial. I want it to be something that can be learned. I think that reflection has to be something that can be taught. It must be. I won’t try to deny the role of circumstance, but I also want to try and explore the issue of willed reflection. Right now my hunch is that education has to play a crucial role in fostering a reflective attitude. But what type of education can do that? What is it that needs to be done in order to encourage people to be reflective?
I really don’t know the answer to this question. But I will say two things. First, Suzuki seems to think that studying Buddhism can be a way to study ourselves. By reading about mindfulness and meditation we may gain a new understanding that can help us question ourselves. Second, my college education did a lot to force me to reflect on myself. I had a professor who put difficult questions to me about the way I read, the way I thought, the way I lived. Perhaps that is somewhat socratic. It seems to me that reflection can happen when people challenge our assumptions, when people challenge us to explain ourselves. One friend told me that his reading of Foucault felt like the initiation of a conversation that he had to then carry on with himself. Perhaps the best thing a teacher or author can do for you is prompt you to reflect for yourself. In many ways that does seem to be what Foucault is doing. His work leads to no definitive conclusion. It more so challenges your assumptions and forces you to have a conversation with yourself about the way you think and live. It challenges you to reflect.
This seems like a good time to turn to the next section on personal construction. I hope to examine the role of the humanities in the purposeful creation of new habits. But first let me summarize this section. I was trying to explain how the creation of new habits would have to be preceded by reflection and the discovery of already existing habits. I used Foucault, Collingwood, and Suzuki to explain how our emotional habits are a foundation for our artistic and intellectual lives, and how reflection can illuminate our emotions and bring them more under our control. I then tried to parse the issue of how reflection is to happen. How are we to engage in this personal archeology that I am struggling so much to articulate? I’m not quite sure. I admitted that much of my personal experience had simply prompted me to reflect on myself. But I then tried to ask questions about the role of education in reflection. I will concede that I need to read far more about education and reflection. Onward to the construction of habits.
17b. Simulation, Synthetic Experience, And Personal Construction: The Humanities In the Aesthetic Life
In this section I want to explain how it is that we can go about creating new habits after we have determined our already existing habits. The analysis will generally center around the role of experience in determining our habits, and the humanities as a way of acquiring synthetic experience through the simulation of other people’s thoughts, and therefore as a way of creating new habits. In addition to Collingwood and Suzuki I hope to draw on Alvin Goldman, Foucault, Jeffrey Schwartz, and Carl von Clausewitz.
The basic idea is that once we have discovered our already existing store of habits that have been created by our pre-reflective experiences we can purposefully expose ourselves to certain types of experiences so as to create new habits. Two of the crucial concepts, therefore, will be that of mental simulation and that of synthetic experience. When I say mental simulation I am referring to simulation theory of mind (discussed in Part I.3.18) which posits that people understand one another primarily by simulating their thoughts for ourselves. And by synthetic experience I mean that by simulating certain thoughts we can recreate certain experiences in our mind, thus acquiring something that approaches the effects of actual experience. I think this is precisely what the humanities does: through history and literature we encounter and simulate thoughts and experiences very different from our own. I’ll be using Goldman’s work to elaborate simulation and to show that something like synthetic experience can indeed be created by the imagination. I will then use Clausewitz and Schwartz as specific examples of how synthetic experience can be applied to the creation of habits. But before I go on to explain the importance of simulation and synthetic experience I’ll simply be using Collingwood to show that the aesthetic experience is all about the construction of the self.
So the first task is to show that the aesthetic activity is not only about self-expression but also about self-creation. In Part I I described it as both expression and exploration, but there is also an element of creation. Collingwood describes it as a threefold process of coming to know oneself, coming to knows ones world, and creating oneself and ones world all at once: “Theoretically, the artist is a person who comes to know himself, to know his own emotion. This is also knowing his world, that is, the sights and sounds and so forth which together make up his total imaginative experience. The two knowledges are to him one knowledge, because these sights and sounds are to him steeped in the emotion with which he contemplates them: they are the language in which that emotion utters itself to his consciousness. His world is his language. What it says to him it says about himself; his imaginative vision of it is his self-knowledge. But this knowledge of himself is a making himself. At first he is mere psyche, the possessor of merely psychical experiences or impressions. The act of coming to know himself is the act of converting his impressions into ideas, and so of converting himself from mere psyche into consciousness” (291). This sounds somewhat similar to what I was saying above. That when we focus our consciousness on ourselves we are able to discover what it is that we are feeling. But Collingwood adds an important qualifier to this idea: by discovering our feelings we cannot avoid changing them into something new, therefore meaning that any act of self-exploration is also an act of self-creation. A crucial point for me here.
Furthermore, Collingwood explains how the aesthetic process not only creates the self, but creates the world that we live in by changing the language that we use to engage with the world. “The aesthetic experience.... is a knowing of oneself and of one’s world, these two knowns and knowings being not yet distinguished, so that the self is expressed in the world, the world consisting of language whose meaning is that emotional experience which constitutes the self, and the self consisting of emotions which are known only as expressed in the language which is the world. It is also a making of oneself and of one’s world, the self which was psyche being remade in the shape of consciousness, and the world, which was crude sense, being remade in the shape of language, or sense converted into imagery and charged with emotional significance. The step forward in the development of experience which leads from the psychic level to the level of consciousness (and that step is the specific achievement of art) is thus a step forward both in theory and in practice” (292). This quotation shows that the aesthetic experience is all about the creation of the self and our experience of the world at the same time. This reminds me of two things. First, it reminds me of Searle’s work on status functions. Collingwood here seems to think that the ‘world’, as in our experience of it, is constituted by the language that we use to identify it. It is the task of art, he claims, to turn our raw emotional experience in the world into a more linguistically structured one. Thus we create ourselves by coloring our world with certain concepts. Second, it reminds me of Guy Claxton’s work in The Wayward Mind. He claims that the self cannot be understood without reference to the environment. We are best referring to the brain-body-context system, he argues. The creation of the self, therefore, has to be some kind of creation of the world. In any case, those two long quotations I just presented should make it clear that Collingwood views aesthetics as a simultaneous construction of the self and of the world.
Another issue that I will have to address more explicitly later in this essay, but which I can touch upon now, is the question of whether or not philosophy is an art form or not. My hunch at this moment is that philosophy can indeed meet the criteria of art as the imaginative expression of emotions. In his Autobiography Collingwood refers to philosophy as a ‘poem of the intellect’, which is a provocative and exciting phrase. In The Principles Of Art Collingwood reaffirms this idea when he argues that philosophy is not about “holding this view or that, but in aiming at some view not yet achieved: in the labour and adventure of thinking, not in the results of it. What a genuine philosopher... tries to express when he writes is the experience he enjoys in the course of this adventure where theories and systems are only incidents in the journey” (297). For Collingwood philosophy seems to be about the conscious expression of an experience, of emotions, which comes close to his definition of art. It follows that philosophy, too, can become a way to create a deposit of habits, a way to simultaneously explore and construct the self.
Furthermore, Collingwood recognizes that the process of creating the self is an endless project: “As a finite being, man becomes aware of himself as a person only so far as he finds himself standing in relation to others of whom he simultaneously becomes aware as person. And there is no point in his life at which a man has finished becoming aware of himself as a person. That awareness is constantly being reinforced, developed, applied in new ways. On every such occasion the old appeal must be made: he must find others whom he can recognize as persons in this new fashion, or he cannot as a finite being assure himself that this new phase of personality is genuinely in his possession” (317). There are several things that strike me about this quotation. First, the obvious point I was making that the construction of the self must be an ongoing project. We must always be in a state of transformation. Second, this notion of constant transformation and creation lines up well with Suzuki’s claims that Buddhism is all about the transitory nature of life and the self. Third, Collingwood’s emphasis on other people and identity makes me think of simulation theory and the way that we only know our own minds because we have exposure to other people’s minds. It makes me think of what I wrote about in Part III.2.11 on the relative nature of social life.
In any case, the last four paragraphs should have made it clear that Collingwood views the aesthetic experience as process of creating oneself through expression. Furthermore, that his analysis lines up with Buddhist ideas about the self being in a state of constant transformation. Clearly, the aesthetic existence has to be about simultaneously discovering and creating the self. The issue of how the aesthetic project also creates the world, however, will have to be put off until Parts IV and V. But for now I think I have shown that Collingwood’s analysis of aesthetics involves both the discovery and the creation of the self. In a moment I’ll go on to explain how the creation of the self has to be about the creation of habits, about the modification of intuitive behavior.
I would also like to quickly note that this lines up with Foucault’s analysis of the Greek aesthetics of existence. For Foucault one of the key differences between Greek ethics and modern ethics is the differing emphasis on discovery and creation. He believed that modern ethics were based around ideas of discovering a certain ‘nature’ that exists within us. Greek ethics, on the contrary, were about the active construction of the self through the moderate use of pleasure.
I now want to begin my analysis of the aesthetic creation of the self that Collingwood describes. My questions are these: If Collingwood believes that the aesthetic activity effectively creates the self, how does it do this? If it has to be about the creation of habits, and habits develop as a result of experience, how can we take charge of this process of habit forming? My answer is this: we can take charge of the creation of our habits if we are willing to use the humanities to mentally simulate certain types of thoughts with the goal of creating certain forms of synthetic experience. As I said, habits come from experience. So what if we could synthesize certain types of experiences for ourselves without actually having those experiences? I think, and more so hope, that this is possible.
This claim rests on certain assumptions about the philosophy of history, philosophy of mind, the power of the imagination, the plasticity of the brain,, and the nature of the humanities. So I’d like to handle those points in turn. I’ll be discussing philosophy of history as it relates to simulation and synthetic experience. Then I’ll move on to talk about simulation theory of mind to explain how it underpins the claims I’ll make about the philosophy of history. After that I’ll be discussing neuroplasticity and how it corroborates my ideas about the creation of habits. Finally, I’ll try to bring it all full circle with a discussion of the humanities. Hopefully then I’ll be in a position to wrap up all of this and explain how the aesthetic existence hinges on the purposeful creation of habits through the creation of synthetic experience via the mental simulation of thought.
Now there are three writers who I want to talk about in order to argue two points about the philosophy of history. The writers are Collingwood, Foucault, and Carl von Clausewitz. The first point I want to make is that the study of history can or should be about the study and simulation of past thought. The second point is that the simulation of past thought should be thought of in terms of the acquisition of synthetic historical experience.
Since this whole project was inspired by Collingwood, I’ll turn to him first. In An Autobiography and The Idea Of History Collingwood advances claims about the nature of historical study. His two most important claims are 1. that all history is the history of thought and 2. that all history is the re-enactment of past thought in the mind of the historian in the present. Collingwood makes these claims because he is trying to answer the question “How, or on what conditions, can the historian know the past?” (TIOH, 282). This question is necessary because history poses unique epistemological problems. The object of historical study, the past, is gone and will never be recovered in its actuality. It is a serious question, therefore, to ask how historians know the past.
Collingwood’s first step towards answering this question is to come up with a definition of what precisely historians study. He concludes that history must be the study of thought. This is so because the only thing that we truly have evidence of is thoughts. According to Collingwood historical documents, old buildings or constructed artifacts, or any other type of historical evidence, can only provide us with evidence of past thought. Furthermore, in his Autobiography Collingwood claims that what we typically regard as the study of an event is nothing more than the study of the thoughts that were provoked by a natural event. The eruption of a volcano, he argues, is not in itself a historical event. On the contrary, it is only of interest to the historian in that it caused certain people to think in different ways. This point becomes clear if we ask ourselves if there is such a thing as the history of rocks. The answer is of course no. The history of rocks is called geology. It follows that the only proper domain for history proper is human thought and experience. I feel convinced by Collingwood’s claims that history must be the study of past thought, and that historical knowledge is therefore knowledge of another person’s mind.
The question still remains, however, how is the historian to have knowledge of past thought? This is where it becomes clear that for Collingwood the study of history has to be about the simulation of past thought. This is what he means when he says that historical knowledge is achieved by “re-thinking for himself the thought of his author” (TIOH, 283). Collingwood extends this idea by defining thought as something that is essentially re-thinkable. It reminds me of a Platonic idea that Zizek refers to when he says “true ideas are eternal, they are indestructible, they always return every time they are proclaimed dead” (Zizek, IDOLC, 4). Collingwood backs up this claim about the reproducibility of thought by asking the question ‘what happens when I think a thought, then wait a certain time without thinking it, then I think that same thought again later? Am I thinking the same thought or a different thought?’ The answer of course is that you are thinking the same thought, only in a different time. The crucial point being that thought is defined not by its location in time but by its quality. It follows from this that when we read a historical document what we are trying to do is to think the thoughts of the author for ourselves. Collingwood says that this is also how the bulk of the thinking in the social world happens: “If it is by historical thinking that we re-think and so rediscover the thought of Hammurabi or Solon, it is in the same way that we discover the thought of a friend who writes us a letter, or a stranger who crosses the street. Nor is it necessary that the historian should be one person and the subject of his inquiry another. It is only by historical thinking that I can discover what I thought ten years ago, by reading what I then wrote, or what I thought five minutes ago, by reflecting on an action that I then did, which surprised me when I realized what I had done. In this sense, all knowledge of mind is historical” (TIOH, 219). A bold claim that will have large implications later in this writing. But for now I am content to show that Collingwood believed that historical knowledge was only possible if history was the simulation of past thought in the mind of the historian. His preferred term was re-enactment, but I believe that simulation is a better concept that avoids certain connotations (like Civil War reenactments). Also, Goldman’s work on simulation reinforces Collingwood’s claims and gives me good reason to adopt that terminology.
The proper simulation of thought, however, is not a simple task. Proper simulation is contingent upon the simulator having an adequate store of experience that will allow them to simulate the desired type of thought or feeling. If I lack experience with poverty, for example, it might be difficult for me to truly understand the thoughts and actions of a person that has committed a crime due to their poverty. Or, as Collingwood puts it, "the mere fact that someone has expressed his thoughts in writing, and that we possess his works, does not enable us to understand his thoughts. In order that we may be able to do so, we must come to the reading of them prepared with an experience sufficiently like his own to make those thoughts organic to it" (TIOH300). In short, there is a crucial relationship between mental simulation and experience. Goldman also discusses this relationship between proper simulation and certain types of experience. He highlights the importance of being able to express something in order to understand it. He discusses individuals with damaged amygdalae, the part of the brain responsible for anger, who are incapable of understanding why other people feel angry. They are incapable of expressing that emotion and therefore are incapable of understanding other people’s expression of it. Similarly, a lack of experience with a certain emotion can also prevent us from understanding the expression of other. “There is thus substantial evidence,” Goldman argues, “from several emotions that deficits in the experience of an emotion and selective deficits in the face-based recognition of the same emotion reliably co-occur” (Goldman, 119). For now I am content to show that the proper simulation of thought requires a familiarity with the types of thoughts being expressed. Later on I’ll be taking some pains to show that the relationship between simulation and experience goes both ways: it isn’t just that we need experience to simulate, but that simulation can provide us with something that resembles experience, a synthetic experience. I’ll shortly be returning to the issue of synthetic experience. But first I’d like to show how Foucault and Clausewitz also believed historical thought to be simulative.
Foucault also makes it quite explicit that his works of history are about the history of thought and experience. Further, Foucault also seems to implicitly endorse an idea like Collingwood’s notion of re-enactment. In all of the Foucault that I have read, and especially in The Order Of Things and The Use of Pleasure Foucault explicitly says that he is writing a history of thought. In The Use of Pleasure he says that his goal of recreating the Greek experience of sexual morality is "the proper task of a history of thought as against a history of behaviors or representations: to define the conditions in which human beings 'problematize' what they are, what they do, and the world in which they live." And he seems to implicitly embrace an idea like re-enactment when he refers to the ‘reactivation’ of old forms of thought. In an interview titled 'On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress' he says, "Among the cultural inventions of mankind there is a treasury of devices, techniques, ideas, procedures, and so on, that cannot exactly be reactivated but at least constitute, or help to constitute, a certain point of view which can be useful as a tool for analyzing what is going on now – and to change it." I realize he says that ‘cannot be exactly reactivated’, but it still seems like he is hinting at the things that Collingwood is claiming with his notion of the re-enactment of past thought. In any case, Foucault explicitly endorses history as the history of thought, and seems to tacitly argue for something like the simulation of past thought as a method. Collingwood, on the other hand, believes that historical simulation is both a methodological and epistemological reality.
There is a third thinker that endorses history as the history of thought, and believes that history is intelligible only if it is simulated in the present. I’m referring to Carl von Clausewitz, and his massive book On War. Writing in the wake of the Napoleonic wars, Clausewitz was trying to understand how to use history train military commanders and politicians to make better decisions. There are, however, two major problems in training individuals to exercise better judgement in political situations. First and foremost is that political decision making belongs primarily to the realm of intuition as opposed to logic or reason. How else do politicians and commanders grapple with all of the contingencies, uncertainties, and difficulties of political decision making? They can only rely on intuitive judgement. The second problem is that intuition is improved primarily through experience, and experience in high command can be very difficult to come by? So then how are we to educate commander’s intuition when there is no actual experience available? The short answer is this: The study of history, if properly undertaken, can serve as an adequate replacement for experience by providing something like a synthetic experience. Let me elaborate this idea.
Clausewitz implicitly endorses a view of historical study that Collingwood advances. He seems to think that to study military history is to study the thoughts of commanders making difficult decisions. He implicitly endorses history as the history of thought. Furthermore, Clausewitz also implicitly endorses the idea that historians must re-enact past thought for themselves, that the study of history is simulative. One of the crucial differences, however, is the role that theory should play in historical study. Clausewitz’s explicit purpose is to revolutionize the way that military theorists and politicians engage with military theory. In Clausewitz’s time theory was typically a positivist project: it was about the creation of formal principles and rules that were intended to prescribe conduct. Clausewitz believed, however, that wars of the future would always looks different from wars of the past, therefore making any attempt at prescription useless at best and dangerous at worst. As Clausewitz says, “In the conduct of war, perception cannot be governed by laws: the complex phenomena of war are not so uniform, nor the uniform phenomena so complex, as to make laws more useful than the simple truth” (On War, 176). The task is then to create a theory that is not prescriptive and is still pedagogically useful.
Clausewitz’s answer is that the relationship between history and theory must be reversed. For his contemporaries, the creation of military theory was about studying history, searching for patterns among those historical case studies, and formalizing and solidifying those rules that were learned from historical study. In short, the study of history was supposed to yield a body of propositions that were to guide conduct. Clausewitz believed, on the contrary, that while historical study can indeed show trends or patterns, that these propositions will never be of value at the actual moment of decision making (this is due to the ineffable and intuitive nature of decision making, and also the unpredictability of wars in the future). Certain things are clearly demonstrable through history, however. We can’t get rid of theoretical concepts or propositions. But instead of being used as prescriptive devices, the propositions drawn from historical study should be used as a conceptual apparatus that will enable a deeper understanding of history. So then, history is studied in order to create a body of abstract conceptual tools that are then returned to the study of history so as to enable a deeper learning from history. “[A]n improved theory helps the study of the conduct of war, and educates the mind and the judgment of the senior commanders,” Clausewitz claims (179). In particular, theory is to be used as an aid to historical surmise. It should allow a historian to go beyond the evidence directly at hand and surmise about things which were not or could not have been recorded. “The same spirit of analytical investigation which creates a theory,” he claims, “should also guide the work of the [historical] critic who both may and should often cross into the realm of theory in order to elucidate any points of special interest” (183). Even more explicitly, he says that “ a critic should never use the results of theory as laws and standards, but only... as aids to judgment” (183). In any case, it should be clear that Clausewitz’s primary concern was to use theory to improve the intuitive judgement of commanders, and that this was to be accomplished by reversing the relationship between history and theory, making it so that intensive historical study took precedence over the creation of a system of rules. But the question remains, how is careful historical study capable of improving intuition? The answer lies in the importance of experience and the ability of history to replicate the effects of experience through the simulation of past thought.
Clausewitz is really the thinker I associate with the idea of synthetic experience. Given that Clausewitz’s claims about the importance of experience in war, his emphasis on gaining a ‘familiarity’ with war, we can assume that his claims about the pedagogical use of theory will have something to do with the acquisition of experience. And indeed this is the purpose of the type of theoretically supported historical study that Clausewitz advocates. Clausewitz explains how theory is to guide to the acquisition of what can be called a synthetic experience. He says that historical case study augmented by theoretical surmise will allow a student to get much closer to the actual experience of a commander. By putting ourselves into the shoes of historical decision makers we can get a sense of their mind, of their experience, their thought process. By trying to bring that genius to life in our own mind we are brining ourselves closer to that, and closer to acquiring something like experience. And it is the task of theory to get our mind as close to the experience under study as possible: “If the critic wishes to distribute praise or blame, he must certainly try to put himself exactly in the position of the commander; in other words, he must assemble everything the commander knew and all the motives that affected his decision, and ignore all that he could not or did not know, especially the outcome” (192). We put ourselves directly in the position of a historical figure so as to learn from their experiences, to acquaint ourselves with the quality of their genius. He says that a student “must recognize with admiration the commander’s success, the smooth unfolding of events, the higher workings of his genius. The essential interconnections that genius had divined, the critic has to reduce to factual knowledge” (193). It is to get as close to that experience as possible that we would try to enter the shoes of the historical commander under study.
In essence what Clausewitz is describing is the creation of a synthetic experience through the historical simulation of another person’s thoughts. We are supposed to use theoretical surmise to create an expanded historical narrative that goes beyond the evidence available, and this is supposed to get us closer to the experience of the person we are studying. Furthermore, because this process is about the simulation of certain forms of thought, we would be priming our minds to grapple with the kinds of complex issues that war and politics demands. In any case, Clausewitz is generally where I get my inspiration for the idea of synthetic experience. He asked very serious questions about the use of history as a pedagogical tool. And at the end of the day it has to come back to experience, and the way that history can help us replicate the effects of experience by simulating the thoughts that can be accessed through historical study.
Collingwood also lines up with Clausewitz’s ideas in two ways. First, there are implications that Collingwood believes that history could become a source of synthetic experience. And second, that historical study was about creating expanded narratives, much in the way Clausewitz described, albeit without the emphasis on the use of theory. I think it is important that I try to tease out the implications of synthetic experience in Collingwood’s work.
Evidence that Collingwood implicitly endorsed the idea of synthetic experience can be found both in The Idea Of History and The Principles Of Art. In TIOH Collingwood talks about how historical study can open us up to new ways of thinking that we were previously closed to. He says that because “all [the historian] can know historically is thoughts that he can re-think for himself, the fact of his coming to know them shows him that his mind is able (or by the very effort of studying them has become able) to think in these ways.... And conversely, whenever he finds certain historical matters unintelligible, he has discovered a limitation of his own mind; he has discovered that there are certain ways in which he is not, or no longer, or not yet, able to think” (TIOH, 218, my italics). The thing I’d like to stress in this quotation is that the study of history opens us up to thinking in new ways that we were previously capable of thinking. Typically, our thoughts are an outcome of our experiences and the way they have shaped us. Given that Collingwood claims that history is the re-enactment of experience, it seems that what one would be doing is acquiring a synthetic experience that is allowing one to think differently. Collingwood also stresses how the thoughts that we can gain access to from historical study are akin to mathematical knowledge that is passed down. He says that just as Pythagoras‘s theorom is a permanent addition to mathematical knowledge, Augustus’s thoughts on politics are “a permanent addition to political ideas” that “the student of Roman history can think for himself” (TIOH, 218). In The Idea Of History it seems clear that historical study is a means of thinking differently by acquainting yourself with the thoughts and experiences of people from the past, which I think can reasonably be called synthetic experience.
In The Principles Of Art Collingwood presents ideas that also imply the existence of something like a synthetic experience. He talks about how art is about the expansion of an individual’s experience by the artist’s expression of his own experience. “It is this experience... that is the heart of his poetry; it is the ‘enlargement of our experience’ by his own... that tells us he is a true poet; and however necessary it may be that a poet should have technical skill, he is a poet only in so far as this skill is not identified with art, but with something used in the service of art” (27). To speak of one experience enhancing another experience seems quite peculiar. How are we to talk about such a thing? How could one person’s expression truly change the way another person experiences? I think that this idea of synthetic experience is a way in which we might be able to talk about this issue. In either case, in both of those works, it seems that Collingwood is talking about how the study of history and art can provide us with something like experience. It can give us new ways of thinking and new ways of living. It can provide us with a substitute for experience, a synthetic experience.
I also think that Collingwood resembles Clausewitz in that he seems to embrace the idea of building an expanded historical narrative that goes beyond evidence that is immediately available. I think this point is clear in the essay “Historical Evidence” in The Idea Of History. In that essay he tries to explain how historians don’t simply copy down the things that their ‘authorities’ or ‘sources’ tell them, that history is not a matter of ‘scissors and paste’. Rather, historians critically examine evidence to find out what statements can be regarded as true and which as false. Furthermore, historians examine documents to infer and extrapolate evidence for things that are not explicitly stated. “Where the scissors-and-paste historian said quite confidently ‘There is nothing in such-and such- an author about such-and such a subject’, the scientific or Baconian historian will reply ‘Oh, isn’t there? Do you not see that in this passage about a totally different matter it is implied that the author took such-and such a view of the subject about which you say this text contains nothing” (TIOH, 270, my italics). Collingwood then provides a long fictional account of how a detective would solve a murder, and then explains how the historian solves problems in the same way that a detective would: he asks a series of questions about the evidence available and about the actors whose thoughts he is trying to understand. While Collingwood is less explicit about this point, the crucial role of surmise seems to be undeniable. In Collingwood’s description of the detective there is a regular move beyond evidence into the realm of surmise about the thoughts of the agents in question. This is precisely what Clausewitz calls for. He says that when evidence is lacking we need to use theoretically supported historical surmise to attempt to account for individual’s thoughts. For Collingwood, however, there is no use of theory, there is only the historian’s surmise based on evidence. So, it should be clear that Collingwood regarded history as a source of synthetic experience, and that in many ways this can’t be achieved without surmise that goes beyond evidence. Before I attempt to vindicate the notion of synthetic experience in its own right I’d just like to discuss Foucault’s relationship to this idea.
I also want to quickly show that Foucault implicitly endorses something like synthetic experience. In Focuault’s work the issue of synthetic experience is perhaps the least explicit. I do think, however, that there are traces of the idea, or that his work at the very least has implications for the idea. The main thing that Foucault is concerned with that relates to the idea of synthetic experience is the task of thinking differently. This is definitely something that Foucault is very clear on. He wants history to become a way of challenging ourselves to think differently about certain problems. So how is it that history is to do this for us? How does history challenge us to think differently? Well, for Foucault it seems that studying the ideas of the past brings us face to face with the differences between our thoughts. When we see that someone in the past thought this way, it is difficult to not notice how different it is from our way of thinking. In addition to this more basic idea, I think there a two other instances in which Foucault’s thinking resembles the idea of synthetic experience. I gave both of these elements of Foucault’s thinking a more extended look in my essay of 6/13/10 “The Everyday A Priori Imagination.” The first idea is Foucault’s notion of the ‘reactivation’ of old forms of thought. I already discussed this above, but only in relation to simulation and not to synthetic experience. The connection, however, seems obvious to me. If we are to reactivate certain forms of thought, with the goal of changing our own ways of thinking, then it seems obvious that it would be doing it through something like a synthetic experience. Further, the term reactivation sounds a lot like reenactment, and sounds like it refers to some kind of simulation of thought. The second idea comes from his analysis of Seneca’s discussion of daily memory exercise. Foucault explains how Seneca would come home at the end of every day and review all of his actions of the day. He would decide which he thought were good and which ones need to be changed. If he disliked an action, he would imagine himself pursuing a different course of action with the idea of making himself more likely of acting that way in the future. To me this sounds like the imagination of an experience with the goal of providing ourself with the effects of that experience in the future. It sounds like the creation of a synthetic experience through the hypothetical imagination of our own actions. In either case, as a historical thinker, Foucault seems to implicitly explain something like the effects of synthetic experience that history can provide.
I’ve now finished explaining how Collingwood, Foucault, and Clausewitz advocate history as a process of simulation that can provide a synthetic experience. The most fundamental assumption that underlies my conclusion about the forgoing thinkers lies in Alvin Goldman’s work on simulation theory of mind. If I am to defend the idea that we can create our own habits through the creation of synthetic experience then I have to have an adequate theory of mind that supports this idea. I believe that Goldman’s explication of simulation theory does indeed support my claim. So then what I’d like to do right now is to offer a very general account of simulation theory and how it corroborates my claims about simulation, synthetic experience, and the creation of habits in the aesthetic existence.
In Simulating Minds Goldman argues that people attribute mental states to one another (mindread) primarily by internally simulating their thoughts for ourselves. In other words, that people understand one another through an extended form of empathy in which we not only feel people’s emotions for ourselves, but think their thoughts for ourselves. Moreover, he argues that there are two distinct forms of simulational mindreading, which he calls low-level and high-level. Low-level simulational mindreading depends on the existence of mirror neurons and their role in empathy. High-level mindreading, on the other hand, depends on what Goldman calls the Enactment-Imagination (E-imagination). The E-imagination refers to the fact that when we imagine a certain experience our brain undergoes activity that is identical to the actual experience. When we imagine a spider crawling on our skin, for example, we experience activity in the tactile parts of the brain. Or if we imagine seeing a certain person that we care for we will experience the same brain activity we would if we actually saw them.
Now this notion of the E-imagination is the most relevant thing for this idea of synthetic experience. One reason it matters is that the E-imagination differs from low-level mindreading in that it can come under our conscious control. We can take charge of what we think, exert our consciousness, and make ourselves imagine certain things. I’ll have to figure out at some point how much Goldman’s account differs from Collingwood’s account of the imagination. But they do seem to agree on the point that imagination is in some way related to consciousness. “To enactively imagine seeing something,” Goldman claims, “you must ‘try’ to undergo the seeing–or some aspects of the seeing–despite the fact that no appropriate visual stimulus is present” (Goldman, 2006, 151). I find it curious that Goldman puts the word try in quotation marks. It suggests that volition is in many ways a fuzzy concept, something that is hard to regard as self-evident. I suppose it is true, free will is not self-evident for philosophers. But it sort of is for me, and I think for Collingwood too.
But anyways, let me explain how Goldman’s work on the E-imagination relates to the idea of synthetic experience. If we are capable of willing ourselves to imagine certain things, and that imagining has actual impacts in our brain, then that means that we can choose to expose ourselves to certain types of experiences that might have an actual effect on our brain. If we wanted to study literature, for example, and read novels about painful situations, you would be forcing your brain to encounter those types of experiences that you were reading about. Or if you wanted to study history and learn about experiences radically different from your own, you could potentially cause major changes in your brain that would reflect your work So long as your imagination is equipped enough to reconstruct an experience for yourself, you might be able to access something like a synthetic experience. In any case, it should be clear that the existence of the E-imagination means that the imagination has the potential to provide us with something like experience without actually giving us that experience. In other words, because the imagination is simulative it might be powerful enough to provide us with a synthetic experience. More than other disciplines, perhaps, history has the potential to provide us with a wide array of synthetic experiences. What I’d like to do now is to give a closer look at the imagination as it relates to synthetic experience. I need to try and figure out, beyond Goldman, how the imagination is powerful enough to provide something like experience. So I’ll be comparing Goldman and Collingwood’s accounts of the imagination to parse the issue of how it could provide a synthetic experience.
So how could the imagination possibly be powerful enough to replicate the effects of experience? I’d like to begin parsing this question by returning to Collingwood’s definition of the imagination that I explicated in Part I. Collingwood defines the imagination as the space between sensations and ideas in which we can consciously manipulate traces of our experience without elevating them to the level of the intellect. The imagination is what makes us able to envision the room in front of me when I close my eyes, or to imagine a certain shade of red when I close my eyes. The reason I am able to do these things is because I have had experience with the room in front of me and experience with the color red. So I am therefore able to consciously manipulate the traces of my experience in order to prolong their life. “A fit of anger,” Collingwood argues, “passing away, leaves a fading trace of itself in our actual feeling, progressively swamped beneath feelings of other kinds, for an indeterminable length of time. So long as any such trace remains, attention may single it out and, by a similar process, reconstitute the original feeling in the shape of an idea” (210-211). These traces, however, do not pass from us quickly. On the contrary, Collingwood believes that traces of experience have a long life within us. “These traces last far longer than we are apt to suppose; and it is probable that what we call remembering an emotion is never anything but thus focusing our attention on the traces it has left in our present feeling. The same is perhaps true of recalling colour, or sound, or scent. Memory, in this sense of a somewhat ambiguous word, is perhaps only fresh attention to the races of a sensuous-emotional experience which has not yet entirely passed away” (211). The notion of traces is a quite useful one for me. In particular I would like to highlight his emphasis on the contemporary nature of memory. It means that we are doing something in the present moment, that we are reliving an experience by remembering it. By remembering we are in reality imagining it. Furthermore, it means that memory and the imagination are both simulative in that they let us relive, simulate, an experience that we had previously. So since Collingwood implies that the imagination is a simulative phenomenon then it might have something to do with synthetic experience.
The next question for me is this: If the imagination works by reconstituting traces of experience, does this mean that we are only capable of imagining our experiences? Or is it possible to creatively recombine traces of our experience to imagine other people’s experiences or entirely fictional experiences? The answer is clearly the latter. How else would people be able to imagine entire novels or entire alien planets? How could science fiction exist unless we were able to creatively recombine traces of our experience in order to come up with new things? How is it that people would be able to imagine aliens unless traces of our experience could be recombined in our mind? How would new ideas of any sort at all happen unless we could recombine traces of experience? This reminds me of how I was asking this question about the how of ideas. How does one have ideas? I don’t think I started having lots of ideas until I was able to start absorbing and understanding other people’s ideas. Not until I learned to read carefully did I start having lots of my ideas on my own. In other words, not until I was able to absorb other people’s intellectual experience into my own, not until I gained traces of experience from others, was I able to recombine all of those traces to have ideas of my own. This paragraph is settling an issue that I think obvious: the imagination does not simply let us recall traces of our own experience, it lets us creatively recombine traces of our experience to form new thoughts, new scenarios, new images, and so on. Furthermore, because the imagination is simulative, and because Goldman shows us that it has the same neurological effects, we must wonder what this is doing to our brain. We must wonder what the imagination of hypothetical experiences is doing to our brain.
Now, having shown that the imagination is capable of conjuring up new hypothetical experiences out of traces of actual experience, I have to ask about the potential for the creation of synthetic experience. Would the creative recombination of traces of experience allow me to imagine another person’s experience to such an extent so as to provide something that could be called a synthetic experience? An example will make this question clearer. While reading Howard Zinn I came upon a historical account of a worker who was trapped in a burning building in early twentieth century America. Now, based on Zinn’s account, would I be capable of imagining that person’s experience in enough complexity so as to provide myself with something that could be called a synthetic experience? I, for example, have fallen five feet before. So I know what it feels like to fall. I've also felt physical heat from fire, have been burnt, have felt pain from falling and from being burnt. I have all kinds of traces of experience about those things that help me imagine falling, being burnt, being hurt. But am I capable of imagining falling 100 feet from a burning building onto a street below? The bottom line is that yes I can recombine my experiences to imagine that experience in some way. But not without an intense effort of really thinking what that would be like, what types of emotions it would invoke, what type of pain it would invoke. Or what about fiction? Why is it that novels have made me cry? Is my imagination powerful enough to provide me with a synthetic experience that a novel could offer? I remember that both times I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. That book made me cry so hard. In many ways McCarthy’s world is easier to imagine than the one Zinn described. I know what it is like to really love my father, to worry about the end of the world. I can imagine what it would be like to search the countryside for food with my father, to struggle and struggle with him and to wake up and find him dead. What a terrible fate that would be. So reading it I was able to achieve something like a synthetic experience with the apocalypse. Perhaps it is reckless for me to call it as such. But I guess to me it seems like synthetic experience must be a real thing: how else would we be able to empathize with historical or fictitious characters? If reading is indeed a simulative process, which Goldman claims it to be, then wouldn’t it involve the E-imagination, and thus something like a synthetic experience? I’m not able to vindicate this idea with enough nuance yet. But it seems like my explication of the imagination (E-imagination and otherwise) should make it obvious that a synthetic experience can be a real thing.
Part of the issue I feel like I have to address is also why something like synthetic experience would be important. Why not just pursue real experience? For Clausewitz synthetic experience with war mattered because experience in war was very difficult to come by. Sometimes peace lasted a long time and no one was able to gain experience in war or combat. So what kinds of things would I feasibly need to gain synthetic experience with? Why wouldn’t I just go and get the actual experience? Well, I think that in life there are also many things in which it can be difficult to gain experience with. Love and romance, for example, is not always something that is easy to come by. So I can read fiction and get roughly acquainted with certain types of emotions, feel people’s experiences for myself. Another issue in which I am incapable of gaining much experience is genuine political struggle. I don’t know what it feels like to be in a country in which people are fighting to topple governments, fighting to gain more rights, fighting for anything at all. I read the news online these days and I’m so struck by how distant my experience is from these other people. I am not getting something comparable to their experience, not even close. But at least I am gaining something at all, I’m trying to push my mind towards what they are thinking and feeling, what they are experiencing. Synthetic experience is at the very least a way of dwarfing my own experience, revealing to me how limited it is. And finally I’d just like to say that reading history does the same thing: it reveals to me how very limited my own experiences are. The point is simply to acquire as much diverse experience as possible. And frankly I think that I don’t get enough experience from the world around me. I should do more things, talk to more people, see more places. But it can be hard, and it requires so much damn money do things sometimes. So, the task is to achieve the right balance of experiencing what I can here and now, and supplementing my actual experience with synthetic experience when real experience become too difficult to get at.
I guess the next thing I’d like to introduce into this constellation of ideas is the notion of neuroplasticity. Because if the imagination is indeed powerful enough to provide a synthetic experience, and if I believe this partly based on Goldman’s account of the E-imagination (which is defined by neurological overlap), then there has to be something happening to the brain when we imagine another person’s experience. Goldman limits himself to neurological overlap when we imagine something that has happened to us; when we imagine a bug crawling on us, when we imagine wind on our neck. But what is happening to the brain when we conjure up hypothetical imagined scenarios? What would be happening to our brain then? Something must be happening to it. And what I’m saying is that it must be changing our brain. Based on Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself and Jeffrey Schwartz’s The Mind & The Brain it seems obvious to me that thought and directed mental effort can change the physical structures of the brain. Especially based on Schwartz’s work with OCD patients I think it is fair to say that we can take charge of our brain to create a new set of habits for ourselves. I fear I’ve lost the train of thought that launched this section: I’m only discussing synthetic experience because I’m trying to explain how we can create new habits for ourselves. Schwartz’s work shows convincingly that we can use mindfulness to create new habits for ourselves. He was able to teach OCD patients mindfulness techniques, and using these techniques they were able to divert their thoughts away from their OCD, able to make themselves do other things, and thereby change their own brains. What they were doing, in essence, was using mindfulness to take charge of their experiences and to create new brains for themselves that were no longer dominated by OCD. This works based on the Hebbian idea that ‘neurons that fire together wire together’. If we can get certain neural circuits to be active more often than not, then eventually those neural circuits, those behaviors, will become our default setting, they will become our habits. So, Schwartz makes it clear that it is indeed possible to create habits for ourselves through mindfulness.
I can think of two further real world examples in which imagination seems to provide something like a synthetic experience. The first is musicians, and the second is athletes. There have been a couple studies done in which one group of pianists were told to actually practice a piece, a second ground that was told to simply imagine practicing the piece, and a third group that was told to do nothing. The study showed that the pianists that simply imagined playing showed a marked amount of improvement over the group that did nothing. The group that just imagined actually had comparable success to the group that had actually practiced. Actual practice, of course, was slightly more effective than just imagining it. But it was still a significant increase that happened just from imagining practicing. These pianists were able to replicate the effects of actual experience simply by imagining themselves undergoing that experience. The example of athletes engaging in visualization techniques. I don’t have any actual citations for this, but I think it is well known that visualization is something that athletes regularly do. I used to imagine the shot I would make while I was bowling. I would imagine myself throwing it straight, sometimes it would work. But based on what I know about the E-imagination, it seems clear that visualizing athletic performance would prime the parts of the brain necessary for that performance. In the case of musicians and athletes, imagining the ideal helps our brain get closer to the performance of that ideal
Now, Schwartz’s patient’s brains changed in response to their experiences that they were mindfully crafting, and it seems that musicians and athletes are able to do the same thing with the imagination. But would the brain respond to different types of synthetic experience in the same way? It seems to me that the answer must be a yes. If we were to approach the idea of synthetic experience mindfully, and be willing to really try and imagine other people’s experiences, would we be able to change our brains? I hope the answer to be a yes. Think of Seneca’s memory exercise that I said before. If we take the time to imagine ourselves behaving in ways that we find more desirable, then wouldn’t we be activating all of the parts of our brains that we would need to actually behave in those ways? And wouldn’t we therefore be more likely to act that way in the future? What we would be doing is creating a synthetic experience of our ideal behavior, putting our brain closer to those places it would need to be in order to act that way in real life. We would be imagining certain types of ideal behavior with the idea of priming ourselves to act that way in the future. We would be imagining an experience with the idea of making it our actual experience. This is why Seneca thought it useful, and it seems that these ideas of synthetic experience, the E-imagination, and neuroplasticity make it possible that it would really be able to create habits for ourselves that were more in line with our moral ideals. There is something I’m not able to talk about very clearly with all of this. All the threads are getting lost in a way.
But what I’ve been saying is this: history is a process of simulative thinking that hinges on our ability to creatively recombine traces our experiences so as to imagine other people’s experiences in a way that would give us a replacement for actual experience, a synthetic experience. The goal of creating this synthetic experience would to be to modify our brain so as to give us new habits of behavior.
The last thing I would like to say about this idea of synthetic experience has to do with the humanities as a whole. I think that the bulk of the humanities need to be considered simulative forms of thought that are aimed at providing one or another form of synthetic experience. With history what we would be getting is a synthetic experience from the past, whether it be with war, poverty, pain, or simply with different forms of thought. Fiction, on the other hand, would provide all different kinds of synthetic experience: it could touch the realm of romance, the realm of personal pain, of political struggle, or simply a completely fantastic and fictional world. Poetry and art would provide a synthetic aesthetic experience: it would get us closer to the experience of expressing a very particular experience. Philosophy would be a source of synthetic intellectual experience: we would be putting ourselves in touch with someone’s struggle to articulate what they see around them, the ways that they are trying to make sense of their world. If we want to create habits for ourselves, and if synthetic experience is a way to do this, then we need to regard all of the humanities as simulative processes that can provide us with synthetic experiences.
I’ve now finished explicating this idea of simulation and synthetic experience as a way to create new habits for ourselves. I’d now like to bring it full circle back to the idea of the aesthetic existence. I know I lost that main thread a bit during all of that analysis, but it is such a difficult and important idea for me that I felt the digression warranted. I concluded earlier that the aesthetic existence had to be about understanding the contemporary structures that govern our expression, and waiting to express ourselves within those structures. That type of social expression, however, cannot be done consciously or deliberately, it has to be done intuitively and naturally. The task of deliberate thought, therefore, is not in the actual enactment of expression, but in the creation of habits that would allow ourselves to express intuitively. This is about understanding the role of deliberate thought in the implementation of the aesthetic theory of life. And I am telling you that deliberate thought is not to be used at the actual moments of expression, but it is to be used in the deliberate creation of habits that will in turn enable the intuitive expression that I am after. This does not mean that this expression will be entirely unconscious, it will be mindful, conscious from a distance. We will be watching ourselves express, we will be aware of ourselves expressing, rather than forcing ourselves to express.
Making these conclusions about the need to create habits for ourselves, I then had to tackle the how of creating habits. I decided that it had to be a twofold process of discovery and creation. Before we can create habits for ourselves we need to understand what habits it is that we already have. I decided that it would be a process of personal archeology in which we dig up all the experiences that guide and structure our unconscious thoughts and habits. Once we have taken the time to discover the store of our already existing habits, and how our experience has given them to us, the task would be to create new habits. And because our habits are a result of our experience, the creation of new habits must also happen through the acquisition of experience. We are not, however, only able to get experience from the real world. We are also able to acquire a synthetic experience from the study of the humanities. So this is what I spent so much time laying out in this section. I had to ask questions about the nature of historical study, the mind, the imagination, the brain, and the humanities. Generally I concluded that the mind worked through a process of simulation, and that therefore history and the humanities also worked through processes of simulation. I then concluded that the imagination worked by creatively recombining traces of experience, and that it had neurological correlates to actual experience. I then argued that the humanities, being simulative and imaginative, could provide us with synthetic experience, and therefore could aid us in the creation of new habits. What types of synthetic experience would be best for creating what habits, is a question that will have to wait for now. But I think I’ve made an interesting case for the way that the humanities can be used to help us create the habits that would be necessary for the implementation of the aesthetic life.
What I’d like to do in the next section is explain why this would be a good thing for our interactions in the social world, why the aesthetic life would be a worthwhile project.
18. Personal Expression And The Task of Becoming a Better Listener: Simulation, Synthetic Experience, and Our Capacity for Thought
So I now have to ask myself the question: what is the point of becoming habitually expressive? The answer is twofold, and both answers revolve around how we interact in the social world. The first point is that if we are more expressive we are more likely to be clear to the people around us, and are thus more likely to have honest relationships on our end. The second point is that, because there is a relationship between expression and understanding, we become habitually expressive so that we can become habitually understanding and empathic. I’ll now handle this idea by discussing the relationship between expression and understanding and a few other things.
So I’d like to ask the question: how is it that we understand what other people mean when they use language, or understand their intention when they perform a certain action? According to Collingwood, Goldman, and Searle, we understand only people by recreating in ourselves the thought or intention that was expressed in the words or the action. This means that we have to express for ourselves what the person was trying to express. If it is up to us to express what other people are expressing, then this means that the crucial factor in our social interactions is our ability to feel and express all kinds of different things. If language is about the reconstruction of other people’s emotions in our own mind, then we need to have the capacity to easily empathize with people, to reconstruct a ton of different thoughts for ourselves. This is why the capacity for habitual expression is also the capacity for habitual understanding. As I said, this idea is corroborated by Collingwood, Searle, and Suzuki.
In The Principles Of Art Collingwood explains how the experience we gain from art depends on our capacity for expression. “The imaginary experience which we get from the picture,” he argues, “is not merely the kind of experience the picture is capable of arousing, it is the type of experience we are capable of having....We bring our powers of vision with us, and find what they reveal. Similarly, we bring our imaginative powers with us, and find what they reveal, namely, an imaginary experience of total activity which we find in the picture because the painter had put it there” (150-51, my italics). This is why viewing a work of art is always an act of collaboration: it is not a passive reception of what the work communicates, but an active process of recreating that expression for ourselves. Collingwood believes that language works in much the same way. “The experience of being listened to is an experience which goes on in the mind of the speaker, although in order to its existence a listener is necessary, so that the activity is a collaboration. Mutual love is a collaborative activity; but the experience of this activity in the mind of each lover taken singly is a different experience from that of loving and being spurned” (317-8). He further corroborates this idea in The Idea Of History. After explaining how history is a simulative process of reenacting thought for ourselves, he goes on to say that all knowledge of mind involves a similar process of reenactment. He says that if historical knowledge is produced through reenacmtnemt “it is in the same way that we discover the thought of a friend who writes us a letter, or a stranger who crosses the street.... In this sense, all knowledge of mind is historical” (TIOH, 219). And because it is experience that “is the criterion which the historian brings to bear on the statements of his authorities”, then it is our experience and our capacity for different types of expression that gives us our capacity for understanding other people. Only if we are capable of expressing ourselves will we be able to understand all kinds of different people’s expressions.
John Searle advocates a similar relationship between our capacity for expression and our capacity for understanding thought. “The explanation of an action,” he claims, “must have the same content as was in the person’s head when he performed the action or when he reasoned towards his intention to perform the action. If the explanation is really explanatory, the content that causes the behavior by way of intentional causation must be identical with the content in the explanation of the behavior” (Searle, 67, italics in original) This is the same idea in different language. We cannot explain someone’s behavior unless we are willing to reconstruct their meaning or their intentions for ourselves (the content of their words or actions). This is why the habitual expression of the aesthetic life would also become a form of habitual understanding.
Shunryu Suzuki also endorses a similar idea in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, although his language is less explicit than Collingwood and Searle’s. “When you listen to someone,” he argues, “you should give up all your preconceived ideas and your subjective opinions; you should just listen to him, just observe what his way is. We put very little emphasis on right and wrong or good and bad. We just see things as they are with him, and accept them. This is how we communicate with each other. Usually when you listen to some statement, your hear it is a kind of echo of yourself. You are actually listening to your own opinion. If it agrees with your opinion you may accept it, but if it does not, you will reject it or you may not even really hear it” (Suzuki, 103, my italics). Suzuki understands that listening is a very subjective experience that can often lead to misunderstandings, especially if your mind is unprepared to express what is being told to you. So that is why you need to have a blank mind, you have to be open to hearing and expressing whatever is really said to you. His solution is that we must clear our mind of our own intentions, so that we will be open to expressing as other people express: “So as a listener or a disciple, it is necessary to clear your mind of these various distortions. A mind full of preconceived ideas, subjective intentions, or habits is not open to things as they are. That is why we practice zazen: to clear our mind of what is related to something else” (Suzuki, 104). All of this sheds a lot of light on Suzuki’s idea that “The best way is to understand yourself, and then you will understand everything.” Zen and the aesthetic life are about being habitually expressive so that we can be habitually understanding of others and ourselves.
So hopefully this should make it clear that the aesthetic project of becoming habitually expressive is really a social project of becoming habitually understanding. Once the relationship between expression and understanding is grasped, it should become obvious that life as art is not just for ourselves, it is for all of our social interactions.
19. Concluding Part III: A Comparison Between The Conclusions Of Part I, II, And III
So that is Part III of the project. I’ve tried to lay out a full blown explication of what exactly this aesthetic life would look like, what would prevent us from engaging in it, and how we would actually go about living it. I’ve already summarized the previous two parts at their conclusion, so I’ll just be summarizing Part III.3 here. After that I’d like to make some comparisons between Parts I, II, and III.
In Part III.3 I was trying to explain how exactly this aesthetic life could be lived, what it would look like. I began by saying that it would have to be an expressiveness that would take place within certain social structures. When I go to work, for example, I am in no way required to express myself, in fact, I am implicitly discouraged from expressing myself. I therefore have to wait for moments in which it would be appropriate to express myself within those structures. I then explained how these ideas about waiting to express within structures are corroborated by my reading of Zen and Taoism. Waiting is an integral part of both of those Eastern philosophies, and their ultimate goal is for all of life to become expressive. Those two sections constituted the what of the aesthetic life. They laid out how I want my life to become a process in which I am mindfully waiting to express myself within the structures that govern my relationships and my experience. I then moved on try and discuss the how of the aesthetic existence. I explained how the aesthetic existence would have to be about changing our unconscious behavior. Because most of our social interactions are governed by habit I concluded that we would need to create new habits for ourselves. I first used John Searle’s distinction between the content and the form of action to show that we could do the same actions, use the same form, but by altering our thoughts we would give the actions a different content, making them different actions. If I am mindful about how I take customer’s orders and how I make their drinks, for example, my actions may have the same form as other baristas, but because I am attempting to do it expressively it will have a different content and thus will be a different action. I then tried to go more in depth as to how we could create habits for ourselves. I explained how it would have to be a twofold process of discovery and then creation. The discovery part would be about reflection and determining what experiences we have had that gave us our already existing habits. The construction part would involve the purposeful acquisition of synthetic experience from the humanities, which would hopefully give us a new set of habits. I took quite a long digression to try and tackle the notions of simulation and synthetic experience. I then tried to explain why it would be useful to become habitually expressive. I concluded that it would not simply be personal, but it would also be social. Because there is a relationship between what we can express and we can understand, the better we are at expressing for ourselves the better we could be at understanding others. That is the what, the how, and the why of the aesthetic life.
I’d now like to ask myself how these conclusions of Part III align or break with the conclusions of Part I and Part II. The major conclusions of Part I, I think, are indeed in line with most of the things that I have said in Part III. In particular, I think I have kept Collingwood’s emphasis on consciousness, the imagination, the role of craft, and the importance of language. By emphasizing mindfulness I think I was able to keep the connection with consciousness and imaginative expression, and by discussing the role of politeness and stressing expression within social structures I think I kept the connection to craft. I don’t know, however, if I kept up on the idea of art as the creation of imaginary objects. It isn’t clear what the imaginary object would be in the aesthetic life. Perhaps the purposeful creation of habits could be seen as imaginary objects. Unclear.
As for Part II, I think I maintained the connection the empathy and understanding, the connection to self-understanding, the connection to status functions, and the connection to the attitude of modernity. In the why of the aesthetic existence I explained how in learn to express for ourselves we would be learning to understand others. I also tried to maintain the connection to self-understanding in my section on personal archeology as a prerequisite to the creation of new habits. I don’t think I really maintained the connection as to how the aesthetic life in itself would be a way to understand ourselves. It undoubtedly would or should. Because if art proper is an expressive process that is also explorative, then an aesthetic life should also be explorative. I suppose this should have had its own section, but it will suffice to say here that sometimes we should be surprised by the things that we say, our expression in the social world should be explorative. We should be willing to explore during our conversations. As for the idea of art as expressing status functions, I think I handled this in Part III.3.12 when I talked about how we could express structures in their own right with the goal of modifying how they affected our relationships. Although I didn’t talk about it in terms of status functions, that is undoubtedly what I am talking about, just without Searle’s technical language. I think that the idea of art and the attitude of modernity also came through in this section. I placed a lot of emphasis on learning the rules and structures that were governing my life, and waiting to express within those structures. I won’t be able to live an aesthetic life unless I apprehend the unique properties of my age that prevent me from expressing myself comfortably. I can’t live an aesthetic life unless I have a modern attitude towards the limits on my expression.
In any case, that is all for the aesthetic life. Perhaps I can do it. Perhaps I can work hard to create habits for myself by studying my own experience and the experience of others. Perhaps I can become habitually expressive and habitually empathic. All that remains of the project now is to find out how the aesthetic life can become a political project, if it has any political implications at all.