Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Tomorrow is my day off work and I'm very excited.

I haven't had a day off in about a week and so I'm fixin to get some relaxing done.

The only problem is that I'm also eager to get some work and socializing done.

But I'm just so tired.

I was very tired today when I got off work. I took a nap.

I wanted to read but was too tired.

I bought some pants though! Yay!

I need to rest.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A New Essay

So for the last week I've been working on a new essay. I'm pretty excited about it.

I'm returning to something I've written about many times before. Nihilism.

The title of the essay is 'Nihilism, Magic, and Amusement'.

It involves five sections, five questions, and five answers

Q= Question
A= Answer

Q1: What precisely is nihilism?
A1: Nihilism is the state of a culture that has run into a dead end. Nihilism is the condition of a culture that has destroyed its sources of emotional renewal, leaving it without means to reinvigorate its individuals and communities.

Q2: What is the relationship between nihilism and the western tradition of rational thought?
A2: Our tradition of rational thought (i.e. our logocentrism) has destroyed our faith in traditional ways of living by analyzing them to death. We have inquired so intensely into forms of social organization, and have discovered no rational basis for those forms of organization, that we have left ourselves with no emotionally healthy forms of organization. Logocentrism has destroyed our capacity for communal living.

Q3: What has truly been lost in the conversion to nihilism?
A3: We have lost our capacity for magical experience. That is to say that we no longer have rituals that serve as ways of focusing the emotions of communities.

Q4: What has come to replace magical rituals?
A4: Amusement, that is, forms of representation that are merely enjoyable in their own right, have come to replace magical, communal, and emotionally beneficial rituals. We simply amuse ourselves, we drink, we do drugs, we watch meaningless TV, we amuse ourselves because our communities have collapsed.

Q5: What are we to do with the way that amusement dominates our culture due to our lack of magical rituals?
A5: We must find a way to reinvigorate aesthetic and magical forms of experience. We must find ways to be expressive, we must find ways of organizing and focusing the emotions of our communities. We must reconstitute aesthetic-mystical forms of experience. For it is the only antidote to our technological-logocentric nihilism.

This is the flow of my essay. I have written the first three sections. The final two await.

This fits into my plans for the future in two ways.

First, the next book I plan to read is Friedrich Schiller's On The Aesthetic Education Of Man. As far as I understand, Schiller proposes that aesthetics is the only proper basis of education. I find this highly compelling. I suspect his book will have much to offer me.

Second, I believe this project will help me understand how the AZI project is related to nihilism. For more than a year I have been committed to developing the idea of an 'aesthetic existence'. I have attempted to create an experience for myself that is compassionate, gentle, and above all, expressive. This, I believe, is what an aesthetic existence would be: a mode of being that emphasizes being expressive within highly confined historical circumstances. That is to say, I wish to use the conventions of my time to express myself as intensely as possible. Even if I am merely selling donuts and coffee. I may be your coffee robot, but I am a beast. A force of expression that you will never reckon with.

This task of becoming more expressive, more aesthetic, is a direct response to nihilism. Because nihilism, as a cultural state, is about logocentrism, rational criteria, and not about uncertain expressiveness. The aesthetic existence, therefore, is a way of trying to embody the antidote to our cultural nihilism.

I'm angry. And I'm trying to express myself out of that anger.

I hope to turn my anger into a cure.

I am nihilism. I am the cure.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Changing The Change

A quick note.

While revisiting Foucault I am thinking about what it means to grapple with an author. How to account for the scope of their oeuvre. How do you get to know a thinker beyond individual texts? How do you perceive the mind behind the books?

Because clearly a writer will change from one book to another. As Foucault said, don't ask me who I am and don't ask me to stay the same. He was bent on changing, on becoming different by thinking differently.

Gauging an author's changes becomes easier if the author is involved in the interpretation of their own work. Foucault, for example, claimed that the real subject of Madness And Civilization was power. He claims he didn't know it at the time, but what he was really talking about was power.

How can this be the case? If he didn't know he was writing about power how could he have been writing about it? How can an author read their own subtext?

Seems like an intense thing to do.

By interpreting their changes they change their changes.

It is like Foucault's self-interpretation reaches into the past and puts power into his work by reading it there. It is like Zizek says, something is in a text both because it is really there and because we put it there. This idea that our reading of a text can implant meaning into it relies on Zizek's notion of retroactive freedom. There is something in action that reaches into the past and creates the conditions for its own possibility. This idea still eludes me. I don't know how to think about it (except in terms of Collingwood's theory of the imagination).

I think Foucault's reading of his own work might be an example of this. Foucault puts power into his first book by reading it there.


He underwent an intuitive change in his thinking. He went from thinking in confused ways about madness to thinking more clearly about power. But he then changes the quality of this intuitive change by explicitly describing the nature of the change. He changes Madness And Civilization into something new by providing a narrative of its development and its place in his oeuvre.

Retroactive freedom? I'm not sure what the hell that means.

But there is something here about changing the change. About how a statement in the present can change what existed in the past. Whatever that means.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Oh! The Language! Oh! The Mind!


When you look at yourself in the mirror do you see words? I see 'hair', 'glasses', 'eyes', 'blemishes', a whole set of different things. But none of these things are really things. I don't really have hair or glasses. I mean, I do. But at the same time I know that my body and my life are essentially ineffable: they exist beyond words and can never be fully captured by them. This holds true for my whole life and my experiences. I can do my best to use language to talk about life, but at the end of the day words will never do justice to my experience.

I'm getting at a relatively simple point. One that is communicated, I believe, by structural linguistics. The principle contribution of this discipline is the idea that language and the objects to which it refers are arbitrarily linked. That is to say, there is nothing essential in a word. We could just as easily be calling a knife a fork and a fork a knife. The relationship between words and things is that of a signifier (a word) and a signified (the thing that is being pointed at). To put it in Collingwoodease: "The proper meaning of a word... is never something upon which the word sits perched like a gull on a stone; it is something over which the word hovers like a gull over a ship's stern. Trying to fix the proper meaning in our minds is like coaxing the gull to settle in the rigging, with the rule that the gull must be alive when it settles: one must not shoot it and tie it there. The way to discover the proper meaning is not to ask 'What do we mean?' but, 'What are we trying to mean?'...." (Collingwood, The Principles Of Art, 7). Language and object, signifier and signified, are arbitrarily linked, and not essentially connected.

How, then, do people use language to understand one another? What goes in our minds that allows us to understand what another person is thinking? Today at work by boss said to me, 'put these in a bag'. I got a paper bag, so as to save the world! But she said 'oh no put it in a plastic bag'. Then she said, 'Oh! Isn't it funny how language works!' She then prompted me to do a bit of writing about language. So here I am! Hello Sugar! But how do we make sense of the use of language? What is happening when we communicate to one another.

Just to begin, I will put my answer baldly: We only understand another person's language if we are able to use their words as clues that allow us to reconstruct their thoughts in our own mind. That is to say, words are mere evidence that simply allow me to rethink, simulate, another person's thoughts for myself. Language has much in common with empathy in this way. The arbitrary connection between signifier/signified therefore does not prevent us from understanding one another because words are mere evidence of thought.

So when my boss tells me to put those things in a bag, I had only enough evidence so as to reconstruct her thoughts as I did. I had no evidence for the fact that she wanted them in a plastic bag. I only knew that she wanted them in a bag. So I put them in a bag. How funny, though, that when she spoke the idea of the receipts going into a plastic bag was implied in the word bag. She had taken for granted that a plastic bag would be the bag that I would use. Thus she had no reason to provide me with this evidence.

To put this another way, using language is about controlling what people are (in)capable of imagining). When I confess to you that I was hurt by something you said, or that I love you, all I've done is introduce into your mind the evidence you need to imagine me thinking in that way. Another good example comes from what I like to call the retroactive destruction of privacy. Say that I throw a wild party, bad things happen, I did something embarrassing, and I don't want my family to find out. But, I happen to write it down in my journal. Three months go by, no one has found out. But then one day my dad reads my journal. Suddenly my dad knows about everything that I did at that party and I'm terribly embarrassed. My privacy, I feel, has been invaded. But how can this be the case? He didn't even see me do anything? Why would I be embarrassed? Because now my father is capable of imagining me in an embarrassing situation that happened before. His capacity to imagine me in such a situation is enough to reach back into the past and destroy the privacy that I had achieved over that three month period. All that matters in language, society, and privacy is that people are capable of imagining what we mean by such and such words. This seems to imply this idea of the retroactive destruction of privacy. Once someone learns about my embarrassing incident, even if it was three months ago, their capacity to imagine me in such a situation is enough to make me feel embarrassed.

Or how about this example. I used to stand in line at McDonald's and hear people behind me laughing. My first reaction was 'Why are these people laughing at me?' But that is such an outrageous thought. They are almost certainly not laughing at me. But my mind doesn't know what to do with their laughter, I feel compelled to analyze it as evidence of thought. And because the evidence is so limited, and because I was so unreflective, I assume that their thoughts must be about me. I have such limited evidence it is hard to imagine otherwise. Thankfully I'm not able to say things like 'Oh their friend probably did something funny at a party'.

To put this issue in different terms, I like to say that relationships float around an economy of the imagination: That is to say, that in relationships there is a flow of evidence that controls what we are (in)capable of thinking about one another. Once I learn, for example, that my friend has a dreaded fear of  something, I now include that piece of information about them in all of my interactions with them in the future. What this really means is that people are imaginary, I have access to other mind's only insofar as I am capable of imagining those minds for myself. There exists, therefore, an economy of the imagination that regulates my relationships. Evidence of thought is the capital that flows in this economy of the imagination.

Bah! I have to go out now!

But I'm getting at language and minds and how they work! They work by giving us hints of other people's thoughts that allow us to simulate their thoughts in our own mind. People are real, but they only exist in our minds as imagined! How else are we to overcome the solipsistic gap if not through imagination? Because I sure as hell know that I only access my own thoughts!

Please see my other writing on language:
On The Economy of the Imagination
On Language And Empathy
On Expression, Communication, And Dancing
On Poetic And Technical Language
On The Economy of the Imagination in Politics
On Language And Generalization

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rereading Foucault

Me and some friends are reading Volume I of Foucault's History Of Sexuality. I couldn't be more excited. I'm amazed at the precision of the book. I first read it in the summer of 2009. I was working for NARA. I read it at work. I remember a young researcher commented on me reading it. I told him that I took a sociology of sexuality class where the teacher talked about how Foucault said this or said that and how I was ready to see if Foucault really said those things. That instructor certainly didn't lie to me. She told us what was useful for us in the scope of that class.

But man is there a lot going on in that book. Dense. Quite dense.

I've read a lot since then and I am pleased that the book is giving me a sense of how far my reading has come since I first read it.

One thing I'm struck with is how my thinking about Foucault always comes back to Collingwood. I see my reading of them as inseparable. They are both philosophical historians, or historical philosophers. Tough to say which. Both of them assert the primacy of history, but speak in philosophical language, and make claims that go beyond mere history. They both offer a type of study in which philosophical questions are approached as historical questions. They are methodologically similar.

Beyond their method, they share a deeper, more personal similarity. They both died young, never producing an authoritative statement of their thought. They both leave troubling oeuvres that prompt more questions than answers.

I'm in a position where I'm situating my thinking at the intersection of two authors that died of unfortunate circumstances. What to do with these two men who excite me with their incomplete statements? What to do when the minds that have stimulated me the most died before they could more fully develop their ideas?

I should also say that I'm far more committed to Collingwood. I see Foucault as invaluable, a massive mind and a crucial reference. But I think the implications of his project can be actualized most fully if synthesized into Collingwood's work. Because Collingwood anticipates Foucault's method. Foucault's notions of archeology, genealogy, and the aesthetics of existence are all implicated in Collingwood's work. Perhaps in a latent form, but he was already there and getting at the same issues. Right now I am trying to situate myself at the intersection of Collingwood's work on aesthetics, re-enactment, and metaphysics (as the historical study of absolute presuppositions). I really need to work on unpacking all of that.

Anyways, I am very excited to be rereading one of Foucault's books cover to cover. Quite a lot is going on in it. A lot is going on in my mind these days. I'm doing lots of thinking. I'm working on reading more. I'm working on a new essay apart from my large project. Onward and upward.

I can't help but give these philosophical historians my attention.

My Thoughts Shock Me

Earlier I had a shower and I was blown away by what I was able to think. I had to stop actively showering and brace myself in the wake of my revelations.

Later tonight a friend told me his thoughts didn't shock him.

I'm happy that I don't identify with that statement.

Because my thoughts shock me.

Hopefully at least once a week.

I am far too outraged to not be shocked.

I make abstract connections, I think through 'big' problems in silly ways and it makes me feel better.

And it always startles me. It freaks me out. It scares me. My mind scares me. I love it.

My writing is magical.

It produces in me emotions that are practically useful in my daily living.

And this issue, the issue of 'magic' is the one I am currently working on tentatively addressing.

You will be seeing a new essay from me soon.

'Nihilism, Magic, and Amusement: Rediscovering Aesthetic-Mystical Experience'.

Something like that.

I rely on precise definitions that come from Collingwood's The Principles Of Art.

I hope that sometimes people just read my essays and hang with me. Because I hope that by the end of the essay things are clearer. Because in the intro, in the title, things are not clear.

My essays are assays. Not confident statements.

Reemergent Rawness

I look at tables
And cackle at my heart.
Thinking myself aware
And sensitive to a fault.

I was wondering about you.
About your look.
Your look for home.
I know you.

And you know me
And how I've been waiting
For this moment
For less time than I'd like to think.

That is the meaning of this.
I am the meaning of this.
This meaning is beyond me
And only within my mind.

A swarming fog that
Refuses to embrace
The one true power
And its proper love.

Believe in the one true power.
Believe in the endless world.
Believe in the eternal.
Believe in your nihilism.

Because word webs aren't enough
For this wild life I live.
I know that I am a liar
And I don't want to change.

I just want to purposefully transform.

Monday, January 23, 2012

God Dammit, Wendell!

Wendell Berry is messing my head up. His two essays, 'The Specialization Of Poetry' and 'Standing By Words', really shocked me.

Such a thinker! Such a plain spoken yet sophisticated mind! So able to address major contemporary issues of language, culture, and community in simple terms. No odd words like 'd-mode' or logocentrism. All this plain spoken stuff.

A raging defense of mindfulness! But one that leaves so much room for analytical study.

So much faith in language this man has!

The best claim he makes: That only by embracing "particular love for particular things" can we reclaim language as a precise medium, only then can we 'stand by our words'. Because love "is not abstract, it does not lead to trends or percentages or general behavior. It leads, on the contrary, to the perception that there is no such thing as general behavior. There is no abstract action. Love proposes the work of settled households and communities, whose innovations come about in response to immediate needs and immediate conditions, as opposed to the work of governments and corporations, whose innovations are produced out of the implicitly limitless desire for future power or profit" (Standing By Words, 61). I feel enlivened by this man's words.

I, too, wish to stand by my words. To be sincere, to do away with generalizing language about people. To embrace the novelty and particularity of each moment. I wish to be mindful. I wish to embody this poetic attitude. I wish to regard language as a tricky but indispensable tool.

So very much is going on in these essays. Such connections to Collingwood, Foucault, John Gray, Guy Claxton, all kinds of stuff.

Really excited about Wendell Berry. He seems to be a very strong essayist and thinker.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Returning To Simulation Theory

I'm reconnecting my thinking to simulation theory of mind in a big way.

I wrote a decent sized essay recently and I ended it with a discussion of simulation. Basically, I was trying to understand if there is a mode of thought that could connect my disparate references to civility, aesthetics, and zen. I concluded that all of those processes must involve simulative modes of thought.

I recently did some writing, that I've yet to post, on simulation and the collision/diffusion/comparison of thought. I'm feeling very connected to these ideas.

I need to do some real reading and writing on simulation and synthetic experience and other stuff soon.

And I Wonder

If you know
What it means
What it  means

And I wonder
If you know
What it means
What it means



And I wonder
Do you and I
Live the same way
Do I wonder?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Another Collingwood Bump

Yesterday a friend asked me how my reading and writing was going. He asked me if I was reading anything by Collingwood right now. He is certainly the person I feel most immersed in, so he was right to ask.

I'm not reading any Collingwood right now. I've been writing about him in AZI. Just finished writing about The Idea of History and its political implications. Which is problematic because I haven't yet red David Boucher's intro essay to The New Leviathan where he makes some claims about the relationship between re-enactment and TNL. So I don't feel super comfortable with my writing in that section, but it is a tentative statement and will have to do for now. Here is a snippet from it that gives you a sense of what I think of TIOH: "The political implications of historical thinking (re-enactment) thus become clear if we highlight these three ways it affects the mind. It forces people to come to terms with the limitations of their own thinking through collisions of thought, it gives people enriched minds through the diffusion of other minds into their own, and it gives us a powerful way to make comparisons, not only in large political situations, but in every day social situations. I will venture to say that both populations and politicians should to be willing to engage in these effects of re-enactment. If we want to bring about progress or change things we need to be open to the colliding with, diffusing, and comparing of minds. We need that sort of historical-self knowledge. ‘Revolutionaries ought to be historians’. What an interesting thing for Collingwood to say. "That is my summary of about five pages on his historical work. So I feel like I am working towards some strong thoughts. I suspect I'm heading in the same direction that Boucher is going in.

There is, however, something in The New Leviathan that I have failed to grasp so far. I am referring to Collingwood's claim that duty is the highest form of practical reason, and that historical thinking is its theoretical counterpart. Duty as a form of practical reasoning (in which you do what is good) is to be contrasted with utility (in which you do what is useful), and right (in which you do something because of certain customs). And how interesting that duty as practical reason corresponds with history as a a form of theoretical reason. So, clearly, if there is a relationship between Collingwood's historical work and his political-moral work, I should look for it in this relationship between duty, history, and good.

Strange stuff. When I read The New Leviathan I really failed to grasp this. I definitely read the whole thing, including the chapters on right, utility, and duty. But really missed this. Luckily Boucher was there to help me out. Even though I haven't finished his intro.

The bump, then, is this relationship between duty and historical thinking. If I want to write on The New Leviathan I need to understand this.

It appears as though I cannot continue my work on Art, Zen, Insurrection until I do so.

By the way, I think the title Art, Zen, Insurrection is stupid and have decided that the project needs to be renamed. It still, however, captures a lot about the contents of the work: The idea of defining a historical-philosophical-ethical attitude that is analogous to both aesthetics and zen, and is also driven by an emphasis on political thinking. In particular, political-military pedagogy.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Privilege, No, The Irresistibility Of Mind

The idea of the mind occupies a strange place in conversations. There are plenty of ways to reduce the mind. Often by reference to physical processes. One could say, for example, that the mind is merely a chemical process in the brain, or that Man's actions are primarily a matter of evolution and instinct. It is hard to know how to treat mind among the plethora of physical and material processes that also determine human experience.

I, however, give mind a very privileged position. I cannot help but appeal directly to minds. I want to talk about my own mind, how I think, what I feel, what my experience is like. I want to talk about other minds, I want to understand what they feel, figure out how they work. I find mind irresistible. This does not mean that I don't pay attention to materialist philosophy or the sciences of life. I find that stuff fascinating, but I regard it useful only insofar as it helps me talk about minds, and, most importantly, how those minds can be educated in certain ways. I'm finding myself more and more convinced that all of my thinking has to culminate in pedagogical ends. I am ready to embrace knowledge of mind as the fundamental element of all knowledge. 

There is, however, a serious tension between mind and the physical reality that sustains it. The structures of the natural world and the physical structures that we create are constantly affecting our mental processes. We can get lost in these elaborate social worlds that we create. And although these physical processes are directed by people's minds, the physical structures persist beyond any one mind. I was reminded of this tension tonight when I say Werner Herzog's movie "The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams." 

The movie is about the Chauvet caves in southern France, home of the oldest cave paintings ever found. He documents the research efforts of archeologists attempting to understand who made the caves, what they thought about them, and what they used them for. The movie did a good job of not over-interpreting the cave, not claiming too strongly that such and such a site was used for such and such a ritual. The emphasis seemed to be much more on these scientist's attempt to access a historical experience radically different from our own. 

At one point they realized that two paintings that overlapped and complimented one another were created five thousand years apart from one another. The scale of time is unimaginable. That one person Thirty two thousand years about would paint one animal, and five thousand years later someone would add to it. At that moment Herzog says something like 'We are lost in history, they were not'. I see part of the tension lying in the type of creativity they were engaging in and what our creative expression is like. These people were adorning an unadorned landscape, a place modified only by natural processes was suddenly transformed through their actions. And to think that five thousand years later someone could collaborate with them, and just paint overtop and next to their painting is an amazing thing. We could never go into a museum and start drawing on someone else's painting. Our cultural and creative experience is very different. So the thing that is really shocking is the extreme difficulty of imagining an aesthetic experience like the artists of those cave paintings.

Our inability to imagine the aesthetic experience of our ancient ancestors is contrasted well with another example from the movie: the Aboriginal experience of cave art. One of the archeologists discusses a story from the 1970's where an anthropologist was being guided by an Aboriginal man. They came across a set of decaying Aboriginal cave paintings. The guide was upset with the decay of the paintings and began a process of touching them up, repainting and fixing them. When asked why he was painting the Aboriginal would respond, this archeologist said, something like 'I'm not painting, the spirit is painting through me', or something like that. The point being that for this Aboriginal man these paintings represented a spiritual-aesthetic experience that he had hereditary and direct access to. He lived in that tradition and could therefore bring the experience of the original painter back to life, re-enact the painting for himself, engage in a process that was simultaneously a simulation of a past act and a new act in its own right. His repetition of the past leading to something new. But we can't do that. Our cultural heritage took some strong turns and we can no longer re-enact/simulate the spiritual-aesthetic experience of a cave painting.

This same archeologist also said he believed that his goal was to get to some place outside the cave. That studying the cave was their starting point but the real goal was somewhere beyond it. When asked where he named other physical locations, South America, Australia, et cetera. The point being, I think, that when you understand one of these places and have really attempted to grasp the experience behind these places you need to compare that with other places. Only in this way can you hope to gain more general insights into the human experience. Something about simulation and comparison, like I wrote in my recent post. But it seems like that simulation, the recovery of that experience, was the task. 

So why is it that being 'lost in history' makes it so difficult for us to grasp a prehistoric aesthetic experience? What does this mean to be lost in history and why does it has this affect on our mental capacity? Why does being lost in history make it so difficult to re-enact the spiritual-aesthetic experience of the cave painting?

I believe these questions can be answered with a little help from Foucault. Foucault, too, believed that we had become lost in history. He believed that our culture and its ways of being had reached a critical mass where signs and representation were merely replicating themselves, no longer moving towards a union with reality. Representation was finally able to become a representation of representation, or something. In The Archeology of Knowledge he refers to 'discursive regularities', that is patterns of language that form a constellation of tacit assumptions that form the necessary basis for all thought. He believed that we could study these discursive regularities in their own right, tracking the historical progression of unconscious structures of thought. This, however, means that Foucault often had very little to say about individual minds. He himself says that he wishes to study statements "not from the point of view of the individuals who are speaking, nor from the point of view of the formal structures of what they are saying, but from the point of view of the rules that come into play in the very existence of such discourse: what conditions did Linnaeus (or Petty, or Arnauld) have to fulfil, not to make his discourse coherent and true in general, but to give it, at the time when it was written and accepted, value and practical applications as scientific discourse.... " (The Order Of Things, xiv). The focus, therefore, is not the individual mind, but the historical conditions that make that mind possible.

What Foucault is doing, I claim, is shying away from the subject in his recognition of the mind's intense historical conditioning. Our society, more than others past and present, has highly developed and codified rules about how we live. We talk about everything, our clothes, our money, our living, our sex lives, our gender presentation. As Foucault said, "Surely no other type of society has ever accumulated–and in such a relatively short span of time–a similar quantity of discourses concerned with sex" (Volume I, History of Sexuality, 33). We are a society overrun with historically dense prescriptive language. This realization, as I said, invites us to distrust the mind. If my mind is so historically conditioned, one might ask, how can I be sure that I really know what I'm doing? Foucault himself said that people know what they do, but they don't know what they do does. It is logical to distrust the mind in response to some of Foucault's work. I will show, however, that this stage is only preliminary to a return to the mind.

There is undoubtedly something problematic about the historical density of our moment. For one thing, the minds historical conditioning makes us incapable of accessing certain experiences (such as the problem of the cave paintings). In other words, the historical conditioning of our mind makes it exceptionally difficult to simulate certain types of experience. We can lose a certain capacity for empathy when we are ignorant of the historical conditioning of our mind. The tension between mind and historical/natural processes, therefore, is about the way that changing natural-cultural situations affect our capacity for empathy or, more generally, simulative thought. 

I think this tension between history and simulative thought is played out in Foucault's work. For many years Foucault did not engage in conversations about minds, about the role of subjectivity and volition. Historical conditioning outshone the subject in Foucault's early work. In his late work, however, we see a return to the mind. Foucault begins speaking about how an individual can shape themselves within the context of their situation. Suddenly the mind is a factor again. The subject, of course, was always present in Foucault's work, but much more subtly than in his late work.

There is much to be said about this problem of history and simulative thought. We get buried on our culture and our history and we lose a certain capacity for mental simulation. We lose touch with the past and with other communities because our mind has become locked into a certain way of thinking. 

But the mind must be reckoned with. We must take seriously the minds of the past and the minds of the present. Both the minds around us and the ones far away. And this requires a certain capacity for simulative thought. This capacity, further, rests on a certain awareness, which can be cultivated through historical study (but not exclusively there). Something going on here.

This is a weird series of reflections. But what I'm really getting at is the necessity of simulating other minds in your own mind. We need to take minds seriously. Only from them do we gain the synthetic experience necessary for our own experience. Only through minds are we able to repeat something to make something new. And only by taking minds seriously, I hope, can we begin to take compassion seriously. Can you logically work yourself into a state of compassion? Or does that take a real attempt to engage with, simulate, another mind? You can logically work yourself into a state of simulating another mind, I believe (to some extent). So if you can logically work yourself into a simulation you are, I suppose, reasoning your way into compassion. But only by means of simulation.

I conclude that privileging mind is most useful because it provides us with the best approach to morality. Direct engagement with minds is simulative and therefore leads to compassion. Life has no end other than the process itself and therefore the simplest things like compassion matter a good deal. Unfortunately I don't think we are often taught how to empathize.

Whoa. Nice to Meet You, Mr. Berry.

I received a lovely christmas gift. A volume of Wendell Berry's essays titled Standing By Words. I just finished the first essay, 'The Specialization of Poetry'.

I'm a bit jarred by how much it clicks with me. The main claim of the essay is that poets have ceased to be identified as spokesmen for their communities, and are now regarded as people with a technical skill for language. Poet's have ceased to live in the real world, have ceased to sympathize with their communities experience, they no longer write about the world which they "have in common with other people" (8). Instead, they have taken to making poetry for themselves, they use poetry as a way of finding "self in words, the making of a word-world in which the word-self may be at home" (7).

Berry believes that this specialization in poetry also comes along with a rejection of older work. They now regard the new, the contemporary as the only worthwhile form of poetry. Thus Berry claims that poet's make themselves socially and emotionally vulnerable with their "tendency to make a religion of poetry or to make a world out of words, and by their preoccupation with  the present and the new" (14). All of this, moreover, stems from a poet's inability to deal with action. He believes that modern poets have refined their sensibilities to the extent that they have lost touch with action, and that their poetry suffers for it.

All of this results in the fragmentation of communities. Other poets, like Ezra Pound, for example, have claimed that the relationship between poetic expression and social order: "When their work goes rotten... when their very medium, the very essence of their work, the application of word to thing goes rotten, i.e. becomes slushy and inexact, or excessive or bloated, the whole machinery of social and of individual thought and order goes to pot" (Cited in Berry, 19).

This is precisely Berry's problem with the specialization of poetry: "That we have no poets who are,.... public persons suggests even more forcibly the weakness of our poetry of protest. In his protest, the contemporary poet is speaking publicly, but not as a spokesman; he is only one outraged citizen speaking at other citizens who do not know him, whom he does not know, and with whom he does not sympathize. The tone of self-righteousness is one result of this circumstance" (20).

In other words, poet's have become less like artists and more like craftsmen, regarding the technical use of language, and not expression, as the end of their work. Artist's have ceased to speak the heart of their community, as Collingwood claims they do, and have withdrawn into their own world.

There is a lot to work out here. In particular, with Berry's claims about poet's disconnect from the past. I have a lot to say about simulation and duty and all that. Because I think that Berry is describing the decline of simulative thinking in poetic communities.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ahem. Amen.

I hope for everyones safety and well being.

I wish I could pray everyones safety and well being.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


What I'm really after these days is a conception of a type of attitude, a style of living, a purposefully pursued mode of being and relating to yourself, others, and things. Further, I want to understand the pedagogical significance of this attitude. I've talked about it in different ways, but there is some idea there that has yet to be named precisely. I've yet to find language that I found wholly adequate. But it is really about elaborating the idea of the philosophical life and working out if and how it should be taught. I know that I give a lot of emphasis on historical education, and that the material would be handled in a 'zen' like way (see my latest essay on the civil-aesthetic-zen attitude).

But there is still a good deal to work out. Especially on simulation and synthetic experience.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Having Fun! JUST FOR FUN! Or, Radical Acceptance and Pleasure

I forget what was happening to me today but I suddenly knew that all I ever want to do is have fun.


But fun in a weird sense. Not just raw enjoyment or pleasure. But fun even when things suck. Playfulness in the face of pain or confusion.

The way I am thinking about fun is a bit how Epicurus talked about pleasure. People often think Epicureanism is all about raw, bodily pleasure. That we should talk about food, alcohol, and sex if we want to talk about pleasure. But I've recently learned that Epicurus believed that those pleasures of the body were the most fickle and the most likely to turn into pain somehow. Pleasure, for Epicurus, was to be found in the life of the mind, in thoughtful and moderate living.

Similarly, I will say that my sense of fun is emerging from a sort of radical acceptance.

This is idea of radical acceptance is something I'm really hung up on right now. How often do we think things like 'oh I wish I didn't have to do this, or do that, or go to work today'. There is so often this feeling of blehhh I wish I was doing something else.

Well, sorry, this is what you have to do right now.

And this idea of radical acceptance comes out in a phrase like: "This is what I have to do right now. This is my current duty."

I find that it makes certain things fun. Because once you accept what you are doing you can begin to appreciate and enjoy what you are doing.

I think that we will find the most pleasure in life if we unconditionally accept life.

This does not mean that we never strive to change our lives. It means that we accept the conditions that we are currently in despite our desire to change them. That acceptance, I suspect, will give us a clearer head and a greater chance of succeeding in changing our situation. If we accept and understand our situation we will be better able to change it.

Anyways, I don't know what to say here other than that I want to have fun all the time. And I think the best way to have fun is to accept the situation we are in. There is something about radical acceptance and finding pleasure in the moment we are in.


I think this is one of the best song/video combos I know

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On Habit And Attitude Cultivation

I keep talking about life and philosophy. About how my philosophical work is all about working on myself. I want to be like my favorite thinkers. I want to be involved in a process of reflexively creating myself. Letting my thoughts and emotions come out in my writing, and in turn letting that writing change my thoughts and emotions.

I am committed to philosophy as a process of self-creation.

Further, any attempt at self-creation must gauge itself based not on the logical complexity or consistency of a philosophical system, but based on practical results in one's life. And I believe that practical benefits to daily living can only come in the realm of habit, attitude, and disposition. In other words, the rational work of philosophy must strive for something other than itself. Words must try to alter that which is not words. One must use language to modify parts of the self that are essentially ineffable. I believe that habit and attitude are parts of the ineffable self. They are the parts of us that are pre-linguistic, the parts of me that act, feel, and experience before I can ever think to think.

I am all about philosophy as a quest to cultivate my habits and attitude.

Much of my writing has thus revolved around the concept of habit and attitude. I am trying to define more precisely what kind of attitude I want to embody. How do I  want to live my life? I currently have several competing ways of thinking about this attitude.

The way I prefer to describe my personal attitude is with the word 'aesthetic'. But what I mean by that word isn't always clear, because I spent a lot of time developing it and so it has a lot of connotations for me. But generally it means that I want to become as habitually imaginative and expressive as possible. That life is about creativity, finding new ways to relate to myself, to people, and to things. I wish to come to terms with the rules of my day (grammatical rules, social norms, rules about politeness), and to adopt them for my own purposes. In other words, I only think politeness and grammar are important because they are the tools that we need to engage creatively with people. Those formal elements of social living are to be regarded as mere craft. The task is to use those elements of craft to transform life into art.
Another one of my major references comes from zen. I understand zen less. But it offers many of the same things.

In any case, what I want to say here is that despite the variety of references I make to elaborate this idea of philosophy as the cultivation of an attitude, there are certain features that transcend all of the categories I have.

The permanent features of my attitude, its hallmarks are:

1. A commitment to love, empathy, curiosity, and compassion. I have no interest in being mean. I am very interested in understanding you (all of you). And I always want to find a way to forgive everyone for everything.

2. A certain approach to language. One that recognizes that words are rarely valuable in themselves. They are useful only insofar as they help us connect with others and ourselves. Words are a means to an end. And that end is good living, compassionate living. I explained a lot of this in my latest essay on civility. Check out the part about zen. There I use a quote from D.T. Suzuki where he claims that koans, traditional zen phrases, are "compared to a piece of brick used to knock at a gate; when the gate is opened the brick is thrown away. The koan is useful as long as the mental doors are closed, but when they are opened it may be forgotten." That is to say, language is never valuable in its own right. It is valuable only in the way it affects our deeper emotional and cognitive capacities.

Language is most valuable when it is turned to the task of purposefully creating habits and cultivating an attitude.

Finally, I'll just say that I have been able to relate all of this back to simulation theory of mind.
It now appears to me that the attitude I seek is truly to be found in simulation theory. That simulation theory, with its emphasis on empathy, is the theory that can pull together my disparate references into a clear picture of the attitude that I am seeking to cultivate in myself.
There is no telling where all of this leaves me or will lead me.

But I wanted to make something a little bit clearer: Philosophy is about an attitude, about taking charge of your habits, about embracing a certain approach to relationships and to language.

This is what I try to do with philosophy.

I try to make myself a better person.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Philosophical Living And Political Thinking

My engagement with philosophy is first and foremost personal.

I find this world confusing. It isn't easy for me to get up in the morning and not wonder what I'm doing it or why I'm doing it.

So my philosophical reading is largely a personal matter. It helps me feel like I have control over my attitude and my approach to living. I find it very helpful.

Sometimes I think and write about political things, too. But I don't feel so good about it. I don't feel comfortable with my frame of reference, and I often feel like I'm thinking about things that are far beyond me.

I'm just putting it out there that I don't feel comfortable talking about politics. But I do it anyways because it is what I'm reading about.

Thus I've resolved to pursue military history at the graduate level. The only way to think about political problems is to think about them historically. I need to think about political problems. So I'm going to go to school for military history to pursue my hopes of thinking about the philosophy of war and politics.

I'll also say that I hope much of my personal philosophical work can be applied to political problems. I hope that my thinking about the cultivation of an attitude, about metaphysical mindfulness and civility, will somehow be applicable to political decision-making. And I have several people who are already helping me in making this connection.

But historical education is a must.

The Civil-Aesthetic-Zen Attitude in Collingwood and Foucault, Or, How I Want To Live

A few weeks ago I sent myself a series of text messages. I was working and had no way to take notes. My thoughts were revolving around Collingwood and Foucault. Specifically, about Collingwood’s definition of civilization in The New Leviathan. The four messages I sent myself said: 

1.“Foucault is really after Collingwoodian civility. The reduction of domination.” 

2. “Civility and Power in Collingwood and Foucault”

3. “Just state Collingwood’s definition of civility, ask the necessary series of questions, then discuss Foucault in that interview”

4. “Novel thought, appreciation, taste, simulation, dialectics, and Foucault at the end of that essay in Power/Knowledge where he talks about the uncertainty of his own thought”

By the second text I had come up with the tentative title of the essay and was mulling it all over in the 3rd and 4th texts. So now I intend to write that essay. I want to show that Collingwood and Foucault agreed that power relations were an ineluctable element of social life, and that the task of civilized folks, therefore, is not the dissolution of power relations, but the cultivation of an attitude that minimizes the amount of force in our relationships. Both of their definitions of civility are grounded primarily in history, philosophy, and aesthetics, but I also want to ask if they are related to zen. I’ll begin with Collingwood’s work on civilization, and will then make some quick comparisons to Foucault. Finally, I’ll try to reflect on the ways in which these author’s ideas at the intersection of history, philosophy, aesthetics, and zen. 

In The New Leviathan Collingwood claims that the word ‘civilization’ means several things. I would like to highlight three of the major points: That civilization is a process of reducing the amount of force in our relationships, that it is a mental process that a community undertakes, and that this process is undertaken through dialectical forms of thought. I’ll explore these three points in turn.

Collingwood is explicit that there will always be an element of force in both individual and political life. The role of force, however, is complicated by his assertion that political force is always “ ‘moral force’ or mental strength” (TNL, 142). Further, force only exists in relationships between individuals, so “When A is said to exercise force upon B, what is meant is that A is strong relatively to B, and uses this superiority to make B do what he wants” (Ibid.). Collingwood believes that this moral force, the swirl of emotions that come from political interaction, is the essence of political force. I know Clausewitz also believes that war and politics are primarily a matter of wills. But I find it surprising how little Collingwood discusses concrete violence in The New Leviathan, there is no index for it, I’m not sure what to think. I’m a bit confused by Collingwood’s discussion of force. I’ll have to read it more carefully. Collingwood’s major claims about civilization, however, are still comprehensible even if the definition of force is less than ideal. He argues that civilization essentially means that people learn to “behave ‘civilly’ to one another” (The New Leviathan, 291, author’s emphasis). This means that individuals “become less addicted to force in their dealings with one another”, and actively strive to refrain “from the use of force towards them” (TNL., 292). This is the ideal that a civilization pursues, the reduction of force.

This reduction of force, Collingwood claims, is a mental process that a community willfully undertakes. People must be educated and must learn to adopt this civil attitude towards one another. The essential link between civilization and education rest on one simple fact: the existence of children. Collingwood claims that any philosophy of civilization must acknowledge that people are “born a red and wrinkled lump of flesh having no will of their own at all, absolutely at the mercy of the parents by whose conspiracy he has been brought into existence” (TNL, 176). Collingwood calls the group of individuals not yet able to rule themselves ‘the nursery’. Civilization is therefore be a process of “converting the nursery from a non-social community into a society or briefly civilizing the children” (TNL, 309). Civilization is a therefore a process of cultivating in people the habit of reducing the amount of force in their relationships. 

But how does this process of education happen? What is the type of thinking that we should be cultivating in people? What are we supposed to be teaching the children? Collingwood says that civilization rests on a form of thought he calls dialectical. His conception of dialectical thought makes his definition civilization even more precise: “Being civilized means living, so far as possible, dialectically, that is, in constant endeavour to convert every occasion of non-agreement into an occasion of agreement. A degree of force is inevitable in human life; but being civilized means cutting it down, and becoming more civilized means cutting it down still further” (TNL, 326). As you can see, Collingwood’s definition of dialectical thinking is about an attitude towards relationships. It means that you are always looking to find a way to make things work with people, that you genuinely want to get along with people. Dialectical thinking is contrasted with eristical thinking, in which “each party tries to prove that he was right and the other wrong” (TNL, 181). For an eristic there is a true disagreement, as opposed to the non-agreement that would exist in a dialectical conversation. Dialectical thinking is thus a crucial element in Collingwood’s definition of civilization.

We can now precisely state Collingwood’s definition of civilization: a process of educating people to habitually use dialectical thought so as to reduce the amount of force in relationships both with members of their own community and other communities. It is an attitude, a way of approaching language and relationships, that seeks to minimize the amount of power inequality. Later on I’ll discuss the relationship between civility, dialectical thinking, reenactment, and simulation theory of mind, as well as the relationship between civility, aesthetics, and zen. But before I do that, I’d like to compare Collingwood with Foucault.

I think that Foucault arrived at a similar view towards the end of his life. Except he wasn’t calling it civility, he was speaking in terms of practices of the self, games of truth, and the aesthetics of existence. But I believe his goal was the same thing: that force is an ineluctable element of all relationships, and that the task is to find an attitude that would let us temper power inequalities. Foucault puts this point very clearly: 

“The thought that there could be a state of communication which would be such that the games of truth could circulate freely, without obstacles, without constraint and without coercive effects, seems to me to be Utopia. It is being blind to the fact that relations of power are not something bad in themselves, from which one must free one’s self. I don’t believe there can be a society without relations of power, if you understand them as means by which individuals try to conduct, to determine the behavior of others. The problem is not of trying to dissolve them into the utopia of a perfectly transparent communication, but to give one’s self the rules of law, the techniques of management, and also the ethics, the ethos, the practice of self, which would allow these games of power to be played with a minimum of domination (The Final Foucault,18).

This clearly resembles Collingwood’s attitude in The New Leviathan. But how close are they on the details? What does Foucault believe force is? What does he have to say about communities undertaking this process? And by what forms of thought does Foucault believe we can cultivate this attitude, this ethos? I’ll check these out in turn.

Foucault is well known for his discussions of power. Foucault believes that power is exists only in relationships between people, it is never something that an individual wields, but something that emerges when two people interact. This means that power can never be a mere top down phenomenon, it is not something that can be analyzed in those terms. It can only be seen as existing in concrete historical relationships. For Foucault, there are at least three interrelated types of power. Discursive power, disciplinary power, and biopower. Discursive power refers to the way that language alters power relationships between people. In Discipline & Punish Foucault argues that knowledge and power are inseparable: that there is no power relationship without a corresponding form of knowledge that lets those power relations exist in that specific type of way. This relationship between power and knowledge is central to all of Foucault’s ideas about power. He says that it culminates in the idea of “the ‘discursive regime,’ of the effects of power peculiar to the play of statements” (Foucault Reader, 55). The existence of a discursive regime, however, does not mean that all power is linguistically constituted. On the contrary, power is manifested in physical violence and bodies, that the primary reference in analyses of power relations should not be “the great model of language (langue) and signs, but to that of war and battle. The history which bears and determines us has the form of a war rather than that of a language: relations of power, not relations of meaning” (Ibid., 56). Language, discursivity, only matters in so far as it shifts the balance of power, what matters is who language serves, what type of physical power relations become possible based on the type of discursive regime in place. Discursive power, therefore, is the an element in all other forms of power, which is why knowledge/power is at the core of Foucault’s notion of power.

Disciplinary power is a perfect example of the ways that a discursive regime constitutes that manipulation of bodies. Foucault defines disciplinary power as a form of power that focuses on the manipulation and normalization of individual bodies. Disciplinary power fully emerged, Foucault claims, sometime in the mid-late eighteenth century. It is characterized by the rise of modern institutions capable of producing large amounts of knowledge about individuals and the application of that knowledge in normalizing procedures. A newly invented hospital, for example, would embody “a new and different use of space, one that allowed close observation of disease and isolation of its cause” (Delanda, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, 158). Similarly, prisons, mental institutions, schools, and other institutions serve a similar function: they maximize the visibility of its subjects, they produce elaborate knowledge about individuals, and they highly regulate people’s routines and habitual movements. Disciplinary power, therefore, is aided by discourse and the relationship between knowledge and power, but is defined by the focus on controlling and normalizing an individual body. 

Foucault’s third type of power is bio-power, by which he means a form of power that orients itself towards the issue of life and the preservation of the population’s health. Bio-power, too, is supported by discursive knowledge. It draws on knowledge from fields like statistics and medicine to justify policies of regulating the population. This could be things like food rationing or vaccination, policies that regulate the health of the population as a whole. This is why Foucault contrasts disciplinary procedures with regulatory mechanisms, the former referring to disciplinary power and the latter referring to bio-power. Further, Foucault claims he chose sexuality as a topic because it is at the intersection of disciplinary and bio-power. “Sexuality exists,” he claimed, “at the point where body and population meet. And so it is a matter for discipline, but also a matter for regularization” (Society Must Be Defended, 252). Thus we have the distinction between disciplinary and bio-power, and we see that discursivity, language, is always a component in these other types of power. 

Does Foucault’s definition of power resemble Collingwood’s discussion of force? For one thing, Foucault’s notion of power does seem to be about ‘mental force’. Panopticism, a key component in disciplinary power, is all about the maximization of observability of a subject. The subject, however, is rarely physically coerced. It is his knowledge that he is being observed that compels him to comply with those observing him. Panopticism is ultimately a way to get individuals to work on themselves, and is therefore primarily mental in its force. Foucault, however, does have a bit more to say about physical violence and coercion than Collingwood. But it seems like their discussions are compatible in that both stress that power is about a mental relationship, not something that someone wields. 

I don’t grasp Foucault’s concept of power as clearly as I’d like to. I haven’t enough effort into it lately. But I do believe that the comparison between their definitions of is legitimate. Especially given that they both believed ethics had to be found in the cultivation of an attitude, in the purposeful engagement in a mental process. Furthermore, in addition to both historical and philosophical arguments, both of these authors characterize this attitude in terms of aesthetics. Foucault much more explicitly than Collingwood, but Collingwood’s aesthetics have clear implications for his political thought. In a 1983 interview Foucault argued that “We have hardly any remnant of the idea in our society, that the principal work of art which one has to take care of, the main area to which one must apply aesthetic values, is oneself, one’s life, one’s existence” (Foucault Reader, 362). Foucault, however, never systematically worked out his conception of aesthetics. What he means by the word is unclear. And this is where I turn to Collingwood. Because Collingwood did give art a systematic treatment in The Principles Of Art, and I think his aesthetics add a lot to his discussion of civility. In Collingwood’s work there is a strange unification of individual ethics, aesthetics, and politics that I’m trying to parse. But he was smart and it is getting strange. I tried to give a close look here and here, but I still have a lot of parsing to do. But in any case, both of these authors claim that aesthetic values can be applied to personal ethics. And if those personal ethics have political implications, which both author’s think they do, then this means that their conception of a civil-aesthetic attitude is political somehow. What exactly they mean by that, or if I’m misreading them, or what is going on, I don’t know. But that is a problem I’m trying to work on from a lot of different angles. The problem of how minds manage to assert themselves in the civil-aesthetic processes they describe. But a further question I want to ask, which I’m not well read enough to really ask well, is the question about zen. 

Does this civil-aesthetic attitude in anyways resemble zen? My understanding of zen is less than adequate. So I won’t be using a lot of quotations here or anything. I’ll simply identify two components of zen that I think I grasp: its emphasis on practice, and its pedagogical approach. 

The zen literature I’ve read always stresses the importance of practice. That zen is difficult to talk about because so much of what it seeks to accomplish is nonlinguistic and only achieved through practice. Thus while zen has philosophical components it ultimately seeks to leave those components behind by transforming it into practice. Zen, therefore, can only be actualized in a practical attitude. It has to be a way of approaching reality and relationships, one that might, in some ways, resemble this civil-aesthetic attitude. 

But, if zen is ultimately about practice, what are we to do with its philosophical components? How does one use that written philosophy to cultivate an attitude? In short, what is zen pedagogy? Jon Sumida, by way of D.T. Suzuki, claims that zen pedagogy depends on a certain approach to language and rational thought. “In Zen Buddhism,...” Sumida argues, “the interposition between the individual and reality of abstract constructs, no matter how complex and sophisticated, is believed to result in distortions of perception that promote wrong action” (Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command, xvi). This is because life “is too variable and unpredictable to be anticipated by fixed doctrine and must be engaged as it comes with flexible judgement rather than conformation with rigid prior destruction. Zen decision-making is about decisiveness and quickness that reflect an individual’s authentic sense of reality, not the holding of a certain course in accordance with markings on a moral compass constructed by others” (Ibid.). To cultivate this type of attitude, however, means adopting a certain attitude towards language and reason. It means one has to learn to use rational thinking to improve a process that is intuitive, to somehow rationally internalize principles and transform them into creative judgment. Koans are a good example of how reason is used in this way: “Their function, according to D.T. Suzuki,... is to compel the student to ‘go beyond the limits of intellection, and these limits can be crossed over only by exhausting oneself once for all, by using up all the psychic power’s of one’s command. Logic then turns into psychology, intellection into conation and intuition....’ And once solved, ‘the koan is compared to a piece of brick used to knock at a gate; when the gate is opened the brick is thrown away. The koan is useful as long as the mental doors are closed, but when they are opened it may be forgotten.’ “ (Ibid.). Zen pedagogy, therefore, is an approach to reason that emphasizes the necessity of transforming rational thought processes into a capacity for intuitive and creative decision making. I think a brief discussion of an idea I developed will make this clearer.

I think all of this is captured in what I’ve called ‘implosive rationality’, by which I mean a form of reason or thought that is meant to improve an intuitive, non-rational process. I developed this idea based on Collingwood’s argument about the relationship between reason and aesthetic practice: "The life of reason,...” he claims, “whose first step is the development of the aesthetic consciousness, finds its second step in the conquest and, in some sort, the destruction of that consciousness" (Speculum Mentis, 73). I think this notion makes sense in light of my discussion of zen above. We have to embrace the paradoxical idea that reason is most useful when it is aimed at improving intuitive processes. Intuition, creativity, and habit are at the core of social life. If we want to use reason in the social world we need to recognize the primacy of the non-rational. This attitude towards learning that I see in both zen and aesthetic thinking seems important to me. And it seems like this idea of cultivating an attitude exists in both Collingwood and Foucault’s civil-aesthetic attitude, but also in zen.

Moreover, I think that Collingwood and Foucault’s attitude very much resembles zen practice. I take zen’s proper task to be the accurate perception of reality. We want to live with a minimum of illusion so that we can intuitively grasp our situation and make decisions within its immanence. For convenience I will refer to this attitude simply as mindfulness. How mindfulness is achieved, however, is complicated for us living in this historically dense age. Modern America is so symbolically dense, we have so many institutions and practices, that it is difficult to know what types of thoughts to avoid, what type of attitude to cultivate in this moment. We can’t just go live in the mountains and withdraw, we have to reckon with the complexities of our culture and our inner lives. We have to recognize, as Zizek says, that our inner life is the biggest illusion of all. We, too, are indoctrinated into a culture, an ideology, that colors our actions and perceptions. To sort out the complexity of our illusory perceptions in this day in age, achieving modern mindfulness, is therefore a pretty tricky task. 

The problem for modern mindfulness is therefore how to gauge one’s thought given the density of their historical development, their historicity, if you’ll forgive such a word. The answer for both Collingwood and Foucault involves a historical-philosophical diagnosis of the present situation. Collingwood believes that metaphysical study, that is, the historical investigation into our own absolute presuppositions, can illuminate habits in our thinking that had gone unchecked, and thus give us the chance of thinking something else. “Men ill supplied with historical knowledge,” he claims, “cannot tell whether a habit they possess was imposed upon them lately by a divine autocrat or long ago by a divine ancestor in whom the wisdom of the tribe was incarnate” (An Essay On Metaphysics, 271). Historical study into our own habits of thought, therefore, is how Collingwood believes we achieve awareness of our selves.

Foucault, too, believes that a historical investigation into the conditions of our existence, ‘a historical ontology of ourselves’, is also the way to achieve an awareness of yourself. Further, Foucault also believes that this type of historical investigation into the self should result into creativity and experimentation. Foucault’s description of this attitude is remarkably similar to Sumida’s account of zen: “The critical ontology of ourselves has to be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating; it has to be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them” (‘What is Enlightenment?’, in The Politics Of Truth, 118, my emphasis). This historical ontology of the self is therefore meant to provide with a sort of attitude, a mindfulness, that will allow you to creatively explore your life rather than adhering to a doctrine. Sounds pretty zen to me. I believe that Collingwood is getting at many of the same issues. He, however, might be more committed to reason than Foucault or zen thinkers. 

In any case, it appears to me that Collingwood and Foucault’s civil-aesthetic attitude can fairly be compared to zen both in terms of its pedagogical means (by approaching reason as a means of improving intuitive processes), and its practical ends (in the cultivation of an attitude that strives for the accurate perception of reality and creative decision making). Collingwood and Foucault, however, take a much more historical approach, arguing that their civil-aesthetic attitude cannot be achieved without historical knowledge of the conditions of our existence. I therefore propose to corral their different ideas about this civil-aesthetic attitude into the phrase ‘metaphysical mindfulness’. In this term I believe I am capturing the historical ontological, the pedagogical, and the practical approach. This relies on a precise definition of metaphysics that Collingwood advances. Namely, that metaphysics is not a science of pure being, but the historical science of absolute presuppositions. That is, a historical investigation into the constellation of absolute presuppositions that make our thought possible. This is much like Foucault’s attempt to perform an archeology of the western episteme. In The Order Of Things Foucault is essentially doing precisely what Collingwood defines as metaphysics. Furthermore, Foucault’s work on historical ontology, too, should simply be called metaphysics. So much for the metaphysics part of the phrase. By referring to mindfulness I am invoking the desire to perceive reality and cultivate an attitude of creative decision making. Thus, metaphysical mindfulness means a historical investigation into the conditions of our thought that will lead us to an accurate perception of reality and the attitude of creative decision making. In other words, metaphysical mindfulness gives us an awareness of our unconscious habits and gives us the opportunity of engaging in a process of purposeful self /habit formation. 

It is the cultivation of this attitude, which is simultaneously rational, civil, aesthetic, and zen, I believe, that is at the core of Collingwood and Foucault’s work. But I need to get beyond this term metaphysical mindfulness. The definition of metaphysics is too specific and unusual to make it a precise phrase. But I think it makes sense if you grasp my logic. 

Before I summarize all of his I want to ask one more question: If the common thread uniting Collingwood and Foucault is the idea of developing an attitude, and if that attitude can be described as dialectical, civil, aesthetic, or zen, is there a specific mode of thought that underlies all of these processes? In other words, is it possible that this menagerie of terms is unified by a single identifiable mode of thought? I believe that the answer may lie in Alvin Goldman’s simulation theory of mind. I always write about simulation theory, so I’ll only briefly explain it. Simulation theory holds that we understand minds by internally recreating other people’s mental states in our own minds. That is to say, that we have to re-feel someone’s emotion or re-think their thought for ourselves if we want to understand them. We must simulate their thoughts for ourselves.

So is it the case that both civility, aesthetics, and zen all fundamentally rely on simulative thought? Do they all depend on the simulation of other minds? I won’t be exploring any of this in depth. Just giving tentative statements. Well, civility, for Collingwood, is supported by dialectical thinking. And I believe that dialectical thinking could not be accomplished unless we were willing to really think like someone else. I suspect that civility and dialectical thinking, at their core, rely on simulative modes of thought. Aesthetic activity, that is, imaginative emotional expression, too, cannot be accomplished without simulative thought. For can you imagine ever creating a work of art without having experience with another person’s thinking or another person’s art work? Art is always about collaboration for Collingwood. Furthermore, Collingwood claims that art is only understood when we are able to re-create in our own minds the artist’s total imaginative experience. We won’t be fully expressing ourselves, really engaging in an aesthetic attitude, unless we are engaging in simulative modes of thought. Zen, too, relies on the capacity of the mind to enter or simulate other minds. This is Guy Claxton’s main argument in his 2005 essay, ‘Mindfulness, Learning And The Brain’. There he tries to give an evolutionary account of mindfulness, trying to explain how the ability to monitor our own thoughts could emerge from human evolution. He argues, along with Nicholas Humphrey, that at some point we needed to understand the mental states of the other humans around us: “To do this, we had to learn to watch them, and to distill their behaviour over time into neural models of their idiosyncratic portfolios of preferences, fears and dispositions that we could then ‘run’ in order to predict their likely reactions to events, and therefore potentially assist them or outwit them” (Claxton, 311, Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, Vol. 23, No. 4, Winter 2005). When Claxton says that we ‘run’ a model of another person in our head, I think he would be better saying that we simulate that person’s thoughts in our own head. It is this capacity for modeling and simulation, he believes, that would allow individuals to assume the perspective known as mindfulness. Because not until we learn to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and adopt a perspective different than our own can we assume a different perspective on our own behavior. Knowledge of other minds and mindful perception of the self are inseparable. Zen, mindfulness, and simulation theory are supportive concepts. Thus, I believe that simulation theory of mind is the thread that unites all of these disparate descriptions of this attitude. The civil-aesthetic-zen attitude is therefore a properly simulative attitude, it is a commitment to using empathic and simulative modes of thought above others.

That is all I wanted to show you here. Collingwood and Foucault clearly embrace similar definitions of force/power, both believing force relations to be ineluctable. Further, they both believe that our proper task is to seek to minimize the amount of inequality in our relationships. This task, however, is not to simply be written about, it is to be pursued. It is to be manifested in a life, in a real person working to embody these principles, somehow transforming philosophical logic into a life that is civil-aesthetic-zen. As Foucault would say, to live a philosophical life means that “You will have become the logos or the logos will have become you” (The Final Foucault, 6). In other words, your rational work will have crystalized into a concrete set of habits that let you live a metaphysically mindful life. I’ve got to cultivate a historical-philosophical-aesthetic-zen attitude towards living. I wish to cultivate a simulative attitude.

What I really want to know is how all of this can be applied to thinking about the education of political-military elite. I want to understand how both this civil-aesthetic-zen attitude and its pedagogical principles can be applied to political education and decision-making. I’m fortunate to have encountered people that are already working on this question. What I didn't tell you was that those quotes about zen came from a preface called 'Musical Performance, Zen Enlightenment, and Naval Command'. So clearly there is a potent connection between these things. So that is what I’m doing in my larger thinking and writing is trying to philosophically develop this idea of applying this civil-aesthetic-zen attitude to political education. Clausewitz is the main thing I will have to reckon with. But Foucault, Collingwood, and many other will help me along the way. 

Monday, January 9, 2012


So then I got called in to work and never wrote that note.

Perhaps I'll do it tomorrow.

But this project is the type of one that can sit sit sit. Grow grow grow. I will wait on it for many years I bet.

But I will soon be taking the first steps in planting its seed. I'll begin thinking and writing about it so that I can ruminate on it with more success.

'On Modern War'.

Lol Great Job

Later today I'll be posting a more analytical note about a possible project.

But right now i just want to share this funny comic.


Great stuff.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Experimental Living

I recently finished Manuel DeLanda's A Thousand Years Of Nonlinear History. DeLanda has two main arguments. One addresses the role of nonlinear dynamics in historical writing. The other pertains to the relationship between philosophical idealism and materialism. The bulk of the book is dedicated to linear accounts of three major aspects of human history: urban, biological, and linguistic. But there are significant portions dedicated to the discussion of philosophical concepts informing the historical narrative.

I'm still having a hard time thinking about the book as a whole. That short paragraph above was really hard to write, and I don't think I did a very good job of saying anything. But I'm working on it.

But I'll say that DeLanda's approach is to view human history as a process akin to natural processes, that is, as flows and transformations of matter-energy, the most basic stuff in the universe. He thus compares the development to human civilization to the flows of lava and magma, claiming in both instances there are nonlinear dynamics that are engaging in a similar 'sorting process'. In other words, both rock cycles and urban processes involve processes of homogenization and heterogenization. DeLanda uses Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the 'abstract machine' or 'engineering diagram' to show that it is not merely a metaphorical comparison between rocks and society: he is claiming that the same nonlinear dynamics are supporting both of these sorting processes.

He does that for cities, bodies, germs and other biological phenomena, and the development of languages. Really interesting stuff. Hard to understand a lot of the scientific stuff. But it's pretty cool.

I will also say that I'm very satisfied with the way he ended the book. He does a good job of explaining the philosophical implications of his materialist history. Spoiler alert. At the very end of the book he says that this type of view of life as a temporary form of flowing matter-energy leads us to an 'experimental' attitude, one in which we are to creatively choose: "our world is governed not only by nonlinear dynamics, which makes detailed prediction and control impossible, but also by nonlinear combinatorics, which implies that the number of possible mixtures of meshwork and hierarchy, of command and market, of centralization and decentralization, are immense and that we simply cannot predict what the emergent properties of these myriad combinations will be. Thus the call for a more experimental attitude toward reality and for an increased awareness of the potential for self-organization inherent in even the humblest forms of matter-energy" (273). Home run here for me.

I'm really into this idea of experimental living or life as an art form.

Good job, DeLanda.

Seems like pretty cool stuff. I'm trying to process it all in. It is clashing a little bit with my thinking about Collingwood and history. These are radically different philosophies of history that I'm dealing with. So I need to start working on the synthesis of Collingwood's more idealist philosophy of history with DeLanda's hard materialism.

I think it can be done. DeLanda leaves that window open several times in the book. Plus, I think Clausewitz will be helpful. There was an article written on nonlinearity in Clausewitzian theory. DeLanda, Clausewitz, Collingwood, I can see a sort of thing.

I also have an idea for a new project. But it would be like, a most serious, most long term project. Like magnum opus shit or something.

I'll be writing about that some time soon. I'll have to see.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2012. My Agenda. My 2012 Agenda.

Take the GRE and apply to graduate school!

Once 2011 was gone I knew that I was ready to fling myself forward into this new year. I'm feeling excited. I'm ready to do it! At least I think I'm ready for it.

I'm becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of applying primarily to history programs with the intention pursuing military history.

I told someone the other day of my plan to get a history degree and eventually do some kind of philosophy. I still believe that is my plan. I still don't know if I can pull that off. But I do think that there is a lot for me to do in that line of thinking. I can see ways that military history would take me into my deepest philosophical interests.

So what is it that I want to accomplish philosophically by pursuing military history?

I don't quite know. So let me spitball some things really quick for you. These are my hunches.

At this point, R.G. Collingwood is the thinker I feel most committed to. I admire his plain-spoken style, the breadth of his interests, his faith in the use of reason, and his hope that civilization could learn to engage in "the self-conscious creation of its own historical life." There is a lot of hope in Collingwood. A lot of love. A lot of passion for thinking. He is right at the intersection of all the disciplines I want to think about: philosophy of mind, history, economics and Marxism, aesthetics, politics, education. He wore many hats, and I like that.

But there are two major convictions that are essential to Collingwood's mature work: historical knowledge is the only form of knowledge, and history and philosophy need to be synthesized into a new form of knowledge.

These are the central claims that I need to extrapolate out of Collingwood. The former is quite clear. In The Idea Of History Collingwood unequivocally asserts that there is no knowledge beyond historical knowledge: "Without some knowledge of himself, his knowledge of other things is imperfect: for to know something without knowing that one knows it is only a half-knowing, and to know that one knows is to know oneself." This type of self-knowledge, knowledge of "mind itself" can only be attained "by the methods of history" (209). Why is this the case? I won't go into this right now. But I will refer you to a wonderful essay by Michel Foucault titled 'What Is Enlightenment?',  and to a book by Ian Hacking called Historical Ontology. The perspective that emerges from those two writings is one that must be applied to Collingwood, is already implied (if not explicitly asserted) in Collingwood's work.

And as for this second claim, that history and philosophy must be synthesized into a new discipline. This is something that will take me a lot of work. Thankfully, Collingwood already took huge steps. He was preparing to "expound in detail his theory of history as well as to clear up the problems of method and to show how what have hitherto been regarded as philosophy and history might now be synthesized in a new study transcending and incorporating both" (TNL, xxi). Indeed, David Boucher believes TNL is one of such studies. Foucault, too, made some big steps in that process. I know I'll need help from a whole range of folks. Definitely people like DeLanda, Zizek, Deleuze, Hacking, Oksalla, Carr, so on. But I am fascinated by this synthesis of history and philosophy.

Those questions aside, I want to ask, What does the Collingwoodian project culminate in? Remember we are dealing with an author who never produced what he considered an authoritative statement of his thought. We have to interrogate his claims about the importance of historical knowledge, about the relationship between history and philosophy. And what I want to know the most, what is political in these claims?

Because The Idea Of History has political notes at times. He says certain things about historical thinking and progress, about revolutionaries needing to be historians. But the real political implications of his historical philosophy were not yet worked out.

Which is why The New Leviathan is such an interesting book. It is Collingwood's attempt to understand what modes of thinking had led Europe into World War II. He thus begins the book by using both historical and philosophical references to identify the general characteristics of the modern European mind. After this historical diagnosis, Collingwood develops his definition of civilization, which he defines as a process of instilling in the youth the habit of using dialectical thinking to reduce the amount of force in relationship. By dialectical thinking Collingwood means attempting at all times to turn instances of non-agreement into agreement. For the dialectical thinker there are no disagreements, only non-agreement. Disagreement is a quality of eristical thinking and is not in the nature of civility.

I'm beginning to grasp what is going on in TNL and I'm finding it quite compelling. What it is really about is the necessity of educating the children to become functioning members of a civilization and not just a community or society. Collingwood's definition of civilization is a simple but essential ideal to strive for.

Collingwood obviously would not have stopped thinking about history throughout the writing of TNL. In fact, TNL itself contains numerous historical references and original histories of European thought. So how does all of his historical thinking tie into TNL? Collingwood is also tough because he rarely references his own work, and if so, only in passing. So I feel like I really need to push at him and ask about the relationship between TNL and his other work.

This is really the thing I'm trying to ask in the larger writing project I'm still working on. I am preparing to write about the historical element of his thought. In particular, the political elements in his historical work. In particular, I want to know how his claim that historical thinking is always 'the re-enactment of past thought'. Collingwood's notion of the re-enactment of thought is a precursor to modern simulation theory of mind.

Theory of mind assumes that human beings are essentially minded creatures. We are not just automatons or a mere natural process, we live in a social world where people think, people makes decisions, people have minds. Our minds, however, are isolated: we never have direct access to any mind other than our own. So how do we understand each other's minds? Simulation theory argues that we understand another person by simulating their thoughts in our own mind, by putting ourselves in their shoes. Empathy and extended forms of imaginative empathy are the primary means by which we understand another mind. There mind, however, draws on other faculties to understand others. For example, we can rely on linguistic categorization, mental modeling, of tacit theoretical inference. In short, sure, we can empathize with people, but we can also write them off by categorizing (theorizing) them into something insignificant.

Collingwood's notion of re-enactment is remarkably similar to simulation theory. He, too, argues that knowledge of mind can only be attained by rethinking the thoughts of another person. We don't truly understand someone's thoughts unless we rethink, re-enact, simulate their thoughts for ourselves.

So what could potentially be political about this epistemological claim about minds? Well, recently I wrote about 'the historical collision of thought'. I don't know if I like that writing. It was fun. But I feel like I'm in the same position with this question. I asked myself at the end of that writing what the political implications of something like this are. Ah, and now I know what to say. Clausewitz.

Carl von Clausewitz is someone who can very much help me think about how Collingwood's historical thought, and in particular the notion of re-enactment, might be politically relevant. Clausewitz leads me to believe that the politics of Collingwood's historical thought would ultimately be pedagogical. That is to say that Collingwood's thought would best be used to educate a ruling elite. His thought would possess some relevance in higher political education. Let me tell you a little bit about Clausewitz so that this makes sense.

Clausewitz's problem (at the beginning of the nineteenth century) was how to educate the Prussian political elite so as to make them more intuitively decisive. Clausewitz believed that political thinkers had to make decisions intuitively, that the situations they were dealing with far too complex to be handled with logic. He claimed that "Rapid and correct appraisal [of political situations] clearly calls for the intuition of a genius."  He agreed with Napoleon's claim that "Newton himself would quail before the algebraic problems [political decision] could pose" (On War, 708). The task, then, is to improve a person's ability to make quick decisions in the face of uncertainty and danger. In short, to cultivate an attitude of political confidence and intuition.

Clausewitz also believed that intuition could only be improved through experience. But finding experience in war is very difficult. You might die, wars don't happen that often, getting experience with them is just tough. Clausewitz, however, believes that there is an alternative way of gaining experience with decision making in war: historical study. Because Clausewitz thought to study history deeply meant to enter the mind of a past decision maker, explore their potential thought processes, to imagine alternative courses of action, to contemplate as fully as possible the dilemma's that a past decision maker was grappling with. Some have said that Clausewitz is really talking about a process like Collingwood's re-enactment.

So this is where we can so a potential political benefit in Collingwood's notion of re-enactment. Furthermore, TNL culminates in the idea that civilization is a process of educating the ruling elite and the citizenry so that they can engage in the dialectical process that civilization is. Civilization perpetuates itself through education. But Collingwood never talks about how re-enactment might be a pedagogical tool for the ruling elite. Wouldn't he have thought that the ruling elite would be enrich by historical study? That their minds, too, could be expanded by the process of re-enacting past thoughts? He hints at this idea when he says that a thinker from the past can provide us with "a permanent addition to political ideas" (TIOH, 218). In other words, exposure to historical ideas will prompt questions in our minds about the present that may have not arisen otherwise. Historical knowledge would give us a certain attitude towards the present.

And it is really the definition of this attitude that I am after. I'm trying to elaborate a way of living, an approach to language and people, an attitude of empathy and compassion. But somehow I want this attitude to be taught to political and military elites. I'm not alone in this. I know of a writer who says that military education at its best is analogous to both aesthetic and zen pedagogy.

This is the precise intersection at which I am working. Aesthetics, history, politics and war, zen (sloppily), and education. All such vague lines of thinking. I've read more than one book about all those things. Some much more than that. But I don't feel up to the task of really feeling set about these things.

I've developed certain ideas about this attitude, like the idea of 'metaphysical mindfulness'. But that phrase is cumbersome and relies on a very precise definition of metaphysics, namely, the one Collingwood puts forth in his Essay On Metaphysics. So I need a better term. I've also worked on this idea of the aesthetics of existence. That is the current project. To conceptualize this attitude as essentially aesthetic, and to use zen as an analogous concept. But I'm not sure exactly how to do that. All I can say for now is that I'm on some kind of project to understand how to cultivate the habit of behaving civilly to everyone. How to get in a position to teach people to cultivate the habits necessary to really strive for civilization in the Collingwoodian sense of the term. How to define and embody a certain attitude towards existence and language that is simultaneously aesthetic and mindful. How to embrace the past and the present and attain a historical-philosophical ethos.

My agenda for this year is to continue to work hard on these ideas. To complete the AZI project. And to apply to graduate school. And a bunch of other fun stuff, duh! But I intend to move forward with being serious about thinking and trying to do it for a living.