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Archive for the ‘Descartes’ Category

Good Question

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Where are we aware of the breath; when (and) does that awareness end? It is the essential object of zazen because it is the living object, the object whose extent is the co-dependence of birth and death. Try it in reverse, which sounds a bit more awkward: when are we aware of the breath; where (and) does that awareness end? In this moment; its end is not external, but internal to what it is – impermanence, emptiness, Hegel’s “night-of-the-world,” the Cartesian-Lacanian subject.

Written by Joe

August 31, 2008 at 2:44 pm

Open to Others: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Skeptical Doubt

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Descartes. Brains-in-a-vat. Skepticism. The problem of other minds. Philosophy 101.

The 15 year-old pragmatist in me was already fed up with these sorts of puzzles– “why do you ask?” I would wonder. I can’t help but notice how bothered some people are by the mere thought that reality as they know it might not really be what they think it is. The thought doesn’t bother me like it does them, and far be it from me to impose myself on anyone, but it’s hard not to have something to say about this stuff when people press you for an opinion. Interestingly enough, the last thing they really want you to do is agree with their suspicions. Hell, no. The only reason anyone asks you such stupid questions is because they want to be told they’re wrong. Why ask questions at all though?

Whoever asks questions with the desire or at least openness to being surprised has a sense of someone/thing else really being there. For someone not expecting someone else to really be there, someone like Lacan’s psychotic, the surprise would be an unbearable explosion of the world, the revealing of a hole in what was thought to be wholly imagined. For such a person, a someone else isn’t even a meaningful possibility; the sheer thought of it ruins everything, and they don’t know why.

This is why skeptical doubt, the kind shamelessly suggested in movies like The Matrix and The Truman Show, is least of all a problem. This doubt is the eternal confirmation and seal we so fervently crave, though we forget it periodically when certainty creeps into our world. Without it, we could not know if we were wrong about anything; to be wrong about that which we are certain is not possible without going through doubt.

In this sense, our openness to Others is constitutive of our openness to the world at all. How do we know if we are open to Others, and therefore the world at all? Specifically to the extent that this always remains in question. To this end, Cartesian skepticism and the “problem” of other-minds are hardly problems at all; our doubt is our openness to Others, who may confirm or deny us.

Written by Joe

May 9, 2008 at 7:32 pm

Traversing the Fantasy: Where Do I Go?

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If we follow Descartes, we cannot be certain of things “outside” the mind, which are otherwise “objectively present,” though the subjective content of the mind qua mind is minimally certain. Cogito ergo sum. 

How is it that I know I am not psychotic, then, if the only content of my mind to speak of appears to me as objectively present? In other words, where is the minimal distance that separates truth from illusion, real from unreal, inside from outside?

Let’s make it clear by thinking of how people usually talk about The Matrix. They talk about being-in-the-Matrix as being different from being-not-in-the-Matrix, or rather, the kind of being of being-in-the-Matrix is different from the kind of being of being-not-in-the-Matrix. Where/what is the difference, but more difficultly where am I going when I traverse the fantasy of that difference?

UPDATE: Being-not-in-the-Matrix is, as far as I’m concerned, an absurd way to talk. Rather, for the sake of having a coherent sense of the world, we should talk about not-being-in-the-Matrix. There is a structural ambiguity here though: how are we to understand the difference between NOT being-in-the-Matrix and NOT-BEING (that is) in-the-Matrix? Is this difference simply a replay of the one I already considered. If the difference alludes you, think of at least two different ways to understand “he saw her with binoculars.” If that alludes you, you’re on the wrong blog.

Written by Joe

May 3, 2008 at 9:25 pm