qatarperegrine: (socrates)
This afternoon, upon returning to my office after a meeting, I discovered that a friend had left the following on the whiteboard wall behind my desk. (He later told me that he had had to walk out of microeconomics to come write it down, lest it be overwhelmed by Ricardian equivalence.)

Epiphany (3/15): The real self is a diminished version of the ideal self.

I laughed and called my friend a neo-platonist. And then it occurred to me that my epiphany of the year could well be summed up as the reverse. The self that I have held as ideal is a truncated version of who I really am; it's the subset of my identity that I have deemed worthy or "good enough."

Good enough for what, I'm not sure.
qatarperegrine: (buddha)
* Meryn Cadell lyric

Maybe it's hackneyed, but the end of the year seems like a good occasion to reflect on 2006 and look forward to 2007.

What can I say for myself in 2006? It was a very strange year, and eventful in private, interior ways I have not much discussed here.

I was not exceedingly happy for the first half of the year, and then around about June or July something shifted in my life, although I don't yet fully understand what or how or why. Perhaps it was the inevitable culmination of reading a lot of Buddhist and existentialist writings. Or perhaps the proto-stirrings of this thing are the reason I was drawn to those writings to begin with.

I began to see, I think, that much of who I was had become ossified, fossilized. My identity was the sum of decisions long past, decisions I remained with more out of habit and routine than because I still believed in them. Or, to switch analogies, I felt that my identity was a series of accretions and encrustrations that had built up on me over time, like barnacles so crowding the surface of a rock that you can no longer tell what kind of rock it is.

I thought of an exercise in one of my cross-cultural training classes in college, in which we'd been asked to write down five things that described us. Good student, I wrote. A Christian. Justin's fiance. An ethical person. I forget what was fifth; shy, maybe, or timid. There's nothing wrong with any of those things (aren't barnacles pretty?) but I began to feel that I was experiencing myself, experiencing MARJORIE, as simply a container that held all these labels. Who would I be without those labels? Would I recognize myself if those things weren't true anymore?

So I started meditating more. And reading Sartre.

I always feel like a bad Buddhist for saying this, because of the strange and paradoxical Buddhist teachings on no-self, but the first time I ever did Buddhist meditation, the immediate result was a very powerful experience of my self-ness, of my astonishing existence. I guess that's a realization I needed to nurture this summer. In some powerful sense, those labels and identities are unreal, unsubstantive. The only reality that exists for me is my self, in this moment, interacting with the world around me. Perhaps this is not so un-Buddhist then. Perhaps I experienced suchness.

I feel I have begun to submit to some indescribable cleansing process by which these encrustrations can be eroded. The barnacles are being scrubbed, sanded off of me -- all those identities that had remained with me only because they were familiar and I hadn't thought to change them. Nondrinker. Churchgoer. Christian, even. They are labels that meant something to me years ago, things I felt passionately about. Now they are... barnacles. And I'd like, once in my life, to see what this rock of a self looks like with no barnacles at all.

I am terrified. Who am I if the pieces that assembled my sense of self are gone? Who am I underneath those labels? Tell me what your face looked like before your parents were born.

I don't know where to end this post, because I don't know where it all ends. That sander buffeting me is coming close to the quick, and I don't know how I'll know when the tired old labels, the unuseful, hindering labels are gone and everything left is what I want to keep. What if I go too far, let go of too much? What if I let this sandstorm keep buffeting me until everything erodes away and there is nothing left?

What if barnacles are all there is?

2006. A year ago I knew who I was. I wasn't always happy, and I was struggling mightily with a big lump of dissatisfaction in my life, but I at least felt like I had a basic grasp on who I was. Today, not so much. Whether this is progress or regress remains to be seen.

Ros: I remember when there were no questions.
Guil: There were always questions. To exchange one set for another is no great matter.
Ros: Answers, yes. There were answers to everything.
Guil: You've forgotten.
Ros (flaring): I haven't forgotten -- how I used to remember my own name! And yours, Oh, yes! There were answers everywhere you looked. There was no question about it -- people knew who I was and if they didn't they asked and I told them.
Guil: You did, the trouble is, each of them is... plausible, without being instinctive. All your life you live so close to truth, it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of your eye, and when something nudges it into outline it is like being ambushed by a grotesque.
qatarperegrine: (socrates)
I've been reading Pascal's Pensees. It's pretty awesome. (Jess, I'll bet you'd like it better than Aquinas.)

When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant and which know me not, I am frightened and am astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been allotted to me? Memoria hospitis unius diei praetereuntis. [The remembrance of a guest that tarried but a day.] The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.
...
This is what I see and what troubles me. I look on all sides, and I see only darkness everywhere. Nature presents to me nothing which is not matter of doubt and concern. If I saw nothing there which revealed a Divinity, I would come to a negative conclusion; if I saw everywhere the signs of a Creator, I would remain peacefully in faith. But, seeing too much to deny and too little to be sure, I am in a state to be pitied; wherefore I have a hundred times wished that if a God maintains Nature, she should testify to Him unequivocally, and that, if the signs she gives are deceptive, she should suppress them altogether; that she should say everything or nothing, that I might see which cause I ought to follow. ...
...
It is incomprehensible that God should exist, and it is incomprehensible that He should not exist; that the soul should be joined to the body, and that we should have no soul; that the world should be created, and that it should not be created. ...
Wow.
qatarperegrine: (socrates)
I've been having fun debating ethical thought experiments with my friends lately, and I figured I'd share the love right here on LJ.

Here's the first set of scenarios, often called the Runaway Trolley Car experiment. I'll steal the wording given in a BBC article on ethics.
  1. A runaway trolley car is hurtling down a track. In its path are five people who will definitely be killed unless you, a bystander, flip a switch which will divert it on to another track, where it will kill one person. Should you flip the switch?

  2. The runaway trolley car is hurtling down a track where it will kill five people. You are standing on a bridge above the track and, aware of the imminent disaster, you decide to jump on the track to block the trolley car. Although you will die, the five people will be saved.

    Just before your leap, you realise that you are too light to stop the trolley. Next to you, a fat man is standing on the very edge of the bridge. He would certainly block the trolley, although he would undoubtedly die from the impact. A small nudge and he would fall right onto the track below. No one would ever know. Should you push him?
So here's the major question: was your answer the same for both scenarios? And if not, why not? Can you rationally justify why the scenarios might call for different responses, even though the results (one death or five) are the same in each case?
qatarperegrine: (niqab)
Justin pointed me at The Philosophers' Magazine. Check it out: philosophical games and tests! Here are my favorites, and my results:

  • The Do-It-Yourself Deity: how internally consistent is your conception of God? (My god is 90% plausibile; I lost points for claiming that "if God ceased to exist so would everything else," given that there is no possible evidence that would support this.)

  • Battleground God is like a game of battleship, in which you take a hit every time you make an inconsistent statement. (I took one hit, for saying it's OK to believe in God without evidence when I'd said it's not rational to believe in other beings without evidence. But God isn't a being, so that's OK with me.)

  • Philosophical Health Check: how many tensions are there in your beliefs? (Oddly, zero. Not a very insightful test, then!)

  • Morality Play: how parsimonious is your moral framework? (84%; the only distinction I made was between acts and omissions.)

  • Taboo: how much do taboos and "the yuk factor" affect your moral judgements? (Very little: .13 moralizing, 0 interference & universalizing.)

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August 2011

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