Posts Tagged ‘experience’

You got to move

June 8, 2013

I’ll have to keep on getting up and going, even when my get up and go has got up and went.

That’s because my two docs aren’t podiatrists (though their practice is of course grounded in the feet). Nor are they physiologists, or internists, or general practitioners.

No, they’re mainly emotional and spiritual counselors. They know that I go not to get anywhere but to move, to seek the nectar in the journey. “The great affair is to move,” as Robert Louis Stevenson (another great British rambler) also knew.

Motion and movement do have a tremendous physiological impact, of course, releasing all the right feel-good brain and body chemicals. But that’s not the headline.

The headline is: moving, unlike staying put, generates experience. Scenery, both exterior and overt and mental. Circumstance. Provocation. Opportunity.

So if I couldn’t walk I’d pedal, if I couldn’t pedal I’d Segway (they still make those, right?) or in some other non-combustively-automotive way roll.

That looks boring, I know, but so does most everything from the outside.

I can sorta see an alt-universe version of myself in those fearless guys you see in intersections in their motorized wheelchairs, if it ever came to that. But I wouldn’t be wasting my time going to the mall, I’d be in Warner or Centennial Park.

Worst case scenario would be some sort of merely virtual locomotion. Maybe Google Glass, programmed to deliver the illusion of moving. (But they keep crossing things– face recognition, porn– off the app list.)

It wouldn’t be the same, obviously. But I’ll take an Experience Machine over nothing, Professor Nozick, if those are my choices. There’s more reality in pretending to go, than in really staying put. If you ask me.

Thankfully, I can still really go.


January 13, 2010

I was praising my colleague Rabbi Rami the other day, for the cosmopolitan/pluralistic spirit of his openness to the arcana of Hindu spirituality in peaceful coexistence with his equally distinctive native cultural identity. He follows up here:

God is change, reality is change, you and I are change. Note I didn’t say we are changing for that implies we are something that changes into something else. This is not so. To be change is to be nothing at all. The “I” I feel myself to be at this moment is not the same as the I, I felt myself to be a moment ago. What ties moments together is the narrative I spin about who I am. The story creates a continuity that reality rejects.

Interesting. But here’s where the pragmatic radical empiricist (me) must part company with the Rabbi. The “I” changes, but there’s real continuity in experience. To change is not to be nothing, it’s to be something incomplete but in the making. Narrative spin may distort reality’s continuity but does not spin it from whole cloth, except in the purest cases of delusion and mania.

See, that was Goober‘s problem. (“It seems like the me that is really me and was bein’ held back by the I that I am is comin’ out all over my face.”) He tried to spin a self-narrative that conflicted with the reality of his actual relationships in Mayberry. This matters because it shows we can err in our interpretations of experience but can also correct our errors. “Corrections” make no sense in a world of pure discontinuity.  Like it or not, our stories have to fit the stubborn facts.  I happen to like it.

So, I respect many elements in the respective story-lines of Hinduism and Judaism and Christianity and Buddhism and Taoism and on and on (and on thru most ‘isms, insofar as they’re rooted in the actual experiences of real people). But I won’t become an Initiate myself. I’m keeping a respectful distance, it being the spin most in keeping with the continuities of my own experience.

I’d like to have a non-argument

June 19, 2009

My friend A. in Alabama, epistemologist and (Rod) Chisholm trail guide extraordinaire, reports an epiphanic breakthrough (my characterization… I was going to call this a concession but that might be perceived as gratuitously provocative) and I’m eager to reinforce it before he changes his mind.

A. is now prepared to acknowledge “the possible limits of my view that the unit of philosophical discussion is the argument.” (As in You got an argument for that? Or, for Python fans, I’d like to have an argument, please.) Arguments, ordered chunks of verbal discourse involving premises, inferences, and conclusions, make effective discursive units just to the extent of our confidence in the range and depth and transparency of our words. But what of experiences that don’t crack the shell of articulate language? The peculiar felt quality of the sunrise I’m glimpsing right now, or the tang of coffee on my tongue, or the personal emotional resonance of living with the permanent loss of a parent? They’re experiences I can evoke with words to some degree, but cannot replicate. A. continues:

“…one way to do philosophy might be to present a way of looking at things to see whether it is faithful to one’s experience. This does not require discursive argument, it seems.”

William James said a similar thing in Pragmatism, as I never tire of repeating:

The philosophy which is so important in each of us is not a technical matter; it is our more or less dumb sense of what life honestly and deeply means. It is only partly got from books; it is our individual way of just seeing and feeling the total push and pressure of the cosmos.

James also said, in Varieties of Religious Experience,

Philosophy lives in words, but truth and fact well up into our lives in ways that exceed verbal formulation. There is in the living act of perception always something that glimmers and twinkles and will not be caught, and for which reflection comes too late. No one knows this as well as the philosopher. He must fire his volley of new vocables out of his conceptual shotgun, for his profession condemns him to this industry; but he secretly knows the hollowness and irrelevancy.

Beliefs, even justified true beliefs, can’t replace personal experience.


She’s a witch!

No, that’s not the right conclusion. This might be:

“…lots of culture can be seen as philosophical despite the fact that it falls outside my narrow conception of it.”

Yes, I vote for that one. Not that truth can be put to a plebiscite, but popularity just is one. In these troubled times, we state-sponsored philosophers can’t afford to ignore vox populi. The question is: can it be done well? Another question: are we the guys to do it?

Further analysis seems indicated, A. Or perhaps not?

(Meanwhile, don’t forget to order your copy of Jimmy Buffett and Philosophy, and to tune in a popularizing philosopher on the radio this weekend.)

Opening time

May 29, 2009

Ours is a planet sown in beings. Our generations overlap likefor-the-time-being shingles. We don’t fall in rows like hay, but we fall. Once we get here, we spend forever on the globe, most of it tucked under. While we breathe, we open time like a path in the grass. We open time as a boat’s stem slits the crest of the present.

Annie Dillard

Towing the line of the present moment, being wholly absorbed in experience as we face it, attending to what’s happening right now: it sounds so simple, and for simpler beings it probably is. But we’ve inherited our species’ evolved tendency to ride the wave of consciousness away from boat’s stem. As Dillard said in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,

This is it, right now, the present… this tang of coffee on the tongue, and I am patting the puppy, I am watching the mountain. And the second I verbalize this awareness in my brain, I cease to see the mountain or feel the puppy.

It’s not consciousness per se that spoils the moment, but the hyper-self-consciousness that draws you out of yourself and makes you hover over your own experience instead of inhabiting and enjoying it.  Fortunately what is lost is not forgotten. Focused attention can find it again, and savor and store it in memory.

The second I know I’ve lost [the present] I also realize that the puppy is still squirming on his back under my hand. Nothing has changed for him.

Follow the pup.