Does Finding Truth Require The Right Attitude?

I’ve become laid-back in my old age. I think I’ve also become more receptive to truth. In my quest to treat and think about schizophrenia, for example, I’ve turned in my old, piercing, rigorous mind and exchanged it for a more humble yet adventurous attitude.

In the world of academia, we often find disparate conversations going on. We find scholars who are unable to communicate with non-academics–but, worse, we find academics unable to communicate with each other.

Since I’ve always taken an interdisciplinary approach, I have tried my best to keep up with conversations in many areas of study. Interdisciplinary work is difficult. One reason why is because one has to become a translator of academic jargon–from psychology to philosophy–and then, for me, a translator from academic jargon into ordinary language.

I do my best, as any translator does, but I may miss the tiny nuances when I translate into ordinary language.

These piercing minds–which I used to possess–give us these conversations. It’s an attitude toward truth that most scholars have which constructs towers of babble upwards towards to heavens.

As I mentioned previously, I’ve taken a different approach to truth these days. I’m fond of pragmatism–in a nutshell, what is true is what works. Pragmatism is a world-centered approach. It isn’t looking for some abstract truth-in-the-sky. It is looking for truth in the world.

But is there a specific attitude one must have in order to be receptive to truth? I think there may be. One must, first of all, be an adventurous explorer, willing to try new things. In my quest for treating schizophrenia, for instance, I have had to be open to trying new medications, seeing if they work, and trying new therapies. I even prayed and undertook an exploration of Christianity because Christian psychology can re-structure cognitive processes. My exploration and willingness to try new things will be proven to work for me if my symptoms diminish over the long term.

In addition to being an explorer, one must have the attitude of a shred of skepticism, too. I know that treatments that may work for me may not work for everyone. I have to discuss progress with other people with mental illness and explore large-scale studies to see whether my treatments work for others.

Notice I focus on what works for me. Whatever works is what is true. Truth is what happens to an idea I may have. My idea becomes true just when it works.

I don’t think I need to have the piercing mind, engaged in the harsh minutia of conversations in academia in order to find truth. I just need the right attitude and the ability to explore.

New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. However, the New Year coincided with some changes in me. They aren’t resolutions, but they are a general direction I’m taking my life. They range from pretty basic to seemingly difficult. They are as follows:

  1. Don’t date assholes.
  2. Go to the library more.
  3. Create a new idea.

I’m doing well on the assholes part. I think that I should date someone who deserves me, my love and what I can bring to the table. I am enough. I am more than enough. I don’t need someone. And I’m willing to wait for the right person, if the right person ever comes along.

I’m also doing well on going to the library. I’ve checked out 5 books since the New Year. This should be something I can keep up because I love reading.

Creating a new idea is more difficult. I genuinely love learning, studying and learning about other people’s ideas. This would have been around the time I would have finished a PhD had I not gotten sick. So I figured I’d do something I would have done had I finished: create a new idea. It’s a tall order. But, even if it’s a small idea, I’ll take it.

Again, these are not technically New Year’s resolutions. They are just the way my life is unfolding and it happens to be around the same time as the New Year.

On Paranoia: A Brief Reflection

I have a friend with mental illness who thinks that “the powers that be” intentionally shut certain people down by making them go insane. My friend thinks this when my friend is healthy.

I want to think a bit about paranoia: its psychological causes.

I have delved into the literature on paranoia and psychosis in general and found it, quite honestly, unsatisfactory. I propose that paranoia, in at least some cases, is caused by subliminal or unconscious (as in, subconscious) threats. Then, when these threats come to the fore, they bring with them out-of-control beliefs that constitute what we know as paranoia.

Take, for example, a person who is living their life in academia (to take an example I am familiar with). This person, we presume, has the right to academic freedom, a subset of free speech. This person–call her Sally–creates academic articles that are transgressive to current political understandings. They, theoretically, undermine the whole of a nation. Sally goes on with her life. It’s just an argument, after all. Possible implementation is for someone else. Thus, Sally herself is no real threat when it comes to overthrowing a government.

Years after creating her argument–that is, her academic paper–she starts to become psychotic, triggered by something. Suddenly, she thinks the government in many ways, shapes and forms is out to get her.

What has happened here? Sally, who isn’t a threat, knows that her ideas could possibly overthrow the government if put in the right hands. But Sally herself was simply practicing free speech. In her psychosis, however, Sally knows she isn’t a threat, but she thinks other people are out to get her, anyway. She believes this because she knows that the assessment of threat has been imperfect in the past. Now, Sally is fully paranoid.

Buried within Sally is the unconscious idea that her own thoughts may be used against a government and, explicit to her, is the belief that this government is now out to get her because of it. Sally has a false belief. No one is out to get her. Panic and fear arise in her, however, because she intensely believes she is being persecuted.

This is what I think of as the landscape of paranoia. Only time will tell if my understanding is correct.

UPDATE: Here’s an account of a psychiatrist who experienced paranoia, which bolsters my view. And this patient/doctor recovered!

Making An Idol Out Of Truth

I care about truth. That’s truth with a lower-case ‘t’. I care about it a lot, honestly, which is why I’m concerned that some people have begun to make an idol out of Truth (with a capital T).

During the linguistic turn in philosophy, we learned a lot can be gleaned from looking at how we use language. These days, it is common for folks to try to smack each other around in debate with Truth, while not particularly caring about truth.

I use ‘truth’ in the ordinary language sense here. Like Wittgenstein, I’m fond of ordinary language. And I use it in a pragmatic way; truth is something that happens to an idea.

I’ve been witnessing people bash each other over the head with Truth, making an idol of it and trying to score points with it. Truth is not for point-scoring. It’s a good in itself. Some, like Berit Brogaard, argue it’s the highest good.

I tend toward value pluralism, so I don’t know that truth is the highest good. But I do know it is a good and had intrinsic value, whatever its instrumental value may be.

When we make an idol out of Truth, we lose–even if it ends up we win the argument we are having.

Slow And Steady Wins The Race?

Back when I was a TA, I got really, really good at thinking on my feet. Super good.

Time has worn on and I find myself preferring slow deliberation these days. I don’t think this is a sign of lacking intelligence, either. I think of it as both gaining intelligence and wisdom. We tend to prize quick thinking. But quick thinking can get us in trouble. Reflexes vary, of course, and can be trained. But I think our society, which can tweet in an instant, has become more and more biased and less seeking of truth due to the reliance on quickness over slow deliberation.

Take, for example, a conversation I had prior to Christmas with an expert on AI. I’m still thinking about the ramifications of that discussion. I may have a few brief thoughts, but nothing well-formulated just yet. I will talk to people about it, think it over more, and so forth, before I come to a safe conclusion.

The theory is that reflexes, if not heavily trained, are ridden with emotion, bias and other things. The more time we have to mull something over, the more likely we are to weed out those things.

One problem is that, for many people, there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to deliberate. I suggest: Take a walk. Cut down on your TV time. Heck, cut down on your social media time–to spend time reflecting. We may just become a better society because of it.

“The Thinker Who Believed in Doing”

Here’s a really good article on William James and pragmatism. An excerpt:

In a world of chance and incomplete information, James insisted that truth was elusive but action mandatory. The answer: Make a decision and see if it works. Try a belief and see if your life improves. Don’t depend on logic and reason alone, add in experience and results. Shun ideology and abstraction. Take a chance. “Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events.”

I confess that I’ve become rather fond of pragmatism over the years.

On Citizenship: The Problem With Birth Tourism

You’ve probably heard about the growing trend in Russia (and other places) for pregnant mothers to give birth to their children in America. This is, of course, not a very new idea. Some see it as exploiting a loophole. These folks ask: what can be done?

Well, there’s several possibilities. Here’s a few:

  1. Do nothing. Let these families give birth to their babies and do as they wish. This could lead to many possibilities, including closer ties with other countries and the breakdown of America as a global empire.
  2. Track the families of the babies to ensure they are not threats or foreign agents.
  3. Change our citizenship requirements. This would mean changing the constitution.
  4. Extend citizenship over certain countries. This would possibly be a colonial move, but it could be framed in a more positive light.

There are different ways of forming citizenship requirements–and this is something I’ve thought quite a bit about. You see, I’ve done some work on Native American issues. I gave birth to a Native American child. She gets dual citizenship–in both the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the United States. This is because she meets the citizenship requirements of both governments. As for me, I get no benefits from Choctaw Nation. I will never be able to get Choctaw citizenship because Choctaw Nation uses “direct lineage” or “blood quantum” as the requirement for citizenship.

My daughter gets to be a citizen of the United States because, in 1924, the United States granted citizenship to all Native Americans.

This was an interesting move. Some Native people wanted to be U.S. citizens, but others did not. This unilateral move is what finally gave Native Americans the ability to move forward as full citizens of the U.S. But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses.

Tribal nations are currently colonized by the United States. They are considered “domestic dependent nations.” As such, they have limited jurisdiction over their territories.

What does all this have to do with Russia? Well, if it turns out this is some ploy to defeat the United States, it’s clear that this will not work. The United States can unilaterally declare all Russians to be U.S. citizens. This would put Russia on par with tribal nations.

Philosophy Is Dead! Long Live Philosophy!

Stephen Hawking said at Google’s Zeitgeist conference that philosophy is dead. Hawking said that philosophers (who, ironically, developed science) haven’t kept up with recent developments in science.

But is this true?

There are certainly particular philosophers who haven’t kept up with science relevant to their area. However, there are top philosophers of physics who know about the work being done in experimental physics. To boot, when I took metaphysics, I learned about theories in physics.

What’s more, when I was a graduate student, there was a whole hot, new area called Experimental Philosophy, which includes both traditional philosophy and experimentation.

And I certainly got doses of science in my moral psychology courses, for example. There is tons of research in recent years drawing upon work in social psychology, cognitive psychology, situationism, and more. In fact, a few months ago, I spoke with a philosopher delving into the literature on situationism.

I think Hawking needs to reach out in order to gain an interdisciplinary approach–an approach I have always appreciated and undertook. Philosophy and science can interact well together. And, after all, philosophy gave birth to practically every area of study. So, let’s not throw it out just yet.

I Was A “Very Stable Genius.” Then I Developed Schizophrenia. Now, I’m An Unstable Genius.

Ask anyone who worked with me. I was 100% philosophy, 100% of the time. Effort and study creates genius. And I think I was one. A stable one, too.

I was in the middle of my graduate thesis when madness creeped up on me. It began slowly, with things I could handle, like derealization. Then, one day, I cracked. I was triggered by something in an e-mail to me. I responded by joking about it, but it really put unwanted thoughts in my head. I didn’t know how to handle unwanted thoughts, so I tried pushing them away. Little did I know that when you try to push unwanted thoughts away, they just become stronger. This quickly escalated into OCD with psychotic features–then schizophrenia.

I was full-blown mad. Again, ask anyone who was around me at the time. I was also a full-blown genius. The current going theory is that people who experience the kind of anxiety I experienced, while being top-performers, are the best of the best.

I don’t think I’ve lost any cognitive function, which sometimes goes along with schizophrenia. And I’ve been studying ever since I was diagnosed. As I said, effort and study makes genius. That, along with flexibility and imagination, gives you people like John Nash, an unstable genius.

I’ve seen memes recently mocking the president for calling himself a stable genius. Perhaps he is. I certainly haven’t mocked him for saying this.

But it’s important to understand a two things: (1) genius is about work. One doesn’t typically become a genius by not investing time into one’s area of expertise. (2) there is nothing wrong with being a little unstable. I have been known to become psychotic. So has John Nash. Each of us has accomplished things in life–and he is what many would think of as a true genius.

What many people are worried about is whether the president will do something rash in his alleged instability and, for example, bring us to war. He could. But he could also just be performing Madman Theory, which would not only scare some of us, but also our enemies. Either way, instability does not necessarily equal violence, so trying to guess the probability of the president pressing the button is currently, with the information I have, all for naught.

 

Identity And Your Career

I think one of the most detrimental things one can do is identify with their career. I find so many people who do identify with their career. When they lose a job, when they retire, they lose their sense of identity.

When one thinks in terms of oneself as how one sells one’s labor, one is really doing a disservice to oneself. It also makes one extremely vulnerable in that it makes one less flexible. Flexibility, as Jonathan Lear argues in Radical Hope, should be the virtue one aims for in our society. Flexibility gives one the ability to reach beyond one’s current or past way of life and imagine something new and different. It’s the key virtue that lends itself to creativity and imagination in forms of life.

Of course, there’s advantages for your employer for you to identify with your career. If you are so invested in your career that you wholly identify with it, you make a good cog in the working machine. The problem, for you, is: what if the machine stops working or changes direction? What if you have to change careers or forms of life for some reason? When that happens, as it has been known to do, you will suffer an identity crisis. Instead of being able to knuckle down and move on with a different form of life–reaching for different thick concepts–you will be stuck in your old way of thinking while the world moves on without you.

So, do not place your identity in your career.

Philosopher-Soliders

John Rawls did it the traditional way. In Ancient Greece, often a person had to serve in the military before becoming a philosopher. While the two–philosophy and the military–may seem incompatible, I think they are most compatible. I will argue that, more than things like AI, we need thinking soldiers.

John Rawls, of course, became disillusioned in the military. But it has been argued that some of his best ideas–and his ideas are great–are rooted in his military experience.

The tradition of serving in the military before becoming a philosopher goes back, as I mentioned, to Ancient Greece, where Socrates served. Socrates went on to become the father of western philosophy.

When I taught philosophy at the University of North Florida, I often had former military people as students. They were wonderful.

I was a Blogger for the Florida Student Philosophy Blog, too, and recall reading an article about thinking and the military. The military, it was said, is not a place for thinking.

I want to argue we need philosopher-soldiers in the military. While it may seem that a highly organized structure, where people merely take commands, is a great way to win, I believe in this century, to make a lasting and incredible impact, we need thinking soldiers.

The military, it has been argued, shouldn’t be a place to think. After all, thinking can get us in trouble. Think of Chelsea Manning, who did think–and unleashed classified materials upon the world. However, in a military where people like Manning are not only not shunned but are the norm, the ideas that come from these minds can aid in winning.

In order to get thinking philosophers, we need to apply ancient theories to the soldier. We need, in short, courses for them in philosophy, taught using the Socratic teaching method.

The Socratic teaching method is ideal because it encourages the individual to think–and think for themselves. Far more than any other weapon we currently have, there is no replacing an active and imaginative brain. We need soldiers skilled in, at minimum, informal logic, basic argumentation, analyzing evidence and cognitive biases.

There is no need for the United States to be afraid of developing soldiers in this way. The mind, when dedicated to the truth of things, is always a winner.

 

A Series Of Misunderstandings: Political Communication In The Contemporary United States

People use signs, signals, actions and words in order to communicate. In the United States, I’ve been increasingly worried that we are starting to use different languages to communicate with one another. I don’t mean Spanish and English. I mean our whole landscape has become so polarized and many of us live in such information bubbles that we have started “signing” in different ways, often misunderstanding one another.

This is a more charitable view than one which states we are intentionally ignoring, poking at, etc., each other.

I initially started thinking about this when I started a #DefendDACA rally. The rally turned out to be an awesome event, being televised across Central Florida. It really wasn’t my doing that the rally turned out so well. I had other, quite wonderful, organizers who made things happen.

But what opponents don’t/didn’t understand is that it takes a lot of hard work and effort in order for such an event to take place at all. I should know.

So, when you see a group of people protesting, you can assume that some of them missed work to do so, some of them had to travel a certain distance, and many other things. In other words, they have to overcome life in order to protest. That’s saying something.

The rally I organized was so successful–with many other rallies taking place across the nation on the same day–that our events made national headlines and generated a conversation about DACA recipients. That’s also saying something.

At the time of this writing, however, the president is saying he will protect DACA recipients if and only if he gets his border wall built.

So the events that have been scheduled since the rally I organized are coming down to a negotiation that will probably not fly on the part of DACA Defenders.

Let me say it again: it takes a lot of effort and work to participate in a rally. If you see successful rallies all over the country, that’s really, truly saying something.

But many opponents of DACA recipients have said things like “Get a job!” to folks who rallied. (To be clear, nearly all DACA recipients already have jobs!) It’s as if they are now speaking a different language–a language in which the effort, time and sacrifices made by protesters is scoffed at or not even acknowledged.

As I survey these actions across the country, I have just had to wonder whether some things, like various propaganda, have left people on the Right speaking a whole other language than people on the Left. This language doesn’t understand the concept of protest, making protests on the Left ineffective (if they are trying to persuade people on the Right).

That we are talking past each other now has real-life consequences. DACA recipients will be protected or not, a border wall will go up or not, depending on how we understand one another.

As someone who has only recently started to live in a Leftist bubble, I can say that many people on the Right nowadays simply do not understand–or take time to understand–arguments from the Left. Yet, I know of scholars devoted to studying the Right, so we on the Left get a translation of what’s going on, which keeps us up to speed.

We are now a fractured nation, speaking different political languages. It doesn’t have to be this way, however. We can become fluent in the language of the other, but it’s going to take some work.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Be At Peace

Despite the fact that I have been exhausted for the past couple of weeks, I have, in general, been at peace with myself for several months now. You may not think that a person who fell from grace when they developed schizophrenia would be at peace. But I am. In fact, I’m more at peace than when I was an aspiring professor, a TA, an RA, making straight A’s in difficult courses, and so on.

When I was in academia, I was often surrounded by critical eyes and subjected to harsh judgements. Even though it may sound silly, I often thought: Am I too fat? Am I too ugly? Am I smart enough?

I don’t know that my standards have gone down at all. But I have learned that having ambition, being excellent in what one does, and having aspirations does not mean one has to be harshly critical and judgmental. I have, in short, been around a lot of assholes who cloak their asshole-ness in terms of being intellectual. I’m certainly not saying everyone I’ve met in academia is like this, but it’s been too many for me to say it’s just happenstance.

Part of this learning to be at peace, coming to terms with myself and accepting myself as I am has been a result of going to counseling. I have a very excellent counselor. She has taught me to be more in touch with my feeling and emotions while not giving up my brain.

The result is that I’ve been able to connect with people in ways I hadn’t been able to connect before. And this has often led to interesting intellectual conversations and connections.

These days, I’m interested in a lot of things. But one thing I’m interested in is quelling our desire for harsh competition, negativity, and harsh judgements and instead focusing on cooperation and care. I have found—and evidence shows—that cooperation, not competition, leads to more fruitful results, anyway.

Review of the Past Year

Last week, I was in therapy and the topic of more daily tasks for me to do came up. After reviewing my past year, I think I’ve remained pretty busy!

For example, in the past year, I was:

-Involved with NoDAPL and received a letter from President Obama on the matter.

-In regards to NoDAPL, I was published in the Daytona Beach News Journal.

-I was published on the Ghost Parachute Blog 3 times.

-I wrote a book.

-I edited an international philosophy journal.

-I was on Team Bernie during the primaries.

But most importantly, I have remained focused on my mental and physical health.

Quote of the Year

I read a lot this year. Probably too much. I also wrote a lot. Writing is therapeutic for me. One quote I came across this year sums up my position this year–and probably for years to come. It’s from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile:

I am not a great philosopher, and I care little to be one. But I sometimes have good sense, and I always love the truth.

This year, with the release of my book, I said my farewell to philosophy and academia.

 

On Striving within a Culture

I was thinking about how people strive for things.

Aside from basic survival, and other basics of life, most of out strivings are within a context and a culture. For example, I wanted to be a philosopher, and, currently, most philosophers are associated with a university. So I learned the game of the university. I learned how to teach, how to conduct research, who are the important people in the field, and what the major university departments are. My goal, like anyone’s was to do well in philosophy.

But even as I thought about things that weren’t necessarily tied to my culture, these embedded rational decisions were within the context of a culture and, importantly, with the context of an institution. Institution, here, I use broadly, in the sense of being institutionalized.

Most of out strivings are embedded in this way. These are socially constructed realities within which our reason applies itself.

For example, I was just reading a bit about the prestige bias within philosophy. People from prestigious departments are more likely to get hired at prestigious departments. Many people strive to work for a prestigious department, but few do, and it seems that the bias is towards people who are already prestige-affiliated.

But for me, as an now an outsider, it seems to me that these longings and strivings are embedded within a large university-industrial-complex, which I am not a part of. I’m not saying it’s bad to strive in this way, or that that system is a bad thing. I’m just saying the things related–such as where one applies for a job, that one applies for a job, what one wears to interviews, that one goes to the APA, and so forth–are embedded within a constructed system.

I think most of our strivings are embedded in this way. Our reason is often “applied” within a context and culture. This doesn’t make it any less rational, but it does seem that we may be fooling ourselves if we think, normally, that we are applying reason to the thing-in-itself.

Do You Have a Favorite Philosopher?

Perhaps I shouldn’t say “favorite.” Maybe a philosopher you’ve spent a lot of time reading.

I have to say that the philosopher I spent most time reading and trying to understand is Kierkegaard. I don’t want to get into politics or religion here necessarily, but there’s no way to really understand Kierkegaard without understanding Christianity. Now, one doesn’t need to be a Christian in order to study a Christian thinker, which Kierkegaard was.

I learned about Kierkegaard for the first time in Introduction to Philosophy, where we read Fear and Trembling, and then further in an undergraduate seminar on existentialism. That seminar, taught by a Kierkegaard expert, did manage to divorce Kierkegaard from Christianity by focusing mostly on Kierkegaard’s existential ideas.

After that course, and with help from the experts at Stetson, I studied Kierkegaard on my own. He is a difficult philosopher to understand because of his various pseudonyms, editors, and the like, who are found all throughout his work.

One thing seems clear, however. Kierkegaard seems to have thought it was not possible to make an argument for the existence of God. At the time, there were many thinkers who were trying to get at some-kind-of-Truth (capital ‘T’). Kierkegaard was very much against those projects. He seems to have thought that God can only be known by faith–making a leap to faith. But leaping to faith is itself an act of faith, which Kierkegaard was well aware of. He describes this in detail in various books and essays.

Kierkegaard was also very much concerned with Christian ethics. This is something I was reading about recently, as my specialization is in ethics. Kierkegaard thought that internal devotion was as important as outward displays. In other words, “Christian acts” are not the only thing one should be doing. One should also be internally aligned with God. This is because we can act for show, or for many other reasons. Therefore, acts of love (for lack of a different term) are not sufficient for being a Christian, though they are important nonetheless. Kierkegaard heavily emphasized the individual and her relationship with God.

So acts and internal states are both necessary for being a Christian, which was one of Kierkegaard’s central problems; How to be a Christian in Christendom.

I have found much of Kierkegaard’s writing edifying. I suggest, for an edifying discourse, to read his Works of Love. And, of course, Fear and Trembling is to be read in order to grasp one way of understanding the dilemma Abraham faced when told to sacrifice Issac.

World Philosophy Day

Today is World Philosophy Day. The U.N. put out a statement regarding the celebration of this day.

I studied philosophy for several years, and still keep active in the field by being on the editorial committee of an academic journal.

I remember my first philosophy professor, Dr. Rob Brady, at Stetson. He was a dear man, and I recall him saying, “There is nothing beyond philosophy.”

He said this when we were discussing the definition of philosophy, which is an endeavor itself.

But I remember thinking that, if philosophy encompasses everything, that’s the major for me! And, it’s true, there is a philosophy of everything.

Undergraduate Gift

I was extremely lucky to have had a great undergraduate thesis advisor. She allowed me to pursue my passion in indigenous studies. I got an A on my project, and, when I graduated, she gave me a gift. I drink a lot of tea and coffee. Luckily, she gave me a beautiful cup.

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Academia.edu

As many who know me know, I worked in academia for quite some time. In fact, I still do. I am on the editorial committee of an academic journal. But that’s not all. I am also on Academia.edu. This is a great site in which I can follow academic topics I am interested in. I can also follow the work of people who inspire or provoke me. I have uploaded some of my academic work there, and will do more in the future. If you are an academic, I encourage you to go to Academia.edu to see whether you would like to set up a profile. If you do, let me know. I will follow your work. I am interested in most everything.