Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Armchair Philosopher

Welcome to the new and improved Cozy Toes. Okay well, really it's exactly the same except for a little cosmetic re-arranging. But it does provide a pleasant illusion of change, doesn't it? Hey, if we're not going to sign up for the gym, start lifting weights and doing lots of cardio work to make ourselves look and feel better, then at least I can improve the look of my blog and for a few days we'll all feel refreshed without even breaking a sweat. You can thank me in the comments section.

Hopefully the new administration isn't banking on this kind of illusory tactic.

Winter is a good time for pondering. I have tons of free time at work so I'm basically being paid to read for my enjoyment with an occasional patient getting in the way of that task. My reading in the past month has led me down abstract paths involving the evolution of Free Will within the framework of a Deterministic world and whether this can really exist. I've also been spending some of my time visiting a really great blog called Visual Skeptic. It's exposed me to some fascinating modern philosophers and pseudo-philosophers all hashing it out over the topics of religion, atheism and the nature of belief. It's all very cerebral stuff and most of the time I feel I'm barely hanging on intellectually. I'm loving every minute of it!

After plowing along in Daniel Dennett's Freedom Evolves, I started to feel overwhelmed. Philosophical explorations can begin to feel like crazy spirals of semantics and logic games where even what is meant by the word "meaning" gets called into question. It's maddening. And thrilling. I start to suspect that the search for knowledge, truth and meaning doesn't really need to be so complicated, so convoluted. Why do we make it so?

Perhaps we all get too caught up in spinning webs of our own words as we attempt to forge an understanding of human consciousness. Language is a strange and powerful tool but what if it's not enough? Colin McGinn, in his autobiography The Making of A Philosopher, proposed an idea that I'd never considered but is now percolating away in my brain. I won't do his idea justice because I'm not very good at paraphrasing, but basically he proposes that our language has not kept up with the demands of our intellectual needs. That perhaps our words and language-based concepts have fallen behind the needs of philosophers and cognitive psychologists as they attempt to understand the meaning of consciousness and to explain where the "mind" is within the brain. A fascinating theory. He also seems to be saying that humans may never come to an understanding of these mysteries, that perhaps we are not capable of doing so. Although I am not a formidable philosopher such as Colin McGinn and perhaps don't have a large enough base of knowledge upon which to stand, I choose to disagree with Mr. McGinn on this point. I'll leave that for a future post.

And for anyone who has been following this blog since it's inception--you'll be glad to know that the annual Cleaning of the Toaster Oven occurred last week (a little ahead of schedule actually).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the reminder to clean our toaster oven. It's been setting off the smoke alarm recently. Meanwhile, having been a political philosophy major in college, I would like to say that language has never done our brains justice. It's linear at its base, while thought can be circular or overlapped or purely visual or other non-linear things. Then again, just ask my two year old to tell you what's on her mind and she has an amazing capacity to brilliantly and concisely sum up a situation in about five words.

    Use that brain power! It'll prevent Alzheimer's, at the least.