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huesoflife asked you:
Hi I happened upon your tumblr because you liked one of my posts. Your posts are very intellectually stimulating so that makes me wonder, what are some of your favorite books? Also, I noticed that you have a myriad of interests, what major did you pursue in college, if you don’t mind me asking?

Why thank you!

I apologize if this post is a little long, but do hope it will be interesting. Probably best to read it in small bites.

As you may have guessed, since I do have a very wide range of interests, it’s quite a task for me to pick out my favorite books! I do read a lot of books, but I also learn by watching lectures, documentaries, listening to audiobooks, talking to people, and even just taking what I’ve learned and applying it to experiences. I also read academic papers, encyclopedias (not just Wikipedia), or sometimes I’ll just read a chapter from a book. I think how I’ll reply to your question is that I’ll mention at subjects and bodies of work in general. Here goes—

The writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, especially Beyond Good and Evil, his essay called On Truth and Lies in a Non-moral Sense, and a book called The Gay Science (sometimes translated as The Joyful Wisdom). Unlike many philosophers, Nietzsche’s writings are very accessible for anyone with a pretty good command of whatever language they’re reading him in.

Among many things, Nietzsche’s work centers around highlighting the inherent dissonance between human consciousdesires, reason, and our spontaneous organic nature (actually, for Nietzsche, reason is intimately bound up in being afunction of our organic-nature selves. Same goes with our conscious desires.) Put in modern Cognitive Science/Psychology terms, he’s pointing out the dissonance and the unity of humanexecutive functions, instinct, personality characteristics, habituation, and the subconscious, but also the unity that this internal conflict leads to.

These were revolutionary ideas for the 19th century, hugely influential on Freud and the foundation of modern psychology, and still remains a prominent force in modern philosophy, psychology, sociology and anthropology. However, I don’t believe Nietzsche’s critique has been fully appreciated or realized by the public at large, or by science.

As well, I do like Nietzsche’s breaking downexceptionalism and the sorts of myths we tell ourselves in order to conceive of such exceptionalism. Exceptionalism is the belief that a particular group is superior because this group is totally separate from underlying patterns and conditions that affect all things — it either wasn’t effect by them, or overcame them wholly. He does a lot of critiquing ofGerman exceptionalism (he was German himself, and German nationalism was starting to pick up as a prominent political force when he was writing in the late 19th century [Germany didn’t become a unified nation until 1871]), Western Christian exceptionalism(especially Protestantism), European exceptionalism and Europe’s imperial heritage, and I think most importantly, Human exceptionalism, and our tendency to try to separate us from Nature and animals.

Yet, another major theme in Nietzsche is the universal nature and diversity of humanity, and the universal nature ofconditions and patterns that make up all organisms, including humans.

His concept of “Philosophical Genealogy” (this warrants a future essay to get into!) is also a major influence on my approach to human history, politics, and even to some extent my approach to what’s cutely being called “Big History”.

Big History is a vast interdisciplinary approach to history that looks over mass time scales of the past 14.5 billion years of the universe. It studies the evolution of physical forces, the elements and substances, the origin of life, biological systems and the biosphere, and in particular how all of this has formed human origins and history. David Christian is the main figure in this discipline — and while I’m not 100% in agreement with all of his work, I do strongly recommend his work, and I think his approach to history is just awesome.

The Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft) by Immanual Kant. This book is a dense read. It was written in the late 18th century, and it’s a critique of the philosophical-scientific traditional as it was known at the time. The main thesis of the book is pointing out that  reason, judgement, sensation, and the sorts of insight we can gather from experimentation and speculation, are entirely dependent on us as a spontaneously organized orgasm. Reason does not exist in a void — reason is conditioned by the limitations of our experience and the mind. There’s a tendency in many of us intellectual inclined to naively value this “pure reason” and totally ignore the spontaneous, non-rational conditions that make all of our experiences possible (including what we can and cannot think about) in the first place.

Of course, the Critique goes much deeper than this. It immensely influenced Albert Einstein, many scientists from the 19th century, and many Quantum scientists of the 20th. It was probably a reading inspired by Kant that got Einstein to seriously think about the nature of the Observer, and how the Observer influences the very experiment he is trying to conduct by just observing it. (Probably also some Hegel in there, and Ernst Mach.)

Unfortunately,  Kant’s work is neglected by scientists these days — which I don’t blame them for, because “professional philosophy” practiced in the academia is becoming a very, very, very pedantic and pretentious subject, filled with useless dogmatic schisms over hair-splitting trifles. There’s also a lot of hyper-specialization going on in the academia, which prevents these multi-disciplinary insights. (See my essay on this subject [link].)

But I do think Kant has some very valuable insight into modern scientific practices and investigations. For instance, we see how much emphasis is placed in science nowadays onsimulation, data-mining, and certain paradigms that neglect the influence of the observer; or how there is a tendency in science to assume a one-to-one congruency of human conception about an observable phenomenon, and with what’s actually happening. We humans — as thinking, sensing beings — are intimately part of the very experiments that we conduct, and the very patterns we try to investigate.

A reading of Kant can give us valuable insight into this… But if you’re not already into philosophy, it’s a *very* time consuming process to go back and read Kant. I don’t recommend it. You’d have to read who he’s reacting to, reinterpret him in his historical context, and view him in the light of recent developments in science and math if you want him to be a gainful read, etc etc. Basically, we need a new commentator to step up and have another look at Kant for 21st century science and math. Maybe that’ll be me in a few years 😉

Writings of Stephen Jay Gould. He does a lot of work on Evolution, especially breaking down myths about evolution (mths both by Creationists, and people who accept evolution). He does a lot to smash this notion of teleology in evolution (the view that things evolve for a purpose), and a lot of valuable insight into human nature, underlying patterns in biology, etc. He’s also a very accessible and fun read — I highly recommend all of his books!

Favorite historians are Oswald Spengler and Ibn Khaldun — not that I think they were entirely right about everything they wrote (hardly!), but their approach to history is revolutionary. They focused on the collective, aggregateresults of human nature, especially human historical and sociological behavior, as something that can be understood in a greater World-System. There is also an understanding of human civilization, or particular kinds of civilizations, as a kind of organism.

As far as literature goes, hmm. Ludimagister has reminded me how much I love Goethe. The Romantics of the early 19th century — I love their seamless mixing of philosophy, mysticism, and science. William Blake, Percy & Mary Shelley,Schiller… Many 19th century poets actually drew a lot from the scientific tradition, like Robert Frost who actually wrote quite a bit about entropy and heat-death (which arrogant English majors don’t even realize!)

Also am quite fond of political writers like Joseph Conrad,George Orwell.  Russian literature, especially Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, Turgenev, Gogol.

Very fond of cyberpunk, certain science-fiction, historical fiction. And I read a lot of old religious texts and mythology.

Second part of your question:

In university, I majored specifically in Archaeology and Philosophy. (Double-major was required at the particular institution)

But I’ve been self-taught in many subjects since a very early age. As a small child, I used to spend hours at a time watch Discover Channel and TLC (back when it was aboutactually learning) on evolution, astronomy, psychology. My parents weren’t into such things, but they were into politics, so I had an early age exposure to political arguments at the dinner table. Slowly, that turned into an interest into philosophy and politics, then into history, I’ve stuck with it since.

Not to discourage others who, but at least in my particular case, university was the least productive learning experience in my entire life.

Update:

Btw, I absolutely love your art. Phenomenal astronomy work, wow, completely awe-inspiring. I highly recommend everyone to check it out! [Link to gallery]

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[Reply from antigravity000:]

[…]

It’s funny though because after reading your message, particularly the part below, I can only nod my head in agreement!

“their reaction to modernity takes the path of least resistance, which has already been laid down for them by the demons of the Liberal Anglo-American machine — Reactionary Nationalism and Reactionary Religiosity.” [my message]

I can’t recall if you’ve read anything by Oswald Spengler, but your own conclusions on modernity, history & philosophy are reminiscent of his discoveries- in other words quite simply sensible & well-rounded!

On Nietzsche, I’m no zealot myself but even when I disagree with some of his topics, his style of writing is really appealing 😛 Aside from that, despite his sort of life-affirming assertions, there is a streak of cynicism, pessimism, and moral righteousness in his ideas that make their way in via his personality (shaped, understandably, by bad life experiences). I can’t help but notice it.

Maybe you have a different take on this that I’d like to learn of but I can’t really grasp what he expects of the ubermensch, and why this type of man hasn’t already existed- in the Western world at least. If he means that the higher type is a creator of values, then I don’t see why power-grabbers who set their own standards (in political, economic, intellectual realms), possibly Machiavellian types?, aren’t a sort of ubermensch in their own right, those who don’t give in to the norms or take advantage of them to get what they want- out of conscious doing or not[…]

To be honest, I’ve only read only read a bit of Spengler’s Decline of the West(the first two chapters of the first volume). I love him. But. My views on history and everything is the result of my own readings — that said, I’m sure I probably have Spengler’s and Hegel’s influence indirectly through my reading of other historians, or something. I entirely agree with Spengler’s organic approach to history, wherein human societies and civilization has its own emergentqualities and consequences that go far beyond human volition, deliberation, even our comprehension — perhaps even to the point that human civilization is its own neural network of some greater emergent organism. This theory of mine admittedly needs heavy refining and intense research before I go flashing it around, though. 🙂

That said, I’m quite (self-)schooled in the German intellectual tradition, so any of my Spengler-esque flashes of insights may just be a convergent coincidencefrom being schooled in the same intellectual fathers! 😉

Nietzsche is awesome — aesthetically, philosophically, everything, even if you don’t agree with him. But, he is a complicated read, seeming to contradict himself (but I think he’s just writing from different angles — and being humorous/sarcastic/playful more than half of the time. I do that a lot myself, so I can understand where he’s coming from {phenomenologically, at least}.) Reading him in translation, and reading him outside of mid-late 19th century European context, are also two very key barriers to understanding Nietzsche.

Regarding Nietzsche’s cynicism and pessimism, much of these passages are actually instances of morbid humor (black humor, really), absurdity, and, well, deliberately trolling his audience. Take his views on the Jews for instance — I remember a quote from memory where he starts a paragraph, “And Jesus said to his Jews…” — that shit is a straight-up trolling of German anti-Semitic ‘purists’. Nietzsche was a troll of the 19th century industrial printing-press era.

The Übermensch is sort of an ideal, yes, but it has existed historically and still does. But, I agree with you that if the Übermensch hasn’t already existed, there’s no reason why it should suddenly pop into existence. (Especially given Nietzsche’s views on Eternal Reoccurance — why were there no Übermenschen before Nietzsche?) Nietzsche has argued in Geneology of MoralsBeyond Good and Evil, and many other works, that such Übermensch-like individuals have existed in remote antiquity, and right up to his contemporary era (Goethe, Napoleon, and Cesare Borgia to name a few.)

The thing about the Übermensch is that, the Übermensch not a set of beliefs. The Übermensch is not an orthodoxy or orthopraxy. The Übermensch is not a dogmatic position. And the Übermensch is not a philosophical or political partisan position.

I understand that Nietzsche’s Ubermensch is surrounded in myth and strange interpretations of the Ubermensch as some kind of self-entitled, greedy, short-sighted, stuck-up, cut-throat asshole like the kind of douchebag you might encounter at an Objectivist meeting — but that’s not what Nietzsche is saying the Ubermensch is.

What the Übermensch isis a complex of dispositions,instinctstemperamentinclinations, a focus of energies, and a general attitude. The focus of the Ubermensch’s is on personal, individual liberation, on carpe diem, on (relative) self-sufficiently, and on self-empowerment. The Ubermensch is not a political view, nor is the Ubermensch expected to hold particular political views — the Ubermensch is not necessarily a “Libertarian” or a “Communist” or a “Centrist” or a “Socialist” — it’s more in the way the Ubermensch carries out life on a personal level. The Ubermensch concernspersonal attitudes — not political or philosophical positions.

I’m rephrasing here, but: Nietzsche has said many times that consciously formed political and philosophical positions are symptoms of our spontaneous subconsciousness and pre-intellectualizing selves that we might be aware of but will not admit. He also says that these consciously formed positions are determined by the context in which they originate.

Eg., taking a position in the academia or in the public forum is very different than, say, in recruiting for a revolution or getting support for political office —as Mitt Romney has demonstrated with his constant flip-flopping on issues, or Obama’s promise of CHANGE. I’m not suggesting that either of these men are Ubermensch, but I’m (and Nietzsche) saying that the conscious mind and what individuals say about themselves is a tiny fraction of their overall package. Such political/philosophical/religious positions are part-in-parcel to the Will to Power, which is actually this spontaneous subconscious and pre-intellectualizing process that can throw itself into the realm of intellectuality.

Basically, ^ is a lengthy way of saying, survival>all.

The Ubermensch is a strange concept to fathom strictly from the standpoint ofphilosophical argumentation alone — Nietzsche provides no argument. It’s a general framework for self-improvement, maybe even emulation? Maybe it’s better read as a kind of self-help book with philosophical overtones.

Just as an aside, the Ubermensch is actually comparable to Aristotle’s Magninmous Man of the Nichomachian Ethics, and from many tropes from ancient Greek mythoi (the so-called “Dionysian man” of Birth of Tragedy — although there are a plethora of Übermensch-like individuals and tropes from other cultures, as mentioned in Genealogy and even the Antichrist)

ludimagister said (and I strongly recommend his blog. It’s quite good!):

In (hedonistic) utilitarianism, the goal is to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. The utility of an action is defined with reference to its consequences on the senses. But, as admirers of Nietzsche, we regard pleasure and pain as accidental outcomes, we choose to ground ourselves in our Will.

Here, in existential utilitarianism, the objective is to maximize existential well-being. The utility of an action is therefore defined with reference to one’s embodied values, grand passions, and life-project—i.e. one’s Will. Instead of pleasure and pain, we focus on meaning and value (not as ‘objectively’ defined, but as defined in relation to one’s own Will). Thus, we would welcome challenges, we would seek challenges, since we seek the fulfillment of our Will. And, the ultimate success for us would be amor fati. This mindset, as a practical tool, would be useful for self-actualization, for self-becoming.

But, beware, this idea is not to be confused with existentialism. Existentialist ideas like the other, the look, bad faith, etc. are irrelevant for us—even misleading.

Any thoughts?

My reply:

The problem with Utilitarianism — and I understand here that Existential Utilitarianism you’re proposing is different the usual school of Utilitarianism, but just bare with me for a moment— is that it’s really just a disguise for the enforcement of some standard of Normativity, especially the enforcement of normative morality and normative value judgement. It assumes that every action and its moral consequence is predictable and equal. It assumes that everyone places the same value on the same things, and that everyone will interpret/react to the same things in the same way. Also assumes that everyone all has the same information available to them.

Worst of all, like many moral theories, it’s based on the biasthat the rational, level-headed, reflective mind, who has been schooled in philosophy, ethics, and the delicacies of high culture, is always there to make good moral judgement with allthe information available. It does not foresee the breakdown of the human organism under mob behavior or in the complexities of political authority. It doesn’t foresee how humans behave under indecision, stress, suffering, sickness, violence, or even less extreme states of being like leisure, happiness of the decision-maker, and removedness from the situation.

That said however…

It seems that you’re proposing spreading the gospel of self-actualization and self-sublimation — spreading the ethos of individuals becoming responsible for their own freedom, and all the awesome stuff that goes with that. This is good! We need more of this, however—-

The only problem with such movements — and I don’t mean to use you as the reference point in particular, because this is an issue inherent to the very condition of movement-making— is that it attracts droves of people who are just looking for something to identify themselves with, and who don’t actuallythink for themselves, but just follow. They may quote Nietzsche or Ayn Rand or Camus or Sartre, but their very inclination and behavior is that of the slave. They need aGroup for the sake of the Group.

In this case, the Group they will be trying to fit into is the one that takes the rhetoric of Individuality as its Group mascot/god/slogan. The rhetoric of actual individuality and self-sublimation thus becomes co-opted for the establishment of the Group, and this Group fashions its own dogma, customs, symbolism, value judgementsand creates the need for Group acceptance.

We see this happen with the individualistic movements like Objectivism and Libertarianism. We see this going on in outside of the Western world where power groups try to look “Individualistic” in the way that the West has packaged for them, in order for them to meet the West’s approval (the institutions of the State, “secularism”, etc.)

We see this in the West itself with the Walmartbranding of rebels, revolutionaries, and other free-spirits on T-shirts, pop music, the Mass Media. We see this in Western counter-culture movements like the Hippy movement, Punk, Goth, Hip-Hop, even hipsters and yuppies.

Clothing, Body modification, style, slang, language — the whole style that identifies one with one of these advertised-as Counter-Cultural, Individualistic, Rebellious groups, thisstyle become the *Normative* way to express your individuality — you may self-sublimate *only* on the terms that Society has given for you. They no longer are an actual expression of individuality — they are an expression of branding for a movement that will only declare its individuality with framework given to it by society.

(*No, I do not hate the style of these subcultures, I don’t hate art. I despise how they are co-opted and Normativized.)

“Fuck the system” isn’t wearing the t-shirt, or a tattoo, or spray-painting a graphic — that’s just advertising for the idea (or at some point it was), and advertising that gets confused for the fight for self-sublimation itself. To “fuck the system” is taking the fight directly against the institutions, and against your own self-limiting weaknesses, that are the condition of your own oppression.

Again, as I said above, this feature I just described whereIndividualism is co-opted for the Group is just the pitfalls to the very condition of group-making. It goes way back to the foundations of the first religions, cults, tribes, and societies. Humanity can be so disgustingly slavish.

In other words, slaves will be slaves. The slave has just learned to disguise themself — to deceive themself — by wearing the “Fuck the system” T-shirt only insofar as the slave has met society’s terms of what can and cannot be called adequate resistance.

But the slave is not destined to be always be slave. The slave can be liberated from this tragic cycle of slavery, and from the lies that maintain slavery.

I think I officially love this person’s Tumblr. Here’s a reply, which sent me into my usual entranced philosophical diatribes and insights–

antigravity000:

Heat can be measured, there are values for its presence whereas ‘coldness’ is simply a description for absence of heat. Cold is the void, heat is space. Nihilism, atheism, absurdism are the voids, faith in god(s), in creative forces, is space.

I like this.

It’s funny, isn’t it? Once we stick that -ism on Nihilism, we have Nihilists — followers — who consciously adopt a system of philosophy they want to associate with Nihilism. But in adopting a system, they affirm an identity, and in affirming an identity, you now have an identity — a positive thing — associated with yourself. It’s quite literally counter-intuitive for someone to consciously adopt Nihilism.

I’ve always thought true Nihilism would actually be closer with simply lacking in  self-criticality, or any thinking what so ever — this McDonalds, MTV, Nike culture of the 21st century is true Nihilism, for example.

True atheism isn’t the scientific rationalization of the universe and coming to the conclusion that gods don’t exist — true atheism is just the complete lack of any form of theistic insight of belief: apathetically avoiding religion, or apathetically/ignorantly following religion. (This was Nietzsche’s point about atheism, actually, and how atheism is actually just the deification of humanity sublimated over the Abrahamic God. Hence, why he’s quoted for saying “God is dead”, and not for saying “God doesn’t exist”)

And true absurdity, is just the doing absurd things without reflecting on them. This is just the common condition of daily life.

So basically, what I mean to say is, the greatest of the Nihilists are not the suffering, paralyzingly self-critical characters from the pages of Dostoyevsky or Turgenev, or that angsty youth clad in a leather trench coat. The greatest Nihilists are the Kim Kardiashians and Paris Hiltons of this world.

Wrote another reply to another interesting question on Tumblr–

antigravity000:

What might the cultural and religious emphasis of the Moon for Middle Easterners (Arabs) and the Sun for Europeans suggest about the growth and development of these people? Or does their reverence of one over the other (Sun vs Moon) demonstrate differing psychological growth, a different geographical, evolutionary development?

Historically in the Middle-East, the Moon was closely associated with the female monthly cycles, and pregnancy and fertility. The pre-monotheistic traditions emphasized the Moon’s direct magical role in these things as the astrological agent that caused the female cycles, and the Moon was regarded as a deity. This gave birth to the anthropomorphicized versions of the Moon, and their subsequent cults — Inanna (Sumerian), Ishtar (Assyrian-Babylonian), Ashteroth (Levantine), Anahita (Iranian). These cults became extremely powerful in the Middle-East, until the rise of Abrahamic Monotheism.

The Moon’s “unpredictable” nature, seemingly self-guided movements (relative to the sun and the seasons, at least), and its strange psychological affects on people  during a full moon, was understood as something completely defiant / opposed to the Sun cults that tended to emphasize a male Sun God.

You also had female cults of death that emphasized the Moon — Moloch (male god, Levantine), Ereshkigal (Mesopotamia), Allat (Arabia — part of the pre-Islamic Arabian “trinity”). Sometimes, these deities were invoked during ritual infanticide, usually performed by mothers who couldn’t support the baby.

The whole Moon-Female-Cult religious complex tended to stand opposite to Sun-Male-Cults of Marduk, Ashur, Ahura Mazdah, and Yahweh (Bible), who wanted to impose regularity, patriarchy, legal order, and the establishment of priestly class.

In the Bible and the Qur’an, there is a lot of admonishing of these cults. The Bible curses the cult of Ashteroth (Moon-matriarch-fertility cult), and the Qur’an does the same with Allat (or “Allah’s daughters”) and ritual infanticide.

Actually, Abrahamic-style monotheism, with its emphasis on a male god, law, light, and regularity, can probably be seen in the bigger picture of history as a direct Patriarchal reaction to these female-Matriarchal-dominated “Lunar” spheres of religion.
Patriarchal reactions aside though, there’s tons of Moon imagery across the board in Middle-Eastern mythos, especially in post-Pagan scripture. Judaism’s calendar uses both the Sun and Moon, and the Islamic calendar is purely lunar. Islam also adopted the Crescent as its symbol, but this is actually a much more recent development (~200 years) (Judaism also didn’t really settle on its use of the Star of David/Seal of Solomon until around that time.)
As for evolutionary development peculiar to Middle-Eastern peoples — and I think you and I seem to share similar views on human evolution (mine isn’t really a “view” per se, it’s more of a pretty damn strong hunch) — the fact that there is a Sun vs Moon conflict in Middle-Eastern religious-mythological complex might be demonstrative of something shared bio-psychic among the people. Perhaps, it’s related to an inclination and susceptibility for intense spiritual experiences, vivid imaginations, charisma, prophecy…? But in the Middle-East, historically (and right through to present day), there’s also a great respect for science, precision thinking mathematics, problem solving, wisdom, rational thought, etc., so that the mutual exclusivity between religion and science, mysticism and rationality, doesn’t really exist like it does in the West. Very hard to say on this question of evolution. Perhaps it’s just symptomatic of the holistic embrace of the Sun vs. Moon mythos — being at ease with dichotomies happily co-existing… Just floating this here, though.

^ Not a definitive answer, but worthwhile to consider.

meta-mash:

Does atheism = dogmatic materialism? How would Nietzsche feel about this?

No. Not necessarily.

Nietzsche frequently ridiculed dogmatism in all its forms — and the world-views of physicalism and materialism. And he pointed out the origins and functions of dogmatism in the unconscious, historical formations, in power structures, and in abstracted lies.

Further, while Nietzsche disparaged most modern forms of religiosity and many forms of theism, Nietzsche himself was not necessarily an atheist. A god has to exist first before the we who kill it kills it. (Not to mention what God’s deathmeans to Nietzsche!)

I believe (and I’ll write a more thoroughly on this someday) that the entire project of Nietzsche’s philosophy, was precisely this: the smashing of dogmatism in all its forms — especially the residual slave-moralities that persist after a particular dogmatism has been supposedly destroyed. We see this with the rise of dogmatic science after and with the Enlightenment — the destruction of the old aristocracy and new universal suffrage — modern free market economies creating effectively new aristocracies without the need to call on Divine Investiture — modern medicine, especially modern psychiatry, and prison systems taking the role of the Christian confessor and enforcing Christian penance.

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