Saturday, November 10, 2012

the stony path of an empiricist

after listening to a dozen lectures on voltaire and being another ten into a series on the 17th century enlightenment, a light bulb has gone off in my head.  i've discovered i'm an empiricist. this, i suppose, is something like being a pragmatist. what could help me (and others) live better, my personal quest. and i've become convinced a lot of modern thought and theory only confuses the true issue. 

for example, what if the unconscious doesn't exist? so much of our present life dominated by this idea: we're driven by forces buried so deep in us we keep colliding with our 'conscious' desires. the russian poet boris pasternak said, "psychology invented so we'd think we'd know what's going on." hah, and the whole premise is we don't know what's going on. if we dig into the depths - our dreams, our slips of tongue - we can gain control over our actions. false assumption, alas! 

my empiricist proposal is basically buddha's, though i certainly don't consider myself a follower. awareness, not some invisible self, will clear the way. of course, i want to deny it, more satisfied to believe my life out of control, not subject to true knowledge. pragmatically, i realize i always know what's going on, but i pick which stimuli i'll pay attention to. quoting susan m. weinschenk, author of one hundred thing every designer needs to know about people, 

We're faced with an overwhelming amount of data (millions of pieces of data come into the brain every second!) and our conscious minds can't process all of it. The unconscious has evolved to process most of the data and to make decisions for us according to guidelines and rules of thumb that are in our best interest most of the time.

unfortunately, she uses the evil words conscious and unconscious. i would rather say, we go on automatic pilot, making decisions according to how we've decided before. in other words, i'm stuck in a rut most of the time, by choice and laziness. rather than be aware, which is pretty scary and takes work, i simply let 2 and 2 equal 4, not acknowledging  this is completely arbitrary. that's how i'm submitting to history, personal and social. 

the empiricist in me cautions me. it declares, "you can be aware of everything around you, and in moments of extreme violence, that awareness kicks in to help your survival. ie. the way everything slows down during a traffic accident, a common experience. time slows down, now becomes all, what the zen folks call enlightenment." when i unfocus my eyes or quit listening to a particular sound, i can see from the soles of my feet and the back of my head, an orchestra of natural instruments accompanying  in the background.

to quote oscar wilde, everything is on the surface, stay away from the depths. i suspect it's most helpful to think of ourselves as a 'personality' born with certain tendencies, which then adapt to the world. this means 'the self' is within grasp. of course, i could be accused of behaviorism. no, i'm declaring, we always have a choice, we pick a way on the path every moment. 

One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.
Love truth, but pardon error.
It is better to risk sparing a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one.
Common sense is not so common.
Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do. (Voltaire)Work saves us from three great evils: boredom, vice and need.
This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.
Where lies friendship, there is one's homeland.
Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.
All murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.
All the reasonings of men are not worth one sentiment of women.
Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.
As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities. (Voltaire)
Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives, and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time. (Voltaire, ESSAI SUR LES MOEURS ET L’ESPRIT DES NATIONS, 1756)