Category: Life

Whitepill 4: Prayer

Part of a series on ways to survive this dystopian nightmare

It might be beneficial for secular individuals to incorporate a habit of prayer into their lives, ones which do not appeal to any system of beliefs. If there is no one listening, then you’re all alone to do and say what you must.

  1. Give Thanks – for the things you consume to keep you alive and happy. People grew the plants you eat, and different groups of people picked, processed, shipped, and ultimately sold them to you from a store or warehouse. Animals give you their bodies, children, or products like silk or honey. There doesn’t need to be guilt if there is acceptance and appreciation. Give thanks to yourself for cooking or preparing the food you eat, and be sure to always express your gratitude to others who make food for you. This type of prayer can probably be applied to anything, not just food and consumables.
  2. Apologize – because it’s all internal, there is nothing you can’t say or address. There may be incidents from 31 years ago involving people you haven’t spoken to since. Apologize for things big and small, accept a mistake or transgression was made, and tell the person using their name that you are sorry for hurting them. Ask for forgiveness and think about why they might hesitate. We all make mistakes but how we apologize makes all the difference.

These actions will likely help you feel better as feelings become externalized and accepted. Any effectiveness from prayer results from the inside, not the outside through events or situations. Prayer directs your attention to parts of the self that need recognition, both the good and the bad. This emotional grounding and releasing internal tension is where the magic happens.

The contents of religious texts and world-views offers all of humanity metaphors for ideas which relate to some aspect of the world as we know it. Because the human brain learns from narratives and stories, they can be used to form new conceptual connections for the purpose of depicting certain ideas. While the contents of the story may be fictional, their meanings or lessons may still contain objective significance to be yet uncovered.

Whitepill 3: Free Will

Part of a series on ways to survive this dystopian nightmare

According to neuroscience, free will is an illusion (Heisenberg 164), and those interested in preserving this notion argue that we can instead consider it a social construct (Feldman; Then & Now). This suggests it simply feels like we have free will, when in actuality, we are operating under a sort of probabilistic determinism. This feeling of free will is what Sartre describes in Nausea (Sartre 362), however, he summarizes the point nicely in Being and Nothingness as well: “nausea… is not knowledge; it is the non-thetic apprehension of the contingency which he is” (Sartre 366). By non-thetic, he is referring to one’s visceral, immediate experiences that conscious awareness can later reflect on. In a nutshell, the awareness of life’s fragility emerges from sickness at the thought of just how easy it is to terminate one’s existence in certain situations, like walking close to a steep drop or cliff side (Sartre 56). These bodily reactions indicate some degree of significance to possible courses of action, where their perceived reality influences how decisions are made. Our belief in free will enables us to act responsibly by motivating us toward some action or goal, and this belief is beneficial for self-esteem and personal growth.

From an objective or third-person perspective, reality likely operates under a probabilistic determinism, where events and decisions are roughly predetermined as an outcome of prior circumstances. To some, this determinism should be welcomed with open arms, as it frees individuals from over-focusing on their decisions and futures. This generally applies to those in industrialized societies with individualistic attitudes, as it may alleviate some of the emotional burden people face as they try to navigate such a complex and threatening world. That said, letting go of one’s need for control or fear of losing it must be met with balance, since passively relying on external factors for guiding action is likely going to lead to depression. Without an intrinsic drive and a goal, introduced by belief in free will, it becomes too easy to stagnate and fall into hedonistic patterns of living. Belief in free will introduces a beneficial responsibility for perspective and action.

In this case, and probably most, the cognitive dissonance that arises from this supposed paradox is a feature and not a bug. Believing in free will while knowing some alternative reflects objective reality creates a contradiction to be resolved, serving as an engine to drive reasoning. Equilibrium indicates a body at rest is not engaged in activity, and mentally, without a mismatch of some kind, there is no activity to fuel mental operations. When encountering paradoxes, they should act as cues to orient one’s perspective and consider things from a new point of view.

Because life is inherently lived from the first-person perspective, and because humans are able to reflect on the world from an abstracted, third-person perspective, we are able to choose different strategies based on the circumstances and their contextual factors. We can know one thing while simultaneously respecting the significance of an alternative idea, based on what is felt rather than as suggested by empirical consensus. To state that free will is an illusion is to suggest the subject matter of phenomenology is an illusion, and when we consider how effective these perceptions are for getting stuff done, I don’t know that the word truly applies. The pond in the distance is either water or a mirage based on whether you are able to approach the water, where the brain receives additional information to determine its reality. Biological organisms react to changes in the environment to mitigate their actions to ensure their survival, and therefore, subjective perceptions reflect aspects of the external world. Therefore, free will is not really an illusion because one’s choices and actions still impact others for better or for worse, even if they were likely to perform that action anyway. An individual is still the physical source of some action and must therefore take responsibility for their consequences.

Be the self-fulfilling prophecy you want to be. As probabilistic in nature, rather than fixed or logically necessary, determinism is still speculative and as predictions still have yet to obtain. In each moment, you have the capacity to do what you think is best for yourself and others.

Update (Aug 6):
Ultimately, however, it’s not up to you but that’s a good thing because we are all learning and growing.

Works Cited

Feldman, Gilad. ‘Making Sense of Agency: Belief in Free Will as a Unique and Important Construct’. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, vol. 11, no. 1, 2017, p. e12293. Wiley Online Library, https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12293.

Heisenberg, Martin. ‘Is Free Will an Illusion?’ Nature, vol. 459, no. 7244, 7244, May 2009, pp. 164–65. www-nature-com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca, https://doi.org/10.1038/459164a.

Sartre, Paul-Jean. Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology. Translated by Hazel E. Barnes, 2nd ed., Routledge, 2015, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203827123.

Then & Now. Free Will Is Political. 2022. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5wFFRBBG7M.

Whitepill 2: Morality

Part of a series on ways to survive this dystopian nightmare

Just as individuals are required to adopt meanings suitable for their lived experiences, they are also required to identify ways of acting which are beneficial for themselves as individuals as well as the groups they belong to. This involves a renunciation of utilitarian attitudes in favour of a naturalized deontological moral framework instead. Although utilitarian principles claim to support good intentions in their attempt to benefit as many as possible, when applied at the societal level in contemporary capitalistic environments, an incentive to cooperate with or assist only those within a particular community arises which negatively influence individual behaviours. Those outside their in-group may suffer as a result of this utilitarian framework, and when applied to structures of governance, threatens the reciprocal relationship required between the organization and the humans it involves or interacts with. Therefore, we ought to avoid appealing to these types of zero-sum moral frameworks if we are interested in establishing peace and harmony between diverse groups of people (Habermas, ‘Religious Tolerance as Pacemaker for Democracy’ 254).

This naturalized deontological framework is implicitly suggested by Habermas in The Future of Human Nature, where one’s moral duty requires a consideration for other human beings, from all walks of life, as autonomous individuals with an inherent capacity for self-governance (33-34). While Habermas appeals to a naturalized version of Kant’s deontological principles to provide a perspective on the future of genetic engineering (Habermas, The Future of Human Nature 55), this secularization of Kantian morality is suitable for guiding reasoning and decision-making within liberal societies as well. By instilling a feeling of obligation to consider another’s perspective, citizens in pluralistic societies engage in “regulated relations of mutual recognition” (Habermas, The Future of Human Nature34), where individuals learn to recognize themselves as members of an inclusive yet culturally diverse society (Habermas, The Future of Human Nature35). While Habermas is interested in this framework as it pertains to liberal democracies, it is also appropriate as a universal norm as globalization motivates us to consider humanity as a whole, rather than a collection of separate states or regions. This avoids negative outcomes associated with utilitarianism, as Kant recommends not to appeal to a “formula of ends” since doing so treats individuals as a means to an end, rather than “as an end in himself” (Habermas, The Future of Human Nature55). Thus, pluralistic or globalized societies interested in developing cooperation, tolerance, and peace between diverse peoples must instead view its population not as a mass to be controlled, but as a collection of human beings with an innate capacity for self-governance (Habermas, The Future of Human Nature 56).

This duty to others, however, still requires one to balance the needs of the self with the needs of others. Once these prerequisites are met, one is then able to take care of others, just as recommended when fixing oxygen masks for others if an emergency were to occur while flying on an airplane. Alternatively, if one were to try to help a drowning person if they themselves were not a strong swimmer, one risks their health and safety if the person needing rescuing is thrashing about in desperation. Thus, in addition to concerning yourself with your duty to others, focus on building a habit of reflecting on your own needs, desires, and lived experiences. Drawing explicit boundaries in this way is beneficial, even if it does impose limitations, provided the reasoning for doing so is transparent to others. Similarly, one must be open to considering critical feedback from others in their acts of self-reflection, as the boundaries we draw for ourselves nonetheless remain in social contexts. As a result, these efforts contribute a source of meaning to the lives of individuals as they work to better themselves within a wider community, a notion similar to eudaimonia (Aristotle 234).

To finalize with one last Kantian idea, it’s important to keep the faith even when all feels hopeless. He reminds us that the human species is advancing, morally and culturally, and that while it may be “interrupted” at times, it is “never broken off” (Kant 88). Furthermore, the unselfish goodwill one must demonstrate to others must be performed knowing that the beneficial outcomes or returns may not be readily apparent, however, they will nonetheless manifest in due time (Kant 89). Moreover, Kant believes that practical moral reason will eventually triumph over evil (Kant 92), as attitudes which support cooperative efforts give rise to emergent phenomena as effects from humans working together. Although Kant may have originally been appealing to religious ideals for his claims, we are justified in maintaining these beliefs based on the mathematical brilliance of John Nash as demonstrated in game theory. In this way, it could be suggested that even the laws of nature support this type of moral framework, suggesting its suitability for contemporary human societies.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins, University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Habermas, Jürgen. ‘Religious Tolerance as Pacemaker for Democracy’. Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays, Polity Press. Ares.

—. The Future of Human Nature. John Wiley & Sons, 2003.

Kant, Immanuel. ‘On the Common Saying: This May Be True in Theory, but It Does Not Apply in Practice’. Kant: Political Writings, edited by H. S. Reiss, translated by H. B. Nisbet, 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 323. Ares.

Whitepill 1: Why Question?

Part of a series on ways to survive this dystopian nightmare

Socrates famously claims “the unexamined life is not worth living” during his trial in Plato’s Apology. Is this correct? Do humans need to examine everything in order to live well? Yes, and developments in philosophy since then demonstrates why this is the case.

Habermas nicely summarizes the progression of human belief and thought in Themes in Postmetaphysical Thinking, pointing out that modern empirical science operates through rational procedures of examining the world and its contents. Specifically, this way of thinking supplanted metaphysical and religious beliefs, resulting in a turning away from faith and the values identified by spiritual examination (Habermas, ‘Themes in Postmetaphysical Thinking’ 34–35). Although this development led to an improved understanding of the sciences, resulting in a growth in technology and mastery over the physical world, we introduced a conceptual void that cannot be filled by the same means or thought-processes that brought about improvements in our standard of living (Habermas, An Awareness of What Is Missing 19).

Luckily, existential philosophers like Kierkegaard and Camus show us how we can begin to reintroduce meaning within our lives, essentially by turning inward to examine one’s own perspective of the world. Through this process, one becomes better able to achieve an Aristotelian self-actualization which is not unlike Nietzsche’s ‘child’, as the individual is now secure within itself as a human, thus enabling the ability to create something new. The notion that happiness emerges from these processes is explicitly articulated in Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning as he shows us a way out of even the darkest caverns of life by reminding us that as subjects, we have the capacity to reframe our attitudes toward our perceptions. Though the responsibility we have for our actions and beliefs may make us feel nauseous (Sartre’s Nausea), by reflecting on our experiences, we can begin to understand and accept elements of our world in their multitude of forms. Human consciousness involves a capacity to reflect on phenomenal experiences, and by engaging in this self-reflection, one becomes better aware of precisely what gives their life meaning and how best to organize their conduct. This includes the participation in practices and communities to create cultural products and ways of contributing to society in various ways. Most importantly, these contributions may not be measurable in dollars or hours, much to the chagrin of those who are interested in reinforcing the values held dearly by the mindset adopted by industrialized societies.

The unexamined life is not worth living because one risks falling into a whirlpool of autopilot and materialism, and therefore a lack of meaning. Moreover, while meanings provided by others may seem to fit our own perspectives at times, it is the passive, unreflective application that renders one feeling empty inside. This has the capacity to leading to depression as one feels disconnected from and ineffectual to both themselves and others. Unfortunately, certain beliefs we hold as a result of this modern, scientific society and culture fosters unexamined living. You, as a human, however, have the capacity to turn away from blind faith into a relationship with yourself that allows you to both expand your knowledge and produce works or actions that are beneficial and purposeful.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins, University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning. Simon and Schuster, 1985.

Habermas, Jürgen. An Awareness of What Is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age. Polity Press, 2010.

—. ‘Themes in Postmetaphysical Thinking’. Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays, MIT Press, 1994, pp. 28–53. Ares.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, Mildred Mary Bozman, and A. Tille. Thus Spake Zarathustra. Dent, 1958.

Plato. Apology. Translated by Benjamin Jowett, Project Gutenberg, 1999, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1656/1656-h/1656-h.htm.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Nausea. Penguin UK, 2021.

Magic in Culture

Now is a good time to inject a little magic into every day life by examining and revelling in humanity’s vast history of cultural knowledge and practices. I encourage you to consider your capacity for creativity as a source of magic, where your ability to generate something more from something less is a special kind of wizardry. Moreover, our creations take on a life of their own as others are free to reference and expand upon these contributions. This is especially true today as the internet allows us to find like-minded individuals and communities which appreciate specific skills and the fruits of their labour.

In fact, it could be argued from an anthropological perspective, the internet is as magical as it gets. Although the term itself is used as a noun, the thing it references is more like a vague verb than a solid concept or object. We talk about a thing we don’t often think deeply about, especially due to its physical opacity and degree of technicality. Holding a hard-drive in your hand does not clarify this ambiguity and any resulting confusion, as there is nothing to suggest in these materials that an entire virtual world exists within. Without a screen and a means to display its contents, the information inside is rendered unknowable to the human mind. The amount of human knowledge, skill, and technological progress required to sustain life today is evidence of our power as creators, however, what seems to be missing is a sense of awe that ought to accompany the witnessing of supernatural events.

The causal powers of seemingly magical effects, like electricity for example, can more or less be explained or accounted for by applications of dynamics systems theory, as the interactions of environmental conditions over time is required for the emergence of new properties or products. These emergent products are generated by restructuring lower-level entities or conditions but are not reducible to them, nor are predictable from the lower level (Kim 20-21). Electricity is generated by transforming physical forces and materials into energy, emerging from the interaction of environmental variables like heat and air pressure for example. Alternatively, consider a simple loaf of bread as created by the interaction of flour, a leavening agent like yeast, time, and heat. The ingredients for the bread, like the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt, must be added in a specific order at a specific time in order for the final product to truly become ‘bread’.

Emergence can also be identified in game theory, as cooperation generates a non-zero sum outcome where individuals gain more by working together than if they were working alone (Curry 29). Human economies are founded on this principle of cooperation, as trading goods and services with others theoretically improves the lives individuals working to honour the agreement. From this perspective, it turns out that bronies have identified a fundamental principle of life: friendship is magick because cooperation generates something more from something less. Just as individuals are free to expand upon or reshape the ideas and contributions of others, and groups of individuals are able to combine their expertise to build something new altogether, like the internet. Not only can we establish conceptual connections between past, present, and future, we can connect with each other to expand our understanding of some portion of human culture.

Works Cited

Curry, Oliver Scott. ‘Morality as Cooperation: A Problem-Centred Approach’. The Evolution of Morality, Springer, 2016, pp. 27–51.

Kim, Jaegwon. ‘Making Sense of Emergence’. Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, vol. 95, no. 1/2, 1999, pp. 3–36.

Filling the Void

Combined, the ideas in the texts The Political: the Rational Meaning of a Questionable Inheritance of Political Theology and An Awareness of What is Missing by Jürgen Habermas suggest the maintenance of peace and stability in postmetaphysical liberal democratic societies requires both a freedom of expression and a way to defer to religious content within political debate. Overall, Habermas articulates the causal relationship between secularized political spheres and societal destabilization, where a lack of connection to faith, spirituality, and religious meaning increases the potential for a culturally disconnected, and thus less cooperative, populace.

In An Awareness, Habermas provides recommendations which aim to establish a position for religion in postmetaphysical societies. He remarks that despite general historical developments in human knowledge and various cultural practices, religious thinking seems to remain a crucial component of human life in secular liberal democracies (Awareness 16). Habermas demonstrates that although postmetaphysical societies have rejected religion as a source of truth, nations and political parties still appeal to religion to gain support from voting citizens (Awareness 19-20). In general, not only does this suggest that religion remains a source of meaning for some, but these meanings are often appealed to within political discourse. Habermas is concerned about the tendency of postmetaphysical societies to reject the significance of this source of meaning, stating it risks enabling a “naive faith in science” to take its place, one which suggests a lurking sense of defeatism (Awareness 18). These situations threaten societal conceptions of morality and justice as the binding-agent necessary for ensuring harmony among communities no longer exists (Awareness 19). This missing link between human societies results in a broad destabilization of the relationship between religious communities (Awareness 20). To remedy this situation, Habermas suggests that the state ought to remain neutral toward religious groups and institutions while also recognizing their significance for citizens and their families (Awareness 21). This imposes a requirement for religious individuals and groups to acknowledge the secular epistemic environments in which they reside, and engage in reflexive scrutiny as a means of situating their ideology within this context (Awareness 21). Simultaneously, secular individuals must remain open to considering the content of religious perspectives, acknowledging and translating these contributions during political discussions (Awareness 22). This cooperation, created from the state’s open engagement with religious content and support for freedom of expression, stabilizes the relationship between various groups within society.

The Political discusses the current destabilization of societies in terms of their relation to human history and our shared cultural heritage. In a period of ancient history known as the Axial Age, politics were tightly coupled with religion such that emperors and rulers were believed to be connected to otherworldly entities and forces, considered divine by those over which they ruled (Political 17). With modernization, developments in human understanding removed the connection between the spiritual and the political, as kings were no longer viewed as incarnates of divine will or law, but just as human as their subjects (Political 18-19). In the following “era of statehood”, communities formed around identities, a topic Habermas discusses by appealing to the works of Carl Schmitt (Political 20). While Schmitt believes this depoliticization occurred during the period of modern history, Habermas argues that instead, it was the early modern period which saw this shift, due to the Reformation movements away from the Catholic Church (Political 20-21). Habermas also wonders whether modern political settings render religious content obsolete or simply alter the way it is used within political discourse (Political 21). Suggesting the latter, Habermas appeals to John Rawls’s public reason to articulate how liberal democracies can come to accept the potential significance of contributions which happen to originate from religious content (Political 23-24). Although this requires cooperation between secular and religious communities to translate various ideas into language suitable for public reason (Political 27), this dialectical process aims to generate a pluralistic society tolerant to the views and ideologies of distinct peoples (Political 28).

On page 17 of An Awareness, Habermas states “the cleavage between secular knowledge and revealed knowledge cannot be bridged”. Can artistic works and other cultural projects serve as a bridge since the creation of artistic works, a process, aims to use scientific knowledge to represent subjective perspectives? Could public policy which secures funding for the arts or other, similar cultural projects further tolerance? If citizens are able to freely engage with representations of the perspectives of unique individuals as expressive, situated subjects, are individuals more likely to empathize with this perspective, thus increasing understanding, acceptance, and tolerance over time? Acknowledging Derrida’s philosophical contributions, we can consider artistic works and similar cultural products as entities with lives of their own. Representing a rich history of human heritage and development, do artistic works serve as a good mediator between individuals and collectives? Habermas focuses on translating language to uncover meaning, however, some knowledge cannot be adequately expressed in words.

The work below demonstrates the artist’s knowledge of colour mixing is required to produce an image which evokes a certain feeling, in addition to his ability to apply colours in such a way where the final product successfully communicates the message or idea as intended by the mind of another person.

Works Cited

Habermas, Jürgen. ‘Religion in the Public Sphere’. European Journal of Philosophy, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 1–25.

—. ‘“The Political”: The Rational Meaning of a Questionable Inheritance of Political Theology’. The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, by Judith Butler et al., Columbia University Press, 2011.

Weisz-Kubínčan, Arnold Peter. Mother with a Child. 1940, https://artvee.com/dl/mother-with-a-child-2/. artvee.com.

Information Warfare

It seems we are in the midst of a new world war, except now it aims to lurk in the forms of soft power, coercion, and psychological manipulation. The Cold War essentially hibernated for a few years until Putin became powerful enough to relaunch it online by using Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, targeting major western superpowers like the United States and the United Kingdom. We are witnessing the dismantling of NATO as nations erode from the inside through societal infighting. War games are not mapped out on land and sea but in the minds of groups residing within enemy nations (Meerloo 99). By destabilizing social cohesion within a particular country or region, the fighting becomes self-sustaining and obscured.

Information is key for psychological operations; as sensing living beings, information is what allows us to make good decisions which allow us to achieve our goals and keep living as best as possible. Since information has the capacity to control the behaviours of individuals, power can be generated through the production and control of information. Today, a number of key scientific organizations and individuals are drunk with power as they are in positions to control what should be considered true or false. For the sake of resource management, and likely a dash of plain ol’ human greed, the pragmatic pressures of the world have shaped what was once a methodology into a machine that provides people with purported facts about reality. As a result, we are now battling an epistemic dragon driven by collecting more gold to sit on.

This suggests that the things we believe are extremely valuable to others around the world, in addition to being one of the most valuable things you possess. The information and perspective you can provide to others is valuable, either to the society you belong to or to those interested in seeing your society crumble. The adage about ideas “living rent free in your head” seems appropriate because cultural memes are causally effective; they shape the way you think and act and such, introduces a potential psychological harm. Critical thinking and introspection are important because they are processes which counteract the influence of other people, because by forcing individuals to dig deeper from their subjective point of view, one ends up consolidating and pruning their beliefs.

Collateral damage has shifted from bodies to minds and communities will continue to be torn apart until we develop a system for individuals to combat these external influences. Socrates has shown us that philosophical inquiry tends to irritate people, and the fact that mere scientific scepticism today is being met with ad hominems suggests we are on the right track. Remember, the goal is discourse rather than concrete answers, and an important component involves considering new and conflicting ideas. Be wary of what incentivizes other people but do not judge them for it. Compassion will be the most challenging part of this entire endeavour, but I believe in you.

Works Cited

Meerloo, Joost A. M. The Rape of the Mind:  The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing. The World Publishing Company, 1956.

Stafford, Zach M. at extrafabulouscomics.com

Metaphysics?

Still-life paintings from a new perspective: how does fruit ripen over time?
A depiction of a time lapse represented in 3 dimensions, from the perspective of 4 dimensions, on a mostly 2 dimensional plane.

Fruit of the Room, acrylic and embroidery floss, 2021
Fruit of the Room in my room
The fuzz on the thread reflecting blended or imprecise boundaries?

Anxiety in Creation

Thanks to my partner, I am now interested in learning to paint. I used to like to draw but painting has always been a daunting task. There are so many parameters to worry about, like colour, strokes, light, proportionality; I think it overwhelmed me. From my perspective, drawing is a little simpler; you have lines and some shading if you’re good. I think the thing that I found the most daunting, however, was picking subject matter. Why do people draw or paint the things they do? Most of the time, I couldn’t think of anything to paint, and would always worry about how the final product would turn out. My fearful immature mind would think something like “if mediocrity is the enemy, then it’s probably best that I stick to what I’m good at.” How lame is that? So, it’s time to tackle the fear of colour-matching and start by just making a mess. That’s what toddlers do with paint, so that’s what I shall do too, but a little less literally because my sensorimotor cortex has a better grip on how to move my hand. It’s not a lot better, but it’s something.

The idea for what to paint came to me, luckily, one day as I was thinking about time and reading about Cézanne. I was thinking about all the versions of still-life fruits and flowers that exist in the world, and then realized that these images were a snapshot of the object’s life, and that at one point, that one apple might have been green rather than red, for example. What if one were to paint all of the snapshots of the apple? In that moment, my mind produced a weird multi-coloured snake inside a tesseract, and it was at that point that I knew I had to try to externalize this image.

With my limited skills in visual representation, I knew I would need to take this slowly and plan every step of the image-creation project. I know I will make mistakes, but planning ahead and determining the steps I need to take beforehand helps to reduce the impact of the errors on the final product. The dimensions were the first thing to plan out: how is this going to fit within the canvas? Next, it was making sure the components of the foreground were properly set in relation to each other. Now that I am working on colour and detail, the real challenge begins.

To take a representation from the mind’s eye and depict it with high fidelity on a piece of paper or canvas is the hardest step. This is made explicit in Derrida’s Memoirs of the Blind, and when I read segments of this book earlier in the year, it reminded me of the art I used to make as a kid and the feelings I had back then. That feeling of anxiety as the brain and body work together to represent a trait or idea (Derrida 36) is quite familiar, and perhaps it was this book that subconsciously rekindled my interest in creating visual art.Since skill is built up as the hand translates what the mind sees into line segments, angles, and shades of colour, I knew I would need a set “training-wheels” to get me going. By appealing to my experiences of drawing, I knew my pictures looked best when I could copy an image in front of me, as the external image is more concrete, visually, than my internal depiction. Existing still-life images act as my guide-dog as I feel around in the dark for ways of bringing this image to life. I know the vase needs to reflect light, but how? Fortunately, a quick internet search provides plenty of examples, but I am still looking for the right image, one that looks as close as possible to the scene in my imagination. I need to copy existing visual elements in order to articulate the ones produced by my neurons.

The lesson? More practice, less fretting. The expectations I place on my “art” are nothing but my own ideals, and after I challenge these ideals, the pleasure comes back. What ideals am I referring to? Productivity and achievement for the sake of bolstering one’s prospects or status, along with other notions that tend to suck the delight out of our endeavours. My partner often reminds me to enjoy the process and think less about the painting as a final product. Focus on the verb, not the noun. I am doing this for myself, not for the blog, not for my career, and certainly not for money. It’s an exercise in phenomenology, nothing more. Will thoughts of hustle-culture sneak up on me when I’m vulnerable? Yes, but that’s why this is about my inner representations, including those that make me doubt myself.

Works Cited

Derrida, Jacques, and Musée du Louvre. Memoirs of the blind: The self-portrait and other ruins. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

What Mary Learns

Frank Jackson’s famous thought experiment about qualia asks whether there are subjective facts about the colour red that are distinct from the physical facts produced through scientific inquiry (Jackson 291). The story involves an individual named Mary who grew up in a black-and-white room and has never seen any colours, but has studied everything there is to know about “redness” and how the brain processes light. As a neuroscientist, her studies have provided her with a robust theoretical understanding of colour perception without ever having experienced colour herself, leading us to wonder whether she learns anything new about the colour red after she sees red for the first time. The claim Jackson is interested in making is that there is no information about the experiences of others that Mary had not learned about while in her room. If Mary were to be released only to “realize how impoverished her conception of the mental life of others has been all along” Jackson suggests this generates a problem for physicalism (292).

William Lycan believes Mary would learn something new upon leaving the room because she is now presented with a new form of representation, namely, one produced by the act of introspection (Lycan 389). Building on Nagel’s ideas about what-it-is-like to experience things from a certain perspective, Lycan suggests the mind presents objects or features of the environment in a “special, uniquely internal point of view” (Lycan 390). More interestingly, Lycan goes on to suggest that the contents of these introspective representations are “non-physical pieces of information” (Lycan 391). This is because these internal representations are not synonymous with English words, or any other natural language words, because the internal monitors present within our bodies do not rely on linguistics. What I am assuming he means by this is that although we may use language for inner speech or verbalized thought, representations for qualia or phenomenal experiences such as redness or pain do not use language, but are intrinsic to the body and are relatively ineffable (Dennett 385). Lycan also suggests that these representations are non-physical because neuroscience is unable to provide information on introspective content, and as such, Mary could only represent other people’s experiences of red from a public, neuroscientific perspective (Lycan 393).

While this thought-experiment might pose problems for certain physicalist views, our general understanding of the world at this point in time can start to account for why Mary learns something new upon leaving the room. As she learns about how her own body generates experiences of red from a first-person perspective, she is now able to understand how others must use these internal representations as well. Since neuroscience is only interested in the functional organization of the brain and nervous system, Mary does not know how red appears to subjects engaging with particular wavelengths of light. Prior to her release, Mary could theoretically understand how individuals shop for tomatoes, but without the ability to see red, how this selection process is experienced from an individual’s perspective is still a mystery to her. The inner, subjective details of how people generally go about searching for the ideal tomato were previously off-limits, as her abilities to discriminate colours had yet to be developed. As such, Mary’s understanding of what redness means, especially when fruit shopping, would have been incomplete. Her own, internalized associative network of red objects and their commonalities would be absent or piecemeal, therefore limiting her understanding of how we collectively think about and interact with redness or red objects.

What do you think, are my tomatoes ready?

Works Cited

Dennett, Daniel C. ‘Quining Qualia’. Consciousness in Modern Science, Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 381–414.

Jackson, Frank. ‘What Mary Didn’t Know’. The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 83, no. 5, JSTOR, 1986, pp. 291–95.

Lycan, William G. ‘Perspectival Representation and the Knowledge Argument’. Consciousness: New Philosophical Perspectives, OUP Oxford, 2003, p. 384.