A potpourri of ^z musings provoked by Martha Nussbaum's book Upheavals of Thought:
- The subjective feeling of "self control", sometimes labeled "free will": is it an illusion? If so, to what degree? Some people have, or think they have, mental control over bodily phenomena (e.g., cancers, infections, etc.) which many objective observers would say are simply physical or biochemical developments not connected in any direct way to mind. Some human choices are commonly attributed to one's "personality" (e.g., general optimism or pessimism) which in more extreme cases (e.g., mania or depression) are apparently brain chemistry imbalances. How to draw a line and separate external from internal? Or is it all shades of gray, from end to end?
- Does classical Stoicism narrow the "circle of control" too much, maybe down to a single point, when it counsels indifference to everything outside the will?
- Is the study of literature, however great that literature may be, actually helpful to understanding the mind? Or are literary reflections only useful as sources of metaphors that can prompt scientific investigations but are no substitute for rational analysis? (see Mary Midgley's comments on metaphor and on humans-as-animals)
- Again concerning metaphors, Nussbaum suggests that philosophy may postulate theses "... not in a way that is hostile to scientific explanation, but in order to indicate what an adequate scientific explanation would have to include." True? Or is this just science-envy on the part of philosophy? For example, how much could a philosopher have contributed to the development of quantum mechanics by analyzing the common meanings and commonsensical associations of words like "particle", "wave", "position", "momentum", etc.? Not much, I suspect. Is philosophy unwilling or unable to admit to its fecklessness in such areas? And concerning the study of mind, is philosophy almost irrelevant? (see Daniel Dennett and Douglas Hofstadter for remarks on multi-level systems, "strange loops and tangled hierarchies", and the inability of higher levels of a system to usefully explore their own substrates by introspection)
- What are the benefits of "picking one's shots" --- specializing in a few things and doing them well, while giving up on doing (or even knowing) most of the infinity of other things in the universe? (Nussbaum suggests a nice orchestral metaphor: even if it were the best instrument, should everybody play the oboe?)
- Can we deduce, identify, invent, or discover new human "emotions" by observing (other) animals? --- i.e., something not already known to be experienced by people?
- How much value can be gotten from what Nussbaum calls nonverbal "imagings": pictures, music, dance, etc.? Do they offer significant possibilities of insights which cannot be achieved through "linguistic symbolism"? Or is language, like mathematics, an essential thinking tool? Are nonverbal imagings illusory routes to insight, mere self-delusional snares?
On a completely different note, Martha Nussbaum offers a splendid disavowal on page 390 of Upheavals, footnote number 60: "I am unable to do justice to the subtlety of Anna's argument."
Clearly, as a frequently cranky former physicist I am unable to do justice to the subtleties of philosophical thought!
(see also WonderWhy (10 May 2000), EducationCultureAndBlame (1 Jun 2000), IrreducibilityAndPseudoscience (6 Jul 2000), PhysicsEnvy (11 Apr 2001), UniversalFlourishing (25 Dec 2001), UniversalDisclaimer (7 May 2002), UpheavalsOfThought (29 Jun 2002), ...)
TopicPhilosophy - TopicLiterature - TopicThinking - Datetag20021213
(correlates: Twitter Poetry, OnSomethingness, ImpossibleStandards, ...)