Saturday, July 18, 2009

Readings: A Sop for Philosophers

Here is an excerpt from author Robert Coover’s exemplary postmodernist book of fictions, Pricksongs and Descants, presented here as a critical comment on hyper-philosophizing bloggers and hairsplitting combox nitpickers—not excluding myself—and the tangled argumentative webs we all weave. The excerpt is from part 5, entitled “Klee Dead” of the narrative, Seven Exemplary Fictions.

As for Wilbur Klee, I’ve not much more to say about him either, you’ll be glad to know, just this: that he jumped from a high place and is now dead. I think you can take my word for it. The proof is, as it were, in the pudding. Need I tell you from what high place? Your questions, friend, are foolish, disease of the western mind. On the other hand, if you wish to assume a cause-and-effect relationship—that he is dead because he jumped from a high place—well, you are free to do so, I confess it has occurred to me more than once and has colored my whole narration. Certainly, there is some relationship: the remains of Klee, still moist, are splattered out in their now several and discontinuous parts from a point directly below the high place from which he jumped only a moment before. But that’s as far as I’ll go, thank you. I refuse to be inveigled into any of the almost endless and no doubt learned arguments which so gratify and absorb the nation’s savants. I don’t mean to belittle, a man must take his pleasures where he finds them, it’s only that, if I weren’t careful, one would think before they’d had done with me that Klee had died to save physics. That Klee is dead, however, leaves less room for dissent: he’ll never be the same again and only the worst sort of morbid emotionalism could imagine a suitable future for him in his present condition. So here is where I’ll stand my ground: Klee is dead. As for the rest of it, if you wish to believe as I do that he took his own life, fine! It certainly will make it easier for me as we wind this up. But I won’t be dogmatic about it.

NB: the phrase “disease of the western mind”.

Also consider, as a core element in my use of this excerpt as a critical comment on typical blog comment threads, Coover's clause, " would think before they'd had done with me that Klee had died to save physics."

Do you catch my drift here?


Anonymous said...

You seem to have a morbid fascination with suicide.

The barbed wire drawn around this post: Keep Out. Attack Dog.

UnBeguiled said...


You said a few things elsewhere I wanted to ask you about.

I happen to choose to believe what Prof. Feser claims is provable. But I choose to believe it.

Is it really as simple as that? In my experience, I never really choose to believe something. Rather it is a process. The evidence is there, it seems plausible, more reasons manifest, I start to believe, I sort-of believe, and so on.

Of course, maybe I'm kidding myself. I read somewhere that we choose to accept the evidence for those things we prefer to be true. I claim no special gift of objectivity. I'm sure I have cognitive biases like everyone else. But not everyone admits they have biases, so there's that at least.

I am not saying that no effort or choice goes into those things I accept as true. Rather, its more of a process over time. I could not just decide at this moment to believe in a God. I might one day believe in God, but I think it would be a process.

Is it different somehow for you?

A universe with a God is preferable to a universe without one, to my way of thinking.

Preferable how? What makes it better?

The great podcast RadioLab has two hosts who feel vastly different about this. The more spiritual host Robert thinks that a designed universe would be more wonderful and beautiful. But Jad bristles at this suggestion. He finds it ugly and unappealing.

I'm like Jad. Brute Fact matter and energy operating by un-designed laws of physics self-organize into beings that one day notice. That for me is far more aesthetically appealing than an Uber-Being miracling the whole show into existence for his own amusement and glory.

Both stories on their face seem absurd, but it seems to me one is far more supported by the facts and far more beautiful.

So I realize maybe I just interpret the facts in a way that provides the story I like better. Sometimes I think what we believe just reduces to what we find beautiful. And what we find beautiful is never something we can choose.

Rodak said...

Welcome. I don't get too many intelligent visits to my comment boxes.
Thinking human beings have, since the dawn of creation, I guess, been grappling with the fundamental question: Why is there something, rather than nothing? Religion and, to a lesser extent, philosophy, attempt to answer that question.
An answer to the question can also be asked of science, although seeking such an answer is not the raison d'etre of scientific inquiry.
Religion posits answers that can't be demonstrated as true. Science can take us back just so far in the direction of the Beginning of Everything, and no further. The Big Bang is a beautiful and engrossing thing to contemplate. But it has no "context" (if that's the right word.) There is no way to deal with the word "why?" when the Big Bang is at issue.
I think the short answer to your question about choosing and belief is that a) I'm fundamentally most taken by existentialist philosophy, and b) I'm essentially more interested in aesthetics than I am in chemistry and physics.
If I choose to believe because I believe that I have to choose (existentialism), and if I choose to believe because I find belief in the evidence of things unseen more beautiful than empirical data, I'm content with that.
I think that you are right that what strikes us as beautiful is not a choice. But we can see two pictures in a gallery, each of which we consider to be beautiful, but choose only one of the two to take home and hang on our wall.

UnBeguiled said...

Thanks for the thoughtful answer.

I'm not certain of anything, but the observation that causes me to doubt my own doubts about God is the existence of smart people who do believe.

Lately, the observation that most bolsters my Naturalism are the lameness of the arguments and "proofs" by apologists. Surely a belief based on such bad arguments is wrong! There's a fallacy in my reasoning there, but I don't know what to call it.

Rodak said...

the observation that causes me to doubt my own doubts about God is the existence of smart people who do believe.

Yes. It is exactly that. It was reading Kierkegaard, and, more recently, Simone Weil, that led me back in the direction of belief.
One of the major reasons I put up this blog was to introduce hypothetical readers to the thought of Simone Weil.

UnBeguiled said...

Don't get sucked in by Ilion. He is a notorious troll, despised almost universally by all regardless of worldview. I suspect he has antisocial personality disorder, as I suspect the same of everyone on triablogue.

Decide for yourself.

Rodak said...

Thanks. I'll keep that in mind. It's can be kind of fun whipping those types up into a froth, though.

Anonymous said...

Everyone has a filter. Info comes in through it and there YOU are. Ah-so, but filters can change. In the movie Sneakers there was this great line, "it's about the information!" Here's the rub, our biases determine what info comes in. No one likes dissonance and changing our biases comes with a mental cost. Who here is willing, raise your hand.

Rodak said...

I fully agree that objectivity comes only with effort. But to achieve real objectivity, you have to reject that which you were "born with" and start to build from scratch. A "cradle Catholic," for instance, who has never broken with the Church, can evaluate nothing outside of the Church, and has not evaluated anything inside the Church: he only learns by rote and regurgitates in reaction to standardized signals.

UnBeguiled said...

"Who here is willing, raise your hand."

Me me me me. (imagine a child in school squirming and supporting the upraised fatiguing right arm with the left hand)

"Everyone has a filter. Info comes in through it and there YOU are. Ah-so, but filters can change."

And as the filters change, the YOU changes as well. There is no essential YOU. What and who you were at the beginning of the day will be different by the time you finish reading this sentence.

So at this moment, the current me is willing to pay any price. I will cash out anything for the truth. I think maybe probably.

Rodak said...

And subject and object at the moment of their attachment, are one, not two.