Plan for a talk

Philosophy as noun (“a philosophy”) and philosophy as verb (“doing philosophy”) are not the same.

The activity of philosophy should not be sequestered pondering. Philosophy should be part of other activities — especially activities whose aim is innovation, where established effective methods of thinking do not yet exist.

I accept Wittgenstein’s characterization of philosophy: “A philosophical problem has the form: ‘I don’t know my way about’.”

Philosophy does three things:

  • Philosophy discovers as-yet-unposed problems.
  • Philosophy develops ways to think as-yet-unthinkable thoughts.
  • Philosophy integrates fragmentary knowledge into unified understandings.

A philosophy is a kind of design. A philosophy is an interface between a thinking being and reality.

Just like any design, a philosophy has a user (or “designand”), a purpose, a design context — and most of all, it requires trade-offs. And if it functions as it should it feels like a reality, not as an interpreted system of metaphors and images. Like any good design, a philosophy should disappear.

My belief is that philosophy is still in its pre-Macintosh phase. The user is other professional philosophers, the context tends to be professional forums — journals, conferences, etc. — and the trade-offs are usability and desirability, in favor of argumentative usefulness.

So, what I would like to present is my first attempt at a Macintosh GUI-style philosophy, abstracted from a life of user-centered design, (a.k.a. “design), to help me make sense of my designer’s life as a whole and to function better as a designer — and designed for usefulness, usability and most of all desirability.

This philosophy is built on a Pragmatist platform, and part of what that entails is that the ideas presented are not meant to represent a reality beyond us, but rather to help us behave toward reality in a way that is effective and beneficial, however we define it. So instead of telling you about what is real, I will present to you a set of mind-tools that I have found valuable for living the kind of life I have lived.

Again, I see this as an interface between me as a reflective designer and the reality I inhabit. I prefer graphical interfaces, so much of this philosophy will be graphical.

(At this point I will explain 3 or 4 of my diagrams in terms of what they do, when to use them, what the experience should be…)

(Time permitting, I will also present a few maxims, designed, again for use in specific contexts. We need pithy quotes to condense and drive home points we need to make. Why not make some specifically to forcefully express thoughts we need others to understand?)

Candidate maxims (I’ll probably choose 4 or 5):

  • Any engineer will tell you, to make a system that functions, you must thoroughly understand your materials. The systems designers make include materials who perceive, conceive, feel, decide and speak. “Know your user” means “know your materials.”
  • Realists must be connoisseurs of anxiety.
  • If you want complacent comfort follow your bliss, but if you want growth, follow your dread.
  • Inconceivable does not mean impossible or improbable. It means your mind is blind to something.
  • Blindness is not dark. It shimmers in uncanny perfection: nothing there, nothing missing.
  • When we look into darkness, nothing is there. When we are blind, nothing is missing.
  • Vision itself is not visible. It is “seen” only through reflection on the act of seeing things.
  • The man in the bar who wants to fight you wants to know you better. The bartender who listens to your life story does not.
  • An indication of genuine love: Taking another’s nonsense seriously, attentively, patiently, but, ultimately, critically.
  • Necessity is the mother of invention, but emergency is the father of regression.
  • A compassionate listener is stingier than a student greedily consuming what is said.
  • We resist deep change, not because we love the old or hate the new, but because of the intolerable span of dread that separates the old from the new.
  • Sleeping, the mind is permitted to repose in native chaos and to move by accident, but chaos is as immemorable as foreign speech.
  • Over breakfast, an evaporating dream is supplemented with a plot which displaces much of the dream’s truth — but which makes the dream memorable.
  • A new concept becomes retroactively obvious to all who come to understand it. Even the concept of retroactive obviousness is itself retroactively obvious. At one point, I myself forgot that I did not invent the expression “retroactive obviousness” because it was so much my own.
  • Concepts are the fingers of a comprehending mind. Con-cept, together-take. Com-prehend, together-grasp.
  • During the day, heaven’s clear black depths are obliterated by a bright expanse of blue.
  • Yogi Berra should have, but did not actually say: “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice there is.”
  • On the stage, the most important actors have speaking parts, but in everyday life the opposite is true.

Added March 26, 2016

  • Logic is not reason. Logic without empathy and empathy without logic are both unreasonable. Reason is the coordination of logic and empathy. A reasonable person listens both empathically and logically to understand what is being said by the one saying it.
  • A concept is not a thing to be understood. A concept is that by which things are understood.
  • Once we use a concept for understanding things, it is inconceivable to understand things any other way.
  • We don’t love our old ideas, and we don’t hate new ones. What we hate is the intellectual vacuum separating old ideas from new ones: perplexity.
  • To understand in any new way we must first approach, then enter, then navigate and then exit perplexity


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