As a 5w4…

To me, thought is intensely personal.

It is most personal where it is worst-equipped, where I lack symbols to aid my efforts to conceptualize my experiences, where I encounter incomprehensible singularities.

If I wish to understand one of these singularities, I am thrown back on my intuitions to conceive new ways to think, new fingers for comprehending what will otherwise slip away.

(Or I might contemplate it as an experience, inconceivable but distinct, and try to retain the impression so I can reimagine and reexperience it later.)

(Or I might merely apprehend it, and allow the experience to leave like a dream, leaving only a faint footprint in my memory. A scent, tone, color, texture or feeling might bring it back, and I might say “there it is again.” Otherwise, it is gone forever.)

(Or it might flow into oblivion, joining the unnoticed mass of my life, and be as if it never happened. It did happen, though. It was real, though, and remains real as something that was, an indelible bit of eternity.)

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But back to what I do manage to comprehend, and the intellectual equipment by which I understand:

The curated accumulation of conceptions, my soul’s equipment, might not be my essential self, but they are more me than my body, or my relationships, or my home, or my belongings — but they are all me.

If someone receives one of these conceptions from me and accepts it as a gift — and this might mean the gift of a good problem or something worth fighting — this is everything to me, because this allows me to be who I am in the world, to the world, to feel that I exist.

No, I am not my ideas, but they are from me, of me, and they are that by which I am known.

If a person refuses my conceptions without understanding, or if receives them impersonally as something obvious, a truth that was just there all along to take, it makes me feel nonexistent, like I’ve never been born.

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Hearing my ideas, hearing them as from me, is, for me, relationship.

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Our souls stream out into the world and, there, weave together, in knots of enworldment. My own soul streams as new ways to think.

2 thoughts on “As a 5w4…

  1. “If someone receives one of these conceptions from me and accepts it as a gift — and this might mean the gift of a good problem or something worth fighting — this is everything to me, because this allows me to be who I am in the world, to the world, to feel that I exist.

    No, I am not my ideas, but they are from me, of me, and they are that by which I am known.

    If a person refuses my conceptions without understanding, or if receives them impersonally as something obvious, a truth that was just there all along to take, it makes me feel nonexistent, like I’ve never been born.”

    Beautifully put. Your observations remind me of a discussion of Freud in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity that I find deeply moving, even haunting. The discussion is a fairly long one, so I’ll only quote what I consider the heart of it. I urge those who are interested to read the entire discussion for even greater insight and inspiration:

    “Another way of making this point is to say that the social process of literalizing a metaphor is duplicated in the fantasy life of an individual. We call something “fantasy” rather than “poetry” or “philosophy” when it revolves around metaphors which do not catch on with other people – that is, around ways of speaking or acting which the rest of us cannot find a use for. But Freud shows us how something which seems pointless or ridiculous or vile to society can become the crucial element in the individual’s sense of who she is, her own way of tracing home the blind impress all her behavings bear. Conversely, when some private obsession produces a metaphor which we can find a use for, we speak of genius rather than of eccentricity or perversity. The difference between genius and fantasy is not the difference between impresses which lock on to something universal, some antecedent reality out there in the world or deep within the self, and those which do not. Rather, it is the difference between idiosyncrasies which just happen to catch on with other people – happen because of the contingencies of some historical situation, some particular need which a given community happens to have at a given time.

    To sum up, poetic, artistic, philosophical, scientific, or political progress results from the accidental coincidence of a private obsession with a public need. Strong poetry, commonsense morality, revolutionary morality, normal science, revolutionary science, and the sort of fantasy which is intelligible to only one person, are all, from a Freudian point of view, different ways of dealing with blind impresses – or, more precisely, ways of dealing with different blind impresses: impresses which may be unique to an individual or common to the members of some historically conditioned community. None of these strategies is privileged over others in the sense of expressing human nature better. No such strategy is more or less human than any other, any more than the pen is more truly a tool than the butcher’s knife, or the hybridized orchid less a flower than the wild rose.

    I take Freud to have spelled out James’s point in more detail, helping us overcome particularly intractable cases of blindness by letting us see the “peculiar ideality” of events which exemplify, for example, sexual perversion, extreme cruelty, ludicrous obsession, and manic delusion. He let us see each of these as the private poem of the pervert, the sadist, or the lunatic: each as richly textured and “redolent of moral memories” as our own life. He lets us see what moral philosophy describes as extreme, inhuman, and unnatural, as continuous with our own activity.

    This captures the same feelings of diminishment one feels when one’s unique conceptions are dismissed as either banal on the one hand or rejected as idiosyncratic (or worse, perverted) on the other that you conveyed so well in your post.

    But allow the implications of Rorty’s reading of Freud really sink in: almost universality accepted morals (don’t murder the innocent) are NOT privileged in the sense of being more essential to or reflective of our human nature (nor do they lock on to “some antecedent reality out there in the world [as deontology claims] or deep within the self [as virtue ethics claims]”). The ONLY thing that distinguishes the “perversion” of an individual or small group (eg bestiality) and a moral behavior almost universally revered (eg aiding the poor) is that the latter has over time “caught on” widely by addressing a public need. In fact, all “moral” behavior actually began as a private idiosyncrasy somewhere in our evolutionary past (eg burial of the dead) and then spread to become more universal. In fact, it is by such so-called idiosyncratic (and even perverted) behaviors by which human behavior evolves!

    This is why I view all moral injunctions as merely prudential: they are widely believed to serve a beneficial public need. Note that this is in no way an argument to embrace any and all private idiosyncracies or perversions. For prudential reasons, we may decide to suppress such behaviors because of the harms they inflict on others. But it is an argument to rethink the condemnation of such perversions that usually accompanies such suppression. It suggests that we should behave more like therapists in dealing with such deviant behaviors: helping the pervert change their behavior to comply with social prudential norms without stigmatizing and condemning them.

    I’d love to continue our last group discussion of morality by beginning the next NA Fruitionist Society convention with a conversation about this passage from CIS. It articulates my views on morality far better than I did in our discussion. What do you think?

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