Category Archives: Philosophy


Wherever I read “the unconscious” and its implications of thoughts concealed beneath the surface of the mind, I intercept it and substitute ‘the unsayble”, implying that it is perfectly conscious, but just not yet intuitively disciplined and equipped with language.

To people for whom thinking is a word manipulation affair, the unconscious is beyond the limits of reason. If you cannot make an idea from some combination of the existing stock of words and meanings, then the idea isn’t even an idea. It is the unconscious.

For those of us who think partly with words and partly with images, relationships, obscure hunches and experimental action, though, it is the language recombination games of wordworld intellectuals that seems more deserving of the label “the unconscious”. A small gang of word-equipped intuitions uses their words to dominate the others.

My entire philosophical project is to equip a new faction of intuitions with words — intuitions sworn to protect the rights of wordless intuitions and to give them space to fully participate in the microcosmic political order known as the soul. It is an egalitarian inner-leftism.

Prying open the hand of thought

I’ve begun to notice where other people’s own original “pet theories” harm their overall understandings and ability to communicate their ideas. The noticing is spontaneous and intuitive, too. It is not an intention or an analysis. I just see it as given.

This matters to me because I have become aware that I am guilty of the same thing. The idea that I was going to write a book to mark my intellectual property, and my intense anxiety of getting scooped has corrupted my thinking. Now my philosophy is scarred with neologisms and mangled with argumentative entrenchments.

For this reason, I am doing some strange things to loosen my own grip on “my” ideas.

I feel that if I can stop caring, or at least suspend caring about the source of the ideas I use and care about — if I can “open the hand of thought” and let my precious, old, complicated ideas fall out — maybe some simpler ideas might land on my palm.

I am focusing on learning to teach — prioritizing what is most readily learnable over what is mine — as a mindset to gently pry my fingers open.

And what I am going to learn to teach is service design. I want to get service design dead simple, so it can do its transformative magic on our everyday dealings with others.

When done in the right spirit, service design invests us with a new practical faith — one that guides our participation in the transcendent, mysterious, glorious drudgery of life. This drudgery — ours and others — deserves our love and respect. Service design operationalizes that love and that respect within an organization.

It is important!

Philosophy as engineering

From William Wimsatt’s Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings: Piecewise Approximations to Reality:

I seek methodological tools appropriate to well-adapted but limited and error-prone beings. We need a philosophy of science that can be pursued by real people in real situations in real time with the kinds of tools that we actually have-now or in a realistically possible future. This must be a central requirement for any naturalistic account. Thus I oppose not only various eliminativisms, but also overly idealized intentional or rationalistic accounts. In these chapters I advocate an approach that can provide both better descriptions of our activities and normative guidance based on realistic measures of our strengths and limitations. No current philosophy of science does this fully, though increasing numbers are moving in that direction. A philosophy of science for real people means real scientists, real engineers, historians or sociologists of real science and engineering, and real philosophers interested in how any of the preceding people work, think about their practice, think about the natural worlds we all inhabit, and think about what follows reflectively and reflexively from these facts.

This view involves a species of realism, though not of the usual sort. It fits current scientific practice and illuminates historical cases better than other approaches, and it has implications for how to do philosophy. It neither has nor seeks the stark simplicities of current foundationalist theories. This philosophy must be based from top to bottom on heuristic principles of reasoning and practice, but it also seeks a full accounting of other things in our richly populated universe — including the formal approaches we have sought in the past.

This project is a philosophy for messy systems, for the real world, for the “in-between”, and for the variegated ecologies of reality supporting and increasingly bent to our science and technology. Pace Quine, this is ontology for the tropical rainforest. The “piecewise approximations” of the book title is unavoidable: we are, must be, and can be realists in our science and much of our practice. But our realism, like our practice, and even our inferential consistency, must be piecemeal and usually satisfied with a local rather than a global order. We aren’t God and we don’t have a God’s-eye view of the world. (In this piecemeal world, we don’t even have a gods’ eyes view.)

But then the first part of the title is only half-truth: to re-engineer the whole of philosophy in a human image is still ambitiously global. I don’t do all this. I sketch how to do it for significant parts of philosophy of science and closely connected areas of science. This captures new phenomena and reconceptualizes old in ways that fit more naturally with how we proceed. I hope that others find these results sufficiently suggestive to use, extend, and add to the tools I describe here to employ them elsewhere.

“Re-Engineering” appears in the title as a verb: this view of science and nature is constructed largely (as with all creative acts) by taking, modifying, and reassessing what is at hand, and employing it in new contexts, thus re-engineering. Re-engineering is cumulative and is what makes our cumulative cultures possible. And any engineering project must be responsive to real world constraints, thus realism. Our social, cognitive, and cultural ways of being are no less real than the rest of the natural world, and all together leave their marks. But putting our feet firmly in the natural world is not enough. Natural scientists have long privileged the “more fundamental” ends of their scientific hierarchy, and pure science over applied — supposing that (in principle) all knowledge flowed from their end of the investigative enterprise.

Not so: Re-engineering also works as an adjective, and has a deeper methodological role. Theorists and methodologists of the pure sciences have much to learn about their own disciplines from engineering and the study of practice, and from evolutionary biology, the most fundamental of all (re-)engineering disciplines. Our cognitive capabilities and institutions are no less engineered and re-engineered than our biology and technology, both collections of layered kluges and exaptations. We must know what can be learned from this fact about ourselves to better pursue science of any sort.

This is very, very close to my own thinking, that philosophy ought to be understood as a species of design — the design of how we conceive — and judged by how well it does its job of enabling us to communicate and share a common sense of reality, how well it guides effective action and how well it reveals the value of our lives and our world.

These are design goals, not engineering goals, so I must say that on some level I probably disagree with Wimsatt, but I’m a quarrelsome person, and for me disagreement is a feature, not a bug. I suspect I will find much of use here. I’m already finding myself noticing heuristic thought more than before, and it is enabling me to make some weird wormholes between distant realms of thought normally considered absolutely untraversable.


One newer development in my thinking on design: Increasingly, over the last five years I have spent practicing service design (my first exposure to a truly polycentric design discipline) I have realized the enormous importance of philosophical interoperability — of designing philosophies that enable connections between people, instead of distancing and alienating them. This is always a change, but is exponentially challenging in times like these when all popular philosophies are philosophies of alienation and despair.

Parents now feel virtuous teaching their children ways of understanding the world that reveal it only as a vale of tears, dominated by sin, oppression, greed and hatred — and doomed to perish of these vices — and then blame the world for their children’s despair.

A well-designed philosophy must speak to people with these mentalities, whether these apocalyptic visions are secular or antisecular, but must divert them away from nihilism, without also diverting them from the reality of reality.

Anyway… I’m excited about this book.

Occipution errors

I need a word to designate a reality that seems to lack language.

In situations like this, we cannot avoid the protests of conservatives. We will be accused either of using familiar terms in outlandish ways, or we will be accused of using outlandish terms nobody can possibly understand. In this case, I have no choice, so I am coining a term: “occipution” after the word occiput, meaning “the back part of the head or skull.”

Occipution is the impossibility of understanding subjective realities in objective terms. An occipution error is the confusion of subject with one of its objects, a very common but rarely detected species of category mistake.

Why is it impossible to see sight? Occipution. We only know sight by seeing the objects of sight — the sights we see. Sight is subject.

Why is it impossible to think thinking? Occipution. We only know thinking by thinking the objects of thought — the thoughts we think. Thought is subject.

Trying to treat subjectivity as an emergent property of matter in an essentially physical world is maybe not a occipution error, but it is certainly a symptom of discomfort with occipution — as is the reflex to start with brain science when accounting for mental phenomena.

When we present our faith as a doctrine, or as a set of beliefs, we do so because of occipution. In fact, the doctrine or belief is merely an object of faith, but faith itself is subject.

When we see the unconscious as submerged or suppressed beliefs, or feelings or other mental objects this is a pop-psych occipution error. These have no objective reality, but they are subjectively active in ways we cannot understand in objective terms.

When we “seek ourselves” this is an occipution error. We look for the wrong kind of resolution. The worst possible pseudo-resolution is finding an identity with which one can confuse one’s self.

To state it phenomenologically, we confuse intentional objects for the faculty by which we experience both the intentional object and the faculty, because the way we think about thought encourages occipution errors.

The notion that thought is language is an occipution error.

The confusion of philosophy with philosophical content is an occipution error.

And so on and so on.

Living on terms with occipution requires radically new approaches.

If none of this made sense to you, it is not because this is nonsense. You cannot see the sense in which the emperor is clothed.

“The Unconscious” must go

I am deadly sick of Freudianism, or at least Freudianism  as generally understood by the educated public — that  vulgar Freudianism that animates public discourse, not only at the level of jargon and doctrine, but at the wordless faith-level … that faith which guides our attention, that accentuates relevant details or filters out irrelevant ones, links or severs associations between experiences and which categorizes phenomena into realms of real, unreal, objective and subjective even before we have started to process our experience with language.

Vulgar Freudians stuff everything extralingual — most of all faith — into a big woo-woo catch-all category “unconscious” and pretend this is scientific. But the Unconscious is the furthest thing from scientific. The Unconscious functions as a quarantine space — or maybe an asylum — that sequesters anything that might lead a person beyond our narrow, bloodless “secular” mentality. It rounds up all these various intuitive hunches, promptings and impulses and corrals them into a single undifferentiated, anonymous mass of mysterious irrationality.

The Unconscious may be assigned honorifics and spoken of as an infinite reservoir of potential and possibility, but in actuality, the Unconscious functions as a sewer into which anything with the potential  to disrupt the smooth mechanism of public mental processing may be flushed.

Oh, but the Unconscious is the wellspring of art and mysticism! We value it! Worship it, even! But look what happens to art and spirituality in this culture. Any art or mysticism that cannot be “utilized” to turns the wheels of commerce, either as a commodity to buy or sell, or as “commercial art” ends up in the same sewer, far, far away from public life where it can shuffle about harmlessly and not lead the sheep from the flock.

We worship (and fear) the Unconscious as an ocean of chaotic unknowable mental forces instead of allowing each of the variegated forces that constitute it to find a place in our existing order, and through its practical participation change the very nature of its order.



Philosophy and sophistry

Let us call “enception” the capacity to conceive some particular concept.

A concept is a meaning structure that enables any particular experience to be incorporated into our body of experience and to be interrelated with these other experiences. This does not mean that what is conceived can be spoken about with any degree of clarity or explicitness. It means it is available for association. Enceptions make a particular kind of analogy possible.

Wherever we lack an enception, potentially meaningful events — events that would be experienced as meaningful were the enception present — are submerged in oblivion and are not actually experienced at all. They are literally nothing to us.

Most of what we call unconscious is only unconscious with respect to our ability to capture and manipulate it with language. If we attend to the purely perceptive, apperceptive and intuitive apart from our ability to recognize these experiences and attach words to them — if we allow them to be, independently of what can be said about them — we will discover that the alleged unconscious is intensely consciousness and far more conscious than even the clearest explicit language.

Clear, explicit language is at its best when it holds partially conceived phenomena in place — when systematically employs other enceptions to put together a synthetic structure, and holds it steady long enough to allow an enception to emerge and develop and conceive the synthesis as a whole. This is what philosophy does. This is what I work to do.

People who haven’t developed an aesthetic or poetic sensitivity tend to experience the world mostly as a word-match affair. What can be caught with a person’s existing vocabulary is recognized and retained, whatever cannot be recognized is slips away unnoticed. Whatever gets recognized is linked up with other recognitions by way of whatever explicit relationships the person has available, through explicit reasoning or metaphor. It is all language-dominated — very firm, very clear, very sharp, very forceful — but also lacking the richness, spontaneity and intensity of consciousness of intuition unmediated by words.

Many intuitive, poetic, aesthetic people have been bullied by skillful users of explicit language. They understandably have developed suspicion, fear, sometimes hostility toward anything associated with explicit reason.

But reason need not and should not be used this way. This is not philosophy, however much such logicians claim the term for themselves. This is, rather, sophistry.

But many of these reason-abused people have been so damaged they are nervous around any energetic exercise of explicit reason, whether that reason is philosophical or sophistical.

Philosophy is oriented toward what transcends language and reason, but it uses language (and other forms) and reason to help us form relationships with these extralingual realities. It is against of shutting these realities out or subjecting them to linguistic domination.

We use explicit synthesis and conception together to expand the range of what we can spontaneously conceive, thereby making us more intuitively conscious both in our wordless experiences and in our explicit knowledge.

The Oracle at Delphi named Socrates the wisest man in Athens because he alone understood his own ignorance. Wisdom is practical awareness of the essential limits of truth. When we love this awareness and our thoughts and actions are expressions of this love, we are philosophers.

Wise knowledge

I’ve noticed that the unwise people in my life are invariably the ones most eager to share their wisdom. The less wise they are the more aggressive and insistent they are. They seem to believe they know something very wise that others need to know.

But recall the story of the Oracle at Delphi naming Socrates the wisest man in Athens. He was the wisest because he alone understood his own ignorance.

My current understanding of wisdom is this: Wisdom is not a quality of knowledge. It is in an attitude toward knowledge. Wisdom is practical awareness of the essential limits of truth.

Square hipsters versus hip squares

Every adolescent knows: Oppressive piety invites defiant impiety.

If you are pious, you believe oppression is a necessary means to protect what deserves piety. But to those subjected to the oppression, it is obvious that it is the piety that is the means. Oppression is the real end. Piety justifies use of coercion, and enables the oppressor to enjoy self-righteous abuse of power.

Impiety is a vehicle for defiance of oppression. The impious content is secondary. What matters is the performative “fuck you” to those who use piety as justification for oppression.

Of course, the pious can only see defiance as a hatred of what deserves piety — morality, justice, compassion and so on. They see it this way and this way only. Permitting alternative views or irony or humor introduces the risk of seeing the ruse from the outside, which would puncture all delusions of moral superiority.

I think most people understand this to some degree. We can all sort of recall how it was to be a teenager. Some of us still identify with our teenage rebellion, and even believe that we are still rebellious, despite all evidence to the contrary. If, when corporations unite to celebrate your rebellion you bask in their approval and feel renewed inspiration to continue your personal journey to self-acceptance — or if you need everyone to unanimously affirm your rebellion or you melt into a puddle of trauma tears — sorry dude, you are the furthest thing from a rebel. How could anyone be so stupid and self-oblivious to miss that?

Here is how: Power is sneaky.

The smarter we are, the sneakier we get.

The world is currently faced with a piety with the sneakiest meta moves ever devised by our sneaky, pious species.

Imagine an oppressive piety obsessed with… opposing oppression and piety.

Now imagine a defiant impiety toward this oppressive piety of anti-oppression/anti-piety.

Pious impiety and oppressive anti-oppression versus impious piety and defiant anti-anti-oppression.

This meta layer has effectively confused the majority of our (mis)educated population.

The pious impious run around shitting on and tearing down everything formerly considered sacred in former times, and if someone gets uppity and refuses to conform with the defilement, they are scarlet lettered and shunned by the community. These people refuse to be named, but I call them Proggos, because that it a silly, unpleasant word perfectly suited for silly, unpleasant people.

Meanwhile the impious pious run around defiantly affirming the sacrality of everything the  Proggos hate, most of all sacred traditions, which is why these people are commonly called Trads. These Trads compulsively disregard all the moral rule Proggos impose and enforce, even that 75% that’s actually decent and good, and even the 50% espoused by their own sacred traditions. But Trads are not sincere in any of their affirmations. They affirm only to negate. They care nothing about sacredness — only saying “fuck you” in the most offensive manner they can find, and that has turned out to be the Apostle’s Creed.

So basically these pious impious Proggos and these impious pious Trads share something in common: a total disregard for sacredness. One desecrates with sincere contempt and the other desecrates  with disingenuous reverence.

Moral nonlinearity

My generation was shaped decisively by chaos theory. James Gleick’s bestseller Chaos: Making a New Science was, for many of us, not merely an introduction to, but rather, an initiation into a radically new approach to understanding order.

Chaos theory shows how even the most strictly determinate process can be radically unpredictable, if that process has the form of an iterative feedback loop. Most processes (even processes as simple as an object sliding across ice) can be reframed as nonlinear processes, and when seen this way, much that was once factored out as incidental noise turned out to essential signal.

When I first read the book, back when it was still actually on the NYT bestseller list, I was scientistic to the core. I was a hard determinist, in fact. The notion that I could have both the perfect, rational order of determinism, and also enjoy pristine, virgin unpredictability was exhilarating. I didn’t even know I wanted this radical unpredictability until I was given it, and was shocked by my own joy in receiving it. Radical order and radical unpredictability!

By this principle things will happen the way they happen, proceeding with invariable necessity, and they cannot unfold otherwise, but there is no way at all for us to get ahead of the process and see where it is going. We can only enact or follow the process, and see where it goes.

Since then, I have applied this pattern of radically-rational-yet-radically-unpredictable feedback processes to many phenomena outside of the domain of math — and many of these processes are core to my personal mission.

Design, of course, is famously iterative. And it is also notoriously unpredictable. We must constantly console nervous manager-types who need to know what we are going to learn before we learn it and what we are going to invent before we invent it. We have to tell them: trust the process. The process is a nonlinear one, and part of its rigor is refusing to draw conclusions using straight euclidean rulers. We must participate in the nonlinear process of learning-making-learning-making… and eventually, something will crystallize.

Hermeneutics is also famously nonlinear. The hermeneutic circle describes the interplay of whole and part, with the whole being your own understanding — an understanding that gives significance to parts, yet the parts constitute this whole. Learning is the development of a whole from parts that either support or extend or undermine or even break the whole into which parts are integrated.

Now, today, I am thinking of moral principles as nonlinear.

All too often, without even noticing, we assume that morality will be a linear rule. We wonder what we should do in x-situation. We apply a moral rule to the problem, get a decision, then execute the decision.

I originally applied this line of thought to the Golden Rule.

If you approach the Golden Rule linearly and assume the proper procedure is to feed the question into the Golden Rule Machine and see what answer it spits out, the Golden Rule will appear manifestly dumb. But if, rather than accepting that first answer, we instead iteratively receive it as a question to be fed back into the Golden Rule, things get more interesting. With each cycle, the output become more intuitively right, and not as an asymptotic approach to a predictable point. Outputs bounce around chaotically. For instance, the process almost immediately stops being one that occurs within one’s own mind, but expands beyond the skull to include those who are or might be affected by the decision. If someone is going to do something that affects you, don’t you want them to involve you? According to the Golden Rule you should do likewise.

This means even if we accept a the most rigorously rational morality it does not follow that this gives us the ability to unilaterally calculate what is moral. Morality is not a code of determinate rules, but a process we must follow — and it is a collaborative process we must follow with others.

Linearity — physical, cognitive, moral — is strictly for limited circumstances, one person or a few, within a limited context within a limited span of future time.

Beyond these narrow bound is radical order and radical surprise. So let us say amen.

Rational semi-open-mindedness

Willingness to debate and submit one’s own beliefs to empirical and logical challenge is certainly admirable. But it is much more admirable when one recognizes that such debates occur within some particular way of understanding the world, and that other ways of making sense of the world may very well have advantages over one’s own. When this awareness is lacking, it produces a particular variety of rationality that is open-minded within closed limits.It is beyond these rationalist limits where dialogue becomes creative.

A ludicrous fable

Two people sat down in front of a Monopoly board and had an argument.

Person A wanted to play Monopoly by the standard rules in the rulebook.

Person B argued that the rules made the game boring and that the best players were often unable to win the game — because victory was too much a matter of luck. Person B wanted to take a less rule-bound, more commonsense approach to making the game fairer and more enjoyable. Instead of leaving outcomes to chance rolls of the dice and random card selections, the players themselves would determine what should happen each round, according to what seemed best to the players.

Person A argued that tossing out the rules would cause the game to devolve into an endless, fruitless debate about fairness and fun, and that this would not be fun at all.

Person B asked: “In what way does this argument follow the rules of Monopoly?”

Person A was flummoxed, and unable to respond.

Person B continued: “If you are so committed to the rules of Monopoly, why aren’t you following those rules right now, you hypocrite? You claim that my way is so bad. But then you go and do exactly the same thing!”

Person A realized that in order to win an honorable victory, he must stick to his principles. He rolled a double-6. But even this powerful roll was insufficient to persuade Person B.

Person A ended up losing both the argument and the game.

This is a fable, and therefore has a moral: Person A would have served his principles more faithfully had he simply refused to play Person B’s game.

(Principles are not rules.)