For the last couple of months I have been re-grounding myself in Husserl’s phenomenology. The work I am interested in doing is phenomenological, but it is not, itself, phenomenology. By returning to Husserl, I hope to arrive at the point of departure for my project. I am interested in approaching philosophy as a design discipline, both in the form of the philosophy (writing, visuals, practices designed to impart a particular faith) and in its substance (the life afforded by adoption of the faith). To make matters weirder, the faith itself is designerly. Obviously, it is a synthesis of philosophy, design and religion that profoundly scrambles the current meanings of philosophy, design and religion.
I’ve used the word “natural” to four very different ways, and each is defined against a different opposite. These are each
The first two are the boring obvious ones.
- Natural versus manmade. Is it from the wilderness, or is it from our own hands?
- Natural versus supernatural. Does it obey the laws of nature, or does it follow the laws of something or someone beyond nature? Note: I understand there are less vulgar notions of supernatural, but for the present purposes, let’s use the vulgar sense.
The second two (to me, anyway) are more interesting.
- Natural versus unnatural. Does something subjectively feel as though it spontaneously participates in nature or does it seem alienated from it and at odds with it? This could be subdivided into any number of categories, depending on the perceived location of the unnaturalness. For example, it could be one’s own self (“this action feels unnatural”) or in a perceived or conceived object (“that light looks unnatural”).
- Natural versus phenomenological. Am I regarding some phenomenon in solely terms of the object given to my perception or conception, or am I understanding the phenomenon also as a subjective act of perceiving or conceiving some given object? And I will always add: and if conceived differently, will reveal a different given object.
These latter two are at the heart of my philosophical design work.
Can phenomenological freedom be used skillfully to suspend one natural way of perceiving in order to reconceive reality (or nature, if you prefer) in another way — a way that is shockingly unfamiliar, yet just as natural as the old one. A new comprehensive praxic gestalt clicks into place, replacing the old “everything” gestalt.
This is a non-supernatural account of metanoia, and it suggests that philosophies rooted in phenomenological reflective practice can be a kind of genuine religious practice. If one is willing to pay the necessary exorbitant price, one can radically reconfigure one’s own subjectivity, objectivity and subject-object relations.
For a long time I was planning to call my perpetually unwritten book on this subject Second-Natural. I was also playing with another title The Ten Thousand Everythings.
Now I am leaning toward calling it Enworldment.
Intuition is direct response to experience, unmediated by language.
Confusingly, though, our most spontaneous utterances and immediate responses to language are also intuitive.
When we say “experience-near” this means using words that directly refer to intuited experience. We can use and understand experience-near language intuitively. We do not need to use words to help us use other words. We simply speak, and what we say means what we mean to convey.
Language becomes unintuitive when speaking or understanding requires long intermediating chains of language. We must speak to ourselves inwardly about our speech, and pick our words carefully, word by word. With each layer of meta-talk, the connection between word and experience grows more remote and attenuated. This is what is meant by “experience-distant.”
Destruction of intuition is alienation — from the world, from others, and from oneself. It begins with over-reliance on experience-distant language. Alienation is complete when the experience-distant language detaches from its alleged object and begins to refer only to itself.
In alienation, whatever one experiences is subjected to elaborate interpretive processing and explained in theoretical language. We psychoanalyze ourselves, explain our biological brain states, interrogate our power relations, theorize on how our social conditioning might be distorting our perceptions snd feelings, speculate how we might be perceived by others, and so on, before simply experiencing what we might otherwise experience. Our intuitions are diffused among many fragmentary notions, or redirected into one compulsive direction, away from one’s immediate or thinly mediated experience.
Same with actions. One no longer interacts directly and wordlessly with objects in ones environment. One no longer picks up a pen and writes, or picks up a knife and cuts. One must anticipate, set goals and plan before acting. One must recall directions and then follow them. One must ask what the next best move is, pick it, then execute it. And at each step one must document the move, to provide transparency. The more a person’s actions are of this kind, the less intuitive contact with the world one has. One’s intuitive connection is primarily with one’s own instruction set. There is no craft, just foresight and execution.
Same with speech and interactions among people. Speaking becomes a risky endeavor. People must carefully consider and select every word or gesture before using it. Words become dangerous things to be handled with thick gloves, carefully assembled and inspected unit by unit before any sentence is delivered. Beliefs are charged with extreme moral significance. Asserting the truth of some facts makes one a good person, where denying their truth, or wrongly asserting the truth of false opinions makes one a bad person. We must constantly reassure one another where we stand, and wherever possible demonstrate our true belief of true beliefs.
But personal beliefs are viewed as constructs — conventions acquired through habit, shaped by social conditioning. Beliefs should never be left to personal judgment, but rather determined by ethical experts who can calculate the effects of various beliefs upon society, and select beliefs capable of generating maximum justice for those who most need and deserve it. Bad beliefs are beliefs left to organic distortion or intuition, which, more likely than not, serve only one group or one person.
With sufficient degree and duration of alienation, a person can be made to lose all direct connection with self, with others, with reality beyond one’s alienated language.
And sadly, one cannot avoid alienation from the alienated. In alienated times, those with functioning intuitions must find one another, offer one another refuge, commune with one’s ancestors — and recommit to future generations beyond this human void.
The key is to develop experience-near language that does full justice to the wordless realities we intuit in our midst.
We intuit energies, tones, vibrations around us and emanating from others and concentrated in certain places and objects. What can we do with them, when we intuit them and speak of them in such nebulous language? Nothing. And that is why the alienated world approves of leaving them in such a wispy, flaky, woo-woo state. Belief in energies and vibes has very little pragmatic consequence.
But these realities of which we are unable to speak are the most consequential. They move mountains.
We do not know how to think and speak and share the most crucial realities of our lives. Our language is optimized to physics and technological manipulation. So we talk about our brains and hormones and social conditioning when what really concerns us are our minds, our hearts and our place in the world.
We have it all everted.
Things can and must be otherwise.
I am starting a class on online course creation this month. The class is project-based, centering around the design and implementation of an actual online course.
My class project will be an initiation into the enworldment of service design.
By enworldment, I mean the practical-experiential manifestation of an understanding, which causes a person to approach, perceive, understand, respond to and attempt to change the world in some distinct way. (Enworldment is close enough in meaning to “worldview” or “lifeworld” that for most purposes it can be used interchangeably.) *
The course is not meant to be a philosophy of service design, but a series of exercises to effect a shift that causes service design problems to become conspicuously visible as what they are: service design problems.
Currently, under the mainstream corporate enworldment, most service design problems, if noticed at all, are understood in other terms (such as technology problems or management challenges) and are addressed in ways that fail to resolve them, or make them worse.
For a variety of reasons, I have it in for the corporate enworldment, and its failure to detect and respond to service design problems is the least of them. The main problem with the corporate enworldment is the alienating, intuition-paralyzing, depressive effect it has on the majority of people who subscribe to it.
People who believe they hate capitalism don’t really hate capitalism as an economic system, but rather this corporate enworldment’s mode of capitalism. Frankly, if we were to establish socialism today, we would establish it under this same hellish enworldment, while losing many of the tempering effects of the market, and end up with something at least as soulless, oppressive and violent as the Stalinist or Maoist systems. Today’s youth are some of the most thoroughly alienated people I have ever met, and they suffer from political Dunning-Kruger of the profoundest kind that makes them believe they have the answer when they can’t even hear the question. If they do not grow out of their social childishness before they take full control of our society, mass suffering is inevitable. I am sorry, but this is the truth.
I despise the corporate enworldment, too. The only thing I despise more is the anticapitalist two-in-one political enworldment that opposes it — proggism and its complement, alt-rightism. They each think they are the opposite of the other, but they are just the vessels and veins of a single bad-blood pumping circulatory system.
I know that commerce can be conducted in myriad ways within a capitalist system, and one of the better ways is service design. I would like it to become the universal enworldment in the domain of business, and to see all the bean-counters, systems engineers, product managers, perception manipulators, strategic planners and so on, to find their proper places within it, not over it, as they are today.
There is a lot of interest in service design right now. Most people try to do service design within the corporate enworldment, which causes it to be far more complicated and ugly than it could be if it were practiced under a more suitable enworldment. I hope this online course might inspire people to approach business — and life — in a radically different, much better way.
NOTE * : Here is an outtake from an earlier version of this post, where I was attempting to shed more light on enworldment:
“I’ll restate this same idea religiously. Why not? : An enworldment is the way the world manifests to us when we approach it in some particular faith. So when employees of corporations experience their work lives in that dull, weary, anxious, workaday way we describe as “corporate”, that is an enworldment. And any product of corporate life also belongs to that enworldment and it bears a corporate aura — more like a smell — of phoniness, impersonality or insincerity and artificiality. Art aspires to the opposite. An artist with his own enworldment produces artifacts experienced as art, ideally bearing a genuine, intensely personal, otherworldly aura — also known as a halo. Most aspiring artists have absolutely no idea of enworldment, and just try to craft interesting-looking stuff that seems to suggest something provocative or mysterious. Most art does not even manage to be bad art. It is just the idle play of people who’d like to bear an artist’s aura, but who are too timid, pain-averse and unimaginative to diverge from the popular enworldment with its moral norms of norming the abnormal and conventional wisdom of deconstructing convention, playing around with materials in hopes something novel will emerge.)”
There is a plurality of ways to be a pluralist, and pluralism is prepared to accept the pragmatic consequences of this truth by acknowledging that apparent contradictions to any given truth, even the truth of pluralism, does not imply falsehood.
Pseudopluralism believes that its view on pluralism is the only valid form of pluralism, and sees any contradiction to its own form of pluralism as false and anti-pluralist and something a pluralist should suppress through responsible use of overpowering force.
This is one variant of an ancient and universal trap: of merely knowing, or worse, saying, when we are summoned to act and to be.
Each of us is a divine spark of the immanent Distributed God.
Pluralism is the acknowledgment that our finite efforts to conceive reality from our various points in the divine body will necessarily differ, just as we feel different sensations in different points in our own bodies. Sparks within sparks. Speck-size sparks; flame-size sparks; inferno-size sparks, sun-size sparks, galaxy-size sparks. Sparks seen close-up, sparks seen on the horizon, sparks floating on the surface of the azure sky and sparks set in the depths of darkness.
Each spark regards the others as if through the eye of the one and only God. The Golden Rule urges us to know that we are merely participants in a transcendent one and only God, and we are surrounded by innumerable fellow-participants, fellow sparks. We are all centers of the universe.
In one part of the Asclepius, which was also attributed to Trismegistus, the twelfth-century French theologian, Alain de Lille — Alanus de Insulis — discovered this formula which future generations would not forget: ‘God is an intelligible sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.‘
Here we can see the ethical dimension of pluralism — an attitude of mutuality toward our fellow-I — who, from our own perspective, is Thou — and actions of reciprocity. The principle of reciprocity — which must not be confused with a rule, because rules determine actions, but principles determine rules — goes by the misnomer “the Golden Rule.” The Golden Principle is a test for any action, and it iterative asks — that is, it interrogates — every action. It asks “By what principle is this action justified?” Then, “Would you accept that principle?” Then it asks, “By what principle is this principle justified? Would you accept that principle?” and this questioning iterates until the test fails, or it terminates at the root of this principle, which requires us to involve our neighbor, our Thou, as ourselves, as fellow participants in a We.
The Golden Principle can be restated as: Thou shalt codesign.
The Jewish tradition, in which the Jesus was a participant of supreme genius, has always approached God as community in covenant. He understood and taught that the Golden Principle — to respect and love Thou as I — is precisely the same principle of loving God with our entire being — not just with our theological minds, not only with our overflowing hearts, not only with our serving strength — but will all of ourselves, integrated and whole and in communion with our fellows in a network of I-Thous, woven into a jewelled Indra’s Net, who can never been seen from outside, despite all appearances. Indra’s Net is woven of first-person. The refractions of first-persons within first-persons is the scintillation of these jewels.
To man the world is twofold, in accordance with his twofold attitude.
The attitude of man is twofold, in accordance with the twofold nature of the primary words which he speaks.
The primary words are not isolated words, but combined words.
The one primary word is the combination I-Thou.
The other primary word is the combination I-It; wherein, without a change in the primary word, one of the words He and She can replace It.
Hence the I of man is also twofold.
For the I of the primary word I-Thou is a different I from that of the primary word I-It.
Primary words do not signify things, but they intimate relations.
Primary words do not describe something that might exist independently of them, but being spoken they bring about existence.
Primary words are spoken from the being.
If Thou is said, the I of the combination I-Thou is said along with it.
If It is said the I of the combination I-It is said along with it.
The primary word I-Thou can only be spoken with the whole being.
The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being.
To make the leap from monocentric “I am one with God, and coextensive with God” to polycentric “I am a participant in God, and I am entirely of God and nothing but God, while God infinitely exceeds my finite being” is also to say “My participation in God is inseparable from my participation with my fellow I, as they are also of God, and participants in God’s being.”
To oppose God, the world and other people is to render God finite and deny his very infinite essence. And we all do it every minute of every day. Each moment it is an infinite challenge to overcome this natural sin, and it is to this challenge we are summoned. “Where are you?” To which we respond “Hineini“: within Thou who is, am, will be. And to this we say “Amen.”
We are called to radical pluricentrism within the Distributed God.
To know and say it epistemologically: pluralism.
To do it ethically: codesign by the Golden Principle.
To be it ontologically: be a polycentric participant in the Distributed God.
This is my religion. It is Judaism. It is all religion. It is All, or at least one way to situate within All.
I am trying to convey this to anyone with the hope to know better, the will to receive new givens, the ears to hear, the eyes to see, the space of an open outspiraling heart.
I am not trying to convey it to those who do not want it, and that is most people, especially those who say “pluralism!” or related words like “diversity!” or “equity!” or “inclusion!” Two millennia ago, a radical Jew said “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” The kingdom, of course, Malchut, Shekinah, is the enworldment of participation in the Distributed God.
All too often we believe beliefs as a counterfeit for a faith of being and doing and receiving givens.
Last point: Participate first with participants.
You cannot play Uno with one who will only play Solitaire.
But the more people are playing, the more the hesitant will feel compelled to join, and joining is its own kind of persuasion. With games, too — with games, especially — the medium is the message. And what isn’t a game? (Language games. Ethnomethodic games.)
Remember: Persuade the persuadable first.
Starting with the obstinate, focusing on the obstinate, is obstinacy.
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!
I spent most of this week at Greenville Memorial Hospital. My dad had a Type A aortic dissection, and had to undergo emergency open heart surgery. So far, he has beaten some terrifyingly slim odds, largely thanks to his heart surgeon, Dr. Bhatia, who worked on him literally all Sunday night through Monday morning, and the incredible nurses and support staff at the CVICU.
These days it is easy to lapse into pessimism regarding our species.
But it is important to remember that the people who give us this dark impression is a small and specialized segment of the population, who spend their days reading about and writing about one small corner of human experience.
Meanwhile, another, much larger group of people show up to work each day to give care and comfort to a perpetually rotating set of hurting, terrified people. They serve with skill, professionalism, compassion and humor. We don’t often hear their perspectives on things because they are incredibly busy. Their communications are mostly practical and specific and directed to one person or a few.
When I focus on people like this, and recognize them as representative of humanity I feel much, much better about everything.
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.
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.
Everything is ethnomethod. Not only human behavior, but human-shaped environments. And not only these, but the language we use for discussing the human world. But it extends even further. How we use language in general — this, too, is ethnomethod.
And most people go on applying these ethnomethods in the private spaces within their ethos, where strictly speaking, this is not necessary. We normally think and behave socially even in our homes, among our intimates, and even within the radical privacy of our own minds. We internalize the social.
Some people, however, choose to establish an asocial private realm where they think or behave in ways that are incompatible with public societies. These private thoughts and actions are not ethnomethods, but they are living kernels with the potential to become ethnomethods, were they to be adopted by a group (to make sense to/of each other).
Some people, at their own peril, try to carry these protoethnomethods into the social world, and these incompatible actions clash with the established ethnomethods and are, in effect, breaching experiments.
People can, intentionally or accidentally, transform themselves into continuous breaching experiments.
Philosophies are conceptive ethnomethods or protoethnomethods.
Doing philosophy is performing conceptive breaching experiments upon oneself, and then developing new conceptive protoethnomethods to replace or, better, to subsume one’s existing (proto)ethnomethods.
Of course, ethnomethodology was developed from pragmatism. So why bother reconceiving or redescribing pragmatism in terms of the ethnomethodology derived from it?
Ethnomethodology extended pragmatism beyond the space of explicit reasons into the space of tacit conception and response. This realm of tacit conception and response, it turns out (or at least, so it seems to me) to effect not only life outside of our reasoning but also reasoning itself.
What results from changing the (proto)ethnomethods we use for thinking and speaking in a way that also changes the ethnomethods of making sense of the world and making sense in the world is a change that goes beyond changes in the content of our thoughts but changes how we spontaneously conceive and respond to reality. It changes our very enworldment.
With full awareness that I am breaching our current ethnomethods governing use of religious conceptions and language, I will say that the goal of religion has been is to shift from one enworldment to another enworldment — one that converts find less alienated and alienating, and more fulfilling than the old one.
A convert is likely to speak in terms of truth and falsehood. I believe speaking in terms of more or less fitting and preferable enworldments might help us understand religion more pluralistically. More ambitiously, I hope that enworldment language and conceptions might help secular people see how religion is a respectable option for people who wish to live better lives.
The use of philosophical means to develop better, more preferable enworldments is my core interest. This is where my interest in design, philosophy and religion intersect.
The more radical changes a person has undergone, the less that person will take seriously the claims others make of having reached a final conclusive truth.
Every radical change of understanding re-presents the world in light of a new truth. These truths seem conclusive and final. This characteristic of apparent finality, however, is not in any way evidence of actual finality. Apparent finality, if treated as only apparently final, can give way to new truths that appear equally final.
If an apparently final truth does, in fact, become actually final — that is, if a person or group of people refuses to allow more radical changes to happen — this is due to the fact that radical truths are not only theoretical, but also perceptual, practical and moral.
Radical truths are less matters of thought content than they are enworldments.
Enworldments penetrate beneath language, into that dark wordless ground in which language is rooted, from which words grow, and without which words lose meaning and wither into abstraction and nonsense. Enworldments provide the very givens of our experience.
Enworldments project fields of relevance that determine what in our daily life we notice and what we ignore, the degree and kind of relevance we perceive in what we do notice. Enworldments give us the givens of perception.
Enworldments also project fields of intelligibility that determine both the spontaneous connections we intuit in our present and past experiences, as well as the kinds of connections it occurs to us to make if we attempt to consciously think some matter through. Enworldments give us the givens of understanding.
Enworldments also project fields of possibility that determine our actions, both the spontaneous reactions we have before before thinking, intentional responses we think through, plan out and execute and habits we cultivate. Enworldments give us the givens of action.
Perhaps most importantly, enworldments project fields of value that determine what is moral or immoral, virtuous or vicious, attractive or repulsive, good or bad. Values may be what we spontaneously experience, and they may also be codified rules for calculating or assigning values. These values determine where we scrutinize, challenge or attack a value as an illusion, delusion, bias or distortion and where we embrace a value as given and defend it as self-evident truth. Enworldments give us givens of morality.
Values are the primary guardians of enworldments, protecting them from entertaining irrelevant data, from uncharitable or skeptical interrogation, from potentially undermining experimentation. These challenges are bad and should not be suffered or tolerated.
Morality is what preserves and stabilizes the other givens and allows an enworldment to endure. If one wishes to radically change, it is primarily the morality of that enworldment that must be overcome.
This is why Nietzsche was an immoralist. He sought new ideals, new enworldments, new human ideals — ones that we believe from the heart and not just from ethical algorithms and societal conformism.
Earlier, I mentioned that “values may be what we spontaneously experience, and they may also be codified rules for calculating or assigning values.” Codified rules can harmonize with and reinforce spontaneously felt values. Or they can clash and contradict. When this happens we are at a fork in the road. We can ignore taboos and prohibitions against questioning moral fundamentals, and investigate matters to see if we can resolve the contradiction.
Or we can reject codified morality in favor of felt values.
Most of us, however, cleave to codified morality. We train ourselves to mistrust, disregard and repress our spontaneous, felt valuations. We affirm only what we are supposed to affirm and condemn what we are supposed to condemn — even with respect to our own personal moral responses. Perhaps we see our own subjectivity as manipulated and corrupted and in need of rational corrections.
If we do this too much, eventually our value-sense weakens and numbs until we no longer feel it. Many of us become ethical automatons, alienated from our feeling selves, no longer able to exercise personal judgment. We become dependent on analysis provided by others, and we lack all inner resistance to arbitrary valuations. We see something ugly, or hateful, or vicious and we can without much difficulty assign it the opposite value.
It is only superficial truths that are concerned primarily with how we think and speak. They stay obediently within an enworldment, and work within its givens — especially its perceptual and moral givens. Superficial truths can be delightful to play with, they can be daring, transgressive and fanciful in the ways interesting games must be if they are to be absorbing, and they can turn up useful cognitive instruments, but they are inconsequential to our fundamental experiences.
I find that play tedious and at odds with my project, which is to overcome intellectual and moral dishonesty and the self-alienation it causes. Far too many people are obedient to moral ideals they must lie and labor over, with greater and greater difficulty. And now the lies are so fragile that the liars require cooperation from everyone to maintain them to keep unwanted feelings fully repressed.
For people in this state, honesty is an existential threat.
But they are too afraid to break taboos and ask themselves the kinds of questions that can restore harmony between our felt and codified values.
The only solution they can conceive is to control external reality and to prohibit all honest expression so dishonesty becomes internalized through habit, and our new contrived “truth” seems equal to the faint repressed memories of spontaneous given truths.
We Americans just cannot kick our puritan addictions, can we? We finally free ourselves of our need to assert the existence of a thoroughly unbelievable “god”, only to enslave ourselves to other equally unbelievable nonsense. We seem unable to make peace with truth.
But know this: You do not have to believe what you cannot believe.
You are allowed to ask questions, even taboo questions,
If that feels unsafe to you, you are right. It is unsafe. Most people like to feel comfortable, to feel like good people, to frolic in the playground of permissible rebellion. The majority of people choose to keep on lying and lying.
So, if you are a liar, that is ok. It is normal.
If you need to celebrate your lying as virtuous, that is also ok. It is normal.
If you need to call the most dramatically abnormal abnormalities normal, that is ok. It has become normal.
But some of us think being normal is beneath our dignity, and choose abnormality. We do not want to be ok. We ask prohibited questions and produce incomprehensible answers.
That incomprehensibility is fortuitous for all you liars. It doesn’t make any sense. It needs to not make sense. You are in a safe space, a place of its own, a collective enworldment set adrift from anything immediate.
From Lee Braver’s A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism:
Hegel cannot accept Kant’s transcendental idealism because it presupposes a transcendent realism: the commitment to a realm that in principle can never be experienced by humans.
In the margin I wrote “This is a good commitment; it is the essence of goodness.”
Braver published this book in 2007. It’s a useful book, or at least useful for what I am trying to do with my book (which is to propose a philosophy of design which assumes transcendent realism but affords us finite but significant latitude to design our own transcendental conceptive schema through which we may interact with the inner-face of transcendence and participate within reality in life-enhancing ways.)
It approaches the Continental Realism versus Anti-Realism debate using methods drawn from analytic philosophy to produce clear, sharp distinctions on a number of key fronts — and to demonstrate how analytic and continental styles of philosophy can be used in concert for better depth and thoughtcraft.
A few years later, Braver published a followup paper, “A Brief History of Continental Realism”, where he introduced a new term “Transgressive Realism” which he described as
a middle path between realism and anti-realism which tries to combine their strengths while avoiding their weaknesses. Kierkegaard created the position by merging Hegel’s insistence that we must have some kind of contact with anything we can call real (thus rejecting noumena), with Kant’s belief that reality fundamentally exceeds our understanding; human reason should not be the criterion of the real. The result is the idea that our most vivid encounters with reality come in experiences that shatter our categories, the way God’s commandment to kill Isaac irreconcilably clashes with the best understanding of ethics we are capable of.
This is exactly what I believe, which why I’ve described my metaphysics as a metaphysics of surprise. Only surprise reminds us that something transcends our minds. As Bruno Latour put it, “Whatever resists trials is real.” Our participation in reality constantly produces resistance, and helps us recognize the difference between our understanding and what engages our understanding while exceeding it.
I attach religious significance to actively wanting transcendence, reality, resistance and seeking it even while we seek to understand. We do understand, but there is always more to understand — inexhaustibly more — and if we are alert, sensitive and generous, we will notice how much and how often we need to understand differently and better, in order to accommodate our fellow-persons and those aspects of reality they care about. This is not worship of human “otherness”, but human otherness where transcendence reveals itself and challenges us most conspicuously.
Unfortunately, power has a way of tempting us to substitute our own understanding for reality. We want to control our environment to use technology to keep things things reliable and predictable in order to tame surprise and constrain and confine it to the realm of play. A little surprise delights us. Radical surprise disrupts us, immerses us in chaos, crushes us with perplexity.
Even the threat of impending radical surprise fills us with apprehension and puts us in fight-or-flight mode. It makes us nasty.
And here is where power gets its bad reputation. If a fellow person threatens us with radical surprise, and we have the means, we will use our power to make that threat go away. We will require that person to be polite and avoid controversial or potentially hurtful topics. We will prohibit certain bad opinions from being spoken in public. Then we will prohibit these opinions from being said in semi-public, then from being said in private. Then even indirect or accidental expressions become taboo. Eventually even the suspicion that these opinions are privately held — or even unconsciously present — is addressed as a threat. We might feel entitled or even obligated to help people stop having these beliefs and adopting our own instead. We may start requiring behaviors that are performative affirmation of our beliefs. We might require explicit declarations of agreement, as conditions of employment or membership in civil society. In some places and times, these conforming behaviors and declarations have been conditions of the right to continue living in the community, or living at all.
A person with control of enough wealth, institutions and political force will almost inevitably, unconsciously begin to slide in this direction, demanding more and more surprise-damping conformity from fellow-persons to erase the disturbing difference between transcendent reality and our own thoughts about it.
Solipsism is the ultimate luxury; when weaker people are compelled to serve the solipsism of the stronger, this is abuse of power.
To be good, we must want transcendence, seek transcendence, accommodate transcendence even when we have the power to dictate reality to those lacking the power to resist and to be respected as real.
Pay close attention to who is unworthy of your consideration — because here is where your root biases — your sacred biases — do their work.
Pay attention to those biases you are biased toward and those you are biased against, because these are where your root biases reveal themselves to others while concealing themselves from you. These also are biases — your sacred biases, the ones who do the most self-righteous evil.
Critical thinking makes its own thinking the object of critique — it is reflexive. Critical thinking avails itself of the critiques of others to detect what it would otherwise miss. We are tempted to choose only the critiques from others that we are biased toward receiving — the ones who reinforce our sacred biases — but these are self-gratifying and easy, which is why this kind of “critique” is so popular — and, for a enterprising exploiter of fads, so lucrative. People don’t go to tent revivals because they are averse to being called sinners. They go because the diagnosis and remedy is a small price to pay for moral omniscience.
Listen to those who are angry and fucking hate your guts because you are so comfortable, complacent, omniscient, smugly self-satisfied, so aligned with “the right side of history”, so good — when in fact you are just a typical oppressor, too powerful to be confronted with that fact.
Consider for a moment, the possibility that, despite all their obvious faults, whether they are not to some degree justified in hating you. Test your irony and see if you can hold both conceptions in your mind simultaneously and hear the chord they form. Switch from straw-manning their faults to steel-manning their assessment of your faults. See if you can hear all four sides of this conflict.
Do all this and then I might respect you as a critical thinker and a lover of transcendence — of wisdom — of inconceivable conceptions waiting to be born.
There is a point in every philosophy when the philosopher’s “conviction” steps onto the stage — or to use the language of an ancient Mystery:
pulcher et fortissimus.
The ass entered
beautiful and most brave.
My conviction, beautiful and most brave: Thou shalt welcome the stranger… transcendence.
This conviction, this priority, this “prior” — this sacred bias — is unreasonable and stupid, and I am unable to not believe it is absolute good.
Maybe you can help me believe otherwise.
When thinking about philosophy many people make a fundamental category mistake: They think a philosophy is a system of claims, and that acquiring knowledge of the claims is understanding the philosophy. In doing so, they mistake the philosophy for its content.
But learning a philosophy is learning how to do that philosophy, or even better, how to participate in that philosophy. The claims, the arguments, the language — the content — is best seen as a delivery vehicle for the philosophy. If engaged as intended, philosophical content induces a way of thinking that makes clear, coherent sense of the content.
(For example: If your goal when reading Nietzsche is to answer the question “What did Nietzsche really think?”, you are making this category mistake. Pursuing the question “How did Nietzsche think?”, and using the question of what he thought as a means to this goal, puts us on the right track.)
Philosophical engagement is making the clearest, most coherent, most immediate sense of some philosophical content. This means reading or listening carefully, paying close attention to where clarity and coherence is lacking, trying out alternate senses of each word, alternate interpretations of each sentence, each passage, each work, the whole corpus — patiently reading and rereading, or hearing and rehearing, or trying and retrying, until an understanding clicks into place as a gestalt, resolving the meaning and dispelling all occluding unclarity and contradiction.
After the Click, the content flows in spontaneously, second-naturally — as easy and obvious as a sitcom storyline. This is our best indication that we understand the philosophy. Sadly, it might also mean that we have misunderstood it. Only the most acute alertness to what has not been understood, what remains contradictory, what is still cloudy can help us discern misunderstanding from understanding. This requires a willingness bordering on eagerness to be mistaken — to have misunderstood all along.
(Those who prize intellectual competence above all else — who love the feeling of being right and of having been right all along, who find evidence of their own extreme prescience and omniscience in every experience — are incompetent readers of philosophy. So are those who skim and cherrypick, rummaging for useful components to bolt onto their own sprawling conceptual assemblages. Prophets, collagists and ambitious system builders understand perfectly well all the relevant bits of what they read, and therefore miss the entire point of philosophy, which is to discover subtle misunderstandings and gaps that open the way to more deeper and more expansive re-understandings. Many are attracted to philosophical texts, in order to dominate or plunder them, but few engage philosophical texts philosophically. One must have a perverse taste for discovering one’s own inadequacy and for immersion in the most anxious perplexities to develop philosophically. In philosophy, hedonism, pain aversion and pride are stunting vices.)
What makes philosophical content philosophical is that it implicitly promises the Click, provided one is willing to put forth philosophy’s distinct kind of effort. The Click is possible because a clear, coherent philosophy was used to generate and form the content, and the author ensured the content expresses the philosophy exactly enough to induce a sharp click of understanding and to prevent false clicks of misunderstanding.
What makes philosophy so exciting and important is that, once its Click happens, it sets in motion a way of thinking that can activate whenever it is needed. It sets up a new species of recognition and ready response to whatever is conducive to its treatment — to its form of understanding.
I’ve called a form of understanding a concept. A concept is a spontaneous taking-together of a given of some particular form. I’ve called the capacity to recognize and respond to a particular concept a conception.
The purpose of philosophy is to induce new conceptions that enable recognition and response to new concepts in both philosophical content and in every kind of experience. Conceptions are what enable the understanding of concepts in philosophical content as well as the recognition and response to those same concepts in any kind of experience, even when the philosophical content that originally induced the conception is not recalled within that experience.
Real philosophical engagement necessarily changes who we are. It changes us beneath the layer of language, at the depths of self where language is understood and used, and where tools are wordlessly understood and used, where we read facial expressions and gestures, sense danger, experience beauty, and feel reality as real. It is where we do all our practical believing. It is the layer that overrules logic and theories and the content of our brains when life is at stake.
Few of us are in touch with this layer of self. We think we are what the words in our head tell us we are, when we ask ourselves with words “Who am I?” Who we are speaks with silent gestures, and the words that fill our heads and ears talk over it and drown it out. If we listen only for words and even see with word, words are all we hear or see.
This layer beneath language and beneath perception is what I call faith. We can also call it the subject.
There are many ways besides philosophy to change faith, or recall it, or maintain it, or strengthen it, or further develop it — (or, exceptionally, to let it go, or even to kill our faith and suffer in the shadows without it for awhile). Religious practice is a common way to shape faith. So is participation in culture and in various subcultures within our culture. Education also works on faiths, and this is why we call the various educational disciplines subjects. Art can change our faith, at least for a few moments, and a diet of one genre of art can have enduring effects.
But philosophy is my favorite faith-shaping discipline.
It is not the underpinning of everything everyone else is going. That is faith. There is no implicit philosophy, any more than there is an implicit art or implicit academic subject.
But philosophy is one potentially effective means of taking responsibility for faith.
I have so much more to say.
I want to say how our faith conditions our entire experience of reality, and that if we experience reality as meaningless, persecutory, punishing, dark or doomed, this is only the testimony of our faith.
I want to advise us to stop fixating on the content of our faiths and instead observe how things seem when given to us via our faiths. Yes, the world is real, but the world we experience and know is the world our faith enworlds around us.
I want to point out that our faiths can be intentionally changed for the better.
I’ve said it all before innumerable times, but I need to carefully craft it all into a Click-inducing whole. Maybe the above is the inception of this work.
Givenness is the spontaneous, pre-reflective experiencing of something as something.
We tend to think of givens as foundational points of departure. However, as history testifies, at least some givens can be changed, to potentially profound effect. The effect of such changes is inconceivable prior to the change, because the scope of conceivability itself is what changes.
I believe that some givens ought to be changed, that other givens ought not to be changed (but cultivated, protected and bequeathed), and that some givens, maybe most, ought to evolve organically. But we must ask some crucial questions: Who decides, for whom? and by what reasoning is this decision made? and by what means may givens be changed? Finally, how is the transformation of givens experienced by one undergoing the change and how does one understand the transformation, when that by which understanding happens is precisely what is transforming?
(This is me experimenting with approaching my incipient book Enworldment from the angle of transformability of givenness.)
For an enworldment to become culturally relevant, its praxis must not only be good from the inside but it must also be compelling (beautiful, sublime, fascinating) from the outside.
“Inside”: for those who understand and participate in the enworldment, existence becomes manifestly good.
“Outside”: for those who experience only the enworldment’s manifestations — its words, deeds and expressions — it hovers between comprehension and bafflement in that range of semi-understanding we experience as mystery.
Mystery suggests potential but unrealized intelligibility.
The potency of mystery is a function of the actuality of the enworldment that generates its appearance. If one manages to “get inside” the aesthetic, a new enworldment will spontaneously resolve itself. A new understanding — a new stance — a new priority — a new way emerges — and everything is now different in the most important sense, though most things stay mostly the same. It is the precise opposite of magic, though it is inconceivably magical.
False mysteriousness — a vice of artistic and religious charlatans — tries to use mystery effects to suggest an enworldment that will never spontaneously resolve — will never become second-natural — at any degree of understanding or familiarity with the mystifying words, ways or artifacts.
And then there’s technik.
Technik assures us that it is possible, through great combinatory effort, that we might find an order that will gives each sundry part — including you and me — a place in the system. Alienation will end. Clarity will reign. And this all-embracing outer technik is our only hope for inner peace. This is the promise of positivist thought and art.
Technik’s plan is to willfully permute our way to an artificial paradise we will learn to love.
Let’s stop distorting the meaning of subjectivity by situating it within an essentially objective world.
But that objective world within which we understand ourselves to be situated is produced by our subjectivity, through its own participation in reality.
It is reality within which we are situated. Objectivity (and the objective truth we know about it) is merely what we instaurate — discover-create — through this participation in reality.
To confuse reality with objective truth — and nearly everyone does this to some degree — is to succumb to misapotheosis: the confusion ourselves and our objective comprehension of truth, with God and God’s own comprehension of reality within Godself. We are a mere image of God, a finite incarnation of infinite more-than-being.
The objective truth we can talk about is a tiny subset of the objective truth we experience; the objective truth is a tiny subset of the subjectivity we experience; the subjectivity we experience is a tiny subset of the subjectivity a person can potentially experience; and the totality of subjectivities a person can potentially experience is a tiny subset of reality. And reality is a subset of God’s infinite more-than-being.
The reworking of ontological topologies within a panentheistic enception changes a soul and its enworldment in inconceivable ways. This reworking is religious insight.
Yet again, Arthur C. Clarke’s famous maxim comes to mind: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Religion is the most advanced technology, beyond all technological advancement.
It’s not that religion rejects or denies magic. It’s that religious insight renders magic boring and it’s that “spiritual” magic-mongering (more often than not) stunts religious insight.
We have a deficient sense of nothingness.
When we lose vision, we do not see blackness. Instead, we see boiling chrome.
When we lose a leg, instead of numbness, we are tormented by an aching phantom limb.
When we lose our hearing, rather than submersion in silence, we hear intolerable hypersonic ringing.
When we lose our sense of smell, the world does not become odorless. It reeks of burning rubber, sulphur and brimstone.
When we lose our sense of taste, our mouths and tongue are filled with bitterness.
When we lose sense of purpose, we do not become serene or care-free.
We feel ennui.
When we lose capacity to love, we do not become detached or objective.
On the contrary, this lovelessness is depression.
When we lack understanding, we don’t experience ignorance.
Instead, we experience a combination of apprehension and intuitive omniscience. We don’t want to know the particulars — we already comprehend them in principle.
(Only if we press against this ignorant omniscience, or if it presses on us, will it break. And when it breaks we are rewarded with disorientation, perplexity, hellish angst… and the possibility of new conception.)
When we lose our sense of self, we don’t become selfless. Instead, we become nebulas of nihilism and ressentiment. The phantom self seethes with hostility and plots vengeful dismantlement of its miscreator.
When we lose our sense of world, we don’t become otherworldly nor innocent. Instead, we become paranoid residents of a phantom world — a realm of concealed demonic machinations, a tangle of puppets and puppet strings, traceable to a baleful beyond.
Wherever we lack a sense of God, we mistake ourselves for gods. We succumb to misapotheosis. We believe ourselves final judges of what is good and evil, of what is what is “ok” and “not ok”.
Wherever we know God we are of God, toward God, participating in God.
We dance the God with God.
Some of us count and perform steps, hoping they will smooth out and become a fluid motion.
Others of us intuit the dance and spontaneously move with the dance, hoping the movements will gain articulate precision.
This dance is done together, or not at all, with synesse.