Joho the Blog » dreams

December 24, 2012

Philosophy as interruption

I woke up this morning from an anxiety dream about an event that doesn’t exist. In the dream, I’ve been tasked with replying to a presentation by someone talking about something philosophical, except they’ve never made clear to me who’s speaking or what he (it’s a he) is talking about. So, I write down some ideas, but then the guy doesn’t show up at the event, and I am bed in the theater as the guy ahead of me gives his talk, and then I can’t find my shoes, and then I can’t find my notes. So, I scribble a new talk on a scrap of paper, and wake up before I go on stage.

I woke up from the dream with my notes complete in my head. Here are the notes, fleshed out so they’ll make some sense to people who are not me. But, it is very important to me that you understand that I know I am not a philosopher. I have a Ph.D. in philosophy, but even when I was teaching (1980-1986) I would never call myself a philosopher. There is nothing original or new in the following.

So, with those caveats, here are the notes for my talk as I dreamt them.

1. Philosophy is an interruption. During uneventful times, it is an interruption in the normal work of society the way my old teacher, Joseph Fell, described it as an “open space of play.”

2. Interruptions in the content of philosophies can be brought about by interruptions: by traumatic wars, plagues, genocides, revolutions in science, in technology, in economic infrastructures…

3. This is not supposed to happen because philosophers tend to think that philosophy shapes our understanding, not that not it is shaped by the accidents of what is around us. Philosophy (Western, anyway) is supposed to transcend that stuff and deal with the eternal verities.

4. Except that it turns out that we’re situated creatures. Our understanding of our world depends on our culture, history, language, family, and even accidents of “fate.”

5. But it’s not that simple. We are shaped by our historical world, but how that world shapes us depends at least in part on how we understand that world.

6. The interruptive effect of technology on thought is especially significant when it is the technology by which philosophers engage in the activity of philosophy: talking, writing, talking about what’s been written.

7. Technology doesn’t determine how we understand it, but (a) insofar as the technology offers some possibilities and closes others, (b) insofar as it occurs within a situation that already has meaning, and (c) insofar as it is designed to be taken one way and not another, it affects our understanding of it. How we understand it in turn affects how we understand our world, and how philosophers understand philosophy.

8. The mixed-up mutual effect of thing and world happens because we think in the world by using the things of the world. (Thank you Heidegger, and thank you Andy Clark.) The relation of the two is not mystical.

9. Finally, none of the above escapes the situatedness of our existence. The concept of an interruption itself implies a belief that there is a normalcy of existence — something that is capable of being interrupted — that belief is itself situated.

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March 15, 2009

Recycling tip #213 from the Night Manager

Last night I woke up from a seemingly unrelated dream, and wrote down the following household recycling tip: Since you generally buy bigger gifts for people the longer you know them, to keep the gift wrap re-usable, wrap your initial gifts in way too much paper.

Look, it’s a dream, so the premises may not be entirely right, but the logic is impeccable: If you wrap your initial (small) gift in just enough wrapping paper, it’ll be too small to wrap the subsequent (bigger) gifts you buy. So, wrap that first gift in enough paper to cover your later gifts.

You’re welcome, planet Earth.

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January 3, 2009

My George W. dream

I had a vivid dream last night. It was George Bush’s day off and for some reason that the dream didn’t care about enough to explain, I was the buddy accompanying him. We did this and that, and then visited a tourist attraction in a local mall. It was apparently based on Madurodam in the Netherlands, which is a miniature version of the country that you can walk through, with little replicas of the various landmarks. Almost immediately, George stumbled on Mount Rushmore, knocking over the Statue of Liberty, which set fire to New York, causing George to fall backwards, crushing the Grand Canyon, and so on, leaving the place a disaster. It was totally a Homer moment.

It was so obvious how the media were going to spin this that I actually felt bad for him. In the dream.

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