Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Adventures in Pessimism

(Some pessimistic musings after brief encounters with Heidegger...)

My scientific worldview has been under a lot of assault lately, so much so that I think at this rate I will have to apply for a religious conversion sometime (no, seriously). I have always been contemptuous of the Panglossian sermons of techno-evangelists and other gurus of optimism but a basic belief in the scientific worldview was always there and although I could clearly see that human history was full of calamities, I always took them to be mostly aberrations and temporary departures from the essential course of history, in short nothing that could be set right by a little thinking, foresight and historical understanding.

But what if thinking itself is the problem, or at least what we mean by "thinking"? And what if all those calamities are not departures but part and parcels of what we call civilization, in fact it is in them that we are able to see the true face of our civilization, and not what we call "wonders"? Wars, imperialism, slavery, genocide, mass murders, holocaust, environmental disasters, even small scale calamities which define our everyday reality - they all have something common in them, which is our relationship with the world, a relationship between subject and an object. This is the source of our estrangement and alienation from the world. All the knowledge gained by thinking through this subject-object prism is an objectified knowledge, knowledge appropriated from the world and not revealed by it on its own, the world treated as "a standing reserve". We might have revised Aristotelian categories but we have merely replaced one with another. Western Philosophy? Plato, Socrates, Aristotle were disasters and it is just a story of decline from that time.

In The Magic Mountain Thomas Mann says that the original calamity (or the "original sin") happened when matter got infected with life, and "that was our first step toward evil, toward lust and death". (Quote in full here). I sympathise with this idea though I think it is not really life that is malignant, it is rather one particular aspect of it - the consciousness or self-awareness. We could try to live a "primordial" or "reverential" existence but I don't know how that is to be done (going in a forest, taking sanyas, meditating?). (Like all philosopher-doctors Heidegger is better at diagnosing rather than treating the sickness). Or may be there is way out in our post-human future when human species is either extinct or replaced by a more primordial life form. Either way it is doom for us.


Anonymous said...

Consciousness and self-awareness are two different things. Consciousness is the more inclusive of the two. Self-awareness is merely one aspect of consciousness, and one of the many gateways to it.

Many eminent 20th century physicists and mathematicians have already arrived at the conclusion that subject and object are one, and that no symbolic language can ever fully be a mirror to reality.

Taking sanyas is hardly the right approach. One has to participate in the world to know oneself. One has to forge relationships with people, and put all of one's humanity to this test - the intellectual self, the animal self, the emotional self, the sexual self - all of these have to be felt and experienced through relationships before they are fully integrated. Everyone of us has all of these aspects in us, and developing just one aspect while suppressing the others, produces a fractured being.

Meditation, by the way, is not what people who claim they meditate, actually do. The meditationists are really only concentrating. Meditation is a complete loss of any I-centric seeing. It is a merging of the I and the It. There is no mediator in that experience. It is a trance state, a mystic state.

Love yourself, *then* watch yourself. Most people who think they are self-aware are watching themselves before they have learned to love themselves. That is a recipe for suicide. Love yourself totally. Dont accept any criticism from anyone, or any judgement. Nobody has a clue. Nobody is smarter than you are.

Alok said...

thanks, this helps a little. Loving yourself and at the same time being self-aware is not very easy, as self-awareness inevitably leads to doubts and self-criticisms, that's why it is so painful. Self-love is often nothing but solipsism and narcissism and self-delusion. I know, you mean a more "enlightened" form of self-love, a state where one is at peace with one's self and one's relationship with the world. But yes, we should keep it in mind even if we find it difficult to achieve.

Aashu said...

Sorry, it doesn't make it clear to me what exactly is the link between 'assault on scientific worldview' and 'opting for religious conversion'.
Anyway, the title of the blog is about pessimism so I think you are alredy preoccupied with the idea to think negatively. For me, being a bit pessimistic (at least about myself), this self-awareness also hurts me a lot of times; but looking at it a bit optimistically, this self-awareness can be harnessed very well in removing everything that it hurts about oneself.

Alok said...

I was just thinking aloud about "scientific worldview" and whether we should accept it uncritically and if all those disasters in history (wars, genocide etc) are the results of our looking at the world purely from an analytical-scientific mindset.

I agree self-awareness can help us identify and work towards solving our problems but it can also lead to a loss of meaning and purpose.

This is a big and complex topic...we can talk about it later.

Glenn Borchardt said...


Re your:
"I was just thinking aloud about "scientific worldview" and whether we should accept it uncritically and if all those disasters in history (wars, genocide etc) are the results of our looking at the world purely from an analytical-scientific mindset."

People use whatever worldview will suit their ends. The religious worldview of feudalism was at least as bloody as the scientific worldview of capitalism. Conflict occurs when two formerly isolated social groups first come into contact. After victory or merger the two groups often end up the best of friends (e.g., US, Germany, Japan). You are correct in implying that there still is a choice to be made between the scientific worldview and the religious worldview. You may want to check out my blog on the subject at "TheScientificWorldview."