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A Philosopher’s Corner

Developments in my neck of the woods have included more public soul searching about whether one should dive into Heidegger, to which my answer is maybe not so much if you don’t speak German, as a lot of the work gets lost in translation.

But then I was fortunate to spend some hours with his compatriot, Walter Kaufmann (a master of English as well as German), who assured us we’d have other ways of making up for the deficit, even as philosophers, should we choose to live on a Heidegger-free diet.

I’ve gotten a lot from Adam Curtis documentaries, starting with The Power of Nightmares. Having seen that first one, there ensued a long hiatus as I hadn’t connected the dots on the director’s name.

The Century of the Self only came up on my radar (recommendation engine) rather recently. Adam connects to the “Werner Erhard invents est” chapter, which is where I connect too.

How that works is when I was studying philosophy especially, as an undergraduate at Princeton, and had Walter Kaufmann as my teacher, the est Training was going gangbusters, and Kaufmann had some positive remarks to share about it.

Having gone through said training, I was getting The est Graduate Review (a magazine) in Jersey City (where I worked as a high school teacher) and in its pages started learning about the Buckminster Fuller network i.e. the guy himself, and the people he knew and consorted with (“est people” according to the science fiction story, Wikipedia tells me).

I continued exploring philosophy from this angle, combining it with what I’d been learning from the Ludwig Wittgenstein corpus. I corresponded with Fuller, Erhard’s office, and a lot of other people, looking to build my own network (I was a “center for creative networking”).

Nowadays, decades later (I was Class of 1980 at Princeton), the way I see the Heidegger stuff is: existentialism in general needed to reinvent language from the ground up in a lot of ways. This was because of what Nietzsche so dramatically called “the death of God” by which he meant a sea change in the culture (not some movement he was trying to instigate or lead).

Phenomenology, advanced by Husserl, taken over by Heidegger, was the secure way to talk about “the trip” without getting tripped up by scientists claiming your “illusions” couldn’t be real.

At the phenomenological level, real doesn’t have to pass the same litmus tests, as we’re talking about subjective experience — without God if need be.

Bare bones existence will have to be enough, for a lot of us.

“It may not be real, but it’s real to me” is the existentialist’s battle cry (against any obstructive objectivist).

In other words, Heidegger, Nietzsche and friends were seeking to map a way forward wherein we could continue with what some depth psychologists, Maurice Nicoll for example, called the Work (with a capital W).

We could still strive to overcome, to be a higher kind of being. Humans had not yet reached the end of their psychological journey.

In Nicoll’s case, there is still Higher Consciousness (the Ray of Creation) and a strong tie to the Gospels and therefore Christianity.

However the Work involves continually questioning and upgrading one’s belief system, not clinging to any secondhand god narrative.

I’d usher Krishnamurti (the theosophist heir apparent who renounced his throne) into this circle of teachers. His idea of meditation was self awareness and observation, with an eye towards awakening from daydreams more than further indulging in them.

I wouldn’t call these teachings “self help” exactly, as if you know your Ouspensky (Nicoll’s teacher) you know that “man cannot do”. The “higher power” meme of Alcoholics Anonymous is still present somehow, but how?

How could we still have Higher Consciousness, and surrender thereto, if we’re not aiming for a theistic universe? Humanism rightly asks that question.

Suspending disbelief is no longer tenable for a great many, and is the sea change we’re talking about. God has become a next Santa Claus (a casualty of maturation), at least in some no-longer-tenable belief systems.

New metaphysical structures were and are needed. How shall we continue with the Work without communities dedicated thereto?

The principle of synergy, of wholes being sometimes way more than the mere sums of their parts, at least creates a sense of the possibilities. Of intelligence, intuitions, and collective capabilities beyond that of any one human acting alone.

Looking at history, we see plenty of evidence for what Bucky Fuller called “ephermeralization” (Toynbee: “etherialization”).

But what of negative synergy and the dumbing down of mob psychologies?

Synergies take us by surprise. They’re unanticipated.

That doesn’t make them either good or bad.

Either way, we face the limitations of our mental models and observe that phenomena have a life of their own, that take us where no human management team, government, administration, ever could have. At Princeton, some professors spoke of the Zeitgeist, and the Noosphere.

Indeed, civilizations are already such wholes. We inherit language, its concepts, encoded with many generations of discovery and implementation.

In language (which includes video, music, news, weather and sports) comes vast experience beyond any one human’s capacity to comprehend.

A billion lifetimes get amalgamated and passed onward, according to no one individual’s, or committee’s, plan. There’s no elite cabal behind all this, or need not be. The collective unconscious is transcendent to any ego.

We’re already always in the “thrownness of things” to paraphrase Heidegger.

In one of my recent Youtube meditations on Food Not Bombs, I was remarking on the sophistication of the conversations I was hearing. Here I was in a public park, partaking of the abundance of food, and hearing earnest science-minded concerns about the whole planet.

In my youth, we were maybe exhorted to “think globally” but I didn’t get the impression from my peers, not even most the elders around me, that anyone really knew what this meant.

We seem to have found the common language though, involving what in retrospect seem the obvious factors: the gas mix, water, the energy budget, the need to optimize and adapt.

People seem pragmatic and logistics minded. Maybe we’re less into political melodrama than the advertisers would have us believe?

I’ll end with a book much on my mind these days, even though I don’t have a copy ready at hand: Closing Time by Norman O. Brown. He writes in a somewhat prophetic voice, and what he anticipates is a combination of farce and chaos.

We’ve learned from dynamical systems theory that “the edge of chaos” is sometimes a sweet spot in terms of the potential computational richness and regenerativity it sets the stage for.

We may get a renaissance out the other end, if we stay the course.

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