Tag Archives: metaphysics

Great Scott

Last week I played Scrabble with my mom. We each picked a letter to determine who’d start the board. She got an “A.” I picked an “O,” which meant she’d go first.

“Hey, that’s like A.O. Scott, the film critic,” I said. A strange association, considering I hadn’t thought much about Scott since At the Movies went off the air five or six years ago.

An hour later we were watching a show about the ‘80s. Images from The Breakfast Club appeared. And who was in studio to discuss the iconic 80s film? None other than A.O. Scott.

Coincidence? Fate? The cosmos, in full Zen mode, winking a blind eye?

Nobody knows.

The mind imposes order on a chaotic world. Thinking about Scott didn’t cause me to turn on the TV and see him, I know. But, like most humans, I associate random thoughts, objects and events with other random thoughts, objects and events. I “see” cause-effect relationships where none exist. Outside human consciousness, does an effect recognize its cause? Does a cause anticipate its effect?

What does the world think of itself when nobody’s around?

None of this had any bearing on our Scrabble game. Sometimes I think too hard. Perhaps that’s why I can’t remember who won.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy

Cosmic Insignificance

Nietzsche on the nature of reflection:

When we try to examine the mirror in itself we discover nothing but things upon it. If we want to grasp the things we finally get hold of nothing but the mirror. This, in the most general terms, is the history of knowledge.

I could use the bulk of this post to conduct a close reading of the above quote, to pick apart its internal logic, illustrate its underlying tensions. But today I’ll concern myself not with what Nietzsche says, but instead what my choosing of this passage says about me.

Essentially I want to know why I’m drawn to philosophy in the first place and how this interest relates to my depression and anxiety.

Does a depressed way of thinking lead me to agree with Nietzsche that attempting to know something is futile? This sounds simple enough. My misery loves the company of Nietzsche’s pessimistic worldview.

In addition, does my anxiety recognize itself in Nietzsche’s thoughts on the impossibility of knowledge? Do I suffer from metaphysical hypochondria—the constant fear that reality isn’t real, that I have no self, that the world is an illusion? The vertigo of knowing that nothing can be known for sure? Makes sense. Afraid I’ll float away, I ground myself in doubt.

But the psyche is an ocean and so far we’ve only touched the surface. I argue that choosing this quote reflects a deep-seated existential angst that manifested itself long before any symptoms of my illness appeared.

I suffer from depression and anxiety because my entire being is engaged in an existential crisis, and has so since birth. My illness is both an expression of and response to this crisis. When I’m depressed I feel nothing because I am, at my core, Nothing. When I’m anxious I worry this Void will consume me.

Some people lift weights, get high or go to the shooting range as a means of coping with their cosmic insignificance.

I go to the library, where great minds thrive. And there I find Nietzsche. And there I find joy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy

The Other Me

I’ve enjoyed the new series The Affair on Showtime the last few weeks. A married man named Noah meets a married woman named Alison, they fall for each other, someone connected to them dies (is murdered?) and they’re each being questioned by police at some point (years?) after the summer they met.

In episode 2 Noah introduces an intriguing concept. He’s speaking to Alison about his favorite physics theory from college. If you could go back to one point in your life and make a different choice, and you did, how might this alter the life you currently lead?

We’ve encountered such thoughts on this blog before. But Noah adds a twist: What if there’s a parallel world in which another version of you exists, the one who made a different choice at a crucial moment? What if there’s an Other Me on another Earth living his life (mine?) in a different way?

Of course Noah says this in the context of his budding relationship with Alison. He’s trying to picture one world in which he meets his wife in college, marries her right after graduation, and they build a life with their four kids (his “actual” life right now). But he’s tempted by the thought of leaving all that behind for Alison. Can both desires—one for family, the other for a fling—exist simultaneously?

I’m fascinated with the intricacies of choice-making. Our freedom to choose—whether it be from what to eat for lunch or what profession to pursue—is empowering, but it also exposes our vulnerabilities. On the edge of a cliff, one false step means disaster, one right move and you’re still on your feet.

As always, I’m left with a series of questions. What choices would I change if I could? Shouldn’t I simply accept every choice I’ve made? I’m always hearing how I have only this life and nothing more, and yet I find myself choosing to write about parallel worlds and other lives I might have led.

Wherever I end up, there will be moments of suffering and moments of joy. If he’s out there, does the Other Me think the same way? Does he wonder how my life is going?

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy

An Absurd Proposition

I find myself returning to Nietzsche’s thoughts on eternal recurrence. Time is cyclical, not linear, the theory goes. You have lived this life many times before and will live the same life over and over into infinity. But it’s not just your life: every intimate detail of the universe plays back on a loop, the same record with the same grooves.

This sounds both tragic and glorious. Horrific and divine. If you’re seeking comfort, I say live today like it’s the first time you’ve lived, as if this is your original life, such that you will it to happen unchanged forever.

Every day is significant because it returns to you and you to it, but—pop a Prozac—this may be the twentieth or two-millionth time you’ve lived this life and there’s no changing things. Actually there is no “original life,” no counting incarnations, no beginning to begin with.

It’s an impossible thought. An absurd proposition. A blog I’ve written many times before and will come back to again and again.

2 Comments

Filed under Life, Philosophy

Psychotherapists Or Clergy

I have long maintained that my depression is a spiritual problem. I never ignored the chemistry behind my illness and I’ve always believed that by taking medication I’d relieve some of my symptoms. But I know my depression goes beyond physical concerns. It’s ultimately led me to metaphysics.

But last week my doctor called to say my thyroid levels were high, which means that my thyroid is underactive. “It’s possible your thyroid issues are affecting your depression,” he said. Notice how I wrote “affecting” above, meaning that my thyroid might be making my depression worse. But what if the proper word is “effecting,” meaning that it’s causing my depression—literally bringing it into existence?

If I could take a pill and “lose” my depression, or at least a great deal of it, within a few weeks—why the hell not? Is it possible the root of my illness lies in areas none of my doctors considered before? What if my biology supersedes my will—my brain, not my mind, being the sole determinant of who I am?

We’re still investigating all treatment possibilities. There’s a chance my depression has affected certain hormones, thus leading to lower thyroid function. A lot’s going on inside of me and it’s all, somehow, connected.

Whatever the outcome, I’ve suffered with depression long enough to sense its impact on my whole being. It has brought me closer to my humanity and helped me view my life in a new light, despite the darkness in which I often find myself.

I’m still drawn to the final chapter of Carl Jung’s Modern Man in Search of a Soul, entitled “Psychotherapists or Clergy.” My well-being depends on factors both seen and unseen. Some days I need medicine. Other days I need miracles of a different nature.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy

Hidden Depths Of Meaning

British philosopher Colin Wilson died December 5. I hadn’t heard of him until the news of his death. Then I found an essay Wilson wrote for the July/August 2006 issue of Philosophy Now, entitled “Phenomenology as a Mystical Discipline.”

Wilson’s discussion of Immediacy Perception and its relation to Meaning Perception struck me with wonder. Immediacy Perception is our awareness of what’s directly in front of us; it’s what we’re looking at or focusing on right now. Meaning Perception is our feeling about what’s happening before us, its significance beyond this moment, and our spiritual connection to it.

Our greatest insights, Wilson argues, occur when both types of perception converge. He writes of the English poet Rupert Brooke who “on a spring morning… sometimes walked down a country road feeling almost sick with excitement.” Brooke was amazed by what he saw on his walk and by the creative act of Seeing. Wilson describes such moments—“looking at things as if they possessed hidden depths of meaning”—as mystical.

It’s like viewing family photos, studying the smile on each face before me, and recognizing the power of love. Or walking up my driveway on a cold night, the habit of reaching for my keys rendered almost magical when recalling the comforts of home.

This, to me, is philosophy in action. When I pull back the curtains of existence—defying all the worry, pain and sadness—I long to see the light behind my world and all the meaning emanating from it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy