The Barnum Effect: What Do ‘I’ Want?

I felt my heart skip a beat, from anxiety really as the nausea lowered my blood pressure that suddenly darkened the bright space around me. The skin on her soft cheeks looked like overripe garnet plums that with one wrong touch could peel right off, her ageing lips muttering words I did not want to hear. What am I doing here? I thought to myself as I watched this elderly tea-leaf reader holding the blue teacup, this talented talker. Read More

Pathology of “Normal”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 800,000 people commit suicide every year, accounting for the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally with rates higher for men. Millions more attempt suicide. Read More

M. Stirner: Real Love and Egoism

“Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of everyone of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.”

~ R.W Emerson

Erich Fromm states that all people are more or less narcissistic along a spectrum where sometimes at severe levels of malignancy to more passive forms that are covert, such as associating with ‘popular’ individuals that indirectly enables one to receive the congratulations and attention that they desire. While narcissism is born by a strong vulnerability to low self-esteem that paradoxically causes an inability for empathy and an intense need for admiration, it is a person or mind who perceives the outside world in a way that is not real or present. Read More

M. Foucault: Is Masculinity A Vulnerability?

Violence does not necessarily need to be physical violence, on the contrary playing psychological and emotional games that is manipulative and potentially cruel with the intent to control and hurt a person is indeed a form of violence. Subtle or passive-aggressive acts such as trying to make your partner jealous to “climbing up the corporate ladder” by mistreating the competition are forms of violence, as is insulting a person and then disqualifying the hurt by claiming they have the problem. Sometimes, this violence can be directly aggressive such as publicly humiliating. Read More

R. Descartes: Love Is The Only Way To Experience The External World

How can we be sure that we are experiencing the external world? While we may have conceptualised an external world within our own minds and interact with friends and family, but just like how my dog hears that I have come home and becomes excitable, experience is not merely forming concepts as a passive observer. One may experience fragments of the external world where ideas causally evolve merely by a complex yet functional process of cognition within the parameters of the quality of our mental faculties, but that would mean that perceptions and experience are synthesized solely on an objective order of our physical activities. So how can we have an awareness of an external world without the experience, the very subjective quality that enables us to intuit representations, to capture a conceptual framework that transcends the mere cognitive ability to order complex physical events into an effective information system?

The mind-body dualism is a conceptual division between our mental states and the physical properties of the external world and the problem therein is whether one is capable of being able to distinguish themselves as separate to this external world. The experience of the external world can never adequately be explained, according to solipsism, beyond the limits of an individual mind and thus we become fundamentally incapable of moving beyond our own mental state and that therefore concludes that only our mental state exists.

Indeed, the greatest flaw in metaphysics even until today is the inability to clearly and distinctly demonstrate the existence of an external reality. The problem, however, is that the notion sets in an entirely subjective experience that becomes devoid of an objective world, where – like the movie Matrix – our bodies are sitting warmly in a vat with plugs attached to the back of our brain that stimulates virtual experiences that we assume to be reality. Descartes’ cogito ergo sum is an epistemological inference that if one is capable of thinking, the latter being what he defines as the, “first and most certain of all to occur to anyone who philosophises in an orderly way”[1] then there is no doubt that the person exists, but the nature of this Cartesian aptitude is very specific, that one is required to have embedded in their nature an exclusivity that would enable the conditions necessary for ideal cognizance.

Similarly, the psychological theory of introspection vis-à-vis the problem relating to the structure of our experiences with the external world suggest that we have the reflective capacity to examine our own mental state, but the practice relies exclusively on the quality of this self-examination that cannot guarantee an absence of error. A key to this is the authenticity that enables a reflective practice which can overcome the preventative thresholds that envelope the honesty necessary to facilitate a genuine narrative, what John Locke refers to as “the perception of what passes in a man’s own mind.”[2]

A phenomenology of this introspection, however, differs from an empirical view of the mind. While the mind as a functional tool necessarily requires the complex ability to maintain an order of the continuous inflow of experiences, empiricists such as Locke would say that all knowledge is formed by sensory experience of the external world alone and that we place experience within a framework based solely on this causal evolution. The first-order level of the mind or the rules that govern the cognitive resources and the sensibility that enable the objective conditions for understanding and perception exist that any phenomenal consciousness would need to move beyond empiricism.

While phenomenology is the study of being and experience within an external world, introspection is fundamentally the epistemological relation that studies the inner experience of this being with the external world; consciousness is fundamental. That is, the introspective experience of phenomenal character or the subjective and intrinsic quality of qualia is accessible and is central to the nature of consciousness.

The phenomenal character of mental life is a feeling of this sensory experience, that is, perceptions have a distinct phenomenal framework that differentiates between a mere perception with consciousness of the perception, an actual awareness of the activity where each experience has a distinct, conscious character so to speak. It is lived action. Unlike the empiricist who believes the contents of our being are made up of a series of perceptions, Kant takes it one step further and claims that the transcendental conditions enable us to have the experience rather than being a result of this experience.

His interpretation of the transcendental differs entirely to transcendence, which purports something that exists beyond perceptual experience or non-sensory modes of understanding, which is a realm that one cannot verify and thus ultimately irrelevant to our epistemological system since if it transcends knowledge, it is beyond knowledge and falls into the dimension of faith. The transcendental conditions that extend beyond the grounds of reason is defined by Kant as what enables knowledge to not just be occupied solely with objects, but the very mode of our a priori knowledge of these objects.[3]

Our experience of the external world is spatiotemporal, separated causally through an arrow of time that evolves over the period of our cognitive existence and thus while there exists an external world, time is entirely a subjective experience. The transcendental aesthetic is an a priori mode of engagement with space and time, where patterns of sensations and experiences ascribed spatiotemporally to cognition a priori that enables the coherence of the external world, rather than space and time being actual, external entities.[4] Yet, we are capable of non-empirical representations of space, where we can see a human in front of us without that person actually being there spatially that leads Kant to label this mode as Intuition and hence why he famously stated that, “[t]houghts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.”[5]

Time enables the intuitions to make sense of the spatial experiences in an orderly fashion and this succession organises the mental states where knowledge of thus formed. The difference is that that intuitions are the representations themselves given in sensibility: “In whatever way and through whatever means a cognition may be related to objects, that through which it relates immediately to them, and at which all thought as a means is directed as an end, is intuition. This, however, takes place only insofar as the object is given to us; but this in turn, is possible only if it affects the mind in a certain way. This capacity [to acquire representations] is called sensibility. Objects are therefore given to us by means of sensibility, and it alone affords us intuitions.”[6]

But it is not simply a disposition that one emulates and there needs to be an authenticity that one feels autonomously that evokes a strong sense of duty to moral principles themselves independent of the required obligations set by others. If we look at this from a geometrically different angle (namely through the lens of Husserl), intentionality is the property of mental states themselves, the very internal experience that functions independent of the external world.[7] The mental states are thus empowered with the function to take an experience of an object and transcend beyond that experience, the nature of this property enabling a moral transaction.

When one considers existential feelings of angst, for instance, the isolation and emptiness of feeling estranged from the company of the external world embodies an intentional state where one is conscious of this separation via possibilities that enable a non-empirical narrative and reconfigure consciousness to interpret ones place in the external world beyond space and time. It leads one on a path to ascertain the possible phenomenal connections that echo this potential merger between ‘I’ or my subjective experience with the external world.

It is thus through empathy that one is enabled with the sense experience of the external world, where ones ‘conscience’ becomes the key to consciousness of an external world beyond this self-conceit. It transforms that intuitive ‘possibility’ into an experience that enables a channel to the external world and objectifies a narrative of shared experiences, thus becoming the very foundation that builds an ethical mindset, but it nevertheless requires reason as a basis for being able to interpret and identify moral consequences.

Conscience, the very sense of right from wrong and the will that propels one to act morally, is sensually the very experience of giving love, but universally even though this ‘revolution’ may have been initiated by love for one object or person. Moral agency embodies the ability to conceptualise abstract principles and for Kant is derived from pure reason; the duty that motivates the will to conform with these principles by sensually experiencing the suffering of others establishes a sense of sympathy and emotional angst that moves the will to act ethically.

This very act of expressing moral standards sensed by a subjective pain irrelevant to our own experiences in the physical world is an act of moral consciousness – love – the very desire to want the pain or suffering of others to be removed, to want their lives to be improved, the very desire to care for another person and thus authentically explore the external world.  While this ‘revolution’ may be stimulated by a specific object or experience, this intuit becomes a principle that one conceptualises into an abstract form that becomes universal, hence the categorical imperative. The question here is, is this shared experience merely a simulation or is it a genuine exploration of sensing beyond the subjective mind?

 

[1]Rene Descartes, Key Philosophical Writings, Wordsworth Editions (1997) 279
[2] John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, P. H. Nidditch (ed.). Oxford: The Clarendon Press J. (1975) 115
[3] E. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (A11, B25)
[4] Ibid., (A23/B37-8)
[5] Norman Kemp Smith, A Commentary to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Springer (2003) 80
[6] Op. cit., Kant (A19/B33).
[7] Susi Ferrarello, Husserl’s Ethics and Practical Intentionality, Bloomsbury Publishing, (2015) 101

M. Nussbaum: Love and the Ethics of Emotions

Martha Nussbaum discusses emotions, or in particular emotional-thoughts, as contributing toward a better understanding of the subjective human qualities that reconstruct a conception of moral virtue. One aspect of her work that I appreciated was her ability to reflect on her own personal experiences as part of her seminal study of human emotions of which I will attempt to replicate, in doing so knowing that this is all merely a study and process of reflection for my own personal advancement and healing.

As the sciences define categories to distinguish and relate as part of a process that schematically represent key analytical labels in order to rationally approach and advance a particular topic, the human mind and our experiences function in the same manner. The only flaw in this process is that it is individually up to ourselves to traverse this cognitive dominion and any identification is dependant on a range of factors, more importantly the honesty that we study the biological, environmental, social and a range of other features including emotional and psychological responses with critical evaluation.

This is not an easy feat, for instance whether one is an atheist or religious, both are beliefs and to question the nature of that belief and the certainty of conviction often entails a broad epistemic and phenomenological analysis; a mature mind is able to transcend ‘belief’ – broaden their horizon – and ascertain the subjective ingredients that reflect the causal nature prompting emotional responses and moral considerations, or the lack thereof. According to Kant, a moral agent is one who acts on maxims that attune moral judgements toward guiding and motivating virtuous principles and values: “[t]he moral law is for itself the motivation in reason’s judgement and those who make it their maxim are morally good.”

This is under the basis of a law of autonomy, the capacity to reflect and identify information, decisions and experiences accessible only to an individual separate from any dispensation to others whether it is institutionally, socially, religiously or even personally including family and friends; one capable to self-govern as an authority over his or her own existence. While many people believe themselves capable of such authority, it is clear that this individualism merely cloaks what is a strict adherence to social constructs that provide the falsification of an ‘individual’ – like in the United States there exists rhetoric that loudly speaks of individualism when a majority blindly follow in masses.

One particular element I found intriguing in Nussbaum’ argument is the nature of emotions being subject to a world that we cannot control, that our emotional responses become the impetus that compels a better understanding of value and of well-being. “Nussbaum argues that an emotion is constituted by judgements that we make in relation to objects that are of importance to our world and wellbeing. Commonly these evaluations pertain to things we cannot fully control.”

An important aspect to this argument is the impact this lack of control or separateness has on the individual – perhaps causally the reason for someone to become the ‘bully’ – as this separateness from the world around us provokes an emotional disarray, leading to such confusion and anxiety that one is compelled to repress or act in a manner that is damaging to others or themselves, becoming dishonest or deceitful in nature and incapable of confronting their own wrongdoing. As Nussbaum shows, the loss of a family member confirms that we lack any control. When I say separateness, I take the Frommian approach to the term:

“Man is gifted with reason; he is life being aware of itself; he has awareness of himself, of his fellow men, of his past, and of the possibilities of his future. This awareness of himself as a separate entity, the awareness of his own short lifespan, of the fact that without his will he is born and against his will he dies, that he will die before those whom he loves, or they before him, the awareness of his aloneness and separateness, of his helplessness before the forces of nature and of society, all this makes his separate, disunited existence an unbearable prison… the experience of separateness arouses anxiety; it is, indeed, the source of all anxiety.”

The anxiety stems from the fact that we are alone and separate from the world around us that we create symbiotic attachments at personal and social levels to falsify a fictional connection, sometimes being brutal in our attempt to control our environment due to this unbearable anxiety. My emotional collapse following the extremity of the preceding experience enabled me the capacity to study and reflect on my own existential position in a world where aloneness became clearly perceptible that – slowly but surely – I became aware of the importance of my own health and body, my mind and my capacity to achieve that I suddenly realised my own significance; I transformed from a miserable, hollow person to a Kantian moral agent standing fearlessly in an eternal and universal form of love.

Viktor Frankl discusses this deep emotional challenge following his experience during the holocaust where he transcended the suffering to illustrate the importance of finding meaning in his life. “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” That the underlying and unbearable truth is that we lack a purpose.

Emotions and being vulnerable are not a reflection of weakness, on the contrary they play an evaluative role that exposes an incompleteness that we feel but are yet to understand. The nature and role intuition – the oft elusive tool that I believe utilises an emotional reaction to an unconscious belief such as feelings of doubt, fear, or confusion arouses a reactionary response without conscious awareness – becomes an epiphenomena or by-product of an experience and the very stimulus that develops a perceptual examination of a moral or ethical quandary.

That is, we may have experienced something we do not consciously understand or even remember objectively and thus when we encounter a situation that prompts an intuitive reaction, it is as though an epistemic mental representation without an explicit logical structure is speaking to us something that we already know but that we do not yet understand at conscious level.

As said by Frankl: “For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

 

[1] Glennis Hanley, “Don’t Do What I Do – Just Bloody Well Do What I Say! The Workplace Bullying Experiences of Australian Academics” Monash University Working Paper 63/03, September 2003.
[2] Clare Mayhew and Duncan Chappel, “’Internal’ Violence or Bullying and the Health Workforce” NSW Department of Health, Taskforce on the Prevention and Management of Violence in the Health Workplace.
[3] George M. Batsche & Howard M. Knoff, “Bullies and their Victims: Understanding a Pervasive Problem in the Schools,” School Psychology Review, 23 (1994), 165 – 175.
[4] John Blosnich and Robert Bossarte, “Low-Level Violence in Schools: Is There an Association between School Safety Measures and Peer Victimization?” Journal of School Health, 81:2 (Feb 2011), 107-113. The Mental Health Reforms through the Gillard Government has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to better mental health care to Australians due to the rising problem of mental health issues such as depression and suicide.
[5]Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study, “Covert bullying: A Review of National and International Research” Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Australia, pp12-62
[6] §55A (1)(a) of the Occupation Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986
[7] Please see Martha C. Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions, Cambridge University Press, (2003)
[8] G. Felicitas Munzel, Kant’s Conception of Moral Character: The “Critical” Link of Morality, Anthropology, and Reflective Judgment, University of Chicago Press, (1999) 68-69
[9] Chris Barker, Emma A. Jane, Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice
[10] Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving: The Centennial Edition, A&C Black (2000) 8
[11] Itai Ivtzan, Tim Lomas, Mindfulness in Positive Psychology: The Science of Meditation and Wellbeing, Routledge (2016) 228