All I Wants Is a Room Somewhere

Will Wilkinson wants to find a comfortable but not too ostentatious residence for “self”:

Humean phenomenology and Eastern “mindfulness” practice both lead to careful examination of what we actually experience. If it turns out not to be the sort of thing extravagantly metaphysical accounts of the self seem to suggest we experience, the correct inference to draw cannot be that the self is an illusion. The correct inference to draw is that extravagantly metaphysical accounts of the self are false. The careful inspection of consciousness for signs of a metaphysically extravagant self comes up empty. Our experience of those signs cannot be “illusory” if we don’t actually have them.

Anyone familiar with the extensive philosophical literature on the subject of subjectivity in the context of notions of free will and determinism will be tempted to respond via bibliography.  I’ll instead focus on the question on its own terms, and as presented.

It is absurd to propose and in the same moment to limit as though objective a category of subjectivity.

The phrase “extravagantly metaphysical accounts of the self” already pre-judges and conceals the question.  Any account of “the self” will appear “extravagant” from every conceivable alternative point of view. The position on the self – on Self as a universal or equally any self at all – is already a position on an infinitude and/or nothing, a category of subjectivity other than and opposed to objectivity.

The quantification implicit in “extravagant” as commonly used is senseless in this context:  “Extravagant” means “wasteful, lavish,” but in its root simply means “wandering outside of.”  So in that sense referring to the metaphysics of self as “extravagant” is tautological:  The postulate of the self is the postulate of a “wandering outside of,” on the other side of “material existence.”

To be thought consistently it can’t be thought of as another material existent within material existence – e.g., as exclusively whatever cerebral-organic accommodations and furnishings where and within which thought might be thought to be thought, or as the material evidence of the experience of that thinking – and therefore quantifiable or comparable (relatively “lavish” or “wasteful”):  To think of thinking in that way is merely to collapse the category back into that from which an absolutely fundamental distinction was to be thought.

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Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution.

4 comments on “All I Wants Is a Room Somewhere

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  1. We can, however, recognize collapsed thought. In Sanskrit, “manas” (the brain chatter level of the mind) is a relatively collapsed energetic structure. We can argue with it. We can locate it. We know what we’re thinking so there is something bigger than it, and since there is something bigger than it, it is collapsed. Being trapped within the idea that brain chatter is the self is where most people find themselves and it causes suffering. That condition could even be recognized as the root of suffering.

    • Yes.

      Re-reading the quote I began with, I’m thinking I should have re-worked it in a way that perhaps bob would approve of – or perhaps not: Though Wilkinson doesn’t go into detail about what “extravagantly metaphysical accounts” he’s rejecting, I think we could point out that the opposite of his statement on “illusion” is at least as arguable as his assertion. In other words: “If [what we experience] turns out not to be the sort of thing extravagantly metaphysical accounts of the self seem to suggest we experience, the correct inference to draw cannot must be that [that experience of] the self is an illusion.” That experience would be illusory precisely to the extent that we wrongly identify it – what I think you are calling the manas level of self – with self or Self, as conceivable in any sense as the entirety Self. Your something-bigger-than – and I believe you understand quite well that “it” is not “really” “bigger” since it’s not a “thing” with “size” – includes the endlessly extending, always instantly exceeding possibility of experiencing the experience, experiencing the experiencing of that, and so on, and the watching of that, the watching of the watching of that, and so on again, eventually linking up you and me and Wilkinson and bob and Don Miguel, too, on the level of possibility, the unprovable (for Hume as for Descartes), the not yet spoken or unpredictable, which would be an or the, or part of an or the, or an orientational relationship with (from and toward) an or the essence, not a thing; the not-existent/not-yet-existent/pre-existent/never-existent functionally ground-like not-ground, at least, of freedom, not to mention what the manas is chattering to itself about, and without which, even if “only” as the “extravagant denied,” the Humean/manas-level illusory entrapment of the merely thinkable could not even be thinkable

  2. Right. Especially that last part. Without the consciousness that knows what we’re thinking we wouldn’t know what we’re thinking.

  3. The Wilkonson article is all extravegant shots across the bow without clearly identifying the object of his negation. So is it Buddhism, then which one. Is it Eliminative Materalism, again which one. Interesting he didn’t include in his indictment “extravegant neuroscience”. He concludes with a kind of extravegant mush.

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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