Watson Weltanschauung

The Philosophical Life


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Anna’s Map (a children’s story that’s seen the world)

No matter what country or what city I was in during my Watson Fellowship, when I was around children, there was always one or two who just wanted a lap to curl up in and a warm body to cling to without fear of reproach. When children approached me or climbed into my lap during that year, there was usually a coin-flip chance we couldn’t communicate in a shared language. But a gentle voice is a gentle voice, and a comforting touch can tell a child much more than words could ever express. What is written below is a story that I told on five continents – I’ve told it to children I’ve held who understood English and who didn’t, children from wealthy families and children without families, children who were scared, bored, asleep, antsy, and sick. It’s iteration is always different, but the heart of the story remains the same.

I told this particular version of the story once at the Kampiringisa prison in Uganda. One of the Karamojong children climbed onto my lap while I was sitting in one of the empty cement rooms, filled with rank odors and devoid of light. She was probably 10 years old, but she was severely emaciated and could’ve passed for 6 or 7. She didn’t speak any English. She laced her thin arms around my neck and curled her head, pressed just below my collarbone, so every vibration of sound in my body would pass through her ear. Like all the children, she only had one piece of clothing – hers was a ratty tye-dyed shirt that hung just to her knees. Her bare legs and feet hung delicately over my lap, and she never said a word. I told her the story I’m about to write below, and when I stopped talking, she picked her head up to reveal a large stain of tears down my chest. I held her close until we left the prison that day; it was my last day at the prison, and I never saw her again.

There was a little girl named Anna who one day found a map lying in the grass. It was a map of the whole world, and to Anna it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She kept a secret, and only brought it out when no one else was around. She would study the map and design the routes of her adventures all across the world. She imagined following the Nile through Africa, or exploring the jungles of South America. She would press her finger against the place she most wanted to be that day, and then imagine that was where she really was. Anna read a lot of books, so she knew what the places were like, at least she could pretend she did. She felt the brisk wind blowing over Ireland’s hills, and the sting of sand that attacked her face in the Sahara. She would start to sweat when she imagined the stifling heat of the rainforest, and she could taste the salt of the oceans where she swam between coral reefs.

Anna loved imagining these adventures because there was a lot of danger where she lived. There was a very mean and unpredictable bear that lived close to Anna, and many times this bear had hurt her. When the bear would get angry, it would roar and roar with the most terrible howls, looking to attack whoever was near. When this happened, Anna would grab her map and run to a hiding spot. Once there, she would press her finger to the map and transport herself to somewhere far away. The bear’s roaring would fade into the distance, and Anna would be free to explore new places and see new things. It was always scary to leave her hiding place, but whenever she did, she had her map by her side.

She couldn’t always avoid the bear, though. Sometimes it found her where she was hiding, and sometimes she just couldn’t get to one of her hiding spots in time. Anna was very afraid of bear, but she started to get angry at it too. When she was on her imaginary travels all over the world, she was never afraid, even when she met scary new creatures or found herself in dangerous situations. She was mischievous and bold when she had her finger pressed to the map. She realized that she couldn’t keep living in fear of the bear. So the next time she went on an adventure in a faraway land, she bottled up all her bravery for her next encounter with the bear.

Soon enough, the bear was again in a rage. Instead of running to a place to hide, Anna confronted the bear. But even with all her practice through her adventures with the map, and even with her full bottle of bravery, she was terrified. The bear showed her no mercy, and to her horror, he grabbed her map and tore holes through it with his vicious claws. She cried out, and collapsed, grabbing the shredded remains of her most precious possession. She turned away from the bear and ran as fast as she could. She ran and ran, through forests and fields, until she no longer recognized anything. The sun was setting and sky was growing dark when she collapsed next to a tree, nettles caught in her dirty clothes. She pulled her legs up to her chest, still clutching the fragments of the map, and buried her face into her knees. Hot tears streamed down her cheeks and she shivered from the cold and fear. She didn’t know where she was, and didn’t want to find her way back.

Anna felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and jumped. Standing next to her was a beautiful girl, framed by the rays of the sinking sun. The girl had wreaths of golden curls cascading from her head, and knelt down beside Anna and wiped the tears from her face. She put her arm around Anna’s shoulders and whispered, “I don’t know what is wrong, my dear, but I am here to help you.” The blonde-haired girl reached for Anna’s hands and pulled her up to her feet, picking up some of the scraps of the map that had fallen around her. She took Anna’s hand and led her to a house that was hidden away in the trees. The girl led Anna to room with two beds, one for each of them. As Anna retreated into the corner, exhausted and still afraid, the girl with the curls brought her a glass of water. Her golden curls bouncing, she sat sat down on the bed and placed her hand on Anna’s, which was still trembling. She held it tightly, and sung quietly to Anna, until the hand’s shivering ceased, and the sounds of slow breathing meant that she had fallen asleep.

The next morning, and for many mornings after that, Anna woke up next to the girl with the golden curls. They went about their days, Anna looking for material to remake her map, and her blonde companion wandering the forests and nearby towns, singing joyously for everyone to hear. After many months of hard work, Anna had completed her new map. It was much bigger than the one before, and included details of her many travels over the years. But when Anna placed her finger to the map, she found it hard to be swept away into her old adventures. She wasn’t running from the bear anymore, though she sometimes thought she could hear it roaring far off in the distance. She didn’t need to escape from her new home, where she lived in safety, simply and happily, with the beautiful girl who had found her. But Anna yearned for the feeling of adventure that she used to have when imagining her journeys, curled up somewhere dark and hidden, finger pushing down on her destination.

So one day Anna decided she had to start her travels again. She rolled up her new map, packed her things, and headed out the door. She ran to her best friend, golden curls shining in the sun, and held her close for what felt like a very long time, though in the following years, that embrace would feel painfully short. Anna grabbed her things, and tears in her eyes, said goodbye to the home and family she had come to love so dearly. She turned away, looking down the path she was about to follow. Cast along the dirt road were shadows of the trees, outlining the brilliant rays of sun shining through the leaves. She took a deep breath, and pulled out her map. She placed her finger on the place where she stood, took a step forward, and quietly recited a line from one of her favorite books, a line that had echoed in her mind for many years:

‘It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.’

 


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The End.

-a very belated Watson conclusion-

I didn’t come on this journey to confirm that a particular species of emptiness was characteristic of children without any viable kind of familial support structure, though I may have suspected as much. Despite my sometimes fanatic attempts to stay focused on abstract political or social questions, that is, philosophical problems posed by children in a society that now looks more to me like the fanged state of nature than the grotesquely painted democracy it parades itself as, wherever I went, I found myself concerned about this child, these children. I couldn’t remove myself from them far enough to make the emotional impulse negligible as I thought of ways they could be helped. That’s alright, I think, though I revolted against the idea almost subconsciously for a long time – partly because I didn’t want to generalize or project my own loneliness on other children; I didn’t want to assume that family, regardless of cultures and how such a concept varies between them, is essential; I didn’t want to be a philosopher that allowed rigor to suffer by the irrational pull of emotional instinct. It bothers me now, how long I allowed myself to think I was searching for some truth that transcended the children themselves. As much as I want to claim I have broken free of the dogmatic shackles that claim pure logic as god, imposed by the institutionalized study of philosophy, my skin still crawls slightly every time I say these children do have their own species of emptiness, and I can’t define it anymore rigorously than I can define the group of children to which I am applying it.

Dearth of rigor aside, the one obvious constant along my journey was a painful emptiness. It emanated from the eyes of orphans and children of abuse, children in prison and children cast away, children on the streets and child laborers. It was not a gaze of wisdom, the sage eyes of a child grown beyond his years alive. They were eyes that knew a shared pain, but each tragic ocular window was placed on a unique canvas: canvasses of anger, of hate, of joy, of sadness, of surrender, of rebellion, of mischief – each its own evolving amalgam of personality.

At times my application of philosophy to guardianless children seemed notably ironic – a discipline accused of being too abstract and esoteric to solve anything and a problem too ubiquitous, to violently actual, to ever be solved. And I have become convinced of this: so long as there are children, there will be children abused, abandoned, and falling through the cracks. The question then arises, in what system is the risk of a child being without a network of support least likely? From a philosophical point of view, this question has its most interesting answers when we think in “ought” and ideals, but this does little in the real world, where even as a model, any solution will be so far removed from reality as to make it effectively useless. The point of philosophy, as far as I can tell, in providing practical solutions, is framing the problem from a particular, thoroughly critical perspective. It means being able to transcend or reprioritize bureaucracy and politics and psychology and anthropology when such an exercise is necessary to see past the many obstacles to efficiently dealing with social problems.

Philosophy was a crucial aspect of this project in several ways. First, it provided me an escape when the suffering and sadness of the situations I was studying became overwhelming, when my existential sorrow was compounded by the awareness of how little I could do to really help any of the children I met. Philosophy provided a distant realm of ideals and perfections that helped me pull my head and my heart, however briefly, away from the pain that is watching a powerless child suffer.

Philosophy has always provided a means of escape for me, in the times of my life when I felt trapped or horrified by existence. It was not just that philosophy provided an abstract space where I could remove myself from the practical and menial – philosophy introduced me to new ways of thinking, new ways of using and understanding my rational capacities, and that introduced me, yes, to worlds of abstraction, but also to different lenses with which to view the world I lived in. I learned how to think, which provided me the tools to define, shape, and change my existence, my being-in-the-world.

And that was one of my main efforts, when I met children along this journey. It was not to teach them Aristotle or Nietzsche, nor to introduce them to epistemology and metaphysics: it was to provide them new ways of thinking. There is a moment of waking up that one experiences when one begins to think and question and exist in new ways; for some of these children it could provide a useful tool of coping and recovery, and for some it will bring enlightenment, restlessness, and a desire to change the system that allowed their situation to be possible in the first place. And that is the power of philosophy. It awakens the mind that the mind might bring more power to this finite, physically-bound creature, this human being magical in its humanness, in its potential.


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Carroll’s Froggy Problem

I did not expect the post-Watson stir-craziness to be quite this intense.

The next few months are going to involve a lot of anxious uncertainty, so what better way to procrastinate my thesis work*** (on Leibniz, of course) than to putz around in the silly logic puzzles of Lewis Carroll? Apparently some people have considered this problem in light of Carroll’s writings on logic, and that gets really technical so I’m just going to dust off Formal Logic 101 for this. Which means my answer, all other error aside, might be totally off-base. Part of the reason I’m even ok posting this is because I suspect most people are too busy or too lazy to look through for my mistakes. But if you do look through this and find them, tell me!

What is the strongest conclusion that can be drawn from these premises? (See link above for source)

  1. When the day is fine, I tell Froggy “You’re quite the dandy, old chap!”
  2. Whenever I let Froggy forget that 10 pounds he owes me, and he begins to strut about like a peacock, his mother declares “He shall not go out a-wooing!”
  3. Now that Froggy’s hair is out of curl, he has put away his gorgeous waistcoat.
  4. Whenever I go out on the roof to enjoy a quiet cigar, I’m sure to discover that my purse is empty.
  5. When my tailor calls with his little bill, and I remind Froggy of that 10 pounds he owes me, he doesnot grin like a hyena.
  6. When it is very hot, the thermometer is high.
  7. When the day is fine, and I’m not in the humor for a cigar, and Froggy is grinning like a hyena, I never venture to hint that he’s quite the dandy.
  8. When my tailor calls with his little bill and finds me with an empty pocket, I remind Froggy of that 10 pounds he owes me.
  9. My railway shares are going up like anything!
  10. When my purse is empty, and when, noticing that Froggy has got his gorgeous waistcoat on, I venture to remind him of that 10 pounds he owes me, things are apt to get rather warm.
  11. Now that it looks like rain, and Froggy is grinning like a hyena, I can do without my cigar.
  12. When the thermometer is high, you need not trouble yourself to take an umbrella.
  13. When Froggy has his gorgeous waistcoat on, but is not strutting about like a peacock, I betake myself to a quiet cigar.
  14. When I tell Froggy that he’s quite a dandy, he grins like a hyena.
  15. When my purse is tolerably full, and Froggy’s hair is one mass of curls, and when he is not strutting about like a peacock, I go out on the roof.
  16. When my railways shares are going up, and when it’s chilly and looks like rain, I have a quiet cigar.
  17. When Froggy’s mother lets him go a-wooing, he seems nearly mad with joy, and puts on a waistcoat that is gorgeous beyond words.
  18. When it is going to rain, and I am having a quiet cigar, and Froggy is not intending to go a-wooing, you had better take an umbrella.
  19. When my railway shares are going up, and Froggy seems nearly mad with joy, that is the time my tailor always chooses for calling with his little bill.
  20. When the day is cool and the thermometer low, and I say nothing to Froggy about his being quite the dandy, and there’s not the ghost of a grin on his face, I haven’t the heart for my cigar!

Anyway, I decided to translate this as best I could into logic. Here’s what I came up with, and the strongest conclusion I drew:

First, the predicates.****

A – the day is fine (¬A – it looks like rain, it is going to rain)

B – I tell Froggy “You’re quite the dandy, old chap!” (¬B – I never venture to hint Froggy is quite the dandy//I say nothing to Froggy about his being quite the dandy)

C – I let Froggy forget the 10₤ he owes me (¬C – I remind Froggy of the 10₤ he owes me)

D – Froggy struts like a peacock (¬D – Froggy is not strutting around like a peacock)

E – Froggy’s mother declares “He shall no go a-wooing!” (¬E – Froggy’s mother lets him go a-wooing)

F – Froggy’s hair is out of curl (¬F – Froggy’s hair is one mass of curls)

G – Froggy has put away his gorgeous waistcoat (¬G – Froggy has a gorgeous waistcoat on)

H – I go to the roof

I – I enjoy a quiet cigar (¬I – I am not in the humor for a cigar)

J – I discover my purse is empty//my purse is empty// the tailor finds me with an empty pocket  (¬J – my purse is tolerably full)

K – my tailor calls with his little bill

L – Froggy does not grin like a hyena (¬L – Froggy is grinning like a hyena)

M – it is very hot (¬M – the day is cool/it is chilly)

N – the thermometer is high (¬N – the thermometer is low)

O – Froggy is not intending to go a-wooing

P – my railway shares are going up like anything

Q – you need not trouble yourself to take an umbrella (¬Q – you had better take an umbrella)

R – Froggy seems nearly mad with joy (¬L?)

So it should look something like this:

1. When A –> B

2. When C ∧ D –> E

3. Now that F –> G // therefore F ∧ G

4. When H ∧ I –> J

5. When K ∧ ¬C –> L

6. When M –> N

7. When A ∧ ¬I ∧ ¬L –> ¬B

8. When K ∧ J –> ¬C

9. P

10. When J ∧ (noticing) ¬G –> ¬C ∧ (things are apt) M

11. Now that ¬A ∧ ¬L –> ¬I // therefore ¬A ∧ ¬L ∧ ¬I

12. When N –> Q

13. When ¬G ∧ ¬D –> I

14. When B –> ¬L

15. When ¬J ∧ ¬F ∧ ¬D –> H

16. When P ∧ ¬A ∧ ¬M –> I

17. When ¬E –> R  ¬G

18. When (¬A ∧ I) ∧ O –> ¬R

19. When P ∧ R –> K

20. When ¬M ∧ ¬N ∧ ¬B ∧ ¬R –> ¬I

I suspected that R = ¬L, ¬R = L, and my work reflects this assumption. I am not certain it is safe for me to assume, though. I think it is necessary and safe to assume in the negation of 4 (shown below) isn’t a simple negation distribution where the ∧ becomes ∨, based on the way its phrased.

What do we know? Sorry this is a bit sloppy.

Here’s what I came up with:

A1. P (by 9)

A2. F ∧ G (by 3 – use of ‘now that’)

A3. ¬A ∧ ¬L ∧ ¬I (by 11 – use of ‘now that’)

A4. P ∧ ¬A ∧ ¬M –>I (by 16)

but ¬I (∧ ¬L ∧ ¬A by 11)

so ¬(P ∧ ¬A ∧ ¬M)

P ∧ ¬A (by A1 and A3)

∴M (by 16 and 11)

A5. M (by A4)

M–>N (by 6)

A6. N (by A5 and 6)

N–>Q (by 12)

A7. Q (by A6 and12)

A8. When K ∧ ¬C –> L (5)

but ¬L  (by A3) so ¬(K ∧ ¬C)

 so   ¬K∨ C

A9. When ¬E –> R ∧ ¬G (by 17)

but G (by A2)

so ¬(¬E)

∴E

A10. When P ∧ R –> K (by 19)

P (by 9)

R (if R=¬L by 11)

∴K

A11. ¬K∨ C (by A8)

K (by A10)

∴ C

A12. When (¬A ∧ I) ∧ O –> ¬R (by 18)

but R (if R=¬L by 11)

so ¬(¬A ∧ I ∧ O)

ok, the point of this one is that there is no point. we can’t say ¬O or O either way

A13. When K ∧ J –> ¬C (by 8)

but C (by A11)

so ¬(K ∧ J)

¬K ∨  ¬J

K (by A10)

∴ ¬J

This is what I think we can say, which isn’t the solution as far as I can tell: given[P, F, G, ¬A, ¬L (=R), ¬I]: M, N, Q, E, K, C, ¬J

Froggy’s hair is out of curl; Froggy put away his gorgeous waistcoat; it it very hot; the thermometer is high; the day is not fine (it looks like rain); Froggy is grinning like a hyena/Froggy seems nearly mad with joy; I am not in the humor for a cigar; Froggy’s mother declares, ‘He shall not go a-wooing!;’ my tailor calls with his little bill; I let Froggy forget the 10₤ he owes me; my purse is tolerably full.

My guess is that what we can say is that Froggy’s hair is out of curl and he is nearly mad with joy, though Froggy’s mother has declared he shall not go a-wooing; we can’t say whether or not Froggy actually intends to go a-wooing. If anyone is interested, I went through and verified my suspected answer through contradiction, but I’m not posting it here for the sake of length. I will happily include it or send to anyone that would like it.

Probably related to Carroll’s thought in creating this problem is an old English children’s verse:

A frog he would a-wooing go,
Whether his mother would let him or no.

Doesn’t help me much here, though. O stood for the first line of this and that was the one I couldn’t determine, except through a verification by contradiction (assuming the truth of not-O).

__________________

*There is an apostrophe in Master’s because it’s apparently some magical contraction of “of” – e.g. Master of Arts. Hopefully this will change with widespread use of Masters by the ignorant.

**Flirty Spinozist.

***And Kelly’s story. I haven’t forgotten!

****Apparently Carroll himself produced a dictionary for this problem:

  • Universe: “Cosmophases”;
  • E = this;
  • a = Froggy’s hair is out of curl;
  • b = Froggy intends to go a-wooing;
  • c = Froggy is grinning like a hyena;
  • d = Froggy’s mother permits him to go a-wooing;
  • e = Froggy seems nearly mad with joy;
  • h = Froggy is strutting about like a peacock;
  • k = Froggy is wearing a waistcoat that is gorgeous beyond words;
  • l = I go out on my roof;
  • m = I remind Froggy of the 10 pounds he owes me;
  • n = I take a quiet cigar;
  • r = I tell Froggy that he’s quite the dandy;
  • s = It is going to rain,
  • t = It is very hot;
  • v = My purse is empty;
  • w = My railway shares are going up;
  • z = My tailor calls with his little bill;
  • A = The thermometer is high;
  • B = You had better take an umbrella

(“Lewis Carroll’s Symbolic Logic” ed. William Warren Bartley, III, published by Harvester Press 1977)

Non-humans that I met on the Watson

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Some of my favorite Watson friends weren’t rational at all.

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Žižek: Troll After My Own Heart

I’m going to post more Watson things eventually*. In the meantime:

Interviewer: For someone who describes love as violent and unnecessary, you seem to have pulled off quite the affair. Your wife [Argentinian model Analia Hounie] wore a long white dress and held a bouquet. How traditional.

Slavoj Žižek: Yes, but did you notice something? If you look at the photos, you can see that I am not happy. Even my eyes are closed. It’s a psychotic escape. “This is not happening. I’m not really here.” I planted some jokes in my wedding. Like, the organizers asked me to select music. So when I approached my wife at the ceremony, they played the second movement from Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony, which is usually known as the “portrait of Stalin.” And then when we embraced, the music that they played was Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden.” I enjoyed this in a childish way! But marriage was all a nightmare and so on and so on.

Interviewer: So you did it for your wife, this big wedding?

Slavoj Žižek: Yes, she was dreaming about it. You know what book I really didn’t like from this perspective? Laura Kipnis’ “Against Love.” Her idea is that the last defense of the bourgeois order is ‘No sex outside love!’ It’s the Judith Butler stuff: reconstruction, identity, blah, blah, blah. I claim it’s just the opposite. Today, passionate engagement is considered almost pathological. I think there is something subversive in saying: This is the man or woman with whom I want to stake everything.

[credit: Ariel]

*The Watson is over, officially, but there are some final things I’ve put off posting. I’m now attempting to move on to the next phase of struggling to live philosophically. The fate of this blog is yet undetermined.


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Berlin, du bist so wunderbar

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Did I just steal the title of this post from the ubiquitous Berliner Pilsner ads around the city? Yes. Yes, I did.

Sorry for the very touristy photos, and the lack of care in the photos themselves. I didn’t bring my camera around to the brothels and wasn’t allowed to take pictures at the immigrant centers and children’s homes. I am also aware this is a bit late in being posted. Locke and Boethius are coming soon probably maybe.

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