March 27, 2004
A publishing possibility has appeared, so I’m preparing a new edition of my book of aphorisms. I began this book in the summer of ’84, and since then I’ve made countless revisions, countless new editions. Sometimes I wonder, “Should I revise this, or should I let it stand, and work on something new? How can I revise it without destroying whatever merit it has? But if I no longer agree with its views, how can I let it stand? If I wrote on that subject today, I wouldn’t write what I wrote ten years ago, but I don’t completely disagree with what I wrote before, it has some merit.” Doubtless many writers have felt this way when confronted with something they wrote years before.
When I re-read Chapter One, I was surprised to find that most of it can stand as is. I recommend it; if you haven’t read it, click here. But it ended with Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, it didn’t discuss Jung or Zen. I feel that Jung and Zen are important to philosophy in our time, so I wrote some new aphorisms, and inserted them near the end of Chapter One. If you’ve been reading Phlit for a while, the ideas in these new aphorisms may be familiar, but the mode of expression is different, hence you may find them worthwhile. Here are the three new aphorisms:
A. Who’s a Philosopher? When Thoreau was alive, and was publishing articles on wild apples and Mt. Katahdin, who regarded him as a philosopher? When Kierkegaard was becoming known through his writings on Mozart and French drama, who regarded him as a philosopher? The best philosophers are often not regarded as philosophers until long after their death.
Furthermore, the best philosophers often have little interest in The Great Philosophers. Nietzsche, for example, had little interest in Aristotle; he was far more interested in Wagner’s operas and Dostoyevsky’s novels. Montaigne was more interested in Vergil and Tacitus than in Augustine and Aquinas. Thoreau paid little attention to Kant and Hegel; he preferred to read about an expedition to find the source of the Nile, or about a voyage to the South Pacific. But Nietzsche did read Schopenhauer closely, and Thoreau did read Emerson closely; philosophers like Nietzsche and Thoreau may have little interest in the history of philosophy, but they have a keen interest in One Philosopher, and their work takes this One Philosopher as a starting point.
B. Jung The most important philosophical thinker of the twentieth century is Jung, but he isn’t yet recognized as a philosopher, he isn’t given a chapter in the history of philosophy, and he isn’t discussed in academic philosophy departments. Much of Jung’s work explores that essence of life which Parmenides called Being, which Kant called the thing-in-itself, and which Schopenhauer called the Will.
Schopenhauer had said that the Will is blind and aimless, like a dog chasing its tail; Schopenhauer was pessimistic. But Jung said that the unconscious has a goal. Jung said that the unconscious contains archetypes (images, patterns), and the most important of these archetypes is the archetype of the self, which draws us toward wholeness and balance, as the North Pole draws a compass needle. Jung said that the archetype of the self is identical with God; whether we refer to it as “the archetype of the self” or as “God” is a matter of choice.
Jung wasn’t pessimistic, as Schopenhauer was; Jung sees opportunities for spiritual growth. While Schopenhauer and Nietzsche were contemptuous of religion, Jung respected the religious tradition, and Jung points the way to new religious ideas. While Nietzsche said “God is dead,” Jung says that God evolves, as the human mind evolves.
Jung didn’t draw a sharp distinction between mind and matter. He thought there was a connection between mind and matter, between man and nature, between the inner world and the outer world. An archetype, in Jung’s view, was neither purely psychic nor purely physical, it was both, it was “psychoid” (to use Jung’s term).
Just as the Romans saw a connection between the flight of birds and the outcome of a battle, just as the Chinese saw a connection between an earthquake and the death of an emperor, so too Jung saw connections between the human world and the natural world. He referred to these connections as “synchronicity” — that is, meaningful coincidence; he called synchronicity an “acausal connecting principle.” Jung was fascinated by occult phenomena of all kinds, and believed that these phenomena deserved further study.
Kant had said that space, time, and causality are merely categories of the human mind, and pertain only to the world of appearance, not to the thing-in-itself. Occult phenomena violate the laws of space, time, and causality. Schopenhauer and Jung, who both studied Kant, tried to explain occult phenomena in terms of the relativity of time and space. For example, when one of Jung’s patients shot himself, and Jung felt a pain in the back of his head, he viewed that incident in the light of Kant’s theory. And when Jung had a vision of World War I before the war started, he said that the future can be foreseen because it is prepared in advance — time is relative, not absolute.
Jung’s ideas often agree with ancient beliefs, and also with Eastern beliefs. Jung’s ideas also agree with those of Western alchemists. Like Jung, the alchemists believed that the psychic and the physical overlap. The alchemists spoke of unus mundus, one world, the union of matter and spirit. They also spoke of “subtle bodies” (or “breath bodies”), which are part physical, part psychic. The concept of “subtle bodies” has been used by Jungians to explain psycho-somatic phenomena in the field of medicine.
The power of the mind is boundless; the mind can not only effect changes in the body, it can also effect changes in the external world. As one alchemist put it, the mind can bring about “many things of the utmost profundity outside the body.” Mind and matter overlap; there is no “pure spirit”, divorced from matter, and there is no “dead matter”, lacking all spirit and energy. The whole universe is suffused with energy, with a kind of consciousness.
It will be many years before Jung is discussed in academic philosophy departments. Jung deals with the invisible world, the mysterious, while academics prefer to deal with what can be set forth on a blackboard; Jung deals with the non-rational, while academics are dedicated to rational thinking; Jung deals with the occult, while academics avoid the occult, and regard it with a mixture of fear and loathing.
C. Zen Like Jung, Zen represents an important part of modern thought, a part that is neglected in philosophy departments. Zen is highly practical, and speaks directly to one’s values, and to one’s daily life. Zen isn’t bookish or abstract, and it can’t be put on a blackboard. One can’t grasp Zen by reading about it, one must practice it, and feel it. Zen has the positive, affirmative attitude that one finds in Nietzsche, the mistrust of reason that one finds in Jung, and the feeling of kinship with nature that one finds in Thoreau. Like Jung, Zen points the way to spiritual growth, and to new religious ideas.
I once went on a “meditation retreat,” which lasted for a weekend, and consisted of sitting meditation alternating with walking meditation. During the retreat, each of us had one-on-one conversations with the leaders/teachers, and the retreat ended with a group conversation; the rest was silence. Near the end of the retreat, one of the two teachers said, “if you have any problem with someone in the group, any hard feelings, try to let go of those.” The teacher evidently thought that hard feelings could develop even among people in silent meditation.
I’m reminded of a remark by the American philosopher Eric Hoffer: “Sometimes it seems that people hear best what we do not say.... A misunderstanding takes place not when people fail to understand each other, but when they sense what is going on in each other’s mind and do not like it.”1
Many imaginative writers have discussed telepathy, non-verbal communication. Dostoyevsky, for example, said “I did not speak of it directly.... I spoke almost without words. And I am an old hand at speaking without words. I have spent all my life speaking without words. I have lived through whole tragedies without uttering a word.”2
Proust was also fascinated by telepathy: “The truth has no need to be uttered to be made apparent... one may perhaps gather it with more certainty, without waiting for words, without even bothering one’s head about them, from a thousand outward signs, even from certain invisible phenomena, analogous in the sphere of human character to what in nature are atmospheric changes.”
Strindberg was also fascinated by telepathy. Strindberg lived during the late 1800s, when the Occult/Spiritualist movement was at its height. Strindberg compared telepathic communication to inaudible sound waves; to his third wife, from whom he was separated, and who lived in the same city as he did, he wrote thus: “I think I seem disturbing to you here, and from this apartment invisible wires stretch like inaudible sound waves which yet reach their destination.”3
Perhaps you’re thinking, “These writers are talking about telepathy, but telepathy doesn’t always concern the shadow, there could be telepathic transmission of a sensible thought, a positive thought.” True, but shadow thoughts — negative, crude shadow thoughts — seem unworthy of conscious expression, hence shadow thoughts are often transmitted telepathically.
Here’s an example: in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, Stephen Dedalus (the protagonist) attends a physics lecture. One of his classmates, seated below Stephen, asks the professor, “are we likely to be asked questions on applied science?” Then “Stephen looked down coldly on the oblong skull beneath him.... The voice, the accent, the mind of the questioner offended him and he allowed the offence to carry him towards willful unkindness.... The oblong skull beneath did not turn to meet this shaft of thought.”4 Stephen assumes that thoughts can be communicated telepathically, hence he seems to expect that “the oblong skull” will turn around in response to his unkind thought, his “shaft of thought.” Stephen’s shaft of thought seems to be a good example of the shadow, since it is a negative feeling with no rational basis, a negative feeling that is out of proportion to its cause; Joyce terms it “willful.”
Here’s a story about telepathy and the thought of death: an American woman visited Jung at his house in Switzerland. It was 1955, Jung was turning 80, and his friends had given him a tree for his birthday. “We stood in a semicircle by the place chosen for the tree while two gardeners started digging the hole.... As I looked at [Jung] in the outdoor light of the afternoon.... he looked all of his eighty years and very frail, with the frailty of old age. With the shock of this realization, a sinister crescendo seemed to get into the rhythm of spades going in and earth thumping down. Irrationally, it seemed that this hole was not for planting a tree, that these were not gardeners, they were grave-diggers. The feeling about death was so strong that the scene became unbearable, and I stood in utter helplessness, wishing and praying for it all to stop. Suddenly I heard Jung saying: ‘This has nothing to do with death. They are planting new life.’ He was looking straight in front of him, addressing no one. Having my unspoken thought picked out of my head and answered was so startling that the irrational panic turned into a numinous experience.”5 This story may be an example of the shadow at work: a negative feeling with no rational basis, a negative feeling that is out of proportion to its cause. Like my meditation teacher, Jung was savvy about such matters, hence he could handle the situation appropriately.
A. In China, they say “a monk from distant lands can understand the scriptures.”6 Here in the West, the same idea is expressed in different words: no man is a prophet in his own country.7 Montaigne said, “In my region of Gascony, they think it funny to see me in print. But the further from my own haunts my reputation spreads, the higher I am rated.”8
B. I was recently looking at an old issue of Phlit, and I found a strange typing mistake: I had typed “Aristotle” when I meant to type “art.” How is that possible? I write in Microsoft Word, and I use the AutoCorrect feature (on the Tools menu) as a shorthand system. For example, when I type “p” the word “had” appears, when I type “h” the word “the” appears, “fe” becomes “for example”, “ar” becomes “Aristotle”, etc., etc. The AutoCorrect feature is supposed to correct spelling mistakes, but it can also be used as a shorthand system. So if you find a strange typing mistake in Phlit, you’ll know where it came from.
[Update 2016: GoogleDocs has a feature called “Automatic Substitution”; it can be found under Tools ==> Preferences. It’s similar to Word’s AutoCorrect, but it doesn’t allow you to import your current shorthands from Word or from a text file, so you would have to enter them manually. Also, it insists on making everything lowercase, so Nietzsche becomes nietzsche. Google should make a user’s list of “substitutions” available in Gmail.]
C. I recommend the Chinese movie, “Blind Shaft.” A very realistic depiction of the seamy underside of Chinese society.
In an earlier issue of Phlit, I mentioned the growing popularity of philosophy discussion groups, and I mentioned a book called Socrates Café: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy. The author, Christopher Phillips, recently visited a Providence bookstore to promote his latest book, Six Questions of Socrates. Phillips says that 150 discussion groups, or Socrates Cafés, have sprung up, following his blueprint.
When I heard him in early March, he said that two Socrates Cafés had just started in Afghanistan. The discussions often address a particular philosophical question, such as one of the “six questions of Socrates” (What is virtue? What is moderation? What is justice? What is good? What is courage? What is piety?). Phillips has been called “the Johnny Appleseed of philosophy.” For several years, Phillips has been traveling around — not only in the U.S., but also in foreign countries — promoting his books, and participating in philosophy discussions. He has become well-known, and his books are popular. He and his wife live out of a suitcase, and travel by plane (often using Southwest Airlines, to save money). His web address is www.philosopher.org.
Phillips was inspired by Walter Kaufmann, a Princeton professor and Nietzsche translator. Kaufmann sometimes talked philosophy with people in prisons, homeless shelters, etc. Phillips, too, sometimes discusses philosophy in such places. Phillips says that when he took the “sublime risk” of becoming a traveling Socrates, it was amazing how serendipity came to his aid, and things fell into place. He believes that, even if a discussion doesn’t reach truth, just having people sit down together and talk without acrimony is valuable. He says that the old and the young are receptive to him, but the middle-aged are competitive rather than receptive; he himself is middle-aged (45).
When I met him, I felt that he had no interest in ideas, he was only interested in selling books and starting discussion groups. He lamented the fact that most people aren’t good listeners, but he himself seemed far more interested in talking than in listening, and he spent considerable time reading from his book. A discussion of philosophy only interests him insofar as he can write about it, or use it to enhance his reputation. One person in the audience said afterwards that it seemed he didn’t want to be there. He has no hunger for knowledge, no interest in the life of the mind. He deplores philosophy discussion groups like mine that encourage people to read the classics: “directed readings would only be exclusive and elitist and rather snooty, and so anathema to the ends of a Socrates Café.”9 Before he became a traveling Socrates, he was a journalist, and his books feel like the books of a journalist, not the books of a philosopher. A review in Publishers Weekly (which is not known for harsh reviews) had this to say of Six Questions:
“As in Socrates Café, the philosophy often feels superficial. For example, a discussion in Mexico of ‘What is justice?’ turns into a catalogue of government injustices with nothing more to say philosophically than, ‘We have to make sure that justice serves all of us in an impartial way.’ Such insights are obviously not without value, especially for those new to philosophizing, but they make this very much a book for beginners.” Phillips’ books should not be dismissed lightly, they should be thrown away with great force.
Phillips is politically-correct, i.e., liberal. His liberal views were evident in his comments, and they’re sprinkled through his books. Phillips divides mankind into two groups: those who are “good” and “nice,” and those who aren’t. (Other liberals sometimes make the same division.) He said he was encouraged to see that there were so many good people in the world, doing good things. And nothing he said during the course of the evening was more profound than that vapid remark.
Good news from Syria. The New York Times (not known for being pro-Bush) reports that Syrian despotism is loosening up as a result of the collapse of Iraqi despotism:
About thirty years ago, the American philosopher Eric Hoffer said, “It would be safer for the Occident to be reckless and make mistakes than to be fearful and sink into inaction.”11 Soon after Saddam was toppled, and American forces occupied Baghdad, there were guerrilla attacks on American forces, and Bush said that if guerrillas want to attack, “bring ’em on.” It was obvious, at the time, that Bush shouldn’t have made that comment, and with the benefit of hindsight, that comment was clearly a mistake. Doubtless Bush realizes now that he shouldn’t have said that, but we all say things on occasion that we later regret. Perhaps Bush felt that it was better to be “reckless” (to use Hoffer’s word) than “to be fearful and sink into inaction.” And perhaps it is this very recklessness — or rather, boldness — that has jolted Libya into giving up its nuclear weapons program, and jolted Syria into relaxing its repression.
“Shock and awe” is another unfortunate phrase, another undiplomatic phrase, another phrase that made me wince when I first heard it. But those who planned the bombing campaign against Saddam were probably proud of their work, and proud of American capability, so we should excuse their bombastic phrases. Their motives weren’t evil, but the tyrant they toppled was evil. The American military will probably realize its mistake, and use more sober language in the future.
The Iraq war is difficult, perhaps even reckless, but it’s also courageous. Its purpose is to make the world a better place, and its result will probably be to make the world a better place. Many people are unwilling to admit that Bush and his team have high-minded motives; they’ve gotten into the habit of ascribing base motives to governments, especially to the American government, especially to conservative American governments. They think that Bush wants oil and money, but actually the Iraq war is costing a great deal of money. They think that Bush wants to expand American power, but actually he longs for the day when we can leave Iraq, and see Iraqis take charge of their own nation, and set up a government that will be independent of the U.S., and probably critical of the U.S.
Critics of American policy say that you can’t defeat terrorism with missiles and bombs. That’s partly true: the root cause of terrorism is in public opinion, in people’s thoughts, in people’s worldview, and this can’t be changed with missiles. Many people in the Muslim world have gotten stuck in an archaic worldview, a spiritual dead-end, and this probably won’t change for generations. Meanwhile, Muslim extremists are waging war against civilization itself, and all civilized nations should join the fight against these extremists. Even if terrorism can’t be completely defeated, at least it can be resisted and reduced.
Here’s a defense of American policy that appeared in the New York Times:
|1.|| Reflections on the Human Condition, §§21, 132. Hoffer notes that “the capacity for transcending the senses — for telepathic transmission and for sensing the unseen — is an animal characteristic.”(ibid, §21) back|
|2.|| “A Gentle Creature,” I, 3 back|
|3.|| Strindberg, by Michael Meyer, ch. 30 back|
|4.|| ch. 5 back|
|5.|| C. G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, “Four ‘Contacts With Jung’”, Renée Brand, p. 161 back|
|6.|| The original is “wai4 lai2 de he2shang hui4 nian4jing1”. back|
|7.|| Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house.(Matthew, 13:54) back|
|8.|| “On Repentance” back|
|9.|| from his website, www.philosopher.org back|
|10.|| The article appeared on March 20, 2004, and is by Neil Macfarquhar. back|
|11.||Before the Sabbath, entry dated March 2, 1974 back|